Author Archives: Azuriel
I’ve been playing some games. Let’s talk about it.
Subnautica: Below Zero
My experiences thus far can be summed up by this meme:
There is an interesting philosophical debate as to whether Below Zero is a DLC or a sequel, but I think the truth is that it’s neither: it’s a map pack. Almost everything is literally the same: same drop pod, same resources, same recipes, same fish, same upgrades, same base building components, same progression. The moment I stepped out of the drop pod (it is a short walk from opening scene), I said “OK, time to make a scanner and build a Sea Glide.” I didn’t know there was a Sea Glide in this game, but I knew. The last time I touched the original game was 2018, by the way.
The bigger marine fauna is different… sorta. You won’t see any Sand Sharks or Stalkers or Bonesharks. Instead, you have the Brute Shark and Cryptosuchus and another bitey creature you swim away from, because who cares? They all make the same scary-at-first roaring noises as they try to take an easily-ignored percentage of your HP bite. Things are so bad in this department that I didn’t even realize I had encountered the Reaper of Below Zero – named Chelicerate, which totally rolls off the tongue – until I got into a special “totally being eaten whole right now” sequence. Then I said “huh, okay” and swam away because nothing one-shots you from full HP.
So what I’m saying is that the novelty is 100% gone for me. There’s a new story and perhaps some additional lore and new set pieces and such. But what I am finding is that it’s not good enough to justify the short-comings inherent to the Subnautica formula.
For example, new items are unlocked via scanning (3) pieces on the ocean floor. Ostensibly, this is to encourage and reward exploration. The problem is that navigating a 3D underwater environment in 30-40 second increments with hostile creatures and no map is difficult. More difficult still is knowing something is there in the first place. You might be in an area with pieces of an item you already unlocked, and not realize there was a second disassembled item available. Or maybe you found 1 of 3 pieces and now for the life of you can’t remember the area where you found that. And maybe that one piece was part of the Ultra-High Capacity Oxygen Tank, which would double the amount of time you can further explore. And so every minute you play the game not having found the remaining pieces you remember how much more restricted you are exploring anything else for not having it.
“Look it up, then.” I did. Then I saw the rest of the game automatically play out in my mind.
I may ultimately go back and finish Below Zero, but it will be with the reluctance one has in going through the motions of inevitable victory in a Civilization game. In my search for the other Oxygen Tank pieces, I ended up landing on basically every other major location/story node and seeing 80% of what they offered. Part of the whole appeal of discovery is doing whatever you want, but what I want is to not drive around the map in a slow-ass Sea Truck back to the same areas I was blocked from accessing the rest of, due to some item I hadn’t scanned yet.
Which included the Habitat Builder, by the way. You know, the thing that allows you to build a base and utilize 90% of the tech you scan? It was apparently sitting right on a box next to everything else I scanned, but I missed it somehow and had to look that shit up too. I understand that there are a lot of people who don’t like hand-holding or arrows over objectives, but the Habitat Builder is a huge chunk of the appeal of the game. I don’t think anything is improved by allowing that to be missed.
And that kinda sums it up: Below Zero improves nothing on the original.
The slow-motion train wreck that is Blizzard right now has entered into a new, greasy-diesel fire phase.
Since the lawsuit and frat-boy/Bill Cosby culture was exposed, it appears that WoW has gone under the politically correct microscope. Which… seems a bit overkill – you could see its puerile humor from space with your
naked fully-clothed eye. Paintings of scantily-clad women are being replaced with fruit, NPCs like Master Baiter are getting renamed, along with some Achievements:
In the upcoming Patch 9.1.5, we’ll see:
- ‘My Sack is Gigantique’ renamed to ‘My Storage is Gigantique.’
- ‘Bros. Before Ho Ho Hos’ renamed to ‘Holiday Bromance.’
Next on the chopping/editing block were emotes which “seem[ed] to have harmless intentions at a glance, but when used while targeting another player, their intentions can turn unexpectedly suggestive or intrusive,” per a developer’s note. /Pounce no longer says “Azuriel pounces on top of you” but rather “Azuriel pounces towards you.” Because of the implication.
Speaking of which, the latest news is that several in-game joke/flirt lines are getting the axe. A full spreadsheet can be found here, but some highlights:
- [Blood Elf female Flirt] Is that a mana wyrm in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
- [Blood Elf female Flirt] Normally, I only ride on epic mounts… But, let’s talk.
- [Draenei Female Flirt] I want you to *lick and splat* my *gurgling noises* *slurping noises*
- [Pandaren Female Flirt] Oh, I’ve never done THAT before.. Uh… You’re not doing it right…
- [Pandaren Female Flirt] Let me show you my kung fu grip.
- [Blood Elf Male Joke] Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?
- [Pandaren Male Flirt] Hey, hot stuff. Want to try breeding in captivity?
- [Pandaren Male Flirt] Nice pants. What’s the drop rate?
- [Goblin Female Joke] I’m a modern goblin woman. Independent? I still let men do nice things to me. But I stopped giving them any credit.
- [Goblin Female Flirt] So then, he asked me to go up on him!
- [Goblin Male Flirt] I like my women the way I like my fuses: Short, fast and ready to blow.
- [Goblin Male Flirt] I got what you need. *sound of zipper*
- [Orc Male Flirt] That armor looks good on you. It would look even better on my floor.
- [Tauren Female Flirt] I’ve got big, soulful eyes, long eyelashes and a wet tongue. What more could a guy want?
- [Tauren Male Joke] Homogenized? No way, I like the ladies.
- [Night Elf Female Joke] Oh, look, I’m dancing again! (Darkly) I hope all your friends are enjoying the show…
- [Highmountain Tauren Female Flirt] You don’t need to be from the Skyhorn tribe to join the mile high club.
- [Dark Iron Dwarf Male Flirt] Interested in joining the mile deep club?
- [Lightforged Female Flirt] Let’s go back to my ship and twist our nethers.
- [Lightforged Female Flirt] I admire a soldier who can… remain… at attention.
I planned to stop after just a few, but then I pulled a Blizzard and kept on going.
It’s actually kind of amazing, right? I haven’t played Amazon’s New World, but I cannot imagine it having flirt/joke lines like the above. Or, really, any other commercial MMOs. Not even TERA, if you can believe that. Which I guess may be why so many people are up in arms over the potential removal of said emotes. If you want sexualized prepubescent catgirls, there are plenty of options, but if you want T for Teen jokes, WoW may have been the last call.
Amusingly, the Reddit thread I linked a moment ago has several people smugly pointing out that while WoW is getting censored, FF14 has:
FFXIV literally has a quest about 2 catgirls fighting over who gives better handjobs to a guy named Captain Longhaft.
It’s crazy that even just a thought that can lead to another thought that can eventually lead to a though about sex is too much for a Blizzard dev. Just imagine if they ever saw this quest, they’d pop a blood vessel.
They posted that, unironically, as though that quest was something to be proud of.
Go ahead and watch that video, by the way, because it’s actually worse than it sounds. The captain in question rescued the two catgirls from child prostitution, when they were still too young to join his crew, then accepted them once they got older. I was half-expecting there to be a final gotcha! wink about the innuendo being just that, but… nope.
When they returned to me years later as women grown – strong and beautiful – I swore that I would have them! In my regiment, that is… That they know how to properly sheathe my blade is an extra benefit – albeit a most welcome one. And with that, I must return to my post.
I routinely read manga, so I am used to the cognitive dissonance that comes with Japanese media having compelling narratives and then an 8-year old girl in a micro-bikini masquerading as an ancient dragon/vampire in the same story. Which adds absolutely nothing of value to the narrative, by the way. It’s beyond a trope – it’s a badge of shame that’s beyond my ability to even rationally consider “cultural differences.” And this is how you know how gross it is: who is it for? Seriously. Who? Who gets mad enough to not buy something without softcore loli porn in it?
It would not surprise me then that the Venn diagram between those people and others quitting WoW over joke/flirt removal is just a circle.
In truth, I do understand some of their points. The devs can go through a decade of crusty socks in WoW’s closet all they want – and they probably should! – but the endeavor rings a bit hollow when the present plot revolves around genocide and other ultra-violence. That’s a decidedly American trope: sex bad, violence good.
Buuuuuuuuuuuut… it’s not really sex that’s getting censored, is it? Maybe more like the frat-boy jokes that were funny 15 years ago, back when I was an actual frat boy playing WoW for the first time. Maybe nothing of actual value is being lost here, and WoW will continue being shit because of shit narrative and shit gameplay decisions, not “political correctness run amok.” It seems like a lot because there is actually a lot that has accumulated over the years, and if Blizzard wants to change their company culture, they will have to do it one dick joke at a time.
After loading Fallout 76 for the seventieth time, it occurred to me that I should really like Guild Wars 2 more than I do.
In Fallout 76, I’m basically logging in, collecting some resources for later, progressing down the seasonal reward track via daily quests, and killing everything in 1-2 hits. The last part really is silly, as I spend a considerable amount of time farming/grinding new weapons despite already owning several that destroy everything. For example, I watched a video showcasing a sort of Gatling Shotgun and decided I had to have it. So I do… and it kinda sucks. But… horizontal progression!
Meanwhile, I have found myself logging into GW2 to at least progress through the calendar goodies before immediately logging off. The thought process is that if I ever get gung-ho about the game again – there is an expansion on the horizon – I will be glad my past self was so thoughtful.
But why log off immediately? Whereas my “progress” in Fallout 76 couldn’t possibly matter at this point, stuff in GW2
does could. So this weekend I logged in and stuck around.
… and remembered why I don’t.
To be fair, the comparison is unfair. I stick with Fallout 76 because the moment-to-moment gameplay is enjoyable, even when there is little personal danger. GW2 gameplay is… different. Not terrible. Not great. It definitely lacks the satisfaction of, say, pushing buttons as a Frost or Fire Mage in WoW. Or Rogue. Or most other classes in other MMOs, period. But maybe I’m just out of practice.
Indeed, that continues to be the biggest hurdle: the impenetrable nonsense from a decade of horizontal progression. Where do I even start? Goals are good, I guess. So let me see:
- Unlock Griffin
- Unlock additional character slot
- Unlock some Quality of Life upgrades
The Griffin requires me to clear the Path of Fire expansion, which I apparently didn’t do, so that’s a start. The other two are solvable with $$$ at borderline exploitative rates, or they can be grinded via gold farming. I’m not against some casual farming, even if it takes a while to reach my goals, so let me just see the avenues to get gold in GW2…
[Two hours later]
Welp, there’s all my gaming free time.
Again, unfair. If I just log in and do some WvW or whatever it looks like the zerg is up to, chances are I’d be 80% effective at gold farming compared with casual optimal. But I don’t like not knowing what I don’t know, you know? Learning anything in-game though is nearly impossible – there’s literally ten thousand+ achievements and collections, some of which actually give you permanent bonuses. Great for veterans needing long-term goals, less great for returning optimizers.
We’ll see where things go. I never imagined that GW2 would be some kind of MMO sandbar for me, so some of the blockage is my own mentality. But if you guys have some 5-10 minute routes or something surprisingly worth it to unlock, let me know. Last time I played, I spent about three months farming Winterberries to gear my alts, for example, and I considered that reasonable/entertaining enough to keep my toes in the water.
Stardew Valley meets Crusader Kings.
Okay, maybe it’s a bit early for that. I’ve only played for about two hours, and have no particular idea what’s really going on yet. But there are a few notes I wanted to jot down.
First, I really like the premise, from a mechanical point of view. You are a orphaned peasant told to just grab some empty land and build whatever. The twist here though is that each season is only three game-days long. This acceleration is possible because, you know, dynasty, e.g. you are intended to produce an heir that’s carries on the family business of village-building.
This is both unique in the farming/crafting genre and also helps handwave some of the more traditional gamey bits. Like how one dude can chop down a dozen trees and build a house in an afternoon. I mean, it’s still handwavey due to how hunger/thirst works, but I still appreciated the thought.
Also, you can change the 3-day season to be longer if you want via settings. The devs “strongly suggest” leaving it at 3, and I can see their point even from the start: without the dynasty bit, it’s just a worse Stardew Valley.
Having said that… well… the 3-day season makes all the NPC and questing bits exceedingly silly. One of the starting quests is to find out why a rye shipment hasn’t arrived. To complete this quest, you have to walk 1200m or so to the next town, then halfway back, then back, then return all the way. It took 1.5 in-game days to complete. So, basically my entire Spring. The reward was 300g, for which I have no context whether it’s worth the time I lost. Some of the meals from vendors cost 270g for some porridge, so I’m guessing No.
It was nice to see that the quest had an 18-year time limit though. Especially since one part was locating the courier who was bleeding to death near a river. Would he have just been bones if I waited 5 “years?” I’m guessing No again.
Anyway, there’s that.
OK one more thing: I find it intimidating in these games when they say “build wherever.” I recognize the terror of analysis paralysis, so I end up creating a base camp within earshot of the beginning area. Somewhere along the way though, the base camp hits a tipping point where it would be too onerous to move everything somewhere else, so I keep it in a lame area and just deal with the dissonance.
In this game though? Shit is extra scary. I’m going to have to create and reload several Saves given how it might take in-game years to find a spot where I’m happy settling. Meanwhile, I don’t know which resources are more difficult to find/gather or any sort of late-game concerns.
Which is of course the smartest thing to worry about after playing something for 2 hours.
What a crazy 1.5 months. Huge work initiative is coming to a close, I passed a certification exam a few days ago, and things are approaching what might be considered whatever normal amounts to be.
So, let’s shill some more for Game Pass:
- Subnautica: Below Zero
- Tainted Grail: Conquest
- Medieval Dynasty
I mentioned it before, but basically my gaming life consisted of Hearthstone, Fallout 76, and Slay the Spire for the last few weeks. Not because they were the best games I had at my disposal, but because they were accessible, low-effort time-wasters that kept me (relatively) sane. I cannot guarantee that much will change at first, though seeing the above games available for free* is giving me a nudge in that direction.
Although I have heard mixed reviews on Subnautica: Below Zero, I never dug deeper into why things are mixed. Not necessarily for the sake of spoilers, but because games end up changing so often post-release that what people complained about originally may no longer exist by the time I get around to playing. All I know is that you apparently spend a bit more time outside the water, there is some kind of vehicle that handles like shit, and the devs turned the game into a sequel instead of DLC to the original because money and they got tired developing water games. Considering I spent 61 hours enjoying the first game, my bar is relatively more forgiving for even a v1.5 game that costs me nothing.
Superliminal looked cool and sometimes that is all it takes to get on my radar.
I heard an interview with the band Japanese Breakfast on NPR, talking about how they wrote the soundtrack for Sable. At one point they mentioned how their favorite childhood memory was playing Secret of Mana with their father, and NPR then overlaid the opening theme in the interview… and that was it. I was back in the 3rd grade coming home from school to my Super Nintendo playing A Link to the Past, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy 6, and Super Metroid for the 30th time because I got precisely two videogames a year and those were it. Funny how advertisers spend tens of millions of dollars keeping my eyeballs on the screen for more than two seconds, and a goddamn MIDI from 25+ years ago rockets past it all.
Before work stuff consumed my life, I was on a real roguelike card game kick. One of the options I was an inch from buying was Tainted Grail: Conquest. Instead, I bought Deck of Ashes and (ahem) burned out a bit on card games. Aside from OG Slay the Spire. Seeing Tainted Grail on the Game Pass certainly makes me retroactively applaud my decision to take a break.
Finally, Medieval Dynasty is one of those survival-esque games that was on my radar, then wiggled inside my radar after SynCaine’s review, then shorted out my radar once I realized that the price jumped upon full release. Which… I get it, you want to reward the early adopters. At the same time, if you are going to game theory me into buying an unfinished product at a lower price and hoping things work out, you should expect some hesitancy on the back end if I miss the “deal.” It’s not about the $5-$10, it’s the principle. Or not, because I can play for free on Game Pass.
Things are weird for everyone else too, right? Like we went from the worst possible timeline with F2P and loot boxes everywhere, to Game Pass and Epic Store weekly giveaways and people seemingly giving a shit about Consumer Surplus in general. This is exactly what competition is supposed to do, but I nevertheless keep listening for when the music stops.
Bethesda recently removed the Nuclear Winter battle royale mode from Fallout 76, and replaced it with Fallout Worlds. This new feature is intended to satisfy the promise of modding within Fallout 76.
Essentially, it allows you to spin up your own Private World (a feature that already exists) but then tweak a large number of “developer” settings. For example, you can remove building restrictions, remove crafting restrictions (i.e. infinite materials), give yourself infinite ammo, crank up/down NPC damage and a number of other settings. Access to this feature does require a “Fallout 1st” subscription, same as normal Private Worlds, although there is a free “community” version that is intended to… something. Advertise the feature? Give bored people something else to do?
There is a catch though: while you can clone your character over to Worlds, they cannot come back.
A large number of people in the Fallout 76 community consider Worlds a waste of developer time. Originally, I did too. What’s the point? Why spend developer time on a feature that has no progression? All of the time you spend in Worlds doing whatever is isolated to Worlds alone, even if the only thing you tweak is goofy things like exaggerated ragdoll effects or more frequent rad storms. I suppose it might also be nice for those people who want to test out certain Legendary builds without needing to track down/grind out specific weapons.
The counter-argument that got me though was this: who says you have to come back?
Almost three years ago, I made the argument that Fallout 76 was a survival game. And, well, I sure as hell ain’t playing ARK on default settings. There isn’t anything approaching the ridiculousness of dino babysitting for literal real-world hours in Fallout 76, but there is an argument to be made that some elements of the experience diminish fun rather than facilitate. Things like grinding out multiple Daily Ops just for the free ammo to feed your minigun so you can use it in Public Events. Infinite ammo would cut out a significant possible gameplay loop, but again, some loops are better than others.
There is also the fact that a solo world is what many people have been asking for all along. Private Worlds already exist as a feature under the subscription, and has the bonus of allowing you to preserve your unified character progress in Adventure Mode. But what is that really? You also level up in custom Worlds, possibly at a faster rate. The two things you miss are the sort of Season rewards – most of which can be boiled down to resource gifts – and… other people. You can invite others to your own Custom Worlds, and they can even rejoin that specific Custom World without you having to be online, but there is otherwise no random people drifting in.
And that’s the real downside, not the forked progression. Other people have certainly been distracting during story progression, but Show & Tell is a strong motivator for emergent gameplay. I can’t tell you how many times I have strolled into a random person’s CAMP just looking to browse their vendor wares and then end up shamed how great their camp looks compared to my Oscar the Grouch roleplay (or at least that’s what I keep telling myself). I have built elaborate nonsense in ARK and Valheim and similar games before with full knowledge that none would witness its greatness. It’s easier in those games though, because other people never existed to me. Here, it’s different.
Having said all that, I have no particular desire to fork over subscription money to access Fallout Worlds. I now understand the appeal though, even if it’s not directly appealing to me. I happen to enjoy rummaging through literal post-apocalypse garbage and slowly accumulating all the things.
If you don’t, well, Bethesda has you covered now.
In the comments to my last post, I got some pushback from stating Covenants in WoW “were choices in the same way stacking Crit vs Versatility is a choice: namely, choosing to be objectively correct or gimp your character in X or Y (or all) content.” Indeed, I believe that the proposed 9.1.5 patch changes that remove the Covenant-switching restrictions is something that should have existed from the beginning. Which, since some people forgot, it kinda did since you could freely change Covenants without friction outside of going back to one you previously “betrayed.” In that one scenario, you were limited to a once-a-week quest.
But let me go a bit further: I do not believe that “meaningful choices” can or ought to exist in MMOs.
What someone means by “meaningful choice” is critically important, of course. There is no one answer. For example, is a mutually exclusive choice always meaningful? Does a choice have to be permanent to be meaningful? Does a choice have to have lasting consequences (which is different than just being permanent) to be meaningful? Does a choice have to feel difficult to make to be meaningful?
I bring up these different dimensions of “meaning” because I sometimes feel that people fetishize Permanence in terms of choices. That if you can change something later, it must mean that the original choice itself didn’t matter. To them I say: Every Moment is a One-Time Event. Specs in WoW have been imminently changeable at the drop of a hat for many years. If you choose to not tank for a raid, that choice lasts only for as long as you want it to. But here’s the thing: the choice you made to not tank yesterday is permanent. You can’t go back in time and make a different choice for the Tuesday raid time. So… was the original decision a meaningful choice? If you were good at tanking, it certain was for everyone there.
Let’s bring this back specifically to WoW Covenants in Shadowlands. For those not playing along at home this expansion, there are four Covenants (i.e. factions) the player could choose to ally with at max level. During the leveling process, you got to do quests for each one and also play around with the unique Covenant abilities that each one offers – some are general abilities, and others are class-specific. Eventually, you have to choose a specific Covenant to champion and otherwise experience the rest of the expansion with.
Is picking a Covenant a meaningful choice?
As I wrote before, I would say No. Was it mutually exclusive? Yes, you can’t have more than one Covenant at a time. Were there consequences? Yes. Sort of. Covenants were swappable even before 9.1.5 but let’s not pretend there isn’t a significant time cost to essentially starting over with rebuilding a Sanctum, grinding Anima, and all the sort of nonsense daily quests one has to do. Plus, you lost access to any Transmog from the original Covenant. Was it permanent? Obviously not, but that would not have been the secret sauce if it was – instead of meaning, such a decision would have brought in frustration and betrayal.
Why? The Covenant abilities themselves are an extremely mixed bag. Sometimes they don’t matter, and other times they matter a whole hell of a lot. For example, if you are a PvP Priest, you want to be Venthyr for the Mindgames ability. Mindgames is one of the most unique CCs ever introduced to WoW, and I guarantee you that it will be brought forward into the next expansion as a Talent or even baseline ability. If you don’t PvP on your Priest character, then sure, your Covenant choice is more wide open. But if you ever thought you would, not picking Venthyr would be playing with a handicap.
On the PvE side, Night Fae is an attractive choice for Death Knights given it increases their mobility, which is otherwise the classical weakness of the class. However, Night Fae is extremely terrible for both Unholy DPS and Blood tanking. So your “choice” is between the optimal DPS/Tanking or improved quality of life. Explain to me again why it’s a good thing that we have to pick between the two.
Notice how none of the above considerations touch on the Covenants themselves: their theme, their plot, their aesthetics, their characters, or anything that actually makes them meaningful from a narrative standpoint. There are certainly players out there for whom Covenant theme is the number one consideration. Helistar said in the comments yesterday: “When I started Shadowlands it was obvious that my druid would be Night Fae, optimal choice or not.” That’s totally fine! Although… I have to ask the follow-up question: if it was so obvious from the start you were picking Night Fae, was the choice really meaningful to begin with?
If it seems as though I’m playing both side of the argument… I kinda am.
The real crux of my argument is this: the designers should not be going out of their way to “enforce” meaningful choices. In Diablo 2, you could not respec your character; in Diablo 3, you could swap your abilities around at almost any time. Was picking talents in Diablo 2 more meaningful? No! All it did was make me feel bad every time I leveled up, knowing I was always going to be 2-3 levels late to the actual good talents due to the dumb, blind decisions I made hours ago. That doesn’t feel meaningful.
Imagine if Blizzard designed Covenants such that Covenant abilities were interchangeable (and probably Soulbinds), but the Covenants themselves were not. Priests could have Mindgames but fight with the Kyrians. That sort of thing. Would that detract from the meaningfulness of the Covenant decision? Or would it… enhance it? I would unequivocally say the latter. Because WoW is an MMO where you could be spending 40 hours a week playing your character and not spend a second progressing whatever story exists. So for me, gameplay decisions and projected viability and optimization are my top priorities. And those things are largely math problems with clear, non-ambiguous answers.
In a hypothetical Shadowlands where Covenants had no particular gameplay impacts, suddenly that decision becomes meaningful. The choice more reflects who I choose to identify with, who I am as a person, who best reflects my values, and that’s a hell of a lot more meaningful than 2% DPS. It would certainly be closer to what I feel were the meaningful choices in, say, the Mass Effect series:
What the exchange highlighted to me though, was how squishy the venerable Sid Meier quote actually is.¹ To me, the choice between curing the Krogan genophage or deciding not to was interesting. In fact, I spent ten minutes or so agonizing over it when the dialog wheel was presented. Was it fair of us to cripple an entire species because we feared their hardiness and breeding speed? At first, I was worried about that hypothetical. Once the Reapers were gone, who is to say that the Krogans don’t simply out-breed and out-muscle the rest of us out of the universe? Then I thought: wait a minute, is this not the same sort of argument used against inter-racial marriages in the past, and even concerns about Islam today?
The genophage choice is definitely one that I felt was meaningful. It can say a lot about you as a person. Maybe the fact that Covenants primarily boil down to a numbers game to me still says something about my values, but I don’t think you can read much more into it other than sometimes 2% DPS actually matters. Rather, I would say that the meaningfulness of a choice in an MMO is directly disproportional to its gameplay effect. If you care about the numbers, then it really isn’t a choice; if you don’t care about the numbers, what are they doing there in the first place? Just remove the numbers.
Finally, for those still stubbornly sticking to their guns regarding “permanent choices are meaningful choices,” I say to you one word: alts. Nothing is permanent if you can have alts. So really it’s just a question of how many hours of hazing you want to require someone to go through to experience the other choice. Or just to potentially be viable in another subset of content.
(More Blizzard than WoW, specifically, but I’m doing a call-back to this post from 2012)
Blizzard’s next patch for WoW is 9.1.5 and it contains… well, the words speak for themselves:
Over the past few weeks since we shared an update, the WoW team has been focused on the immediate future—both for our people and workplace, and what’s next for players too. As a part of that, the entire team came together to ask: What are the biggest things we’re hearing are getting in the way of your fun, and what are the most impactful changes we could make to WoW today to fix that?
Shadowlands Update 9.1.5 will be going on the PTR next week, and a lot of what you’ll find in it is the direct result of your collective feedback. It includes long-asked-for changes to make it easier to swap covenants and conduits, updates to make it so you don’t need to repeat covenant campaigns on alts, new character customization options for some races that were lacking them, and many more changes to help you play the way you want.https://www.wowhead.com/news/shadowlands-developer-update-9-1-5-ptr-next-week-323931
Just in case you’ve missed the context here, Blizzard is getting sued by California for rampant sexual discrimination, some egregious harassment, and general nefariousness. Oh, and more recently, allegedly shredding documents concerning all that. Some executives have been fired, some worker walk-outs have occurred, and all of this has come AFTER the mass-migration of WoW players that has been a result of poor game and story design leading into/throughout the Shadowlands expansion.
I cannot quite tell what it is exactly, but the whole thing feels nauseatingly patronizing.
Like it took throwing two decades of reputation in the garbage and an existential crisis for these designers to finally go “Huh, ain’t got shit to do today cuz the bosses are either sacked or hiding in the Cosby room… maybe I’ll give this whole ‘make fun games’ thing a try.” No, really, they basically said that:
While we hope many players will be pleased at the increased accessibility and freedom for experimentation these changes will permit, we know that you might be wondering why we didn’t make adjustments like these sooner. After all, a large portion of the community has been vocal about wanting to see changes along these lines since mid-2020, when Shadowlands was still in Beta.
When it comes to the limitations on Covenant-switching, millions of players experienced Shadowlands for the first time through the lens of their Covenant of choice, and that would have not been possible had the choice carried less weight from the outset. Nevertheless, after the conclusion of the Chains of Domination campaign, the Covenants are united against the Jailer, and revisiting player feedback in that context has led us to re-evaluate our approach.
“Covenant of choice.” Tell me how much choice a PvP Priest has in regards to Covenants again. Or Warlocks. Or basically any class/spec across the entire game? Covenants were choices in the same way stacking Crit vs Versatility is a choice: namely, choosing to be objectively correct or gimp your character in X or Y (or all) content. But now that Blizzard’s stated goal of forcing you to experience the game in a specific way has been achieved, the devs will now, in their extreme beneficence, sell you the solution to the problem they created.
This is not a new tactic for the WoW devs, of course. Each expansion launches with an obviously asinine timesink that the devs conveniently “fix” a year later after it successfully sunk millions of player dollars in subscriptions. In any other year, these Shadowlands changes would be par for the course. The fact that these changes are cloaked in this “we’re reexamining everything in the company” is just gross. It’s like, no you aren’t, and stop pretending you are doing anyone any favors here. Shit should have been changed a year ago, when everyone told you it was a terrible idea.
It’s gotten to the point where I just dread hearing anything about WoW. You know those shows out there which just sort of revel in awkwardness, scripted or not? I can’t stand them. There’s something about them that is physically painful to watch for me. And that’s what WoW news is to me now.
I watched that Sylvanas cinematic and I just couldn’t anymore. How many years have they been building to this moment, and some committee of writers thought “I will never serve” fit in with anything that was going on? What did she think she was doing up to this point? There is zero way to write themselves out of the hole they wrote themselves into. So now we’re all just sitting around and waiting to see how painfully awkward the conclusion is going to be.
To some extent, we expect Xanatos Gambits from evil masterminds. Heroes doing things that end up playing right into the villain’s hands. The key is that the heroes’ actions are usually, at worst, dumb in retrospect. Other times, they just had no way of knowing the extent of scheming that took place; can’t blame them in those scenarios. But there is no coming back from this for Sylvanas as a character. She wasn’t looking for an opportunity to snatch the One Ring at the right moment. She’s just dumb and got bamboozled by someone called the Jailer. Sylvanas never took a moment to look around the Maw? Maybe notice all the chains, all the dominated souls bent to serve? In her mind, the Jailer was just going to be like “everyone’s free now” and then put down the McGuffin of ultimate power?
It’s all so dumb.
Everyone has predicted for a decade or longer that the true WoW-killer was going to be WoW itself. But I couldn’t even imagine it playing out this way. Shit design, shit corporate culture, shit story. That’s the trifecta right there. They are working on it though! They sat down and brainstormed and talked about their feelings and remembered that all the problems were correctly identified in beta (again) so they could continue to put in minimum effort into what once was a billion dollar franchise.
The one hope that WoW has is that corporate spreadsheet dweebs like Ion Hazzikostas have an outsized effect on game design direction. So that, you know, when they are fired or quit, the ship can be turned around. If things really are built by committee though, WoW is straight fucked and the ship is going down. Or arguably already has, and the remaining population is clinging to dressers and doors while everyone else is paddling the life boats away. But hey, at least the knobs were fixed in a patch.
I have tried to have three vacations this year – honestly, just staycations with the kiddo still going to daycare – and yet we are 3 for fucking 3 on him getting sick/having a fever exactly on the week that I am off. Not the week beforehand, not the week after. The exact week I had taken off. Supposedly this is “good” because, hey, I don’t have to use sick time! But, you know… I could use sick time AND not have to entertain a sick two-year old for 12-14 hours when I had plans to do stuff.
If you’re wondering, yes, I accrue a lot of vacation and sick leave each year. Join a union, folks.
Anyway. What have I been up to lately?
This has been my default, “I don’t know what I want to do… let me load this game until I figure it out” game for a long time now. The fact that I still play is actually beyond all objective reason. But… it’s a survival-esque game not in Early Access (even if it sometimes feels that way) and the moment-to-moment gameplay is spot-on. There is also a Season reward track that awards some special items and store currency for completing some daily/weekly quests. That said, my character can only really progress further with precise, legendary item god-rolls all to tackle content that in no way needs said god-rolls to run.
I suppose I did play WoW for a decade despite hitting similar progression walls. And yet I do not have the same confidence that Fallout 76 will continue having new content developed that necessitates new gear. Or new challenging content at all, really.
While I have watched more matches than participated in them, I do still complete the accumulated dailies every 3 days or so. As someone who has played since the beta, I do have to say that this meta is perhaps the strangest it has ever been. Not just the Quest combo decks that finish on Turn 5, or how any game going past Turn 7 is surprising. There just isn’t a whole lot of AoE anymore. Swipe from Druid or Fan of Knives from Rogue have been gone (from Standard) since March, I think, so it has been a while. Still, I raise an eyebrow any time I see players committing a half-dozen 1/1 creatures to the board and/or going wide as a strategy for success. At least, until I remember how much AoE is lacking and that they can usually get away with it.
Slay the Spire (mobile)
I have officially surpassed my progression on PC with that of mobile, in the Ascension department. And I keep coming back, as the game is pretty perfect to play in 10-second chunks as you watch a 2-year old. I have played a LOT of deck-building roguelikes over the past few months, and none of them really come close. I sometimes wonder if that is because of the first-mover effect, or if the game is really that good. Every day I lean more to the latter.
Also, all those other deck-builder roguelikes aren’t on mobile.
…And That’s Basically It
I have a huge amount of games that I “should” be playing that I just… don’t. Ones that have been perfectly fun to play, for the few times that I have done so. The problem is: what do you do when you don’t have a consistent play schedule? For example, I was having fun with Solasta, Control, and trying to see if Death Stranding would ever be fun at some point. But once you lose gaming continuity, a lot of things fall apart. It gets harder and harder to to boot that game back up – you forget the controls, the strategy you were going with a character build, you literally lose the plot.
If I only have an hour to play games, I’d rather play ones that I know can generate fun in that hour.
Oh well. This crazy work project will be going on for several more weeks, and there is no guarantee that anything slows down after that (since we pushed back all normal projects to make room for this one). This could be the new normal. Not exactly what I envisioned or hoped for, but it is what it is.