Captain K

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I am all over the map right now when it comes to video games.  I am in this weird holding pattern where I am playing a ton of different games, but none of them for terribly long in a single sitting.  I also managed to garbage out my left pinky this weekend which is making typing surprisingly painful.  Right now my average night involves at least one Kulve Taroth match in Monster Hunter World, and then flipping over Destiny 2 to try and score another powerful/prime engram for the evening.  From there I bounce all over the place… lately that has included some time spent in The Division which actually lead me to hit the level cap of 30 and start unlocking end game activities.  One of the things that I loved about this game was just how detailed its world was, in that it felt like a real place that I was going to visit.  Yes I realize it was patterned off of New York…  but I have supposedly visited New York in a bunch of different games and this was the first time it really felt like an actual place.  The game looks gorgeous at 4k… but then again so far MOST games look gorgeous at 4k.

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I poked my head into Neverwinter as well this weekend and finally claimed my Purple Owlbear mount from Twitch.  This game has a lot of positive things going on, but it is an inventory management nightmare…  which ultimately prompted my little burst of posts on twitter.  Inventory Management is just not something that is fun… and out of the tons of favorites I only got one person who chimed in stating that they actually like cleaning their inventory.  There are games where having a nonsense inventory is enough to make me log right back out, and many times… I feel this way about Neverwinter.  Side note another game that I often feel this way about is Everquest II because so much of what ends up dropping is not terribly useful, and when you can have bags that are getting close to 100 slots each…  you can carry around a lot of junk.  I think the theory is that people get excited when they see loot… but that excitement quickly passes when you realize that 99.9% of the stuff that drops is useless crap.

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Which leads me to Path of Exile… a game where the common practice is to install a loot filter so you just don’t see the useless shit you shouldn’t be looting in the first place.  I am using the NeverSink filter, largely because it seemed to be the one that was most widely recommended.  I will say however… it does greatly improve the experience… even though that I still feel like inventory space is a nightmare in this game.  I spent way more time this weekend playing POE than I expected, and I will say that the game has gotten significantly more enjoyable once I crossed the line into Act II.  Unfortunately I didn’t take many screenshots this weekend…  especially now that I apparently unleashed an ancient evil and blotted out the sun.  POE comes in both Grim and Dark flavors…  but apparently I shifted into Grim Dark mode.  The other issue that I have with POE is that my character looks stupid… which I realize is fixable if I drop a bunch of money on the cosmetic shop.  Right now I am wearing a leather diaper, plate booties, a metal old-timey football helmet…  while wielding a camp axe and a cabinet door for a shield.  This is not a good look on anyone…  and no matter how much gear I swap out I seemingly cannot get rid of the diaper.

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Lastly I am still spending quite a bit of time before falling asleep each night playing various mobile games and one of the ones that I am finding myself enjoying in spite of it not making any sense… is Lineage II Revolution.  During the podcast I talked a bit about this and apparently I completely missed the whole cookie clicker like games thing.  Games that play themselves are apparently a genre… and this one is weirdly enjoyable.  What I found odd though is once I hooked up ADB to play the game mirrored on PC from my phone… it had built in support for WASD so in theory…  this game was designed for a PC interface?  I am legitimately wondering about trying this through an emulator like Memu and mapping it in a fashion to allow for keyboard and mouse play.  At the moment you can do that… but it means you are clicking buttons on the screen instead of having things bound to mouse buttons/keys.  It is weirdly entertaining…  but it isn’t like I can actually suggest it as a “good” game.  It is pretty and some stuff is happening on screen but I am largely just letting it play itself since mobile controls are garbage.  Maybe that is the way these games are getting around that fact…  letting the game navigate for you and then just hit attacks periodically in a sort of on rails shooter type experience.

The Stronghold Chasm

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Last night I fell down an unexpected rabbit hole.  For a few weeks I have known that my good friend PizzaMaid has been dabbling in Neverwinter, but I did not actually know that we were apparently all playing on the same server until last night.  When I got upstairs to nom my noms and check into the world, I saw that she was streaming neverwinter.  Joining her were my friends and fellow Pom’s Wolfy, Jaedia and Starspun all logging in to run a dungeon in game.  We had some confusion earlier in the week as to which server we were all on, and I thought I remembered the name Dragon at some point.  Apparently yes we are all in fact on Dragon which allows us to do interesting things together.

I had my own renaissance of Neverwinter back in January as I installed and booted up the game on a whim.  For years I had been getting press releases about the game to my blogging/podcasting email and I guess over time it built up a desire to log in and see how things were going.  What I found when I got there was an extremely fun and also insanely intricate game…  that I struggled to grasp.  I already thought there was a wide chasm of features and functionalities that I did not quite understand…  but I was apparently only on the rim of said chasm.  Last night we full well opened the maelstrom and hopped right in.

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One of the activities were partook of was forming a guild, so as of last night the Owlbear Preservation Society lives in Neverwinter with the aforementioned members as the inaugural group.  This unlocked the ability to start messing around with our Stromhold which is essentially the equivalent of the Guild Hall in Guild Wars 2.  Now I had been carrying around items that assisted in the function of a guild hall for ages, likely since the game originally launched.  The problem is I never actually had a guild to spend them on… so I spent the first few minutes of my time in our stronghold trying to figure out what to do with them.

It turns out you feed them to the mimic friend that we are all taking a screenshot with, and he then applies them to the various costs associated with building things back to their grand status.  I thought Guild Wars 2 had a pretty deep rabbit hole when it came to a guild hall… but this one might be deeper.  The problem is at this moment we have only barely scratched the surface and unlike Guild Wars 2… there are no really easy gains that can be applied and instead everything seems to be pretty slow to acquire.  Right now we are being directed to build a lumberyard, which seems to be capable of producing at least some of the materials we need to start crafting things.

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Everything that is flagged with a green icon has a placard in front of it allowing us to build it.  I am guessing everything marked with a grey X is something that will eventually unlock… once we have built up a certain number of things in our Stromhold.  This is a really deep well we have fallen into and I am not entirely certain we will really make much headway.  The collection of items seems to be through “daily quests” of a sort that reset every 9 hours in the Stronghold.  I will not be playing actively enough to do these on cool down, however considering most of the activities are pretty chill I am likely to do a set of them each time I log in.

The biggest problem we have currently is the fact that there are only five of us and this seems to be a design feature that is intended to be sped through by mass amounts of players doing these and funding the building coffers.  I have no clue how wide this madness will spread, but I somehow doubt we will have a mass influx of players like we have had when a new game launches.  I might be wrong, but I am guessing this is going to be a pretty low key grind that takes place over several months.

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As far as the rest of my play session, I managed to ding 41 and now that we have our stronghold… I can see that the level cap is 70.  The Stronghold itself is populated with tons of heroic encounters designed for a balanced group of players to go out and tackle which is fairly slick.  We downed a few of them and failed one major event largely because we didn’t really know what the purpose was until it was a bit too late.  It was a really fun night of nonsense and it has sparked my desire to poke my head into Neverwinter more often now that I am actually part of a guild.

Sword Coast Chronicles

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Do you know how hard it is for me to say Neverwinter… and not follow it up with Nights?  Like that is hands down the hardest thing about playing the Cryptic made MMO…  is just stopping with the first word.  Like part of me feels like it would have simply felt better to call it Neverwinter Nights Online, but I am guessing that Bioware probably still has the licensing rights to “Neverwinter Nights”.  Regardless of this personal struggle I find myself suddenly unable to stop playing this game.  I am not really sure what is going on there but I am having a lot of fun and the content just seems to be flowing smoothly in a way it never did the few other times I tried to play it.  Everquest II had this concept of the golden path where a sparkly line of particle effects would attempt to lead you from objective to objective.  The problem is it never really worked right and was prone to completely abandon you if the effects clipped through the terrain, or simply route you in a truly bizarre manner.  As a result I think when I first saw that Neverwinter had a similar construct… I largely tried to ignore it after all of the bad experience attempting to make it work in EQ2.  The main difference is that here it actually works remarkably well, and while it might not be the most optimal path for questing purposes…  it does end up giving you a nice path to follow that eventually ends in you getting all of the objectives you need to knock out those quests.

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I had so many quests that were either partially completed or not even started scattered throughout a bunch of zones.  I am guessing I mostly ran around and killed stuff without really focusing on completing anything.  The problem with returning to a game after a significant amount of content has been added is you are never quite certain if something was in the game when you last played… or if you had just been completely oblivious to it.  One of these for me is  the introduction of the Sword Coast Chronicles tab which shows your general progress through the game, or at least what you should be working on content wise at a given level.  The only problem with this is that I am progressing way faster level wise than the content would in theory suggest.  I’ve been working on Neverdeath Cemetery still within the confines of Neverwinter proper.  If I had to guess I am now entering the second half of the content in that zone and should begin to start ticking off some of the boxes needed for the completion rewards.  So far the thing that is making this game stand out for me is just how interesting the locations are and how relatively densely packed they are with interesting vistas.  The one gotcha here is that the zones are not really as open as they might seem at first glance but instead in truth are more corridors to move through in a similar fashion to the zone design in something like Destiny 2.  So long as you treat the zone as a conduit to do the quests it feels really good…  when you start trying to break out off the beaten path and just traverse the zone without a purpose however it begins to feel frustrating and confining.

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Another thing I remember about this game is that it seemed really scarce with loot drops and at some point they went in completely the opposite direction.  I am getting more than enough gear from just running about to stay constantly upgraded and in the short time I have played I have gotten three different mounts as world drops and two companions.  There are entire subsections of this game that I have no clue what is even going on… like I vaguely remember there being some sort of web based component to this game.  I keep getting crafters and such from quests but I have no clue how to access it.  I attempted to do a little research yesterday but was constantly confronted with several year old information, so I am guessing the game just does not have much of a informational community presence.  Reading back through my original reviews of the game…  I seem to have thought it was an enjoyable experience each time I have attempted to play it.  The problem is I never really stick to it for one reason or another.  It already feels like I have gained way more traction in the game than any of my other efforts given that I logged in at level 16 Monday and now am just shy of level 30.  There are still a lot of ways that I feel like I don’t really know what the hell is going on, but I am slowly getting acclimatized to the game and feeling like I at least know my way round a bit.  The Dungeons I have run have been a mess… but the sort of mess where one person who is grossly overpowered just speed burns through the content and we sorta follow along haplessly looting shit.  At some point I want to check out the user created content that I know at some point went into the game.  I know my friend Tipa was super into that for awhile, so I am interested to see what playing that is like.  All in all I am still having a lot of fun, and probably just as shocked as you are to be seeing more Neverwinter posts.

On The Mend

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I am mostly among the living.  Yesterday was a federal holiday here in the United States and with me being off work… it also mean’t that I largely treated it as part of the weekend for blogging purposes.  I am still fighting the same crud that I had last week, but it feels like at some point on Monday I turned the corner.  While I still have the vestiges of whatever bronchial mess has inflicted me, I am starting to feel better and less like an appendage of the couch and or bed depending upon the time table.  it truly was a miserable weekend and while I attempted to game I was not terribly successful at anything until yesterday.  I spent most of the break working on the Tauren Hunter who has now finished the Outland and is knee deep in Northrend just starting the Grizzly Hills area.  My hope is that when I ding 74 the bear spirit beast will be up and I can collect it for my pet.  Up until this point I am mostly running a Fel Corehound that I got from the Blasted Lands.  I took the Beast Mastery talent that allows your pets to shadow step… so it is entertaining watching him leap up on targets rapidly.  At this point however I can kill most mobs well before my beast even has time to interact with it…  which is the life of running full heirlooms.

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Sunday I indulged a really weird whim and decided to reinstall the Arc client and give Neverwinter a spin.  I’m on the PR feed still from Perfect Worlds and they are constantly putting out press releases about content releases to this game.  It got me wondering what the current state of matters is when I have literally not heard anyone talk about it in almost two years.  It turns out the game is in pretty great shape as far as actually logging in and playing it.  As far as doing its best to feel insidious from a loot box standpoint…  it is also working on winning some awards.  I don’t remember much about the game if I am being very serious, but you know that thing that we chastised Call of Duty WW2 for doing at the beginning of the year?  Where if you get a drop the game announces to the rest of the world what you just got?  That apparently happens in Neverwinter as most of my time spent in the central hub area was a constant stream of people getting loot drop rewards.  In the very short time I played yesterday I got somewhere around 25 loot crate drops from random stuff while doing quests.  Each one of these crates would require a key which runs roughly $1.25 each without any of the “buying in bulk” discounts applied.  Through the quests I wound up getting three free keys to open three sample crates and if the ones that drop in the wild are at all similar to what they gave us as “examples” for why we should buy into this system…  they were full of utter garbage.  If you can however do what I started doing and just vendoring the damn crates for a few copper each time you saw one drop…  and loot past the money grubbing nature of the game…  the core feedback loop is actually rather enjoyable.  I think when I logged in last night I was around 16 left over from my initial push around launch and I believe I logged out for the evening around 25/26ish.  During all of that time I enjoyed the core game quite a bit so long as I completely ignored the multiple currency cash shop nonsense.  If you can do the same then you too will probably enjoy yourself.

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Last completely random thing I did last night…  is patch up and log into Elder Scrolls Online.  This game is in fact the same as I remember it and still rather enjoyable.  The biggest problem I will have is trying to sort out exactly what I was doing when I was last playing.  I am still being insanely stubborn and wanting to finish all of the original three story arcs before doing any of the newer content.  As a result I believe I am somewhere in the middle of Malabal Tor during my Aldmerri Dominion play through.  From there I will at some point venture forth into Ebonheart where maybe just maybe I can play long enough to see the character that was inspired by me and some of the folks we play with.  I think the fact that I jumped around so much last night… but still managed to get a bunch of play in with each jump…  is probably proof that I am on the mend.  In truth a good chunk of this weekend was spend with me just staring blankly at things without really doing a lot of interaction.  There were several times that I would start up a YouTube video that would then cycle through a whole bunch of things before I even realized I was still watching something.  Now however I need to go warm up the car and prep myself to venture forth into the frozen tundra (for Oklahoma at least).  Tonight will likely either be more Neverwinter or ESO because I had a lot of fun playing both.

 

Flamebending for Fun

Serious Time with Bel

This morning I am going to break from my normally positive fluffy posts to talk about something fairly serious.  Hopefully you will bear with me, because it is a topic I believe strongly about.  A few days ago my good friend Jaedia crafted an excellent post talking about her frustrations and outright anger with sexual objectification especially in video game culture.  This sparked an interesting discussion among both the women and men on my twitter feed, and I personally ended up rebroadcasting it twice for emphasis.  Over the years I have watched as my female friends have had to constantly battle everything from largely harmless statements to the downright creepy and dangerous.  What happens time and time again is there is this thread where folks are discussing a specific topic… and then out of the blue some guy will make a comment inappropriately off topic.  Then almost by queue it happened to this very discussion.

objectivization_youpretty I’ve decided to mosaic the information about the person and the participants in the discussion to attempt their anonymity.  Granted you can scroll through my feed and likely find out who this is about, but in truth I don’t think the guy in question meant any real harm by it.  The problem is it was just tragically timed, and interrupting a conversation about objectification.  Essentially he was being the poster child of this thing that everyone was talking about being frustrated about…  IN the discussion about it.  When I called him out on it, he immediately got defensive which is exactly the wrong action to take.  If someone calls you out on something in regards to something that is making another person uncomfortable…  your reaction should be to re-evaluate this action you just took, not to mount a defense against the “slander”.

objectivization_hisdefense After a mountain of back and forth, of Jae and I trying to explain what exactly the transgression was, we get down to the real root of the problem.  He quite literally did not care what the conversation was about, and instead felt the need to chime in with his comment.  There is this ingrained feeling of the divine right to pass judgment on the appearance of others, made worse by the thought that they should do it against the context of the current conversation.  The comment that was made was completely harmless and in the right context would have been perfectly acceptable.  However I have seen this play out time and time again…  Female friend posts a serious topic, and guys below comment about how pretty she is.  Do you not realize just how creepy that seems?  The guy in question apparently did not, and he spent awhile raging that we were picking on him for having a penis, completely missing the point.  My hope is that by posting about this others might think twice  before they interrupt the context of a conversation to essentially objectify the speaker with something completely off topic.

Flamebending for Fun

WoWScrnShot_021715_201626 Last week was a rough week for our raid.  We had several people out with the death flu and as a result quite literally half of our healing corp was absent.  Early in the day on Thursday it sounded like we were not actually going to raid.  After talking to our raid lead, he told me not to worry about rushing home… and instead went out to eat with my wife and ran a few errands.  When I got home they were knee deep in Highmaul and I am uncertain what the final results of it were.  As a result of not raiding since last Tuesday I was looking forward to hopefully getting back into Blackrock Foundry and making some forward momentum.  We started the evening by taking down Hans and Franz.  There are a lot of moving parts in that fight, and some RNG elements…  but ultimately on our third attempt we got our second kill in the books.  My luck with loot in Blackrock was not going to hold however, as I walked away with double gold.

The rest of the evening we spent working on the boss directly after Hans and Franz…  Flamebender Ka’graz.  She essentially is a blademaster, and as we know blademasters are good at two things…  fire based attacks and spinning weapons.  There are a bunch of things going on in the fight, the first is dealing with the placement of her flame slash attacks, which draw giant lines from the boss to the edge of the room and will target players outside of melee range.  The next problem child is two flame wolves that act much the same as Corehounds in that you have to dps them down within a few minutes of each other, otherwise they will re-ignite the other hound.  The last really frustrating attack is that she does a massive room wide fire AOE that players need to stack up for and heal through.  We managed to make some solid progress on her, but for whatever reason could not seem to get all the moving parts together.  On our best try we managed to get her down to around 30% I believe, but the healing on this fight and the placement of objects ends up with us slowly bleeding players until we simply do not have enough to finish the battle.  My hope is with some more research we can come in Thursday and wreck her.

Attempting Neverwinter

GameClient 2015-02-18 06-31-00-46 If you remember a few days ago I had a post talking about the three games that I would like to revisit.  One of them was Neverwinter by Cryptic now Perfect World, so after the raid I fired it up rather than what has become my more recent winding down game…  Guild Wars 2.  All told I played around 45 minutes of the game, and it was roughly how I remembered it.  There are positives about it and negatives…  the most glaring is this feeling that everything you actually want is somehow locked behind a confusing two tier currency system.  You have Astral Diamonds and you have Zen… and the two do very similar functions.  The problem is it feels absolutely arbitrary which currency is used for which thing.  Since I was a preorder I got a large quantity of Astral Diamonds, but it seems like the main function of them is to speed up tasks like training your companion.  All of the useful unlocks and content walls seem to be purchased with Zen.  That whole mess pretty much guarantees that I would never play this game seriously.

What I was surprised by was how fun the actual dungeons were.  Granted I didn’t run a “real” five man dungeon last night, but I did do one of the many lairs that the storyline weaves you in and out of.  The one I completed was some sort of orc barracks, and considerably larger than the ones I remember.  There were no less than three boss fights, and several hidden treasure chests.  The only thing that I really disliked about the gameplay was the fact that health did not regenerate.  It was something that I could get used to, but it is just so against the norm of the games I play normally.  In fact I stood around waiting for awhile waiting before I realized that my health was not coming back at all…  at which point I remembered that I had to use health pots.  Mechanically the game is interesting, but I still have the same opinion.  Elder Scrolls online just does the action combat style better.  That said there is a wealth of player generated content, so more than likely I will be spending my time exploring that.

Games I Want to Revisit

Tomorrow morning is going to be what seems like a frosty one.  So I am once again cheating and writing a blog post the night before I intend on posting it.  I assume in the morning I will need to spend all of my available time scraping windows and warming cars to make sure we can get in safely.  Lately I have been poking my head around Guild Wars 2, a game that I had until Pax South completely written off as “not for me”.  Since then I have reached a point of peace with the game, and actually found that I am enjoying it quite a bit.  So this morning my post will be a revisiting of games that I would like to give a second or third chance.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

swtor 2014-05-05 21-28-00-26 Star Wars: The Old Republic has the dubious honor of being quite possibly the worst possible free to play conversion I have ever experienced.  If I did not know any better, it might be absolutely functional for a new player.  That said having played the game in release and realizing just how gimped the game is without spending a lot of money, infuriates me.  Essentially I cannot bring myself to play this game without actually paying for a subscription.  I have attempted to play this game a few times since release, but never for terribly long.  My last voyage into the game was to try and play a Sith Juggernaut, since I had not really experienced much of the dark side content.  When our guild was actually playing regularly I managed to level a Jedi Guardian, Jedi Shadow, and a Trooper Vanguard…  so yes all three available tanks.  When I finally left the game I was slowly working on leveling my Chiss Smuggler.

Since then they have released several expansions each with their own story extensions.  I feel like maybe I am missing something having not seen any of this content.  That was the one thing above all else that really excelled with The Old Republic, was that the traditional Bioware story was excellent.  This weekend on the podcast we talked a bit about Kodra’s experiences with the smuggler storyline, and I have to say I got those pangs of remorse in my stomach for never having experienced it.  On top of this, there is still so much content Sith side that I have never actually seen.  The problem that I ran into the last time I played was that the questing just felt so repetitive.  These quests are very much World of Warcraft Wrath of the Lich King era in the way they are constructed.  While the storyline itself is excellent, it just felt tiring to keep trying to push through the planets.  Still all of this said… I feel like I should give it another shot.

Lord of the Rings Online

lotro Lord of the Rings Online and I have a strange relationship.  I never actually played this at launch, but during one of my many breaks with World of Warcraft I joined some friends playing it.  There are things I love about this game, and then there are things that frustrate me.  I love the community of this game, almost more than I like the game itself.  Landroval is an amazing place, and there are so many times I find myself wandering around Bree listening to player created concerts rather than actually completing content.  I’ve never been successful at trying to play this game for free, so ultimately I end up subscribing to remove the roadblocks.  There is just so much content that I have yet to experience.  Last time I played I had just made it to the Trollshaws, which I think is in my late 30s.  I greatly enjoy the Champion as far as a class goes, and found it really enjoyable to solo.  Which was super important because I have never really found a stable group playing this game.

I follow so many blog of players devoted to LoTRO and I have to say I feel like somewhat of a failure that I have never had a max level character there.  As such it sits in a unique place as far as regrets go for me.  I am sure I will end up reinstalling this game at some point, and poking my head back there to give it another go.  It has been I think two years since I last tried to play, and since then I am sure quite a bit more content has been released.  The game is full of so many special moments of nostalgia for followers of the book series.  The above picture is from Weathertop, one of these early “oh my god I am actually standing here” moments in these games.  I just wish I could clone myself and play all the games I want to play at the same time.

Neverwinter Online

GameClient 2013-05-07 06-52-12-08 When this game was released I played off and on during the first week… and then never set foot in it again.  The biggest problem I had was that while the game was a good action rpg…  Elder Scrolls Online was simply a better one.  In the weeks since joining open beta for Neverwinter and the ultimate release…  I was let into the double super secret alpha testing program for ESO.  So all of the time and devotion I would have spent playing Neverwinter, I instead poured into the alpha testing program for ESO.  As such I feel like I never really actually gave this game a chance.  I enjoyed the Guardian Fighter quite a bit, and it was an excellent mix of tank and brawler giving me the ability to do damage with my favored sword and shield.  Again the biggest problem is that I was trying to compare it to the Dragonknight Sword and Shield that I was playing in Elder Scrolls Online and Neverwinter just coming up short.

What interests me about potentially going back is the fact that not only is there official content waiting on me, there is an absolutely insane amount of player created content.  My friend Tipa from West Karana blog, has seemingly done an amazing job of recreating some of the nostalgic content from the original Everquest with the Neverwinter foundry toolset.  At some point I really want to go in and experience this first hand.  The biggest thing holding me back is the fact that firstly, I am not really sure if I can remember my account information.  Secondly Perfect World has never given me the warmest of fuzzies, and I’ve always found some of their practices to be a week bit sketchy.  Even taking these into consideration I am sure at some point I will reinstall this game and give it another go.  There is just too much left there to experience that I have not seen at all.

2013 Retrospective

Grand Experiment in Review

2012 was an extremely horrible year for me and at least professionally I would rank it as quite possibly the worst year I have ever had.  I would put it as worse than the year I was out of work for six months after the dotcom crash.  On September 11th 2012 my company suffered what they thought was a network attack, that only later the security guy pulled his head out of his ass and realized it was a regularly scheduled security scan… that he himself authorized.  The results of this was a massive overreaction that caused me and my team to spend the rest of the year and a good chunk of the beginning of this year rebuilding damned near everything that touched the web.  Why did we have to do this?  Because they quite literally pulled the servers out of the racks and sent them to the FBI, leaving us next to nothing to work off of.

So next to that year, this year has seemed like an absolute dream.  However it has been more than that for me.  2013 has been a year of personal growth and exploring new things.  In April when I finally pulled my head above water after the “faux” security incident, I really wanted to make a break back into blogging.  I fell off of the planet shortly after the security event and simply could not bring myself to write about anything.  Coming back I devised what I called a “grand experiment”, namely to blog each and every day even if I didn’t think I had much to write about.  At this point there are 237 posts categorized as “The Grand Experiment”, and without fail I have blogged every day even when it was a struggle to do so.

Has the experiment worked?  Well functionally yes I have managed to blog every day, but more importantly has it provided an interesting stream of content?  Quite honestly I don’t know.  Most of the time I feel like I am a little kid writing to a make believe audience.  When I talk to someone who mentions something I have written… I am always shocked.  I feel like no one actually reads my stuff, that I am mostly just writing it for my own benefit.  People seem to enjoy what I write, and I have a regular stream of readers… but I will never have the type of audience that the bigger bloggers have.  I am just too rough around the edges for that sort of thing.  For the most part I am happy with the results of a year of blogging and my long-term goal is to make it at least one full year of posts without pause.  That of course will be up April 26th of 2014, which seems like it is far in the future right now.  However I don’t see myself losing steam at any point soon.

A Healthier Me

Another big change in my life over the course of 2013 is that I am considerably lighter.  In March my wife and I began to shift the way we relate to food.  I say it in terms like that because really we have completely changed our relationship to food as a whole.  To say we went on a diet doesn’t really encompass the level of change.  Diets are about the short term, but we wanted to make permanent and long-term changes in the way we ate.  Namely we focused on trying to find a new and sustainable way to live.  At this point I am 70 lbs smaller and have hit a bit of a plateau over the last month.  However the fact that I survived both Thanksgiving and Christmas without breaking that plateau makes me happy enough.

My wife on the other hand continues to lose at a steady pace and is now down roughly 60 lbs.  At some point I need to get super serious again, as I have become lax of late.  However the current weight seems to be a place I can comfortable stay without any real intervention.  I have reached my goal and it is time for me in this new year to refocus myself and set a new one.  I will never be a small man, I come from a long line of really big people.  I am however happy enough being able to say I am a “smaller” man.  The thing I was not expecting to be honest were the health benefits.  As a whole I am far healthier than I was a year ago, and the primary benefit is that my Asthma that I have struggled with my entire life… and have even been hospitalized for… is really a mere nuisance these days.  I can go months on a single inhailer, and that is not a thing I have ever been able to do in my life.

Professional Growth

In the last year I have grown more into the role of the manager of my group.  I have learned to delegate more, which is something I have always struggled with in my life.  I was good at accepting assignments, but never very good at passing them on to my troops, instead trying to take them all on myself.  My team is pretty amazing and I would be lost without them.  I guess in some small way I have learned to have more faith in them, and trust that they will do as much diligence with an assignment as I would have.  As a result I have shifted more into the architect role for my group and part-time project manager and full-time traffic cop.  Making sure all of the assignments are going to the right places and all seeing at least some progress.

We usually have 50-60 active projects for a team of three people.  So it involves lots of juggling.  Various forces in my company want me to move up into a permanent management position.  However I simply do not want to distances myself from the “real work” enough to take them.  Additionally right now I am responsible for three extremely highly functional people, and I don’t think I  could cope with being put over less functional people that I would some how have to whip into shape.  I am not really great with confrontations, and as a result I think I would flounder.  Either that or it would be similar to me as a raid leader, and I would turn into a real asshole.  For the time being I think I am happy with where I am and what I am doing.

I Wrote A Novel

One of the things I have always wanted to do in my life was to write a novel.  I made several false attempts at various times over the years but never could seem to push myself to do it.  This November I joined the NaNoWriMo event, and over the course of the month knocked out my first novel.  I have no idea if it is actually any good, because honestly I have not even read it since finishing it up.  I plan in the new year to tear it asunder as I edit it, and fix any issues.  However regardless if it completely sucks, I have accomplished a goal.  I managed to write a novel, and that is a thing most people can’t say about themselves.  I didn’t do it to get famous, or be published, I did it mostly just to prove to myself that I could.

The weird thing about it is, November seems like a lifetime ago.  The whole concept of writing 1500 words per night was just absolutely draining.  My entire life revolved around that novel for those thirty days, which is honestly longer than I have stuck with anything like that in my life.  More than anything I feel like it was a venue of personal growth.  I did a thing I never thought I could, and I did so in a methodical way in which it felt like success was assured from the moment I started.  Sure I faltered a few times along the way, and there were a few days I didn’t write a blessed thing.  However I kept moving forward towards the eventual 50,000 word count goal and I achieved it.  I think more than anything I am proud of this accomplishment from 2013.

A Year of Gaming

This is a gaming blog afterall, so during 2013 I played a lot of games.  I played way more games than I can ever manage to remember, but I will try and run down a few of the big ones.  The list of major titles is as follows.

Oddly enough I am beginning this new year not entirely differently than I began the last year.  January 2013 I was still involved in the launch of Mists of Pandaria, and it was not until April that I really began to distance myself from that game entirely.  World of Warcraft and I have this love/hate relationship.  I get frustrated with it so much, because it seems that they always seem to take the most short sighted solutions to problems, and there are so many games that there that do various things it does…. so much better.  However as a total package I feel like the game is unbeatable.  It offers the most good things in one package.  The realization for me however after my 2+ years of absence from being serious about the game is that it is not about the game at all.  World of Warcraft is about the people playing it, and I had missed the ragtag group of people known as House Stalwart immensely.

The game I probably played the most often during the year however was Rift.  I want to love rift so badly, the promise of the game is really great.  The problem is it just lacks something that I can’t quite put my finger on.  It is a technically superior game in every aspect, but it is like it lacks a cohesive narrative that makes me care about the world every single day.  The dragons were a thing I thought I  could get behind.  But now that we have systematically killed each of them off, I cannot say in a single sentence what the world of Rift is.  I think that might be the problem, there is no one clear narrative to the game.  You cannot say “this game is” and have even half of the people agree on it.  I still play it occasionally and there is still an incarnation of House Stalwart there that Psynister and Fynralyl are keeping alive.  I thank them so much for being there, but I just can’t seem to care about the game right now.  I am sure at some point I will again.

Final Fantasy was another major force for the year.  This was a game I never intended to like because really I feel like me and Japanese RPGs had a messy divorce quite some time ago.  I had a group of friends actively wanting to play it, so against my better judgment I went along for the ride.  What I found however was a really well crafted narrative and dungeon experience.  If I could have kept experiencing new bits of immersive content, I would have likely stuck around.  However once you reached the end of the game, it was exactly that…  the end.  All paths lead to massive amount of grinding, and for whatever reason… while I can stomach grinding all day long in World of Warcraft… I could not stomach the particular FFXIV brand of grinding.  Namely I blame this on the overall lack of meaninful drops in the game.  If I have a chance of getting something cool while killing mobes, no matter how remote the chance… it feels exciting to me each time I open a loot window.  There was nothing that could drop from mobs in the world that I would ever care about.  Additionally gearing up to get to a point where we could raid, was just not a bridge I was willing to cross.

Games for 2014

There has been a game I have been in super secret closed door testing since February.  I cannot name the game by name, but I have to say I am still extremely excited about it even after most of a year testing it.  I have watched the game grow from something that felt polished to something that really is amazingly rich and polished.  I don’t think I will quit WoW this time for another game, because I have set down some pretty solid roots there again.  However I know I will also be playing this game, at the very least two to three nights a week.  It is probably the least wow-like game I have played in a long while, and because of that I feel like there is room in my heart for both games to have a unique space.

Past that I am really not certain what 2014 will hold.  I know that I am not really interested enough to purchase a PS4 or an XBox One, so I think I will be exiting the console mainstream once again.  I am mostly a PC gamer to be honest, and since my gameloft has been taken over by my wife I am okay with not having access to the consoles.  More than anything I am looking forward to the various stores beginning to liquidate their stocks of PS3 and XBox 360 games, so I can pick up the titles I always wanted to play but didn’t have the desire to pay for.  Additionally there are still a lot of things on the DS/3DS that I want to play, and I am looking forward to picking up the newest Zelda game.  I am sure there will be a number of surprises along the way, games that catch my fancy enough to deserve lots of blog posts.

I hope that 2014 will be as positive force in my life as 2013 has been.  Additionally I hope each and every one of you out there can say the same.  My friend @AlternativeChat has declared 2014 the “Year of Faff”, and I am down with this notion.  I think we all need to learn how to faff about in the game worlds we are in, because stopping and smelling the roses is the only real way I know to break the cycle of burnout.  I have tried my best to embrace this concept, and hope to continue to do so in the year to come.  More than anything, I feel like I am sick of jumping games every three months, and I get the sense that the gaming world as a whole is somewhat sick of that as well.  I hope we can each embrace our own faff, whatever that might mean.

Defense of Subscriptions

So it is neither morning nor Saturday when I sit down to write this.  I am about to cheat massively at my one post per day thing… primarily because tomorrow is going to be pure hell.  I have to get up and around early because I have a wedding to photograph for a friend.  I am completely terrified at this prospect but I figure I will make it through one way or another.  However with all the mess going on tomorrow I simply will not have time to do my leisurely two hour jaunt through blog post land that I normally do.  As a result I am writing up my post on Friday… and since I am impatient I am going ahead and publishing it today as well.

Defense of Subscriptions

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Over the last few days since the joint announcements that Wildstar and Elder Scrolls Online will be subscription based, I have seen a lot of negativity floating around the blogosphere.  You have one camp claiming this is the revival of subscriptions, and a diametrically opposed camp claiming this is a fluke and long live the free to play revolution.  Personally I can see a place for both in the game industry and I feel like we will see lots of both in the future.  Subscriptions are not going anywhere… because quite simply put high quality games have high dollar amounts associated with them.

Most of the games we now think of today as heralds of the free to play “revolutions” started their lifespan as a full functioning subscription based game with a $60 box cost and a $15 a month subscription fee.  This is the case for the Turbine games (Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online), the Cryptic games (Star Trek Online, Champions Online), the Sony Online Entertainment games (Everquest, Everquest 2, Vanguard, etc) and the new darling of the free to play market… Rift.  Each and every one of them experienced a decently long period of selling boxes and racking up monthly service fees before ultimately converting over to some sort of a freemium model.

Purely Free to Play

I was brainstorming with my friends, and quite honestly we had a hard time listing off significant MMOs that have launched as free to play.  There is a whole string of poor quality Asian market games that are too long to ever mention.  The only game I can really think of that does not have a subscription fee or box cost associated with it is Neverwinter.  Dragon’s Prophet to some extent is in the same boat, but it is still technically in open beta… and was also an Asian market transplant with a good deal of the costs simply being regionalization.  Neverwinter is most definitely a sub par gaming experience, with a good deal of incident costs hidden into the system and at least for me… overall forgettable gameplay.

As far as buy the box we have Defiance and Guild Wars 2… both of which appear to either be struggling or at least having a good deal of growing pains.  Trion has recently set about a massive restructuring of the company that involved dissolving the offices that supported Defiance and pulling that staff into the main offices in Redwood.  Guild Wars 2 has also going through a series of changes trying to deliver content at a more frenetic pace to try and keep paying customers glued to the screens.  Additionally with each update comes a slew of items that can only be acquired by unlocking the in game loot boxes.

My main issue to date with the Defiance and GW2 experiences is that while they are rolling out regular episodic updates… they are essentially throw away experiences and are only available for a limited time.  Defiance is really too young to fully judge, but they are about to release their first real DLC pack.  It will be interesting to see just how much content that adds to the game.  Guild Wars 2 on the other hand, seems completely tied to the concept of an expiring series of “living story” events.  In neither case are they really expanding the game on a regular and permanent basis to add value to that initial box purchase.

Paying Initial Cost

Rich game worlds with hundreds of hours of content cost an extremely large amount of money to develop, produce, market and ultimately distribute.  While I was disappointed when Wildstar announced its model, because ultimately it meant the cost of entry was just too high for someone like me… that only casually had interest in the game in the first place… I fully understood the decision to have a subscription.  Box costs and subscription costs help pay off the excessive costs of game development.  It has been said multiple times that the average blockbuster game costs far more than the average blockbuster movie.  Additionally the development of the game is a much longer drawn out process that someone has to bankroll until it finally sees a profit.

Lets take Elder Scrolls Online for example and try and work through some hard numbers.  Please understand that I am creating a pure guesstimate based on what I was able to pull together from Google.  Zenimax Online studios is in the Baltimore Maryland area, so there are certain broad assumptions we can make based on average costs in that region.  According to Wikipedia they moved into their current offices in 2008, and based on the E3 PS4 presentation, Elder Scrolls Online is slotted for a first quarter of 2014 launch.  That means that Elder Scrolls Online will have in essence been in development for roughly six years at the time of launch.  Please understand I am trying to just pull together some rough figures, it might have entered development before that and potentially after that.

The Hard Costs

Over the course of those six years, if you figure an average of 100 employees made an average of $45,000 a year… you get $27,000,000 in salaries alone.  Some employees will make more, likely some employees will make less.. and over the course of those six years you would have had significantly fewer than 100 and likely now in pre-launch mode significantly more.  From google we can see that the average price of office space in the Baltimore Maryland area is around $17 a sqft.  For sake of coming up with a figure we are going to say their offices are likely around 30,000 sqft, so taking that over the course of the six years you have $3,060,000 in rent.  Factor in a leased digital internet line ($300/mo), water ($400/mo), electric ($1000/mo), and gas ($400/mo) you have a vague guesstimate of $151,200 in utilities over those six years.  Finally if you figure roughly $3000 in computer equipment for each employee, you are at roughly $300,000 not factoring in ANY servers at all.

So far in things I can quantify you are talking about a guesstimate of over 30 million dollars on only a very few factors.  There are so many factors that we just cannot come up with a number for.  For example it was said that Star Wars the Old Republic took roughly 200 million dollars to develop… and that a majority of that was voice acting time.  This is something I simply cannot come up with anything sort of an estimate on.  All the voice acting rates I found online were so widely varied that they were meaningless especially when you consider the names that folks are getting are the Steve Blum’s of the world that are sought after for damned near every gaming project on the planet.  I don’t really know how detailed the voice acting is for ESO, but every demo I have seen to date gives me the impression that the game is fully voiced… which would lead me to guess bare minimum 100 million on the hundreds of hours of voice talent.

I’ve heard before that it costs roughly 1/3 of the total cost to develop a game… the rest of the costs go into marketing and distribution.  So at this point we are already sitting at around 130 million not factoring any tool licensing costs, or server infrastructure and network costs.  If that represents only a third of the total costs of the project… no wonder games NEED to sell boxes and charge a subscription to break even… let along fund future development efforts.  Essentially a AAA game experience is really damned expensive.  If you figure a company receives at most half of the $60 box cost… it would take selling over 3.5 million boxes just to make up for 100 million of the cost.  The reason why that $15 a month is so important is they are getting the entire portion of it.

Someone Has to Pay

Ultimately if we want nice games… someone has to pay for it.  Either these huge gambles can be paid off in box costs and monthly subscriptions… or they can be financed on the backs of a handful of “whale” players.  But ultimately there is no such thing as a free ride.  Game development and game infrastructure have large fixed costs that simply cannot be justified away by a players desire to not spend a dime.  We have nice free to play experiences in essence because players that came before you… paid for the cost of going there first.  They helped to pay off the loans that these companies I am sure have to take out to bankroll this kind of protracted effort.

AAA game studios simply cannot afford to build games out of the goodness of their hearts.  They have to pay ultimately hundreds of people just like you and me to build and support the games.  These are not nameless faceless corporations… they are businesses just like the one you likely work for… with a human resources department, and social security tax deductions and payrolls to make.  This is a real job for someone, and we can’t expect them to get some beer and pizza and knock out a game in their free time.  Overall the game industry pays some pretty shitty wages as compared to the IT industry as a whole.  I know for a fact that I make well more than any of my friends that currently work in the industry… and have pretty much since my first job out of college.

It is almost expected that part of the benefits package for these folks is the fact that they “get” to make games for a living.  Thing is though… they had to gain their skills the same way all of us did, with lots of hard work and sweat equity and now they work in an industry with next to no job security… because it all hinges upon the whims of whether or not gamers like us ultimately purchase their product.  So ultimately… all of these things factored in… I have ZERO problem with the concept of buying a box and paying a monthly fee when it is something I am committed to.  My friends in the industry need to eat, and pay rent, and survive on a day to day basis just like I do.

Free to Play

The free to play model seems to work extremely well at financing the daily upkeep and expansion of an existing game.  I think it has been the savior of a lot of games that have filtered their way out of the popular consciousness and were no longer drawing in active subscribers.  It is awesome being able to fire up an account you haven’t played in years, and revisit old characters.  While you are there more than likely you will spend at least a little money on the game.  Essentially it is the model of “some money is better than no money”.  The thing is, like I said above each and every one of these games that we vaunt so highly as free to play successes all had their time of box sales, expansion sales, and monthly subscription fees to pay back the excessively expensive development costs.

Do I get frustrated when a game that I have purchased the box for… and paid multiple months worth of subscription fees goes to free to play?  Hell no… because while I might bitch and moan on a regular basis about various aspects of gaming… I LOVE the games I play.  Whatever helps a game I have cared about succeed is ultimately going to be good for me personally in the long run.  The games that reward me in some way for being there in the early days and helping pay off the huge debt a company brings with them after a game release…  I love those even more.  But I go into their free to play conversion knowing that ultimately they will be better off in the long run with incremental sales.

Additionally players who start at the beginning of an MMO will always have a tangible lead on players that start later, especially if the game converts to free to play.  You have a head start in the economy before it stratifies, likewise you understand the lay of the land and where to acquire the best stuff.  When Rift went free to play my account had so much stuff unlocked thanks to longevity of play that a starting player would not have had.  For the explorers you get the feeling of actually discovering things before they are common place and on every website.  So while you might have had to pay for the box and subscriptions, you are getting something for your trouble that no one will be able to take away from you.

The games that did not have a box fee and a subscription however have to claw their money out of you somehow.  So while I get annoyed at loot boxes and item purchases and artificial gates to my gameplay… they are just trying to survive however they can, because ultimately at launch they were millions and millions of dollars in the hole at day one.  I feel like launching as free to play is going to forever doom a game to jumping through coin slotted hoops as you play the game.  Rift right now is the best player experience but I feel like it is only that way because they had two years and an expansion of relative success to pay off and fund a fully functional staff during all that time.

Wrapping Up

So if in a few years time… The Elder Scrolls online… that I have used as an example all the way through this post… decides it is beneficial to it to go free to play.  I will greet the change with open arms, knowing that ultimately this is going to be the thing that keeps a game I hopefully will love healthy and open to the public.  Going to go ahead and wrap this up, and likely get it posted.  I hope you guys have a great weekend and that I can survive tomorrow.  Sorry for breaking my own rules and cheating a bit by double posting on a Friday… but expect that I will have a normal post on Sunday.

Open Letter to Neverwinter

Okay today you guys are getting a bonus post, because I am at home waiting on the cable to install internet, and for furniture to be delivered.  I was reading my twitter feed and came across something so absolutely ludicrous that I had to comment about it.

2013-05-23 09_59_20-Twitter _ NeverwinterGame_ .@FightinFins #Neverwinter ...

So this is something I had honestly not realized that apparently Neverwinter claims not to be live yet, and that any mistakes they are making are “necessary changes and improvements” before they go live.  Dear Perfect World, you completely fail at the concept of what is an open beta means.

If you…

  1. Have the servers live 24/7
  2. Have stated that there will be no character wipes from this point out
  3. Are actively taking money hand over fist from customers

Then you have a live game. 

You can call it whatever you like, but you are running a live game.  It is not open beta, it is just half launched.  This whole redefinition of what Alpha and Beta means has stuck in my craw lately.  They have stopped meaning anything at all and just been a way for the marketing department to presell the game and get a steady influx of money from curious gamers.  However launching the game and actively taking money from customers… yet still calling it a beta passes some line that has never been crossed.

Anyways, it is still a decent game, and I still stand by my statement that it is probably the best completely free option.  However Perfect World needs to be honest with its verbiage and quit calling it a beta.  This is in no way an open beta, you just soft launched your game.  All that said, I still have not played it again since that opening weekend.  It just lacks the draw to pull me in and make me care about it.  I wish them the best of luck though, I just want them to be honest.

Hazy Shade of Neverwinter

This morning is an absolute paradox.  For some reason I am more exhausted than normal, even though I went to bed last night at roughly 9:30 rather than my usual midnight timeframe.  I am convinced that my body has a sweet spot of 5-6 hours of sleep, and anything over or under causes me to turn into a slug.  I am hoping that as I digest this coffee that its sweet sweet caffeine lifts me out of this slump.

Hazy Shade of Neverwinter

GameClient 2013-05-07 06-52-12-08Last night I really had nothing much going on, and do not have any real grouping options in Rift until tomorrow night, so with all the recent buzz surrounding it I figured I would fire up Neverwinter.  Quite honestly I had not even booted the game since the day it released to the public, and had not actually played the game since before that.  The game is “fun enough”, but for me at least it has lacked whatever spark makes me want to log in and play it.

I had left the game just long enough for the control scheme to feel awkward, but after a few minutes I was back acclimatized.  Unfortunately it is not the kind of game you can play with a cat draped across your chest, or at least not play it successfully.  As a result I didn’t last all that long in the title, before wandering off into something else.  I have been trying to figure out exactly why this game is so lackluster to me, but others are loving it and consuming it completely.

Subscription is not a Barrier

GameClient 2013-05-07 06-53-16-12I think I finally landed upon a nugget of thought.  A subscription fee for an MMO has never been a barrier, or something that honestly gave me pause.  Sure it did, when I first started playing these titles back with Everquest…  but now that I am used to paying to play it is just one of those things I have come to expect from online gaming.  For a whole segment of the gaming world, the subscription and box fees are real barriers to getting into the game and enjoying it.

As a result I am maybe somewhat falsely comparing Neverwinter to what has now become “premium” subscription games, or even “buy the box” titles.  The real competitors with Neverwinter are the completely free games like Runes of Magic, that you can sign up on a website, download the client and never actually be forced to buy anything.  When you narrow the scope down to only paying attention to the “absolutely free” games… it becomes super impressive.

No Egregious Pay Walls

GameClient 2013-05-07 06-52-35-72What Neverwinter seems to give the player for nothing, is an extremely fluid experience with well crafted storyline, relatively solid classes, and no egregious pay walls restricting your field of play.  You can get in and do essentially everything there is to do right now without obstacles standing in your way.  Basically the game has taken a completely different approach to the free to play genre, in that it gives you a carrot instead of a stick.  Namely that all of the options seem to give you something quicker, better or shinier for your coin rather than locking you out of functionalities.

I think this is the aspect of the game I have been missing all along when I played it or attempted to review it.  I still do not think free to play is the “one true payment model”, but I think what Neverwinter is doing is a more equitable model than we have seen to date.  The only problem is, the game introduces large swaths of “pay to win”, which is a concept that western audiences have claimed they do not want.  But this is exactly what Neverwinter seems to be delivering, the ability to purchase astral diamonds and get nice gear in the process.

To Infinity Steppes and Beyond

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As I said earlier, I really did not spend a lot of time last night in Neverwinter.  I had a cat that was trying to “aggressively snuggle” and quite honestly the game just leaves me nonplussed overall.  I logged back into familiar and happy Rift to work a bit on the Steppes of Infinity.  Earlier in the weekend I had unlocked the daily quest content in Ashora, which is good for at least 10 plat per day for some really easy questing.  I had hoped to do the same out in the Steppes for maybe an easy 20+ plat per day.

The quest chain overall was far harder to solo than the one in Ashora, and involved a relatively difficult boss fight.  I truly do mean a boss, because it uses all the same kind of tactics that the bosses do in dungeons.  While this was nowhere near the difficulty of the Gatekeeper fight in The Secret World, I feel like it would definitely give a similar “right of passage” feel for Rift, based on the level 60 boss encounters I have experiences in dungeons.  The quest chain as a whole sets the player up for what to expect from later game content in general.

All this while I am struggling to stay awake, because after the weekend we had I was just exhausted all day yesterday.  Before I gave in to sleep however, I was able to finish out gathering the 300 plat for my 130% speed mount.  I wound up getting the Grey Ursin, because of the non-armored varieties I felt that was the nicest.  Above is a quick picture I snapped before finally falling asleep of me on the new mount.  Unfortunately I mostly purchased the mount for the overall mount speed boost… and am likely to never ride it.  I like my Hellbug, White Tiger and Flaming Horse far too much to ride the angry looking bear.

Needing to wrap up once again, as I am out of coffee and need to consider moving onwards to work.  I will be in training all day which will be the opposite of fun.  I hope you all have an amazing day out there.  I am going to work on not falling asleep in a boring training presentation.