The Lack of Holiday Updates in Mists of Pandaria

The Feast of Winter Veil starts today and the addition of a seasonal gift, battle pet, and seasonal achievement makes it the most developed holiday this year–the only holiday to get a development besides Day of the Dead. A common thread whenever a holiday rolls around now is that there’s nothing new for players to do. Holidays haven’t always gotten major developments in the past, but changes in Mists of Pandaria let players burn through holiday content faster and discourages repeat play on alts. It’s interesting to note that the Darkmoon Faire has gotten a lot of updates during a period where holidays got nearly none–but holidays occupy a special place in players’ memories and shouldn’t be neglected in favor of the Faire.

To start off, let’s analyze major developments for each holiday over the past few years. A stand-out year for holiday content started with Children’s Week 2011, continuing with major Hallow’s End, Winter Veil, and Lunar Festival additions. In this year-long period, Brewfest, Love is in the Air, and Noblegarden received interesting new vanity items as well.

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What I Like About Dark Souls

I know I’m late to the party on this game, but I’d always wanted to play it so I grabbed it from a recent Steam sale. There are a lot of things about this game I like; in fact one of my main points here is that I’d probably have rushed to play it much more quickly if I’d known much about it beyond “it’s really hard.” If anything, the fact that Dark Souls‘s reputation centers so singly on its difficulty undersells everything else that’s so good about this game.

In case you know nothing about the game, it’s an action RPG. So real-time combat, with constant Zelda-like attacking, blocking, and dodging between you and the various enemies, but also a fairly extensive stats/items system that’s more reminiscent of something like Diablo. The setting is medieval horror, so lots of zombies and skeletons and the like, against a variety of fantasy backdrops. It has an understated story that you experience mostly through item descriptions and NPC dialogue to the extent that you take the time to do so.

Combat

Lest I fall into a dry exposition of Dark Souls‘s unique combat systems, I’ll pick out a few aspects that should illustrate what’s special about them.

As expected, there are is a wide variety of weapons, each with a list of stats that’s a bit intimidating to a newcomer. What I’ve come to realize about halfway through my first playthrough is that the weapons don’t exist in a hierarchy like in most games, where you periodically give up your sword for the next better sword. Instead, all are (by and large) viable at all parts of the game due to an upgrade system that you use to grow your favorite weapons alongside your actual character. The neat thing is that what primarily sets all the different (for example) swords apart from each other is their animations. And I don’t mean cosmetically–while I don’t know the technical details, the game has some pretty precise hit detection, because each different swing animation damages enemies in the appropriate spatial area around your character.

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No Time to Explore on the Timeless Isle

Much has been made of the experimental design of the Timeless Isle, with more zones in this style promised in Warlords of Draenor at BlizzCon. On the surface, it’s a crowd-pleaser. Players hate daily quests and the Timeless Isle has none. Players of all types love vanity loot and quirky rare spawns and the Timeless Isle has many. Players miss the magic of pre-flying Azeroth and the Timeless Isle bans flying and rewards players for exploration. But is it too much of a good thing? And why do people AFK so much in a zone designed to foster exploration?

Geography

The Timeless Isle keeps the illusion of looking full even when many players aren’t around because of the design. You can’t see much of the island at once between the mountains, bridges, and caves. By putting players into naturally small areas, the areas always look kind of full. And there’s so many scripted things going on that the island never looks dead or abandoned. This leads to some initial excitement when discovering the Timeless Isle, but it also prevents players that are goal-oriented or simply short on time from feeling accomplished.

The island’s geography makes it very difficult for players to reach other parts of the island quickly. While this initially forced players to encounter every area of the island and hopefully stumble across some hidden events, users who have gotten some of the easier achievements or objectives out of the way are blocked by the long travel-times required to get around the island. This encourages users idling by a rare NPC’s spawn location, instead of traveling around the island and participating in multiple content types available. If someone calls out that a rare spawn has just popped in General chat, a player will most likely not make it there in time since the NPC gets obliterated with a small health pool.

The geography on its own isn’t necessarily an issue–a complicated small zone requiring players to invest effort in exploration isn’t bad–but when paired with the rare spawn mechanics and low droprates on many cool vanity items, the geography begins to feel like a hindrance if players are encouraged to kill the same rares many times.The Pandaria rares, in contrast, didn’t have this same issue–while there were numerous rares introduced in Mists of Pandaria, flying mounts let players take a quick spin around a zone, higher droprates on vanity items meant players collected their coveted items faster, and no achievements tied to vanity items didn’t trigger OCD the same way Going to Need a Bigger Bag does.

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