How ‘Bout Those Invasions?

Has there been a more well-received or better designed expansion launch event in WoW?

Or, hell, any MMO?

Top to bottom, the Legion invasions have been amazing. I mean, yeah, Blizzard is essentially bribing everyone with loads of free XP to avoid slogging through the content in their own game. That’s the thing though: everyone is involved. Leveling alts? Get in there and gain 1.5 levels per Invasion. Already at max level? Get chests of raid-worthy loot. Already geared out? Have some lucrative toys to sell or appearances to unlock.

All of this is fairly unprecedented. Hell, I had to go back and look up what the prior pre-launch events even were. The last notable one was the Scourge invasion back before Wrath. Sure, that was fun for a time – I still remember actually role-playing a paladin as I griefed players trying to turn into undead (by Cleansing them) and/or releasing their shackled souls once they turned. What of the others? An Elemental Invasion for Cataclysm was just a convenient way to stock up on, erm, elementals. Mists was… Theramore scenario? I still haven’t seen that in-game, and I’m not even sure I can. Then there was some max-level Iron Horde nonsense for Warlords, yeah?

In any case, this current one is currently the new bar, IMO. It involves players of all levels, and provides incentives to players of all gear levels.

Dilemmas, Part 2

As mentioned in the last few posts, on top of everything else I have to decide on what class I’m actually going to play. While there is usually some kind of shake-up with expansions, I feel like Legion is fairly unprecedented in its complete overhaul of everything, top to bottom. How does one even decide what class to play anymore?

Just like you might expect, my own method is slow, methodical, over-examination.

I started with my namesake paladin, Azuriel. Clicked some talents, moved some hotbars around, and found myself rather appalled at the ability pruning. Retribution wasn’t especially complicated before, but this feels even more Fischer Price than ever. Two builders, one spender, one debuff to combo with spender, and… one cooldown? Looking at the other melee specs, it seems many were hacked to the roots as well, but at least they typically have self-buffs or DoTs or something. I was no fan of Inquisition, sure, but damn. At least give us Hammer of Wrath back.

Shadow priest was interesting. At first, I was not especially interested in the build-and-burn rotation, especially given how weak Mind Flay feels as a filler. The residual haste buff after popping Insanity feels cool, but again, that mostly feels like it’s used on faster Mind Flay ticks. Once I started fighting the invasion mobs though, things started falling into place more – can’t really use Shadow Word: Death on training dummies. Plus, strategically using Dispersion to prolong Voidform and thus get more stacks/wait for other cooldowns is an interesting twist.

I then tried all three flavors of warlock. I honestly have no idea what Blizzard is thinking with Affliction. This might be another training dummy situation, but only passively getting Soul Shards and needing to wait to toss an Unstable Affliction just feels bad. Plus, what the hell is up with that Artifact? Two of Affliction’s “elite” powers trigger on death… which is fantastic for raid bosses, I imagine. Conversely, Demonology felt butter-smooth. Granted, it feels weird when basically half of your casts only serve to buff your demons, but everything about all the buttons feel really satisfying. I only played Destruction for a moment, but was not especially impressed.

Next was the druid. I’m thinking that a druid character is probably the best to use one of my two level 90/100 boosts on, should I decide to create a character on another server, primarily out of practicality concerns, e.g. cover all the class role bases. Feral seems as goofy as ever with the complexity. Balance though… wow. I skipped the entire Sun/Moon pendulum game design period, so I was a little intimidated going in. The current system though, wasn’t bad; I could get used to that.

Death Knights were high on my list of possible new mains, but now I’m not sure. Unholy is supposedly one of the strongest specs at the moment, but I did not like it much at all as I played through the invasions. Part of that might have been the whole melee deal, considering how many times I died to random cleave damage. Turning Scourge Strike into a ranged attack helped somewhat, but I still don’t quite like the Festering Wound mechanic in general. Perhaps it’s not much different than combo points or Holy Power in the abstract. I did not give Frost a chance, so I might end liking that instead.

I played my rogue for about a minute. In that time period, I was very impressed with Outlaw, less so with Assassination. I have no real idea what to make of Subtlety. I plan on coming back to this class to investigate further.

Enhancement shaman was probably the most pleasant surprise of my entire time trying out classes. I enjoyed it before when leveling a few expansions ago, minus the need to drop Flametongue/etc totems all over the place. Now? It looks – and more crucially, sounds – badass. All the buttons feel substantial to press, and the cadence just flows. Definitely will be giving this one a closer look as well. I didn’t end up trying Elemental simply because I did not have a weapon to use it with.

Mage was hit or miss. Arcane was meh. Technically a lot of specs have a conserve/burn phase built into their rotation, but it just feels bad when you hit 4 Arcane stacks without proccing Arcane Missiles. Fire, though, is a different story. I know that Hot Streak has been a thing for a while now, but there is something deeply satisfying about Fire Blast being off the GCD and castable while casting other things. Perhaps it’s because it harkens to Frost’s good ole Shatter combo. Incidentally, I did not get a chance to try out Frost.

And that wrapped up my testing for the past few days. I have a level 80 hunter, 96 warrior, and 21 monk, but declined to even get them to the training dummies. I might try the hunter later on, although I’m not usually a fan of them outside of BGs. The monk and warrior might not get a second look though, given how flooded the market is for melee this expansion. Again, I doubt I end up going raiding in any real capacity for Legion, but I would hate to change my mind later and be rebuffed.

Dilemmas, Part 1

Time will tell whether or not that one remaining New Years prediction will come true, but…

WoW_Reactivate

…yeah.

What pushed me over the edge were all the reports about the Legion pre-expansion event XP. I haven’t actually experienced a good expansion event since the lead up to Wrath, so it’s actually surprising that Blizzard hasn’t tried the ole “easy XP” route before. Then again, perhaps they really needed the scaling level tech in place before they were able to. Regardless, since I only ever got one character up to 100 in Warlords, this provided a nice opportunity to boost some of the alts.

Then came the dilemmas.

My primary dilemma is this: I’m still stuck on the low-pop wasteland of Auchindoun-US. The one remaining friend I have who has been playing WoW all this time has server hopped a few times until landing on Sargeras-US in a Mythic-level raiding guild. So… what do I do?

  • A) Choose a new main, pay $25 blood price to transfer, use level 90 & 100 boosts for alts.
  • B) Choose new main, but use level 90 & 100 boosts to create one and an alt.
  • C) Do nothing.

A) is annoying and I don’t want to do it; $25 is absurd, and has always been absurd. Of course, I have 335k gold locked on Auchindoun, so I’d have to start from scratch otherwise. Or take up my friend’s offer of some seed money on Sargeras – he apparently accumulated 1.7 million gold via Garrison farming over the course of the expansion. While I am relatively confident in my ability to pay him back via AH shenanigans, I disliking owing people anything.

B) makes for an interesting situation. Getting an instant 90 and then farming Invasions will quickly get me fully geared and ready for Legion, probably with time to spare to level professions. Or create a level 58 Death Knight, and get that guy boosted via Invasions. The instant 90 will also unlock the ability to get a Demon Hunter, which of course starts at level 98. So between the level boosts and Invasions, it’s entirely possible to get four new max-level characters on an entirely different server with minimum fuss. Minus the gold situation.

C) is actually what I am leaning towards at the moment. Cross-realm tech means I can technically group/dungeon/raid with my friend no matter what server we are on. Mythic raiding is still disabled from what I recall, but the chances I buckle down for the hardcore raiding I swore off of three expansions ago are between zero and Nope. Of course, this means I can’t be in their guild, meaning I miss the chatter and social aspects that (usually) make MMOs worth playing in the first place.

The one wrinkle that bears examining is that Sargareas-US is one of the largest servers in WoW, and it is PvP too. Auchindoun is also PvP, but even with cross-realm activated, the place is generally sparse. In both a A) and B) scenario, I would likely have to contend with queue times near launch and potential ganking 24/7. Something I am not exactly looking forward to.

Hmm. I shall have to ponder some more.

Artifact Concerns

As the release of Legion inches closer, my implicit worries have begun to mount.

Technically, the concerns I have currently are the same ones I brought up a year ago. Namely: artifacts and alts. Having one weapon that you channel all of your power into is conceptually neat. But WoW has long ceased to be about one character and spec; the structure of the game since around Wrath has seemed to hinge on the assumption of alts, or at least dual specs. Just think about all the Account-Bound items and other technology changes that have occurred in the past five years.

So how is Legion going to interact with everyone’s alts?

Based on the Wowhead research I have been doing… it’s hit or miss. My first concern was being stuck with a single Artifact for a single spec out of the gate. What if I’m a healer and want to level as DPS? You are indeed stuck with a single Artifact until level 102, at which point you can unlock the others. However, you are not stuck stuck – there is a sort of gear workaround for alt specs:

What if I chose the wrong Artifact Weapon, vendored my old weapons and want to level in a different spec before level 102?

Your class Order Hall Quartermaster sells item level 740 weapons/off-hands/shields for 100g each. These can serve as replacements if you need them before you unlock all of your class Artifact Weapons at level 102.

So technically you should be able to have a backup set of gear to use if you want to tank/heal/DPS with an off-spec. Obviously it won’t be as ideal as with your Artifact, but it’s something.

Okay… what about gaining Artifact Power (AP)? During questing, dungeons, etc, you end up receiving consumable items that fill an AP meter for your currently equipped Artifact when used. So, it seems like you should be able to quest as DPS and funnel all of these consumables into your healing Artifact later on. That’s pretty good. Indeed, later on you unlock the Artifact Knowledge ability that will increase the AP gained from future consumables. I thought it was a nice touch that these gains aren’t retroactive to your currently obtained consumables, so there is no reason to hoard them for later.

But then we get into the sort of nitty gritty details of World of Altcraft. The amount of AP that you need to get from level 13 to level 14 is more than the total amount you need from 1-13. This makes a nice, conceptual breakpoint at which you can decide whether to hedge your bets or double-down on one spec or not.

That said, there are two problems with this.

First, you don’t always have any control over your circumstances in the game. Your guild might need a healer now, after you have already hit AP14, setting you a painful distance behind in your ability to fulfill the need. Second, there are numerous specs who can actually unlock their 2nd Elite Traits as soon as AP16. Now, “as soon as AP16” really means 33,450 total AP gained, more than 2.5 times as much as was needed to hit even AP14, but still. I haven’t seen all the math amongst all the specs in this regard, but I don’t believe it to be a trivial increase.

Finally, and most critically: what happens when Blizzard nerfs a spec?

If you were an Assassination rogue and got hit by the nerf-bat, it was always technically possible to switch to Subtlety rogue and keep going. Maybe your Best-in-Slot items change based on whether Mastery or Haste is king. But now? At AP18, you are two times further away from even AP16 farmed from scratch. Unless the Artifacts are front-loaded as all hell, you are basically staring down an entirely new endgame, minus all the easy AP gained via leveling. I suppose Artifact Knowledge is supposed to bridge the gap there, but I’m not entirely convinced Blizzard won’t be requiring us to grind dailies for, erm, days or weeks.

[Fake Edit]: A new interview just came out addressing this:

Artifact Weapons
The team will avoid nerfing a spec from being a little too good to the worst so that you don’t feel that all of your Artifact progression was a waste

Time will tell regarding on the Blizzard dev’s team ability to actually do this.

[/Fake Edit]

And don’t get me started on, you know, an actual alternate character. Artifact Knowledge is not Account-Wide, which means you are back to grinding from zero on every other character on your account.

For someone planning on coming back for Legion, I’m a little nonplussed as to what I’m actually going to do. My namesake paladin is right out – Retribution is garbage again from everything I have heard, and I have no interest in Protection tanking. So… what? I haven’t experienced the post-7.0 classes, and now must make a decision on a new main (probably on a new server at that) with a new main spec that I have to invest in at the expense of every other possible alternative.

Analysis Paralysis is a real thing, which often leads to doing nothing at all. Which is still an option.

This is TERA

Any time you feel that MMOs like WoW have gotten too silly over the years… well:

Tera_Crazy

This is a thing that can happen.

This is TERA.

Absolut TERA

I have been playing TERA for the last week or so. Because of course I have.

Before I begin with my impressions, I think it’s time to have a frank discussion on how miserable a job game designers do in terms of opening presentation. For example, right out of character creation, this was what I was presented with:

TERA_Opening.jpg

Wut.

I’m not even talking about the large advertisement for “Elite Status” or whatever. I’m talking about how I cannot even see my own character. Yes, I closed and resized as many windows as I could immediately afterwards. But… really? Do the designers ever actually look at their own game a few years after it goes live? Or do they (or executives) just mandate more and more bullshit that slowly fills the screen and call it a day? TERA is not unique in this regard by any means, but come on.

One of the reasons I made myself a note to try TERA at some point was its much-lauded combat system. “The best combat system in any MMO” was a frequent refrain. Monsters have collision, you have to aim your skills, “Big-Ass Monsters” are known as BAMs in-game, animation locking and canceling differentiate the boys/girls from the men/women,  and so on.

My reaction after hitting level 28: shrug.

It’s entirely possible that TERA got caught up in the same general early-game nerfing that seems endemic in MMOs. At least, I’m assuming that you are not supposed to be one-shotting most normal mobs with low-cooldown attacks as a Gunner. Or easily collecting the “relic” weapon pieces such that you end up running around with the equivalent of an epic weapon for each new area, rendering all quest reward weapons as vendor trash. My first encounter with a BAM was a Basilisk that I had not noticed was a BAM until it survived three entire attacks. “Oh, this is new… nevermind, it died.”

Actually, I am pretty sure this is exactly what happened to TERA. Around level 20, I got a “call to arms” quest to play in a Battleground. A win awarded 850k+ XP, which got me three entire levels at once. I doubt that was in during launch.

By the way, that BG? Some crazy-ass nonsense where you play as baby giants in diapers. Ask me if I’m kidding. I dare you.

TERA_Baby.jpg

I wasn’t kidding.

It’s an interesting phenomenon, now that I think about it: how pretty much every MMO eventually drifts until it becomes a caricature of itself. For example, from what I understand, TERA has always had a “sexy” element to it, in terms of female armor, the loli Elin, and so on. Then the next four classes that the designers introduced were female-only, including two Elin-only classes.

I’m not sure when stat underwear was introduced, but I imagine around the same time:

TERA_Underwear

Hard to tell if that description is intentionally ironic, or…

I suppose such mission drift is perhaps inevitable. After all, it seems silly to criticize a company for producing something its audience wants to buy. I have the utmost sympathy for those members of said audience who were originally sold a much different good, before the, erm, “invisible hand” took the wheel. Game designers presumably must cater to the audience they have at that moment, and not some hypothetical audience that fits the original artistic vision. It’s easy to pontificate when it’s not your own dollars at stake.

That being said, I don’t think TERA is for me. I can appreciate a good pair of Firemane Leggings as much as the next guy, but I feel like this game is way off in (or on) the weeds at this point. Even in the “serious” parts like combat, I couldn’t help but think that Guild Wars 2 did it better. Maybe not collision-wise, sure. But at least GW2 presents itself as including an actual world and not a series of shadow box corridors carved with invisible walls.

And GW2 is, you know, much more pleasant to play.

I dunno. If you had some other kind of experience with TERA, I’d be interested in hearing it.

Dirtbound

In Starbound, I have officially surpassed the number of hours I spent playing Terraria. And I am more convinced than ever that Terraria is the superior game.

Simply put, Starbound is a game of multitude of systems that have zero synergies with each other. Dig dirt, mine for ore, create armor, and so on. Pretty basic stuff, right? Not really. The actual crafting mechanics in Starbound are terrible, as are 99% of the items you can craft. Your “tier 1” armor is made from iron and woven fabric (made from plant material), but tier 2 is made from tungsten and cotton wool. Not only does this skip Copper, Silver, and Gold ores, but I’ve been playing 20+ hours since the 1.0 release and have encountered a grand total of three (3) cotton plants.

I can understand if the cotton bottleneck was intentional. But it’s not: the interplanetary gas station sells every fabric type other than cotton.

Starbound_GasStation.jpg

Bold move, Cotton, let’s see if it works out for them.

You can’t explain that.

Indeed, it seems like the devs simply abandoned any attempt to structure progression in the face of a billion procedurally generated worlds (filled the same three enemy attack types). Matter Manipulator modules are a sort of upgrade currency that can be found in nearly every box, everywhere. So are the tech cards, which unlock double-jumping and the Metroid-esque ball rolling. Getting those upgrades early kinda sorta maybe trivializes a lot of the content that comes later. And it’s not as though you get more of them in more dangerous areas – the algorithm basically puts one in 25% of all containers.

Then there is the fact that the best items are drops, full-stop. I mean, I get it, trying to balance gear progression around both player crafting and dropped loot is hard. But the fact that there are effectively zero good weapons from crafting means that that entire element is gone from the game. So your whole desire to dig for ore is reduced to the amount you need to craft the next tier of armor. Without the desire to dig though, you don’t, which means you’re just exploring the surface of the world and missing out on all the dungeons/set pieces that exist beneath it.

“But what about building bases and such?” Yeah, that’s still there. Given the default “survival” mode requires constant eating, it makes sense for even a story-focused character to stake out a simple farm. But honestly? It’s about a million times easier just coming across an already-built set piece randomly, and then planting your flag on it. Or tearing one down and transplanting it elsewhere, as opposed to crafting the individual components.

I don’t know. There are a million more things going on in Starbound than Terraria, but Terraria actually has synergy between what its got. In Terraria, the houses you build unlock NPCs you need, and the act of building settlements attracts monsters and even bosses. The deeper you dig, the more dangerous stuff appears. You can actually craft cool shit in Terraria. All the pieces fit together into a cohesive whole. In Starbound? Not so much.

Expensive August

Things are shaping up to be an expensive August, games-wise.

Tomorrow August 12th we have No Man’s Sky releasing. I won’t be there on Day 1 for multiple reasons, the primary of which this is one of those games I need to see other people play first. The premise? Super cool. But what about the gameplay itself? I am not especially an Explorer type, so if the moment-to-moment fun isn’t there, I’m going to be disappointed. Or not, having not actually purchased the game yet.

August 23rd is the surprise (to me) release of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Kinda snuck up on me there. As I mentioned last year, this one is a Day 1 purchase, Day 1 Embargo tags be damned. At the time of this writing, DLGamer is offering a preorder for $42, which approaches the point at which it almost doesn’t matter that it’s a preorder. I’m expecting Human Revolution 2.0 and anything more than that will be gravy.

Finally, August 30th is Legion, of course. As I have mentioned in the past, I am buying Legion at some point. Whether that point was going to be halfway through the expansion for half price as I did with Warlords of Draenor, or earlier, I had not decided. Note the past tense there. I have been very impressed with the Audio Dramas (or specifically the transcripts), the Harbinger series, the Illidan thing, and so on. While I understand that those things often bear no resemblance to in-game experiences, it is enough to get me excited just the same. This is the first time since Wrath, really, that I feel like there is a narrative worth exploring here.

Okay, so maybe there are only three games in August I’m looking at. Still, it has been months since I’ve felt the need to buy something Day 1, and now there are three options coming out.

Rio My Dinero

Well, the mystery of how Overwatch is going to make money in the future has been revealed:

The new skins, sprays, and so forth come from limited-time-only Summer Games loot crates. Players will receive a free crate upon logging in, but here’s the rub: Summer Games items cannot be purchased with your stockpile of credits, nor can Summer Games items be found in standard loot crates.

In other words, Blizzard has just created a set of new skins for all the characters, and are locking them behind limited-time paywall lootboxes. Specifically want the new Tracer skin? Good luck. You cannot specifically purchase a skin, nor can you craft one with in-game currency.

This particular pivot boggles my mind. Blizzard went from one of the most fair, egalitarian business models I have seen in videogames… to pretty much the worst possible one. Sure, they are just characters skins and “don’t matter.” At the same time, if any of these particular skins did matter to you, then, well, get fucked, I guess.

If this is indicative of Blizzard’s future direction with Overwatch, I just got a lot less interested.

[Fake Edit]: Jeff Kaplan has come out and specified that you can choose to receive a Summer Games lootbox when you earn a lootbox normally, e.g. when gaining levels. Good luck grinding that shit out in three weeks though. Making the in-game currency useless for these time-limited events is still a travesty.

Starbound Again

I played through and “completed” Starbound about 5 months ago, and my conclusion was:

And now, even if the devs end up finishing Starbound, I will have already consumed the lion’s share of the game’s novelty – that ever-finite motivational resource. No more character wipes? Then I’m already at endgame. Character wipes? I already know where to go, what to look for, how to overcome the obstacles, and basically speed my way through normal progression. Assuming I can be bothered to do so a second time.

I’m here to say that I’m wrong, and pretty much all fronts. At least, so far.

For the most part, I wasn’t planning on coming back to Starbound, but I needed a game I could sink my teeth into that also did not require uninterrupted time. Clash Royale and Overwatch used to be my “don’t know my schedule” games, but I’m still adapting to cohabiting with another human being.

And that’s a problem with a rather large number of games, actually. Meanwhile, Starbound is two clicks away from Save & Quit, and they fixed the “issue” with you being teleported back to your ship if you exit the game. Which I had utilized previously as a tricksey way of not having to climb out of the planet-sized hole I dug, but nevermind.

The, ahem, core mechanics of Starbound have not changed, but the tech tree, what minerals show up where, the quest structure, essentially enough has changed to make the experience fresh again. For example, one minor change the devs made was to introduce a sort of invulnerable ghost creature to the moons that contain your FTL fuel. While it is tacitly annoying (and deadly) in the same way as I talked about those Wasted SOB Purifiers before, they achieve a similar purpose – change the way you approach the game. Before, the most deadly thing about stocking up with infinite FTL fuel were meteor showers, which could only kill you in the two seconds before you burrowed underground. Now? It’s a risk/reward decision on how much fuel you grab on the surface (i.e. not much), and meanwhile you’re actively playing the game so as to not get stuck in a hole while getting chased.

So, yeah. The game definitely feels more finished than it did before. I will say though, that the first couple of story missions have been the exact same as the ones I played through previously. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing… so far. We will see how things progress as I approach the endgame. Considering I already have 32 hours in Starbound, perhaps it doesn’t matter.

Then again, the bar Terraria set is still at 50 hours.

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