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.

 

Four Necros

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Last night was the beginning of a brand new season in Diablo 3, and once again Grace and myself did our hang out and level new characters thing.  Traditionally these season opens happen on a Friday night, so there is always the ability to stay up until we hit the level cap.  Granted that has not actually happened in awhile with us usually crashing somewhere in range of 60.  Yesterday was a bit of a weird situation with the season open happening on a “School Night” as it were, which curbed our play session around 10 pm my time.  I finally called it because I was starting to drift off at the keyboard and when I did none of the other three players seemed to complain much about it.  I’ve been on this odd kick of going to bed around 10/10:30 which is significantly earlier than my traditional midnight.  Maybe my age is finally catching up with me?  Whatever the case… we managed to hit somewhere in the range of 47 before calling it a night.

Considering this is the first season post Rise of the Necromancer…  you can probably already imagine that we were a party of four…  and an army of dozens and dozens of undead following us around.  Can I just tell you how glorious it is to see four Necros doing their Necro thing?  We ran a bunch of Neph Rifts as is the traditional best leveling practice… and we got some insane spawns out of the gate that wound up boosting our characters significantly in the few hours we actually played.  There was one relatively small rift map that literally had almost nothing but yellow and blue packs which mean’t we had summoned the guardian well before we were actually prepared for it.  Necromancers have a really weird power curve in that they still start out a little weak, at least when it comes to raw damage output.  That Rift Guardian took forever for us to whittle down with our undergeared level 5 selves…  but within a few levels we were easily breaking apart and churning through a full round of bounties solo style.  At the point I left the seasonal content last night, I had reached effectively the same build of abilities that I was using on my level 70 necromancer.

  • Left Click – Bone Spike (Path of Bones)
  • Right Click – Blood Rush (Transfusion)
  • 1 – Revive (Purgatory)
  • 2 – Command Skeletons (Frenzy)
  • 3 – Command Golem (Bone Golem)
  • 4 – Skeletal Mage (Skeleton Archer)
  • Fueled By Death Passive
  • Commander of the Risen Dead Passive
  • Extended Servitude Passive

Path of Bones is my favorite builder in part because I can sit back a long ways from the targets and still be gaining essense while my bone army chews stuff apart.  Transfuion is largely as a reasonable way of getting back some health while also providing an escape mechanism.  There is rarely a time when I would need to use it… that I am not going to at least pass through a few enemies during the travel time.  Bone Golem just makes for a really nice AOE damage dealer… and it was hilarious when the four of us needed to do a boss and unleashed that all at the same time. Revive becomes the bread and butter way of getting extra attackers and quickly becomes more useful than the meat firework option that is corpse explosion.  What I like about purgatory is that it means I can keep recycling targets because when your revives die they turn back into corpses.  Functionally what I do is play with Flesh Golem up until the point I get this ability and then thankfully you can switch over to Bone Golem without losing a source of corpses.  The necromancer is insanely fun and if you have not played it yet, I highly suggest checking it out.

Mobile Matters

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For years I have said that I really did not think that gaming on my phone was really my “thing”.  It was a platform that I largely felt didn’t quite fit my lifestyle, because in part I felt like I either had access to PC and Consoles…  or simply didn’t have the ability to game period.  Recently however I have been eating the hell out of those words.  For the last week or so I have been getting used to a new phone, and at some point I will probably do a proper review of it.  Functionally I could not bring myself to spend $800 to $1000 on a new phone… and my Samsung Galaxy s5 had lots of problems.  This lead me to branch out and look into some other options… and I finally landed on the ZTE Axon 7 which is a very solid attempt at a Chinese flagship killer.  When I finally do a proper review I will get around to more about that, however suffice to say I am enjoying it.  There is a thing that happens with PC gamers…  when we get new hardware.  We go through this phase of installing everything that we have cared about in the past… and trying it out on the new setup to see what has and has not improved.  With this new phone being so much more powerful than my previous one…  I found myself going through this same routine and testing out things like the android Hearthstone client.  When I say the previous phone had issues…  it is because once upon a time I rooted my phone in an attempt to bypass the AT&T blockade against tethering/wifi hotspots on my current plan.  I still have one of those ancient grandfathered in iPhone unlimited plans…  and while they have raised the price there is no way in hell I am giving up $25 a month unlimited mobile data.

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While the S5 is technically no longer rooted, I seem to have tripped some anti-tamper seal of a sort on the phone and it fails the Google Safetynet test that app manufacturers have started incorporating into their apps.  This means that I was forced to stop playing Pokemon Go when they patched in this protection, and similarly have been unable to experience Fire Emblem Heroes, Mario Run or a whole slew of newer games that just do this check by default.  The biggest problem with me and phone gaming in the past however was the battery life, and the way that a few minutes of Final Fantasy Record Keeper could shave off 25% of my battery before I even realized.  With the new phone this seems to no longer be the issue that it once was… and either because the processor does not need to work nearly as hard…  or the fact that I have a 3250 mAh battery (instead of 2800 mAh) I can functionally play games and still use my phone for everything else that I want to.  As a result lately I have been heading to bed fairly early and then chilling out there and playing mobile games until sleep finally claims me.  Similarly while I am out and about I am starting to play a lot more Pokemon Go, but have not really gone out on catching jaunts like I did around the release a year ago.  I contemplated going out last night but it was still over 90 degrees outside after 9pm, so I figured I would leave that to a cooler evening.

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The games that have seemed to clamp down the hardest on my attention however are Fire Emblem Heroes…  which is a thoroughly charming tactics style combat game and of course Final Fantasy Record Keeper that I already played a significant amount of in the past.  This is the point where I admit that I have never actually played a Fire Emblem game in the past, and while I am sure the actual games are not terribly similar to this mobile title…  it does make me a hell of a lot more interested in them.  The premise is largely nonsense…  but it is the sort of nonsense that I find myself enjoying at the moment.  The biggest problem with these games is that I really have no clue what I am doing on a regular basis… and not even sure what the best way to do anything in game is.  I’ve been slowly working my way through the story in Fire Emblem, and in Record Keeper I noticed that they seemingly have gotten less sparing with handing you a bunch of characters.  I worked my way through most of a Final Fantasy XIV themed event dungeon… and picked up Yshtola, Minfilia, Yda, Papalymo, and Cid…  and started working my way through a similarly FFXII Zodiac Age themed one.  Much like in Pokemon Go… the excitement for me is in the collection of new characters and not so much in the leveling and battle.

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Lastly I have been slowly working my way through Final Fantasy V on the phone as an attempt to do things like play over my lunch break…  which admittedly has not actually happened yet.  I got completely wrecked last night by Garula, which means I am going to have to sort out a decent strategy for this one.  Of course I am not playing the game legitimately… and instead am doing the Four Job Fiesta…  which means I am attempting to take him down as a party of four Black Mages.  Its time to go figure out some strategery so I can get past him and get my next set of jobs.  I find the mobile FFV client a little wonky… and especially in mobiles where you need fine motor control…  that is not a thing the touchpad really gives you.  Getting through the poison plants at the top of the mountain was not really a thing…  so I simply opted to walk through a couple and take antidotes.  Regardless it works well enough for my needs and gives me a reasonable platform without really shackling me to a specific location for playing it.  I kinda hope we eventually get a version on the switch through either virtual console… or a release of this mobile port to it.  Whatever the case….  someone seems to have replaced me with a doppelganger that does not mind mobile gaming all the sudden.

 

Warbears and Stormsplitter

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We will lead off with the accomplishment of the night.  I knew I was pretty close to the ARR Warrior “Raid” mount but I had lost sight of actually going after it specifically.  I never really did anything to purposefully grind for this, and for the most part got my 200 “high-level duties” organically by running various raids with the free company. It was at some point during our Omega runs that I happened to notice I got the achievement, and that prompted a trip to the guy near the waterfall in Gridania… who also apparently had the Maelstrom themed mammet waiting for me as well.  The way I ride this mount is sort of insane, with me reaching down and trying to hold onto the fur and it runs around insanely.  It is funny how animation cycles affect how we feel about the speed of a mount, because while this is technically the same speed as everything else I own…  the feels so much faster because of the dynamic run loop.  Grizzled warbear is probably the most Bel mount in existence…  and it is only slightly sad that it doesn’t fly.  There is however a newer bear that supposedly does have the ability to fly… and at the moment I am 49 of some silly number of 70+ content needed for that achievement.  I doubt I will purposefully grind for it, but instead someday also be surprised when I see its achievement scrolling by after tanking a dungeon for someone.

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Once upon a time in a small town far far away…  I was a little skater punk kid.  Technically I only grew up an hour away but we are going to call it far away for sake of the narrative.  I was lucky enough that I had a half pipe in my yard, that we bought second hand and moved to our location and reassembled.  Now this was too small to have a roll in, so it was functionally a “drop in” style ramp.  For those unindoctrinated… most ramps have a bit of metal coping at the top of the lip that is there to protect the wood of the ramp from the “trucks” aka axles of the skateboard as you come up to the top and grind.  Getting onto the ramp involved danging your board out over the edge of the ramp, with your back trucks butted up against the metal coping and then shifting your weight from the tail of the board to the front causing you to “drop in” to the ramp.  I found this process completely terrifying, and each time I went out to skate the first few runs involved me not being willing to give myself over to gravity… and ultimately sliding down the ramp on my ass.  Eventually I would loosen up and get comfortable and be able to drop in just fine for awhile and be able to ride the ramp legitimately for the rest of the day.

The reason why I have related this analogy is that for the most part… doing new organized content in an MMO is like dropping in for me.  I am super hesitant for awhile and unwilling to venture off on my own and give it a shot.  I didn’t do a whole lot of solo grinding of Alexander because I felt like I needed that safety net there in case something went wrong.  Similarly this expansion I have thusfar been unwilling to join a party finder group to do Susano Extreme or Lakshmi Extreme, and last night…  was the moment I dropped in for the first time.  My friends Mor and Grace decided that we were going to do the encounters, and we recruited Muspel as well…  and the four of us…  two tanks and two heals set forth to build a party finder group.  Susano was for the most part a learning experience, but very quickly it became a situation of having to work the kinks out and get our dps up high enough to be able to beat the enrage.  With about 20 minutes to spare we manage to do it and I got my first kill under my belt.  Lakshmi did not go so well, and not only was it much harder to pull together the group…  but it also was pretty clear early on that we had nowhere near enough dps to be able to finish the job.  After some wipes… having someone drop… refilling the group and re-queuing…  only to wipe again due to not enough damage…  we opted to call it for the evening.  That said I now feel significantly more comfortable in either fight as a tank, and in theory I would probably be willing to solo queue from now on.  I got over the coping…  and got my weight shifted in the right way and now am more or less fine.  However it is only because I went into the content with some people that I trusted… that I was eased over the edge, so I appreciate it when someone is willing to just hang out with me and answer my questions while I do new harder content.

Leveling DPS is Butts

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One of the best parts about Final Fantasy XIV is that you can literally be every possible class be it crafting or battlecraft on the same character.  One of the worst parts of Final Fantasy XIV is that for the most part leveling alt jobs has been a pretty grindy proposal.  When you first set down to level in Final Fantasy XIV, you have all of these side quests and main story quests to keep the game feeling fresh and keep the content moving forward at a decent clip.  Unfortunately when you sit down to level any of your other Jobs you find out just how much of your original quest experience came from that unrepeatable main story.  As always I leveled my Warrior first because well…  like it or not I am a tank at heart and for three expansions now I have not deviated from that mission.  There was some brief flirtation with potentially going Dark Knight, but in the end Warrior just suits me best.  However now I have reached that point where I have functionally geared the warrior as far as I can without the aid of Omega drops, and as a result I have turned my attention to trying to run my first DPS up.  You can tell by the above image that my DPS of choice this go round is the brand new Samurai job.  The only problem there is…  quite honestly leveling as a DPS without the aid of the Main Story Quest…  is butts and highlights some of the problems that Final Fantasy XIV still has when it comes to a lack of reasonable alternate leveling paths.

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Previously in A Realm Reborn era especially… I used to hop in a FATE grinding party and move on with life.  There were fabled zones like South Shroud or Northern Thanalan that were largely devoted to groups of players running around and trying to kill the FATEs as fast as possible.  Unfortunately with the transition to Heavensward, there was a massive nerf of FATE experience and with it the grind party devotees started to disappear.  When Palace of the Dead was introduced it gave us a ladder to follow to slowly bring those alts up to speed through grinding sets of 10 floors at a time.  Unfortunately however the PotD experience is pretty horrible with the bar barely moving at level 61.  There is a bit of a FATE presence in The Fringes, but everyone is fairly disorganized with no groups available through the party finder.  There was some talk over the weekend of maybe starting up a guild FATE party just to get all our various alts leveled in a reasonable manner.  My current MO has been to queue for a dungeon or roulette and grind FATEs until it pops and in the grand scheme of things this has worked well enough.  Over the weekend I went from 60 on my Samurai to 65 as of last night, which a huge chunk of that happening during recording the podcast and simply bouncing from FATE to FATE until we finished.  I remember that is also how I leveled my gathering professions, since while I am podcasting I can seem to grind something without even noticing it.  I would also try this with Palace of the Dead, but before long I would find myself running circles in Quarymill while we recorded…  much the same as I used to run circles in Dalaran.

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I honestly thought I was being clever in this expansion, and after the end of Raubahn Savage…  I found myself up enough in experience that I started attempting to ignore every side quest and only push through with a laser focus on the main story.  My thought was this would ultimately help out the first alt that I leveled, and over the weekend I returned to Ruby Sea where I had dozens and dozens of quests to complete.  Unfortunately…  these quests provide next to no experience and simply only add bits of story to help flesh out the world a bit.  I spent about an hour and completed a dozen or so quests… when I realized that my experience bar had moved less than if I had gotten gold in a single FATE.  Hell to be truthful just wandering the world grinding random mobs seemed to be better experience than the side quests were providing.  In the past this would be the moment that I would start leaning heavily on Battlecraft Leves…  but unfortunately much to my frustration it seems that they simply do not exist in Stormblood.  There are crafting leves in Kugane but neither there nor Rhalgar’s Reach have anything for the battlecraft jobs.  I mean leves were a horrible experience in Heavensward and the thought of having to keep popping back to the Foundation between rounds was maddening.  However they were there if you got desperate and there were many times I got desperate enough to see some steady progress on the experience bar.  There are hunts of course, and I have been doing my daily hunt logs but again… while they are an excellent source of seals…   they are a pretty crappy source of experience.

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If I am playing a tank or a healer… then this whole question of how to level becomes moot.  You simply queue for dungeons and ride the constant string of instant queues until you hit 70.  However there seems to be something missing to help the DPS get a leg up.  Now the leveling roulette and 50/60 roulette seem to go significantly faster than queuing for a specific dungeon.  Over the weekend leveling roulette seemed to be about a 10-15 minute queue for dps, and 50/60 somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 minutes…  with queuing for an individual level and gear appropriate dungeon taking somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-40 minutes.  If I was able to run FATEs while waiting on the queue to tick down it did not feel too horrible, or at least it felt like I was making steady forward momentum.  However if I happened in one of the patches where the folks were not touching the FATEs at all…  it was noticeably dragging.  Compare that to the experience of playing a healer or a tank… with their push button get dungeon mechanics and it just feels lousy.  At least with Palace of the Dead providing reasonable experience, you could skirt a lot of the issues and get by just fine with four dps parties in there.  I am not sure where it is on the roadmap, but I am really hoping we see the next iteration of Palace of the Dead launching with 4.1.  Until then… I think once I finish leveling the Samurai I will probably focus on my other tanks and my healers before returning to the DPS queue hell again.  This is also why I have been trying to offer my short tank queues whenever possible to the free company…  because leveling DPS is butts.

Unstuck

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It is always bizarre when I make a post on a Monday… and almost everything that I was talking about on Friday has changed.  This is one of those situations.  When I wrote Friday we had a cute dog in our back yard…  but it was still a dog.  We had not slept very well for several nights in a row… because doggo wanted to be barking lots.  There were several times that my wife got up and snoozed out on the back patio in an attempt to keep the dog from waking the neighbors.  While I didn’t get the brunt of it… because the dog latched onto her and not me…  I did get a significant interruption in my sleep patterns because when someone else in the house is moving about I wake up, or at least go into super shallow sleep mode.  Functionally we were following two lines of thoughts… the best possible solution was to find the original owner and in attempting to do this…  we cast a pretty wide net of posting about the dog any place we could think to do so.  The second line of thought was to try and find a “dog person” to take him, and find him a good permanent home.  Saturday afternoon I got a few excited messages from my wife who was out chilling with the dog on the back patio.  It turns out that one of her facebook posts reached the human responsible for doggo, and within thirty minutes or so my wife was walking the pupper back home.  Rocko as the human calls him…  lives about dozen and a half houses away and had probably just escaped when he decided to start following my wife.  We had a bunch of assumptions..  that he was in fact loved, and that he had a female human that looked after him…  and that he had not actually traveled very far based on the way the pads of his feet looked.  All of that turned out to be completely true and while the puppy seemed to be happy enough with us…  once he got in range of his sibling he seemed to get super amped.  Thankfully we were able to connect the dots and find his original home.

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As far as the other thing that was distressing me… that had cleared up as well.  When I last wrote about it, I talked about my struggles to find a group capable of getting through the Royal Menagerie trial.  Also at that time there were several of us hung up on that step and functionally high center in the expansion.  The Trial itself lasts for 60 minutes and after the five full attempts worth to get through it….  I had spent roughly 300 minutes of my life doing the fight over the course of the week.  Friday night however Ashgar my usual co-tank reached the point where he was also needing the Trial, and we gathered up two heals, two tanks and a dps to take into the encounter.  Up until this point we had all been talking about our battle scars that had been invoked by the fight…  and then because apparently Ash is super lucky we managed to one shot the fight.  The best part about this is the fact that three of us were stalled in the MSQ and got dislodged by that one victory.  Saturday evening Kodra also reached that point, and similarly we rallied the troops…  this time bringing six players in…  and once again we one shot the encounter.  So maybe I just had a streak of bad luck, but it was maddening nonetheless.  However since pushing past on Friday I have been on a gearing spree and am sitting at 302 I believe now on my Warrior.  When not doing roulettes though I have been working on the Samurai and have that job up to 58 so far.  I need to do some research on the Extreme Primals because yesterday Grace tried to convince me and Tam to do this thing.  I originally thought I would wait until the rest of the group got there as well…  but I don’t mind the through of joining a party finder group…  but I just need to be able to know what the hell is going on beforehand.  Unfortunately there is no MTQ guide for either yet, and I am going to have to rely on one of the other guides to get the basics of the fight.

Army of Bone

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As I said yesterday morning I took a break from Final Fantasy XIV and the trial that has a good number of us completely high center on finishing the game.  For those unaware Diablo 3 released its first in what I hope is a series of smaller addon packs that infuse the game with a little new blood…  or skeletons in this case.  While not really an expansion pack, Rise of the Necromancer adds the much wanted class to Diablo 3 and it is implemented in a way so that it blends seamlessly with the rest of the game.  I will talk a bit more about that later, but here is functionally what you get for your $14.99…  which is amusingly easily within the bounds of converting a single WoW Token to Blizzard Balance.

  • Non-Combat Pet – disgusting half baked flesh golem thing
  • A Pair of Cosmetic Wings – you can see me rocking them in the above screenshot
  • Necromancer Themed Banner Shape, Sigil and Accent
  • Necromancer Portrait Frame
  • Pennant – looks similarly Necromancery
  • Two additional character slots – which I was apparently close to being out of
  • Two additional bank stash tabs

Lets be honest… I probably would have paid $15 for two more bank tabs but as far as I am concerned that is plenty of goodness for the price.  The Necromancer itself is insanely fun and most of last night I went around being followed by an army of undead minions.  I cheated a bit in that I crafted a full set of Cain set gear and hung on to my Leoric’s Crown which had a 95% multiplier on it…  for the Flawless Royal Ruby that I slotted in it…  giving me 130% bonus experience and 112 bonus experience per kill.  Now in my travels I have never leveled a Gem of Ease, which was the route that my friend Grace took to leveling significantly faster than me.  Regardless the experience is flying and last night I managed to make it to level 56.

The key difference this time as compared to my normal seasonal characters is that I opted to play through the original game story as is to try and catch any changes that were put in place for the necromancer.  I have been pleasantly surprised at just how well this new class blends with the original experience because they have shimmed in Necromancer specific responses from NPCs and Companions alike.  This is the first time I have actually run the game with the scoundrel as my companion and he regularly makes comments about not needing any more empty skulls following us around.  There was an event in Act II where I encountered a Necromancer out in the desert… which I greeted as a long lost friend rather than a strange traveler.  Sure it feels a little weird to have the Paladin accept you as a friend… when you functionally defile the dead and bind them into your service…  but whatever if you can manage a minor bit of hand waving what is left is a really enjoyable experience.  The other thing that was awesome… is that it has been years since I last saw these cinematic and I was impressed with just how well they still hold up.  I have so much love for Diablo 3 and it is the game that I am always rooting for good things to happen to… and small content packs like this one definitely seem like a viable way to continue growing the game.  I am more than willing to keep plunking down this $15 price point to get new classes and assorted stuff to go with it.

I am really hoping this means we might see the Druid or Amazon as a result.  Even more than rehashing characters from Diablo’s past… I would love to see them branch out and start giving us brand new concepts for characters.  What about giving us a redeemed demon, or a fallen angel to control for ourselves.  I just feel like there is a lot of life left in this game and I want to see them keep moving forward with expanding it.  What I think is cool is that functionally this expansion pack was split into two halves… the first being the content listed above… and the rest being simply patch 2.6.0 which adds three new areas to the game for everyone regardless if they purchase the pack or not.  Something called Challenge Rifts also went into the game as well as the usual number of tweaks and balances preparing us for the next season.  I like this idea of expanding both the free content at the same time as giving us an additional way to keep spending money with the game and supporting its development.  This is a weird balancing act that all of these “buy once, play forever” type of games seems to struggle with…  as in what is content that should just be free because you bought the game, and what is content that is reasonable to charge an extra fee for.  I feel like this balance with Diablo 3 seems about right and I think at this stage in the game it probably works far better than releasing a full expansion with a complete new act and 10 more levels to grind through each time you start a new character.  I would love to hear my readers thoughts on this one.  I for one am a happy camper, but I would be curious to hear some dissenting opinions.

 

Frustration

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I am rapidly entering the territory of being unable to talk about things that I want to talk about…  without getting deep into spoiler territory.  Before I get into that sort of thing… I thought I would leave you with this picture of me…  in an 80s music video…  or a Olan Mills photo backdrop whichever way you want to spin it.  Yes I did in fact stop in the middle of a pull to take this screenshot…  no I don’t feel at all guilty about it.  Last night featured some amazing highs… and some crushing lows.  At the start of the evening I rather effortlessly pulled together a group of friends to run the sixth and final leveling dungeon, and it was amazing.  It felt so much like they learned their lessons from the two 8 player dungeons that happened at the end of A Realm Reborn and managed to cram that same sort of epic feel into a 4 player dungeon.  It is weird how people never seem to have a problem waiting for cut scenes in a normal dungeon, but god forbid you watch them in any of the 8 player or 24 player content.  Whatever the case it was awesome, and featured a lot of really cool mechanics and several extremely challenging but still reasonable encounters.  I theorized this as them wanting to make sure a group of random players could complete it since this will of course be part of the expert roulette.  Then after these warm fuzzies…  they dropped the bottom out and pushed me right into the third trial after a lengthy cut scene doing the story set up for it.

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Now we are entering the realm of spoilers, because I am not sure how else to talk about my frustrations.  There is a common thread among my Free Company… and that is folks who have technically finished the expansion but not yet seen the credit roll.  For those uninitiated, there is in fact a credits roll at the end of each expansion…  and then again at the end of an expansion cycle of patches.  The reason why we have not seen the credit roll is because so far very few have lucked out to actually defeat the final primal fight.  This is a pug killer, and last night saw me making my first attempts.  On the first attempt we walked in with me playing a tank, Tam playing a Red Mage, Grace playing a Scholar and Solaria playing a White Mage…  and while we got close several times we just could not push it across the finish line.  This is one of those fights where you judiciously hold a healer limit break in reserve…. because at some point you are straight up going to need to rez most of the party.  What makes this fight so much worse than “mechanics the fight” aka Thoradin is that everything literally hits so much harder.  I feel like this is simply an issue of scaling and expecting everyone in the party to have potentially farmed Dungeon 6, rather than to attempt it immediately upon completion.  The amount of damage that the party was taking and the tankbusters when they hit me…  just added up to a frightening amount of healing that needed to be done in perfect situations.  When players were taking damage when they didn’t need to…  it just became more than anyone could handle.

The fight as a whole combines some of my least favorite mechanics from other fights, namely the destructible floor concept that we encountered in Sohr Khai.  The other part of the fight that I really do not like is that there seems to be a significant RNG element to it.  The boss has an aether meter and when it reaches full it does an attack…  but which attack it does seems to be randomed from a large pool of possible attacks.  The problem with this is that some of these are far easier to deal with than others… and this also completely flies in the face of FFXIV encounter design as we have known it to date.  FFXIV encounters are traditionally a dance that is done that the players have to learn the steps to… but once they do it feels like an elegant chorus rather than a win on some chance table.  There are some elements in this encounter that do happen in sequence but then there are others that seem to be pulled out of a hat  that you just have to deal with.  It feels like in order to get through the fight with a PUG we need firstly solid players… but also a hell of a lot of luck.  As a result there is a group of us that might be high center until we can field most of an 8 player group made up of entirely our free company folks.  That might be awhile since everyone tends to be leveling at vastly different speeds… and we have an excessive number of tanks and healers as opposed to some dps.  After last night though…. I think I am going to take the night off and play some Diablo 3 since the Necromancer pack releases today.

 

Crazy Axe

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As of last night I am now officially at the Stormblood level cap.  That said I still have a bunch of content left to run because I know my MSQ is stalled behind at dungeon at the moment…. and then I also know from hearing folks talk about it that there is another trial of some sort after that.  I was feeling a little too out of it to go seeking a dungeon group, so instead I focused on finishing the warrior quest line, which gave me a set of gear that I will probably never wear at least cosmetically… and this bizarre axe.  As a whole though Stormblood provided me with lots of glamour fodder, including this chest piece that I have become rather fond of.  I actually dinged 70 while running the second primal.  I decided to do a trials roulette, and next thing I know I am zoning into that fight.  The first pull went about as well as you would expect that a modern era primal fight would go.  On the second pull however I took a moment to ask folks if there was anything about the fight that they didn’t understand, and answered a bunch of questions.  As I was able to do I also hollered out when a few key mechanics were coming up to remind folks about them.  Things went off the rails a bit during that second attempt but we managed to hold on and ultimately finished the fight.

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The story as a whole has continued to be amazing, but I am finding myself at a loss for screenshots to put in my blog posts that are not insanely spoilery.  I find myself trying to snap moments where nothing much is going on that won’t give away any major story beats.  I find it interesting how generally speaking I am not that beholden to a story in other games…  but in Final Fantasy XIV I am anxious to find out what is going on.  I guess part of it is that in a single player story… the experience doesn’t feel real.  What I mean by that is it is something that I experience and then once the story has reached its conclusion it is functionally over…  at least for another several years until they release a sequel.  In an MMO…  story sets the stage for what is to come and gives us a glimpse in what we will be doing a few months down the road.  The story feels more alive to me because I am going to be living it, and I am going to be adjusting to whatever changes it happens to bring to the stage for a long while.  My friends and I are going to be fighting our way through the epic battles that are proposed each time the story leads us some place new.  I guess this is why I get into the lore of Destiny as well, because even though the grimoire cards are a crummy system… they give us a glimpse at the future to come and let me start day dreaming about epic adventures that are just over the horizon.

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Another thing that happened this weekend was the “launch” of Secret World Legends.  Sure they are calling it a head start, but if you are letting in everyone who played the previous game…  you are effectively launching it.  More than anything I wanted to get in and make sure that all of my stuff transferred just fine, and more importantly that my lifetime subscription did in fact transfer over into lifetime patron status.  For those who played the first game… I highly suggest you check out the page on the transfer system so you can claim anything that might be eligible for transfer.  I’ve heard that this system is only going to be available through August 31st and there are a bunch of guidelines and fine print to follow to make sure everything copies just fine.  I probably need to do some more fiddling to make sure that everything does in fact copy.  I had a character of each faction so in theory it should have…  but I probably need to go ahead and create those other faction characters so I can double check.  The most important item was of course the Csicon alien smiley t-shirt…  which I am rocking in the image above.  So far I am digging the game changes, but unfortunately it just happened to launch at a really horrible time for me since I am so heavily engaged in Stormblood.  I will continue to piddle around and experience the content, and it serves as an awesome “taking a break” game for me right now.  We talk a bit about but Secret World Legends and Stormblood on this weekends podcast, which I am embedding below.