Not Squishy At All

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I am having one of those mornings where I am struggling to find anything I feel is worth actually talking about.  The last few days I have been sick and as a result I have been living in this weird little bubble world.  I mean prior to this I had already been in a pretty deep turtle phase where I largely kept to myself, but when you add illness to the mix its like I forget the world exists.  As a result I have been deep into comfort gaming territory, which in this case means World of Warcraft and doing all sorts of random PVE stuff that no one is actually doing.  I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in old raids attempting to get set piece drops.  Similarly I have been roaming all over Draenor which is almost completely empty these days, and picking off rare mobs left and right for achievements.  I spent a good deal of time yesterday for example in Tanaan Jungle killing the big named mobs for mount chances and farming up Apexis crystals for that moment eventually when I get 150,000 and can purchase the spiffy fel themed mount.  All of which are not super important activities but give me just enough focus to take my mind off the fact that I can’t actually breathe.

I of course have also been keeping up with the Broken Shore content… even though it feels like I should be wrapping that in quotes.  Broken Shore feels like the most “more of the same” items I have seen in awhile.  Sure there are world mini bosses that are constantly spawning, and sure there is a new batch of world quests for you to do… and sure there is a weirdly futile base building mechanic…   but it all sorta feels like we have done it all so many times at this point that it is just busy work.  I mean it is busy work that I am doing because at least in theory it is busy work that should someday lead to the class themed mount.  However I am wondering how much more I care about it at the moment, and if I don’t shift into a “only hanging out on Friday nights” mode for the raid.  I have been greatly enjoying doing that and seeing the people I missed.  It is even sounding like I might cycle into a primary tank role for Friday nights to let the Wednesday night tanks have the night off.  In truth Fury is a fine spec, but it will probably only be something that I use for farming old world content or if someone really needs me to dps something.

I am just a prot warrior through and through.  Other than the two expansions where I flirted with playing a Deathknight…  I have been a Warrior for as long as I can really remember.  Sure my first raid main was a hunter, but as soon as I could get into tanking raid content I did…  even to the point of joining a completely different raid team to make that happen.  There is just something about the player fantasy about being this unstoppable object that appeals to me.  Like for example I really enjoy the fact that protection is a reasonably viable spec for player versus player content.  I take great pleasure in watching enemy players decide it is a good idea to attack me.  Like I am the least aggressive player while flagged, and I am generally going to leave you the hell alone pending you leave me alone while I do those PVP flagging world quest dailies.  However there is always somebody that wants to poke the bear…  and in doing so they get to learn the lesson of just how impossible it is to take me down in a one versus one situation.  In truth there are lots of times I am easily juggling three players as they attempt to attack me.  There was a moment from some time ago where it finally took five players focusing down on me to bring me down out in Stormheim.

So last night when a random Fury warrior decided it was a good idea to attack me while doing the PVP Naga daily…  and never actually managed to take more than 10% health off of me…  I had to chuckle.  I am definitely a PVE minded player, but if you mess with me I will stun your ass and wreck you.  That said I am normally more in the mode of helping out my fellow cross faction buddies and spent some time last night pulling packs of murlocs  so that people could get their Squirky battle pets.  This was apparently a limited time event and spawns on an island off the west coast of Azsuna.  Said island is filled with a bunch of elite murloc packs that are hyper aggro just like any other murloc in the world.  As a result I spent a good time just gathering stuff up and farming it down so players could fly in and get their pet… then get the hell out.  I have to say it was a challenge just clearing myself of enough aggro to be able to get out of combat to fly off the island when I finally decided it was time to go.  The end result is an extremely high fidelity Murloc battle pet…  albeit a fairly ugly colored one.  However since I love my murlocs… I will add this to all of the blizzcon themed murlocs I have hanging out in my pet storage.

 

Leave the Game Better

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Last night as I was winding down for the evening I ended up getting pulled into a discussion about positivity and the Warcraft community.  I’ve long been a proponent of doing whatever I can to try and make MMO gaming environments better for other players.  I am what I would  call a “world tank” meaning that I permanently run around in tanky stance while questing and often times go out of my way to “tank” things that don’t even matter to me.  If I am riding through a zone and I see a squishy player fighting a boss mob… then nine times out of ten I am going to hop off my mount and charge over to help out.  I don’t even care about factional boundaries here, and I am one of those players that is just as likely to help out the Horde as I am the Alliance when it comes to taking the threat onto myself and letting people kill their monsters in peace.  I’ve been graced with a class that simply cannot die under most circumstances… and I sort of feel like it is my duty to help other people out whenever I can.  I cannot count the number of times I have been doing a quest and had someone roll up late…  and then continued to pull packs of elites just to make sure they finished their quest.  They always seem sorta surprised when I send them a tell asking them “how many more” they need for the quest.  Growing up I was in scouting, and even managed to get my Eagle… and there was a rule of camping that went a little something like “leave the campsite in as good of condition if not better”.  I sort of have this same view towards MMOs or the world in general honestly…  if I can improve the world by my presence I am going to shoot for that.

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Prior to the launch of Legion, I had gotten used to some of the cultural norms in Final Fantasy XIV.  Namely people talk during dungeon runs… at least enough to give a friendly introduction at the beginning and at the end. In part this is because there is a system in place over there that allows you to give a single commendation each run, to whatever player for whatever criteria you feel fit the situation.  I give them out for all sorts of reasons…  glorious outfits, extremely competent dps, or just someone being jovial and friendly.  In part this friendly atmosphere exists… because they reward you being nice to other players, and will straight up ban you for talking about damage meters in game.  It creates this weird bubble where things don’t work there the way they work in any other MMO community.  Knowing this… with the launch of Legion and as we started queuing up for content… I started trying to apply the same logic the World of Warcraft and shockingly more often than not it worked.  Just breaking the ice at the beginning of a run with a “Hey Folks!” seemed to go an awfully long way in improving the experience as a whole.  I noticed my usual silent runs become perforated with discussion, as it was like one person saying something broke down whatever dam was there preventing conversation.

Another thing I have done this expansion cycle that seems to have helped my own attitude is that I am just not dissecting the game and tearing it apart like I used to.  I am trying really hard to just take things at face value, and more often than not completely ignore the patch note cycle until I am ready for something.  Sure this means I have not exactly been on top of the ball on a lot of things…  like Broken Shore, and have been doing things in a grossly inefficient manner.  However it also means that I am not exposing myself to a lot of external stimuli until I am actually ready to consume it.  More than this however…  I just haven’t shared my doubts publicly because I haven’t felt the need to.  A few weeks into the Nighthold raid cycle I disappeared from the game, and faded away quietly.  I just felt like I wasn’t enjoying myself nearly as much as I was when doing other things.  So I simply walked away and did other things for awhile.  There was a moment where I could make a clean break, and my raid had a tank to step in and take over for me.  In the past I would have felt the need to explain to my readers why I did this.  Instead I just left and eventually put some thoughts together in my big “regularly playing” post, but even that probably wasn’t needed other than I was catching up my sidebar…  which is already completely out of date again.  However because I didn’t really make a big deal about it… it was so much easier to just slide back into the game a few months later when the mood hit me again.

While it might sound odd, I think for me not writing about World of Warcraft and its failings…  helped me to feel better about the game for the long term.  It also kept some negative vibes out of the community.  Sure I currently have a laundry list of things that bug me about the game, but I have come to a point of acceptance that World of Warcraft will never actually be the “one true game” for me.  I know that I will keep venturing off to play other games because it is in my nature, and that it will still feel enjoyable to keep coming back and revisiting all of my friends in the WoW.  In part this is why I am so excited that Destiny 2 is now going to be entering this same realm.  For well over a decade I have cultivated a community in the Blizzard games, and it seems like it is going to be awesome to be able to take all of these people with me into another love of mine when it launches on the PC.  While I would love to see Blizzard as a company make an attempt to instill a positive attitude in its players by introducing systems that reward the good apples…  more than systems that punish the bad, I largely accept that it is going to be up to me and players like me to be the agent of change in the world.  I know we all keep returning to the MMO space to decompress from our days out in the real world… but there is nothing keeping us from being a little nicer to one another in our adopted second home.  Games tend to develop a culture of support or toxicity… and maybe I am naive but I feel like a game can change.  I feel like we can slowly erase the toxic nature that has developed over the years and put back in its place one that is largely supporting of others.  Now this doesn’t just apply to WoW, but is I think an admirable goal in any game you play.

Treadblades and Grenades

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A good chunk of this weekend was about me riding the high that was the Destiny 2 gameplay reveal panel.  I wrote about my feelings Friday, but I am still extremely hyped.  What I find interesting is that there are some hardcore Destiny players that walked away disillusioned by the announcement.  For me I largely wanted them to take the same Destiny mechanics that I love and apply them to a much more open world.  From the sounds of it that is precisely what we are getting.  However it seems like the competitive PVP scene walked away frustrated, because they were expecting ladder brackets and things like that to support their specific play style.  While I love the Crucible, I am anything but serious when I play it…  and as a result I largely am okay with a more casual PVP focus.  What is funny about this is that it is the same community that got super frustrated when they were only being matched against similarly skilled players, and have been the biggest proponents of moving away from skill based matchmaking.  I can at least see one of their complaints, which is largely that they were expecting the game to move to a server/client structure rather than the peer to peer setup that we have today.  I feel like the currently crucible matchmaking algorithm does a decent job of weeding out the “redbars”, and it has been a really long time since I have been in a match with more than one of them.  That could however be based on the fact that I am living in the center of the United States and have solid pings to either coast though.

What all the Destiny love created however is a strong desire to play the game I currently have my hands on.  Over the weekend I spent a good deal of time upstairs playing around, and picked back up my Xbox One character since it allowed me to experience the full circuit of Destiny emotions.  All of my PSN characters are comfortably at 400 light, and all I am really doing there is upgrading additional gear to that level.  So there is a missing chunk of the experience… the brief joy of seeing a higher light level item that you can then use to infuse into your gear.  So as a result I opted to spend most of the weekend playing my now 378 Titan.  On PSN however I did spend a bit of time working on achievements, and that meant a lot of chain running of SIVA Crisis Strikes for the purpose of trying to get super kills.  This also meant rocking my Bad Juju, because for me at least it seems to be a much better super energy magnet than the Zhalo Supercell.  I think right now I am 5 super streaks away from finishing up one book, and then I can start in earnest on the modern Age of Triumph book.  I am still a little bummed that they came out and dashed my hopes of “cross save” functionality between the various client versions.  I would have happily purchased Destiny 2 for all available platforms if this actually happened.

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On the World of Warcraft front, I indulged in something I had been wanting to for awhile.  With the recent spike in token prices I opted to purchase one and it sold for roughly 130,000 gold.  I then took that gold and purchased the Champion’s Treadblade… which I always thought was a way cooler design than the Warlord’s Deathwheel.  This also jarred me off center in being less of a lazy engineer.  I never actually got around to crafting the original Mekgineer’s Chopper.  It was one of those things I always intended to do… but never wanted to spend the money on.  functionally no matter how much faction discount you have the end result is always going to be 12,000 gold worth of parts.  I used this influx of cash from the token however to serve as a reason to go ahead and finish this off.  I happened to have pretty much everything else needed to craft it laying around on various alts, so it was simply a matter of flying out to Storm Peaks and buying the few vendor items.

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The last major event of the weekend is that I finally decided what to use my character boost on.  I have not really touched much of anything this expansion on the Horde side.  My friend Grace has reverted back to her Horde ways, and as a result I figured I should probably have at least one character that I like to be able to play with her.  As a result I took the Deathknight that I rolled on her server and boosted it to 100, and started leveling it last night.  The thing that I didn’t realize about the 100 boost… is just how lousy the gear is that they give you.  I remember I started Legion sitting in mostly 710 gear on my characters from the pre-launch invasion events.  My newly boosted Unholy Deathknight was equipped in a full set of 640 gear…  which if I remember correctly was the required level to queue for heroics in Warlords of Draenor.  As a result this is the first character I have taken to the Broken Shores invasion scenario that I actually had trouble surviving.  I died about four times during this invasion…  but that also could simply be because this late in the expansion there was only one other player actually doing it.  Whatever the case I clawed my way up from the frustrating gear level and am making progress in Azsuna.

Addon Trolling

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I am having one of those mornings that I am simply struggling to find any inspiration to write.  It’s been one of those weeks, namely because I am juggling a huge meeting load and feeling like I am accomplishing nothing in the process.  When you have a few 30 minute blocks between the rest of your schedule being in meetings, it becomes really hard to make any headway in anything.  However I guess that is what happens when you move up to management.  The problem being that when I finally do get home I sort of revert to a gelatinous state and struggle to find any forward momentum in games either.  As predicted my forward momentum in World of Warcraft has stalled quite a bit upon getting the flight unlock.  I could in theory alt all the things…  but instead I am largely just logging in each day and doing whatever faction based world quest there is for a shot at fury friendly legendary items.

A few days ago I had installed an addon called Leatrix Plus, which adds a bunch of quality of life improvements for World of Warcraft.  Among the tweaks were a few settings that I figured were largely good ideas.  The first being to accept invites to groups from the guild/friends, and the second being to accept summons from the guild/friends.  Last night however I learned that maybe this is not the best idea to run with enabled.  Now in my head I had completely forgotten that Wednesday was raid night.  I mean it was one of those things that I was aware of, but not completely cognizant of.  So I found myself after eating dinner logging in to do my daily run at legendaries, and like I often do alt tabbed to do something else while the game finished loading in.  When I finally tabbed back I found myself in a raid and sitting at the Nighthold summoning stone.  While afk I had apparently been invited to the raid group and summoned… and my handy little addon absolutely allowed myself to get trolled.  I bowed out once I realized what had happened because honestly I am not ready for “serious mode” raiding.

After doing my nightly bombing run on a legendary, I wound up logging and digging into Star Wars the Old Republic.  When I started the night I was sitting on Chapter XIII and managed to play my way through to a good ways into Chapter XVI.  The whole chapter thing feels odd considering I am functionally doing the same thing as Netflix binge watching.  Its hard for me to see where the seams normally would have been between chapters, but I guess the content is naturally released in a format that feels akin to how Final Fantasy XIV does.  Looking at the Wiki page it seems like originally the content was released roughly a chapter a month between February and August of 2016, with the initial content providing the first nine chapters at release.  The only negative about binging the content like this is that I am not really spending much time with any of my newly acquired companions, since for the most part each mission requires me to use a specific combination.  Also the reveals are probably less dramatic than they would have been if I was being drip fed the content.  Whatever the case I am still very much enjoying it, and some of the shit is getting weird.  Going to be interesting to see what it is like to roll into the Eternal Throne content.

 

Enjoyment and PVP

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Last week there was a tweet that came across my feed that jarred something loose in my brain.  I am wishing I had thought to save it because I honestly don’t know at this point who tweeted or at least on what specific day.  It was one of those things that filtered into my subconscious and stuck there as it scrolled past.  The general gist was asking what exactly a game would have to do to make PVP palatable for you personally.  I was rushing between meetings when I checked Fenix on my phone, and never actually got around to replying.  However it is something that I have been mulling over for days now.  Why this was so sticky is the fact that I am a walking paradox it seems.  I will claim not to like PVP at all, and will actively go out of my way to avoid it if it is happening in the world.  If a game has one of those settings that prevents you from being accidentally flagged… I run with that on all of the time.  If it is raid time… and one of our PVP centric members runs into the instance flagged and in doing so gets jumped by the Horde.  I will sit there and watch them die, because in my mind they made a poor life choice for coming to a raid flagged in the first place.

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All of that said… I also look forward to the Iron Banner in Destiny which is a monthly PVP event, and if I am bored I often times pop into the crucible which is their version of a battleground match making system.  What I have never been able to reconcile is why player versus player activity in one game feels good and in others not great at all.  All I have been able to sort out in my head is that in Destiny there is no negative side effect, and the rewards for participation are balanced in a way that it feels like no matter what there is a chance that I get something really cool in the process.  Now Crucible hardcores in Destiny will tell you that the things that I love about it… are the things that frustrate them.  Functionally loot is not tied to performance, but instead participation.  Sure if you win a match you get more faction with Lord Shax the Crucible reputation vendor…  but regardless of success or failure it feels like my time spent is leading towards the goal of something interesting.  I am either going to get a faction package that gives me weapons or armor…  or I am going to have the chance of getting interesting gear rewarded to me at random at the end of a match.

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The other thing that has stuck out in my head is that in Destiny the total time of the match is relatively short ranging from 6 to 8 minutes… to at the maximum 15 minutes.  Even more than that the time to engagement is also short, with the lack of long runs back to where the objective fighting is happening.  I spent some time this weekend in World of Warcraft doing battlegrounds, since that system as a whole feels like a reasonable counter point to Destiny.  I knew I was in for something when about 5 minutes into an Arathi basin map…  I saw a pop up through DBM timers informing me that my team would win in 21 minutes.  The length of that match just felt prohibitive to my enjoyment, and the risk of that time spent…  had no real payoff waiting for me at the end.  Sure there is the chance of random loot, but the loot seems to be based on my current PVP rank… and not relative to my gear level which is a huge positive for the way that Destiny handles things.  So since I am late to the game, that means I would have to suffer through a lot of bad experiences in order to maybe have a chance of getting something that is going to be useful to me in the long run.  The risk versus reward equation is just not good enough for me to keep throwing myself at the gristmill.  So instead after a handful of maps I went back to grinding World Quests because they at least felt like they had tangible rewards associated with them.

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Basically my take away is that in order for me to find PVP interesting… there has to be one hell of a lot of carrot waiting on me and very little stick.  The truth is that PVP in general be it Crucible or Battlegrounds is the sort of thing that I might do if I have literally nothing else to do.  I participate in Iron Banner so often because it is a limited time event… and it also is a loot bonanza.  While I was working my way to the current 400 light cap in Destiny, a good chunk of that progress was gained through Iron Banner drops…  which tend to be one every third or fourth match.  In World of Warcraft I played a half dozen battlegrounds this weekend and got a single piece of gear that was 50 item levels lower than the rest of the gear that I was wearing, so another enchanting shard just doesn’t feel that exciting.  I think the shortness of the match also helps my enjoyment, because even if we are losing horribly…  it is a short term predicament and one that might be remedied in the next match.  Additionally battlegrounds that focus on huge scale siege objectives tend to be soul sucking for me, and each time I have to mount up and run to the opposite end of the map it just feels bad.  I guess I prefer quick skirmishes rather than protracted battles, especially for randomly queuing with strangers.  The other huge negative about PVP in games like World of Warcraft is the fact that I am lumped into chat with a bunch of horrible people.  Simply disabling the chat and making the maps clear enough not to need communication to complete objectives would greatly improve my experience.  A good chunk of my joy in Destiny is the fact that no one can spout off racist slurs in global chat.

 

Finally Flying

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Last night was an interesting night filled with running a bunch of the world quests out in Broken Shore in an attempt to get the faction needed to finish getting Legionfall over the revered mark.  However after doing everything that was available, and the daily goblin treasure quest…  I found myself still just shy of the finish line.  I needed just shy of 400 faction, and after taking a break to get some food I roamed around aimlessly trying to sort out what if anything I should be doing.  It was around then that I got pinged by a friend of mine and asked if I was up for tanking some mythic dungeons.  Last week was the “run 4 mythics and get a chest” quest in Dalaran, and I had not touched it myself because I didn’t think I would have any semblance of a regular group.  However when one reached out to me at around 8:30 I took the opportunity.

All told we ran Mythic Halls of Valor zero to get some keystones, and it also happened to be a world quest for a significant chunk of artifact power.  We then ran a Mythic Maw of Souls because it is super fast and I believe we had a 3 keystone for it.  From there I pestered the group to run Cathedral of Eternal Night, because I still had a quest for it and had never actually seen it.  It was around this time that I shifted from tank to dps as someone who had tanked the place before took over.  I am far from a reasonable dps, but I did okayish in the grand scheme of things…  or at least well enough to get us through the dungeon.  Finally I shifted back to tanking as we did a Mythic 3 Darkheart Thicket because it was either that… Eye of Azshara or Vault of the Wardens.  We all sort of thought that Darkheart would be the fastest.  We managed to three chest the dungeons, which largely meant we walked away with some extra artifact power.

After finishing the dungeon runs and turning in the quest I managed to cross the finish line with the faction I needed.  So as a result I can now finally fly in the Broken Isles.  The challenge now is…  am I functionally done again with World of Warcraft for awhile?  This was really the driving force for me returning was to finish off flight.  I mean Friday was fun enough that I will try and start making that on a regular basis.  However I am not sure how much I care to actually be logging in each day and doing stuff.  I am sitting at 890 item level… and in truth if I am going to be dps I should get some more legendaries.  The problem there is that the mathematics are stacked against me… since I have 4 tanking legendaries already.  The thought of trying to get 2 more dps legendaries seems daunting.  One of my legendaries is not a net dps gain… but it does at least give me some added survival because it heals me each time I spend rage.  In theory I should at least keep doing the daily faction chests because I got most of my legendary drops from them.

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.

Two Years Behind

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Yesterday I had zero intent to sit down in the morning and start writing about level scaling systems.  Sometimes posts just happen.  However after writing it one of my friends mentioned a key point.  There should functionally be a way to flip off level scaling if you absolutely positively want to just go wreck things.  The prime example of this would be if you just want to farm up a bunch of low level materials quickly.  I remember when I was leveling any of my various tailors up in World of Warcraft, I would simply find a dungeon in the level range and mercilessly wreck it for the sole purpose of getting as much cloth in as short of a time as I could.  This would have been completely maddening were I not greatly over leveling the content.  Once again I think we can look to Final Fantasy XIV as a good example here because some time ago they added in the ability to queue for content “undersized”, which functionally turns off the level synchronization process allowing you to just wreck the content if you so choose.  However I still think I would prefer it if MMO worlds scaled by default, and then simply allowed folks to disable that option if they so choose.

I’ve said recently that I really love returning to an MMO after some time has passed and be confronted with potentially years of content to go off and experience.  The thing is this also has an extremely negative side to it.  Right now I am in this weird place where I am super into content that happened two years ago.  There is something to be said about experiencing things at the same time as your friends, because it allows you to have conversations about what is going on.  This has been one of the best parts of Final Fantasy XIV is that each time they give us a slow drip of story content we all consume it then can talk about the revelations that are contained within.  This allows us to have moments of theory crafting and speculation…  knowing that at some point in the future we will be able to resolve what is actually going on.  With Star Wars the Old Republic and the Knights of the Fallen Empire content… generally speaking either folks played through this content two years ago when it released…  or will likely never play through it.

That puts me in such a weird places because I have all these thoughts and feelings about the game and what it is doing…  but I don’t exactly feel right talking about them on my blog.  Knights of the Fallen Empire has some pretty big revelations that would be better experienced than told about.  This is one of those times when everything about it is extremely heavy on the spoiler front.  Each time new revelations come to light…  I wish there was a group of people that I could talk through them with.  Basically this is one of those times when I wish I had played through the chapter based content as it was being released rather than this current Netflix style binge sequence that I am going through.  I have a feeling that Guild Wars 2 and its living story content is much the same…  likely best experienced as it is being released a little bit at a time.  This also makes me really want to get caught up so that I can at least join the discussion happening with the Eternal Throne content.  However I am also extremely cautious of looking up too much information for fear of getting these plot twists completely ruined for me.

On the positive front I have stumbled across a really awesome YouTube channel that has helped me get back into the game and the modern concepts.  Swtorista has this awesome Star Wars the Academy series that breaks down a bunch of topics like “What to do at Level 70” or how the Galactic Command system works.  The best videos though are a sequence on the best looking craftable armors for each class, since we all know the true end game of an MMO is looking awesome.  Through her videos thought I have been able to catch up pretty easily without risking spoilers too badly.  Side note… there is a special place in hell for folks who put obvious spoilers in YouTube video titles… as I already have apparently one of the Iokath revelations spoiled because of this.  For those interested I am largely playing Belghast my Jedi Knight on Ebon Hawk at least while I do all of the chapter based content.  I have a large stable of character spread between the two factions and they are either in House Stalwart on Sith side, or Einherjar on Republic side.  If you are also playing feel free to ping me and say hi.

Level Scaling Tech

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I am in this place with SWTOR Knights of the Fallen Empire where I am honestly not sure what more I can say without my blog turning into a massive spoiler fest.  There are a lot of events going on and many of them have surprised me.  This is a little shocking given that I consume a lot of gaming media and that KotFE has been technically out since October 2015.  I am not sure if I purposefully ignored SWTOR articles… or if I just didn’t come across that many.  Whatever the case essentially everything from Shadows of Revan onward has been a completely new story experience for me without me knowing any of the elements ahead of time.  So while I recognized characters like Theron Shan or Lana Beniko…  I knew nothing about them going into this recent binge of playing the game.  We’ve talked about this on the podcast before, but returning to an MMO and seeing years worth of content laid out in front of you is a pretty great thing.  Especially in a situation like SWTOR where they have a reasonable level scaling system.

Yesterday Syp posted something over on his personal blog Bio Break talking about level scaling systems.  His specific discussion centered around whether or not level scaling systems were good for games, which was brought on by his recent journeys in LOTRO.  Over time my own feelings about the systems have changed.  You can scan through the backlog of this blog and find me talking about Mentoring systems, where games allow high level player A to drop down to the level of player B and run content with them.  This seemed to me like the most elegant solution to the problem of being able to run content with your friends.  That was until I encountered Guild Wars 2, and the fact that no matter where you go your character is scaled down to the level of the world.  The concept of evergreen content is a big one for me… because I like when a game expands over time rather than contracts.  While Guild Wars 2 is not the best example of this… because of the fact that there is plenty of content that you will never be able to play again in that game…  it did make me appreciate level scaling as a replacement for mentoring.

The only problem there is that when the world is constantly the same level as you, it robs you of one of the quintessential MMO experiences of leveling up and becoming more powerful.  The world always feels the same to you, because you are functionally always the same relative ability levels to it as you level.  In situations like that the levels themselves feel like a completely extraneous concept.  Why even have a number that goes up if the world is always going to be functionally the same difficulty.  When we started playing Final Fantasy XIV they had an extremely elegant solution for this in the form of their dungeon finder.  Each dungeon had a functional level range from the moment you first were able to zone in… to the moment that it considered was the upper bound of levels.  So if the average mob level in an area was 35, then functionally the maximum level the game would allow you to be was 40, scaling everyone over that level down to that point.  The only negative here is that this ONLY applies to dungeons, and in truth it would have been interesting to see this same sort of system just work out in the world as a whole.

That I guess is functionally what is going on in Star Wars the Old Republic, and I am loving it.  Each piece of content be it planet, flashpoint, or something else… has a functional level range attached to it.  Once again it is functionally along the lines of being five or so levels over whatever the maximum level of encounter for that area.  Then the game rewards you as though you were fighting something your own level in terms of both experience and loot drops.  This means that you can go anywhere and do anything without feeling like you are getting nothing from it.  At launch this was absolutely a problem with SWTOR and it was extremely easy to out level an area, and reach a point where the experience gain was no longer worth the time you spent on a planet.  This was especially true as I remember on Tatooine which in itself was a huge planet with lots of side content.  By the time I “did everything” I ended up several levels ahead of the curve and functionally kept getting more and more over-leveled as I went through the rest of the planets.

Now there is a certain measure of freedom in being able to just go and do the content without having to worry about level… and in many cases gear.  While leveling my Imperial Agent, there were a few points where I went 10 levels without upgrading any of my gear… and really did not notice a significant amount of power drop off.  Then again I did exit the class storyline at level 58… so there was some significant over-leveling going on there that might have been easing the transition.  The thing with this system is however that while you are gaining power and you FEEL powerful… there is never a point where you are just waltzing through  field of enemies gently tapping them and watching them explode.  When you run someone through a low level dungeon in World of Warcraft for example on your level capped main… you can functionally breathe on mobs and they impale themselves in a shower of loot.  SWTOR feels like a happy medium, of letting your power level increase without completely trivializing the game.  Sure most of the time I am not actually afraid of death, but I still feel heroic doing content…  because I am having to use my abilities to take things down rather than a single auto swing.  As a result I have somewhat shifted my focus from user driven mentoring systems…  to seeing more games adopt this sort of level scaling.  The best part about Legion honestly was the way that content has scaled to the player while leveling through it, and if only Blizzard had applied this tech to the world as a whole… it would be a much more enjoyable experience.  I like knowing that I can revisit those areas that I enjoyed so much in the past, and still having an interesting time.

 

Empires Fall

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This is going to be one of those “Bel is very late to the party” sort of posts but bear with me.  Additional upfront warnings…  I am entering a territory with this post that might have some minor spoilers.  For a long while I have avoided Knights of the Fallen Empire because I knew it made some significant changes that you simply could not step back.  As a result in my best Mass Effect fashion… I attempted to wring as much joy from the “old world” as I could and made sure that I saw all of the story content before moving forward.  Last night however I finally reached that point where I was at least reasonably comfortable taking the plunge and moving forward into the modern era of SWTOR.  Having said that…  there are a bunch of things I am extremely glad that I completed before doing so.  Firstly I am happy that I managed to see the main story arc for each of the classes.  Secondly I am happy that I took the time to progress every single companion and see all of their personal story before moving forward.  Additionally as far as I am concerned it is extremely important to do both Shadows of Revan and Rise of the Emperor (Ziost) before starting the Fallen Empire content.  I mean in theory you can just jump ahead to the modern era at any point you like, but if you want to have completed all of your story elements…  you need to do class story to completion, Revan and Ziost.

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Functionally Shadows of Revan and Rise of the Emperor are the unlabeled opening acts of the Fallen Empire campaign, and as a result I am extremely glad that I completed both of them.  Now the other big piece of warning that I had been given was that anything you want to do with your companions… you need to do before entering “chapters” mode.  This is because in truth you may or may not ever see them again.  I personally don’t have a list of which companions are findable in the game, and which are just gone indefinitely… but I have heard that some fan favorites are absolutely missing in action.  Once you enter Chapters the game is functionally changed, and you are sort of along for the ride.  It was that point that really concerned me and kept me from taking the leap for a very long time.  I had built up this comfortable stable of characters that I liked using, and enjoyed my jetting around the galaxy life style.  Once I started Chapter 1… literally all of that changed and I began playing a very different game.  That said…  I think it might be a better game.

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If Star Wars the Old Republic was functionally World of Warcraft in space…  then Fallen Empire is Knights of the Old Republic 3.  The game feels like it shifts from being a traditional check all of the boxes MMORPG… to being a much more story focused RPG that just happens to have other people playing it at the same time.  At this point I am still wrapping things up in Chapter VI and hope to keep moving forward tonight, but I’ve found myself in a situation that feels very familiar to anyone who has played KOTOR 1 or 2.  In that fashion I think its best to think of Fallen Empire and I assumed Eternal Throne as a sequel to Star Wars the Old Republic.  You are playing the same character, and you have all of the items you have built up along your first journey, but you are functionally playing a completely different game.  Maybe it is more of a new game plus mode than anything, as you shift your focus from the traditional tropes of an MMO, to starting over again.  It feels much the same as Mass Effect 2 did after the original, where you are set down in a world that is familiar, but the cast of characters has changed slightly… and you have to rebuild your legacy.

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I will likely continue to report in as I travel through the new content, but so far I have to say I am hooked.  There are a lot of events that happen in rapid succession, but functionally when you regain full control of your character five years have passed and the future is uncertain.  You are presented with a new cast of characters… some of which are familiar and others brand new.  That said the cast of characters are interesting and I immediately felt right at home…  in spite of no longer having my original team of companions.  I can see the potential for setting forth in a matter that cuts across the various class stories and potentially introduces me to characters from them all.  The other weird thing about this setting is that I am finding myself turning from pure Jedi…  to more of a balanced user.  I am giving myself permission to take more dark side choices when I feel like it suits my purpose better.  I am going to save the people that need saving… and I am absolutely going to take a lightsaber to the folks who deserve killing.  I am no longer the Jedi Battlemaster and am now instead known as the Outlander, and with that comes a change in focus.  Belghast is going to be a lot darker than before… and that is going to be okay.  I feel like this character is the vanguard of all of the characters I have played, and as a result sort of adopting my favorite traits from each of the class storylines.  In wild space, Sith and Jedi don’t matter anymore… but instead what matters is freeing the galaxy of this new threat.