The First Loop

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At this point I am trying to keep my blog fairly spoiler free given that the game is not out yet for a ton of people.  I still find that concept really odd, but I am pushing past it because I see that as an EA thing and not necessarily a Bioware thing.  When I have a major fork in the road coming up in a game I tend to spend a significant amount of time avoiding it.  I am not sure why I do this thing but it happens constantly.  I am in the final stretch to the “end” of Assassin’s Creed Origins…  but have not played the game since I realized that.  In Anthem I knew something major was about to happen, but I was not exactly sure what… and as a result I spent most of my evening avoiding playing through the only quest that I happened to have in my journal.  As a result I spent a lot of time roaming around last night in Freeplay mode while watching Umbrella Academy, which seems pretty great so far.  However given the events of the quest that I had been seemingly avoiding…  I wish I had done this at the beginning of the night rather than the end of the night so I could see more of the story.

Anthem threw me its first loop, because up until now most everything had largely been predictable.  I was not expecting what happened last night to change the entire tempo of the game from this point forward…  and I like that a lot.  So often my wife and I will be watching something on television…  and I throw out a random statement as soon as I get the idea a thing is going to happen.  The other night it happened during one of the medical procedural that she likes to watch, and they were setting something up…  and I blurted out what I thought they were setting up.  In the end it turned out to be exactly what I was thinking because earlier in the show they had set up a character only to kill it off, and talked about a specific medical procedure as an offhand reference.  This happens with games as well that often times I can see the train coming before it arrives at the station…  recent example when FFXIV introduced the “Shadowhunter” character I pinged Tam who was further along in the story than I was at that point and made my guess that turned out to be completely on the nose.

As such I really appreciate it when a game can throw me for a loop and in hindsight all of the clues were there waiting for me…  but I didn’t piece them together because I was too engaged with the content to notice the signs.  I love it when a game shocks me…  and even though this is probably on the lower tier scale of shocks it was still an extremely good experience to go through.  If you have played through the content to this point you will know what I am talking about.  However please keep the comment section spoiler free in respect for the people who have yet to get their hands on the game.  Some folks are stuck behind having played their 10 hours already, and another batch simply purchased the game and cannot play because they can’t or won’t pay the $15 tax to get immediate access.  However I find it refreshing that the game can shift gears and change what sort of a story that is playing out in front of us.  The fact that I am wearing my N7 decal (which I spent my accumulated coins on purchasing from the Forge) makes the above screenshot feel like a Mass Effect game seeing as I go with the green, red, black and white color scheme in that game as well.

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Another thing I thought I would mention this morning is something that had been bugging me up until this point.  In my friends list I would see players with backgrounds behind their name and could not for the life of me figure out how to set this.  Copious amounts of googling yielded no results either with me calling it a Nameplate or even after getting the correct term a Banner.  I realized in yesterdays post that my friend Naithin had one of these nameplates so I figured I would ask them about it.  So in order to get to the above screen… you have to hop in your javelin and then click over to the squad tab that is shown on that screen.  You will see a number of options and one of them is hold right mouse to change banner image, or I assume something equivalent will show up if you are on a console or using a controller.  This will pop up this screen and give you a bunch of different pictures and backgrounds to choose from…  I have no clue where the larger image is used but the textured background shows up pretty much everywhere in the game.

I think now is the time for us to talk about one of the glaring issues that Anthem has…  it has a horrible UI.  I am certainly hoping that none of my friends at Bioware were responsible for said UI, because I would feel bad in saying this.  However it just does not behave in the manner that I would expect it to… and everything seems to be more cumbersome than it should be to interact with.  The fact that I could not for the life of me figure out how to change my nameplate is a prime example of this.  It required me to be on a very specific screen that I never actually clicked over to in order to find it.  When I have set up a squad I have done so before actually getting in my Javelin, so it seems like an odd design decision to bury that option on a screen you can bypass ever going to.  However I thought I would post it on the blog in case like me you were curious and clueless.

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I spent a little time trying to play the Storm again last night… and nope…  I am absolutely a Ranger through and through.  I just feel squishy as a Storm as compared to how I feel in the Ranger.  I know it is largely a play style thing… and my default play style is to get up and personal in the heat of the action and run around dodging incoming attacks.  What the storm wants you to be is a hovering long ranged damage platform, that casts spells tactically on the battlefield below them.  I should probably give Colossus another try and play with the slam all the shields nonsense it offers.  When I hit my next unlock I will likely be spending it on that Javelin.  However my true love will probably always be the Ranger.  I hope you all find that Javelin that is the perfect fit for you as the game officially launches this coming Friday.  Strong Alone, Stronger Together!

 

Anthem Spreadsheet Launch

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Anthem “Launched” on Friday and I spent my weekend having a blast playing the game for real.  However unfortunately the bulk of the people who pre-ordered the game will not be able to experience the game until this coming Friday the 22nd.  This is what I would call a spreadsheet launch, and I talked a bit about it on Friday because if you purchased a month of either the $5 or $15 flavor of EA Access then you were able to play this weekend.  The $5 price point gave you 10 hours of gameplay… and then I was a sucker and went with the $15 dollar double special secret access that just gave me the game one week early.  At this point according to Origin I have spent 17 hours playing, and the majority of why I went with that version over the $5 variant is it allows me to just not care about how much time I happened to be spending.

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The challenge this morning is how do I condense the feelings I am having about the game into something resembling a proper blog post.  The quick summary is that I like the game an awful lot, so much so that I went to sleep each night dreaming about playing more of the game.  I am good and properly hooked and for the moment it is an equivalent experience to how I felt about Destiny when I first got my hands on it.  The world is insanely intricate and all of the concerns that I had from the Demo about Freeplay being fragmented with invisible walls…  turned out to be misguided.  From what I can tell all of those barriers that were thrown up during the Demo were to simply keep us out of the content that they did not want us to visit.  Roaming around Freeplay in the final game provides a seamless experience that lets me traverse from one side of the map to the other.

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First off lets talk about the map, because I have heard concerns about it seeming like it is very small.  I am not able to zoom out far enough to get it all in one screenshot, but I can get a fair amount of it…  which makes it seem on the small end.  However exploring it…. feels completely different because the map has a lot of verticality to it that is not often there in similar style games.  The same area may have a high path, a middle path and an underwater or cave based path all traversing the same ground giving you a lot of fenestration and cramming more detail into a square of map than you would normally have.  This is awesome when you are freely roaming the map… and less awesome at times when you need to find an objective and have no clue at all what level of the infrastructure it might be on.  At least one of the Tombs that you end up having to track down a ways into the game will frustrate you as you try and find the opening to an underground cave system that contains it.

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The next piece that I want to talk a bit about is the Story… which is exceptionally good…  but something I cannot really talk about in detail for fear of spoiling the game play experience.  I’ve said the game is “very Bioware” which apparently means different things to different people…  in response I have gotten Glitch Memes and Romance questions.  What I ultimately mean by that is that it presents a really interesting world with a level of depth rivaling the Mass Effect series and is populated with a bunch of characters that I already care about.  Through the conversation dialog… I am asked to make a series of decisions similar to the Paragon/Renegade system and I have a feeling that these change what happens in the world.  There are definitely story paths that I have seen that seem as though they would not have occurred were it not for the previous choices I made.  Additionally the characters are aware of each other… and choices made with Character A end up creating options for Character B…  which again creates that “Bioware Feel”.

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The gunplay is enjoyable, but I will say that the weapons do not feel as memorable as they do in Destiny for example.  What is memorable however is the way that you move through combat and the various options that you have to embellish your play style.  You are given a dodge…  but why dodge when you can just double jump into the air and engage your thrusters to jet over to a safe distance from whatever attack is just about to land.  The demo had significant issues with Mouse and Keyboard movement, but these have all largely been ironed out for the release and the more I play it…  the more addictive the freedom of movement has become.  If I want to get somewhere the game gives me the means to do it… and it feels completely different than a traditional MMO where you are mostly just flying high above the content and avoiding it entirely.  There are lots of things in the air that can ruin your day and force you to deal with them, and instead your flight capabilities seem as a method of augmenting your other means of traversal.

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All of these combined make the gameplay experience addictive, and make me want to keep climbing back into that suit and going out on another adventure.  There is something about the launch sequence that is just enjoyable…  seeing your javelin waiting for you to hop in.  The fact that you cannot view your loot or swap gear in the world ends up with a gameplay loop that sees you going back to the Fort every so often, just to fiddle with your equipment before heading back out into the wilds again.  I loved playing Patrol mode in Destiny, and as such Freeplay is very much my jam if I just want a solo experience.  Thankfully most of the world events seem to be doable solo, which allows me to roam around collecting loot and doing objectives until I decide to get more serious about progression.  If I want to play with other people there is the delightful freeplay option which mimics how I play Monster Hunter World with what I call “SOS Roulette”, where it dumps you into a random group that isn’t full and from what I can tell… it could be pretty much any activity.

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Another thing that I am deeply thankful for is the fact that the game does not appear to care at all about levels when it comes to grouping.  I’ve been paired with level 20s while at level 5…  and I still felt viable and that higher level character didn’t feel like a ringer.  This is a good thing given that those of us who were willing to spend that extra $15 are going to have a full week of play time on the folks that will be joining us on Friday.  Right now among my friends you can see that Naithin is leading the charge with what I can only assume is bordering endgame item level, with Lex not very far behind.  My only real complaint right now is I would have liked there to be a clan or guild system at launch, but I am at least happy that it is apparently on the near radar system wise.  Grouping seems fairly seamless and there were moments this weekend when I happened to be running a mission and did not realize until after the fact that someone from my friends list had joined.  It isn’t like there is much in the way of player to player interaction, and as a result that makes the whole grouping experience feel awesome for folks that end up preferring solo game play.

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The only bit of a advice that I will throw out there is that if you played a lot of the demo like many of us did…  your first Javelin choice is legitimately that…  your first and ONLY Javelin choice for 8 levels.  As such this mean’t I incorrectly thought I was picking my first spare Javelin and wound up playing the first 8 levels of the game as a Storm…  which is fun but not really my jam.  I am a Ranger through and through and once I got to level 8 the game started to feel very much like home again.  All in all I am hooked and enjoying the experience greatly.  It seems to be a game that splits the difference between many of the different looter shooter titles out there, and as a result has a style of play for pretty much everyone.  As a long time Destiny Titan player… the Ranger appeals to me greatly because it feels like a similar game play style.  However if you want to survey the battlefield from a distance… the Storm does an awesome job of that.  Basically… I heartily recommend this game when the ACTUAL launch happens on Friday.

Some parting links for players…  firstly I have a Roster that I have been collecting names on since Origin doesn’t have a way of importing users from other more popular gaming services.

Also Namaslays/Jewel has started up a Discord Community called The Anthem Collective so there is that if you are wanting another way to meet players.  I have joined but I am also super bad at keeping track with Discords so I will probably be a super infrequent user, and mostly rely on it if other grouping opportunities peter out in the end game.  I am super happy with what I am seeing so far, and am curious what my other friends that are playing think.  I am hoping we see a bunch more Monday morning posts about experiences.

 

 

Anthem Friend Exchange

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Well here we are… it is officially the day that Anthem launches…  and by launches I mean if you paid a bunch of money you can get access to the game today.  I know several of us did this thing ahead of purchasing the PC version, because in doing so it gives you a discount off the game purchase price in the first place.  The only problem is things are way murkier than they have been in the past.  There are now two tiers of Origin Access…  the $5 a month basic customers and the $15 a month customers.  We are now in an era when you need a spreadsheet to explain when exactly you get to play the damned game.  EA support of course did this thing…  and while I am grousing about it I do not necessarily blame Bioware for this apart from the fact that they allowed themselves to get bought years ago.

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So if you are dumb like me and went ahead and ponied up for a month or two of Premier…  then you can start playing Anthem legitimately today at 9 am Central Standard Time.  I will unfortunately be at work and given that we have freezing rain going on outside I have no clue what my commute is going to look like.  As such I will probably get a super late start tonight and am hoping the servers are stable by the time I actually get home.  If you have Origin Access basic… aka the $5 a month that used to be the only thing that was available…  you get to play a 10 hour head start.  Something of note…  if you are in this camp Origin loves to not fully close games.  I had this happen to me with Andromeda and saw all of my hours tick away while I slept.  Make sure the executable for Anthem is good and dead in Task Manager to prevent this from happening to you.

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For everyone else…  you get to start playing next Friday, which is kinda screwed up that the folks who are paying the $15 premium are going to get one full weeks worth of game before the folks who simply ordered the game.  This is a frustrating situation and I am weak as fuck for playing into the “buying early access” game model.  The real question is… I have no clue what this is going to do to the grouping dynamic and how far of a gap between characters is completely reasonable.  We didn’t really pay attention to levels during the demo but wound up largely within a level or two of each other given the very limited range that was possible.  We all mostly capped out at 15 by the end, and while I think we pulled in someone who was around 10…  it wasn’t really a noticeable issue.

I am hoping it will be simple to help pull players up and do group content together regardless of the level gap.  This gets into the other major problem with Anthem…  there is no guild/clan system going in at launch.  This combined with how dodgy the Origin client is in general has made me contemplate some sort of alternate way of collecting people who are going to be playing and also occasionally available for grouping.  As such I set up a google sheet this morning to start collecting Origin account information.  Because I didn’t think of a better way to handle this…  there are two parts to the system…  the Sign Up Form and The Roster sheet.  I will be manually copying entries from the Form over to the Sheet… which is honestly the only way I could think to do this without either manually sharing out the Roster or giving everyone Edit access which would go horribly wrong.

Why would I do this thing you ask?  Well it is simple…  Origin is this walled garden disconnected from the other various gaming networks.  It for whatever reason does not seem to understand that we want to group up with people we might know from other platforms and as such has no way of importing users or getting suggestions from other platforms.  There is no twitter or facebook integration, and most certainly nothing like the Steam integration that Epic Games Store has.  So you are stuck trading ids with people on a one by one basis and I figured something like this… would allow a large number of us to catch up in one pass and turn the friends list in Origin into something that is actually useful.  Right now at the time of posting the sheet only has my information but I will be updating it throughout the day and keep posting new names at least once daily after that.

So to summarize:

Hopefully this smooths out the bumps given that this is a bit of a new venture into MMO territory for the Origin client given there was no integration between Origin and SWTOR.  If you think this is a really dumb idea, then I am more than willing to accept those comments.  If you think it is a good idea however…  fill out your info and lets get ready to fly some mech suits!

Assorted Blizzard Topic

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This morning I am going to apologize to anyone who actively reads either my Twitter feed or my Fediverse feed.  Those tend to be the platform where I make extemporaneous commentary and in the moment reactions to whatever happens to be on my mind.  Often time those statements end up getting distilled down into a blog post once more time and distance has passed.  Yesterday I spouted off in thread form on Twitter about the Activision/Blizzard layoffs and this morning I still feel the need to talk about it so I am cobbling together something in blog post form.  For those who have not been following this story it has been something looming on the horizon for awhile as Blizzard had gone into cost cutting measures and offered a number of employees buyout packages to voluntarily leave the company.  So these actions are something we had all been fearing would be happening, especially after the massive stock hit that came with the announcement of Bungie’s departure from the agreement with the publisher.

For those who have not been following this…  it was not a great year for Activision Blizzard as a whole in the public opinion area, however this did not stop them from making record profits this past year.  In 2017 they had a net profit of $273 million and in 2018 they realized a record $1.8 billion dollars in profit.  This is what makes the 800 layoffs feel all the more like “Snidely Whiplash tying Nell to the railroad tracks” evil.  I’ve not been able to verify as of yet who is and is not effected from the folks that I knew who were still working for Blizzard.  However among my circle of friends a good number of those friends of friends got the axe.  This whole sequence has been extremely frustrating and depressing to see play out on social media as so many people are scrambling to find a home in another studio.  Based on a few examples told to me in confidence, it appears that a good chunk will be trying to make their exit from games development in general for sake of stability.

There is a medium article that came out yesterday from Patrick Beja that is worth reading that goes over his thoughts about the whole situation and summarizes some statements that he had made earlier in the lead up.  There are a couple of specific sections that struck a chord with me, but I call one out in particular.

The other thing I often hear is “they’re only developing F2P mobile games that SUCK”. First, we don’t know they’ll suck. And second, I don’t know why they’d stop developing PC games that make money. Did you not enjoy Overwatch or Hearthstone or Heroes of the Storm? If you didn’t, you haven’t liked Blizzard for a long time… But if you did, maybe you’ll think the next PC games they release will be good too.

This was something that was hard to hear because since the release of Starcraft Blizzard has been a company that I held up on a pedestal as being quite possibly the ultimate end goal of what working in the games industry could be like.  I have obsessed over so many over their games and loved the artistry and craftsmanship that went into them.  However seeing that statement in print made a point ring true.  I love the Blizzard of the past and not necessarily the Blizzard of the here and now.  Now we are not talking about expansion content here…  but the last new game that they released that I have really enjoyed on a large level was Diablo 3 from 2012.  That means that for the last seven years they have not produced something that really interested me.  While I have rabidly eaten up every bit of expansion content for Diablo 3…  World of Warcraft and I have a much spottier record with liking some expansions like Legion and largely loathing some expansions like Cataclysm.  Effectively though…  I didn’t so much love Blizzard but instead loved those two games.

To preface some of what I have said in thread form…  Overwatch is a universe that I really like but with a game attached to it that I have no real interest in playing.  Hearthstone was a game I was interested in and dabbled with occasionally… but all of that interest died the moment I got my hands on MTG Arena and got what I had wanted all along.  Heroes of the Storm academically is a better game for me than League of Legends…  but I don’t really like either enough to play them on a regular basis and I have no interest at all in solo queuing.  Battle for Azeroth was probably the thing that caused Blizzard the most damage in my eyes because it went in the opposite direction that I wanted the franchise to go.  Legion gave me hope of us moving towards a class based narrative and away from the big dumb red versus blue crap we have had forced upon us for years.  However the narrative felt hollow and the gameplay was not really interesting enough to keep me attached to it as everything felt like rehashed versions of things we had already seen in one form or another before.

Diablo is the franchise that Blizzard created that I probably care the most about, and the handling of the Immortal announcement stung.  I am actually looking forward to that game, because I think it will be something fun to play from bed while I drift off much like I do currently with Dragalia Lost.  However we are hungry for more core Diablo gameplay and every year I have waited with so much built up hope for the eventual announcement of Diablo 4 that never quite comes.  Now I am more or less tired of waiting and have redoubled my efforts to explore the various alternatives like Torchlight Frontiers, Pagan Online and games I already have access to like Grim Dawn.  I fully support the Diablo team because they caught a bullet that was not necessarily intended for them.  However that does not mean my personal goodwill and hopefulness did not take a hit.

The layoffs have really driven home how disconnected I have become from Blizzard games in general.  Right now the only thing in the Blizzard launcher that sees much in the way of playtime is Destiny 2, and it is one of those games in limbo since Bungie left the fold.  I made an attempt to start this season of Diablo 3 but for various reason I never really latched onto it and didn’t even make it a quarter of the way to the level cap.  I’ve not really played World of Warcraft since October, in spite of logging in one or twice in November…  and effectively logging right back out again.  Blizzard currently is not producing anything that is really exciting me, and I am finding that excitement in other places which is nothing terribly new to be honest.  I have always been a WoW Tourist over the years… where I would disappear for a few months but return eventually to keep playing.  That said however the longest that I have gone without playing the game since 2012 is a couple of four month long breaks.

Unless there is a drastic change in direction that makes significant effort to bury the hatchet of the dumb faction conflict storyline…  I am not sure if I will be back.  Battle for Azeroth is the first World of Warcraft expansion not to make the AggroChat Games of the Year show, and quite honestly it is the first expansion I regret pre-0ordering and playing.  The future of me and Blizzard largely hinges upon if they make good on giving me a Diablo game that I want, which is a sorta depressing thing to say.  One thing that I want to talk about at the end however is that I don’t blame anyone other than myself for this.  I think the workers at Blizzard need our support desperately right now, because it has to be a very scary time for those who survived this round of cuts.  For those who didn’t…  we need to do whatever we can to help them out during this transition.

That is a point that I have always made throughout the years is that even if I am struggling to like a company…  it has nothing to do with how I feel about its employees.  Everyone works their asses off to make the best damned game they can.  When we talk badly about their work, it often feels like a kick in the gut after they probably gave up so much of their own life to crunch through the release of that product.  I see you all out there and appreciate what you try your level best to provide me a fun entertainment experience.  I am always reluctant when I start criticizing something because I don’t want it to feel like I am kicking the poor folks who helped to build it.  Lets be honest… many of us had daydreams of working in the games industry.  However I saw early on that it was not exactly a path of stability and I went down a path that would give me that security blanket that I craved.  That does not however mean that I don’t respect the fuck out of everyone that is making these games for me…  and for people who are not my specific arrangement of tastes.

The take away from this post is not that Blizzard is bad because we have grown apart.  I just find it weird that I can say something like that and actually mean it.  I am however frustrated with the hell that is being unleashed upon the good people that make up the company.  If you ever need someone to talk to my DMs are open.

Multiplayer Conundrum

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Last night was a really weird night for me, where I spent a significant amount of time doing things OTHER than playing games.  I logged into Final Fantasy XIV pretty early but had the very annoying fight that I had been struggling with the night before ahead of me.  So I found myself alt tabbed out of Parsec and doing other things…  like watching a whole bunch of videos on YouTube.  Yesterday was one of those days where everything was stacked together so tightly that I felt like I was jumping from meeting to meeting without any real pauses between… and before I knew it was 5:30 and I felt like I had accomplished nothing.

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When I got home I fixed us some dinner and largely went into a vegetative state, and part of this was avoiding actually doing the thing that I logged into Final Fantasy XIV to do that night.  On some level I think I just couldn’t handle the failure that was inevitably going to happen.  However around 9 ish I finally started working on the quest and sure enough I failed the first attempt.  However on the second try I made it through to the Y’shtola phase…  which honestly seemed really hard to fail.  It was an interesting encounter but way the hell to long, and the margins for failure were way the hell to slim for a story quest.  I am however up to patch 4.5 which I believe is still the latest story content patch, and will likely begin that tonight.

The other day Pentapod/Dominoposted a twitter poll of sorts asking players why they prefer to play otherwise multiplayer games solo.  This is a bit of a loaded topic and I chimed into the thread with my own thoughts but never quite made them in a blog format.  The above twitter post includes the follow up that shows that the vast majority of the reasoning behind why…  is issues of player toxicity.  For me personally it is a bit more nuanced than that but toxicity is definitely a huge problem that keeps me away from any game where voice chat with strangers is forced or at least heavily suggested.

For me the issue comes from something that I have noticed over the years and have talked a bit about on this blog.  The more responsibility I have thrust upon me in the real world…  the less I want to be entangled with it in the virtual world.  When I was working thankless dead end jobs, I looked to World of Warcraft, the House Stalwart Guild and the then Duranub Raiding Company raid to provide me structure in my life and give me some semblance of control.  However as I moved jobs and arrived at a place where I was deeply appreciated… and as a result given more and more responsibility…  I found myself withdrawing significantly from guild leadership and even recently from raiding at all.

When I group with other players I feel responsible for not only myself but for the enjoyment of others.  I am just wired that way and I think it is in part why I have always leaned on tanking classes as my window into the virtual world.  However since January of last year I have had fifteen human beings relying on me every single day for their survival and job satisfaction at work…  I just cannot handle going home at night and taking on that responsibility for putting myself out there to organize things.  As a result I have found myself spending almost all of my time playing solo in MMORPGs or playing some truly single player gaming experience.  I traded that responsibility for others that I used to cherish in games…  for applying those same guild and raid leader skills to the workplace.

The end result however is frustrating because I have found myself withdrawing from even what I would consider the safest of places and instead erecting mental blocks against those activities that thrust me in with a bunch of other players.  I’ve found it extremely difficult to bring myself to queue as my Warrior main in FFXIV because I am just not sure if I can deal with having to feel responsible for the success or failure of an encounter.  The time-shift for the Seattle crew has also harmed this a bit, but there is a significant gathering of East and Central players in the Final Fantasy XIV free company that would be more than willing to do anything I ever wanted to do with me.

At some point I have to rip the band-aid off and get back into the swing of things.  However there are so many nights like last night where I allow myself to find alternate diversions.  I am looking forward to Anthem as some what of a clean start.  However I spent almost all of my time in the demo playing alone, either doing missions solo or roaming around aimlessly in free play.  However on the Anthem front… reminder that you can begin loading the game through Origin at Noon Central today.

 

Puppet Strings

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Yesterday was not an amazing day, but there are times you figure someone is out there pulling your puppet strings.  When I left the house I had intended to go get donuts for my team and then head into the office. However I failed to grab the drink I made for myself…  so I had on my brain that I needed to get a drink.  Where do I usually do that… QuikTrip, however for some reason I auto piloted my way to the busiest QuikTrip in town that I never go to in the morning because it has a ton of High School kids hanging out there.  So I go inside and get a drink and am maybe away from my car for five minutes… and when I come back out…  I insert the key into the ignition and nothing.  No sign of any electrical at all… and to make it worse the key will not remove from the ignition.

After doing some googling I realize that if the battery is completely dead the ignition sometimes holds onto the key for some reason as there is a servo that holds it in place.  Now something of note…  I’ve gone through three batteries in a little over six months.  The first battery made some semblance of sense because I figure it was the original to the vehicle.  The second battery…  well maybe it was just a lemon and it was under warranty so while it was a hassle and stranded me at this exact same QuikTrip in 20 degree weather…  it was on a weekend and manageable.  The third battery however…  we are getting into “there has to be a larger cause” territory.  Each time I have had the vehicle in the shop the electrical system tested out fine.

Yesterday instead of bringing it to the same place that I got all of the batteries swapped at… I brought it to the dealership hoping that maybe just maybe they would have more Chevy specific diagnostic information.  The best that they could come up with is that the battery cables were garaged on the end that connects to the vehicle not the battery.  So they swapped those out and swapped the battery that was not toast and I was on my way by mid day.   However it pretty much killed all of the first part of my day and nothing says fun like trying to attend conference calls from a busy car dealership lobby.

I am really hoping when I go out to turn my vehicle on this morning that everything just works.  They think they found the source of the problems but at this point I am just paranoid.  When I said that sometimes a puppet master is out there pulling the strings…  what I meant by that is had I not caught this in the morning I would have instead caught it after about 5:30 at night…  while my vehicle was in a downtown parking garage without an easy way to load it up and tow it.  We would have likely had to push it down and out of the garage to be able to tow it at all given there isn’t enough height clearance for a tow truck to get in there and back out with a vehicle on the trailer.

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As far as gaming goes…  I made an attempt at the quest I had been stalled out in Final Fantasy XIV but however didn’t realize there was just about to be a server reset.  As such I made it through the first part of the fight… only to find out there is a whole OTHER part of the fight where I play as Y’shtola.  The server rebooted and killed my connection shortly after starting that… which means I am going to have to restart the entire freaking quest line when I get back.  Were this another game I would have just tossed it in the bin and walked away from it, but I know I HAVE to get through this stupid quest to be able to participate in the upcoming expansion.  This is a dumb quest and Square should feel bad for putting something this painfully long in the MSQ.

Instead I finally landed on playing some Grim Dawn which I still think is probably my favorite Diablo 2 style game out there.  The story is nonsense and the questing system is obtuse… so quite honestly I just keep pushing forward until I get to the next rift which unlocks access to that region from the central hub.  Along the way I appear to be completing some quests as I take down monsters marked with a star over their head.  It is a mechanically fun game, but I can’t say any of the gearing options feel really inspired to me.  Sure it is sorta cool that you can have a gun, but I still wind up running around with a big two handed weapon, since my attack of choice is a big overhead smash that sends a shockwave along the ground.

Here is hoping that today is less messed up and that nothing out of the ordinary occurs.  It is also my hope that tonight I can return to that quest line and finally beat the damned thing so I can move on with my life.  Final Fantasy XIV is not really endearing itself to me right now, but I want to finish the story that I have missed.

The Will of the Moon

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This weekend was largely about me trying to recuperate from whatever crud I had on Friday.  I’m feeling better as a whole but still not feeling 100%.  I’ve referred to this weekend as a name brand beta, because when a company throws a special test that most of the world seems to be invited to it definitely comes off as more marketing ploy than actual test of the game infrastructure.  Overall the game performed flawlessly other than an apparent known memory leak bug, that I never quite encountered because I didn’t play longer than the requisite two or three hours that it takes to encounter it.  The missions that I ran were rather enjoyable, and I fully expect to at a minimum play through the story content and unlock all of that.  I make no guarantees about how long it will take me given that it took me a good two years before I reached maximum level in the original game.

I still question how well the game fits my play style, but at the moment I am looking at it for a purely single player experience given that I know going into it that none of the other AggroChat crew will be playing it.  They all for the most part bounced off of the original Division, and primarily for the bleak story beats.  I think the fact that we were effectively working for the various communities that we discover makes the flow of the story feel better.  However as Kodra pointed out on the podcast, it does leave us a question of why exactly we are still an agent if there is no organizational structure left?  I mostly view that trope as the lone lawman in the wild frontier sort of approach.  I will say the game improved massively after I turned off the HDR, given that I was only able to SEE the HDR effect upstairs in my office and not while playing remotely through parsec…  and as such it made everything extremely washed out and hard to pick out details.

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The game I spent the majority of Saturday playing was Assassin’s Creed Origins and I have reached a point where I am staring down the barrel of the ending.  However I am extremely frustrated by what appears to be the ending that is unfolding in front of me.  Now I have said for some time that my opinion is that when this game was originally planned the ultimately design was that you could play it as Bayek or as Aya since the two characters at least on some level are interchangeable and have the same reasons for engaging in the main story plot.  For sake of budget I assume they cut one character so that they would not have to animate two copies of everything, but the problem with this is…  that every time you are forced to play Aya it is like stepping foot into a level one character.

What I mean by that is through the course of the game you make a lot of stylistic decisions about what weapons you want to use and what talent points to sink into.  Then each time you are throw into playing Aya you are forced to return back to the character that lacks the ability to customize anything.  So spoilers time…  but I just went through a sequence where it appears that I am saying goodbye to my character Bayek…  aka the one that I have spent the last 40 levels customizing to be exactly the way I want him to be…  and being forced to do the ending of the game with Aya the level 1 blank slate.  This makes me really not want to do any of the ending and just call it good enough… returning to playing through the fun part of the game which is doing random quests out in the world.  Maybe this isn’t exactly what is about to happen… but it certainly seems like I am just about to be forced into beating the game as a proxy.  Please note… I like Aya as a character and would have been fine playing her…  if I could actually control what sort of gear and talents she had.

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Lastly I spent some time playing Final Fantasy XIV this weekend and accomplished two things.  Firstly I managed to get my Blue Mage to 50…  which means I now need to find a party of blue mages to go collect the rest of the spells I have available to me given that everything else seems to come from a dungeon or trial.  I spent the podcast grinding out mobs in Northern Thanalan and managed to push across the line solo.  I also managed to get through The Burn which served as a bit of a roadblock since the final boss of that dungeon appears to be a PUG destroyer.  I’ve now moved the quest line along to where I am failing miserably at a fight that is about four times longer than it really needs to be.  Actually I have only failed it the one time and it was mostly because I didn’t catch on what was going on fast enough.  I opted to play through the mission as a warrior instead of a samurai, but that also meant that I was not prepared for a burn phase, because I assumed I was simply trying to out survive the encounter.

I will likely poke my head back in again tonight and give it another shot.  I think I am probably nearing the bridge between 4.4 and 4.5 and as such getting closer and closer to being able to understand what the hell is going on.

Sickly Agent

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I’m feeling like crap this morning so I am probably going to be fairly brief as far as blog posts go.  Granted I just said that in the least brief way I could possibly muster…  so who knows.  I played a little Division 2 last night and quite honestly it didn’t grab me.  Of the looty shooty games that were on the market I will say that Division was probably the one that I had the most on again off again relationship with.  Destiny I knew from the first moment I played it that I loved it.  Warframe I knew from the first moment I played it that I largely disliked it.  Division…  I was never quite certain of.  There were aspects that I liked and aspects that I didn’t like…  namely I was never a huge fan of their particular brand of hide behind shit and aim your tiny cursor at someones head.  It felt way more tactical and less visceral than a Destiny where everything is first person gun play.  I found it fine when I was trying to keep track of three targets, but stressed when I was attempting to hide from a dozen targets all bearing down on me.  The movement never felt fluid enough to compensate for the need to constantly be ducking myself behind something.  Also my target personal target acquisition skills seemed to be incompatible with zeroing in on a tiny area of motion fast enough to get in a shot before I also took a lot of damage in the process.

If anything…  all of these things seem to be worsened experience wise for me in the sequel.  The world is more cluttered and there is just more things that you have to reconcile in your field of view… and given that I spend most of my time playing on a 15.4 inch laptop screen…  tracking tiny areas of motion is a challenge.  From what I can tell Division 2 is much like Destiny 2…  where it is mostly the same game just rendered in much higher fidelity.  However just like the first game I am not entirely certain if that is a game that I actually want to play.  The whole military fantasy thing is not really my jam anymore, so that is an initial strike.  Third person shooters are less of my thing than first person shooters…  so that is another strike.  Lastly I am finding that I just don’t enjoy the run from cover to cover sort of gameplay and much prefer to run around guns a blazing…  and Division is a game that actively and brutally punishes you for that.  However as this genre broadens I feel less of a need to try and keep up with all of them.  I play Destiny and Anthem…  and apparently not Division and Warframe.

That is not to say that I won’t spend more time during the weekend giving it an opportunity to infect me with its madness.  This is just a post saying that more or less its the same game that I remember… and that I took two years to hit level cap in.  I know there are a bunch of my friends who are super amped about it and I am not really going to bash the gameplay experience.  It is good at the thing it is doing and I think it is probably better at the thing it is doing than the first game was.  I just find myself questioning if I like the thing that it is trying to do.  It is perfectly reasonable to think that a game is actually pretty good, but that it isn’t a game that you enjoy.  Division 2 is without a doubt a worthy successor to Division…  but I found myself just wanting to play more Anthem.

MMO-Lite Fantasy

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One of the things I have learned over the nearly ten years of doing this thing… is occasionally you need to see your own words reflected back at you through the eyes of another player for something to finally click into place.  Yesterday my good friend Pete left a comment on my blog and I had one of those moments of clarity.  So for reference the comment was specifically about the statement I made about having trouble engaging with a more traditional MMORPG.

I recently re-subbed to FF XIV; in my case I was so lost I rolled yet another alt to start over. Annndddd I’m really struggling to engage for that same “been playing quasi-MMOs too much” reason. I just feel like the time-invest:reward ratio is off now. Maybe it’s because I started fresh, or maybe I’ve just moved past MMOs. Of course knowing I’m all-in on Anthem in a couple of weeks is also kind of coloring all my gaming experiences now. Everything is just to ‘tide me over’ until Anthem comes.

Ultimately I think the key problem I have been having is that what I am looking for doesn’t quite exist yet.  I’ve gotten used to the rhythm of the quasi-MMO/MMO-lite style games where you get some sort of bit of your cortex lighting up every few minutes as something happens that is interesting and exciting.  This could be an engram drop or a really freaking sweet headshot…  or getting to use your super or favorite grenades…  but something cool is constantly happening.  In a traditional MMORPG it just feels sluggish by comparison with nothing really exciting happening unless you are in a dungeon…  and even then loot has been so sanitized and normalized that nothing really exciting ever drops anymore.  Gone are the days of hoping that one item you had been seeking drops…  and replaced is the item level 300 version of the same item you have been since since item level 100 just scaled up.

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Everything feels like what we used to refer to as a “stat stick”, aka those boring trinkets that had a lot of stats on them but didn’t do anything to change the gameplay.  In a MMO-Lite like Destiny, each time I pick up a new weapon it feels like an interesting and unique experience and having that one magically rare “god roll” feels so much better than the slightly less perfect versions I have littering my vault.  In Anthem… each weapon and ability load out felt vastly different than the other options…  so Venom Darts felt significantly different from Pulse Blast for example.  Items in a traditional MMORPG don’t do this… because they are trying desperately not to upset the balance of how each class relates to every other class.  As a result you get the same item over and over scaled up for level as not to upset the apple cart.

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Then there is the action aspect that I find myself craving…  in an MMORPG the skill component tends to be either mashing your buttons with Dance Dance Revolution style perfect timing, or your ability to react to things happening quickly, or in the case of Final Fantasy XIV…  execute a choreographed dance perfectly.  Please note I am not discounting the amount of skill that any of those things take, because I have done them all in one form or another but never at the level of polish that the hardcorest of hardcore raiders do.  However this just feels fundamentally different than lining up that perfect headshot or timing a grenade just right as the enemy is running down a hallway and you wind up sweeping that entire group.  That is just a level of interaction that you don’t really get in fantasy games…  and I think is in part why I have been enjoying Assassin’s Creed Origins so much because it gives me some aspects of that.

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The more Actiony Fantasy games comes close, but never quite work in the same way that a Destiny, Division, Warframe or Anthem do.  Probably the closest that exists is Skyforge, but while the combat feels great…  the overarching flow of that game is somewhat incomprehensible and it is also “very free to play”.  Neverwinter has a lot of the same traits…  and it can be super enjoyable but it is almost too MMO at times…  and again suffers from the “very free to play” hurdle as well.  I feel like I should take a moment to explain what I mean by that.  Free to play games tend to do a bunch of things to confuse the user and drive them towards buying their way out of holes…  so they give you very limited inventory or in the case of Neverwinter spend lots of time deluging you in complete useless shit that you will loot and fill up that inventory space.  They also have tons of competing currencies that have no direct exchange rate that largely just give me a headache thinking about them.  If I can manage to keep my head down and focus on the quest at hand I can enjoy these games for a period of time…  but again the gear all has the problem of feeling like the exact same item regurgitated over and over with higher stats.

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Elder Scrolls Online is a phenomenal MMORPG that wants to be action oriented… and while yes you are constantly swinging your sword with your mouse button in place of hitting an ability with the number 2 to spam it…  it also doesn’t feel very far removed from the traditional formula.  Hitting an ability doesn’t feel exciting in the game and instead just feels like hotbar combat filtered through a different lens.  I continue to play that game for its expansive and wonderful story and my love of the Elder Scrolls setting, but it failed at providing a more action oriented alternative to the MMORPG because in many ways it feels like they didn’t go far enough.  I love the fact that we are limited to a specific number of abilities, but most of those abilities don’t feel powerful enough and can be spammed…  which sorta destroys that feeling of having an exciting moment driven through gameplay.

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The game that comes the closest to nailing the Fantasy MMO-Lite is Monster Hunter World.  So many of the elements feel spot on, but it is absolutely NOT trying to be this game and it shows.  Grouping still feels awful even though at least on the PC it is driven by Steam Communities instead of a Clan that requires people to have joined the same session to invite folks into.  It is also very limited in focus… it is about hunting big monsters and if you want to do something other than that the game really doesn’t offer much in the way of opportunities.  There is no “strike” or “dungeon” construct and there are very few activities that offer an opportunity to just hang out and chill, as everything is laser focused on taking down big boss monsters.  However it does nail down the perfect crafting system for one of these MMO Lites or “collect a bunch of monster bits” and then have some NPC make your gear from it.

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The challenge is still that no one has quite created a version of the Destiny model that works for Fantasy games.  “For Honor” tried to create a version of melee combat that does things to require skill…  but it feels confusing and obtuse with its rock paper scissors inspired system of defending and attacking.  In a perfect world…  someone would take the world of Anthem… the activities of Destiny… the combat of Monster Hunter World… and package them all together in one MMO-Lite that gives me my fantasy fix.  However for the moments developers all seem to be chasing that looter shooter niche…  which is great…  but sometimes I don’t want to shoot but instead hit people with a sword.  Sure I know that Warframe has that ability but it is still a Sci-Fantasy game…  and I still have issues with the fucked up perspective of the characters in that title and the inability to zoom out further.  What I ultimately want is a game that no one has built yet.

Lost Allagan Tankybutts

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It feels lame when I say it this way… but I am been on this very slow path of trying to ease back into Final Fantasy XIV.  Most recently I have spent my time leveling as a Blue Mage, but last night I decided to try and figure out what it would take to get unstuck in the main story quest.  One of the frustrating parts about coming back to FFXIV is that generally speaking there are gear roadblocks in the way.  This is not to say that the game does not give you ample opportunity to catch up…  but you have to be playing to be able to exercise those options.  If you have been like me and largely checked out for the better part of an expansion…  you come back and find that what might have been good gear for the launch of the game…  is no longer able to actually participate in anything.

This was the case with me who was largely in 310 gear when I checked out of Stormblood and slammed right into a wall called Castrum Fluminis in the main story quest.  To be able to do this 8 player trial it requires you to have 335 item level…  of which there are a bunch of ways to get, but all of which required me to actually be doing content.  Then I was reminded of the fact that a new set of hunt seal gear went into the game.  Last night I started the evening running around and collecting Centurio Seals….  only to notice that when I checked the total I had gotten…  that I was apparently capped?  I don’t remember doing that much hunting before I left but it was enough to get me into a full set of 330 gear.  Shortly after this a very awesome guildie dropped a brand new 380 crafted axe on me pushing my item level up to 336 and over the line needed to do the trial.

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However I took the chickens route out and decided to see what it would take to gear out my Samurai in an equivalent amount of gear.  The answer?  Roughly 1 million gil by the time all was said and done bought me a new weapon and a few strategic pieces of gear that pushed my total item level up to 336 as well.  I completed the Trial as Samurai since no one actually expects much out of them considering they seem to have replaced the Dragoon as the lolclass in the minds of the populace.  I do need to get back on the tanking horse…  but last night was not the night.  I did however get through the Trial relatively easily and pushed forward in the story until I hit one of the infamous “lots of cutscenes” warnings.  Based on past experience this means thirty minutes to an hour and a half of stuff that is about to happen.

Given that it was fairly late in the evening already I took this as my queue to head on to bed.  From what I can tell I am at the border between patch 4.3 and patch 4.4…  and I have all of the content in 4.4 and 4.5 yet to go until I have reached the ultimate conclusion of Stormblood.  So far they have thrown out a few surprises… but unfortunately the news of Shadowbringers has spoiled a little bit of the conclusion.  I’ve still not watched the long form trailer that came out with FFXIV Fanfest Paris, and as such am trying to push through so that I can be up to date.  I am trying to get back into playing an MMORPG again…  but it just feels weird considering how much of the Destiny style MMO Lite I have been playing of late.

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If my math is correct… tomorrow is the beginning of the Closed Beta test in Division 2.  I will likely be pausing my MSQ progression to spend time checking that game out.  Curious… who else will I be seeing there?