Regularly Playing: May Edition

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I had a realization over the weekend as I stared at my sidebar…  that it has been a significant amount of time since I last did the regularly playing thing.  The last one I was able to find was on October 3rd of 2016…  some 210 days ago.  I may or may not have completely fallen off the wagon on this concept.  The original intent was to take a moment once a month to “true up” the side bar and shift out what I was no longer playing for what I was currently playing.  As a result we are going to see some significant moving and shaking in the list as a result.

To Those Remaining

Final Fantasy XIV

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I am still going fairly strongly in Final Fantasy XIV, and while I might not log in every night I am logging in multiple times a week.  I am definitely still making the Tuesday night raid thing, and while we don’t always make progress each week we get together to do something.  Thanks to the wonder of cross server grouping we have been able to pull in our friend Kelesti into some stuff as well.  Largely we are all in a big holding pattern until the release of Stormblood which comes in July, and as a result I am still in the middle of my “level everything” binge.  Right now my Machinist is just shy of 40, and that leaves Astrologian the only thing that has yet to be touched.  The whole purpose behind all of this madness is so that I can purge my vault of anything at minimum sub 30… and the grand hope is to sort through anything sub 50 and be extremely judicious in what I choose to keep.  Still having a lot of fun in Palace of the Dead, just have had other distractions of late.

To the Returning and New

Skyforge

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This is one of those games that has not graced my sidebar in a very very long time.  In July of 2015 I played quite a bit of the game around the time that it launched, and while I enjoyed it… it always felt like it was missing something.  Apparently October of last year an expansion released that added in pretty much all of the features that I am finding myself enjoying now.  Additionally the game just works better with a controller than it ever did with a keyboard and mouse and while I returned primarily on the PS4… I am also dipping my toes back into the PC experience as well.  Both are extremely fun and I am not entirely sure how long I will be splitting time before I officially pick one platform.  Whatever the case if you have ever played this game I highly suggest checking it out.  It has some issues… namely you are limited to three classes at the start with no clear path to add new ones.  However each of the classes is doing something somewhat unique which makes them more enjoyable than the standard Tank, Mage and Healer that they represent.

Star Wars the Old Republic

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There are two things that are shocking about this game gracing my list.  Firstly that apparently I never actually made a “now playing” widget for it, and secondly… that I am back playing it again.  I blame a sequence of nostalgic events happening at exactly the same time…  all of the hype about the next Star Wars movie, the love of Rogue One, and my deep enjoyment of Mass Effect Andromeda has lead to an upwelling of love for both Bioware and Star Wars.  As a result I have returned to an old mission, which is trying to level through all of the class stories.  I managed to finish off the Sith Sorcerer and am now through Hoth so far in the Imperial Agent.  It seems as though I picked one of the best storylines for last, and even though I am not traditionally a stealthy/shooty type class…  there is something extremely awesome about this one.  I largely went Sniper because my Smuggler on the other side of the fence is Sawbones/Healer.  I am having a blast right now, so I am going to ride the enjoyment until it lasts.  The goal is to push forward into the story I have not touched on my Jedi Knight main after finishing the Agent story…  which involves Shadow of Revan, Fallen Empire and Eternal Throne.

Horizon Zero Dawn

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I do not normally put many single player games on the regularly playing list, but we have this sequence of amazing ones being released in short order.  One of those is Horizon Zero Dawn, which is a game that I hit hard at launch… and then for whatever release lost momentum to Mass Effect Andromeda.  As a result I have been slowly playing it here and there as time and desire allows.  I could force myself through the story, but I want to play it when I want to play it… and that is right now involving the occasional hour long session of hunting giant robot dinosaurs rather than pushing forward the main story.  I am still very much enjoying the game, but I need to find some catalyst that really gets me back into it and dying to play the next chapter.  In the mean time however I am still enjoying the “bowplay” if I can coin that term.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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This is very much another “as desire hits me” sort of experience.  When the game came out I picked it up on the Wii U and in the time between then and now I have managed to pick up a switch effecting starting back at square one.  This stalled my progress a little bit but for the most part I have returned to where I left in the Wii U and am once again moving forward.  I have designs on starting to take this to work and playing a little over lunch and on break times.  While I have the switch I really have not done a lot of handheld play with it remaining largely docked upstairs so I can play it with the pro controller.  It is a great game and in spite of having a lot of things that frustrate me about the game… is yet another in a long list of titles contending for my game of the year bid.

To Those Departing

World of Warcraft

While I still have an active account, I am just not really playing at all.  I logged in shortly after the last patch and got bored and logged out again.  I fell off the raiding bandwagon about halfway through Nighthold, and honestly just sort of reached the point I have in so many other expansions.  I think in theory I could come back and play casually and enjoy the experience but there are just simply too many other things I would rather be playing right now.  So as a result this is going to find its way off my side bar, but I did have the forethought to simply comment it out rather than remove it because I am sure at some point around Blizzcon time I will get hit by the bug once more.

Rift

Much like with Nightmare Tide… I just failed to gain traction with the latest expansion the Starfall Prophecy.  A large part of my struggle with Rift is that I can never seem to find a warrior spec that I really like anymore.  What I ultimately want is a juggernaut for doing PVE/Leveling content that can burn through the mobs with nonexistent downtime.  If I ever find that spec again I will return to the game and happily finish up leveling.  The other huge struggle is that the game lacks a reliable current font of knowledge.  The forums in theory have a lot of the information but it is this blend of current information and ancient and no longer reliable, and I just lack the mental fortitude to sift through it.  I am hoping that after writing this… Muspel or PK will come to the rescue once again with a viable Warrior build like they have in the past.  The other huge challenge with Rift is the fact that none of my gaming infrastructure is playing the game, nor do any of my regular suspects have any interest in the game at this point.

Destiny

It hurts more than a little bit to be adding this game to this space on my list.  The truth is I am just not playing it right now and I don’t see that changing for the foreseeable future.  I have too many other games fighting for my attention, and while I absolutely know I will be returning with Destiny 2…  the amount of stuff that I can do solo or want to so solo is pretty limited.  At this point it feels like I would be working towards something that is ultimately going to disappear.  I also have a lot of questions because as it is right now… I am looking at making the leap to PC from PS4 for the second game… and I am not sure what if anything might transfer.

Guild Wars 2

Adding this one to the list really doesn’t take a lot of effort.  I was only into this game so long as some of my friends were actively playing it.  Once Tam and Ash and Kodra faded away… so did I.  It is still not my favorite game but I have developed a certain appreciation for it.  Most of what it is doing however isn’t really all that interesting to me.  I largely got to play along with my friends only because I had maxed out my Warrior soloing for ages without them.  He was geared and ready to go… and will still be there if it ever has a resurgence.  Much like Warframe this is a game that was not ultimately for me…  but somewhat enjoyable so long as I was playing with friends.

 

 

 

 

Breaking Routine

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This weekend was a bit of an odd one, namely when it came to Sunday morning.  Generally speaking I have the process of finishing up an AggroChat episode down to a fairly regimented process.  Saturday night before I crash I try to do what I call the initial edit, which is most of the actual edit work.  Then Sunday morning I write the small bit of copy, and upload and syndicate the podcast to the various sources where it gets put.  However this week was the first week doing all of this on the new machine… and I was not prepared.  For starters we recorded a really long show mostly about the Final Fantasy XIV 3.4 main story quest.  We did not unfortunately ONLY talk about that, and that meant we had almost three hours of recorded audio to process… and didn’t actually finish things up until around midnight my time.  Instead of staying up further, I decided to crash and deal with it in the morning.  Then Sunday it was a carnival of errors, as the version of audacity on my new machine was apparently slightly newer than the version I had been using which means a lot of the filters had different options… or at least were arranged in different ways.  Additionally there was the process of trying to find all of my source files off of the old machine, which is thankfully still accessible over the network.

The worst part of it however was the changes to the Truncate Silence filter…. which is a crutch we lean on heavily for AggroChat.  We are fairly pensive folk, and as a result there are a lot of lengthy pauses in conversation.  With truncate silence that 3 hours of audio becomes 2 hours…  but on my first attempt it maybe clipped a little more than actual silence.  For whatever reason it was clipping the hell out of anytime Kodra talked, giving his speech a record skipping characteristic.  However this is not something I realized until I was just about to upload the files to our host.  Thankfully I caught it in time and was able to redo that portion, lowering the granularity of the filter.  This mean’t what is normally a couple hour process… ate up I think four hours in total.  Admittedly I was piddling around in Guild Wars 2 during much of it, so there were probably moments when I didn’t notice a filter had finished here or there.  The positive however is that every filter applied went massively faster than on the previous AMD FX-6300 based processor.  That was really my hope with the new i7 based system, is that it would be able to chew through rendering tasks far more successfully.  As with any system there is going to be an adjustment and moving in period, and I am hoping that now that I have finished a single podcast on this machine additional ones will be much quicker.

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As far as the weekend itself went, I was all over the place.  I played a significant amount of Destiny, completing a bunch of bounties and discovering the Archon’s Forge… or more so how easy it was to get a pick up group.  Much the same way as the court of Oryx, you seem to be able to just show up and folks will either be doing it… or quickly swarm when they think anyone else is.  I also played a lot of World of Warcraft, completely a few mythic dungeons as well as successfully completing my first Mythic+ keystone.  I’m looking forward to seeing that upgraded loot in the weekly order hall chest.  In addition to that I completed the five time-walking dungeons on both Belghast and Exeter, and on the later I used it as a way to gear him up.  I am now sitting over the 825 cap needed to get into LFR so my hope is tonight I will be able to run the two parts available and potentially get more upgrades that way.  Generally speaking on Belghast the 835 rewards are not super enticing, but I still ran it this week for the purpose of getting some rune stones.  I also need to do a bunch of fishing, as I now have the pattern to turn the 300 versatility food that I spent a chunk of the weekend crafting… into a 375 version.  I am only using this stuff for raiding and mythic+ attempts, as I keep a bank full of Faronar Fizz for other stuff.

The biggest take away from the weekend is that I am actually finding myself legitimately enjoying Guild Wars 2.  Recently it had been a game that I was dipping my toes into for the sake of my friends that were also playing it.  However before the podcast we ran several of the story mode dungeons and they were pretty enjoyable.  Enough so that when I sat down to decide which game I would play during the podcast, I decided to go ahead and stay with Guild Wars 2.  That means that I spent the next three hours roaming aimlessly completing little objectives here and there, and mostly finding my way to the next story mode dungeon.  The post 80/ Heart of Thorns mastery leveling is pretty slow.  In all of that time I only managed to get about half of a mastery level…  and then I ended up wasting a bunch of experience because I didn’t notice I needed to click through and train it.  I am pretty not sure what my purpose in game is, but I am still fairly dead set on the warrior… and more importantly hammer warrior.  That makes me the make shift tank for the group, and I have been using rifle lately as my dps weapon because it allows me to have something that I can hit things with at range.  At some point I want to pick back up where I left off in attempting to level armor smithing, but right now my craft window looks somewhat like madness to me.  All in all I feel like I have come to terms with the game in accepting what it is… and more importantly what it is not.

Finally Grasp It

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For several weeks now Tam has been wanting to get those of us together that have Guild Wars 2 and try some of the group content.  However the launch of World of Warcraft Legion put a pretty serious brake on that concept.  We agreed that last night was a decent night for myself, Tam, Thalen, Kodra and Ashgar so we set forth with the plan of getting together and running something as a group.  While we didn’t exactly get that entire team together we did venture forth into Fractals, which are dungeons of a sort, but the closest thing I can really relate them to is the Pandaria Heroic Scenarios.  You are dropped on a map and that map has certain objectives that it is leading you towards.  However as we found out last night there are several things that exist just off the beaten path, like a champion dragon of sorts that we managed to take down.  In total we ran three of them, and we spent a good deal of that time wiping as we adjusted our strategy to be able to take certain encounters down.  Throughout the night I flirted with several weapon combos… but wound up right back at Greatsword and Hammer as a warrior.  However after the fractals I spent some time playing sword and shield again and found it greatly improved over what I remember from alpha/beta.

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Ultimately what it really reminds me of the most are the encounters in Dungeons and Dragons Online.  Those were a fairly unique blend of exploration, reasoning, problem solving… and finally a heavy dose of surviving combat.  The problem there however is this was rendered in relatively low fidelity, and it felt cumbersome to have to comply with the various rules of the actual pen and paper game system.  Admittedly Guild Wars 2 is also fairly fiddly, with a bunch of sliders that you can tweak on your character to build for very specific purposes…  however it feels like it does a much better job at the sort of experience that DDO was trying to go for.  Fractals feel like bite sized adventures… more than just on rails dungeon crawls.  If we can actually get the proper group size on at some point, we need to give dungeons a proper attempt as well because it feels like there are actual tanky characters now.  We did some messing about with a training bot system inside the fractal hub, and quickly found out that apparently I have way more survival than either of my companions.  This is even more noticeable when we actually started to do harder content, because I could stay in and take those hits longer allowing them to hang out on the boundary and deal damage or reflect effects.  In group play it suddenly felt like we each had a clear role to play, and not quite the zergy mess that I remember from the launch of the game.

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This is really the first time in a very long time I can legitimately say I enjoyed playing Guild Wars 2.  It was extremely fun for group play, and that suddenly makes all of the more casual exploratory bits of the game more enjoyable because I know that it is all leading to something.  One of my key problems with Guild Wars 2 has been a feeling that I had capped out and was not really going to improve my gear in any reasonable fashion.  That changed the moment I set foot into the fractals hub and saw all of the “better than exotic” items that were available on the vendors there.  Additionally I used some of those laurels that I had been getting, and not really knowing what to do with them… to purchase a nice neck piece.  Ultimately I feel like I finally “get” why people enjoy this game, and while I doubt it will ever supplant a more traditional MMO for me…  it doesn’t really have to.  The set up of Guild Wars 2 makes it extremely to drop into game with my friends and have a night of play, much along the lines of how non-mmorpgs work.  After seeing that I could in fact be a tank in this game… it makes me feel significantly better about playing warrior, and makes me want to try out some of the other weapon combinations that I long abandoned.  I still have problems with the game in a few spots, but I  think I have largely reached a point of peace finally after all this time.  I can stop trying to solve this puzzle, because I finally grasp what folks see in it.

Other Worlds

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Last night marked my return to the Monday night raid thing in Final Fantasy XIV, that I had not been able to attend the last few weeks for one reason or another.  I know most of my blog coverage lately has been about Legion, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for lots of other games.  The intention was to pull together last night and do a lot of raidy bits, but I kinda ruined that.  I’ve written about the struggles to get Luna integrated with our household and the other two cats.  Things are still not going well, and I am not sure if they ever will at this point.  She simply hates other cats, and I cannot seem to get her from charging the other cats when she sees them.  This is a sort of behavior I have never seen in any of the other cats we have had throughout the years.  It has gotten so bad that the only real way we can stop her is by dousing her with a spray bottle.  Which seems to do NOTHING for the long term effect and only distracts her for the moment…  because seconds later she is charging once again.  So the only other option is to keep her shut up in my wife’s office…  which is a somewhat shitty life.  Now we are on that hard precipice of trying to decide what is best for her and what is best for our other two cats.  We have some options, but one of them is of course to return her to the organization we adopted her from.  I’ve never really felt as much as a failure as I do right now because we have tried so many things…  including the extremely expensive pheromone night light things.  In any case…  Tam really likes to just queue the group instead of doing a ready check, and there was a period of time where I was away from the screen dealing with cats.  The end result of too many of these premature queues unfortunately is that I locked the entire group out, at which point we dissolved instead of waiting thirty minutes for it to clear.  We did however at least get a single kill in before that happened, and knocked out some needed content for one of the guildies.

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The other game I have been occasionally poking my head into is Guild Wars 2.  I have a really fraught relationship with this game, but it has been something that I have patched up multiple times and attempted to play.  I say attempted, because no matter how many times I try there is just something that never quite clicks with me.  I made it to about 65 on my own recognizance… and then got boosted due to the daily login system the rest of the way to 80.  While I have tried a bunch of different classes… it feels like the one I still like the most is Warrior in spite of how lousy melee generally feels in this game.  During a recent sale I managed to pick up Heart of Thorns for $18… and I figured it was well worth giving it a try for that price.  With that came with a boost to 80, but I have not figured out what class I actually want to use it on.  During Pax South 2015 when they announced the expansion… I thought Revenant was going to be the class for me.  However the boost allows you a “try before you buy” sort of functionality… and in practice the class just doesn’t feel like anything I am interested in.  It is this strange amalgam between WoW Shaman, Deathknight, and Rogue and in a way that just doesn’t exactly feel like something I want to play.  During the boost it hands you a hammer and a pair of swords, but I am wondering if maybe one of the other weapon combos feels better since as warrior I only really like greatsword and hammer.   In any case I popped in last night for a bit and started actually trying to move my original story forward… I stalled out around 60 and just never tried to pick it back up.  Maybe the story will hook me into the game in a way that the gameplay never actually did.

Goodbye Names

Preorder Announcements

Gw2 2012-09-16 16-09-42-21 This is a topic I have mulled over for several days, and am just finally getting around to posting.  I have had a fairly rocky relationship with Guild Wars 2 that started with me bowing out of their alpha program and ended with me finally finding my groove a few months back and getting my first character to 80.  The game is enjoyable but honestly it is not the kind of enjoyable I had hoped it would be.  Which was all the more surprising when I found myself oddly riveted to the presentation at Pax South in January.  I thought maybe it was the energy of the crowd, but whatever it was I found myself actually looking forward to the Heart of Thorns expansion.  I have always liked Dark Knight type characters, and the Revenant looked very much like a character in my wheel house.  So as we moved into E3 I was looking forward to seeing more information about the game, namely about the release date, pricing information, and what the guild hall system would end up being like.  In all cases I pretty much got what I was hoping for, but upon seeing the pricing something struck in my craw.

As I looked through the options available on the website… the Standard, Deluxe and Ultimate versions all included the previous game.  I kept looking for the versions of the game for players who bought the game at launch and had no need for the base game.  Problem is there wasn’t one, and there was not planned on being one.  Ultimately what I was looking for was a $10 or so price break on purchasing the game, to acknowledge the fact that I have owned their game forever now.  The funny thing is… had they not mentioned anything about the core version…  it probably would not have annoyed me at all.  I guess I am not alone in my frustration because yesterday Arena Net announced that they would be giving Veteran Players an extra character slot to make up for the fact that they have owned the game so long.  This is a nice gesture, but for me… who already has two empty slots because I don’t care enough to roll more characters…  it still rings a little hollow.  For the time being I won’t be pre-ordering, and honestly not even sure if I will be playing…  just depends on what else I happen to be doing at the time this game launches.  If nothing else I am sure it will go on sale at some point and I will be able to pick it up then.

Goodbye Names

WoWScrnShot_110512_200150 I guess this morning is going to be a mixed bag of commentary from me, because another thing that mildly frustrated me yesterday was the announcement that World of Warcraft would be releasing all character names that had not logged in since December 7th 2010.  While 2010 is a very long time ago… I also happen to have a bunch of characters.  In fact I have a grand total of four different World of Warcraft accounts, and my primary and active account has managed to hit the maximum number of fifty characters.  I have characters spread out on dozens of servers that I have no clue when the last time I played on them.  So last night when I saw this news I had resigned myself to spending two hours logging every character on and off to make sure I reset the timer.  Apparently the plan going forward is to do this release of character names each time Blizzard releases a World of Warcraft expansion.  Personally I think that simply having an active subscription should be enough of a toll to pay to keep your names from getting the axe… but it seems that is not the case.

So while I was extremely frustrated when I first read that…  my frustration faded as I came to the sad realization that there are very few characters in World of Warcraft that I really care about anymore.  I have only had one foot in that game for the bulk of this expansion, and last night I realized I would far rather spend my hour making progress in Heavensward than logging characters in and out to make sure they did not get squashed.  Today should be a big day for World of Warcraft with the 6.2 patch content being released…  but I am finding myself not excited about it at all.  I have too much new and shiny going on in another game, and while at some point I will log in and get my Naval missions going, for the foreseeable future I am not planning on raiding.  That was really the last thing keeping me connected to that world was my raiding, and when it started to feel stale and forced…  I felt it was time to start quietly fading into the background.  So I guess at this point I am come around full circle, if someone really wants to be one of my old character names…  then awesome go be it, because I won’t be using the name.

In Other News

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-22 22-46-13-35 Last night was a pretty great night… once I was able to get through the login boss mind you.  I have some serious fears as to what tonight is going to hold in that department, unless Square Enix has something up their sleeves to make that problem magically go away today.  For most of the night I was held up in the main storyline trying to get to level 55, so immediately upon logging in I started trying to arrange some dungeons.  However other people in the guild needed stuff, so we arranged a very quick Shiva Hard trial for one of the guildies.  It is amazing how “easy” this fight is, but then again my scale is greatly skewed from having just finished the Shiva Extreme battle last week.  From there we ran another round of Sohm Al, which again dropped some nifty stuff for our alts.  I  think I managed to add one more piece of the cosmetic set to my inventory, which is awesome… because I absolutely want to complete the full set.  Ashgar mentioned earlier in the evening that he needed the first primal encounter, and we also had several others nearing that point… so we hung out for a bit letting them get caught up before taking on the primal and defeating it rather brutally.  That fight with a full guild group is a very different experience than with random players.

From there… we were bad people in that  we decided to  try and plant the seeds of raid addiction in a friend of ours.  Lately Shiana has been leveling in game, and he was our raid leader back during Vanilla WoW and has raided off and on since then.  I am not sure if it was Tam or myself that suggested it last night, but in either case we were both in collusion to get him into raiding.  As a result we started last night on Binding Coil of Bahamut Turn 5, and while we had two new players to the fight… we managed to get through it without much issue.  It was helped massively by the fact that both of the players that we grabbed were seasoned raiders in other games.  From there we moved into Second Coil of Bahamut aka Turn 9 and we struggled a bit.  Firstly with Ashgar gone by this point, I had to take over and learn the main tank role on the fight.  In my experience each time you change roles on a fight, it is like starting back from square one and relearning everything.  Then we had Shiana for whom this was just his second FF raid experience…  but all in all we managed to make what felt like a bit of progress.  At the very least I think I could fill in for Ash if I needed to, once I got over the whole Ravensbeak straight up murdering me bit.  It was a great night of gaming… and tonight I am hoping to get a run of the third dungeon in… that I just unlocked.

Playing Catch Up

Battle Bards Episode 45 – Rock On!

This segment is going to be a little bit odd, because at the time of me writing it the episode has not officially gone live.  However I only post once daily, and as such I really would like to get a plug out there for the show.  In saying this, the links I am about to post will not go live until 9 am so I will be embargoing my post this morning which is an odd experience for me.  On February 7th I had the privilege of sitting in as a guest host on the Battle Bards podcast with the illustrious Syp and Syl.  To make things even kookier, they told me that I needed to pick a topic.  I went back and forth on a few topics and finally landed upon rock themes in MMO games.  Traditionally MMOs seem to have the same auditory palate of instruments and themes.  Every now and then however there is a soundtrack that abandons the traditional and brings in some rock guitar.  Over the course of the show we focused on these tracks, and I believe it was Syp that finally gave the show its title of “Rock On!”.

I had an absolute blast recording the show, and would be more than willing to step in again if they ever had need of me.  Now onwards with the show information.

Episode 45 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Blue Turns to Greyfrom Tabula Rasa, “Battle on the Big Bridge Reborn” from FFXIV, and “Prologue” from Castlevania SOTN)
  • “Titan Battle Theme” from FFXIV
  • “Alonewolf” from Rusty Hearts
  • “Toko” from Granado Espada
  • “Character Select/Map Load” from Heroes of the Storm
  • “New Conglomerate Main Theme” from PlanetSide 2
  • “Malicia’s Finale” from DDO
  • “Lucid Dreaming” from Aion
  • What track did we like the best?
  • Mail from Akiranon
  • Outro

Listen to episode 45 now!

Giving Levels Away

gw036 Last night I managed to hit level 71 in Guild Wars 2 and absolutely thought I would never actually get there.  In truth I would not have gotten there were it not for the fact that the game seems to be giving away levels every time I turn around.  At some point they added the Tome of Knowledge into the game, and double clicking them item grants you one instant level.  I am not sure if I am exceptionally lucky, but I seem to be pulling these left and right out of various bags and containers.  Last night from my daily login reward chest I pulled two of them for example.  I think my meteoric rise in levels is really two fold.  First they keep giving me levels, but secondly it seems like everything is quite simply worth a lot more experience.  I did a level and a half over the last few days dinking around and completing a level 5 starter zone.  I still have about half of the objectives in that zone to go, so I am enjoying the fact that it doesn’t actually seem to matter what I am out in the world doing…  just that I am doing something.

At this point I can honestly picture getting up a few more characters, because right now this game seems to be the ideal winding down practice for me.  We finished our Final Fantasy XIV raid around 9:30 pm, and I played Guild Wars 2 for another thirty minutes or so after that.  At which point I felt relaxed and ready to go to sleep, which has always been a problem for me after any raid experience.  When you have been doing exciting things, you have this surplus supply of adrenaline flowing through you, and for me at least I need something much more relaxing to work through all of that.  While Guild Wars 2 may never be destined to be my primary game, I am really appreciating its worth in the role it is playing.  I am curious to see what life at 80 is going to be like, but I have a feeling that ultimately I will just end up switching to an alt so I can continue the slow paced progression.  If nothing else I think it would be pretty awesome to 100% the map.

Playing Catch Up

ffxiv 2015-02-16 21-00-32-31

Monday night is traditionally our more serious raiding night in Final Fantasy XIV with Saturday being a sort of anything goes experience.  However since last night we had a number of players hung up on key steps to the main story and other things… we opted to do a grand “catch up” night.  We started the evening by knocking out the Battle of Big Bridge for Neph, which is always an extremely fun experience.  That is one of those fights that I happily do every single time anyone needs it because getting to play with Gilgamesh is always a treat.  From there we knocked out the Dhrome Chimera fight because that was the step Neph happened to be hung up on for her Relic.  I remember the first time we did this fight, it took the full raid timer, because quite honestly back then it was a massive challenge.  However since then a method of pulling the Chimera out of the cave has become popular and this makes the fight immensely easier.  Also the fact that I am insanely over geared helps as well.  In any case we got the fight completed quickly and Neph moved on to the next step in her relic chain.

ffxiv 2015-02-16 21-18-32-87 The bulk of the evening was spent working on the Chrysalis trial.  This is the road block placed in the path of completing the 2.5 main story arc addition.  I don’t want to go into too much detail about the fight, namely because I don’t want to provide any spoilers.  There are a couple of places in the fight there where things shift drastically, and you have to begin dealing with a new mechanic.  In truth the fight felt like a bit of a remix of some of the raid encounters.  There were elements of several fights from the Crystal Tower series especially.  I think it took us about five tries to get through the encounter, but I have to say the whole experience was extremely fun.  That is one of the best things about Final Fantasy XIV is that their boss encounters are extremely solid.  After defeating it, and each of us making it through the cut scene we had around twenty minutes left to do something.  As a result we grabbed Solaria and opted to help her get through the Leviathan primal encounter.  It was a night of lots of objectives being checked off, and a night of many fun battles.

Lost in Maguuma

Wanderlust

starwarslego_atap Yesterday was a bit of a busy day for many reasons.  Firstly getting home super late Saturday night, and then recording AggroChat extremely late, meant that more or less I just straight up crashed instead of editing the recording.  This meant first thing yesterday morning I had to edit the podcast and post it.  After that I of course still had a blog to write, and needed to spend some time working on another article as well.  Throughout all of this there were two problems.  Firstly I had a splitting headache the likes of which I have not seen in almost a year.  Secondly it was absolutely gorgeous outside, with the temperatures rising up to roughly 80* F yesterday.  So my wife and I hemmed and hawed as to whether or not we would actually go do anything.  Finally around 3pm yesterday afternoon we decided to get outside and go wandering about.

I’ve talked about the fact that any town of a decent size around me has a Wal-mart.  It has always been this way, because quite honestly I live in the Wal-mart heartland, with Bentonville the home office only about two hours away.  The first first Wal-mart supercenter in existence is about 30 minutes away in the town of Wagoner for example.  Big Wal-mart stores are boring, utilitarian and predictable… but going to smaller less shopped stores often provides this strange melange of products that they still have on the shelf.  Each store has a certain amount of discretion as to what they can clearance, so this means that shopping multiple stores might yield completely different results.  As such a few times of the year it is prime territory for hunting down clearance Legos.

We set forth on an adventure that took us through three very small locations, and while my wife found more interesting stuff than I did, at the second store…  a store I had good luck with last year…  I managed to pick up a couple of really cool Star Wars sets at a deep discount.  First up I found the Lego AT-AP walker which was originally $60 for the much more reasonable price of $30.  Then at a considerably worse deal I picked up the originally $25 General Grievous Wheel Bike set for $19… which admittedly I only jumped at because the General Grievous figure is just so badass looking.  This season honestly has been pretty slim pickings, largely because Wal-mart has started doing this annoying thing.  They will throw something on clearance… and change the sticker color to red…  but have the item marked at its normal price.  Essentially I look up each Lego set and if the savings is not 50% off I generally don’t jump at it.  This has netted me some pretty cool finds like the SWTOR Sith Fury for $60 but in order to find them… you have to be diligent, and for me the fun is more about the hunt than the finding.

Lost In Maguuma

Gw2 2015-02-09 06-06-51-36 One of the other things of note that happened yesterday while watching the return of Walking Dead is that I managed to hit level 60 on my Warrior in Guild Wars 2.  I am still knee deep in the Maguuma jungle region and right now I find myself shifting between Sparkfly Fens and Bloodtide Coast, largely be cause the Fens simply got too “big” for me as I kept wandering into level 62 areas and having to deal with constant glancing blows.  This leaves me 20 levels to go before I hit the Guild Wars 2 endgame, whatever that might be.  One of the things that has always bothered me about this game is that I never managed to max a character out.  Eighty levels is a rather daunting task, especially when you don’t find yourself really enjoying the game play.  That said I am generally known for having multiple max level characters in any game I play, so it felt like a weak spot in my armor that I could not stomach the grind in this one game.

Maguuma region is a bit of a slog, which has me concerned for the Heart of Thorns expansion.  I really do not like Jungle or Swamp regions in video games.  I was having a blast so long as I stuck to the snowy peaks of the Norn regions, but once I wandered into the swampy zombie filled wasteland…  the fun factor of the game went down significantly.  Here is hoping that I can stomach it just enough to graduate into the higher zones.  All of the guides I have read say that I should really be doing dungeons to level…  but I am admittedly scared of them.  The shitty dungeon experience was what ended up killing the game for me the first time.  Right now I am enjoying the soloing over world gameplay style, and I am afraid if I go into the dungeons again… and they end up still being the chaotic and exploitative mess that they were originally… that it will enrage me enough to halt my journey.

The Real Game

Albion-Online 2015-01-29 23-14-44-84 One of the biggest frustrations for me when it comes to online games is when a massive shift in the way the game feels happens.  Most games have this highly tailored starter experience to ease players into the game, and then something happens as though the really polished section of the game flew away.  Sometimes this transition is gradual, and other times it is quite literally like having the bottom dropped out from under you.  I’ve not written much about Albion Online because to some extent I fell off that rather steep cliff.  The first two tiers of content felt really fun and natural as I wandered around the world collecting resources to be able to craft nifty things.  Then I reached tier 3… and the fun drained away quickly.  The game up until that point had been around gathering materials and lugging them back to town so that you could use the crafting machines and fashion them into whatever you might like.  When you hit Tier 3, the crafting machines start charging you a fee to use them.  This is the equivalent of having to pay every time you need to use the anvil in a World of Warcraft town.

The problem with this is that there really aren’t that many gold fountains that I have seen so far, but the machine problem ends up to be a rather massive gold sink.  Granted at this point I don’t even know if there is such a thing as gold in the game… because I have only managed to gather up a few silver to my name.  Admittedly this is their pricing scheme… to get players to purchase gold, to ease the process of playing the game.  According to the pricing listed on the founders pack information, it looks like $20 would get you 4500 gold, and $50 would get you 12,000 gold.  Not that either of these is an absolutely insane price for what seems to be the purchasing power that gets you, but I have essentially stopped playing because I quickly realized this game was unsustainable without either grinding bandits for days…  or plunking down some cold hard cash for a game that was only mildly enjoyable in the first place.  This is a bit of a shame, because really Albion does have some really interesting ideas at work.  I might piddle with it off and on still to see just how deep  the money chasm is, but if nothing else for the time being it has most definitely halted my forward momentum.

A Calling Card

Out of Order

This morning is an odd one for me, in part because there is a natural order to my weekends.  Generally speaking I get up, get dressed, go find some food…  bring it up and spent the next period of time working on my daily blog post.  This morning however things are a bit off, because my mother in law will be coming around noon, and in the week since coming back from Pax South our house has gotten a bit disordered.  So as a result I gobbled my breakfast and set forth to clean on the house.  Generally speaking I do the grunt cleaning, picking things up, straightening, throwing out trash…  and my wife comes back through with more surgical precision considering she sees dirt that I don’t.  Together we can get our house in manageable order in under an hour generally speaking.

The other awesome and scary thing that is happening this morning is that I will be sitting in on the recording of an episode of battle bards.  I’ve been a long time supporter of the show, having listened to I believe every episode.  I too am a huge fan of game music, and tend to spend most of my days listening to soundtracks looping in the background.  So I am pleased to be able to share some of my favorite tracks along a theme… that I am not going to give away.  As a result of this I ended up spending my normal writing time while eating… going back over my notes about the various tracks we will be reviewing.  I admit now that it is the actual day we are recording I am a bit nervous.  Normally when I guest on a podcast it is no big deal… because I am being myself.  This time it feels like we have a higher purpose, and while I have some formal musical training… that feels like a lifetime ago.  So hopefully I don’t make a complete ass of myself.

A Calling Card

Over the last few weeks I have been working on a little side project.  I originally started thinking about it while at Pax South and it just took a bit to finally pull the technical bits together.  I’ve owned the domain Belghast.com for some time but I never did much with it.  The idea was always to create a site that somewhat combined all of the different things that I do.  At this point I am all over social media, have two podcasts, a daily blog, a youtube channel, and hitbox stream…  in addition to the stuff I am starting to do for MMOGames.com.  When I was having to pull together the information to hand off to the community folks at each of the game companies during pax… I realized just how spread out everything is.  It would be so much more simple if I could just say… go to Belghast.com and that will link you to all of the projects that I do.  So I guess in the idea is part calling card, and part resume.

The hard part was figuring out how to do what I wanted to do.  In the end I found a plug-in that would allow me to syndicate posts from damned near anything with an RSS feed.  Honestly the plug-in is a bit scary, and likely designed for some really nefarious site cloning purposes.  It was however the only thing I could find to do exactly what I wanted it to do.  Thankfully all the functionality I need is in the free version, because the paid version is like $15 a month.  Essentially I am just excerpting my posts on Aggronaut, AggroChat, Bel Folks Stuff and MMOGames but the plug-in was designed to copy the entire post, images and all.  I still plan on writing and podcasting in all the same places…  just plan on having the other site to connect all the dots.  I like the banner, because it finally gives me a reason to use the “real life” chibi that Rae did for me.  Not completely sold on the theme, but for now it works.  I might do something more custom later.

At Peace with GW2

Gw2 2015-02-05 22-35-03-78 I’ve had a very checkered past with the Guild Wars franchise.  I was not a huge fan of the original, largely because I had no ability to jump… and Ruined Ascalon was so damned ugly.  Then you zoom forward and the manifesto trailer was released… and everything it said I thought I wanted.   When I managed to get into the Alpha program through a friend, I was more excited for any Alpha I had been to that point.  When I actually got my hands on it…  I had this overwhelming “I don’t get it” feeling.  In fact there was a three hundred page thread on the forums essentially saying the same thing.  I felt that all criticism of the game approach was being ignored, and as a result it was the only Alpha program I have ever resigned from.  Then we scan forward to launch, and everyone I know is excited about the game.  I obviously lost access to the test servers, but did manage to get into the open beta phase.  I got in and the game was not as bad as I had remembered it, and I had lots of friends playing it with me… so I ended up buying the game.  A few weeks in however I was hit by the same sense of pointlessness, like nothing I was doing in the world mattered.  The final nail in the coffin was how bad the dungeon running experience felt, when that was the majority of what I spent time with friends doing.

belgw2cavern I had not really followed the game from that point on, other than to use it as my whipping boy for what happens when grouping is done badly.  Then we move forward to Pax South.  I had been asked to sit in on the panel to see what they had to say, so I dutifully did so.  Maybe it was the excitement of the crowd, or the well crafted sales pitch… but when I got back to Texas I reinstalled the game and I have been poking around.  I can’t say that the game has changed drastically, but I think maybe I have in the intervening years.  At this point I am 59 on my Warrior, and have been running around aimlessly completing the objectives on the map.  I have to say I am really enjoying myself.  It is a vastly different experience than any of the games I am playing, a much more disposable experience… but that is okay.  There is some serious depth to this game, but it isn’t the same sort of depth that you see in a traditional MMO.  I find myself actually looking forward to the Heart of Thorns expansion.  This game has become my cooling down experience after raid nights.  I pop it open, running around for a bit and finish a few objectives… feeling like i have accomplished something without spending a lot of time.  That seems to be where this game excels, giving you bite sized moment to moment experiences that feel like they are building to something larger.  I have to say… and I realize how much crow I have to eat…  but I am enjoying myself in ways I never expected to.

AggroChat 41 and Pax Day Two

A Tale of Two Days

PaxPlaysPokemonIt was not until today that I realized that yesterday at Pax was a bit of a downer.  I had a lot of fun playing around with various games that I had media appointments with, and I am so happy I caught moments like “Pax South Plays Pokemon” where a guy in a costume was accepting and mimicking commands just like Twitch Plays Pokemon.  The problem is I mostly focused on the four appointments I had, and treated the day like I was working the convention.  In theory I guess I was but the biggest thing that lead to this feeling was the fact that more or less I was completely alone.  Sure there were people at the convention that knew but since I was so focused on making sure I was on time for the four meetings I didn’t really focus on mingling much other than with the random strangers I stood in line with.  That was one of the things I found most interesting is just how comfortable I felt around strangers.  I think part of it is that I knew if conversation did happen… it would at least be about something I was probably knowledgeable.  It was like the entire weekend was this safe little bubble of geeks and dorks… and we all inherently sense we were among our own kind, and somehow safe.

gigantic_aggrochat_trio Today however was a completely different experience.  Upon arriving there I got into the line for the Guild Wars 2 expansion reveal, and immediately after that I met up with Ashgar who was also watching the panel but had arrived late.  Shortly after that we met up with Rae and her brother and from that point on at least two of us were together at all times.  This completely changed the entire dynamic of the show for me.  Instead of being about milling around looking for something interesting… it became about having this grand adventure with friends.  I of course had to sho them everything I thought was cool from day one, which involved trying to get them a play session of Gigantic.  Sure enough the folks were amiable to the idea of having two more members of the podcast playing.  While I wasn’t really expecting to play along as well we all ended up on a team opposite Angry Joe of the Angry Joe Show.  It seems like the Gigantic Live twitter feed caught us playing, and while it was an extremely hard fought match our team pulled ahead in the end and seized the day.  For those playing at home… faces right to left at the machines are Myself, Ashgar, and Rae…  with the every awesome Lonrem beside Rae offering words of advice.

Heart of Thorns

This morning of course was the big announcement of the Guild Wars 2 expansion pack.  The fact that it was happening was of no real surprise because apparently the ending of this most recently living story episode concluded with some heavy hints about the expansion.  What was a surprise to me at least is that Arena Net seems to be shoving aside the MMO tradition of releasing an expansion and raising the level cap.  Instead they are introducing an alternate progression path called Masteries.  This system will apparently be account based so once something is unlocked it is available to all of your characters.  Some of the unlocks will be quality of life things like a new hang gliding skill, and others will be as game changing as brand new specializations.  The only one that they gave examples of is that the Ranger will apparently be able to specialize into a Druid giving them access to staff weapon type and brand new druid abilities.

gw2boomstickhype The other big announcement for me at least is that they are adding a third heavy armor class to the game.  It seems their flagship character Rytlock has gone through a transformation turning him a warrior to the brand new revenant class.  It seems the revenant focuses on channeling the mist and gives access to retelling certain legends that give it special abilities.  In the video above it shows him summoning a giant dragon spirit, or dashing around the battlefield striking all targets.  I have to say both the trailer and the expansion content sounded cool, but at the same time I know my history with Guild Wars 2 in general.  I am not sure if the revenant is enough to make me care about the game, but it is at least a step in the right direction since I love me some “shadowknight” style classes.  They plan on trickling out information between now and the expansion about what will await players in Maguuma.  I had to share the above photo because people were pumped for the show… they gave us these boom stick things and folks were putting them to good use.

AggroChat 41 – AggroChat Game Club

Since we will be on the road super early in the morning I am writing this post after coming home from my last day at Pax South.  I had a phenomenal time and spent the day hanging out with some of my favorite people on the planet.  However since myself, Ashgar and Rae were all at Pax this weekend… we were unable to do our normal aggrochat recording thing.  We actually got our shit together and planned ahead for this eventuality and recorded double episodes last saturday night releasing the first as AggroChat 40, and then I have just published the second episode tonight through the magic of “publish on date” functionality.  With the second part we are announcing a new idea we had.  The idea is relatively simple… we have a book club but with games.  We will pick a game, play it through a given month and then record a show where we spoil everything allowing us to tear into the game completely.  We did this some time ago for Transistor, where we recorded a very non-spoiler show first… and later recorded a deep dive show about the plotline.

Leading up to this show we each compiled a list of games we wanted to nominate for the inaugural game club game.  During the course of this show I made the folks who posted each game defend their title, explaining why they thought it would be a good pick.  At the end of the show we arrive at title, but I am not going to spoil what our pick is just quite yet.  You can of course skip to the tail end of the show and find out for yourself really quickly, but where would the fun be in that?  In any case whatever game we chose… on Saturday February 28th we will record a game descending into the title and picking it clean.  From this point on we will figure out a more equitable scheme for picking games, to make sure we also get some “non-consensus” titles but I figured for the first pick it was probably good to grab a game we were all wanting to play.  As we play the game I encourage our listeners to play along and then share your comments about the game, but I will give more details on that later.  In any case… I am going to close down this evenings post and start packing up.  It was a great weekend at pax, but I am amped for life to return to normal, so see you all soon in the regularly scheduled social channels!

World Without Levels

Holiday Hassles

ffxiv 2014-12-16 06-39-37-31 Today is going to be an extremely quick blogpost because I am pretty much under the gun.  Were I a proper and responsible adult I would have posted something last night.  However when I got home from work I was completely drained and while I hung out and played games for a bit… I also crashed significantly earlier than even my wife did.  Today is going to be an extremely day as we are officially beginning our Christmas shopping.  This is actually pretty good for us because in general we are those folks wandering around on Christmas Eve trying to find those last few gifts.  I like getting stuff just as much as the next person, but I really wish there was a way to turn Christmas into Thanksgiving 2.0.  The gift giving just seems to get in the way of what should be an otherwise amazing holiday.

There is the pressure to get something awesome for people who have literally not seen since last Christmas.  Then you end up with the gift of shame…  the gift card because really you have no clue at all what this person might want.  Instead if it were just Thanksgiving 2.0… we would share a meal together, and a conversation and not be constantly dreading the impending gift exchange awkwardness.  Personally I am one of those people that if I wanted it at all, I probably already bought it, and my wife is the same way.  So I feel like we are both exceptionally hard to buy for…  so mostly people just don’t try and we ultimately end up exchanging cash, either in gift card form or actual crisp bills.  Which brings me back to…  what exactly was the point?  A nice meal, a conversation…  those are the things that are really valuable.\

World Without Levels

Wow-64 2014-12-09 23-04-17-285 Yesterday a couple of my friends spun topics off of yesterdays post.  Lord Tridus commented that games should “Flatten or wipe out the level curve entirely and content now becomes scaled on gear”.  As Rowan stated in his follow up post, this system already exists and is alive and well in The Secret World.  The problem that I see with that system however is that you still have leveling in the form of total Ability Points gained, which are then used to purchase ability unlocks.  In theory it works, but the problem with the system is it becomes increasingly difficult to “restart” and try and go down a completely different path.  Ultimately this became a wall for many of my friends because the classes we wanted to play…  ended up being ultimately completely unviable when we reached the endgame aka “Nightmare” content.

Without a way to completely reset your character we had no way of really retooling after spending all of this time leveling ourselves into a corner.  Actually I experienced the same problem with playing Champions Online.  If you failed to follow the magical golden functional path, that game became an unplayable mess with you reaching a point very early on when you simply could not do the content you needed to.  The part of this equation that I feel has not been solved is how to grant abilities in a way that is not grindy.  I personally find The Secret World somewhat frustrating when I think about grinding out enough ability points to earn all of the abilities.  I spent probably hundreds of hours killing vampires in one of the higher level zones doing essentially just this…  that and farming gear to be broken down into crafting materials.  I just don’t see that as being the answer to the level problem either.

New Ability Gains

Gw2 2012-09-16 16-09-42-21 Ultimately the problem that remains is we need a new an interesting way of gaining abilities.  I think maybe Guild Wars 2 at least had part of this equation right, in that the equipping of gear SHOULD be what unlocks your abilities.  The component I would change to this equation however is that they “Teach” you abilities instead of only give you abilities while the item is equipped.  This completely changes what is considered a valuable item.  Sure a sword might not have as good of stats as the one you are currently wielding but if it gives you a new “Life Drain” ability that can be learned while completing content with it equipped…  that would make it worth keeping until at least you had learned that ability.  Random loot becomes interesting again because it might have an ability that you have not yet unlocked.

Ultimately this sort of system only works if you also have a limited amount of slots for you to put abilities in.  I think this is pretty much going to be the rule going forward that you should have no more than one hotbar worth of abilities at any given time.  This does two things for your game… firstly it makes it significantly easier for a new player to get into the game because they only have to learn so many keys to press at a given time.  Secondly it allows your game to be ported to a console significantly easier due to the limited number of button press combinations available.  The importance of making abilities in such a way so that no one ability is that much better than everything else is also key, that way there is a significant opportunity cost to each choice.  In any case…  I feel like a game without levels can work, but you also have to take away the ability grinds.  To me at least, learning a new ability from an item, feels significantly less grindy than simply racking up a currency that you then spend to unlock things.  I would love to hear other players thoughts on this concept as well.