Monday, May 15, 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda Review

This post contains spoilers for Mass Effect: Andromeda.

A good ending forgives a lot of sins. Mass Effect: Andromeda has a solid ending. It also has a lot of sins.

I finally finished Andromeda last night. I think it might be easiest to review it in bullet-point form:

Good
  • The ending of Andromeda is quite good. It feels like someone listed everything which was wrong with ME3's ending, and systematically went about writing the opposite. As a result, the ending is very fulfilling. All the allies you made appear and help, validating all your choices in the game. Though you still have your 2 squadmates, all your other squad members show up to help in the final fight. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the ending, and Andromeda goes out on a high note.
  • Andromeda has one really good decision to make. On Kadara, there are two rival criminal organisations seeking control of the planet. You have to side with one of them. The two groups are very different, and it's not obvious which is the better choice. I've seen some interesting debates as to which choice is better. Additionally, Andromeda used the "quick-time event" to make the choice, forcing you to make the choice with time pressure. Ordinarily, I'm not a big fan of the quick time events, but here it worked perfectly.
  • The combat is fun and works well. There are lots of different builds and play styles.
  • If you like Krogan, there's lots of interactions with them. Drack, a squadmate, is pretty awesome. The krogan colony is pretty funny, and provides a much needed dose of humour. (Apparently, some krogans LARP, playing Krantt: the Ragening. There's also a new father support group, where they have sing-alongs and demolition explosion demonstrations.)
  • The six companion loyalty missions are very well designed, and actually fairly interesting, with a wide variety of styles. 
Mixed

  • The story and writing is decent. It's not particularly good, but it's not particularly bad either. In fact, in some ways it's unfortunate this is a Mass Effect game. If it had been an entirely new franchise, I would have said it was a promising start, and hopefully would get better in the sequel.
  • The open world and driving around in the Nomad is reasonably fun.
Bad
  • Your crew, aside from Drack, are not very interesting. Honestly, they're kind of annoying. After thinking about it for a bit, I've come to the conclusion that this is because they're teenagers. Oh, they're theoretically adults, with adult histories. But they act like teenagers in a television show. Everything is overly dramatic and histrionic. I wanted to space half of them by the end.
  • The game has a set of quest objectives called Tasks, which are an utter waste of time, and really just serve as filler. Collect 10 rocks, etc. Some tasks have objectives which randomly appear in enemy camps. I strongly recommend that you simply ignore all the tasks you get, and just focus on the main quests.
  • The software quality is not quite there. The animations and cutscenes have mostly been patched up to reasonable quality by now, but quests can still be fragile and buggy.
  • The game lacks the "grace notes" of the original trilogy. Elements like the elcor, hanar, and volus, which weren't really part of the story, but enhanced the world.
  • The new races introduced, the Angara and Kett, are uninteresting.
  • The entire scanner mechanic is overused, and really slows the game down.
Conclusions

Looking at these notes, I don't think I've touched my main issue with the game. It feels like the new studio was given the Mass Effect franchise, and they felt like they had to do "more" to live up to the name. Add more open-world content and bring back driving a vehicle. Add a scanner. Add all these tasks. Add NPC strike teams. But in the end, they spread themselves too thin. Pretty much every element of the game, save maybe combat, is a step below the original trilogy.

In a lot of respects, I think they would have done better to cut all these extra features and focus on polishing the main story and animations. If the player does everything, tries to 100% the game, it's too long. It would be better as a shorter and more focused game.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is not a bad game. It's just not a great one. And Andromeda has the misfortune to be a sequel to a set of truly great games.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

An Alternate Legendary Scheme

I'm generally happy with Legendaries this expansion. I only have 3, but they're good enough. I also don't play at a level where they really matter, so having or not having the Best-in-Slot ones isn't super important to me.

However, I think for a lot of people who are more hardcore, the Legendary system didn't really work. In particular, I don't think the concept of tailoring your build to match your Legendaries really took off.

Perhaps the problem was that the Legendaries weren't strong enough. For example, if you look at Diablo 3, set bonuses are pretty insane. If you're wearing a set which buffs an ability, that buff is on the order of a 1000% or more. I don't think such a system--where getting a Legendary forced you to build your character around it--would really fly in WoW.

I think a system that fits WoW better would be something with a little bit of randomness, but also add in control and effort.

I would suggest a scheme where the Legendary drop rate was about one per week, but the item level started at 800 or so. The player could use Obliterum to upgrade the Legendary to the item level cap.

This scheme would get the dedicated player all Legendaries reasonably quickly, but they would have to devote time or money into upgrading the Legendaries they want to use. Using Obliterum as the upgrade material would also help out crafters, giving them incentive and a market for their wares.

Friday, April 28, 2017

WoW Videos: Holding Out for a Healer



I've always liked Bonnie Tyler's Holding Out for a Hero. This variant is quite well done. The video is by Kruithne. The main vocalist is Sharm, and the chorus is Letomi.

And the subject matter is certainly very appropriate. ;)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Success is the Hardest Thing to Argue Against

Lately, my guild has taken up a tactic which I find distasteful, but is leading to success. So far it's been used sparingly, but because it is successful, the leadership's aversion to the tactic is eroding. I fear we'll start resorting to it earlier and earlier in the next tier.

Basically, on a difficult boss, when we're fairly close to a first kill but are having trouble closing out that last 10%, the raid lead will start asking the lowest DPS people to step out. Because normal and heroic raids scale now, the average DPS of the raid increases while the mobs get weaker.  We got our first kills of Heroic Botanist and Heroic Gul'dan this way.

I don't approve of this tactic. To me, a raid team is a team, and you win or lose with that team as a whole. I'm perfectly fine with having minimum requirements to join the team, but once you're in, you're in.

If we didn't use this tactic, we would progress a little slower, true. Maybe we would have killed Botanist and Gul'dan a week later. But we have plenty of time.

I also think we're using this tactic as a shortcut instead of tightening up our strategy and positioning. We aren't a Mythic guild, and thus our basic handling of mechanics is not as good as it could be.

But it's really hard to argue with success. The raid leadership will point out that they only do this when it's "necessary", after we've already wiped for a couple days and no one objects in raid. But no one really want to be the person holding back the group, either. And it's hard to say that yes, we should spend one or two extra weeks wiping when we could be progressing and working on new bosses.

But because it's successful, we're reaching for it earlier and earlier. I think we wiped on Botanist twice as much as we wiped on Gul'dan. How much will our tolerance erode in Tomb of Sargeras? One night of wiping? As soon as we have a 20% wipe?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Your Name Review

There are minor spoilers for Your Name in the post, and there may be larger spoilers in the comments.



I saw Your Name (Kimi No Nawa) on the weekend. It's about a boy in Tokyo, Taki, and a girl in the countryside, Mitsuha, who start dreaming that they are the other person, even though they are complete strangers.

It was a popular movie in Japan, and is in a two-week run in some North American cinemas. There was a full theatre when I went to see it. Though I do live in Vancouver, which has a large East Asian population. Amusingly, I was the only non-white, non-East Asian person there.

The movie was quite good, with interesting and engaging characters. In particular, I thought it was "well-balanced". Some comedy, some drama, some romance, some moderate action, a touch of scifi/fantasy, a bit of Japanese religious mythology, and even an explosion.

One of the problems I have with modern western movies is that they seem to have lost that sense of balance, and often tend to extremes. An action move is 90% action with very little characterization. Romantic movies are intensely romantic. Indie movies tend to be very quirky and not very normal.

Your Name is also relatively short, clocking in at 1h 45m. Again, this is quite good, as it packs a lot in that short time frame.

Your Name is not a perfect movie, though the anime community hypes it up a lot. In particular, if plot holes bother you, there is one major plot hole, though it's not strictly a plot hole. On reflection, it's extremely unlikely the characters did not do or realize X. Kind of like characters not calling the police when they have a cellphone and in a situation which warrants it. But if you just let that go, or attribute it to the "magic dream" blinding them to it, it's more than good enough.

I recommend Your Name, especially if you can catch it in theatres. You may only have a week to do so, however.

Friday, March 24, 2017

First Impressions of Mass Effect: Andromeda


Despite my feelings about the ME3 ending, I picked up Mass Effect: Andromeda last night. Here are my initial impressions from about an hour of play.

Facial Animations

I usually don't pay attention to internet complaints about graphics. To my non-artistic eyes, pretty much every modern game looks good.

However, the facial animations in ME:A are horrifically bad. Lips move, but the entire rest of the face has been botox-ed into immobility. My current head-canon is that it's a side-effect of the cryogenic sleep process, and everyone's face has simply not thawed yet. It looks really terrible, and is extraordinarily distracting.

I'm playing with the default Sara Ryder, and her eyes have pupils which are not centred correctly. It looks like she constantly has her eyes half-rolled up.

The biggest problem, though, is that's there's a clear mismatch between the quality of the head model, and the quality of the animations. This actually makes the problem worse. Maybe if the models hadn't been aiming for "realistic" so hard, the animations wouldn't stand out so much.

ME:A graphics spiked in quality the moment the characters put on their helmets.

Now, that being said, perhaps you get used to it. It wasn't nearly as distracting at the end of my play session.

Story

The story is just starting up. It's interesting how they leave everything from the original series somewhat ambiguous. In some ways, it's like the story is set in Mass Effect universe, but ignores the plot of the Mass Effect games.

So far, the writing is okay. It's not good, but it's not bad either. It kind of reminds me of a author with potential writing her first novel. It could get a lot better, but it might not either.

One interesting thing Bioware has done in conversation this time around is to categorise responses as either emotional, logical, casual, or professional. It's a very explicit way for you to define your character, especially as not all choices have all options. Sometimes you have to decide between emotional or logical. But other times, you might have logical versus professional. My tentative feelings on this system are positive, as it provides a nice framework for choices.

As a side-effect, options which are purely informative are also labelled, so you can go through all those without accidentally making a true choice.

Combat

Now we get to the outstanding part of the game so far. The combat is excellent so far. Powers work well. The shooter mechanics are crisp and nice.

I'm probably going Tech/Arms, and the tech powers are interesting, and combo nicely with each other. There's a lot of powers and skill trees for RPG enthusiasts to enjoy.

Combat feels good in this game, and that's a major positive for the game.

Conclusions

When you think about it, the facial animations are probably disproportionately distracting. But I can guarantee you that it's the first thing you notice when you start playing the game. The story is very generic at the moment, but hopefully the writers hit their stride and pick it up as the game goes on. But the combat mechanics are quite fun and well done.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Issues with the Current World First Race

If you've been following the top guilds and the World First races in WoW, you'll notice that a lot of the top guilds have been calling it quits. I think the higher-than-normal burnout has two intertwined causes, and it's hard to propose solutions without understanding those causes.

First, I don't think the long hours during the race itself is an issue. The world-first guilds have always raided intensely during the first couple of weeks. Ciderhelm talked about it in his guide to Time Management way back in Vanilla/TBC. You raid intensely for two week, and then have a very relaxed schedule for the next four or five months.

The current issue facing edge guilds is that to be competitive, each raider needs multiple "finished" characters.

First, the multiple part. Edge raiders need multiple characters for split runs as well as to swap characters around to have an optimal setup. There's always been a degree of this in WoW, but the number of characters needed has steadily increased. I believe that edge raiders are now expected to have four or five characters they can switch to for progression.

Second, the "finished" part. A finished character is one which is fully geared and maximized from the previous tier. This is the major change in Legion. Before Legion, it was fairly easy to finish a character, especially if you were in a guild which regularly cleared Mythics.

But Legion increased the amount of work to finish a character significantly. Now you need Best-in-Slot legendaries, maximized Artifact Power, and Warforged/Titanforged gear to be truly finished.

Now, this is actually great for those of us who play one main character and aren't at the cutting edge. There's always the chance of upgrading. Maybe you'll get a titanforged piece, or a new Legendary. I've only got 40-something points in my Artifact Weapon, so more AP is always useful.

However, for the edge raider, this is murderous. Where Ciderhelm once touted a intense two weeks, then a relaxed schedule for 4 months, the modern edge raider spends all her time trying to finish her character, chain-running content for AP and the chance of titanforged gear.  And due to the first requirement of needing multiple characters, she has to do this on four or five characters. No wonder they are burning out.

The big problem, of course, is that the longer path to finishing a character is excellent and enjoyable for the vast majority of the population, even if it is burning out the edge raiders.

In the next post, we will look at potential solutions.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Virtual Core Set for Magic: the Gathering's Standard Format

Background

Magic: the Gathering has several constructed formats. The flagship format is called Standard, and basically consists of all sets released in the last couple of years. As new sets are released, older sets rotate out, so the pool of cards from which to build decks changes regularly.

Lately, the Standard environment has had a lot of issues. Earlier this year, WotC banned 3 cards, the first time cards have been banned in around five years. And even after that, the resulting environment is not perceived as healthy, and there are calls to ban more cards.

Proposal

Right now, WotC really has only one way to affect the Standard environment: banning cards. New sets in the pipeline have already been finalized. Changes made to sets in production won't show up for over a year.

I propose that WotC add a new Virtual Core Set for Standard. This would be a list of already printed cards from older sets which are now legal in the current Standard.  I envision a starting list of about 50 cards, 10 from each color, which are "staples" of traditional Magic. The Core Set would not be cards that you build a deck around, but be mostly utility and sideboard cards to help weaker decks challenge the stronger ones.  Not the stars of your deck, but role-players. "Engine" cards, finishers, and "flashy" cards would come from the current sets in print.

A candidate staple for the Virtual Core Set

Advantages:

  • This would provide a second, less-drastic mechanism for tuning Standard. Instead of the only option being to ban or not ban cards, WotC could first try adding or removing cards from the Virtual Core Set. If Standard needs a little more graveyard hate, rotate in some more graveyard hate.
  • This would allow WotC to add cards to Standard without affecting Limited formats. This allows WotC not to have to worry damaging a good Limited environment by reprinting a strong card meant for Standard.
  • Allows WotC more breathing room when it comes to reprints. Sometimes reprints are necessary, but don't fit in the set thematically, or have to replace a new card. This avoids that issue.
  • Cheap. There used to be a Core Set made up mostly of reprints. But since most players already had the cards, and the Core Set was at a lower power level, it didn't sell well. A simple list of allowed cards has a minimal cost, in contrast. There should be a healthy supply of most cards that would be in the Virtual Core Set from previous sets.
  • I think a Core Set would provide a stronger "baseline" for Magic in Standard. There would always be a little counter-magic, a little burn, etc. that adds additional support for the main themes from the released sets.
Disadvantages:
  • Standard legality becomes more complex. Right now, it's just cards in the legal sets minus a handful of banned cards. Standard would become cards in the legal sets plus cards in the Virtual Core Set minus the banned cards. Depending on how often the Virtual Core Set changes, keeping track of whether a deck is legal or not would become harder for more casual players.
  • Virtual Core Set cards might oppress or crowd out new cards. For example, let's say Counterspell was added to the Virtual Core Set. Obviously it would displace any counters from the new set, and may end up killing whole potential strategies.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Updates

Well, last month was pretty much a bust as far as blogging goes. Hopefully, I will do better this month.

World of Warcraft

My guild slowly moving through Heroic Nighthold. I think we're 5/10 now. Our biggest enemy, really, is time. We're a 2-nights-a-week guild, but we spend the first night on Normal Nighthold. So we don't really get a lot of time in on the current boss. But so far it's been steady progress, killing a new boss each week.

I have my 4-piece set bonus, so I'm pretty set.

Otherwise, not a lot is going on in WoW. I leveled a Demon Hunter to max and finished that story line. It was perfectly fine, but there's just something about the demon hunter mechanics that I can't warm to. I'm not really sure what it is, but I just don't enjoy demon hunter combat. It may very well be that demon hunters are too mobile for me.

FFXIV

I haven't been playing FFXIV a lot. I've done the latest 24-mans, and they're fun. I still have one 8-man trial to go.

Otherwise, I've been kind of down on FFXIV. I play a tank in that game, but I don't like large pulls or speed runs. However, the community seems to expect speed runs in all content lately, and the dps have taken to pulling for me.

It's an interesting contrast to WoW. In WoW, the "go-go-go" crowd is segregated into Mythic+ dungeons. I haven't done a single Mythic+, and any regular mythics or heroics I do are nice and relaxing.

But in FFXIV, you're expected to do a wide variety of roulettes each day. On the one hand this is good because it keeps queues hopping, and sends veteran players back to help newbies. On the other hand, that means the veteran playstyles dominate all facets of the game. Tanks are expected to speed run and pull big. Healers are expected to switch to cleric stance and do damage.

There's really no room to play in a more relaxing fashion if you prefer.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Return to Karazhan: Nightbane

Last week, my guild group that has been running Karazhan semi-regularly unlocked and beat the "secret" boss, Nightbane.

The unlocking mechanism is basically a speed run. There are 6 or so crystals scattered around Karazhan, and you have about 6 minutes to reach each crystal in turn. It's mostly trash, as you only have to kill 3 bosses (Opera, Moroes, and Curator). We even use invisibility potions at one point to skip a couple packs of particularly nasty trash.

It was pretty fun, though I am not super-thrilled with Blizzard making speed runs the only challenge in lower content. I haven't done a single Mythic+ yet, for example. But I don't know. So far, speed runs have proven to be the only enduring challenge in low level content. And perhaps having speed runs filters the "go-go-go" crowd out of regular dungeons.

Nightbane itself is a pretty straightforward fight. It's very similar to the old Nightbane with a dragon, skeletons, and charred earth zones on the ground.

The one really interesting mechanic is Ignite Soul. Ignite Soul is a debuff which targets one player and lasts for 9 seconds. On expiry, damage equal to the target's current health is dealt to the other players in the group. So the player with Ignite Soul has to stand in the charred earth and get her health down to 25% or so when the buff expires. So the healer has to watch them, avoid healing them (but don't let them die), and heal everyone else up high enough to take the coming hit.

It's a neat mechanic. The fight overall is quite decent. It even has Nightbane fearing everyone, just like the old fight. Though this time, I don't think anyone can break it early consistently. Heh, that brings up memories. I think the fear was what I complained about in the original fight.

Nightbane also drops a mount. The loot mechanism is interesting. If no one in the group has already killed Nightbane this week, it's a 100% drop for one of the players who don't have the mount. Otherwise the chance of the mount dropping decreases by 20% for each person who has already done Kara. So it's really aimed at people who run Kara once a week in a steady group, but allows a group of 4 who already have the mount to guarantee the mount for the 5th person.

All in all, Nightbane was an good fight. It's a bit unfortunate that it's locked behind a speed run, but the run is pretty doable with a decent group. It's actually a decent challenge for a stable 5-man group that doesn't raid.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Critique of the Story of Pillars of Eternity

This post contains major spoilers for Pillars of Eternity. Seriously, I will be discussing the ending and everything.

I bought Pillars of Eternity in March, 2015, almost two years ago. Yesterday, I finally finished the game. This post is an examination of what I see as the flaws of the story.

I should note that Pillars is a very good game, especially if you like old school Baldur's Gate-style isometric party RPGs. In particular, you may find the elements which kept me from finishing the game attractive to you.

A World With No Triumphs

My first mistake with Pillars is that I like to play paladins. And Pillars is not a paladin-friendly game. The world is somewhat dark, and the game delights in giving you quests and situations where there are no good choices, and you're usually picking the least-bad choice.

For example, in Act II you have to ally with a faction. One faction is city knights, who are arbitrarily discriminatory (basically, your soul has to come from someone who fought for the right side in the country's war of independence), and who are creating an army of clockwork knights which they are going to imbue with human souls. The other factions are a bunch of thugs and vigilantes who you generally encounter beating up people you need to rescue, and the local crime syndicate.

I didn't want to ally with any of them, but the game forced me to choose one.

But the thing is that every quest in the game is like this. There are no unambiguous wins to be found, and no one who is likable, worth saving, or even worth caring about. Or if there are such people, you won't be able to help them in any way.

Event the one good thing you do in Act I, getting rid of the cruel local lord, is arbitrarily overwritten in Act III. The lord comes back from the dead and slaughters the people you left in charge. I was like, "Really?"

I found my reaction to this to be very similar to my reaction to books like Game of Thrones. After a point, I stopped caring, and ended up dropping the game for months at a time. This position, though, is a personal one. Lots of people like grim works, and if you like this kind of work, you'll enjoy Pillars. I don't care for overly hopeless works, and as a result I didn't like much of Pillars.

Ultimate Truths That Clash

The basic structure of Pillars goes something like this:
  1. In Act I, you learn that children in Dyrwood are being born without souls, called Waidwen's Legacy. It may be natural, it may be the result of the death of a god's avatar fifteen years earlier, or it may be the work of soul mages called animancers.
  2. In Act II, you learn that Waidwen's Legacy is being caused by a conspiracy called the Leaden Key, using ancient Engwithan technology. They are acting partially to discredit and end the study of animancy.
  3. In Act III, you learn that this is really a power-play among the gods, with one of them trying to usurp the other's powers. The different factions of the gods have different philosophies on how the problem is to be solved, and you have to ally with one of them.
  4. In Act IV, you learn that the gods were created long ago by the Engwithans, because they learned that there were no gods, and they feared what people unbound by faith would do.
The major problem of the last two Acts is that the two "layers" of knowledge don't really work with each other. For example, the final choice you make at the end of the game is based on the truths of Layer III, on the gods and their philosophies, and not on Layer IV.

The main villain, Thaos, is working to empower one of the gods with the stolen souls. This works with Layer III. But in Layer IV, Thaos is revealed to be the one originally created all the gods back in ancient times. It's never really explained why he now works to shatter his original vision. The Layer IV truth of Thaos is opposed to the Layer III truth of Thaos.

As well, if you have a game with a pantheon, there are two ways you can go. The gods can be an active, literal presence in the game. Or they can be mysterious beings that may or may not exist. Act III chooses one path, and Act IV chooses a different path. The whole question of whether the gods are real or not is somewhat pointless when your character has communicated with them, obtained their blessing, and has observed that they have dominion over their portfolios.

I think Pillars of Eternity would have been far better off if they had chosen one of the two final truths and discarded the other. Either the divine power-play, or the truth about the creation of the gods, could have worked. But both together simply don't. They conflict and create holes in each other.

A final point is that the last layer of truth in particular is very heavy on the "tell instead of showing". You find out about it mainly through conversations of a past life where the conflict between telling the truth about the gods or spreading their worship was more central. This adds to a basic feeling of unimportance around the last truth.

Conclusions

Pillars of Eternity has an interesting story. However, it was a little too dark, hopeless and "unlikeable" for me. As well, it has one "reveal" too many. The last reveal, rather than enhancing the story as whole, undermines and weakens the previous reveal, as well as the motivations and actions of the main villain.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Exchange of Material

I've been thinking about Magic: the Gathering lately. One thing I've been musing about is the complexity of "fat" creatures, that is creatures with toughness greater than power.

For reference, creatures in Magic have power and toughness. When one creature blocks a second creature, they deal damage equal to their power. If that damage is higher than the toughness, the creature dies. Two important differences between Magic and Hearthstone. First, in Magic the defender chooses which creatures block (or not block) which attacker. Second, damage done to a creature is wiped away at end of turn. It isn't permanent like in Hearthstone.

In any case, consider a very simple board. Jane has a 2/2, and Sally has a 2/2. Jane attacks with her 2/2. Now Sally has a choice: she can either take 2 damage, or block with her 2/2. If she blocks, both creatures will die. It will be an even exchange of material.

A similar situation happens if Sally has two 2/2 creatures. She can block, but will still exchange material.

However, let's consider what happens if all the creatures are 2/3 creatures. In the first scenario, if Jane attacks, Sally simply blocks and both creatures bounce off each other. There's possibility of a simple exchange here.

In the second scenario, it becomes foolish for Jane to attack. Sally would block with both 2/3 creatures, and kill Jane's creature without losing one of her own.

Simply adding that extra point of toughness makes exchanges less likely. But exchanges are good for the game. They simplify the game state. The high toughness creatures lead to a more "stalled" board, which becomes more and more complicated.

High power doesn't display this. If the creatures where 3/2, exchanges would be just as prevalent.

I think it's good for PvP games to be able to exchange resources. Otherwise, the board state builds and builds, until one side gets a sudden advantage and overruns the other side.

I think healing plays a similar role in MMOs, especially PvP. It prevents the exchange of material until a certain threshold is met. For example, Eve PvP might be more interesting without logistics ships. An outnumbered force could attempt to come out slightly ahead in each exchange of material.

But with healers, you either have enough firepower to get past the healing, or you don't. Or you have enough crowd control to disrupt the healing long enough to kill something.

In any case, evenly exchanging material in PvP is good. Anything that makes exchanging material harder, even as small as a single point of toughness, should be considered very carefully.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Buff Spells and Abilities

A couple weeks ago, a Blizzard CM posted the following in response to a forum thread:
Why do you feel blessings and auras are fun? I can understand that it feels "nice" to help other players with buff spells, but, in general, they were just niche spells that actually didn't contribute much to meaningful game play (Seals are a different story, I guess). I never thought to myself on my Pally that turning on Retribution or Devotion Aura was going to result in an exciting change besides some passive armor or thorns-like-damage reflect.
Buff spells are fun, but articulating exactly why is a bit of a challenge. They're not difficult decisions, which leads to the claim of "not meaningful gameplay." But not everything needs to be a difficult decision. The mere presence of a buff spell means that before the group even starts playing, people in the group are better off. Buff spells enhance the idea that the characters are stronger together.

It's also part of the ritual before starting something. Food, flask, buff up and then pull. When all decisions and actions occur in combat, I think something is lost. These actions in preparing for combat are important too.

I think buff spells might be most important to healer players. They're a concrete manifestation of your support. You buff your allies, you buff random people. I liked joining a group with a druid and seeing Mark of the Wild go up. I liked having Blessings and Auras.

Now, buff spells do have a lot of problems. The presence of buff spells mean that you want specific classes, rather than letting people play what they want. If the class was balanced around the buff spell, then the best plan was to only take one person of that class, and not multiples.

(Though, it seems that without buff spells, play what you want basically becomes "take the top parsing specs", so I'm not sure that we've truly gained anything.)

Blizzard tried to get around that in previous expansions by handing buffs out to every class. But that kind of watered down the whole concept. So in Legion, they've pretty much removed buff spells, or made them "interesting". Of course, it turned out that the new Blessing of Might was too interesting for Retribution paladins to handle, and so it had to be removed.

A Design for Class Buffs

Here's what I would do to reintroduce buffs:
  • Three buff types - 5% damage increase, 5% damage reduction, 5% healing taken/output (numbers are subject to tuning)
  • One cast buffs the raid. 
  • Buffs of the same type don't stack.
  • Healing specs get the buffs
  • Holy/Disc Priest - Prayer of Fortitude (healing)
  • Resto Druid - Mark of the Wild (tanking)
  • Mistweaver Monk - White Tiger statue (damage)
  • Holy Paladin - Blessing of Might (damage), Wisdom (healing), Kings (tanking). Only one blessing at a time.
  • Resto Shaman - Totems: Windfury (damage), Strength of Earth (tanking), Mana Tide (healing). Only one totem at a time.
Basically, your healer brings a buff to the group, an iconic spell for most of the classes (I'm not entirely sure what monks had). Paladins and shamans, being the traditional buff classes, have versatility. A full raid heal team with several classes will bring all 3 buffs. The specs and classes who I think most enjoy buffing get them back, without overloading everyone with complexity, or needing a spreadsheet to fill out a raid.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Updates

Since I don't seem to be doing well at actually writing posts, here's a round-up of what I've been doing gaming-wise.

World of Warcraft

My paladin has gotten the 35th point in The Silver Hand, and I'm at 34 in The Ashbringer. I've done all the Suramar quests, and am pretty much ready for 7.2.

I have a Horde warrior at 110, and have finished the class order campaign. However, I haven't done much else with it.  I also levelled a Demon Hunter to 110, but that character hasn't even finished the class order campaign.

FFXIV

This is pretty much dormant, waiting for the next patch. The interesting thing here is that I haven't done the second 24-man raid, or the 2nd and 3rd 8-man raid. I play a tank, and I seem to have concluded that those pieces of content are too complicated for me, for some reason.

Diablo 3

I started a Demon Hunter in Season 9. Really, I did this because my 70 Crusader has the same name as my current 70 Demon Hunter, and I want a Demon Hunter with a different name. I'm not sure if this character will make it to 70, though.

Pillars of Eternity

I made it to Act 3, and I just can't seem to push myself further. Maybe I'll spin this out into a full post.

The basic problem I'm having is that I don't like anyone in this world, so I have no real impulse to keep going. It's kind of like my attitude to Game of Thrones: if you kill all the characters I care about, I'm left with a book full of characters I don't care about, and that rapidly becomes a book I stop reading.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Diablo's 20th Anniversary

It's the 20th anniversary of the release of Diablo, and the various Blizzard games are celebrating. These are the events I've tried.

World of Warcraft

In WoW, there are Treasure Goblins which spawn in the Broken Isles, in the Dalaran Sewers, or at the end of instances. Kill them fast enough, and you can take a portal to the Cow Level, which has a lot of diabolical tauren, cows, and the Cow King. Killing the Cow King gives you a toy.

I recommend going for a Treasure Goblin in the Dalaran Sewers. You can pick up a guard from the guard captain for 5g, and that will keep you out of PvP (for 5 minutes or so). There are usually lots of players in the sewers, making it easier to kill the Goblin.

You can only loot the Cow King once, no matter how many times you kill him. However, you can loot multiple Treasure Goblins. Apparently the Cow King is a mess on PvP servers, but that's what you get for rolling PvP.

All in all, a short, fun event with some Diablo-themed loot.

Diablo 3

Diablo 3 has a small area and dungeon which mimics the original Diablo. There's a filter making all the graphics look old-school and pixelated, though all the mechanics are still Diablo 3. There's 16 levels in total, and four old bosses.

I recommend that you start with a new level 1 character in an Adventure game on Normal. You can portal right near the entrance to the new area and enter it without killing anything. Completing the dungeon on normal with that character gives you an achievement and pet. Plus it gives you the enjoyment of low level gearing and gaining levels and abilities.

One thing I wasn't sure about was if you were allowed to go back to town before finishing and still get the achievement. I ended up just dropping all the blue and yellow items that I didn't equip.

I did it with a new Crusader, and it was pretty easy. If you're thorough, you can get almost all the seasonal achievements in that one run. The only one that takes multiple runs is the achievement to kill all the unique mini-bosses.

This was a lot of fun, and the old-school graphics did a good job at invoking nostalgia. And at the same time subtly pointing out that normal D3 is a pretty good looking game.