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.

 

Prone to Rant

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I love it when a game makes me seem like a whiny madman. I regularly read reddit, but very rarely comment about anything. However my frustration levels with Anthem have been growing to the point where I occasionally want to vent. I mean I try my best to keep this blog fairly positive, or at least balanced… but the Anthem reddit has been a salt mine since release so I figured it was a safe place to vent my frustrations. After today’s patch still announced no relief to the loot woes… I wound up venting at the nearest thread basically stating that apparently Bioware considers the current state of the game to be working as intended. To which I threw this lengthy comment.

So they have stated that loot isn’t where they want it to be. However it has been 52 days since the launch of the game and there has been a constant drumbeat from the player base that “loot is broken”. They have “accidentally” fixed loot twice to much praise from the players, so I find it hard to believe they do not understand which levers need to be pulled to give us what we actually want.

What I do believe however is they do not understand the kind of game that they built. They seemingly created Destiny with Flight… but with the loot system from Diablo 3 without fully understanding what makes either game tick. In Destiny… Exotics are these rare drops that feel super special when one happens, but that only works because every Exotic Weapon that you get is a curated roll and in the case of the armor that has some variation you have a way of re-rolling the stats. Diablo 3 on the other hand has a lot of variation in the loot and with that a bunch of crap items that are immediately going to get sharded… but the drops are plentiful which makes up for the fact you are going to keep very few of them.

If they want to continue to be Destiny with Flight and Diablo 3 Loot… then they need to make the tweaks and turn on the fountain of loot that makes that concept work. Either that or they need to change Legendaries so that they drop as perfectly curated rolls for optimal play if they want them to still be as rare as they are currently. The current combination is an incongruous mess.

I don’t want to abandon hope… I really don’t. However after gearing up all four Javelins to Masterwork level, and with the very limited content that is currently available there isn’t much for me to do right now other than decide either to walk away and cut my losses until “Year Two” and everything magically gets fixed like it did for Destiny, Diablo and The Division… or to keep slamming my forehead into the brick wall until I am dizzy enough not to care about the lack of legendary drops in GM2.

I had heard the term “Reddit Gold” before but never really understood what it was. I had to get Ashgar to explain to me how exactly it works because I legitimately had no clue. Apparently someone paid money to give me an award for that post? Anyways the funny bit about this when I got home and I did my daily run of trying to get a key and then doing a stronghold to use said key, the game decided to actually drop a legendary.

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It is actually a fairly good legendary at that, if you are the type of person who enjoys playing with sniper rifles.  I run with Siege Breaker for one reason and one reason only… it can freeze targets.  Otherwise I would probably never use a sniper rifle in this game, and unfortunately because I know I squandered my luck on this drop it will probably be another week before I see something else.  There was someone in the comment thread that theorized that they are working on some sort of a Stronghold challenge similar to Nightfalls in Destiny 2, and that maybe it would reward guaranteed legendaries.  There is still supposed to be a large patch in the works for some point this month, so I guess we will wait and see.  In the mean time I am trying to decide if doing dailies to get crafting materials and crappy decals is worth logging in on a daily basis.

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Since I complain that Anthem is a game that wants to be Diablo 3 but doesn’t exactly understand Diablo 3 Loot….  I decided to play some actual Diablo 3.  The last few nights I have been hanging out before bed working on my Crusader on the Switch version, and last night I wound up playing while upstairs in my office piped through my Elgato HD.  I find it weird that my default method for playing consoles right now is through a capture card, but it more or less works other than the fact that it doesn’t take amazing screenshots of the switch given the amount of upscaling that happens.  Over the weekend I finally beat the main story and now I am focused on running Rifts and doing bounties.  Over the last two nights I have worked my way act through act doing a full set of bounties…  only to realize that apparently the season that I started playing on is over and that didn’t count towards the normal seasons journey achievement.  Ultimately I am progressing too slow to really be worrying too much about seasons in the first place.

Right now I just want to hit 70 so I can gear out in the Thorns set which is hands down my favorite way to Crusader…  and a play style that I thought would translate well to handheld mode.  By the end of the night I managed to hit 58 and just a little bit away from 59, which means right around the corner I will start being able to collect Deaths Breath and finish unlocking the rest of the stuff in camp.  Additionally it means that I will be able to start Cubing some of the low level drops that I have gotten like the Heart of Iron that I managed to get during my 40s.  I am still only playing on Hard and have not ratcheted up the difficulty at all…  but without Haedrig’s Gift I feel like that ratcheting process is going to go way slower as I try and painstakingly collect a set of Invoker gear.

It would be nice of Haedrig’s Gift worked for pretty much any character to be honest, season or not.  The highlight of the night was seeing my very first Menagerist Goblin on the console and it dropped one of my favorite pets… the Flaming Skull.  At some point I will have to test out how grouping works as I know a handful of my friends have the copy on Switch.  That said this is largely a before bed solo grinding game for me as I find it incredibly relaxing.  I do however wish there was a way to link your Blizzard account and get some sort of cross play going on.  I somehow doubt that is going to be a thing anytime soon unfortunately.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

A Time Long Gone

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Last night was largely spent roaming around the ruins of Washington and unlocking things.  Seeing as I apparently did things out of the natural flow of the game… I have just now unlocked clans and will have to sort out which one I should join as it appears like there isn’t really a coalescence of my friends in one place other than the clan that Scopique and Traellan are in.  Normally speaking I would be joining whatever extension of the AggroChat/Greysky Armada/House Stalwart community that would be erected in a brand new game.  The challenge here however is that I know there won’t be one.  That group of individuals bounced faster off the first one than I did, and as such I know there is no glorious renewal of interest in the game and with it a flourishing of guild activity.  Division 2 is a game that I largely go into knowing that I won’t have the social structures I am used to with the familiar comfortable integrations with other players that I tend to take for granted.  I will be blazing a new trail and carving out a new home for myself…  and the challenge there is of course which group of friends do I choose.

I already have an invite waiting on me from TBC or The Bloody Clans…  a group that dates back to EGA Battletech but I spent most of my time with during Everquest and City of Heroes and have not really spent much time with since.  I know TQMB has a presence or Tequila Mockingbird, which was my original Destiny clan and one that I still associate with when I actually play the game on a serious level.  There are lots of other pools of friends that vary in level of seriousness about the game, all of which gives me a maze of choices to navigate.  This reminds me of a statement that my friend Neph said the other day and while I don’t remember the exact phrasing it was something to the effect of the following.  “I can’t wait until everyone is playing the same game again.”  While I agree with that desire… especially in a scenario like Division where those of us who are playing the same game are not even under the same banner.

The problem is my statement back to her was that it is likely never going to happen again.  I think the era of everyone playing one game is past us… at least for the age bracket most of us are in and for the type of demographic gaming wise that we represent.  The era of the big budget AAA MMORPG is long gone, and there just isn’t something exciting enough on the horizon to unite the tribes of gamers together underneath one mutually agreeable digital habitat.  If I am being honest with myself the last game that did this was World of Warcraft… and I am not talking modern WoW but instead the series run from Vanilla through the end of Wrath of the Lich King.  In my experience that was the heyday of the “It” game that everyone was at the very least dabbling in.  It was the era where you could walk up to pretty much any gamer of any stripe and they would be able to tell you what server and faction they were playing.  My friend tells a story about an awkward interaction at a birthday party when he goes through a sequence of emotions… first of excitement to find out another one of the dads plays Warcraft…  and then disappointment when he finds out they are playing on the opposite faction.

The “It” game for this generation is  Fortnite… and before that it was League of Legends… and before that it was Minecraft…  all of which more or less left the demographic that most of us are members behind.  Even during the heyday of MMORPGs we struggled to ever get everyone to commit to playing a new game.  I remember the first big foray was into Warhammer Online, and even then we only managed to muster about fifteen players to try it out of a roster of almost a hundred.  The inertia of World of Warcraft was too strong to break most players out of its field of influence.  We tried similar jaunts for Champions Online and the one that finally took me away from the game completely for awhile was Rift.  The last big successful departure was Star Wars the Old Republic, and even then that only lasted for a few months.  With the release of Elder Scrolls Online I drew heavily on social media attempting to pull everyone into the same guild…  only to watch it fizzle out after another three months.

Essentially I feel like there will probably never be another game that unites the banners, and that is in part because we as gamers have fragmented and quite honestly are no longer willing to deal with the things we once were.  I remember with the launch of World of Warcraft being stuck looting a Kobold in Elwynn Forest for a good 15-20 minutes and simply hard crashing the client and going on with my life.  Which is in part why I found it so funny to hear people call the launch of Anthem disastrous, because compared to that it was smooth sailing.  We just aren’t willing to deal with the inconveniences that we once were in order to play with gamers online, because that is no longer a novel and unique experience.  Everquest was in part popular because it gave us the ability to have lots of our friends together in the same world, whereas before we were limited to somewhere between 4 and 16 players connected to a dedicated server that someone had to run in order to play games together.  Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot and Ultima Online before that gave us massive persistent worlds for us to explore… and at some point along the line we stopped caring so much about that novelty.

Now almost every game you play has some sort of massively online functionality that pushes other players into your game time.  In Assassin’s Creed when another player dies in game it spawns a quest for you to go avenge their death by killing whatever NPCs took them out.  This is a functionally single player experience, but it still has hooks into the larger game world to make you feel like you are experiencing things together with your friends…  with friends being the loosest definition of that term in this case.  The novelty of being online with other people just isn’t the draw that it once was, and as a result we instead are focused on the story or the gameplay or other elements that instead mean we are effectively looking for different things in our gaming experiences.

I’m a grinder…  and while I enjoy the story…  I am ultimately in a game for the loot and a sense of progression.  So I can play games with the scantest of story so long as the moment to moment game-play feels good.  Tam on the other hand cannot get behind a game that does not have a story or a game world that he cares about.  This ultimately was the line in the sand that kept us both from enjoying Destiny 1/2 because he could not get behind that world or the digging required to find out any of the story.  Ash on the other hand is deeply into systems and tends to love games with lots of customization and ability to tweak builds… so something like a Warframe with its systems within systems within systems really resonates with him.  Every so often there will be a single game that caters to all of these core desires…  but it happens very rarely.  While I just outlines motivations for three members of our group…  you can imagine what that matrix begins to look like when you expand that to ten people or a hundred people.

Ultimately we want a higher level of fidelity in our games now.  We were willing to give something up for the novelty of hanging out online with our friends, but seeing as we are almost constantly connected through Slack, Discord, Twitter, Facebook and countless other little ways…  that connectivity no longer is as valuable as it once was.  Shit I remember a time when my friend and I used to dial into each others computers and talk over a terminal app just because it was interesting and novel, and now I can message tens of thousands of people in my larger orbit within seconds…  and we just consider that the bare minimum for internet connectivity these days.  No one builds massive worlds these days where lots and lots of players are connected at the same time… instead everything seems to have shifted away to smaller match based systems with cities serving as lobbies.  I personally like the Destiny/Division/Anthem/Monster Hunter style of game play that lets me drop in and out without feeling bad about letting my friends down.

I know this summer we will once again coalesce upon Final Fantasy XIV for the release of the Shadow Bringers expansion.  However I know that by the three month mark it too will have dwindled down to only the most die-hard and dedicated of player still playing it.  I’ve largely made my peace with the fact that there will likely never again be another World of Warcraft, at least not in that genre.  That same magnetism however keeps happening in other genres, so maybe someday down the time fifteen years from now… there will be a re-invigoration of the MMORPG genre.  However I think more than anything…  we mourn a moment in time where the stars aligned more than we actually mourn a specific game during its period of greatness.  Games at the end of the day come down to the people you play them with…  and as such I am still stymied by picking who to play Division with.

 

Fun Police: Portal Division

This morning I am taking a break from my normal Anthem love fest to complain about another game.  This time it is World of Warcraft something that I have not played since the beginning of November, but am still subscribed to it because I guess my theory is that the urge might hit me again at some point?  As such since I am a paying customer I do feel like I’ve earned the right to complain about things from time to time.  Now I am one full patch behind and there is a new patch on the PTR that information has been trickling out about on the various data leak sites.  I personally found out about this through a conversation between my friends Dom and Gloria, which lead me down the rabbit hole last night of trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

It seems as though the Blizzard Fun Police have struck once more and removed a bunch of portals from Stormwind/Orgrimmar, and cleaned things up a bit in the form of a new “portal room”.  I am going to use the Alliance as an example since I have spent more time in my life playing in that area than in the equivalent Cleft of Shadow area in Org.  Both the Mages Tower and Cleft of Shadows became the dumping ground for portals that were still useful but not necessarily associated with the current expansion.  The newly renovated area now contains the following portals.

  • The Exodar
  • Shattrath
  • Dalaran (Northrend version)
  • The Jade Forest
  • Stormshield in Ashran
  • Azsuna
  • Boralus

What is missing from this portal area are…

  • Caverns of Time
  • Ironforge
  • Blasted Lands
  • Pandaria Shrines

If I am reading this correctly on the Wowhead article it also seems as though the axe is being taken to a bunch of the other portal options that had still managed to survive to this point.  The other areas that have had a pass by the Fun Police are…

Dalaran (Legion)

  • IronForge/Thunder Bluff
  • Darnassus/Undercity
  • Caverns of Time
  • Dalaran Crater
  • Karazhan
  • The Exodar/Silvermoon City
  • Shattrath
  • Wyrmrest Temple
  • Vale of the Eternal Blossoms

Shrine of the Seven Stars/Two Moons

  • Shattrath
  • Dalaran (Northrend)

Dalaran (Northrend)

  • Caverns of Time

Essentially this is going to leave us with no way of getting to the Caverns of Time quickly… and practically no ways of getting to certain areas of the world quickly.  I keep using the words Fun Police on purpose because so much of the decision making that goes into World of Warcraft always feels that way to me as a player.  They announce some system that seems awesome at first… but the closer we get to the release of that system there is always some aspect of it that sucks.  For example… I remember being super amped about the release of the item appearance collection system to feel Transmogs…  but then also being super disappointed when I found out that you could not collect items unless you were on the right class when an item dropped.  Similarly the Transmog system itself is just a significantly worse version of the cosmetic systems that other games have had for years that didn’t have weird restrictions placed upon them.

This effects me personally because I still had a good deal of my alts bound at the Shrine of the Seven Stars because it gave me quick access to move around the world and hit the content that I wanted to spend my time doing.  It also made farming older raid content for transmog drops simple…  given that I HAD to do that now on multiple characters to collect various gear sets for them.  What makes all of these feel worse is the grossly out of touch commentary that came along with it from Community Manager Bornakk.  The initial response is as follows.

I understand that changes can throw people off a bit at first, but I also think they help keep the world of Azeroth feeling alive. When there are fewer portals, does the world feel a bit bigger to you? Do you like that? How difficult is it to get to the locations you mentioned without a direct portal (talking to everybody who isn’t a mage here 😉 ) ?

The thing is… no it doesn’t make the world feel bigger, it makes the world feel more tedious to move around.  There was a time when I had to spend 30 minutes or real time crossing the Ocean of Tears in Everquest.  This was not something I considered valuable, and it could be longer than that if you happened to roll up on the docks at exactly the wrong time.  This was passive time sitting there either waiting on a boat… or passively riding a boat…  and god forbid you alt tabbed to do something else and got engaged in it… and missed either getting on the boat or getting off of it.  This did not make Everquest seem like a bigger game… it just made it seem like a game that relished wasting my time.  Removing portals from World of Warcraft that were already in place and widely utilized…  just tells me that this game does not respect my time as the player.  The horrible response was followed up with a possibly even worse one.

I wasn’t being sarcastic. Apologies to you and others who felt I was dismissing them in any way.

For how I personally play and enjoy games, I like when I feel like I need to travel for a few minutes to get somewhere. For me, it is more rewarding when I complete the task that way and I wouldn’t want to be able to get everywhere instantly but there is a good medium to find (but continuing to pile up various teleporting items feels strange). Traveling over large areas reminds me of how vast the world is and I often reminisce while flying on a flight path or a mount. Sometimes I have even just used the port to Timeless Isle and taken the flight path to Shrine (instead of going straight there) as I can enjoy the view and relax.

That being said, I know I can be a bit strange and I’m often not bothered by things that bother others – that’s why I ask a lot of questions. I want to understand the different play styles and opinions of others so I can better discuss them both with you and internally. Getting to the fundamental impact is important for me as the solution sometimes requires a different approach. Hopefully I can avoid the feeling that I’m just talking at you and want to be talking with you. Cheers!

I am glad that Bornakk enjoys having their time wasted.  However I feel like that maybe shouldn’t be the scale by which we judge content?  I realize we all have hot button issues that don’t bother others… for example I have talked at length about how much I hate item management…  and then Bhagpuss will come along and talk about how organizing his inventory is his happy time.  While that discussion can be esoteric, and I have addons to help me clean my bags…  limiting access to the world by removing portals feels significantly less esoteric.  Gloria also brought up the point that I immediately thought of last night… in that Final Fantasy XIV is a game that feels massive in scale, but it is also a game that has instant travel to any number of Aether crystals that are scattered conveniently around the world.  The vastness is not harmed by the fact that I don’t have to start in Gridania and travel by Chocobo to all of the destinations in the shroud.  The scale of the world still seems extremely impressive as I am popping my way into conveniently located hubs that allow me to play the game in the manner that I want when I want to play it.

Now I realize this is not the first time that Blizzard has come along and axed a bunch of portals.  I raged against the action the last times it happened, and I am no less annoyed today than I was back then.  I think it is a dumb call…  but I continued playing the game because there were other aspects that I really did like in spite of the frustrating decisions that kept being made.  I’ve talked to my friend Grace at length about this…  that while I keep one foot back in the community to keep tabs on what is going on…  I seem to only see the bad in the actions that they are taking right now.  Battle for Azeroth was an expansion that went completely in the opposite direction that I would have wanted it to go coming down from the high point that was Legion.   Legion pretty much dethroned Wrath of the Lich King as my favorite expansion that Blizzard has ever done… and in many ways it is because of the focus on class fantasy and giving us a bunch of interesting and unique content tailored towards that specific fantasy.

Battle for Azeroth… other than the cool troll and loa storyline…  has been a pretty hollow experience that I keep finding plenty of excuses not to return to.  Limiting my access to the one thing that did seem appealing…  which was farming transmog gear in older areas of the world…  really doesn’t help that desire to return.  However as a player, watching the game go down a path I have no interested in going…  I am mournful of the version of World of Warcraft that I did love.  I would love to see a complete change in attitude within the WoW team and a focus on the fun rather than frustrations.  However much like the fact that at 42 years old I am pretty set in my ways…  a game that is 14 years old is fairly doomed to keep traveling on the same heading.  As such I think this is another title that I can add to the list like Dark Age of Camelot and the original Everquest… that I remember fondly…  but have no desire at all to return to.

 

The Will of the Moon

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This weekend was largely about me trying to recuperate from whatever crud I had on Friday.  I’m feeling better as a whole but still not feeling 100%.  I’ve referred to this weekend as a name brand beta, because when a company throws a special test that most of the world seems to be invited to it definitely comes off as more marketing ploy than actual test of the game infrastructure.  Overall the game performed flawlessly other than an apparent known memory leak bug, that I never quite encountered because I didn’t play longer than the requisite two or three hours that it takes to encounter it.  The missions that I ran were rather enjoyable, and I fully expect to at a minimum play through the story content and unlock all of that.  I make no guarantees about how long it will take me given that it took me a good two years before I reached maximum level in the original game.

I still question how well the game fits my play style, but at the moment I am looking at it for a purely single player experience given that I know going into it that none of the other AggroChat crew will be playing it.  They all for the most part bounced off of the original Division, and primarily for the bleak story beats.  I think the fact that we were effectively working for the various communities that we discover makes the flow of the story feel better.  However as Kodra pointed out on the podcast, it does leave us a question of why exactly we are still an agent if there is no organizational structure left?  I mostly view that trope as the lone lawman in the wild frontier sort of approach.  I will say the game improved massively after I turned off the HDR, given that I was only able to SEE the HDR effect upstairs in my office and not while playing remotely through parsec…  and as such it made everything extremely washed out and hard to pick out details.

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The game I spent the majority of Saturday playing was Assassin’s Creed Origins and I have reached a point where I am staring down the barrel of the ending.  However I am extremely frustrated by what appears to be the ending that is unfolding in front of me.  Now I have said for some time that my opinion is that when this game was originally planned the ultimately design was that you could play it as Bayek or as Aya since the two characters at least on some level are interchangeable and have the same reasons for engaging in the main story plot.  For sake of budget I assume they cut one character so that they would not have to animate two copies of everything, but the problem with this is…  that every time you are forced to play Aya it is like stepping foot into a level one character.

What I mean by that is through the course of the game you make a lot of stylistic decisions about what weapons you want to use and what talent points to sink into.  Then each time you are throw into playing Aya you are forced to return back to the character that lacks the ability to customize anything.  So spoilers time…  but I just went through a sequence where it appears that I am saying goodbye to my character Bayek…  aka the one that I have spent the last 40 levels customizing to be exactly the way I want him to be…  and being forced to do the ending of the game with Aya the level 1 blank slate.  This makes me really not want to do any of the ending and just call it good enough… returning to playing through the fun part of the game which is doing random quests out in the world.  Maybe this isn’t exactly what is about to happen… but it certainly seems like I am just about to be forced into beating the game as a proxy.  Please note… I like Aya as a character and would have been fine playing her…  if I could actually control what sort of gear and talents she had.

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Lastly I spent some time playing Final Fantasy XIV this weekend and accomplished two things.  Firstly I managed to get my Blue Mage to 50…  which means I now need to find a party of blue mages to go collect the rest of the spells I have available to me given that everything else seems to come from a dungeon or trial.  I spent the podcast grinding out mobs in Northern Thanalan and managed to push across the line solo.  I also managed to get through The Burn which served as a bit of a roadblock since the final boss of that dungeon appears to be a PUG destroyer.  I’ve now moved the quest line along to where I am failing miserably at a fight that is about four times longer than it really needs to be.  Actually I have only failed it the one time and it was mostly because I didn’t catch on what was going on fast enough.  I opted to play through the mission as a warrior instead of a samurai, but that also meant that I was not prepared for a burn phase, because I assumed I was simply trying to out survive the encounter.

I will likely poke my head back in again tonight and give it another shot.  I think I am probably nearing the bridge between 4.4 and 4.5 and as such getting closer and closer to being able to understand what the hell is going on.

Lost Allagan Tankybutts

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It feels lame when I say it this way… but I am been on this very slow path of trying to ease back into Final Fantasy XIV.  Most recently I have spent my time leveling as a Blue Mage, but last night I decided to try and figure out what it would take to get unstuck in the main story quest.  One of the frustrating parts about coming back to FFXIV is that generally speaking there are gear roadblocks in the way.  This is not to say that the game does not give you ample opportunity to catch up…  but you have to be playing to be able to exercise those options.  If you have been like me and largely checked out for the better part of an expansion…  you come back and find that what might have been good gear for the launch of the game…  is no longer able to actually participate in anything.

This was the case with me who was largely in 310 gear when I checked out of Stormblood and slammed right into a wall called Castrum Fluminis in the main story quest.  To be able to do this 8 player trial it requires you to have 335 item level…  of which there are a bunch of ways to get, but all of which required me to actually be doing content.  Then I was reminded of the fact that a new set of hunt seal gear went into the game.  Last night I started the evening running around and collecting Centurio Seals….  only to notice that when I checked the total I had gotten…  that I was apparently capped?  I don’t remember doing that much hunting before I left but it was enough to get me into a full set of 330 gear.  Shortly after this a very awesome guildie dropped a brand new 380 crafted axe on me pushing my item level up to 336 and over the line needed to do the trial.

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However I took the chickens route out and decided to see what it would take to gear out my Samurai in an equivalent amount of gear.  The answer?  Roughly 1 million gil by the time all was said and done bought me a new weapon and a few strategic pieces of gear that pushed my total item level up to 336 as well.  I completed the Trial as Samurai since no one actually expects much out of them considering they seem to have replaced the Dragoon as the lolclass in the minds of the populace.  I do need to get back on the tanking horse…  but last night was not the night.  I did however get through the Trial relatively easily and pushed forward in the story until I hit one of the infamous “lots of cutscenes” warnings.  Based on past experience this means thirty minutes to an hour and a half of stuff that is about to happen.

Given that it was fairly late in the evening already I took this as my queue to head on to bed.  From what I can tell I am at the border between patch 4.3 and patch 4.4…  and I have all of the content in 4.4 and 4.5 yet to go until I have reached the ultimate conclusion of Stormblood.  So far they have thrown out a few surprises… but unfortunately the news of Shadowbringers has spoiled a little bit of the conclusion.  I’ve still not watched the long form trailer that came out with FFXIV Fanfest Paris, and as such am trying to push through so that I can be up to date.  I am trying to get back into playing an MMORPG again…  but it just feels weird considering how much of the Destiny style MMO Lite I have been playing of late.

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If my math is correct… tomorrow is the beginning of the Closed Beta test in Division 2.  I will likely be pausing my MSQ progression to spend time checking that game out.  Curious… who else will I be seeing there?

1000 Needles

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I’m still not as engaged with Final Fantasy XIV as I would like to be, but I have been using the new Blue Mage limited job as a sort of way of easing my foot back into the water.  While I am not the fanatic for Blue Mage’s that Ashgar is…  I’ve always had a soft spot for the concept of learning abilities by getting hit with them.  As a result I’ve found it really fun and interesting to go around the world trying to learn new abilities.  I started playing the Blue Mage during the Podcast last week and have now made some significant progress, though from what it sounds not nearly as much as the folks that power leveled it in two hours.  Side note… there is apparently a glitch in the game that has been acknowledged that cannot be fixed until 5.0 that involves killing a monster with a single hit and then rapidly switching classes.  Since the first class never actually got flagged into combat… the second class that you switch to gains the experience.  The only problem with this theory is that most of the one hit classes are all casters… and the only thing I have to 70 are some melee classes.  As a result I have mostly been leveling the old fashioned way.

At this point my spellbook looks like this…

  • Water Cannon – Default Ability
  • Bomb Toss – Level 5 Goblin – Middle La Noscea – 23,21
  • Blood Drain – Level 7 Cave Bat – Lower La Noscea – 27,16
  • Ice Spikes – Level 9 Trickster Imp – Central Shroud – 27,24
  • Self-Destruct – Level 12 Glide Bomb – Western Thanalan – 27,17
  • Off-Guard – Unlock 5 Spells to Purchase
  • Final Sting – Level 13 Killer Wespe – Middle La Noscea – 15,13
  • Mind Blast – Solo Tam-Tara Deepcroft – Final Boss
  • Acorn Bomb – Level 17 Treant Sapling – North Shroud – 26,21
  • Bristle – Level 21 Wild Boar (supposedly Lvl.17 exists but never found)  – East Shroud – 18,24
  • Sticky Tongue – Level 24 Laughing Toad – Western Thanalan – 14,16
  • White Wind – Unlock 10 Spells to Purchase
  • Mighty Guard – Unlock 10 Spells to Purchase
  • Toad Oil – Level 24 Giggling Toad – Western Thanalan – 14,6
  • 1000 Needles – level 26 Sabotender Bailaor – Southern Thanalan – 15,15
  • Bad Breath – Level 31 Stroper – Central Shroud – 14,21
  • Faze – Level 32 Qiqirn – Eastern La Noscea – 26,32
  • Flying Sardine – Level 32 Apkallu – Eastern La Noscea – 30,34

I’ve more or less been following this guide on PCGamesN and am thus far missing Level 5 Petrify from the order they suggest and then we get into a bunch of abilities that come from bosses.  I attempted to solo Haukke Manor and just got wrecked so I effectively need to put some levels on before I can realistically do that.  I think at this point I am going to grind up to 32 so I can equip a full set of Battlemage armor and give it a shot.  The leveling thusfar has largely involved me wearing a bunch of random gear that I happened to have available in my bags rather than actually trying to go for something optimal.  The other answer is of course to simply grind the rest of the way to 50 and then deal with going after abilities after having a decent set of gear on.  Whatever the case I am finding this interesting and fun and it is super satisfying when you see the animation indicating that you learned an ability.  The money combo tends to be Acorn Bomb to put something to sleep, 1000 Needles to deal 1000 damage…  that ignores the debuff of Mighty Guard and repeat that until whatever it is you are fighting is dead with the occasional White Wind to heal yourself back up.

Too Pure for the World

So I have not related this story, but the other day I was roaming around outside of Aleport killing things for experience.  A FATE had just started and I began chipping away at it…  and someone responded in /say that I would not actually get bonus exp as a Blue Mage from those mobs.  This lead to them offering to kill stuff if I tagged it… so we ran amok for a bit in zone but at the time the fastest spell I had was Water Cannon.  So they suggested that I meet them at Costa Del Sol and ran me over to pick up Flying Sardine which is an instant, and then proceeded to have me run around the zone tagging things for a bit until I legitimately needed to leave.  This was not something I asked for, nor was it something I expected… but some random stranger on this awesome server called Cactuar just volunteered to help me out.  I shot up something silly like from level 10 to level 28 in a few minutes, but more than anything I was just shocked that someone was willing to do this random act of kindness…  which makes me realize how long I have been away from this community.  That is the kind of game that Final Fantasy XIV is… and over the years I have had so many of these random encounters that wind up with both of us friending the other so we can see orange text run past.  Hell I have struck up conversations just while hanging out on the Gold Saucer that wound up with me getting invited to run stuff with their Free Company.

Final Fantasy XIV as a community is just too damned pure for this world.