Regularly Playing: April 2019 Edition

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It has taken me until this morning to actually get around to writing one of these, but by god it is still april so it still counts in continuing this streak of posts.  I am notoriously bad at actually keeping a series going, which is weird considering I did the whole daily posting thing for over three years.  For those who are just tuning in once a month I attempt to true up my sidebar and talk about the games that I am actually regularly playing during a given month.  Some months there isn’t much net change and then other months we basically wipe the slate clean.  This is going to be on of those first types because a lot of things changed this month.  Without further stalling…  lets rip the band-aid off.

To Those Remaining

Dragalia Lost – Android

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I cannot believe that of all of the titles I was playing last month… that this is the only one that is still kicking at the end of the month.  Dragalia Lost has been going strong for me pretty much since release,  and in part it does well with me because there is always another event just around the corner.  Right now we are in the middle of an event that crosses over characters from the Fire Emblem series that came along with a big patch that changed the way that summons work.  No more useless Wyrmprints and now we can simply buy the ones we need from a vendor.  I play this every night before bed and at a minimum do my daily activities until I reach the point where I am just about to drop the phone…  at which point I plug in the charging cable for the night and go to sleep.  It has become a part of my routine, which means it is probably here to stay for awhile.

To Those Returning and Brand New

Diablo 3 – Switch

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This one never stays off the list for very long, which is in part why I am generally so hesitant to remove it when I eventually do.  There is a new season coming up and I fully expect to get re-engaged with this title during that time.  As to which platform I do it on is another decision point.  Right now my usual partner in crime does not have the switch so more than likely we will be teaming up on the PC.  I do however kinda want to make my way through a switch season and try to earn a bonus bank slot in the process.  I wish to all that is holy that I could just link my switch copy to my PC copy so I could sure rewards.  Cross play is a thing that is needed more than probably any other innovation in gaming.

Final Fantasy XIV – Console

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Another game that does not stay off the list for terribly long is Final Fantasy XIV.  I am not fully engaged with this game at the moment, but I did come back and finish all of the story content.  Since then I have been languishing a bit at trying to find something to draw me to the game and hold me there.  Most recently I have started working on beast tribe quests because who doesn’t love mounts.  I know I will return in full with the expansion because I always do… but for the moment I am struggling to find purpose.

Grim Dawn – PC

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I am not entirely certain if this game has ever made one of these lists but I have played it off and on since its initial early access release on Steam.  It only took me until recently however to actually fully engage with the game and find out how damned good it is.  This would be my replacement for Diablo 3 entirely…  if it were simply better at providing interesting multiplayer options.  That said I greatly enjoy what the game does give me, which is a largely single player experience that lets me pour my mind into it and watch fountains of loot explode around me as I do.  If someone was looking to get into an ARPG… this is now the title I would probably point them towards.

Magic the Gathering Arena – PC

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A brand new expansion has released and as a result I am back engaged with Magic the Gathering Arena.  War of the Spark promises to add a ton of new planeswalkers…  36 in fact…  and have the final conclusion of the whole Nicol Bolas storyline.  I was nowhere near as engaged with Ravnica Allegiances because none of the guilds included were really my jam apart from Gruul and maybe Orzhov.  Whatever the case I never really got super into what was happening and faded away from the content for a bit.  With War of the Spark however I am back in full and enjoying the experience…  and at the same time starting to do some direct duels with friends with the prospect of playing some weird decks in the future.

Marvel Future Fight – Android / PC Emulator

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I have been playing an excessive amount of this game lately, and it shocks the shit out of me.  Firstly this journey all started after being nostalgic about the Marvel Heroes ARPG by Gazillion and looking to see if anyone had managed to come up with a private server option yet.  In one of those threads someone mentioned that Marvel Future Fight on mobile devices was the closest that we had to that game…  which lead me to download…  and the rest is more or less history.  It feels weird for me to be playing a mobile game in place of other games…  because that is a barrier that I never quite crossed before even with Dragalia Lost.  Mobile games were something I only did when I did not have ready access to other platforms…  this I am playing on an Android Emulator with WASD controls like a traditional PC game.  The free-to-play-ness can be really annoying at times, but I am carving out whatever enjoyment I can get from it until this whim passes.

Mortal Kombat 11 – PC

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I’ve been having a strong itch to play some fighting games and I think it was brought on largely by the advertising about Mortal Kombat 11 making me nostalgic about my arcade rat past.  I am also dabbling a bit with Street Fighter V and some other games…  but more or less MK11 is the only one I am playing often enough to add to this list.  I even went so far as to pick up a Fight Stick as I talked about yesterday.  I’ve missed fighting games… and while I am nowhere near as good as I once was…  I want to regain at least some of those skills.  I will never be competitive…  but I figure I can still eek out some enjoyment.

Outward – PC

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I played this obsessively for several nights in a row and want to return to it.  I wrote at length about how this game reminds me of the way that Everquest used to make me feel.  I’ve been distracted by other games but I am adding this on the list if for no other reason than to remind me to return to it.  It is a very interesting title and one that I want to explore some more.

Star Wars the Old Republic – PC

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This is a title that I was not expecting to add back to the list anytime soon…  but Star Wars Celebration caused an upwelling of Star Wars nostalgia leading to me playing some of this.  When I last played I had finished the Fallen Empire storyline, and coming back I picked right back up with the Eternal Throne.  Now I am working my way slowly through some of the post Eternal Throne content, of which there are several patches worth and several new areas that have been added to the game.  So far I am really enjoying myself and it is making me want Ammo to do another “Belghast” this time my Jedi Guardian in the armor set above… that I scrounged hardcore for at release because I loved the look of it.  The storyline in this game is still really damned good and it does a pretty good job of scratching that KOTOR itch.

To Those Departing

Anthem – PC

Oh Anthem…  what a fraught mess you are.  I spent most of April waiting on the sidelines for a supposed “major” patch to land and fix all of my woes.  It never came, or at least not in the ways that I wanted it to.  Ultimately Bioware made a game that is different from the game that they intended to make… and has yet to realize this.  The other stance is that they could be trying to change the game fundamentally to become the game they intended it to be.  Whatever the case… they built Mass Effect Multiplayer with Flight and Diablo 3 loot…  but with a high end drop rarity rivaling World of Warcraft Legendaries or Destiny Exotics.  That rarity more or less worked in those games because every drop was curated.  Diablo 3 and Anthem  however with random affixes you get a lot of shit items so you need to get a lot of drops to allow you to sift through them to find something workable.  I likely won’t play the game again until the loot is raining down around us…  if the game survives that long.  I am hearing that matchmaking is already a ghost town most of the time, so here is hoping they can make significant enough changes to allow those of us who left to return during year 2 and see the greatly changed and improved game.

Baba Is You – Switch / PC

Super cute game and still probably on my list of best games for 2019…  but after the initial desire to play I sorta floated away from it.  I am sure I will return at some point but it doesn’t really need a spot on the list for the moment.

Destiny 2 – PC

No clue why on this one…  but I am just not feeling Destiny.  There isn’t a firm reason other than the fact that I log in and log out almost immediately.  From what I hear the game is in a better state than it has been in a really long time… and I am sure at some point I will make my return and obsess about it once more.  That said I am just not into it so I am letting it slip off the list.

The Division 2 – PC

Again I am not sure why… but I never latched onto this one as hard as I thought I would.  For awhile I was using it as a methadone for Anthem…  and then I stopped using it at all.  I am sure at some point I will cycle back around to this one but I might simply be “looter shooter”‘d out for the time being.

Pokemon Go – Android

This one ends its very long streak.  I still technically crack it up every so often, largely to hatch eggs…  but I had four eggs ready to hatch and I let that notification go for two weeks before actually doing anything.  It is a perfectly fine game, and if I engaged with some sort of a community I would probably get into it more.  I am trying to increase the amount of activity I am doing as a whole now that it has warmed up so it might have a resurgence.  That said…  my TicWatch tracks my activity without me actually having to open the app so I admit that was a nail in the coffin for this game.  Out of sight and out of mind…  you had a good run PoGo.

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Fight Sticks

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I’ve been going through a little bit of a fighting game renaissance lately, especially playing them on the PC with the release of Mortal Kombat 11 and diving into some Street Fighter V on the PS4.  I cut my teeth on the 90s arcade scene playing a lot of Street Fighter, Samurai Showdown, Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct.  However as time went on I faded away from that and dug more and more into PC gaming…  eventually joining the cult of gamers tied to our MMORPGs.  In that time fighting games have evolved and changed, and while I no longer have the reflexes that I once did I have wanted to regain a little bit of my youth.  One thing that I noticed while playing these fighting games on my Xbox One controller that I use with my PC…  is that my hand would get really tired really fast after trying to do the combos.  This lead me down the path of looking into getting a proper fight stick.

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For the uninitiated… fight sticks vary wildly in price and quality and it is entirely possible to drop $500 on a custom made stick with the best arcade components.  After a bit of research I started to notice that many of the custom builds I was seeing centered around using a Mayflash fight stick as a base and then adding additional components to it.  Mayflash is a chinese made budget fight stick that accepts universal arcade components and ships with its own Sanwa-knock-off buttons and joystick that I figured would serve fine for my purposes…  but give me the ability to upgrade later if I saw fit to do so.  Ultimately there are two models available… the F300 which seems to be more compact and probably ideal for smaller hands…  and then the F500 which I ended up getting which has a more spread out design ideal for my stupidly large hands.

The best part about these is the fact that they are wired to support pretty much every console I would ever want to play on.  Officially it supports… PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, Android, Switch and the NeoGeo Mini.  There are probably some others that it actually works fine on as well.  The support for PS4 is a little janky because it requires you to connect an official PS4 controller to the fight stick that then uses it for pass through authentication with the machine.  All told however it has been amazingly simple to get it up and running with the platforms I have tried it on.  The F300 tends to go for around $60 on Amazon and the F500 for around $80…  however I managed to find an Ebay Buy It Now F500 listing with free shipping for only $55 so your mileage may vary.  The weird thing about that… is it shipped from Amazon so I am guessing it came from Mayflash directly that was running some sort of an Ebay Special that I legitimately got the last listed copy of.

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One of the nice things about this particular stick is the fact that it came with both a Square Gate and an Octagonal Gate.  I’ve swiped the above image of two Sanwa gates from the Shoryuken forums to use as a reference… because I am not sure it will make sense entirely without seeing them.  Essentially joysticks that came from the west and those that came from Japan evolved differently during the arcade boom.  While our 8 way joysticks got a distinct 8 point restrictor plate with a tactile divot for the shaft of the stick to bump into denoting which direction it was currently facing…  the Japanese sticks simply took what was previously a 4 way diamond shaped restrictor and rotated it to create what would eventually serve as their 8 way square restrictor.  Almost all of the mass produced Fight Sticks on the market come with a square gate, as the hotbed of fight stick production is still Japan.  However these feel really awkward for those of us who grew up with the octagonal gate design and the very first thing I did to my stick was pop open the back and change these out.

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After having done that…  and seeing how easy it was to swap parts out…  it has made me daydreaming on Focus Attack about other modifications I could make to tweak it…  and then being sad at how much additional cash it would ultimately wind up adding to the price of the stick.  This is how you take a $55 stick and turn it into something closer to $200 if you are not careful.  There is however one mod that I do plan on making soon.  One of the features that Focus Attack has is the ability to download a template for any of the common fight sticks and have them print a high quality laser cut artwork overlay to place under the clear Plexiglas cover that most of these sticks have.  So I took all of the awesome Ammo artwork that I have in the masthead of this blog and arranged them around the template.  Now the question is… do I order this or do I go ahead and swap the buttons and joystick while I am having to crack open and pull it apart anyway.  I feel like I have traveled down a very slippery path.

 

War of the Spark Pre-order Packs

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Today is a weird day as far as days go.  I took the day off in order to go see Avengers Endgame as an 11 am matinee in a hope of avoiding the majority of the crowds.  Past that I got up and around like a normal day but because of the lack of pressure it is meaning that I am doing everything a little big slower than normal since I am not actually required to get out the door and on my way to work by 7 am…   aka the time I am actually starting this blog today.  Yesterday was the beginning of War of the Spark on Magic the Gathering Arena and with that I finally got to open my 50 pre-order packs.  If you are playing Magic the Gathering Arena you too can also get three free packs by entering the new “PlayWarSpark” code.  On a whim I decided to stream opening the packs last night and I am super thankful to a bunch of people who tuned in to watch and comment on my pulls.  I love opening packs, and honestly so far I am really liking what I am seeing of this set.  If you are curious you can check out the full opening over on my YouTube channel or through the Twitch VOD.  Be warned however with the VOD there is a bunch of faffing about with sound levels early on that I cut out of the eventual upload to YouTube.  If you are simply curious about what I pulled I exported the list to Google Sheets including everything I currently have from War of the Spark including the 50 pre-order packs and the 3 free packs that you get from the “PlayWarSpark” code.

This morning I am going to talk about a few of my favorite cards so far from the expansion.  Please not that I have deep ties to green and black and as a result am mostly going to be talking about the cards that I know I will be playing.  I can already tell that I will be building an amass zombies deck sooner or later.

Leyline Prowler

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What is not to love about this card.  It is a 2/3 for 1BG with Deathtouch, Lifelink AND is a Bird of Paradise.  It allows you to be offensive with it when you need to…  but if for some reason you can’t be…  you can tap it for mana.  It is a weird card but man do I love it.  I think mostly I just love it because it is a standard legal bird of paradise that happens to be in my favorite Golgari colors.  Even if you take the tap effect off of it…  2/3 with deathtouch and lifelink for 3 seems really good.

Banehound

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This is another of what seems to be a stupidly good common card….  its a one drop black 1/1 with lifelink and haste.  Sure this probably does not matter at all if you are not getting this on turn one…  but still it seems like something worth playing and probably godly in sealed.  It is going to add a lot of turn one pressure I think.

Duskmantle Operative

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Another one of the really good commons I think is Duskmantle Operative.  You get a 2/2 for 2 that cannot be blocked by creatures with power 4 or greater…  which probably won’t come into play when you are actually dropping this on the board but later in the game it might be useful.  Definitely playable in sealed, potentially less so in constructed…  but I still like the card.

Eternal Taskmaster

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So the initial problem with Eternal Taskmaster is the fact that it enters the battlefield tapped, meaning you are going to get this a turn later than you probably want it.  However still a 2/3 for 2 seems pretty okay…  but why you would really play this is for its effect.  When it attacks you can play 2B and if you do so return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand.  What I like about this… is it is triggered on attack…  not dealing damage meaning just turning this card horizontal is going to allow you to bring back a creature regardless if your plan actually works.  I view it as a capable early game creature with an optional resurrection card built into the text.

Arboreal Grazer

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Another card that seems just stupidly good is Arboreal Grazer.  Firstly this is a one drop that gives you a 0/3 with reach…   so basically you are just going to use this as anti-air defense.  If it was just that I would probably play it…  but it also allows you to put a land card from your hand into play tapped, adding some mana ramp.  In a Standard format that already has Llanowar elves…  this might not be a first round choice depending on your draw but it would definitely be an alternative slightly slower mana fixing option.

Living Twister

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Now this card sorta falls in the stupid party trick category…  but it might be fun to build a land dredge deck around it.  Living Twister is a decent creature for RRG at 2/5 but then has the ability to plink any target for 2 by discarding a card and spending 1R.  Additionally you can pay G to return a tapped land you control to owners hand… giving you potential fodder for the first ability.  It has a lot of weird use cases, but I still think if you are running this you will want to build a deck around setting up a condition where you can keep pulling lands out of the graveyard and throwing them at your opponent for 2.

Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord

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I’m only calling this one out because at some point I will be building a Castlevania deck full of white/black vampires with Sorin as the focal point.  Vampires are already good but if you can dredge up a creature from your graveyard and turn it into a vampire along with the other types that seems interesting… and worthy of building a weird deck around that mechanic…  and then using the various Ixalan block cards that buff vampires to make it stupid.  I’m not entirely certain what I will be doing with it but it should be fun…  also Sorin is absolutely Alucard.

That was mostly just a first pass and some of the cards that I will probably be playing around with.  Again if you want to see everything that got opened I am embedding the youtube video.  So far I think War of the Spark looks like a fun set.  I might do some sealed later and see what it feels like in a more limited environment.  My big takeaway is that I think aggro decks are going to get a lot of fuel for early game with cheap powerful creatures.

Marvel Future Fight Thoughts

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Lately I have been feeling fairly awful, which is leading me to vary my gaming patterns a bit.  The last few nights I have been heading to bed earlier, but not necessarily because I am ready for sleep…  but more because I am tired of being upright.  Additionally my wife has been drained as she is entering that end of the year rush….  and when she decides it is time to sleep I tend to follow her to the bedroom as well.  However since I am in a state of not quite ready for sleep I have been looking for activities to do on my phone.  Dragalia Lost is still great and still something I pretty much play on a nightly basis…  but since we are between events I do my five or so daily activities and then pop right back out of that game.  As such I have been looking for new things to try and recently landed upon Marvel Future Fight, in part because I have been nostalgic about Marvel Heroes the Diablo-esc action rpg that was cancelled a few years back.  In a post about Marvel Heroes someone mentioned that Future Fight was probably the closest thing that was currently available…  which peaked my interests.  Future Fight is not exactly new however as it is currently celebrating its 4 year anniversary with an event based on Avengers Endgame.

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Effectively it is an Action RPG where you build a team of characters to bring into the content…  but only actually control one of them at a time.  Each champion of sorts has a basic attack and a range of abilities that can all be powered up.  I am weirdly playing Morgan Le Fay in part because I had read she was one of the easier characters to get through the main story with…  and seeing as how my mobile skills are still not amazing I figured I needed all the help I could get.  At various points over the last couple of days I have been given free unlocks…  and have wound up building a team that consists of Morgan as my main and Sharon Rogers and Shuri as my alternates.  Ultimately everything appears to be gated based on where you are in the story, and as you progress through you unlock new options…  which in truth seems to be a common design for mobile games in general.  To some extent Dragalia Lost does some of this with various things unlocking as you reach different chapters in the primary story.  The missions thusfar involve running through a few small areas, encountering a boss… and then getting some story afterwards and usually unlocking whatever character you just fought as something that becomes playable.

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So far in my experience the character unlocks appear to be plentiful, however the vast majority are all “one star”, which means that they are really not that usable until you start pouring resources into them.  I’ve played two nights… and already have an arsenal of 15 characters that have been unlocked and are playable.  Among that mix is 4 6 stars, 4 5 stars, 2 3 stars and 5 1 stars…  and I am not entirely certain if this is always the case or if the escalation of six stars is somehow due to the fact that there is an Avengers Endgame themed event happening right now.  As is almost always the case I am probably going to stick with the same core team before I start messing with other characters.  As you work through the main story you are effectively ranking up Captain America, Ironman and Black Widow…  that begin as 1 star champions but now that I am halfway through chapter three of the story are up to 5 stars.  I am somewhat assuming that before long they will be 6 star champions giving you three freebies in the process.

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The only real negative is that Future Fight is what I would refer to as a “very free to play game”.  What I mean by that is you are constantly having “special offers” thrown at you, and this game seems to go one step further than most.  When you cancel out of one of the offers you are occasionally greeted with a message that states you will not be able to get this offer once you close the window.  In the case of my screenshot above it is simply advertising something that already exists in the store…  but those “limited” offers are there to try and invoke FOMO or Fear of Missing Out.  If you are susceptible to this sort of twisting of your arm…  then it might not be a game you want to try.  In all truth there is a past version of me that would have been turned off massively by it…  but now I am mostly apathetic about it and just accept it as part of the price that comes with playing games on your phone.  They all seem to do something like this in one form or another… with the only real exceptions being the ones that are released by Nintendo and their advisement to not abuse the users.  In the end… Future Fight is a fun time waster and fills the bill of laying in bed and messing around on my phone.

Mortal Kombat 11 – Early Thoughts

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Yesterday Mortal Kombat 11 released and I spent some time last night playing it.  Warning there will likely be spoiler information included in this post, but seeing as I have not gotten terribly deep into the game it won’t be very complete.  One thing you need to understand about my psyche is that I was a fighting game arcade rat.  During my High School years the world was having its renaissance of fighting games that began with the release of Street Fighter 2 and continued through until the franchises evolved into 3D and the arcade construct as a whole eventually petered out after my college years.  That time however was one of mystery filled with random messages scrawled on the proto-internet message boards like those of CompuServe and AOL and a heaping dose of misinformation.  I still remember the day my local arcade… and by local I mean one thirty minutes away from my house…  got one of the beta boards for Mortal Kombat II.  It had a limited set of characters and only a handful of fatalities introduced in the game…  but we hungrily devoured what content it did have trading home made guides with each other to try and level the playing field.

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From the very beginning I found myself drawn to the lore of this world and its weird inhabitants.  Mortal Kombat 1 was a fairly dry game that was more or less a straight rip off of Enter the Dragon.  With the second installment in the franchise they expanded this lore to include the Outland a realm which the Earth Realm was in a constant struggle for domination.  Only through the rules of the tournament were we the players able to keep this other realm at bay and from invading our own.  Then with the third installment of the game…  we learn that unlike the first tournament…  we didn’t actually win.  This was crazy for me to wrap my head around at the time…  because here was a game that was telling a narrative through a fighting game that had both an official canon that was different from that of the player “heroes journey”.  It was always trying to do something really unique and cinematic with its storytelling that other fighting games at the time were not, and I appreciated that.  However as my personal tastes changed I found myself exiting the Fighting Game genre and moving on with my life… eventually getting engrossed in MMORPGs.  There was something however about what I had been seeing surrounding Mortal Kombat 11 that made me want to pick the game back up and see what the story mode was like.

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Time has passed and a new generation of characters is effectively taking the place of some of the names I recognized.  The long canon relationship between Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade apparently bore fruit in the form of a daughter named Cassie.  Similarly we are introduced to the daughter of Jackson Briggs (Jax) named Jaqui who happens to serve in the same defense force unit as Cassie under the command of Sonya.  The opening scenes of the game revolve around the family connection and how in order to get her promotion to Commander…  Cassie has to defeat Sonya in combat.  Then bam…  we are immediately and seamlessly transitioning into the fighting game with no real pause…  the camera rotates and the familiar 2Dish playing field is presented with the combat bars overhead.  The game controls pretty much like I would expect a Mortal Kombat game to control and before long I was able to pick up some of the basic muscle memory of how to do this thing.  Cassie more or less controls like Johnny Cage…  with some tweaks here or there that make it more an amalgam of both Cage and Sonya’s move set.

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What I found most odd about this whole experience is how once you get started you are largely on rails and working your way through a story sequence without any pauses.  Eventually I needed to go do something else for the night…  and it was awkward to find a natural place to break off  the game.  I am guessing the story sequences will pick up where I left off as I get pushed into the next fight.  I made it through the opening sequence which involved a strike on Kitana’s Castle in the outland…  where both her and Liu Kang have apparently been corrupted by Shinnok…  a perennial baddie in the series since Sub Zero Mythologies and natural foil to our own protective Elder God Raiden.  I feel like there is a ton of story here that I have missed over the years… and while I own Mortal Kombat X because I got it as part of another package I never really cracked it open and played it to see how its story worked out.  In theory this first mission was to stave off an invasion of Earth from the Outland…  but not everything goes entirely as planned.

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Raiden is not the person we knew, because he too seemingly is being corrupted by the influence of Shinnok.  You can see he is wearing Shinnok’s amulet around his neck…  but his eyes and lightning attacks now glow red as opposed to the usual blue.  That’s right…  Raiden has fallen to the dark side and is now a Sith…  or something like that.  He still seems to be dead set on protecting the Earth Realm…  but is way more harsh than the Raiden I remember.  The team escapes from Outland back to Earth only to have another player peek her head onto the stage.  We are introduced to Kronika the Keeper of Time who is tired of Raiden’s corruption of the timeline and probably pissed at him beheading Shinnok her apparent child.  So some timey wimey stuff happens and suddenly we have a mix of timelines where characters from Mortal Kombat 1, 2, 3, and other games that I don’t recognize get blended together into one amalgam timeline that allows quite simply for us to play all the things in a single game without having to care much about why.  Most time travel storylines are complete nonsense and bullshit… and I sorta expect this one to end up that way in the end.  However for the moment I am engaged…  but cannot play for long because my muscle memory for a fighting game ain’t exactly what it used to be… and my hand got to hurting after a handful of fights.

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Other random observations…  I never liked Johnny Cage.  He always annoyed me as the consummate incarnation of a dudebro and the rich kid bully “Blaine” character from every 80s teen movie.  You take his same actions and place it in a female character and it is insanely way the hell more tolerable…  so I kinda like Cassie Cage so far.  Jaqui seems an awful lot like her father Jax…  so there is a weird mirror of some of the same dynamics I remember between Jax and Sonya before.  So you get this whole feeling of getting the band back together…  but the band performers are the children of the previous generation.  Based on this game and what footage I have seen of the Injustice series…  NetherRealm Studios seems to have perfected the art of telling a story through a fighting game.  I look forward to making it through the story mode, but I am honestly doubtful that I will ever play this in any sort of a mode that allows the game to go online with other players.  My days of slapping a quarter on the monitor to reserve the next game are well past me…  and I doubt I would come anywhere close to enjoying playing random strangers on the internet.  I do however appreciate a good story told through a vehicle that I enjoy playing…  so this might cause me to go on a renaissance of playing other NetherRealm fighting games to experience more of it.

All in all… I am digging it heavily.  The game is getting panned hard by critics due to the inclusion of micro-transactions but I have not gotten anywhere near enough into the game to be able to judge that.  They are claiming that the game gains currency to unlock things from the “Krypt” very slowly…  but I also remember sitting in our RV at the lake grinding the same tower over and over to unlock randomized coins in Mortal Kombat Deception on the PS2…  which incidentally is probably the last MK game I heavily played.  The coins did not come quickly and it find super grindy to get unlocks…  so I am guessing this game is going to feel very similar.  Those are vehicles for folks to invest more time in the game…  not necessarily for casual players like myself.  There is a really cool customization system that lets you swap out appearances and abilities on various characters which seems like it might be a cool idea…  so that your sub zero might perform slightly different to that of your friends adding a bit of the whole MOBA character design into the mix.  I cannot however gauge how that will work out in the end, because I am just a tiny bit into the game right now.

Jedi Train Heist

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Playing World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV spoil you as a player.  What I mean by that is these are both games with rabid fan armies that keep a slew of websites updated with the freshest information.  Playing any of the other MMORPGs means you are going to be sifting through a minefield of abandoned websites and slightly incorrect information.  Hell even my own website adds to this confusion with my Planet and Bonus Series Level Ranges list…  that was created in 2012 as a way of trying to organize when you should be doing the bonus series and intermingling them with the leveling worlds.  For me… I have just been trying to find an accurate list of what order I should be doing the content story wise…  which causes me to stumble across wiki pages that seemingly have not been updated since 2014.  This was the core problem I also had when playing Rift was trying to sift through all of the debris to find a path forward into actually learning about the game.  Official forums are generally the correct answer but even they end up as a stratified mess of older posts when you dig below anything currently available at a surface level and start doing specific searches.

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Last night I worked my way up to and through the Crisis on Umbara Flashpoint, and can I just say how happy I am for the existence of solo mode Flashpoints.  This gives them a way to expose story content in dungeons without ultimately gating story behind a wall that requires a group to see it.  Final Fantasy XIV also loves to put main story quest content in dungeons and primals…  but ultimately causes you to have a gear check wall to see the next batch of it.  SWTOR on the other hand has been expanded out horizontally for awhile, giving you new content without really bumping up the level or gear requirements.  I have a feeling that I am probably wearing the last gear I need currently that I got through Command Crates, which allows me to just sit there and focus on playing through the content rather than trying to gear up.  I realize that statement I just made is something that the raider me would have balked at…  but as a super casual in this game I love the fact that it is an option.  One of the quests leading up to the flashpoint did cause a really interesting bug to occur allowing me to take the above screenshot.

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That is one word of warning that I have to give is that the game seems to be often times in a fairly buggy state.  I’ve noticed having to be very careful with my companion… especially with the sniper variants because they love to park their asses right out of healing range which means I have to keep dragging mobs back to them.  As such I GREATLY prefer the force user healer options because they will wade into combat with me, but when I am running with a “turret healer” I have to refrain from using my leap into combat.  Another thing that I did not remember is that apparently aggro does not reset in instances?  There are wide areas during the instance that just required me to wade back through a bunch of stuff  that I have already been through…  so I decided to mount up and make a run for it.  However this wound up with me getting everything pulled on top of me and summarily dying as soon as my healer dropped.  It was less than a stellar performance but funny enough when I respawned I did so in a way that allowed me to completely skip all of that trash in the first place…  rewarding me for my bad behavior.

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So far the game has given me a train heist…  which is always going to be cool when it happens.  One of my all time favorite missions in The Secret World is Last Train to Cairo which also… was effectively a train heist of sorts.  This really is a bad ass construct and I am surprised that more games don’t use it.  If I had to guess the train I am on is probably stationary and the scenery keeps being spawned in and moving past me, but I have no clue how they actually pulled this off technically.  Whatever the case they make for really cool feeling missions when you get one of them.  The story still remains to be very interesting and there was a bit of a major mic drop spoiler moment in this…  that unfortunately I had spoiled for me ages ago when I watched the wrong trailer.  I will not however spoil that moment here because if I did not know it was coming… it would have been surprising.  I have my theories as to what it actually means however, because I figure it isn’t just as simple as face value.  Playing this game is making me want to commission Ammo to draw my Jedi Guardian…  in the gear that I fastidiously searched the auction house shortly after release to get.  This will always be his default outfit in spite of all of the other awesome outfits I have for him to run around in.

 

Eternal Alliance

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The extended holiday weekend for me was largely about playing Star Wars the Old Republic and working on the Knights of the Eternal Throne content.  As I talked a little bit about last week…  I got caught up in the Star Wars spirit which lead me to return to the Star Wars game I keep visiting periodically.  Thankfully the easing in period was pretty short and my muscle memory returned pretty quickly for hitting the right combat abilities at the right time.  I would have been completely screwed if my hotbars had somehow gotten reset between times playing the game however.  It makes me realize how much of game play for me is sort of fuzzing my mind out and letting my fingers do the actions on their own.  I think that is in part why I keep setting up various games in the same manner so I just don’t have to think about the controls and can instead focus in on enjoying the story and world.

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One of the things that I am amazed by is just how compelling this game is when it releases new content.  While the early expansions Rise of the Hutt Cartel, Galactic Starfighter and Galactic Strongholds are a bit of a snooze fest…  starting with Shadow of Revan and going forward the game reaches a level that rivals the original main class stories.  There is however a necessary shift from class specific stories to being a more general story that has little nuggets of information embedded for specific classes but not necessarily an entire unique arc.  The logistics of maintaining class specific story arcs is just not viable given the less than solvent state that SWTOR has been in at various times in its history.  Knowing that rocky history however makes me appreciate all the more the content that was accomplished against this adversity.

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When I last played SWTOR Fallen Empire had wrapped up and Knights of the Eternal Throne was just about to begin.  I am very thankful that they have a 2 month pass non-reoccurring option because in general this is about how long it takes for me to get the game back out of my system.  I am a content locust and I swarm back into a game after a large volume of content has been released and then fly away while it regenerates a batch of content for me to visit again.  This time I had the entirety of the Eternal Throne campaign as well as a bunch of side content that takes place after those events.  Which should keep me busy for the better part of this sixty day pass.  Again I would never suggest playing SWTOR without subscribing because the free to play experience is highly frustrating to me because it locks away a number of features that I consider crucial.

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The thing that I like the most about both Fallen Empire and Eternal Throne is how cinematic the content feels.  It is weirdly disconnected from the rest of the game which in itself is a little weird to get used to, but once you have accepted that fact it is really great to experience.  At any point you can pick back up the story by simply hitting the play button in the upper right hand corner of the screen at which point you are teleported into the last step that you left off at.  The only real negative with this approach is that I found it extremely hard to stop playing until I had finished a specific chapter of the content.  I wanted to see how each step would eventually resolve, and along the way there were a few things that probably served to be controversial to long time players…  but made your decisions feel like they had significantly more gravity.

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Now however I find myself in the extremely weird position of having defeated this beat the content and reclaimed the Eternal Throne for all that is right and good in the galaxy.  Then immediately afterwards as I started the next batch of content…  found myself as a Light Side Jedi Guardian…  willfully choosing to align with the Sith against the Republic.  There are distinct story reasons why I did this…  but man does it feel really weird to have made that decision.  I am largely hoping that this just has consequences related to the current batch of content and that I did not actually join the Sith Empire permanently.  Maybe the content that I just went through made me way more grey than I expected, or maybe I ultimately made the right choice given the sequence of events that played out leading me to this decision.  Whatever the case I am embracing it for the time being and playing across faction, which in itself is pretty interesting that they went there as an option.  I am no longer a Jedi Guardian… but instead the Commander of the Eternal Alliance… and have to make the choices that I feel best for the galaxy as a whole.

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I am having a blast visiting all of this content, and it makes me realize that now that I have one of every single class… I could in theory do it over and over again if I so got the gumption.  The Jedi Guardian however will always be the character that represents me, and I like a lot of the directions his story has gone in as a uniter of allies rather than a dogmatic practitioner of an ancient order.  One of the things about Bioware and Star Wars that I loved… is there was always a bit of nuance to a lot of the experience.  They after all gave us Jolee Bindo one of my all time favorite Star Wars characters, and now that Kathleen Kennedy has announced that they are working on Old Republic content…  it is my hope that some parts of this universe can make it into the greater Star Wars story.  For me…  Revan and Bastila Shan is just as crucial and fundamental to the Star Wars experience as is Darth Vader or Boba Fett.  I grew up without placing barriers between what was officially Star Wars lore and the stuff that was excluded…  and now that I have Grand Admiral Thrawn another favorite character of mine I am hoping they swoop in and gobble up all of the Bioware goodness.

Replaying this game has left me with weirdly mixed feelings about Anthem.  Seeing Bioware at its story driven greatness is one thing…  but also realizing that this same studio Bioware Austin is largely responsible for reviving anthem gives me hope.  It also makes me chagrin for what might have been had they given that game enough time to properly cook.  That however seems to be the story of every game that doesn’t quite land solidly on its feet… is that it needed a bit more time to coalesce into its final product.

 

The Eternal Throne

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Commemorating the seventh anniversary of Tales of the Aggronaut I had my good friend and artist I keep commissioning to draw stuff for me…  make this collage of “Bel” characters.  If you are so inclined you can even get it in T-Shirt form with all proceeds going to the artist and zero to me as intended…  I have one hanging in my closet.  The characters pictured present my characters scattered through a bunch of games that were important to me…  from left to right:  My World of Warcraft Human Warrior, My Blades/Shotgun character from The Secret World, Middle top my Exo Titan from Destiny 1, Middle Bottom my Bahmi Warrior from Rift, my Imperial Dragon Knight from Elder Scrolls Online and finally my Lalafel Bunny Warrior from Final Fantasy XIV.  As much as I love this image…  it was sort of awkward to work with over the years and mostly just has to be used as is to adorn my blog’s sidebar.  It also made me shift how I actually requested commissions from Ammo, given that each of the individual characters was drawn as you see them and could not be pulled out or separated from the total image.

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Instead these days when I put in a commission for her to draw something, I pay for her to do something in a way that allows me to break the pieces apart and use them as I need for various other purposes like adorning the website, as channel art or turning into a social media avatar.  The individual comissions are more expensive but I also sorta like to make sure Ammo keeps a steady flow of commission work…  as does Tam who has in total commissioned way more than I have.  While I did not have time to deal with this prior to the anniversary post because work has been crazy… and I was up until midnight on Tuesday night dealing with an outage…  I did finish up the intended collage masthead last night and added it to the site.  The logo itself is a little off center so that it is effectively centered over the block of text and then the image extends out over the sidebar as well.  What you see before you is a bunch of individual commissions that I have composited together.   I am exceedingly happy with how it pulled together even though it greatly increases the vertical space of my masthead.

Once again I will talk a bit about each of them going mostly left to right.  First off we have a more updated version of Bunny Samurai Belghast from Final Fantasy XIV wearing the second version of artifact gear and wielding the glowy Palace of the Dead axe.  Next up we have my default visage from Monster Hunter world wielding the Nergigante Longsword and with my Real Life and in Game Palico Kenzie decked out in my favorite Baan Astronaut gear.  Then in the center-ish we have a commission that Tam actually did, with the goal being drawing how he sees me…  the advisement to Ammo was something to the effect of “Warrior Disney Princess and Friend to Woodland Creatures”.  So you have me heavily armored…  and then lots of buckles to make fun of my love for gear with extraneous straps and buckles…  the House Stalwart tabard to represent the guild that I started so many years ago…  and finally woodland creatures in the form of a bunch of bluebirds that play dual symbolism of me and my “birb” friends in my backyard and the fact that I am always on twitter.  Next up you have my Elder Scrolls Online updated Dragon Knight wearing the cosmetic gear that I generally wear in that game.  Lastly you have a Destiny 2 Sentinel Titan shield charging like a badass…  but with a head that is based on a comic book version of my actual appearance.  Last but not least you have a bunch of Moogles that I commissioned to represent the fact that I am part of the Moogle’s Pom Community team even though I have not streamed in eons due to anxiety issues.  The extra chubby one with the beard and a hoodie resting on the logo is the one that actually represents me.

There is an awful lot of symbolism packed into a single image… and while it is extremely busy… it also represents this blog.  I am constantly swapping between games and also giving a dose of myself with each post.  The only regret that I have and this is minor…  is that I sort of wish that I would have had Ammo draw Kenzie and Monster Hunter Bel completely rather than as a single composite image.  I could have faked it out… but it would have been nice to have Kenzie overlaying the logo a little bit to add more depth…  but I am not sure if it would have made visual sense.  I kept the placement of Bunny Bel and Titan Bel in largely the same location as the previous logo more or less on purpose because I thought they made good bookends.  The only problem is…  I already have a bunch more character commissions that I want in my head…  so I fully expect this to evolve over time.  Before I plug Ammo again… I feel like I have to state once more that when I post links to her stuff it is completely unsolicited and it is just the fact that I am a huge patron of her creations and want to spread the word.  Saying that… here comes the link dump of where you can find her (thankfully I already did this in a post and can just copypasta).

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Finally for some actual game related stuff…  I have been playing some Star Wars the Old Republic of late and I am currently blaming Pete since he was talking about it on twitter.  More honestly I think I am being influenced by what I have called the BlizzCon Spirit, but I feel like I need to explain that.  Each year around BlizzCon time I find myself getting enthralled by Blizzard products.  If I am not currently playing World of Warcraft at the time of the convention…  then I find myself playing it shortly after.  Similarly we recently had a whole bunch of news come out of Star Wars Celebration in Chicago…  featuring a trailer for Star Wars Episode IX, a trailer for the Respawn game Jedi Fallen Order, and some leaked footage from the Disney Plus Mandolorian Television Show.  All that goodness in one place has produced a BlizzCon spirit like effect in me…  which is not shocking given that I went through a massive renaissance of Star Wars the Old Republic leading up to the release of Force Awakens.

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When I last played I managed to push my way through a bunch of the new content and through the entire Fallen Empire campaign.  However Eternal Throne was brand new content and I did not hang in long enough to actually start on it.  So Tuesday night after getting home from work… I patched up the client and started working my way through the Knights of the Eternal Throne expansion.  I am taking it pretty slow, not playing a ton on a given night with me just finishing the first chapter last night and moving into the second.  Every time I return I forget just how good the storytelling is in the game, and how much it reminds me of Knights of the Old Republic especially in the more modern single player incarnation.  As a cherry on the top it came out yesterday that Kathleen Kennedy confirmed that they are looking at doing a movie set in the Old Republic era…  which gives me goosebumps at thinking that maybe just maybe some of my favorite characters from the KOTOR series will officially enter the canon.  I still very much love Star Wars and even though Last Jedi mostly landed flat for me…  I am looking forward to the end of the Skywalker Saga and seeing what they do from that point onwards.  I am hoping that we see a huge cinematic saga centering around the large set pieces of the Old Republic setting.  Bioware has created so many great characters that are just waiting to be realized on the big screen.

 

Ten Years of Tales

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Ten years ago today I installed WordPress for the first time and decided to put digital pen to paper and roll out the mat of Tales of the Aggronaut.  At that time I doubt I had a thought in my head about it lasting anywhere near this long, nor growing into what it has become.  Tales of the Aggronaut was not my necessarily my first blog…  and the previous incarnation is floating out there still in the ether never to be spoken of again.  However this blog combined a bunch of things that I was already doing…  namely writing big walls of text.  I was one of those folks that would come into a game forum and write big posts talking about my feelings about this thing or that thing… or offering support and advice to those who were in need.  I was a fairly active member at the time on the Argent Dawn server forums, and a lot of the people that I am still in contact from those days I met amongst a bunch of lines of text…  and the eventual IRC server that spawned from it.

Ten years seems like a momentous number, but I just could not really think of anything I wanted to do to mark the occasion.  At this point many days it is a struggle to get myself to log in and make a morning post, let alone come up with some grand promotional scheme.  Instead we are going to have a quiet birthday…  which is in truth how I prefer to celebrate my actual annuals these days as well.  There are many blogs out there that are far longer in the tooth than this one, but I think well aged blogs is a bit of a rarity these days.  I know my own blog roll is full of blogs that have gone into the sands of time…  that I just cannot bring myself to delete.  Blaugust has helped quite a bit, and I am planning on this year potentially outshining last year now that we have a fairly active Discord community surrounding it.  I am thankful for my regulars…  and I hate to say this because it sounds vain but…  anytime I get a notification saying someone liked one of my posts it is a little burst to keep me going.

The other interesting thing about the passage of ten years is just how different my life has become in that time.  When I started this blog I was a dedicated Guild and Raid leader making our way through the newly released Ulduar raid and struggling a bit at the jump up in difficulty between it and Neo-Naxxramas. I was also completely devoted to World of Warcraft and namely playing the Warrior class.  I also had very definite opinions on raid tanking and various other aspects of the game… thinking myself to be some font of knowledge for the community.  I had opinions and I was very willing to share them damn the consequences…  because I was in my early thirties and thought I had figured an awful lot of things out.

Now we scan forward to today…  and I am a leader of people with fifteen people under me as I transitioned from development to management.  As a result I am not longer leading anything at all in my off time and doing really good to be a member of literally anything.  While I still organize people around concepts and ideas…  I have tried my best not to be the one actually holding the reins.  While I used to raid on a near nightly basis…  I can’t bring myself to even commit to raiding once a week for a few hours.  Where I used to spend every night grouped up with other people and usually on voice chat…  I can’t bring myself to communicate with other human beings regularly once I am officially off the clock.  Where I used to think I had a clue what I was doing…  I am now in my 40s and know that I know next to nothing about most topics and it seems like I am imposing myself when I share my opinions on things.  While I am still very much an MMO player…  I find myself playing them all effectively on solo mode or maybe with a very small group of people in tow.

Another thing that has changed significantly over the years is how much of myself I am willing to put into these posts.  I’ve shared with you deaths in the family, times I am struggling with one thing or another, and things that have happened that brought me joy.  I shifted my writing style from being disconnected from the readers…  to trying to invite you all into my world for a few minutes each morning as I write.  I can’t say that anything I write about is actually interesting, but it is at least grounded in the reality of where I am and what I am doing at a given moment.  The truth is I would be far more popular if I would simply stick to a single topic and become an official site for a specific game.  Those folks are the ones with the large readership, but me…  I am more of an acquired taste.  If you are not interested in me as a human being… then chances are you won’t be sticking around for very long.

All of that said…  I am thankful for the people that I do have that regularly check in on my world…  and it is shockingly a larger number than I ever expected it to be.  In ten years almost 200,000 unique individuals have visited Tales of the Aggronaut…  and while I am certain a good number of those unique users are bots because internet… it still means that I have introduced myself and my point of view to way more people than I ever expected I would.  During that time I have made 2028 posts including this one…  which would have been a larger number were it not for the fact that I barely made any posts during the first four years of this blog.  Every day however a few hundred of you come and visit my world and I am thankful for the company.  It makes me wish I had the fire to do more to actually push this blog and the disconnected community that supports it on a regular basis.  In theory I should be pushing a discord or a reddit or some other venue…  but instead I would just rather enjoy knowing the fact that I have a bunch of quiet users out there tagging along with me as I do things.

This isn’t exactly the triumphant post you make when you reach a milestone like this, but in truth I didn’t really want a bunch of fanfare.  You out there… reading this blog… and an important part of it even though you may have never actually interacted with me directly.  Even though I largely write like I am talking to myself, I do appreciate knowing there are people out there that care.  As far as words of wisdom to leave this post on…  I am not entirely certain I have any.  I guess we will see if Tales of the Aggronaut makes another ten years…  though at this point I cannot imagine what the world and my life will be like during that time.  My blog is as much therapy as it is a purposeful act of creation, and I thank you all for taking the time to listen.

 

Grim Community

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If you have been reading this blog over the last few days you will know that I have been delving into Grim Dawn.  At this point I believe I am 43 and after some advice that I received checked the Veteran box.  I am not entirely sure what this does apart from seemingly increase the rate of named mobs spawning, and as a result increase your chance for good loot in the process.  More or less it reminds me of the difference between Normal and Hard in Diablo 3, where you can pretty much instantly bump up to Hard and just go on with your life without much stress.  It appears the other difficulty ranks do not unlock until later…  I am assuming either associated with you hitting level cap or you finishing the main story.

I have officially been playing long enough that I have started trying to venture out and see what sort of community surrounds this game.  For a largely single player focused experience…  I was not expecting much.  The steam forums were not exactly a great resource, but then again they never.  However exploring further it appears that there is a fairly active scene supporting this game, so I thought I would spend some time this morning going into some of the resources I have found.  The at a glance takeaway seems to be that a lot of the same sort of folks that supported Diablo 2 and Diablo 3…  are supporting this game.

GrimCalc

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This is the very first Grim Dawn resource that I stumbled across, because several build guides were linking to specs designed using it.  Ultimately it is at its core a spec generation tool that allows you to fiddle with your talent points and devotions…  and then links to a bunch of other resources not necessarily hosted on the same site.  I thought it was pretty great and exactly the sort of thing I had been looking for.  Unfortunately when you dip down into the build compendium, instead of having something more programmatic and searchable it links you to a forum post with a bunch of popular builds.

Grim Checklist

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This was linked to off of GrimCalc and appears to be a site that maintains checklists that you can create for your various characters to make sure you have hit certain objectives.  At this point I don’t really know enough about the game to understand this, and as such I have not spent much time exploring it but I thought it was worth noting.

Grim Tools

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Then in my journeys I stumbled across Grim Tools which appears to be the WoWHead of Grim Dawn websites.  Effectively it does everything that the previously two links do… but adds a bunch more functionality as well.  It of course has a robust build calculator that you can see above that not only manages Talents and Devotions but also drills into possible item builds.  On top of that it has a database for all of the Items, Monsters and Pets…  their own version of the Checklist Functionality and a World Map.

grimtools-map

This later functionality was ultimately what drew me to the site.  I was searching to try and find a good map that shows all of the world and stumbled across this application instead.  Now given the limited area that I have cleared I had already thought that Grim Dawn was a really big game.  However based on this map it seems that I have not come close to seeing the full scope of it.  What is weird also is that as I go up through new areas… it appears like the areas themselves are getting much bigger in scale.  What I find really impressive about this game is that legitimately you can walk from one end to another and the zones actually connect and synchronize without having to do any hand waving teleportation magic.  This is something that Diablo 3 completely fails at with each act representing a disconnected island from the whole.

Grim Dawn Forums

grimdawnforums

Another interesting throwback with this game is the fact that it has official forums…  and they really are a hub of information about the game.  So many modern games have all but completely abandoned this concept, pushing all of the moderation duty to fan managed Reddits and the like.  However Grim Dawn has what appears to be a very thriving forum culture where folks congregate to talk about the finer points of gameplay.  All in all it does not appear to be super flamey either.

Grim Dawn Reddit

grimdawnreddit

Normally I am super leery of anything that advertises specifically that it is “Not a Political Correct Reddit”.  This usually means that a given reddit has very specific political leanings of its own.  However with that caveat it does not appear to be a bad place to find information.  Overall the threads I’ve read up to this point have been largely positive, and quite frankly I have not really seen much that made me cringe.  That said I purposefully sorted it towards the bottom of the list because Reddit is not always going to be the most useful place in the world… and I have seen subs turn on a dime when something shifts in the game.  Still worth knowing about, and I suggest that you use the “Old” reddit for this one given that they have done nothing to update it for the modern interface.

 

Are you a Grim Dawn player, and is there a major resource that I completely missed in this list?  Let me know about it.  I purposefully excluded Graceful Dusk because it wasn’t nearly as good of an interface as GrimTools and didn’t appear to be as updated.  If you want to try custom versions of Grim Dawn, the game supports modding and this thread on the forums appears to be the best resource for grabbing those.  Finally there is a Discord server community if you are so included for that sort of thing.