Category Archives: Commentary

Stat Synonym Overload

I am not entirely sure whether it is due to my age, experience with MMOs, or perhaps a combination of the two, but the naming conventions in these games are becoming increasingly obtuse.

In the beginning, or near abouts anyway, there was HP. Then there was Constitution, which affected HP. Or perhaps Endurance, circa the Fallout series. Then it seemed to be Stamina for a long while. Now it is Vitality, or straight-up Health, or even Grit, or whatever. Strength seems to be pretty consistent over the years, but Dexterity can be all over the place – Nimbleness, Precision, or split into Perception and Agility. I was browsing this fan page for Wildstar and slowly blinked at the attribute names. Here are the main six:

  • Brutality
  • Finesse
  • Moxie
  • Tech
  • Insight
  • Grit

Pop-quiz hotshots: what do any of those mean in-game without looking it up?

Personally, I know what somebody means when they refer to someone “having a lot of moxie,” but I wouldn’t be able to define it off-hand, let alone venture a guess as to what it would do in-game. Hell, the only time I’ve ever heard the term used for anything in a game was during the brief period I played Kingdom of Loathing (which has a Moxie stat). In Wildstar, it will apparently depend on what class you’re playing as to what the stat does: it’s Critical Chance and Critical Severity Rating for everyone aside from ESPers, for whom it increases Assault Power. Meanwhile, Insight raises Deflect and Deflect Critical Rating for most, and Support Power for the heal-y types. And good luck with figuring out Tech, which can be Assault, Support, or Deflect increases depending on class.

I mean, I get it. Maybe the designers want to thematically set their gaming world apart from what came before. Perhaps there is a concern that theorycrafting from one game will carry over too easily to the next. Who knows, maybe game companies have actually trademarked attribute terms and it’s actually illegal to use them.

All that I know is that, to me, stats in these games have become unmoored to any ready understanding of them. Dungeons of Dredmor made a tongue-in-cheek point by including 29 different stats on the character sheet, but I’m no longer going to be surprised if Savvy or Caddishness shows up unironically. I mean, Moxie for god’s sake.

I find this entire scenario a problem for game companies because my ability to care – let’s call it Tolerance Rating – is approaching zero. I enjoy numbers, theorycrafting, and so on. I do not enjoy translating foreign languages, or having to otherwise refer to some sort of cheat sheet just to see if what item I picked up is an upgrade. But maybe attribute names were always goofy and arbitrary, and that I specifically have simply accumulated too much game-lore detritus.

In which case… I’m apparently in for a bad time.

Quotes of the Time Interval

I am a particular fan of well-crafted treatises, clever turns of phrases, and compelling wordsmithing in general. And in that regard, it’s been a good week:

People tended not to cause too much trouble at the cultist areas in Silithus. We all had stuff to do and some of that stuff involved fighting things that could easily kill us. This meant that we didn’t want a fight, but if one started, we weren’t going to waste time trying to do any more PvE. It instantly escalated into a full-scale war. We didn’t need any sand for that, just something we wanted to do and someone getting in the way of us doing it.

Klepsacovic delivered in that last sentence something more profound than ten-thousand PvP forum posts. Blizzard has been attempting to recapture the lightning for years with successively unsuccessful variations of the sand mechanic, with seeming little regard as to why people chose to fight over the sand in the first place. Namely, they didn’t. Fights chose them, and they chose to meet halfway. No amount of gank-friendly daily quests will bring back vanilla PvP if the players themselves have lost the taste for blood.

So there I am, back home in Abella Cove. The rent’s paid til the end of the world. I’m not going anywhere. Ever again.

With the heroic stoicism of a Norse god staring down Ragnarok, Bhagpuss spins a tale about player housing in Vanguard that almost makes me wish I had played the doomed MMO just so I could lose something in solidarity.

Far Cry 3 #GameLogic

I recently started to play Far Cry 3, and have come to realize that it features a whole new level of bizarre #GameLogic. I mean, there is some nominal amount of disbelief suspension going on in every game, sure. How does sleeping in a tent regain health? Why can I get shot and regenerate by ducking behind cover, for that matter? Why do I have to pay hundreds of thousands of currency units to purchase weapons from a store that will cease to exist if I fail to kill the world-destroying evil guy?

Some invisible line felt crossed in Far Cry 3 though, about the time I realized I was hunting and skinning goats to increase my wallet size. I can buy a flamethrower from the corner drug store, but can’t buy a wallet with my (then maximum) $1000?

Step 1: Drive over there. Step 2: Skin some goats.

Step 1: Drive over there. Step 2: Skin some goats.

That goofiness aside, Far Cry 3 has been… interesting, thus far. The minute I realized that unlocking additional weapon slots and ammo storage was bound by killing/skinning animals and not level, was the minute I ignored the story altogether and went on a Buffalo Bill safari. You might think that the easy, beginning recipes would belong to animals populated around the beginning areas, but you would be wrong – I had to travel quite a distance across the map to find some goats to offer to Mammon, the dark deity of larger wallets.

Speaking of questionable design philosophies, Far Cry 3 is reminding me a bit about why Skill Trees are usually a dumb idea. Right now, most of the three trees are locked until I complete more story missions, but the “root” of one of the trees was, I kid you not, the ability to “cook” grenades. As in, I needed experience points and adding a tattoo to my arm to unlock the ability to pull the pin of the grenade and not immediately throw it. And you have to unlock this ability in order to choose anything else in that tree. This reminded me of TBC WoW, where Affliction warlocks had to put five (!) talent points in the 1st tier to lower Corruption’s casting speed down to instant-cast; I think the first talent point was a 0.2 second reduction, or something.

Character customization is great, don’t get me wrong. But, seriously, if you have that much filler in your talent trees, you are probably better off not having any at all.

Old Skool

In my continuing efforts to reclaim hard drive space and knock out some more of my Steam backlog, I booted up MINERVA: Metastasis. For some reason I thought this was the user mod for Bioshock I remember hearing about back in the day, so I was quite surprised to find it was a Half-Life 2 mod. Still, at 5+ gigs, I figured it was about time to see what’s what.

And that what seems to be old fucking school.

More than anything, the sound FX is what took me back.

More than anything, the sound FX is what took me back.

As I turned the first corner into some Combine while armed with the machine gun, the first thing I did was hold the right mouse button and prepare to aim for the head. Instead, I shot an under-barrel grenade which damn near instantly killed me. “Oh. Oh my.” The machine gun clearly has a holographic targeting reticule, but in this circumstantial trip down nostalgia lane, aiming-down-sights hasn’t been invented yet. “Am I supposed to be hip-firing like some kind of animal?!” Yes. The answer is yes.

Also, your bullet spread pattern will always random, no matter whether you squeeze one round off or empty the clip. That is some Bronze-Age shit right there.

Game design evolution is a funny thing – very rarely is there ever any going back. For example, remember when you just had 100 HP, maybe 100 shields, and neither regenerated at all no matter how long you cowered in the corner with 17 HP remaining? It seems like just yesterday to me, because it literally was. I pooh-poohed Bioshock Infinite for having CoD- (and now Battlefield-) style regeneration, but now I’m not entirely sure what to think. I mean, is regeneration worse than spamming QuickSave every 30 seconds? Going to a CheckPoint system sounds even worse, as designers rarely hit the sweet-spot between The Last of Us’s one-enemy-filled room or Far Cry 1′s “hope you brought a sandwich, because the CheckPoint is on another island.”

I think that the first two Bioshocks got it right, insofar as there was no regeneration but you could stockpile medkits and the like up to a certain point. I felt no reason to explore in MINERVA when I was at full health, as there was literally no reason to; without hidden upgrades or things to stockpile, frequently there existed many rooms completely void of any reason to exist (beyond verisimilitude, I suppose).

In any case, the mod was worthwhile for the nostalgia and game design lesson alone. I just talked about having arrows over quest objectives the other day, but there were probably half a dozen spots in MINERVA where I had no idea where to go, or what the game expected me to be doing. And as is usually the case, the answer was staring me in the face. Then again, I did have to look up how to get past the room with the shield generators because, for some ungodly reason, we were just supposed to know that two grenades were necessary to destroy them. I tossed a grenade into each of the four generators, alarms went off, and once they recovered I went “Aha! They must need to be disabled in a specific pattern!” Nope. Just a dev’s modder’s Gotcha! moment.

Or maybe we were just all smarter in the olden days.

Maybe Too Much Verisimilitude

So, I guess the devs from FFXIV just released the prices for in-game housing and no one is happy. The pushback from the devs was phrased this way from Massively:

Yoshida said that the high cost in intended to prevent wealthy players from snapping up all of the plots and that all players will be earning more money with patch 2.1. “I understand that, in taking these measures to ensure even distribution of land, we are asking for considerable patience from those players who are eager to enjoy housing right away,” he said. “While I sympathize with players concerns, we believe that this is in the best long-term interests of the game.”

In other words, the concern was that the wealthy players would go around and snatch up all the land before the average player/guild could do so, Monopoly-style. Considering that the housing area is already going to be instanced away from the game world, which is itself already segregated into identical servers, this seems like an Extraordinarily Dumb Problem to Have.

In fairness, I have never thought that “in the world” player housing was ever a good idea, in any game. I’m sure that it “worked” (for very narrow definitions of the word) in various games, but the whole thing strikes me as a kind of bizarre pyramid scheme. What’s the content? Where’s the gameplay? If you are first in line, congratulations, you have an exclusive advantage on into perpetuity and everyone behind you is screwed all in the name of… what? Some vague sense of permanent ownership in a virtual world? Don’t get me wrong, I fully support player housing in general. I just don’t see the point in finite plots of land in a game ostensibly being played by hundreds of thousands of players. This sort of nonsense is why I never got into playing multiplayer Minecraft – where is the fun in traveling to the shit ends of the world because all the prime real estate is taken?

But hey, Square Enix, good job with that heavy, capitalistic dose of realism in your escapist fantasy MMO. Maybe you could add some adjustable-rate mortgages in the next patch, or just allow the rich players to become landlords and rent out property.

Destiny, Bioshock Infinite, and FF6 on phones

Random news mishmash!

Bioshock Infinite

Ken Levine had an AMA on Reddit on Tuesday, in which he took some incredibly soft, er, softball questions about Bioshock Infinite and its upcoming DLC. I am not sure what exactly I expected – perhaps an apology? – but I left pretty disappointed. Actually, I sorta found myself feeling angry every time I read someone proclaiming that Infinite was their “favorite game ever.” I keep thinking: “No it’s not. The game taking place in your head bears no resemblance whatsoever to the actual game you are playing.” Yes, there is an ontological difference.

I generally have no problem with people having different favorite games than me. If you liked Zelda: Wind Waker more than anything else in the world, good for you. And, hey, now you can buy the High Definition cel-shading version with 300% more bloom! And with basically all the extremely annoying shit you had to do back in 2003 tossed right out: your sailboat can go 50% faster, you don’t have to bother with changing the wind while sailing (pretty sad how exciting that sounds in a game called Wind Waker), and there is significantly less trolling the ocean floor for maps that lead you to pieces of the pieces of the Tri-Force, i.e. what you do for 60% of the game.

See? No judgment here.

I suppose I should be more accommodating for peoples’ favorite games, given how my top-list basically came out in 1997-1998. But, seriously, if Bioshock Infinite registered anywhere higher than Top 50 for you, I’m going to need you to play some other games because damn. It looked pretty and the soundtrack was awesome, but the gunplay and story… you know, it’s not worth it anymore. I’ve said my piece.

Let’s just smother that baby and pretend these paragraphs didn’t happen. ¹

Destiny

Remember that not-Halo game Bungie was making? Me neither. Kotaku posted an article/video yesterday about how Bungie was coining the term “shared world shooter” for Destiny, and basically contrasting that with more traditional MMO player experiences. Which is actually a sort of interesting game design/philosophy argument when you think about it.

As the video points out, a game like Destiny or GTA: Online simply couldn’t work with 100s of players dicking around and causing mass mayhem. It got me thinking about how MMOs themselves manage to pull it off, and I realized that our extremely limited interaction capability is probably due to precisely this problem. The more people you put in one place, the less they are able to change or influence the environment, lest you spend your gaming hours traversing barren craters everywhere.

This is not a new subject by any means; I posted something similar way back in 2011 and the concept of TTP goes even further back (if not to cave paintings). The angle I had not considered was how ridiculous (and abusive) something like WoW would be if you could impact other players to degree you can in GTA: Online. Mount-jacking, being pushed off cliffs via collision-detection, and so on. Some sandboxes advertise these as features, of course, but I’m starting to wonder which one comes first. Like maybe you have to rely on player-driven content simply because players would just create a constant shitstorm in any sort of PvE content if they had to ability to directly grief interact with others.

Getting back to Destiny… well, I’d rather not. Once I realized that they are basically making a non-cel-shaded Borderlands, my interest level plummeted. Just watch that E3 video again. Dungeons? Check. Bosses? Check. Random loot drops? Check. Raids? Check. It can still be fun, no doubt, and maybe they will be able to do some things better than Borderlands did. But the game is “Bungie’s Borderlands” to me now, and I am very much burned out from Borderlands 2 right now.

FF6 Coming to iOS/Android

I don’t have much to add to what’s already out there. Well, other than how I think it’s amusing how much these old properties are being mined for residual income in an environment that (I assume) is dominated by ROMs. Actually, it’s probably pretty smart in that even a relatively tech-savvy person like me balks a little bit at the steps necessary to play SNES games on my phone. Hell, I’m not even sure I want to play these games on my phone in the first place; my commute is a short drive and my breaks/lunches get filled pretty quickly via Feedly and Reddit all on their own. And even if I did want to play these games, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to play them using a SNES controller overlay on the touch-screen.

Although I have perked up a few times hearing that I could play Xenogears on the PSP and Vita, I just can’t envision a scenario in which I would be playing it and not be near either my computer or television. If I’m not playing ROMs on the computer right now, why would I be doing so on a handheld? Help me out here, people: when would you be playing these classics on portable devices?

Plus, you know, Sony is still selling 32gb memory sticks for $72 like it’s goddamn 2005.

¹ That’s a Bioshock Infinite joke. If you don’t get it, be thankful.

Borderlands 2 Masochism

I finally beat Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep a few nights ago. It was… painful.

The DLC itself was fine – it is humorous and touching and has a lot of D&D/MMO jokes. What ended up happening with my situation though is that I completed the DLC on Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode, aka the highest difficulty (well, I guess it goes higher now). This decision was sort of cemented when one of the Treant mobs dropped The Bee, which is a legendary shield whose shield stats are kinda lame, but adds something like 50,000 damage per shot when you fire with full shields. Either intentionally or unintentionally, that extra 50k damage is added per bullet to my Double Penetrating Unkempt Harold (DPUK), which means mobs typically melted in the fury of 2+ million damage with each trigger pull.

Things got even more ridiculous when I acquired the Grog Nozzle, a quest gun that doesn’t deal a whole lot of damage by itself, but has a high chance of Slagging enemies (increasing subsequent damage by 200-300%) while also healing you for ~65% of the damage you deal with it equipped. Even more bizarrely, since it is technically a quest gun (that you can take anywhere) it doesn’t take up an inventory slot either.

The “painful” part to all this was simply playing the game at all. All non-legendary item drops were useless, especially any shields given how The Bee was pretty much required to deal damage. I did swap it out for a bit in a few areas, but I was leaning real hard on the DPUK to carry me through. Other weapons were pretty much a joke: dealing 32k/bullet damage is irrelevant to mobs with tens of millions of HP and the ability to regenerate health extremely quickly. At one point around level 54, I entertained the notion of going back to some of the DLCs to acquire some (upgraded) legendaries just to spice things up and not be shooting a pistol all day. The Sand Hawk would have been interesting, for example, as a submachine gun shooting bullets in the pattern of a bird flapping its wings. But that would mean extending my Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode stay in content I already seen twice now just to complete the current DLC after which I was likely to uninstall immediately.

All of this really struck home how important it is for games to have a smooth progression curve. Where I “screwed up” was hitting the level cap at the end of Mister Torgue’s DLC; thereafter I was stuck in a limbo of too-easy content on one side and content that’s designed to challenge the people who farmed legendaries at the old level cap. While I suppose the latter group needs catered to – especially given how they’re likely to be still playing, and thus willing to buy DLC – the end result is an extremely warped play experience. Your weapons are so strong because the enemies are ridiculous, and the ridiculous enemies makes your shields/HP basically irrelevant, which means you are awkwardly trying to dodge their melee/ranged attacks with generic movement, none of which really feels like Borderlands anymore.

By the way, calling it now: Borderlands 3 will have a more formal Dash/Dodge button, ala MMOs these days. If Gearbox doesn’t add this, it’ll be because they’re really dumb because goddamn precision movement is awkward and annoying right now for how much they require you to do it.

And have I mentioned that because the death penalty is a percentage of your wealth, that you end up losing $400,000 each time you respawn? There is also a few places with instant-death traps, which was a lot of fun not at all fun. Granted, you can’t really purchase anything for $5,000,000, but that’s another whole issue entirely. It kinda makes even picking up and vendoring loot a waste of time.

The more I think about it, the more I come to understand that Borderlands 2 basically ends at level 50. A full playthrough of the vanilla game will end around level 35, and that was a fun experience. After that? Still sorta fun, but the “optimal” path was going straight through the story missions again, skipping all sidequests, until you hit 2.5 mode at level 50. Then you can safely do sidequests for the unique rewards that would stay useful. Increasing the level cap basically screwed over everyone that hit the old cap without legendaries, as you get left with a Faustian bargain of farming bosses for hours or doing DLC missions for no reward.

So if you haven’t played Borderlands 2 yet and are waiting for the GotY edition, that is my advice: play the vanilla game while doing everything, then the DLCs in order, and then pat yourself on the back and be done with it. You can get 120 hours (or more) of play time like I did, but the you’ll face some pretty ridiculous diminishing returns on both fun and sanity.

October Surprise(s)

October is shaping up to be a busy month.

Hearthstone is going to have its first (and only) beta wipe coinciding with a large rebalancing patch. And apparently more opt-in beta waves. Which is an important distinction from open beta, which this will not be. The good news is that there isn’t going to be any further beta wipes, so progression for those that are in the beta is going to be permanent thereafter.

The “rebalancing” is of most interest to me (of course), as Blizzard is going to have a thread a needle made out of graphene. I have talked about some of the imbalanced cards before, but the most salient point is that the devs do not have the same access to the balance “knobs” as they do in, say, WoW or Diablo 3. Hypothetically, making the Pint-Sized Summoner go from costing 2 mana to 3, for example, is an enormous balancing change that has wide-ranging repercussions on how (and if) the card is played at all. I would personally change the Pint-Sized Summoner to be a 1/1 or maybe a 1/2; the former makes it a dead draw against Mage and Rogue decks, but honestly, I don’t feel like an Arena game should revolve around whether you have a turn-2 removal spell in your opening hand. Maybe they could change it to be only 1 mana off the cost of creatures and leave the rest alone?

Speaking of digital card games, Hex will be beginning its Alpha testing on October 8th. To be honest, even with the weekly Kickstarter updates, I sorta forgot about the fact that I pledged $85 (!) to this game nearly 5 months ago. And even more honestly, Hearthstone kinda sucked all the oxygen out of the CCG room. For however lame its been to go 0-3 or my most recent 3-3 record in the Hearthstone Arena, at least I could choose to pay $0 for those games; going back to $6 drafts will be rough. The Alpha test will give everyone 4 copies of all PvP cards, so at least I won’t have to decide whether to “waste” all my Kickstarter packs before the game comes out (which hopefully dilute the skill pool a bit).

Although I have not been playing it regularly, PlanetSide 2 is due for a huge optimization patch on October 23rd. I’m not actually all that excited about it, even though the devs are supposedly touting a ~30% gain in frame rates across all types of computer configurations. Why? First of all, this optimization work is at the expense of everything else. Changes to the Infiltrator class? Pushed back. New air weapons pushed back. New continent pushed back. And so on.

A fire was clearly lit under someone’s ass about poor performance, but with players leaving in droves, I’m not sure that chasing after the ones that left over computer issues is a winning proposition. And that leads me to reason number two: it’s all really a cynical ploy to get the game ready for the PlayStation 4. “Cynical” as in they only bothered caring about performance nearly a year after release, and only when the opportunity to cash in on a new market presented itself.

I’m a little bitter, if you can’t tell. Every time I get the bug to go play some more of PS2, I hit Instant Action and am sent to some deserted facility that changed hands an hour ago. And when I do happen to find some action, it inevitably dies down quickly and I’m left staring at the 5, 10, 15 minute capture timer. “Open world” and “emergent gameplay” is nice and all, but when I end up playing longer on my phone waiting for something to happen in the main game, something has gone horribly wrong. Ain’t nobody got time to wait around empty bases.

Luckily for me, and rather unfortunately for Sony, Battlefield 4 comes out October 29th.

I am not really all that certain I will be purchasing it on Day 1, although I had a blast playing Battlefield 3 for the six or so months that I was doing so. Looking back in my archives, I didn’t really talk about my experiences with it all that much. Basically, I see it as PlanetSide 2 without the waiting. While BF3 is technically more similar to Call of Duty than a sort of “open world” like PS2, the reality is that all PS2 brings to the table (or my table, anyway) is the ability to hop into a vehicle or airplane without having to wait/steal it from someone else. Every single other thing is better in BF3 – the shooting, the graphics, the action, the tactics, the depth. Again, technically, PS2 can have deeper strategy via Outfits and the like, but to the average player in the average game session, BF3 can’t be beat.

I haven’t really been following the Battlefield 4 news all that closely, but I find it interesting that the new game modes are being heavily skewed towards Call of Duty. Not that CoD invented any of them, of course, but I am more referring to that sort of play-style. Domination, Defuse, Team Deathmatch, Squad Deathmatch, and Rush are all CoDish to me. Conquest is still there in all its glory though, and Obliteration sounds somewhat interesting with its hot potato gameplay. But sometimes I just feel like shooting people in the face, you know? So that’s probably okay. Plus, technically every game mode will be available in all 10 maps, so it is not as though you’re stuck in the same handful of maps for every Conquest game.

Also coming in October: Terraria‘s 1.2 Patch, Don’t Starve‘s final two content patches (October 1st and presumably the final one 3 weeks later), and I guess GTA Online.

Regarding the latter, I am, of course, holding out for the PC release.

Loot 2.0

The big news of the week has been Blizzard’s rather unprecedented decision to shut down the Diablo 3 AH in March of next year. While I suppose that the start of a new expansion is as good a time as any, I still find it interesting that they are bothering at all – a bit late to close those barn doors, yeah? Then again, I suppose with all the other changes they have made in the time since I stopped playing (a whole year ago?!), the “economy” has become more warped and functionally useless than before. Making it five feet in Act 2 Inferno used to require Resistance scores out the ass, but between the general elite nerfs, the player-decided mob-levels, and the Paragon system, you can probably make it through the game without buying anything.

You would still want to, of course. Even a child should be able to understand that a 5% chance at something good is worth less than buying exactly what you want from someone who was going to vendor the thing anyway. Or anyone playing the game for more than an hour during the open beta weekend, for that matter.

The question though, is what system will replace it? Apparently Blizzard feels it is Loot 2.0:

  • New game modes including Loot Runs with guaranteed special item drops when successfully completed.
  • Smart drops where a dropped item is guaranteed to roll the appropriate mainstat for the class that finds it.
  • Fewer but better item drops, where players will see far fewer items, but the items (especially the rares) will have better stats.
  • A new NPC Artisan, the Mystic who has the abiilty to reroll one selected affix on an item.
  • Legendary (including Set Items) will get an across the board quality buff.
    • Legendary items will drop more often, especially for lower level characters with guaranteed legendary drops from the first kill of many story/quest bosses.
    • Legendary items will roll with less low-end variability, to reduce the likelihood that they are complete junk.
    • Legendary items will gain variable item levels with stats scaling appropriately — current high level items legendaries will drop on lower difficulties and low level Legendaries will drop in the end game. All stats on these items will scale up or down to be appropriate for the level of the monster that drops them.

Item binding is going to be a key feature of Loot 2.0, with some of the found items, and most or all of the crafted items or items upgraded with the Mystic gaining BoA or BoE to restrict them from being traded or sold. Full details are not yet finalized.

I counted three instances of the word “guaranteed” in there. Not something I usually associate with Diablo games, but hey.

While the above is not an exhaustive list of the Loot 2.0 paradigm – I’m pretty sure that not even Blizzard knows what else they’ll toss against the wall before March – we can see the sort of trajectory taking shape. What is a huge unknown to me though, is what exactly Blizzard plans to do with all the gold left in the economy when the AH doors close. Will the Mystic be an expensive gold sink? That might work… but what about the people who haven’t stockpiled? Will the feature not be for them? Between that and the possible stockpiling of crafting materials, I almost have to assume that Blizzard plans a “currency reset” with the expansion, to go with the inevitable gear reset that comes with an increased level cap.

In any case, watching things play out this week has been interesting while playing Path of Exile on the side. I mentioned before that PoE has something more akin to a lore-based barter economy, but I am finding it even more interesting than before. Effectively, I find myself rolling my own loot back in town when I go to vendor things. Useful Magic/Rare/Unique items do drop out in the wild, but I am finding that the addition of colored gem slots adds another depressing layer of randomness to everything; a given item might be awesome for your class/build, but if it is replacing an item with a good spell-gem configuration, you might end up banking it instead. While there are “currency” items that can add/change sockets, I am finding it almost easier to hold onto normal items with good sockets and then spend my “money” turning that into a Magic/Rare item instead.

That can sort of happen in Diablo 3′s crafting system, but it lacks the granularity and impressive nuance that PoE brings to the table. Scrapping four items to get another shot at getting a useful fifth isn’t the same as being able to choose to reroll an item’s magic properties, adding a new property, adding sockets, adding connections between sockets, changing a socket’s color, and/or stripping the item clean and then possibly rerolling it into a Rare/Unique.

Can I also just mention how addicting just leveling in Path of Exile can be? It’s the standard sort of hack-n-slash, but since your gems can level up too, it feels like I “level” a half-dozen times every 30-40 minutes. “Getting kinda sleepy and I still have 8 bars before level 24. Oh, wait, there’s like a centimeter left on my Raise Zombie gem XP bar. Hmm… let’s go clear out the NW corner.”

But, yeah, loot systems. Borderlands 2 is feeling pretty archaic right now in comparison.

Item Build Paradigms

As you may recall, I have been having a rough time in Borderlands 2. I bought the Season Pass back when I bought the original game, but sort of let things slide somewhere around 95 hours /played, about the time the Hammerlock campaign was released. My main issue, aside from general burnout, was that my character is Zer0, the melee-based ninja/sniper character. Simply put, I was having a hard time surviving in the extended difficulties as someone either in the middle of the action (where mistakes kill you quickly) or trying to snipe when 10 people are shooting at you (whom are extremely accurate with their assault weapons).

Now, I can already hear those of you in the audience: “But, Az, Zer0 is like one of the strongest characters in the game! He can solo the raid bosses!” Sure he can… with a very specific loadout of Legendary/Unique weapons, which either requires luck, grinding, duping, or all three. While I am obviously not allergic to chasing gear drops in games, in this instance all I really wanted to do was finish the Hammerlock DLC and then complete Tiny Tina’s Dragon Keep DLC. You know, at a level in which it’d be challenging and rewarding too – there isn’t any real reason to blow through it on Normal or anything.

Unfortunately, I was stuck between a rock and Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode (UVHM). I beat the game on True Vault Hunter Mode (TVHM) way back when, plowed through it again in “2.5″ mode where everything is scaled up to level 50 (the cap at the time), leaving all of the sidequests alone so that I could give myself the option of getting the highest-level versions of the various unique gear. Hell, I even farmed the last boss a few times. UVHM steps it up a few notches though, including a level cap increase, and basically makes Slag elemental weapons (which increase the damage of all other sources) required. Not only did I not really have any of those weapons, my current gear was simply not cutting it… or anything, really.

This past weekend, I finally decided I was going to give it one more shot. My plan of action was to grind to level 51 and then cash in my ~40 Golden Keys and hope that the level-cap inflation on guns would give me something worth shooting. Since I was grinding anyway, I decided to do so in the Torgue DLC, in the repeatable Bar Brawl quest area; each run gives you special DLC currency to purchase, among other things, an Unkempt Harold, e.g. a Legendary everyone seems to use.

So I did. And got it. And now it feels like a whole different game.

The basic gist is that the gun says it deals ~14k damage per shot, but the “bullet” is actually a missile that splits off into 3, 5, and 7 missiles depending on how much distance it gets before impact. The Double Penetrating Unkempt Harold, which is the version I got, does the same thing x2. So, depending on how close something is, a shot from this pistol deals ~196,000 damage. Meanwhile, my best rocket launcher deals 226,000, with a 3-round clip and 7.4 second reload speed. I can carry 700 pistol rounds and reload in under 2 seconds. I could technically pick up another Unique item from a sidequest (The Bee shield) which would add something crazy-stupid like 40,000 damage to my bullets – which ends up being added to each bullet from the Unkempt Harold – but it is already making my TVHM-ish run somewhat of a joke.

What all of this is making me realize is that I don’t like this paradigm. Specifically: the gear-based-build paradigm. “Get item X and now you can do build Y.” Another of the items I picked up was a weapon (the Rubi) that gives heals you for 12% of the damage you inflict while having it equipped. It is another of the sort of “required” weapons for endgame Zer0 builds, as you can abuse the life-gain by dealing melee or grenade damage; the gun itself will never hold a candle to others, but firing one and then swapping back to it before impact will still basically let you heal to full. Combined with the “health-gating” hidden mechanic that prevents you from being one-shot (50% + 1 HP and you will survive any hit), this lets Zer0 basically melee raid bosses.

The problems, as always, are A) getting the gear and B) what to do until you get the gear. I am 100% for different character builds. I don’t even have much of an issue with talent choices leading to different stat weightings, e.g. choosing Talent X makes Haste worth more than Crit or whatever. But building an entire character around single pieces of (rare) equipment? That feels awful to me. Either you don’t have the item yet, in which case you feel weak/incomplete, or you do get the item and suddenly everything else that drops is useless/unrewarding. Plus, there is the whole side-effect of the fact that your character identity feels weakened or nonexistent; do my character choices even matter in the face of my item collection? Am I Zer0 at all, or am I simply “some dude with a Rubi and DPUK?

I decided to take a break from Borderlands 2, and started playing Path of Exile as a backup game. And… whoops! Just like many hack-n-slash games, it too features rare items that you can/should/(have to?) build entire characters around. Because that’s fun. To someone. Sigh.