Warhammer Online Adventure Log: Mid-October

I’ve unpublished those two political rants.  (Or rather, one wild soothsaying and one apologetic Buddhist-like doctrine restatement.)  This simply isn’t the Blog for that, and people probably get enough politics elsewhere what with the presidential election leering at them from every corner of media and their  frazzled psyche.

My Warhammer Online progress has been pretty much as I predicted it would, seesawing across Swordmaster, Archmage, and Shadow Warrior, better feeling out their strengths and weaknesses firsthand as I repeatedly climb the advancement ladder.  Overall impressions of each:

Swordmaster – My current favorite, Swordmasters are both very durable and quite influential.  I think of them in terms of being a kind of controller, dictating the flow of combat and who is fighting who, and this satisfies the inner tactician immensely.

Tanks are really durable in this game, and it’s hugely satisfying when several enemies are unable to overcome my Swordmaster thanks to wearing the best armor, having an excellent shield induced block rating, and using the perfect defense tactic.  This is boosted further by parrying and knocking enemies away.  Altogether, about half the attacks against my rank 18 Swordmaster have a good chance of failing outright.  I’m planning on picking up bolstering enchantments which may help to counteract damage that slips through.

(Nice Swordmaster video courtesy vid88, demonstrating the Swordmaster’s dominance in the front of combat.  Note how most combatants prefer to try to ignore him than face him head on.)

My main regret towards playing a Swordmaster is when I encounter a team which has several tanks (rendering me redundant – though there is something to be said for stacked guards) or has no healing (rendering me limited in the amount of tanking I can do).  Fortunately, given that the class selection for order is 2 tanks, 3 healers, and 5 DPS classes this is rare.  Besides, unlike many Swordmasters, I remember to guard our healers, you n00bmasters.

Aside from that, I only regret having a relatively mediocre damage output.  Playing enough of a game can make you impatient to progress, and it’s hard to take down foes quickly as a sword and shield specialized Swordmaster.  A Swordmaster specialisted in the path of Kaine and/or wielding a greatsword would probably experience this feeling of futile hacking to a lesser degree.  I may start taking to using my backup greatsword more when I’m feeling impatient.

Archmage – This is undoubtedly my most influential character, as can be witnessed during scenarios summary screens where I’m consistently pulling high damage and healing where most classes are lucky to get one or the other.  A great specialty ability I picked up was Scatter the Winds, which temporarily knocks out half the healing delivered to a foe – a real battle reverser when the foes are leaning heavily on healing support.  Besides, I can resurrect with an Archmage – what greater influence is there than negating all the enemies’ hard work in taking down an ally by simply propping him back up again?

If he’s so influential, why don’t I play my Archmage more often?   Partly because good healers are more amply found than good tanks, and unprotected healers are dead healers.  By playing a good tank who protects his healers, I can through extension be a lot more influential than just playing the healer.  I may also simply be enjoying my Swordmaster more – a purer reason not to play a class I cannot easily imagine.

Shadow Warrior – On paper, I should love this guy – he’s the tactician who assesses the situation and adjusts himself to suit it as needed.  In actuality, the Shadow Warrior is really just a fancy damage dealer.  He deals damage at range, but when forced to close he can do some fairly respectable damage close up too. I prefer my characters a bit more complicated than just focusing entirely on doing damage with a few controls thrown in.

(X4R demonstrates some excellent scout-specialized Shadow Warrior technique, keeping a lot of distance between him and his foes while shooting arrow after arrow in rapid succession.  At one point near the beginning he uses a wagon to break line of sight with an aggressor – a vital tactic to master.)

Shadow Warriors do have an excellent niche in pursuit.  With a combination of Takedown (his ranged snare attack) and skirmish-mode ranged attacks (which continue to build while moving) my Shadow Warrior would be perfect to chase someone down with.  This would be excellent both for chasing pesky flag stealers and stopping people from running with some sort of objective.  However, he’s so flimsy that he could not survive an attack on his own well enough to be an assigned guard to anything alone – a guarding Shadow Warrior would need a Healer or Tank to protect him against so much as a single effective attacker.

When I play one, I think I’m too impatient, I end up up close and personal with some foes too quickly.  I find myself leaning rather heavily on Point Blank and  Whirling Pin to buy time, but turning and running in Warhammer Online is tricky business especially when snares are available to the enemy.  A toe to toe fight with a Tank is a Ranged DPS classes’ worst nightmare, and a Shadow Warrior does little better in Assault mode.

Of course, the lead trouble I have with my Shadow Warrior go back to that “5 DPS, 2 Tank, 3 Healing class” disparity I mentioned earlier.  There’s simply no lack of DPS members in this game.  I would say that a good party could be 1 Tank, 1 Healer, and 4 DPS, but a party without either the Tank or Healer can’t handle hero-level foes.  At least when I play one or the other, I’m always half-way there.  DPS classes are not for those with security issues.

Pleanty of room to experiment

So, what’s my ultimate decision?  I don’t know.  Maybe my little Swordmaster/Shadow Warrior vacation will come to an end and I’ll end up taking my original Archmage to 40 first.  As it is, I’m considering taking them all to 20 and then advancing them evenly, passing off good gear to each other.  Advancement may be relatively slow at 20, but it’s still not original EverQuest bad.

Fortunately, Warhammer Online offers an unusually diverse range of activities that actually grant ranks (levels).  Were this World of Warcraft, there would be the options of Player Versus Envirnment (PvE) and PvE questing for experience points, with Warzones and Player versus Player (PvP) in general not granting experience.   Warhammer Online offers PvE, PvE questing, a new flavor of PvE questing in Public Quests, Realm versus Realm, and Scenarios that all grant experience.

Thus, it’s possible to take three characters of the same race up through completely separate channels in Warhammer Online.  However, I’m under the opinion that the most lucrative, both in terms of experience points and fun, is to diversify.   Perform PvE questing with a side of Public quests with a diversion of scenarios and occasional participation in realm versus realm.  Leaning too heavily on any one activity gets monotonous quickly.

Currently, realm versus realm is not terribly lucrative.  Mythic’s recent adjustment to make defending in realm versus realm more rewarding actually made this problem worse because a lead reason why RvR is so difficult was because the Keep Lords (hugely difficult NPCs to defeat) require a full warband to tackle and it only takes a small handful of enemy players to foil any attempts to do so.  Consequently, you need two full warbands to take down a player defended keep lord: one to handle the keep lord, the second just to screen for enemy players and keep reinforcement routes clear.

Good luck finding that many interested players in any particular tier on my server.  One of the reasons I’ve never liked open PvP is it’s often a question of mustering players – the influence of the individual skill of a player is next to nothing compared to how many cats have decided they’re willing to be herded today.   I’ve already mentioned my beefs about popularity, and how there’s not necessarily any merit to its achievement, and here is an accidental bit of collaborating evidence.

At least there’s still scenarios.  While you could whine and bitch about how some teams may be stacked due to random composition (“Dude, where’s my healer”) or other imbalances (“why is my team made up of such idiots and the other team is made up of registered grandmasters of this map”), the important thing to me is that the numbers are relatively even: 12 on 12.  Sometimes you’ll end up a few members short because people with inferiority complexes quit immediately into the map, but the actual ratio of satisfying combat is much higher.

Non-Warhammerly Pursuits

Playing it as hard as I have lately, I’m starting to get bored of Warhammer Online again.  I anticipate another round of BYOND development to begin soon.

I’ve been dabbling with a bit of Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood and in general the game is good – very Sonic X RPG in execution with some nice Elite: Beat Agent touches to the combat just as I was anticipating – but the ridiculous sound effects really undermine the whole thing.  Seriously, these are the kind of sound effects I’d expect from a bad public access channel commercial, not a Bioware game.  It’s like the person who did the sound effects couldn’t figure out how a Sonic the Hedgehog world would sound like, so they took this lackluster cartoony stab at the dark that doesn’t satisfy anyone.  At least the visual artistic direction is top notch – this might be a game that plays better with the volume off.

As Penny Arcade was pointing out lately, a lot of really good games drop soon.  I probably won’t play Dead Space on account of how I’m not a real fan of being scared for kicks.  Fallout 3, however, looms just half a month away and I’m just as excited about it as I was BioShock or (more appropriately) Elder Scrolls VI.

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