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MTG Arena : Joy in Learning

The way rewards work in MTG:Arena is twofold – daily and weekly. The daily is a pretty easy to hit challenge by just playing the specified card colors, and the weekly grants you a pack of cards at 5, 10, and 15 wins. What is good about this in the early stage of the game (you can’t spend money yet) is that that 15 wins stays up all week – so it acts like a counter of sorts for how many wins you got for the week. I did over 40 wins last week and am quickly figuring things out.

I came back and won this match with my new favorite card drawn next turn (shown face up on the draw pile)

In this early stage there are no statistics (which would be interesting) and matchmaking at this early stage is clearly more interested in getting you playing quickly than evenly. I don’t even know if they are matchmaking by level at this point. It doesn’t matter because one thing I am learning quickly is that there are so many variables to a successful match that is out of your control – but enough that is IN your control – that you can clearly tell this game has been played and tested for years. However that doesn’t seem to set the learning curve.

Sometimes you just  have to fail and fail hard, and then head to google for the answers. I think that is the new, life metaphor we all live by. Yes that was mostly tongue in cheek.

As a noobie I tried a bunch of preset, 60 card decks. They seemed to all be interesting and have their own nuances, but I wasn’t getting better by swapping decks so quickly. I needed to grab a deck and focus on it and become good at it. The answer came to me in the form of a pack of cards. I drew a legendary Pathfinder – Vraska, Relic Seeker. Pathfinders are high(er) cost cards with a health pool based abilities. One that adds to the health, and two that take away from it. They can be directly attacked by creatures and spells in the game as well.

Love of my life! A little tentaclely, but I am not superficial.

The + health card gets you a nice 2/2 Pirate that  needs to blocked by 2 or more. The small, -3 health ability – destroy target artifact, creature, or enchantment is an amazing controlling benefit and the -10 power really changes the state of the game. Armed with my new girlfriend I had to pick a deck that she would fit in. Some comfortable digs. The base deck – The Golgari Exploration (which is a swamp/forest based deck, the same two land cards you need to play Vraska) had to be it. So it was.

It’s a fun deck based on cards and enchantments the have the “Explore” feature. Which allows you to find and play more land cards. From what I have learned it also has a good amount of control cards (clearing out enemy creatures) but I quickly found decks I was weak against. And this is how I started getting better at the game.

A very popular deck I see a lot is a “blue” deck – which has a lot of counter creature and counter spell cards. Frustrating when every time you try and play one of your cards the other player negates it. When you finally get your Pathfinder on the board only to have it negated by a 2 power card it feels like the tables turn. I needed a way to counter that. I found my own, two power card that allows you to retrieve a card from your graveyard (where dead creatures go) so I placed a couple of them in my deck – and have been able to use them successfully. The trouble there is that they have all sorts of “remove / negate” creature cards so I needed a way to look at my opponents deck before bringing a card back. I found one and placed a couple in my deck. Those cards have helped me compete against blue decks – even though I am still very much at the mercy of which of my (and my opponents) 60-70 cards are drawn at any time it is far more fun knowing you have counters to your counters in case it happens.

card images found at https://scryfall.com/

So now I could deal with those pesky “blue” (island) based decks. Then I kept running into issues with a card called The Scarab God. It was literally a “game over” card for me every time I played against it. It’s a strong 5/5 card that can grab any card from your (or your opponents) graveyard and make a 4/4 zombie of it. Terrifying when you face him, and when you kill him, he has the pesky effect of going right back into your opponents hand next turn. Like a cockroach, you can never really get rid of him.

Or can you? Magic has 2 discard piles. One, the graveyard, cards can be pulled back from with various cards. The other, is the “exile” pile – when a card goes to exile it is gone from the game. So how do I kill the Scarab God, and exile him, all in one turn? Is that possible? Yes it is! And thankfully there are great in game (and on web) resources to find cards to help you with your issues. Enter the low cost, Deadeye Tracker.

There. Now I can kill and exile that card all in one. Building up defenses so at least I know I have the right cards to counter him if I face him. Keep in mind that any card I add has to be a swamp or forest cost card or I can’t play it. In MTG you CAN add more land based cards (tri color decks, etc.) but due to how many cards most people carry that’s a high risk on a card draw. So while I chose the above cards to deal with my issues based on the land cards my deck is based off of there are other cards for other lands (and even other cards for my lands). I tried to find ones that work with my style of deck – and the above card also “explores” on that use – and I have several cards that gain benefits / interact with the explore mechanic.

My last big challenge was enchantments. Often I’d get a strong hand and my opponent would play an enchantment card that would remove my card / creature from play until the enchantment was dealt with. The base Golgari Exploration deck has zero counters for this. I had one on my Pathfinder, but that is a high cost card AND often when I played my Pathfinder that was the card my opponent would enchant. Enter another easy and low cost counter.

And with that card I now have a deck I feel comfortable with countering anything that I have played against so far. This doesn’t mean I win every game of course, but it means there are far less “lose for sure” scenarios. I have the tools to counter my opponents. Each game I learn new ways and face better opponents. I am loving that losing is just another experience for me to consider how or what I could have done differently. And if the answer was “nothing”, then I can search for ways I don’t already know to help myself out in the future.

That part has been almost as fun as playing the cards to begin with.

 

 

As a note – I do have an extra code if you are interested in joining in the closed beta. There is zero monetization in the game currently so it’s for fun and testing.

MTG Arena : Hitting My Stride

I am still not “good” at the game, but I am becoming “effective”. Quotations used for loosely defined terms. What I mean is that I fully understand what is going on and have been able to create strategies on the fly with the two decks i am comfortable with. I am still not “good” because many of the cards I am seeing are cards I have never seen before – so the learning curve is Hearthstone times a bajillion. There may or may not be rounding errors in that last statement.

The glowing purple chest is the vault. I am excited.

I can’t comment on how the economy works (or will work) as you can’t buy anything in this beta (shocker, I know!) You earn gold, cards and packs from playing. There is a daily challenge (play 20 land cards, play X spells of Y color, etc.) and every win plateau grants you a deck. Turns out at 15 wins (for the week maybe?) that free deck pile stops. At least it did for me. There is in game gold, gems (which I am guessing is the currency converter) and the vault. One thing that is kind of fun is unlocking decks and cards gives you a percentage unlock of your “vault”. I finally unlocked my first.

OMG ITS LIKE A LOOTBOX

Clicking on the vault showed a whole cornucopia of goodies. Burning color cards! Wildcards! (Wildcards – the three on the right – are tokens you can turn in for rarity cards of the same color so you can customize your deck. I have no clue what kind of goodness this will unravel but of course, we are about to find out!

A Legendary Planeswalker HAS to be good, right?

Well that is my second Planeswalker. The decks I use are the Brazen Coalition which is a quick hitting, fun Pirate deck and the Golgari Expedition – which is an “explore” based deck – nature and death. Vraska – the legendary Planeswalker – fits in that deck perfectly. With excitement I added her to the base deck and began playing, and quickly got into a really fun match. The other player jumped out to a quick lead but I was able to get some explores in and with the help of some Chubacabra’s (low cost death cards) I was able to catch up.

Then the fun hit the fan. The other player played a Planeswalker – the second I have ever played against. The first time it didn’t go well. Then more fun hit the fan as I drew – and was able to play – MY Planeswalker the next turn. Things got crazy and fun, until my opponent started playing enchantment cards that took both my Planeswalker and a 7/7 card I had played out “until enchantment removed”. I haven’t seen a “remove enchantment” card in either of my decks and that was the turning point. I lost but it was close. My opponent only had three health left.

What is good about the way the game works is I was able to use a search function in game (and you can filter by color, rarity, keyword – etc.) and I have access to two types of enchant removal cards on the Nature side (cards I own). I forgot to filter “unowned” cards before they took the server down but that is where the wildcards will come in handy. Even if I haven’t drawn a remove enchantment card I have plenty of wildcards so will be able to build them myself.

The circle of life and learning in games is great. Enchantments whooped my ass and now I found a way to deal with them for next time. This part of gaming I a have always enjoyed. Discovery.

MTG : Arena

I finally got my closed beta invite to Magic The Gathering : Arena. I say that like I was always entitled to it and it was just a matter of time (I am, and it was, right?) but good old RNG worked in my favor in their last round of 100,000 invites.  I quickly loaded it up, logged in grabbed a nature themed preset deck (I like nature. In real life. I have no clue if Nature decks are good.) and of course completely was slaughtered and confused. It is a beta, there is no tutorial yet, and my whole experience with MTG is duel decks my son bought and I played three times.

opening screen – complete with daily challenges

Three times.

I did forget to add I enthusiastically read all of Izlain’s WAR REPORT posts but without historical reference I hadn’t understood a whole bunch about them. Safe – and happy – to say, after a few hours with MTG: Arena I already have a high level of comfort with how the game works. Yes, it’s completely intimidating and there are so many hundreds of cards and combinations that sorting through it all is extremely daunting. Thankfully I enjoy a new challenge, card games, and learning new things. All at once.

The preset decks are pretty good. I added a planeswalker to one of them (cloning it), making it a bit better.

The good of the game is that every card comes with an explanation. Some are challenging because without the context of the game phases, etc. it is hard to fully understand but what it is REALLY good at is highlighting a card you can play – whenever you can play it. Games ported to PC like this is a great training tool on how to play the game. It has things such as auto-tap land cards, auto-pass turn, etc. etc. The best part is you can turn any and all of these support features on or off depending on your comfort level. One – the auto-pass turn – actually tips off your opponent that you don’t have spell cards so that is the type of training well best to turn off.

Some tips – like using a mulligan if less than 2 or more than 4 land cards, is a “rule” I never would have known without reading tips

Like many games there are levels and ranks and similarly to Hearthstone the early levels you do not lose ranking for losing. In the second level (which I finally am at) you lose progress towards your next level but do not lose the level itself. Things aren’t entirely clear as I have been playing all ranges of levels (assuming that for the closed beta phase they are more interested in getting games and data in than much else) and I am quickly learning about some really freaking cool decks (that I don’t have a chance against) that are clearly custom made by really strong MTG players. I don’t mind losing if I am learning.

The interface is slick and clear. Little bit of lag sometimes, but it is beta after all!

I have received a lot of packs and opened them all – but I honestly have no clue (outside of Pathfinders, which the Duels deck my 12 year old taught me to play on explained all about) what a good card is or a bad card, or how to best build a deck from scratch. There is decades of information here and too much to learn in a few hours. Sticking to the base decks and trying all of them (based off of daily rewards / challenges ie: play 12 black or red spells means I pick the black and red deck to learn).

Most matches are done pretty quick, but the one above (which I only played to get some photos today) went the long run. He had a cycling deck and I misplayed my lands – I had good counter spell and creature cards but never enough land to tap them on his turn, meaning he was able to play spells and status cards and grind me down. From the above to the below:

It looks like I am winning. I am not.

He kept playing draw cards that took down my life 2 at a time and added 2 to him. I always played creature cards that used my land so I couldn’t counter them effectively. If I played it slower and smarter I could have won. This is part of the learning curve that I have to embark upon. The good news (for me) is that there seems to be a lot of other, new players in the beta as I am winning enough matches that I feel good about continuing to try. Assuming matchmaking has a part to do with this as well, as the true vets climb the ladder.

I have an extra key from a second email for the stress test next week, if you are interested – let me know. That will also get you into the next phase of beta after the stress test.

It’s fun. Wish it was on mobile, but probably too much important information to share on a small screen at this time. There is so much good complexity and nuance to the cards and sets I bet you could literally play this game for years before mastering it at all – but you can still get your wins along the way to feel good about the curve. Would be curious to hear about a seasoned MTG veteran’s take on the game.

 

I am Number Four : World of Warcraft

Weird gaming lately. Searching for a mindless, zen like state where I can log into someplace comfortable and advance and repeat tasks. Not really with a fun focus but just a time killing focus. Some may say “wasting”. I can’t disagree with that. I hit my fourth max character in World of Warcraft this morning.

You can see the Demon Hunter is not far behind. I think I am doing the Shaman next though, really tired of leveling leather wearing characters. They all end up looking the same by armor type. As you can see I have no cloth wearing classes at max level and that is also something I want to “fix”. Normally I don’t like playing DPS only classes as it takes out reasonable timeframes for getting into speechless groups and raids (any kind of group or raid, really. I mean, you are a tank or a healer and you have a one minute wait. As a DPS only class you have 20+ often. Sometimes it’s not so bad and you get lucky and get one that’s under 10 minutes.

The Hunter class was my first WoW class, back when everyone was a hunter back in Vanilla. That’s when I switched to Druid as my main and who is my emotional favorite. The Shaman was my other raiding class (from a heal perspective) and the Rogue is just a lot of fun to play. Hunters in Legion took on a new look – the Marksman (what I play) can get rid of their pet altogether. Heck, they even have a melee spec, which from what I understand isn’t that great. Still it was glad to see some changes to the standard in this expansion and since I had never levelled one to max I chose to this time.

I don’t think I am going to bother multi-speccing the class, however. If I want to Melee I will use my rogue, or my Shaman (Enhancement was a long time favorite class of mine). Nice to have the simplicity of one class, one spec for a change. The great thing about WoW is the maintenance mode it is in is very easy to play. Everything is simplified with flying. I log in, do the daily emissary quests with each (once they have 2+ saved up), get the loot, run follower missions for gold/rep, send everything to my bank alt, sell on the AH, rinse repeat. I am a creature of habit. I get up at 4:30 am every day, have a coffee, work out, make breakfast for my family, go to work, rinse, repeat. WoW works well on a schedule.

Great news is that I made enough this month to pay for my next two months so WoW is a F2P game for me. Makes it easy to spend my time there this way.  I am still confused why the sudden desire to have one of every class to level cap. I also want to unlock the new races (for alliance, anyway) but I have little to no desire to level a character from one. Not sure if you can race change or not but I’m leaning on that. Would be nice to get different races on my classes but  not going to level them up from scratch. I have a 70+ warrior on another server that I will transfer. Still, there are cloth wearer at very low levels so perhaps I could start a new race there?

I haven’t had any desire to play WoW and still not quite sure what the draw is here. Any content I now do has been done 4x over and if I do get all the classes to 110 all that means is that I have far too many choices when the expansion drops (which takes a lot more commitment and focus than what I am doing now). Kind of feels like I am playing while half asleep – zombie gaming? Where I am half in, not fully paying attention, but nevertheless pleased with result? It’s odd, but not a bad time. That isn’t really a super high endorsement now, is it?

The class halls, feels and story has been an interesting perspective at least.

This post is as clear as my mind is right now and my gaming.

Making a Generation of Bad Players : WoW

There is nothing like a Timewalking event to make you appreciate old school MMO players and feel bad that newer MMO players haven’t had to learn what used to be “core competencies” in MMOs. Now to be sure – these skills aren’t as important because they aren’t prevalent in today’s gaming but for anyone who grew up when MMOs had a modicum of challenge this will be very familiar territory.

Love the old, ugly, mish mash of levelling gear

The setting was a 5 man Timewalking Dungeon from the Cataclysm expansion – specifically Throne of the Tides. I am levelling my 4th and 5th characters to cap (more on that later) and my Shaman has a heal spec which I spent many years playing so into Timewalking dungeons I go.  Throne of the Tides has some large pack pulls (5+) and very specific mobs that cast greater heal. With the de-levelling and gearing you can’t just muscle through it. You need focus fire, and interrupts, and/or CC. The first run I did of this dungeon was with “newer” WoW players. They just kept full AOE, no interrupts, and we literally spent over 5 minutes bashing our heads against a single pack until we wiped. I, as a healer, was the only person trying to interrupt. Even when I Hex’ed a healer (hard CC) someone would hit it to bring it into AOE fest. I took the time and energy to try and explain.

More ugly gear, my tanking set. Gross. Love it. Orange and Purple should match better.

Not only did they not get it, the Mage didn’t even have Polymorph on her hotbar. I kid you not. Of course, makes sense, because if you never have to use a spell/skill why bother? I remember those pulls “back in the day” and we would do a SAP, POLY, HEX, FREEZE TRAP and prioritize the others, rotating interrupts. When done it was a wonderful coordination and really made you feel like a team. Now it is just gather up as much as you can and AOE it all down. The beauty and intricacies of the genre are completely watered down.

But there is hope.

That group fell apart because people refused to communicate, mark mobs, and try something different. So I requeued up and decided to try again. This time I got a group that cleary was from the Cataclysm era. The tank marked mobs. BLue square was hunter trap. X was Polymorph. Was explained once, and everyone excuted throughout the whole 5 man. It was still the same old, same old WoW experience because no one said a word after the “rules” were set until the final piece of loot dropped (“ty all”, was the crux of it.) but it was a well oiled, experienced machine.

The Shaman class hall, on the edge of the Maelstrom is frightening and beautiful. Waves crash up and spray. I haven’t tried jumping in. Yet.

Rest of the runs were a mixed bag of both which was when I realized that a lot of players either just don’t know any better, or don’t care to put in the effort. All of this means that there is probably less complexity on it’s way in future games and they will continue to be questing snore-fests.

No wonder why nothing really new is coming out in the space “for the masses”, and hopefully the niche titles will try to recapture at least some of the personal responsibility along with personal loot boxes.

Backtracking : Paladins

When I last wrote in depth about Paladins in this article I was shocked and dismayed that they were ignoring everything that EA just went through with BAttlefield 2 and was launching a new “Cards Unbound” system that was clearly and obviously designed as pay 2 win mechanics. It was a sad hail mary from a really good game – one I used to believe was better than Overwatch – albeit having a more niche following. Greed, it seems, is more important than having a stable and solid revenue base. The community rallied against it heavily – I have never seen a community so united against a change – but the developers made excuses and stuck to the plan. They were going all in on it.

It worked out exactly as expected, from a player base perspective.

Cards unbound was launched December 18th. People had already been leaving the game pretty upset by then, since the announcement in November. Many people came back to try it out in January as there was a small uptick in players – only to have their fears fully realized, and a huge drop in February – their lowest ever. What is a developer supposed to do? What happens when their vision of money doesn’t line up with the vision of the game the players have adopted and loved about them?

Backtrack of course.

Here is the main snippet:

We know this system has angered many of our most loyal fans and become a point of continuous contention in the Paladins community (and even inside of Hi-Rez). Your voice has been heard loud and clear.

Our team will be working over the next major release cycle to remove Cards Unbound from the game. We will be replacing it with a new system that I believe the community will be really excited about — including the re-introduction of the deck building point system, and a method for obtaining cards that will be way less grindy.

We want the focal point of the card system in Paladins to be about fun ways to customize your champion to your favored playstyle.  We also want to unify the COMPETITIVE and CASUAL experiences with the card system so that we use the same system for both (no more separation of bound vs unbound).

We are still working out the details of the new system, but the rough outline of our current thinking is as follows (NOTE: Subject to some change, but hopefully this communicates the general direction we want to head):

  • Legendary Cards will now be called Talents.
  • Talents will only have a single level.
  • Talents will be unlocked for free by earning XP and gaining Champion levels (for example; level 1,5,10,15).
  • All Champion Cards will now be free (No cost or grind).
  • Deck creation will return to a point system where players can distribute 15 points across the five cards they select for their loadout. Each Champion Card will have five ranks to choose from.
  • Talents will not have ranks, and are not included in the loadout point cap.
  • Talents and Decks will continue to be chosen at match start to allow players to tailor their playstyles based on their opponents.
  • New Talents will be added over time and give further varied playstyles.
  • Champion Mastery will no longer be capped at level 25. Instead, it will work similarly to Player Account leveling (which has no cap).
  • Card chests will be removed from the game.
  • We are evaluating the best options to compensate players for their previously earned cards, and hope to share details soon.

The release plan is to start testing this new system as soon as we can on PTS (hopefully, next week).  Your analysis and participation will be very important over the next few weeks as we work the kinks out of this design and deliver the best possible product to you in the next update.

You can read the full announcement here, if you want.

I am torn on this. I like to support companies that make good moves. Anyone who was listening and had half a brain knew it would turn out this way. It was made clear to them. This forced me to consider that the move itself was desperation – that they HAD to do it or shut down the game – why would you ruin such a good thing? Still, they did it, and made it worse, and are now trying to fix it. So the optimist in me wants to load it up and play again once they relaunch the game with the new, older rules. The other part of me knows that I quit the game before that terrible decision, because the matchmaking imbalance wasn’t fun – they weren’t spending their time and energy on the important parts of the game.

I will probably go try it again, only to show that their steam numbers get a small uptick for doing the right thing – but it is probably too late for Paladins. They have already announced a Battle Royale mode and my guess is that this game goes the route of Fortnite and all resources are funneled into that project – where the “easy money” is at. Problem is by then that space will be even more crowded. You don’t have to “win” to be the best.

Being the second most popular small team shooter would have been okay, you know.

Content Catch Up : WoW

Well, that didn’t take long. As of this morning I have completed all the Broken Isles content I had planned too (LFR once through all, got the new flying form, have completed all the main quests). I am also done all of Argus except the LFR raid (and will probably finish that off tonight). It took me three days to go from 7.2 to 7.35. To be fair, I was running pretty good content when I left (Mythic +9, etc.) but wasn’t raiding outside of LFR. My ilvl is 891 and that is a far cry away from the easy to reach 910 from grinding out Argus, so there is a goal at least. I also need to grind out enough material to upgrade all of my legendary items to 1000 but almost have enough for my first just through the leveling process. It’s good to have goals but outside of daily Emissary quests I think I am already out of things to do. So, I started doing my main two alts (Rogue and Paladin) through the Daily Emissary quests for catch up and get them headed to the Broken Shore.  I then started planning out three other characters I want to get to max level (Shaman 94, Monk 56 , Hunter 101 – in that order) when it occurred to me – here I am again, hook line and sinker repeating the content I just completed in a whopping three days to climb in ilvl for no specific purpose. What’s that quote about doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different outcome? Although hard to judge because it was a super fun and comfortable three days. This is how games suck you in.

Really? Maximum of 50 characters across all realms? Who does that?

I’m not a big fan of the new flight form for the Druid. The old one, looks like a scrappy young druid ready for battle. Maybe a bit like a “still able to fly version” of a Dark Crystal Skeksis.

The new version is a grandpa like, “get off my lawn you pesky kids” version.

The bad mustache style feathers and upright neck make it also look uncomfortable. I’m not sure if I will be keeping it, but will give it a chance to grow on my a bit. We’ll see if Grandpa Owl has all the tangible benefits of a real grandparent.

The flying quest had an instance where you had to go support Thisalee Crow to get the Relic back from a big bad Legion guy.  The fun part for this is that I already had Thisalee Crow accompanying me in my adventures in the Broken Isles. So there was a weird moment where her and her clone and I were all hanging out.  Can you say awkward?

Will the real Thisalee Crow please stand up?

Outside of that continuity error – of which I don’t suspect Blizzard really cares – the experience has been WoW through and through. Although I did stop to pause to wonder if “old Blizzard” would have cared of the duplicity there. I know they aren’t into immersion as importance but they have done a lot of good cutscene work and surely someone would have noticed that this was a very distinct probability for a druid character. Of which, a production manager of some sort would have realized that there would be no real outcry, so why bother investing programming time and dollars to find a fix for something that wasn’t going to be noticed or written about by anyone of substance? There was one Argus cutscene moment where I actually said “Wow, that was cool!” and I don’t want to put this post into spoiler territory (guessing I am the last in the world to see it anyway) but take a guess in the comments if you think you know which I am talking about.

Ilvls to grind and alts to level. For now. I have enough for a token for my first 30 days and I made 30,000 on the first day in the Auction house, so the game is free for me for as long as I want to play it. Will see how long it can capture my attention for for now.  The big question is if I will drag my alts through the same experience or if I can stick to just one character.

Flying Not Flying : WoW

Well, with some helpful tips in my last post from Leo and Will my “ehrmagahd this grind is going to suck!” path to flying turned into “really, that’s it?”. It helped of course that I was fully done all the prereqs and had to just slog through a gated quest to get the Legionfall rep a flowing. Yay, I can Crow Form again!

I belieeeeve I can fly. I belieeeeve I can touch the sky.

Yaaaas! Longtime readers with excellent memories (no, I am not going to link all the posts from years gone by) will know how much I love flying in World of Warcraft. Tesh and I would chat about it all the time. Something about the Crow form and just flying around is a complete joy in the game. Which is always why I am upset and confused on why they take it away temporarily in their expansions. It is a core part of the game, the excuses for not being able to fly are completely lame and immersion breaking, and people who care about “seeing the world” will still do that. Some will just do it from better viewing angles, too.

You can be my wing man anytime. No, you can be mine.

So of course I am in the full “pure fly, all the time” camp. Not being able to fly is a severe detriment to my enjoyment of the game. It is kind of like how I struggle with any game that doesn’t have jump (Dauntless, The Division). Being grounded just isn’t any fun at all. Of course in the interest of keeping land masses small and huddled and lowering development costs by stretching out existing content via travel times, we end up with a lie  to excuse not flying every expansion and a lengthy quest to eventually get it. It’s fake content, but it’s all we have. Clcearly with my additional slang and silliness in my writing you can tell how much happier I am and how much better WoW Legion is right now with flying.

While I am still not “done” LegionFall content (there is a new flight form to unlock, and a new bear form, at “bear” minimum. Ugh, yes, the silliness continues…) I quickly jumped to the Argus content so I can get some key upgrades. The super cool awesome new Bear Form is supposedly very difficult to get with low ilvl gear. So I figured if I run through the quest content on Argus then I can go back and sort through how to get that form. More, super guided, super easy planned obsolecence content is not my cup of tea but it is exactly what World of Warcraft is. Argus, here I come!

Oh. f@$k you Argus and your non-flying.

And back to no flying. Birds are now Deer. Or Elk. Definitely not Reindeer, because that would be super cool to fly as a Reindeer. Time to slog through non-interesting and engaging content with my feet flat on the ground. The good news about Argus and the guided quest experience is that – well it’s kind of like – you know, that thing that is sorta – oh damn. Trying to find something positive and fair. Wait, I got it. Comfortable. That is the right word for WoW leveling through a new area. Like a cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter’s day. Without the alcohol to zip it up.

What WoW DOES do well is scale. Fighting giant creatures makes you feel pretty epic. I was carefully dodging all of his telegraphed, big attacks until I missed one my accident – and realized that he hits like a wet noodle. I stopped trying to get out of the way and took the hits, mashed some buttons, and pushed the scattered narrative forward.

In comfort, not style.

 

Jumbled Mess : WoW

Well, my return to World of Warcraft wasn’t as smooth, fun, or heralded as I expected. I haven’t used bullet points in a while.

  • First off my guild of the past three expansions was gone. It wasn’t that I was kicked out of it but that it had completely disbanded. I was shocked because even my first guild – from 2007 still exists with a skeleton crew. I know this even though I have long left the server because my Potion Bank Alt is still in that guild (along with my Warrior alt.) I login once in a while to see who is still there and kicking around. I moved servers when I quit being a guild leader and followed some friends who wanted a better timezone for their playtime. Since I wasn’t leading or raiding anymore, the Mountain time zone didn’t matter (I am Eastern Standard) as I was playing WoW super casual at that time (and still am).  So when I had some good gaming friends go to a new server I went with them. It also gave me a good split from a guild that I had loved for many years – but when you step down as a leader it’s hard to be in the wings, and many people send you whispers looking for advice, etc. that is better for the new leadership to handle. You feel like you are in the way. I do regret that move some days, because I left a lot of good people behind and I didn’t support them how I should have. It’s tough when “it’s just a game” and “there are real people who matter” collide.
  • For some reason WoW is the only game I can’t play with the base UI. I had to download, install, update and configure no less than 17 mods to get the base UI to a state I deemed “playable”. Curse used to auto-update this for me but now they are owned by Twitch, so I had to install a  new installer program. Plus, many of my favorite mods were no longer supported or updated so I had to find mods that did a similar thing. It took two of my first full play sessions to even get close to being able to play. I am still not done by any stretch of the imagination but it’s pretty close now. I think this crutch is as much my own issue as the game itself as a past raider the mods you had to have became a part of the core experience. I have had zero issues in DDO, EQ2, EQ1, TSW (etc.) with needing mods to play.
  • At this stage in the expansion and where I was at there is so just so much to do and no real proper or clear path in what order to do it in – the game is pulling me in several different directions that are unrelated. There are quests to unlock new traits in my artifacts – but those traits are already unlocked (I think as a catch up mechanic?). I already spent billions on improving it then finished the quests and became able to do… what I already did. Flying in Legion does NOT have an easy catch up mechanic. I don’t know why the WoW devs hate that so much. Should be easy peasy at this point and not a month long grind. I have daily quests from Argus – an area I haven’t been to yet (want to finish off the flying part first) and they take up one of my three available daily chest slots. I had two of them going at one point. I feel like it should be more streamlined at this point.
  • I did LFR to get some quests done and see the bosses – and it is embarrassingly easy at this stage. I went in without reading a single raid boss strat and killed them all. I am glad they exist. It’s pretty easy to just watch other players and react accordingly. I did some of the new 5 mans too. The best part about LFR over the 5 mans is that people talk in LFR! Sure, it’s only to complain about “noobs” and “I can’t heal stupid” but seeing chat was nice.
  • Oh, I did join one of those random accept guild invites. Guild perks are a thing in WoW for rep and quest grinds in particular. Lucky for me they are chatty and seem friendly. No clue what my long term plans are – I definitely do not want to pay to transfer all my characters to my old home (Whisperwind) but if I can cross account things now to Horde side I may go next xpac as a Horde. I talk about that every expansion but never do it.

I am not loving the return. I am committed to trying to get flying. Curious to level a Monk. Going to start playing the AH to try and preserve a free subscription cost. This may be a short trip back, we will see. I was hoping to be having more fun and be more excited at this stage!

Finishing an Expansion: WoW

I spent a lot of months in Legion last year, and it has been probably my second favorite expansion.  I have a strange relationship with WoW that bounced from love to hate and most emotions in between. It is hard to explain why in some regards – I have had multiple accounts at multiple times, happily paying my subscription fee. I don’t know if there is another game I treat the same way as WoW. For example, when I play it I feel I have to exclusively play it – and play it hard – because I have to “pay” for it. While this is less true now (with tokens I haven’t paid for it the whole expansion) I am still exchanging something for that access more than time – so I feel like I need to be dedicated and focused at it.

Legion lost me at their first real hard gear reset. That was in and around 7.2. I had spent a month grinding out challenging content to slowly inch my ilvl up by 1s and 2s to, well, be stronger I guess. Then a patch came that greatly increased your ilvl for basic tasks and quests and I realized that all the effort I was putting in was wasted. I could just wait for the “last” patch in the expansion, and get easy gear with less effort and time. I don’t even think that this is fair to say because I was having fun – but when you hit the progression wall as a non-raider it starts to feel like work. (Less work than raiding mind you). So I made the decision to stop, and stop all the alts I was levelling, and wait until the next expansion was announced so I could just finish off the expansion and park my characters until the next. We have been at that point for a while now, but I still didn’t have the itch or the push to make WoW “my game” again – I am having too much fun in other games that only need my time.

I am being clear here that I actually think the way I look at and feel about WoW is largely unfair in comparison to how I play other games. I am so emotionally tied to the wonderful and terrible experiences I had in the game that I honestly believe that I owe it to my druid to continue his journey to the level cap with each expansion. Then I start having fun and start getting other characters there (as I love the way many different ones play), and eventually the fun turns into a grind that I realize isn’t making it fun anymore, and I step away. Legion was the longest I stayed in any expansion since WOTLK though as it had hit a lot of good places. Even now I am wondering why I didn’t level a Shaman. I had done my Druid (as my main), my Paladin next, my Rogue, messed around with a Demon Hunter, worked on a Hunter… that is a lot. I can completely see how and why WoW is a permanent home for many. It just doesn’t always last for me.

The tipping point to getting back into it?


Sometimes you just need a little push. Being so far behind and no real goals in site (except experience all the updated content, probably get flying, level an alt or two – fu@k here it goes again…) I probably won’t have a lot to report here, but then again, I always find something to complain about.

More Learning by Listening: Critical Role Campaign 2

In my last post about learning by listening I explored the questions that popped into my head while listening to the Critical Role podcast as they played through a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. It was fun and interesting for me to listen in and learn how the DM and players react to different situations, how they use various roll checks, and the descriptive nature by which the DM handles the game. It has been a fun listen in. I am on episode 11 of season one and at a pretty interesting and exciting pivot point for the group – they just completed their main, specific mission they were on but aren’t quite out of the woods yet. The next step will be to see how the DM handles the end of a chapter or break in the excitement. There are still over 100 episodes left, all between 2 and 4 hours in length so there is a ton of content to enjoy. I already feel connections to all of the characters in different ways. It is even more fun and interesting as you start to understand the personality of the people who are playing the characters. It is a very interesting experiment.

I made the jump to pause on the first Campaign and start in on Campaign 2. The main reason is to be a bit more current – there are five episodes out currently so I can catch up easily. I can always go and revisit the first campaign when I am in a holding pattern for new material. The new campaign is with all new characters (but the same players) in a whole new setting so I am not missing out or skipping ahead in timeline. Campaign one will always be there but being a part of something as it happens has it’s own benefits as I can be a part of the conversation.  I am also very curious how things have changed in the mood or style that they play by. There are some big changes and I have not been disappointed. I am going to share my experiences as spoiler free as possible with still getting my points across.

First off – the players are all role playing a lot heavier this time. They are using new voices and themes and have really dug deep behind the characters they are playing. Characters are doing things in this play through that are turning out to be bad decisions but being made for the right reasons – that it is most likely what their character would do in that situation. I respect that a lot but it also makes a lot of things happen that are unexecpected for the DM – which seems to be fine because Matthew Mercer is a very skilled and experienced one. I would have probably been thrown for a loop or two. The group can be a bit “joke heavy” at times in what they are saying and doing but that is who those characters are – and the DM is making  modifiers based off of that. He made a character do a persuasion check, who rolled really high on it – but the words they used to persuade (the way it was presented) was very weak and he mentioned there is a modifier. That is fun and forces players to be sure about what they say and do.  He also pressures them if they are taking too much time to make a decision if there is pressure on (in combat, for example) which forces players to think on their feet.

In this campaign the players do not all know each other and some have had side, introductory adventures to the city they are in – so there is reference and differnt understandings in the three different groups that currently exist. It is a challenge to get them to become a single cohesive group in a natural way. Part of the gameplay is very interesting and almost too open – a card game, for example, where both are attempting (and perception checks) against each other to cheat using sleight of hand. Each player knows the other player is attempting it but the characters don’t (as they both failed). This creates an interesting dynamic where the player knows that the character is cheating but the character doesn’t. How can you balance knowing you should mistrust someone but based on the in game rolls you can’t? There has also been a few times where there have been statements made by one player character to another and the recipient asks for a contested insight check to see if they are lying – and if the player loses the deception check has to admit to the player that they are lying, so the character doesn’t believe them as well. Again – it is just a layered dynamic that forces me to think how I would handle that.

The first episode starts slow as we are introduced to the different players and their small little groups, how they meet, and a central place they end up together where the action really heats up and sets the tone. I believe it was this event that should force them closer. However, the second episode is playing out really slow as the DM has given them a big sandbox to play in with little guidance or instruction and the actions the players are currently choosing is not moving the tale along in any obvious meaningful or tangible way. The DM seems to be really patient here forcing the players to sort through it to move the action along, and I am curious how long that will last before he gives them a big in game hint/nudge to support them. The way it is currently going I have a feeling it could be a lot of circles – but I don’t believe the DM will let it go that far. This episode (#2) has been a bit of a struggle for the players and you can feel it as a listener as well.

I will definitely sludge through this part and I am sure things will pick up. Regardless, it is a great listen and the new campaign is a good starting point for new listeners (or watchers if you prefer – it is broadcasted on Thursday nights and the podcast follows it up the following week). I still am very curious how the old campaign continues and for me it is like having The Walking Dead, and Fear the Walking Dead – two good, related shows, both at my finger tips. I just haven’t decided which is the better one yet – still too early to tell.

In the Shadow of Monsters: Dauntless

I spent more time playing Dauntless when it dawned on me. This is an actual beta. No, not the normal, pay for 95% complete game so we can test and do some minor things but grab millions of dollars before it goes free to play beta, but an actual, game is barely done and things are broken beta. More like an alpha compared to what betas are called these days. Throwing in a gamma for good measure.The Influences of the Monster Hunter series are all around. The slight pause on a hit mid swing to add emphasis and oompf. The advancement of armor, weapons and Monster types. You can clearly tell that the designers were iterating on the Monster Hunter franchise which hadn’t clicked in the Western world. It was  great idea and a great premise. After spending a good chunk of time in the game in the state it is in I am nervous it won’t ever really launch in any meaningful way – or by the time it does, Monster Hunter is already reigning so big and supreme (as it already is) that there is little reason to go to Dauntless. They have an uphill climb.

A bar that you can’t enter. You can’t jump and all the tables are blocking entranceways. Good use of social space

I’m not blaming them as designers or an impassioned product but they are just so far off of anything reaching a semblance of what MHW already provides and they are  a small team with  a smaller budget – doing in essence the same kind of thing. I am sure it can carve out it’s own niche but the basics are so far off that right now that if I were to take a fair guess, it’s a long way away from being anything substantial. I like the art and premise but it’s not even close to what I am reading and watching in MHW.

My list of deficiencies are pretty simple at this stage, and all fixable!

  • Low soloability. If you die, you get booted back to the city. And the things you can solo don’t provide you with meaningful progression – so there is no path to farm the items you need to improve to fight the harder monsters. The items you need to get better are at the same level you are at, not a step down. If I could farm and improve in a solo manner it would be great, but even then the matchmaking has it’s own, game breaking issues.
  • Matchmaking isn’t great for two reasons. One, they have limited access, which I guess makes sense to make sure the hardware and software can keep up. But it is a double kick in the shins because you can’t do anything while waiting for matchmaking. You stare at your loadout screen for 5 minutes, then it forces you into a solo hunt. Which, as my first point points out, isn’t that much fun. Let me run around the city and explore while Matchmaking is doing its thing. Let me talk to people. Let me stay in the world.

I got a new jacket! Swanky.

  • Very linear. Kill a mob type to get the items to craft its specific gear to get strong enough to kill the slightly harder mob type to get the slightly better items to craft the slightly better gear to get strong enough to kill an even slightly harder mob type to get the even slightly better items…..
  • The story stinks a bit. The goal is to protect your city from these monsters. BUT every monster is on a floating island that you can’t get to without a flying machine. They are stuck on tiny, little floating islands with no way to get off. If it was a proper planet or continent I would get it, but really we are just embarking out to hunt caged animals who have nowhere to run.  Like a Lion safari hunt where they feed the prey tainted meat beforehand. There is no urgency or real threat that is apparent
  • No jumping. You feel so glued to the ground that it is painful. Especially since you fly in.

All of the things that are exciting to me about MHW (which I HAVEN’T played, since it is not on PC) is not in Dauntless. At least not yet. There is a good base here to build off of which is good news, but ultimately it’s not in a state you can really enjoy right now unless you are very invested and committed to the dev team and what you hope they can produce in the future. I do wish them well, and I will check back in with patches to see how it is coming along. They are also very active communicators and I do believe they are doing their best with the resources they have. I do appreciate the honest use of the word ‘beta’ for sure and with word that Open Beta is coming “soon” in 2018 I suspected it would be in a more finished state. Looking forward to the next patch to see how far and fast they can move the needle.

Unfortunately – if MHW is king of jungle then Dauntless is a mouse. Let’s hope Aesop was right.

Magic Carpet Ride: Critical Role

The current Critical Role podcast episode I am on is over 4 hours long and they are fighting a Beholder. This is an advanced Monster that graces the cover of the Monster Manual and throws all sorts of challenges at players. The interesting part for me is that I have been learning higher level D&D play and the impact that prior DM choices have on the game itself. Not to put things into spoiler territory but one of the players has an attack that imposes the disadvantaged state to who it hits. That player has successfully used that skill on the Beholder twice in the battle (it’s still not over, I get it in chunks) and while it has been an epic battle that disadvantaged state has trivialized some of the scary things the Beholder can do. (Disadvantage, as explained here at DnDBeyond, forces a player or creature to roll twice on an attack or check and take the lower of the two)

As an aspiring DM this example forces me to think about how I would deal with that situation. I could, of course, just ignore that or impose an advantage situation to the Monster to nullify the disadvantage. I could fake rolls, behind my screen of lies. There are many things I could do to make my big evil bad guy more of a challenge. Truth is, as I think through it, is that that player chose that ability for this exact reason and him/her being able to use it would be highly satisfying – regardless of what intention the DM had. My personal take on this is that the game is there for the players to enjoy and ensuring there is a balance of them being able to have their moment to shine for the group. Giving them a real challenge becomes a bigger difficulty the higher level they get, the more items they get, and the more skills and skill checks they get. But in the end the adventure is for the players and the DM is one to help that enjoyment along.

I have two other examples of things that trivialize some of the game play I am experiencing that perhaps as a DM I would have been very careful not to give players – especially after I see the effects that it has had on the current adventure I am taking along with them. The first is a bag of holding. They have an awful lot of things in there that are convenient to have in specific circumstances but also things they would most likely not have on them if they were restricted on items and weight. The idea of being mindful of the exact items you have for a deep dungeon dive – and the scarcity that could create – is gone when you can throw in the kitchen sink. The Barbarian lost his Great Axe on a bad throwing attack, but no worries, I have a Giant Sword here in this bag too. Chances are he isn’t carrying both if he has limitations.

The second is a magic carpet. I don’t know where or how they got it (must be from a prior adventure!) but the carpet is huge – 10’x15′ and they neatly store it in the aforementioned bag of holding – so it is not an issue to lug it around everywhere. They have already used it three times in the first ten or so episodes to trivialize what would otherwise be a really interesting problem to solve. Of course they are going to use it and I don’t begrudge them to doing so but it makes me very aware that if I DM a group and give them something really good they will use that to their full advantage. So I need to have the adventure prepared to understand how prior loot found impacts future adventures. Again, I believe this is less of an issue in the early game when getting a +1 sword is a huge deal. This is also not as much of an issue if they didn’t have the bag of holding as carrying it around a dungeon would be cumbersome. So the combination of two items makes for the problem, and something I would need to be prepared for.

I personally don’t like how the DM does Stealth checks on the podcast as well because players have a good idea of whether or not their stealth is good. A sneaky rogue that rolls a 5 knows he isn’t sneaking well, and could alter what he does based on the roll. I suspect there is some argument there that they can tell if they aren’t stealthing well (hear their own creaking on boards, etc.) but I feel like if the DM rolled for them it could create some better stories. They think they are stealthed and unseen but are noticed (etc.). If I roll a 2 on my stealth check I will be far more careful than if I rolled a 19. The challenge here is if I should know that or not. I do agree with the idea that players should “own” their own results and rolls and the DM already gets to roll for a ton of things so this is an area I am curious for advice on from people who DM. This is similar to other checks that players can trivialize by hearing what they shouldn’t know. In one episode the DM forced a perception check. It was a low roll, and the person didn’t see the thing. One of the other players (with better perception) went to where that person was and then decided to “look around”. If the player didn’t know they rolled poorly on the Perception check then it wouldn’t have encouraged the other player to go and try and see what they may have missed. I am guessing these aren’t new problems to D&D but sorting through how I should deal with them.

Vox Machina, the name of the group of these adventurers are a fun and varied group of personalities and this greatly enhances the enjoyment I get from the podcast. Their Gnome Bard, Scanlon, sings renditions of current songs and alters them to the appropriate time period or event they are trying to influence and he gets a lot of them bang on and really funny. Grogg plays like a character with a 6 Intelligence, and his actions reflect that. Their Wizard is absent minded and plays the part amazingly. You can tell there are novice players when they are asked to directly role play out a situation – like when Pike, their Cleric, asked for Divine Inspiration for their God. The DM pushed her to be specific on what she asked, and in the tense moment she said something along the lines of “Come help us kill this thing!”. The God didn’t come, and as a DM if she would have been more specific on how and what she said I would have influenced the roll based on that. I already feel like the effort put into how and what is said would influence the outcome via modifier as the roll as well.

I think I am going to jump ahead and get in on the new campaign which is lower level characters. I’ll be able to keep up with the new releases and learn better how to run my lower level campaign ideas, and can jump back and listen in on the old campaign when there is no new campaign material available – as they are releasing weekly. I have never been much of a Podcast guy but this is very entertaining and engaging.

Learning by Listening : D&D 5e

I am on episode 10 of the Critical Role Podcast – that is around 30 hours worth of D&D, audio glory. It has completely taken over my time when I drive to and from work (which used to be reserved for The Economist) – so while I am far less up to date on the global Politics and Business arenas, I know when a good time is to force an Athletics check. Truth be told I somewhat feel less depressed by NOT keeping up on the formal failings of the human race in the world and much happier by the murderous hobo ways of Vox Machina (the party’s name from the series).

As mentioned in a prior post I have been reading the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master Guide, and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. I have also bought (but haven’t started reading) Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and have recently added the Monster Manual. I own most of the source books now outside of adventures. I have purchased all of the material through DnDBeyond.com which makes it searchable and easier to read. I did download PDF versions for free on the Internet, until I sorted out they weren’t supposed to be for free and that I would be getting enjoyment and value out of them so paying is the right thing to do.

Odd pleasure reading for a person who will never end up playing but it has fueled my fantasy thinking. I have even started ideation around and writing down a DM campaign based on a new frontier. It has been fun thinking through how I would design such a campaign and I may tinker around with finishing it up in small, bit sized adventures by size – with all of the tying into a grander plot around a specific geographic location. It is fun to jot down notes and plan around what could be a fun campaign – even if I never run it. Maybe I’ll just make one and put it up for other people to try and get feedback that way. Who knows. I am having fun.

I am on ‘G’ in the Monster Manual and there have been some fun moments on the Podcast where the DM (Matthew Mercer) is describing a monster the party has come accross and it is one that I have already read about in the Monster Manual. In fact, the four I have shown here are those same four and it has been enjoyable when listening to him describe the monsters that I can already pull from memory what they are. That ‘aha!’ moment. Bonus is when I listen how the party chooses to try and deal with them while knowing their tactic they are resistant to (illusion resistance, for example.) I should hurry along in the Manual before he gets to bigger and much badder monsters.

I have particularly enjoyed the sections on Dragons – it goes into great depth about them, their personalities, and how they view and interact with the world. The Podcast is a few years behind so I am not worried about spoilers – and as mentioned they just started a second season but I still have 105 episodes and well over 200 hours of content listening to catch up. I wonder if it would hold my interest that long.

The better part of it though, is listening in great detail on how the DM explains everything, what checks he asks the party to do / not do, and in general how the party forms how they do things and even what they do. It is a great combination of rules and color and since they are all voice actors you get a nice dose of that as well. I feel like I am playing – and learning – Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition just by listening along.

And that is enough and will have to do for now.

You Zig, I Zag.

It feels like the gaming and blogging world is playing one thing and I am doing the opposite. Far from being a hipster but it just feels like when the community is going one way I am going the other. There is nothing wrong with that I just can’t relate to the common experiences in Blognation right now. Many people are playing (or back playing) World of Warcraft with the pre-order up and new races to play new alts with. I can’t be bothered right now. I suspect I will at some point but I am too busy leveling characters in EQ2.

With most of the world playing Overwatch I was smitten with Paladins (until they imploded) and I only played Fortnite for the PVE part of “Save the World”, not for the far more popular and populated Battle Royale mode. I suspect much of you are just nodding your head saying “yeah well, we have been trying to tell you you are out of touch” but that is just age, of course. Mine, not yours. Get off my lawn.

Which leads me to my next grand experiment. In a world utterly captivated by Monster Hunter World I am trying the Dauntless camp.

This wasn’t done fully on purpose. I have been humming and hawwing over Monster Hunter World but do not want to compete with my 12  year old for PS4 time. I do prefer my gaming on PC and that version isn’t out for a long time. I checked into Dauntless Reddit, knowing that it was nearing Open Beta and learned a quick, easy tip there. Keys are currently free through a promotion with a streamer (Light it Up Dan!) if you subscribe. The subscription fee is $4.99 (much cheaper than buying one from the Dauntless website) BUT you can also get a free subscription with Amazon Prime – of which I am one – so I ended up getting my key free. It was easy – you link Amazon to Twitch, subscribe to Lightitupdan, type in !keys in the chat, go to his Discord, connect your Twitch to Discord, and a moderator sends you a key in chat. Took me all of 10 minutes (after the hour it took for Discord to refresh the connection to Twitch) and finally I was a Monster Hunter  Slayer!

The tutorial drops you in with a base “training” sword and an immediate quest to collect some items and kill a Rogue beast – the name I already forget. The art style is very Star Wars the Old Republic. Character creation was kind of fun – you pick a Mom and a Dad from some presets and then use a slider to represent which one you look more like post gene-merge. You can still then personalize, but found it fun seeing the hint of features between the two parental units. The graphics are very crisp and clean and the forest felt alive.

Combat was.. slow. I think that is the best word. You hit a button, your character reacts quickly but the act of swinging a big sword takes time. You can’t stop or dodge mid-swing and you really have to understand the Monster Beast’s tells otherwise he is hitting you and interrupting your big, prepared swings. I didn’t love the delay but I do realize it is part of that specific weapon. Killing the Beast wasn’t too hard but I definitely couldn’t see a health bar or any obvious visual clues that he was hurting. We were just fighting, I got low, ran away until I could sort out how to use a potion, came back, worked on my timing for hits and dodging and then he was just dead all of a sudden. Victoire!!

The city was alive and plenty of quest givers and crafters to help you upgrade your weapons and armors. I explored around a bit and even had a couple of lootbox style items to open in a nearby machine. Since this game will be Free to Play there will be a loot box mechanic at some point. I was always in love with the idea of the Pike weapon and sure enough I had one in inventory (one of each weapon, actually) so I equipped it, upgraded a few things, and decided to go on another hunt – still solo, although groups are recommended.

I wasn’t able to pick which Beast to go for – an NPC mentioned to me to go practice against a similar difficulty challenged monster but in the area I found to pick a hunt I only had one option and several beasts were listed there. I picked it anyway to go see what I could solo / sort through and ran into this turtle-like fire creature. It was really interesting when I first approached it – it didn’t attack, but stayed focused on me and as I moved closer it slowly backed off. Timid to attack me but aware I was there and worried of my intentions. When I got too close he did attack.

It was a good fight. I keep forgetting to check my health and there weren’t any obvious warnings and I ended up dying and getting dumped out of the zone for a failed hunt. I am not sure if I was able to keep the items I had found around the forest or not.

It was fun. It does not have nearly the content or world building that exists in Monster Hunter World – at least not the parts I have read about or experienced on my first play through. I did get a bit of killing giant beasts out of my system and will play it a bit more for sure. If you are holding off on MHW until the PC launch and have Amazon Prime then you really have nothing to lose (and no word how many keys LightitupDan has or how long he is giving them away) so go grab one, and check it out, if slaughtering innocent creatures floats your boat. (That’s a whole separate post!)

*final, interesting note. My Nvidia Experience allows you to take screenshots of games (and videos, but i normally just use screenshots) and it automatically saves the screenshots in a folder of the same name, and names each picture starting with the name of the game. For some reason Dauntless is tagged “Archon” in both of those instances. I wonder if that is a name of the build?

Slay The Spire : Thanks KTR

I often find and enjoy games based on what I read from other bloggers. When Zubon posted about Slay the Spire, a game I already had on my “watchlist” on Steam, I bought it instantly. I had received $150 in Steam Bucks at Christmas / Birthday (same time frame) and it was burning a hole in my pocket. It didn’t take much but his recommendation to pull the trigger.

Side note, KTR was the first gaming blog I really started reading and my long-winded responses to posts there is what inspired me to start this blog. So you can thank Zubon for this post AND this blog. I am using the term “thank” quite loosely, of course. Back to the spire! The game is a card based “dungeon” crawler. You pick a character, get base cards, beat enemies and experience encounters, expand and customize your deck, get items and relics to further enhance the experience, and kill bosses by climbing the spire. When you play a card from your hand, or you run out of energy to play cards, the remainder of your hand goes into discard. When you run out of cards in your pile it reshuffles in the discard pile unless the card is denoted as “exhausted” – which means it can only be played once per encounter. There are no saves and when you are dead, you are dead. There is a heavy element of randomization but after spending a good 8 hours playing it I can vouch for the learning curve and that I routinely get into the third act now (third “boss”). I will go over some basics here to try and help you see if it is something you would enjoy.

First off it is early access – which is prominently displayed throughout the game as you play, to ensure there is no doubt. It has a unique art style that really grew on me and it features a bit of diversity in both the look and feel of the two available characters. The first base character is The Ironclad – a sword wielding, heavily armored, faceless fellow. Red is the color associated with him  and his deck. He has high powered solo attacks and a good base of hit points to start with.

The second, is The Silent – a poison based dagger wielding lightly armored black woman. I have enjoyed her playstyle more although I have had better success with The Ironclad. These are the only two character classes available in this early access period although there is a slot for a third in the future. My hopes is they offer far more. Both play completely differently and are fun in their own right.

I have played both up to the third Act.  Each act is a randomized encounter system upwards through the Spire. The path is fully laid out at the onset of the game and you can plan your route with options for encounters. Standard are “Unknown” (can be anything, often quirky decision based interactions), “Merchant”, “Treasure (which gives a relic that has benefits that reoccur), “Rest” (the only in between node area you can regain up to 30% of your hit points outside of moving onto a new Act), Enemy, and Elite Enemy.

I normally take routes that have options. The second fro the left branches off after two enemy encounters. If I did poorly in those fights it gives me the option to take a chance on a random encounter instead of forcing me into another battle when I am low on health. So far I have really enjoyed the varied enemies and events that I have encountered. You can’t choose the easiest path and be successful – beating regular enemies rewards gold, potions, but most importantly new cards. Elite monsters give relics which can have huge impacts on your deck and gameplay – things such as “every time you are attacked deal 3 damage back” and “start each round with 2 extra energy”. Rests are important to gain health but also you can upgrade your cards instead of the health gain – if you are comfortable with how much you have. Learning the strategy around the map is something you figure out as you go.

The gameplay is simple. You have cards, health, potions (found/looted/bought), gold, relics, and points you can spend cards on. You always get to go first (wonder if that will change?) although it kind of makes sense as you are climbing the spire and choosing your path, you are the one at the ready. The game helps you along by showing “intent” of the enemy. You see above the Slaver intends to attack me for 7 damage (7, red dagger) and also cast a debuff (green swirlies). My defend cards as a base defend for 5, and my Strikes for six. Here I can play two block cards to fully negate the damage (the excess of which does not carry over to subsequent rounds unless I have a card that explicitly states so) OR just kill him so he can’t attack. Obviously the kill is the easy choice. The balance is choosing how much personal health to exchange for how much damage given.

The trick is balancing multiple enemies and their “intent”. Different enemies require different strategies and there are a ton of different ways to play both characters in game. It is a wonderful game in itself just discovering different strategies. And often, with the right choices and luck you get some pretty crazy builds and status options. With The Ironclad for me on my best run to date I had a lot of things line up. I had a relic that gave three damage everytime I gained “block”, and a relic that granted me 3 block every round, AND a relic that gave me the higher level block. So every round before I played any card I would get high level block and damage would go out to all enemies, and a low level block and more damage. Then, any card I played that granted block would do the same – and block conditions are very common in your gameplay. That is a lot of free protection and damage.

As mentioned the art style is very interesting and I am not sure if I missed an intro video or something – but the style makes me very interested in the world and what is around me. A mix of fantasy and mechanical enemies each with interesting attacks, buffs, and debuffs and solid interactions between parties of enemies. There is also a talking Whale at the beginning that gives you a reward if you had success with a boss in your prior gameplay and he mentions “back again?”, so there must be an element of reincarnation or something pushing you to attack the spire in the first place. I need to look harder at that.

This is a good game and I am really enjoying it. I like the permanency of MMOs but the short adventures of climbing the spire and the differences in each journey – with tones of similarity for comfort and expanding your skill – makes for a great experience overall.  I am curious if they would ever do a party mode (would be interesting) but the biggest thing I think it is lacking is that it should be mobile enabled. The graphics don’t really move (you never swing your sword, for example) and because they are very art-canvassy (ie: low poly?) simple shapes it would work well on mobile. Perhaps that is in the cards in the future as well.

It’s under $15 USD and a bargain at that price.

I Don’t Get It: Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms

With my current D&D obsession and clever Google marketing I “somehow” “managed” to get “randomly” introduced to a new D&D game – Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms. It’s on Steam, it’s Free To Play, so why not try it, I thought.

The game is simple enough. It’s an automatic side scroller. You choose the formation of your group, which heroes you buy (in what order), and which to upgrade (and in what order). There isn’t much to it and early on there isn’t even really that much choice. The second champion costs 50, the third costs 1000 and the fourth costs 25,000. By the time you get to the eight it is 10 TRILLION for a new champion. I have only unlocked that champion once.

The game kills and loots for you. Once you complete the objectives of the round you go to the next area. The areas are varied and so are the enemy types – and there is a “story” to each level (and group of levels). Every 5 levels there is a boss fight. On “autopilot” the game moves you forward to each area your party is able to win. If you “lose” one, it puts you one level back and stops auto-levelling you – but continues to kill and loot. When you check back in on your group you have a lot more gold and a lot more upgrades to go. Keeping progression “efficient” means quick check ins earlier in the game. The further ahead you are the faster the gold drops.

With all the talk of “automatic” that isn’t to say that there isn’t a decent amount of strategy here. The top left corner shows your total gold and total group DPS. Each character has different types of attacks (solo, cleave, single hit spell, multi hit, etc.) and each has different buffing conditions. The Dwarf, for example, buffs everyone’s damage in the same row as him. The game makes you choose later on whether to increase that buff, or increase his personal damage.  Some get increased damage by being around multiple classes, or in the front row. Some buff others in front of them or adjacent. There is a lot of moving your party around to see what fits. Some classes heal, some buff, there is a lot of diversity here.

There are active “ultimates” for each character which you can unlock. These require active participation. Mostly they are used on boss battles (and often trivializes them). Still – there really isn’t a losing condition in this game, only a “waiting” condition in case you need to grow in power before trying again. The game is neatly organized into 5 level chunks with a boss battle, and chain those into “campaigns”. When you beat a campaign, advanced options open up to do it at a higher level. Or, you can keep the party running through the same one (to amass more gold and loot!). It is the neverending story, D&D edition.

Things do get hectic and strategics that work on one map may not work on another. The game gives you three “quickslots” to auto-arrange your team into pre-defined formations. I have done that to focus on multi target vs single target (boss) for example. Sometimes the party gets overwhelmed if you have most of your damage stacked on the single target side, since each hero only attacks on a predetermined swing timer.

Progression is simple. Every time you beat a campaign you have to start from scratch again. The good news is that you get a percentage gold growth to start with based on how much you collected in the previous campaign. This is cumulative (at the time of this writing I get +1056% gold. Instead of one gold at the beginning per kill, well, you do the math!) This makes the repetitive nature a bit less painful. As I also mentioned this is a free to play game so they do monetize it via chests. Chests can be bought with in game currency or real money.

Like most chest base games it is a game a chance. And I am going to pause here for a second and smirk a bit. There really isn’t ever a need to buy anything in this game, since the entire game is “wait and get more powerful automatically”. Sure, buying things will increase that (and items are VERY powerful) – but really the whole point of the game is to play by “not playing” so it is really confusing to sort through how this game is going to make money.

The irony is, I did buy a chest. The game is fun. I rewarded the developer with $5. I just don’t see when or how much more I will give more. It’s an easy, fun, little game. You only need to invest so little energy or time, and that corelates with how much money I should also put into it.

The good news is the gear you do get you keep along campaigns and if you get a duplicate it increases the stats / bonuses on the item you already did get. So nothing goes to waste in the game, and I suspect the game never really ends either. It is a confusing, fun little jaunt with personality and progression in spades – you just don’t have to do anything to get there which makes it confusing to me on how much fun I am having. Kind of like checking in on an old high school friend on facebook, “like” the fish they caught with their kid, check back in a month to wish them “happy birthday”, and then scroll through the feed.

There is fun here, just hard to define. It’s free, so why not check it out? Now excuse me, I think I have a few trillion in upgrades to spend to get to the next mission.

More D&D Talk

I have been absorbing a lot of D&D 5e material and enjoying just learning, reading, and letting my imagination play out. A lot of this is much easier with the launch of DnDbeyond.com  which is free for the base information and has some handy, but basic, tools. I read more information about it and the future is to integrate D&D gaming onto Twitch – which makes sense. Not sure of the time frame. I downloaded a few sourcebooks via PDF – and not being a dummy realized that they were “pirated” materials. Since I am not actively playing and just wanted to get a feel for it I felt it was OK. You hard-line anti-pirater types, relax! In this case it worked wonders as I enjoyed the materials so much, and realized I would get some time with them regardless that I bought the digital versions through DNDbeyond.com. It’s a great way to absorb the information as everything is linked. Special spell granted at level three? Hover over it for a quick description or click on it for a far more indepth version. I have spend several hours reading the Player’s Guide, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, and Sword Coasts Adventurer’s Guide. Each expand upon base classes and provide a lot of color.

The fun part for me is making classes via the DNDbeyond creator. It makes it really easy. I have created back stories and personalities for three character class types that I have never played. Two are part of the new materials and the third is a class I was never exposed to. I feel like the versions of them in 5e are great and expand much further on what I played when I was young.

The first is an Oath of the Ancients Paladin. This takes the typical lawful good Paladin (which is now just small part of the class in 5e) and has a nature bend – a protector of the light vs darkness. In fact in 5e they have further expanded on the Paladin class to be far more interesting with an additional 6 Oath types and you must choose one at level three. Gone are the days where the knight in shining armor charges in because they are compelled to, or loses their Paladin abilities because they lean Chaotic over Lawful. That option is still there but there is much, much more.

The second is a Rogue archetype – the Swashbuckler. I tend to roleplay the introverted / focused type but have often enjoyed the fantasy surrounding the master swordsman that ooze charisma. This archetype would be quite out of character for me but it does speak to me in the way that a dashing Swashbuckler would (I suppose). There are 7 Rogue Archetypes in 5e.

The last, is the Monk. And while I am most interested in one of the “standard” monastic traditions (that come with the Player’s Handbook) – the Way of the Open Hand – I like the skills the  Monk gets and the options they can use with their Ki points as a resource.  The “equipment optional” premise works well for me.

I purposely did not explain them in great detail – just teasers – because I want you to read about them if you are interested. Wikis exist so you do not have to buy anything.  The funny part about this is that I have rolled all three in EQ2 to tie over my desire to play those roles. Yes, of course, they are definitely not the same but it is still *something* that is close enough to tie me over. I still don’t suspect I will end up in a D&D game but the more I explore and read the more online options I realize exist – and maybe someday my schedule will support a semi regular adult gaming group for a few hours on a Sunday night. Or maybe it will just remain a gentle inspiration to my own imagination – of which, I do not engage in enough.

Aside from the game materials I am on chapter 7 of The Critical Role podcast – the DM is amazing in that and the voice actors seem to be novice D&D players for the most part – I actually find myself laughing out loud at parts and also sharing in the excitement when someone rolls a natural 20. It is a good way to get a fix in and also get a feel for how the game plays. I am still back in their 2015 adventures but they just started a new campaign if you wanted a fresh start. They cast live on Thursdays, but I do prefer the being able to listen on my way to work version, and I am not sure if I can consume it quickly enough to catch up to them. Nothing like having an embarrassment of riches of entertainment to consume. I appreciate content creators.

Last but definitely not least I can’t talk about D&D without mentioning Eri fro Healing the Masses. She draws maps for D&D and I love seeing her work. If I was a DM or actively playing I would support her patreon and use them – they are great! They do provide a visual to further enhance my imagination. in the hands of a skilled D&D group they would be wonderful.

Finally I have been playing gently in DDO and finished the main campaign in Baldur’s Gate – and am now on the DragonSpear expansion. The combat didn’t really hold up for me like I remember it so I defaulted to story mode. I still control the team during more hectic fights but for the most part it is a story and inventory management game for me – and I am fine with that. I am still surprised no one has come out with a 5e, turn based game yet with the increased popularity of the game. That is where my more likely future lay with D&D.

Hearthstoned Part 2

The last time I played or wrote about Hearthstone was to explain why I uninstalled it. The coles notes is that in an effort to ramp up revenues they ramped up expansion packs, requiring a bigger commitment to buy new packs and accept new meta strategies to remain competitive and have fun (if competitive is fun for you). Still – it’s not fun to feel like your carefully crafted deck with pacing and surprise is completely destroyed by new, standard decks that take little thought or effort to play – and just require a lot of spending to get those decks. That is – rightly or wrongly – how Hearthstone made me feel at the time. That was nine months ago and I had completely forgotten about Hearthstone and didn’t miss it one bit.

Zubon made a post about Hearthstone near Christmas and truth be told I had also read about the new rogue-like dungeon crawler mode they had introduced and on a whim gave it a go. The playmode takes out the pace of expansion issues I hated when I left – you pick a class and start with a preset deck. Each “boss” you beat, you get random card packs in various themes and you get to choose one of three. There are also perks (double starting health, your battlecries trigger twice, etc.) that become standard for the rest of the journey. The game presents you with three randomly and you choose one. The more bosses you beat the more cards you get and the more options you are presented with to further enhance your deck and chances against bigger and badder bosses.

It is a clever way that takes buying decks out of the equation. There aren’t any rewards either though, except for a card back if you win the mode with five different classes. It is definitely an exercise in randomization and fun elements – remember, I am a huge fan of randomization –  right down to the bosses you face and the perks and cards you can acquire. Heck – there is even an “I win or lose” card with a 10 cost – that casts pyroblast repeatedly until you or the boss is dead. This is an actual fair and balanced strategy in the game mode. Getting that card, however, is also completely random. The randomization is good and bad, depending on how you look at it.  First off – all card games are based on randomization that don’t give everyone the exact same set of cards. Go Fish, Crazy 8s, Euchre – all heavy randomized games. They have more rigidity in their structure so the parameters by which you can play them of course. And as much as I am talking about randomization here there is still an opportunity to build really good decks if given the right choices.


I can’t recommend this game or mode to people who have a hard time accepting that you really could lose even if you made the best choices available to you due to the fact that all the choices you are presented with may not have synergies or be optimal. I have lost rounds on the first boss before. Heck, frequently in the top four bosses! Sometimes the cards you are dealt you just have to accept. The good news is that the randomness works both ways and even with poor choice options through the first three or four bosses your fortunes can change throughout the final few as you head to the final boss. This is exactly how I beat a boss for the first time. I was so focused on playing Priest only, as that is my “main” in this game and I was certain that I wouldn’t do as well with other classes. I went 20+ games with not winning with the priest before I decided that maybe it was the class and not me, and maybe the Priest is under powered in this mode and I should try others. And that I did.

The first class  won with was the Warlock (my lowest ranked class from Hearthstone proper), and then Hunter, and then Paladin. The only classes that are lower ranked for me than those are the Warrior and Mage. This is further proof that experience isn’t necessary in a class and you can pick up any of them and give it a go with a chance of success. Heck I now go in order, top down, left to right, in my attempts as I try to win the mode with each one. It isn’t the best game or game mode I have ever played but the completionist part of me really wants to “win” so I keep playing.

I did try some PvP with my old C’Thun deck and it has held up just fine in the lower levels of Hearthstone but I know I will get trampled on in higher competitive play. It’s an easy game to jump into for 10-15 minutes which is the attraction to it – but I can’t lie when I say I am really looking forward to a more meaningful and deep card experience that I am hoping to get with the new Magic: The Gathering game currently in beta. That is the one I am waiting for to really dive into card/deck building games again.

D & D 5e & DDO

I am still in “prep” mode in DDO – I have been gaming mostly in EQ2 but logging into DDO a few times a week to build comfort. I have decided to research less, and go for it more – there too is a very deep advanced mode to spend points in that I have no clue about or where to start understanding. So I just read tooltips and picked things that seemed to be synergistic to soloing. Which is what I plan on doing in DDO until I get comfort. I toy with the idea of starting on a fresh, level 1 to experience the game in the kind of bite sized chunks that are often best learned from the start. I still may do that but the Paladin is the class I am most interested in there, and mine is already level 7. That is a lot of duplication. Sometimes it is more fun the hard way.

I don’t know where or why but suddenly I became interested in re-exploring Dungeons and Dragons. I have often talked about PnP games here and lately I have had a bigger desire to reengage. This is mostly because PnP games don’t suffer from the same lack of imagination as their online counterparts – but come with much heavier challenges to get involved in. You need bigger blocks of time, away from your creature comforts, and your real life has to stop. That is called immersion. Conversely, I can game at home, pause and walk away to change the laundry, answer a work call, etc. etc. Gaming is convenience, PnP is immersion. I wish they were closer to one another. Sadly I am forced (by life circumstances, mostly) to stick to gaming.

I have read the new Players Handbook for 5e, and the Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Both were very enjoyable. I especially like the new spin on classes they have introduced – The Oath of the Ancients Paladin, being my favorite (on paper). I have been reading and absorbing 5e material without an outlet – or likely space for one – but that still has been fun. I even downloaded the Critical Role podcast and am Episode 4. Critical Role is “old news”‘ for most, I suspect, but basically it is some Hollywood voice actors playing out an extensive D&D campaign. Each episode is over 2 hours in length but they are doing a nice job so far. It’s great as a “to work” and “from work” break. It is also a good exercise to understand what works and doesn’t work in a group dynamic. Listening to the first four episodes you realize quickly who doesn’t know when to listen instead of talk, and some need to take a back seat to let others make decisions and try things. I think that is part of a good learning curve for PnP players and people who plan to be.

This, of course, made me look closer at games in the Dungeons and Dragons universe beyond DDO – and I landed on Baldur’s Gate. They have done an enhanced edition (as well as BG2, and the other parts of the universe) and with that as the most deliberate D&D experience right down to rolls on the screen. It is not the latest edition, however, and the graphics are rightly from the era the game was created in 1998. The experience has been streamlined and I have spent a dozen hours playing it.

Sadly my print screen shortcut wasn’t working via steam as it was for my regular gaming and I didn’t realize it so have no screenshots captured – except the above, which was the first unidentified magic item I had found (and put on, without identifying) and it was cursed! Of course in the 2018 edition that shouldn’t be a curse but a benefit – think of the role-playing options for a thief, for example. Still – that kind of creativity and flavor items are what help made this game fun and I remember spending a ton of hours in it back in the day. Curious how the refined version plays through – and in the short term, it’s been better than expected. Anyone who has tried to go back and play XCOM (original) will appreciate what that feels like.

PnP games aren’t really supportive for a mid 40s, married with child, busy body with work and child based activities dominating the adulting required to “make it in this world”. And while that is a shame, it doesn’t stop me from trying new things, investigating and reading further, and still finding ways to enjoy myself. After all much of this is the base of what our MMOs and RPGs were/are made from – and the source material is as good as ever.

Almost Half Way There : EQ2

The other good side to having your blog broken is that the time I would often spend writing was spent gaming instead. I have continued on my EQ2 journey with furor and much attention. Playing an MMO like “the gold old days” again has been a ton of fun. I am playing both on Test and on live (for the extra character slots) and while I have jumped between several classes frequently I have clearly landed on my Warden as my “main”. For now. He is level 48 on the test server and currently following “The Golden Path”, in Lavastorm.

I don’t know what that means, but people always congratulate them so that must be important.

Still, I have spent a lot of time on my Coercer, who is a Freeportian – opposite to my other characters who are Qeynosian – and I find that to still be the biggest barrier. The Coercer has a 6 room prestige home with a patio held over from my live, testserver playing days and I’d love to let all of my characters live there. Seems as though this is not possible – or at least, not easy. This is a bit of a surprise considering how most other parts of the game have been completely streamlined for the player experience. Take, for example, Druid travel spells. The Warden is a melee subclass (when specced correctly) of the Druid class – meaning at level 25 they get the all important teleport line of spells. Many a day were spent paying coin to a friendly druid for such a port. Well, no longer is this necessary as anyone can port if they just  click a bush within a druid circle.

Automation is not just causing lost jobs in the present day.

This is a fair compromise – the Druid still gets the benefit of being able to cast that spell and travel from anywhere, whereas any other player still has to travel to the rings to get benefit. I suspect that the wizard spires work similarly. It is not a big complaint as I suspect with auto port to housing and the like this minor convenience is still nice to have for me, and doesn’t put anyone else out. Still, I am finding that it is the “little things” about the game that still bring me a lot of happiness. The benefits that each race gets is pretty interesting. Take the Erudite, for example, who has a self buff to identify magical creatures. A blue hue for damaging magic types and a green outline for healer types. This is extremely handy when looking for a pet but also is just a clever little fun function. My Warden has tracking due to the half elf racial, and I suspect it is one of the more important ones to have for a solo-adventurer these days. Nice to find the exact mobs you need and/or any named mobs in the area for treasure.

Feeling blue? Good – I’ll charm you. And then you will kill and die for me. This was almost a poem.

I keep getting sidetracked on instances as the Coercer with his charm ability, and invisibility – can get pretty far in exploring and there is a real sense of danger. On a random encounter with a real, live human being on test (which is admittedly extremely rare for me) he tried to explain a self-mentor ‘chronomance’r thingy where you de-level and solo instances for pretty good XP. This would be a better way to explore these dungeons (as long as I can really solo) because by the time I find bosses if they aren’t green I can’t usually win – and if they are grey then there is no loot. And loot is always fun. I will have to explore this feature better to understand it. And by explore, I will just Beetlejuice Bhagpuss here so he can explain it in the comments. Will save me navigating a google system that seems to recognize info from 2009 in EQ2 as up to date. “Bhagpuss, Bhagpuss, Bhagpuss!”)

I love him so much I should marry him. Or her. It.

My new, greatest toy which has completely changed the game for the better is the level 30 mount quest – a Mountain Salaraptor that has an incredibly fun and effective leap ability. I can jaunt across entire zones, relatively safely but much more quickly. This has made the game much more fun AND convenient. I suspect flying mounts will be even better but there is a certain joy of bounding across a landscape, and reaching peaks and areas previously barred from travel. It very much reminds me of the Super Leap ability from City of Heroes, which was amazing too. Another thing EQ2 does exceptionally well is letting you use the skins/graphics you like best. Don’t like the updated models? Turn them off. Don’t like riding a dinosaur around? Equip your horse (or whatever) in the appearance tab – keep the leap, stats, etc but change the model.

My 2H Warden is now a dual wield Warden. LOVE LOVE LOVE

I figured that part out quite by accident – on a forum – but I have always enjoyed playing dual wield characters. Wardens can’t. They can use swords, and blunt, and shields, but not two one handed weapons. This is where the appearance tab shines – I can use an offhand weapon in my shield slot and my shield looks like that weapon. It strikes and swings like that weapon. It does NOT change what the shield abilities do, but just the graphics and the swings. This alone has made me get back to leveling my Paladin as I always played dual wield Paladins in my pen and paper campaign, I just loved the theme of it. Now that I can do that in game as well I am excited to see how that looks. It doesn’t change the core, fundamental gameplay but it really allows me to customize the game to what I want to see and experience. It really is amazing.

Does this match?

It’s probably a really good thing too – or else you end up with outfits like the above. EQ2 does do a good job of varying the sets but you can really tell when a player is in between two. The appearance tab changes this if you can be bothered. Since I am wielding two weapons I feel like it doesn’t matter how bad the rest of me looks.

Now that my “main” is 48 I found two heritage quests – one of which required me to ask for help for the first time, which I thankfully and luckily received from a very happy and willing test server person who enjoyed the change of pace from whatever they were doing. I also ran out of quests in Lavastorm with 4 levels to go before the next “Golden Path” step. I either missed a quest hub or need to go explore more of Norrath. Either way, I am not short of options and am very thankful that I took the plunge to explore this game. It really is easy to come back to, is a lot of fun to play and level in, and there is a lot of depth and interest to hold even the finest connoisseur of MMOs.

And me too.

2017 I HAS REVIEW – Q4

Good news is my site is back up! My tinfoil hat edition is that one day I get a notice from WordPress – sign up for paid backups now! I said no. Next day, a standard, Jetpack update broke my site for a week. Quite the coincidence, right? I am so sad that now I am a cynic when it comes to digital companies, since there are no regulations to ensure they aren’t breaking things for profit. And no, not paying for that service for sure, because, that would mean they would win.

Bad news is not sure if anyone had missed it, anyway =) Yes, I just smiley-faced mid post.

Q1 Post here, Q2 Post here, Q3 Post here

And here is the Q4 post.

October 2017

  • Post Count: 12
  • Games: Destiny 2, Warframe
  • Other Media: Blade Runner
  • Themes: Politics, Single Player, DLC

Mood / Content: Love/hate Warframe/Destiny. In that order. Destiny’s failure to add base features (raid group making) has creating a black/third party market for it. I learned that Canadians don’t have property rights enshrined in our Charter, but that it probably isn’t a big deal because we are supported from other laws. I watched and loved Blade Runner 2049, much only how a big fan of the series could and would. My son and wife were lost on what was really going on but found the whole thing really, really pretty. I bit the bullet and downloaded Warframe for “what the heck” because it was getting a lot of good press. It was so smooth, beautiful, and utterly confusing at the same time, but worth exploring further. I tried not to say “I told you so” when Destiny 2 sales came in below expectations. Which wasn’t a big surprise because it was essentially a step down for Destiny 1 in content. I lamented the death of the single player RPG because it wasn’t a gateway drug for more loot box sales. EA killed the best hope we had for a Star Wars rekindling RPG with that mindset. I further explored Warcraft, their codex, and realized even more how awesome the game was – and still, how confusing. Destiny 2 started losing a lot of players as the realization it is a step back from Destiny 1 but with added loot box sales and was more shallow became reality. Bungie doubled down on silliness by resetting Clan XP every “season”. (ie: shopping season, when they could introduce and sell more loot boxes!). I celebrated how wonderful and incredibly deep Warframe customization was (it has earned the nickname, “Fashionframe”). I explored the differences between User and Metacritic scores comparing Warframe and Destiny 2. Not content to being nice to Destiny 2 (ahem) I called them out for their day one DLC pack – another uninspired, boring jaunt of content that was done before release and should have been included in the base game to provide a bare minimum of content that was severely lacking.

It was a hard month on Destiny 2, I admit it. Warframe made it all worthwhile though.

November 2017

  • Post Count: 10
  • Games: Warframe
  • Other Media: Stranger Things 2
  • Themes: Community content, login rewards, blog therapy

Mood/Content: Serial gaming love. It was all about Warframe in November, and started off the month with a post exploring the very incredible, very cool 700 day login reward – and whether that was fair or not. I then explored the pay-for community created cosmetic system that Digital Extremes had created. I loved Stranger Things 1 but was ultimately disappointed in the lack of detail, intrigue, erm – story, in the second season. Was a bit of a wasted opportunity too build off of the first. OF course, they will cash in, and continue to do so. Look at the Walking Dead show.  I stopped a smelled the roses – admiring the backdrop to Warframe and the various beautiful things I found on my slaughtering journey on several planets. I revisited my blog series of purging draft posts – the fifth in the series – and there is at least one left. Thankfully now I don’t do a lot of drafts, I just write and complete. I never want to make that kind of a mess again.  I was prompted to respond to a randomization article Gevlon wrote – calling for the end of it in gaming – and reflected how much I enjoy  and appreciate randomization. I hit 50 hours in Warframe and marveled about the good in it – and the things they needed to work on. I wrote a piece on modding in Warframe to support him since he asked for some good starter builds. I shared a Warframe video – 100 Days of Warframe – which captured the feeling of a new player pretty perfectly. I made a Warframe specific Christmas shopping list to reward DE for the hours of enjoyment they had provided me and last, but not least, I had to call Destiny 2 out again when it was discovered they secretly throttled XP gains in the game to encourage loot box purchases. The reckoning of government intervention is coming. Gaming companies cannot be trusted to do anything except maximize profits. Capitalist bastards!

December 2017

  • Post Count: 13
  • Games: EQ2, DDO, Warframe
  • Other Media: Calvin and Hobbes
  • Themes: Housing, old games

Mood/Content: Nostalgia is strong. I started off December profiling a couple of my favourite Warframes, Mesa and Rhino, and admired the different ways you could impale bodies in the game. I discovered and subsequently played around with a very cool screenshot mode in the game which more games should offer. I watched parts of the video game awards and was pleasantly surprised there were actual secrets and things revealed for the first time (in a world of spoilers). I found an artist who mish-mashed two of my favourite things – Star Wars and Calvin and Hobbes. I watched, with sadness, as Paladins went the Battlefront 2 loot box mode and lost a lot of players very fast, ruining what was ultimately fresh and exciting with the game. May it (or what it was) rest in peace. I was pulled back into Norrath in EQ2 and found a wonderful, rich, new experience there. This prompted me to look at DDO again and was also very pleasantly surprised. I was even in the same guild from a decade ago. I started my Year In Review posts, and spent many, many more hours in EQ2. Something about the 1-20 experience there – so many new abilities and ways to explore the game. It’s addicting. I became sucked into housing and couldn’t (can’t) stop. I explored some nostalgia in Norrath visiting the new, old zones and experienced all of the refreshed starter zones.

2017 is over and with it I had a lot of fun with the blog. I didn’t break writing, or reading records or anything and didn’t quite stick to my 2x a week posts for the full year – but broken blog aside, had a really strong fourth quarter. I only write when I am inspired to do so and gaming has been good to me. So has this community, which was the biggest part I noticed I was missing when my blog broke – all the links to fresh content and perspectives from my living blog roll.

I am not sure what 2018 holds in store for me, gaming, or this blog but I do know I will game, and write about it. I will also read other blogs faithfully and comment often. I enjoy the interactions that blogging provides no matter how little or much this little corner of the internet generates. I have a dozen or so posts in my head to catch up on with the gaming I have done and experienced lately and well, no point in waiting now, is there!

Onward, 2018. Onward.

2017 I HAS REVIEW – Q3

Q1 post here and Q2 post here.

Continuing wrapping up last year’s blogging and gaming efforts with the July to August calendar quarter.

July 2017

  • Post Count: 3
  • Games: Fortnite, Paladins, Battlenet (early backer)
  • Other Media: None
  • Themes: Against the grain, Feedback, Early Access

Mood/Content: Largely absent! Summer I like to be in, on and around the water. I have a 35′ sailboat, a canoe, fishing rods, camping gear etc. I am surprised I blogged so little but then again in hindsight July was a heavy sailing month. We had lost most of May and June due to dangerously high water levels (so much so the docks to get to our boat were 3′ under water!) and this did not get remedied until mid/end of June (by building new docks on top of the old docks. We sail the Great Lakes in Canada (and the St. Lawrence Seaway) and it was just a year that no one had seen in 30+.  This may have been why I managed to blog regularly in May and June and less so in July. Still, I managed to join and write about the new, early access Battletech game that captures the essence of the board game moreso than it’s FPS counterparts, and was still playing Paladins in a community full of Overwatch players. I spent a lot of time and effort on the main forums for Paladins – something I haven’t done in/for a game in years – and got into petty arguments and was reminded how challenging it is to have meaningful conversations when one or more parties are hidden behind a keyboard (irony not lost, I assure you.). Finally I jumped into Fortnite – another early access title – and was surprised and delighted with the amount of content and layered systems that existed – as well as the general gameplay, graphics style, and premise of the game.

August 2017

  • Post Count: 6
  • Games: Fortnite, Paladins, Destiny 2 (beta)
  • Other Media: None
  • Themes: Birthdays, Cottage Life, Loot Boxes

Mood/content: gone for two weeks every August teaching at a summer hockey school. It’s nice to get back on the ice and fun to see the kids loving life, spending a day at the rink and evenings on the lake. I did a quick vacation post espousing the joy of cottage life. I posted one of my first personal gaming videos – without commentary – to better show the gameplay that is involved in Fortnite (which was still shiny, new and fun. My blog had it’s ninth birthday and I mused around about how 10 years is such a big deal as a milestone, but 9 is largely ignored. I felt warm and fuzzy inside as it was my most commented on post for the year. I started to fall out of love with Paladins (due to League of Legends-esque issues) and Fortnite for it’s cashy and really non-early access state (paying to test an eventual free to play game… what is more dumb than that?). I was screwed by Paladins with unfair and sleazy loot box mechanics and called (and continue to call for) self regulation by the industry – before somebody forces them to do it. Finally in August I did the Destiny 2 beta and once again was completely let down by the sameness, the terrible story, and the fact there is no true first person PVE shooter competitor to show them how to do it better.

September 2017

  • Post Count: 9
  • Games: Destiny 2, Clash Royale , Fortnite
  • Other Media: Best game trailer
  • Themes: Cross platform play, disappointment.

Mood/Content: Disillusionment and disappointment. Destiny relaunched with a 2 beside it but had less content than most of their expansions did. Frustrating when something is so close to being amazing and falls short of all expectations – except financial. It did have the best game trailer (maybe ever), at least. I had a few posts in this month daydreaming that Bungie did something good with the title except stepping backwards, which they did in spades. Fortnite took all of the PVE money thrown it’s way and abandoned the game mode to launch a non-monetized Battle Royale mode to compete with PUBG. The good news is that it is actually really good. The bad news is – the millions of people who supported it for a rich and meaningful PVE experience were pushed aside. Fortnite also clicked a server button which allowed cross console play (by accident) which Sony immediately shut down. I will not be buying a PS5 because of it.  I more fully explored how little content Destiny 2 shipped with and was sad that they held back content knowing they had DLC to deliver. I had yet another rant post (quite against my nature, I assure you) for both Fortnite and Destiny 2. I also started recognizing cash shop patterns in Clash Royale – where they would incent me to buy based on what deck I was using. It’s all dirty money at this point.

It’s clear in Q3 that I found more joy offline than online. I really should try to do that more often.

2017 I HAS REVIEW – Q2

This is building off of my first post reviewing this blog and the year 2017. Q1 Post here

April 2017

  • Post Count: 9
  • Games: Andromeda, Hearthstone
  • Themes: Nostalgia, Exploration, Satisfaction

Mood/Content: Fully immersed in Andromeda the entire month. Everything about this game improved on the first series. Yes, everything. The gameplay, the RPG elements, the abilities, and yes, even the story.  I know Andromeda received a lot of criticism. Much of it justified. You can’t be this big and ambitious and not make a few mistakes. Unlike many people (clearly) I played through the first three Mass Effects prior to Andromeda launch and what a jumbled, often unplayable mess it was. Yes, it was a beautiful mess – but so was Andromeda. Unfortunately the inaccurate nostalgia of what Mass Effect 1-3 was put undue expectations of what Andromeda could have been. And now we will likely never know. April was speaking of those improvements, being fully engaged and surprised with Andromeda, explaining why I uninstalled Hearthstone, discussed pacing in games, was enthralled with the planets created in Andromeda, was sad when I finally finished the game, and was ultimately looking forward to trying something new (or old, as I sorted through potential games to follow up with).

May 2017

  • Post Count: 7
  • Games: Destiny, Paladins, Overwatch. GW2, The Division
  • Other Media: 13 Reasons Why
  • Themes: Wandering, familiarity, diversity

Mood/Content: Trying to find a gaming home. I started off May back in The Division and my welcome back wasn’t fantastic. I really wanted to finish off the main story but I was struggling with the current missions I was ‘supposed’ to be running. The bullet sponges – having to dump 400 bullets into a human being to take them down – was just pretty silly. I still plan on beating it someday. I jumped back into GW2 and had a lot of fun starting it off, but once again, it just didn’t hook me – even with a fresh start. I had an A-HA! moment with diversity when I finally felt what most (or all) non-Caucasian gamers felt when I realized the protagonists in Prey didn’t represent me – and I actually noticed that. I didn’t play the game (not for that reason) but wasn’t looking for a single player FPS to play. I binge watched 13 Reasons Why on Netflix and loved it, I think it is essential viewing. I was mad when I learned they were doing a sequel to cash in on what they created, instead of letting it stand as the beauty that it was. Trailers started dropping for Destiny 2 and they were terrible and embarrassing, and now with the beauty of hindsight I can say ” I told you so!”. I did, however go back and finish up Destiny 1 which now (again, hindsight) was the proper goodbye to a franchise that had a really good chance but royally screwed it up. I toyed in Overwatch but ended up falling in love with Paladins instead – which for me was a better game in every category, angle, and design.

June 2017

  • Post Count: 6
  • Games: Paladins, Injustice 2
  • Other Media: Instagram, Wonder Woman
  • Themes: Hope, credit where it’s due, customization, prognosticating

Mood/Content: Self congratulatory, shooting things, punching things. I started off June posting about Wonder Woman and how much I loved the movie. While a Marvel fanboy at heart, I did appreciate the serious nature and tone of the DC Universe but felt WW hit at different tones (and out of the park). It touched my emotions in a tangible way. I heaped praise on Instagram for telling me that my feedback actually removed a spam account. This encouraged me to report more spam accounts (I had given up on it, and actually had 50 or 60 spam account followers – I just couldn’t be bothered to report because it seemed like nothing was happening). Now that they did I called on gaming companies to do the same. Blizzard / Hi-Rez / EVERY developer, if I report a player for being a general douche, please let me know when you suspend their account. That will encourage me to help you clean up your community. I started playing Injustice 2 to get my Green Lantern fix and was amazed of how great of a game it was – and I haven’t played a side scrolling fighting game since Street Fighter on the Super Nintendo. It hit a lot of things on the head. Pun intended. I explored Paladins and how beautiful and amazing their customization card system is in the shooter – creating interest and personality to the game. I mused how I suggested to Blizzard in 2008 that they should start selling gold to their own players to combat RMT and give a cheaper subscription option. I was right! Send me royalty cheques! (Yes, even a blind squirrel.. I get it..) I explored more of Paladins, and their lovely statistics reporting system, and how I fared at different roles in the game.

The second Quarter of 2017 had me going from serial game (Andromeda) to lost in space (playing 6-8 other games trying to find my next serial game) to finally landing on Paladins, which, I guess will make up a good chunk of my Q3 posts. I could be wrong, but I did dump 120+ hours into that game and I can rarely get 100 hours in a month of gaming.

It is fun to reflect on the year this way to see where my head and heart were at. Next quarter, coming up soon!

Up to Four Then Back to One : EQ2

I finished my “one character of each armor type” and “exploring all of the starter zones” experiment in EQ2 and it was a really fun way to spend my gaming time during my holidays. Oddly enough, the Dirge ended up two levels higher than the other characters by the time he had finished Timorous Deep – I am not sure if I missed side quests in other others or not – but each ended up in their main city in an Inn room, with their items placed. They all now have a home and I can continue the journeys (of one or more) knowing that I was fair to them. Odd that I feel the need to treat my online characters with care. Oddly enough – they all have quests pointing them to Butcherblock. Is there a single, recommended path on the way forward through that Zone? Do the four starters funnel into it? (this makes me curious if the leveling experience becomes less varied). I did read of a “golden path” quest line once you hit mid thirties, and Butcherblock goes to 35. Perhaps there is just the one path. I hope there isn’t, because I did enjoy the differences in getting my stable of characters through the varied and interesting zones. Technically, there is still the “original” levelling experience through Freeport and Qeynos. I say “technically because I am unsure if that has been updated to be as smooth as the others.

all items from just doing the story line

The best housing haul (housing items just from questing) hands down goes to the Dark Elves. Look above, all of those things were just from running the starting area. Weird though, the outdoor tent and other items feel very “outdoor prestige zone. Compare that to the haul of the Dirge, below:

also the same. Far more boring!

Four books, a steam machine, and a trophy. Seems like a rip off compared to the Dark Elves, but then again – the DE are probably far more pompous, right?

While it is fresh in my memory, I have different impressions of all of the starter zones. I have different rankings of the four zones for different qualifiers. For example, in terms of story, I would probably rank:

Frostfang Sea – Darklight Woods – Timorous Deep – Greater Faydark

Smoothness of the questing experience (lack of backtracking, easy to navigate, etc) would be in this order:

Greater Faydark – Timorous Deep – Frostfang Sea – Darklight Woods

Housing Items received would be:

Darklight Woods – Frostfang Sea – Greater Faydark – Timorous Deep

Gear Quality received would be:

Timorous Deep – Darklight Woods – Frostfang Sea – Greater Faydark

All of those are very subjective, of course. Just how I felt. I didn’t add up the gear levels or quality. Each had varying named bosses to fight (which I always did when i found them) and those bosses could drop a boring old treasure chest, up to an Ornate one – which had superior loot. That was the luck of the draw.

Since all roads lead to Butcherblock it’s an easy next step. I am still a bit torn on the Paladin or Coercer for this next leg of the journey, but am going to start with the Coercer and see how it goes. I am excited to see what happens next.

On a side note – I hope there is a “shared house” option for your characters and alts where they can all decorate their own rooms and areas and share them all. That really is my hope as I suspect at least two will not see much play as I do want to “catch up” to modern EQ2 eventually – and a little focus will help there. I also have my year in review posts to finish, so experiences with DDO, and my year looking forward posts to complete. I see a lot of blogging to start the year but none of it will be very timely. Whatever inspires me to write will be the subject matter. Also looking for suggestions on best way to give Daybreak some money, they deserve it! I am sure their purchase options will be as interesting and opaque as many of their in game systems. I mean that in a good way.

I am glad to have taken the jump in EQ2, it has been a nice experience.