Monday 11 June 2012

Do not bite at the bait of pleasure, till you know there is no hook beneath it

Without a single game to obsess over at the moment I find myself meandering around a variety of stuff for a “quick fix”, a 5 – 20 minute chunk of gameplay; sometimes I’ll plan for a couple of straight hours of gaming like an Operation in SWTOR, but that’s an exception rather than a rule. Chunks of gameplay can naturally chain together, the old “… just one more turn” of Civilisation, “… just one more song” in Audiosurf, but they’re meaningful enough if you only have half an hour to spare. Ideally there should be something longer term as well, whether it’s character development, levelling up, a story, unlocks, or just shooting for a high score. Without one or other, things tend to fizzle.

The Guild Wars 2 beta has no shortage of bite size chunks, you can hardly move around the introductory zones without stumbling over someone that needed a helping hand; I almost punched a farmer out when he started talking about hoes, but it turned out he was just after some gardening implements, he wasn’t commenting on the starting outfit of my Mesmer. It bodes well for release, but like I mentioned, the impermanence of a beta removes most of the longer term motivations. Apart from the really important stuff (i.e. hats) I’m not too bothered at the moment, though I ought to have a look at Wuvvuwhuuvwoo sometime.

Mass Effect 3 had one of its fortnightly multiplayer events, Operation Mastiff, which gave a bit of an added incentive to blast waves of Geth, Cerberus and Reapers. Each round lasts for 15-20 minutes which works out pretty nicely, and there’s a longer term hook in earning credits to buy equipment packs. Their randomness is getting a little annoying; much like the old sticker collections from school, the more you have, the faster the evaporation of the rush from tearing open a brand new pack when it turns out everything inside is a duplicate. I haven’t managed to find any of the new characters from the Rebellion DLC pack, or much useful permanent equipment, but I have got piles of shotguns I’ll never use… Still, such is the way of the RNG, so while I might quit in disgust at finding a Turian Soldier for the sixth time, I’ll be back at some point, feverishly tearing open another packet in the hope of finding the top half of C3PO. (I never did get that sticker in a packet or from swapping, I had to send off a stamped addressed envelope to complete the collection in the end…)

Star Wars: The Old Republic has a variety of bite sized options at the level cap. There are repeatable daily missions on a few planets, which do at a pinch, but I’ve never been a big fan of daily quests. There are the space combat missions, but as you fly along exactly the same rails each time they get repetitive very quickly; further tantalising hints of updated space content have been drifting out of E3, so there may be hope yet for a Something Very Similar To Jump To Lightspeed But With A Different Name To Avoid Trademark Issues expansion. My favoured option is the PvP warzones, 8v8 instanced fights with themes like “Kill The Dude With The Thing (Then Take The Thing Somewhere)”, “Click On The Thing (Then Stand Near It)”, and my favourite (and catchiest of all) “Click On A Series Of Things Then Swap Around And Stop The Other Team Clicking On Those Same Things”. As time goes on, though, these become distinctly less appealing as the disparity in gear, and thus power, between players becomes ever greater. It’s not unique to SWTOR, of course, most MMOGs run into similar issues; Funcom’s Craig Morrison recently posted to expand on a tweet responding to someone wanting gear parity in Age of Conan with the appropriate title of “The eternal PVP debate”. Ranked warzones and/or an increase in the level cap in future patches may help the situation, for now I’m taking a bit of a break; a while back I mentioned SWTOR warzones had generally supplanted World of Tanks for my daily drop in dose of screaming frustration (and/or triumphant victory), and Juzaba commented: “You know what the best thing about TOR pvp is? Your tier 6 tank is not repeatedly stuck in fights against tier 9/10 tanks.” Ironically, that’s a pretty good comparison for a modestly geared character going up against someone in full uber-deluxe PvP gear, so as the wheel turns, I’ve gone back to World of Tanks.

World of Tanks has the quick fix covered, battles take 15 minutes at the very most, usually less. There’s plenty for the long term as well, researching and unlocking new equipment and working up the tiers of available tanks, but I’ve more or less abandoned that side of things; levelling up gets pretty painful in the mid-tiers, that’s when spending money on a premium account or gold to convert experience can really help move things along, but I’ve got a garage full of tanks I’m happy with so I just roll them out for a round or two. It’s really just about the battles themselves, like the good old days of FPS deathmatches, with a bit of an added incentive in the form of persistent stats. There’s an Android and iOS mobile app available that shows your stats, perfect for chat-up lines down the pub (“Hey darling, check out my average Capture Points per match”), but one of its headline figures is your win/loss ratio, and caring too deeply about that is a sure path to insanity when it depends so heavily on the random people you’re dumped into battles with. Gank linked to a mod that displays an “efficiency rating”, which seems a slightly more sensible metric. I’m saving up the free experience, though, as the British are *finally* coming (in a couple of patches time, after some more made-up French post-war nonsense), when they arrive I’ll probably upgrade to a premium account again.

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