A Vexing Affair…

for the poor pirates in Kakalela, that is.

Hair-dryer of Doom

Despite not having trained up Drones V yet, I decided to take my new Vexor drone boat cruiser out for a spin since I managed to pick one up for fairly cheap. Actually, this wasn’t the first one I picked up. Over the weekend the prices for Vexors suddenly spiked. When I managed to buy one for 3.3 million, I had to decide whether to use it or sell it for the 4.7 million the market was selling them for. Since I wasn’t originally intending to use it yet, I decided to sell it for the 1.4 million profit which was not to be sneezed at. However, over the day I managed to pick up a few more and sold those as well, so I decided to keep one for fun.

Fitted out with 4 light and 4 medium drones, as well as a tractor beam and 2 salvagers, the Vexor is great for mission running. Well, at least for the level 1 missions I’m currently running. The drones tear everything apart at 35 km, while the 2 salvagers and most importantly the tractor beam makes salvaging much much faster than with my Caracal’s sole salvager. Occasionally I have to recall the drones if they’re taking too much damage, but otherwise they auto-target and kill everything while I busily loot and salvage the wrecks. The only issue is that the Vexor’s tank doesn’t seem as strong as the Caracal’s, but this could be due to the fact that I often end up hovering dead in space while busy salvaging, so I’m taking a lot of unnecessary hits. Furthermore, I haven’t actually had to armor tank yet, which is the Vexor’s strong suit. It’s rare enough that they get past my shields. Plus I kinda fit the Vexor out with odds and ends that I hastily purchased and didn’t really look into getting a good fit, but its doing the job so far.

I’ve been chain-running missions for the Caldari Navy since they sound like a good corporation to build standings with. At least the station I’m at has 2 agents that frequently give combat missions instead of boring courier missions.

On the trading side, my alt has made a ton of cash. My main sent him another 10 million as capital, and so far he’s more than doubled his initial investments. Much better than mission running, and semi-afk to boot.

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The Great Gallente Migration

So I realised that “train Drones to V” is a much bigger roadblock than expected… taking more than 3 days. since Drones V will allow me to control 5 drones, I wouldn’t be able to really be effective with the Gallente Vexor cruiser without it (drone boat with only 4 drones = sad). Looks like I won’t be able to try out the drone style this weekend, but anyway my Caracal is still pretty overpowered.

However, my sales have not been as good as expected. The volume has dried up significantly and I haven’t been able to sell much. Of course, this might be due to it being the middle of the week. But I decided to try my hand at trading in Jita. The margins there seem to be lower, but being the biggest trade hub in EVE hopefully the volume will make up for it.

The other reason is that I would like to build up my standings with the Caldari corporations first… since I’m like… Caldari.

Thus began the great migration from Oursulaert to Jita. I bought and trained Gallente Industrial on both my main and my alt, and brought over the Iteron industrial ships that I’d gotten from the tutorial missions to my warehouse in Oursulaert. However, I would have to make multiple trips since I could only pilot 1 ship at a time and anything bigger than a frigate doesn’t fit in an Iteron. So, first I fitted out my main’s Iteron with Expanded Cargohold I’s and dumped all his accumulated loot into it, after first cancelling all buy and sell orders. Then, time for the 12 jump trip to Jita… I actually put it on autopilot at first since I was busy, but took extra care when I saw that I had to pass through a 0.5 sec system and a couple of 0.6s. Contrary to my expectations though, I made it through. I was about the head back on the return journey in my pod to pick up my cruiser and destroyer when I realised I could buy a shuttle for about 9k ISK, which flies much faster than my pod and is much safer >.<

So after shuttling back, I decided to move my alt first since my first Iteron had made it through without issues. Again, loaded up the Iteron and made another 12 jump trip. Wow, 2 times lucky, no issues and I immediately set up shop at Jita and started putting in some buy orders on items that seemed profitable.

Now for my main again. I started the cruiser on the trip on autopilot since I don't think anyone would bother suicide ganking a cruiser which obviously isn't carrying any cargo. About halfway through, I realised that I had been offered a storyline mission by some Gallente agent which I had been meaning to do in the cruiser. However, it came with a catch in that I had to go to a low-sec 0.2 system. And I'd just been reading about Wilhelm’s low-sec mission adventure yesterday… which didn’t inspire me with much confidence. After some hmming and hawing I decided to just go ahead with moving the cruiser to Jita and maybe try the mission with my Cormorant destroyer, which was fully insured after a previous mishap involving warp scrambling rogue drones and my Cormorant Version 1.

So… back to Jita, purchased another shuttle (gee those CONCORD ships along the way must have been wondering what the heck was going on) and back I went to Oursulaert. Popped into the destroyer and went out to the agent to accept and try the mission… only to find that the mission system was 11 more jumps away in the opposite direction from Jita. Now wtf… not only is it in low sec, but it’s a huge detour away? Screw you Gallente frenchies, I’m going back to Caldari space!

It was only after arriving back in Jita (for the 4th time…) that I realised I had been exceedingly dumb. I didn’t have to take all the trouble to fly back and forth to move my ships/modules, I could have simply stripped them of equipment and sold them at Oursulaert for a higher price and bought another hull at Jita for lower. After all, ISK doesn’t occupy any cargo space… Ah well, something to keep in mind. Everything is ultimately convertible to ISK, no reason to lug around huge volumes of equipment.

Goals in EVE

Well everyone says you need long term planning to play EVE, so I better set down some goals for myself to work towards before I get too sidetracked. I have a tendency to like my characters to be jack of all trades, which may not be that great an idea given my limited playtime.

Current status
Given that my character is Caldari, I’ve gotten my skills to fly Caldari cruisers and have been doing missions in my Caracal. I also have decent missile skills for the launchers on the Caracal, and minimal drone skills to use 2 light drones in the drone bay. However, I’ve been pondering whether it would be better to switch to a drone-based ship such as those used by the Gallente. Using drones for firepower would free up all the turret slots on the ship for salvagers and tractor beams. One problem with running missions in the Caracal is that I can only pack 1 salvager without sacrificing too much firepower, and cleaning up the wrecks is a bit slow. Using a Vexor, the Gallente drone cruiser, would allow me to mount 2 salvagers and 2 tractor beams while maintaining basically the same amount of firepower via 5 medium drones. Drones also have the same advantage as missiles in that they can do all 4 types of damage depending on the drone type used, which makes them fairly powerful in PVE. The downside is that I have to pay attention to their aggro and recall them when they are being targetted, or risk losing them. Then again they aren’t fantastically expensive either…

So, I’ve decided to try out both and see which is a better fit (never mind that the Caldari and Gallente are technically at war, and I’d be playing both sides of the fence).

1) Train up to use Gallente Cruisers III, which will allow me to use a Vexor.
2) Train armor tanking skills, since my defenses have so far concentrated on shield tanking as befits a Caldari ship
3) Train Drones to 5, and whatever prerequisite skills there are to use medium/heavy drones
4) Train Drone related skills, such as range and hp+damage

Once I try out the Vexor (hopefully by this weekend), I’ll decide whether to make the push for Gallente or Caldari battlecruisers. On the Caldari path, the ships of interest would be the Drake battlecruiser and then the Raven battleship, both of which are renowned mission runners with great shield tanking abilities. On the Gallente side, the drone boats would be the Myrmidon battlecruiser and Dominix battleship.

As I’m going for army training for the next 2 weeks, I’ll have to ask my wife to help me keep my skills training. I’ll probably ask her to help train up all the Engineering and Electronic skills, which pertain to reducing CPU and powergrid usage and increasing shield and capacitor recharge time. These skills would come in handy no matter which ship I use, so might as well take the time to train them up to level 5.

Trading

And of course, one everpresent goal is : make more ISK. I’ve no idea how much the battlecruisers and battleships cost, although they are only T1 and therefore should be fairly affordable. The Vexor costs about 3.4 million ISK, maybe less if I put in a buy order at Jita, so that is no problem. My current balance is about 10 million on my main, with 7 million in buy orders. He can probably sell off some stock for another 1 million or so. He already has no sell orders out, in preparation for moving all trading responsibilities to my alt. My alt started out with a 4 million capital infusion from my main, but he has already made a fair chunk of that back from trading and also from doing all the tutorial missions. But sales volumes have been really low lately, and I’m still sitting on a bunch of skill books that I bought. People have started to undercut pretty heavily, and I might have to move out of this region. Not sure if sales would be better in a bigger trade hub like Jita or Rens. Volume might be higher but I bet there’s a huge bunch of people all trying to make money trading at those hubs as well, which would cut down on the margins.

I’d also like to eventually move into the industrial crafting side of EVE, but I don’t really know how to get started on this. Ideally it would be another source of income that I can do offline, pop a bunch of stuff into the manufacturing queue and sell them for profit, but I’ve read from quite a few people that there isn’t much profit margin from this, short of blowing up ships for the insurance money (which may be getting fixed). It may also be difficult to compete with long-time crafters who have better crafting skills and thus lower costs. Something to look into, maybe after I finish up Battlecruisers and have more capital to invest.

Fattest fingers in the universe

Subscribed… or did I…

As my trial account was due to expire in about 5 days, and me still being quite enthusiastic about EVE, I decided to subscribe to the game. I also learned that I would keep the 5 days on the trial after subscribing, so there wasn’t any reason to hold off since the trial restrictions would also be lifted (no training certain skills, not able to send money to my trader alt as starting capital).

So I followed their link to the account management page and decided to subscribe for 3 months, since there’s a discout compared to paying 14.95 USD per month. I’ve been quite happy with the game so far, so I don’t think I’ll be bored before 3 months especially given the limited playtime I have available. Entered account name, credit card info, done. I then tried to log in to see if the change had gone through.

Hmm. Nope, still tells me to upgrade from trial. Ok, maybe it takes a while. Might as well check on the settings in the account management page. This is also where I first found out that EVE has a “refer a friend” kind of deal where the friend gets a 21-day trial instead of the usual 14-day and if they subscribe the referer gets 30 days free gametime. Damn, I should have asked Wilhelm for a referral… but too late for that, unless by some freak of nature my wife actually decides to play as well.

Suddenly I got this vague feeling that something was wrong… I looked at the page, which listed my username, and under characters was listed… Ruffruf. This was the character name I had tried to create when I started this trial, only to be told the name was already taken. I even jokingly told my wife that I couldn’t believe someone else was using this name. Turns out I had completely forgotten about my first trial account from August 2009, and I had picked Ruffruf for my character name. This time, when subscribing I had unthinkingly put in the account name that I usually use, which I had used for that first trial…

Damn I had just signed up for 3 months with an old character that had screwy skills and a fraction of the money my new trial characters had!

I immediately sent an email to EVE Online support asking them to switch the subscription over, but only got an automated response saying they had received my petition. Ok, given that they’re probably not in GMT +8 timezone this isn’t unexpected but its giving me any peace of mind. My wife suggested that I call the bank, which has a 24-hour hotline, to cancel or block the payment first and I could resubscribe to the correct account once CCP cancels my original subscription. But I encountered a clueless customer support officer who cheerfully told me that the bank can’t block credit card payments, the merchant has to initiate the block. WTF. Isn’t that the whole purpose of a dispute, a way for the customer to protect themselves? What kind of idiot merchant would go “I’m sorry we don’t want your money, here take it back”. Obviously it’s the customer who puts in the request. But I couldn’t do anything about it and had to hang up. However, a couple of hours later my wife insisted that the guy was an idiot and I should call again, and this time I got a much more helpful officer who helped me check up on things and told me that they could block it only if the payment had not gone through yet. Unfortunately, by that time the payment had already been confirmed and there was nothing they could do…. Damn that original idiot.

So besides cursing myself the only thing I could do was wait for EVE Online’s support staff to respond and hope that they wouldn’t take like 3 weeks and then not refund me for that time or something equally stupid.

Things turned out fine in the end as by Monday evening I received an email stating that the transfer had been done. I logged in and yup, everything was great. Great response from the folks at CCP. I should just delete that old trial account so that I don’t do something stupid like that again… and at least free up the name and some space in their database.

Trading

Part of my plan to make money in EVE was to take part in trading. EVE has a nice economic system where players can put up both sell orders, which are what other MMOs like WoW has, and buy orders, which are the opposite. A sell order states that you want to sell X amount of something for a certain price. A buy order states that you want to buy X amount of something for a certain price. If a sell order and buy order overlaps, a transaction takes place.

I started a little trade in skill books, putting buy orders up in the newbie system and sell orders up in the nearest trade hub 3 jumps away. There is an incredible margin for some of these books, with profits being in excess of 300%. However, the volume isn’t that fantastic, which might be expected from something like skill books since every character only ever buys a certain skill book once. I’m not quite sure who actually buys the books I’m selling, since they are mostly books that are given out by the tutorial missions. I’m guessing that newbies who don’t intend to learn these skills sell them for cheap in the newbie system (that or they’re desperate for cash for some strange reason), but who would buy them? One possibility would be the usual type of people who start the game, can’t be bothered to do tutorials because “OMGZ IT HAS WURDZ” and spam rookie help for “how I mine asteroid!!!1!!1”. Shrug. Not my problem, I see a demand and provide for it. Anyway, it wouldn’t be the first game in which I’ve profited from stupidity.

So far the profits have been modest, maybe around 4-5 million ISK? Pretty decent considering I have total liquid assets of about 13 million ISK, with around 7 million tied up in buy orders. My trading has more than paid for my shiny new cruiser plus fittings, and it didn’t require me to actually be online other than to periodically adjust my buy and sell orders. I’ve started trying out other commodities, both high margin items like ship modules (buy order of 1.5 million, sell order for 2.6 million) and low margin, hopefully high volume items like ammo. I’m not too sure about the ammo… for a margin of 4-5 ISK per unit, even if I sold 100,000 units I’d still only be looking at a profit of 500k ISK… which isn’t all that much. And I doubt I can sell that many units in a short period of time. But no harm trying and it all adds up while I get a feel for what sells and what doesn’t.

Cruising along

New ride

Over the weekend I finished training up the last few skills required to fly Caldari Cruisers. It took shorter than I expected once I actually finished Caldari Frigates IV, in part because my chosen fitting deviates quite a lot from the standard loadout using Heavy Missile Launchers. I managed to pick a Caracal up for a slight discount at 3.1 million ISK by placing a buy order rather than buying it outright at the Oursulaert trade hub, so after buying a few Assault Missile Launchers and some shield tanking modules for the middle slots I was good to go.

I chose to use Assault Missile Launchers since I was still primarily doing level 1 missions which involve fighting frigates, and Heavy Missile Launchers are more effective versus cruiser-sized targets. Also, I’m still packing a single salvager on the ship so that I can salvage the wrecks I leave behind. The salvaged components add up over time and can give me a fair amount of money, so it seems a waste not to do it even though it can take much more time than actually killing the enemies in the first place. I could just leave the wrecks behind and come back with my old Cormorant destroyer fitted out to be a better salvager, but I’m kinda lazy and it seems a hassle especially when the mission requires jumping to another system first. Ideally I’d do it on another account but I’m getting sighs from my wife for subscribing to one account already and she’s shown zero interest in playing so that’s out. So given that I’m salvaging on the Caracal, which requires being closer than 5km from the targets, there’s no real point in fitting it with longer ranged missiles. Killing things at 60km would be nice, but then I’d have to trundle over to salvage them anyway.

So far the Caracal, tentatively named “I Spew PewPew”, has as expected been completely overpowered in level 1 missions. Yah I know it’d be ridiculous if it wasn’t. The shield tank is awesome, so much so that enemies can barely make even a dent in it. I haven’t even had to switch on my shield booster at all so far, and the Caracal has plenty of capacitor reserves since it uses missiles which don’t use any cap. The Caracal also comes with a small drone bay, so I can get some practice with using drones. The 2 scout drones I have now are pretty good and able to kill enemies on their own provided I tank the enemy fire. Mapping “engage” and “recall” to hotkeys has helped immensely, now if only “launch drones” could be hotkeyed as well… The main problem with drones is that I have to recall and relaunch them if a new wave of enemy ships spawns since they won’t have aggro on me initially, but I’m getting the hang of it.

That Damn Dagan

I also finished off the Sisters of EVE epic arc over the weekend, which I didn’t manage to do on my previous trial. I actually did it before I finished training my skills for the Caracal, which turned out to be a mistake. The last enemy, Dagan, who was behind all sorts of nefarious schemes involving rogue drones, turned out to be an unkillable freak of nature. I warped into the mission in my little Cormorant and easily blew away his escorts with my railguns. With him all alone, I warped out to recharge my shields a bit and then returned for the kill…. or not. With all 6 guns blazing at him at optimum range, his shield bar barely moved. I think after 5 minutes he was down to 90%. Oooookay… looks like some other tactics are needed. I’d previously fought his lieutenant in an earlier mission (the one which got my wife annoyed) and faced a similar problem. Generally weapons in EVE trade off damage for range, which makes sense. My weapons were relatively longer ranged and thus didn’t have the dps to overcome their shield recharge rate. So for his lieutenant, I switched to really short range guns and high dps-low range ammo and whittled him down at close range without much problem.

Aaand I’d been smart enough to bring the equipment for this alternate loadout with me. Pure genius. Warped to a station, swapped stuff around and I was back for Round 2.

After 10 minutes he was down to 50% and not going any lower. He couldn’t kill me either but I was going all out and he was just shrugging it off. After 20 minutes Mr Dagan probably fell asleep, because miraculously his shields went down to 0% and I got him about 30% into his armor. But then the blaring alarms woke him up and he mashed his shield booster button and his shields zoomed back up into 60% and never went down again despite another 10 minutes of plinking away. At this point I was running out of ammo and getting a bit discouraged, so I asked for help in rookie chat. After some initial snafus where kind folks who were willing to help were 20 jumps away, someone said he’d help me and invited me to a fleet.

I have to admit that the horror stories of EVE were going through my head when I accepted the invite. I think people in the same fleet have permission to shoot at each other without CONCORD, which is like the police, going all ape-shit on the aggressor. I could just see him warping in and blowing me to smithereens for shits and giggles. So I warped on over to the jumpgate out of the system and aligned myself, ready to jump out at the first hint of a gank.

After waiting about 20 minutes, InterceptorSA finally jumped into the system, and in a Brutix battlecruiser. Wow. I thought he was just another newbie, otherwise why would he be in rookie help. But he turned out to be a great guy who had jumped all the way out here just to help me. We warped in to Dagan, who must have started getting bored flying in circles with no one shooting at him. I set up to tank him while the Brutix got to 30km range to start pounding. I think InterceptorSA had expected Dagan to be a pushover with his firepower, since there was a pause after his first volley when Dagan’s shields barely took a 5% hit. Apparently, normally even level 3 battlecruisers die in 1 salvo from his Brutix. But with 2 of us, the outcome wasn’t really in doubt and we eventually wore down his shields and blew him away. I tried to give him some ISK for his time and trouble, but he wouldn’t hear any of it and I wasn’t able to mail him any ISK as I was still on a trial account. I should give him a present after I upgrade to a regular subscription.

Now that the epic arc series of missions is done, I’m starting to slowly do some level 1 missions to increase my standings with agents. And of course, to get some capital to start on my trading which will hopefully give me lots of moolah.

EVE of adventure

So as mentioned I’ve actually started playing EVE Online, a game which I’ve always wanted to try since I heard about it but admittedly was a bit scared off by the stories of no-holds-barred PVP and the notoriously steep learning curve.

As referenced by the last post title, this is actually my second attempt at EVE. My first was shortly after I quit my previous job and was first looking for something to play together with my wife. Since EVE’s other name is “spreadsheets in space” I figured that it could be something my wife likes, since she’s the type who has spreadsheets tracking everything plus she puts Scrooge McDuck to shame with her money-making ways. There was a 21-day trial for EVE at the time so we both downloaded and installed.

Seriously, I don’t know how people even managed to start playing EVE when it was first introduced. The character creation process has already been massively streamlined and there are actually very good tutorials now, but we still both felt completely lost. We were flying around in our noobie ships and taking forever to kill enemies because we had no idea what in the world we were doing. We fit lasers to our ships, because “lasers don’t use ammo” even though our ships didn’t have bonuses to lasers. We had no idea about the ranges of our weapons and what modules were good for our ships. It didn’t help that I’d picked Gallente as my race since Gallente had bonuses to drones and I’ve always liked pet classes. But it was cumbersome controlling those little buzzing piranhas and more than one set of drones was left abandoned in deep space, cyring themselves to sleep before eventually shutting down, because I warped off before remembering to recall them into my ship 😦 We had no idea how to make ISK (the standard game currency) beyond running missions and mining asteroids for ore, and we quickly found that mining asteroids for ore was… underwhelming. Seriously it makes ore mining in WoW seem fun. Even before the changes that let you mine everything in a click.

After playing for about a week, during which we basically flopped around clueless, EVE was starting to get boring. My wife asked me what there was available to do at end-game, to which I replied that I didn’t know. Maybe running missions… which wasn’t a very enticing response so she didn’t particularly feel like playing anymore. I followed suit shortly after that and moved on to try other games.

However, I still loved reading about the adventures people had in EVE, such as Tipa and Wilhelm the Ancient Gaming Noob. Most of the time I had no frigging clue what the hell they were talking about, but it still seemed fun. Slowly, however, I began to partially understand things and read a few other EVE blogs. Most of them were far above my head, being about massive fleet battles and coalitions fighting for territory out in 0.0 space (sort of like contested PVP free-for-all territory), but it was clear that there was a lot more to EVE than just mission running and… mining (shudder).

What really finally got me interested to give it a go again though were some EVE newbie guides such as Hammer’s Eve which finally drilled it into my head that THERE IS NO ENDGAME in EVE, but not in the way I answered my wife previously. Because you can do whatever you want. I can run missions, or make ISK trading in markets, or go into invention and manufacturing, or even go out and be a pirate killing other players. With a better understanding of combat mechanics, I even realised that from a very early stage we could have easily afforded much better ships and equipped them to be much more powerful than our noobie little mosquitoes, thus making combat less boring. I guess another contributing factor was that I actually had too much time then since I was in between jobs, and spending all day watching myself jump from system to system was actually pretty boring. Now that I’m actually employed again and with a Baby Bear to take care of, my playtime was much more scarce and EVE’s offline skill training system and professions seemed like a fair shot.

So… a 2 gigabyte download later… I prepared to give EVE another go. Better prepared now, I chose Caldari as my race since according to their quarterly economic report (yes, EVE has an economist giving an economic report, that’s the epitome of Spreadsheets in Space) by far the largest proportion of players were Caldari. The Caldari racial bonus is also in missiles, which are supposed to be good for PVE missions. Goodie. I like blowing things up from long range, and PVP is probably a bit far ahead for this little nooblet. Plus, as the saying goes, “when you’re a noob, do as noobs do!”

Follow the crowd, someone has to know what the hell's going on...

So far I’ve played about a week of the trial and I’m loving it. Now that I actually understand more about the game, I didn’t feel lost at the start and quickly started training the skills I would need to move on to a better ship. I checked out some popular ship loadouts for the destroyer-class ship I had in mind, the Cormorant, and managed to get one pretty quickly for about 600K ISK. The additional guns and modules cost me maybe another 600K but the end result manages to 1-shot almost every NPC frigate at about 16 km range, a vast improvement over my previous endless circling and pinging away. In fact, locking on to them and salvaging their wrecks afterwards usually takes more time than actually killing them.

The Slightly-Less-Noobie Ship

I’m currently training a couple more skills that are needed before I can progress to the next class of ship, the cruiser. These are widely regarded to be better for missions than destroyers, since destroyers basically have the defensive abilities of a frigate but just have many more guns stapled to their hulls. There was a mission which was pretty tough and had me spending almost half of the mission reward money on repairs and got me the cold shoulder from my wife for spending so much time on it, so I think an upgrade may be necessary for Noork pretty soon. On the bright side I actually managed to complete it after realising what I was doing wrong, so that means I’ve starting to get the hang of it. I’ve already got the money for the Caldari cruiser-class Caracal, just need to see if I can get a discount anywhere and finish training up skills and buying modules.

Around the world in 8 months

So after a whirlwind tour of the games available out there, I might as well give a little mini-review for each of them for anyone interested.

Command and Conquer Red Alert 3

I’ve always loved C&C. In secondary school I remember going to a friend’s house to watch him play the first ever C&C and being wowed by the graphics and rushing off to buy a box for myself. Played through all the campaigns and they were a blast, with a huge variety of units with individual strengths and weaknesses that made it such that you couldn’t really just build a huge army of a single type and expect to steamroll everything. Unfortunately, I really really SUCK at RTS games so I don’t play multiplayer and thus after finishing the campaign I was pretty much done. There’s an optional challenge mode that I tried which was pretty fun, but did I mention I really really SUCK? Yeah. So I gave up after repeatedly getting bum rushed by the AI before I even have 3 units out.

Dragonica

I actually tried Dragonica back before I stopped posting, but might as well include it here. Played it with my wife for a while during the beta and slightly after launch, but it got old eventually. It’s basically a F2P side-scrolling beat-em-up + MMO, with quests and levelling and talent points etc (almost exactly like WoW) and instances. But like most Asian F2Ps it gets really grindy past about level 20, and it has a weird fighting system that just ends up disincentivising players.

Much of the fighting mechanics revolves around comboing, specifically air combos. Most classes have a launching move and can combo large groups of opponents in the air. There is also a running combo counter if you manage to chain hits together decently well (there’s a couple of seconds buffer in between combos where you can run to the next mob and hit it). There are repeatable missions (think instances) that are meant for groups which give loot after beating the final boss, depending on your score during the mission. For the longest time we thought the score was some time-based thing, but this proved to be way off the mark. The score is actually based on a combination of combo points (earned for doing large combos) – times you get hit by the enemies. E.g. doing a 150 hit combo gives you x combo points, and you got hit y times throughout the mission. If x-y is large enough, you get S rank and maximum rewards. So…. it is REALLY in your interest to get large combos. And the best way to do that is… use a lousy weapon. Using good weapons means killing the monsters so fast you only get a couple of hits in. There’s also no incentive to upgrade skills and use new skills other than the basic launcher + air combo, since those break up the combo count and kill monsters too fast.

Once we realised this, the game became a bit pointless for the amount of grind involved. There’s no point in levelling up if it makes your character perform worse than before…

Florensia

Another F2P MMO, Florensia combines a traditional WoW-like system with an interesting sea-based combat system. Plus it involves pirates, YAAAAR. We actually played this for a while and it’s pretty decent for a F2P. But again, Asian F2P MMO = super grindy at high levels. The sea combat portion, while great fun initially, grows stale fairly quickly since you basically use the exact same strategy all the time. Get torpedo ship, fire torpedoes, 1 shot enemy ships. If enemy ships start surviving, upgrade your ship’s torpedo, repeat. There also aren’t enough quests for many of the levels, so we ended up having to grind quite a bit. It gets a bit repetitive to run circles AoE grinding the same packs of mobs for hours, so we dropped that eventually.

Runes of Magic

I tried this one by myself since my wife was getting a bit sick of these fantasy F2P type MMOs. Essentially, the stories of it being a WoW-clone are 100% correct. It plays exactly like WoW, with less polish. Although it has a nice feature in being able to click on the area map and your character will auto-run there, despite occasionally taking really weird paths and aggroing tons of crap. Every character is able to dual-class and use some secondary abilities from the secondary class together with all the abilities of the primary class. There’s also player housing, where you can decorate your house and even grow plants which give ores and herbs. Actually a pretty decent game, but eventually I just got tired of levelling/kill ten foozles/collect 20 parts. My taking part in the planting mini-game also probably contributed to my burnout as I had to keep watering/feeding them at odd hours or they’d die. Also it wasn’t the same playing without my wife 😦

Fallout 3

Fantastic game. This actually kept me occupied for a long time. Great story, great combat system, and of course there’s lots of loot to collect for a pack-rat like me. I eventually had probably more than a thousand guns stashed in my little locker in the toilet in Megaton city. No clue how it all fits there. I finished the main storyline and a few of the DLCs, though I stopped short of finishing the Brotherhood of Steel arc. I was already level 20 and incredibly well equipped, so there didn’t seem to be a point in continuing and I eventually got distracted. But still a great game, which requires some thinking and strategising while fighting tough opponents, especially at the beginning.

Sins of a Solar Empire

I’ve always been a fan of space-based turn-based games such as the Master of Orion series, so I had high hopes for Sins of a Solar Empire. And it turned out to be fairly good. It’s not turn-based, instead more like a space RTS. You build ships, colonise planets, research improvements, annihilate enemy fleets and nuke their planets. Most fleet battles revolve heavily around capital ships, which are kind of like heroes in that they level up (max level 6) and get special abilities which are extremely powerful. 6 capital ships can pretty much easily mow through more than a hundred regular ships. So in the end-game, military strategy involves trying to catch and kill their capitals while preserving your own by warping out if getting focused etc. However, there’s no single player campaign so once I got the hang of each of the sides available every mission was pretty similar despite having unique maps. Plus, since it was intended to be primarily a multiplayer game, map balance was essential. Thus you can be certain that the solar system is exactly mirrored on each side. Once you know what your half of the map looks like, you know what’s in the other half as well.

Dungeons and Dragons Online

Since it went F2P, DDO has been doing much better. I must say that the DDO cash shop is one of the best, with Turbine points being used mostly to buy permanent enhancements such as new areas and new races. I’ve never been a fan of using real money to buy temporary buffs such as potions etc, seems wasteful to me. I played a paladin to level 4 and it was decently fun. Great graphics and a nice spooky GM voice provides good atmosphere while dungeon crawling. The combat mostly involves madly clicking though, since each click swings your weapon. There’s no targeting, the swing just hits whatever is in front, so fighting is just running in circles around mobs swinging frantically. Overall gameplay reminds me a lot of Neverwinter Nights. However, I’m pretty much a D&D noobasaur so I’m pretty sure I screwed up my character’s stats/skills/feats. It can be a little overwhelming and unless you really do a lot of research on character builds, and I always felt worried that I was doing something wrong. But that’s probably just me.

Overall a good game that I wouldn’t mind going back to at some point, after all its F2P. Probably better with a group of friends though.

Dragon Age: Origins

A fantastic single player RPG by Bioware again. I haven’t finished it yet, but the story is great and gameplay mechanics work nicely. Very similar in spirit to Baldur’s Gate, though obviously with better graphics and features. I’m playing a mage, since I like casters and ranged DPS. In DA:O mages are hugely overpowered though. I mean, you could probably blow past anything with a party consisting of 4 mages if it weren’t for the fact that a rogue is handing for disarming traps and picking locks. Basically any fight consists of my mages starting off with Blizzard (which does cold damage and freezes things), or Mass Paralyze (which freezes things), or Sleep (which freezes things), followed by Cone of Cold (which does massive cold damage and freezes things). Alternating Cone of Colds basically stops anything from moving, even bosses. As you can see, CC is pretty much omnipotent here. Which is a nice change from WoW 🙂

I think I’m about halfway through the game storywise, though in terms of power I’m already level 16 and have most of the powerful spells and abilities. In my typical packrat fashion I’m toting around a ton of crap because “I might use this armor sometime”. I even bought backpacks to extend the inventory limit by 10, only to find myself carrying 11 additional things “since I now have space”.

However, I got distracted by what I think may be my main game for some time to come, although I will probably come back to Dragon Age to finish it off. As to what that game is… did I mention that I like space-based games?