Enjoy the Path

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The first image of the evening is what happens when you catch the daily completion bonus train.  I am still floored by the sheer number of people actively participating in events.  One of the cool happenings of the night though is that I organically crossed paths with @vbarreirojr who was one event behind me in the progression.  I sort of love the concept that happens in this game of the commander…  because you can see the telltale icons on the corners of your map and generally speaking are a reasonable indicator of where some manner of activity is going on.  I’m also starting to learn to get a bit better at watching chat.  Often times as new events are starting up someone will link a waypoint to allow folks to jump to it relatively quickly.  Through a combination of follow the catmander and waypoint jumping I managed to knock out the daily completion bonus in what felt like record time.  I think part of it as well is I am starting to develop a little ancestral memory, as to which are the best areas to harvest resources and which are the easiest vistas to view to get completion and such.  It’s funny how I almost look forward to the daily completion bonus because it ends to give me some focus…  and from there while participating in it I come up with some other game play for the evening.

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Early in the day I was talking to a friend who is contemplating trying to restart the game, and was questioning what sequence of things she needed to purchase.  Firstly I think Guild Wars 2 is either something that feels good or doesn’t… and lord knows it took me five years of trying it to finally figure out the secret to being able to enjoy it myself.  You can scan back through the history of this blog and you are going to find a bunch of posts that are pretty negative about this game.  I wrote one in particular where I called it one of my five biggest MMO disappointments just so you have an easy reference.  You are going to ultimately have to decide if the game works for you or not, because it absolutely did not for me for a very long time.  However the truth that I finally landed on is that you have to forget everything you know about how an MMO works to ultimately make Guild Wars 2 work.  What I mean by that is for the most part MMOs are very task oriented and involve you completing a sequence of objectives in order to move on to the next sequence of objectives.  The quest is the most common version of this and that least to more quests and ultimately provides a ladder for you to traverse a given zone with.  When you attempt to play Guild Wars 2 in this fashion…  your brain rebels against you.  There is no quest structure and the concept of hearts are what I tried to latch onto as the replacement.  The end result felt like this grindy busywork as I attempted to complete my way across a zone so that I could then move to the next area, making sure to 100% everything in my path.  In doing so I kept getting frustrated each time something took me off path or off whatever my current task was, and as a result I bounced exceedingly hard off of the game.

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Instead I personally find Guild Wars 2 works better if you view it like an ocean that you happen to be floating in.  If you allow yourself to move along with the current you get to experience all sorts of interesting things that happen along the path.  Instead of staying focused on some large overarching goal…  I find it works best to focus on whatever is presented in front of you.  If there is an event spawning near you, go over there and participate because it often times leads its way to other events in the same zone.  Instead of trying to traverse things in an A B C D E F manner…  I find it just feels better to let the zone explore itself almost.  Sure you end up often times going from A to F to G to C to E and eventually back to B and D…  but it is done so in a more organic manner.  The only negative to this approach is that I find it completely impossible to stay on task.  Ultimately I started playing Guild Wars 2 like I play Skyrim or Fallout…  just letting myself wander off into the horizon and check out the next shiny object in my field of view.  If there is a commander on the far side of the zone…  then I should probably head that way to see what all is going on.  Sometimes this has lead me to zone events that I didn’t even realize existed.  To some extent at times it feels like the game is playing you… but I think in this case it is probably perfectly okay.  This game is full of these extremely intricate micro objectives and feedback loops to keep you caught in their gravity and constantly doing stuff.  The fact that everything scales…  means that you are never going to be doing stuff that isn’t potentially valuable or lucrative.    Basically my advice to learning how to enjoy Guild Wars 2 is to stop focusing on the goal… and start enjoying the path.

 

Saltines and Weaponcraft

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Yesterday was a weird one, namely because everyone seemed to have eclipse fever for lack of a better term.  As a group we had largely made a plan to go over to the roof of the parking garage next door, and by the time the festivities actually started there were between fifty and a hundred people that had the same idea.  The positive is that everyone was more than willing to share their assorted ways of viewing the eclipse.  In Oklahoma we only actually had about 90% occlusion, which made the world feel like a storm front was just about to blow in.  The sky darkened, the temperature dropped a very small bit… but for the most part you could have easily not noticed anything going on unless you happened to look up.  I took the first image with the selfie cam on my old phone and that was just about the peak of occlusion…  and as you can see the day star still seemed pretty formidable.  The second shot is the idea of using a saltine cracker to project the shadow, and the third shot is this awesome box that the same coworkers husband had rigged.  The last shot is the eclipse through the filter of a pair of those shades…  but unfortunately it was hell to get the focus to latch onto it at all.  There were so many sets of shades that people were passing them around pretty freely, and I got to take more than a few peeks at the spectacle.  The only problem is…  my eyes felt really funny afterwards.  Like in part they felt like they were strained… or like I had been driving into the sun’s glare for too long.  It took about 2 hours for the effect to fully wear off, so I was concerned for a bit that maybe we ended up with some cheap knock off shades and I had done some actual damage.  My eyes are super sensitive to light in the best of conditions…  so forcing myself to be out and looking up…  probably just caused them to strain a bit.

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When I made it home for the evening I was still feeling a little off though.  So my evening activities ended up leaning towards the chill side of things.  Other than doing my daily completion bonus I largely focused on crafting and pushing up my weaponsmithing.  I had this weird sequence of events happen where I saw my character hit 402…  then somehow was back at 392.  Guild Wars 2 has this problem where the UI sometimes freaks the hell out, and in order to fix it I sometimes have to log out and back in.  In doing this I went from the 402 I was supposedly sitting at before I logged back to the 392, which is a bit frustrating.  However since for some reason I didn’t have the pattern to Orichalcum Ingots…  I am leaning to the side of this just being a presentation bug since the UI was acting up anyways.  I still had the materials though to push my way through to the 400s and now everything I craft seems to take a ton of time and materials.  I need to do a heck of a lot more farming of the level 80 zones because I only had the materials for I believe 64 ingots of Orichalcum.  I was in even worse shape in the Ancient Wood department, so I know I will be spending a lot of time in the end game zones doing content.  I am largely going down this path because I want to be able to craft my own ascended gear, and be able to craft my own exotics for  the purpose of trying to gamble and get that precursor.  I realize I should just focus on making a lot of money and buying the damned thing…  but I have a long ways to go until I will be able to do that.

Merry Eclipsemas

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Friday I was apparently smoking something and I decided to attempt to participate in one of those internet meme quiz things.  I was planning on doing it my own way where I just made a giant blog post about it.  However thankfully I did not get enough likes to actually trigger me to release the post.  Side note… I did actually write it and it is sitting in my saved drafts bin but I am somewhat relieved that I didn’t hit the threshold needed in my mind to make that post.  In other news today is in fact the Eclipse and while I am not anywhere near the totality…  it should still be interesting.  There is a big of a gathering happening on the roof of the parking garage next to work in order to celebrate it, but my meeting schedule will ultimately determine if I can attend.  The only negative is that I don’t have any way to view it safely.  I remember watching one as a kid, that had to be the one that happened in 1979 and my grandfather who was a welder by trade had me wear his welding hood.  I have no clue how best to really watch this one… I mean I guess in theory I could do the pinhole camera thing.  The awesome big is that this time we have the internet and live streams… and in theory can get a much better view sitting at the computer than we can outside.  It is extremely unique though to have the feeling that it was daytime minutes before and now you are standing in darkness.  There have been many warnings about not pointing your camera directly at the eclipse, but I was going to attempt this using my old phone’s front facing camera as a sort of way to know when it is safe to look at not safe to look.  Dealing with the eclipse always sort of reminds me of Perseus and Medusa, and trying to use a shiny surface to get a glimpse without turning to stone…  or in this case completely wrecking my eyes.

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I spent most of my weekend playing Guild Wars 2 and attempted to make further progress in the Living Story Season 2 content.  Before I get into that however I want to make another side note about just how damned active people are in this game.  It is really hard to get the scale from a single screenshot given how much people in general move around avoiding mechanics… but I was needing to do an event in Frostgorge sound for one of the steps in the quest chain.  While waiting for it to kick off I noticed a significant number of people gathering… and by the time we actually started there were a good fifty plus players participating.  Over the weekend I discovered Dulfy’s boss timer thanks to my friend Solaria…. and I spent a good deal of time bouncing around and doing world boss fights.  The weird thing about the Frostgorge Sound event though is that this isn’t on the timer…  it is just something that happens occasionally and apparently there are enough players out there wanting to complete it that we end up with the numbers that we had each time it runs.  When I first got to the zone I caught the tail end of the event and did not participate enough to be able to get credit.  However during that running there were still a significant number of players participating in the content.  It just floors me that there are enough players in the game that you can pretty much show up at any single event timer…  and know without a doubt that it is going to happen.  Now maybe during the wee hours of the morning this might not be the case but over the course of the weekend I kept hitting various encounters and each time we had more than enough to make sure it was a success.

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Another big happening of the weekend is that I managed to get my Ranger to level 80.  I managed to get him pretty close through the use of a bunch of Tome’s of Knowledge but I still needed to pour on the last five levels the old fashioned way.  Right now I think I am pretty happy with the combo of Greatsword and Longbow for this character, and have tweaked my spec to emphasize both of these weapon selections.  I cobbled together a set of gear once I dinged and am now out doing a secondary mission with the character… and that is popping between zones and taming animals.  For the most part I seem to have the best luck with my traditional Arctodus and River Drake combo…  but the longer I play the Drake seems to keep pulling ahead in most departments.  They just seem to be universally good… reasonable dps and excellent survival.  All of that said it does nothing to stop my desire to tame all of the things and have a completely filled out pet window.  I’m extremely torn as to which character I should be spending most of my time on… and this is one of those moments when I wish the map progress was shared.  On my warrior I managed to 100% a few new areas and am continuing down that path that I will ultimately need for the Legendary weapon madness.  As far as gambling for weapons…  I’ve decide more or less to stop that nonsense until I can actually craft the weapons myself.  On that front though I am now in Mithril territory as far as leveling goes and considering how much of that I have in my vault it should go pretty quickly.  I am however going to have to focus any of the zones that mine Orichalcum because I am severely lacking in my reserves of that metal.

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The other big take away from the weekend is that I am pretty sure the designers of this game intended you to be grouping up for the Living World content.  I say this because I just finished the second part of Chapter 4 and towards the end of that mission I had died so many times my character was completely naked.  The thing is… it hasn’t just been that one encounter because the last few major fights have taken a significant amount of time and put me up against some extremely hitpoint spongey bosses.  I am not going to go into specifics for the sake of spoilers…  though I guess the above image is in its own way a little spoilery.  I should in theory be grouping with friends to complete this content, but on some level I am getting a sense of pride in being able to do it all solo.  Sure sometimes it hurts, and I always have to repair afterwards but it is also forcing me to actually deal with the mechanics which I am hoping will make adjusting to the later fractals all that much easier.  I also in truth really need to spend some time optimizing my gear on the Warrior because right now other than the few ascended items I have… it is a little all over the place.  I am hoping to push up my weaponsmithing and armorsmithing in part to help fill out some of these gaps as I am already sitting on quite a few patterns that would be useful.  Long story short… still having an awful lot of fun in Guild Wars 2 and still finding tons of casual activities to accomplish.

 

Active World

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As you know from the last several posts I have made on the subject…  I have been playing a shocking amount of Guild Wars 2.  I am still a little surprised myself considering how many years I just did not like this game at all.  Something clicked in my brain and I am honestly happy that I stuck around long enough for that moment to happen.  It’s weird just how much of what we like and dislike happens is related to the experiences we are ultimately comparing it to, and our present frame of mind.  One of the things that I am finding shocking right now is just how damned active the game actually is.  My frame of reference there has been mostly World of Warcraft, where not too long ago I spent some time on low level characters namely in the Ashenvale area.  When pushing up my Orc Warrior I could go the entire night without seeing another single player.  It legitimately felt like I was the only person in zone most of the time, and even if I made a trip to the Crossroads…  it was a bit of a rarity that I actually encountered anyone there either.  The weird part about this is the fact that I play on Argent Dawn and for the most part have every other role-playing server blended together…  including the extremely high horde population Emerald Dawn server thanks to Alea Iacta Est and their presence.

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Conversely while running around in Guild Wars 2 there is rarely a moment when I don’t have another player on screen.  Last night I spent a good deal of time in Snowden Drifts which is a third tier zone in the Norn area, so not exactly a hub of the game.  However each and every time I started to engage with an event or a hero challenge… moments after starting there were a slew of other players hanging out and doing the content as well.  Now I gave the WoW reference not to somehow prove that game is dead…  but just to highlight how vastly different the two games feel right now.  Admittedly with World of Warcraft…  the vast majority of the players are simply not leveling characters because if they are like me they have a stable full of post 100 characters in various states of completion.  Guild Wars 2 has something else going for it though in that it serves to make every bit of content relevant by allowing the world to scale.  Why this becomes interesting is the fact that if you do any major event…  you have droves of players that show up to participate.  The above event screenshot is from a random Ley-Line Anomaly from Gendarran Fields a level 25-35 area.  By the time I saw the server message… and ported over there were already hundreds of players fighting the Anomaly.  What makes this encounter so interesting is the fact that every so often it straight up kills a handful of players, and like clockwork there is always a chunk of players that stick around and rez the fallen before catching up.  Thankfully in the case of this fight the mob drops these beacons that will allow you to leap ahead significant distances to try and keep from penalizing those community minded players.

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One of the cool parts about Guild Wars 2 as well is the fact that at some point in the recent past they decided to open up the base game to everyone.  Now you can pick up the “Standard Collection” for $49.99 which includes the base game, Heart of Thorns expansion and the as yet to be released Path of Fire expansion as well as 2 level 80 character boosts.  That is pretty cool but if you are just wanting to dip your toes in to test the water, you can play the game for free with this registration link.  In truth I suggest that option first given that it has legitimately taken me five years to reach a point where I am finding that I really truly do love this game.  Now that free account has a bunch of restrictions on it, which thankfully they outline in a support article.  Namely it seems like this is the standard protecting the environment MMO fare of limiting communication options.  However there are a couple that are going to be annoying…  namely the limit of 2 character slots and only 3 bag slots given that the game I feel has too small of bags in the first place.  You are also limited to only the starter zones until level 10…  but given you were probably going to stay there regardless that is not a big deal.  Unlocking of Lion’s Arch around 35 is I believe about when you would normally go there through the story quests.  Regardless if you decide you like the game you are probably going to at least pay the $50 to unlock the two expansions.  The biggest annoyance to me would be Living Story Season 2 and 3 which are treated as separate purchases if you were not around to unlock the content when it was initially available.  Now they go on sale periodically, however to purchase them outright would be around $16 per season.  That said I have yet to complete Season 2 or in truth really get started in earnest on it, so that isn’t that big of a deal.  The seasonal content helps you understand the lore of the world and the events that are going on around you.  If you just want to smash things in the face with a hammer like I often do…  this becomes optional content.

Breached Wall

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This weekend was largely one about me playing quite a bit of Guild Wars 2 while doing other things.  We’ve been binging a few Netflix series, and GW2 is just about the perfect sort of game for that activity.  First we went on a tear of watching through all thirty episodes of The Ranch, a comedy helmed by Ashton Kutcher and a whole slew of other That 70’s show alums like Danny Masterson and Wilmer Valderrama.  There are currently the two “seasons” of the show and that is in quotes because the show has one of the most jacked up naming conventions I have seen yet.  Whatever the case its funny, and reminds me so much of the people I great up with.  While I did not grow up on a ranch…  I grew up knowing someone that pretty much was the same as a character on the show.  From there we finally started watching Orange is the New Black and have barely made a dent in it, but it gives us another thing to watch whenever we are in the mood to watch something.  So far I am digging it.  Again it is another show that pairs nicely with Guild Wars 2 because it is a largely verbal show… and far less about what is happening on screen.  This is ultimately why I don’t watch nearly as much Anime as I would like, because I have reached this point where I cannot bring myself to “only” watch television.  I need to be doing something else at the same time, and I cannot play a game and “read” television at the same time.  How I managed to watch Train to Busan is a bit of a miracle…  because it held my attention enough to keep me from wandering back to playing something at the same time.

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As far as game time goes, I have been slowly working on world completion.  In theory I know I should be spending my time catching up to the story…  but I find myself instead preferring the slow pace of working on knocking out various objectives on the map.  At this point I have 64% zone completion, and am slowly focusing the early zones to get them out of the way.  Over the weekend I wrapped up all of the capitol cities and have been doing the first few zones in each area of the map.  I posted the above screenshot not necessarily because it is majestic, but represents what felt like a significant achievement.  Side note…  even to this day I cannot keep myself from snapping a screenshot when I am viewing a vista for the first time.  This vista in particular is in Diessa Plateau at the Breached Wall, and it is a fairly contorted jumping puzzle.  I wound up spending about an hour working on getting things just right so that I could get up there and score some hero points and the vista.  One of the things that floors me is just how damned many people are still active in this game, because during that hour of working on the Vista… I encountered a couple dozen other players trying to do the same thing.  When a group of us finally made it across there was much spontaneous cheering.  The other weird thing about this game is the way that players will seemingly beeline out of their way just to rez someone.  I’ve found myself doing the same thing, and I think largely it is because the game messages it to players that maybe it is something that they might want to do.

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I remember in 2015 at Pax South when they were unveiling Heart of Thorns… the speakers talked about it being one of the friendliest communities in MMO gaming.  At the time I thought this was a weird boast, because I had never really encountered anyone striking up a conversation with me.  However this time… coming back to the game…  I am finally grasping what they meant by this.  The Guild Wars 2 community is not one of words but instead one of actions.  I cannot count the number of times someone has veered off course to come resurrect me, or seemingly stopped what they were doing to participate in some random event that just happened to be passing their way.  I myself have done both of these and if you allow yourself to just sort of ride along in the current of the game is is an extremely rich experience.  My problem previously was that I kept trying to play Guild Wars 2 like I played other MMOs, where I focused in on a very finite series of goals and expectations and at the same time closed myself to the random happenings.  In some way I have started playing GW2 much the same as how I play Elder Scrolls or Fallout games…  where I allow myself to wander aimlessly and participate in whatever happens to cross my path…  or catch my eye.  As a result the game finally makes sense and finally seems as fun as everyone has made it out to be.  I still marvel that it took five years to reach this point of realization…  but I never claimed to be particularly swift.

Finally Invested

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Sometimes I do not understand my own gaming whims.  In theory I should be logging into Final Fantasy XIV every single night and working on collecting the last bits of stuff I need from Omega, or at the very least trying to cap the latest limited tier of bookrocks.  However instead I am finding myself wandering around in a bunch of different games where I have little to no online gaming community.  I’ve been in pretty deep turtle mode, and as a result I have been dodging other human beings left and right.  I’ve talked about the “spoons” concept in the past, but right now it feels like every last spoon I have is getting used up before I hit the house in the evening.  So what this means is a much higher percentage of passive activities like watching stuff from netflix, and a lower percentage of things like gaming that requires active participation.  Effectively at this very moment I am managing two different teams at work…  one of which my normal crew of developers and the second being a sort of response team to an issue that has been going on.  This is eating up every last drop of my time and attention.  There was one day last week where out of what turned into a 10 hour work day… I had 7 hours worth of meetings…  followed by furious periods of attempting to get anything done.  The glorious lie of being salaried is that in theory you get the same amount of money if you work 4 hours as if you work 40 hours…  but what that means in reality is I have never worked less than 40 hours anywhere I have ever been.  Most weeks I work significantly over because I wind up working through lunch.  Needless to say all of this sustained madness leaves me pretty drained when it comes to interactions with other human beings.  To make matters worse in a short amount of time we will be going through the upheaval that comes when my wife starts back to school for a new semester, and having to double down on my support infrastructure as she adjusts to having to leave the house every day.

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I am not sure if it is due to my current state of mind… or if I have just slowly warmed to the game over time…  but at some point I decided that Guild Wars 2 was apparently something awesome to be playing.  I have a really tenuous past with this game that I won’t go into now because I have talked about it at length in the past on this blog.  At some point however it started to feel decent to run around in this world and have all of these little micro objectives that I could be doing…  without feeling like I was terribly tied to completing any of them.  This week however I for some reason started working on the main story quest yet again… and almost five years after the launch of the game I managed to beat it and have officially entered the “living story” content proper.  I cannot tell you how initially turned off I was on the concept of living story being this limited time thing.  The fact that all I can see from Season 1 is a short montage of the events that happened in it still frustrates the shit out of me.  However the fact that Season 2 and Season 3 are sitting there waiting on me actually gives me some reason to keep moving forward in the game.  There is just a deluge of content available spread across a whole ton of games that I enjoy playing…  and in order for me to keep being interested in a game it needs to sit there waiting on me.  In truth I juggle a bunch of games at once, flipping to whatever game happens to feel good at that very moment.  Recently I have been playing a sizable amount of Rift as well because it similarly is devoid of a social community that I have to worry about interacting with.  I have a feeling that if this turtle keeps up…  I will be revisiting SWTOR and Elder Scrolls Online as well… and in all of those cases I know there will be fresh content patiently waiting on me to return and enjoy it.

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What has kept me engaged thus far in Guild Wars 2 was that the story picked up.  For a long time I thought the main arc was a little nonsense, and it involved a lot of characters that I was not that deeply endeared to largely because they were all dicks to each other.  However at some point the tide turned and I got engaged in the race to discover Orr and uncover its mysteries.  This process kept pushing me into zones I had never seen before, which lead to me wandering around and exploring…  which lead to me doing little side missions and objectives.  What used to feel like an unsatisfying loop…  suddenly felt extremely sticky as I slowly became invested in the game world.  Now I legitimately can say I love this game, and it took a really long time to get there.  For years I didn’t understand why people enjoyed it.  There was a point last year where the AggroChat crew and I did some Fractals… at which point I thought I had understood where the core fun of the game was.  However after spending some more time wandering around it feels like the core fun of the game…  is that there is just so damned much stuff to be doing at any given time.  All of it feels equally rewarding and equally likely to give you something that might be useful.  The difference here is that I am effectively in the same gear I have been wearing for the last few years…  but that the game has given me all sorts of horizontal leveling paths that do everything from increase my mobility…  to simply increasing my luck chance.  The best part of all of this is that a good deal is unlocked at an account level so regardless of which alt I decide to be playing…  I am getting a good deal of the benefit.  How I got around the old world without gliding is beyond me… and I have a feeling with the upcoming expansion once I get the ability to ride mounts I will have a similar feeling.  Another major change is the fact that with the expansion character models…  I can now have a proper beard as you can see me sporting in the first image…  as well as a nifty eye scar.  I am not exactly sure when the turtle will end, but in the meantime I am finding interesting ways to enjoy new worlds.

Top Five Lists Are Hard

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I failed miserably at attempting to do a daily creative thing.  Yesterday was an extremely crappy day on the work front, or at least one that drained every little bit of sanity out of me.  By the time I got home I just wanted to vegetate on the sofa and play some games.  With the announcement of the Guild Wars 2 Path of Fire expansion coming in September, this I am sure rekindled the fires for a lot of folks.  For me personally… its particular un-directed style of roaming aimlessly yet still feeling like you accomplished something was a reasonable fit for the state of mind I happened to be in last night.  It’s funny how my opinions of this game have changed significantly over the years.  While I was in Alpha I was not a fan at all… and this is still the only Alpha program I purposefully resigned from.  In Beta however I started to see some of the merits and played a little bit at launch, however that did not last extremely long.  For years afterwards I was a bit at odds with the game and not really getting what everyone else was seeing in it.  However about a year ago the AggroChat crew all returned and started doing some of the group content and more or less I began to see the merit.  More recently I just find it an excellent source of bite sized entertainment…  which is I think the intended goal all along.  Of the original Guild Wars content, Nightfall was probably my favorite “expansion” that of course wasn’t actually an expansion.  So since Path of Fire is going to be in that same area I am looking forward to this expansion way more than I did Heart of Thorns.  I also find it extremely interesting that they are continuing to give horizontal progression…  which on some level has traditionally bothered me…  but also allows me to not feel left behind each time the game moves forward.  The primary problem there is that I feel so far behind in  the alternate progression paths that I will likely never actually catch up without a serious time investment.

Yesterday a tweet was making its way across my twitterverse and it was interesting seeing everyone’s responses.  The problem however is that I personally have a really hard time narrowing it down to a list of 50…  let alone a list of 5.  I made an effort to do so… then as soon as I posted it came up with half a dozen other alternates that potentially could have bounced the titles I listed from contention.  When I look at an “of all time” list I tend to think of things in terms of long term replay-ability as well as the overall experience I had playing the game.  Namely can I pick this title up today and still play it with the same level of joy that I had when I originally played the game.  This means there is a significant number of titles from the PS1 and PS2 eras that are just dead to me without the introduction of a remaster or remake.  We’ve experienced this several times in the AggroChat game club as we attempted to relive a title from the past only to find it doesn’t live up to our modern expectations for how a game should behave.  So here is the list of games that I managed to whittle down to on impulse yesterday.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

This is the only game that is pretty much universally always going to be my number one slot…  until something dethrones it.  I love everything about this game from the art style to the music to the level design.  I have this title in the original PS1 release, Sega Saturn, PSP, PS3, PS Vita, and Xbox 360 versions.  To the best of my knowledge this means I own it on pretty much every platform it has been released on… and truthfully I can happily keep playing this over and over.  About once a year I seem to boot it up and play through it… and I am secretly hoping that the Switch gets a release at some point.

Fallout New Vegas

I waffled on this one a bit because I like ALL of the modern Fallout games… but personally I feel like New Vegas is the best version so far.  It has everything I liked about Fallout 3 but includes a much better overarching storyline.  At release this was rife with all manner of bugs… but over time through official and unofficial patches it has reached an extremely solid state and is one of those games I can still boot up at any time and return to happily.

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

This for me is always likely going to be the pinnacle of the Legend of Zelda franchise.  Its Zelda at its most Zeldaish, and again this is one of those games that I can keep playing over and over.  I remember this also being one of the first times I was completely shocked by a World 2 transition, in thinking I had almost beat the game…  and then finding out that maybe I had finished a fifth of it.  What I love the most is just how much stuff lies just slightly off the path and is not really required to beat the game.

Dragon Age: Origins

There are times I would like to say that I love the Dragon Age franchise…  but in truth I really just love Dragon Age: Origins.  I have significant problems with Dragon Age 2 and Inquisition, and I just can’t ever seem to get anywhere near as engaged as I did the first time.  The thing is… it isn’t actually the first time because I have continued to successfully return to this world and play it over and over.  The Grey Warden storyline beats every storyline they have come up with to date in every possible way… and I just want to keep reliving that character and experience.  Additionally this was my Gateway drug into Mass Effect because if I did not love this game… I probably never would have given that franchise a second shot.

Mass Effect 2

Linked to the one above…  Mass Effect 2 is the pinnacle of the series for me personally.  It does the most things I want from Mass Effect which is honestly the “away mission” feel that you have in this game.  In part I think Andromeda does a good job of recapturing this feeling, but the second game in the series will always hold a special place in my heart because it is the game that made me fall in love with this setting.  I bounced pretty hard off of the PC port of Mass Effect because of the fairly cludgy interface, but after absolutely loving Dragon Age… and finding out that ME2 was going to be using that engine I gave the game a second shot.  What I found was this rich world that ultimately caused me to go back and suffer through the first game so I could experience more of it.  I love everything about this game from the recruitment of interesting characters, to ominous baddies… and even more ominous allies.

More Games

The moment I hit send I had a flood of other titles that really should have been included, and as a result I am just going to run through a few of these without delving into them.  Regardless this is an extremely difficult exercise, because how do you condense over thirty five years of gaming into a single list of five.

  • Destiny
  • Diablo 3
  • Final Fantasy VI
  • Super Mario World
  • Knights of the Old Republic
  • Planescape Torment
  • Super Metroid
  • Phantasy Star IV
  • Guardian Heroes
  • Rivercity Ransom
  • Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo
  • Mortal Kombat II
  • World of Warcraft
  • Hellgate London
  • Wolfenstein New Order
  • Doom II
  • Minecraft
  • Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2
  • Thomas Was Alone

and honestly…  the moment I hit post I will think of several dozen more than deserve to be on the list.  Basically this is a really hard thing to do for me.

A Warm Blanket

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Today marks the beginning of the whole “Daily Creative Thing” business and while you might have been expecting something from me…  unfortunately you can’t really expect me to get up and do creativity by six in the morning.  Sitting down and writing out a blog post is challenging enough.  I am however planning on making something happen today or tonight depending upon when the muse hits me.  The other big thing going on today is that it is my Nineteenth wedding anniversary, and while I am not entirely certain what we are doing to mark the occasion yet I am sure we will come up with something.  In truth what it will probably mean is that my wife and I go out to dinner, and then wander around hitting the various stores and checking to see if they have started marking down their back to school stuff yet.  “School Supply Season” is like Christmas for my wife, and while this is not exactly the normal thing for people to get excited about…  it is for a teacher.  I’ve spent many an hour over the years scrounging for one last folder or ruler or package of gluesticks for her classroom.

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Work is still madness and I am still finding myself deep in the throes of turtle mode.  Honestly more than anything what happens during these times is I resort to comfort gaming.  I end up dusting off a game that I had not been playing that much and spend a significant chunk of time roaming around its world.  Lately that has meant an awful lot of Rift because much like Phantasy Star Online yesterday… I carry a significant torch for this game as well.  In honor of the occasion I decided to vary up my default wardrobe a bit from what I had been running around in the first screenshot… to what I am now running around in…  which is honestly mostly just some dye and swapping a few pieces.  I never managed to hit the “Prophecy of” level cap and I’ve just been working my way through any of the content that I had left to do in various zones.  So far the thing that I am liking the most about the content is the way that each zone has this major event that takes place at the very end of the zone that ties up a bunch of loose threads from various quests and packages it neatly in this really epic fight.  In many ways Rift feels like a game from a different time, and this has both good and bad aspects to it.  The bad is it feels much slower than other MMOs and the time to kill and time to level can feel a little grating at times.  However on the good side this is also this same thing that makes it feel familiar and lived in…  and something that I can return to over and over to wear it like a blanket.  The main problem that I have with Rift that ultimately causes me to wander away is that I don’t have my social infrastructure here.  My circle of friends that I record the podcast and game on a nightly basis with…  have moved on past this game and will likely never return.  At this point I think I am just too set in my ways to branch out and build new communities, and I also know that I will soon return to the fold and wander away from the game myself.

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Another game I have been playing a not insignificant amount of is Fallout 4.  This runs pretty damned smoothly on the laptop and it has been a recent go to for when I want to wander around a world and explore a bit.  In the theme of carrying torches for games… I have loved Fallout since I saved up my pennies to buy the first game when it released back in 1997.  I was going to college at the time and not really buying many games, but still made a beeline to Walmart to pick it up once I knew they had it in stock.  Side note… that was literally the only place in town that sold PC games and was before the mass expansion of Game Stop.  At that point Software Etc and Babbages still existed as separate entities as well as Comp USA and the unrelated Circuit City and Computer City.  When the games made the tradition to the open world format I was skeptical but quickly got on board thanks to my love of the Elder Scrolls games.  Now the modern Fallout games serve as this familiar touchstone that I can keep returning to anytime I need solace.  I’ve started countless games of Fallout 3 and New Vegas and it seems like now I am carrying that tradition over into Fallout 4 as well.  My default play mode tends to be to wander towards a corner of the map and do whatever happens to be there.  I am not really big for following larger quests in this game, and I likely would have never actually beaten it were it not for the fact that we chose this as a game club game… and I felt obligated to do so.  Gaming in general for me is not ever really about beating the game… but more about existing in that game world for a period of time.  The game world of choice is determined by whatever mood I happen to be in.  Fallout for me tends to be for when I am in a slower paced mood and want to wander around aimlessly dispensing frontier justice on the raiders.

 

Burning Torch

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There are a lot of games that I hold a torch for…  even when they are long dead and gone.  Specifically I am looking at you Hellgate London… that I will always have a significant amount of love for.  However another of those titles is Phantasy Star Online.  This is ultimately what I consider to be my first MMO, or at the very least the gateway drug that opened me up to the possibilities of Everquest.  The Dreamcast is a special console for me, and in large part it is due to this game.  I spent many a weekend afternoon dialed into SegaNet with the 56k modem and eventually upgraded to the “broadband adapter” and running a 50 ft network cable out of my office and around the edge of the loft so I could partake of this title at my then DSL speeds.  I even went so far as to purchase a weird controller adapter that among other things had a PC PS/2 port that allows me to connect a keyboard so that I could communicate more easily with other players while running group content.  I played a RAcast, which was the giant robot ranger character…  which is probably why I have so damned much fondness for Exo’s in Destiny.  Because of just how hard the various mobs hit… I found playing a sword wielding Hunter class to be awkward and involved way too much dancing in and out of melee range just barely not getting hit.  Ranger on the other hand could absolutely abuse the fact that mobs would turn back around when you encountered a gate between areas…  and I would sit at the space between zones and effectively “kite” the mobs until they were dead.

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For awhile I have known about unofficial community run servers for Phantasy Star Blue Burst the PC release of the game that came out in 2003.  However with the one I had messed with before, the game felt not completely functional in some way.  The controls were wonky, and the servers felt laggy.  However I heard there was a much better experience in the form of the Ephinea Private server.  I never quite know where whims come from… but suddenly this weekend I was hitting the page and downloading the client.  Firstly the experience of getting into the game is much better than the version I had messed with before, that involved downloading the game via a large torrent.  This instead is a fairly slim roughly 650 meg installer.  From there it boots into a menu system that features its own built in patcher, so there has been a significant amount of time spent making this as good of an experience as is possible.  The client also seems to support a whole slew of modern resolutions and some advanced options for a higher resolution HUD, all of which was missing from the version I played a few years back.  Reading the FAQ on the website you can see that they have made a significant number of tweaks to improve overall game play experience like giving all of your characters a shared bank.  What is also interesting is that there are three seperate rulesets that are supported:  Normal, Hardcore and Sandbox.  The second being much more difficult but having much better drop rewards, and the later being a pseudo “admin mode” that allows players to summon up items and such.  For the time being however I have simply been playing on Normal mode while I get used to the game again.

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It is funny just how fast the game has come back to me, and even though my Fusion Pro Controller is nothing like a Dreamcast Controller…  I have managed to adjust to the differences rather rapidly.  In truth there is not a lot of deep strategy going on in this game other than the rhythm of landing a triple hit attack…  which I remembered pretty quickly and have been abusing since.  Ultimately I probably wouldn’t suggest downloading the game unless you are in one of two camps.  Firstly this is awesome for those of us who played the game back when this was literally better than anything out on the market, and want a trip down memory lane.  Secondly this is awesome for anyone who completely missed the boat on Phantasy Star Online and would like to at least see what the game was like.  In both of those cases it will provide some enjoyment, but for anyone expecting a modern experience…  you should probably keep on moving.  I’ve talked about this before, but there is an era in gaming where the ability to play online with others… especially from a console was the central feature of the game and any other details were by nature secondary.  While the core gameplay loop is still enjoyable to me personally… it won’t be for many especially considering how slow paced the game is and how cludgy the targeting system can be.  A good bit of my love of Destiny is likely because Phantasy Star Online was my first “looter shooter”.  I ran around with a rifle wielding RACast and shot things until they dropped boxes of loot… that I then either equipped or took back to the Tekker to identify the item.  Master Rahoul has nothing on the disappointment the Tekkers used to bring us when that weapon we have trudged up from the bowels of  Ruins 3 turns out not to be the upgrade we were looking for.  If you too want a trip down memory lane however… I suggest you check out Ephinea and their awesomely tweaked version of the PC Phantasy Online Star Blue Burst client.

Assorted Turtling

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Yesterday was an exceedingly stressful day, and that combined with the fact that my wife is out of town…  lead to a sudden bout of turtling.  For those unfamiliar with the nomenclature…  I go through these periods where I feel like I need to pull my head into my shell to attempt to remain sane.  I’m thankful that I have a few friends that get it, and don’t give me too much hassle about it, but every so often I just reach this point where I need to disconnect from humanity.  Last night was one of those nights and I cycled restlessly through a whole bunch of games to see if I could find something that would fit well enough to pass the evening in.  The negative is that in theory this should have been a night I was tanking in Final Fantasy XIV, but I just could not handle communicating with others…  or having anyone I cared about relying on me.  The irony is that I wound up for a bit early in the evening in Destiny…  and absolutely wound up carrying two other players hard through a random strike.  I took a screenshot not because it is impressive…  but because it shows the massive difference between my participation and that of the other two.  This was on the Wretched Eye strike… and I wound up kiting the Ogre… and DPSing most things down…  and resurrecting the other two people constantly.  Now I know what Squirrel and Jex feel like when I run with them.

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From there I wound up back downstairs and watched the last episode of Handmaid’s Tale…  which is maybe not the best idea to watch when you are already feeling depressed.  While doing so I ended booting up Rift and playing around some there.  I am still level 67 and working on the Gedlo Badlands, which is not exactly my favorite zone so far.  Moonshade Highlands is my jam, and I have never been that big of a fan of desolate desert landscapes…  especially not ones where everything is on fire.  That said I did make a lot of progress knocking out various quests and while it still feels like my experience bar isn’t really moving…  the constant ding of planar levels seems to help the feeling of being mired.  I have been running around with a heavy Warlord hybrid build, and while I have been absent it seems to have been buffed significantly.  Previously I had a lot of problems with struggling to kill a given mob in time before it killed me.  Now I seem to be able to run around and wreck things pretty safely.  My biggest complaint with Starfall Prophecy now Prophecy of Ahnket… are the legendary morphs of abilities.  Each of them seems to read like it is going to be universally better than the original…  but after taking a few of them they seem to FEEL worse.  The biggest problem here is that you cannot undo them without paying for a respec…and then you have to remember what the hell you chose as a spec down to the point where you screwed up and chose the wrong legendary morph.  Personally I think the system should just be a toggle, and that you can have X number of legendaries toggled on equal to the number you have earned.

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I also played a little Secret World Legends, which is something I seem to do just about every day… or at the very least I am logging in to get the rewards.  I am not completely sold on the game but I am enjoying it enough to keep showing up and experiencing it.  The combat feels fresh enough to make going through a bunch of quests I did long long ago feel worth it.  My key complaint however is the game still does a piss poor job of clearly identifying which quests you have completed and which ones you have not.  That was one of my biggest problems with the game is to log in and roam around through a sea of cutely named quests… that all sort of blend together in my head making it impossible to sort out if I have or have not completed them.  This was even worse when it came to expansion content going into the game, and blending in among all of those other quests that I did a year ago.  So far blade and elemental is fun enough, but I find myself really missing the shotgun… and with the way gear levels up in this game I feel like I am really not in a great place to switch gears at any point soon.  I do have an extremely low level shotgun sitting in my inventory and I might try swapping it out at some point soon just to see if it is viable.  I’ve moved on to the Savage Coast but there is honestly still a lot in Kingsmouth that I have never really gotten around to completing.  My biggest complaint overall is as compared to the original… the drop rates of anything meaningful in the world is nonexistent.  All of your gear seems to come from lootbags gained through doing quests… so I have a feeling that a big part of the “endgame” is going to be repeating quests on the daily reset to get more stuff to fuse into your gear.  That doesn’t really bode well for those players that are not a big fan of grindy mechanics.