Borderlands Still Fun

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Last night I did the thing I have been doing every night and spent enough time in Anthem to unlock another key, and then ran a stronghold in which I managed to expend two of the three keys I had banked.  I actually got a purple quality emote, which is a major step up from the various dross I had gotten prior to that.  After that I was somewhat listless and ended up landing upon installing the newly released Borderlands Game of the Year Remastered edition that should be showing up on whatever service you happen to own the original Borderlands through.  I remember reinstalling the original Borderlands shortly after the launch of Borderlands 2 and thinking to myself that the game in general felt really dated.  However this version allows me to push it up to glorious 4k resolutions with graphical clarity…  which is awesome and helps to distract me from the fact that it largely has a monotone color palette.

I have to say that I am happy that games are now pushing us beyond the “everything is brown and grey” era of shooters that we were stuck in for so long.  Hot pinks and purples absolutely belong in the wasteland, so I feel like it would have been great if they could have maybe splashed a little color here and there for this re-release.  That said they did a dutiful job of up-sampling all of the textures so that they pop…  the only negative is… it makes me realize how limited the geometry of this game is at times.  All of that said does not detract from my hot take of the night:  Borderlands is Still Really Fun to Play.

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I did not make it terribly far into the game, but I have already noticed a handful of quality of life improvements.  For example I did not remember the original borderlands having a mini-map, which was one of my complaints about questing through the game and feeling like I always had to keep popping up my large map.  Borderlands is a game without a lot of freedom of movement, and more or less you are travelling down fixed paths…  which means in order to get form point A to point B there is pretty much one correct path that you needed to take to get there.  Having the minimap makes me significantly less frustrated as I snake my way through a series of winding tunnels to a plateau…  that does not have an obvious visual path to help direct you there.

I am playing Roland…  because I always play Roland or Axton or whoever the third game will have that fills the roles of the basic soldier plus gadgets.  There is little wonder to why in Division 2 running around with a Turret feels so natural.  The other take away from the night is that the gunplay in Borderlands 1 is nowhere near as good as I thought I remembered it being.  In the meantime I have played Destiny… a game which takes obsessive gun feel to a whole new level.  Compared to that… and quite frankly even compared to Anthem…  Borderlands weapon design feels like an inaccurate mess.  That said I am adjusting and learning to over compensate for the fact that none of the non-scope sights seem to actually bear down on the target correctly.

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The other hot take of the night is that I really don’t care about Borderlands 3 being an Epic Game store exclusive title.  Basically this is a financial decision and should not be looked at as anything else, regardless of whatever lame commentary the parties involved come up with.  The harsh truth is Borderlands 3 will make way more money for the studio on Epic Games regardless of how many sales they make.  Borderlands has always been a title developed in Unreal Engine, which means that on top of the 30% Steam cut… there is a 5% Unreal Engine cut.  So the studio takes home 65% of every dollar made on Steam.  On the Epic store they are completely waving this Unreal Engine fee and then also only taking a 12% cut, meaning the studio takes home 88%.

So in the simplest of possible math… if a game makes 100 million dollars…  on Steam they would be taking home 65 million, and on Epic Games store they would be taking home 88 million.  That is a difference that you just cannot ignore in the climate of studios trying to figure out how they are going to fund their next title.  Especially given that Gearbox has had a number of pretty high profile flops since their last massive success in Borderlands 2.  I mean do we need to summon up imagery of Battleborn, Aliens: Colonial Marines and Duke Nukem Forever?  The difference in money a studio can get on Epic Games is just not something that can be ignore especially given that titles like Metro Exodus have proven that in spite of all of the grousing…  the majority of fans will not care at all about the platform change.  That title sold better than any of the previous titles regardless of the PC storefront exclusivity.

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Where I take issue with the jump to Epic Games is in scenarios where pre-order packages have already started being sold on a specific platform.  I feel like if you ever start taking pre-orders you are obligated to support that platform indefinitely.  I think where this will backfire strategy wise is the fact that high profile titles have jumped ship long after pre-orders had started…  will start making the customers question if putting in ANY pre-orders from now on is a good idea at least until things have stabilized a bit more.  Personally the only games that I pre-order in the first place are ones that are giving me some sort of a perk for doing so…  mostly a cosmetic outfit or a special gun…  even though I know that these items will be long forgotten within the first few hours of gameplay.

Ultimately at the end of the day Steam has to come to the table with a better proposition to keep titles from leaving.  As it stands if you are releasing a game built in Unreal Engine…  you would be dumb not to go with the Epic Games store platform for your release.  I think where I come from is maybe a different place than a lot of gamers given that I have traditionally mostly been an MMO gamer.  Almost every MMO has its own launcher and does not originally release on Steam… in spite of the fact that many eventually do come to that platform.  As a result my system is already strewn with single user launchers so an additional store front here or there does not really phase me in the least.  Steam is already not the only platform I bought games through…  if it is a UbiSoft title I tend to just buy directly on UPlay since I have to have that client regardless of where the purchase was made.  Then there is Origin my least favorite storefront that I continue to begrudgingly use…  because Bioware.  I more happily use GOG, but largely because I have a bunch of older titles there…  and my freebie copy of Witcher 3 had to be redeemed there.

Essentially while I favored Steam… I was not exactly a loyalist.  If a company can make more money on Epic Games store… then who am I to halt them.  I’ve seen a lot of “whelp I guess I won’t play the next Borderlands game” in my feeds, and that is fine if you truly feel that strongly.  Me I will be playing it and enjoying myself because as I found out last night…  Borderlands is still fun.

Oracle of Our Age

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We all knew it was coming, but yesterday Kotaku’s Jason Schreier posted his break down on what happened during the almost seven year development odyssey with Anthem…  formerly known as Dylan and formerly known as Beyond.  The truth is I had not made the connection there to the original Dylan prototype that was shown off and Anthem…  and I also did not make the connection to the leaked Beyond name and Anthem.  I somehow thought both of those were scrapped concepts… and I guess in truth they ultimately were.  If you have not had a chance to read the article then I highly suggest you do so.  There are so many ways to write a post mortem of a game…  but Jason always seems to land that perfect mix of giving damning evidence with a non-hyperbolic touch.  In most of these tales the staff are the heroes struggling to make the best product they can while caught in a bad situation, and the tale of Anthem really is no different.

What rings true about this for me at least is that I have a lot of friends in game development who have been willing to open up about the process behind closed doors.  This is a trust I have not broken other than speaking of these moments in generalities about the industry as a whole without specifically naming names.  Ultimately that is probably why I continue to get the treatment of folks willing to talk about them to me.  However the anecdotes I hear tell me that the tale of Anthem or Destiny or Andromeda…  are not unique to those specific companies but instead a problem with the industry as a whole.  There is a manifest destiny that they can punch through any game development cycle with enough hours spent and enough midnight oil burnt…  to the detriment of the employees family life and often times sanity.

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I know folks who have left the games industry after finding out how generally unstable it is, and found a much better niche in the world of the corporate sector.  Growing up… building games was my dream as it is the dream of so many people.  My path however lead elsewhere as subtle circumstance after circumstance lead me to the comfortable safety of managing a group of developers.  However these side stories that I have been trusted over the years have told me that I ultimately made the right decision.  I could not handle the instability and the fact that the majority of folks who work on a title wind up getting laid off and having to find a brand new workplace in-between releases.  Then there is the problem of only having specific locations where a group of studios tend to clump… and of those… the only one that is really palatable to me personally is Austin Texas.

The tale of Anthem weirdly gives me hope and renewed patience towards the game as a whole.  If they could make the core mechanics of the game feel so good within effectively the last six months of production…  imagine what Anthem would have been given another year of development time.  I also feel hope because now the game as a whole seems to have been transitioned to the Bioware Austin live services team, and quite frankly I have a lot of faith in that group.  Opinions may vary but I feel like they have done an excellent job with the growth of Star Wars the Old Republic, which is another one of those games that I return to regularly to gobble up the content that has been put into the game since my last visit.  I feel like it is a better game today than it was at launch by a large measure, and this is in spite of the weird monetization schemes that the game has.

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What I am ultimately hoping is that EA will give them time and space to grow Anthem into a really amazing game at some point down the line.  The issues are large, but only really something that kicks in once you slam into the concrete wall that is the progression scheme.  Shortly after the release of the post Bioware made what feels like a very hollow response, which tells me two things.  Firstly they only read the bullet points that Jason Schreier claims to have sent over before publishing the article and wrote the piece entirely based on that.  Secondly however it tells me that the points that were made rang true and set them on the defensive.  All of this seems really odd given the level of transparency we have gotten from the community team about the state of the game, which makes me think this came from a highly disconnected corporate level instead.

Right now I am pretty much logging into the game on a nightly basis, but only long enough to do whatever challenge grants me an Elysian Key.  The last couple of nights I have not stayed in long enough to actually run a Stronghold to open said Elysian Chests.  However even the rewards that you get from these chests show that the order of operation has been to take a pat of butter and try and make it spread across an entire loaf of bread.  So many of the vinyls that you get are lackluster or are simply resized and less cool versions of the ones that come from the paid shop.  The team is struggling to add meaning to the game without having a backlog of content to put in place.  I love the core of what this game is so hearing about the struggles and what they accomplished in spite of them…  makes me want to stick around and see how things evolve.

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That said I also don’t necessarily begrudge anyone who does not care at all about the heartache and struggle that the employees went through, and simply points at the bottom line that they paid for a finished game and didn’t get one.  If you are in that camp… then it might just be time to cut your losses and return later when there is the inevitable patch that fixes everything and gives this game their “Taken King”, “Forsaken”, or “Patch 1.8” moment.  The fact that I can rattle off a list of moments in Anthem’s direct competitors timelines where the games went from sorta crappy to pretty awesome over night shows that this is not a unique problem they face.  Even Diablo 3, which is the title they kept holding themselves up to has their “Loot 2.0” moment that fixed so much of the game.  I will be holding out for that day and continuing to poke around in the meantime.  Feel free to just use this blog as a litmus test for when it is a good time to check it out again.  You know without a doubt I will be making happy posts if that day comes.

 

Mythic Invitational

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My wife spent the weekend sick and I think has passed whatever she had onto me.  So the end result was last night both of us came home from work completely dead and ready to go to sleep.  We managed to last until around 8 pm before hitting the sack, and then slept the entire night through without interruptions.  This is not exactly normal for us and as a result I feel a little weird after getting all of that sleep.  As far as gaming went I managed to complete the daily key challenge in Anthem before logging out…  thankful that you can bank keys for a later time.  Shortly after that I attempted to play some more Breath of the Wild and managed to get the outfit needed to sneak into Gerudo Town…  but could not stay conscious long enough to actually do that thing.  It was around this time that my wife showed visible signs of succumbing to sleep…  when in truth I had been quietly nodding off the entire time we were sitting in the living room.  Basically I had a very unproductive night gaming wise, but I hope the sleep helps because she sounds miserable…  and I am starting to feel that way.

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This weekend I got wrapped up in the Magic the Gathering Mythical Invitational happening at Pax East, which is weird considering I generally bounce off of all e-sports streams.  However I watched most of the finals on Sunday strangely compelled and finding myself actually rooting for one of the players.  What was interesting about this specific format is that it all happened inside of MTG Arena, meaning there was no need for a judge and limited stalling tactics…  the end result being very rapid matches given that most of the mechanical stuff was being taken care of by the game.  What was also interesting about the roster specifically is it was a mix of Magic Pro League players, 8 Qualifiers that came up from the ladder play on Arena, and a mixture of notable streamer types.  So this could have played out a bunch of ways, but if you were a gambler you probably would have bet on one of the battle hardened MPL players to take hope the trophy.  However what happened in truth was something slightly more interesting.  The final ranking looked a little bit like this…

  • Andrea Mengucci – MPL member
  • Piotr Głogowski – MPL member
  • Janne “Savjz” Mikkonen – Challenger – Mostly known as a Hearthstone Streamer
  • Ondřej Stráský – Challenger – Top 8 MTG Arena Qualifier

So yes at the end of the day Magic Pro League players took the first two slots…  however they absolutely gave them a run for their money.  Savjz especially played some matches that could have gone either way and like so many Magic matches it wound up coming down to card draw and top decking.  I think this even more than probably anything was a chance for WotC to show that Arena players could in fact compete in the MPL and I wonder if at some point in the future we will see all MPL matches played out using the Arena client.  The difference in speed was noticeable as well as the match being way easier to follow for the viewers at home.  When watching a normal Magic match, things are happening so fast that you are largely entirely reliant upon the announcers to tell you what is actually happening.  Here you can see both sides and the what the players have in their hands as well…  and as a result it leads to way more tension as you know what the other player has as an answer to the play that the active player is about to make.

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The other cool thing about the tourney is it gave them an opportunity to show off the cosmetic changes to the client including the introduction of special full art skins that you can get for various cards.  The game also launched without card sleeve art that is so popular in games like Hearthstone.  Throughout the game play they announced redeemable codes over Twitch that allows the players watching at home to pick up some of the things.  Here is what I believe is a full list of the codes that are redeemable.

  • StarterStyles – The Pack Shown in Screenshot
  • SparkleDruid – Druid of the Cowl
  • SuperScry – Opt
  • ParallaxPotion – Revitalize
  • FoilFungus – Deathbloom Thalid
  • ShinyGoblinPirate – Fanatical Firebrand

Additionally they are starting to add the cosmetic rewards to various events.  Now the interesting thing about a cosmetic is that if you don’t already have the card… you seem to also get the card when you collect its appearance.  During one of the various redeems I did not actually have a copy of whatever card it was granting me and the game made a note that I was getting one of that specific card.  I fully expect that there to be more cosmetics surrounding the release of the War of the Spark.  That is probably a whole other topic however and I am running out of time this morning so going to wrap this post up.  I really think Wizards of the Coast finally understands what it takes to make a viable product for the internet age, and I look forward to seeing what happens surrounding the Arena client and future tournaments.  This was probably quite literally the first time I cared about anything e-sports related, so good on them.

Clones of Fort Tarsis

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The other day I noticed that there were three NPCs with the same face standing in line at this meat shop.  I figured it was probably just a weird occurrence with the NPC generator putting the same model all clumped together accidentally.  However last night I noticed that there were 4 standing in line…  and when I turned the corner there were two more.  I made a post on twitter about this and by the time I got back to the game as I had simply alt tabbed out, they were ALL within the frame of a single screenshot.  Sure there are subtle differences between each of them but they ALL have the same face.  This leads me down a path that I was talking about in Slack the other day…  but there is no such thing as a random number generator.  Effectively you try your hardest to create randomness with a computer, but you will never quite get to truly random because in my experience trying to write them over the years…  they have a tendency to get stuck.  This makes me wonder if a lot of the loot generation within this game is suffering from a stuck sequence.  Imagine if you will a D&D encounter table…  with the really interesting encounters happening towards the top of that scale.  Imagine also that you have percentage dice that for whatever reason don’t want to roll anything higher than a 85.  I have no clue why loot is as fickle as it is, but a when you see things like our six clones it makes you wonder.  Additionally not in this shot there are two kids running around with the exact same face, so this may be fairly common in game and I just didn’t notice it until recently.

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As far as content in Anthem goes…  they have at least roped me in with the whole Elysian Chests thing.  At a minimum each night I do whatever the daily challenge is that rewards a key, and then run at least one Stronghold to open that chest.  So far I have gotten a bunch of shitty crafting materials and a handful of extremely lackluster vinyls.  The ones you purchase off the shop apply a design to the majority of your lancer, but the ones you get for free…  are in general a sticker on your shoulder and maybe something on your helmet.  Again very disappointing as compared to what I went into that system expecting.  However the limited nature also triggers my desire to catch them all before they disappear.  I am certain that at some point in the future this game will pull its head out and become extremely fun, and I sorta want to make sure I don’t have pangs of regret by not getting something cool along the way.  After a very long dry streak I did manage to pick up a Legendary version of the weapon I use for priming targets, so I am super excited about that.  I would have probably rather had some defensive stats on it, but I will deal with it as is because it is lime green and not orange.  I also wish that 50% physical damage was not limited to the weapon, but oh well you cannot control the rolls in Anthem.

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Other than Anthem I spent a significant amount of time playing Breath of the  Wild on Cemu, and have cleared my second Divine Beast.  I did the Zora Beast first and then since it seemed to be the next closest worked my way through the Goron area.  I found the second Divine Beast way easier than the first one, but I am not sure if it was simply that I went into it knowing what to expect or if it was simply that the fight was much easier.  There was a mechanic that I glommed onto pretty fast during the second boss that largely trivialized the encounter, so maybe it would have been rougher had I not tried that.  Now I have made my way over into the Gerudo are and am trying to figure out how to sneak into the town.  I’ve already seen the next encounter which is apparently a giant robo Camel?  So effectively you have an Elephant, a Salamander/Lizard thing, a Camel and a Giant Birb?  I say Salamander largely because in Japanese games they tend to be fire aligned, and a lot of other lizard types are lightning aligned.

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Regardless still having a blast finally getting deep into this game, and key is one small tweak that made the experience immediately better.  There is a plugin for Cemu that allows you to disable weapon durability, keeping you from having to play the game of constantly swapping weapons.  That one tweak changed the experience from something I bounced off of out of the frustration of trying to keep finding more decent weapons to use, to something I have dug into hard and am loving.  This was my biggest complaint when the game released, and not shockingly once it was gone my experience felt so much better.  When playing on the Switch I made a conscious decision to go for the Zora area because I had read online that you could get a repairable weapon there.  So much was my focus on trying to stay fully equipped that I altered my path just to make sure I could keep some reasonable gear.  Take weapon durability out of the game and I just wander freely without a concern of getting into an area and not having any weapons.  It has been a liberating experience, so much so that I really think there should be a toggle in the official game to disable the stupid durability system.  In the meantime however I have Cemu and it gives me that functionality.

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And finally… I have seen the second credit roll of Stormblood and am officially ready for the release of Shadowbringers.  This one was way shorter than I was expecting, and largely entailed a single quest chain.  So here is where I am going to complain about Square Enix because they have started doing something that drives me insane.  There have been a few quests towards the tail of Stormblood that involved a bunch of cut scenes and multiple phases…  all without checkpoints so if you fail at any point you have to complete the entire sequence over again.  I absolutely failed the final quest of this expansion a few times until I sorted out the dance of the fight, and each time…  it forced me to play through a sequence that was largely on auto pilot and un-fail-able…  before getting to the REAL fight.  They need to quit this shit and divide things up into multiple quests.  That said I did enjoy the tail end of Stormblood quite a bit and I am looking forward to Shadowbringers continuing things.  Overall I think Stormblood was a much stronger expansion than Heavensward was…  however nothing holds a candle to just how great the post release content was for A Realm Reborn.  Stormblood however was way closer to that, so I am hoping this means a return to wider themes.  Based on what I saw at Fanfest Tokyo, I am guessing that is absolutely going to be the case.  Heavensward had its moments, but there was way too much horrible Elf politics for my tastes, and the Dragons were not much better.

How was your weekend?  Do anything interesting in game or in the real world?  Drop us a note in the comments.

Friday Smorgasbord

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Anthem Loot Issues

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First up in the Friday Smorgasbord is some more Anthem discussion.  I have been playing pretty much every night since the patch drops and at a bare minimum completing the steps required to get a key to unlock a “cosmetic” chest.  That is in quotes largely because I am still getting way more useless tier 1 materials than I am actually getting decals or materials.  At least they came out and stated that there are no armor pieces in the Elysian Chest, which is I think in part what we were all hoping to get.  The vinyls have all been super lackluster at least compared to some of the other vinyls available in the game.  On the loot front there is an article from Paul Tassi at Forbes that pretty much sums up what is wrong with the game right now…   it is literally all about the loot.  He suggests increasing the drop rates by 300 to 400% and then still questions if that would be enough for the sort of game Anthem actually is…  but the Devs apparently don’t understand that it is.  RNG can be amazing or it can be a harsh mistress.  For example Wednesday night I had a grand ole time where I managed to rack up three new legendaries during the course of the evening…  a component actually for the right class from a GM2 Legendary Mission, and then two new weapons… one each from GM2 Strongholds.  This still felt stingy to me, but at least was something.  Last night however I walked away with nothing really of use from doing two legendary contracts and a stronghold all at Grandmaster 2 level.

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There are so many things in this game that just feel bad as the player once you reach what currently passes for an end game.  The truth is there is nothing that would normally be classified as end game.  The game has no PVP so no super serious equivalent of the Trials of the Nine would ever exist in Anthem.  Similarly there is nothing along the lines of a Nightfall and there is most definitely not a raid that can be completed weekly with a group of other players for a shot at amazing rewards.  There are no weekly bounties that you can complete that guarantees you an item that will be an upgrade, and we are completely missing something similar to exotics that have a guaranteed curated roll.  So what is left is a lot of grinding and perfecting your builds, which is maddening when it is entirely dependent on the slow trickle of Masterworks and Legendaries.  I have friends that are doing GM2 nightly… that have yet to see ANY Legendaries and consider me extremely lucky that I have had multiple.  While the game desperately needs a true end game…  the more pressing problem will always be the loot and until they open the floodgates no one is really ever going to be completely happy.

Divine Beast Vah Ruta

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I eventually took a break last night and returned to my Cemu Breath of the Wild play session.  When I was last playing I had been working my way into the general area of the Zora kingdom to tackle the first of many Divine Beasts.  I am not sure if there is a chosen order, but the furthest I managed to get with this game before setting it back down again…  was to head in this direction.  So last night I made it through the sequence of annoying lightning attackers to get to Zora land and made my way about collecting Lightning Arrows.  I set about collecting the arrows while avoiding the Lynel…  which went fairly quickly given that pretty much every tree in the vicinity had at least three stuck in it.  There were a few times I had to duck out of view and wait but managed to get it taken care of then glided my way down to where I was meeting Sidon to make the run on the Divine Beast.  I made it through the sequence surrounding disabling the “defenses” and started on the first level of the dungeon before I finally called it for the night.  I do like that Breath of the Wild pretty much just lets you do a save state wherever you happen to be in the world.  I greatly appreciate its mobile roots allowing me to pretty much abandon ship whenever I need to.  So tonight I am likely to return and actually finish the first of the Divine Beasts because I am finding the gameplay way more compelling when playing it on the PC…  I am weird like that.

Borderlands 3

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I had to work yesterday and was in meetings…  so I completely missed what apparently was a mess of a reveal at Pax East.  However I did manage to watch the nice and pristine YouTube videos later that afternoon.  I have to admit at first I was not super impressed with what I saw, but largely this was due to my own false expectations.  In my mind when I think of Borderlands 1 and 2 Trailers…  I am actually thinking of the Game Intro sequences which are absolute masterpieces.  I forgot what a Gearbox Borderlands reveal trailer actually looked like… and judging it by those standards this one is a better trailer than the ones that came with either 1 or 2.  For example the original Borderlands Trailer… feels absolutely nothing like what we think of as the Borderlands Style.  Then with Borderlands 2 we pretty much got a very similar type of reveal trailer as we just saw with Borderlands 3…  like shockingly similar.  So by those comparisons…  Borderlands 3 comes out just fine.

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I feel like there were probably story beats that I completely missed because I never played the Telltale Games spinoff game.  What I was hoping for was some semblance of the story beats that we would be seeing in the new game.  For me what makes Borderlands as a series special is a mix of the interesting characters, quirky humor, almost MMO style questing, intersting gunplay, the faucet of loot, and a bunch of interesting character class choices.  The trailer doesn’t really give me much to go on other than there are a bunch of guns…  one lady can become shiva, another pilots a mech and then you have two gunner classes that while visually different didn’t do much to actually distinguish themselves from what we saw.  There were characters shown that I recognized as being part of the Tales from the Borderlands series but that I don’t know much about.  I would be lying if I said I would not be playing it, but I am also not nearly as hyped as I thought I would have been at this point.  I am sure as more tangible information comes out about the game I will get more so.

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I am guessing based on what are the villains that we are going to see a way more raider-centric storyline than we did with Borderlands 2.  The biggest problem with my general sense of disappointment after watching the trailer for the first time…  is that I was ultimately expecting this instead.

Monster Hunter Belghast and Kenzie

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This morning we are going to mostly talk about this amazing comissions that I just got back from my good friend Ammo.  For the uninitiated she effectively is the unofficial artist of this blog, and what I mean by that is if given the chance I spend a lot of time paying her to do artwork for me of my various versions of “Belghast”.  For reference here are some of the other “Belghasts” she has done for me in the past.

Basically…  she has drawn a lot of my characters over the years and I knew at some point I wanted her to do a version of the character that I mostly run around as in Monster Hunter World.  Basically I operate in two modes with Ammo… either I give her months of lead time…  or I beg her to rush something out the door.  She has been super gracious in both cases, but the MHW Bel was something I had wanted for awhile but our schedules finally lined up to where we could give enough attention to both at the same time.  I prepared several gigs worth of reference photos of both my character and my trusty Palico Kenzie…  which is named after my very attention hogging middle cat.

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I technically have an art degree but I just never really sketch anything these days.  However occasionally I am able to sketch something together quickly that denotes the sort of feeling I had in mind for the piece.  I did this with the Elder Scrolls Online commission as well and in both cases it worked out perfectly.  However the posing with the Monster Hunter World piece is phenomenal and perfectly illustrated what I had in my minds eye.  For reference the above screenshot is one of the ones I sent over to Ammo to work from.  She nailed the feel of Extermination’s Edge the Rarity 8 Nergigante Longsword that I spend most of my time wielding.  Additionally she got the feel of my usual outfit which involves a Dober Chest, Teostra Arms, the Eyepatch and a bunch of other gear obscured by the Samurai cosmetic waist and legs.  This is more or less my signature look unless I am going for a specific set designed for a specific encounter.

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One of the best parts about this commission is that it allowed me to correct something that I simply could not do within Monster Hunter World.  This is Kenzie, who as you can see is an adorable butt and also a tortoise shell  calico or “tortie” for short.  The Palico creation system is just not complicated enough to do that sort of a design, so as a result I am stuck with a weird version of a dark calico to try and do my best to represent her in game.  Ammo was of course not constrained by those limitations and when she asked me for reference photos for Palico Kenzie… I sent her a bunch of my girl here instead.  I think she nailed the feel of Kenzie’s orange nose blaze perfectly.

Ultimately I have plans for this image that won’t quite come to fruition until a little closer to the actual anniversary of the blog which occurs April 17th.  I am not exactly sure when it will happen, mostly whenever I get time to mess around with things.  I feel like it is time for this blog to have a bit of a face lift so in theory one weekend there will be a rapid sequence of changes one day.  Firstly I wanted to make today’s post to really dive into how the commission process has worked for me personally in the past, and how Ammo and I tend to coordinate on the various artwork that adorns my corner of the world.  I also want to do a shameless plug given that she does such an amazing job and has done artwork for so many people that I know.  She did an amazing holiday card that Chestnut sent out this year… that I don’t think I have actually seen a digital copy of that I can share here.  Essentially… she does great work and you should totally use her skills for your artwork needs.

Here is a Giant Dump of How to See Ammo’s Amazing Artwork and Even Purchase Some of It!

I know she keeps pretty busy with commissions so you would have to check with her directly to see if she has any bandwidth.  On the 7th Anniversary Aggronaut shirt I didn’t want any cash from that, but did want one for my own personal use so I asked her to throw it up on one of her storefronts.  Just to make sure this is out there… we have no financial relationship at all other than the fact that I spend money getting her to make cool artwork for me.  I am just one of those people that will rabidly promote the things that I am into… and Ammo is the best.  There are a lot of artists in what I would call the “Warcraft” style, and they are all quality without a doubt…  but Ammo being roughly my age comes from a different genre…  namely Comic Books and as a result I love the more comic style she has developed over the years.

Losing Hope

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Despite my own admonishment yesterday morning I allowed myself to get a little hyped about the possibility of finally getting to cut loose in Anthem and make progress again.  I should not have done this, because once again…  Anthem is a buggy mess following the 1.0.4 update.  This starts early when you are greeted with an empty news screen, which isn’t the end of the world but was sort of a harbinger of events to come.  The patch included a bunch of quality of life improvements, some of which exist like the summary screen you are seeing above showing all of my gear and sort of giving us the beginnings of what I hope will ultimately become a stats page.  Additionally there is no load time to get into the Forge and you can access it anywhere within Fort Tarsis just by bringing up the escape menu.  However the whole being able to see what World Events are active thing does not appear to be in the game, because in none of the four or five freeplay sessions I joined last night could I actually see any events up and active.

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One of the big tweaks that was supposed to be coming was an increase in the general quantity of good loot that we would be getting from doing stuff…  namely anything that rewarded a chest or from the bosses at the end of Strongholds.  This appears to have completely broken and now those Stronghold bosses are no longer rewarding the guaranteed Masterwork at all, and instead just seem to give you a fist full of purples and blues.  I spent a significant amount of time on Hard mode running content with Neph last night and something seems to be broken there as well.  Previously when running with friends on a sub Grandmaster difficulty I would see a lot of those “Starter” Masterworks dropping.  In spite of doing three Strongholds and a could of contracts I saw zero Masterworks which was previously unheard of…  just doing anything on Hard seemed to reward me a handful of those starter weapons.  I did manage to get a single Legendary but it didn’t actually drop anywhere that I could see it and instead was the harbinger of another bug…  apparently players can pick up your loot and then stuff just randomly shows up in your inventory.  I mean I am thankful in this case and in truth I think loot should work more like Destiny in that if it drops it automatically gets tossed into your inventory without having to pick up anything.  Sidenote… I took this photo because if you notice three characters are the same base model standing side by side which is a little uncanny valley.

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The other big thing that was touted with this patch was the introduction of Elysian Chests at the end of Stronghold missions.  These were supposed to sweeten the pot and make us want to start running strongholds again with a touted inventory of a couple hundred cosmetic items available for us to find.  When they were announcing them they stated that there was also a chance of crafting materials and gave the example of 30 Masterwork Embers…  which seemed like a reasonable trade for a cosmetic item.  Getting 30 Chimeric Alloy on the other hand is not worthy of giving up a cosmetic and just feels like shit given that this is the most basic generic level 1 crafting material that you can gather up spending five minutes running around in freeplay.  It feels bad wasting your daily key on something like this, and there are thread floating about showing that four chests were opened and all four gave low tier crafting materials.

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I did however manage to get a Vinyl later in the night, but that just spawned another bug with the patch.  When you get something cosmetic from an Elysian Chest, it won’t show up in your inventory until you have logged out of the game and logged back in.  Even then…  I am not sure if Overcast is bugged or what but it doesn’t seem to appear on my Lancer at all so not sure what it is actually adding but it certainly looks nothing like that icon…  which I am assuming is a generic icon for all cosmetic rewards given that it shows a bunch of materials in the background.  Additionally this patch was supposed to allow us to stay in flight longer…  but it feels like it has had the opposite effect given that I no longer have the longevity in air that I did before and seemingly diving no longer lowers heat as much as it did.  Basically…  we got 1.0.4 and already desperately need 1.0.5 to fix the shit that was broken again this time.

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The problem for me is that I am ultimately losing hope that they will manage to pull their shit together.  What I used to view as being scrappy and responsive to issues…  I am just now seeing as a very sloppy development methodology that apparently involves little to no quality assurance.  The fact that loot was bugged at the end of Strongholds…  should never have made it into production on a patch that was touted as fixing Strongholds.  It took exactly one time running a Stronghold to notice “hey… we are not getting our guaranteed loot”.  The fact that loot is still as stingy as it is now is a complete sin, given that was the beat being pounded fervently like a drum from day one… that Diablo only works if the loot flows like water allowing you to account for the completely useless items that you get and shard.  What we are left with is signs that Bioware has nothing up their sleeve and are just trying to eek out for as long with the limited an repetitive content that is available, and rationing of Legendary and Masterwork drops is seemingly their master plan in trying to make this content last until they can create more.

I had fun playing with Neph but there was a slight pang of bitterness as I didn’t even see starter Masterworks as was regularly the case when dropping down to the lower tiers before.  Right now I am contemplating starting a brand new Pilot just so I can have a set of Javelins that match the level ranges of my friend still down in the lower rungs, hoping to maybe be able to get them up in level enough to run the higher stuff with me eventually.  Tam, Ash, Kodra, Waren and Shiana have all moved back to Warframe which is apparently having a great streak of content to engage with…  and Thalen, Grace and Neph are all way down in the level range and fighting against the fact that there is limited queuing available sub Grandmaster 1.  Then there is the problem that if you want to solo this content you will end up getting effectively half of the experience as if you were grouping…  because the Alliance bonus matters that much.  Neph for example played the game entirely solo other than a bit of running around and doing World Quests and as a result finished the main story and all of the side content at level 15…  whereas I was something closer to 22 from never not grouping.

I am getting frustrated at this point, and super close to just giving up.  I want Anthem to be a great game and in some aspects it is… and in other aspects the Bioware team does not seem to understand what sort of game they want it to be.  After seeing the second failed patch in a row that seemingly caused more havoc than it cured…  I am starting to fear that we will have to wait for whatever this games “Taken King” or “Patch 1.8” ends up being, when they finally grasp how to make it fun and rewarding.  The gameplay feels fun…  but the rewards feel like a mockery of what they should be.

Anthem Patch Day

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Today is in theory a big patch day for Anthem that should be clearing up a lot of the ills that the game has.  However I am not exactly holding my breath.  What I mean by that is I am certain that there will be in fact a patch today, Game Update 1.0.4.  What I am doubting is if it will fundamentally improve the situation for those of us stuck in the limbo between Grandmaster 1 and being able to feel viable in Grandmaster 2 and beyond.  What is needed to fix this is Legendaries, and not only that but viable Legendaries.  Both patch 1.0.3 and the server side loot tweaks were supposed to give us some remedy, and while I have seen a greater frequency in Masterwork drops it has done nothing to help fill my screen with lime green.  Ultimately knowing that today’s patch was on its way served to disincentive me from playing the game at all… because why should I invest any time at all in a largely broken loot system when if I just waited a week there would in theory be some fixes.

I think where I am with this game is that I really enjoy the moment to moment game play, but now that the progression train has slowed I am struggling to stay invested given that there is such a limited pool of content available to players.  I think the Elysian Caches will help somewhat because it gives a long tailed chase mechanism… and quite frankly what better reward is there than things that make your Javelin look awesome.  So that alone will make Strongholds worth running again.  Additionally there are the Legendary missions that should produce some replayability of existing content and given how enjoyable some of those story missions were… I can see that helping as well.  Quality of life changes like being able to see what World Events are active at any given time will also be a welcome change.  The main problem I foresee is that the game really needs fresh content to add to the mix, because as it stands three Strongholds just isn’t enough…  when a good deal of us have every line of dialog in them all memorized at this point.  I would prefer never to hear again about not wanting that omelet.

I will of course be checking it out tonight and I am hoping that I am wrong, but I am sort of trying to tamp down my expectations so I don’t turn into one of the heaps of rage that inhabit the main reddit.  Once again I highly recommend LowSodiumAnthem if you are hoping to stay a fan of this game rather than wading into the mire of hatred of the official Reddit.  Bioware Devs post on both locations.

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What I wound up spending most of my time last night doing however was playing some more Breath of the Wild via Cemu.  The screenshots don’t exactly do it justice of showing off just how damned good this game looks running in 4K resolution.  I am consistently impressed by just how good it works, but then again…  the developers of Cemu have been tweaking and refining this for roughly two years now with a lot of community modding support that adds in compatibility fixes.  I’ve surpassed where I was progress wise from the Switch and have put in around nine hours of gameplay so far, almost all of it stable.  The instabilities thusfar have involved encountering something I have not seen yet and having the emulator pause to build shader cache.  There are in theory downloadable shader caches that would fix this problem…  but I have not really spent any time investigating how to get my hands of them.

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Essentially everything about this process is sort of caveat emptor… but seeing as I have done this level of nonsense many times in the past it didn’t worry me too much.  Suffice today however there has been copious amounts of virus scanning before I interacted with anything that I acquired in this process.  This is probably the first time however that I have seen modern emulation give a game that is on a current platform a run for its money…  or in this case greatly improving the visuals.  I know there is similar magic you can do with a 3DS emulator, but thusfar I have not really had the horsepower to really make those games perform to their fullest at 4K resolutions.  However if you are interested in that sort of nonsense then I would point you at the Simply Austin Youtube channel to see examples of what can be done.  It is so bizarre to me how far emulation has come from the days of me trying to play Final Fantasy V on ZSNES and having to apply a frame skip to get some semblance of something playable, to being able to run modern games on high end PCs.

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Please note… that while I totally support emulation, I don’t do so as a dodge to getting free games.  I have a closet full of classic game systems, and in the case of both Cemu and Citra the Wii U and 3DS emulators respectively I have owned all of the games that I have tried playing.  Especially in the era of struggling game studios…  they need you buying the games instead of figuring out ways to get free copies.  I didn’t exactly have clean hands throughout my high school and college years, but now I think in part I buy so many games as a way of making up for my former warez peddling past.  If Nintendo for some reason started releasing these games on PC… I would likely lose all interest in emulating them in the first place.  However I somehow doubt that is ever going to happen, and as a result…  Nintendo consoles will always be the most widely supported emulation platforms.

 

Vacation Gaming

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Today is going to be the first day back after a lengthy break, and as such I am struggling a little bit to get up and around this morning.  Last week was the universal spring break week for Oklahoma schools and with that I opted to take Wednesday through Friday off to spend time with my wife.  We went back and forth about taking some sort of a trip, but instead just dealt with a lot of things around the house that needed dealing with.  I cleaned and organized my office, she tackled the closet, we got a new rug for the living room, made two trips to my mechanic to fix my drivers side window that was having trouble rolling up, finally dealt with our taxes and didn’t have to pay…  and a slew of other small things that filled most of the time I took off.  In between all of the running around I got in a fair amount of gaming, with the largest single target being The Division 2.

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I am completely in the swing of this game and am slowly pushing my way across the map clearing control points and side missions along the way.  At this point I have largely cleared the White House surrounding area, Downtown East, Federal Triangle, East Mall and have been focusing my time on clearing out content in the Southwest area.  I am spending 99.9% of my time soloing the content and it is going more or less fairly well.  My jam is still some sort of a fast firing single shot rifle and a shotgun to back it up when things get too close.  What I am actually using for either of those varies based on what I happen to have seen drop…  which is the weird thing about this game is the large number of drops I seem to get that are in no way upgrades to the weapon I was using from 3 levels earlier.  However as with any Division game… the really important drops are the ones with a teal border like the one shown above.

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Another major accomplishment of the weekend is that I finished the Final Fantasy XIV 4.5 content.  I was ONE dungeon away from doing so but Anthem launched and then Division 2… and I just couldn’t seem to bring myself to log in and take care of it.  Huge kudos to the awesome player who guided three of us newbies through Ghimlyt Dark and did an excellent job explaining the mechanics.  I have to say though… it was a WAY easier dungeon than the Burn…  which I think Thalen still needs?  I need to check into that and help him out this week if that is the case.  All in all I am ready for the next content drop to finally explain how we get from this point…  to the point shown in the Full Trailer released at Fanfest Tokyo over the weekend.  One of my employees is a super serious raider type… so I will be quizzing him this morning as to his thoughts about what was shown.

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Another thing that has been stealing my time…  namely the hanging out in bed before going to sleep time…  is Baba is You.  This is a weird puzzle game where you essentially hack reality and rewrite the rules of the universe to get a win condition.  It reminds me of this mix between the old shareware title Paganitsu and Basic Programming logic.  Paga was a significant title for me growing up because it fit neatly onto a floppy and we could play it clandestine like from the computer lab at school.  Baba Is You is great because so often in puzzle games you get introduced to the mechanics and then they simply start dialing up the precision and speed that you need to react in order to complete puzzles.  Baba on the other hand keeps challenging your conceptions and does not care at all about the fine motor skills or speed of execution… and as such gives you unlimited rollbacks as you sorta figure out how the pieces move on each map.  Well worth checking out if you are interested in such things.

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Lastly I started messing around with Breath of the Wild again…  but if that were the end of that statement it would not be as nonsense as it ultimately is.  I own this game on Wii U and Switch…  but last night I started dinking around with Cemu the Wii U Emulator to see just how well it runs and what sort of resolution I could get it working at.  The game looks gorgeous running in 4K but requires a bunch of fiddling to get it there.  Not to mention just the act of getting it up in running was a pain in the butt which involved a whole slew of hoops to jump through to get the game patched and the emulator running.  Then there was the added step of getting it working through Parsec so I could have the same experience while hanging out on the laptop downstairs…  which involved installing controller emulators.

Basically I have NO CLUE why I did this thing, but I had a lot of fun and made it as far as Kakariko Village last night.  I never made it terribly far into Breath of the Wild in part because of the restart.  When the game first came out I did not have a Switch, and then at some point along the line I managed to find one in stock and re-bought the game on that platform.  That meant having to redo everything over, which sorta killed my forward momentum.  I seemed to log in more to summon treasure chests with Amiibos than I did to actually do anything else.  My save game is littered with chests around the Dueling Peaks stable.  It is truly shocking how well it runs, but there are a lot of frustrations… because the first time you encounter anything new there is a massive game freeze as it builds shader cache, however from that point on things are fluid again.

Basically chock this up to a long line of stupid things I have done like created a Chinese account so I could try Monster Hunter Online and setting up a Sega of Japan account to play Phantasy Star Online 2.  I will likely wander away from it boredly at some point in the near future, but last night I had an awful lot of fun doing things that I should be able to do.  I will however due to the potentially shady nature of this not be assembling a guide.  I own two copies of Breath of the Wild so I figured it was completely legit for me to do shenanigans, but the real more stable answer to playing Breath of the Wild is to get a Switch.

 

Regularly Playing: March 2019 Edition

We’ve passed the official first day of Spring this week and with it will come a lot more engagement with the out of doors and less sitting at home and playing games.  As a result over the spring and summer months this list tends to dwindle down to significantly fewer titles.  For the uninitiated I do this thing where I semi-monthly update my blog sidebar and talk about the games that I am regularly playing.  During the month of March I am being honest with myself and allowing several titles that have been holding on by a thread to drop down to inactive status.  However anyone who has read my blog for any length of time will realize that I regularly revisit older titles when I am feeling nostalgia or otherwise restless.  I am notoriously bad at keeping up with series, however this marks three months in a row!

To Those Remaining

Anthem – PC

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While I am taking a little bit of a break this week because there is an upcoming patch landing on Tuesday that should increase drop rates, I am still very much enjoying Anthem.  March more than anything has been about me championing the cause of this beleaguered game.  There is so much that so many people dislike about it, but I am consistently impressed at how fast we are seeing patches being released to address these issues.  At the end of the day it is player fantasy about me flying around in a Robotech style mech suit.  It’s a good game brent.

Destiny 2 – PC

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You sir are hanging out by the slimmest of threads.  In fact I didn’t have any modern screenshots so I had to pull back into the annals of the blog to find something to use.  The Season of the Drifter appears to largely be a dud and I am not entirely certain how engaged this whole era of “No DLC” is going to be.  I liked the story driven stuff, as limited as it was.  I’ve popped in several times but have struggled to engage.  As much as it saddens me, my time in Destiny may be waning.

Dragalia Lost – Android

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I swear Dragalia Lost is the poster child for how you do reoccurring engagement in a game…  and I sorta wish that all of the MMO-lites that I enjoy would take note.  In general you have roughly two weeks with an event going on, so plenty of time to earn whatever rewards you want without feeling pressured to play constantly.  Then within days of the finish of one event a brand new one starts causing you to engage all over again.  Because it is Nintendo and they purposefully limit that sort of thing… there really isn’t much in the way of excessive monetization either.  You just have a pure diablo-lite experience with a character collecting gacha mini game.  Sure it feels super bad when you waste your five star pull on a wyrmprint, but I keep coming back for more.

Pokemon Go – Android

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Another game that is sorta holding on by a thread is Pokemon Go.  If it were not for the fact that I was getting credit for walking from my watch… I would probably not be interacting with this at all right now.  As it stands I spend most of my time hatching pokemon… and even then I have like 3 eggs ready to hatch and I can’t seem to be bothered to open the damned app and do that.  However with spring and better weather I might be spending more time out and about and reinvigorating my use of this game.

To The Returning and Brand New

Baba Is You – Switch and PC

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This puzzle game is so good, and I have not talked about it much yet since we are probably going to talk an awful lot about it on the podcast.  However it is probably seriously in the running for me for game of the year honors… and we are only in March.  You hack reality to help you get to the “Is Win” condition.  It is one of those things that is really hard to explain but once you grasp it you find yourself thinking in “IS” statements.  So part logic puzzle part programming language.

The Division 2 – PC

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To be honest I was not terribly certain how I would feel about this game, but it has been taking up most of my game time since release.  The Division 1 was a setting without any semblance of hope… and The Division 2 has lots of hope.  Instead of helping out a government that is dying…  you end up helping out the communities of survivors trying to struggle to make it in the post biological apocalypse future.  Division 2 is everything about the first game but more finely detailed and expanded upon.  This is what a game sequel should feel like.

To Those Departing

Assassin’s Creed Origins – PC

I more or less got it out of my system when I became frustrated with what exactly the ending of the game would entail.  I have a feeling at some point in the future I will force myself to finish it, but for now…  I am just letting it slide away.

The Elder Scrolls Online – PC

I know without a doubt that I will return to this game because I always seem to, but for now that just isn’t the style of game I am interested in for the moment.  I seem to be enraptured with the whole MMO-lite emerging genre because I can drop in and out of them really easily and don’t ask an awful lot of me in the process.  ESO is a game of excellent storytelling and questing, and I just haven’t been in the mood for that.

Final Fantasy XIV – PC

I am literally one dungeon away from finishing the Stormblood storyline and I could not seem to push myself across that finish line.  For now Anthem and Division 2 have stolen my attention, but I am certain I will be returning at some point soon.  However due to the rules of this game, I did not play it during the month of March and as such it is leaving the list.

Magic the Gathering Arena – PC

Another game that I did not expect to leave the list, but is doing so anyways.  Still very much love this game and what they are doing with it… and will probably return soon with the upcoming patch that adds a bunch of additional functionality.

 

Monster Hunter World – PC

This one saddens me quite a bit, but I have not logged into Monster Hunter World in a really long time.  Again this is just a problem of limited play time and Anthem and Division 2 stealing my focus.  This will absolutely return to the list and potentially sooner rather than later given there is a high quality texture patch incoming on April 4th.

Summary

This was a month with a lot of movement, as I allowed things that were hanging on barely to slip by the wayside with the release of two back to back juggernauts.  Most of the things that are falling off the list will return and probably soon.  However for the sake of the way this post is supposed to work they are getting removed for the time being.  This is absolutely the shortest my sidebar has been in a really long time.