Breached Wall

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

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

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

Finally Invested

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

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

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

Top Five Lists Are Hard

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

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

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

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

Fallout New Vegas

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

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

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

Dragon Age: Origins

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

Mass Effect 2

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

More Games

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

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

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

A Warm Blanket

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

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

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

 

Burning Torch

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

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

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

Assorted Turtling

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

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

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

 

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.