You can never step into the same river; for new waters are always flowing on to you.

After the long and drawn-out interactive electronic entertainment drought of the summer, where the bounteous river Gaming is deprived of content and dwindles to a mere trickle maintained only by the delta of hype tributaries that continue to feed it, we now begin to see the autumnal deluge of new releases, which rained down on the Beta mountain ranges not so long ago, slowly gather speed as they wend their way down the steep slopes and out onto the flood plain of launch titles. And as the river Gaming begins to regain its strength, returning life to the dishevelled and starved media that line its banks and drink deeply of its waters, the native inhabitants of the river begin to return; here and there gamers frolic once more in the seemingly illimitable expanse of the rejuvenated river, their joyous cries to one another filling the Autumn air with the sound of rapture.

PC and TV screens flow again with the neon light of the river as it streams out and lights-up the faces of gratified gamers across the wide expanse of the world.

Or in short: new games, woo yeah!

Champions Online has now set ‘engines to power, turbines to speed’ and is battling with the evil forces of General Release, where it seems to be winning on the whole. Certainly it’s been a smooth launch for a vast majority of players as far as I can tell, and my experiences with the game so far have been almost entirely positive, with Lord of the Rings Online being the only other MMO springing to mind that has done so well on its opening few days. Still, the game is not without its issues – as is the remit of any true MMO at launch – and Syp reports on at least one rather game-stopping issue for some people, this one regarding frame rate frinkiness.

As for me, well I’ve made it out of the character creator for long enough to get my main character to level fifteen and have thus made my way through the first two introductory zones and into Millennium City and the game proper. I do intend to post a lengthier disquisition on the game, but for now the important thing to say is that this isn’t City of Heroes 2.0. No really, it isn’t. Yes, there are a lot of ideas that have been inherited from City of Heroes, clearly there are. In fact there are some audio assets that seem to be exact copies, for example the ‘vomit’ attack sound of the Qulaar aliens you meet at the very start of the tutorial area are, to my ear, identical to the Vahzilok vomit sound effect from CoH. The character creator is also evidently a spiritual successor to its CoH counterpart, but if saying that a few ideas taken from CoH and improved upon make Champions Online nothing more than CoH 2.0, then we must also say that WoW is nothing more than EQ 3.0. Champions is a very different game to CoH in many fundamental ways. Take combat for one: in CoH you press an attack, wait for that power to fire, then press another attack. If an attack is on cool-down you can queue it up and wait for the power to recharge, at which point it will fire and go back on cool-down. It’s a very traditional PC MMO system, whereas Champions is, as has been pointed out elsewhere already, a Console MMO system: it is fast, it is furious and it is a lot of fun, assuming you aren’t set in your PC MMO ways. As one example of the difference between the two, many attack powers don’t have a cool-down and therefore you can mash the attack as fast as your keyboard and latency will allow, which is, to Cryptic’s credit, really pretty fast and very responsive. In fact, people should really be quite impressed with just how responsive the attack system is in Champions. It’s one of the things that I secretly (not so secretly now, of course) think made WoW great: you press a button, you get a response to that button press. Straight away. Not when some special internal cool-down occurs. Not when the game feels like fitting you in to its diary. If the power is on cool-down, you can’t use it, if it isn’t on cool-down then you can use it Right Now. It’s probably my biggest issue with combat in LotRO at the moment – at least with my Champion, the Warden seems less effected – in that I can press an ability and then seemingly have to wait an age for it to activate. Maybe it’s based on the swing timer, maybe it’s an internal timer, I don’t know, but it makes having an interrupt ability that is used in response to an enemy’s attack nigh-on pointless. Champions also requires you to actively block enemy attacks, you can get away with not bothering to do so with their standard attacks, but if you see the enemy winding up a big power (as indicated by a comic-style BLAM icon above their head) then you’d better get those shields up, Captain. It makes the game more like an arcade beat’em-up, and as far as super heroism goes, it feels a lot more true to the genre than standing on the spot and pressing ‘1’ in CoH. And maybe a bit of ‘2’, just to spice things up. With the occasional excitement of pressing ‘6’,’7′,’8′,’ALT-1′,’ALT-2′,’ALT-3′ and ‘ALT-4’ if a mob knocks all of your toggle powers off. Of course CoH isn’t really as staid as all that, because they managed to make the fights hectic enough that it feels as though you’re doing a lot. As a final thought, another MMO which tried to mix the combat up a bit and went for a more frenetic option was Age of Conan, also slated to be a console MMO at one point, and again the combat in that game was a lot of fun if you were open and receptive to that sort of thing. More on Champions once I’ve had a chance to play my character to a higher level.

Other new games that are now causing a quite audible ping on my game radar are Aion, which I ordered some time ago on a whim and am not sure I will get a chance to play for a while; Batman: Arkham Asylum, about which I have heard what can only be described as the unrestrained screams of orgasmic release; Section 8, which has been pimped quite heavily by Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and seems to be gaining momentum in the blogger hive mind; and last but not least Dungeons & Dragons Online: Unlimited, which I have yet to look into properly but would like to return to at some point, having played the original on release. I think it would need a decent static group to make the most of it though, so I’ll probably dabble in the free section of the game and then determine where to go from there.

The only problem is that until recently I’ve been happily subsisting in the isolated ponds of LotRO and WoW, those enduring habitats that remain a watering hole of gaming life when all other options have dried out. I’m not entirely sure I’m prepared for the rapid influx of fresh gaming waters, and I’m probably at risk of being swamped by the oncoming wave of new ideas and thoughts, sights and sounds. I need to anchor myself, and I shall do so with the next post, where I’ll talk about my ongoing adventures in LotRO, and my recent return with Tiger Ears to the lands of Azeroth, for one final fond tour of its lands before they are sundered by what one imagines is the wrath of a development team who, after being labelled the ‘Blizzard B Team’ for so long, have finally reached their enrage timer.

8 thoughts on “You can never step into the same river; for new waters are always flowing on to you.

  1. unwize

    LotRO’s combat system is a bit different to WoW’s, WARs and pretty much every other similar MMO I’ve played:

    – Skills and auto-attacks are hard queued, which means that if a skill takes 2 seconds to animate, then another skill cannot fire until those 2 seconds are over. This is the ‘skill delay’ that many people complain about in LotRO.

    – If a skill is queued it will fire as soon as the previous skill finishes, providing it isn’t on cooldown. Getting used to the skill queue is the key to getting used to LotRO combat. One benefit of queueing is that it replaces the conspicuous global cooldown inherent in WoW, reducing the need for ‘Skill not ready’ messages and button mashing.

    – Slower weapons have slower animations, so a skill that takes 1 second with a dagger might take 2 seconds with a great-axe. If you need a faster skill response (for interrupts), you need to use a faster weapon.

    – Auto-attacks won’t fire unless you give them breathing space to do so, and just like any skill, they have their own animation length based upon weapon speed. If you queue other skills fast enough, you may never see an auto-attack, though since auto-attacks are ‘free’ damage, it’s often better to let them fire.


  2. mbp

    @Unwize that is a very good explanation of something that took me a long time to get my head around. Now it is pretty much second nature for me but when I started playing Lotro I couldn’t understand why I was pressing buttons and nothing happened for ages.

    One key point that you missed is that you cannot queue more than one skill at a time because the queue is only one skill deep. There is an option to display the skill queue when in combat which I find handy.

  3. Melmoth

    @unwize: Splendid comment, thanks!

    I understood the weapon speed issue, which is a bit of a dilemma when you want a nice slow (read high damage range) weapon for crits and abilities based on weapon damage (assuming I have that correct), and yet this leaves you unable to effectively use one of your more useful non-damage skills. If this is by design, then I guess I just have to accept it.

    The skill queuing I have real trouble with; I have no problem with skill queuing in general, but the way LotRO implements it causes me conflict. So often I have queued an ability and waited what feels like an inordinate amount of time, and then pressed the next ability (based on a sense of urgency, perhaps due to a hairy combat encounter), only to find the first skill de-queued and the new skill queued instead. Initially I thought it was the lack of feedback that irked me, but one just has to sit and wait for the highlighted skill to activate, I see that now, therefore I think it’s the fact that it prevents any sort of flow in the way the combat works. It feels erratic, which would be a fine way to express more realism in combat if it didn’t also feel as though I had no predictable control over how my character operates, which is a major disconnect between myself and the game. I think the primary problem for me is due to the fact that an animation can have finished on the screen but the actual ‘animation time’ has not yet expired. It’s probably only a very fine timing line, but it’s just enough to cause me a great deal of frustration when playing my Champion. Having to learn the potentially-invisible-to-me animation timing for each skill, and remember which one I used previously to be able to know when I can expect to be able to queue the next skill seems clunky.

    As I say, the Warden seems to operate in a much ‘cleaner’ fashion, which only leads me to believe that this is an ‘issue’ that has been addressed in that class, perhaps simply through the prudence of having the Warden’s combat animations cycle so quickly that there is rarely an opportunity to queue, or perhaps it is down to a faster weapon speed. I’d have to investigate further to work out why that class works so much better for me.

    I haven’t read around the topic though, so I’m sure this has all been hashed out many times elsewhere. At the end of the day I think I just prefer the more immediate and visceral combat systems provided in other games.

    It is perhaps a testament to the excellence of LotRO that I can happily ignore the annoyances that I find in what is the main activity of the game, in order that I can continue playing.

    @mbp: I shall seek that option out, I never knew it existed. Many thanks!

  4. Melmoth

    Thinking on it a little more, I think it’s the difference between:

    Start —> Button press —> Feedback (be it ‘skill activated’ or ‘skill not ready yet’) —> Goto Start


    Start —> Button press —> Feedback (skill queued, will activate when next ready) —> Wait —> Wait —> Um, is this thing on? —> Goto Start

    The feedback in the first instance can be directly acted upon, it’s a feedback system. The second instance provides a disconnect.

    As an extra thought: I’ve been trying to think of a consumer electronic device that would use the second system of feedback over the first; I think it is rare thing, and the reason for that is that the second option is a confusing system of operation. Perhaps others would consider this to be an unfair comparison, but I see these combat systems – and gaming in general – at their basic level as continuous feedback systems, and as such I feel the simplest and least confusing feedback systems provide the best game-play experience.

  5. Zubon

    Random note: City of Heroes crowd control no longer shuts off your toggles. Toggles can be suppressed, but you do not re-activate eight toggles on your Fire Tanker anymore. Although that might happen if you run out of endurance, not sure there.

  6. Melmoth

    @Zubon: Thank goodness for that! And thank you for the note.

    I will say, however, that some of my most ‘exciting’ moments of re-toggling eight defensive powers for the fortieth time in as many seconds were against Malta Operatives Sappers and Longbow Spec Ops, so it will be interesting to know if the ‘out of endurance’ case still applies.

  7. unwize

    Regarding LotRO combat, it feels natural to me in comparison to global cooldown games. As a keypresser for skills, I prefer being able to queue my next skill and then concentrate on positioning and situational awareness, instead of either key-mashing or timing my next keypress according to the GCD.

    Also, the responsiveness in WoW is just a client illusion to mask server latency. Most of the time it seems responsive, but in bad latency situations, I think LotRO’s system holds up a little better.

    And I expect I have a greater tolerance for the delay because I play a Burglar, who even at their slowest, are probably similar in attack speed to an average Champion.

  8. Melmoth

    I’d be interested to see if you find the Warden to be as different an experience as I do, it’s a fairly tangible difference even from the early levels, if I recall correctly.

    As for the WoW responsiveness being an illusion, well, I believe that there’s a lot about that game which is smoke and mirrors, and it’s the fact that they’re very good at not letting most players see how the trick is done that makes the game seem so miraculous to many.

    Producing a convincing illusion is not necessarily a feat to be taken lightly.

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