Loot Problems

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Shocking to no one I spent the majority of my weekend playing Anthem again.  It was a bizarre weekend for those of us who spent both Friday night and Saturday playing because some things happened.  Firstly the the 1.0.3 patch that we were expecting to land on the 12th launched a bit early on the 9th around 7 am, meaning when I woke up for the day I had a significant patch to download.  However Friday night…  they did the thing where they accidentally set the loot drops too high and we were getting Masterworks left and right.  Once again the community thought this was intentional…  because ultimately it is what we have been clamoring for all this time.  However with the launch of the patch it was rolled back…  and it has been a bit hard to separate the good of the patch with the bad of having loot nerfed again.

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Anthem has a loot problem, namely that it is way too stingy with Masterworks but more importantly too stingy with Legendaries.  All told I have gotten 4 Legendary drops in what is now 164 hours worth of play time.  Dividing that out it is me seeing a Legendary drop every 41 hours of play time.  There are folks out there who have racked up similar hours and have yet to see a single one.  It was the futile hope of the player base that when we removed Whites and Greens from dropping in post 30 content… that it would have a positive effect of skewing the number of Masterworks and Legendaries we would get.  However as some testing has shown…  essentially every green and white drop was replaced by a purple…  which is awesome if you are just getting started but more disenchant fodder once you enter the hunt for Orange and Lime (that’s what I am deciding to call legendary green).  There is an interesting post that was up on the reddit over the weekend…  where a player farmed 200 drops with +95 luck before and after the patch, linking to the original thread but going to post the data here for reference.

Pre-Patch Numbers

  • Common: 17 items at 8.5%
  • Uncommon: 24 items at 12%
  • Rare: 34 items at 17%
  • Epic: 102 items at 51%
  • Masterwork: 21 items at 10.5%
  • Legendary: 2 items at 1%

Post-Patch Numbers

  • Rare: 28 items at 14%
  • Epic: 163 items at 81.5%
  • Masterwork: 7 items at 3.5%
  • Legendary: 2 items at 1%

The original poster went to the trouble of documenting all of their loot with screenshots, but accounting for randomness it does appear that the Common and Uncommon slots are now just Epic items, which again is great for people getting a start in the game but bad for anyone who has collected a set of epic gear which now happens frighteningly fast under the current loot environment.

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All of that said… I am still enjoying myself and have managed to cobble together gear for three different javelins at this point.  I will probably be starting on the Storm at some point soon once I have spent a bit more time fine tuning the Interceptor.  Right now I have something that I would call a proper build on both the Ranger and the Colossus, and I will be farming content until I reach that point on the Interceptor as well.  How I am getting there…  is because I am exploiting the fact that Strongholds drop a guaranteed ability and Legendary contracts drop a guaranteed component.  While I only have three legendary contracts available to me each day, it seems that Quickplay on Grandmaster 1 difficulty tends to place you into a Legendary Contract more often than not…  and doing this nets you a guaranteed component as well.  Stronghold Quickplay similarly nets you a guaranteed ability drop…  however in my experience this is bugged out the vast majority of the time and not really worth your effort.

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Now I realize there are a lot of players out there that have been having issues with the game nonstop since release.  However for the most part I had not…  until this weekend when I started heavily relying on Quickplay.  That functionality seems to be far more buggy than the rest of the game, and I am wondering if the majority of the issues that players have been encountering have revolved around trying to do this abbreviated path to loot.  Normal Quickplay seemed to stick me in far fewer bugged out instances than it did before the patch, however when something went wrong… it went REALLY wrong often times causing me to have to either go through a loop of being bounced back to the loading screen like the above screenshot… or having to hard kill the client.  Starting Missions, Contracts, Strongholds and Freeplay myself all resulted in predictably smooth gameplay…   however any time I dared to mess with Quickplay I was effectively playing with fire.

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Another byproduct of the patch is that overall Javelin power feels like it has increased, and a side effect of that is that none of the lower difficulty ranks seem to be anywhere near as populated as they were.  Thalen reported issues getting full groups on normal difficulty as he was playing through the story and leveling, and I personally experienced a challenge getting groups at hard difficulty when I was attempting to finish getting the epics on my Interceptor.  So one of two things has happened… either the average player has released that they can now crush Grandmaster 1 thanks to the power scaling, or more likely a lot of players have just stopped messing with the game out of frustration over various issues.  Neither case is great for the game as a whole because it makes it harder and harder to onboard a supply of new players.  Grace will be starting up this week and I will be curious to see how that experience is as a new player and whether or not the matchmaking is as quick as it was for the rest of us that started out.  Side note since I have done this pretty much every week, throwing out a screenshot of the Alliance contribution screen…  I have yet to hit the hard cap for the week.

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One final screenshot of note…  since I played a bit of Warframe this weekend…  I am pretty sure these two chests in the hanger area are a nod to that game.  Anyone has played much Warframe will notice that they have a lot of lockers scattered throughout the ships that look suspiciously similar to these.  Also oddly enough playing a lot of Anthem has somehow made Warframe feel more manageable?  I was not nearly as motion sick playing it yesterday as I have been in the past, and the way too zoomed in perspective did not feel anywhere near as bad as it had after playing the whirling ball of death that is the Interceptor.  I still greatly prefer Anthem, but I have a feeling I could probably start to finally delve into Warframe if I so choose.

So where we are left is that Anthem needs to make a lot of changes quickly.  Chad Robertson the Head of Live Services chimed in over on twitter with some comments to this whole situation.  It spans several tweets so quoting rather than just pasting the thread for ease of consumption.

We appreciate all the feedback from the community on the game. We love the passion and share it. We’re not yet fully happy with the game’s loot behavior either. One of the downsides of moving so fast to improve is that we’re making changes to complex loot systems in several areas and it’s then harder to know how it’s performing. In the next few months, we’re expecting to make significant changes, but we’re starting with some incremental ones so we can better navigate that evolution. Our goal is to ensure the best possible player experience.

So while I appreciate this comment, because they are actually saying words in reference to problems…  which is a step above a lot of studios out there.  The biggest problem that I have with this comment is the fact that he mentions the time frame of “the next few months”.  I am not entirely certain that they have months…  and more likely have weeks to sort this out before players simply give up and file this game in the bin of “check back for year two” like so many of us did with Destiny.  We already see the signs in matchmaking of players dropping out of the system, which is a bad sign.  Additionally the temperature of the Reddit has shifted drastically over the last few days, which was a different situation than the inflammatory YouTube community…  they were positive and hopeful and I think were pinning their hopes on the patch from March 12th fixing a lot of the major issues…  namely with loot drops.  That however has drastically shifted to a community demanding fixes now, because Patch 1.0.3 did not deliver the solace they were hoping for.  While I am still playing the hell out of this game… I cannot say they are necessarily wrong in their frustrations.

There have been two situations where supposedly accidental loot changes have “fixed” the game.  In both times the game felt so much better because it didn’t feel bad when you got another Masterwork with crappy rolls, because you knew another one was right around the corner.  The unbridled excitement of actually seeing a legendary drop, and knowing that this wasn’t a once in a career thing…  made you care less about also getting crappy rolls on it too.  Loot needs to flow like water Diablo 3 style so you can pick through the dross and cobble together something resembling a proper build.  Nothing is more frustrating than getting a bunch of abilities you don’t care about… when you have a specific style of play that you enjoy on your character…  but feel forced to use the Masterworks because the item level increase makes them just flat out superior to using a proper build.  All of this felt less of the case when the loot was accidentally generous…  and the players will not be satisfied until we get something resembling that state again.

Anthem Demo Weekend Two

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Outdoor cat has officially been fed so I can now sit down and start trying to compose my feelings about Anthem Demo weekend number two.  The first “VIP Demo” weekend was for folks who had pre-ordered the game and I will assume a certain batch of influencers that were brought to that special EA event to record footage.  You can scroll through my thoughts about that weekend in a post I made last week, but for me and most of the AggroChat crew it was a buggy and often times unplayable mess.  However there was enough good there laying just underneath the covers to make me interested and quite honestly miss playing the game.  So while I was not on nearly as much as I could have been… I played a significant amount of Anthem this weekend.  I managed to get in a Stronghold…  this games version of a Strike and spent a significant amount of time just roaming around and doing World Events and the little mini-dungeons that are available off the segment of the map we had open to us.  It galvanized my desire to play this game… and largely reinforced my decision to keep playing the “shootymans” class the Ranger…  who appears to be a really amazing single target dps class.

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What I want to talk about the most however is what a difference there was between the first and second weekends.  During the first weekend it was a constant struggle to be able to play this game…  and in the second….  everything just sorta worked flawlessly.  Sure there were some minor glitches like for some reason our javelins would not load on the “reward” screen.  Additionally I have never actually seen the full suit prep sequence because the game kicks me over to a loading screen when I assume that sequence is designed to make us ignore how generally long loading into an area takes.  However what was gone was the need to keep closing the game with task manager and loading back in to successful get into a mission.  I could just play the game as it was intended to play and this made me way more open to grouping up with friends given that it was a predictable sequence rather than a struggle to get all four players into the same instance.

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I’m very impressed with how communicative Bioware has been during this whole sequence…  and more than that I feel heard.  We all for the most part universally complained about how bad Mouse and Keyboard Flight/Swimming felt….  and they acknowledged that yeah… it feels less than optimal.  These changes are apparently already in the “live” build of the game, but what is even better is that they have started giving us a run down of things that will be fixed before the initial EA Premier launch on the 15th and what will be in place by the 22nd.

  • UI Clicking on visible options in menus fixed for 15th Feb (except social which is 22nd Feb)
  • Navigating Menu tabs with Q and E instead of old keybindings fixed for 15th Feb
  • Forge rotation speed with mouse improved – 15th Feb
  • Scrolling with mouse wheel wont zoom your javelin AND scroll the menu (will be contextual based on where your mouse is) – 15th Feb
  • D-Pad will show as keyboard bindings – 15th Feb
  • Turning off Motion Blur in settings now works (decoupled from post processing) – 22nd Feb
  • HDR toggle available – 22nd Feb
  • Camera Shake slider added – 22nd Feb

I’ve said it before but I believe that Bioware feels the pressure that this launch has to go fairly flawlessly, given the perceived failing that Andromeda was.  The whole multiple launch dates thing does not do it any favors, especially considering that a lot of the issues that plagued Andromeda were fixed by the end of that first week.  EA has a bad habit of shredding game studios, and the whole teasing a Dragon Age game…  I think is more insurance than anything else to try and keep delaying that decision.  If launch goes like last weekend however I think we are going to be just fine, and what I really want is the same level of communication that they are giving the community to continue into the first year of the game.

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I really do think that Anthem might be the game that can finally blended the different looty shooty genre players together.  There is enough here to intrigue the Destiny players with a rich and interesting lore and the Ranger class being essentially a “Destiny” class where it is mostly gun play with a few abilities.  There is also something here for the Warframe players that want move movement and ability spam…  and the Storm and the Interceptor fill those roles nicely.  Then there is a class for the player who just wants to be a big freaking mech in the form of the Colossus.  What is better is that gameplay feels more enjoyable when you are running with a pretty decent mix of the four classes.  Ranger as far as we can tell is going to be the class that has the highest single target damage…  so great for boss killing.  Storm is the battle tactician that takes an overwatch position over the battlefield and can effect large swaths of it with its abilities.  Interceptor is the fact melee shredder that is probably going to be excellent at grabbing objectives and avoiding taking damage.  Then you have the colossus which is the king of staying alive…  as was seen this weekend when Ashgar absolutely saved the day by surviving long enough to start bringing us all back up during a stronghold.  They all have their key niche and all feel great when played together.

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Ultimately I progressed my character as far as it probably could have been during the Demo.  I managed to upgrade every slot to a level 19 rare item and my final build was an Light Machine Gun for my main weapon… a Marksman Rifle for my secondary to melt anything at a distance like snipers.  Then I would run poison darts to act as my primer… that also doubles as a debuff that causes me to just deal extra damage to that target.  Frag Grenades after trying a bunch of different options seems to be my detonator of choice, and also a decent crowd sweeper.  Then muster point is what I was running as a damage boost for helping to burn down those big mobs.  As far as components I was running one to increase Frag damage and another to increase LMG Ammunition, and it was a build I was pretty damned happy with.  I could in theory go for a max damage build by picking up the devastator sniper rifle, but I never got one of those to drop for me and did not see it in the crafting tables.  I also settled in on the above paint scheme which is pretty much the colors I tend to choose in any game that gives me the options.

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Towards the end of the weekend they started an event that caused Primals to spawn in large numbers and frequency… so I managed to get in and take down a few of the bigger ones.  In fact I was fighting one of the big primals when the servers went down, so no clue what loot might have dropped.  Weirdly the game let me keep fighting, so I am guessing part of the world is cached on the client itself?  This gives me concerns when it comes to what hackers are going to be able to do to the game…  but without a PVP element I am not entirely certain how much it will effect me.  I am a little saddened that it sounds like while my weekend was smooth and flawless…  others that had a flawless previous weekend…  started encountering disconnect problems during this test.  I’ve now played 16 hours worth of the Anthem demo and can say that I am looking forward to starting on the 15th.  If you have not already picked up the game…  you can pony up for a month of Premier…  which gives you a discount that you can then apply to your preorder…  and will also give you access to the full game on the 15th instead of the 22nd.

So my awesome readers…  are you picking up the game?  Will you be joining me on the 15th or are you waiting on the 22nd…  or are you just going to take a hard pass?

Anthem Demo Impressions

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This morning I am going to talk for a bit about the Anthem Demo that a good number of us participated in this weekend.  If you did not have access to the demo or one of the many friend codes that were floating around…  the truth is what you missed more than anything is a lot of frustration.  However the game that was buried under that layer of frustration was apparently good enough to keep us engaged and trying to log in over and over.  I want to talk a bit about my expectations for the game before going into it.  First off this comes from the pedigree of Bioware, so I expected a great world  with good character development above pretty much everything else.  Mass Effect was not a series known for its amazing gun-play, but instead the interesting things you encountered along the way.  My ultimate hope was that Anthem could be a game that was fun to the Destiny players, The Division players and the Warframe players and act as a unifying vehicle that was “a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll” and create an experience that felt familiar and enjoyable to all of them.  Essentially my hope was that it could be the game that folks rallied around in my community rather than having a group of us split loving Destiny and another group split loving Warframe.

Connection Issues

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So lets get the bad stuff out of the way first.  This is a screen a saw a lot of this weekend… otherwise known as the 95% freeze.  The game would load fine into Fort Tarsus the social lobby, but as soon as I picked a mission and attempted to start it the screen would freeze with 5% of the loading bar to go and stay there indefinitely while consuming near 100% cpu and gpu.  Now the weird thing about this is…  I am used to these sorts of bugs happening on the PC version of games…  but it was apparently fairly ubiquitous across all three platforms the game is appearing on which leads me to think this is infrastructure related.  There are individuals however that seemed to be completely un-phased by it… so I am also wondering if there is a connection/location based component.  Whatever the case the only way to get past it was to go into Windows Task Manager and kill the Anthem process, and then upon loading back into the game you would be prompted to join the expedition already in progress…  at which point you could load into the mission.

Experience and Loot Issues

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Last night I started being hit by a different bug, where I could not return to base from a Free Play mission.  This was remedied by killing with Task Manager and then when prompted to rejoin the mission…  saying no.  The only problem with this however is that in doing so I sacrificed all of the experience that I had gained while doing the mission.  This is the second major problem with Anthem…  everything in the game is considered to be a “match” and nothing is rewarded until you successfully complete said match.  That means if you get disconnected and for some reason cannot rejoin that session… you are going to loose out on all of the achievements and experience that you gained from that mission.  The only consolation prize here is that loot that you picked up seems to be independent of this annoying cycle, that said…  it isn’t ACTUAL loot until you have been through the exiting a mission screen to turn those generic loot indicators into physical items.  So I knew I had a few blue items in my inventory but had no clue what they were until I had joined another freeplay session…  which again required me to kill the game, relaunch and join the abandoned session…  before finally exiting out of a free play session successfully so I could acquire the stuff that I had looted in the previous rather length session.  This is some horrible nonsense…  loot should not live in this transitory state until you have successfully jumped through the right hoops… and also the exp you have gained should not be held hostage by buggy connection code.

Flight and Movement

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Now we move to something that is both one of the biggest strengths of the game… and one of the biggest weaknesses if you happen to be playing with a Mouse and Keyboard.  Freedom of movement is a massive part of this game and it feels awesome to be running along and simply lift off into the skies flying towards your next objective.  I think the overheating mechanic does a good job of giving you a reason why you can’t simply fly around in GM mode like you effectively can as soon as you get a flying mount in an MMO.  It is cool that you can dive quickly down to cool yourself back off or fly through a waterfall to get the cooled buff to extend your flight time.  Those are all really great mechanics…  but the mouse and keyboard controls feel awful without a significant amount of tweaking.  Huge credit goes to my friend @_KateyLee for providing me a link to a post on the Mouse Sensitivity forums where they worked through a bunch of different configurations.  Ultimately just zeroing out all of the sliders related to flight and swim movement seemed to provide me a good baseline…  from there I will tweak things up when the real game launches until I reach the most comfortable setting for me personally.  However if you also felt like flying and swimming was a horrible experience…  you might just try dropping the sliders down to zero and seeing if that works for you too.

Gunplay

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Another big part of a game like this is how the moment to moment gun-play feels…  and to this I can give the game a resounding “okay”.  It feels passable and quite honestly this game as a whole feels like they took the Multiplayer components of Mass Effect 3/Andromeda and built a brand new game around them.  I never really thought that any of the weapons in a Mass Effect game were terribly inspired feeling, but they got the job done and I guess that same admonition carries forward to Anthem.  I liked Assault Rifles and Shotguns in Mass Effect, so it is zero shock that my default loadout so far for Anthem is an Assault Rifle and a Shotgun.  I am hoping as we get into the wider game that we will start to see a greater breakout of weapons… because right now we have a couple of different variants of the weapon types but there is a general sameness to the way they feel.  The bar that I hold a game up to is Destiny, and the gun-play in Anthem is nowhere near as fluid or tight as that.  It however feels better than I remember Mass Effect Andromeda feeling…  which in itself felt a lot better than Mass Effect 3…  so baby steps?

Exploration

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Where the game excels is in exploration…  the world while relatively small in the part we have actually seen…  feels massive because every inch of it seems to be peppered with things to explore.  While out in free play mode which is this games version of “patrol mode” I got a tip from my handler about activity happening in a certain area… that there was a shaper relic that needed silenced.  So I moved over to that area of the map and went through a sequence of fighting things and collecting orbs until I finally silenced the relic.  This awarded me a chest and a bunch of experience points, but also had the unexpected side effect of now opening up a new area of the world map which lead to the ruins that I am exploring in the above screenshot.  This eventually lead me to a boss fight where I took down an elemental titan, which again counted as a world event with its own rewards.  This is the sort of thing that happens in game is that one thing chains into another thing and another and means that the world feels extremely fluid and rewarding to explore.  Since I tend to spend most of my time in these games solo… this means I will have a rich experience that is unfettered by walling up anything interesting in the game behind group content.  Just in my short time playing I have encountered a ton of areas that would be thought of as Lost Sectors in Destiny terms, that are hidden behind a waterfall or at the bottom of a lake or quite honestly in plain sight as you happen to be zooming past it.  This game is exploration porn and the suit gives you enough tools to be able to get pretty much anywhere.

The Suits

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Another huge positive of the game is that the Javelins all feel different.  In Destiny for the most part it is all about gun-play with your supers and abilities adding flavor to the experience…  which quite honestly the jumps being the biggest differentiation between the classes.  In Anthem the Ranger is effectively your Destiny style class with grenades and a super and a weird weapon ability…  mixed in with a wide range of weapons.  As a result I really really love the Ranger because it is what I was looking for in a game.  However the other classes are playing totally different games…  with the Colossus being sort of a Reinhardt shield tank that happens to have the heaviest weapons but pays a penalty in movement because of it and completely loses the over-shield in favor of a physical barricade.  The storm is legitimately a caster and will spend most of its time in the air casting elemental attacks down on opponents rather than spending a ton of time shooting the weapons.  The interceptor feels like Zero from Borderlands… and is a literal Ninja and moves and has attacks that feel completely appropriate for that sort of game style…  but has a massive penalty to the amount of harm it can soak up.  When you are running with a balanced party the game feels extremely cool as each of the abilities feed off of each other, and in turn they all feel completely reasonable when moving around solo as well…  but also sort of dictate a different way of approaching problems.

Fort Tarsus

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Now we are going to loop back around to another negative.  While gorgeous as evidenced by this painting like screenshot from in game…  Fort Tarsus does not feel great to explore.  Now I realize a lot of the functionality was turned off completely during the demo… as we were constantly reminded any time we tried to interact with anything.  However shifting from third person suit mode to very slow first person human mode feels awkward and weird.  I mean I get what they were going for… they were trying to create a clear delineation between “mech mode” and “operator” mode.  The biggest problem that I tend to have is how freaking slow I move while running around without my suit.  The layout means that I am going to be traversing this location over and over as I do the functional things that are required to play the game…  which also means I am going to hear that same partial Bhangra synth loop over and over and over… side note if you stand there it doesn’t actually go anywhere and just keeps looping over the same little sample.  At a minimum I would like to see them give me a sprint option.

Characters and Story

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The demo does not really give you a lot to go on.  You are essentially sent on what feels like a side mission to recover a relic and then deal with the ramifications of using this weird tech.  However the brief amount of time that we got to spend with characters, makes me extremely hopeful for how this game is going to feel as a whole.  I already care about Zoe the mechanic who keeps my Javelin running and has a casual back and forth about how we are ALL her favorites.  Matthias my Arcanist also seems like someone I am going to be perfectly fine getting to know better through the course of the missions.  The dialog itself seems to be a simple A or B set of answers…  or in Mass Effect terms… Paragon or Renegade.  However so far in the most simple of interactions…  Zoe at the forge for example seems to remember what I have said before and use it in later dialog so there is some manner of branching already in place for the few instances it has come up.  NPCs that seem to remember our past interactions is going to go a long ways to making me feel more engaged with the game world as a whole.  This was something that would have helped Destiny quite a bit… if the NPCs remembered our past adventures.

In Summary

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As a whole I am really looking forward to playing Anthem legitimately, and I am booned that each of the AggroChat crew seemed to find some element or specific javelin that they really enjoyed.  I am hoping this very rough weekend helps them make the necessary tweaks for a successful launch.  Next weekend there is going to be another demo, but I think this time the floodgates are going to open a bit further.  I am going to hope that the various connection issues have been ironed out and that my tweaks to mouse settings continue to provide me a better than default experience.  If so…  I think Anthem is going to be a great experience.  That said I am preparing myself to weather the storm of a rough launch, and I have to give Bioware a lot of credit for taking to social media and Reddit early this weekend and trying to stay in constant communication as they were working through the issues.  This scores me a lot of points that they were being open about the struggles, and in the grand scheme the fact that they are listening is going to win them points with the community as a whole.  Ultimately this isn’t going to be the game for everyone… and if you already bounced off this style of game then it probably isn’t going to be the one that causes you to see the light.  However it does already appear to be welding the breach between the Destiny and Warframe factions of AggroChat, so I have hope that maybe it will be something we can all play together.

So if you took the time to play it this weekend, what were your thoughts?  I would love to hear them.

 

DAW2016: Bioware

BiowareLogo

DAW2016_logo

Developer Appreciation Week is here!  For the uninitiated the concept of Developer Appreciation week dates back to 2010 and was started by Couture Gaming the Blogger formerly known as Scarybooster.  The idea was simple, spend a week talking about all of the things you love about various game development companies and studios.  As a blogger we spend plenty of time pointing out what is wrong in the games we love, and talking about ways that they could be better.  That said it is important to understand that for most of us this critique comes from being a huge fan of the games and genres as a whole.  So during this week we point out the things that are going right and make a point of mentioning all the things we really appreciate out there.  If you too are a blogger please feel free to join in by posting your own Developer Appreciation Week ideas.

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This is going to be a difficult one to tackle, especially since I didn’t get a ton of sleep thanks to the tornado warnings.  However I am going to give it to good college try, and hope that the end result turns out at least not too shabby.  I first became aware as Bioware as a company with the release of Baldur’s Gate, or more so the existence of what I later came to know as the “Infinity Engine”.  I have been a fan of Dungeons and Dragons since I first found a players manual abandoned in a locker on the last day of school in second grade.  Finding that book spawned a lot of things, not the least of which was trying to hungrily gobble up anything TSR related.  I played the “gold box” series of games, namely because I had read the novels behind a lot of the stories.  There was just something missing with the game, and while I enjoyed them at the time they never really felt that good.  The story that was being told felt limited by the meager technology, and while I was happy enough with the end product…  that only lasted until I had played my first Final Fantasy game.  Baldur’s Gate was the title that brought me back from my console days into once again believing that the PC was a great platform for role-playing games.

Subsequent games were released…  Icewind Dale, Baldurs Gate II and even one of my all time favorites… Planescape Torment… all using this “Infinity Engine” I have to admit I got a bit of the wrong idea behind what exactly the company Bioware really was.  In my mind it seemed like Bioware was the tools company, and Interplay, Black Isle, or later the reboot Obsidian were the game creator.  It wasn’t until Neverwinter Nights was released that I really started to understand that Bioware was both the tools division and a lot of great storytelling wrapped into one package.  Neverwinter Nights was one of those revolutionary games for me personally.  While the original campaign was awesome… it was the inclusion of the aurora toolset that set my mind on fire.  At this time I was playing a lot of Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot so I tried to replicate some of my favorite features of those games using the Neverwinter engine.  I learned the C Script language and figured out how to code things like randomly generated loot from tables when you opened chests or killed mobs.  I also eventually figured out how to create a token based system along the lines of the one that allowed you to purchase armor in the Darkness Falls dungeon.  The end result was this amalgam of the EQ Plane of Hate and DAoC Darkness Falls that I called the “Plane of Spite”.  While I never did anything really interesting with it, I loved every single moment of working on it and figuring out the inner machinations of this engine.

It was not really until Knights of the Old Republic that I hopped back on the Bioware fandom, and I remember being crushingly disappointed when I learned that the title was going to be Xbox Exclusive.  Thankfully later that year it came out for the PC and I was absolutely thrilled to be dissecting that game world as well.  I loved Neverwinter Nights for its technical precision, and the Aurora and Infinity engines for giving me this awesome framework to go out and explore worlds in.  However KOTOR was the first time from Bioware that I was completely stunned by the storyline.  Last week we went into a discussion on AggroChat about the best Star Wars stories, and by the end of that show all of us pretty much came to the consensus that Knights of the Old Republic was if not the absolute best story, it was at least among them.  There are moments in this game that had shocking revelations that I have never quite recovered from.  Even though the engine is dated, and the graphics look like crap compared to what I am used to… I can still play this game happily over and over just because it was so damned well crafted.  I’ve bought it for others, and even own the mobile port of the game.  I feel like this game more than any set the tone for the modern incarnation of Bioware.

I ultimately for one reason or another skilled Mass Effect at launch, and instead picked up the Bioware banner once again with the release of Dragon Age: Origins.  During this period of time I was raiding in World of Warcraft rabidly… but there were a few weeks where I completely dropped off the face of the planet, and it was thanks to this game.  I was just completely enthralled with the world and the setting, and the concept of the dark spawn and deep roads.  I am a Dwarf at heart, so I loved every single moment of Orzammar.  My first play through was as a Dwarven Noble, and I have to say after all of the subsequent play sessions that is still the one I cherish the most.  Much the same as KOTOR, it was ultimately the characters that set this game apart from the others I had played.  They felt so fleshed out and three dimensional, and I actually cared about interacting with them.  I am a huge proponent of smashing things with a big weapon, and games that allow me to slaughter by the hundreds… but it is significantly harder to find a game that makes me feel.  Dragon Age made me feel so much, and during this time I had a really interesting encounter.  One of my guildies invited me to tank for some friends of his, and when I popped onto voice chat we had some of the usual getting to know a new person discussion.  I mentioned that I had been playing a ton of Dragon Age… and it was at this point that they started grilling me about this character or that, or what decision I made where.  It turns out that I was ultimately raiding that night with a bunch of the writers, and you could almost hear them beaming as they proudly chimed in that they wrote this or that as I gushed about various details.

With the release of Mass Effect 2, I later went back and became an addict of that series as well.  I still wish that someone would make that into a Walking Dead style serialized television show, because the story that is being told is among the best science fiction tales ever.  It just seems a crime that the only folks that will ever see the story, are the ones who have played through the game.  Then you of course have the release of Star Wars the Old Republic, that my friends and I tore through rabidly when it launched.  I burnt myself out on that game but recently a bunch of us ended up going back and remembering just how damned well written all of the story arcs really are.  At some point soon I want to go back and finish where I left off which is the start of the Revan content, and try out the new experience fallen empire content that I have heard so much about.  For sake of time though I am going to wrap things up, because otherwise I could probably carry on for a dozen more paragraphs talking about all of the things from Bioware games that I love.  It is a great studio, and while I was scared that EA would destroy its spirit… I have been pleasantly surprised that the core values of the company and the creative might seem to keep trucking along happily.  I look forward to more adventures be it with Andromedia or the next great IP that we have yet to experience.

Deep Roads

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It’s Over

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At this point I don’t know for certain if my character is weeping tears of frustration or joy.  Which ever the case I am just really happy that as of today and by the time I get home from work… the Love is in the Air event will be finished.  I felt so damned conflicted this year when it came to this event, largely because I don’t even know why I was participating.  I really really do not enjoy World of Warcraft holiday events, because they somehow manage to make something that should feel fun an exciting… into an obligation.  Then on top of that… I don’t even like the Love Rocket mount.  However because it is the rarest mount in the game, and I do not already have one… I feel somehow obligated to try for it every year.  I wish I could understand why I do it… and to the extent of pushing aside other games that I would enjoy more just so I can haplessly farm for a chase mount.  Sure it only takes a few minutes to do an attempt at the mount… but I felt obligated to run six different level 100 characters through it. Which by the time you check your garrison and shipyard on each, and queue for a dungeon…  you are talking about roughly an hour of your night gone…  chasing a mount I didn’t even really care that much about.

We talked at length about this phenomena over the weekend on the podcast, and largely why this works… and why it also frustrates us.  Tam suggested that it was because it feels like the game is not respecting our time…  and that is absolutely part of it.  I think for me personally a good deal of my frustration is that this madness is actually working.  This game knows my triggers so well, and it feels as though I have no control in the process.  There is a certain measure of excitement in the chase, and were this something I could normally farm on my own… it would fall into the same category as my attempts to get rare mounts from raid bosses.  However the fact that it is only available for a limited time…  triggers the “fear of missing out” that if we don’t become mindless drones we might miss that one opportunity to get something cool.  Even when in this case the something cool is not something we actually wanted in the first place.  It is just frustrating to see a company working so effectively against my nature and getting me to follow along in their scheme each year in trying for “the thing”.  Now granted I know without a doubt that come Halloween I will once again be chasing like mad in trying to get the Headless Horseman mount.  At least I can rest comfortable in the knowledge that it “could be worse”.  I mean it could be something as heinous as the Rift cash box chase mounts 🙂

Dwarf in the Deep Roads

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I don’t have a whole lot to say here, because I didn’t get terribly far into it…  however I did manage to start a quest chain leading me into the Deep Roads.  The Deep Roads are my happy place in the Dragon Age universe because if it were really possible…. I would absolutely live completely underground.  If you venture into any of my Minecraft settlements, you will see a pretty simple structure above ground… that leads to a massive snaking catacombs underneath.  I just feel safe underground, and I have loved being down in every cave I have been able to.  I still think having a structure that was mostly buried in a mountain would be my ultimate situation.  I wonder if some of my reaction of safety to being underground… comes from the fact that I live in a state where the wind comes sweeping down the plains…. and takes out an entire city every now and then.  In any case… we also got into a lengthy discussion about the Deep Roads on the podcast…. and I was shocked to find out that pretty much everyone other than me… unanimously hated them.  They just seem like a badass concept… here are these roads and warrens deep underground that you have to fight the Dark Spawn which natively live down there.  That pretty much sounds amazing…  constantly having a fresh flow of Dark Spawn to fight.  Then again…. I might not be normal when it comes to combat in video games.  The Deep Roads are like the most metal part of Dragon Age, and I am hoping together to get time to venture forth again down there.

 

 

 

Man With the Hand

The Man with the Hand

The Struggle

The Man with the Hand
The Man with the Hand

For over a year now I have desperately tried to get into Dragon Age Inquisition.  The game starts really slow and throws your character in the middle of a conflict that I did not really care for.  Be warned that there are going to be a few minor early game spoilers here, but I am going to try really hard not to say anything super spoilery.  During Dragon Age II, you are constantly getting vignettes of Varric being in essence tortured and questioned by a figure that is identified as “The Inquisitor”.  In Dragon Age Inquisition (and the anime if you had chance to watch it) you are introduced to Cassandra Penteghast…. the same Inquisitor who you learned to kinda hate during Dragon Age II.  The thing is…  in truth I actually rather like Cassandra, but the initial set up of the game places me squarely on the side of some epic side-eye when interacting with her.  Not to mention that my character is apparently being blamed for some catastrophe as a result.  Then with a huge amount of narrative whiplash I go from being the pariah and prisoner….  to quite literally the chosen one of Andraste.  At no point did I want ANY of this…  in past games I have only feigned interest in Andraste to get Leliana to like me.  I am generally fairly anti-religion in games… and in this case especially since my preferred method of playing Dragon Age games is to play a Dwarf that believes we all spontaneously came from the stone and will return back there again someday.

Then on top of that… we basically find out that there is a war breaking out between the Mages and the Templar, and I am not terribly fond of either side.  The entire game seemed to focus on my least favorite aspects of the Dragon Age world… and somehow got rid of the parts that I loved.  I absolutely love the concept of the Grey Wardens.  I was all about drinking demon blood and fighting dark spawn, and I would have been completely happy if we just had more games where I fought lots of bad things to save kingdoms.  With Dragon Age II…. it took a big detour, but even then I got to fight self righteous asshole red lyrium Templar…. and was mostly okay with it.  The thing that carried me through that game were the characters that I got interested in…. but the problem thus far with Dragon Age Inquisition…. were the fact that I simply was not really feeling the characters at all.  I like Cassandra just fine, and Dorian and Solas were both growing on me.  Varric felt like a caricature of Varric from Dragon Age II…. which bothered me from the start.  Leliana changed for the worst, and was not the character that I came to adore….  lost all of the soft spots and became this battle hardened zealot.  Blackwall is cool enough but I already had Cassandra to tank so quite literally had zero use for him.  The only character I completely and wholeheartedly loved…. was Sera, but that didn’t really feel like enough.  Mostly the grouping did not feel like “my team” in the same way as the other Bioware outings did, and more so felt like a bunch of characters that I just happened to get thrown in the same room with.

The Turning Point

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A Better Horizon

As I said at the beginning of my post… this has been a struggle for over a year now.  I will sit down… play for a few hours….  not get drawn into the game and then log out once more.  With the new laptop I have been in the process of trying to play games that I for one reason or another struggled with.  At the top of that list was Dragon Age Inquisition, and last night I finally realized that I was sitting at a pretty major turning point in the story.  I had been putting off the assault on the breech, thinking that it might lead me down a path that would ultimately lock me into the “end game” in a same way as attacking the collector ship does in Mass Effect 2.  Sure I was only 20-30 hours into the game, but Dragon Age II was really short… so far all I knew the base game here was short as well if you simply steamrolled your way through the story.  Last night Dragon Age pulled a “Link to the Past” on me…  and bam all of the sudden I saw everything that everyone was talking about this game.  Essentially I now view everything that I did up to this point as largely “the tutorial level” and now it feels like the real game is finally beginning.  I have to tell you I am really excited to be “into” this game.

The game manages to pull together a sequence of events that not only cements your motivation and why you care about the events of the world…. but also serves to cement your team.  I went from feeling this was just a group of people that I was stuck with….  to being a group of MY people.  I am also completely bought into the Inquisition as an organization, because after last night I realized that I am the person shaping the fate of this organization.  I can make the Inquisition be this brutal force similar to its namesake…. or I can make it into an organization that cares about people and tries to save them in the process.  Bioware I am sold…. and I am ready to get started playing this game. What is frustrating about all of this is… Dragon Age: Origins had an AMAZING introduction… or at least it did if you played a Dwarf.  By the time I completed that opening sequence I was completely sold on the setting and the characters and ready to go out into the world and carve my niche.  Dragon Age II had a much rougher start, but even though it felt more forced and pushed down a single hallway… I eventually reached a point where it felt I was changing the world.  Inquisition though… feels like the worst of those two options…. where you have only the most vestigial of control over your own character as you are forced down a path.  Thankfully it seems that the skies are clearing…. and I am ready to step forth into the new world.