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Posts Tagged ‘Death Knight’

I’ve been busy working on… too many projects.  I’ll have a Zomblobs! “patch” up here closer to the weekend, though.  Remember, the beta is over thisaway, and I’m looking for feedback.  Please let me know what you think and ask me any questions you might have!

In the meantime, here’s an eeeeevil Death Kitty I drew and painted to, er… brighten your day.

Death Kitty

Oh, and this is the rune I plopped under his feet.  I’ve long loved constructing Celtic knots, and this was fun to work out.

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Dead Man’s Party

I have nowhere near the pull or presence to make this sort of thing happen, I just wanted to mention it because, well… I thought it could be funny and/or fodder for blog posts, and maybe someone can take the idea and run with it.

Big Bear Butt has recently done some PvP, and one of the things he mentioned was setting up a cross-realm battle comprised of teams of bloggers.  That’s a fun idea, and could spur some interesting posts.  Putting a pseudo-face to a name in-game has a way of changing things, ever so subtly.

I can’t help but think that a similar session of PvP comprised wholly of baby Death Knights might be worth attempting.  Let’s call it, A Dead Man’s Party.

Y’see, everyone would be on more or less equal footing, with the same gear and levels.  The differences would be racial, spec and personal skill.  This sort of flatter playing field interests me much more than most PvP… but then, I’m probably weird.

Anyway, just a thought, for all you PvP fans out there.  I know you exist.

Somewhere.

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I really wanted to work these in during my I Am Become Death article, but I didn’t have them ready at the time.  Also, there are a few things that I missed that I wanted to mention that these pictures can help illustrate.

Most of all, though, I wanted to call attention to the last screen shot on the page, because it gives me a bit of hope for Blizzard amid all the snarkiness that I’ve perhaps unfortunately indulged in.

Sendoku

Sendoku

This is Sendoku:  Dark, brooding, blue… and really in need of a hug.  You might think it’s a hard life, that of a Death Knight, but it’s really the emotional turmoil that hurts (since anything mortal or material can just be mercilessly murdered).  You should see his CD collection.  *shudder*

Unholy Homies

Unholy Homies

Homies

Daddy!

His fellow emobrood critterlings seem to like him well enough, though, and even Daddy Lich King seems like he might give Sendoku a hug someday.

With Frostmourne in hand.

Just in case.

Early on in his tasklist for the village assault, Sendoku was told to go steal a horse, that it might be converted into a Death Charger for him to ride on.  It’s an interesting bit of lore, since horses are a key part of the whole “knight” mythos, but it’s ultimately a somewhat disappointing chain of events.

Stallion

Stallion

Sendoku ran into town risking defeat at the hands of the village defenders, angling to swipe a lovely horse to claim as his own.  (By getting someone else to kill it back at the camp, naturally.  Death Charger, remember?)  He grabbed a stark white and grey stallion, since it stood out from its more colorful brethren as a proper Death Knight mount.

Death Charger

Death Charger

Back in the camp, the Horsemaster took the horse and shunted it into the Death Zone Shadow World (or something like that), where his minions would Necromance it in a weird Azerothian emo form of Pimp My Ride.  Sendoku was actually sort of looking forward to that, since that horse went so well with his armor.  Upon entry into the Death Zone Shadow World, though, it was revealed that all of the horses that wound up as Death Charger candidates went through the same cookie cutter and wound up as identical equine tanks.  Ultimately, it didn’t really even matter that he had brought a horse, since the first one that he captured escaped when he accidentally dismounted, and he was forced to grab another one that materialized a few dozen paces yonder.  Apparently, there are plenty of critters to go around.

Ready to Roll

Ready to Roll

Or maybe he just shafted another initiate by stealing his horse.  Ah, well.  No love lost among these brethren anyway.  Still, it pays to look over your shoulder now and then… or have a few minions to watch your back for you.

Loyal Minions

Loyal Minions

Pwned

Pwned

Especially when you’re told to fight five other Death Knight noobs to prove your dominance.  I’ll be blunt on this one:  they shouldn’t have made the NPC DK Initiates try to imatate humans by using inane terms like “owned”.  I know, there’s a dose of tongue in cheek in the whole game, as well as a penchant to embrace the absurd, but that stood out as being, well… dumb.  The groveling that those DK Initiates did after Sendoku whipped them was vaguely satisfying, though.  (Especially when the next dolt in line thought they had a chance to “own” him after the other guy “phailed”.  Morons.)

View from the Cemetary

View from the Cemetary

Burninated?

Burninated?

Phasing is pretty cool.  I don’t have any good “preburning” pictures, and I feel remiss in my self-imposed duties for neglecting that… but the sense of time progress lends a nice air to the storytelling and atmosphere.  I maintain that it would be better if they just went ahead and made a great single player game to really nail down the storytelling…

Raid!

Raid!

A bit later, Sendoku was charged with assassinating the curiously regenerating Mayor of the nearby Havenshire, and maybe some random citizens while he was at it.  The gates and doorstep of the town were overrun by a horde (get it? Hyuk!) of ghouls, which made for an interesting sense of life by way of undeath.

Dogpile

Dogpile

Conga!

Conga!

This is one place where I can be (sort of) serious; if Blizzard can do this sort of “incidental atmospheric life” thing without having any other players around, it undermines the “I play MMOs because they seem more alive than single player games” argument a bit.  If anything, the ghoul conga line and dogpile suggest that NPC critters do the whole “undead mindless attack swarm” better than a bunch of noob Death Knights ever could, and that the completely AI-driven characters sell the storytelling far more effectively than other players.  This whole DK starting questline really fits more into a single player game than an MMO, and it’s even engineered that way.  Well, except for that whole “$15/month to play” thing.

Timing is Everything

Timing is Everything

Speech bubbles are funny sometimes, albeit occasionally unintentionally.  Context is king.

Fractions are Scary

Fractions are Scary

Oh, and as I mentioned the tedium of Patch Day, I had to note this pair of screenshots from the patch notes.  First, this note on DK abilities made the math geek in me chortle.  Blizzard, you dummies, 2/4 is equal to 1/2.  I know that there are a lot of people in the U.S. who have the math competency of rutabegas, but that’s still silly.

…OK, OK, I know that it’s a list of two different numbers that just happen to be separated by a slash.  They aren’t really fractions.  It just looked odd enough to me that it cought my eye, and I grabbed a shot of it for posterity’s sake.

Tribute

Tribute

And then there’s this little gem.  I know, it’s probably not a big deal, and it’s a bit odd that it was tucked away in the patch notes in a relatively bland, unimportant place… but that they even put this in at all suggests to me that there are still a few people with some class over in the WoW dev team.

I never really did get into D&D (beyond a passing interest and a brief flirtation with Baldur’s Gate, Planescape Torment and Neverwinter Nights Diamond Edition), but Mr. Arneson did have a significant effect on gaming as a whole, and for that, he deserves thanks and accolades.  I wish his family well.

Death Knight nuttery aside, there really are real people behind these game thingies.  I don’t agree with a lot of them and a lot of their decisions, but they are people, and it’s nice to see a human touch here and there that doesn’t smack of saccharine or cynicism.

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(With apologies to J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Bhagavad Gita.)

Sendoku isn’t Vishnu, but as a newly minted Death Knight, subject of the Lich King, he is a harbinger of death, one who uses terror like a madman’s cudgel and fear like a torturer’s scalpel.

Early in his career, he was told that the hunger gnawing at his soul could only be sated by killing.  His very first fight set the tone for his existence, as he was told to fight a fellow initiate to the death.  The later massacre of scores of soldiers was only a mild escalation in his ultimate task to eradicate all life on Azeroth under the direction of the Lich King.

He is not quite alive, having been reanimated to serve in thrall to the Lich King, nor is he truly dead or undead.  He and his brethren are at least somewhat mortal, as some have not survived the Lich King’s war efforts.  So he’s understandably confused about his existence, and the suggestion to focus on obedience to the will of the Lich King and the tasks at hand undoubtedly help efforts to ignore exisistential musing.

All his homies agree he really looks good in black, and he’s got a really cool hat.

Even when he will eventually break free of the Lich King’s will, as foretold by this oracle, he will still serve Death, and be a slave to his eternal hunger for killing and destruction.  He will turn his blue, glowing eyes to the North, pushing forward with his kin, looking to bring death to the Lich King.  …who is already dead.  Sort of.  And who wields Death for fun and profit.

Death Knights aren’t exactly the sharpest cutlery in the rack, but they may well be the angriest and the angstiest.  (Three Panel Soul is highly recommended.)

———-

Short story long, the Death Knights are a mishmash of most emo and necro tropes, complete with big old honkin’ swords that glow like Azerothian lowriders, proving their utter dominance over all things edgy and cool.

Like any other WoW character, they enter the world with a nicely done flyby with a narrative to convey some backstory, and then they look around for questgivers with gold exclamation marks over their heads, positively itching to go kill stuff, but unlike other characters, they kill stuff with Death!!!  (Or a big old honkin’ sword, diseases, and maybe a pet Ghoul or three.)  Of course, they look better than other newbie characters, as the beneficiaries of years of refinement of Blizzard’s art assets and rendering engine, and they enter the world in full plate armor, at level 55, far more dangerous than a level 1 character.

The lore and art on these Death Knights is very tightly designed, and very well rendered.  I make light of it a bit, but that’s because I’m not a fan of the theme of the Death Knights.  As an artist in the game industry, I can look at what they are doing with these guys and applaud their art direction, animation and the very strong story and theme that Blizzard has developed, and I give credit where it’s due; the Death Knights are among the best designed characters in the WoW universe, both artistically and mechanically.  I personally find the overbearing (even if occasionally lampoonish) focus on Death and Destruction to be distasteful, but I’ll readily concede that even that is extremely well presented.  (Is it too punny to give Blizzard brownie points for execution?)

That said, the Death Knights do get bonus points for being honest.  Any WoW character embarks in the world as an agent of death, with a long career of slaughter in front of them.  Sure, it’s handwaved aside by saying that Druids are “maintaining the balance of nature”, or some other way of villainizing various critters and humanoids (it’s a war, after all, right?), but mechanically, the bulk of the game is about killing stuff.  (A point my wife has remarked about on more than one occasion, and really, from the outside, it is pretty silly.)  Death Knights know what they are all about, and they embrace it wholeheartedly.  That’s not a virtue, especially since they are just out for revenge and killin’, rather than any noble goal, but at least they are honest about what they do.

So what?  Do the Death Knights shake off the “monster pinata” complacency that most of us have slipped into?  Does it really make a difference when your “kill ten rats” quest turns into “kill 100 soldiers”?  Should it?  It’s just a game, right?

Hyperbolic German reactions aside (as Longasc points out, German leaders are coming down hard on violent gaming), desensitization is real.  The Death Knights are told to kill human characters who will cower and beg for their lives, innocent people who would otherwise be content to see to their village’s need for wood or hay.  It’s all very much in theme for the Death Knights, and Blizzard has carefully crafted the experience to give a sense of what a Death Knight’s existence is all about.  Does any of that sink in as players just go about, completing quests and killing stuff?  Do they think about it, or just go on with the business of prepping a new tank for raids?  Do they care even if it does sink in?

Again, it’s extremely well crafted, but I find the subject matter doesn’t sit well with me.

If Blizzard would take this level of work and turn it to a more noble pursuit, I’d be more impressed overall.  Of course, they aren’t really trying to impress me, so I doubt they care.  That’s just my take on things.

As I’ve noted before, the DK starting quests are very nicely designed, with a clear sense of progression, great spatial location, excellent art direction, and smart teaching mechanics.  (The flying eyeball recon quest at the start is a fantastic way to show people around in a low stress manner.)  Players don’t get a “this is an optimal DPS rotation” tutorial, but jumping in and playing a DK is a very smooth and forgiving experience.  (Ironically so, perhaps, since such would seem to benefit newbies more than vets who have qualified for DKs by having a high level character somewhere.)

The Phasing technology gives a nice sense of progress along a timeline, and really sells the storytelling.  It’s still not Hemingway or Shakespeare, but it’s a LOT better than what any other new character will see in WoW.

The Runes and Runic Power system is an interesting mutation of a mating between the Rage and Rogue Combo mechanics, and I found that it nicely promoted optimization of DPS rotations just by how it works, considering the cooldowns of runes and the gradual building of Runic Power.  It seems complex at a glance, and it certainly has the potential to be so, but getting up and running with it was a smooth experience.

So, I’ll add my voice to the choir saying that the Death Knight design and starting area is awesome, and that Blizzard really did a great job on them.  I won’t sing the praises during the chorus, when the theme is embraced, though.  I’m very glad that I had the chance to see a bit of the DK experience first hand, and I have some good screenshots to study… but I can’t honestly say that the experience was a pleasant one, on balance.  It was downright uncomfortable, and not something that I’d really want to do again.  (Which is not unlike the Arthas novel, actually… well crafted, unappealing characters and theme.  It works for some, certainly, just not me.)

The Death Knight experience offers some of the best work that Blizzard has done to date, and if dark magics, necromancy, Death and Destruction don’t bother you, the DK starting zones may well be the best part of the game.

A final note, though… I do wish that Blizzard would turn their eye to crafting this sort of experience for single player games.  If this sort of thing, complete with Phasing and a renewed focus on storytelling, is the future of the MMO genre (including SWTOR), I’m really going to be miffed that they didn’t just make a brilliant single player game.  More and more, I’m convinced that storytelling just isn’t meant to be a major component of MMO design.  Players should be telling their own stories, and all that effort crafting great narrative really should be in single player games, or even films.  But that’s another post…

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I occasionally cater to a substrain of Altitis that I’m calling Altitis Contentis.  It’s a mutation of the standard Altitis disease, distinct for its underlying drive to explore content in a game.  That desire to explore, both game content and game mechanics, drives creation of alts, especially in MMO games with classes, races, and/or story branching points that necessitate more than one character to see everything.

It’s a fairly common malady among those who find themselves in professional positions in the game industry, considering that it’s occasionally difficult to approach games without reflexively analyzing them.  It’s a bit like being a scientist or special effects guy watching movies; it’s hard to step back and turn the brain off when you’re professionally supposed to be able to do these things, and advance the state of the art or risk falling behind.  I speak from experience there, too.  Writers have similar troubles reading others’ work, especially if they have the proofreading gene.  Generic Fantasy Novel #435 just doesn’t read as well when you can see rigid and unimaginative slavish adherence to the Five Act Drama construction, and see little more than stereotypical characters.

My latest bout with AC was a brief research trip into World of Warcraft, as I alluded to a bit ago.  I fired up the trial again, and wandered around a bit as a fresh Night Elf Druid, then a good friend showed me the Draenei starting zone as a Draenei Shaman, then I took a whirlwind tour of some of the Death Knight introduction areas.  That’s where I employed my super special character name:  Sendoku.  It’s a portmanteau of the Japanese words for “death” (or “crisis in battle”), “sendo“, and “poison”, “doku“.  It’s completely unique, or so the Armory would have me believe.  Perhaps it’s common on the Asian servers, but I was happy enough finding something thematic and interesting for an Unholy specced Death Knight.

Names matter.

Anyway, the first time I played WoW, it was back in early 2006, when you needed a friend code to try the game.  A good friend at work noted my interest in the game, and let me have a shot at it.  I fired up a Tauren Shaman, and took several dozen screenshots.  I liked what I saw, but with a tight monetary and time budget, I knew I’d not be buying in.  Still, it was fun to play, and Thunder Bluff is still my favorite capital city in any of the MMOs that I’ve played.

I’ve played a few times since, and done a bit of research since.  I discovered that the Tauren homelands are among the most spread out in the game (so what seemed like a very slow game to me the first time around actually was pretty slow), and that Shamans are pretty underrepresented and somewhat underpowered.  (I still like them, though.)  I learned that the Skinning/Leatherworking pairing that I used was a pretty good one for Shamans, though I picked it as much for flavor as for function.  I learned that I’d rather play a Druid, to make the most of my time, since it could play in any of the four standard roles (tank, healer, ranged DPS, melee DPS).  I learned what those roles are, and how the Threat system works.  I learned that the game that I was playing was even then outdated, and that “the real game” is raiding.

I’ve also played other MMOs, notably Puzzle Pirates, Guild Wars and Wizard 101.  Brief dalliances with the trial or beta versions of a smattering of other games punctuated my research.  Puzzle Pirates is an obvious outlier in the mainstream MMO world, and Guild Wars is often denigrated as being something less than a true MMO.  Since we’re playing these things to preen and seek approval of our peers, of course we shouldn’t be playing anything less than a true MMO.  In fact, if you’re not playing Darkfall, you should just sell your computer and go cry to sleep on your Carebear pillow.

Through it all, I’ve looked to WoW as one barometer.  It’s not the epitome of what I’d consider good design, but it’s certainly successful enough to merit attention, and big enough to warp the industry and spawn a mess of “me too” MMOs.  I’d be remiss in my research to ignore it.

This latest trip into the wilds showed me a few things that I’ve not experienced before.  Some of this is probably old hat to you veterans out there, so forgive me if you don’t see anything new or insightful.  It was a good trip for me, at least.

One, patch day is… frustrating.  The time I had allotted to play the game was almost halfway consumed by patching the thing.  Oh, the Trial version of the game worked beautifully, what with the “streaming in the background” bit, but to play the big, official game required a complete patch before even firing it up.  I’m glad that games like Free Realms and Wizard 101 have adopted the “download in the background while you actually play the game” mentality.  I can see where WoW vets might not mind taking two days to patch the game, since they are already hooked and invested, but it’s a bit annoying in a market that is increasingly nimble.

The bloated 15.1 GB footprint that the game takes might have something to do with that.  I’m definitely leery of SWTOR, touting the notion of being “fully voiced”.  That’s a LOT of data.  Sure, “hard drives are cheap” for some, but that’s still a considerable chunk of data, and running on a less than optimal internet connection is painful, even if the game itself can be tweaked to functionality at playtime.  Guild Wars (with all expansions) weighs in at 4.32 GB, and still manages to look impressive, even better than WoW in places.  I’m not really calling foul on this one, since WoW does pack a lot of content… but that’s still a huge chunk of my hard drive.  Perhaps it’s one more piece of the puzzle that is the monopolization of the gamer’s resources; time, money and hard drive (and maybe even bandwidth, if you’re capped).

Two, the newer zones are plotted better.  The Draenei staring area is especially good with this, as most of the important quest landmarks have these huge purple/pink crystals that stand out from the rest of the deeper blue terrain.  The quest hub is up on a hill with the wreckage of a spaceship, fitted with plenty more of those eye-grabbing crystals.  Kaplan might whine about the “Christmas Tree” quest hub, but when I’m getting my legs in a new 3D space, I like having clear landmarks and one central place to use as my base of operations.  I can still wander around and sniff the mutant roses, but if I want to get back in the business of progressing the storyline, it’s very clear where to go.  (Guild Wars is the clear winner in this category, with clear indicators on the map of where you’re headed, but at least WoW is getting better.)

The Death Knight starting area is a nice open zone, with the Eeeevil Death Camp clearly up on the hill, and the people to terrorize conveniently in the valley below.  It’s simple and subtle; high ground is friendly, low ground is where the fighting takes place.  You’re given a mystical tour of the local town via the “floating eye” quest, which familiarizes you with the buildings you will be tasked with raiding in the near future, all from the relatively safe perch of a disembodied eye.  It’s very forgiving, and very clear.

Oh, and as a bonus, dying just calls over a Valkyrie-like wraith that resurrects you where you stand, full of health and ready to roll.  That’s a friendly noob experience.  (That’s somewhat wasted on a prestige class, rather than real noobs, but I digress.)  You may be Death’s right hand man, but you’re not living the school of hard knocks.  No, that’s for those poor saps leveling baby Taurens.

Three, it’s easier to get around.  I incidentally noticed that the Hearthstone cooldown has been chopped from an hour to half an hour.  This is significant to my time-constrained play, and I’m greatly in favor of other speedenhancing efforts that Blizzard has rolled out (or will roll out).  I don’t like forced time sinks, and travel is one of them.  (Again, Guild Wars wins out there, but at least WoW is making baby steps in that direction.)  As always, those who want to take their time can still walk, but if you just want to get somewhere and get on with the business of playing, it’s easier than ever.

Yes, that may seem a little odd to hear from one such as I, a confirmed Explorer, but again, it’s about options.  Sometimes I really do want to just walk around, but when I want to just press on and get things done, I can.  I appreciate that. 

*edited to add:  And in a game that throttles Exploration by fairly strict level requirements, like WoW, sometimes I must Achieve in order to Explore, so it’s nice to get it out of the way as quickly as I can if I’m so inclined.  It’s trivially easy to take more time on something; dragging your feet is a national pasttime.  Being forced to take the long way around is more than annoying when there are better options.*

Four, critters in the wild now have more information in their “rollover” info box.  As long as I can remember, you could put your mouse cursor over a critter and get some rudimentary information about it, but now, if you highlight a critter that happens to be a part of a quest you have active, you get a handy tooltip telling you which quests it is relevant to.  Very nice.

Some might call this silly, and from a purist standpoint, it probably is.  Still, I like it because it makes the game more fun to play (since I know that I’m going in the right direction), and really, you could handwave it aside and say that your avatar should know these things, and that the tooltips are just your avatar’s subsconscious telling you what’s going on.

Anyway, there’s a common theme to all of this.  The game interaction is easier, faster, kinder.  It’s often argued that this means the game is being “dumbed down”, and there’s something to that… but it’s likely just sour grapes.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s not dumber, it’s smarter.  The interface gets in the way of playing sometimes (just ask any raider who uses addons to even play the raiding game), and these streamlining efforts from Blizzard, all the way from the tooltips to the clean layouts of the zones, are about making it possible to play the game, rather than flail about fighting the interface or get your bearings in a 3D space.

Peripheral vision, sound, smell and other subtle “world space” cues that we don’t get from the standard “mouse and a monitor” interface often mean that we need other “senses” to get around in the worlds we play in.  That’s where the “ESP” of the tooltips and map “tracking” tools come in.  That’s where sparklies on plants come in.  That’s why people use addons, or harmless hacks to pull the camera back farther than the default UI will let you.  It’s all about giving you the information you need to play the thing, rather than fighting the UI to get that information, or Alt-Tabbing out to Thottbot or the like.

Bottom line, I’ve found that playing WoW is easier than ever, and that Blizzard is at least making token efforts to reduce the rightfully-hated grind.  There’s still not a lot of gameplay that goes beyond the basic DNA of the DIKU roots, but it just feels easier to actually get in and start playing what is there these days.  The clearer physical layout of the newer zones aids comprehension and spatial orientation, and there’s less time futzing around hoping that you’re in the right place.  There’s less wasted time, and I appreciate that, as a time-conscious consumer.

I’ll stress this, though, for those who want to walk uphill to the questgiver twenty miles barefoot in the snow:   You can always make things harder on yourself and go ahead and wait until level 40 for your mount, only use your Hearthstone every hour, or ignore your tooltips and map if you really want the “classic purist” WoW.  There’s always that option*edited to add:  (Or, as Larisa notes over here, turn off your addons.  Now that’s scary to some people, even to those who whine about how easy the game has become.)* Now, however, there are more options for those of us with shorter playing sessions (one big plus of the Hearthstone) and less time to waste.

WoW still isn’t a perfect game, but at this point, I’m happy seeing it making at least some small strides in the direction of playability.  I’m still not paying a sub to play it, but I do think that the game is better than it was, and that changes in the docket at the moment are good changes.  As a player, I appreciate the changes, and though they aren’t enough to suck me in, I look at them as a designer and as a player and nod in appreciation.

*I’ll be exploring the Death Knight a bit more later, as I’ve got some comments that I want to make about them.  For now, this is already overlong, so please be patient and come back if you care about what I might have to say about those nasty tricksy kniggets.*

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