Saturday, April 04, 2020

Winds of Wisdom Buff and Heirlooms

Due to the coronavirus, Blizzard has enable a buff, Winds of Wisdom, which increases XP by 100%. Naturally, this is encouraging people to level alts.

I have been leveling a Void Elf Warlock. I'm up to 112 and into Battle for Azeroth. The Legion Warlock campaign was really good. I haven't finished it, as the next part requires dungeons, so I'll go back and finish it at 120.

I'm kind of regretting not leveling one of each class during Legion. The class campaigns are really enjoyable.

In any case, one of the interesting things about Winds of Wisdom is that it stacks with heirlooms. So you can zoom through levels. Or alternatively, you can stop using heirlooms and still level at quite a rapid pace.

I've realized that I really enjoy upgrading gear when leveling. You get a new piece of gear, you equip it, and your character's look slowly changes. Without the gear treadmill, you're just filling in a bar and your level increases every so often. Nothing really changes, especially since Blizzard front-loads most of your rotation.

I wish the XP gain on heirlooms wasn't tied to the piece of gear. Maybe it should be always active once unlocked.

In any case, the Winds of Wisdom buff offers a good opportunity to combine fast leveling with upgrading gear.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Grand Empress Shek'zara

Wow, this World Boss is terrible. The week in between causes me to forget how bad this boss is.

It isn't even that bad of a boss, but the lag is really, really bad during this fight. The lag combines with with the special where you have to run to the safe zones to deadly effect. I think that most people just don't register as being in the safe zone and thus they all die. I lost half the raid today even while Aura Mastery was active.

At least your ghost spawns right next to the fight.

The devs probably should have given that ability to the other world boss, and left Shek'zara without any heavy raid-wide damage moves. Though they probably didn't predict the amount of lag.

Actually, Vale in general is much laggier than the rest of the zones. I wonder what is causing the issues in that one zone?

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Jewelcrafting in Battle For Azeroth

My paladin is a Jewelcrafter. This expansion was very weird for that profession.

On the demand-side, sockets became part of titan-forging. There's a small chance that any piece of gear drops with a socket on it. But it's pretty rare. I think I have one piece (other than my crafted ring) with a socket at the moment. So not very many people were buying gems this expansion.

On the supply-side, jewelcrafters were flooded with gems. The number of raw materials gained per unit of ore was very high, much higher than in previous expansions. I think I have over 100 of each rare gem in my inventory, just left over from crafting the rings.

That combination of low demand and high supply drove gem prices very low, and made the profession very disappointing.

For solutions, on the demand-side, I would have liked to see a socket be the "first level" of titan-forging. If a piece of gear titan-forges, it always gets a socket. It may get additional bonuses after, but it starts with a socket. This would make the demand for gems higher and more consistent. In addition, it would also smooth out the power of titan-forging. Socketed pieces were generally considered better than 10-15 extra item levels.

Another idea is to allow jewelcrafters (or maybe blacksmiths) to make an item which adds a socket to a weapon. Like Ramaladni's Gift from Diablo 3. This would also make it a little easier to use the main stat gems for hybrid classes, as weapons don't often share primary stats in endgame.

On the supply-side, simply produce less raw materials per ore. Also instead of having special colors that weren't used for stat gems, have those recipes use two or more regular gems.

Jewelcrafting in Battle For Azeroth was a disappointing profession. Let's hope that Shadowlands makes it more useful.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Ahead of the Curve: N'Zoth

My guild killed Heroic N'Zoth a couple of weeks ago. Here's some screenshots of us celebrating with the mount:
Group photo at Proudmoore Keep

Parade in Boralus
It's a really nice mount, an excellent reward for the last boss of the expansion.

Ny'alotha, The Waking City, itself was a good raid. Having the raid entrance switch between zones was very weird and very fitting. The fights were pretty good. There weren't any clear-cut outstanding fights, though.

I did like the ending cutscene. Blizzard incorporating your character into the capstone event of the expansion was very well done.

If I have a complaint about Ny'alotha, it's that Heroic felt oddly easy. It was tuned correctly, but the Heroic-only mechanics didn't really change anything. If you master the fight in Normal, you've mastered the fight in Heroic. About the only real difference is that in Heroic, multiple people have to do mechanics, while in Normal, you can have the stronger members of your team carry the rest of the group. For example, soccer in Dark Inquistor Xanesh or the lower realm in N'Zoth. You didn't have to learn the fight again.

As an aside, "soccer" in Xanesh is a misleading term. "Billiards" or "pool" is a better and more intuitive description of how the mechanic works.

Ny'alotha, The Waking City, was a pretty solid raid to end the tier. It was not as good as Battle For Dazar'lor, but it was on par with Eternal Palace. Blizzard should put some more effort into mechanically differentiating Normal and Heroic versions of the fights. The point of raiding is to wipe, and slowly master the new encounters. But there was very little wiping in Heroic Ny'alotha.

On the whole, I think Jaina Proudmoore was the best raid fight this expansion. A superb encounter, and quite fitting for the expansion.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Updates, Back To WoW

It's been a long time since I last posted. No real reason why, I just fell out of the habit. I really should make more of an effort to post on a consistent schedule. Maybe I'll try to designate a specific time to write.

How is everyone doing with the coronavirus? Here it is very quiet. Many things are closed, all restaurants are take-out only. Many people are working from home. I've been working from home for the last little while, occasionally going into the office to fix problems.

Gaming-wise, I started playing World of Warcraft again. Yeah, probably not the best of decisions, but I really missed raiding with my guild.

I'm also playing a bit of Wolcen. I played through the story in offline mode, using a sword-and-shield tank character. Then I played through it with a friend in online mode, this time using an elemental mage.

I dip into Final Fantasy XIV every now and again, mostly to see the new content.

The final game I'm playing is the Control DLC, Foundation, which was just released on the weekend. I've just started on it, but so far it's great, and has everything which made the original Control such a great game.

I also ended up not renewing the EA Access subscription. I tried Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, which turned out to be the type of game that I am really, really bad at. I just could not beat the second boss, so I gave up on it. There wasn't anything else I was really interested in, so I stopped the subscription. However, I still think it was good value for the money. If EA releases another new game that I am interested in, I anticipate signing up again.

Hopefully everything is going well with all of you in this unusual time.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem

I picked up Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem last week, and I am enjoying it a lot. Wolcen is an ARPG, and it's clear that its developers intended it to be the "Goldilocks" of ARPGs. If Diablo III is too simple, and Path of Exile is too complicated and rigid, Wolcen is clearly aimed at the sweet spot between the two. Wolcen has done a marvelous job hitting its mark.

Wolcen is technically class-less, but there are three main archetypes: caster, rogue/archer, and warrior. Your character can equip any type of gear. You can learn every spell and ability, but abilities require specific weapons to use. For example, you can only cast spells if you use a staff or catalyst. The clever part here is that Wolcen has at least one 1H and 2H version for each archetype. So if you focus on one archetype, say pure caster, you can use the 2H weapon. But you can also combine 1H from two archetypes and use abilities from both. For example, if you use a pistol and a catalyst, you can use both archer abilities and spells. It's a very simple and intuitive system.

Abilities drop from mobs, sort of like POE gems, but you learn them permanently. If they drop again, you gain special currency when you learn them. You can equip 5 or so abilities. Equipped abilities gain experience and level up. As they level up, you unlock talents to modify the abilities like D3 runes. However, these options cost 1, 2, or 3 points (points available depend on ability level). This makes for a lot of different combinations. You can swap abilities and talents whenever you are out of combat.

There are no "primary" attributes. Instead there are 4 secondary attributes: Ferocity which modifies crit chance, Toughness for health, Agility for attack speed, and Wisdom for applying ailments (debuffs). Basically every weapon can do multiple types of damage, and you have a chance to apply an ailment based on the type of damage. You get an overall damage boost from your top 3 attributes. Every level, you get 10 points to distribute. You can reset this for a gold cost.

Wolcen has a skill tree very much like Path of Exile. Only it is much smaller and more focused. Fewer points, and easier to get to the edge, but each point feels like it does more. Wolcen also has the tree divided into rings, and you can rotate the rings so that you can pick which sections you want to focus on. Skills can be completely reset as well, for a secondary currency cost.

I am very happy that Wolcen allows you to respec and change abilities and talents easily. It makes it much easier to experiment, rather than having to start over all the time. I am terrified that Diablo IV will decide to be more like Diablo II and be a lot harder to change things.

There are some other interesting facets. The gem system is a bit more complicated, with specific socket types to get different effects. There's a built-in roll when you press space, which allows you to evade attacks and move around quickly. The basic attack has a built-in charge (which you can turn on and off if you don't want to charge). I really like these options because it means that movement abilities aren't "required", and you can take other abilities if you prefer.

Gameplay is pretty good. It's not quite as smooth as D3, but it's quite enjoyable. The bosses at the end of Acts I and II were pretty difficult. However, you can set the difficulty down to Story mode for just those fights, if you want.

I really like the story. I haven't finished it, I'm just starting Act III. But so far it's been solid, with pretty good voice acting. The female character models are a little weird (super long legs), but they look better in armor and in gameplay. Speaking of armor, I really like the armor design in this game. The cosmetic system is superb.

I'm currently playing a sword-and-shield tank, putting most of my points into Toughness, with a variety of buffs and debuffs. It's a lot of fun.

I should note that Wolcen has had a lot of server issues on launch. Most of which seems to have calmed down now. However, there's an offline mode which is completely functional. I've been playing in offline mode for the most part.

I don't know what the endgame is like, though. Apparently there's some sort of mode where you build up a city or something? I figure I'll worry about that when I get to it.

I am really enjoying Wolcen and highly recommend it. They've hit the sweet spot between simplicity and complexity almost perfectly. It's fun to fiddle around with all the options, try out different talents and builds, but still being able to respec whenever something isn't working out. The game looks good, plays well, and the story is interesting.

For me, the single player campaign is worth the money. If the endgame turns out good, that will be the cherry on top.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Reviewing the EA Origin Access Premier Subscription

My EA Origin Access Premier subscription is coming up for renewal, and I thought I would look back and see whether it was worth it. I originally picked it up a year ago for Anthem.

Perhaps surprisingly, I didn't actually play many games on Origin. But then again, I usually play MMOs, which have their own setup. Games I played:
  • Anthem - Maybe it didn't have the longevity people (and Bioware) wanted but I really enjoyed the campaign, leveling, and messing around for a bit at max level.
  • Torchlight 2 - In the end, I did not like Torchlight 2. On the other hand, I might have purchased it and regretted the purchase.
  • Vampyr - Great game. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.
  • Jedi: Fallen Order - A great Star Wars game. An excellent story.
So four games, two of which were AAA games that I played at launch, which would have cost me the full price. Vampyr, I think I could have found on sale for about 60%, and Torchlight 2 would have been very cheap.

All in all, I think was good value for the money, but not by a whole lot. In hindsight, I think I should have made an effort to play at least one more game from the back catalog. For example, Dragon Age 2 or similar.

So should I renew the subscription? Unlike when I purchased it, there's no major EA game I am anticipating. On the other hand, the track record of the past year seems pretty good. I don't regret purchasing the subscription in the least.

Taking a look at what's new, I see they just put in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. I was thinking about trying that, so maybe I'll just stick with the subscription for now. They're also saying something about making Origin available on Steam, which would simplify things, assuming I can manage to connect the two services.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Control Complete!

This post contains spoilers for Control.

I finished Control the other day. I loved it!

The world-building and atmosphere is superb. The game was just a joy to watch the story unfurl. The characters are varied and great.

The mechanics were pretty good, and they played well. It has just enough customization so that you can pick a playstyle, but not so much that you can mess up your build, and the game becomes unplayable. I ended up using the basic pistol and Launch for most of the game.

Two cautionary notes: first, there is no difficulty setting, and some of the bosses are hard. It seems to be optional side bosses mostly, however. I don't think there were major blockers in the main line. As well, bosses tend to be difficult because they deal a lot of damage in one or two hits. So you have to get good at avoiding taking hits. A fight which is going well can go south quite quickly.

Second, the game is clearly setting up for an expansion, DLC, or sequel. The ending, while tying up the main story and seeing Jesse grow into her position, leaves several important threads dangling. Honestly, though, I'm really looking forward to any new story content.

Control is a great game, and I highly recommend it!

Sunday, January 05, 2020

The Rise of Skywalker

This post contains major spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker. I discuss the ending and everything.

After watching The Rise of Skywalker, my first thought is that the story in Jedi: Fallen Order was a thousand times better than this movie.

I came across a forum post suggesting that The Rise of Skywalker would have been a better movie if Jar-Jar had been in it. After recovering from the shock of such rank heresy, I read the reasoning, and it actually made some sense! The thought was that RoS really needed a single designated comic relief character. That would have had allowed the other characters to be more serious, which would have improved their part in the movie. Instead, everyone other than Rey is trying to be witty and tossing one-liners around, most of which simply do not work. The worst was when C3P0's gallant sacrifice got undercut with a snarky one-liner.

Rise of Skywalker is best summed by this Simpsons clip of Sideshow Bob. RoS is Sideshow Bob, and the rakes are mistakes. The movie just steps from one mistake to the next. Palpatine is a mistake. Palpatine having a thousand Star Destroyers is a mistake. Each of those Star Destroyers being a planet-killer is a mistake. Rey being Palpatine's granddaughter is a mistake. General Hux getting dispatched ignominiously was a huge mistake. (Hux is my favorite character from the trilogy, and it was galling to see him go out like that. Such a waste.) And so on throughout the entire movie.

Truthfully, I just don't like J.J. Abrams movies. I haven't since Star Trek: Into Darkness. It's all "action sequence, one-liner, action sequence, one-liner, etc." Sometimes I really wonder how the same man wrote Alias.

J.J. Abrams also doesn't have a sense of space and time. It feels like this entire movie took place in a small city instead of a galaxy. Instead of people moving across a galaxy, they're merely going up the street to a different neighborhood. That's why it seems like their paths cross all the time. The Force Awakens had a very similar problem.

Heh, I think Finn/Rose must have done extremely badly in China. It's super-conspicuous how Finn gets paired with a black woman this time around.

The one thing I did like was the relationship between Rey and Kylo/Ben. I really liked how their realities bled into each others. It was a superb effect executed beautifully. And they simply did not bother explaining it. They didn't know why it was happening, just that it was, and then they started taking advantage of it. For me, Rey's "crowning moment of awesome" was when she dropped her lightsaber behind her back to Ben.

The ending itself violates Sanderson's First Law of Magics. There's no real reason Rey should be the winner. She just is, because the Jedi are simply more powerful than the Sith for some unknown reason. As such, it is an unfulfilling ending. Rey should have won because Ben was redeemed, because there were two Jedi at the end. Something like Rey holding Palpatine in place with the lightning sabers, and Ben finishing him.

I don't really have an opinion on the kiss, which seems to be controversial for some reason. The connection between the two of them is pretty much the only good part of the trilogy.

I do think having Ben die was a mistake. This was the final movie in a trilogy of trilogies. Let it end well, with hope and redemption and forgiveness. Have the last link to the original movies, Leia and Han's son, survive. This idea that redemption is only allowable if the bad guy immediately sacrifices himself--that needing to forgive the living is not necessary or desirable--is a weakness in modern Western storytelling.

Ultimately, I feel like you could take the three movies in this trilogy, and cut out everything but Rey and Kylo's story. Reduce Finn and Poe to side characters who only occasionally appear. The resulting movie might actually be pretty decent.