Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Classes in an Alternate Burning Crusade

Continuing on from my previous post on races, another major mistake The Burning Crusade expansion made was with classes. Specifically allowing Alliance Shamans and Horde Paladins.

I've discussed this before, but I think that the Alliance in particular lost a lot of its identity when the Horde got paladins. Especially as the Silver Hand opened up to both factions, but the Horde had separate orders for the Blood Knights and Sunwalkers.

In an alternate TBC, paladins could stay Alliance, and shamans could stay Horde. As long as Blessing of Salvation (and the equivalent totem) is removed, there would be no real imbalance.

Then, assuming an alternate Wrath comes along, perhaps the Horde could get Death Knights, and the Alliance gets Demon Hunters (since both Night Elves and Blood Elves are Alliance in my alternate timeline).

I think reinforcing the faction division mechanically, with different classes that play significantly different, would be a much better path. WoW chose to homogenise the factions. In the long run, I think that was not a good decision.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Personal Loot Needs an 'Any Specialization' Option

Quick thought from raiding tonight. Personal Loot needs an 'Any Specialization' option.

Right now, you can choose 'Current Specialization' or pick a specific specialization. But at this point in farming, an 'Any' option would be really nice. If you're a Holy Paladin, you might get a Ret weapon, or a Prot trinket, without giving up the chance to get a Warforged Holy item.

The other option is basically switching loot specializations on all the different bosses, which is rather fiddly. As well, it's unfortunate when one specific boss has items from different specs, and you have choose which spec to forego.

Perhaps a small change, but I think it would make Personal Loot a bit better.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Graehl's FFXIV Videos

I came across Graehl on Youtube. He makes FFXIV informational videos which are absolutely superb. They're clean and efficient, and present new data beautifully.

Check out his video introducing the new Dancer class:


The class looks really cool. The "dance" mechanic is quite novel for MMOs (even if it is just Simon Says), and I'm quite intrigued as to how it will work in actual group content.

Speaking of FFXIV, I'm really excited about Shadowbringers, especially the class overhauls. However, I don't really want to play FFXIV right now, and level classes with the old mechanics. Ironic.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Revisiting the Deadmines

I finally reached a point where I could take on the first Alliance dungeon, the Deadmines. Luckily a guildie was looking for a final DPS spot, and I was the quickest to respond. The group was a warrior tank, a paladin healer, a rogue, a hunter, and my paladin. All about level 17 or 18.

The run was ... interesting.

It wasn't bad. People generally knew what they were doing. But we didn't use any crowd control. The warrior tank didn't really have any AoE threat, but played as if she did. So the rogue and I often ended up tanking individual mobs.  The warrior also didn't have any ranged weapons, likely because she had not gone to Darnassus to train them yet. So every pull was a body pull or a charge.

I did enjoy playing the old-style paladin. Mostly dealing damage, tanking the occasional mob, throwing out a heal every so often. Especially on VanCleef, when the healer went out-of-mana at about 30%, so I healed the last bit.

We did wipe once in the middle, too many goblin runners.  The hunter had run out of ammo, so he took a spirit res to buy some more. Then the others ran out of the dungeon to help him get back, though he did die once on the way. I stayed in the dungeon to make sure it didn't reset.

Most of the bosses were fairly easy. After VanCleef, we jumped down to get Cookie, but pulled too many mobs and died. At that point the healer called it, and the group disbanded. In total, the run took about an hour and half.

I'm not really sure what to think about that run. On the one hand, it wasn't entirely successful. We wiped twice. It took a fairly long time. We didn't even clear the entire dungeon.

On the other hand, it was memorable. It made for a better story than the fast, efficient, successful runs of modern WoW. Is that valuable? It's good for your first run of a dungeon to be memorable, but I rather expect you want your hundredth run of that same dungeon to be fast, efficient and successful.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Races in an Alternate Burning Crusade

Assuming Classic is a success, what is the future of Classic servers? The most probable option is that Blizzard releases The Burning Crusade for Classic, following the same path as Classic.

But playing with Classic Beta has lead me to believe that TBC made several big mistakes, which weakened the setup of Classic WoW. In some ways, an alternate TBC, with several changes and essentially new content, would be a better future. Of course, Classic would have to be spectacularly successful for Blizzard to green-light something like this. And even then, they may not, believing that fidelity to what was released is more important.

The biggest mistake, in my opinion, was having the Blood Elves join the Horde.

In Classic, the Horde has a very strong identity. They are the monsters, banding together for survival. In the immortal words of Zangief from Wreck-It Ralph, "You are bad guy, but this does not mean you are bad guy."

The blood elves really weaken this. They're pretty elves. Blizzard tried their best to give them a dark backstory, but when you join a group where 4 of 5 characters are blood elves, it just doesn't feel like the Horde, not the way a Classic Horde group does. Now, maybe Blizzard did need a pretty race to balance the factions numerically, but that balance came at the cost of the Horde's identity.

What I would suggest is that the Alliance gets the Blood Elves, and the Horde gets the Worgen. Werewolves are classic monsters, and would fit in with the Horde. Of course, this would invalidate pretty much all of current WoW's story lines.

A later expansion could give the Horde goblins, and the Alliance draenei. Keeping the Horde's identity as the "monstrous" faction, and keeping the Alliance as the "normal RPG" faction would serve make the factions more distinct.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Revisiting Tera Online

I've been playing Tera Online over the last few weeks. It's pretty interesting to see what they've changed.

They've streamlined leveling a fair bit. You just follow the main story quests and you don't have to do any of the zone quests. The story quests give you armor, and special relic weapons drop at certain level ranges which gives you a good weapon. Monsters are a bit easier to defeat while leveling. Most leveling dungeons have been repurposed for 3-people of any class, rather than needing a tank or healer.

I leveled a Castanic Valkyrie to 65, the start of current content. The Valkyrie is a spear-wielding class with several AoE moves, so her combo chains have lots of spins. She also builds combo points on enemies, and detonates them for large amounts of damage.

For the most part following the story quests worked well, though there were a couple of points near the end where they ended up in a dungeon for which I had outlevelled the instance finder, but was tedious to solo. That was fine for the most part, I just went back and finished up when I reached 65.

Technically, 65 isn't the cap, the real cap is 70. But apparently it takes weeks to level up from this point. Current content is a long grind, I guess.

For the most part, I really enjoyed my time in Tera. I still think the combat is excellent. The stories were not exactly good, but they were fun in a cheesy way. It was nice to see the conclusions to all those stories I started so long ago.

If you treat it as kind of a quasi-single-player game, levelling a character to 65 in Tera Online is a lot of fun. I don't know if I'll continue playing, or if I will try out a new character, but I really enjoyed the time I spent in the game these last few weeks.

In any case, here's the highlight of all Tera Online posts. Let's see what sort of ludicrous armor my character has to wear. Actually, I find this the most hilarious part of Tera, seeing the different, shameless, armor styles. Here's my Valkyrie in her current armor (from the login screen):

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Classic Thoughts, Part II

Other People in Classic

A long time ago, I observed that:
It's a little unfair to the developers, but the best reason to play WoW instead of other MMOs is that you don't have to listen to people talking about WoW.
Well, now you can play WoW while listening to people constantly talk about WoW. Either castigating Battle for Azeroth or reminiscing about 15 years ago. It's non-stop, and it's like these people don't have any other conversation.

Truthfully, it makes me less inclined to play Classic.

Grouping and Questing

Regarding the discussion of grouping and questing, I came across this old post of mine from TBC days: Is Questing Anti-Social. An excerpt:
I think people don't group because they are ambivalent about approaching strangers. Maybe it's fear of rejection, a desire not to impose on someone else, or feeling bad about asking for help. But my experience is that a lot of people are perfectly willing to group up, they just don't want to be the one to ask. And because you can solo most quests, they don't ask unless they have to.
I think we are already seeing this issue in the Beta. Classic is a game which works best when groups are formed easily. But people simply don't like to group.

Will Classic Weaken Guilds on Live?

My current guess is that Classic will attract a great deal of attention on launch. But over the next three months, it will lose 90% of its audience. It will still stabilise at a few hundred thousand, numbers any other MMO would envy.

I don't think that Live will lose significant numbers to Classic. However, I wonder if the "type" of people who switch from Live to Classic will matter.

Basically, the type of people who will be very attracted to Classic are the highly social and the organizers. They'll be the ones who will be able to handle the grouping, who have a rolodex of friendly tanks or healers. In Live, though, these are the people who form the strong core of guilds. Guild leaders, officers, etc.

Numerically, these people are outnumbered by the rank-and-file. But they're the type of people who's loss hurts the most. I look at my current guild, and I think I have a general sense of who would be most interested in Classic. If we lost half of them at the same time, it would hurt us a lot.

I think something similar happened before, when 10-man raids were introduced. The core of many existing raid teams focused on 10-mans, but a lot of the rank-and-file ended up dropping away.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Classic Thoughts From The Weekend

More observations and thoughts on WoW Classic, from the Beta:
  • I am really unsure how successful Classic will be. Sometimes I think it will do well, but then I see three groups going "LF Tank for DM" in Westfall chat, and I become more sceptical.
  • One group even offered to pay the tank 15 silver. It's been years since I've seen that. Also, it is amusing how 15 silver is a valuable reward in Classic.
  • I made a whole bunch of alts and tried the various classes up to level 7 or so. Paladin is the most boring, all the other classes are reasonable.
  • Rogue is the one class which feels the most similar to modern classes, and you can see how many classes have become more like the Rogue over time.
  • I think the best way to play Classic is to be super-aggressive about grouping. Someone is in the same area as you doing the same quest? Send them an invite, do the quest, and then say good bye.
  • This is especially important for paladins. Add a single group member and game-play smooths out and efficiency spikes.
  • In some ways, I think Classic levelling is a better game than Live when in a group, but a significantly worse game when solo. When you're in a group in Classic, even at very low levels, there is a noticeable feeling of the group being stronger than the sum of its parts.
  • The question then becomes how easy is it to get a group while levelling.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Classic Updates, Heroic Mekkatorque Woes

WoW Classic Beta

I haven't had much time with the Classic Beta. I got up to the quest with the Defias Pillagers, who have killed me multiple times so far. I think I'm a bit underlevelled. I probably should have gone and done the quests in the dwarf area.

I'm really not feeling the paladin, though. Currently Classic Beta feels very lonely and paladin game-play is very boring. I think I'm going to try out a few different classes this weekend.

I did roll a Tauren Druid, but have only reached level 3 with it.

Heroic Mekkatorque

We're still having a lot of trouble with Heroic Mekkatorque. We can beat it every week, but it always takes us five or more pulls every week. It's simply not on farm status. Unlike all the other fights, it feels like we haven't improved on that fight even after killing it several times. In contrast, we can one-shot Heroic Jaina now.

Because Heroic Mekkatorque can take us up to two hours, it's in an awkward position for completing all the content, and actually getting both Daza'lor and Crucible down in one week.

I think there must be a better strategy out there, though I'm not sure what we're doing wrong. My guess is that our tank movement and raid positioning is ad-hoc, and makes things more difficult than it has to be. Like maybe there's a better way to position the group that makes the fight more standard and less variable.

If anyone can link me a particularly clean H-Mekkatorque kill video, I would be grateful. All the videos I can find have messy kills, usually because they're first kills.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Audience Inconsistencies, Class Quests

Audience Inconsistencies

Sometimes I feel sorry for Blizzard. They get so many conflicting signals from the audience that it must be quite hard to figure out what the right thing to do is. For example, right now:

Players: Classic is amazing with it's difficulty and inconveniences. It's awesome when players have to be careful about what enemies they attack and avoid. Retail should be more like Classic

Blizzard: In Patch 8.2 absorbs will no longer prevent daze. You need to be more careful about avoiding enemies, and not just mounting up and running straight through them all.

Players: Why does Blizzard hate fun?!?

Class Quests

I hit level 12 in the Classic Beta yesterday. Apparently there's an entire quest around getting Resurrection that I completely forgot about!

I really enjoyed that quest. It's small, and involved a lot of running, and wasn't that difficult. But it was very paladin-specific. I also liked that it wasn't world-shaking, but first about providing linen to an orphanage for clothes, and then resurrecting someone who was investigating the Defias. It fit nicely with learning the Resurrection spell. Though that does raise questions about who you can actually resurrect or not resurrect story-wise.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Classic Westfall: Where Dreams Meet Reality

First Death

I finished Elwynn Forest and moved on to Westfall, where I had my first death. I got attacked by a Coyote and a Coyote Packleader and foolishly decided to fight when my bubble was on cooldown. It's interesting because if it had been three coyotes, I would ran away right at the start and survived.

I also had a second death a bit later, fighting a Defias Trapper, and not realizing that a Defias Smuggler was throwing knives at me from a distance.

Dreams meet Reality

If Elwynn Forest is the zone where you see all the advantages of Classic, Westfall is where you start to see some of the disadvantages. And you realize that there was a reason Blizzard changed things.

Like one of the first quests is to kill 30 Defias, 15 trappers and 15 smugglers. You have to make a circuit of several camps, killing one Defias at a time. You run away if two of them attack you. You sit and drink after killing three or four. The respawn time is long so you have to find multiple camps.

There are some advantages to this playstyle, though. You explore a lot of the map. You usually end up working on several quests at the same time. For example, kill a couple Defias in camp A, then kill some boars for livers on the way to camp B.

Truthfully, it is kind of boring. Another thing which made it worse is that Westfall chat wasn't working in the Beta. There's a saying that MMOs are glorified chat channels, and that's true to an extent. But the chat channels work with the slow pace. The slow pace gives you time to read chat and respond in between killing a mob or two. And the chat channel makes the slow pace bearable.

Another element is that the way paladins interact with a couple of mechanics pushes solo gameplay to be even less interesting. Mana regen in Classic is governed by something called the "5 second rule". Mana only starts regenerating a full 5 seconds after you last used an ability. For most classes, this isn't an issue, because you have to spend mana to deal damage. For paladins, though, the abilities are all front-loaded. If you Seal, Judge, Seal at the start of the fight, mana regen will kick in after 5 seconds. Then if you just auto-attack, you'll get most of your mana back during the fight. The only damage you are missing out on is Judgement, and it isn't that much. Especially if Judgement gets resisted, which is rage-inducing because you realize that you killed your mana regen for nothing.

Fights are slightly longer, but you don't have to sit and drink. But game-play is atrociously boring. Press three buttons at the start, and then auto-attack for 30 seconds.

Now, obviously, playing any other class might be more interesting.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

WoW Classic Beta!

I got a WoW Classic Beta invite, and it is hilarious!  I remade my paladin, and here she is at level 10.

Classic Coriel in Goldshire
You can see the Seals, Judgement and (5 minute!) Blessing of Might on the bars. I had forgotten just how few buttons the classic paladin uses. (The question mark is a mouseover macro for Holy Light that seems to have a bug with the tooltip. I have reported the bug.)

It feels very much like the vanilla WoW that I remember. It's pretty slow, level 10 took me maybe four or so hours. Lots of running around. Combat is somewhat dangerous. I haven't died yet, but I've had to use bubble and run away four times. Twice from gnolls, and twice from murlocs. I'm wearing a mix of leather and mail, and I've even been wearing greys!

The major difference so far between Classic and retail is how much interaction there is with other people, and how the mechanics push you to interact. For example, tagging is absolute here, there are no shared tags at all. So I've ended up making impromptu groups for almost every named quest mob with the others who are waiting for the mob.

People seem to make liberal use of buffs, randomly buffing people nearby. Priests and Mages give me Stamina and Intellect, and I give them Blessing of Might. Though, this may just be the beta crowd. If you get in over your head (very easy to do!), and someone is nearby, they'll often help out.

I even traded some linen to someone who was leveling tailoring in exchange for two six-slot bags.

It's a very interesting experience to see exactly what you miss, and what you don't miss from retail, and what you wish was in retail.

So far, things I miss from retail:
  • AOE looting. I kill two murlocs and I always forget to loot the second one.
  • The bag clean up button. Apparently I use this constantly in retail. I open my bags, and reach for the button before I remember that it doesn't exist.
Things I don't miss from retail:
  • Quest markers and sparkles. The map and mini-map in Classic are very basic, and don't do very much. The mini-map doesn't even show new quests. After playing Classic, it's clear that I pay more attention to the map in retail rather than the actual world. In Classic, bringing up the map doesn't really add any information, so you pay more attention to the world. I am beginning to think that the balance between map and world in retail has tilted too far towards the map, and the map simply does too much.
Things I want from Classic back in retail:
  • The spinning uppercut animation for Hammer of Justice. It's so much better than the current animation. Every time I use Hammer of Justice in Classic, it annoys me that it got removed from retail.
Overall, WoW Classic has clearly got that vanilla feel, with all the advantages and disadvantages thereof. It's a unique opportunity to compare and contrast the two versions, rather than relying on nostalgia and unreliable memories.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

WoW Classic and Layers

When WoW Classic launches (Aug 27!) it will use a new tech for managing server populations called "layers". From BlizzardWatch:
Called “Layering,” the new system will help reduce queue times and improve server stability for the launch of WoW Classic. Layering is tough to explain without a metaphor, and thankfully Blizzard came up with a good one while explaining it to press and content creators recently. 
Imagine a tray with an empty glass. The tray is a single server in WoW Classic. The empty glass is a layer. When you log into the game on launch day, you’ll be with a flood other players: the water that we’re going to pour into the glass. Once the glass is full, we add another empty glass and start filling it up with water, or players, too. Each new glass is a new layer that consists of two to three thousand players — which means any single server could handle tens of thousands of players at the same time but without all of them being crowded into the same place in-game. The only way to see players from another layer is to group up with them —otherwise they don’t interact.
A layer is basically an invisible server. You get assigned to an invisible layer, and you only see other people who are assigned to that same layer. If you join a guild, you get transferred to that guild's layer. So you should see the same guilds and characters over time.

If the population of two layers drops down, the layers are merged, just like a server merge. Only because the original and final layer ids are unknown, and character names are unique across both layers, the merge should be unnoticeable. Other than seeing a bunch of new people running around Stormwind.

The interesting thing will be to see how many traditional "servers" WoW Classic launches with. Perhaps it's theoretically possible that WoW Classic could have a single server (or maybe 3 for PvE, PvP, and RP) and have 1000 layers.

Of course, naming characters would rapidly become very, very hard. And I wonder if there is value in having a named subcommunity, rather than everyone thrown into one giant pot. Is it good to feel like you belong on Lightbringer, while others belong to Skywall?

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Cinematic: Safe Haven

Blizzard dropped a new cinematic on us in the lead up to patch 8.2 titled Safe Haven.


It's a pretty good cinematic. It looks like Thrall is coming back to the Horde.

I really wonder what Blizzard is planning for Sylvanas. They said she won't be Garrosh 2.0, but she's sure looking like it. I also don't think they're handling her character very well. She's supposed to be the cool-headed, competent archetype, but she seems to be making rash and foolish decisions all through this expansion.

Ah well, we'll see how this turns out in the patch.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Ahead of the Curve: Uu'nat

Heh, I thought it would take another couple of weeks, but we tweaked our strategy and how we handled the Tears and got a kill!

Defiant-Doomhammer kills Heroic Uu'nat
  Here's a screenshot from our Jaina kill which I never posted:

Defiant-Doomhammer defeats Heroic Jaina

Uu'nat was a pretty decent fight. Using the same three artifacts with the same double-edged powers in both fights of Crucible was an interesting twist. Ultimately, though, I think it was a touch gimmicky. I still think Jaina Proudmoore was the best designed fight this tier (and probably the best from the last several tiers).

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Updates

World of Warcraft

We're working on Heroic Uu'nat at the moment. It will probably take a couple more weeks, I think. We're currently working on steadying Phase 2 and figuring out Phase 3.

Otherwise, things are pretty steady in WoW. One thing about the server transfer is now all my other characters are stuck on the old server, and it's a bit of pain to switch servers. So they're basically gathering dust now.

I am very slowly leveling a Shadow Priest. I decided to do questing-only, with no heirlooms. I like upgrading gear and watching my character change appearance as I level. But it's quite slow without heirlooms. I think I would like Blizzard to separate out the XP gain from the heirlooms. Since quest gear now scales with level, you don't really need heirlooms unless you don't want to bother with gearing entirely. Perhaps XP gain while leveling becomes a stat that you could permanently increase through various mechanics, including heirlooms.

Final Fantasy FFXIV

I'm pretty much done with Stormblood, and waiting for the next expansion. I've been leveling Ninja using the AI Squadron in dungeons. It's not bad, but it can be tricky to force the tank to take aggro on everything.

The only thing I have really left undone in Stormblood is Eureka. But I'm at an awkward stage in Pagos where I'm too low level for the bosses, but I find it hard to get a smaller challenge log group going. Content that requires groups is really hard to do if you can't find groups.

Torchlight II

I ended up deleting this. The problem here was that Torchlight is one of those games which doesn't allow you to respec. I was putting all my points into one main ability and a bunch of passives. This worked well, but got boring. I really wanted to try different builds, but that would have required making new characters. The story wasn't really gripping me, so I eventually decided that I wasn't interested in finishing the game.

Anthem

I haven't played much since the patch. I did log in and do some missions and a stronghold for the daily one day. It was actually a pretty good day in terms of loot, with two Legendaries and four or five Masterworks. I haven't tried the new stronghold yet, though.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Mythic Champion of the Light

We had a weird raid last evening. First, we went and did Normal Crucible of Storms. I think we did this mainly to get another look at Uu'nat before we start working on the Heroic version.

Then we killed Heroic Restless Cabal again. Interestingly, this was harder than our previous kill because we were trying to fully use the Promise of Power mechanic, instead of just dispelling it early.

After Cabal, the raid leader noticed that we had exactly 20 people in the raid, so we tried the first boss of Mythic Dazar'Alor: Champion of the Light. She was fairly easy, and we actually one-shot her. I think that because it was Mythic, everyone paid a lot more attention to the mechanics.

Loot-wise, it was pretty lucrative, as I got a warforged i425 shield! I also realised that our raid does not have a single 2H Strength DPS character. No Warriors, Retribution Paladins, or Death Knights. As a result, there's no one for me to leech Retribution weapons from. I was wondering why I haven't replaced my Retribution mace since Uldir.

We then tried Mythic Jadefire Champions, but that was a big step up in difficulty and coordination. We made some decent progress, but then people had to leave. So we finished up the night with the first three bosses in Heroic Dazar'Alor.

Pretty good night, all in all. It's rather unlikely that we'll have exactly 20 people again, so that's probably our only foray into Mythic this tier. To be honest, I don't mind. I do kind of miss the intricacies of Mythic raiding, but that's more than outweighed by not having to worry about roster issues or the bench.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Heroic Jaina, Heroic Restless Cabal

Heroic Jaina Proudmoore

Last week, we killed Heroic Jaina and got the Ahead of the Curve feat for Battle of Daz'alor. The fight took us a fair amount of time overall, as we had a lot of problems with Phase 3.

We ended up switching to having most of the raid get frozen early during Bloodlust, and having a small group break people out. That proved to be the strategy which got us past P3, and Jaina went down shortly after.

I really like the Jaina Proudmoore fight. It feels like fighting a powerful frost mage. It matches the story quite well. There's a solid variety of mechanics, but nothing feels too contrived. Jaina using Iceblock in response to Bloodlust is simply hilarious, an outstanding mechanic.  Once you master each portion of the fight, you generally have it down. Wipes never feel arbitrary, but always because you made an identifiable mistake.

Heroic Restless Cabal

After we got Jaina, we still had an hour or two left in the raid, so we went back to Crucible of Storms, this time on Heroic. The first boss took us about an hour. It's basically the same as Normal, only this time you have to do all the mechanics correctly.

If you did the fight properly on Normal, and didn't try to overpower mechanics, Heroic is just more healing and damage required. It's less difficult than Jaina.

After Restless Cabal, we took a look at Heroic Uu'nat. This one looks a lot harder, and it looks like a fun challenge to finish the rest of the tier. I also think that--unlike Cabal--we didn't do half the mechanics properly in Normal, so we'll have to learn to do them correctly.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Torchlight II

Since I signed up for Origin Access Premium for Anthem, I decided to see if there were any other interesting games on the service that I might like to try. I noticed Torchlight II, and thought that it would be a good light game to play. I did play the original Torchlight back in the day.

Torchlight II is very much like Torchlight. An ARPG like Diablo, but much more light-hearted. There are more pets than just the dog this time around. I also believe that there is multi-player this time, though I am playing it as single-player.

Outlander, Embermage, Berserker, Engineer

There are four classes:
  • Outlander - Two pistols, traps
  • Embermage - pretty standard elemental mage
  • Berserker - Dual-wielding fast melee attacks
  • Engineer - 2H melee, cannon, or 1H+Shield, with tech special abilities like bots

I'm playing an Engineer, which feels a lot like a heavy hitting melee class. A Warrior who occasionally pulls out a bot.

In some ways, there are two types of RPGs: ones where you can respec freely (like Diablo III); and ones where character decisions are set in stone. Torchlight II is the latter type. In some ways it's a little restrictive, because it stops you from experimenting. I took a main attack and a healing bot, and have otherwise been putting my points into passives. You also have to put points into your stats.

There are some interesting elements here. Gear has either a level requirement or an ability requirement. So you can use the gear early if it matches the stats you are focusing on. Or you can wait a couple of levels and it will be fully unlocked. It's an interesting way of pushing you to choose specific types of gear without locking the gear to a specific class.

Combat is fairly normal for this genre, with lots of potion-chugging. The story is decent enough, nothing too unique.

So far, Torchlight II has been a pretty fun game. It's not a game you'll play for years, but it's pretty solid. A good bonus for Origin Access, or if you find it on sale somewhere.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Crucible of Storms

Yesterday, the Crucible of Storms raid in WoW opened. It's a small raid with two bosses, with about the same difficulty and item level as the latter half of Battle For Daz'alor.  Similar to the Trial of Valour raid from Legion.

First off, there is a quest line leading to this raid. If you have not done so, do a Naga invasion. There's usually one active at all times. A mob will drop the item which starts the quest chain. It's a pretty neat quest, and actually leads into the mechanics used in the raid.

The items in particular seem to have less stats, but an equip effect which is somewhat double-edged. For example, I got a belt which heals you for 70k if you drop below 35%, but deals 60k damage to you over 6 seconds. I gave the belt to one of our tanks to try out.

We decided to try the new raid on Normal, and extend the Jaina lockout from last week. The raid was fairly easy on Normal difficulty.  The fights revolve around three artifacts. In the first fight you have work around the different artifact powers, and in the second fight you have to use those same powers to your advantage.

One very interesting mechanic introduced is effects that turn you hostile to the other people in the raid, but do not mind control you. So you're still attacking the boss, but you can't be healed, can't heal others, and you take damage from cleaves.

For Holy Paladins, you have to be careful with Holy Shock. It's very easy to accidentally Shock someone else in the raid for damage if you don't realise that they're hostile.

All in all, it was a fun raid, with some very unique mechanics. The loot is particularly interesting, with lots of weird effects.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Star Wars News

Apparently there was some sort of Star Wars celebration over the weekend, as several different announcements were made.

Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker


"The Rise of Skywalker"? Seriously? Is that really the best Disney could come up with?

I hope Rey doesn't turn out to be of the Skywalker bloodline. I really liked VIII's reveal that she had no special heritage. Hopefully "Skywalker" will turn out to be a title or name she assumes. Or maybe it refers to Kylo Ren, who is a Skywalker.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order


Is it just me, or are the game devs making better Star Wars movies than the movie people?

Apparently, Fallen Order is a pure single-player game, with no micro-transactions. A bold move for EA, we'll see how it pans out.

The trailer feels a little reminiscent of Kyle Katarn and the Jedi Knight games. I liked those games back in the day, so hopefully this one will turn out well.

The Old Republic: Onslaught

No snazzy trailer here, but SWTOR announced that the next expansion will launch in September. The quick feature list is:
  • New Storyline
  • New Planet - Onderon
  • New Planet - Mek-Sha
  • New Flashpoint - Corellia
  • New Operation - Dxun
  • New Species - Nautolan
  • New Level Cap - 75
It feels very much like the first two expansions, Hutt Cartel and Shadow of Reven. That Bioware is going back to more normal MMO style rather than extreme story-centric Eternal Empire expansions.

They also announced that they're trying to do some interesting things with gear, including more sets and items which changes your abilities. A little like the old Glyph system in WoW. It should be interesting to see how things turn out.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Random Thoughts on Battle For Azeroth

Just some thoughts about Battle For Azeroth which have been bouncing around in my head over the last little while.

General

A lot of people seem to think BFA is a "bad" expansion. I confess that I don't really see this. To me, BFA seems more or less like Legion. I liked Legion, and I like BFA.

Story

The base zone stories in BFA are quite good. I do think that effectively requiring you to level both a Horde and an Alliance character will be deemed a mistake in hindsight. But as I have max level characters on both sides, it's not much of a barrier.

As for the faction war story, I didn't have very high expectations, thanks to my predictions about the nature of war. I think BFA has shown that the basic logic of those posts were sound and correct. However, Blizzard has managed to exceed my expectations in the handling of the war. So where many other people seem to be disappointed, I'm actually impressed that they did as good a job as they did.

Azerite Armor

Azerite armor was a decent attempt at fixing the issues with both artifact weapons and legendaries in Legion. However, Azerite armor really demonstrated that character power must be monotonically increasing, as mathematicians would put it. Players will not accept a temporary reduction of power now in exchange for future power later.

And as always, it falls victim to people theorycrafting the best options, and everyone ignoring all the others.

Island Expeditions, Warfronts

In my opinion, the last two expansions gave us several solid "evergreen" systems. For example, Warlords gave us the modern LFR/Normal/Heroic/Mythic raiding structure, which is quite good. Legion replaced dailies with World Quests and Emissaries.  Legion also gave use Mythic Keystones, which are excellent small-group content for players in the higher tiers.

I believe that Blizzard is looking for a new system or mechanic for players below that tier, for whom Mythic Keystones are not a good fit. Players who are casual, and primarily use Group Finder to make groups instead of guilds or Party Finder. Basically the type of player who currently tops out in Heroic Dungeons or LFR.

Blizzard basically took two cracks at the problem with Island Expeditions and Warfronts. I'm not sure either was entirely successful. Though here, it's hard to tell. The vocal part of the WoW player base, the people who post on the forums, are not the target audience, they're in the tier above. Overall, Warfronts have probably been better received than Island Expeditions.

I think Blizzard has been looking for something for this group of players for a long while. Their last attempt was Scenarios in Mists of Pandaria, and given that Scenarios never appeared again, we can gather that they weren't successful.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Epic's Digital Storefront

Lately, one problem I've been having with the gaming community is that so many issues go like this:

A pretty lame "surpised pikachu" meme.
My foray into outdated memes

Case in point is Epic's new digital storefront. Everyone is complaining about games being exclusive on Epic's store. But this was entirely predictable and expected.

When Epic announced the store, the major point which set them apart from Steam was that Epic's cut would be 12%, compared to Steam's 30%. Developers would get 88 cents of every dollar instead of 70 cents.

But developers are not Epic's customers. Developers are Epic's suppliers!

The only point in giving a supplier a better price is so that they will sell the product to you instead of selling it to your competitors. Or in other words, exclusives. Epic's entire strategy is centred around exclusives, and has been from the very beginning.

It is an interesting strategy, certainly. Steam is so consumer-focused that it is hard to see what Epic could have offered that could compete consumer-side. They could have offered a lower average price. Of every Steam dollar, give the developer 70 cents, take 12 cents, and effectively "give" the consumer 18 cents. But Steam sales are so steep that pretty much all the cost-conscious consumers would probably wait for those rather than buy at the default Epic price.

There is the curation issue, I suppose. People complain that there's a lot of junk on Steam. But is this a real problem for consumers, given that you can search for the specific game you want? I don't think Steam has gotten to the point where search fails, which is where curation becomes really valuable.

Ultimately, I think Epic's exclusives strategy was entirely predictable. It's also possibly the only strategy with a chance of breaking Steam's hold on the market. I expect that while Epic may pay lip service to complaints about exclusives, they're going to ignore the community clamour, and follow this strategy until they get established.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Anthem's Development

Jason Schreier has written an article on Anthem's development: How Bioware's Anthem Went Wrong. It's a very interesting read, and explains a lot about why Anthem is as it is.

In particular, there's a saying, "It's better to make a bad decision than no decision at all" which I think really applies here. It seems like until Mark Darrah came on board, the leadership kept flip-flopping. The whole going back and forth on flight, which is a core game system, is a real indicator of problems.

As the article states, you have to design your entire world very differently if you can fly. Think of the current Anthem world, which is very vertical to take full advantage of the ability to fly.

EA comes off surprisingly well in this. Other than the directive to use Frostbite, which is not unreasonable, they seemed very hands-off until presented with an unacceptable product. They seemed to be the only adults in the room willing to exercise judgement.

One thing that I've seen a lot of people talk about is that Bioware did not like referencing Destiny, preferring Diablo 3. I don't think this is as bad as people are making it out to be. The problem with referencing something too close to your project is that you'll often just end up making a slightly-better version. Of course, if you ignore that game, you might end up making the same mistakes as the first game. It's a hard line to judge. I think the decision to avoid looking at Destiny is defensible.

I do like Anthem, though. I enjoyed levelling through the story, and the basically game play is very fun. It's a good secondary game. I play for about an hour every other day or so. Log in, go through all the dailies, slowly improve my Javelins.

The fact that the team managed to put this together after such a rough development process is actually somewhat heartening. Hopefully they will be given enough resources to improve it further. The fact that they have a clearer identity and vision now should be very helpful.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

War of the Spark Trailer

Wizards of the Coast unveiled the trailer today for the latest Magic: the Gathering set, War of the Spark. This is the culmination of the story for the last seven years or so. The trailer quite quickly hit 4 million views, so it's clearly struck a chord in the gaming community.


You know, if someone had described this trailer to me, I would have been skeptical. Time flowing backwards, showing events in reverse. The unironic use of a cover of Linkin Park's In the End. And yet, it works.

Perhaps the aspect that makes it work is that the central character is Lilliana Vess, the necromancer planeswalker who represents the color Black. Black is selfish and ruthless, and Lilliana is all of those things. In the Magic community, Black's tagline is "Greatness, at any cost."

Yet Lilliana is still very popular, and is perhaps the character that WotC has done the best job with.

Friday, March 29, 2019

8.1.5 Horde War Campaign, Heroic Mekkatorque, Heroic Blockade

Horde War Campaign

I finished the Horde War Campaign. It's basically the prequel to Alliance-side. I do like how Blizzard is implementing the choices. It's not a huge change, but my Blood Elf Warrior is a Sylvanas loyalist, so it's fun setting it up as an infiltrator into the rebel's plans, and reporting to Nathanos. In essence, your character is directly responsible for the last cutscene where Zelling is killed and Baine arrested.

The more interesting part of the Horde quests was the continuing Vol'jin story. This was actually very extensive. I'm not really sure where this is going, perhaps Vol'jin will become a loa in Rezan's place. But if you don't have a max level Horde character, I strongly recommend levelling one to see this story.

I've mentioned this before, but you really need both an Alliance character and a Horde character to get the full impact of the BFA story. I'm still not sure that this was the best of ideas on Blizzard's part.

Heroic Mekkatorque

We had multiple sub-5% wipes on Mekkatorque on Tuesday. So last night, we jumped right back into it and killed him within two pulls. It was a very messy kill, with only the two tanks and a healer alive at the end.

I'm not sure why we have so much trouble with that last phase. We go into it with a full raid, and then just start getting picked off. I think part of it might be tank movement. We drag the boss around quite a lot, instead of moving him in a predictable manner. I think adjusting to that is where we lose people at the end.

Heroic Stormwall Blockade

In contrast, Blockade was much easier. We spent an hour and a half, and got a fairly clean kill. Really, the only difference is that you have to know how to do both boats, as the tidesages switch at 50%. Otherwise, it's very similar to normal, just with a bit more damage, and a bit stricter timing.

We even got to spend an hour on Heroic Jaina. That fight is going to take us some time to learn, I think. We got to phase 2 though it all falls apart quite quickly. Haven't made it to the ice wall yet.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

FFXIV Tokyo Fanfest

It's been a while since I've checked into FFXIV. SE had the Tokyo Fanfest last weekend, where they revealed most of the details about the next expansion: Shadowbringers.  Here's the full trailer:


SE also revealed details about the new jobs and races in the expansion, and the reveals were surprising controversial.

Other than the previously revealed Gunbreaker, the second new job will be Dancer. Dancer is going to be a ranged DPS class that uses throwing weapons. It's in the same category as Bards and Machinists. FFXIV differentiates between "ranged DPS" and "caster DPS". Ranged DPS are usually more support oriented.

Apparently a lot of people were expecting Dancer to be a healer. The forums are full of salt from disappointed healers.

SE also revealed the new races: Hrothgar (male-only bestial cat people); and Viera (female bunny girls). There's only one of each gender, and that decision is even more controversial than Dancer.

SE's reasoning was pretty logical from their point of view. Apparently they only wanted to make two more rigs because of the amount of work multiple races cause. They wanted to do Hrothgar, but they knew that players would be extremely disappointed if Viera were never made. So they swapped female Hrothgar for female Viera.

Personally, I'm okay with having races with only a single gender represented, especially in a game where race is mostly cosmetic. Gender-locked classes are more annoying.

All in all, Shadowbringers is looking pretty good. The final Main Story Quest installment for Stormblood just came out yesterday. I haven't done it yet, but hopefully I'll be able to get to it soon.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Level Squish and Zones Done

The WoW development team is discussing a potential "level squish", reducing the maximum level to something much lower. With 120 levels, new abilities are spread out, and there are large gaps where nothing much changes when you level up.

One of the problems I have these days with blogging is that it seems I've already written about the topic of the day. This time we have a post from 2009: Time to Max Level. In that post, I propose that the time to max level should be roughly the same, regardless of what the maximum level is.

Rather than looking at time, though, let's take a look at a different angle:

How many zones should a new character complete before you reach the current expansion?

I suggest that this should be a constant. That a new character should do about eight zones before reaching the current expansion. That's enough time to level up, see several different stories and feel that you are ready to take on the latest content.

However, there are far more than 8 zones in the current levelling path. It would be better to construct multiple paths from beginning to the current expansion, then allow a new character to pick her path at the start.  The current options would be something like:
  1. Kalimdor
  2. Eastern Kingdoms
  3. Outlands and Northrend
  4. Cataclysm and Pandaria
  5. Draenor and The Broken Isles
You start an new character and can choose to go to Outlands or Cataclysm zones or Draenor right away. The first continent gets you about half-way, and the second continent gets you to the current expansion.  That's about enough time that you'll be satisfied with leveling, and the multiple paths means that each alt can have a different experience.

When Battle for Azeroth is done, maybe it becomes a second-half zone, and when the expansion after that is done, the two of them become a sixth path for alts.

Another advantage this would have is that it breaks up the weirdness in timelines that happens with Outlands and Northrend. You don't suddenly go back into the past after doing post-Cataclysm Azeroth.

The biggest problem, though, is that if you're a completely new player, you'll only see a small fraction of the total story on your way to the current expansion. On the other hand, it won't take you forever to get there either. And each zone can be paced appropriately and not go by in a blur.

Other people's posts on level squish:

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Kul Tiran Recruitment, Heroic Rastakhan

Kul Tiran Recruitment

The quest line to unlock the Kul Tiran Allied Race was really well done. It had you revist all the zones in Kul Tiras, and had several callbacks to the levelling experience.

Being able to name the new Alliance flagship was a very nice touch, especially as Blizzard got the location names to match what you picked. I went with Tiffin's Melody.

The only issue I had is that Blizzard tried too hard to "surprise" you with the fact that shipwright was female. In fact, it was really obvious because a lot of the sentence construction and word choices used were unusual, and served no purpose beyond veiling the shipwright's gender. And whenever writers do this, they invariably make the character female.

Whenever authors do this it feels as though they are condescending to the audience. Like the audience is so obviously prejudiced that they cannot possibly conceive of a female shipwright, and so it falls to the enlightened writer to educate the audience.

Heroic Rastakhan

We also killed Heroic Rastakhan. Surprisingly, this was the first night we attempted him, and the previous boss had taken a while. But Heroic Rastakhan isn't that different from Normal. We actually tried a different strategy to start, but then we gave up and went back to our Normal positioning.

The only real difficulty is the phase where the raid is split in two, and once you have that down, the fight is pretty much done.

We then tried Heroic Mekkatorque for an hour or so. I think that fight may take us a few nights. It seems pretty obvious that we aren't executing correctly on Normal, as we had a lot of gigavolt charges blowing up in the middle of the raid. That should have been a mechanic we mastered previously.

Friday, March 15, 2019

8.1.5 Alliance War Campaign

The Alliance War Campaign for 8.1.5 is fairly reactive. Things are happening horde-side, and the Alliance is basically watching the fallout. Shades of this older post of mine:
Now in Pandaria, we see the end result of that. One side had to go evil to make the war "fit" with modern sensibilities. Thus one of Garrosh or Varian had to go bad, and Garrosh was the one chosen. 
That sets up two stories: a civil war within the Horde, and the Alliance attempts to finish Garrosh. Of those two stories, the civil war is always going to be the more interesting story.
There's a nice cutscene, though:


The writers' work with Jaina has been the major standout this expansion. They've done an excellent job with her all around.

I wasn't really on-board with all the "Garrosh 2.0" complaints about the storyline earlier. But it's looking more and more like this expansion will be a re-tread of the Pandaria story line. There's some differences, notably Sylvanas is treating the rest of the Horde much better. But her character and motivations are really mysterious. There's been no attempt to get Horde players to sympathise with her or her aims, even if you disagree. That lack makes it really seem like they're setting her up to be deposed.

Oh well, there's still plenty of time left in the story. Perhaps Blizzard will surprise us.

I think this story illustrates the disadvantages of "going big". If Sylvanas hadn't burned down Darnassus, there's actually a lot more room for the story to manoeuvre. But because she did, the story points in one direction. Though imagine a scenario where Sylvanas sues for a peace or truce that leaves her as Warchief still. Anduin agrees to this truce (as his nature inclines him to), and that causes a schism in the Alliance as the Night Elves, Worgen, and Kul Tirans strongly disagree. That would be an interesting turn of events, and move the "civil war" over to the Alliance side.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Patch 8.1.5, Heroic Conclave, Glimmer Build

Patch 8.1.5

Patch 8.1.5 launched yesterday. As it was raid night, I only did Magni's quest to get 10 ilvls for the Azerite necklace. That quest was pretty short, featuring a return to Uldir and a couple of cutscenes. It felt a bit more like set up for future developments (in 77 cycles, a nod to the 77 day patch cycle of Legion).

I'll probably continue the main campaign line next, though I'm considering making a Kul Tiran druid. Of course, I've never actually finished levelling an Allied race character. So it will probably languish as an alt.

Heroic Conclave

We got Heroic Conclave down tonight. Pretty fun fight, though I think we still aren't positioning the frog quite correctly. In particular, I use Avenging Crusader during the Paku phase, which means I have to be in melee on the edge, and inevitably I get bounced when the frog jumps there.

Also Conclave is a little annoying because you have to look through translucent mobs to marks on the ground beneath them. The translucent mobs don't actually do anything but act as timers (and a marker in the case of Paku), so it is unfortunate that they take up space in the arena.

Avenging Wrath Buff

Paladins got a small buff to Avenging Wrath in this patch:
Avenging Wrath now causes your next Holy Shock, Light of the Protector, Templar’s Verdict, or Divine Storm to critically strike.
A little unusual for a mid-expansion buff. I'm not really sure what prompted this change.

Edit: Apparently a bunch of cooldowns for different classes got a small effect on use. I guess Blizzard just wanted to add some "punch" to these abilities.

Glimmer Build

I tried the Glimmer build in the raid. My Retribution chest had Glimmer so I reforged that to try it out.

My verdict: I disliked the build.

I was performing a little worse than normal, but a lot of that was unfamiliarity with the build, and generally Holy Shocking the wrong target. In particular, the same people often took damage, and I would instinctively Holy Shock someone who already had Glimmer on them.

What I found, though, is I really disliked the number of Crusader Strikes you use. The priority is Holy Shock > Light of Dawn > Crusader Strike, and sometimes it felt like I was spending half my GCDs on Crusader Strikes instead of healing.

As well, it felt like you had to be stricter about staying in melee. The old build, you want to be in melee, but it's not strict about it. If the boss is moving, you can heal and then catch up to melee. I did do a fair bit more DPS with the Glimmer build than normal, though. And mana seemed much more forgiving with the Glimmer build.

In any case, I switched back when we took a break in the raid to the standard Judgment of Light build. Given that we did get Conclave after that, maybe I'll take it as a sign that the JoL build is the one for me.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Anthem Loot Issues

On Friday before the patch, there was a brief window where loot in Anthem dropped like crazy. The patch restored loot rates to normal. Since then the Anthem community has been clamouring for loot rates to return to that pre-patch state.

In my opinion, Anthem loot rates are correct up to Grandmaster 1. Every difficulty should have a purpose:
  • Easy - for people who find Normal too hard, or perhaps people soloing
  • Normal - go through the initial story
  • Hard - finish levelling to max, equip Javelin with epics
  • GM1 - replace epics with masterworks
  • GM2+ - replace masterworks with better versions
I think that GM1 loot rates are fine for that primary job. It won't take you very long get masterworks for most of your slots. At which point you should move up to the next level.

It's like Torment I in Diablo 3. Torment I doesn't actually drop that many legendaries, probably a bit less than one per rift. You farm Torment I until you have legendaries for most slots, and then you move up.

Anthem, however, does make that last stage, where you are chasing better versions of your masterworks, more difficult than it needs to be. I do think that drop rates in GM2 and especially GM3 could be increased a fair bit.

I also think the community outcry is excessive. It's been two days, over a weekend. I think it's unreasonable to expect a response on an issue like this so soon. 

In some ways, maybe this is Bioware's fault for trying to respond to earlier issues so quickly. Rather than giving them credit for that fast response time, it's just conditioned the audience to expect that, and become upset when responses don't appear that fast.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

New Holy Paladin Glimmer Build

A new Holy Paladin healing build has popped up recently, one based around the new Azerite trait introduced in 8.1: Glimmer of Light:
Holy Shock leaves a Glimmer of Light on the target for 30 sec.  When you Holy Shock, all targets with Glimmer of Light are damaged for 1076 or healed for 1587.
The basic idea is that you get 3x Glimmer of Light traits on your Azerite gear, and then use your talents to get as many Holy Shocks as possible. You try to put Glimmer on as many people as possible, and each Holy Shock then acts like a mini-Beacon of Light to all your Glimmered targets. You also have to be in melee and using Crusader Strike to get more Holy Shocks.

Here's a more detailed article: A Glimmer of Hope for Holy Paladins in BFA.

Apparently, the build plays more like a druid putting HoTs on the raid than a traditional paladin build. It's also quite powerful, as many of the top parses are using it.

There's all sorts of interesting nuances to this build. You eschew Judgment of Light, which has been a staple for so long. You go back to a single Beacon. You don't use Avenging Crusader, though you have to be in melee more.

You even want to take one Retribution Azerite trait, Light's Decree. I admit I was very confused when I saw people in the Holy Discord channel asking about that.

I haven't tried the build yet, as I think I only have 2x Glimmers. But maybe I'll try and pick up that third Glimmer and give it a whirl.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Guild Updates, Server Transfers and Names

As you may remember, the guild I was in for Legion and BFA imploded in the beginning of February. The remaining officers and a few others from that guild transferred to a new server and went Horde.

The previous guild leaders came back, and formed a new guild from the remaining players. We've been raiding with another guild on Doomhammer for the past couple of weeks. They're a pretty good group and are around our age, skill level, and preferred schedule. We've picked up Heroic Grong and Heroic Opulence, and are working on Heroic Conclave.

In any case, the Doomhammer guild asked us to server transfer and join up with them. Our guild leaders want to step back from the work of recruitment and building up the new guild to a point where we could raid on our own. So they, and most of the other people in our new guild have decided to transfer.

I'm probably going to join them, but there's one thing holding me back. My main name, Coriel, is taken on Doomhammer. It's taken by a level 90 blood elf paladin, who I think left the game in Mists of Pandaria.

I am rather loathe to change names, since that character has had that name since Vanilla. But I guess I'll have to do so. If it was a low level alt, I'd try and get it released, but it looks like someone's endgame main.

Several of the secondary names I use are free on that server, so it's not a huge deal. It's not like I'll have to resort to alternate characters. Though, amusingly, one person who was trying to invite me to a group recently asked what the code was for the "i" in Coriel, automatically assuming it was something special.

The other thing I'm considering is, since I have to change names anyways, is switching to a male character. I don't talk a lot in Discord, and I think some people have started assuming I'm female. It's kind of unusual, because in the past the default assumption has always been male. But maybe it's the combination of healer + female character + not talking. Either way, it's a little awkward, so I'm thinking of switching.

Server transfers are annoying, though. They're simultaneously too easy and too difficult. They're easy enough so that people don't really bat an eye at transferring a single main to join a specific guild on a different server. But it's also annoying to have characters spread out on multiple servers.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Solution to A Makes B Worse

There's one interesting mistake pattern that Bioware has made a couple of times so far in Anthem.

Basically, Bioware predicted that Situation A would be problematic and devised a solution for A. However, in practice, it turns out that Situation B is more common, and that solution actually makes B worse.

For example, take tethering in missions. If you get too far away from the group, a warning pops up and then the game will automatically port you to the group (unfortunately, this requires a loading screen). It's clearly intended for people who go the wrong way, or get turned around, or just get lost. Porting that player to the group is a great solution for this situation.

However, it turns out that the more common scenario is for one player to be a little bit slower than the group, and she falls behind a little bit. Maybe she's not as good at flight, or took a few seconds to look around before taking off. She's still going in the right direction, and will catch up eventually. However, the tethering mechanic triggers and can port her, which is very annoying.

Bioware made the mechanic more forgiving in the Day One patch. However, the basic issue remains. There are too many false positives with the tethering mechanic.

A similar thing is happening in quick-play. If someone leaves a mission, then the spot is back-filled from the quick-play queue. This is a great solution to handle people who just leave missions for arbitrary reasons. But it turns out that the reason most people don't leave missions arbitrarily. Most of the time they leave missions is because the mission is bugged, which is a really good reason to leave. Then quick-play people get back-filled into the instance and can't do anything, end up leaving as well, and the cycle continues. Even if only a tiny percentage of missions bug out, those are the ones that people will always see in quick-play.

One has to wonder if it would have been better if Anthem just did not back-fill at all. If someone leaves, well, you carry on with three people. Quick-play always starts you with a fresh mission.

The main thing here is that the "effectiveness" of the solution depends on the frequency of the problem. If getting lost was more common than falling behind, there would be minimal complaints about tethering. If people leaving was more common than bugged missions, quick-play back-filling would be a great solution.

Of course, these issues will get fixed by narrowing the solution. Maybe tethering will consider if you are moving in the right direction before triggering. Or back-filling might put a cap on the number of people that fill. Like the queue will fill 2 empty spots, but after that it will mark the mission as unsalvageable, so no more people cycle in.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Community Reaction to Anthem

The gaming community's reaction to Anthem is really harsh. It's getting savaged in press and reviews, and on the internet.

I think the reaction is excessively harsh. Anthem's moment-to-moment game play is superb. It has some issues, that's true. But it's about what you would expect from a game like this. It isn't a "You must play this!!!" game. I wouldn't recommend it to someone who had no interest in looter-shooters. But if the general idea of the game attracts you, you'll probably enjoy it a lot.

The best explanation I've seen for the scale of the reaction is that Anthem is the "last straw" for a lot of gamers. There's been a whole host of AAA games which have disappointed recently, especially with regards to polish, and Anthem is just the point where the crowd decided to make a stand. It's a particularly attractive target as EA is so hated, and thus the community can indulge in the narrative that EA ruined the once-great Bioware.

One thing that concerns me, though, is that there is one game cited as "Anthem should have been more like this": Monster Hunter World.  Now, it might be true that MHW was much more polished on release. But MHW was released on consoles in January 2018, and the PC release was months later, in August 2018.

An awful lot of the "polish" problems are PC problems which only occur on some setups. Differing loading times, that sound cutting out bug people keep complaining about, occasional crashes, etc. Absolutely none of which have happened to me. From my perspective, the game is rock-solid performance-wise. Even the lack of text chat is really a PC problem, and doesn't really apply to consoles.

I'm concerned that the lesson EA and the games industry will take from the contrast between MHW and Anthem is that the simultaneous launch on PC and console was a mistake. That Bioware should have just released a polished console-only game, and launched the PC version months later.  If that console version had played how Anthem plays on my computer, then I think the reviews would be 10 to 20 points higher. But as a PC player, I'd rather not see that future.

In any case, I don't think Anthem is as bad as much of the online reaction is making it appear to be. Even if much of the complaints are rooted in reality, it feels like they are not weighing the sheer fun of the game. If you're interested in the game, I strongly recommend the Origin Access subscription route to try it out.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

FreePlay in Anthem

I'm currently level 16, and am "blocked" on the story. You have to do four trials which are basically collections of achievements. Kill 50 enemies with melee, etc. You can complete these achievements in the earlier story missions, but it's likely you'll be missing a few of them, so you have to head into FreePlay for a bit.

The major problem for me is that one achievement (open 15 chests) was bugged, and it only counted if you were the person to open the chest. It has since been fixed so that it counts if anyone opens a chest near you. But I entered FreePlay with zero chests, and have been slowly accumulating more. Most of the other achievements were about 80% complete, except Ultimate Kills. Apparently I wasn't using Ultimates earlier in the game. But since they're Ultimates, you rack up kills with them quite quickly.

FreePlay is a bit lonely. The map is very big, so meeting up with other people already in the map is rather time-consuming. As well, people leave and join often. You meet up with someone, do an event, and then they leave FreePlay and you have to go find someone else. You don't see World Events on the map, so there's no obvious location where people converge.

Once you meet up, wandering with people and doing events is fun. I guess if you played with friends,  or an online community, it would be even better. Note that you don't have to group up. You can do most things solo, even the events. The only thing I was unable to do by myself was kill an Ash Titan. So much fire!

Javelin-wise, I've unlocked the Ranger, Colossus, and Interceptor. I don't care for the Interceptor play-style. It is a fast, fragile, melee type, which is just a bad fit for me personally. However, I really like the Colossus.

The Colossus has a shield, and you can hold up the shield and then charge at people, dealing damage to them. I have a component which increases that shield damage by 300%, so my Colossus just runs around the battlefield stomping mobs. It's pretty hilarious. It doesn't really work with flying enemies though.

In other news, I bought a Logitech g600 mouse for use with Anthem. Somewhat ironic, since it is an MMO mouse. But I found I needed about 4 extra buttons, and they were awkward to use on the keyboard. So far the new mouse is working well.

Anyways, I'm still enjoying Anthem. Hopefully I will get past this stage soon and then back to the story.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Anthem First Impressions

In the end I picked up Origin Access Premium to try out Bioware's Anthem. Origin Access got to play the game starting on Friday, though the full launch is on Feb 22. I'm not very far in, I'm about level 13 and I have unlocked two Javelins: the Ranger and the Colossus. Here are my impressions:

Good
  • Javelin game play - this is just superb. It feels great, and is a ton of fun. In particular, flying in a Javelin is outstanding. The javelin heats up in flight, and you have to land if it gets overheated. But you can do things like fly through waterfalls, skim the surfaces of rivers, or dive straight down to reduce heat. So managing heat and flight time is a mini-game in and of itself.
  • Combat is fun. You have guns and two "powers", which depend on your Javelin type and equipment. You can equip many different powers, and the guns also play differently.
  • Different Javelins play differently. The Ranger is more long-ranged with a shield that regenerates. The Colossus meanwhile charges in with lots of health and armor.
  • Gearing is good so far. There looks like a wide variety of gear and options. One interesting thing is that you only see loot at the end of a mission. I kind of like it, as you don't really need to worry about loot during game play.
  • "Multiplayer-by-default" - Whenever you start a mission, you are matched with 3 others working on the same mission. Anthem in small groups is a lot of fun, especially seeing all four of you flying towards a destination. You can change the setting to Private, and play by yourself if you wish. Though you might want to dial the difficulty down in that case.
  • Performance is pretty good. Some people are reporting lots of trouble, but Anthem has been rock-solid for me. It looks good as well, but I don't have very high standards for graphics.
Uncertain
  • Story and Writing - It's decent, but not as good as I would have expected from Bioware. In some respects it's making me wonder if I'm looking back at Mass Effect and SWTOR with rose-colored glasses. Maybe ME and SWTOR writing wasn't as good as I remember. It feels like Bioware focused on improving game play significantly, as that was the weakness of ME, but in the process they let their writing team and practices degrade a bit. Now, it's not terrible or anything, but so far I'd give the story and writing a B, not an A.
  • Real Money Transactions - the store is entirely cosmetics at this point, and you can earn Coins to buy stuff on it through gameplay. I generally ignore cosmetics though, so I'm not really someone to give advice here. All I can say is that so far, I've been able to ignore the system entirely.
Bad
  • Load times. You absolutely must install Anthem on an SSD. Load times are long even on an SSD, and there are fair amount of load screens. This is especially important because you can start missions as soon as you load in, even before the others have loaded. So if you're on a older HDD, it's very likely you'll miss the beginning of every mission.
  • Keep group together mechanic - During missions, if you fall behind too much, you'll get a warning and a countdown timer. If you don't catch up, you'll get ported to the group. Now, this is a good idea in general to help people who get lost, but the mechanic is very aggressive. You look around for five seconds, and the timer pops up. As well, failing the timer triggers a load screen, which hurts given the previous point. More than once I've been two seconds away from catching up to the group, when the timer expired and I got thrown into a 20 second load screen.
  • Menus - there are a lot of nested menus. The control scheme is pretty clearly made for consoles, and it is a bit of a pain to navigate.
  • Mechanics are opaque. For the most part you can muddle through, but if you're the type who needs to know exactly how stats and mechanics work, you're probably going to get frustrated. Even the basic damage mechanic of how Combos work, with Primers and Detonators, is extremely poorly explained. I found the following chart on Reddit, and the game mechanics and gearing make a lot more sense now:
Overall

Anthem is pretty good. The core game with Javelins is lots of fun so far. The story and writing is a bit disappointing, but really only because we have such high expectations of Bioware.

I have no idea about the longevity of the game, though. I'm still just leveling up. If you're on the fence, consider getting a month of Origin Access and trying out the game first.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Guild Implosion

The first raid night in Battle for Dazalor we had a whopping 29 people in the raid. Three weeks later, we had 11, and the guild leadership decided to swap factions and transfer servers. I am not really certain what exactly happened.

Or, well, I guess I do know. In Legion, we were a Heroic raiding guild. In Battle for Azeroth, it was decided to push for Mythic raiding. We didn't do too badly in Uldir, going 3/8 Mythic.

But before Dazalor, our long-time guild leaders decided that we were getting too hardcore for their tastes, and stepped down. After the first couple of raids, a large chunk of our best raiders decided that we weren't going to be good enough and split off. Then another, newer, group decided our times were not right for them, and they left too.

So then the leadership and core raid team decided to go Horde, since many of them wanted to play on that faction, and transferred to a larger server, hopefully with better recruiting prospects. This happened super-fast. They announced it Saturday afternoon, and people were transferring in the evening.

I have an invitation to join them, but I'm a little unsure what to do. I've raided with several of these guys for two years now. They're good people, and I enjoy playing with them. 

But I really don't want to faction-swap Coriel. I suppose I could transfer or level a Horde character, even another paladin.

The other thing is that, looking back at my tenure in this guild, I preferred it as it existed in Legion. Focused on Heroic raids, 2 nights a week. I didn't mind Mythic raiding at 3 nights a week, especially since many other people in the guild wanted to try it, and I enjoyed raiding with them. But I did like the Heroic version of the guild better.

Hmm, perhaps writing this post has made things clearer to me. I want to find a decent Alliance Heroic guild, but one with zero intention of going to Mythic. Maybe one willing to "graduate" extremely good players, and help them find a spot in a Mythic guild, but able to resist the pressure from those good players to have the guild go Mythic.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Diablo Season 16

I haven't played Diablo III in a while, but I jumped back into Season 16 when it started a week ago.

Normally, I stop playing Diablo after I finish the first four Season chapters and get the full 6-piece set. Usually Torment 6 or Greater Rift 20 or so. This time I've decided to make an attempt at getting into the Diablo III elder game. Primal legendaries, ancient primals, Torment 13 etc.

I'm basically following an online guide to the Hammerdin build, and it's going pretty well. I'm in Season chapter V. I still need to find a proper weapon and shield for the build, but most of my other pieces are decent. Though I cannot roll a socket on my amulet to save my life.

It's interesting because usually I don't "farm" in Diablo. I play on difficulties close to my gear level, pushing to finish the chapter requirements. Enemies seem to take a while to kill, but also take a while to kill me. This time around I'm farming T6.  Everything dies super-fast, and I can finish a rift in five minutes or so. But everything also does a lot of damage, and death can happen very quickly.  It feels very different from the Diablo III I normally play.

Season 16 is the Season of Royal Grandeur. There's a universal buff which mimics the effects of the Ring of Royal Grandeur, allowing you to get set bonuses with one less set piece (minimum of two pieces). It's an interesting twist. I'm currently running five pieces of the Seeker of the Light set (so I get the 6-piece set bonus) and two pieces of the Blackthorne set for the 2- and 3-piece set bonus.

Playing Diablo III this way is an interesting experience. Probably what most serious Diablo players are used to, though.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Origin Access Premier?

Has anyone tried Origin Access Premier?

I saw someone link it in a discussion about Bioware's Anthem. It looks like quite good value for money, especially if you like to buy newer games.  It's $20 CAD/month or $130 CAD/year, but given that Anthem will cost $80 CAD at launch, that's basically 4 months of subscription. Or a full year is 2 new games.

The back catalog also looks pretty decent, with a wide variety of games available. I am particularly interested in Dragon Age 2 and Inquisition, as I never played them.

You can probably do better value for money through Humble Bundles and waiting for Steam sales, but this looks really solid for new games. Of course, I think you're restricted to EA games. And like most subscription services, you probably lose access when you stop paying.

But it seems almost too good to be true for games that you will play and finish. If anyone has tried this service, can you post your impressions in the comments?

Monday, January 21, 2019

Blue Mage

FFXIV released their newest job, the Blue Mage, last week. The Blue Mage is a "limited job". It currently has a level cap of 50, and is not allowed in normal random-matchmaker group content. You can do dungeons and trials with a Blue Mage, but you have to be in a pre-made group.


The central mechanic of Blue Mage is that you don't learn abilities from levelling up, like all the other classes. Instead you learn abilities from monsters. You have to attack a monster, see it use the ability, and then defeat it. You then have a chance of learning the ability. There are currently 50 abilities to learn, of which you can equip 25 at a time.

The big problem, as I see it, is that the game doesn't give you very much information on what abilities you can learn. The spell book starts blank, with 50 slots. The only information given is the zone in which a monster with the ability can be found. It doesn't even tell you the name of the spell!

Now, obviously, all the information was data-mined and there are guides already up on the internet which will direct you to all the monsters you need.

But if you want to try and do it organically, you basically wander around attacking every monster in the zone. And since learning an ability is not guaranteed, you have to kill several of that type to be confident that you can't learn anything.

The saving grace of the system is that most abilities can be learned from several different monsters, not just the ones from the zones noted in the book.

What I'm currently doing is just finishing FATEs to level my Blue Mage, and incidentally learning abilities along the way. I can't target specific abilities, but the spell book doesn't tell me what abilities I can learn in any case. So far it is working pretty decently. I'm level 12 and I've learned 5 abilities or so. Among them an AoE bomb spell from goblins, a cone stun from Quirin, a "Sticky Tongue" pull from giant toads, and a self-destruct spell from bombards. Not really sure what use the last is, since it does kill you, but maybe it will combo with something.

I rather imagine I'll end up at 50 and then look up an online guide to get the abilities that I'm missing.

I do think it would have been better for the spell book to give the names of the abilities, but not the locations. That encourages the player to remember what monsters use the abilities. As well, if you're fighting a new monster, you know if you can't learn the ability, rather than wondering if you are just unlucky. Another option might be some sort of Lore spell which tells you if the monster has a learnable ability.

Still, FFXIV's Blue Mage is an interesting experiment. It's more of side-content, rather than a straightforward combat job, but it is enjoyable so far. It's a bit of a shame that the internet has already obsoleted the exploratory aspect.

Monday, January 14, 2019

FFXIV 4.5 MSQ, Orbonne Monastery, Suzaku

Final Fantasy XIV released the latest patch, 4.5, last week.

Main Scenario Quest

The MSQ continues setting up the next expansion. The Garlemad Empire is moving against Eorzea. The new dungeon, The Grimhylt Dark is pretty neat. It's essentially occurs during a battle, and has lots of cameos from the major named NPCs fighting in the conflict.

The dungeon is a bit easier than The Burn was, especially the last boss.

Orbonne Monastery

The patch also released the latest 24-man raid, the Orbonne Monastery. The third boss is a bit crazy, it took us many attempts. I still don't really understand the Crush Armor mechanic.

This raid took my group a long time to finish, mostly because half of Alliance B left after four or so wipes on the third boss. FFXIV has very generous timers on their instances, something like 180 minutes. We finished with less than 10 minutes.

Aside from the third boss, it felt a little easier than the previous couple of raids. At least the boss mechanics were more straightforward.

All in all, it is a pretty good. Three tank pieces actually dropped for me, but since FFXIV has a 1-item-per-week restriction, I had to watch 2 pieces go unclaimed. Very sad, as I'll now expect to never see the chestpiece again.

Suzaku

I realized that I hadn't actually done the Trial from the last patch, Suzaku, and I had to finish it before I can do the Trial from this patch.

Suzaku was a pretty interesting fight, though not that difficult now. It's interesting, but FFXIV fights are much more "gamist" than WoW, relying on very "unrealistic" visual elements. For example, in Suzaku, the arena is divided into four quadrants, each inscribed with a different colour and Japanese character. Then the four characters appear in the air on the edge of the area, and there's a flying phoenix circling. When the phoenix hits a character, the matching quadrant explodes.

I haven't done the latest trial yet. FFXIV is also staggering a lot of the content in this patch. For example, Blue Mage releases tomorrow. The MSQ also continues in a month or two.

Patch 4.5 is pretty good. I'm looking forward to trying Blue Mage tomorrow, along with everyone else on the server.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Mag'har Orc Scenario

I finally got exalted with the Honorbound on my Horde character, and unlocked the Mag'har Orc allied race.

The scenario itself was really neat. You go back to the alternate Draenor, this time twenty or thirty years after the events in Warlords of Draenor.

In this timeline, the Draenei became fanatical members of the Lightbound under High Exarch Yrel. They seek to convert everyone on Draenor to the Light. You have to rescue the last remnants of the Mag'har from them and bring them to Azeroth.

It's a really interesting set up. The real question is if Blizzard will do anything with this. I could see another expansion based around the Lightbound invading Azeroth. But perhaps a better method might be like how Star Trek used their Mirror Universe. Save it for occasional interaction, but don't focus on it intensely. A bit like how the Infinite Dragonflight was used.

This scenario was excellently done, and it's worth grinding rep with the Honorbound on a Horde character to see it.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Updates

Just a quick round up of what I'm playing lately.

World of Warcraft

Nothing really new. We're just coming out of the holiday lull and waiting for the new raid to open in a couple of weeks.

I guess we're going to end this tier with 3/8 Mythic. That's not bad, but for some reason we stopped putting in attempts on new bosses. Instead there was a push to do Mythic Keystone dungeons. I hope this trend was just because of the holidays, and we return to focusing on raiding.

Final Fantasy XIV

I haven't really played this much lately. I did the seasonal events. The Starlight Celebration this year was pretty neat. It featured an attempt to organize a seasonal choir, complete with a musical rhythm game. It was pretty funny if you failed. Here's a video I found on YouTube:


Lord of the Rings Online

I haven't played it since my dungeon runs. I rather think I'm going to drop it.

Soul Calibur VI

I'm still working my way through Libra mode. I stopped using the highest level weapon that dropped, and just started focusing on learning and mastering one weapon style. The style I chose was Knightmare, a heavy 2H sword. I'm about level 48, though I'm not sure how far I've gotten in the story. My guess, based on the map, is about 70-80%.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

8.1 Horde War Campaign

Over the holidays I also finished the 8.1 Horde War Campaign. Like the Alliance version, there were three chapters, and the last chapter waits for the raid to open. There's also a second questline involving Saurfang.

The first chapter is a raid on the Norwington Estate to destroy stockpiled azerite weapons. It featured Rexxar. It was pretty straightforward as these things go.

The second chapter was a goblin escape with Gallywix and a mech. This was okay, if you're a fan of goblins you'd probably like it. I'm not, so I wasn't particularly enthused. There are some funny lines here and there.

The third chapter involved springing Lady Ashvane from Tol Dagor. Your compatriots are Rexxar and Arcanist Valtrois of the Nightbourne. I really like how Blizzard is reusing Allied Race NPCs in this expansion. I like Valtrois, and it's good to see her return. The actual quest is an enjoyable prison-break, featuring disguises and explosions.

The other major quest is the Saurfang quest. This is an excellent quest, as you try to discover what happened to Saurfang as he escaped Stormwind. It's really worth having a Horde character to go through it.

You even get to make a choice at the end to side with Saurfang or Sylvanas. Which is great, except it points up one of the downsides of this thing. I sided with Sylvanas on my blood elf, so to see the other side, I'd need yet another Horde character. I'm debating leveling an Allied Race, or simply using my BfA boost on a Horde character. I don't think the choice will make much difference in the long run, though.

In any case, the Horde War Campaign was a good counterpart to the Alliance one. The story is beginning to heat up, so we'll see what happens when the raid opens in a couple of weeks.