Valheimed

Like the rest of the world, I too succumbed to the call of Odin and bought Valheim.

But unlike the rest of the world, here’s my hot take: Valheim ain’t special.

Innovation!

This isn’t to say it’s bad. Valheim is indeed clever in many ways… assuming that it’s austere design is intentional, and not a result of it being an Early Access game built by two dudes. Part of that cleverness is the fact that Valheim put a tutorial inside an otherwise open-world survival game. Just think about all the other survival games out there, and how they all proudly lean into their cold opens and lack of direction. I have spawned into ARK with a level 1 character on what was supposed to be a safe(ish) beach and was immediately eaten by a raptor. That may be par for the course for survival games, but it doesn’t have to be. And so it’s no wonder that Valheim with its exclamation mark raven has hooked millions of people into an experience they don’t quite realize is about to get very survivalish.

By which I mean the tedium of resource gathering.

Coming home.

After killing the first boss, the player unlocks the ability to craft a pickaxe with hard, deer god antlers and otherwise move on to the Bronze Age. Which requires the exploration of the Black Forest biome to find Copper and Tin deposits, which can be smelted into Bronze that can then be crafted into better armor and weapons. It is at this stage that I realized I could have been playing ARK, Conan, No Man’s Sky, Subnautica, The Long Dark, The Forest, 7 Days to Die, State of Decay, or Fallout 76. And probably should have instead, because Valheim is incredibly basic at this level. Whereas I could tame dinosaurs to speed up resource gathering in ARK, I’m stuck sloooooooooowly collecting 20 Copper Ore at a time, bringing it back to the Smelter, and eventually turning it into Bronze. Meanwhile, you get attacked by Greydwarves every minute and a half, punctuating the tedium with a different kind of tedium. Oh, and make sure you scour every hillside on your gathering missions so you can find instanced crypts and collect enough red cubes to create your Smelter and stuff.

Seriously though, I’m reading these other bloggers and then looking at my game and wondering if they have never played a survival game before. And maybe they really haven’t. There is nothing particularly approachable about ARK (etc), especially in comparison to Valheim. But thus far, it appears all the really interesting genre innovation died with Eikthyr.

Hard to convey that initial depth of panic.

For example, a lot of hay has been made regarding how Valheim is a survival game in which you don’t actually die to starvation/thirst. Supreme innovation! But what really happens is that you trade off ignoring food at the front end to becoming obsessed with it for the rest of the game, when the opposite is true in every other survival experience. In Valheim, both your HP and Stamina meters are dictated by what food you eat, and you must eat three different varieties to keep them topped off. You can get by with just cooked meat from boars and deer in the beginning, but later generic enemies can almost one-shot you if you aren’t eating cooked meat, neck tails, and then something else like Honey or Mushrooms. That is a lot more varied farming for food than I would need in ARK or 7 Days to Die once I’m past initial hump.

I will continue on playing for a bit and see if anything fundamentally changes after defeating the second boss. Based on writings of people who have already logged 60+ hours though, it sounds like it will be more of the same with a slightly new resource. Which is literally the formula for survival games, I know. Thing is, other survival games typically have an X factor that sets them apart from one another.

As of yet, I don’t see what that is with Valheim.

Slay the Spire, Android Edition

The Android version of Slay the Spire is out. It’s $9.99 on the Google Play store, although you have to scroll down to find it.

And I recommend waiting a while before buying it.

It is indeed Slay the Spire on your phone. If you are not familiar with the game itself, well, you’re in for a treat. I’m sure there were other deck-building roguelikes out there before, but this one is so good that it has basically consumed the entire genre – anything new is basically “Slay the Spire but with X.” Being able to finally play this on my phone without streaming it or other nonsense is something I had been looking forward to for a while. In fact, I had been holding my Google Play credits from surveys for more than a year just to purchase it as soon as it popped up.

The issue is that it is a bad port.

It’s not just the bugs, of which there were many game-crippling ones (stuck on Merchant screen, continuous de-syncing, etc.). The Android port is just poorly designed from a UX perspective. Text is tiny and borderline unreadable, even with the “Big Text” option selected. Cards are shoved far at the bottom of the screen, which means half the time you try playing one, you end up minimizing the app – this behavior can be disabled via Android options, but I haven’t had any issues with Hearthstone like this. Perhaps the most frustrating though are the inconsistencies with selecting things. On the Reward screen, you have to double-tap to collect Gold, but a single-tap will select 2nd option (Potion or Relic), and your card reward requires you to click confirm. That’s three separate behaviors on one screen. Who designed this shit?

I’m also a bit salty when I straight-up lost a run right before the final boss because the wrong card was played. You cannot read the text on a card without lifting it up a bit with your finger, but lift it up too far and it will automatically be played (if it’s not specifically a targeted card). There is a “long press to Confirm” option in the Settings, but inexplicably that’s just for the End Turn button and nothing else. Incidentally, this lost run was the same one in which I accidentally skipped a Relic – the Select button became Skip after highlighting the Relic once – and then accidentally picked a bad choice in one of the “?” rooms because I was hovering my finger over the option so I could see what the Curse did.

Of course, by “accidentally” I really mean “because of dumbass UX designers.”

So, yeah, the thing I had been looking forward to for literal years was immensely disappointing. The lesson here is to don’t look forward to things don’t purchase things Day 1.

What a Ride

January kicked my ass.

The GameStop saga will be one for the ages. Suffice it to say, I disregarded my own advice, especially perhaps the #1 Rule: if it’s good enough for a screenshot, it’s good enough to sell. Alas, I am still in the game (Stop), scalping premium on option trades instead of cashing out where I had originally planned to exit. Canceling that limit order – and taking the subsequent screenshot – is going to haunt me for a while. Which is good, because I need to be reminded from time to time what happens when you abandon your own exit strategy.

Stock aside, I still stand by my earlier post about GameStop the company. News out yesterday indicates that they’re creating* a Chief Technology Officer position and slotting in the former Amazon engineer lead for Amazon Web Services. They’re also bringing over the the Director of Customer Service at Chewy to be the Senior Vice President of Customer Care. Finally, they got a guy who was doing fulfillment at Amazon and Walmart to be Vice President of Fulfillment. None of which means anything to anyone here other than the fact that there’s now a chance that GameStop can pivot away from being Pawn Stars and towards being some combination of Micro Center and… something else. Maybe like a comic book store hosting Magic: the Gathering tournaments?

Or maybe they’ll fall on their face, Chuck E Cheese style.

In any case, don’t worry, this will be the last GameStop post I do this year. Next time we reconvene on the subject, perhaps we’ll be talking about how the company has gotten into the digital license reselling market, how it rents out VR/AR rooms by the hour (and the predictable downsides to that), or the partnership with Geek Squad in custom building PCs onsite.

Or perhaps I won’t mention it at all, seeing as how we’re 1 month into 2021 and I’m already exhausted.

*It’s telling that GameStop didn’t have a Chief Technology Officer position until just now. We all knew it was mismanaged, but that mismanaged?

Shadowlands Alt Leveling is Bad

It is difficult to say with any sort of conviction, but I’m strongly leaning towards the Shadowlands alt leveling experience being the worse it’s ever been in any expansion.

The normal leveling experience in Shadowlands is certainly the most on-rails I can recall, perhaps in the history of WoW. You go through the Maw tutorial and head into Kyrianland, which just happens to be the least interesting of the afterlives. And the actual quest content and layout in Bastion is horrible. There are long stretches of time in which you are far from an Inn or mailbox or flightpath. Want to take a break after 30 minutes? Better hearth back to wherever and then plan on spending 5 minutes riding back to whatever quest you were on. Or just buckling down and spending the extra 15 minutes to finish the quest chain in that area.

For as bad as Hellfire Peninsula was back in TBC, you at least had the ability to skip certain hubs and go to others. Once I figured out that hitting level 62 opened up the questing Christmas trees in Zangarmarsh, you bet your ass I was hoofing it out of Hellfire. No such skipping in Shadowlands. Do every quest in order, every time. Oh, and if you’re not level 53 by the time you get to Elysian Hold, go do some sidequests or pick some herbs until you are.

And can I just say something that I don’t feel enough people have complained about yet? The gearing situation is shit while leveling. Every single expansion I can remember had you immediately kitting out in expansion-reasonable questing gear within the first 30 minutes. That leads to casual raider tears when yesterday’s epics were replaced with greens, but it’s a necessary evil. Because it’s an incredibly dumb, unnecessary evil for my toons to still be rocking ilevel 58 shoulders throughout the entire fucking zone when 87-100 is the baseline.

What could be worse than all that? Threads of Fate.

On its face, Threads of Fate sounds like an incredible innovation. NPC meets your alt immediately outside of the Maw tutorial, and you unlock all the zones to complete in any order. What they neglect to mention is that “complete” means “grinding mobs like in a 1990s MMO.” Some of the Bonus Objective areas literally give you 1% completion per mob kill. “Just don’t do those.” Sure, let me just ride around this entire zone with only three flightpaths unlocked while trying to complete the same World Quests I’ll be grinding at endgame for the next two years. Oh, and they give 12k XP, same as each of the dozen story quests you could do in the same amount of time.

In many ways, Legion was considered the worst expansion for alts due to the way Artifacts (and AP) were spec-specific on top of the RNG of Legendaries. What is mentioned less in that calculus is how all the zones were available from the start and each class had engaging class-specific story content on the way up. With Shadowlands, everybody has the exact same story and quests in the same order until endgame, and then everybody is grinding Torghast for their Legendary, on every character.

There’s some Kyrian NPC who mentions that the Path is grinding Aspirants into dust. You’d think I’d remember his name after seeing it ten times but whatever. That’s what leveling feels like: being ground into dust. My character roster is 60, 60, 57, 54, 53, 52, 52, 52, 51, 51. I kept thinking maybe a different class would make leveling more enjoyable. But that’s when I realized that it wasn’t the class that was the problem, it was the rote, banal, awful design of Bastion through which all characters must pass. Well, that, or level 4x slower by chain-killing mobs inside a yellow shape on your mini-map. Engaging!

No escape in BGs either. Winning a 15-min match gives you… 12k XP. Once per day. Then it’s half that every other time, for a win. Not particularly reliable when you queue as Alliance.

I have never been more discouraged trying to level alts in an expansion than Shadowlands.

What would fix it? There is no fixing of the on-rails story portion, which wasn’t that bad the first time. It really comes down to Threads of Fate and fixing the jank there. Take the only page out of the Jay Wilson handbook and just double everything. World Quests give 24k XP, Bonus Objectives complete twice as fast for 16k XP, and the overall zone meter gives 1.5 levels. I am not even sure that this doubling would result in things being faster than mindlessly grinding the story quests, but at least it would be closer. And what exactly would the point of Threads of Fate be if it was slower than just doing the story again? I think you get a whole 4 extra Renown that you wouldn’t have, for all the good that does an alt facing down the barrel of 10-20 hours of Torghast and Maw busywork.

I forgive you for wondering whether I just don’t like leveling anymore. Thing is, I would take all my characters through Maldraxxus again in a heartbeat. I want to start over there. The Theater of Pain is where the actual Shadowlands experience begins, IMO. But you have to drag your face through four levels of Bastion broken glass to get there. Every. Single. Time.

I hope that this leveling setup is an experiment that Blizzard never tries again.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

GameStop.

The minute you hear that name, chances are you had some kind of visceral reaction. Was it happiness or elation? Probably not. I don’t actually know if there is a positive “visceral” reaction to anything.

For me in particular, GameStop is like OG Pawn Stars. It’s a place where you took your old games and got $7 in-store credit and watched them slap a $45 price tag when they placed it back up on the shelf. And the staff would shadow your footsteps trying to upsell you on subscriptions or preorders when you were really just killing time near the movie theater (remember those?) or before getting a haircut (remember those?). That pushy behavior makes a bit more sense when you realized the insane quota requirements management levied on the near-minimum wage workers. And who can forget the time when that same management asserted that its stores were “essential retail” and thus should remain open in the middle of a pandemic. Suffice it to say, this is not a chain with a particularly great reputation. Even amongst its target audience.

Why bring this up now? Well, there are two things going on. Technically three, but I’ll get to that.

The first is that the stock price has rocketed up in the last week. Back in March, GameStop stock was trading at $2.80. Nearly everyone, myself included, felt like it was really going to be the next Blockbuster: a former retail giant in its niche who chose hubris over innovation, and let the world pass it by. If you have been in a GameStop lately, you can see that they’re trying – nearly 50% of the store is now gaming merchandise, like Minecraft T-shirts and various tchotchkes that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hot Topic. Which, okay, good for them and whomever is out there buying those sort of things. But as both Microsoft and Sony release flagship consoles with digital-only editions at a lower price-point, surely the days of physical media and those who focus on selling it are numbered?

Remember when I said GameStop was at $2.80/share in March? Friday it closed down 11% to… $35.50. It was really at about $20 on Tuesday (1/12) before it rocketed up to a high of $41 mid-Thursday, and now here we are.

What happened? Last Monday, Ryan Cohen from Chewy.com fame and two of his executive buddies landed seats on the GameStop board of directors, after owning 13% of all the shares. What’s Chewy.com? It’s a place to order online pet food. Which… yeah. If you’re older than 35, that may remind you of Pets.com back in the heady 2000 internet-bubble days. The difference here is Ryan founded Chewy in 2011 and sold it to PetSmart in 2017 for $3.35 billion. It’s now worth $44+ billion. And all this was done despite Amazon being a thing. Apparently their relentless focus on customer service is what puts them over the top with most people.

In that regard, the speculation here is that Ryan can pull the same magic with GameStop. And I can see it. The current retail experience cannot possibly be worse, so any meaningful improvements would do wonders. Plus the online shopping experience… well, it’s not that bad, when there are things actually in stock. Can’t really blame GameStop for that specifically though; just try finding a non-scalped Switch anywhere for MSRP. Point being, there is room for improvement.

One the biggest advantages and reasons I care about this at all though, is the simple reality of resale. If not GameStop, then where? Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, eBay? People do it, I guess, but I prefer to not have to rehearse hostage negotiations strategies before heading to a parking lot to acquire luxury goods. “OK, I’ll hold the envelope in my left hand and take the Vita in my right.” Places like eBay might be good for buying things – there are some customer-focused policies to cover situations where you open the box to find a literal brick inside – but from a seller-standpoint, it’s nerve-wracking. Those same customer-focused policies make it easy for buyers to scam you by claiming it broke in transit or claim you sent a brick. That gets us back to hostage negotiation wherein the correct move is to film yourself putting the console in a box, which probably wouldn’t hold up in court anyway. Maybe you can get UPS to vouch for you, or pack it themselves?

So, yeah. I like the possibility of rolling in somewhere with this unused PS3 and get $5 for it or whatever. The local Pawn Shop sure as shit won’t take it (I asked), and my only other option would be to throw it away via Good Will. Just kidding, I still hold out hope that one day I will turn it on.

Anyway, there’s all that. Back in 2019 I had some schadenfreude over GameStop’s then-collapsing stock price ($3-$5) but pointed out how I wish them to stick around for resale purposes. And at that time, I also mentioned resale of digital goods. Even if they somehow pulled digital resale off, it probably won’t be the bounty that it may have been back then: Steam and the Epic Store would directly compete (if forced), and the Game Pass reality we live in means less people are buying licenses to games to begin with. There is some speculation that GameStop could instead start leveraging themselves into being a physical meeting space for gamers, or start selling PC parts like a mini-Microcenter (one of the best retail stores for that, but only 25 in the whole US). That’s probably the better avenue to take, IMO, as they already have stores everywhere and I’d love to have a place to go to see if a mechanical keyboard is any good or to see the difference between a VA, TN, and IPS computer monitor in-person. Price-match Amazon in-store with something I can take home that minute? Now we’re talking.

We shall see where things go.

[Edit] In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been selling puts on GameStop stock since November. Selling puts is not the same thing as buying puts – selling means I’ve been betting that its stock will go up and not back down. I am not recommending any financial advice here.

Torghast: Fun?

I have spent about 15 hours total in Torghast thus far, and I can’t quite tell if I’m having fun. Which probably means I’m not.

The design of this endgame activity is weird, which may be a result of Blizzard’s whiplash direction. It was originally very challenging for a solo player, then it was made to be harder presumably to not surprise players at reaching an unkillable (to them) final boss, and then made much easier across the board. Which is fine, because this is the primary source of Soul Ash, which is necessary to craft Legendary armor this expansion. And everyone is absolutely expected to have one. The recently-released Twisting Corridors with its cosmetic rewards is a better place for challenge. 

But even that aside, it doesn’t feel great. Each run takes me 40-60 minutes and it is a commitment. If you don’t kill the last boss, you get nothing. If your gameplay gets interrupted by something, you get nothing. If you die too many times to random things even before the last boss, you get nothing. So, given the risk, you are highly incentivized to kill every mob pack and scour every crevice for Anima Cells to gain more power. If you skip things on the early floors to try and finish more quickly, but end up not having enough juice to kill the boss, well, you get nothing. 

Oh, and don’t forget that the elites and bosses all get a rapidly-stacking 10% damage buff every dozen seconds or so. Berserk timers would have been one thing, but really? Why is that necessary at all?

When you first unlock Torghast, you just have access to Layer 1. Beating a Layer gives you Soul Ash and unlocks the next Layer. Each Layer gives you a decreasing amount of Soul Ash – it goes 120, 100, 85, 70, 60, and so on. The good news is that Layers stay unlocked, so that next week you can instantly go to Layer 5, beat it, and gain all the Soul Ash from that and the lower Layers automatically (435 total in this case). Plus, by virtue of having beaten Layer 5, you can do Layer 6 next week. Or this week, if you want to put in another hour or so for 50 Soul Ash. 

The bad news is that unlocking 5-6 Layers right away on a toon is exhausting and will burn you out quickly. All of your alts start at Layer 1 just like your main, and Legendaries are gated behind Torghast, so it is not as though you can readily ignore it, even if you only PvP. You could “take it easy” and only run one Layer at a time, but that’s going to delay your Legendary by weeks. 

Finally, the Anima Powers you have available are really hit or miss. There are sometimes fun combos to unlock, like when my Guardian Druid got to auto-cast Roots on enemies that stuck me when Barkskin is up, and when Roots breaks it deals 4000 damage to nearby enemies. Oh, and Barkskin was all but permanent with duration boosts. That combo let me charge into multiple mob packs, do a few Swipes, and then the Roots breaking for 6+ mobs simultaneously dealt 24k damage to everything. 

When you roll in with an Affliction Warlock though, you get runs where your Seed of Corruption gets buffed five times. Which is fine for trash, but doesn’t do anything for the boss.

Torghast is probably one of the most interesting design decisions Blizzard has implemented since Scenarios. Reminds me of Dungeon Runs in Hearthstone. But is it fun? Eh, it can be. Sometimes. It’s also exhausting, kinda formulaic, and also required. If Blizzard leaned more into the overpowered abilities angle, or if each floor guardian gave a little Soul Ash, then I could see it being better. 

WoW: End of 2nd Month

Things have been interesting these past two months.

Druid

My druid was the first to hit level 60 in Shadowlands and the one I got furthest on in terms of Renown and Torghast. I have been Guardian the entire time, as I have not liked Balance while leveling and Feral is just annoying having to heal up after every encounter. 

I sorta came to a hard stopping point with the Druid after a few weeks when I realized what the endgame means. For one thing, I’m trapped. I don’t want to tank dungeons but all of my gear is Agility-based. World Quests are giving me straight garbage Agility pieces even though I switched my loot specialization to Resto. I am interested in doing Raid Finder, but you need a 170 gearscore to even queue, and I’m barely pushing 155. If I want to PvP, it’s going to be as Boomkin or Resto, which again, I don’t have gear for.

Technically I could spend a few grand on the AH buying crafted gear or something, and then muddling through PvP to get Honor gear and hoping that crafting a Legendary will get me over the gearscore hump. But as always, the first hump is unnecessarily difficult, IMO. I remember early BFA where it was a challenge to get past the War Front gearscore wall, but once you were in, epics rained from the sky for zero effort and thereafter you had no issue qualifying for the rest of the expansion.

Kyrian Covenant

I have chosen the Kyrian Covenant because that was supposed to be the best for Druids, but it’s boring. Boring ability, boring quests thus far, and a boring, broken Mission Table experience. 

Seriously, the fact that it has been this long without a fix to the Mission table experience with Kyrians (and Venthyr, so I’ve heard) is just embarrassing. Basically, the champions and normal troops are just garbage who cannot defeat the level 20 elite Soul Ash mission even when they are level 25. Meanwhile, Maldraxxus and Night Fae have basic troops that can defeat 10+ levels above themselves, no champion required. 

I get that Mission Tables are less of a focus of the endgame experience this time around, but… really? The WoW Companion app revolves entirely around the Mission Table, and it sucks that I lose out on potential bonuses because Blizzard is bad at balance and worse at fixing their mistakes.

Warlock

I hit 60 on my Warlock a few weeks ago. This toon’s purpose was primarily to PvP in battlegrounds for fun, but the results have been… uneven. I played BGs pretty much nonstop from levels 55-58, but stopped when I was capping out on Honor. I’m not sure why Blizzard made it impossible to pre-purchase level 60 PvP gear, but it forced me into Threads of Fate and back to questing.

Hitting 60 and immediately getting full gear in every slot was rather refreshing. I even had several thousand Honor left over. The design appears to be for the base-level gear to be cheap, and then you upgrade individual pieces up a few ilevels at a time via ever-increasing Honor costs. It also appears you need to hit certain Renown levels with your Covenant to unlock the higher ilevel caps. 

But like I said earlier, the Warlock isn’t all that fun to play even with decent gear. The missing piece of the puzzle may be the Legendary, which requires Torghast runs. For Affliction Warlocks, one Legendary has Corruption deal more damage and adds a 50% snare on top. With the Absolute Corruption talent, that means you can toss out Corruptions that last 24 seconds on players and snare them the whole time. That may be worth the fun even if I get blown up with zero recourse once melee closes the gap.

Night Fae Covenant

I chose Night Fae for the Warlock because it was the best-ranked, and plus it was different from the other I had picked. The Covenant story was unexpectedly poignant so far. I definitely recommend people to at least roll an alt through the Night Fae so they can see the mock play scenario where a history of Azeroth is run through. The crowd’s reaction is hilarious, and [redacted]’s shock at the events throughout is a little sad considering you know the news is about to get worse.

Alts and Boosts

I had two character boosts in my back-pocket for a few years now, one from BFA and another from… maybe Legion? They had been converted by the level squish into an instant level 48 toon. I have been holding onto them for a while for if I ever got sucked into a social situation in which I wanted to play on a different server. Then the thinking was that I would use it on the Horde side eventually.

Well, I spent both of them to create a Mage and Shaman. Despite having a decently high-ish level Mage & Shaman on my original Auchindoun-US server.

The Mage was almost an instant-regret situation. I did play with my old Mage for a few hours through WoD (the go-to fastest leveling place post-squish) and it was a blast as Fire. Mobs falling left and right. Level 48 Fire Mage forced into Shadowlands content right away? Not so much. Hit level 52 and was generous with some crafted gear and it still felt bad. Tried Frost and Arcane, and the latter was the closest to fun I could get. 

I thought about BGing with the Mage like I did with the Warlock, but it was around this time that I realized that level-scaling in BGs was actually removed in Shadowlands. When you join a match, your level will say something like 52 (59) and everyone else shows 59 around you, so I had been like “cool, let’s level via BGs.” It’s just a lie to cover for lowbies not being targeted/called out. You really are level 52 with crap gear being matched against actual level 59s with higher gear and possibly people with Covenant abilities (via Threads of Fate). This suddenly explained why my Shadow Priest was struggling to affect any team fight whatsoever in BGs despite DoTing up the entire team. Or possibly Shadow Priests just suck in BGs like Affliction Warlocks.

The Shaman boost was on purpose though, and I’m enjoying it. I have a fondness for Shaman considering it was my first serious alt after my namesake Paladin, and Shaman in general have come a long way since TBC. Elemental is decent even if it hasn’t really changed all that much from Lava Burst and Lightning Bolt spam. Based on some BG videos, I’m excited to try Elemental in PvP and then fall back on Resto if it comes to that.

The only two classes I don’t have at this point are Warrior or Hunter. I have one apiece back on Auchindoun-US, but it’s tough to justify spending time leveling them on a server with considerably less resources (including crafter alts to gear them). I suppose server transfers are cheaper than level boosts, but at some point I have to recognize the fact that my WoW days (in this expansion) are numbered.

That’ll Teach Me

There I was, minding my own business, writing end-of-year recap posts. SynCaine points me towards a game called Monster Train, which is sorta like Slay the Spire. It’s on sale for $18… and why not? Let’s splurge by buying a game on Steam, like the good old days.

This is why not:

Yep, I paid $18 on Steam for a game that arrived on the Xbox Game Pass like three days later. Hell, it could have actually already been there before I bought it. Forgot I had to do homework before making game purchases. I mean, I don’t have to, but it gets a bit silly the lengths I go to save $5, let alone $18.

In any case, I played Monster Train for three hours before finding it on the Game Pass. Submitted a refund request through Steam and it was rejected. Did some research on whether you can appeal your initial rejection. The consensus is that, despite appearances, each request that falls outside the automatic approval conditions (< 2 hours played within 14 days) is looked at by a human. New request, new human. Obviously that only goes so far, of course.

My second refund request was approved. I think the winning argument was changing the Reason from “Game wasn’t fun” to “Game was not what I expected.” As in, I was not expecting the game to be free elsewhere. I didn’t write that part in the box though. Monster Train is billed as similar to Slay the Spire, but it’s not really. I’ll have more to say on it later on, assuming I play more of it via Game Pass.

I’m just glad to have my $18 back in a Steam wallet that hasn’t been used in a year or two.

End of Year: 2020 Edition

If you’re reading this, you made it another year. That’s something, at least.

On the personal front, things have been going well. My wife and I have stable jobs that smoothly transitioned into work-from-home versions. We’re both introverts, so the whole lockdown thing has not hit us particularly hard. My son is meeting milestones ahead of schedule, which is nice considering he was a preemie. And after 15 years, I finally made my last student loan payment in November… for a degree that has effectively been useless. Kids, when they say “it doesn’t matter what degree you get, just get something so you can sail into middle management,” that is a lie. I mean, it is true that any degree will probably get you past the first HR filter, but for god’s sake pick something like Business Admin if you don’t already know what you want to do with your life.

Also, maybe don’t spend $50,000 trying to figure out what you want to do with your life. Unless what you want is to pay student loans for a few decades.

The gaming goals from last year:

  • Play PS3 games so I feel less guilty about buying a PS4 for two games [Nope]
  • Otherwise play the games you want to play when you want to play them [Generally yes]
  • Stop playing the games you don’t want to play anymore [Actually yes]
  • Continue being a (passably) responsible gaming dad [Won’t know for another 15 years]

I never got around to the PS3 games. Again. At this point, it’s just silly to keep bringing it up and runs afoul of the next two bullet points anyway. That said, I haven’t bothered even thinking about a PS4, so there’s that. Same with a PS5, if one were even available. I seem to have waited long enough that almost every console exclusive is coming to PC anyway. Had a Switch been available though… things may have been different.

Looking at my Steam list, I see the following titles played in the last year:

  • No Man’s Sky
  • My Time at Portia
  • Spelunky
  • Blasphemous
  • Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
  • Factorio
  • Wandersong

No, seriously, that’s it. So much for that backlog, am I right? Between No Man’s Sky, My Time at Portia, and Fell Seal, I did sink about 250 hours of gaming in there. Looking at the Game Pass list though:

  • Katana Zero
  • Spiritfarer
  • Astroneer
  • Nowhere Prophet
  • Neon Abyss
  • Sea Salt
  • UnderMine
  • Carrion
  • Metro: Exodus
  • Children of Morta
  • Everspace
  • The Outer Worlds
  • Outer Wilds
  • Death’s Gambit
  • Into the Breach

Twice as many titles as Steam… but probably only half as many hours, if not less.

The rest of my gaming time this year has been pumped into Fallout 76, Hearthstone, WoW (more recently), and mobile games. I finally kicked the Clash Royale habit, and my blood pressure is better for it. There have been a few other mobile games I’ve sunk some serious time into while trying to find a Slay the Spire equivalent. I should probably take some time to write about them, actually.

In any case… 2021, huh? To be honest, I do not even know what is coming on the horizon. Mass Effect Trilogy Remaster? FF7 Remake PC release? I am more excited for rumors about the Game Pass, such as Ubitsoft’s subscription service being folded in, or that Microsoft might buy Sega. One thing that has been a total whiff this year is Humble (Bundle) Choice. I have paused my subscription 10 of the last 12 months, two of which required refund requests because I forgot to pause. Seriously, I think I may just drop the subscription altogether, even though that would remove my grandfathered-in ability to pick up all of the random crappy games they try to give away.

On the MMO (and equivalent) front, I continue to enjoy playing WoW and foresee that extending through January, at a minimum. Fallout 76 is still fun, but my motivation to boot it up took a nosedive when I finally unlocked the last pieces of the Secret Service armor, and also noticed that the Season 3 rewards were underwhelming. Genshin Impact probably deserves its own post, but since I haven’t played it in two months, that becomes more and more unlikely. FF14 is still installed on my PC, but that flight of fancy has flown.

As for goals in 2021:

  • Continue working on the Steam backlog
  • …but don’t get bogged down with mediocre games
  • Maybe buy a Switch. For the wife.
  • (Re)Play through the Halo games via Master Chief Collection
  • Give FF14 another shot
  • Resist the urge to buy a new gaming PC

And that’s that.

Epic Store Sales

As in, the Epic Store, not epic store sales.

Back in the day, which was either last year or fifteen years ago, I had this to say about the Epic Store:

As a reminder, none of this exclusivity bullshit is necessary. Epic could simply undercut the Steam price by 5% forever AND grant developers a larger percentage of the cut, and I would buy all my games in the Epic store. I do some ridiculous shit to save $1-$2 after all. Maybe that’s Plan B for when they run out of exclusivity money?

At the time, Epic was in the midst of buying out gaming devs and forcing unnecessary exclusivity deals. Which was, and still is, extremely anti-consumer. In the intervening months, it has been interesting seeing them right the ship. Epic has brought back the “endless $10 coupon” for this winter’s sale, which means you get $10 off any game that costs $14.99 or more. Some devs are getting cheeky and having $14.98 sales, but otherwise it seems above-board. And in comparing my Steam wishlist, there are some great deals:

  • Disco Elysium – $13.99 vs $23.99
  • Hellpoint – $17.99 vs $20.99
  • Death Stranding – $19.99 vs $29.99
  • Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete – $29.99 vs $39.99
  • Borderlands 3 – $9.79 vs $19.79

Thing is, I’m just not buying games anymore. Part of that is WoW sucking the oxygen out of the gaming room – although that may or may not be coming to an end – but the larger issue is the Game Pass. Will all of those arrive in the near future? Probably not. Possibly none of them, ever. But both Metro: Exodus and Outer Worlds did a tour and they were “Epic exclusives” I played for $1.

But here’s the other thing: would I drop everything and play those games right now? If the answer is not an enthusiastic Yes… what are we even doing? Donating to game developers? It used to be that I would get hung up on the nightmare scenario of getting an insane itch to play a game that I passed on during a sale. But it has been months since I had any such itch, and these days I am just as likely as not to go to bed early. Maybe I’m getting old, or maybe it’s due to the 1.5 year-old that does not have a Snooze button. Everyone’s getting up at 7am even on the weekends, whether we like it or not.

In any case, the deals are there if you want them. I’m pleased that Epic is heading down this direction for competing with Steam rather than exclusives. Oh, and all the free games every week (and every day recently). By my last count, I have 109 games on the platform and only bought one of them.