Fel Knight

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Things happened this weekend and apparently I am playing World of Warcraft again.  Even though this has nothing to do with her directly… I am going to blame Grace for planting the seed in my head that the game is much better once you unlock flight.  Next I am going to blame MMO Champion for having a tool at the top of their home page that showed me that I was literally only a reputation grind away from flying in Broken Isles.  The power of the thing things combined seemingly turned my “someday” into “do this thing now”.  There was a lot of bonus extra credit for folks like Erry and Mort telling me that they missed me, and that I should really show up on raid nights again.  As a result I spent my weekend mostly playing World of Warcraft with brief flurries of Destiny and Star Wars the Old Republic.  Maybe I just needed some comfort gaming, or maybe things really were the sequence of the events above.  Whatever the case I largely enjoyed myself…  but not in that “ahhhh… I’m Home” sort of way and more “this is perfectly okay”.  I think I would enjoy myself quite a bit more on Alts since really I am too well geared to get much use out of the Broken Isles content.

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Probably the highlight of the weekend was raiding with my guild again on Friday.  Traditionally Wednesday night is the super serious raiding time, and Friday is the blow off “lets do farm content” night.  In truth I don’t so much care about the blow off aspect, and more about the attitude of the two different outings.  Raiding stopped being fun for me when everyone got really serious Wednesday nights and stopped having fun.  Maybe I just hit a bad patch there, but when the tension in palpable and everyone is super concerned about squeaking that last bit of dps out of their spec…  that isn’t really enjoyable for me.  What is however is running around like a bunch of nubs and face-rolling content for the fun of it.  That is my jam and I have to admit I had an awful lot of fun Friday.  I had reached this point where once again I felt like raiding probably “wasn’t for me” but if I can repeat the sort of environment again I could be down with doing this on a weekly basis.  I managed to stay alive the entire night…  until we got to Gul’dan.  My eyes glazed over five minutes into a fifteen minute explanation of the fight and I am sure I died to something stupid and easily avoidable.  Regardless I managed to exit the night with a couple of tier pieces, so life was pretty damned peachy.

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The other big thing that I did this weekend was play catch up on a ton of content that I had not touched in ages.  Withered training was one of those things that I just never really cared about… but I now have a quest to do X number of world quests in Suramar and as a result I am looking for quests to do that are not super annoying.  The above haul involved unlocking a bunch of shit that I had never unlocked before, and in theory I will really be able to steamroll the place next time.  My biggest frustration with withered training has nothing to do with the training itself… and more to do with the fact that it is still annoying to get Ancient Mana.  Sure it is easy enough if you are out running around in Suramar to get it as a drip feed while you do other things… but to purposefully try and seek it out is really freaking annoying.  I mean I know there is the Vineyards trick, but every time I go there the lootables seem to be farmed down pretty heavily.  The real win of the weekend through is that I am roughly 1600 reputation away from being able to fly.  The question is if I will actually stick around after achieving this goal.

Learning to Fly

Coerthas Distractions

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-19 08-15-59-02 All I really wanted yesterday was to sit in one spot and play Final Fantasy XIV all day long.  While that did not happen as I had originally envisioned I did still manage to get a fair amount of play time.  The biggest interruption came early on when I was trying to work on my blog post, and the air conditioning company called to tell me they were on their way over.  Firstly I had completely forgotten that I had scheduled our twice a year maintenance for Friday thinking I would be off from work anyways.  Secondly…  the guy who came over seemed relatively new and manage to take an hour and a half doing what normally takes the guy fifteen minutes to finish.  So that was ultimately why I ended up posting so late.  By the time that finished we needed to run a few errands, and I spent until roughly two doing that.  Finally when I got home however I had a solid block of play time and also a mission set out in front of me.

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-19 16-03-31-09 Tam had apparently been playing since quite literally the servers went life at 2 am pst.  As a result he was anxiously waiting on us to catch up so that he could run the very first dungeon.   While Dusk Vigil is not entirely gated by the main story, it does require you to have gotten far enough into the story to unlock a specific camp of NPCs.  Previously I was getting easily distracted by every single FATE I came across…  which was pretty much an endless feedback loop since at any given moment there are a dozen different FATEs up in Western Coerthas.  Instead I had to shift to being laser focused on completing the quests.  This batch of storyline however deserves some time to slow down and savor it a bit as you quest through it.  They have done something that no other MMO has done…  picked up the storyline moments after the last quest of the previous expansion.  Over the course of “A Realm Reborn” they learned how to extremely effectively tell compelling story, and this expansion just continues that trend.  I feel like I am only a little ways in and they have already dropped several big bombshells on me.

Dusk Vigil

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-19 21-48-23-26 Normally I would have told them to go with another tank to Dusk Vigil… even though I love the act of clearing a dungeon that very first time.  Problem being at the moment I am the highest progressed tank in the guild and likely the only one who has unlocked it.  Around 8:30 last night my wife and I decided to go for a walk down to the local shaved ice place, and I told them that I would run the dungeon when I got back.  Upon coming back the new renters across the street were out in the yard and it felt awkward not to go over and say hello.  People think it is strange that we don’t really know anyone in our neighborhood…  but I have to say this is 0 for 2 when it comes to introducing ourselves to new people.  This new one is just as insane seeming and clingy as the last one…  now the positive is that there was an Xbox 360 set up on the living room floor with Lord of the Rings movies and Dragon Age Inquisition scattered around it.  So maybe just maybe they are going to be cool people?  After making them wait half the night we eventually go away from the neighbor and I went upstairs to fight the login boss and get back in game.

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-19 22-19-25-94 Surprisingly I managed to log in immediately and get straight into the server, and got my group invite and we were up and running.  The big take away from the dungeon is that much like the overworld…  the mobs hit extremely hard.  I am an ilevel 128 Warrior, and that first trash pack I pulled was a bit of a wakeup call.  The coolest thing about the dungeon however were the bosses which were in essence a remix of mechanics we have seen in some of the raids, but assembled in a manner that felt fresh.  I imagine at some point we will have a gear level where we can ignore the mechanics but for the time being…  folks have to pay attention.  The layout of the dungeon was extremely cool as well and had both a Coerthas flavor and a stone vigil flavor the deeper you got into it.  The background music and boss music were both amazing as well… with the zone music sounding like a remix of the Heavensward theme with Snowcloak.  The dungeon also dropped some really nice level 110 items that had unique graphics, so I hope to pop back in and try and collect more of it.

Learning to Fly

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-19 23-32-49-86 I have no clue how far a Yalm is, but over the course of yesterday I think I travelled thousands of them hunting down Aether Currents.  For the uninitiated Final Fantasy XIV gives you a brand new Black Chocobo just a few quests into the Heavensward Storyline.  Also for the uninitiated Black Chocobos old a special place in the Final Fantasy pantheon of being the only breed of Chocobo that can actually fly, and while they often look more purple than black…  the one you get in Heavensward is officially a jet black chocobo with pretty cool barding.  When you get yours you also get this device called an Aether Compass.  In order to fly in a zone you need to track down a certain number of the Aether Currents, and in Western Coerthas this is 10 scattered throughout the zone and 5 that you get from doing quests.  If you have ever played a game that has a tracking system the compass works pretty much like this.  You click the item and it tells you the direction and distance away the next Aether Current is located.  This appears in your quest items tab, but I highly suggest moving it to a hotbar because you will be clicking this thing constantly.

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-20 00-19-29-65 As a result you have to not only try and figure out how to traverse a zone that is extremely difficult to traverse do to some extreme elevation changes, you have to do this while interpreting messages like “381 Yalms to the South East”.  Most of the Aether Currents are found as a result of some jumping puzzles, that can either be extremely difficult to get to…  or relatively simply if you figure out the path they intended you to take.  The worst feeling is jumping down off something and seeing an Aether Current on the way down… that you could have gotten if only you know it was there ahead of time.  Once you have gathered up all of the currents you can fly around the zone on your Black Chocobo… and I have to say it feels amazing to finally be able to do this.  Sure the whole Aether Current thing is frustrating, but it did an amazing job of teaching me the layout of the zone and it is really the sort of thing that I did not finish until I was already MOSTLY finished with a zone.  This is a great compromise for allowing players to fly, but not feeling like you are somehow cheapening the content in the process.  Other games should really take note of this system going forward, because it feels like you are really earning your ability to fly each time.

Flight is a Double Edged Sword

Skipping Content

WoWScrnShot_061712_000053 Over the last few weeks a topic has sprung back up that I thought was long put to bed.  I guess the lack of flight in World of Warcraft for the Warlords of Draenor expansion is still a divisive topic.  I’ve said before that I support their decision to keep flight out of the expansion.  My current malaise with Warcraft has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I can fly.  So this morning I thought I would talk for a bit about the inclusion of flight in games and the strange ramifications it has on game play.  Ultimately when you include flight players skip your content as simple as that.  I can say this coming from a perspective of someone who has played several games with and without flight.  Ultimately the first game I played with flight was City of Heroes, and it was both the most powerful “travel power” and also the most frustrating.  Sure you could soar above the battlefield and move around relatively unscathed, but you did so at often times half the speed of any other travel power.  The players that could fly however were able to terrain hack content, and often times find ways to level with absolutely impunity, but they did so giving up the ability to move about “quickly”.

When World of Warcraft first introduced flight it felt very similar.  While you were technically going at 150% speed it felt like you were moving more slowly because in the air you lost your point of reference for how fast you were going.  Additionally the flight masters still moved significantly faster than you were able to go.  Even with the introduction of artisan flying at 280% flight speed you were still slightly slower than a flight master which I believe is roughly 300% speed.  The problem is in both cases it changed the way I played the game.  While I struggled to make the money to fly in  Burning Crusade, by the time Wrath of the Lich King rolled around I had enough cash to spare to be able to outfit all of my alts with even Cold Weather Flying giving me the ability to fly while leveling.  I found myself using the same sort of terrain hacking tricks that players did in City of Heroes.  Instead of fighting my way to the entrance of something I simply swooped down from above and quickly poked into entrance tunnels to avoid fighting any adds.  If I needed to kill a single quest mob, I would zoom straight into the hut they were located in with surgical precision avoiding the experience of clearing my way through a camp.

Flight is a Double Edged Sword

EQ2_000043 While you might be fine with this style of play it does not change the fact that you are ultimately playing the game in a way that was not intended by the developers.  Someone spent a serious amount of time and resources designing the layout of the content you just leapt over the top of with your trust flying mount.  Sure there are ways for developers to put counter measures in place that block you from terrain hacking the content using a flying mount, but that just adds to the problem.  Instead of making new areas of the game they would be reworking areas to make sure that you cannot skip the important bits.  This also destroys the ability to add content along the way like side quests and collectibles because if you are skipping directly to the end you will never actually see it.  By having flight you are really handcuffing the tools that the content providers have to add to the mix, and changing the way they have to approach the content.  The end result is likely a far less vibrant world.

If it were just Worlds of Warcraft I would think that maybe they simply integrated flight in a bad way.  The problem being that I went through the same experience with Everquest II.  Once I got the ability to fly I stopped experiencing content “as intended”.  I started flying up to exactly the spot on my mini-map I needed to be at in order to complete the quests as quick as humanly possible.  I pulled myself out of the game experience and essentially was robbed of the living and breathing world around me.  With flight questing becomes about clearing dots off of your map as quickly as possible without spending any time really engaged in the content itself.  I think in many ways this was why I enjoyed the questing experience of Warlords of Draenor so much more than I did the previous expansions.  It actually forced me to spend time getting to know the layout of the zones, rather than zipping over the top of them.  It is better to see the crags and crevices of the world…  than a monstrosity of super pixilated trees that never quite mesh correctly.

Heavensward and Flight

final_fantasy_14_heavensward_dragon.0 As I look forwards at Heavensward I have to admit I am more than a little concerned that we are seeing the introduction of flying into Final Fantasy XIV.  Firstly I hope they stand firm on the statement that there will be no flight in the original areas of the game.  Secondly I hope they have thought through all of the ramifications that come with introducing a system that lets you skip over content.  There has been a lot of talk about having to explore a region and learn how to harness the winds in that area before being able to fly there, and I am hoping this is actually a fairly drawn out process.  This would mean that the player would need to have spent a significant amount of time in a given region before learning how to fly there.  At one point Yoshi P in an earlier statement said something to the effect of having to completely explore an area before being able to learn flight.  In both cases this sounds like maybe they understand the danger that integrating this system really is to a game.  The problem is that flight is a Pandora’s box that cannot be easily shut after it has been opened.

Blizzard has learned this lesson and is trying to hold shut that lid with all their might.  Other games like Rift have been carefully guarding their own box to make sure that no one opens it.  It is with great reservation that I watch as Square Enix prepares to open their own box and see what happens.  I say reservation, because this is the same development group that has managed to outthink its player base on a regular basis.  They have essentially social engineered a community into treating each other with a modicum of civil decency rather than a race to the bottom to see who can behave the most horrifically.  I have hope that they will be able to solve the problems that no company has to date with flight.  I have hope that they will figure out a way to keep it from cheapening their content experiences.  My hope is that they will make it so we are not completely alone in the sky.  This is an expansion about doing battle with dragons…  and dragons notoriously can fly.  Maybe we will have to avoid encounters in the air just like we try and avoid encounters on the land  as we traverse the world.  We have roughly twenty four days before we find out, but I still stand by my stance that I am fine playing games without flying.  I am even fine when a game decides that flight was a mistake and claws it back out of our grips.