My first World of Warcraft experience

The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) was the title I chose for my contribution towards last month’s post about the best games to play at Christmas. It’s easy to get into, and you can do a couple of quests before getting down the controller and grabbing more chocolate.

I can’t say I booted it up during my time off work though. My two-week holiday began with the sort release I wouldn’t normally pick up but was inspired to try after watching a blogger-friend stream part of it recently: Yakuza 0. It won’t be one I’m likely to end up finishing due to its long length but I’m having fun with it for the time-being at least. This was followed by several days of World of Warcraft (WoW), my first real experience with this MMORPG and only my third online game.

It probably sounds strange that I’ve been gaming for over 30 years now and have never played it before. MMOs weren’t on my radar growing up in the 1990s because I was more interested in my beloved adventure genre; and this meant I didn’t have the opportunity to really learn how to use a keyboard-and-mouse outside of clicking. It’s caused me to always feel a little comfortable with team-based games due to my lack of coordination and so I tend to stay away from them.

Saying that though, I’ve sunk way too many hours into ESO over the years. I started off playing by myself in 2015 then roped my other-half into joining me, and we started playing on a weekly basis with Tim from Timlah’s Texts & Unity3D Tech and his partner Jake during our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20. Although they ran us through some dungeons and I was clearly the weakest player on our team, it wasn’t something taken too seriously so I never felt I had to worry about my performance.

When I first met Pete and started discussing video games with him, he told me he’d had a long history and many late nights with WoW although he hadn’t touched it since 2009. His brother still played however and whenever we went to see him, the pair would talk about his current adventures. I asked my other-half if he’d like to get back into it after one such visit and he declined, saying he didn’t have the time; but I think this had more to do with his worry that I’d get frustrated with trying to play with him due to my lack of skill with a keyboard-and-mouse.

In mid-November though, Ellen from Ace Asunder began streaming and several mornings were spent watching her work her way through battlegrounds in the MMO on Twitch. Seeing how much fun she was having made Pete feel the WoW itch again and we somehow ended up organising to play with her and friend-of-the-blog Phil. I made an account and the four of us spent New Year’s Eve jumping from quest to quest until 01:30 in the morning, then making it up to level 37 after a few more sessions in the following week.

World of Warcraft, WoW, woman, warrior, Paladin, mountains, sky, view

Are the keyboard-and-mouse controls frustrating me? Yes, and I’ll have a tantrum about them occasionally. But after several restarts to find a character I feel comfortable with and making use of Pete’s old keypad, I’m doing a lot better than I was initially. I’ve finally settled on a Paladin named ‘Laterlevels’ (how original) because this fits in with the odd way I like to play RPGs: I always want to do a bit of everything rather than being confined to a single role so here I’m able to tank, heal and do damage.

Before you say anything, I know you’re not supposed to play like this; you’re meant to pick your class and stick with it so you become an expert at what you do. But I’m lucky enough to be playing with a group of friends who accept my quirk and are more interested in hanging out than me gitting gud. Whenever I’m not sure what I’m meant to do be doing or make a mistake in-game, they don’t criticise me for it or make me feel like a bad player – they give advice or lend a helping hand.

It makes me feel like I’m a part of the team and that’s what makes it fun. We’ll follow Phil as we head towards the next quest, take on rare spawns when they appear in the hope that Ellen will get another pet to add to her collection, and watching Pete regularly fall off cliffs. And while we’re doing all that, we’ll chat about our day and what’s going on in the world. This social interaction is the lockdown equivalent of hanging out with colleagues at lunch-time or meeting with friends in the pub after work.

There are only two things bothering me slightly, the first being that I’m not paying any attention to what the quests involve. We tend not to read the descriptions and simply head off to the next adventure after the last one. I think this would be different if I were playing WoW on my own, because I’d be doing it for the story; but being with a group means the social aspect has replaced this need and become more important than the narrative. I feel a little sorry for the writers and know I should be paying more attention to the effort they’ve put into the game.

World of Warcraft, video game, WoW, Phil, Pete, Kim, Ellen, witch

And then there are stairs – especially those damn spiral staircases in confined spaces. I can guarantee I’ll fall off every single one of them at some point upwards and if they have a bannister, you know my character will get caught on it coming down. I’m getting better at movement with more practice over time but I always seem to struggle with stairs, so I’m grateful to Ellen for letting me hitch a ride on one of her dragons or Mekgineer’s Chopper whenever I’m getting particularly frustrated.

It’s hard to say whether I’m preferring WoW to ESO right now; I think it would be more correct to say that it’s different. I do find the latter easier though because it’s possible to play with a controller and I’m used to how certain things work, like the camera and movement directions, after having sunk over 240 hours into it. But I’m sure this will come in time with WoW too and eventually I won’t need my teammates to give me a lift (although I’ll probably still accept because who doesn’t want to ride a dragon).

We’ve chosen not to stream our escapades so far. I’m not sure I’d feel entirely comfortable with the game being shown from my point-of-view while I’m still learning the ropes as I’d be too conscious about what I was doing onscreen to enjoy playing. I guess it could be something we consider in the future though once the controls feel natural. Who knows, WoW might become part of our #DaysForDonations challenge for GameBlast21 if we keep up our aim of playing at least once a week.

Being able to play with friends might encourage me to branch out into other MMOs in the future but I’m not sure I’d want to go it alone with strangers. Right now, I’m going to stick with hanging out with Pete, Ellen and Phil in Wow and seeing if we can increase Ellen’s pet collection.

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)


Insomnia65: Over(watch) the Fallout obsession?

Earlier this year, I wrote about my stepson’s obsession with Fallout. He first found out about the series when he caught my other-half playing Fallout 4 on his laptop in 2015 and has been infatuated by Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic world ever since.

In that article I talked about some frustrations that have occurred over the past year as a result of his obsession. He doesn’t understand why nobody else at his school is interested in the franchise and is beginning to believe he doesn’t fit in. On one hand I’m kind of proud that Ethan doesn’t like Fortnite and would prefer to devote his time to a video game that’s detailed, atmospheric and story-rich; but on the other, I get that the preference makes it more difficult for him at this stage in his life.

I said that maybe one day he’ll find something to replace his Fallout infatuation, the same way The Legend of Zelda eventually did with Minecraft, or a friend who shares his interests would come along. Perhaps that time has finally arrived. A game that was free for a weekend on the Xbox One last month and an attraction at Insomnia65 recently could hold the answer. As mentioned on Friday, this gaming event is never going to be the favourite in my calendar but I might now have to show it some appreciation.

On a Saturday when his best friend Spencer came over, Ethan came downstairs to ask if he could download something on his console. We were apprehensive for several reasons when we were told it was Overwatch, the first being whether it was going to be suitable for him in terms of age-rating and multiplayer. We had nothing to worry about however: a quick internet search revealed a PEGI 12 rating and his headset had been having issues so he couldn’t communicate with anyone online.

We told him it was ok to go ahead but still felt wary. You see, my stepson has shown an aversion to any kind of competitive team-play and has been known to get incredibly frustrated when he feels as though he’s not mastering something quickly enough. Star Wars Battlefront went down a treat because he likes Star Wars but he quickly resorted to running around the training maps on his own and making up stories in his head. And Splatoon was fun at first – until he felt the other players were far better and would always win.

We hoped that having Spencer around would mean he wouldn’t show the extent of his frustration but listened out for any raised voices just in case. The boys seemed to have a good time though and when his friend had to go home, Ethan quickly retreated to his bedroom in the way most 12-year olds do. Pete went to visit him a little later to see what he was up to and when he came back down to the kitchen, the look on his face made me think something was horribly wrong.

“You’ll never guess what’s going on up there,” he said. “Ethan is actually good at Overwatch.” I honestly thought he was trying to prank me initially but no: my stepson’s team were winning rounds, he was getting kills and was even awarded Play of the Game a couple of times. Needless to say, my other-half and I were surprised. The kid had never shown much interest in, enjoyment from or – dare I say it – talent for competitive multiplayers before so this was all new to us.

A few weeks after the free trial had ended, that episode had almost been forgotten. We were only reminded of it during the car-journey to Insomnia65 when Ethan told us he’d heard that an Overwatch tournament would begin shortly after we were due to arrive at the NEC and it was the first area he wanted to visit. Pete and I threw a couple of confused sideways glances at each other in the front-seats but told him it sounded like a good plan – this day out was all about him, after all.

He surprised us once again by absolutely loving it. By the end of the tournament he was cheering on the teams and even commentating on their actions, telling us what he thought their strategies were. We on the other-hand could barely keep up with what was happening onscreen; the gameplay was too fast and bright, and the fact it kept switching between each characters’ perspective made it difficult to follow what was going on. Maybe that’s a sign I’m getting on a bit.

Ethan, Spencer, ice-cream, boys

The following day, Ethan asked if he could spend his pocket-money on the full version of Overwatch and he happily spent the morning playing until it was time to take him back to his mum and stepdad. On the way there we asked him how he’d found out about the game and why he’d wanted to try it originally, and we received probably the best answer possible: Spencer. It was something his friend had introduced him to and he’d only given it a go because he’d been asked to. But then he realised it was something he actually enjoyed.

So maybe now Ethan has found a friend who shares the same interests, and is ready to leave his Fallout obsession behind. I’m pleased for him. I’m also a little relieved too; moving on from the franchise is going to be good for all of us.

Ellie, Overwatch and the need to stick together

Every so often a news story crops up that keeps running and running, getting worse with every twist and turn revealed through gaming journalism websites. Unfortunately we’ve already had our first one for the new year and we’re only a couple of weeks into 2019.

You’ve probably already heard about Ellie, the talented female Overwatch player who was signed to Second Wind on 21 December 2018 and didn’t want to reveal her identity out of fear of harassment. She resigned from the team just weeks later after receiving doxxing threats and the story continued to snowball; Second Wind admitted they hadn’t completed due diligence because of their need to ‘desperately find a substitute’, and Blizzard eventually confirmed her account was a fake.

The rollercoaster didn’t stop there however. Overwatch streamer Aspen then took to Twitch to claim Ellie was actually a top-500 male player, saying: “The whole situation was meant to be, in a way, a social experiment. Ellie is actually Punisher, and he told me yesterday, so there you go.” Punisher himself hasn’t come forward with any kind of statement (at the time of writing) but further information has been released about his motive, and it’s thought that perhaps the ‘social experiment’ excuse was nothing but a cover to save face after being caught.

On one side we have those involved in the story: they all appear to be accountable in one way or another, and there’s a lot of finger-pointing going on as to who’s to blame. On the other we have the journalists and commentators: they all seem to be trying to use the story to prove different points about the state of gaming, twisting it as necessary to suit their arguments. Then there’s me: entirely confused about the whole thing which just seems like one big mess that has done nothing to help the community.

There’s already evidence of the division this situation has caused on social media. Some say the original harassment of Ellie probably wouldn’t have occurred if the player had been portrayed as an anonymous male, or at least it wouldn’t have blown up in the way it did. Their opponents are hitting back by saying it’s nothing to do with sexual discrimination; people were suspicious of Ellie for not wanting to hand over her personal details, and not because she was a woman. Argh.

If this was indeed a social experiment designed to make a point about women in eSports, it backfired spectacularly. There will be some out there in the dark corners of the internet who feel future attempts to expose female players using doxxing are now justified because of what’s happened here – even though a female player wasn’t caught cheating, the whole thing was created by a guy and Ellie never played in Overwatch Contenders anyway. Argh again.

There’s also the fact that we’re now going to have to put up with endless ‘is she even real’ memes thrown at any skilled female gamers who legitimately want to break into the industry. The Overwatch eSports scene was starting to head in the right direction when Kim Se-Yeon joined the Shanghai Dragons and became the League’s first female player last year, and unfortunately the Ellie story has set back that progress somewhat. One final argh.

There’s always going to be another controversy that blows up our news feeds; differences of opinion between sections of the community; and certain members online who want to increase their reputation by facilitating dumb social experiments. But I’m tired of the drama, the disagreements and the divisions. Will we ever be part of a group that stops hurting itself, where individuals join together for their love of gaming rather than knock each other down?

I really do hope so. Perhaps 2019 is the year when we start to see that happen, if we all stick together.

I’ve not provided links here to the Twitch channels for Aspen and Punisher as I’m sure they’ve received more than enough clicks already as a result of this situation.

Overwatch: experience tranquility

In the wonderful world of Overwatch, there comes a time when two people who enjoy using the same character find themselves on the same team. What happens then? Who should play as that character? How do console peasants like myself communicate with each other to ensure a mutually-acceptable resolution?

Having come across this dilemma a few times of late, which is odd given the lack of people willing to play a healer in the game, I had to make sure a backup plan was in place. I needed to learn a second character to make sure I could hold my own and contribute to the team in other ways.

Overwatch, video game, GIF

So I picked the robotic monk Zenyatta as he is a blend of support and offense, using orbs to buff and debuff allies and enemies from a distance. It’s proved an enjoyable diversion, with the positional sense I’ve picked up playing Mercy translating into where and when to place the status orbs for maximum effect. As is the case with so much of Overwatch it’s a really enjoyable experience and I feel I have a second string to my bow.

What’s next? Maybe a defensive character, Torbjorn appeals as I like the strategy behind turret placement for maximum effect and to surprise the opposition. We shall see. Either way, if you see me online be sure to say hello and I look forward to being your support!

Healwatch

After taking a few months off Overwatch, I’ve returned to find it an interesting game to have been a part of since release. In the first weeks matches felt very scrappy, especially if you were part of a pick-up group.

Players were still trying out various characters, learning their strengths and weaknesses as well as discovering tactics that would best serve the map and mode. If I’m honest the Play of the Game mechanic didn’t help too much either as at the time, the algorithms appeared to focus on kill streaks more than anything else which in turn caused players to concentrate too much on their own goals rather than the team’s.

Matches now are a much changed thing. Players clearly have their preferred characters and roles which has made the experience much more balanced. Blizzard’s masterstroke of unlocking everything from the start means that the only advantage long-term devotees have is skill (and experience) rather than equipment so newcomers know that defeats aren’t down to superior gear. It also means that even in pick-up groups you know you should be in for a decent match because everyone will gravitate to their favourite role and as a general rule, the teams are much more balanced.

As you can imagine front line attackers and long distance snipers are the classes of choice which is absolutely fine by me because I like to heal. Yes, that’s right, the annoying Mercy who zips around the team healing, boosting and resurrecting is me. And I love it.

Support players, especially healers, appear to be in the minority and I take a real pleasure from sitting in the midfield, healing the tanks and attackers from a relatively safe distance before boosting the snipers to help them pick off the last few stragglers after a successful team push forward. It’s the same satisfaction from a 3+ team resurrection that can swing the tide of a fight just enough to win a match.

So if you ever need a healer, feel free to look me up.

I’m too old for this… kill-to-death ratio business

There are all sorts of reasons I am thoroughly enjoying Overwatch. It has smart, well thought out map design, distinctive and diverse characters, not to mention the overall polish that comes with every Blizzard title.

The most important reason however is that you don’t win by racking up the highest number of kills. The game declares itself a team-based shooter and that’s exactly what it is: players win as a team and lose as a team.

This is especially important to someone stumbling blindly into mid-life as our reactions aren’t quite what they used to be (more of which you can read about here). Unable to contribute much in an offensive role, I’ve instead carved out a niche for myself in the Healer and Tank markets. Thankfully they are usually always available because the majority of players, especially in pick up groups, tend to opt for an offensive character or sniper.

It’s strange because I find healing an extremely satisfying task, one made even more so when they cards at the end of the match pop up declaring I’ve healed 35% to 45% of the total damage taken by the team. This might seem low on the surface but when you consider the team is often spread around a map it highlights mobility, awareness and the difference between knowing when to heal and when to buff.

So yes, I’m a little too old for the front-line assault squad but there’s still plenty to contribute from the back. It’s just one of the many reasons why Overwatch is so very good.

How do you play Overwatch – pew-pew or heal?