Author Archives: Azuriel

Shadowlands Class/Spec Feel, part 1

One of the big distinctions of WoW, for good or ill, is how much things change across each expansion. I never really took these changes to heart much, as I was a Protection/Retribution paladin main and thus things seemed to only really get better over the years. Seriously, when your “rotation” was re-casting Seals every 10 seconds and just auto-attacking, for years (!!!), everything was an improvement.

With Shadowlands still shiny and new, I decided that I could kill two birds with one stone: level up all my classes from 45 to 50 and decide which ones were worth crossing the veil. Luckily, leveling only took 2-3 hours via Warmode in WoD’s Shadowmoon Valley per character. If a character had cleared out that zone in years past, I plowed through Redridge instead. Kinda weird, but it works.

Druid

I started with Druid as that had been my “main” in Legion, and they are very nice for Gathering. And while I stuck with it until level 52, it was precisely this class that led me to start this “let’s maybe play something else” experiment.

Balance Druid – Technically speaking, I may never have really liked Balance as a spec despite playing it for like a year. Part of the problem is with Druids generally, which is Too Many Buttons. And yet none of them really feel good to press. Balance in particular is supposed to have this Lunar/Solar gimmick, but being in those phases never really feels impactful. And then you have 2-4 DoTs you can place on mobs, but those are absolutely not enough to kill anything on their own.

About the only enjoyable thing about Balance is being able to pool and then fire off multiple Starsurges against, say, a second nearby mob after finishing one up. Or just using a Starsurge as a sort of execute-effect against the mob you’re fighting. And, yes, I’m aware that Starsurge technically buffs your Eclipse state and so you should fire it off immediately before chain-nuking. Doesn’t change the fact that neither Wrath or Starfire feel good to cast, buff or no buff.

Guardian Druid – While technically a tank spec, Guardian is actually the recommended leveling spec for Druids… which should really tell you something about Druids as a class. In any case, I took Guardian for a spin in Redridge right before Shadowlands and it’s pretty okay. Tanks are not especially meant to be focusing on moment-to-moment coolness as much as they are weaving in defensive cooldowns to counter boss abilities.

Having said that, Guardian is overall an enjoyable experience. Having a proc that turns Moonfire into a capable nuke is fun, and I also enjoy keeping track of stacking Thrash bleed effects.

Feral Druid – I haven’t actually spent much time as Feral, aside from parking my Druid back at the Auction House. Tiger Dash outside the AH, and Flight Form back in is OP. My initial impression is similar to Balance though: too many buttons, not enough power. Which makes sense in a way, as Feral’s whole schtick is layering bleeds and that doesn’t do much for mobs that die in 10-15 seconds.

My other problem is Tiger’s Fury. This is a 30-second cooldown that gives you 50 energy and grants you a 15-second damage buff. Okay. This is sort of like Rogue’s Marked for Death talent which grants 5 combo points, including the ability to have it reset on mob death (if talented) to essentially keep it active for every encounter. Thing is, Marked for Death is useful for prepping Slice and Dice on the first mob and then burst for other mobs. Conversely, I never really know how to use Tiger’s Fury. Open on a mob, spam away my energy, then pop it to spam some more? Pop it before the opener?

I fully concede that perhaps my own skill/familiarity with the class is at the root of my dissatisfaction. That said, if all the fun is being hidden under a bushel, that’d kinda on the designers.

Paladin

Retribution Paladin – my namesake main has been neither for a few years now (had to change to Azuriell when I migrated servers), and there is a part of me that is sad about it. Another part of me is just fine. While paladins in general, and Retribution specifically, have massively improved since the “let’s make only Horde paladins viable DPS, haha” TBC days when I first started, I don’t actually like them now. There’s just… something missing. Even Hammer of Wrath (at level 46!) can’t fill the hole.

If I had to guess, it would be two things. One, Crusader Strike having a cooldown. Seriously, it’s dumb and creates dead space in any rotation. I think I read an interview once that said it was intentional because that created opportunities for paladin players to weave in other utility abilities, like the various Hands/Blessing spells or a random heal. That’s great… in organized group content, potentially. It also creates massive overhead in terms of setting up macros because ain’t nobody got time to manually click Blessing of Sacrifice or whatever on the healer or tank in the thick of combat.

The second thing is Sacred Shield. God, I miss that spell. Was it OP? Probably. In fact, it absolutely was when it was first released. And seeing as how it no longer exists in the game even as a PvP talent, I think Blizzard agrees it still would be.

Regardless, I liked the design of Sacred Shield as a 30-second buff that granted a 6-second bubble every 6 seconds. It created a buffer when getting dispelled in PvP, it added to Retribution survivability, the mini-bubble gave Flash of Light a 50% crit buff which increased its strategic value, and the targeting limitation (only 1 at a time) made it mean something when you gave it to someone else.

That was great design! Sigh.

Priest

Shadow Priest – My Shadow Priest has changed a lot over the years. Or I suppose it’s possible that I just haven’t played them in years? Devouring Plague being a “spender” for the Insanity resource feels really weird. It’s a cool effect and all, but not the first thing I think of when I imagine a spender. A-ha! I’m now crazy enough to give you this… six second disease!

Having said that, the Shadow Priest feels really, really good while leveling. Downtime is practically nonexistent. Lead off with Vampiric Touch which auto-applies Shadow Word: Pain (via talent), hit with a punchy Mind Blast, then immediately start channeling Mind Flay. By the end of the channel, you either have an instant-cast Mind Blast or a Devouring Plague ready to get them into Shadow Word: Death range. Successfully executing the mob this way gives you 40 extra Insanity (via talent) to plaster the next mob with early Devouring Plagues. Meanwhile, you’re zipping around with speed boosts from Power Word: Shield and only really need to heal once with Shadow Mend, if at all.

Seriously, there is no comparison between this and, say, Balance Druid or Retribution Paladin.

The one downside – really apparent when leveling in Warlords – is the weak AoE. The sweet-spot is 1-2 mobs. Against more than that you can multi-DoT and perhaps channel Mind Sear, but it just feels bad. Much better to DoT a few and try to burn a single mob down so you can start the Shadow Word: Death train. Still, it’s not as though Balance or Retribution felt better in crowds.

I am a little saddened by what Blizzard did with Voidform. Building up Insanity as a resource to unleash Voidform, in which you grew increasingly powerful the longer you were able to maintain a rapidly-draining Insanity bar, was extremely elegant design. Use void spells –> go insane while rampaging –> come to your senses. Now it’s… what? A DPS cooldown? I mean, sure, every class needs a DPS cooldown, but it’s just sad how little interaction it has with Insanity anymore. I understand that Blizzard kinda burned themselves with the original design insofar as players get obsessed with trying to prolong Voidform – to the point where Surrender to Madness was a viable talent! – but I don’t think the current incarnation is the right solution.

Unprepared

I am not prepared for Shadowlands.

Given how I only restarted playing WoW on a whim after a two year lapse, it is debatable how prepared I should be at this point. And yet I have been playing daily since then. Know what I have been doing? Perhaps leveling up on the Horde side? Leveling my characters to 50? Deciding on which character is my (new) main?

Nope. I was working on unlocking flying in BfA. Because that’s a priority… for some reason.

Like so many things, I started with good intentions. I created a Horde druid to experience BfA from the other side and to unlock Vulpera eventually. Thing is, the lack of mobility is a huge drag, especially with the way the main Horde hub is set up. Since I was on a new server, I did not have spare gold to even purchase Goblin Glider kits. “This would be a better experience with flying.” So off I went back to the Alliance Demon Hunter, the only level 50 I had.

In fairness, I did get at least two other classes to 50 in the meantime. But most of my playtime has been emptying banks full of outdated crafting material at bargain-basement prices and doing Tortollan and Champion of Azeroth dailies, as I did two years ago. I think the fact that all the necessary reps were already into Honored territory lulled me in a false sense of security that I could achieve the Achievement in a reasonable amount of time. Which I did!

…Pathfinder Part 1, anyway.

Alas, even though Blizzard’s philosophy has changed in Shadowlands, they decided not to drop reputation requirements to BfA flying. At least, not yet. So after spending a few weeks grinding one set of reputations, I unlocked the need to grind two more, right before the release of an expansion that makes it all moot anyway. All for what? The ease to experience quest text at slightly faster pace? I try to optimize many things in the course of playing videogames, but I recognize that sometimes it spins me off in absurd directions.

Or perhaps I was just subconsciously rebelling against the fundamental task. I am referring to experiencing the Horde side of things, but it might very well be playing an MMO casually at all. Think about how many polished single-player games I could have experienced in that same amount of time.

On the other hand, IRL work has picked up significantly and sometimes I just want to turn my mind off and plow through some meaningless but achievable, repetitive tasks. And there ain’t many things better than WoW for those.

Also, I’ll be paying for Shadowlands and another two months of gametime (if necessary) exclusively via WoW Tokens. There really isn’t a better time to make bank than the release of a new expansion, so I kinda don’t want to miss that. You know, setting up for the expansion after this one.

Years Late, $20 Short

Hearthstone is jumping on the Season Pass bandwagon… in perhaps the dumbest way possible.

Earn More Rewards with the Darkmoon Faire Tavern Pass!
The Darkmoon Faire Tavern Pass unlocks the potential to earn even more rewards on the Rewards Track! With the Tavern Pass you can earn Hearthstone’s first-ever Cosmetic Coin, the Annhylde Warrior Alternate Hero and card back, three Jaina Mage Hero skins, three Thrall Shaman Hero skins, and experience boosts of up to 20% on the Rewards Track. Once you purchase the Tavern Pass, you will unlock the Silas Darkmoon golden Legendary minion and a 10% experience boost immediately!

In case you missed it, Blizzard did a big overhaul on Hearthstone rewards in conjunction with this Tavern Pass. Previously, the reward system was very straight-forward: you get daily quests (up to 3) that reward primarily gold, and 10g for every three wins. The new system is that there are now both daily and weekly quests that award XP, and you receive rewards as you level up along a track (which includes gold and other things). If you pay for the Tavern Pass though, you get the normal rewards plus a few cosmetics along a parallel track, plus a general 10-20% boost in XP gain.

Throughout the process leading up to the change, the Hearthstone devs repeatedly stated that this new system would not result in less gold rewards. But it does.

And the real kick in the teeth? The Tavern Pass costs $20.

Last year, I was gushing about Supercell introducing a Season Pass in Clash Royale. A large part of why was because of the value. Clash Royale has a cash shop that is borderline absurd/predatory, which made the $5 asking price seem downright beneficent in comparison. That’s… likely not an accident. Be that as it may, the amount of extra stuff you walked away with for $5 made it worth it for me.

When I look at Hearthstone in comparison, I don’t even recognize the company anymore. Literally, what is this shit? Paying $20 was always borderline for me when it came to the mini-expansions and the Dungeon Runs, but I put down the cash and largely walked away with what I considered some value. Dalaran Heist single-handedly got me through hundreds of hours of my son’s larval stage.

With the Tavern Pass though, the dissonance is getting too real. Hearthstone is not a premium game worthy of a $20 Season Pass. Seeing expansion sets with $80 “mega” bundles being advertised everywhere is sickening. And we just learned that in addition to the new normal of three expansions per year, Blizzard is adding another mini-expansion. Which would be fine, if the game were not so goddamn expensive already.

In the early days, the prices justified themselves in comparison to Magic: the Gathering and other paper CCGs. It isn’t 2014 anymore though – Blizzard is now competing in a world in which gamers can get things like Genshin Impact for free and the Xbox Game Pass for $10/month. Those obviously are not CCGs, but the world is moving on.

Blizzard has been keeping things fresh, like when they introduced Hearthstone Battlegrounds, which has been a relatively large success in spite of the fact that it’s even more crazy RNG nonsense. But that very innovation casts the rest of their monetization strategy into sharp relief. Battlegrounds Perk is another tier of paid advantage that expands the random selection of heros at the beginning of each match. Then there is Duels, another new game mode which seems poised to cannibalize the Dungeon Run roguelikes by replacing bosses with human opponents.

Also, Duels is directly tied to your card collection because fuck you.

What $en$e doe$ thi$ make?

SynCaine used to say that Hearthstone was a garbage P2W mobile game ported to PC, which never made much sense at the time (it released on PC first), but seems to retroactively becoming true. Except Hearthstone as an app is pretty garbage by itself – the app takes 40+ seconds to load, there are frequent disconnects, and it takes up a huge amount of space. So, basically, the monetization of a P2W app without the optimization.

I really don’t understand what Blizzard is doing. And, likely, neither do they.

[Fake Edit] As I was typing up this post, Blizzard released an official announcement:

We have been listening to your feedback regarding the Rewards Track and it’s clear we missed the mark both in how we communicated and implemented the full functionality of this first version of our rewards system.

We apologize for the confusion and disappointment we have caused.

During the natural progression of the rewards cycle, our intention was, and still is, to give out extra XP over time through a variety of ways. The aim is to help players get through the Rewards Track, or catch-up if they join later in an expansion phase, ultimately ensuring players earn more rewards. […]

In addition, you’ve provided us with a wealth of feedback, and we agree that the pack rewards at the end of the track don’t feel appropriate for the effort it takes to get them. We’re going to adjust these rewards in the later stages of the track, swapping six packs for a total of 1350 gold that players can spend as they see fit. If any players reach this milestone before we implement these changes, they will be retroactively compensated.

https://www.hearthpwn.com/news/7783-rewards-track-update-official-blizzard-statement

Amusingly, they appear to be following the same script as Bethesda with Fallout 76: release a reward track that mathematically requires hundreds of hours of grinding (unless you pay!), ignore the people that warn about the math prior to release, then release it on a population that instantly revolts, and then “remember” that you forgot to mention the hastily thrown-together events that give bonus XP.

Sounds legit.

This is the part of the post in which I make a token effort to give Blizzard the benefit of the doubt. “They’re changing the 6 pack reward with 1350g, which is a big improvement!” But this capitulation was foreseen on Reddit for the past week: “2 greedy steps forward, 1 greedy step back” And seeing it play out in real-time is a bit nauseating… because it’s true.

Great, they fixed patched a very obviously broken reward system. And yet here we still are with a $20 Season Pass, with a new game mode dependent on having X epics in your collection, which means you can’t dust them to craft new expansion Legendaries that single-handedly win games on the spot. And Battlegrounds Perks is another whole layer of season pass-ness that exists for no rea$on.

Disgusting is the word that keeps coming to mind. Not exploitative, not greedy, but disgusting. Charging for MMO hotbars or lootboxes with 0.6% rewards are terrible, pernicious things to game design. But Blizzard’s Hearthstone “strategy” feels like strange hands slipping into pockets, groping about, feeling for loose change. What the fuck, Blizzard. This is a CCG, just sell some packs, Jesus Christ.

Missing Anything from the Other Side?

One of the little WoW goals I had been thinking about doing was leveling a character on the other faction. The last time I had characters on multiple factions in any serious way was back in Wrath. At the time, I do vaguely recall there being some worthwhile differences in questing and general lore. For example, I remember it being a cool experience bringing the Taunka into the Horde fold and seeing that process. Also, I think there was something way different with Horde Death Knights compared to the Alliance experience.

Having said that, I don’t want to go too crazy here. My Horde toon would be completely divorced from my Alliance gold/material stockpile and otherwise have to rough it through life. I have done the beginning experiences of WoD and Mists on Horde but nothing further than maybe two dozen quests.

So… think there’s something worth seeing on the other side? I’m sure 90% of it is the same crap regardless, but if I’m going to do something silly like unlock Vulperas or something, I may as well check out a new (to me) zone along the way.

The Return, part 54846

Mere days after I derided FFXIV for offering four days of free play, Blizzard offered the same thing… and I took it. Looking at my payment history, it appears that it had been almost exactly two years since I last had a subscription.

The returning WoW experience was a bit jarring, to say the least.

The shoulderpads get bigger every year

The level squish resulted in a roster of level 45s. At first, I was perturbed, thinking there had been some mistake. Did I not have a bunch of toons at the prior level cap? As it turns out, not so much. In fact, I had just the one Demon Hunter at the cap. Really shows how little I cared for Battle for Azeroth.

So the first order of business was taking my erstwhile Legion main (a druid) from 45 to 50. And I did so… in Redridge Mountains. Such is the power of Chromie Time. On a practical level, it makes every mob scale to your level, and all quest rewards likewise. I have lived through multiple expansion transitions, but seeing white gear with a vendor price of 66g and almost being better than your current equipment in a traditionally beginner zone is something else. I carried on, primarily because War Mode offered a 25% XP bonus and the odds I would encounter Horde in Redridge of all places was quite low.

That finished, I decided to take stock of my stock. And vendored 90% of it. My old goblin self would be spinning in his hypothetical grave, but he’s dead for a reason. I did toss a bunch on the AH and actually walk away with 10,000g, but I’m not about to chase that dragon again. At least, not the degree in which I’m crafting Cataclysm potions and other bizarre crap that somehow still sells on occasion. Flying around TBC zones trying to mine Khorium which sells for 400g+ per ore? That’s a bit more likely. Especially since every resource node is about 1/4th of a quest in terms of XP gain in Chromie Time. You can hardly afford not to, right?

As for other goals… we shall see. The four days have since expired and I could pop the WoW Token sitting in my bags at any time. There is a current pre-expansion event going on, but in looking at the rewards, it doesn’t seem worth much. Certainly nothing like the Wrath events, which offered Haunted Memento, which still sell for tens of thousands of gold all these years later. Capping all of my toons would be a reasonably achievable goal. Aside from that? Maybe unlocking the Allied Races?

I could also just continue doing what I had been doing until I heard about the free trial. Which, admittedly, wasn’t exactly much more than grinding out meaningless shit in other games. I really should be doing anything else.

It’s also been 2020 all fucking year, so maybe I’ll just do whatever I want.

And I Approve this Message

Bioware just announced there is going to be a Mass Effect: Legendary edition:

Mass Effect Legendary Edition will include single-player base content and DLC from Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Mass Effect 3, plus promo weapons, armors, and packs – all remastered and optimized for 4k Ultra HD. It will be available in Spring 2021 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC, with forward compatibility and targeted enhancements on Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. More information to come in the new year!

This is extremely relevant to my interests. I consider Mass Effect to be one of the best RPG series ever made, and yet despite that, I never got around to purchasing any of the critically- (and fan-) acclaimed DLCs. At the time, it was more of a principle thing, but then later morphed into a “why do all of these still cost $70?” and “why are BioWare Points still a thing?” Having a complete package with everything included makes things much simpler, with all the other enhancements being a bonus.

There was also this bit of news:

Meanwhile here at BioWare, a veteran team has been hard at work envisioning the next chapter of the Mass Effect universe. We are in early stages on the project and can’t say any more just yet, but we’re looking forward to sharing our vision for where we’ll be going next.

That the franchise will continue is good to hear. I haven’t really kept up on the news/rumors before this, so I had still been under the 3-year old impression that everything was over. Hard to be optimistic when EA, of all companies, cancels all plans for DLC for a game. Still, it will be extremely interesting to see if they continue the Andromeda thread or do some kind of prequel or what.

So, yeah, pretty exciting. I had to look up who owns BioWare at the moment just to gauge the likelihood that this Legendary Edition hits the Xbox Game Pass. Looks like EA still owns BioWare. Considering that the EA Play membership rolls into the Game Pass starting on November 10th though, it’s highly likely that my /r/patientgamers-ing has paid dividends.

Oh, and it looks like Biden won the election too, so there might still be a world left to game in.

But… Why?

Back in July I talked about how Final Fantasy XIV was going F2Pish. The official date had come and gone since then, and I promptly forgot about the entire thing. Then I recently got an email from Square Enix:

Oh, a whole four days of playing free. This sort of shit seems pretty quaint in 2020. “But wait a minute,” I thought. “Can’t I play for free up to level 60 and into the second expansion for as long as I want?”

Indeed, the bottom of the ad:

So, I have full access to the Heavensward expansion “as an owner of A Realm Reborn.” But only if I pay for a subscription. Alternatively, I could create a new account and have that same access indefinitely for free. Hmm.

It’s not quite the same thing, of course. The free trial has a bunch of limitations that come with the gold-spam prevention territory: no /Yell, no Tells, can’t invite people to a party, can’t access the AH, etc. There is also a 300k gil-cap, which is hard to determine whether it would be stifling or not without having played the game since 2017.

But what does not make any sense whatsoever is why previously-subscribed members cannot take advantage of the expanded free trial with their lapsed accounts. I have to imagine that players who log back in after several years would be more likely to stick around and be tempted to re-subscribe if they could use their existing characters. Square cannot be worried about bots or spam, as lapsed players have already paid money. And even if these old accounts were hacked or whatever, just ban them like you would any other account.

In any case, I was looking at starting a new FF14 account via Steam just for ease of use. Unfortunately, the store page for FF14 only included a paid version that “comes with a month subscription.” So, it’s not a free trial at all for people conned into trying the game via Steam. Unless the Download Demo button actually does it?

I would typically perform some additional investigative journalism, but I was already downloading the Free Trial via the “normal” route and got lazy.

We’ll have to see how things shake out. I am recently back from a two-week staycation that was supposed to be filled with gaming, but instead was filled with flooring. As in, ripping up carpet and putting down LVP. I was hoping that between Fallout 76 and Genshin Impact (perhaps a future post) I would be able to resist the siren call of a new WoW expansion. FFXIV would be some extra insurance.

Then again, sometimes substitutes just make you want the original that much more.

Post-Magic Apocalypse

I knew it was coming, but it nevertheless stung a bit when Bethesda hotfixed “magic weapons” in Fallout 76.

Made famous by this Angry Turtle video, “magic weapons” were guns that did inordinate amount of damage due to bugs derived from their Legendary affixes. This predominantly affected shotguns (each pellet did full damage) and fast fire-rate heavy weapons like gatling lasers (each hit seemed to hit 4-5 more times). In practical terms, magic shotguns would 1-shot most enemies and magic heavy weapons needed only a few seconds of fire to melt foes. As you might imagine, this was quite fun.

Was it OP though? Maybe. But not especially so considering the overall meta.

“Bloodied” builds have been meta for… if not since release, at least for the last year. A weapon with the Bloodied affix deals up to 100% damage per shot based on your remaining HP – the lower your health, the higher your damage. While you would assume the build makes you a glass cannon, Fallout 76 includes a number of Perks that combo with low HP, such as Nerd Rage (40 DR, +20% damage, +15% AP when under 20% HP) and Serendipity (45% chance to avoid damage while under 30% HP). Power Armor already gives passive damage resistance on top of the armor, but the Emergency Protocol mod further decreases damage by 50% (!!) and increase speed by 25% when under 20% HP. Then there is the Adrenal Reaction mutation that basically adds Bloodied (yo dawg) to your weapons at low health, so you can Bloodied while you Bloodied.

Oh, and did I forget Unyielding legendary affix on armor? That gives you +3 on all your stats per piece (!!!) depending on your low health, which means people running around having 30 Strength, 30 Agility, etc, before even considering buffs or chems. So not only were they dealing insanely more damage, they were also passing all the Speech checks added with actual human NPCs no problem as well. Clearly, this was how Bethesda wanted the Fallout 76 experience to be.

As you might imagine, Bloodied/Unyielding items are in demand and thus expensive when sold in player vending machines (if available at all). Thus, I felt like this short era of Magic Weapons was overall good for the game, or at least more equitable for us plebs than the poorly balanced baseline.

In the meantime, I have been making do. All shotguns get scrapped. I have been cycling through various weapons to gauge their efficacy, and have winnowed down the field considerably. While Magic weapons have been removed, there are still a number of probably-unintended glitches, such as how first-hit Sneak Attack bonus damage is applied to several bullets when shot from automatic guns. Targeting the head amplifies the damage considerably, which takes us back to Magic weapon territory. Indeed, overall auto > semi-auto is the name of the game – if your one shot doesn’t instantly kill your target, you are wasting your time in comparison.

Is Fallout 76 still fun for me? Yes. Well, in that general MMO-grind sort of way. I’m collecting Gold Bullion by doing dailies and Events to unlock the highest tier of armor and a few other weapons to try out. I’m doing the Daily Ops to unlock a CAMP item that would be a convenience option. And otherwise biding my time until the next content drop.

So, yeah, exactly in a MMO sort of way.

Still No Man’s Sky

Right as my interest in My Time at Portia was ending – sadly, before the end of the game proper – I started hearing about a major update to No Man’s Sky. Called Origins, this particular update seemed mainly focused on reseeding the universe with new planets with more extreme terrain/plant/animal possibilities. Having missed the past couple of other major updates, I decided to go ahead and jump back in with a fresh character.

Some 40-odd hours later, I have hit that same existential wall the last time around.

Almost all of the particulars of the game have been improved. Base-building restrictions have been lifted across the board. The once-ubiquitous Sentinels are now just policing fun on certain planets. The UI has been improved… to an extent. The various avenues to raise cash have been widened. The Nexus has been made into a multiplayer hub of sorts, and its vendors allow you to bypass quest-restricted tech if you wish.

And yet… it’s still missing something. And it might be something dumb like “challenge.”

Some games are not meant to be challenging. No one is going to play My Time at Portia while looking for a Dark Souls experience. In this regard, No Man’s Sky is very obviously tilted towards a chill, Explorer player-type. Sentinels are robots that used to patrol every planet and turn aggressive when you started mining resources in front of them. As mentioned, they no longer exist in every world. For the vast majority of your gameplay, the weather is going to be your biggest foe – one defeated by pressing two buttons every few minutes, consuming resources you can buy in bulk at nearly every space station. 

Which, again, fine. Whatever. It’s a chill, exploring game. 

But things get a little crazy once you start flying around in space. At some point, your ship will be scanned by hostile pirates, who will disable your ability to escape and start trying to blow you up. While you can again survive just about anything by recharging your shields with elements purchased by the thousands, you can also equip your ship with missiles, laser beams, a space shotgun, and all manners of similar things. Regardless, this is decidedly a less chill, exploring experience.

After a while, the dissonance in the game between space combat and terrestrial combat became too great for me. See, your Multi-Tool can also receive a number of upgrades to add a shotgun, laser cannon, a grenade launcher, and so on. But when would you ever use it? Attacking Sentinels is periodically required to progress the storyline, and bigger and meaner ones do end up showing up. But under all other normal circumstances, there is no challenge whatsoever once you are on a planet. 

Where are the pirates or mercenaries on the ground? Where are all the hostile wildlife? You will see the same half-dozen varieties of hostile plants on every planet across the entire universe. But nothing in the way of meaningful challenge. About the closest you get is “the Swarm,” which puts up a decent fight when you try stealing their eggs. Facing them on every planet would be silly, but that kind of thing might justify having anything more than the same unupgraded rifle you build from a quest 50 hours prior.

Again, No Man’s Sky doesn’t have to head that direction.

The problem for me though is the existential crisis that hits mid-game, in which you question what it’s all for. In my fresh save, my character has 45 million Units and a B-class ship with about 28 slots. The normal drive would be to search for an A-class or S-class ship to buy, and then upgrading those further while simultaneously upgrading my own suit and Multi-Tool. There are several mechanics in the game now that allow you to pursue those goals in measured (read: grind) fashion.

But… why? I mean, sure, “why do anything in a videogame?” In No Man’s Sky though, progression is basically bag space. Can you equip weapon mods that increase damage or clip size? Yes. Do they have 5 rarities and slightly randomized number ranges? Also yes. Does any of it matter at all? Absolutely not. You can go 50+ hours without shooting a damn thing, even accidentally. Oh, unless you’re flying through space, in which case we’re actually playing X-Wing sometimes.

I think the devs might eventually get there. Last time I played, all the alien NPCs stood or sat in the same spot, never moving. Now they move around and make the space stations feel, well, actually populated. Slap some helmets on them and give them guns and maybe shoot me planetside on occasion and we’re in business. Or ramp up the aggressiveness of hostile fauna on some of the planets. Think ARK. At least on some planets, anyway.

I’m not looking for challenge challenge, at least not in No Man’s Sky. Actually, I would love a 3D Terraria/Starbound experience if I’m being real. That might not have been what everyone signed up for in this game though. Perhaps add another game mode? But it should be Game Design 101 that if you add a Chekhov Shotgun, you should craft encounters in which a shotgun is necessary.

One (or More) Wasteland

There was a pretty big patch over in Fallout 76 a few weeks ago called One Wasteland. It brought a lot of changes to the overall experience – some good, some bad. Sort of like the game overall, really. But honestly, it got me back to playing Fallout 76 somewhat regularly, which was surprising.

Scaling enemies is one major component of the update. This is what it sounds like: instead of being accosted by level 5 Molerats, you will be accosted by level 50 Molerats (sometimes level 100 in events), assuming you are high level yourself. It’s always interesting to me seeing how many times developers add this sort of feature to their game years after the fact. Indeed, has there been a game that was just straight-up released with scaling enemies from Day 1?

While the scaling itself originally annoyed me – I used to swap to more lower-power guns to clear out level 5 mobs when farming mats – it does make certain Events more rewarding. For example, there was a low-level event called Leader of the Pack, which basically involves killing three Legendary wolves. Each Legendary wolf would drop a low-level 1-star Legendary item, which you could scrap for Scrip, which you could later use to purchase a random, high-level 3-star Legendary item if you wanted. Well, now the wolves are level 50, which means they drop level 50 Legendaries, which means sometimes the items are kinda good. Not good good – especially when you are all decked out 2 or 3-star Legendaries already – but some guns are good even with only 1 star. 

Aside from scaling, the other big addition was Daily Ops. These are essentially Mythic+ dungeons ala WoW: timed, instanced group content against enemies with special modifiers. You can actually tackle these solo if you want, but the best rewards happen if you complete it in less than 8 minutes, which can be very tricky solo depending on the modifier. Which are very… Minimum Viable Product-level. Resilient (ranged discouraged), Exploding (melee discouraged), Cloaking (VATS discouraged), and Freezing (decent idea). Oh and the mobs always have Piercing Gaze, so no Sneak Attacks. Resilient is by far the worst, of course, because you can shoot enemies down to 1 HP and then finish them off with a gun bash… if melee hits ever registered more than 40% of the time.

In spite of that, I find myself actually joining a few groups to do these on a daily basis. It helps that no real communication is necessary, even with forming groups, due to UI enhancements. Aside from the exclusive (cosmetic) rewards, you also get some guaranteed, high-star Legendary items from a speedy run, AND all enemies drop the same type of ammo you used to kill them. That last part turned out to be more important than I thought. For one thing, it basically eliminates the friction from the decision as to whether you need to farm ammo prior to running these Daily Ops. For another, depending on the gun you use, these runs can actually result in a net gain of ammo. 

Is everything perfect now? Of course not. For example, Resilient has been the modifier for the past 4 out of 5 days. Fallout 76 is in a much better place than it was a year ago, but it’s hard to say whether someone who hated the game a year ago would love it now. For me though, I’m extremely satisfied with my 2018 purchase and the continued, substantial updates at no extra charge to me. And it looks like we’re getting some Brotherhood of Steel quest content this winter and instanced housing options.