Author Archives: Azuriel

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

GameStop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We shall see where things go.

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

Torghast: Fun?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WoW: End of 2nd Month

Things have been interesting these past two months.

Druid

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

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

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

Kyrian Covenant

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

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

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

Warlock

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

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

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

Night Fae Covenant

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

Alts and Boosts

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’ll Teach Me

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

This is why not:

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

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

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

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

End of Year: 2020 Edition

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

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

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

The gaming goals from last year:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for goals in 2021:

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

And that’s that.

Epic Store Sales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shadowlands Warlock PvP

One of my stated goals in Shadowlands was to level up a Warlock alt and do some PvP. In retrospect, I’m not entirely sure WHY I had thought that was a good idea. Perhaps memories of ages past in which Warlocks were Battleground gods. That is, unfortunately, no longer the case.

Or maybe it still is, and I just suck.

Once I hit level 55 I was terribly tempted to use the Threads of Fate feature and otherwise abandon a rehash of the same storyline I had just completed a few weeks ago. What was stopping me was just the idea that perhaps slogging through the story again was going to be the fastest way to level, and thus using Threads would be a mistake. While waffling, I realized that there was the 50% bonus Honor buff active for only the next few days (at the time), so why not just head into BGs and see how it goes.

At the time of this writing, I have gone through roughly 50 BGs on the Warlock and hit the level cap, the majority of that being Affliction. And what I have come to realize is how many other classes/specs seem tailor-made to counter all of my shit. Kicks, stuns, magic immunity. Rogues are BG gods again, because of course they are, but it’s not just them. Monks have Diffuse Magic to send all my DoTs back to me, Touch of Karma for basically a 10 second immunity which also, hey, sends my damage back to me, mobility out the ass to counter my portal shenanigans, along with the usual stuns and interrupts. DKs are hard counters, but I guess that is what they are designed to be, so whatever. Retribution is Retribution. Warrior is Warrior.

So, yeah. The general sense I get is that if any melee actually gets in melee range, I am just stuck refreshing Agony and Corruption until I die. Even if I juke an interrupt and have already survived their stun and am not facing what appears to be a direct Warlock counter, the damage I deal is mostly garbage within the timeframe of my remaining health. 

Can I deal a lot of damage when left alone and DoTing the whole team from the bushes? Yeah, sure. It’s fun throwing everything out there and then Malefic Rapturing everyone without actually giving away your position. But what caster CAN’T deal a lot of damage when left alone to freecast at the enemy team from the bushes? And what’s more, my overall damage pressure really isn’t enough to change the direction of a team fight at the time. 

Compare Affliction to Destruction, for example. If I’m able to turret from the bushes, I can pretty much delete people with Chaos Bolt – that has a much more immediate impact to the current fight than everyone being at 50% HP thirty seconds from now. Getting trained by melee is still a bad time, but I’m a little less concerned about eating a kick when I actually have more than one spell school. Also, you can use Infernal as another emergency CC to try and get space for when Mortal Coil is on cooldown.

Why not just play BGs as Destruction then? Well… why not just play Mage instead? Or Boomkin, for that matter? There is something very satisfying about absurdly slow-moving Chaos Bolts hitting for 4700+ but I have all the same issues with melee as Affliction.

What I keep coming back to with both specs is this: what is the Warlock niche? What do Warlocks counter? With the ascendance of Shadow Priests, it’s not as though Warlocks are “the DoT class.” Destruction hits hard, but so do any freecasting caster. It’s not as though Warlocks possess an abundance of CC, especially when Fear takes 1.6 seconds to cast at a short range (well, shorter than normal spell range) and a single interrupt locks you out of everything for 3+ seconds.

Way back in the day, I remember Warlocks basically having all the same issues but they were at least extremely difficult to kill. Am I remembering wrong? Has it just been a general ability creep over the years that made melee so potent a counter? Or perhaps I am just doing everything wrong.

All I know is that I’m not having the best time as Warlock. I will stick with it a bit longer, focusing on Destruction. Having Covenant abilities might improve the experience, along with the Affliction legendary that basically makes Corruption a 50% snare for 24 seconds. Perhaps that will cause enough annoyance/disruption to the other team to make my presence on the field worth the pain. 

Gaming News

As Reddit is largely my source of gaming news these days, periodically I find that several items relevant to my interests have been buried by random nonsense. In no particular order:

Oxygen Not Included’s DLC has entered Early Access

Called Spaced Out!, the DLC seems focused on creating and managing multiple mini-colonies rather than one. Considering how complex and fragile just one colony can be, Klei is either targeting hardcore vets of the original game or will be introducing methods to trivialize some of the fundamental problems players encounter (heat, water usage, leaning on and then running out of algae or coal, etc). Although I have logged 143 hours into the game – making it my 5th most-played game on Steam – I have never actually made it to the rocket launching endgame, so I would be fine with the latter.

ARK 2 has been announced, starring Vin Diesel

No, really, look at the (pointless) trailer. Cue up the Adam Jensen “I didn’t ask for this.” Supposedly there will be more details coming out over the next few days, but the underlying kick in the teeth is that Studio Wildcard is rather pointedly ending the development of its original game in favor of a star-studded sequel. This shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise, considering Wildcard is rather infamous for releasing a paid DLC while the original game was still in Early Access.

Having said that, if the end result is ARK on more stable game-code… maybe it’s worth the re-admission price. Clocking in at 147.5 hours, ARK is my 4th most-played game on Steam. And all that time was spent in single-player, almost entirely on the original map. The bones were good; it’s the flesh that needs work.

Slay the Spire is (still) coming to Android… Eventually!

Mentioned in passing at the top of the latest patch notes: “While we’re awaiting news from our publishing and porting teams for the Android mobile release, we’re bringing some more of the under-the-hood improvements to PC!” While an Android release of Slay the Spire is not news per se, I’m always happy to be reminded that it might eventually happen someday. After all, it’s been six months since it was released on iOS and I have resorted to a number of questionable phone games (like Hearthstone) to scratch that particular itch.

And just to continue the theme, Slay the Spire is #2 on my Steam list with 166.8 hours played.

Shadowlands Complete

Not complete complete, of course, but I successfully leveled up to 60, saw all the story zones, and spent a week doing dailies/world quests. Just got to repeat that last part for two years, and that’s a wrap.

In case you’re curious, I broke down and just plowed through the story on my Guardian druid. The tipping point was the fact that the herbs in Bastion had came down to 30g each, but the ones from later zones were still selling for 120g apiece. Under normal expansion scenarios, I would just head over to the new places even if I were underleveled, and just hope to find a few farming spots with neutral mobs. Unfortunately for me, Shadowlands is locked up pretty tight. “Fine, I’ll just do the story quests and nothing else.”

As it turns out, you can just do the story quests and sail into the endgame pretty quickly. I’m not quite sure how things would have worked out had I not been gaining supplemental XP from picking herbs, but I was quite pleased that optional quests were optional.

I concur with just about everyone that Blizzard stumbled with the beginning zones in Shadowlands. The Maw “tutorial” is a drag and never actually gave me any impression that it was as terrible a place as it was portrayed. The Maw at the endgame though, that feels hostile and properly hellish. In any case, going from the Maw tutorial into Oribos and into Bastion was just an incredibly weak, underwhelming transition. There’s a point where a quest giver says something like “this might not look like much with the drought, but see how it used to look,” and then they show you… the same sterile landscape with some white light beams in the sky. I seriously questioned whether a bug or something was preventing the “vibrant” Bastion from appearing. Nothing drives this more home than when you eventually see Elysian Hold, which was actually impressive.

I will further agree with everyone that things flip 180 degrees when you drop into Maldraxxus. It’s textbook “Show, Don’t Tell” right from the start. The entire zone experience is so well-crafted that you have to wonder if it was really designed by the same team. Maybe it wasn’t? From previews of the zone I was a bit worried that a sort of plague/undead zone in an afterlife setting would be boring, especially when you already have the Maw. And, you know, pretty much that exact zone motif in every expansion going back to Plaguelands in Classic. Instead, it felt just right that the final resting place of warriors is a sort of destroyed wasteland battle royale, with bugs, slimes, necromancers, and literal warts on the landscape that you can skin for leather.

As for the remaining two zones, they were okay. Ardenweald started to become intriguing, but ran on just a bit too long for my tastes. I’m a sucker for “everyone you helped earlier marching alongside you at the end” though, so it got some late points. With Revendreth, I think the zone layout was made bad on purpose, and that annoys me – the map is all but useless at assisting you to navigate the severe verticality. I also had an issue with a particular “reveal” about the anima drought that made no sense. I don’t know what counts as a spoiler, so I’ll just post this link, which basically sums up my confusion.

So that is that.

My plans, for now, is to continue doing some basic chores in the form of Callings, herbing, and whatever Covenant stories I manage to unlock. Aside from that, I will be focusing on… perhaps the Warlock, getting them to the level cap and otherwise doing some random BGs for giggles. Once Raid Finder difficulties unlock, maybe seeing how those things go. And then? Letting the sub lapse again, most likely. I have already managed to get 3 WoW Tokens between selling old mats and grinding new ones, so that should cover me for a while.

Stick of Carrots

A few weeks ago, Blizzard acknowledged that their reworked rewards track system in Hearthstone wasn’t sufficient. This week, they are acknowledging again that, yeah, it still sucks:

  • We’re adjusting a variety of daily and weekly quests to make them easier to complete
  • We’re removing weekly quests that require Legendary cards and Arena runs
  • We’re changing the weekly quest “Win 7 Games of Ranked Play Mode” to “Win 5 Games of Ranked Play Mode.
  • Tavern Brawls and Battlegrounds will now contribute to quest progress.
  • We’re making small tweaks to certain quests
  • All 800 XP daily quests will now reward 900 XP.
  • We’re reducing the amount of XP needed to reach certain levels in the rewards track.
  • We’re adding more gold rewards to certain levels of the rewards track.
  • We’re adjusting rewards track bonus levels to provide steadier gold income.
  • We’re also planning a one-time log-in reward of 5 Darkmoon Faire packs and 500 Gold

To be clear, the only rational reason the reward track was introduced at all was as a justification for a Battle Pass. Hearthstone, a game that already brought in hundreds of millions of dollars for very little cash outlay, was apparently not profitable enough. Despite, you know, the designers slamming in an extra expansion a year.

Of the changes they are proposing, the only particularly relevant one to my interests was them allowing Brawls to contribute to quests again:

Tavern Brawls and Battlegrounds will now contribute to quest progress. Tavern Brawls and Battlegrounds will reward progress for any daily or weekly quests that they should naturally apply to. This should allow more flexibility in how to complete quests and make the rewards more consistent with previous gold earnings. For example, you’ll now be able to complete a quest like “Play Three Games as Priest, Rogue, or Warlock” by playing Tavern Brawls, and quests that require you to play Beasts, for example, can be completed by playing Beasts in Battlegrounds.

I like how they phrased it “this should allow more flexibility,” as though this was a new feature they were introducing. No, these morons took it out of the existing system for… what reason, again? Seriously, it made zero sense, even if they were trying to shove everyone into Ranked or whatever.

Time will tell as to how long this dumpster fire burns. The /r/Hearthstone community is a bit split on the changes, which I suppose is an improvement over the constant meme rioting. The goalposts though have moved from the gold revenue reduction (which appears largely solved) over to the Dust Economy in general. That is one area in which I agree has been messed up since Day 1. It takes 1600 Dust to craft a Legendary card, but you only ever get 1/4th of the Dust back when disenchanting other cards. That is generous when compared to paper CCGs, but pretty weak when compared to the competition that Blizzard has not crushed in the digital CCG space.

More relevantly, it just feels bad within the context of just the game itself, considering many decks hinge on their Legendaries and Epic cards. Sure, no one is necessarily entitled to a collection full of meta decks. But considering that your options as a non-whale are A) destroy your older cards and gamble the deck you are crafting will be useful even a few weeks from now, or B) simply get ran over by meta decks, it might be worth looking into how stingy you want to be for the health of the game. Especially when you start introducing quests and game modes that are dependent on a person’s collection (that may or may not have been dusted).

We’ll see how this plays out. Of special note is the fact that Blizzard is introducing a “mini-expansion” soon, whatever that means. Well, we know what it means ($$$), but how terribly will it be implemented? Based on their track record thus far, I would guess the worst.