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games

Baldur’s Gate 2 Enhanced Edition: Neutral/Evil Party Play Through Review

I decided to give Baldur’s Gate 2 a final swing using a neutral/evil type of party. Originally, the goal was to go completely evil, especially with the main character to fully exploit that side of the game. However, I ended up backtracking and utilizing a Chaotic Neutral main character, which would allow me more flexibility in terms of questing.

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world of warcraft

World of Warcraft: Raid Boss and Quest Design Theories

I’m a pretty big critic when it comes to game design since I’ve dabbled a bit in writing my own home grown modules for games like Shadowrun, Dungeons and Dragons and even games with a customized aspect. So when it comes to playing games I do enjoy such as Diablo 3 and World of Warcraft, I have specific opinions on what I like and dislike. Today, I want to delve into some idea for how I think raid bosses and quests should be designed.

When I look at this expansion and think about how raid encounters have evolved, the first thing that comes to mind is that it feels like stuff just ends up getting tossed together without a real flow at times and having an uneven sense of difficulty. Take for instance, Durumu vs Primordius. Many people argue that Durumu would’ve made far more sense as the end boss for part 3. Similarly, others have mentioned that Horridon, while presenting a very dynamic and fun encounter for some, also presented a huge wall for normal mode raiders.

People want to compare Throne of Thunder to Ulduar, which many people claim as the best raid ever created. But I think the defining aspect for Ulduar is that the difficulty level ramped upwards and really presented a sense of progression as bosses. To me that’s probably the best design since you want to feel like you’re going up a slope rather than finding yourself in an uneven situation where you’re hitting a wall too early on, which might end up discouraging people. Although I never did Ulduar when it first came out, I can see how the fights would present more and more mechanics that made people enjoy the lead up.

I think that’s how long raids should be built. In the case of Throne of Thunder, it’s what I call a “long raid” since all the progression happens in a linear experience. Compare that to Cataclysm where you had some flexibility in the first tier. Throne of Thunder, at least the LFR version, is a real mixed bag in terms of the rhythm. I mean, it starts off well with Jin-Rok being a pretty simple tank-and-spank encounter. Then suddenly, you get to Horridon for the first time and it’s a wild mess. Afterwards, you fight Council which turns out to just be four mini bosses that you down in a certain order. But because of the way Horridon is designed, it’s one of the few encounters that feels really dynamic and can be more difficult than other encounters. Whereas when you get to Twin Consorts, the encounter feels more like a cock tease until you hit Lei Shen, where the difficulty level can spike back up.

Something I read a while back is that some encounters had certain purposes like DPS checks, heal checks, gear checks, etc. Part of idea is to ensure that people not only could handle the mechanics but didn’t just blaze through the content without having enough equipment and enforced more farming. The thing though when you have elements like DPS checks, etc. you also have to take into consideration how all that blends with mechanics. The way I look at this aspect is like the old saying about college: you can have good grades, a life, a job, belong to a club/fraternity/sorority, get sleep and have fun. However, you can only choose two of the above.

Similarly, with raid mechanics, I see the situation in terms of layering with the same theory applied. You can provide for so many mechanics and checks but you’re allowed only so many per encounter. I mean, they do it already in terms of difficulty, but it does feel somewhat off balanced at times. Also, timing when a mechanic occurs is imperative. A lot of the tuning that seems to go on outside of damage and life are the frequency/timing, especially if the mechanic involves some sort of one shot death blow. But the way I see a fight is that things gradually open up, leading to a nice climax. If you watch pro-wrestling, you can see how this works. Good pro-wrestling matches have slow builds, starting with minor moves that lead up towards bigger moves since the idea is to dominate an opponent through gradually wearing them down, then applying the killing blow.

Along the lines of mechanics, it’s important to talk about the visual components of an encounter. I tend to discount audio since many people end up turning their sound down. When it comes to the visual design of encounters and interface, World of Warcraft is structured is to partly distract you at times intentionally. Although that isn’t a bad thing necessarily, I do think that somethings end up becoming indiscernible. For instance, in the trash pull to the first part of Heart of Fear, you can barely see what’s going on, hence why a lot of people end up inadvertently dying. And of course, we have the horrible Durumu encounter, which up until the maze pretty much isn’t a bad encounter. However, once you get to that point, there’s just too much going on both with the encounter and other special effects. Even Elegon has been reported to cause FPS loss because it’s simply too intense. I think the thing that bugged me the most was when someone who mentioned that he had a color blindness issue had an impossible time handling the Durumu encounter. To me, that’s a game breaker.

Another thing to consider is the idea of making things so complex that they require an entire video for an explanation. I think part of the problem with World of Warcraft is that you have high end groups putting out videos that are still more or less in the Beta stages. Although the how-to market for content is huge, I’m a little bit disappointed that the game almost warrants the need to watch or read the equivalent of the Cliffs Notes for encounters. I feel as though you really don’t get a chance to enjoy an encounter. It’s more like rush through to get through to the finish line as fast as possible because everything occurs so suddenly requiring you to respond with some automated system. I might be guilty of doing this myself but it’s the experience that you’re once again funneled into that makes me angry and it’s not really pleasant.

I remember doing Amber-Shaper the first time and getting transformed into a big yellow glowing thing. Although I do remember hearing about this ability, I wasn’t prepared and certainly didn’t like it. The worst part was just being put into this vehicle with four buttons that have incredibly detailed pieces of text. There’s no time to pause and really read which button does what. Of course, you could just go to a video or some site like WoWHead to figure out what to do beforehand, but what’s the point? To me it’s just a really poor gaming experience.

Compare that to Ji-Kun where you have the nest encounter. In that situation, people can volunteer to handle the mechanics. At least, people are given the option to do things they feel comfortable with as opposed to a clunky UI that can make/break an encounter easily. I don’t mind getting a clunky UI as long as I have some time to train for it. And in this situation there isn’t anything that helps prepare you outside of watching a video or reading up on an encounter. And you can’t rely on people doing either.

Let me move on now to quest design. Questing is obviously more integrated than ever into the game design for World of Warcraft. It seems that from Wrath of the Lich King, questing has really taken a precedence, especially in the leveling experience. However, I think that the questing experience has really evolved from the old kill/collect/talk to XXX model to give it more flavor. Now, you have quests that can involve things like using vehicles, stealth quests (aka Call of Duty/Black Ops), even racing and puzzle quests.

That said, one of my complaints is that the designers tend to box you into a certain linear progression when it comes to quests. Take for instance, the four storytellers in the Jade Forest. Obviously, the three storyteller quest givers from Badlands, which proved to be popular since they were unique and had a sense of comedy to them, more than likely influenced this style of quests. However, after the first time or two doing them, I found them to be not so enjoyable. In fact, I tend to take a break just as this quest hub starts since I don’t find it amusing. Part of the reason is that a few of them are clunky and one has a severe bug. Yet you can’t really avoid them.

Uldum had a few quest disappointments. There was the stupid stealth quest or the completely broken crocodile quest. Those sucked big time because pretty much you had to skip the rest of the area once you got to them. That’s a pretty shoddy experience in my book.

So how can you rectify scenarios like that? My thing is that you can create quest hubs but make them independent of each other in terms of telling a story. I feel that Cataclysm attempted to make each zone tell too much of a story and forced a far too linear experience. While you could go from one zone to another, the zones themselves tried to have epic endings. But I felt that mood didn’t really capture it in every case, nor did it have to. I think you should be given the option to split off between sections of a zone.

Isle of Thunder tries something like this by providing the option for PVE or PVP questing. I think that this idea needs to be further expanded upon. For instance, split the quest hubs up based on the type of quests people enjoy. If people prefer problem solving, create more complex quests. If people enjoy killing monsters, focus more on that. You can mix and match but you don’t want to make the pivotal quest be the thing that prevents people from progressing.

In Pandaria, the problem that I think people had was just the overwhelming number of quests with a horribly linear progression. People liked Lich King because you had two major zones to choose from. Even Cataclysm allowed you to pick between two starting areas once you hit 80. You have nothing to look forward to except for the same boring path.

Right now with the level reduction, you get some choice in which zones to do your leveling whereas the experience necessary to level pretty much forced you to do all the zones except Townlonge Steppes and Dread Wastes, where you could switch off. Again though my complaint is that you had to go straight through, unless you grinded mobs. If anything it was a poor experience because mentally it felt really taxing. Most of the quests really had no rhyme nor reason; it’s just busy work. Couldn’t a lot of those quests just be cut down? Why have so many stupid gathering quests? What’s the point?

I would prefer if you had leads to do a group of quests that lead to gaining sufficient experience, rather than just enforcing you to be a completionist. I liked the older Vanilla system because leveling was spaced out better. Got tired of questing? Just hit an instance or try a slightly more challenging area. That would allow for more variety of rhythm something that really doesn’t exist right now.

Another aspect I want to discuss is the whole Daily Quest fiasco. It was a fiasco and I think a lot of people ended up burning out and even quitting over them. There were so many problems in the design of these, from the varying difficulty, to the actual zone they were created in as well as the various gates. Before they came out, the creators seemed really proud in improving the experience from the Molten Front. Molten Front had it share of issues too but most of the problem specifically was over the time investment aspect.

The creators said that they realized that the one month grind was something that probably needed adjustment. They adjusted it alright….in the wrong direction. Maybe they thought that people obtained rewards and the result too easily because the new dailies had such horrible rewards. I’m not talking about the quartermaster valor gear; I’m talking about the miniscule reputation and valor that were awarded. And pretty much if you wanted to get anywhere (especially at the beginning of the expansion), you needed to do them every day. Forget what all the defenders and PR people say about them being optional. The truth is that you had to grind them out if you wanted to keep up. On top of that, the time requirement to really maximize these were horrendous.

When the Isle of Thunder came out it was the Golden Lotus all over again, except worse. Now, you couldn’t even fly and had to experience tons of mobs. It’s like they saw players hating the little cave for the Dominance Offensive and realized, “Hey, let’s create an even crappier experience to piss them off even worse!” But these dailies pretty much lack any point. The rewards aren’t even useful from the reputation. On top of that, add some near raid-like boss encounters for certain quests and it’s just non-stop frustration.

The whole thing should’ve been weeklies. With that many hubs, it would’ve been a far better experience just to allow players to choose which hub to do, get their rewards then pick another one. If the dailies didn’t consume so much time (like the ones in Uldum or even Twilight Highlands), then the daily aspect wouldn’t have been so terrible. But these dailies are just far too time consuming and there’s just way too many for them to be worth doing on a daily basis. I mean, why kill the same damn boss every day? It’s not really fun after a while.

At any rate, I hope the designers consider some of these points. They probably already do have some of these standards in place. But it feels like they aren’t really enforced.