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Where to Next?

With Andromeda fresh in the books as the most satisfying gaming experience I have had to date I have 3-5 years to kill before the sequel. Plenty of time to try other games. I’m just torn on where to go so I thought I would reach out to Blognation to see what hidden opportunities may be out there. The shortlist I had in mind (and open to a longer list) is the following

  • HORIZON ZERO DOWN – I have a PS4 and know this is a pretty darling game right now, and well reviewed by Blognation.
  • SWTOR – I only finished the main campaign and unsubbed at the first expansion due to ME:A coming out
  • LOTRO – I have had several stops and starts in this game, and I don’t think I’d want to sub it until I built up enough comfort level that I may actually stick around – is it playable if you aren’t subbed to it?
  • SQUAD – the spiritual successor to Project Reality and I havent played a FPS in quite some time (Destiny was the last, which is now unplayable due to impending-exansion-itis)
  • FFXIV – free to play until level 35 makes me feel like this may be my best chance to give this eastern MMO another try.
  • THE DIVISION – I have heard there have been a swathe of improvements – I only got to level 25
  • STEAM BACKLOG – Because apparently that is always a thing
  • EQ – I have been logging in and poking around here and there… not sure why.. but there is an itch!
  • OTHER – I am totally open to trying something new. Most of those ideas are going back somewhere.

If you have a suggestion, and it’s an MMO/Online game you are playing please leave the server name and/or your ID in the comments (or my email if you want to keep it private) so I can has friends in game too. I am a lost explorer looking for somewhere to find right now. My serial nature of gaming really only gives me space to focus on one at a time, and I just don’t have a clear cut number one right now. All seem like an OK idea.

And oh, just for fun, this popped up on my “you posted this 4 years ago” Facebook memories, and figured it would be worth a share for Friday giggles.

MEA : So Long, For Now

I finished Mass Effect Andromeda before going on vacation (yes, another one) last week.

I can say I am fully and wholly satisfied with the entire experience it provided. I know that is not much of a surprise to people who have visited here often but I went in expecting not-so-good based on pre-reviews and walked out questioning the way games are reviewed and the impact of “me too” journalism. Heck, I actually support a Donald Trump-esque “Fake News” claim here. [omg what is wrong with me!]

It is a pretty bad sign when many people who actually played the full game are giving it glowing reviews, and professional review sites who need to look for holes in the product while rushing through a quick play through to write their 2000 words for pay missed much of what was good about it. I suspect that is more of a mark on what is going on in the review industry anyway, and I far prefer reading bloggers who I know are professional gamers over people who I know are professional writers.  It feels a lot like the movie review sites who give blockbuster movies bad ratings for not being Cannes-esque enough while actual movie-goers give it glowing reviews.  The audience must (should) be considered.

All that being said, of course there were things that could have been better. The larger plot wasn’t the strongest part of the game. Too many unanswered questions about the galaxy were left hanging. Bioware clearly took the approach of taking care of the you, the protagonist and your squad’s stories over what was going on overall. And because you feel closer to your team instead of the 100k in cryosleep it works better that way anyway. Still – it feels like they could have given more but will flesh that out in sequels and/or paid DLC.

one happy customer

I could spend several posts worth talking about the things that could make this game better but when you take the experience on the whole, the close to one hundred hours of enjoyable game play, the establishment of the people, the galaxy, the game play.. the sheer size and scope of the project is amazing. It deserves game of the year nominations, and should get them. It gets my vote. I mentioned it in a previous post but I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed myself in a game this much. It has been years.

So, goodbye for now Andromeda. Please bring DLC soon. The good news is that with a new galaxy the possibilities are endless. My Scott Ryder ended the chapter of this game with three simple words to his team:

“Let’s go exploring”

Yes. Let’s.

SAD-romeda

This is another one of those posts that I can’t share too much information without entering into spoiler territory. But I can share with you how a certain mission made me feel and that it elicited true emotions – happiness and sadness – and at the same time cemented my feelings that this is the best game I have played in recent memory.

There is a quest chain that starts early from Liam that he wants to start a movie night so the crew can unwind a bit. This is an ongoing mission full of small tasks including finding the right movies, snacks, drinks, (etc. etc.) – it spans several planets and several hours of the game is spread out between other missions where new options keep popping up as different squad mates learn of the plan and want to add their twist to it. Each has preferences and needs.

As I near the ending of the game this event starts building in my mind. With each quest I know it is leading to a “buddy” moment – of course what a great time to hang out with all of the characters I have spent sixty plus hours getting to know and enjoy their company. Like most BioWare games there’s some that you connect with right away (Peebee) and some that take more time (Liam). Some of this is due to certain companion missions not opening up until later in the game where I really built an affinity with them. I wish they came earlier so the naysayers of this game might have enjoyed it more. I also think that reviewers and people rushed through the main missions to complete the game so they can do a “proper” review would and missed out on so much of the non-essential missions (such as the movie night) which is where the characters are more fully fleshed out. The point is if you weren’t engaged in the universe to begin with they probably wouldn’t have had as much meaning anyway.

The culmination of the movie night was everything I had hoped it would be. It felt like I was watching a movie with my roommates in University and/or family members, and/or friends from the neighborhood. It had clever, character appropriate and fun banter between characters and ending with a tongue in cheek scene that made me laugh out loud.

When it was over I felt sad. Sad because I knew that my time in Andromeda was coming to an end. Sad because I felt very close to these characters in game. At the end of it all the best way to describe the feeling was when it was my last year of University and knowing many of my classmates would be moving back home, or going to work in a different city after graduation and I would not see them for a long time as I too head back to my real life. As such I am eagerly awaiting a sequel and some quality interim DLC – while the crew and people of the Andromeda galaxy continue to lead their digital lives without me.

Mass Effect Andromeda has not been a perfect experience. The culmination of this mission came pretty close.

Planets of Mass Effect

As I travel to new systems I can’t help but to explore all of the planets that are there. Part of this is due to the progression percentage at the top of the page (completionist, damn me!) the other part is the fact that I am so invested in this galaxy that I want to learn everything I can about it.

Part way through my play through I started taking photos of the planets. You can see someone – or better yet (most likely) some people had a fun time designing beautiful planets and creating short back stories for each. What can you see from space? What can you find there? What bits of history from  miles out are apparent through scans? This leaves the explorer in me curious if some day some of these may become playable through expansions and DLC. If not I still fully and wholly appreciate the time put into this small part of the game. It is nice universe-building.

There are no spoilers here so feel free to have a look. It won’t give away anything in the main game but will spoil the flavor text for you if this is something you would rather investigate on your own. This is not an exhaustive list, just some of the ones I have snapped during my adventures.

My personal favorite so far is Letapho, which moves a few inches closer to a black hole each year, and will eventually be consumed.

Happy exploring.

I installed a gallery plugin to test –  if you click on a picture down below it will open the gallery for easy viewing of larger images. I’d appreciate any feedback on responsiveness, etc of the plugin!

Mass Improvement Andromeda – Pacing

Mass Effect Andromeda is the best RPG I have played in the last decade. Now, to be fair, I have always had a soft spot for Sci Fi over Fantasy, and I didn’t even play others such as The Witcher Series (couldn’t get comfortable with the combat, turned me off of it right away). I also put barely 20 hours into Skyrim. That is why I am being clear that that is a strong “in my opinion” and from “my enjoyment” standpoints. Regardless – many people find a game that just clicks for them, and ME:A is one of those for me..

This doesn’t mean that I can’t wax poetically about things that I believe would have made the game better. This is a hopeless wishlist series because these things definitely will NOT change in the existing title – but I still think that they are good things to discuss to maybe introduce in sequels (please, gaming gods, let there be sequels) and perhaps even good lessons for future RPG designers. The Mass Improvement Andromeda (MIA) series is when I look at things that I feel could have been done in a better way, on all sorts of scales. First thing that could have improved was the introduction to the game.

pfft. pure voodoo yourself, non-white NPC made ugly by transgender feminist designer . (Sorry, been reading too much Metacritic lately).

Much has been discussed about the hectic MEA tutorial planet and first planetary exploration in the game, where humankind travels 600 years in cryo-sleep to start shooting at the first aliens they see on the first planet they crash on. This is a hectic, intense tutorial scene, where you are quickly introduced to the varied systems you will be playing for the next 50-200 hours – from movement, to scanning, to shooting and everything in between (but mostly shooting and scanning). No doubt the designers were trying to show what the game had to offer and felt that introducing the main enemy (the kett), the main mystery (revenant technology) and killing off your dad (making you the pathfinder) all had to happen in the first 30 minutes. It didn’t. Well, except the “kill the dad” part.

After that hectic-ness things slow down and the gameplay hits a strong exploratory and discovery pace. I believe this pace should have been in from the get go and alluding to the main enemy in a more nuanced and satisfying way. For example, when you crash land on the planet maybe find charred bodies, or find evidence of an alien race that looks militarized. Maybe some datapads with language you don’t understand that you can start investigating. Breadcrumbs that there is something out there and they may not be so nice, building suspense, until you finally get an encounter. The revenant technology discovery would have been plenty enough content on the first planet and allow you time to absorb what is going on, before introducing the second threat and major plot point. There was plenty of time to do so.

I suspect the counter argument is that today’s gamer would be entirely bored with that – that a payoff has to happen quick. I think it sets an unrealistic pacing expectation and throws too much to fully appreciate too fast and is part of the initial turnoff for many people who did not enjoy the entry into MEA. What is done is done, but hopefully in future iterations they pay closer attention to better, more suspenseful methods of introducing the plot.

For complete clarity – my sarcastic caption on the photo above is based on reading Metacritic reviews as I wanted to see why the game is scoring lower than I believe it should. Sadly, the review section is taken over by agendists and I was disappointed to read the types of comments attached to the low user scores that had nothing to do with the game parts of the game. I suppose this is the new normal now.

“When a company forgets why people play games, and instead pushes social agendas, they make games like Mass Effect Andromeda….”
“But what we don’t need are 20th/21st century earth social issues shoe-horned into a futuristic space fantasy…”
“This is what happens when Bioware hires based on ethnicity (so they can pat themselves on the back for their diversity) instead of actual talent”
“..it’s that bad, and that is without even mentioning the horrible radical feminist BS they just had to drop on this game.”
“Ugly characters and facial expressions”
“Everyone seems to be black, there’s no way to have a white or asian skin for your character ”

That’s a whole other discussion, and one I know I’ll never be able to reconcile with here on this blog or on the internet in general. It is a shame (for humanity reasons) that this is what the pain points of the game are being reduced to.

I Uninstalled Hearthstone Today

Hearthstone is a card game that I have had some great enjoyment with. The pace of the expansion packs has felt really rushed and clearly in the past three months they have been pumping out “I win” cards with each. This is somewhat understandable in a free to play format where they want to get paid. I do believe that you need breathing room for the playerbase to earn these cards “the old fashioned way” so they feel they can still play and be competitive with the whales.

Historically, the expansions have came out (in average) every 241 days – but not the new one. Pushed by declining revenues (my guess) they released the latest in half the timeframe – 126 days. I was just starting to feel good about competing with Gadgetzan decks. Now a whole new expansion is out, with new win conditions. I played a game last night that finally made me decide to stop playing. I was playing my C’thun Priest, a not very popular deck but a fun one if you can keep the game going a long time. With this deck I have been as high as rank 16 (the top 25% of Hearthstone players are rank 15 or above) so on that bubble of not being entirely terrible not really great either. I don’t play the meta-decks, I don’t play “competitively”, but I was having fun.

Last night I hit a warrior – I normally don’t like warriors to begin with – their “hero” power works (+2 armor) even if there is nothing on the board, where a priest needs damage against to effectively use the hero power. Turn 1, he plays this:

I have never even heard of that card, but it rewards this:

And that card is basically an “I win” card. I am also playing an “I win” card deck (C’Thun), but really, I need to get to the 15th round or later for the most part to make it happen – and I have to dig it out of a deck of 30, so it’s a late play. How many rounds could it take for them to get to their “I win” condition?

Six. Six rounds. There are so many taunt cards, and even more low taunt cards that he was able to play 7 taunt minions in 6 rounds.  IF it was possible to do enough damage (with an aggro deck, or whatnot) then maybe there would be an effective counter. Except they are all taunt cards, which means you have to clear them before doing damage to the player. You have to have a specific deck able to clear faster than he can play taunt cards before hitting his I win condition. In six rounds.

(Granted, six rounds is probably not normal, but it was still my experience so others are probably having it as well). Soon as he hit it, that early, and seeing what I had in my hand I knew the game was over. I just looked at the board and my hand, saw what was going on and realized there wasn’t a possible way for me to win. Not even if I was completely lucky. The kinds of cards that could help me in that situation (Reno, Brann, Sylvanus) were “retired” from standard play with the new expansion. I realized that this game is pushing too hard on revenue and not hard enough on preserving the experience or value of existing decks. This was somewhat obvious on the Gadgetzan expansion, but completely clear with Un’Goro.

It’s a shame – I paid over $60 for the game this year as I was having that much fun, so now they lose my long term, steady stream of revenue for the short term big sprints. I would have paid more if I had felt they were focused on improving the game. I like paying and supporting companies who earn my gaming dollars.

Seems I am not the only one.

Can anyone recommend a good, other card game to play on my phone when I drink port and smoke cigars in my garage? Hearthstone expanded itself right into an uninstall.

The Ties That Bind

ME:A is turning out to be one of the best games this year. When you cut out the bullshit complaints and rose tinted glasses (I went back and played ME 1-3 again – MEA is far superior in pretty much every way, except the mystery. More on that later.) it is a very well done game. The pacing for completionists works well – periods of intense action, followed by periods of conversation / relaxation – and you can jump in and out of each part at your own leisure. I prefer to do big sweeps of each (finish colonizing a planet, check in with my entire team, check in on the Nexus, back to my team, go to next planet) but I could easily do all of that in a short one hour play through  in much smaller chunks. The game gives you the freedom to enjoy and explore at your own pace. There is no imminent or pending threat that would cause you to do otherwise, like in previous ME titles. Something happened on the weekend in game that made me love it even more. I am going to reveal it without revealing any plot twists, but there may be tiny spoilers if you can read between the lines and it could impact your decision making if you have this top of mind on this specific planet. That is my gentle spoiler alert, and I will have a nice picture next before explaining the gaming event.

Tron-esque

Something happened on Kadara – well, two things, that made me nod my head in appreciation of great storytelling AND forced me to make unclear choices. First – heading into a conversation I finally had an “a-ha” moment where I was able to tie in a couple major plot arcs before it was fully revealed to me. I had sorted out a mystery that was, in many ways, right in front of me many times before that I didn’t quite connect with. Having that moment where it became clear made me smile and enjoy that this game has that much more to offer. I was finally getting ahead of the game, thinking about it, sorting through the mysteries before they were presented to me. When it was revealed in game I wasn’t surprised (and had a dialog option to indicate so, so it felt good doing that) but then I was forced to make two decisions quickly without having time to think them through. There are some “quick-time” moments where it gives you an option to do something with a fast timer – it is a yes/no option.  I didn’t have time to fully think through the decision but i went with my gut. Before I had the chance to really reflect on that decision ANOTHER quick-time game play option came up and I quickly made a second choice.  After they happened and the resulting effect of my choices were clear (which also would have been clear if I had had time to pause and think through) I felt guilt about the first and uncertainty about the second – I felt I had made two mistakes. They were mistakes I couldn’t go back on though, and my choices were mine – I would have to live with them. Maybe for years, if ME:A spawns sequels.

Down the rabbit hole

Of course, I COULD have loaded a previously saved game and made the other choice(s). I actually sat there and thought about it. I even went into spoiler territory to read on google what choice others made, but in the end I appreciated that I made those decisions and I should live with them and see what happens – preserve the game experience for myself. Not many times in many games do your choices matter. In Mass Effect Andromeda they do, and that is what makes it wonderful. The downside is that I am 60 hours into the game, and this really is the first time I was fully caught off guard. A few more of these moments would really enshrine the game as a RPG masterpiece. Perhaps if they had a few more of these kinds of moments earlier on in the game more people would have appreciated them before their reviews. I am being hard on it though, I didn’t get a single moment like this in Fallout 4, or other massive RPGs I have played. The expectation is just much higher, I suspect.

For every complaint I have read about the game there is such an easy counterpoint. I think the game is worse for people who were in love with ME 1-3 (which I was) because you are carrying the weight of 10 years of connecting to a title with 10 hours of a new launch. Yes, Garrus was my bestie too. In ME1 he was bland and mostly forgettable. In ME2 he got a cool scar and was a familiar face, and by ME3, after five years, two expansions, and 27 DLC packs with the Turian all I wanted was for him to have a safe and happy life in the Milky Way. It took years to forge that digital relationship, over hours of gaming, small talk, loyalty missions and what not. There is no way you can achieve this with new characters on a quick play though race to the end. I know I will have my ME fan card pulled for this, but the companion characters in ME:A are fantastic – better than the original ones in many ways, except the familiarity. That will come with playing through a trilogy. Vetra ME:A outshines Garrus ME1 in every way on a one to one, game to game, Turian to Turian comparison.

There are/were some problems with Andromeda, specifically the pacing – I think they could have introduced the Kett and the action in a far more suspenseful, memorable way, but compared to the amazing galaxy there is to explore and the story elements starting to shine through we have an RPG that is the tops in the series to date. I thought I was a fanboy before, but this game is just an entirely better experience than what came before.

Mass Improvement Andromeda

I haven’t had a chance to play for five days due to travel and responsibilities and I am missing the game in a pretty bad way. I have put some thought to what could make ME:A even better and the list is pretty short and also (one would think) pretty simple. These potential improvements keep coming to mind as I play. This will be a multi-part series.The screenshots are just for screenshots sake!

Hey! That’s not Garrus…

New dialog opportunities – quest/non quest highlight

When things happen in ME:A this often opens up a dialog opportunity(ies) with your crew. The challenge is that these events can be as big as a  major event on a world, or as little as being unlocked by a preceeding conversation. This leads to frequent “walk-arounds” to check in with each of your crew members to make sure you aren’t missing something. Normally, this isn’t so bad in itself as the new dialog happens automatically when you engage the conversation. There are two little quirks that you need to be aware of.

One, is that sometimes when that engagement is over it ends the conversation. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t another conversation to engage with that crew member, and you have to re-engage. Sometimes you can do this multiple times depending on what has been going on in the world. A little more natural flow from one conversation to the next would be better here, instead of start, they turn their back to you, then you engage again, they turn their back to you when it’s done, to re-engage. It would have been far more natural to talk about each.

The in game museum is a nice piece of Roleplaying potential

The second, and much more problematic (that I discovered quite by accident) is that in the menu system if there is a new conversation topic on the highest level it will be in white text. Once you use that option it turns grey. This is good and lets you know if  you have had a conversation with that person. The issue is if it is part of a sub-menu the main option stays grey but the sub menu has white text. You would not ahve a clue about this unless you check all sub-menus. Which, over several characters, is a pain in the ass. This is especially apparent during the “Crew” sub-menu where you can ask them for their opinions on other crew members. This changes based on in game events. I have missed many of these updates.

The best way to do this is an alert or menu option to show when these new conversation items are available, and whether they are mission based or just flavor/world building. I hate missing both, where others may be more interested on not missing out on new and/or additional missions in game.

Bare minimum, they have to at least highlight top menus in white if a new sub-menu dialog option is available.

The Secret World: Reboot Edition

Hat tip to our friends over at Massively OP, about The Secret World relaunching as The Secret World Legends.

So what is Secret World Legends? The official branding docs describe it as “a shared-world action RPG with completely revamped combat, a newly designed progression system, and updated visuals.”

I have long argued here that a game like TSW would be far better off single player, or as a lobby based game. When you save a town it can stay saved. It makes sense if mobs aren’t repopulating. I found the MMO elements of TSW as an impediment to enjoying the rich, single player experience they provided that was wholly bogged down by trying to be a MMO.

I also believe other games, such as SWTOR (especially), and even WoW in many ways would be better as lobby based games where you could solo RPG to your hearts content, and then join up with friends for repeatable content when it made sense and felt right.

Unfortunately the teaser trailer gives nothing and does not build much interest.

While I don’t have time for a brand new RPG right now, its a spring launch and I am going to make time for TSWL because I am wholly interested and curious if they got it right. I am also really hoping that stripped of  MMO shackles that this title can truly excel – it is such an awesome backdrop for deep and rich storytelling hindered by messy systems.

I can’t wait to try it, and I hope I am proven right.

Savoring Andromeda

I am thirty one hours into Mass Effect: Andromeda and have barely scratched the surface. Yet all 31 hours has been interesting and exciting for me. Discovery, unexpected encounters, learning about alien life forms – I am fully engaged in the universe. As far as game completion goes I have the first planet, Habitat 7 (Eos) at 98% viability (you completionists cringing at that?) and the second, Habitat 6 (Voeld) at 42(ish)%. Games like these I always start out slow and really pay attention to the little details. This game rewards that mindset in spades.

Lovely view of the mountains

Besides the rewards of lore, and personalization, it really fleshes out the world. I was in a Kett base (above) and when I walked by the window one of my squadmates said “Check out that view”. And I did. Right next to here was a terminal that had notices and emails to the Kett from their home world and it was interesting reading them to better understand their society and how it works. Heck, when I scan a new mushroom or mineral in the wilderness I find myself reading the description of what the scan found out. There is just so much to see and do, and all of it makes me feel like I am doing it in the name of helping humanity find their place and expand their knowledge in this new galaxy.

A lot of the gems you have to actively seek. I have been talking to anyone who is interested in a conversation. Many of them have the option for you to ask why they made the trip and joined the initiataive.  Hainly here, on Podromos (our first settlement/camp on Eos) used to be Stephen and used the 600 year trip to get a true, fresh start on life. This is the first transgender character that I had  ever met in any video game and I felt it was done very nicely by Bioware. Hainly doesn’t even give a quest, there is no giant star over her head, she is just one of 20,000 humans who came on the Ark in start of a new life, and she has her own story. I wouldn’t have learned who she was if I didn’t stop and take the time.  Taking the time to talk to the colonists really humanizes the entire project. I am not just shooting hundreds of bad guys, I am helping people build a new home. Hooked, I tell you.

I mentioned the onboard message boards on the Tempest (your smaller away vessel) and thought it would be fun to show a small piece of that. Angaran’s are a new species you meet fairly early, and one joins you in your efforts. Here, Jaal is giving the Angaran word of the Day and the individual squad mates respond in a tone and way that fits what i have learned of them so far. On the left you see other posts and most of them are light-hearted and fairly mundane but these posts are the types of things that make the characters come alive. It is a very nice touch.

Dramatic concerned look. Or Blue Steel?

I am playing mostly as an Infiltrator (Sniper/Tech) and the customization is great.  I sometimes think I would have responded even more favorably to this game if I didn’t have the expectations of the prior Mass Effect games. Unfortunately I think that you need to spend at least 10 hours to really get into the world, there is so much going on and so much to sort out that it is overwhelming (and confusing) at the beginning. Sure, it’s not perfect – but I know if there is to be a sequel it is probably years away, so I am going to savor every conversation, every container, every datapad write up, every nook and cranny to explore. Mass Effect Andromeda has earned that attention.

Exotic life forms are a bit too few and far betweem

I have been down this road before where a game grips me at first (Pillars of Eternity) only to find myself losing interest at some part and racing to the finish to get it done. I think I spent a total of 30 hours in PoE so already this has me at a different level. I loved the first zone of Dragon Age Inquisition only to lose all interest soon as I met the villain and when I kept ketting lost trying to find my squadmates to talk at the keep. This may not be a popular opinion but Andromeda really is a step up from the other Mass Effect games in terms of graphics, controls, world size, and exploration and even the story is starting to take shape. One small afear I have is that they will make this plot too big which does not leave much room for a sequel. The other trilogy was paced quite well escalating from stopping a villain, to discovering the true threat, to saving the galaxy. I hope we aren’t just jumping into saving the galaxy in the first installment.

I’ll find out, in my own sweet time.

Skeptics Guide to Mass Effect Andromeda’s Plot

While the “on the box” story line presented for Mass Effect Andromeda does seem trope-ish and unimaginative I wanted to present a- “I have actually played the game and there is some promise…” post – there is more going on beneath the surface.  While I personally do not expect there to be a huge depth or surprise to the fourth edition of the space opera series known as Mass Effect, far too many smart people are taking far too much at face value without exploring deeper into the game or knowing enough about the ME universe.

Part of this is the way the Mass Effect series was built. There is a TON of backstory, history, intrigue, etc. in the first three installments but most of it was not easily accessible. The game was built so players could zoom through the main plot line plus DLC in 20-30 hours per installment. Others who more fully explored the world and side quests could spend 40-60 per. That is a lot of content differential. There are also 4 pre-Andromeda novels and a printed Galactic Codex plus the in game codex (which sometimes differed from the print version, but hey, that is why they stopped printing game manuals a decade ago, right?).

The plot lines that people are misinterpreting or not critically examining (often writing off as cliche) have a lot of interest. I am going to make this as spoiler free as possible (after the picture) but keep in mind, much of what I have here is speculation from what I know, and what I have experienced up until finishing off the main story plot line on Eos. (10 hours for me, doing everything, reading every datapad, etc. Guessing some could finish it in 3-5 hours). Also important to note here that I haven’t finished all of the side quests on Eos yet, but did do some.

Mild Spoilers after the pic. Again, if you have played more than 5 hours they won’t be spoilers, and they are things you may have actually missed out on if you sped through the game.

Don’t Ask

Travel 600 years away, for what, really?

People need to start appreciating that the PR based Andromeda Initiative is a front. For what, we don’t know yet – but even the  recruiting website is very fluffy and explorer based. While the Andromeda galaxy may be “resource rich”, we haven’t even discovered 1% of the Milky Way galaxy (as per the Codex on council space):

Citadel space is an unofficial term referring to any region of space controlled by a species that acknowledge the authority of the Citadel Council. At first glance, it appears this territory encompasses most of the galaxy. In reality, however, less than 1% of the stars have been explored. Even mass-effect-FTL drive is slow relative to the volume of the galaxy. Empty space and systems without suitable drive discharge sites are barriers to exploration. Only the mass relays allow ships to jump hundreds of light years in an instant, the key to expanding across an otherwise impassable galaxy.

Whenever a new relay is activated, the destination system is rapidly developed. From that hub, FTL drive is used to expand to nearby star clusters. The result is a number of densely-developed clusters thinly spread across the vast expanse of space, connected by the mass relay network.

Really, there is a LOT of closer galaxy to explore which may also have some nice rich resources. Clearly there is a bigger reason to go to the Andromeda galaxy, yet discovered by our protagonist. One theory is the Cerberus theory who believed in the Reaper threat early on as a way to ensure that human kind lived on if the Milky Way was cleansed of all life. Cora Harper, Alec Ryder’s (your dad) second in command does share the last name as Jack Harper, the last known identy of “The Illusive Man” who runs the pro-human shadow group Cerberus. Quite the coincidence to write in if it wasn’t meaningful. It will be interesting to see how the Initiative’s true motives play out.

what is that thing in the middle, hrm?

You become the hero with little explanation

It really isn’t that much of a stretch when you dig into it. You are already a part of the exclusive Pathfinder team. Your dad is the Pathfinder. Cora Harper is the Operations Specialist. Liam Kosta is the Crisis Specialist. You play one of the Ryder kids, Scott who is a Recon Specialist, and Sara who is a Scientist (both served in the military). When the mantle of Pathfinder (the leader of the expedition team) skips Cora and goes to you by Alec (dad) there is that moment where you wonder why – although Cora does accept it because she accepts Alec’s judgement. It quickly becomes obvious that Dad is hiding something and left breadcrumbs for you to discover what that is. Perhaps he doesn’t want Cora or other Andromeda Initiative members to know and that is why he chose his son/daughter to be the next Pathfinder.  Alec Ryder was dabbling in advanced AI, which was banned in Citadel space. He has locked away information in the AI that you have to push forward to unlock and discover. What Mr Ryder did for the Andromeda Initiative and the human race will be a major story arc, and I believe that is part of why you were thrust into a leadership role early on. Look, without needing rocket science, the Andromeda Initiative short form is AI. Could it really be that simple after all?

Why hasn’t technology advanced in 600 years?

From Mass Effect 1:

“Your civilization is based on the technology of the mass relays. Our technology. By using it, your civilization develops along the paths we desire.” – Sovereign (Reaper)

The gist of the argument is that the Reapers pushed the tech to a place where current Milky Way sentient beings could only grow so far, so fast. Humans caught up to races who had access to the technology hundreds of years prior. There is a tech plateau of sorts, with the next, logical step being the formation of AI. Which is banned.  The Reapers left the technology there to be exploited and used, and around every 50,000 years or so they would do a full cleanse of the Milky Way. You are almost at that 50,000 year apex (Andromeda ships leave just as the attack is about to begin) so yeah, things are pretty tight. A Reaper is essentially “billions of organic minds, uploaded and conjoined within immortal machine bodies.” – so yeah, we aren’t going to be updating that technology anytime soon. At least, not in the Milky Way galaxy.

I love taking screenshots in MEA

Why is there always a mysterious all powerful race? (Remnants)

Because in all worlds and societies in, all life forms there is a top of the food chain.  Until there is a new one. In Mass effect it was the Leviathans who, after years of universal dominance, made the Reapers to help manage artificial intelligence that organic life would eventually create (and in turn would wipe them out). The irony is that that is exactly what the Reapers did to the Leviathans, which is what started them on their cleaning cycle to begin with. It isn’t that hard to imagine either, considering that on modern day earth Humans are the apex predator –  from the view of any other mammal on the planet. If humans were wiped out someday, and an alien species landed on earth and found our buildings and technology there would be little doubt who was top of the food chain on earth. It’s something we can all relate to. Sure, it doesn’t mean it is treading on new ground but it isn’t exactly unbelievable either. By the time you identified probable hospitable planets and arrived to find them all changed by mysterious technology during your 600 year journey there is an easy investigation to put into the story – but doesn’t make it any less interesting.

The big plot points – the Andromeda Initiative, the Pathfinder, the Missing Remnants, your father, the true purpose of the mission – none of these things are clear 10 hours in – but there are hints that something much bigger is afoot. I do not expect the writing in MEA to win a pulitzer. I do expect it to have some interesting twists and turns and give us some surprises along the way – a big step up from the simplicity expressed by some reviewers. Is Bioware showing an obvious and simple premise so they can pull a sleight of hand? Early indications say yes. Maybe though, that is just a part of big optimism by me. If you look hard enough for something you will find it, right?

Smaller is still better

Outside of the big themes, I am really enjoying getting to know my squad mates. They are a balance of personalities and one of my favourite is Drack, who is a Krogan. I used Wrex a lot in my away teams in Mass Effect so had a natural affinity with the Krogan in the new series. ME:A has an email terminal (and a slack-esque based one too, which is pretty amusing) and this gives a bit of a chance for small personality quirks to shine through. Here is an email from my good Krogan buddy.

Look ma, no typos!

For those who don’t want to click on the image and can’t read it scaled down:

“To Ryder

From Drack

Vetra told me what happened to your dad. I’ve lost a lot of people over the years. Figured you could use some cheering up. Or at least a distraction.

This usually helps me:

[Drack has attached 37 images of various rifles and shotguns. Two are duplicate images. Many are low-res or watermarked]

Drack

That seems like something your high school jock-buddy would send if you were having a bad day. The other emails were also very personality specific. It was a nice touch to add some flavor to the personal side of your team. In the end the ties to your character and your team will be the thing that keeps me playing. Hopefully the deeper themes exist and reveal themselves through game play. Even if they don’t I feel like the team itself might be enough to build a solid game around.

I have barely scratched the surface of Andromeda but the itch is getting intense. The way the game is designed after all the hectic missions on Eos I spent almost two hours just conversing with people on the Tempest (my ship) and the Nexus (the Andromeda Initiative’s outpost) learning about people, running small side missions, checking in on my sister… so much to do and experience. The longer I play Andromeda the better it gets. Shame to think many won’t give it that chance based on surface reviews but there is a rich experience to be had for those willing to explore.

I Hacked My Own Blogroll

Well, that was a pain in the ass.

I loved my WP Social Blogroll plugin. It updated who and when blog posts were written from my links. Whenever I need a break from work, or whatnot, I can log into my site and see if any blogs I follow have written any updates. It was beautiful, easy, and magical.

It also wasn’t updated for four years but still worked – until WordPress did an update. Sure enough, finally broken. All of the “free” RSS blogroll plugins were years old and didn’t work. I did find one and managed to make it work, but it kept crashing my site and I lost a ton of traffic over a week away with it up. I googled like crazy to find an option, and preferably a free one. I write once or twice a week, and do not get any income from blogging so did not want to have to invest much, if any.

I finally found a RSS Aggregator that was up to date (cleverly named WP RSS Aggregator). There is a free version, but very limited. The downside is the sidebar widget is $25 per year. I didn’t really want to pay that based on use alone, so I had to make a new page with my RSS feed. You can see it in the tab above alongside my other pages (Blogs That Feed). I then got to thinking that while I didn’t have a native plugin widget for it, that perhaps there was a free plugin to turn a page into a widget – and sure enough, the cleverly named “Page to Widget” was there. I installed it, and poof – magic! I now have a working blogroll updater in the sidebar again.

Sure, it doesn’t look too pretty but it works. I’ll mess around with some settings and see what I can come up with on the visuals.

I was going to make a separate tab for my “Writers Resting In Paradise” section where I keep a list of blogs I used to follow but who no longer update as well. I like that list as a reminder of how many people blogged and the relationships I had built in the past, but I also liked it because if someone came back after a hiatus it would also update and let me know there was a new post. Kind of a (non?) creepy way to stalk people. Surely, my free/basic aggregator with pay for more options would have a way to categorize the RSS links – should be an easy, simple thing, right?

Turns out it is!

For $30 a year.

I’ll see if I can find a workaround, but for now, the WRIP list will be static.

Mass Affect

Typo, for once, was purposeful.

I subscribed to Origin for $4.99 for a month to get a 10% discount on my $79.99 pre-order special edition of Mass Effect: Andromeda. For you non math savants out there it was a net ~$3 savings but that is only a cursory amount compared to how much this game is going to hurt my time and productivity. Also, as an Origin subscriber, you get  to pre-play the game for 10 hours prior to the launch tomorrow. Best $4.99 I have spent in a while.

The short synopsis is: great for Mass Effect fans. Like best game in five years great for ME fans (ME3 came out around 5 years ago for you non-players). Of course, that is only after five and a half hours of play, and barely scratching the surface of the game. I have read that there is easily 150 hours of content in this game for big fans to play through and that is how I plan on playing through it. Every little side quest, explore everything and talk to everyone – fully immerse and experience myself in the Andromeda galaxy. And holy $h*t are the graphics awesome. (Click on pictures to enlarge in a new window throughout this whole post)

I am playing on a gaming laptop but the play is smooth. The graphics this time around make the models almost too human, with smile lines, sweat on brows, it’s a bit crazy. I am not going to show any pictures that spoil the story line but I have been thoroughly impressed with the graphics.

It is a lot to take in. Even how imperfect his teeth are, for example. And while I have been impressed with the graphics, the game play is also a huge improvement from older Mass Effect titles. They added a Z axis with the jump pack which adds a whole new dimension to combat and fighting, including a jump / hover / scope in and shoot move. It’s a step up. In my short time, I have also enjoyed the scanning feature in which you use your Omni-tool to collect information on plant, mineral, and alien life. It’s interesting to see the thought and focus behind this new part of exploration.

Magic Mushrooms

It makes sense when you are exploring new worlds to use a tool like this and to learn more about the environments. My initial hours into Mass Effect: Andromeda has been a huge, amazing fun success and I fully expect to enjoy my time there over the next several weeks as I further explore the mysteries of this galaxy.

As far as story goes there are some potentially amazing plots already hinted at and while I don’t want to guess “out loud” at anything specifically (to ruin / spoil it for people planning on playing), especially this early on, let’s just say that I expect there to be no less than four or five major story arcs all intertwining. The initial stages of them that I have so far discovered have me believing they will be fun to more fully explore and experience.

What I haven’t been enjoying is the media coverage for ME:A so far. My google feed has been populating a lot of stories surrounding it and the more I read the more I shake my head and lose faith in the internet generation. Let’s cover some of the joyous topics I have read, shall we?

Animations are terrible: Not on PC, at least, nothing major I have noticed. A few weird eyeball angles here and there, but general movement has been smooth. I know a lot of these arguments stem from mouth movements and I believe this is a byproduct from how realistic the models look – causing the “uncanny valley” effect. While it is easy to make things look like people / uh, aliens, than it is to make them move and/or fidget like them. No one really stands perfectly still in any state, and building in those mannerisms would be extremely difficult. So while I have noticed a few things here and there, not once has it pulled me from immersion to the point that it stood out as a negative. Everyone jumping on the hate bandwagon is a reminder of another great game, Lemmings!

You can’t make your character white enough: This is a hilarious argument, and I actually came across several articles about this. Assuming this is Gamergate inspired but supposedly (again, guessing consoles?) the lightest you can make your skin is Hispanic / Asian, according to some. Really? Check out Mr. Whitey McWhiterton:

Casper-itis

Really, he is so white not only does he have less rhythm than the table he is sitting on, but he also can’t jump. This is my character in ME and I wanted to see how white I could make him after reading the articles complaining how diverse programmers excluded white as an option. I spent very little time customizing him, but he is absolutely, very white. Almost unhealthily so. Time to go out and find a planet with multiple suns – white. But really, is complaining about skin color really a thing any more? I am more impressed at the wrinkles, dimples and skin bumps and holes than the color. Such great detail. Terrible haircut, sure, but I chose that to be a snowflake.

The game isn’t a proper reflection on the dangers of colonialism as it pertained to historical USA: (ie: Christopher Columbus is a racist murderer, and this game should give lessons in how evil of a past that was, not celebrate colonization by playing a game a couple hundred years in the fictional future that is also about colonization.) Although I do think ME:A2 could be nifty if it was all about scholars and politicians sitting around working on how much reparations humans will be providing to the displaced and killed Kett during the events of this game.

On a more serious note, and not attempting to minimize legitimate discussion about the historical significance of Columbus, discourse is great to have but it also needs to be placed properly. Mass Effect is the equivalent of the Avenger movies in terms of depth and critical thinking. It’s not meant to be Shakespeare. If you are a true fan and look deeper at things you will learn quickly that humankind has not done a great job integrating into the new universe: considered brash, pushy, and impatient. There is a lot more to it on deeper levels – there are fair and interesting critiques on humans and their place in the galaxy that goes beyond killing and getting it on with aliens. All of that is core game play though. The average player will rush 40 hours to the end without exploring things on a more nuanced level. That is okay, and I have done that in the past as well.

If you are going to use this series to discuss historical events and reference certain plot points in prior Mass Effect titles please do a little research. One piece I read discussed how the Geth were an unfair example of evil because they attacked a human colony in the immediate events of ME:1. Anyone who knows the history of the Geth know that is is much more complex there – that they were servant robots who developed a collective mind, and then slaughtered their Quarian masters to gain their freedom, conquering Rannoch (planet of their former masters) and forcing the Quarians to a nomad life upon the Migrant Fleet (also known as The Flotilla) It’s an interesting twist on emergent AI and far deeper than the characterization they used based on a syndicated blog post they may have read and tried to force it to represent their personal agenda. Many have not even played the game (or it’s predecessors) – it’s clear in their writing that they have a rudimentary knowledge of the series and pushing critical, modern day themes onto that rudimentary knowledge can make you sound smart when your audience doesn’t know any better either.

Hey, I am all for expecting more of games, but at least do the research. It is readily available with a bit of Google-Fu.

Timely grumpy Krogan

At this point people are just hopping on the bandwagon of negative reviews for the sake of fitting in and or getting a laugh at the fabricated gifs out there. Some ARE funny, but they aren’t representative of the game as a whole.  I also suspect there is a bit of Bioware / EA bashing (“The Man”) which is not always unfounded (I also make fun of EA on this blog for their many awards of Worst Company in the USA, etc.).

Either way, let a game stand on its merit for what it is. And currently that is an amazing, engaging space RPG with promise. Will the game continue to stand on the fifth planet of scanning and quest running? Only time will tell. It definitely has that new car smell right now and I will be giving it a go. And while my voice here may sound like rabid fanboy-ism I’ll be quick to point out if the game doesn’t last, or if things don’t stick/stop sticking.  Right now most of the negatives brought up about the game feel like a reach, or maybe platform specific but that hasn’t been my experience. It is a bit frustrating to read others using the game as a platform for their personal/political agendas without much evidence or demonstrated knowledge of playing or understanding it – and i think that is where the difference is. If it was critically done as a gaming piece that could be interesting.

Playing Clash Royale?

Mass Effect will have big shoes to fill and I fully suspect that some people will be let down by the hype. My personal experiences early in the game are overwhelmingly positive and if anything, I wish they went backwards with the title and did a prequel of how Earth found the first Prothean base and how they integrated into galactic life originally. Much of this is in book and wiki form already but that would have been a great backdrop to show human’s first steps into an existing galactic community and the challenges that would create, and some interesting writing and dilemmic choices.

Instead we have a civilian lead, cross species Andromeda Initiative convincing 100,000 explorers to cross galaxies and resettle 600 years away. I am certain the exact reasons why will grow more than “just because” and that in itself may be one of the grander plot arcs, but until that all sorts itself out I’ll be focusing on searching for a new planet to call home.

Without any pretext.

Change of Plans

I am going on vacation (again, yes, lucky me) someplace warm again (Cuba)  to escape the cold, Canadian winter. Well, it’s mostly been mild here this winter for the most part but supposed to get a deep freeze next week which coincides with my escape that much better.

My plan was to finish off the Mass Effect series before the 20th which won’t happen now – I had to travel overseas on an emergency and just got back in time to go on vacation.

Trains, Planes, Automobiles, no Mass Effect. When I get back the new Mass Effect will be out and I am very much looking forward to that.

I am sure you missed me this past week and I know you will this week.  Have no fear, I will return and start posting again. With a tan.

Enjoy the week!

#NOGOODWAY

Today the #NOGOODWAY campaign launches.

Here is the video:

And the Facebook page, explaining it.

https://www.facebook.com/nogoodway

I find the video game community is particularly bad at using the R-word inappropriately, as part of everyday gaming language in forums, online, etc. I see it used too frequently. Which is why I am glad  I have a gaming based blog to support this initiative.

Changing Gears

Fixing I HAS PC

My web site has been loading like crap after I replaced my broken social blogroll links. I love that feature – it is one of my favorite things about having this blog, the quick, easy view of when my favorite blogs have been updated.  I have disabled it for now, and will start looking for a replacement. WP Social Blogroll was broken with a WP core update, and the RSS Blogroll Updater was crashing the quick loading of my site, plummeting my readers over the past two weeks by 50%. (I am certain that had nothing to do with the compelling content I share here…) So, here I am again, without a working “latest post” blog feeder widget. I will continue to scour the interwebs for one that works and doesn’t slow my site down to 1999 levels.

SWTOR out

I bought 60 days of sub in SWTOR when I realized how much fun I was having playing the game. It cost me $29.99 and had some other goodies, including both expansions and some level help items. Chapters 1-3 of the Jedi Knight story line was great – I really enjoyed it. I did the Interlude chapter (Ilum) and moved on to Chapter 4) (Makeb) and that is when the fatigue hit in. Spoiler free, I have saved the entire galaxy 4 or 5 times already (really, who is counting?) and not only is that exhausting but I can’t imagine doing it again. And again. My main goal was to get to max level and complete all of the story chapters but that was when I was really loving logging in. Once saving the galaxy (yet again) started feeling like a chore, I did the assessment. I am level 67 (of a possible 70). I have nine +25% XP boosters left (which last for 3 hours each), and judging by Google in order of what is left, I have the following:

  • Conflict with the Hutt Cartel
  • The Fall of Czerka
  • The Dread War Ends
  • Forged Alliances
  • Shadow of Revan
  • Rise of The Emperor
  • Knights of the Fallen Empire

Really… another Emperor? Won’t they just stay dead? Anyway – that is a lot of content and I don’t feel like they paced out the story very well. Too much, too big, too soon.  With my being so close to the cap and with so many +xp consumables I can easily walk away and take a break and return later with a lot of content to complete and no rushed timeline to complete it in. It was definitely worth the foray and I know I will go back to finish the adventure in time. I wish they spent more time focusing on fleshing out your team of characters and their relationships, rather than galaxy saving as the primary game mode. Where can you go from there to up the ante?

MASS EFFECT in

Mass Effect is my favorite gaming trilogy of all time. Mass Effect: Andromeda is but a few short weeks away and I am very excited for the title – heck, “pre-order” excited – which is something I don’t do often. Sure, I am not “take off days of work” excited, but to me that is just a bit crazy to begin with. In the spirit of reliving my joy in the game I decided to go back and play the original three. I do not have my copy of Mass Effect 1 anymore, my ME2 is on my bullshit banned EA account, but my ME3 is on my clean EA account. It is a mess. I decided to take a quick look at Origin to see if they had a three pack, or whatnot, for a reasonable price. It was a nice surprise.

First off, paying Origin $4.95 (per month, no month minimum) gets you 10% off any game you buy in Origin. The Mass Effect Andromeda pre-order that I want is $80 – right off the bat I saved money. Mass Effect 2 is free right now (that’s right, free on Origin – you don’t even have to be a paying member!) so go grab it. Arguably one of the best RPGs of all time. You just need a free Origin account.  Click on the digital deluxe version for some more free add-ons, because that is also free if you choose the option.( Did I mention free?) Lucky me as well, that Mass Effect 1 is in the EA Vault right now meaning you can play it for free (ahem) as a paid subscriber.

Things lined up nicely, I got the trilogy back, in one place, for $4.95.

All of my screenshots were corrupted (unfortunately!) something to do with the .bmp based format ME1 uses not storing the .raw data. I will try a better way to capture next play through. For 10 years old, I am quite impressed with how well it is holding up.  I do recall some of my old choices, and I am saddened to already know the outcome AND know that these choices have zero impact on the new installment – but I am enjoying revisiting my old friends and crew mates aboard the Normandy.

If you haven’t played the series, I highly recommend it.

Timely Coincidence

I finished chapters 2 and  3 of the Jedi Knight story arc in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and from what I can tell is the “original” content that launched in 2011. First impressions is that it was very Star Wars-y. No huge surprises but it fit the general tone and theme of what I have come to expect from the Star Wars universe. I have been playing the game completely as it should have been made (single player RPG) and as noted in a previous entry here it took me almost exactly 12 hours to finish Chapter 1 of the galactic saga. Oddly enough, to complete chapters 2 and 3 it took almost exactly an additional 12 hours. My character has played 23 hours, 49 minutes through the single player story line. This includes no side missions but does include the story mode flash points which further expand on the main story line.

Is that a beautiful co-incidence? Semi attractive one? A coincidence having nothing doing  with looks at all?? 12 and 24 hours are just such nice, sensible targets for a developer to strive towards that I find it really interesting wondering if that was on purpose or not. Only time will tell, as I push on to the next series of content. I had to google it to ensure I had the order right but looks like it goes Chapters 1-3, then Ilum, Makeb, Riven, Ziost.

Also, a throwback to last post, I did find my Wampa finally. No awesome cave though, just wandering around the frosty regions of Hoth.

And it was interesting to note, on the next planet, yet another familiar creature from the Star Wars movies used as a roaming mob in game. Clearly they have it easy with so much visual material to pull from. One of these almost ate Anakin on that planet when tied to the pole thing with all those bug people before a bunch of good Jedi show up. My power of recollection is amazing.

The visuals are on point and the gameplay and lightsaber fighting options feels great. The MMO aspects of this game keep getting in the way of making it spectacular but you learn to ignore those. In case you were wondering what those are, in no particular order:

  • Seeing 5 Kira Carsens attached to 5 other Jedis in the same area, is immersive ruining. Hey, she is  a romance interest and *your* companion. No one said anything about cloning. That doesn’t happen until what, Episode 2?
  • Any human being that can take a dozen slashes from a lightsaber is more powerful than the emperor himself.  “Imperial Medic _002” can take that.
  • Running past mobs inside a star ship, in full view, outside of an “aggro” range while alarms go off due to the full attack.  If this was single player there wouldn’t need to be a certain mob density and all mobs could be on high alert. “Oh listen, alarms. Oh look at that non-imperial with a lightsaber cutting down those guys over there. Well, he’s not in our guard area, so let’s just watch…”

A lot of the game feels like “must add this because MMOs have this” instead of “let’s make an awesome Star Wars game and let it stand on its own”. That view of this game is hardly surprising to anyone who has criticized it in the past (or present), but I will continue to argue that it would have been a far bigger success (both commercially and critically) if they went the Mass Effect route with it.

Speaking of Mass Effect, I think I am going to play through the trilogy again once I am done the SWTOR expansions. It was one of the best ever made, if you ignore the ending.

Familiar Territory

Hoth.

I love Hoth. The starting planet of The Empire Strikes Back, Han wielding a lightsaber (to gut a Tauntaun), AT-ATs, Snowspeeders, Probe Droids.. LOVE that (fictional) planet. It was with much enthusiasm that I traveled to Hoth for some missions for my Jedi Knight in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Would they give homage to the films? (of course). Would there be Tauntauns? (yes, and you can buy one as a mount). In fact, they put the Tauntauns and respective vendor right where you get off the shuttle. Clever commercialism.

Why hello, you marvelous meat blanket

Being Canadian and growing up in a rural snow belt I have strong and positive memories of 8′ high snow banks, driving a snowmobile to school, making snow forts and the like. Outside of Star Wars nostalgia I also have a personal affinity for the crisp white snow. Stepping out of the base (during the day of course, I mean, you freeze really fast at night on Hoth) did not disappoint.

the cold, crisp air

The mountains, snow, short and fat AT-AT (ok, stretch there) but there I was, on Hoth. Amazing. I didn’t expect to see any Snowspeeders (it was a different era after all, that tech is WAY in the future) but there was something so familiar, comfortable and exciting about having adventures on this planet if only by knowing what was to come a few thousand years in the future. Seeing how it is in the present timeline versus the desolation in 3600 years was enjoyable from a lore and personal joy perspective.

Would there be any other familiarities? I haven’t found a Wampa yet, but I am early in the story line. I did take a look around on my speeder to see what I could find of of course, Ion cannons! They were an important escape tool in The Empire Strikes Back and nice to see that the Republic used them on this planet way back when as well.

There are few other MMO worlds that can get me excited about an environment like SWTOR.  Do you have any favorite places in your MMO that just gets you feeling all good and excited to visit? Where does that stem from for you?

24.9% More Important

Well, I caught up to my F2P Jedi as a full subscribing Jedi (completing chapter one of the Knight story line) and I shaved 3 hours off of it. That is a decrease of time of 24.9%. This was completely non scientific but most of that time was saved by being able to use quick travel, and having a better land mount to zip past mobs to quest completions. That number is too close to 25% to not assume that the masters of the galaxy decided that a subscriber should have a 25% more efficient time of playing. I know it is anecdotal and such but still, so close to what would seem like a logical conclusion that it is hard not to draw.

Screenshot of my riding my speeder (on my old Jedi, with the non-toggle-able hat unless you pay $10 option).

SWTOR does a good job of immersing you in the Star Wars Universe and the single player campaign is fun. I typically don’t play many games with sound but hard not to do it in SWTOR for the light-saber sounds alone, not to mention familiar riffs in the background as they set the mood as you transition to different story arcs. I am a big fan.

The sudden drop of World of Warcraft was “just because”. I still praise it as the best WoW expansion since Wrath of the Lich King but I was in that rut of nothing really to do but grind out the daily quests in hopes of yet another legendary. My sub dropped at the same time I dipped my toe in SWTOR  and the amazing XP gains are too hard to ignore. I have long waited for the opportunity to zip through the single player stories there.  I will most likely go back to WoW in a future patch (or two) as I want to play out the story campaign there as well as getting that cool new druid form. It looks as though the Token is settling in around the 80k mark for the next little while and I am remiss that I didn’t buy the tokens at 25k (or 60k). I don’t see what sort of other announcement can make the token price jump further (free pizza with a WoW token?) and I am curious if it will drop if/when subscriptions start dropping. With the rate of content being pumped out and planned I know there is plenty to keep most WoW players subscribed.

I’ll be back when the whim hits me. I have the next 60 days to play in a galaxy far, far away

I Would Walk 500 Light Years

Being a big fan of Bioware games in general and also of Star Wars it may come as a surprise that I haven’t played much of SWTOR. When it was sub based only I didn’t have much time to game, so lacked investing in it. When I played the FTP version it was in it’s early and horrendous version – at one point, I couldn’t get an item upgrade from a low level quest unless I was a subscriber. That, and a punishing XP penalty for non subscribers made the game an unfun crawl. You couldn’t even sprint unless you paid. That scared me off. Besides  – the game always would have been better suited as a single player game to begin with.

I just checked and I have 7 old posts under the SWKOTORMMORPG category (the tag was to make fun of MMO acronyms) from 2008 and 2014. I’ll do a quick recap of each to review where my mind was about the game at any specific time (in order) before revisiting my foray into the title over the weekend.

KOTOR – A New Hope (December 2008): This was pre much anything out there about KOTOR and having picked up the Mass Effect Franchise I was cautiously optimistic about how an MMO in the Bioware style would work. The post covered off gameplay elements in ME, and how they may better translate over into MMO land. None of them did, of course.

Pre Marketing Hype Gone Wild (July 2009): One of my favourite short posts here, really. In it I dissected an exclusive interview where the devs basically declined to say anything at all while participating in a 4 page interview which had me questioning why in the heck they would agree to do an interviewin the first place. Bare minimum pre-screen questions, at least – or actually answering something players were interested in is not a bad idea. It was a joke, and a sad state of affairs to how companies hype games.

Lambs to the Slaughter (December 2010): After reading players expectations for the game during a SWTOR QA I realized that player expectations for this title cannot possibly be met as people were hoping for unique experiences and individualism in an “on rails” MMO world.

Star Wars the Old Republic: Hopes and Dreams (September 2010): Two years into the hype cycle I review the things I loved about Mass Effect and Dragon’s Age: Origins and allow myself a brief moment of optimism for the future of SWTOR. Yes, yes, pie in face, laugh at me, whatever you want to do. Hey, they had the building blocks to make something special!

Feast or Famine (July 2011): With the game nearing release but many playing beta I quick hit a note about having less interest in buying the game at release due to reviews from trusted and respected bloggers in BlogNation

Fun Police for Jedi (August 2011): This quote captures my angst in this article:

“… they are releasing a PVP warzone based on a neutral planet where the good guys and the bad guys pause their intergalactic conflict (oh, that silly thing?) to partake in something loosely resembling football set in a fantasy world“.

Yeah. Nothing screams end of the galaxy like copying the NFL.

Against My Better Judgement (October 2013): I tried to get into SWOTOR but the F2P issues were completely rediculous coming from a long stint in League of Legends (who does F2P extremely well)

How to Lose a MMO Gamer in 10 Ways (September 2014) was probably my most commented on article here (at a whopping 25) but I listed the things that make me not care about MMO games and the companies that make them. This wasn’t specific to SWTOR except they were tagged in it, probably because they hit 6 of the 10 items listed at some point in their development cycle.

I ran the emotional gamut on Star Wars: The Old Republic. Hope, to absurdity, to bitter sarcasm, to more hope, to disappointment, to more absurdity, to resignation, to frustration. All of that and I don’t think I put more than 20 hours into the game over that 6 year period. I did do a beta phase and remember playing the Agent story line and getting to mid 20s but I didn’t ever write about that (which is weird for me). I had to triple check that I didn’t mis-tag a post or two.

 

Nevertheless, I decided to give it the old college try. Here are the weekend bullet points as I experienced it over the weekend

  • Zones are gigantic. Need speeder to move around. Non subs get at 20, subs at 10. With 250% xp boost you get a speeder by the second planet which makes it not a gigantic deal, but it would really suck to ahve to walk it all on your own. I do like the zone size (when proper travel options are available) as it really gives a grand scale in game. This inspired the title. I was on autorun most of the time to get around, slowly. Painfully slowly.
  • $10 to toggle helmet off/on. Choice between looking stupid (ranger helmet) or Jedi cool (hood). I chose stupid for the stats, but wish I could toggle for in free, or in game credits, or something. Another basic QoL smashed by bad F2P
  • Weapon stuck at 50% power because weapon quest rewards require an expansion to use. I can’t really die, but I kill really slow. I don’t remember Jedi sucking so bad in the SW universe. Don’t give expansion rewards in base game. SMH.
  • You get 2 quick slot bars. You fill those up by level 30. You have to pay to get anymore. The rumours were true.
  • Jedi Knight story is well done. I am enjoying that aspect.
  • NPCs you help may email you later on. This was well done and a nice surprise. they pace it out from when you actually helped them so you kind of forget about it, until you get the in game mail notification. Nice follow up. I can’t delete the email from my first (ex) girlfriend even though we can’t see each other ever again. Jedi code BS.
  • You could cut game time in half with reasonable travel modes. Giant zones and lack of speed travel stretches this out. Feels like 50%+ is just getting place to place. I have mastered how to avoid mobs to get there faster. Fun mini game. Maybe not that fun, but making the most of it.
  • Quick travel on 26 minute timer. Subscriber it is on a 6 minute timer.
  • How many airports look the same in the world? Why does every spaceport look exactly the same? Missed opportunity to rationalize differences and cool spaceports based on the planets. These could be omitted completely without missing a beat, but would by default increase travel time. SWTOR loves slow travel.
  • Chapter 1 took me 11 hours, 21 minutes as a full F2P player to complete, and I ended up at level 35.
  • I had a fun 11 hours. SWTOR, despite their F2P Fu@kery, deserve some money. I don’t mind paying for my entertainment.
  • Confusing as hell. Buy expansion? Subscribe a month? Buy coins? So many options, no clear path to what makes sense. Research time.
  • Turns out if you buy anything, you get “Preferred” status for life which means you can just sub one month and get F2P benefits for evah!
  • Bought 60 days plus goodies by buying the expansion pack. Good value for the enjoyment.
  • It still should be a single player game. Many MMO things ruin the single player experience. It’s weird, because you can’t group for the story missions, which is 90% of the low level game.

Now that I am subbed, for research, I am going to do the same Chapter 1 story and see how much faster it is as a subscriber. Will be interesting to see the difference! If you ever wanted to experience the single player story lines of this game now is the time, the XP gains mean you far out level the story even just doing the main story line. I know I am missing out on some good content but can always go back and experience side quests when I am done the main one. The game levels you down to make content playable.

New Metrics – WoW Sub Edition

I remember fondly when bloggers and gaming media roasted Turbine for reporting the millions of characters made in gameto show how successful they were doing.

Then Activision reports this gem:

World of Warcraft MAUs for 2016 grew 10% year on year, with fourth quarter MAUs spiking to 20% year on year growth. In terms of hours played, the MMORPG saw figures better than Legion’s launch month, and better than any non-launch month in the franchise’s history.” (courtesy link here, italics are mine.)

In terms of hours played – the new subscription metric! Sorry, made me giggle. Just say how many active subscribers you have by region, will you? I am sure it is a hefty number that will make everyone proud. Especially investors.

That number is going to go down by about 10-15 per week as I am now finally completing story missions in SWTOR since they have upped XP gains by 250% until April 10th – even for free to play accounts. I finished Tython in about 1 hour yesterday. Looking forward to seeing how many class story lines I can complete in the time frame – it’s my dream single player RPG outside of Mass Effect. I like Star Wars. And old Bioware single player games. This XP boost makes the game playable for me as the way it always should have been.

Happy Friday!

Blizzard is a Currency Manipulator

Yay, a faux Donald Trump quote as my title! Finally! Dreams do come true.

Yesterday Blizzard launched their fake in Azeroth money for other fake Blizzard games / item money pyramid scheme and the value of the WoW token exploded. BOOM!

Yes it crashed right back down to earth quite quickly but last night when I checked at 11pm and it was pushing 100k I was disappointed. I have around 250k saved up, and in normal token times that is 4-5 months of subs. To see that evaporate to two and a half months did not make me happy. Things seemed to level down this morning. If you were on top of all the Blizzard news and views and had a ton of 50k tokens saved you literally could have doubled your fake money with Blizzard.

I know real money comes into play at some point (for me, I paid for my first two months with cash and have played “free” ever since) but I still don’t trust the token system. There is no regulation. Blizzard can do whatever they want with it, they can inflate the price, flood the market, etc. etc. They are not real goods that they can ever run out of so I find it hard to believe that every token bought is a token sold by a player. It makes more sense that they are just made digitally by Blizzard on demand to ensure the cash sales can keep flowing.

If I was a market person (I am not) and if I didn’t care about not paying a subscription to play WoW (I do) it could have been a fun moment to take a shot at a big gamble. I bet some players did, and at bare minimum this is a good lesson to pay attention to what Blizzard is doing with their token to gain some personal benefit. I have totally screwed this up – I had enough gold to buy 6 tokens at 30k, before the market jumped and settled in around 60k. Who knows where it will settle in now? If it goes back to 60k I’ll probably unload my gold into tokens to make sure it doesn’t climb again and stay. I keep expecting it to fall to some other level as at some point subs should decline, but I suppose that won’t really happen until content slows down. As it is, with another wing of LFR open this week, there is too much to do and not enough time to do it.

Rescue Time

In my last post I talked about how Tuesdays were a fun day in Azeroth, and made some claims about my play time. Prior to that thought I had already installed “Rescue Time” on my laptop which logs all of your activities while actively using your laptop. I assumed that doing everything I had planned listed would take me around 10 hours a week. I was pretty close!

Yes there is no Sunday or Monday (which is because it wasn’t installed  at the time  and funny to see how big Tuesday is for me in game. The rest of the week it seems I spend between an hour to an hour and a half per day, which would but my weekly time (last week, anyway) at closer to 11.5 hours. I will also run it this week to have a look to see how accurate my guesstimate was.

As for the program that tracks this itself – it is free. It breaks down your productivity and gives you visibility on where you are spending your time while on your device. You can also install it on multiple devices to get your full aggregate. Think you check Instagram just a few minutes a day? This will break it down for you exactly. It doesn’t seem to measure idle time, so a program in the background that is not being worked on / read / used doesn’t count (I tested a few things to see. multiple windows in the background, Excel, Tableau, etc to gauge how it measures.)

They assure your privacy, whatever that means this day! (FBI if you are reading this, this is my gaming computer *mostly*, I promise I do more work on the other one!) Pretty big eye opener on where I spend my time on the computer – a few minutes checking something here and there adds up. It even tracks how much time you spend on websites. Outside of my post on Monday, I only spent 16 minutes 44 seconds on my own site the rest of the week. Mostly because I use it as a launching pad on my blog-roll updater to read my favourite posters when they write something new.

Oh, and not because it would affect you, but because you are probably just curious, for you know, your cousin or something…. by default it does not track anything on adult websites. Again, so I hear… I don’t even know what those are anyway. It was mentioned in some sort of pop-up window/option.  Figured you might want to know.

Christmas Tuesday

Tuesdays are a wonderful day in the world of the (filthy!) casual WoW player.

First off, you get your Class Hall chest (free lootsz!!) for completing Mythic + the 7 days preceding. There is joy (and misery) as people open their chest and link to their lastest and newest legendary item. Much like Christmas, many groan as they get yet another piece of coal (or worse, a “utility” legendary. Which is stupid by all means, but that is an argument for another day…). The other joy is that the Raid ID resets which means you can run your LFR Raids again. This is much like a class trip where you don’t particularly like or know many people in your class, but you get to go see something neat and interesting and maybe get a reward just for showing up. If that doesn’t scream “fun” I don’t know what does.  There is a new World Boss up to kill for other, basically free loot. It’s a joyous day.

Okay, sure,  it is just another day where the casual check boxes get unchecked so you get to check them again. And that is why I love Tuesdays in the WoW world. All of my level 110 characters are past running Emerald Nightmare or Trial of Valor for good chances at loot but Nighthold does have more effort-efficient upgrades. Last week I ran Nighthold on all of them on Tuesday. That left a lot of gaming for the week to do. Unlike the author of this article (to save you from reading it if you don’t want to – he argued that because you CAN do something in the game, in this instance, grind AP, that players feel compelled to do it, so Blizzard has to change it because players have no self-restraint. I engaged him – to deaf ears – that I prefer having too much content and the onus is on players to play responsibly. He did a bad food analogy, I did a better one, he is stubborn, I am enlightened, blah blah blah. It’s all there if you want to read it, but after realizing he was not open to any contrary viewpoints I disengaged. ) I only do activities that grant me a chance to upgrade my character. This means I have a weekly routine to my gaming.

  1. Do the main story line quest, on my main (Couchon) to stay up to date on the story (currently finished, until 7.2)
  2. Do daily Emissary Quests for a legendary chance (Druid, Paladin, Rogue)
  3. Do weekly World Boss
  4. Do weekly quest (Druid, Paladin, Rogue – Druid only if it is PVP based)
  5. Do LFR wings (last week only the first week was only one wing – Druid, Paladin, Rogue)
  6. Check to see if there is a Mythic + in LFG (Druid, Paladin)
  7. Level alts with Rest XP, until Rest XP is gone (Shaman, Monk, Demon Hunter in that order currently)

That is my systematic approach to WoW currently. Last week I did exactly that, and burned through all of my rest exp on those three alts. Once I get a few more of them to max level I won’t be able to sustain that playtime but it will be nice to have options.

Add to that I complete the daily Hearthstone quest and keep chests rolling unlock in Clash Royale, plus I eat, sleep, work out and go to to work. My life is very scheduled.

All of this will come to a screeching halt when the new Mass Effect game comes out, which is the release I am most looking forward to in *years* for a game. Here is to hoping the recapture the magic of the first 2.5 in the series.

Enjoy your WoW Christmas today, may the legendary items rain from the sky. Peace on Azeroth and goodwill to all player kind.