Flawless Royal Warlock

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Last night I had every intent of attempting to get a Nightfall going.  As a result when I first got home from work I grabbed some food and popped upstairs to fiddle about on my warlock.  It is odd how my order of enjoyment has shifted when it comes to my alts.  Nothing is ever going to dislodge Titan as my primary class in Destiny, but the other two appear to be in a state of flux.  Originally speaking my secondary character was always my Hunter, and my Warlock generally sat in this realm of just one or two steps removed from “afterthought”.  However with Rise of Iron and even some of the late Taken King content…  that sort of shifted around and I tend to enjoy my time spent on the Warlock far more than the Hunter.  I think part of it is that the movement options for the Hunter seem awesome at face value…  but double jump just feels more limited than either the Titan or Warlock jumps.  Admittedly I have constant issues with the Warlock jump because it essentially works backwards of that of the Titan.  However in both cases it feels like I can get where I am needing to go more easily than trying to time a bunch of jumps in order to get up to anyplace high.  On the Hunter I feel like there is never a situation where I do not want to be using the Bones of Eao…  so much so that I question if it would not simply be better for the class if that Exotic were phased out and that function just defaulted.  I still wish there were artifacts that allowed you to switch which jump your class had… because in truth I would still give everyone the Titan jump if given the chance.

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Now I said I had every intent of running a Nightfall last night, but instead when my wife managed to make it home I popped back downstairs to fix her some dinner.  After doing so however instead of filtering back up to my office, I decided to chill downstairs on the sofa with her…  which mean’t no PS4.  I realize I am one of the only people on the planet for which “sofa gaming” does not mean a console, but I have all of my consoles hooked up next to my gaming PC in my office so I can capture from them easily… and also that is where the Television that I can dominate lives.  Before long I was on the laptop and playing some more Diablo, and eventually connected with some friends chain running Rifts for fun and profit.  All in all it was a really good night for me and progression, because firstly… managed to get all of my gems to “Flawless Royal” level.  Additionally I managed to knock out a few more items from my set build namely that I now have the right armor and “weapon” in my cube.  I am now down to a place where the only things I am missing are my jewelry…  but these are also some of the more expensive items to buy from Kadala.  There is a more powerful Legacy of Nightmares build that I am working towards, largely because I have never actually tried doing a build using that pair of rings.  The game apparently wants me to try it however since I wound up with an Ancient version of one of the rings last night.  However I am in the very awkward place of needing Justice Lantern, both pieces of the Endless Walk jewelry set, and the ever present Convention of Elements in the cube.  On a positive note last night I managed to pick up a pair of Nemesis Bracers which I can swap with my Heart of Iron in the cube to make farming runs go more smoothly.  Additionally I managed to get all three of my primary build gems over level 25 so they finally start doing interesting things.  All of these things combined seem to now allow me to pretty easily farm Torment X content, which means that 7/10 of the next Seasonal step is knocked out…  with the only truly heinous thing left being mastering the set dungeon.  For that I am largely going to need to tweak my build because I don’t actually use consecrate anymore, although it is definitely worth trying given how bed of nails works with it.

Tonight however… will most definitely be a night for Destiny because in theory it should be easier to get two characters through Nightmares on reset day 🙂

Diablo 3 Season Start and Anniversary Event

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My weekend was largely dominated by the launch of Diablo 3 Season 9, and the Darkening of Tristram event.  Up until this point I had not really touched any of the anniversary content, and to be honest the season beginning had completely slipped my mind until Grace asked me if we were doing our usual push.  It has become a bit of a tradition to hang out Friday night and push as far as we can.  While I rarely actually make it to 70 that first night, we both end up with a good head start into the season.  This time around however we opted to do the Darkening of Tristram content… which is essentially a 16 plus level Greater Rift.  I say plus because there are a number of offshoots that grant access to boss battles like the Skeleton King and other side areas.  The interesting thing is that as much as I was not feeling Diablo 2…  I absolutely enjoyed the weird nostalgic romp that is the darkening content.  Basically glorious retrovision was cute… but did not destroy the fact that the underlying game is one that I still greatly enjoy.  However for Diablo 2… I had simply moved on past that style of gameplay and the sort of character decisions that game asked you to make…  permanently or at least relatively permanently.

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As far as Season 9 goes I opted to play a Crusader once again… which is honestly my favorite of the Diablo 3 options.  Primarily my decision this time around was due to the fact that the Invoker set was one again the freebie, allowing me to play quite possibly my favorite build… the one I loving refer to as “stop hitting yourself”.  It is all about maximizing your thorns damage and then watching the mobs grind themselves to death on your armor.  Essentially it plays into my ultimately player fantasy… and that is being this immovable object that survives being swarmed and walks out unscathed.  The unscathed part however is a little open to interpretation since there are a handful of mob types that can just eat my lunch, but overall I am extremely happy with the progress so far this season.  So far I have soloed up to a 42 greater rift, and had more than enough breathing room to probably be able to bump that up to 45 without issue.  The most interesting thing is… I am already doing the equivalent of Torment 8 while still missing most of the items I need to do my proper build.  I am following the traditional Thorns/Invoker build and am still missing: Traveler’s Pledge, Compass Rose, Heart of Iron, Justice Lantern, Akarat’s Awakening and Convention of Elements…  and in truth I could probably use a better Hack than the one I managed to pick up.

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I managed to complete through step 5 (Slayer) in the Seasons journey and am just now starting to slowly work on the Champion aka step 6.  However the bulk of my time has been spent working on finishing the various Anniversary events.  There is an excellent guide up on Icy Veins that I have been working on, and to the best of my knowledge I have completed them all.  The one that took the longest however was “Protector of Tristram” which I included a screenshot of the completion above.  Essentially as you go through the Darkening of Tristram Rift each floor has specific mobs that can spawn.  You are usually only going to see a single spawn per floor, but in at least one rare case I didn’t see any rares up.  Similarly in other rare cases you have a shot at seeing all three mobs up on a given floor… because that happened to me for certain on the fourth floor of the dungeon.  Where the guide comes in handy is after a few runs of the event you are going to get your list of 40 whittled down to something more manageable.  Towards the end of my grind I realized that I needed mobs on floors 5, 6, 7, and 12… so I began focusing those specific floors and simply rushing to the exit on any floors that I didn’t need.  Finally both myself and Grace wound up needing the same mob… which feels like a rare spawn on floor five Foulwing.

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The other item that took a long time to finally complete was the collection of Cultists pages which can be found off special Temporal Priests that spawn in amongst existing cultists out in the world.  In theory there will only be a single Temporal Priest in a given spawn location, so once you have found it it is probably safe to move on to the next area.  The Icy Veins guide has the zones that are likely to have them up at a given time.  That said we did manage to find quite a few of them while doing normal rifts, and it seems like the “one per area” bit is unique to a given floor because we wound up with multiple pages in the same run a few times.  For those curious about drop rates of pages… by the time I finished I managed to obtain:

  • Page 1: 1 copy
  • Page 2: 4 copies
  • Page 3:  3 copies
  • Page 4:  1 copy
  • Page 5:  3 copies
  • Page 6:  1 copy
  • Page 7:  3 copies

I doubt any of the pages are intentionally rarer than others, but for me I spent a lot of time grinding away still needing the very first page to drop.  At this point I am extremely happy to have finished up all of the anniversary event and can now just start pushing towards that stash tab.  This feels like a good season so far, and I am hoping that my drive maintains itself as I get into the harder content.

Bumbling Around

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Yeti Power

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After a Tuesday night spent chasing Legion Invasions and being an Illidari, I felt like last night I needed a nice relaxing night of being a completely different sort of Demon Hunter.  By nice and relaxing I mean a night spent pushing rifts and causing anime style rocket explosions as I cleared entire rooms at the same time.  It is strange how Diablo has morphed over the years for me.  Originally it was that game that I wished I could play with friends… but didn’t have stable enough internet to be able to play it.  Then it when the second game was released it absolutely become a game I played almost exclusively with friends.  When three was released, I was in a place where I was largely soloing and found it a less than amazing experience.  Now several years later each time a new season is launched it becomes this focusing force that brings a bunch of us back together for another trip happily through the paragon and gear grind.  For most of the night last night I was joined by my fairly regular demon slaying buddy Grace, and we also managed to snag Thalen and bring him along for the fun.  The night as a whole was pretty great because on our first tag team attempt at bounties… a Menagerist Goblin spawned dropping this extremely awesome Yeti pet named “The Bumble” for me to go wandering with.  Additionally I was able to knock out several pieces of gear off of my list, and I finally managed to get the last of the three legendary gems needed for this build.  The highlight of the night however was getting an Ancient Yang’s Recurve to drop…  which admittedly made Grace super jealous.  However because of this it is now my duty to tag along in any D3 madness to push hard for folks so they too can get their sweet ancient drops.

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The other thing that happened last night is that I attempted the “Numlock Trick”.  One of the more annoying things in Diablo 3 is that most builds have some sort of buff that they want to cast essentially anytime it is available.  The goal of the build is usually to get enough cooldown reduction so that you can keep it up 100% of the time.  For the Multishot build I am using for my Demon Hunter, it is focused largely around getting keeping Vengeance up 100% of the time… and right now I have it close enough that I maybe have a second without it up at any given time.  The other day I heard something mentioned in a build video talking about “using the numlock trick” on one of these buffs… and I had to investigate to satiate my curiosity.  There is apparently a strange glitch in the game that allows you to essentially constantly be spamming a button press.  I mean in theory you could do the same thing with hardware macros on a keyboard, but this just sort of “works”.  The idea is to bind the 1-4 hotkeys to have a secondary key which relates to Numpad 1-4.  To toggle on autocast for any of the abilities you turn your Numlock key on, hold down the keys you want to autocast and then turn off your Numlock.  Just like that the key keeps repeating over and over… which causes some weird behavior.  Firstly if you are holding any key the cast will not fire… so if you are holding force move or the left mouse button down… just ease up on it to let the next cast go off.  Secondly… it has the strange behavior of interrupt abilities like identification or teleport.  What I do to get past those is to start the channeled cast, and then hold any key.  In my binding I have S set as an alternate bind for Shift… which is to stop moving and hold still.  Holding this down while channeling works well to keep my auto casts from interrupting whatever ability I want to do.

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The other “strangeness” that happens is that any time you shift games, and sometimes when you just downgrade difficulty it can turn the autocasting off completely.  In this case you just flip back on numlock, hold your keys down, and turn it back off to set the glitch back up.  Now that I know this exists…  I am wondering what other uses can be had for it.  Supposedly folks use this regularly for Taeguk builds on the monk side to keep the stacks.  In theory I could do the same trick to make sure I am evasive fire shots in with my hunter, to build hatred and keep up the damage shield.  For the time being however I am keeping it simple and only using this to try and keep Vengeance up as often as possible as well as my Companion ability.  I was always horrible at using these cooldowns, and tended to save them until I reached a point where I had a lot of elites to attack rather than just constantly using them knowing that I had another cooldown just around the corner.  I need to spend some time working on achievements so I can catch up to the point Grace is currently in the seasonal journey.  I am still not sure if I am going to go for the stash slot this time around…  but for the moment I am going to keep playing so long as the game feels fun and fresh.  Tonight however I have earmarked to go do Broken Shores scenario on my various alts… because I have yet to actually see the new cinematics.

Evil and Phones

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Society and Cell Phones

This morning I am going to talk about something that I have been kicking around in my head for awhile, but haven’t really been able to shape into a full fledged commentary.  It feels like each week there is some new alarmist piece of media talking about the degradation of society, and placing the blame squarely on the cell phone.  For awhile I have had this working theory, that these articles for the most part are written by extroverts, and I am sure for that group of people the landscape has changed in a very scary way.  I use my cell phone as a cloaking device, and what I mean by that is I am fiddling with my phone in order to create just enough social friction to convince you that it isn’t worth the time to engage in small talk while standing in the elevator next to you.  For years I’ve been frustrated by the fact that apparently standing in the same vicinity as someone is passive consent to be deluged with a bunch of conversation that I have no interest in.  Having my smart phone at the ready has greatly cut down on that unwanted interaction, because they see that I am engaged… or at least LOOK like I am engaged.  It is the same cloaking device mentality that I apply at work by wearing headphones every single moment I am sitting at my desk.  I may not actually be listening to anything, and honestly often times am not.  However the act of wearing the headphones stops a lot of “drive by” conversation.

More so than that I feel like access to the internet and social media allows me to engage people safely.  I’ve had to learn how to be “normal” but face to face conversation with someone I am not extremely familiar with is a massive anxiety ridden trap.  While talking I am actively trying to be normal, running through a checklist of things and constantly aware of how much or how little eye contact I am making.  When I am hanging out with someone I am familiar with most of this goes away, and I can just let my guard down.  The thing is…  non face to face communication lowers all of these barriers for me.  I can be a social butterfly in a text only interaction.  When I first stepped foot onto IRC back in 1994, it greatly broadened my horizons and introduced me to a world of new people and new places to learn about.  So for me, as an introvert… it allows me a certain measure of extrovertedness because it hacks my brain into thinking it is perfectly okay.  However for the Extroverts out there… I have a feeling that this does in fact seem like an epidemic.  They no longer have all these passive participants that they can forcibly engage in dialog, and instead have to seek out other Extroverts who are equally hungry for that interaction.  What I think is happening is that finally introverts are getting a vehicle where they can express themselves more comfortably.  I might be wrong, but this is my working theory.

Return of Thorns

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The last couple of days has seen me completing my Invoker set for my Crusader, and gathering up most of the items needed for the build I have been working towards.  I am just not a fan of the Akkhan’s set and I lacked a handful of the pieces really needed to make it a viable option.  A big part of the Season are the Seasonal rewards, and the last major bottleneck for me was the set dungeon for Akkhan.  In spite of having tried it numerous times I simply could not stay alive long enough to complete it.  However with the Invoker set I was able to muscle through that dungeon and come damned near close to getting “mastery” on my first attempt.  The thorns set just feels better to me and as such I have been testing the limits to which I can push it.  I am still missing a handful of items, but last night I managed to solo a level 50 Greater Rift without much issue.  Earlier in the evening my friend Grace and I who are similarly geared… managed to complete a Greater Rift 60 together.  In theory I could probably do the 60 right now solo, but even as a duo there were some pretty sweaty moments.  The big problem for me are still a handful of mob types that can straight up one shot me, or come damned close to it.  I think that is the sort of thing that only improves with slightly better gear and more paragon levels.

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I am still in a constant search for the goblin that drops pets.  Some of my friends have found one but so far neither myself nor grace has seen one.  Last night we burned through two of the rings that summon the goblin realm thinking that there are three to four goblins in there.  However we still had zero luck, but I did fine a cute easter egg.  Notice the name of the boss I am fighting in the above image.  Essentially right now I need to spend a significant amount of time running Torment X bounties with the hopes of getting the rest of my gem patterns to drop.  I think that would go a long ways into improving my overall survival and output, by upgrading to the highest tier of gems available.  I am also still in search of the best in slot main hand, and I need to get a shield to throw in the cube.  For optimum performance I also need to get another Aquilla chest, because right now I have those reversed with the Aquilla in the cube and the Heart of Iron on my person… when it really should be in the cube.  In any case I am just happy that I am functional at Torment X and above.  Now begins the long wait to get just the right items to drop when I need them.  I also need to start working on the various conquests if I hope to get the extra bank slot for this season.  This honestly is a point of frustration for me…  I hate that you can ONLY get the slots through conquests.  I think that they should sell the extra stash tabs, but also allow players to do the conquest to get one as well.  That means if you are doing conquests you are getting the new cap twice as fast.

Toasty on MMORPGs

The Decline

One of the more interesting trends that I have picked up on, has to do with my own blog.  It feels like the more I talk about Destiny, the lower my reader numbers dip.  I guess it makes sense, as I started this blog out with World of Warcraft and moved towards other MMORPGs as well.  Destiny has a slightly different audience and not necessarily the sort of one that really reads blogs.  The Destiny community is largely contained within a combination of Reddit, Twitch and YouTube.  I don’t have a lot to say about this, but I just found it interesting.  On one hand I hate that I am alienating a bunch of readers, and on the other hand in order for me to keep doing this daily blogging thing… I have to be writing about what is interesting me.  At this very moment that is Destiny and Diablo, and nothing much in the traditional MMO camp.  Now I have logged into a bunch of MMOs in the last few months, but none of them really seemed to hold my attention past that initial login.  Each time there was something that would ultimately cause me to log out.  It might be that my bags were a mess, or that I couldn’t remember what I was last doing.  Ultimately I found a ready excuse and used it to “nope” the hell out of the game.  The problem however I think is somewhere in me.

Right now I am finding myself enjoying games that shower me in loot, and games that allow me to have engaging solo experiences.  Granted I have been spending a lot of time mooching off of folks as they run high end content in Diablo 3, but when I log into that game I can go off and do something by myself that feels like I am moving towards some goal.  In Destiny no matter what I do I can always be working on getting that next faction package, or even spending time in the crucible hoping for that next 335 item.  These two games specifically play extremely well by myself or with friends, and that is just something that I can’t say for MMORPGs right now.  In most cases the only real way to get good gear is through raiding, and that takes a time commitment I am just not willing to do right now.  There is no path for me to piddle my way to victory, and at the moment I don’t want to commit to much more than that.  Raiding in Destiny has felt far more “à la carte” and I think the small six player raid size helps that.  It seems easy to pull together a raid group, and even easier to pull together a three player team.  For example we spent last night doing Challenge of Elders and it honestly felt just as engaging and rewarding as doing an MMORPG raid group.

Burnt Out Genre

For awhile now I have kept thinking that sooner or later I will get over this funk.  That I will get that drive to go off and play an MMORPG.  For example I really want to have the desire to play Final Fantasy XIV and to “get the band back together”.  However there is just some wall keeping me from getting back into it and enjoying it.  I’ve patched up the client a few times, but I know when I do log in… someone is going to do the “Bels Back!” thing and I will feel guilty when I log out a few minutes later because I and confused as to what to do.  It is not a time issue, because I still have the same amount of time I ever did… it seems to be an attention span issue.  Diablo 3 and Destiny both reward me for spending ANY time with them…  and there is always an explosion of shiny colored loot just waiting on me around the corner.  The grind of an MMO is a much more slow burn, with large gaps of time between those moments of excitement.  For years I played MMORPGs as a way to hang out with friends, but thanks to tools like Slack, Discord, and Band… I can take my group of friends with me wherever I happen to go.  I no longer need to rely on the MMO as a chat client, and when that happened I guess the games lost a part of their hold on me.

I guess it hit me last night when technically I was scheduled to be raiding in World of Warcraft, and I didn’t even remember that it was a thing I was supposed to be doing.  The leader said over chat that I was just burnt out on WoW, which is a bit true…  but its more than that.  I feel like I am burnt out on MMOs in general.  I’ve been rabidly playing this one genre since 2000, and I feel like maybe I just need other types of games in my life.  The parts of the MMO that I really liked, which were the acquisition of new stuff and the feeling of constantly evolving your persistent character…  those things have been exported to pretty much every single genre out there.  I guess I realized this was happening when nothing that was coming out, that actually excited me… was an MMO.  There are plenty of things to be excited for out there, and I think Black Desert is one of those games that I would have loved…  were I not over-saturated on MMORPGs.  I am not really sure if I have a point this morning.  It sucks that I am driving away readers, but I just don’t think I can write with the same love and excitement that I used to about MMORPGs right now.  I keep hoping at some point I will climb out of this hole, and be able to log into Final Fantasy XIV and be excited again for story and world building,  However in the meantime… you are probably going to see a lot more talk of Diablo 3 and Destiny because that is where my attention and excitement has landed.

Victor Vran Review

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Secrets Abound

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One of the hardest parts about getting steam gifts for folks… is trying to pick a game that you think they will really like.  I know in one case every single game I thought “man that is perfect” for a friend of mine, it turned he had… and had already beaten.  Every now and then someone completely nails it though, and I think this year my friend Ashgar did just that.  As a kid I envisioned this game that I wanted to create, that was a lot like Castlevania in setting, but while adventuring you might see something in the background of a level.  Then through doing a specific ability sequence you would be able to enter the background and find secret areas.  The concept was pretty straight forward, and I’ve mentally conformed it to lots of different genres.  The game I have been playing however… Victor Vran… does this thing and does it extremely well.  You cannot imagine how exited I was the first time I played the game and saw it doing pretty much that thing I had always wanted to do.  The game has old school secret areas, that are accessed by blowing up walls, jumping over seemingly impassable objects… or sometimes wall jumping your way up to a higher game field that you didn’t notice at first.

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The gameplay itself is this strange amalgam of Diablo, with a setting that feels like the love child of Witcher and Castlevania.  The monkey wrench into the traditional Diablo model is that the Z axis exists… you can jump and even deliver jump attacks.  In many ways there are aspects of the game that remind me of Guild Wars 2, where there are several different types of weapons you can pick up and wield:  sword, rapier, hammer, lightning gun, shotgun, spellbook, scythe, and mortar.  There might be other weapons available but these are the ones that I have seen so far, and each of them comes with a specific main attack… as well as two special attacks that are bound to Q and E if you are using the keyboard and mouse controls.  In addition to this you have two demonic power slots, which serve as spells that you pick up while playing the game.  These are extremely varied and do everything from hurling down fireballs at the opponent, to shielding the player… to throwing you into a frenzied rage increasing your melee damage…. but also causing you to take more damage yourself at the time.

Your Destiny

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Finally you have a series of Destiny cards that tweak your character in certain ways.   At level 18 I have 11 Destiny points worth of cards that I can use at any given time… and as I open chests, kill monsters, and complete quests I often times have the chance of picking up additional cards.  These vary greatly in their effect… so for example The Sun that I have equipped gives me a chance of proccing a huge explosion anytime I “overkill” a mob… meaning deal more damage than is needed to kill them in a single hit.  Others like Hope simply increases your hitpoint pool directly, and others still add additional combat traits like The Vampire which causes all of your attacks to life steal.  The game feels like it has just enough customization to let you feel like you have some measure of control on how your character feels, but not so much as to cause a quagmire of possible build options.  Diablo almost suffers from this at times, and it feels like in order to really play your character efficiently you need to do a lot more planning than I really want to do while playing a game.  In this game I often fiddle with my equipped items in the middle of levels just to see how it feels differently, and the ability to hot swap between two different weapons comes in extremely handy when dealing with different monster types.

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The aspect of the game that most endeared me, was that every single area of the game feels like it is part of the larger game as a whole.  What I mean by that is that there is one big play field for an area, and then linked off of that are a bunch of smaller sub dungeons.  Then those dungeons often times are cross linked to other dungeons as well, giving the progression of play field an almost MMO like quality.  Sure this exists in Diablo, but it feels almost accidental rather than “these are the building blocks of this zone”.  What I like quite a bit is the fact that you can get a preview of a zone before you actually enter it.  The above screen is an example of that, it shows what the new zone is, some examples of what kind of critters might be found in it… as well as a listing of all of the challenges.  So in the above example I know that I probably want to have a scythe at the ready, so I can swap to it in order to kill a certain type of mob in the zone known as the “Volkavs”.  I know the area has three secrets to find, and that I want to try really hard to power up my demon abilities so that I can kill lots of mobs with them.  Then while going through the level each time you trigger one of those objectives it spawns in some sort of a reward.  Finding all of the secrets will reward lots of gold, or slaying the champions will spawn a banner that starts to spit out experience globes for example.  Each of the symbols out beside the objective means something different.

Not Perfect, But Fun

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When I initially looked at this game, there was a lot that made me interested…. but the big turnoff was that you seemed to be playing a single character named Victor Vran that almost felt like this generic demon hunter character.  Now that I have gotten into the game, the setting itself is way cooler than I gave it credit, but at the same time… it does feel a bit like a heavy metal video.  You are a lone demon hunter entering a city that has fallen to the demons…  one that has been a death trap for so many other hunters.  As you go through the zones you are constantly seeing reminders of other hunters fallen and dead, and as the plot unfolds you get an understanding of why exactly this one city has been so besieged.  There are so many common tropes here that the story itself could be a bit of a turn off for many players.  The gameplay and moment to moment fun of the game however is amazing.  You end up picking up a “Bob the Skull” like companion that serves as a voice in your head… and a running narration of your actions.  There is a moment when if you don’t head towards the clear objective… but instead wander around trying to make sure you have cleared everything out… he accuses you of going in the wrong direction…. and then begins to sing the “Brave Sir Robin” song from Monty Python.  So at times this ever present narrator feels like it does in say Thomas Was Alone or Bastion.

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The other negative is… you are stuck being Victor.  You don’t get to create your own demon slayer, but instead are dumped into the role of this existing one.  So much like playing Uncharted where you are always going to be Nathan Drake…  you are always going to be Victor Vran.  I mean I get why they are doing what they are doing, because it makes a much cleaner and more simple narrative path for the game.  That said you encounter other cool characters, that I had hoped maybe you would be able to take them out adventuring instead.  You meet another Demon Hunter pretty early on named Irene, who eventually serves the role of selling advanced gear back in the castle.  It would have been really cool if when you met her… you could have chosen to take her out adventuring instead with Victor guarding the hunter stores.  Similarly you bump into a royal guard, that I could see taking out for a spin, or a grumpy old military adviser or priest.  The feeling that you are adventuring with a team and rather than just one dude with a sword would have been welcome.  I guess they are still adding content and planning on releasing expansions, so here is hoping at some point they will flesh out some of that.

Team Play

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Last night my focus was less of working through my own story, and more on hanging out with Grace and Thalen who now also have the game.  At first it felt like there was not much challenge at all, but I think maybe the game has trouble scaling up content the moment a new player joins.  As we started moving around more the challenge level seemed to increase to something of an average of our levels.  So for Grace and Thalen the mobs probably felt really rough, and for me… since I was as eight levels over the next closest player in the above example…  it felt something on the easy side.  What I enjoyed the most about group play, was that even though I had already completed the objectives… I was still able to get rewards from helping Grace and Thalen complete them.  Additionally “Kill X” type tasks… count for the entire group so every hammer kill counted for a hammer kill objective… regardless of who got the final blow.  The game seems to use Diablo style personal loot, and the exploration aspect was really cool when one of us would figure out how to get up to some secret… then have to show the others how to get there as well.  My only real complaint about grouping was that there is no trade system.  I would have happily dropped some decent weapons on my friend when we first started, because I personally have ended up favoring a specific set of weapons that is different from what they ultimately ended up enjoying.  All of this said…  the game works well, is gorgeous to play through… and controls better that I would expect.  If you are looking for a fun dungeon crawler with some unique twists on the Diablo model… I highly suggest you check it out.

 

 

MMOs Worth Playing: Marvel Heroes

Costumed Madness

mmosworthplayingJust as a quick reminder, this series is about me highlighting games that I think are well worth the look.  This is by no means a complete list of games, and there are still a bunch more that I just have not gotten around to talking about.  These are largely titles that I feel like everyone should probably at least give a try once.  I am largely focused on games that don’t necessarily get the press or hype that some of the more prevalent titles like World of Warcraft do.  I figured in honor of Halloween I would talk about a game that is entirely about dressing up in costume and taking out bad guys.

A Tale of Improvement

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In 2013 when Marvel Heroes launched… it was plagued with problems.  Not the least of which was the fact that it was pretty much universally reviewed as a massive cash grab.  The game itself was not that terribly fun, and any heroes or costumes purchased on the store were oppressively over priced.  You can look at any of the reviews from 2013 and they all pretty much say the same thing, that the gameplay is lackluster at best… and that it is ridiculous to have to pay $20 to play as an A list hero like Ironman.  The game has since re-invented itself and gone through a number of changes… before eventually rebooting itself as Marvel Heroes 2015.  Rebranding is one of those fiddly things, but in this case the game that exists now is a very different gameplay experience than the one that launched.

During my time playing the game they have made constant incremental changes to the experience.  Originally the game asked you to essentially pick your free champion blindly, and now you can play any number of champions all to level 10 before finally choosing one to unlock all of the way to 60.  This gives you time to get in and experience the way a champion performs before finally committing to it.  In my case I have found that many of my favorite Comic Book heroes and anti-heroes…  are not necessarily something that I want to play.  For example I have always loved the Punisher, but the game play felt a little lacking since I am not a huge fan of ranged combat.  On the other side of the coin… I have never really liked Captain America as a comic book…  but playing as him is freaking amazing.  He is this massive shield slinging badass that I love playing, and my friend Grace has a similar experience with Iceman ending up being the character that she stuck with.

True to the Source

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Another thing I love about the game is just how integrated it is into the Marvel Universe.  There are so many characters, costumes and team-ups that come from the deep bowels of comic history.  Remember that one time Punisher was a Frankenstein-like monster?  Well Marvel Heroes does… and offers the costume as an option during Halloween.  Remember that time Wolverine was infected by the Brood?  Yup Marvel Heroes also offers that costume.  If there is a movie released, or a big comic event… you can fully expect Marvel Heroes to roll out a special event to mark it.  During the Avengers Age of Ultron release… you got bonus experience anytime you played an Avengers character or grouped with one for example.  Obviously at this same time they offered a brand new pack of costumes representing the way the characters looked in the movie at a “priced to own” value…  but none of it feels like something you have to have to keep playing the game.

My favorite aspect of the game is the way it handles gender swaps for characters.  For an increasing number of the champions in this game, they offer an alternate gender version.  What makes this awesome is the fact that they are once again mining the rich Marvel history to make it happen.  For example if you want to play a female Punisher, you instead end up playing Rachel Cole-Alves a character that has allied with the in comic Punisher a few times and even wore the costume.    Granted this is not the case for every character in the game…  like Lady Loki is just that… a female version of Loki.  However it is absolutely comic book canon that there was one time when Loki was brought back as a woman, so even then… it absolutely fits.  This works both ways…  so in addition to Scarlet Witch and her many female costumes… you can play as Wiccan, or among the many Captain Marvel Carol Danvers costumes… you also have an old school male Captain Marvel as well.

Cost of Being a Hero

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I realize I am not actually talking about the game-play much but really…  if playing a Diablo style game with Marvel Heroes is not enough of a hook for you… then you probably should play something else.  This game is all about the fantasy fulfillment of running around as a super hero and beating up cartoon bad guys to make the street explode into a shower of bright colored loot.  The challenge of the game should be mentioned… because if its default state that challenge is next to non-existent.  They have essentially started calling this base difficulty “Story Mode” and you play through it while finishing the main story.  After finishing the story you can ratchet up the difficulty as you see fit and visit any of the previous areas for leveling purposes.  These later difficulties feel more akin to the harder difficulties in Diablo 3, but it is somewhat sad that unlike D3 you cannot simply play on hard all of the time.  You have to finish the normal mode before you can start anything more aggressive.

The biggest change since the 2013 incarnation is the fact that the game really is “free” or can be pending you don’t just fall in love with anything in particular.  What I love the most about the game is that you can collect these items while roaming in the world called Eternity Splinters, and with them you can purchase specific champions… or do what I end up doing and simply gamble on one of the 100 spliter random hero boxes.  I’ve managed to pull several of the big name heroes that I have like Star Lord and X-23 through these random boxes, and it gives you the feeling of making some forward momentum without a ton of grinding.  When talking about the price of things, that too has changed significantly.  The blade pre-sale for example is happening right now and its $16.19 for the champion and an alternate costume, with a normal price around $20.  Still not the cheapest thing in the world… but not that insane either considering there are fairly easy in game ways to get all of the champions as well.

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Honestly I stayed away from this game for years… because of the bad press surrounding it’s launch.  It was only after seeing a good friend of mine playing it every single night on steam, that I finally decided to give it a chance.  I am extremely happy that I did, and even though I don’t play it all that often it is yet another in a long line of games that has re-invented itself for the better.  I seriously feel like the era of big AAA games is past us… or at least the era of “American” AAA MMOs that is.  I qualify that because it seems like South Korean is going through the same sort of period that we did during the big MMO boom.  In the meantime I am really enjoying watching these older titles figure out how to make their games work, and more than happy to support them finding a new niche.  The awesome thing about Marvel Heroes is the barrier of entry is non-existent.  If you are looking for a fun Diablo style game… head to steam and install it.  If you do, let me know what you think.

 

Universal Patronage

Account Social Systems

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One of the things I have been spoiled on by playing quite a few Blizzard games is the existence of Battle.net as a common backbone.  When RealID was originally released, I have to admit it bothered me quite a bit.  I don’t actually use my real name very much online, and it isn’t necessarily because I am trying to obfuscate who I am… but more that I come from an era in the internet when everyone was their “handle”.  Someones handle is more distinct and meaningful for me… than telling me their real name and oddly enough I have a much easier time remembering it.  For example… I know several dozen folks with the last name of Smith…  but I only know one Scopique.  As Blizz took a step back they created the Battle Tag system and since then I have been happily known as Belghast#1752 making it significantly easier to meet up with people regardless of what Blizzard game they happen to be playing.  This has been the case with most modern game releases, that they have some underlying account based system that allows me to quickly meet up with my friends by giving them a single idea that relates to all of my characters.

The problem is… when this system is missing I really notice it.  It has been a recent struggle while playing Star Wars the Old Republic and the various Trion Worlds games.  Sure it is nice to have disconnected alts that you can go hide on… but I have been willing to give up this for the convenience of being easily available.  The thing that I find confusing with both SWTOR and Trion is that in both cases they have an underlying system that they could rely on for communication purposes.  For SWTOR you have Origin chat… which is pretty horrible, but could at least serve as some common connective tissue.  In the same of Trion Worlds though you have a shared account structure that through the use of the Glyph client gives you access to all of the games on your account.  All that really seems to be missing is a single “Glyph ID” and a chat infrastructure built around it.  The best feature of Blizzard games right now is that you can take your friend list with you into any game you go.  So while I am not playing World of Warcraft, I can still keep touch with my WoW playing friends while I am in Diablo or Heroes of the Storm.  It would be so nice if I could do this same thing while playing  Trove, Rift, ArcheAge or eventually Devilian.  Please make this a thing Trion Worlds!

Universal Patronage

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While I am asking things of Trion Worlds this morning… I thought I would go ahead and throw in another thing.  One of the features of the old Sony Online Entertainment games that I really enjoyed was the concept of the “All Access Pass”.  Where you could pay one premium account price and get subscription level access to all of their games.  I think back in the day it was something like $25 per month for an All Access account, instead of the individual $15 a month for each game.  I loved this concept because it allowed me to pop back and forth freely between their games when I was in the mood to actively play them.  The problem there is that for SOE and now Daybreak games… they are all titles that I play in spurts.  However since the launch of Rift there has never been a time when I was not at least sometimes playing this game.  While I may not play it seriously most of the time, I still keep poking my head in it.  Similarly I am really enjoying the current state of ArcheAge, and I love poking my head into Trove.  With the addition of Devilian to their lineup… it seems that I am ending up with a situation much like that of SOE where there are lots of different games that I wouldn’t mind playing.

The problem being that I simply cannot justify Patron access to ALL of them.  So I have to pick and choose which game I want to activate at a given time.  However if there was some sort of universal patron account that allowed me to pay one fee and gain patron access to all of their games… I would absolutely do it in a heartbeat.  In the long run I think it would be a net win, since I doubt there are many people out there who are actively maintaining multiple patron subscriptions.  You get a little bit per month out of the folks who were already subbing, to give them access to your entire library of games.  This also allows you to do cross promotions between them, allowing the achievements in one game to maybe grant you something nifty in another game.  This is again one of the strengths of Blizzards stable of games is that they are all interconnected at least to some extent.  I feel the same sort of loyalty towards Trion Worlds as others do towards Blizzard, and I just think it would be awesome for something of this sort to happen.  I realize Trion is a weird case in the fact that ArcheAge and Devilian for example are not developed in house…  but my hope is that there is enough control on the back end systems to be able to implement a sort of universal patronage account.

Gigantic Codes

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I have been sitting on an email that I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with it.  Gigantic is finally leaving its Alpha process and entering Closed Beta, and with it they are loosening the restrictions a bit and handing out friend codes to a lot of the folks who have been in the closed process for awhile now.  There are some constraints on these however and I think it is important to mention that.  Right now Gigantic is exclusive to Windows 10 and Xbox One, which I find mildly frustrating since it ran perfectly fine on Windows 8 up until this latest push.  This however is a listed requirement, and since I have not been actively testing of late…  I have to assume it is probably a legitimate requirement.  If you are interested in checking the game out you have to hit the link below and redeem one of the codes I am posting.  This is of course a first come first served sort of deal, but I figured the best option was to share them with my readers.

https://www.gogigantic.com/redeem

  • Key 1: 4GB2KE5-I5FBYD-G433KKI-KN723Q
  • Key 2: BSKA5FG-SOFHUL-CCVNKBD-WLBRHQ
  • Key 3: ZIBOYHQ-ZQVHHX-FC3JL5T-6CMMKQ
  • Key 4: 3ML4C2H-RXJD5N-DRCJX3T-I5PAVU

Good luck! Hope to see you in game in the near future!

[Edit] and those went WAY faster than I expected them to.  Hopefully you all enjoy closed beta!

Second Winds and Diablo

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Desi Wonderfulness

Last night was a bit unusual as far as our Friday nights go.  Generally speaking we come home from work, and I play video games while my wife attempts not to fall asleep… always failing that battle around 9/9:30 ish.  Instead we went out for dinner with some friends, and I got to eat at one of my favorite restaurants…  Desi Wok.  I generally refer to it as an “Indian restaurant” but in truth it is a “Desi” restaurant as the name implies, focusing on an amalgam of traditional Indian cuisine mixed with some more Chinese inspired dishes.  My wife got the always tasty Chicken Tikka Masala, and I went with my most recent favorite an ambiguous dish called “Chicken Desi Fried Rice”.  The dish comes out bright red and spicy as hell, pretty much the way I like it.  The problem is it is way more food than you can eat in one sitting so I always end up taking home about half of it.  My wife decided to order a Mango Lassi which she had never actually done from Desi Wok, and in my confusion I wound up getting one for me too…  but no actual other drink.  This meant I consumed a lot of water in my vague attempt to control the spice of my dish.

By the time we finally got home last night I was drained.  We made a stop off at Target, and all the while I was moving around the store at a snails pace.  I literally think my wife would have been dragging me through the store if I had a rope tied onto me.  She kept having to stop periodically and look back at me to see if I was keeping up.  I am guessing it was the beginnings of a tasty food coma.  But in all honesty it could simply be the weight of this week crashing down upon me.  Each and every day there has been some major crisis that I had to deal with.  We had a production database get wiped one day, and another day we were trying to diagnose why a piece of software built in Visual Basic 6 wasn’t working any more.  For starters I had no clue that anything built in VB6 would run on a Windows 7 machine.  Visual Studio 6 was the brand new technology…. when I was in college almost two decades ago.  All the while during each of the issues I acted as the manager and facilitator, which is a bit of a new role for me.  I am not used to being the one directing the action rather than the one with my hands buried deep in the guts of the software trying to sort things out manually.  Putting your faith in someone else to fix things for you, is way the hell more stressful than being under the gun to fix something yourself.

Second Winds and Diablo

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Yesterday was the beginning of the brand new Diablo 3 fourth season, and this time I wanted to get in on the ground floor instead of creating a character a few days from the end.  Earlier in the week I had talked about my plans on what exactly to create for this new seasons and I finally settled on rolling a Femme Barbarian.  I have an absolute love of Sonya in Heroes of the Storm so any attempt to recreate that character seems amazing to me.  However I spent the first half hour or so of gameplay complaining to my friend Grace about her lack of armor.  She was awesome about it and I am sure was just patting me on the head as I complained about something that every woman on the planet has complained about at some point…  the shitty armor options they give female characters in video games.  Yes I realize the male barbarian starts in essentially a furry diaper, but  that changes pretty quickly as you find gear and at this point at level 37 I am still wearing a bra of some sort.  I finally learned to ignore it mostly and got on with the game play.

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Grace had started her traditional Wizard earlier in the night, and was about five levels ahead of me by the time we both managed to get on at the same time.  We proceeded to spend the rest of the night running bounties and rather quickly I was able to catch up in levels.  I am not sure what it is about Diablo right now but it is really hitting the spot.  The only negative being that the Barbarian starts out in a fashion that I don’t really enjoy that much.  The first attack and the first secondary attack… are both not really my thing.  Thankfully you get Cleave pretty quickly, and before the end of the night I finally was able to pick up whirlwind which serves as not only a great group attack but also a decent way of getting out of things since you seem to ignore slowing effects when you are spinning.  My hope is that at some point today we can hook back up and start leveling again.  Other than that I am looking forward to tonight’s AggroChat show because we are finally going to talk about Birb boyfriends and why that game is pure madness.

Chasing a PVE MOBA

A Meaningless Term

League of Legends 2013-04-30 20-12-49-94 Yesterday I witnessed a conversation unfold that I have had a dozen times myself with various folks.  A friend of mine made the idle comment that they would really like to see a “PVE MOBA”, to which someone else predictably replied that you cannot have a “MOBA” without PVP.  The problem is that there is absolutely no clear definition of what exactly a “MOBA” is.  Additionally each player seems to refer to a slightly different set of mechanics when someone says “MOBA-like”.  So for some people it is all about the match based pvp action, and others it is all about the interesting class design.  If you simply dissect the term “MOBA” you get Multiplayer Online Battle Arena…  which in itself is another absolutely meaningless term.  Multiplayer Online is clear enough but the Battle Arena part is complete nonsense.  What are you battling and what sort of arena are you battling in?

For me personally the key elements of what make a MOBA intriguing have nothing to do with player versus player combat.  I like the different characters and their unique sets of abilities, and the way they interact with other characters and their abilities.  In fact I would be happy spending my time in lane killing creeps because I honestly enjoy doing that way more than engaging with other players.  When I play League of Legends I will almost always play against bots, and have long thought that it would make an interesting game to make it purely co-operative against interesting challenges.  The problem is if you say this.. you get the reaction above that it cannot be done… because MOBAs are PVP games dammit!  But what I am presenting is that folks are assigning a specific mindset to a term that is absolutely meaningless on its own merit.  Multiplayer Online Battle Arena can describe so many games and is likely why the term gets blurred so much to describe games that are absolutely nothing like the original Defense of the Ancients roots.

Keep the Interesting Bits

HeroesOfTheStorm_x64 2014-12-02 22-35-45-233 For me the interesting bits about what we generally refer to as a MOBA are the Character design that I have talked about before, and ultimately the payment model.  I like this concept of purchasing individual champions, and having a rotation of free champions to play to consistently keep testing the waters and trying to branch out.  The key part as well for me is the way that MOBA titles grow over time.  If you look at the evolution of League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm, in both cases they are constantly releasing new content to satiate the appetites of players.  I think this has been key to the success, that every few weeks there is something new being introduced to the game to shake up players expectations.  League for example has over 120 different unique champions that they are doing a decent job of keeping balanced against each other, and Heroes is adding at least one champion a month it seems to catch up.  So I feel like the big success of this genre has been constant incremental evolution of the product.

This variety helps deal with the “special snowflake” syndrome that happens in MMO design.  Often times there is a demographic of players that wants to play a specific class in a manner that was not intended to be played.  Granted this happens to some extent in build system MMOs like league, but it is always clear that this is not necessarily a “supported” play style.  The champion system instead lets companies roll out lots of hyper focused characters that play to very specific niches.  So in this case what would be a “special snowflake” like the “melee hunter” would simply just be another champion they could build to fill that desire.  So instead the focus becomes on mastery of a specific set of abilities unique to that champion, rather than a much larger set of abilities as seen in most “talent tree” systems.  I feel like this is crucial in allowing someone to adapt to a brand new champion quickly, but at the same time feeling confident enough to branch out into things they have yet to try before.  There are game play modes like ARAM (All Random All Mid) that encourage this branching out because it forces players to play with a random champion.

Chasing a PVE MOBA

Diablo III 2013-08-21 20-12-09-60 So the quandary I am in is that I love the League of Legends lore and champion design, but don’t love the game itself.  I have long thought that it would be awesome to have a PVE centric version of League of Legends where you play the same champions with the same abilities in a Diablo like setting.  Instead of fighting in Summoner’s Rift against five other players in a battle to destroy the opposing teams nexus, it would be a co-operative experience as five players venture into a procedurally generated dungeon with a treasure at the end.  The idea is that each map would be harder than the previous until you reach a boss battle for the final treasure in the dungeon.  You could even keep the build mechanic in the form of at the beginning of each map level you could have the same merchant that exists just outside of your teams Nexus in the Rift.  After venturing a certain way into each map level he could travel to the next level, making it so that players could only buy new items at the beginning of each map.

For the hyper competitive players, you could still keep all manner of stats from number of monsters killed, their average difficulty rating, how fast it takes your team to clear a map, and of course how many times you have died during a specific encounter.  Personally I would go with a counter strike approach where each player gets a single life per map, making it progressively harder the more players that you have lost.  I would introduce the ability to purchase resurrection potions, but again that is an opportunity cost… since you have limited item inventory slots and limited gold to keep purchasing items with.  Similarly I would introduce a “lives” mechanic in the number of times your team can retry during a specific dungeon crawl sequence.  This would encourage the team to stick together and work on group tactics rather than going off on their own and risking getting overwhelmed.  The thing is… I would absolutely pay to play a game like that, and would probably rope my friends into playing it to.  The key impediment however is that folks seem to keep thinking that “MOBA” style mechanics cannot also apply to PVE game design.  Someone make this game happen…  I am looking at you Riot.