Archive for the ‘Tome of Knowledge’ Category

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Full Metal Dust Jacket

November 21, 2008

So what are we to make of Heavy Metal at this point? Okay, apart from the rockin’ guitar riff when you open the Live Events tab (for fun, click on the tab multiple times, rapidly!) and a severe decrease of annoying summoning horn sounds, the meat of this patch was in the Reikland Factory scenario and the Heavy Metal “to do” list (which is gradually opening up, but soon will present itself in its full, naked glory in time for the Thanksgiving holiday).

The scenario is both fun and a success, visually well-designed with a lot of potential for strategies and victories. Bonus happiness for the fact that it can be accessed by people of all tiers, from rank 1 to rank 40; bonus sadness that it isn’t popping as often as people need it to be (especially for quests). It does beg the question of why popular scenarios, such as Nordenwatch, can’t be accessed by all tiers in the game.

However, what is interesting is how the Heavy Metal daily task list is resonating with players. People like it, for the reason they like these sorts of lists in other MMOs: it gives them a list of rewards and a clear, guided path of how to accomplish that goal. It feels like a step above the PQ influence bar page, because it’s not just doing one thing, but a plethora of tasks that get players out of their rut, whatever that might be — endless scenarios, endless keep taking/retaking, endless questing — and off on adventures hither and yonder. It’s also precisely the opposite of how the Tome’s worked so far.

For the most part, the Tome is reactionary — it reacts to previously hidden accomplishments when you pass an invisible line, and then rewards you (usually XP, but sometimes with other lustable loot). While being praised and rewarded for things you’ve done is all well and good, it isn’t a motivator in any sense, unless you’ve done your out-of-game research and know what to do to get certain unlocks and gain certain rewards. You aren’t aiming for a goal, just rewarded from time to time.

With the Heavy Metal event, the Tome swings around the other way. You have a clearly shown reward (trophy, cloak, one-week head start on tank classes) and a list of tasks in order to earn that reward. It’s straight-forward and not frustrating to the average, perhaps casual player trying to catch up with the big boys.

As Mythic evaluates how this Live Event progresses, I’d like to urge them to examine why this setup resonates in their players, and throw my opinion into the mix: we need to reveal all — or at least a large bulk — of the hidden Tome unlocks and give players a clear, guided list of things to accomplish and rewards at the end of the road. I’ve floated this idea around and several people have given me a positive thumbs up for the idea. Snafzg said that it would make the game “cooler imho” (Imho is his nickname for me). If nothing else, we can argue that this would get people diving into their Tome more often.

The Tome of Knowledge has far more muscle and scope than any other similar system in other games right now — it’s time for Mythic to pull off the covers and show it off in a big way.

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The Tome of Knowledge: A One-Month Review

October 20, 2008

As my ChaosCast cohorts can attest, I’ve been batty about the Tome of Knowledge ever since getting into the Warhammer Online scene. The concept is rock-solid: an in-game journal that keeps track not only of your quests, but also all your kills, your achievements, your journeys and the world you explore. It’s a wildly ambitious feature that may see counterparts in other games — the badge system in City of Heroes, the deed log in LOTRO, XBL Achievements, WoW’s new achievement system — but had and has the potential to dwarf them all with sheer scope and content. I couldn’t wait until launch to start digging into the Tome and enjoying the “metagame” aspect of WAR.

Like so many features of WAR, what we received was something short of the monumental hype and yet something greater than many expectations. Part of it I very much love and is filling up that void in my gamer life that needs to be applauded for every silly little milestone that I cross; part of it is disappointing and frustrating, and definitely needs work. I thought it’d be appropriate to do an in-depth review of the Tome as it is one-month into the game — and still growing.

1. The Unlock Rate

When you start up a new character in WAR, the Tome is like a hyper-chatty party hostess looking to talk your head off and show you around to everybody. “Did you see that? How about that? And that?” The unlocks just fly in, one after another, and while they border on “too much too fast”, each one is a pleasant little jolt of discovery and reward. I get killed by a Sorceress in Nordenwatch? No worries, the Tome says, here’s an unlock AND a title! I just got rewarded for sucking. That’s awesome in a very twisted way.

Unfortunately, like pretty much every reward feature in every MMO, you have to work harder and longer for the little “dings!” of Tome unlocks as you level up. What was a monsoon of unlocks in the beginning zone becomes a mere steady downpour in T2 and a drizzle in T3. The problem here is that there are two types of Tome unlocks: those that are one time hit-the-right-spot affairs, and those that work in exponential numbers. The second type (coupled with a seemingly lower density of unlocks in higher zones) is a key issue behind the slowdown. You might get an unlock for encountering a bat. Then an unlock for killing 25 bats. Then an unlock for 250 bats. Then an unlock for 2,500 bats. And so on. It’s an exponential increase that quickly gets beyond something you’ll see on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis.

Verdict: Great at the start, but we need more in T3/T4. It’d be great if there were new types of Tome unlocks that you only started to find when you moved into T3 and T4 content, or if the unlocks wouldn’t come in multiples but every set amount (like every “100″ of something or “1000″ of something).

2. RvR Unlocks

A common complaint by the PvP set is that they’re getting far, far fewer unlocks for doing RvR content than the PvE — the latter of which is the Tome’s primary focus. It’s true that there ARE RvR unlocks, particularly in getting killed by a type of enemy player and killing X types of enemy players. But what about unlocks for doing a certain type of scenario (doing Nordenwatch 10 times) or accomplishing a task in a certain scenario (your side controls all three capture points in Nordenwatch simultaneously)? Werit’s remarked on this, and it does seem pretty bizarre that I can get an unlock for the first time I kill a Greenskin, but if I’m part of a group that manages to overtake a Keep I get nada… at least not until I do it multiple times.

Verdict: There needs to be TONS more unlocks for RvR content. Especially since Mythic is trying to put more of a focus on open world RvR these days.

3. Secrets vs. Goals

There seem to be two types of achievement systems whenever you see them (with a possible third being a hybrid of the two): those that tell you outright how you can earn an unlock, and those that keep you in the dark until you accomplish the task. The Tome is the second type, and it’s been cited as a sticking point for some.

I see why they went this route: it’s pretty exciting to stumble upon an unlock without knowing that you were going to get one (random reward motivator), secret unlocks make those unlocks hold more intrinsic value (factor in other players’ jealousy – “How’d you get that title?”), and a bit of mystery keeps the mind wondering what may lie around the corner.

However, it has a downside: we just don’t know what to do, often times, to get those unlocks. Players are working on compiling reference lists and guides, but that takes us out of the game to look at a document that now we have to go BACK in the game to accomplish to unlock part of the in-game document. It motivates us to do the exact opposite thing the Tome intends: to keep us enthralled with the in-game world.

Verdict: I don’t think ALL Tome unlocks need to be spelled out for us, but the Tome doesn’t motivate us to do these things unless we know they’re there — and I think it’s time it starts presenting us with clearly-defined goals so we know what to do to get that reward. Progress bars, too, would be a big help on the “Do this X number of times” unlocks.

4. Stories and Quotes

As a pseudo-book, the Tome goes hand-in-hand with storytelling. It’s easy enough, really — you stumble into a new Chapter and you get an unlock with a backstory behind the chapter and why you should care about it all. Stories and quotes are cheap, easy, non-game-breaking rewards to dish out to the players. And they work and don’t work.

What doesn’t work, for me, are the longer stories (Chapter stories and Warcamp stories). I’m a reader by nature, I love to read, and I devour books like nobody’s business. But for some reason, I just cannot get into the multi-page stories whenever the Tome unlocks them. It’s hard for me to sit and just read page after virtual page without getting ansy. In LOTRO, I liked how they’d have cutscenes and a narrator spelling out what was happening with your Chapter Storyline, and I’d love to see something like that here. Or, hey, even some pictures/concept art to help break up the wall of text.

Yet what does work are the shorter blurbs. I get a lot out of character quotes or small snippets of info behind the game world (like when you get a history unlock about Superstitions in the Empire starting zone). I’d honestly like to see more of them, many, many more of them, and have the bigger stories told in a slightly different fashion.

Verdict: A mixed bag, but plenty there for a reader to enjoy!

5. Fluff and Rewards

Arguably, the Tome is pretty much the beginning and end of the “fluff” (meaningless fun that doesn’t statistically impact your character) in WAR, especially if you set aside trophies and dyes. The Tome is all about handing out fluff rewards — stories, titles (see #6), trophies, items — and as a result, it’s the refuge of the player who eagerly seeks after this sort of thing. If the Tome is going to be the main repository of fluff in WAR, I’d argue that it needs more, lots more, to help give characters a sense of life in the world outside of nonstop combat. The Tome is a ripe system in place for collectors… if only it would feed them.

Verdict: A good start, more fluff needed!

6. Titles

Possibly the crowning achievement of the Tome system, titles are a smash hit with pretty much everyone I encounter. People love to collect titles and have a great selection to choose from, ranging between silly to serious to haughty to humble. It tells me a lot about someone when I see what title they’ve chosen to wear. I tend to gravitate toward depreciating titles (“The Above Average”, “The Peculiar”); I’ve seen a lot of tanks wear the “Meat Shield” one in particular.

Verdict: Awesome implementation!

7. Bragging Rights

This is a feature that was tacked on shortly before launch, and I doubt many people know what to make of it.  In theory, it’s a great way to highlight ten of your best Tome unlocks on your character inspection screen, so others can check you out and see what you’re made of.  Yet I’ve hardly seen anyone use this.  It’s partially because it’s not very intuitive how this functions or how to set something as a bragging right (some unlocks you can right-click, but some don’t work as brags, so they do nothing).  And in-game, do I really want to be reading a top 10 list of people I encounter?  Not so much.

Verdict: Bragging Rights might work a lot better out of the game, or represented by symbols, or… really, I don’t know.  It’s just not clicking.

8. Nudity and Chickens

Somebody at Mythic had a very demented and sad childhood, for the Tome is rife with unlocks pertaining to either doing things nude, or doing things as a chicken.  This seems to be the bulk of the “silly tee hee” Tome unlocks, but the sheer number of them suggest that there are players out there who will make it their life’s work to unlock every Chicken achievement until there is no more.  And I kinda doubt that.

Verdict: Amusing, would like to see more “silly” unlocks coupled with other fun WAR features.

9. Limitations and Absences

In short: it’s odd that there’s a quest log limit in a book that, as W&W put it, “has a lot of pages”.  There are other odd limitations of the Tome, such as a lack of progress bars (except for influence), or detailed map notes, or extensive cross-referencing (a la Wikipedia).  It boggles the mind that your character isn’t writing down recipes for crafts they’re doing, or that you can’t annotate your Tome at all.  I’d love to have some blank “notes” pages, at the very least, where I could cut ‘n paste in text from internet guides or whatnot to reference in-game.

Verdict: I’m sure Mythic has a laundry list of Tome “to do’s”, and it speaks well that there’s so much possibility and potential for putting them in.  I’d like to see them take the Tome much farther in creativity and usability.

10. Tome Tactics

I’ve done a whole article on these, so suffice to say that they’re (a) a good idea and (b) completely unintuitive how to attain them except through sheer luck or an internet guide.

11. User Interface

Before launch, the Tome saw a complete visual rework of the whole UI, transforming it from “usable” to “nicely functional”.  The tabs helped you navigate faster and it was all sorted out neatly.  I like the animations of the page flippings, and it’s easy to get here or there between sections.  Now, between entries is another matter, and I’m surprised that I haven’t spent more time just flipping through the Tome to read all the sections as I anticipated I would.  This might be due to just a glut of info that still needs yet more organization and cross-referencing.

Still, I like the look and it’s pretty breezy to use (especially to find what Tome unlocks you’ve accomplished lately).

Verdict: Great, could still use more tweakage.

12. Out Of Game Experience

I’m sure Mythic is pretty sick of hearing this suggestion, but here it is again: let us access our Tome out of game!  Please!  It’s a no-brainer that a mainly-text feature would be read extensively by folks who can’t get into the game (at work, school or elsewhere) but want to catch up on recent unlocks or to just comb through it all.  We should be able to access our Tomes from the Mythic site.

This list isn’t a series of “Why I hate the Tome”, but hopefully you’ve read it as “I am quite fond of the Tome and want to see it get a lot better” analysis and suggestions.  I can’t wait to see what the 1.1 patch will bring for the Tome… and I’m sure I’ll be covering it when it happens.

Looking for Tome unlock lists? So am I! Here’s a few I’ve found:

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On PvE

September 23, 2008

It seems that some people get an allergic reaction — the kind where you swell up and cough in a highly unpleasant way — whenever PvE is mentioned in Warhammer Online. Beyond that, some folks get incredibly riled up against the PvE content, as if it was a personal insult to their southern honor that requires a gentleman’s duel. In many of the journalistic and fan reviews I’ve read, PvE is cited as a weak spot in WAR, something to be tolerated at best and a whipping boy for a reason why to knock off a full number point from the final review score.

But is this true? Is PvE content so abysmal and forgettable in WAR that we should declare it a heresy and burn it at the stake? Or is this a kneejerk reaction that starts with an assumption and is unclouded by facts and unbiased gameplay?

Listen, there’s just no getting around the point that WAR was built with a gooey PvP core, and most all of the systems in place are there to support that. Most MMOs are a blend of PvE and PvP content, of varying ratios: 90/10, 75/25, 50/50. It’s a little tougher to sort out WAR’s ratio, since in many places the PvE content blends with the PvP and vice versa. Take competitive PQs, for instance — PvE content that, at the same time, has you competing against enemy players in a neck-and-neck race, and can often degenerate into actual PvP combat if people get flagged or in the mood for it. Or PvE objectives falling inside the RvR zones.

And while we can’t blame Mythic for promoting their title’s superior strength — it’s RvR focus — in contrast to other games, PvE got the punt to the back seat of the bus whenever the game was shown off (with the major exception of Public Quests). Still, Mythic assured PvE-types that there would be plenty of PvE content in for their enjoyment, and it would be completely possible to play the game from rank 1 to 40 without touching a lick of PvP, if so desired… they just weren’t going to spend a lot of time talking about it.

So we see that well before WAR launched, the public perception was slanted against WAR’s PvE — if Mythic wasn’t talking about it, it must not be that special. If Mythic is so proud of the option of being able to level to the cap solely through PvP, PvE must be an afterthought. Plus, many players heading into Warhammer were refugees from past MMOs where a stigma of PvE grinds turned them off to the whole “E” part of the equation together. It almost didn’t matter if it was the best PvE in the industry, it was tainted by association and they wanted no part of it.

Personally, I think this angle is unfair and unwarranted. I’m finding WAR’s PvE content satisfying, at least, with true bursts of gaming joy. It might not be the adrenaline thrillride that PvP can become, but there’s a lot of meat on this bone and it’s a shame for it to be thrown out entirely. Let’s take a quick look at what PvE WAR offers:

  • Solo Quests: Ah, the old “Kill Ten Rats” quest. The “Go Find The Dead Guy” quest. The “Click On The Glowy Icon” quest. The dreaded “Escort” quest. The “Collect X Items” quest. The “Breadcrumbs” quest. MMO vets are well familiar with these all, and while they might moan and complain about their inclusion in WAR, the lack of PvE quests at all would be even more cause to complain. Quests, as I see them, are filler. They fill the gaps between PvP matches, between PQ chapters, between busy moments where your friends are all online. They give you something to do, an accomplishment to achieve, and they reward you decently: XP, gold, items, what have you. If you take the time to actually read the quest text (I know, I know), you’d discover some pretty funny and interesting tales to give the game world and your place in it context. I like how accessible WAR’s made its quests, with map indicators (the red rings) showing you the general area of the quest, the detail of the Tome’s quest description, and the 1:1 ratio of kills to drops that you need (no more killing 75 whatevers to get your 5 drops!).
  • Public Quests: We’ve already talked about these at length, so I’ll let it go with this — for people who whine about quests being static and boring, you really have to close a blind eye to the dozens and dozens of PQs that are anything but static or boring. And the influence rewards… holy crap, how I love topping the influence meter for each chapter!
  • Dungeons: Whereas I’d put WAR’s PvE quests on par with WoW’s (seriously), WoW still holds superiority in dungeons. I’ve yet to explore a WAR dungeon, although I hear they’re a different breed of animal: short, nasty and rewarding. Get in, kill to boss, kill boss, loot treasure. WAR needs a better way to hook people up for these and to get people interested in them sooner, if they want to be competitive in this regard.
  • Tome of Knowledge: This encompasses both PvE and PvP, but let’s face it — the Tome is one giant solo quest log for you to hack away at. Between the Tome and Kill Collectors, Mythic aimed to give players more of a sense of accomplishment to their gaming time.  If you’re anything like me, you’re more happy if you’re accomplishing to objectives at the same time, even more happy if it’s three simultaneously, and so on.  Even if I’m a bit bored while doing a particular quest, there’s some part of me that’s happy knowing that I’m contributing to a couple different Tome unlocks and my effort isn’t going to waste.
  • Capital Cities: I agree with Mythic — an online city in a MMORPG has never been done quite as extensively, intricately and life-like as the two in the game.  If you haven’t treated yourself to a tour around these towns as part of your PvE experience, then more’s the pity.
  • As A Funnel: Even if you’re the type like Snafzg who cares not one whit for PvE, there should be a soft spot in your heart for what Mythic’s trying to do with it.  Namely, to funnel formerly solo-only PvErs into a group-based PvP environment.  Everywhere you look, the PvE content nudges, pushes, entices or outright shoves players into trying a bit of RvR, if nothing else than to fulfill a quest requirement or to get a spiffy Tome unlock.  And while it might be too soon to tell for sure, I think it’s working.

I’ve heard reports that higher end (T4) zones are far more noticeably lacking in PvE content, which should be addressed by Mythic as soon as possible.  That aside, I don’t feel as though I’m missing out on any great PvE content that I used to have in CoH, WoW, LOTRO, etc., except for the occasional dungeon run… so if my PvE needs are being filled, that is a pretty good indicator to me that Mythic lived up to their promise to give players like me the gameplay we love.  I guess I just don’t understand the criticism in this regard.  Feel free to enlighten me.

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Head Start: The Quickening

September 16, 2008

As the second batch of head starters break out of the gate — welcome standard edition pre-orders! — the in-game community will swell quite a bit and we move one more day closer to Thursday’s official launch.

I have a bunch of thoughts and observations from the game that I wanted to present in no particular order, so here goes:

Syp the Engineer – I’m sorry if she doesn’t stack up to your standard of elfish beauty, but I think she’s short and sassy and cute. WAR’s character creator should tell you something before you even start playing — this is not a world that values traditional Guild Wars-style of beauty and waifish perfection. It’s a down-and-dirty world of scars and growls and little green men with chunks out of their ears. And in a way that’s more endearing to me than games where you feel as though you have to choose only the most traditionally beautiful/handsome looks for your character. Oh, and hey — Rank 7 RR 6 last night! Totally loving this class, even though it’s a bit more squishy than I’d anticipated (light armor means you don’t want to stand toe-to-toe with anything in RvR, but to use your tricks and boogie out of there to regain ranged advantage).

Exploring – If you care one whit about the Tome, Warhammer Online is going to successfully nourish the explorer in you. Even setting aside the secret Tome unlocks, there’s just so many nooks and crannies in the world, with often a hidden surprise (lair! plunger!) tucked away. In playing the game, I know it’d be a lot more efficient to move from quest-giver A to quest-location B as a straight line, but I can’t help roaming all over the place looking to see what’s out there.

Sound – In most WAR “reviews”, people draw up a huge list of the features yet often omit any mention of the auditory experience. I’ll admit that the music in WAR isn’t anything memorable — it’s decent and serves its purpose — but the sound effects and ambiance of the game just keeps bowling me over. I ran through a tunnel last night in the dwarf tier 1 zone and was delighted to hear the roar of the wind rushing through it, growing louder until I burst out into the open vista beyond. Fire actually sounds like a roaring flame. Combat sounds are meaty and satisfying. And to hear my dwarf mutter an insult to her enemies after a random kill just cracked me up. Good stuff.

NPCs - In MMOs, there’s really two types of good NPCs. There’s the stationary ones, that more often than not are a vendor or trainer or quest-giver of some kind, and then there are the scripted NPCs that are there to provide motion and drama and story to the world. I just love how many of the second kind of NPCs are present in WAR. They’re just zipping to and fro, enacting little dramas if you catch them at the right time, and they make you feel like the world’s not stationary and you’re the only thing truly moving in it.

Ease of Grouping – Here I’m not going to talk about open grouping, which is very ducky, but just how easy Mythic made it for friends and guildies to group up. You can create an open group for a particular purpose, say questing in a certain zone, and let your guild know that it’s there if anyone wants to join you, and people can pop in and out of it as they will. Even nicer is how a member in your group can queue up for a scenario (as a party) and you don’t even have to be in that zone — last night I was questing solo, trying to clear out the first zone of assignments, but I was also in a group of guildies spread across four different zones, all queued up for two scenarios. The scenarios popped, we all go into them together as a team, fight together, and when it’s done, we’re returned to whatever we’re doing. If you like a mix of solo and grouping, this is a dream come true.

Leveling – If you are out to truly do *everything* in WAR as you go along, you’re going to outlevel the content you’re trying to explore. If you do all the quests, participate in all the PQs as you go along to get the max influence for that chapter, keep your renown rank parallel to your combat rank, get the Tome unlocks and engage in repeatable quests… you’re going to find that suddenly you’re way too high for that area and you’re not quite done yet. I had a friend say that they’ve simply stopped doing PQs because it was causing them to outlevel the area faster than they wanted to. And this is just assuming you stay in one of the three pairings of the game, instead of bouncing between all three of the tiered zones for your level. I guess having too many options to level is better than not enough, eh?

High Elf Swordmasters - We’ve started fondly referring to these as “tanks in bathrobes”. Order is so hurting for tanks, particularly a tank that is imposing to the other side in RvR.

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Cloak of Darkness

September 15, 2008

Usually on a launch day of a MMO — and I’ve done enough of these to know — it’s a lot of mass chaos as people run around trying to accomplish everything and mostly looking out for themselves. It’s what I expected yesterday, so I hunkered down to get Syp through the intro zone content.

Then, toward the end of the evening, one of our guildies named Doxie called us into action. She was going to go somewhere to get something and we were all invited. Confused and insecure about leaving the safe confines of my precious tier 1 zone, I nevertheless realized that this was our first guild event in-game, spontaneously organized, but an event still the same. So I, Moxie and about 15 other guildies created a warband in Nordland for a trek into the heart of darkness.

The goal was this: there was a named mob deep into the Destruction side of Ostland (tier 2, I believe) that, if killed, would grant its owner a magical cloak. Well, not magical, per se, but really neat looking. And as a freshly-minted level 4 dwarf, I can’t turn down a good fashion accessory.

With our crazed Runepriest leading the way (“Don’t turn there! That’s certain death! Don’t touch that pole — it’s certain death! Don’t get flagged for RvR, it’s certain pie! After pie, however, DEATH! etc.”), we trolloped along like a ragtag caravan of refugees looking for a hippie commune that would take such a motley assortment in. Our group even included two nudists, an elf and a highly disturbing dwarf male wearing the skimpiest briefs that the game engine could render. Often, we would avert our camera just to retain sanity:

It was a long trek, hampered by lowbies getting unwanted aggro, people leaving the tour to sample Willy Wonka’s chocolate goodies, and a long sludge through a river that was shaped, as a guildie helpfully supplied, “all penis-like”.

Finally we found the mob: a dryad named Sheen Gloomleaf. Because each of the three groups needed to be in on the kill to get the Tome unlock, Sheen had to die three times, often with a very bewildered expression. “Hey guys! I’m back from the dea-URKKK!” Yet as promised, once killed, we were rewarded with a special Tome unlock that promised our coveted cloaks.

Then it was off through a RvR zone (nobody attacked us, probably in fear of contracting some unsavory disease) and to a flight master, to Altdorf and the library. In it, we found a librarian who gave us the cloak for free — since we had that certain Tome unlock. It was a really neat way for Mythic to create a collection-style system that will probably keep players hunting through all sorts of zones for those item unlocks that offer unique gear to set you apart from the crowd.

Here’s the cloak on me:

And then we gathered as a group to celebrate our very first guild event, taking pictures from the front AND back:

Awesome. Easily the best launch day I’ve ever had.

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Unlocked: The Tome of Knowledge’s Greatest Achievements

September 8, 2008

With the beta and launch of Warhammer Online, people will gravitate to various features as their favorites and give them the most press. Yet the Tome of Knowledge looks as though it will be the underdog feature, pushing forward in innovation even as media sites prefer to examine the flashy combat to mere words on a pretend book.

Not I. Not Syp. While other bloggers stick their noses up at the Tome, I’m here to give it a little love. This is the game feature I’ve been looking for over the decades, and done in such a terrific, comprehensive and rewarding way as to make the price of the WAR box worth it for this one aspect alone. Here’s a list of the “Greatest Achievements” of the Tome system to me:

1. It’s The Story of You. While “achievement”-style logs have been done before, the Tome of Knowledge is the first to incorporate it into the game as part OF the game world. It is a story of your character’s journey, from start until end game and beyond, and its entire presentation is designed to make you feel as if an old scribe is jotting down all of the great accomplishments you’ve ever done. In other words, it’s not just a progress bar attached to a reward, but something more comprehensive than that, more holistic.

2. Rewarding Silliness. People moan that all MMOs want you to do is to grind one thing or another, but they’ve neglected to see that the Tome encourages you to break out of traditional grinds to be yourself, be a bit wacky, a bit silly — and then it’ll give you a cookie for it! The other night I was just chatting with my guild in game, and since I didn’t really want to level up another beta character, I just stripped off all my armor and started jumping off a cliff. Again. And again. And again. Soon, a Tome unlock popped up: I was awarded XP for receiving 500 points of damage while naked. The another unlock: 5,000 damage while naked. I wasn’t doing anything other than being random and silly while chatting with friends, and I was still rewarded for that.

3. It Teaches Lore. Lore — the story of the game world — is traditionally ignored by all but a small hardcore segment of geek players. While devs slave away at writing informative quest text that help to tell a tale, many players just scroll past it, click “accept”, and then complain much later on that the game world seems empty to them. The Tome is the bosom buddy of the quest dialogue box, because it’s all about telling stories — of characters you meet, places you visit, factions that war, and so on. If you’re just fighting to fight, eventually you find yourself at a loss for a sense of anything greater. The Tome helps provide that “something greater” by spinning a yarn about WHY these armies are clashing, giving you flavorful anecdotes as you flip through the pages. And it keeps these stories on hold until you’re in the mood to read them — which often isn’t when you’re accepting a quest.

4. It Validates Achievements. I know I’ve come away from World of Warcraft with the question of, “So what did I really achieve?” I know my days /played, I know what friends I’ve made, and I know how well-geared my characters are… but that’s it. Up until their copycat Achievements patch, WoW never let me know that I was a huge pain in the butt to the spider population, or that I was particularly suicidal, or that I loved to explore. The Tome is about validating your character’s journey in the world and the many, many milestones that you reach.

5. Tome 2.0. In closed beta and the Preview Weekend, people generally warmed up to the Tome but had some reservations about it — mostly that it was so full of content and yet hard to navigate. Patch 4.1 saw a huge overhaul of the Tome, particularly with very user-friendly tabs on the left-hand side that let you quickly flip to a section you’d like. Plus, on the front page of the Tome is now a list of all the latest unlocks you’ve achieved, letting you save them up for some quick reading after a hard day of RvR combat.

6. In-Game Rewards. While knowledge is its own reward, players always want more, more, MORE! And the Tome is happy to oblige. Tome unlock rewards include simple chunks of XP, fun titles (which, during beta, I’ve seen people swapping these in glee as the mood hit them), tactics, set items, pocket items, trophies and cloaks — all for doing what you were going to be doing anyway!

7. Tome Quests. Patch 4.1 also introduced Tome quests in the first couple tiers of WAR, giving you more heavy-handed direction in learning about your Tome and how to unlock achievements and rewards. More XP is always good, methinks!

8. Bragging Rights. At the core of why people love MMOs is that they pander to their sense of greed and envy (I want that, I want more!), as well as being able to boast about what they’ve accomplished to others (hm, maybe these aren’t the most positive values to be reinforcing… oh well). The relatively new Bragging Rights feature in the Tome lets you select the top 10 unlocks you’re most particularly proud of, and then when someone inspects your character they can access the Bragging Rights screen and be in awe of how many times you’ve jumped off a cliff stark raving naked.

9. The Tome is Funny. Humor is an underrated quality in MMOs, yet since far too many titles take themselves incredibly seriously, a game that understands and incorporates humor (even black humor) is one that endears itself to its players. The Tome is full of hilarious little stories, achievements that mock you even as they reward you, and quips that would be a shame if you missed reading them.

10. It Panders To Multiple Player Styles. People that pooh-pooh the Tome for being nothing more than a list of bears killed are often the same people who play the game with a very narrow focus — RvR-only, for example. Yet the wonder of the Tome is that it readily adapts itself to a huge variety of player styles, from the extremely casual to the obsessive hardcore. Unlocks for exploring, RvR, weirdness, crafting, collecting, observing, meeting, and even social interaction — there’s a Tome unlock for people with hefty Friends or Ignore lists! — are part of its efforts to be the one feature for all types. If you don’t care about the Tome, you don’t have to interact with it, ever. But Mythic is banking on this feature growing on you like a fuzzy little fungus, and becoming the new standard for achievement systems in MMOs from here on out.

I’m Syp, and I approve this message. [Paid for by the Committee to Elect Syp for Nudie Cliffjumper Nutbar.]

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4.1 – Da Gud and Da Bud

September 5, 2008

(“Bud” because… I did cultivating for the first time!)

(Okay, that was just plain bad.)

(Sorry.)

So I got to waste enjoy a few hours in Warhammer Online this afternoon, tasting the fruits of the Preview Weekend+ (anyone else think of New Game+ when they see that?) and patch 4.1. I’m going to play Syp the Black Orc over the next week, who got up to Rank 5 RR 4 during the afternoon, along with a set of really nasty-looking gear. Someone in Keen’s guild was nice enough to lend me a pair of cheese grater shoulders, and I finally felt a little bit like a rough-and-tough tank with them on. (Also, I’ve been observing that opponents in RvR seem to be intimidated by the mass of the Black Orc, and run more often than fight.)

I have a list here of observations and things that tickled me, well, not pink, because I’m Italian, but at least a lighter shade of tan.

  • Server list is now handled on the same screen as the character selection. When I logged in there was a message saying that Order on a certain realm needed some extra help, but I laughed at their misery and made a character on a full pop server anyway.
  • The new tutorial system is in place, handled by a feisty parade of question marks (?) that pop up over your action bar when you encounter a new feature of the game. You can turn them off, of course, but I left mine on to see how far they’d go. They did a good job running the gambit from newbie zone stuff to crafting to RvR to Tome unlocks. Not quite the instanced tutorial that I still think some wet-behind-the-ears MMO newbies need (I really wish MMO devs would acknowledge that these games are very intimidating and complicated to the newcomer), but a great step in that direction anyway.
  • The Tome of Knowledge has, of course, been overhauled and reskinned, and it looks fantastic. There’s nine tabs on the left side: Intro, Quests, Chapters, Achievements, Rewards, History & Lore, Noteworthy Persons, Bestiary and Armory. Now, when you click on the Tome icon, it automatically opens it to the Intro page, which doubles as the New Entries page — a very slick way to handle that. All in all, Tome 2.0 does a lot to rebut the criticisms that some bloggers (*cof*) leveled against it during the last Preview Weekend.
  • The Abilities window has been updated. You can now click on General abilities to see what types of weapons, armor and shields your class can use (yay).
  • Despite what the 4.1 patch notes say, the Book of Binding is still an item in the backpack, and a guildie informed me that it now has a lengthy (~45 min?) cooldown. Considering that people were delighted with the zero cooldown use on the old BoB, this seems like a step in the wrong direction.
  • Your backpack begins with 32 slots for items, minus the one for the Book of Binding.
  • I just love how the action bar has Greenskinny graphics to it — it helps a lot with the theme.
  • I spent a little bit of time messing around with the Customize UI window, in which you can access the Layout Editor and move every single on-screen element to where you want it to be. Nice!
  • The influence bar for each chapter has been moved. There’s now a race:chapter title (Greenskins: Chapter One) in the upper right-hand part of the screen, with a teeny tiny influence bar (and its three sections) above it.
  • Still getting surveys. I really, really hope we don’t see any of these pop up after launch.
  • There are new graphics for Tome unlocks, and they look really cool.
  • I couldn’t find the icon for the social window (hotkey: O). The social menu on the lower-left of the screen gives you some drop-sideways menu options for friending, ignoring and so on, but it isn’t the whole shebang.
  • The new graphic options are in, and I cranked that baby up to FULL! All I can say is… holy moley. This is one beautiful, detailed game. The lighting is spot-on perfect, and there’s a lot more to these graphics than the “WAR is WoW” dismissers give it credit for. Armor and weapons and items have a real 3D presence to them, instead of bare minimum polygons and reskinned textures. I ran around on High settings for the afternoon, and it was relatively smooth. Some lag, either server or graphical (probably the latter), came up from time to time, but it wasn’t consistent. Spell effects looked tremendous! And don’t get me started about my first trip to the Inevitable City, which felt like a crazy fun/haunted house and looked like a painting. Other than the occasional lag, I did experience a bit of texture popup (where you see the plain non-textured version of an object, then it’s skinned a few seconds later), especially when alt-tabbing in and out of the game.
  • There’s a new set of Tome quests at the beginning designed to get you used to the book.
  • Talisman slots are now on armor as early as level 1, but I didn’t find a Talisman trainer yet.
  • Did I mention this game is pretty? I did? Well, how about the sound? Awesome.
  • Although AI pathing is fixed, now I’m seeing (and others too) a bug where you’re in the middle of attacking a mob and then suddenly you get messages saying you can’t attack it — while it’s still attacking and killing you. The mob freezes in place, then sometimes pops back out and works again. It’s not a huge, every-mob issue, but it is there.
  • Buff and debuff icons now have color-coded borders to them for quick perusal.
  • Have you checked out the Help menu yet? It’s got an insane amount of information in it!
  • There’s a new “You Have Died” graphic that pops up, with the message of who killed you (in RvR). Looks quite spiffy.
  • I got slain by “Bambii”. Sigh.
  • Two times WAR made me laugh: I heard a goblin moan about “my tummy wummy!”, and then I got to see the fixed version of the Black Orc /special. Poor snotling!
  • UI responsiveness seems to be up. There’s a number countdown timer in each window, letting you know how long (to the tenth of a second) you have until you can use that skill again. I’m a bit concerned about the Black Orc/Swordmaster in this regard, because you’re kind of forced to keep glancing down to the bar to see where you are on your skill chain — which is very much a Bad Thing in PvP. I need more of a head’s up option to appear in the middle of the screen, or as a graphic around or on top of my character.
  • As I said, I dove into cultivating and apothocary for the first time. Pretty intuitive, although the cultivating… er, minigame? I guess minigame, although it’s not really a game, just a series of item inputs. The cultivating process demands your attention for minutes at a time to the exclusion of gameplay, and although I liked how it works, it didn’t let me set up a plant to grow without needing my constant input. I don’t know how much time I have to sit around and do that sort of thing. Apothocary is a lot easier, although I had problems trying to get my first potion stable.

I’m sure there’s a lot more, but I wanted to get you a preliminary report, especially to the folks who can’t log in this weekend — or perhaps next week.

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