Author Archives: Azuriel

GW2: Expansion Math

I think it’s safe to say that I will still be playing Guild Wars 2 in February, which is when the End of Dragons expansion is coming out. Which means I need to start doing some expansion math.

Under normal circumstances, I never opt for anything but the base expansions for whatever MMO I am playing. GW2 is a bit different since it’s more freemium and cash shopy – there are more utility items than straight cosmetics. For example, the base expansion costs $29.99 and includes (among other things) a Shared Inventory Slot and a max-level boost. The latter two items cost 700 gems and 2000 gems, respectfully. Or roughly $8.75 and $30. So… if you wanted an instant-level 80 boost anyway, you get the expansion for free! Not that an instant 80-level character is that valuable, of course.

In any event, the tiers get a bit weird.

Standard – $29.99

  • Shared Inventory Slot (700 gems or about $8.75)

Deluxe – $54.99

  • Additional Character Slot (800 gems or exactly $10)

Ultimate – $79.99

  • 4000 gems (exactly $50)

Again, there are additional items in the tiers there that I don’t care about, and thus value at zero.

Character slots are definitely something I want more of, but that middle tier ends up being much more expensive than what I could buy via gems on my own ($25 vs $10). But once you hit the Ultimate tier… things change. It costs $50 for 4000 gems, bringing down the hypothetical cost of the Ultimate tier down to the Standard level. But since you get the character slot from the previous tier too, the scenario is that I would get 5500 gems worth of things I value (or roughly $70) and the expansion itself for $10.

How could I possibly afford not to purchase the Ultimate edition of this expansion?!

It’s a trap, of course. Ish. Getting an MMO expansion for $30 straight-up is pretty good, notwithstanding it comes with something as valuable as a Shared Inventory Slot. And let’s also be clear that nothing here is breaking my bank – I’m just a parsimonious bastard. But kudos to the accountants at ArenaNet for making me do some math and seriously consider paying $80 for something I’ve spent less on in the last nine years of playing.

[Fake Edit: Black Friday Sale Edition]

I drafted everything above last week, but as it turns out, there are sales happening on Black Friday:

  • 20% off Gem Cards – $20 = 2000 gems ($25 normal)
  • 20% off Shared Inventory slot – 560/1512/2240 gems (700/1890/2800 normal)

Doing the math… nothing much changes, actually. The relative value of the Ultimate deal drops since it costs $40 for 4000 gems instead of $50, but that still doesn’t make the Deluxe edition worth it at all. What it does do is make it a bit palatable to skip the Ultimate tier and just buy what you need with gems. Getting 4000 gems with the Ultimate tier all at once will mean they’re gone on possibly silly shit within minutes. For example, there are infinite gathering tools on discount currently, and those + 3 shared inventory slots is basically 4000 gems right there.

On the other hand… ugh. The “discount” forces you into the $20 for 2000 gems category, which means that I’m going to be buying the Standard edition ($30) + 2000 gems ($20) and immediately spending at least 800 of them on a character slot anyway. Having 1200 leftover gems is, again, way better than the Deluxe edition. But now I’m at $50 vs $80 for the Ultimate, the latter of which includes a Character Slot.

Like, props to the fucking sadistic accountants over there at ArenaNet, but this shit right here is a dumb position for any player to be in. I shouldn’t need to do calculus to see if something is a good deal or not. Yeah, my situation in valuing only certain items is probably unique, but needing to math things out at all is likely to result in my purchasing nothing instead, as all thought shuts down from overheating.

That and, you know, I could buy a lot of other games for $80. Probably 4-8 of them, even.

GW2: Class Act

Close to 60% of my Guild Wars 2 gameplay is determining which class/spec I want to play at a given time. It’s a struggle because there are nine classes with three specs which have two broad categories of damage types (Power vs Condi) apiece. Nevermind the various Utility options and talent tweaks and, oh yeah, all the weapons that bring different skills too.

When looking at what to play though, my priority list is:

  1. Sustain, e.g. self-healing
  2. Pressing buttons feels satisfying
  3. Good open-world DPS
  4. Has option for ranged damage
  5. Condition cleanse
  6. Good open-world burst damage
  7. Class/spec is competitive (with tweaks) in fractals and/or PvP
  8. Rotation isn’t crazy

Might seem weird to have Sustain at the top, but in my nine years off and on playing GW2, I have discovered that the worst feeling I experience while playing is eating some big boss hit for 2/3rds of my HP and then frantically dancing around waiting for my self-heal to come off cooldown. Will other players help you up? Often, in fact! But I would rather be the guy helping other people off the floor than eating dirt myself.

Scourge [Necromancer elite spec]

My current main is a Scourge. While I have not played every single class/spec combination, I can say that Scourge is about as perfect as I can imagine. Phenomenal self-healing and barrier, great DPS, all ranged damage, baseline Condition cleansing, Boon stripping on a short cooldown, and even decent burst if you just unload all the cooldowns right away. While “class fantasy” isn’t listed as important above, it does count for something. And the Scourge has it, what with the sand necromancer schtick.

The “problem” is that… well, I’ve been playing that same spec for months. Not even months in a row (although it’s close), but like for a while, then taking a multi-year break, then playing it again. While the damage is good, the rotation is pretty straight-forward, so I end up pushing the same sort of buttons in the same sort of way, forever. It works, but it’s rote.

For the last several weeks, I did try to make Reaper work. Greatsword that turns into a giant scythe, the ability to burst down regular mobs in seconds, what’s not to love? Well, the sustain, or lack thereof. Bursting mobs depends on accumulating Life Force and popping a cooldown that burns Life Force naturally, in addition to said Life Force being your 2nd HP bar. So, get low on normal HP, pop the cooldown, and if the fight is still going on a few seconds later, you get to be right back on low HP.

Renegade [Revenant elite spec]

My up and coming new main, or at least secondary main.

I tried Revenant when it was first released and didn’t “get” it. Maybe it was undertuned at the time? All I know now is that the Condi Renegade pushes all the correct buttons for me: great sustain, good DPS, and bursting potential. Plus, it has great ranged damage, which is a huge plus. I plan on using my Renegade to go back through the various Living Story, er, stories in order to complete the Return Of… meta-achievements. If I have to play these again, may as well be on a different character.

Holosmith [Engineer elite spec]

I really want to like the Engineer, but it’s a struggle. Conceptually, the Holosmith is cool. The damage looks fun, there is some bursting potential, and so on. The problem I find is that the self-sustain isn’t there, even though I’m walking around with a shield. It is very possible that I’m simply not playing it correctly. Looking at some Scrapper videos, it’s also possible that I should be trying that spec out more, since it has a lot more sustain.

Really though, the main reason my Engineer is getting any attention is because of the upcoming Mechanist spec in the expansion. That is something I’m very interested in.

Mesmer [Any]

Another class that I should really like, but don’t in practice. I love the concept of an illusionist fighter dealing psychic damage, with a bunch of clones running around confusing people. Playing with it though, I find it extremely hard keeping up 3 clones for maximum DPS, let alone shattering them and then creating three more. I end up either not having three because one died or whatever, or wasting cooldowns trying to create three and doing nothing. Meanwhile, nothing is dying particularly quickly.

Maybe it’s my lack of gear on this character, but it’s hard to justify grinding Winterberries for the 10th time to get them enough gear to potentially be fun at a later date.

Thief [Any]

Again, I wanted to like them, but nope. One of the meta specs (Condi Daredevil) has a “rotation” of literally evade spam. Like, use an ability to makes you Dodge x3, use actual Dodge Roll x2, and then auto-attack a few times. Repeat. What’s not to love about that? I prefer simpler rotations myself, but damn guys.

Power Deadeye actually came closer to being good for me despite having an even simpler rotation of pressing Unload a bunch, because Unload is cool. Like you are just shooting with dual pistols a bunch over and over. The problem is that it has no cleave, so I had to press Unload a bunch on one guy, then swap, then swap again. Maybe Scourge has spoiled me, I dunno.

Elementalist [Any]

My character is named Azuriel Prime, as it was my original class when I started playing nine years ago.

Too bad Elementalists suck, and have pretty much forever. Is there something more brittle than a glass cannon? Sand castle cannon at high tide? Zero sustain, your elementals disappear when you mount, and everything kills you. Oh, and your rotation is cycling through 20 abilities compared to “just Dodge on cooldown and things die.”

[Fake Edit] Between when I originally wrote this and when the post was scheduled, I did spend a bit more time with the Elementalist. I went for Condi Tempest with full +Toughness, +HP, +Condi damage gear. And… it’s working, sorta. It’s not particularly fun and I couldn’t tell you what the Tempest brought to the table aside from being able to press your elemental attunement again (which is a DPS loss), but it’s not totally useless in of itself. It just can’t compete with other options, which have better sustain, higher damage, and easier rotations.

Guardian, Ranger, Warrior

Don’t have the character slots to have any of these.

Granted, I did before the Revenant, and actually had a few at level 80 back in the day. But back then, I wasn’t particularly impressed, and now it’ll cost me $10 to try them so… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Fits and Spurts

It is difficult to play Guild Wars 2 in any sort of consistent manner.

I mean, sure, things would probably be easier if I were not so allergic to appointment gaming. But things are extremely fluid in GW2 that you must immediately drop whatever you are doing and follow the zerg when it appears like a flash mob. Otherwise you may be spending days or weeks hoping for lightning to strike twice to unlock one of ten million achievements or collections.

One of my long-term goals is to progress along the Season of Dragons meta-achievement, unlocking at least the 32-slot bag. This meta-achievement consists of dozens of other achievements, which are themselves unlocked by fulfilling a laundry list of tasks within specific zones. Some of those activities include things like “complete 10 bounties.” Bounties are basically extra-hard open-world group bosses that must be killed within 10 minutes. The LFG tool in GW2 is pretty useless for cobbling together groups, and it would be a bit irresponsible for me to create my own group for content I have no actual way to coordinate.

So… I wait and hope. And when I see someone running around the map with a Commander tag, I abandon my plans immediately (including going to sleep) and try to get whatever it is done.

So far, this strategy has been surprisingly successful. There are usually enough other achievements to work on while waiting to see if anything decides to spontaneously happen. But lately, it has stopped working. In particular, the Domain of Istan map only requires 5 bounties, of which I have 3 done, but the flash mob disbursed after Champion Suneh Stormbringer popped up and literally mopped the floor with us. Seriously, of all the bounties I have participated in, this guy was WAY overtuned. While the achievement can be earned with two more bounties of any type, I have nothing else to work on in that area – I must either camp on the map and be AFK, or try to organize something myself.

The flash mob situation was especially prevalent when I unlocked my WvW mount. I was just in WvW to get 1-2 daily achievements done to pocket 2g a bit easier. Three hours later, we assaulted and claimed a Keep, and then spent a considerable amount of time evicting the prior owners. That was not what I had intended to be doing with my playtime. I’m glad it happened, mind you, because now I don’t have to worry about it anymore. But as someone who prefers organization and analysis, it really makes me wonder how random I want my average game experience to be.

In any event, it is becoming increasingly clear that I need to join a guild. It is Guild Wars 2, after all. The issue is that you are basically in the same situation: waiting around for random guild chat spam in Lion’s Arch, or the sporadic and ephemeral postings on “Looking for Guild.” I found a promising guild on Reddit, but I’m chaffing a bit at the thought of having to essentially fill out a gaming resume and go through a probationary period. I get it, I was a GM for many years in WoW, and having some kind of filter would certainly have prevented a lot of awkward drama later on. And it’s not as though I want to join simply to leech goodwill.

But, ultimately, I don’t know how long I will be playing GW2, which days I will be playing, or even how long each individual session will be. There is an expansion coming up, and I’m very interested in that. So, maybe we just assume I’ll be around and go from there? All I really want is for another channel to be open in case someone wants some warm bodies to do X activity. I would settle for LFG if it were at all consistent.

All I know is that the quickest way to burnout is consistent inconsistency. So maybe I should solve it.

Are Gamers the Biggest Karens?

Browsing Reddit when I came across this post:

The comments are full of masturbatory glee and gamer “trolling,” as if none of those posters play games themselves and/or have had complaints about them. Taken on face value though, the comic is probably correct. With an asterisk. Because the thing about the term Karen is one near and dear to my heart: entitlement.

Karen is used as a pejorative because regular people do not ask to speak with a manager over a perceived slight. It’s an over-the-top escalation that presumes the individual is someone whom the manager needs to hear from. But… if you ordered a medium-rare steak and the server brings out one that’s well-done, nobody bats an eye when you have them send it back or ask for a refund. That is a reasonable escalation – if the manager comes out of their own volition to apologize, then that’s fine.

Here’s the thing though with games: anyone you can talk to is basically “the manager.”

And the other thing? The managers, e.g. the developers, want you to talk to them. Developers have fostered this transactional relationship industry-wide and monetized it. “Games as a Service” is the new “RPG-elements”: everybody has it. Which makes sense, as games are uniquely positioned to be interactive and adaptable. Books, music, and movies are created and finished. For all the millions of voices crying out to George R.R. Martin to change something about Game of Thrones – or to just finish his goddamn books for Christ’s sake – no one presumes that it is possible to actually accomplish anything. Meanwhile, an errant forum post can get a developer to shift the entire competitive metagame. Or more likely, a forum post that rouses enough rabble.

Keeping silent and voting with just your wallet is pointless – you need to vote with other peoples’ wallets if you hope to get a word past the whales. And that typically means getting vocal, getting specific, and I guess appearing entitled to have opinions of the transactional relationship taking place. Do the developers have to listen? No. They don’t have to have a forum, do any communication or outreach, and just build games. Presumably they looked at the numbers and (begrudgingly?) realized that the playerbase could be leveraged to push more product. And now they have the tiger by the tail.

Are some gamers over the top? Yes, of course. That went without saying… until I just did. But I am always leery of the predilection in these circlejerks to land on the thought-terminating cliche of entitlement. At its most pernicious root, using entitlement as a pejorative fosters an authoritarian environment in which you are made to feel lucky that you got any service at all, much less the wrong service, even if you paid for it. Meekness is not a virtue.

…okay, maybe it is.

However! Developers are not gods, they are just people building a collaborative, commercial product/service to sell to you. It’s okay to send back tacos when you ordered meatloaf. It’s okay to leave a bad review when your steak is cooked wrong. It’s okay to express passion in a hobby that you spend literal years of your life playing. Maybe don’t send death threats; send cupcakes instead. Advocate for yourself and your desires, especially if no one is making games you like anymore. No one has to listen, of course, or agree that its a good idea or implement what are clearly brilliant changes that will improve the franchise for decades to come. That’s going to be a on the devs and their conscience.

How some of them sleep at night, I’ll never know.

Mount Up (Still)

Almost four years ago, I said that mounts in Guild Wars 2 are a lot of fun. I’m here to say… they still are.

Indeed, this comes a few weeks after having unlocked the Griffon mount. And it is amazing. There is always a fear in making active mounts (e.g. needing to press buttons to move) into too much of a gimmick, especially flying ones. “Ugh, I have to flap its wings every time?” But I would say GW2 devs have threaded that needle with the Griffon.

For one thing, it’s less a flying mount and more of a gliding one. Pressing Spacebar will cause it to do a leap into the air, with further Spacebars causing it to beat its wings once while consuming the entire Endurance bar. If you do nothing else, it will glide down to wherever you are pointing it. Press Spacebar when you have the Endurance to do so, and it will gain a little altitude for a moment and continue gliding down. Hold Spacebar and it will automatically beat its wings when the Endurance bar fills up, but you’re still losing altitude overall. Time the Spacebars at 75% of an Endurance bar and you can technically maintain roughly the same altitude as when you started, but that of course requires some concentration on your part.

Here’s the key though: it’s fun and engaging.

I find myself often using the Griffon as my primary mount, even though it will lose to other land mounts in a horizontal race between two points. I just like looking for those opportunities to bound up a small hill and gain some airtime. Once you unlock its Masteries, your Griffon can go into steep dives to gain some forward momentum which will beat out land mounts, at least while you are in the sky. And those times are the best.

This sort of thing would not work in every game. For example, I don’t think WoW could pull this off. That said, a lot of the developer pushback during WoW’s Flightgate was how flying trivialized questing content. GW2 does not have this problem. Even in the scenarios in which a Griffon can get you somewhere that lets you skip portions of a jumping puzzle – and there are plenty of enforced no-fly zones around jumping puzzles – you are still engaging in the terrain in other ways. Getting on your Springer mount and climbing up mountains. Using Jackal portals. And so on. Flying over the gates and landing directly on the objective feels more earned, from both a player and developer standpoint.

Supposedly, the Skyscale is a more traditional “helicopter” mount that lets you stay flying indefinitely. I have not unlocked that one though, and possibly never will. Then again, I never thought I would be playing GW2 every night for the last month and a half, but here we are.

Specifically, climbing hills and flying off them.

Impressions: Tainted Grail: Conquest

I have been looking for the next Slay the Spire fix for going on a year now. Played closed to a dozen different deck-building games in that time. After spending about 20 hours with Tainted Grail: Conquest (TGC), I am prepared to mark the journey as complete.

Tainted Grail: Conquest is a deck-building rogue-lite game based on a Lovecraftian take on the King Arthur mythos. You have been thrown into the Wyrdness of Avalon, surrounded by a corrupting mist and body-horror creatures of nightmare, whom you need to defeat to escape. Defeating a Guardian (boss) will allow you to return the ruins of a village you are helping build up to house the lost souls you save along the way. Defeat all the Guardians and you will face the a final challenge… and get looped back to repeat it all at a slightly higher difficulty.

Deck-building rogue-lite game, remember?

What I really enjoyed about the game is the variety of classes. There are nine in total, with groups of three under a common faction. This means they largely share the same base cards, but their mechanics often make them entirely different. For example, there are three summoner-style classes. The classic Summoner conjures minions and can boost their levels endlessly, but will take a corresponding amount of damage when they are attacked. The Blood Mage conjures minions by sacrificing HP right away, and focuses on boosting their minions’ self-destructive nature to defeat foes. Finally, the Necromancer, you guessed it, summons minions… but also generates spectral versions of said minions after they die, all while boosting themselves into a powerful Lich form to deal massive damage.

Instead of strict floors and encounters like in Slay the Spire, TGC has you wandering around in the fog towards discrete encounter areas on the map. Each step you take decreases the Wyrdcandle you use to push back the corrupting mist, so there is some constraint on how many encounters and in what order you wish to pursue them. The Wyrdcandle itself is a mechanic wherein a temporary card is periodically added to your hand that does something if you cast it, and does another thing if you don’t. If your Wyrdcandle is fresh and bright, the card is cheap and very useful. If your Wyrdcandle is sputtering or gone altogether, the card is expensive and punishing if you don’t play it.

After encounters, you gain XP and can level up. Each level allows you to choose 1 of 3 cards to add to your deck, and every 2 levels you can add 1 of 3 passive abilities to your character. You can also get one-use items from encounters, along with Runestones. These Runestones are basically swappable passive abilities that have two different functions depending on whether they are put in your weapon or armor slot. An example would be the Gar Runestone, which either increases your damage by 2 (weapon slot), or deals 5 damage at the end of turn to all enemies (armor slot). Getting three of the same Runestone allows you to combine them into a slightly stronger version.

None of the details really matters though, right? Is the game fun? Yes. For the most part.

I already mentioned it, but I really enjoy how different each of the classes feels. The Summoner/Blood Mage/Necromancer line seems like they would play similarly, but they really do not. Well… kinda. All three rely on a Golem minion to absorb damage so you can buff/summon other things without being ran over. But the Summoner has no nature healing abilities, so you are laser-focused on giving yourself Barrier (a type of shield). Meanwhile, as a Blood Mage you use your HP as a resource like any other, especially because you can get a huge burst of self-healing if you play your cards right. Meanwhile, the Necromancer has minions like the others, but the bulk of your damage comes from Lich-form and sacrificing minions to fuel it.

There can be some encounters that are especially punishing to some types of classes though. The default class is a glass cannon that relies on Block (negates 1 attack) to save themselves. Block is decidedly less useful when one of the enemies does some weak, 1×3 attack right before the boss’s 70-damage swing. But that also encourages one to blow up those smaller enemies first, I suppose.

[Fake Edit] I wrote the bulk of this Impression riding off the high of the Summoner/Blood Mage/Necromancer sequence. I have since gone back an played every other class, and… they are weak-sauce. Or the Summoner branch is overpowered, which is entirely possible. The “gotcha!” encounters that give Summoners issues are easily negated, but the other class families can be blown up entirely. I didn’t play them long enough to see if some Passive ability makes up for things, but some of them just aren’t as fun. At least two of the classes, for example, basically rely on doing nothing on their turns but turtle up and buff themselves for an explosive future turn. Which is fine in theory, but they also have no self-healing like the Summoners, so each fight ends up being a Pyrrhic Victory at best, and your last one when you face foes that need to be killed immediately.

Finally, I would be remiss to not mention one area that absolutely, as the kids say, slaps: the music. As it turns out, the devs licensed music from a band named Danheim who focuses on Viking/Norse-esque songs. I enjoyed myself listening to the boss fights so much that I ended up acquiring the Danheim discography. If I was still hosting D&D sessions, I would absolutely be incorporating these songs into the battle music rotation.

Is Tainted Grail: Conquest the kind of game I will play for 300+ hours like Slay the Spire? Ultimately… probably not. For one thing, I can’t play TGC on my phone, where I play Slay the Spire now. But of all the deck-building roguelikes I have plowed through, this game is the closest one I have found. And if you have Game Pass, you can try it out for free and see yourself.

Checkpoint: Guild Wars 2

I’ve been playing some games. Let’s talk about it.

Guild Wars 2

At the end of September, I complained about the impenetrable nonsense in GW2. Since then, I have been, er, penetrating it daily.

Originally, the goal was to keep the oven pre-heated, so to speak, by doing some daily chores to score the 2g payout plus login bonus. That way, if the expansion coming in February piqued my interest, I would have a nice stack of cash heading into it. Plus, you know, if I didn’t like playing the game prior to the expansion, I could come to my senses and not buy it.

Somewhere along the way, I got the idea to go ahead and unlock the Griffon mount.

Oh boy.

The impression I had going into this endeavor was that you needed 250g saved up and you basically walked flew away with a Griffon. That… is not even remotely accurate. Step 1 is completing all of the Path of Fire expansion. Which, I admit, is a reasonable request for someone who purchases expansions. At least, in normal MMOs – I have never actually finished the Personal Story in all the years I have played GW2.

The Path of Fire story was quintessential GW2 material. I had no idea who anyone was, why they were there, or what was going on. And that was fine because it didn’t matter. Oh, and here is a huge, stunning domain of a god that you can explore for 15 minutes before never coming back. I swear that ArenaNet devs must be made up of 80 artists and 2 scenario writers who hate their job.

Story complete, you can now start on the Griffon achievement. Which requires 250g… and five map achievements. Which each have a half-dozen boxes that need checked off. Some are simply exploring and finding Griffon eggs in certain locations. Others are defeating Legendary/Champion bosses that require a group to accomplish. Somehow that little detail always got left off of the Griffon description.

As of the time of this writing, I believe I have the hardest elements taken care of. It took 5-6 days to luck into groups of other late-Griffon enthusiasts, and the LFG tool factored into zero of them. I managed to snag credit for one of the kills simply because I noticed a player wearing a Commander tag down in the general area I knew the boss to be. I dropped everything I was doing and frantically galloped my way there and tagged credit on the last 10% HP. It was cheap, but I’ll take it. And did. But there was one escort mission that took multiple days for it to even show up as an option and I almost abandoned the effort, thinking it was bugged out.

Once the Griffon is unlocked, then what? Part of the impetus to get the Griffon was how annoying it sounded to get the “Return to X” achievements to unlock, among other things, a 32-slot bag. So that is probably the next goal. We’ll have to see though how difficult that happens to be now that it is no longer “meta” to do so. If it’s more like the Griffon quests x10, then… I dunno.

Then again, what else am I doing?

Checkpoint: Subnautica: Below Zero

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.

Puerile

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.

In the meantime, there will be counter-culture backlash. Because of course there will.

I Should Like GW2 More

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.