Author Archives: Azuriel

Survival Survival: Subnautica

Short version: survival… underwater.

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Auspicious beginnings.

You know, it’s easy sometimes to get jaded with videogames. Go around the block a few times and it will feel like you have seen it all. Same mechanics, different textures. Then, something manages to catch you by surprise. Subnautica is precisely that something.

The premise of Subnautica is that you are a survivor of a spaceship crash on what appears to be a complete waterworld. Your lifeboat contains a Replicator, a Medical Replicator, a locker, and a damaged short-range communicator. Good luck.

I played version 42313 (Dec-16), and already the game looks goddamn amazing. More importantly, the game feels amazing. This is important because you will be swimming underwater 99.99% of the time. Initially, you are slow and clumsy, and have to stick to the safety of the shallows to find scrap metal to turn into Titanium. Over time, you can craft some swim gear, extra oxygen tanks, and eventually vehicles to travel with greater style.

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It really does feel great swimming.

The surprising part of this game, to me, was how… new everything felt, mechanics-wise. In Minecraft, Ark, Rust, 7 Days to Die, and countless other games, the beginning is always the same: look around, punch trees, collect rocks, build a fortress of doom. I spent the first 15 minutes of Subnautica in that same mindset, and filled my inventory with anything I could grab by left-clicking. Which ended up being a whole lot of relatively useless Acid Mushrooms that, while they can be made into batteries later, did nothing in the survival department right now.

That was when I realized that I needed to let go of what I knew before. Subnautica is its own game.

There is no better example of this than the Subnautica take on weapons. Basically, you have a survival knife. That you have to craft first. As far as I am aware, that is it. Stalkers and Sand Sharks and other carnivores have little issue taking a bite out of your scuba suit, so there is absolutely a sense of danger in the game, above and beyond the mundane (yet omnipresent) risk of drowning. Poking one with the knife will get them to retreat for a while, but this is a game where discretion is pretty much the only part of valor. Which, again, is completely refreshing.

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Yeah, don’t poke this guy.

 

I’m not entirely sure how much of the “game” game is implemented yet, but I am impressed by what I see thus far. I just hit what I imagine to be the mid-game: constructing underwater bases. This allows me to craft where the resources are, instead of having to swim back to my lifeboat each time. The crafting isn’t terribly complex, but yet still feels involved considering your limited inventory, which is limited further by extra oxygen tanks (which take up 4 cells). At the moment, I am trying to nail down additional debris fields so I can scan technology to build better vehicles/base structures.

Overall, Subnautica feels like… a breath of fresh air.

Yeah, I went there. And you should too.

Survival Survival: The Forest

Short version: Survival Horror, with more of an emphasis on Survival.

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Really nailed down the forest bit.

Right from the start, I just have to say that the Forest is one of the most visually impressive games I have played, and it’s still in Alpha. Specifically, I played Alpha version 0.52

The game starts with you on an airplane with your son. The plane crashes on an island, you see a dude in red paint and loincloth take your son away, and… action. Loot some airplane food for sustenance, grab the emergency hand axe from the body of a flight attendant, and you are in the middle of the forest. Good luck.

While The Forest initially plays out like your standard Survival game, it diverges in interesting ways. For example, most Survival games limit the amount of items you can pick up either by weight, or fitting into grid, or something like that. In this game, you are limited by type. For example, you can only carry 8 sticks… but can also carry 8 rocks, 20+ arrows, a half dozen medicinal herbs, four melee weapons, a few bombs, a bunch of animal skins, and so on.

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Sometimes you gotta stop and smell the storage containers.

The other interesting bit comes in the form of logs. Logs are the basic building component for pretty much any structure, but they are much too large to carry around in your inventory. So… you carry them on your shoulders, one at a time. You can craft a “Log Sled” pretty easily, which allows you to store and easily move up to 8 logs, but the physicality of it all adds an unexpectedly potent bit of immersion.

Also, dude must be ripped and/or a lumberjack.

The main hostile force in the game are the cannibals. While I have not spent a whole lot of time testing things, the cannibals are absolutely not the sort of mindless enemy that traditional Survival games utilize. Sometimes they rush at you and attack. Sometimes they rush forward and stop when you don’t make some move to retaliate or run away. Sometimes they just get on their knees and worship you a bit.

As time goes on – and as you destroy the forest around you building tree houses – the cannibals get more hostile. And that’s when you start building traps, walls, and stocking up on armor made of lizard skin and leaves. Or perhaps you chop the cannibal corpses into pieces, and construct a burning effigy to establish your dominance.

It was around hour 10 when I descended into a cannibal cave, confident I had enough supplies and arrows to face what was down there. That’s when I saw it, while I was dangling off the end of 50 feet of rope:

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Nope, nope, nope.

That’s enough Forest for me, for now. I’ll… yeah, I’ll wait for Beta. Or release.

Or the heat death of the universe.

Edit:

Since that last screenshot is too dark, here is what the creature looks like via an in-game photograph:

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…yeah…

Can’t quite tell if it is supposed to be two women fused together, or three. Probably three.

28+ Days to Die

Okay, now I’m (probably) done with 7 Days to Die.

The one thing I really wanted to do was try and succeed at a randomly generated world. Which is kinda weird, since I’m not exactly a huge fan of procedural entertainment for its own sake. The issue in the absence of randomness is that… it’s not random – you know exactly where everything is. The specific loot might vary from seed to seed, but you’ll always know where the police station is, where there might be a gas station, ect.

Of course, random maps often end up like this nonsense:

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Seems legit.

I almost abandoned my attempt within the first 30 or so minutes, simply because of how annoying it is starting back over. In my prior save, I already had crossbows, iron sledgehammers, and nearly all gun recipes. The real meat of survival games happens in that inbetween time where you are desperately scavenging for supplies while establishing a base. So while it’s fun stepping foot into zombie town for the first time, loot possibilities endless, it’s also highly annoying trying to break down doors with a stone axe. Oh, a gun safe? I’ll just break the lock… ah, right, Stone Age.

I kept at it though, and before I knew it, I had an impenetrable zombie base. Actually, I knew exactly when I had such a base, because I recognized the weird structure that lays atop a “hidden” bunker, and also knew that zombies can’t dig anymore, so the game was effectively over. I mean, there was still the very real chance at death due to zombie dogs, which I encountered several times while venturing about. But as far as Horde Night goes? I could effectively just go AFK while browsing Reddit while it occurred in the background.

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Welcome to Thunderdome.

Later, I created a zombie cage with bars and spikes such that I could shoot/stab through the bars and even loot while the zombies couldn’t do much. I have yet to encounter the Screamer or Cop Zombie types, so perhaps increasing the difficulty could engender some additional feeling of danger.

Alternatively, I might be effectively done. Which is fine, considering I have been obsessively playing it for the last two weeks and have racked up nearly 60 hours at this point. Not bad for a game in Alpha. Indeed, the next update is supposed to have a Behemoth zombie that will topple structures with ease. Unless they let zombies aim at the ground though, bunkers will still be an I-WIN button.

In any case, I highly recommend this game.

I might also recommend waiting until at least Beta to get the most enjoyment out of it. But hey, if you catch it at $5 or $10, it’s worth the money if you think you might like zombie Minecraft.

7 More Days to Die

I technically wrote my last 7 Days to Die (7DTD) post last week. As of today’s post, I have more than 30 hours in the game.

Things were dicey there for a bit. As mentioned, I had a wooden house on stilts on top of a gas station. While I survived the 7th day zombie horde with ease – whose zombies automatically see you through walls – there was a night where some zombies made it to the roof and were mucking about, seemingly ineffectively.

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Cue foreshadowing.

When I tried to repair a bit of the damage they dealt, I noticed that 3-4 of my roof blocks kept falling down. As I was walking around on the remaining roof tiles trying to figure out why… the entire wooden structure collapsed. Which destroyed my forge and two wooden chests, instantly destroying all of the items inside. Apparently one of the stilts had been destroyed, destabilizing the structure.

It is the nature of these sort of games that such a setback is enough to justify starting a new map.

Although I wanted to give up right then, I decided to pack up what little I could salvage and then strike out into the world. If I was going to give up, I may as well poke around and get some additional experience with the game world, eh? After walking around for a while, I suddenly saw it:

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Home, sweet home.

Yep, a football stadium. Score.

Over the next in-game week or so, I holed up in a makeshift structure on the roof of the press box, making traps and speeding along the crafting path. I might have just stayed there permanently, but I had no source of Potassium Nitrate, which is a key component of Gunpowder. While I understand that this is good game design, e.g. not having all resources in the same biome, it was nevertheless extremely annoying. So, I packed up some supplies, and struck out into the world again.

In the course of my journey, I came across a burnt forest biome. While scavenging a destroyed house, I noticed a well. With a hatch. Hmm. Opened the hatch and descended down, only to see a bunch of wooden stake traps in front of a bunker door. I spent the waning hours of Day 21, e.g. horde day, tearing down that metal bunker door with increasing trepidation. I had no backup plan; it was either this or death.

When the door finally fell, I walked in and… yeah: Loot for days.

I created a makeshift barricade down near the bunker entrance, but it did not appear to be especially necessary. The zombie AI had little issue attacking me on top of the gas station or even the stadium, but they have significant issues with underground bases, apparently. Indeed, none of them even really got to the well itself. I have read on the forums that there will eventually be digging zombies or something, but it’s hard to imagine them being able to get through ~10 blocks of dirt and then the concrete bunker itself.

Ironically, this was another logical end point. All my resources were back at the stadium, but I had effectively found a zombie-proof base. It reminded me of the endgame of Civilization matches, where winning is a foregone conclusion and you are left with just the drudgery of going through the actual motions.

Nevertheless, I’m still playing. I ended up leaving the bunker and trekking to a snow biome to finally get some Nitrate. By the time I got back to the stadium, I sat through Day 28’s horde with relative ease. At the point I stopped, I had a mini-bike (7DTD’s only vehicle) all but completed, and was considering the logistics of moving all of stuff to the bunker, including fertilized dirt since the burnt forest biome is kinda depressing. But… nah.

Am I done with the game for now? Probably. Maybe. Who knows? Unlike many other #ForeverAlpha games, 7DTD’s forums have active developer commentary and updates scheduled. The next build, for example, is supposed to include electricity, wires, automated traps, and some base-destroying behemoth zombies for all your endgame needs.

The game is fun and compelling in a visceral way for me, but I’m definitely heading towards the tail-end of novelty and optimization. If I play some more, I’m abandoning the default seed (of which I downloaded a map; cheesy, I know) and heading to randomly generated worlds. I’m just worried that this game will go the same way as Minecraft: a fantastic sandbox that I play in Alpha/beta and then never go back to, even after they add all the good stuff by release.

Survival Survival: 7 Days to Die

In short: zombie Minecraft.

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Fortress of Mostly Solitude.

7 Days to Die (7DTD) is a fairly robust post-apocalyptic survival sandbox game that features deformable terrain, zombies, and the titular over-the-top weekly attempt on your life. I played version 15.1, and the game itself has been in alpha since December 2013. I just purchased it in the recent Steam Winter Sale for $10.

As with most survival games, you start out mostly naked with limited supplies. Run around, punch some trees, craft a Stone Axe that will be your primary tool for most of the game. The nice thing is that just about every single thing in the game world is able to be manipulated or destroyed. Craft a Stone Shovel early on and you can pretty much dig to bedrock. Or just dig a large moat around your future fortress. Then fill it with wooden spikes.

The zombies in this game are fairly standard walkers and runners, at least as far as I have seen. There is supposedly a “heat” system in place that determines whether the zombies will be attracted to your location, and the zombies themselves apparently can hear you (including the noise you make opening your inventory). Oh, and smell you too, if you happen to be carrying any meat. In practice, there will basically be zombies around at night no matter what you do.

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Further back shot of home.

Speaking of zombies, there is an interesting interaction with them and the game world. Everything is destructible, remember? That also means by zombies. While they can certainly try to break their way through windows and doors, there is nothing stopping them from literally banging their way through the walls either. Even elevated positions are not immune, as zombies with readily take their rage out at anything near your location, including any sort of support structures.

Oh, and have I mentioned that there are (rudimentary) physics in the game? Alpha is alpha, so there are some goofiness like floating candles and such, but buildings can absolutely come tumbling down if enough supports are destroyed. (Cue ominous foreshadowing.)

Mechanically, the game is… in an interesting place. The early game feels fantastic. Looting feels extremely rewarding, as you can get some rather extreme rewards from any random pile of garbage. Things get weird in the mid-game though, around the Iron stage of crafting. At that point you are going to need a standard, defensible base to craft a forge, and then start harvesting a ton of resources. If you haven’t looted some critical tools before the Forge though – such as a Cooking Pot – you almost might be better off resetting the game. You can craft such things, but it is so far along the “tech” tree that most of the benefit is moot.

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It’s always nice to have choices.

Speaking of tech trees, there is a rudimentary leveling system in the game, somewhat similar to Ark. Honestly, the implementation needs some considerable iteration, as it is not intuitive at all. There are some “big” skills that cost 10 points per rank, and grant you thinks like faster Stamina regeneration or bonus damage to blunt weapons. There are also skills that only cost 1 point each, such as Mining, which are naturally raised by performing the skill in-game, but can be purchased outright. Then there are other ones, such as Leather, which just straight-up grants you the ability to create leather. But there are also schematics in the game that are required before you can craft certain items.

Like I said, the Skill/Leveling system needs some work. It feels good seeing your crafting skills naturally improving, but you also run into the Oblivion problem of incentivizing, say, crafting a hundred wood clubs to power-level your way to the next unlock. It also irks me a bit that Iron and Steel take the same materials, with the latter just being kinda arbitrarily locked behind “Construction Tools X.” Some kind of progression system is good, but I’m not sure this one is the right one.

Overall though, I am both impressed and pleased with 7 Days to Die thus far. I put in around 10 hours in two days, and will probably be stopping here. On my second character, I built a sort of wood treehouse on the roof of a gas station, and survived the 7th Day horde attack with relative ease. As I started digging a moat around the perimeter in anticipation of the next one, it occurred to me that playing any further was likely to result in me extracting all of the fun out of the game before it is fully implemented/tweaked.

Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen

After playing ESO, I got in a mood for an open-ish world RPG that was actually fun to play. As it turns out, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisin (DD) is precisely that. Minus the relatively garbage console port job the devs did.

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Another bonus: you can play as a 12-year old girl.

For the most part, DD plays like Dragon Age: Inquisition with a more Action RPG feel. Or maybe it’d be better to just compare it to something like Darksiders. You run around in 3rd-person left/right-clicking your basic weapon combos, or holding Ctrl/Alt and selecting a few more abilities from there.

Which, really, is my number one complaint: the controls and UI getting in the way. Running around with WASD while having to hold Ctrl and then pressing E is not fun. I can move the ability to Left or Right-click rather than E and that makes things a bit better, but why is “Ctrl/Alt Toggle” not an option here? Why does the mouse-wheel not work half the time (and never in menus)? Why does Inventory have its own specific button, but Map not? Why can I press Esc to back out of every conversation piece except the final “Goodbye” comment? Ugh.

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Large enemies are great fun, though.

Typically, fighting with the controls and such would be cause enough to drop a game, but everything else about DD is real fun.

There are nine classes in the game, each with their own Active abilities and passives called Augments. Actives are generally specific to a class and weapon, but some carry over. Meanwhile, Augments are character-wide once you unlock them, leading to a fun little optimization puzzle where you try and snag the best Augments from each class to bring to your “final” one. This also encourages you to try out each of the classes, so you don’t get stuck with an unfun class on the character select screen.

Pawns are really interesting take on traditional party members. Basically, you have one main pawn and two pawns that you borrow from other players. Your pawn stays with you all the time, and you can change their class and Augments just as you change your own. You can also customize the pawns you borrow in a roundabout way via Searching for specific traits you need. Borrowing pawns of your own level costs nothing, but you can spend Rift Points or whatever to get higher level ones.

Since the borrowed pawns don’t level, you end up having to cycle them out along the way, but it’s still kinda fun seeing all the ways other people have customized them (since they are copies of their main pawn). Plus, since you can borrow new ones for free at pretty much any town, you can radically change your team composition at your leisure.

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Graphics are nice too.

The biggest draw though, is combat. Specifically, combat with large creatures. I doubt DD is the first RPG-ish game to feature clamoring up the legs and back of huge-ass monsters on a routine basis, but it’s here in spades. Most mobs are typical goblins or bandits, but Ogres, Golems, and Dragons (thus far) are way more frequent than simple boss fights. And you know? It’s fun pretty much every time. Gimmicky, maybe. But fun too.

Amusingly, DD appears to have been fairly hardcore on release in regards to the open-ish world it developed. The PC version (which I have) gives you an Eternal Ferrystone right off the bat, which allows you unlimited teleporting powers to specific Portstone locations. The console version apparently had Ferrystones with just a single use. Traveling one foot is still a pretty big issue thus far, as I have only discovered two “destinations” at near opposite ends of the map. I think I’ll be getting consumable items that will allow me to create my own endpoints, but they have not appeared in-game yet. This might get more annoying later though.

Overall, I have about 15 hours into Dragon’s Dogma and am eager to play more. Maybe I’ll get tired about scaling Cyclopsi and stabbing them in their stupid eye, maybe not. All I know is that, right now, I’m having fun. A pretty ridiculous amount of fun, to be honest.

Warharmmer: End Times – Vermintide

Falling for the oldest trick in the subscription book, I failed to cancel my Humble Monthly Bundle subscription for January. This netted me Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide immediately, and some mystery games by Friday.

At this point, I am entirely reliant on the mystery games to make up for the $12 I inadvertently spent.

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Spoiler: I did not survive the Skaven onslaught.

This is not necessarily saying that Vermintide is a bad game. It is pretty much exactly Left 4 Dead set in the Warhammer fantasy universe, with ratmen replacing zombies. Like, pretty much a 1-to-1 copy. There are rat tanks, rat smokers, rat hunters, rat spitters, and so on. There are some variations though, like rats in armor that only die to headshots, and the character classes themselves have different abilities, e.g. Bright Wizard shoots fireballs, etc.

My problem with Vermintide is that I never really liked L4D in the first place.

Perhaps that’s not exactly true. I enjoyed the kind of story-mode in both L4D and L4D2. But after three Vermintide games on Easy, two of which failed at the very final step, I was reminded how much I hate that sort of gameplay. What makes it a bit worse in Vermintide is that there is gear progression, and you only get loot if you’re successful; losses grant you crafting material as a consolation prize, but it’s not much in comparison to an entire piece of gear.

Indeed, there are grimoires and other special items hidden about the levels that, if held onto until the very end of the mission, guarantee a certain amount of loot. The problem is that these items take up item slots of health potions and the like, and since they affect the whole surviving group, there is a rather large incentive for people to search and hold onto them. Which means we’re right back to WoW-esque grinding dungeons, where there are acceptable places to stand during horde events, treasure location memorization, and drama when randoms aren’t following orders.

Yeah, no thanks.

That said, if you enjoy the L4D gametype and have a consistent group of friends to play with, I could recommend trying Vermintide out as a change of pace. The melee combat does actually feel pretty satisfying (not quite Dying Light, but close), the different classes are refreshing, the banter between the characters does a surprisingly good job of fleshing out the Warhammer universe, and the game looks fantastic.

…it just simply holds no interest for me. If I was in the mood for this sort of co-op gameplay, I would probably start playing Dungeon Defenders or something.

Back-end Expansions

Over the holidays, I declined to purchase either the Heart of Thorns (GW2) nor the Heavensward (FFXIV) expansions, despite them being on sale for $25 and $10 respectively.

In the case of FFXIV, the decision was easy: the expansion’s content is locked at the very end of the base game’s storyline (which is mandatory). While I am going to give the MMO another shot this year, I would be dozens and dozens of hours out from even getting a whiff of the new content, so there isn’t a particular reason to buy-in now.

With GW2, the consider was basically the same, but slightly more strategic. I already have a level 80 Elementalist, so I could technically start into the new endgame content right away. However, I’m 99% sure I’d want to be playing my Necro instead, who just hit level 36. But more than that, we already know Arenanet is working on GW2’s next expansion, and that it’s extremely likely (based on Heart of Thorn’s release) that it will end up including HoT in its purchase price.

In both cases, it was kind of clear that there wasn’t much of a point in buying the expansion without already having an endgame character. Some stuff works earlier on, such as new classes, but for the most part all the new content is back-loaded. Which… makes sense, of course. “Expansion.”

At the same time, as someone who has purchased the base games already, such expansions hold zero immediate appeal to me. If they had immediate appeal, I’d have bought them and felt an obligation to start playing right away. GW2 offers a level 80 boost with Heart of Thorns, so there is at least that, but I’m not even particularly asking for insta-endgame characters here. Just… something. New starting zones or other low-level content, basically.

Hell, I remember Diablo 2’s expansion back in the day added entirely new items to the loot tables across the entire base game. That was actually an instance where I kicked myself for not buying the expansion right away, as I pretty much cleared the normal game and only installed the expansion later (despite my being late to the Diablo party generally). On the other hand, that sounds like a few mobile games I know, where “VIP” status allows you to get loot the plebs never see. Hmm.

End of Year: 2016 Edition

There are many who will argue that 2016 was the worst year ever, and I am inclined to agree. At least, I would, until I start looking at my own personal life, in which case things have been largely fantastic. Part of the slowdown in the past two months, for example, was because I was shopping around for a house. I’m technically in contract, but we’ll see how it goes.

Looking back at the New Years Resolutions (of sorts) from 2015, I had:

  • Actually playing FFXIV for real this time. [Completed]
  • Maybe, potentially sticking my toe back in GW2. Briefly. [Yep]
  • Oh, yeah, I bought GTA 5, didn’t I? [I did, and I beat it too.]
  • Being more excited than I probably should be about Overwatch. [100%]
  • Spending a WoW token and immediately regretting it. [No regrets]
  • Being amazing. [Of course]

I completed my foray into FFXIV fairly early on in the year, and am tempted to give it another go – especially given that I’ve done this spontaneous “Yearly Attempt” deal for ESO and GW2 recently. Perhaps a melee class would be better suited to my “actually press buttons” playstyle? Plus… I feel kinda guilty for finally deleting FFXIII’s 60+GB install, despite the fact that I technically already own FFXIII-2 and Lightning Returns. Final Fantasy used to be my jam, you know?

Anyway, my goals for 2017 can mostly be summed up with:

  • Give FF14 another shot.
  • Play through some of those PS3 games I bought four years ago.
  • Resist playing WoW until the WoW Token -> Blizzard balance goes Live.
  • Clear at least 30 games from my Steam backlog.

That is basically it. See you folks on the other side of 2016.

 

Yearly Attempt: Guild Wars 2

I have been playing Guild Wars 2 off and on for the past week or so. And that might just continue.*

My posts about GW2 have certainly been the most contentious ones I’ve ever written. Amusingly though, nothing has really changed over the years. Combat still feels floaty, the art direction is still heavily on the watercolor side (which isn’t bad), the sense of environment scale and 3D space is still among the best in the genre, a coherent narrative is still largely nonexistent, and so on.

The specific issues that hinder any sort of long-term engagement from me are two-fold.

First, I have already seen this before. I hit the level cap of 80 back on an Elementalist ages ago, but I still remember pretty much every zone’s story and “Heart” quest. Combined with the floaty combat and the general malaise that comes from getting 100% of all the skills you will be using practically from the very beginning, killing mobs just doesn’t really satisfy. My Necromancer and Engineer aren’t as bad – I very much enjoy dropping turrets/AoE deathtraps all over the place – but once you have an optimal build… that’s it. It’s tough explaining how that is any different from any other MMO, but it just is. Emotionally, at least.

Second, I don’t have the expansion. I did a bit of research on Reddit and various other forums, and my conclusion is perhaps the most obvious one: the expansion-exclusive Trait lines are the best ones. I can deal with not having a glider or access to the new expansion zones, as the two toons I play are around level 40 anyway. What I can not particularly deal with is that my character would be gimped in PvP (which otherwise gives everyone access to every talent/etc) or WvW. That missing Trait line also changes the entire way the class is played by opening up new weapons to use, so that would go a long way in solving the combat situation for at least a little while.

It doesn’t help that the LFG tool is dead, per the forums, and I don’t have much interest in grinding out Fractals or trying Raids.

I mean, we’ll see. I have been logging on every day to at least get the Daily rewards. I participated in a few of the Events that have cropped up, and those have been mildly amusing. I am having a lot more fun than I did in both attempts at ESO. And, hey, the expansion is technically on sale.

This is one that will need a bit more time in the oven though.