Chasing Aloy

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It feels odd that it is Wednesday and I am just now getting around to writing one of my traditional “mixed bag” sort of posts.  Those are generally a Monday thing given that I have a bunch of gaming time to talk about in general, and almost always it is a shotgun blast across a bunch of different games.  However Monday was the anniversary post, and yesterday I wanted to write up my final thoughts upon beating Andromeda… so finally we are where we are writing about the assorted debris of the weekend.  If you had talked to me last week, you would have seen someone who was excited to be finishing up Andromeda so I could move back to Horizon Zero Dawn as my primary game.  While I have played it a few times…  that hasn’t really been what happened because for whatever reason I am having a bit of trouble easing back into the game.  Essentially it feels like the skills I had developed early on are painfully rusty, and the section of the game I am in doesn’t have nearly as much call to purpose so I feel a little bit like I am either stuck in “roam around aimlessly and kill zoids” mode, or trying to force my way through the few story quests I have.  The last town I reached gave me a slew of side quests, so in theory I will probably spend some time doing those to try and get myself reacquainted with the game.  The frustrating part about this is I do not want to be bouncing off of it… but for whatever case it just hasn’t quite fit my mood.  Maybe coming off Mass Effect Andromeda… I just sort of need to play a vastly different kind of game.

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The game I am playing a truly shocking amount of instead is Skyforge.  Pretty much every night I am at least getting in long enough to run a few missions.  Right now I find the bite sized gameplay appealing because there is no massive overarching commitment.  I can pop in for a few minutes and play a little bit, while feeling like I had a meaningful experience.  I had talked the game up to some of my friends and was super saddened to find out that apparently the female models are a boob jiggle mess.  I mean I knew that was a thing among the South Korean developers… but I didn’t know it was a Russian thing as well.  The other big problem with the game is that you ultimately have a long list of interesting classes….  but no easy way to access them.  You functionally have to start the game as a Paladin, a Smite Nuking Healer, or a Ice Mage… and then work your way to whatever class seemed interesting.  For me this was just perfectly fine given that I really like the Paladin as a class, and ultimately will probably always play it as my main in the game.  However I have a lot of friends who were interested in other classes but are never going to make it through the grind to ultimately get there.  I am shocked that you cannot simply buy your way to freedom in the game and unlock whatever class you really wanted to play…  or better yet allow characters to pick any single class to start with.  I mean the game has some really interesting classes like an Alchemist, the Kinetic, or Gunner…  so there is a lot of interesting stuff going on but unfortunately if you don’t like tank, mage and healer… you are going to bounce super hard before you get there.

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Finally I have been still popping my head into Final Fantasy XIV on a regular basis and working on my overarching mission…  which is to get all of the classes to at least 50 before the release of Stormblood.  I’ve set 50 as the goal because it allows me to jettison the bulk of the leveling gear from my bank vault, and reaching that level seems completely reasonable with Palace of the Dead.  Over the weekend I managed to push the Monk to 50, and am now sporting the full set of Allagan look-a-like gear that I have been picking up through the dank dungeon.  I like the set quite a bit because it is one of the few “armored” looking sets that you can get for a monk.  We had this lengthy discussion the other day about how we each favor different styles, and for me… it needs to be symmetrical and heavily armored to really make me perfectly happy.  What is left on the leveling track is Machinist and Astrologian… neither of which I had even trained in.  I picked up the Machinist from Ishgard and almost immediately hopped back into the Palace of the Dead rather than doing any of the actual class quests.  I have to mention that it was a bit of a chore to sort out what all abilities I should actually be using with that class… and how it functions.  However once getting used to it, I have to say I like it quite a bit.  It is gimmicky and RNG gated…  and I still have no clue if I am actually playing it correctly…  but for casual dungeon running it seems like a lot of fun.

Muscle Memory

Unexpected Happenings

ffxiv 2014-09-14 22-10-22-567 There is a specific moment in my time playing Final Fantasy XIV where I realized that the Cactuar community was something special.  It was the night that we purchased our Free Company house, and all of these neighbors showed up to welcome us to the neighborhood.  Many of those folks welcoming us were from the Howling Moon free company, and over the months of playing I got used to seeing all of these people hanging out at the Marketboard right in front of our house.  Among them the pair that I got closest with was Ayla and Joren Noye.  There were many nights like this one where we did silly things to pass the time between queues.  Then several months ago they disappeared, as did most of the people I had become close with from that Free Company.  I asked around in the guild but no one seemed to know what happened.  It is always hard when friends disappear that you are close with…  but not yet close enough to exchange all of those personal details.

With Heavenward they were back as I had hoped, but started playing a little later than most.  I guess over those months they had some personal stuff to deal with, but I was amped to have them back wandering around in our neighborhood.  Since then at least once a night we exchanged random happy emotes and a flurry of /say conversation as we fiddled with our retainers.  When I got the hint that maybe things were not as wonderful in their guild as they once were, I did the thing that I always do…  offered them a home.  I didn’t really expect them to take me up on the offer, but last night as I was starting my daily hunts… I got a tell out of the blue from Joren.  He told me that things just weren’t the same, and if it was still okay he would like to take my offer.  Needless to say I was absolutely thrilled and delayed a guild dungeon run until they were ready for the invites.  I cannot put into words just how excited I am to have them on board, we may even have to reconvene the council of squishy hats to celebrate.

Muscle Memory

Skyforge 2015-07-25 10-30-27-07 This morning I happened to randomly click through to a re-tweeted blog post from DragonChasers about SkyForge.  On it was a comment from the blogger Jeromai that struck a bit of a chord with me, because I am absolutely the sort of person that would frustrate him.

You know what’s really frustrating to me? People who can do it (whatever it is), but cannot describe or break down or teach exactly -how- they are doing it, beyond “I dunno, I just do it” or “here, just watch a video of me doing it,” or worse, “lol, it wuz easy, I don’t know how come you can’t do it.”

To me, folks who really know what they’re doing can also break down and explain roughly what they’re doing or the tactics they’re using or what they’re keeping track of, even if execution by someone else requires a lot of personal practice.

Sometimes people say that they don’t really know how to explain it, because they don’t want to explain it.  For  me personally I quite literally cannot explain how I do half of the things I do.  Essentially I try and commit as much of the things that I do to muscle memory as I can, so that I can do them… without thinking about them.  So when I tank an instance… I do so many little things that I can’t really break apart the things that I am doing automatically… from the things that I am doing intentionally.  I’ve always been a player that played mostly on instinct and reflex rather than mindful reflection on strategy.  I think this all comes from why I play games.  Ultimately they are a means of relaxation for me, and many times I find myself zoning out into the sublime motion of playing the game without really having to think about it.    This has strengths and weaknesses, and the big problem that I run into particularly is when I have to unlearn my reflexes and replace them with something else.

For example on the Titan Extreme fight in Final Fantasy XIV there is a place where I absolutely have to ignore every instinct I have built up and stop myself from running back into the boss after an attack.  I struggled with that for our first attempts, because I had to commit an exception to the rule to muscle memory knowing that there would be a follow up attack that would kill me if I ran right back in.  The other big weakness is there are so many things that I do on a daily basis that I cannot tell you step by step what I am doing unless I happen to be sitting at the keyboard and doing them.  At work I am awesome at fixing problems and troubleshooting things…  but I am horrible at trying to walk someone else through the process of doing all of these things.  The positive is…  once something has been committed to reflex it stays with you forever.  I fired up F-Zero the other day for likely the first time in two decades… and I still knew every corner and place to use my booster on the tracks and easily got first place.  Same goes for an MMO, I can sit down in front of a game that I have not played in years… and if I set the hot bars up the same way as i had them before I can return to playing the game like no time has passed.

The Final Stretch

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-28 06-12-59-16 My big accomplishment for the night is finally pushing across the line and dinging 59.  I was able to replace the lance that I absolutely hated with this pretty cool one from the Ancient Library dungeon.  This is the point where I realize that I have apparently not run the library as much as I thought I had.  When it came to the level 57 gear, I had most of a set… and apparently do for just about every possible class I would care to level.  The 59 gear however from Library, I have only a small smattering of pieces and next to nothing when it came to lancer gear.  Thankfully I had squirreled away a set of High Quality 58 gear from the quests… since at that point I technically had better gear on my Warrior from running dungeons.  That should more than get me through to 60 before really needing anything else gear wise.  When I hit 60 I have waiting on me a 180 weapon, and a bunch of 170 and 160 pieces that should make up pretty much a full set.

My hope is that I will be able to leap frog to 170 the Alexander requirement pretty quickly.  The thing I need to sort out in the meantime is how to do a better job of maintaining the Blood of the Dragon buff.  The problem that I keep running into is that I will get thrown into a situation where I cannot safely get back to the boss in time to hit either a Fang and Claw proc or Wheeling Thrust.  So my buff drops…  and I have to wait whatever is left of the minute long recast time to throw the buff up again.  I assume that once I hit 60, if there is a situation where I know Blood of the Dragon is about to fall… this is when I mix in a Gierskogul to spend the buff on an attack rather than let it fade completely.  Remember the whole muscle memory thing from above?  I had a previous rotation committed to that swap space… and now have to revise it.  Given some time at 60 I will relearn what I need to do, because honestly I am not looking for the insanity of the optimal dragoon rotation…  but instead looking for something that is “passable”.  I don’t care if I beat our top dps… but I just want to make sure I am not the bottom of the pack either.  I feel like I just don’t have enough of a competitive nature to ever be a truly successful dps player.

FATE Grinding Go!

Home Improvement is Scary

A good chunk of our week has revolved around planning for some renovations around the house, and I have to say the whole process kind of wigs me out.  I have been acting pretty calm and collected because I know it also stresses my wife out…  but I feel like I am wading out into an ocean that I know very little about.  The long and short of it is that we live in a house with wood siding, which is not exactly ideal for the climate extremes of Oklahoma.  Additionally our climate seems to really be a positive environment for termites…  and when we moved in we knew the house had some issues.  Then a little over a year after moving in… we had our first swarm.  We have been on a termite plan since and it has been nearly a decade of having zero activity, but we know there is some underlying damage in the siding, but other than cosmetic issues we had not really had any problems.

That is of course until recently when we during a particularly hurricane like horizontal rain… we had a very small leak in our kitchen ceiling.  After having the roofers out, they thought it was coming in along the garbage edge of siding and up over the flashing.  This is the point at which we first noticed… just how bad our siding really was.  Throughout the course of the week we had numerous contractors out who gave estimates… and we think we have maybe decided on a company and a product.  Right now we are looking at replacing all of the wood siding with fiber cement, which is this crazy stuff that feels like ceramic tile, but looks like wood.  But this means some major money, which has us also sorting out financing options.  Being an adult is an extremely frustrating thing.  We think we have a plan figured out… but even though I know this is something that really needs to be done… it is a massive decision.  I know things will work out in the end, but this whole process is exceptionally stressful for the moment.

CPUCores

I was asked by someone on my steam friends list last night, if this program worked since I had been running it.  I actually just started testing it last night, even though I purchased it long before it showed up on steam.  I do not remember how much I paid when I bought it, but I want to say it was somewhere around the $10 mark.  It promised to improve your FPS by improving your CPU utilization, and  this is something I had been frustrated by in the past.  The machines I use are quad core or six core… and it always felt like very little of my CPU time was actually being used.  At the time I figured what the hell, purchased it… and then got busy messing with other things.  When they went on steam the developer was nice enough to send me out a Steam key as well, and yesterday I actually started testing it.  Is this digital snake oil?  Well honestly… all I can really offer is a heartfelt shrug.

cpucores_wow_without_30fps I did some testing this morning with World of Warcraft which is one of the most poorly optimized games that I have played when it comes to utilizing multiple cores.  Hell lets me honest, the game itself is horribly optimized in general… but my theory was that this game seems to be extremely CPU limited, so in theory if CPU Core optimization would help any game it should help this one.  The above graph is taken from task manager and shows that for the most part all of the cores are running at around the same amount of load and an overall 36% utilization of my CPU.  In World of Warcraft itself I was standing in my Garrison and setting roughly 30 frames per second.  The latest release of CPU Cores features a “CPU Cores It” button allowing you to scan your current process list and apply  the change to an application that is running.  If you look at the graph below you see that with CPUCores turned on, it is now pegging two of my six cores and as a whole the CPU utilization is now 64%.  In game I was still standing in my Garrison but saw a jump from 30 fps to 40 fps… which is not really earth shattering but still not too shabby and is in line with what a lot of the reports seemed to indicate.

cpucores_wow_with_40fps The confusing thing is however… that it seems like CPUCores is only really using two of my six cores.  There are some settings in there to manually override what cores it is actually using to run things, so I figure I will continue to fiddle with it and see what I can get from it.  I didn’t actually record any of my measurements last night, but I saw a bigger jump when using my laptop.  I actually started to see comparable performance to my desktop which was kinda massive.  The general advice in the community is that this is designed for medium end systems to get some additional performance out of them, and that if you already have an extremely high performance system… it is likely not going to do anything for you.  Normally speaking I run Final Fantasy XIV Heavensward on my laptop around 30-40 fps… but last night with CPUCores running I was seeing 60-70 fps which is a big jump.  Laptops are notoriously bad at CPU utilization because they are designed to safe energy whenever they can.  I feel like maybe that is the magic bullet here for using this application, because honestly the results on my gaming desktop do not warrant the purchase.  I largely bought the app because I was curious if it worked, and for the most part it does seem to do something… because a 10 fps increase is still a 10 fps increase no matter how you chop it.  My hope is that over time it will continue to work better and it seems like they are just now starting to try and optimize for AMD processors.  As always… your mileage may vary and I probably would not have paid the current $20 price tag on steam.

FATE Grinding Go!

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So it appears that with 3.0.5 the changes to FATE experience have been noticed by the community.  As I looked at Duty finder it actually scrolled for the first time in a long while, with multiple FATE parties happening in different zones.  I decided to join the train in Dravinian Hinterlands and it seemed like the time spent was worth my time.  I had dinged 58 earlier in the day while running a dungeon with guildies, and after a bit of FATE grinding I managed to get to around the halfway mark to 59.  It is my hope that today I can run some more dungeons and FATEs and make a serious push for 59.  The community seems to have been reinvigorated by the patch, and it is shocking just how good Square Enix is at timing their content.  In the days leading up to this recent patch it felt like there was a slowing down as people finished their Law grind.  Instead now everyone is actively buzzing again as they are trying to get as much Esoterics as they can, so that within three weeks they can get those tasty tasty level 200 weapons.

Skyforge 2015-07-22 23-08-02-51 When I decided that I needed a break from FATE grinding, I opted to pop over into SkyForge and work on finishing unlocking all of the costumes.  After having played the tutorial as every class currently in the game… I have to say they all feel very unique.  You have everything from the mad bomber feel of the Alchemist, to the skill shots of the Archer, to the insane melee flurry that is the Slayer.  The problem is… the three classes that you get to choose from at the start are without a doubt the most generic feeling of all of the classes that I played.  This is rather unfortunate because while I feel it gives people a desire to unlock that class that they really want to play, it makes the initial grind feel meaningless and pointless since you ultimately have to play the lesser of the starter evils to get there.  I feel like this game could benefit from the Marvel Heroes approach to classes, allowing you to play a little of each of them and then after the tutorial choose the one you wanted to unlock.  I feel like eventually they will let us outright purchase these classes, but I have found that option sorely missing from the cash shop.  I would absolutely pay to unlock the Berserker for example or the Slayer…  but since I missed out on the founders packs I have no real way to do that.

Scattered Evening

Orcs Must Die Unchained

SpitfireGame 2015-07-24 06-18-30-01 This morning I am struggling more than a little bit.  The last couple of nights have combined being up fairly late with not really sleeping that terribly well on top of it.  As a result I am significantly more groggy than normal this morning and also more than a little late getting started with the blog post.  A good chunk of this mornings posting time was spent playing the opening tutorial for Orcs Must Die Unchained.  A few weeks back I posted my treatise on exactly what I meant when I said I wanted a PVE MOBA.  One of the first comments came from a friend of mine…  who may or may not work for Robot Entertainment.  He said they were just patching in a new gameplay mode that sounded pretty close to what I was describing.  So yesterday myself and practically everyone I know who signed up for beta…  got into the game and I finally got around to testing it out this morning.

I have to say what I have seen briefly in the tutorial gives me hope that maybe this might fit the bill.  I am going to have to spend more time playing it to really see, but it feels less tower defense and more dungeon keeper which I am okay with.  Granted I did not play Orcs Must Die 2, and I am guessing a lot of the gameplay evolutions come from that title.  The tutorial starts you off playing the sorceress which was a strike against it, but I am sure as soon as I can get my hands on a melee champion I will be just fine.  It seems like there is a lot to figure out as far as trap placement, because I absolutely thought I would stop most of a minion wave… but barely phased them.  There is also an interesting card collecting aspect that allows you to summon specific minions in each “warcamp” which seems pretty interesting as well.  I will spend some more time this weekend playing this to give it a more proper test, but so far it seems interesting.

Astebreed

Astebreed 2015-07-23 18-25-25-16 This weekend is the AggroChat Game Club show devoted to Ashgar’s pick…  Astebreed.  The bulk of my evening was spent playing this and I made it to chapter five before my thumb got sore enough that I wanted to take a break.  I am really really hoping that the game will let me continue where I left off… because I am not really looking forward to playing back through the four chapters to get to the point where I left off.  My opinion of the game is somewhat mixed right now, but hopefully I will get some more play time in before Saturday.  I am not sure how far from the end of the game I really am, but based on some quick googling it looks like the game has six chapters as a total.  The game play has been fun, especially since it lets me win by slashing things to death with a sword…  which is not exactly something that most SHMUPS do.  I wouldn’t really call this a bullet hell shooter, but there are definitely moments where there is a silly amount of stuff on screen that you have to try and navigate.

The biggest positive is the fact that your ship actually has a surprising amount of health.  Usually in a SHMUP you get one or two hits before you lose a life, and in Astebreed you can actually soak up a surprising amount of damage before having to be concerned with death.  Essentially at the end of Chapter 5 I encounter what I would consider the first really hard boss, and quite frankly by that time my thumbs were sore and I was ready to just be done for awhile.  The boss had this super annoying attack that caused you to fly around the screen to avoid it…  which meant you were not putting ANY damage into the boss.  My theory is that you needed to use your missile lock type functionality while flying around to avoid damage…  but I didn’t put in enough attempts to really test this one out.  According to steam I have only actually put in 71 minutes… but it felt like significantly longer.  I did manage to get a very “Bel” achievement called “Too Much Destruction” where I apparently killed 30 of these missile batteries on the boss at the end of Chapter Four.

Scattered Evening

Skyforge 2015-07-23 22-27-16-48 The rest of the evening was significantly less focused, and I think a combination of sleep deprivation and having spent a little over an hour mashing buttons on a controller furiously left me in a bit of a stupor.  I ultimately went downstairs and booted up the laptop, patching things up so that I could do something.  I managed to watch through the first four episodes of the Humans television show, and I am actually enjoying it quite a bit.  It is an excellent mix of creepy and endearing at the same time… and I am happy to see Katherine Parkinson that I know largely from IT Crowd.  I attempted to play some Final Fantasy XIV but ultimately logged out after running a Vault on my Dragoon.  I was feeling super disconnected from the world and my free company, so I slinked off into the shadows and booted up something I could solo without any human contact.  Right now that game is SkyForge, and I spent some time working through another big open area…  and my desire to “complete all the things” is ultimately what lead me to stay up so damned late again… only furthering the zombie like state.

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The strangest thing about SkyForge so far is the fact that I do not have a single person on my friends list.  Even in games that I am only thinking of playing for a few minutes…  I still usually have a batch of people on my radar of sorts.  I think this is a side effect of Final Fantasy XIV being my social game right now… and this being a game when I just want to blend into the crowd.  I am not terribly opposed to having people on my friends list and you can find me there as Belghast Sternblade, but this is absolutely not a grouping game for me right now.  I am enjoying poking my way around and soloing the content, and as counter intuitive as it might sound… I am really starting to enjoy the fact that every mission seems to have both solo and grouping options.  Last night I very much felt like my interaction batteries were completely drained, so I just needed to spend some “me time” while slicing enemies with a sword.  All things considered though the more I play of it, the more enjoyment I am getting out of SkyForge.  It seems like just about the perfect foil to Final Fantasy XIV and does a good job at giving me an option to play that doesn’t require a lot out of me.

Begrudging Enjoyment

Even More Clarifications!

Starting to get really amped because two days in we have like two pages worth of signups on the forum thread.  Since I guess I am the grandmaster of ceremonies, I am getting random questions and have been doing my best to assuage fears.  When those questions seem general enough that someone else might have them… I have taken to dumping them in the intro to a morning blog post to help clarify for anyone else reading that might be interested.  One of the interesting questions that I had yesterday was if folks could mix things up a bit.  Since I am opening the door to vlogging, it was wondered if you could do a mix of the two.  The short answer is absolutely!  The long answer is just make sure you post your video embedded in a blog post, and advertise it on the Blaugust Nook with what day it was for, just to make my life less hell when it comes to tracking and tabulating this madness.

Next question is what happens if a given blogger is obligated to be posting every so often on another site?  Do they have to also post something new for that day on their personal blog?  The easy answer here is yes…  but with an asterisk.  If you are posting a bigger entry somewhere else, it is absolutely cool to post a stub on your own blog linking to the bigger post.  Just do a quick synopsis of the post and let folks click through if they want to read more about it.  This way you technically have your daily post, but also are linking to the article that you spent the bulk of your daily writing time working on.  This is maybe a strange case, but I know that several of our bloggers do the occasional long form article for another source.  The important thing is that we need it tracked through the Blaugust Nook so I can give you appropriate credit.

Night of Alex

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-22 21-41-38-05 Pretty much since its inception I have been helping out with the Wednesday night static in our free company.  Initially I had intended it to simply be something that I filled in on, but as I dropped my World of Warcraft raiding… I found that I had time to commit to it more seriously.  So presently with the Monday night crew we are working through Final Coil of Bahamut, and on Wednesday nights we have been working on Normal mode Alexander.  Last night we had every intention of getting through all four wings, but we struggled a bit with turn two due to some changes in how we were dealing with the adds.  As soon as we went back to the way we had previously defeated it, things clicked back into place and we pushed through it fairly easily.  That took us to turn three, a fight that I had not actually seen yet.  Thanks to the expert tutelage of Wulf or as “Wul” as his friends call him…  I was caught up to speed and after the second attempt it started to feel pretty natural.

From here it was just learning this particular dance and getting our dps up high enough to burn through it before we hit the hard enrage.  Right now that seems to be a problem in general with what we are trying to do.  We struggled with the dps check on Bismarck, and struggled again on turn three.  As a  Warrior I am personally swapping to Deliverance stance every single time I am not in the main tank role so I can push a little more dps and also trying to keep up Storm’s Eye as often as possible… largely when I don’t actually need the damage reduction effect of Storm’s Path.  If we can somehow solve the problems we are having on the DPS end however I think we are ready to rock higher content.  The dance part seems to come pretty naturally, however there were still several points last night where folks stood in damage that could have been avoided.  Part of this is learning, but part of this is trying desperately to avoid tunnel vision.

Begrudging Enjoyment

Skyforge 2015-07-22 22-22-05-86 I’ve gone through a strange evolution with SkyForge of having some vague interest, but finding the game play largely unsatisfying for my first few play sessions.  Now that I have unlocked the core abilities of the Paladin, I am actually finding it rather enjoyable.  I think this game suffers from what so many games suffer from…  rationing of abilities.  I know Final Fantasy XIV has this problem where most classes don’t really feel like they should until you are around level 40.  SkyForge for the most part has this problem until you have unlocked your base abilities.  Had I taken the time to really spend much time in the virtual matrix thing that lets you test every class, I would have realized that the rabbit hole was so much deeper than I was giving it credit for.  Another interesting side note… if you finish the training on a given class you unlock the ability to permanently use its class costume.

Skyforge 2015-07-22 23-22-31-75 I booted up SkyForge after the raid last night, with every intention of just poking my head in and then logging right out.  Instead I wound up unlocking three costumes and completing a really cool dungeon like mission on an island full of undead Virds.  With all of my abilities unlocked the fights started feel more purposeful in design, and less about simply repeating the same attack over and over.  There was a boss that required me to intersect one type of beam while avoiding taking the other… and actually dragging the boss into the path of it so that it would take the damage.  This felt fresh and enjoyable, so maybe I simply had not seen the “real” game yet.  This is ultimately the frustration of designs that doll out abilities one at a time, is that you can’t really see what the final result is going to be like until you have invested a serious amount of effort into the game.  Granted this game DID give me an avenue to see how a Paladin or Knight would play…  but I simply did not spend much time doing it.  Tonight I plan on trying to unlock a few more of these class costumes, so I can get a feel for how some of the other options play.  Right now this is shaping up to be an MMO with MOBA character design… and I think I dig this.

Love Our Guild

Unlocking Dungeons

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-12 20-42-09-53 This weekend was a little bit split as far as gaming goes.  I spent about four hours in SkyForge and the rest of it wandering around in Final Fantasy XIV.  I had a bunch of side projects that I never really got off the ground.  One of the things about being a tank is that you are constantly getting called on to do tanky things.  Last night for example, I had all intentions of simply wandering around the new zones doing hunt mobs, but I ended up getting drafted to tank both Neverreap and Fractal Continuum for a friend who just dinged 60.  Since this would allow him to unlock the content, and be yet another possibility for a daily expert roulette, as well as providing three of us in the dungeon run some tasty tasty first time bonus, I did not mind giving up my relaxing evening of hunting to help out.

Both runs went fairly smoothly other than Warenwolf falling off the side of the final boss in Neverreap.  Luckily we had the stamina to go ahead and finish that boss without him.  Fractal Continuum went extremely smoothly other than some annoyances with bomb placement on the final boss.  Luckily the loot gods seemed to be at least a little favorable and Waren walked with a bow and some other items helping him inch towards that all too critical level 170 mark for Alexander.  It is my hope that in this last week we will have increased our item level enough to be able to put a good attempt in on Bismarck Extreme tonight.  I found out that apparently the dps constraint is that you be able to break the spine in a single attempt without also blowing every cooldown.  Wednesday we were able to break the spine, but it was a “just barely” situation and we absolutely had to abuse every cool down available to get there.

Love Our Guild

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-13 21-28-49-98 Last night I had a moment when I was overcome with warm fuzzies.  Folks were doing what they always do and filling my screen with green happy spam, and somehow it came around to the discussion of the free company.  I am not sure if I remember who started it but someone made the comment that they were happy that I had recruited them into the guild, because if not for that they probably would not be playing.  Then in a burst of activity a bunch of people chimed in with pretty much the same thing.  So I wanted to talk a bit this morning about how much all of my guildies mean to me.  There are so many days where I have had a rough patch, that I can log into our free company and within moments of seeing the cheery conversation I am in a much better mood.  Having a happy guild family is ultimately what helps me keep returning to one game over another, and ultimately is what keeps me engaged in Final Fantasy XIV.

Sure the game is awesome, but having this big group who is willing to drop what they are doing to help someone else out, makes the experience so much better.  Yesterday during the evening I worked through a backlog of dungeon runs that I had recorded, and came across a video that didn’t turn out quite as intended.  Since the launch of Heavensward the guild crafters as lead by Solaria have been working away on making us an Airship.  When it came time to launch it for the first time a good chunk of us gathered in the workshop basement of the guild hall.  In part we hoped a cut scene would happen, and as a result I had OBS rolling away in the background recording the event.  While the event did not turn out as I had expected, looking back on the footage it makes me exceptionally happy to see so many of my guild members roaming around in one place.  I love the housing district for the constant flow of guild members popping in and out as they go off to other adventures, and this moment was probably the largest meeting of sorts we have had.  It made me realize that we need to do something like this more often.

More SkyForge

Skyforge 2015-07-19 13-57-50-17 The SkyForge open beta finishes up this Wednesday and in the mean time I plan on playing for a little bit each night.  I have to admit while there are still problems with the game for me, it is growing on me in ways I can’t quite fathom.  During yesterdays run I finally figured out something that had been bugging me.  I said in my videos and in my blog posts that it seemed like the combo system was largely ineffectual, and for the most part this is true.  However I noticed on my character to the right of the health bar was a charge counter of sorts marked with a lightning bolt.  This is directly above the dodge counter that shows how many times in a row you can dodge, and how long before the counter regenerates when they are all spent.  This lightning bolt number tied to the special combo attacks, and if I use a combo while I have a charge available it does significantly more damage.  However any additional combos while that charge is regenerating end up being largely useless.

Skyforge 2015-07-19 09-53-56-71 Knowing this is a thing, made combat feel more purposeful.  Essentially I had one special move to use every 30 seconds or so, because that seemed to be roughly how long it took to regenerate a charge.  When that ability was not available however I could happily wail away on the target then set up for the next special attack.  This little bit of information seemed to dynamically change the way combat felt.  Additionally doing the more open world zones, seemed much more enjoyable to me given that if I started wailing away on a boss, chances are someone would come along behind me to help me finish it.  Running around with a group of other players also made me realize just how little damage the paladin does comparatively.  In all honesty… I might end up playing quite a bit more of this game because it feels like I am starting to grasp the reason why it does the things it does.  It is not the sort of game I would ever play as a primary mmo, but I have been enjoying playing it in these short bursts, where I complete a single objective and then log back out for awhile.

More SkyForge Thoughts

Controller Support

SkyForge_GolemProtector

One of the questions left unanswered from yesterday was whether or not the game had controller support.  On a whim I picked up my controller towards the end of one of yesterdays streams and I noticed that I could in fact control my character with it.  Today I popped into game with the mission of trying to test this theory out.  It seems that maybe they are working on controller support but that it does not actually work fully.  I could control my character perfectly using both of my analog sticks, and if I hit the A button on my XBox 360 controller I could perform any of the normal actions that require the spacebar.  However it did not actually seem to interact with the world, and pressing A when not hovering over an objective did not perform the jump action, which is normally the default action for spacebar.  I went so far as to go into the keybindings section and it would not let me bind anything to controller presses.

SkyForge_PaladinAOEExplosion

Now of course if you wanted to go so far as to use Xpadder you could easily get this game up and running.  It takes care of the toughest part which is getting the analog movement feeling right.  My hope is that in subsequent patches it is going to add full controller support, and then this game is likely to increase significantly in enjoyment.  Left button spammy attacks feel less spammy when done with a controller button.  Since writing yesterdays post I have added another few hours worth of gameplay, and I have to say my verdict is still very mixed.  I even talked about it a bit on last nights podcast.  On some level I am feeling about this game much the same as I felt about Guild Wars 2 when it was in testing.  There is something that compels me to keep trying to figure it out, but at the same time I find it extremely easy to stop playing after completing a single mission.  The act of running a mission just wears me out, in a way that content in Elder Scrolls Online used to wear me out.  Things are so ridiculously tightly packed that on normal solo missions you spend so much of your time mindlessly grinding through huge encounters.

Isola Digs

SkyForge_IsolaDigs

This morning however I ventured into what seems to be another large shared cooperative zone, much the same as the very first mission in the game.  It involved a series of around 25 smaller objectives that were scattered throughout the map.  The frustrating thing about this zone in particular is that the objectives were super linear, meaning when I tried to do my normal thing and hop off the path…  I missed an objective that I then later had to double back through the entire zone to go find again.  As a whole though I have to say I like this style of zone so much better than the little instanced mini dungeons I had completed more recently.  The game also feels better when lots of other players are wandering around, which greatly speeds up the amount of time it takes to burn through the various health bars of the bosses.  This tells me that a lot of my frustrations was simply that I was soloing content designed for groups to take down.  The fact that I could fairly easily solo content as a paladin, maybe points to that class being a little overpowered for this sort of thing?  Then again tanks in most games are adept at soloing bosses that were originally meant for a group to take down…  I am looking at you Deathknight.

SkyForge_FireWardenBoss The other cool thing about this region is that it seemed to be full of boss encounters that did not seem to be tied to a specific objective.  There may be a quest that I missed somewhere that opened these up, but from what I saw there was a fire, water and wind warden.  Above you can see me taking on the fire one.  The only thing missing elemental wise is earth, which I did not really see while wandering around.  I managed to get a few greens off these bosses, so my theory is they are just there to make your experience more interesting.  The boss fights with other players helping were significantly more enjoyable, but I could still shield up as a paladin and whittle them down until I succeeded.  There was only one single encounter where I even came close to dying.    At the last minute a wave of players rushed in and helped me finish the boss off.

Combat Still Repetitive

SkyForge_PaladinFinsiher2 All of this said… my problem with the combat still exists.  It just doesn’t feel like I can do anything interesting with the encounters.  I did add a new combo attack to my repertoire, and while I abused the hell out of it.. each individual fight still seemed to take a little bit longer than they should for the game to feel really “fun”.  The mobs still suffer from the same problem where they tend to be one trick ponies, and keep using the same attack sequence over and over.  There is almost always one thing that you should dodge out of, but other than that it is grind them down with your main attack until they are gone.  There are a lot of things I do like however when it comes to the interactions with other players.  This seems like a game where everything is open tagging, and if you are in an area and have dealt any damage to a pack… you seem to get full credit for the entire pack.  Similarly if there is an objective, it seems like everyone can click said objective, and that seems to have changed from one of the closed beta streams I happened to watch.

SkyForge_CryomancerHelp As a result I found myself wading into a lot of fights that I did not strictly need to just to help out the other players.  Unfortunately not a single one of them did I actually communicate with.  There are a lot of ifs about this game, and I am not quite certain how much I will be playing of it.  In theory I kinda dig the model of purchasing classes or having a slow tedious process of unlocking them.  To some extent I wish I had gotten in on the ability to play the Berserker, because I think that might be a class I would really enjoy.  I have heard that you can go to the training center and test drive all of the classes, much like you can test drive champions in a moba, so that might be one of the things I do next.  At this point I have played around five hours of the game, and I have enjoyed it just enough to keep me coming back to try and find the secrets that I seem to be missing as to why this game is really fun.  Ultimately there will be a point where I just give up on it, but I have not quite reached that yet.  After all it gives me a bit of a diversion from leveling my Dragoon and gearing in Final Fantasy XIV.  If you want to check out the last two videos I have posted since yesterday I will be embedding them below.

Port Naori – Instanced Dungeon-like Mission

Isola Digs – Open World-ish Shared Zone Mission

(was still encoding at the time of posting this… so might have to check back later)

SkyForge Impressions

Recreating Belghast

SkyForge_BelvsBel Skyforge is one of those games that I have consistently been unable to decide if I am interested in.  There are certain aspects of the game that I really like, but then again there are certain aspects that I am really uncertain of.  [Edit] Having to rewrite a chunk of this real quick because I was under the false impression that this game was from a Korean publisher.  I guess this is primarily a Russian game with the assistance of Obsidian an American company.  I guess this explains why I could easily create a character I liked when I have so much trouble doing this in most Korean MMOs. [UnEdit] So I was pleasantly surprised that I could create “Belghast” or at least a reasonable facsimile.  In the above comparison you can see the traditional old school “WoW Bel” against what I was able to create using Skyforge, and I am pretty happy honestly with the look and feel.

SkyForge_WeirdManTouchingMe Last night I spent some time streaming my first few adventures into the game, and as such did not take a lot of screenshots.  The result is you are going to end up with a lot of screen captures from my stream that include my little chat blocker box thingy.  As the weird little man that is touching my face asked me what I think…  that is ultimately going to be my mission this morning.  I can’t really call it a review, since I have not spent more than a couple of hours playing it.  I can however talk about my thoughts.  There have been so many times I have missed out on a games open beta period only to kick myself later when I start to get interested in the game.  Similarly there have been many games that I bought my way into… only to find out later that I didn’t really care for the game at all.  Even though I am still very much engrossed in Final Fantasy XIV and spent about four hours playing that last night AFTER my foray into Skyforge, I felt I owed it to myself to give the game a test drive.  Similarly if you are on the fence and looking to my article to give you some guidance… I highly suggest you just try the game yourself while it is free.

The Setting

SkyForge_MoreQuestText For those who have been around MMOs for awhile, you will remember a game that was discarded somewhere along the way called Imperator.  Mythic games had originally planned on building its “Rome in Outer Space” title but quickly dropped the title when they got the license for Warhammer Online.  After playing a little Skyforge I seriously wonder if someone from that original Imperator team rebooting this idea over at either Obsidian or Allods.  Imperator_CollesiumThere are only a few screenshots from the original Imperator team around, but to the right is one of the more interesting ones.  From what I have seen of the world of Skyforge, it very much shares the same look and feel of a “Rome in Space” concept.  To carry this even further the enemies and their leaders have a very “ancient egyptian” feel to them, which makes me wonder if we are going to see a lot more of these “high tech ancient  civilizations” concept as we get deeper into the game.

Skyforge 2015-07-17 06-07-54-37 The game does a decent job of setting up the story of how you came to have the powers you do and setting up a reason for why you can die multiple times and keep respawning.  Your character is an Immortal, and just like in Highlander your powers do not manifest until you have died the first time.  The introduction to the game is the story of how you died during what turned out to be a suicide mission.  One of the interesting things about the game is that you play a fully armored character during the introduction and then choose your appearance later as you are telling your tale.  While I may have missed it, it did not seem like I had a way to change my gender during this introduction.  So I am wondering if that means that quite literally everyone is “male by default” until you get back to base and choose your gender and appearance.  This did not bother me on a personal level, but I could absolutely see how this would really be a sticking point for some folks and rightly so.  As you can see from the screenshots… the world is absolutely gorgeous and every little aspect of it feels highly detailed.

The Paladin

SkyForge_PaladinShield Since I tend to always play tanks in MMOs… I opted to roll the paladin.  I am not sure if EVERYONE starts as one of three classes, or if this is just limited to the Open Beta, but I was limited to a choice of Paladin, Cryomancer and Lightbinder.  These represent the tank, dps and healer essentially, and this is a game much like Final Fantasy XIV where you can swap your class at any given time.  Unfortunately the Paladin is the only one of the starter classes that I have any interest in…  there are really three classes in this game that interest me and that is the Paladin, Knight and Berserker.  Now we are going to start delving into some of the negatives.  Combat is similar to Neverwinter Nights which in itself is not bad.  Essentially it is a combination of mouse clicks augmented by abilities you cast off keys around your WASD and numeric keys that tend to have long recast times.  It uses a system similar to TERA in that your secondary mouse button is a variable combo ability.

SkyForge_PaladinSpinAttack As a Paladin my combos offered an impressive 360 degree whirl attack that you can see above, a single target lightning bolt, and a frontal cone slash attack.  The problem being is that the combo system seemed to have a mind of its own.  In Tera it related to a certain number of clicks… in Skyforge it seems to be tied somehow to your character animation.  As a result I found it really hard to predict when I could hit a specific attack and always seemed to have the wrong ability available as my combo attack at the wrong time.  Now this combo tree is something you can fiddle with freely and maybe given some time I could sort out how best to use it.  However it gives the combat interaction a bit of a “sloppy” feel to its design.  I find myself greatly preferring the ability to press a unique button for each attack rather than allow the game to sort all of that out for me.  I know at least if I press the button, an ability will fire…  instead here it felt more like the game was playing for me sometimes and I was simply mashing the attack buttons blindly.

SkyForge_PaladinFinisher I feel like all of the attacks were designed to look and feel impressive.  For example the above screenshot is of me executing my finisher, that shows up when the mob is low on heath and there is a pop up window telling me to hit E to use it.  It involves me throwing the mob up into the air and then a bolt of lightning or holy power or whatever it is that Paladins care about striking them back down to the ground.  Again this felt like something I had to freaking mash E for whenever the mob was getting close to being low enough to use it… because my main attack seemed to run away with itself and I would get locked in a combat animation that seemed to be of variable length.  The thing I keep coming back to is that maybe this game feels significantly better when played with a controller than with a mouse and keyboard.  I need to sort through the settings and see if it supports my Xbox 360 controller because this might be an awesome offering to the console market more so than it is to the PC one.

My Impressions

SkyForge_PaladinCharge Like I said at the start of this I have really not spent much time playing the game at this point.  I got in yesterday morning and last night, and between those two play sessions I have completed two of the small instanced missions.  After the second mission I went back to the main hub and got yet another one… and then decided that I was not really having enough fun to keep playing that night.  That is a bad sign, for me personally.  I love combat and combat missions, and if a game wants to throw me at kill X things… I generally eat them up like warm cobbler covered in ice cream.  The problem is… I just found the combat boring and repetitive.  I feel like maybe I am not grasping the “master plan” to its design but it really felt like I had to wail away at random with abilities and mash my shield whenever it was up to keep from taking damage.  It really did not feel like there was much structure to the flailing about, and I found this frustrating especially compared to say the Cryomancer that I watched Jabberant play that seemed to have lots of strategy to it.  It could just be a side effect of my being used to Final Fantasy XIV where every single key press feels like it has some importance behind it.

I’ve embedded my play session from last night so that you can see how the game looks and feels while moving through combat.  I am not giving up on this game quite yet, but I will say my first day of play was “strike one”.  Maybe it feels better as I go along, but I have a feeling that pretty much all of this game is going to be a Lobby/Instance approach with no real “open world” to go exploring.  I might be wrong, and maybe I just have not seen “leveling zones” yet but the whole thing feels a lot like the way DDO did content, mixed with the combat styling of Neverwinter Nights.  All of this said, since you can get in now for free and give it a spin… then I suggest you try it out for yourself.  Maybe you will find it a refreshing experience, and not the boring and repetitive one that I found.  Maybe I was simply in the wrong mindset, because yesterday was a really long day.  In any case I am going to give it a few more shots this weekend to see if it does anything for me.  Sometimes games take a bit for me to enjoy, and this might be one of those.  In any case I am happy I gave it a shot before “buying in”.  So far the verdict is pretty mixed, but I wanted to at least put my thoughts to paper for anyone who might be interested in them.

Games I’m Not Playing

Too Many Games

Skyforge 2015-07-17 06-26-06-26 Right now I am suffering from a problem, in that there are just too many games that I want to be playing and simply not enough time in any combination of lifetimes to actually play them.  Last night I downloaded and installed Skyforge, and gave it a quick spin this morning… and as interesting as it seems I just don’t know when exactly I am going to fit it in.  For the first time in years I have been relatively monogamistic in my gaming, and with the dropping of World of Warcraft I pretty much have all of my focus on Final Fantasy XIV.  Last night I ran dungeons with the guild and after doing my hunts managed to push my Dragoon to 56.  As a result the desire to get that job to 60 is real, because I desperately want to be able to fill more than one roll when it comes to grouping.

By the same token I really would like to give some time to Skyforge so that I can give it a shot for free, before plunking down any money on it.  I watched a bit of the MMO Show stream the other day as Jabberant played the game and I have to admit it peaked my interests.  Playing this morning it feels like a better version of Neverwinter, because the janky control scheme of that game was always a major detractor.  So now I get to juggle competing desires and figure out how to spend my weekend.  So this morning I thought I would write about the games that I am wanting to play but just can’t seem to find adequate time to devote to them.

Star Wars the Old Republic

swtor 2013-08-13 23-38-38-65 I have this strong desire to go back and experience the storyline that I have not yet.  Essentially I have not really played my main in this game, a Jedi Guardian… since launch.  Each time I go back I always end up playing alts because I am finding it really hard to get back into the swing of playing a level 50 character.  I know there have been numerous expansions since launch, each with their own storyline content… and I am struggling to get back into the swing of doing it.  Instead I mostly spend time playing my Light Side Sith Warrior, who has been stuck in the hell hole of Balmorra for at least two years.  So one of my gaming regrets is that I have not figured out how to make progress on my main and see the Makeb and beyond storyline.  Additionally I have this nasty habit of paying for a month, and then playing one day and never returning to it.  I’ve gone through this sequence at least a half dozen times since we left this game.  The draw of Final Fantasy XIV is always too strong to keep me playing there for long.

Wildstar

WildStar64 2015-06-06 17-47-43-40 On my second attempt at playing this game I reached a point where I really was enjoying what I was doing.  In fact there was a stretch prior to the launch of Heavensward where I was playing this one more than just about any other game.  I have an awesome group of friends in this game and I love the Black Dagger Society guild that I am in.  I had a blast roaming around the zones and taking down world bosses with them on a few occasions.  For whatever reason however I am just not logging in right now.  Once again the draw of Final Fantasy XIV is too strong, and maybe I just love our guild there too much.  This is on the list of games I absolutely want to keep returning to, but I doubt I will until a bit more of the shiny has warn off from Heavensward.  Right now I am in this push to reach a point where I have multiple useful jobs to help people with, and I think until I get there I won’t be happy playing much else.

The Secret World

TheSecretWorld 2012-08-07 20-41-26-17 I am woefully behind in my Secret World content, because the last update I think I played was the whole “Last Train to Cairo” sequence.  I know there have been multiple updates since then but I am just not logging in and playing them.  There are problems I have with this game that preclude me from really digging into the end game content.  However I have loved all of the story mission content that I have played and I keep meaning to poke my head in and do them.  I’m a life time subscriber, and I should have tons of goodies waiting on me… but generally speaking what happens is I log in and buy a nifty new outfit… then log right back out.  Of all of my gaming regrets this is one of the strongest because I really would like to find a way to play this game in addition to whatever game I am “maining”.

ArcheAge

ARCHEAGE 2015-06-14 14-36-32-10 Just prior to the launch of Heavensward there were several of us on the AggroChat cast that had a brief love affair with this game.  I want to find a way to return to playing this game on a regular basis because I don’t feel like I have consumed all of the good that I can get from it.  This is the game that I was told once I reached level 30 I would be in forced pvp areas.  While we are playing on Tahyang the supposed roleplaying server, I am 38 and have yet to encounter even another enemy player.  There is a lot of great PVE content in this game, and we found the dungeons to be among some of the rougher we had experienced since say Dark Age of Camelot.  I’ve logged in a few times since the launch of Heavensward, but never for terribly long because I keep feeling like I really should be in FFXIV gearing or helping other people gear.  I still have things I want to do here, so I need to figure out a way to play it as well.

Skyforge

Skyforge 2015-07-17 06-07-54-37 I talked about this as the start of the blog post, but I really do want to spend some time getting to know this game.  At face value it didn’t seem like it was going to be anything I would be interested in.  However after playing a brief few minutes this morning I think I might dig it.  It is action combat that still feels like an MMO.  Honestly I put Neverwinter in that same category, however there the combat just felt forced and janky.  The proof will be in the pudding as to how the Paladin feels once I progress it a bit further.  I admit the whole “switch roles at any time” thing is a huge draw for me, after getting used to that in Final Fantasy XIV.  I doubt this would ever be a primary MMO for me, but it might be a fun weekend diversion.  Ultimately I keep looking for a solid secondary game to have the duality that I did with Final  Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft.  I have yet to find the game that seems like the perfect match, but who knows this might be it.

Elder Scrolls Online

eso 2015-03-16 23-59-44-25 The game that I least understand why I am not playing it… is The Elder Scrolls Online.  Everything about this game should be squarely in my wheelhouse considering the number of hours that I have spent playing games in the Elder Scrolls universe.  I have access to it both on PC and on PS4, and I had this idea that the console client would somehow revitalize my interest in the game.  The problem is… it hasn’t at all.  I feel like the problem I have with this game is that even though I have people moving around me… I feel like I am ultimately alone.  The other players are just a backdrop in part because I never see their names.  I think in part I am experiencing Beta regret, because after testing this game for a year there are previous incarnations of the game UI that I just enjoyed more.  If I could go back and play THOSE incarnations… I would probably be enjoying myself still.  When names over the top of mobs went away…  the world felt like it shrunk for me, and the game became more or less a single player experience.  I still would love to find a way to make this game that at one point I was so devoted to still feel enjoyable, but I just have not found it.