The Quick & Dirty Guide to: State of Decay 2

I’m going to assume you have played through the State of Decay 2 tutorial and have a general idea of basic game mechanics. This Quick & Dirty guide is meant to take that baseline knowledge and advance you to the mid-game without needing to waste energy on trial and error.

General Tips

SoDecay2_Transfer

One of the best tips in the game.

  • Blood Plague is only contracted when the Infection meter fills up all the way. If you cycle your characters regularly, Blood Plague shouldn’t really ever be a concern.
    • Keep an eye on any AI-controlled partners though, as it’s tougher to notice when they take a lot of Infection damage.
  • You can Dodge (“C” on PC) in any direction, and can pass through zombie models.
    • Dodge backwards through zombie behind you, immediately grapple and execute.
    • Dodging forward too early can result in still taking damage.
  • If you park a vehicle in a base parking spot, you can transfer duffel bags in the trunk by pressing “T.”
    • Save duffel bag turn-ins for characters that need the Standing gains.
  • Scoped weapons can zoom in with “Z.”
  • In single-player Offline mode, Exiting to Main Menu will despawn Freaks in the vicinity.
  • Shooting a Bloater in the head will reduce the toxic gas emitted, but the body still acts as a landmine.
  • Juggernauts can almost be meleed to death within the duration of one Smoke Grenade.

Base Selection/Planning

There are several different types of bases available, and the exact configurations of them are different between the different maps. Don’t stress too much about picking the perfect base the first time, as you receive a 100% refund of all resources when moving bases. The Facilities themselves will need to be rebuilt, but they are built faster for the first day, post-move.

That said, there are some things to keep in mind:

  • A Workshop, Infirmary, and Garden/Hydroponics are pretty much required in every base.
  • Each survivor eats 1 Food/day, and generally you’ll need 2 Medicine/day to heal.
  • Bases often come with “built-in” Facilities that cannot otherwise be replaced. Make sure you can take advantage of them, else they are wasted slots.
  • Dismantling a Facility results in a 100% refund of resources.
  • There is no reason to keep certain Large-slot Facilities around once you craft their specific items.
    • For example, get rid of Auto Shop after you craft Vehicle Upgrade kits.
    • No reason to keep Forge around once you crafted several melee weapons.
  • The Staging Area Facility can get extremely lucrative as you upgrade other Facilities – the one in my base “generates” +5 Materials per day by itself.
SoDecay2_Staging

Pictured: Staging Area pulling its weight.

It is possible to optimize the configuration of your base and Outposts to essentially achieve perfect homeostasis eventually. Don’t spend too much of your time worried about that, however, as it will require looting specific mods and recruiting survivors with good skills. What you should focus on is getting to a point where you can last several days without critically running out of specific resources – having a -2/day deficit of a resource is nothing if you already have 20 of that resource.

Outposts

Don’t worry too much about picking the “perfect one.” There are no special outposts – the list of possible benefits are standardized:

  • +1 Food/Fuel/Building Materials/Medicine/Ammo
  • +2 Beds
  • Base-wide Water (costs 1 Fuel/Day)
  • Base-wide Electricity (costs 1 Fuel/Day)
  • Morale Bonus
  • Morale Bonus + Espresso
  • Artillery Strike

In other words, there are no Outposts that give +2 Ammo, or +4 Beds, ect.

Ideally, you will want to have Outposts evenly distributed around the map, rather than bunched up in one part of town. That way, there will be an Outpost nearby at all times, so you can offload non-Duffel Bag loot and/or swap out a tired/injured character.

SoDecay2_Map

I should really move one of those Outposts into the circled areas.

If you can afford to, having one empty Outpost slot can take your looting game to the next level. As your inventory fills up, claim whatever building you are in as an Outpost and then offload your gear. Then, through the Base screen go ahead and abandon the Outpost. You get 100% of your Influence back when you abandon an Outpost, so you lose nothing by doing this, other than the opportunity cost of not getting +1 whatever.

Survivor Management

The key thing to understand is that not all survivors are worth keeping around. You should absolutely recruit every single person you can, but only because it’s easier to check their Skills/Traits that way. There is no penalty, Morale or otherwise, for Exiling a member, so be sure to do so when necessary (and after stripping them of all gear). You can have a maximum of 10 survivors at your base – nine would be better, if only because you lose the ability to recruit anyone once you have 10.

SoDecay2_Couch

Pictured: someone who won’t long survive the zombie apocalypse.

There are generally three things you want to look for in a survivor.

First, do they have any negative Traits? If they have something like “Lacks Boundaries” (-5 Morale to everyone), then think rather long and hard as to whether they have any other redeeming value.

Second, do they have any Skills without 7 (blank) stars? If so, it means that that particular Skill cannot be upgraded to a specialized version. For example, I had (emphasis on had) a survivor with the Used Car Salesman Trait, which meant that their Mechanics skill was permanently limited to three stars. That still counts enough to build an level 3 Workshop, but not enough to specialize in Automechanics and unlock the Auto Shop. Since the specialized skills can actually grant really good bonuses, there really isn’t a reason to keep any of these limited survivors around.

SoDecay2_Skills

Drop these useless survivors like they’re hot.

The only exceptions, on a case-by-case basis, would be those with 1-star skills. Sometimes those provide unique bonuses that can make it worth it.

The final consideration for survivors is their 5th skill slot. If that area is blank, then great! A blank slot will allow you to teach the survivor any particular skill you have a book for, giving you the opportunity to plug any skill gaps in your base. If not blank, make sure it’s actually a skill you need.

As a bonus note, new survivors start out with the Recruit rank. After earning enough Influence, they become Citizens, which then tells you what bonuses they provide should they achieve the Hero rank. Some of these bonuses are so-so, like +3 Morale. Others are straight-up bonkers, like Tough Negotiator granting +30% Influence gain. Which, by the way, affects how much Influence you get by selling things – Bulk Plague Cure goes from 500 Influence to 650. So, if a particular survivor is borderline, it’s worth sending them out long enough to hit Citizen level, and check their Hero bonus.

Recruiting survivors

If you’re looking for more people, there are basically two ways to get them. First is helping survivors out in the world, e.g. answering all those inane radio messages every 5 minutes.

The second method is recruiting directly from Enclaves. Talk with each member of an Enclave, and look at their stats by choosing “Learn more about Survivor.” Their specific Traits will be hidden, but their Skill list will not. If you find one you like, keep in mind that recruiting them will effectively disband the Enclave. There will always be more Enclaves popping up, but you’ll need to help them out again and the bonuses they provide aren’t always the same.

Skills

As your survivors level up, they will have the opportunity to specialize their Skills. At a minimum, you always get two choices. One key note about Skills is the fact that they have a “hidden” bonus effect once you max them out. Sometimes that is enough to make or break your decision.

There aren’t many Wikis out there at the moment, but here’s the best I could find.

Some specific notes:

Cardio–>Powerhouse is incredibly strong. While it grants the ability to Drop Kick right away, once you hit 7 stars you unlock the ability to Grapple from the front. This move not only interrupts zombie attack animations, it essentially allows you to chain kill entire mobs of zombies, given how you get a few invincibility frames performing the move.

Fighting –> Endurance grants you the Slam move right away, which will vastly increase your survivability. Basically, the Slam move interrupts zombie attack animations, and leaves them on the ground behind you for an easy execution.

Shooting –> Gunslinger is unique in that “Aim Snap” basically allows you to instantly and perfectly track the head of zombies (at the cost of Stamina). Note: it is currently broken as of patch 2.0.

Wits –> Stealth is better than it sounds, and certainly better than Scouting. Stealth allows you to sprint while crouched, and silently open stuck doors.

Gaining Influence

For the most part, gaining Influence is a slow, incremental process. You get some for completing quests, but most of your gains will be from killing zombies:

  • Kill X zombies = +5
  • Kill Screamer = +5
  • Kill Bloater = +10
  • Kill Feral = +20
  • Kill Juggernaut = +50

I’m not 100% sure of those values, as I have a +30% bonus to Influence gain from a survivor, so I’m working backwards.

Beyond that, you can get Influence from selling things. The absolute best gain comes from crafting and selling Bulk Plague Cure, which defaults to +500 Influence (or +650 with bonuses) from spending 20 Plague Samples and 8 Meds. This means each Plague Sample laying around is worth about 25 Influence by itself, considering Meds can be produced by a Garden. So, yeah, pick them up.

Somewhat surprisingly, traders actually care about those random notes you can occasionally loot. If you bothered holding onto them, they will sell for 10-15 Influence apiece. Backpacks are also nice items to sell, especially as you cycle through survivors and slowly upgrade them to 8-slot ones.

Taking Out Plague Hearts

e.g. beating the game.

While scary at first, Plague Hearts are almost comically easy to destroy. You will essentially handle them the same way you (eventually) handle all zombie groups.

  1. Get a visual on the target, preferably from outside the building.
  2. Toss a roll of Firecrackers near the target.
  3. Toss 3-6 Fuel Canisters/Molatovs at target.
  4. ???
  5. Profit.

This isn’t the only way to take them out. You can get fancy by crafting some C4, sneaking in to plant it, then blowing it up. Regular grenades technically work, but not as well as fire. If you happen across a 50-caliber rifle, several shots (recently nerfed to 6) from that will kill it too. Entire clips of gunfire will work in a pinch as well, but there’s no such thing as a Plague Heart “pinch” – just leave and come back with molatovs, because the Plague Heart isn’t going anywhere.

SoDecay2_DroneOption

Missed the Plague Heart though, because it was in the back.

One of my favorites though? Drone Strike. Get a survivor with Computers –> Programming. Spend 25 Parts and wait ~20 minutes for drones to come online. Spend 75 Influence to get the targeting smoke. Toss the smoke near the outside wall closest to the Plague Heart, then run away. Instant death, +150 Influence. The blast ignores walls and is fairly large, although not quiet large enough to hit a Plague Heart at the back of a house if the smoke is on the front porch. The smoke doesn’t register indoors, by the way, so don’t toss it too close to the eaves either.

Drone strikes are a great way to clear hostile Enclaves too, without needing to put yourself at risk.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Has anyone else felt like Battle for Azeroth is a bit… familiar? Like Legion 2.0?

The situation didn’t really strike me until last night. I do not have a character at max level – I have been just gathering and crafting pretty much nonstop – but I have progressed enough to unlock the Garrison. Or War Table. Or whatever the hell it’s called now. It’s pretty much exactly the same interface as the one in Legion, up to an including the same art assets. The same chance for bonus loot. The same method of collecting resources. World Quests are the same. Emissaries are the same… I think. Rare mobs and treasure chests peppering the map are the same.

On the one hand, this is great. These systems work. Remember Daily Quests? We had those since TBC and everyone was sick of them. World Quests on the other hand, feel materially different despite providing the same function. Artifact Power got a bit goofy near the end of Legion, but overall design structure of having steady progression over the life of an expansion without incentivizing mindless grinding worked (crazy mythic raiders excluded). So we have Azerite replacing AP without even needing to replace the term “AP.” Double efficiency!

On the other hand… I dunno.

There is a lot to be said about the penchant of Blizzard devs to throw out the baby, bathwater, and kitchen sink simultaneously, between releases. How many times have warlocks been overhauled, even mid-expansion? At the same time, I feel like the devs have perhaps hewn a bit too close to what came before with BfA. Where are the “Aha!” moments? Where are the game-changers? Where are the elements that justify an 8.0 instead of a 7.4? Is a bunch of new maps enough?

The launch of BfA was so smooth because there was no demarcation between it and Legion.

I suppose we should be happy, yeah? Less absurd content droughts, more design systems that clearly work instead of wild experiments. Any yet, my brow is furrowed. What is Blizzard doing with all that time they saved? No new talents, no new classes, no new races (Allied Races are reskins, IMO), no new systems. Maybe the island battles with the “advanced AI” will change things? Am I missing something else?

I remember when Farms were introduced in MoP, and it blew my mind. Or the rare elite mobs that dropped cool (and functional!) toys to use. Then Garrisons in WoD. Of course, the Garrison wasn’t necessarily good design insofar as they kept people locked in a personal instance all the time, but from a player perspective they were really compelling (and rewarding). To this day, I still have several characters doing chores around the Garrison, crafting bags and such.

Then there were the Artifacts in Legion. To this day, it blows my mind how much content Blizzard packed in there. Like, do you guys understand how much class-specific content was added in one expansion? There was some recycling when it came to unlocking some of the spec-specific weapons – I groaned every time I got sent back to Karazhan on alts – but everything was basically brand new per class. It’s a real shame alts were actively punished so much during Legion, but I may end up going back at some point to finish the class campaigns just for the lore. My jaw hit the floor when my Death Knight started taking orders from the Lich King, for example.

Now, in Battle for Azeroth we can be excited for… uh… hmm.

I’m not looking to be buried under 2+ full skill bars, or DPS rotations that require an addon to perform. I don’t necessarily even want something that will compel me to spend 10 minutes maintaining it every day, three expansions later. But I do very much enjoy a new puzzle to wrap my mind around and optimize. And I’m not seeing anything remotely like that in Battle for Azeroth thus far. Just a lot of reused, recycled systems with new numbers to the right of the plus sign.

That is what character progression MMOs are about, of course. Usually, there’s more spice though.

It’s the Little (Big) Things

The launch of Battle for Azeroth has been remarkably smooth, for the most part.

The state of the WoW Auction House is not included in “the most part.”

I mentioned before that the introduction of War Mode changed the entire trajectory of my WoW history. My patience for dealing with non-consensual PvP had ran out years ago, and a WoW in which alts were actively discouraged is not one I play for very long. By introducing that PvP toggle switch into the game, my alts were suddenly free from the tyranny of corpse camping, and I had a renewed interest in seeing how every class played out.

Well, it’s now going on the third post-launch day in which the AH in WoW is borderline nonfunctional, and my interest in doing anything is about to run out.

There will never be a better time to make gold than right now, at an expansion launch. The gems that give +5% XP were selling for 5000g apiece on Monday, and were selling below vendor price by Wednesday. Seriously, I was buying as many as I could so I could walk 50 feet away and sell them to an Innkeeper. The problem is that the AH is sluggish, unresponsive, and practically crashing in the midst of doing any kind of transaction.

Now, yes, a part of that is surely the fact that there are 27 pages of 1-herb auctions clogging up the tubes. But in the 10 years of my playing WoW, I have never experienced anything this bad in terms of the AH. Those pages of 1-item auctions could have been cleared out by one person with a functioning TSM/Auctionator addon, but either one is struggling to do anything productive. I have resorted to using the default interface, and even that is barely functional.

Up to this point, it really appears that Blizzard doesn’t care. And why would they, right? It’s much more important that there aren’t any bugged quests that will impede progression, or that the dungeons work, or that there aren’t any crazy exploits out there. The AH is probably towards the bottom of their list of concerns.

…which is dumb. The existence of the WoW Token should absolutely make fixing the AH one of their top priorities, considering there is no other reason why people need gold in the first place.

People are resorting to spamming Trade chat with their prices and instructions on how to mail materials via C.O.D. Even worse, the prices people are offering are actually better than the items in the AH currently – someone offering to buy any BfA herb for 65g apiece, when there were a bunch for 50g in the AH – but the AH is so fucked and slow that you’d be faster gathering them in the game world than trying to spin your wheels in the interface.

In any case, the AH being broke is sapping my will to play the expansion. I am interested in the questing experience and how this story will play out in the future, but I have zero particular drive to hit the endgame scene and run a bunch of dungeons. The fact that I am missing out on the most lucrative time in an expansion is acting as a giant wet blanket over my drive to play at all. I had a precious few days to perform AH alchemy before leaving on vacation next week, and I fully expect the irons to have cooled down by the time I get back.

I would guess that I have maybe gained ~100k since BfA came out. Had the AH actually functioned in any particularly good way, that could have been 500k. And that’s a deficit in potential that will mar my playtime forever.

Ugh.

BfA: Quick Thoughts

The latest WoW expansion quietly came out yesterday. I say “quietly” because I actually had no idea it was supposed to be released on Monday, rather than the traditional patch Tuesday. It also felt rather seemless traveling to Silithus again, grabbing the Heart of Azeroth, and then continuing on with questing in a new area.

As an aside, I was momentarily confused with Magni talking about how “the soul of Azeroth” was basically a clock floor in a Titan cave somewhere. Did I miss something? I get from context that Azeroth has a gestating Titan soul or whatever, but why does it look like that, specifically? Did the Pantheon craft around the soul? Then I realized none of it matters, and I went on with my life.

I started completing some of the quest hubs on the demon hunter before I realized that what I should have been doing is hitting all the resource nodes instead. There really is no better time to gather herbs/ore than the first few days of a new expansion. Three seconds of mining translating into 70g worth of materials? Yes, please. Here are some tips:

MAKE SURE TO TALK TO THE PROFESSION TRAINERS

I was hitting nodes for almost an hour before I realized that getting 1 herb was not normal. As it turns out, you have to pick up the skills from the Herb/Mining trainers before you start getting normal yields. Make sure to stop by again once you hit 25/50 skill, so you can start getting the Rank 2 versions, which increases yields again.

Check in with the Trade Goods vendor

Ask a guard for directions, and then buy a bunch of the ingredients. The base-level Cooking recipe can be made entirely with four different vendor items, which is nice. Even nicer is the fact that you can turn around and sell these 20s ingredients for like 10g+ apiece on the AH. Take advantage of it while you can. Also, people will apparently buy your food too, so sell the excess.

Jewelcrafting is back

At least for now, anyway. I have had incredible success in buying BfA ore for 30g apiece, and then prospecting it away for gems that sell, uncut, for ~400g. Unless you get a red one, which sells for ~1500g because it can be cut into a +5% XP gem that sells for 2000g (prices have crashed a bit). Or take those gems and turn them into rings that sell for a few thousand gold more.

Maybe Buy and Hold Instead

While there was some easy gold early on from selling herbs/ore, I did notice that by the time I logged off for the night, prices were in freefall. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the main one is that nearly everyone is going dual-gathering and hitting nodes left and right.

It’s tough to know what prices things will stabilize at, but look at the requirements for Flasks and such: dozens and dozens of herbs for one Flask. Nobody will be raiding for a few weeks yet, and no one is going to bother Flasking while they level, so demand for Flasks is zero. However… in a few weeks, everyone and their mother’s main tank will be gobbling up bushels of herbs. So the likelihood of BfA herbs staying around 10g apiece is minimal. In particular, you might want to check on Anchor Weed, as it appears to be a herb that replaces other herb spawns, and thus is going to be more rare.

In fact, I just looked at the TUJ and slapped my forehead. Around 9pm yesterday the price for Anchor Weed was 53g. As of this post, it’s 182g. I just talked about prospecting ore at 30g apiece, right? Now Storm Silver is up to 88g. That particular train has probably left the station already, but this seesaw action is something to keep an eye on in the coming days.

Farm nodes and sell when the price is high, buy and bank mats when the price is low.

Split Baby

Have you ever seen a friend or coworker make a terrible decision in what felt like slow motion? Like they asked for your advice, you said “No, that’s a terrible idea,” and then they do the thing anyway? Then they stop back by, tell you the terrible result, and then detail their even worse plan for “fixing” things?

Welcome to the Fallout 76 PvP Show. Todd Howard is your host, and tonight he’ll be splitting a baby.

QuakeCon just ended, and there was an entire panel on Fallout 76. A transcript/summary of sorts is up on Reddit and that’s where I’m getting the following information:

Question: PVP. People are concerned. What’s the deal with griefing? How can we we enjoy our own game or ruin somebody else’s?

  • Todd jokes, “This is why I don’t go on reddit!”
  • The game is designed to be both PVE and PVP as part of the core experience. They want you to have a sense of danger around other players, but (and he muses here that it’s weird to say), they want that sense of danger without griefing.
  • When you shoot another player, you do only a small amount of damage to them, not full damage, akin to an annoyance or an invitation to PVP. If the other player shoots you back and engages, the kid gloves come off and everybody is doing full damage.
  • There’s a cap reward for killing another player; the higher their level, the bigger their reward. After you die, you can choose to “seek revenge”, which doubles the cap value that the enemy who killed you is worth.
  • Even if you do not engage the enemy, they can eventually kill you with that reduced damage. “Which sounds terrible…” but if you do that to somebody who doesn’t want to fight, you get no reward, you become a wanted murderer.
  • When you become a wanted murderer, a bounty is placed on you and is sent out to every player on the map. When a wanted murderer is killed, they pay the bounty out of their own cap supply (there was a large applause here).
  • A wanted murderer loses the ability to see other players on the map.
  • A wanted murder is always visible on the map to every player, even when sneaking.
  • Their goal was to turn players who are trying to ruin other players’ experiences into interesting content, and they are really happy with how it works.
  • As a side note, when you see other players on the map, you don’t get their exact location, only the general area.
  • Jeff shares that during the last play session, somebody became a murderer. He had just finished building a high-power sniper rifle when he got the notification of the bounty, and set out to take him down. He stalked the area until he came across the murderer exiting a building, where he popped his head clean off with his sniper. He looted some of the junk used a dance emote, took a picture over the body, and logged off.

Later on, there were two additional notes of… er… note:

  • You can choose to ignore specific players. If a player kills you, a button prompt appears allowing you to ignore them for that session. If you ignore them, they can’t see you on the map, which makes it pretty much impossible for them to mess with you due to the size of the map.
  • They’re also working on a pacifist flag that you can activate, so your stray bullets will never harm another player by mistake. They mentioned how players who were trying to egg other players on would wait for them to shoot a creature, then run in front of them in order to grief them, and the pacifist flag was born.

So, let’s recap. If you’re out in the world, you cannot be instantly killed by a sniper griefer. That’s good. Griefers can, apparently, keep poking you with bullets until you are near-death though. And if you were in the middle of fighting off a pack of feral ghouls…? Question mark. If they outright poke you to death, the “wanted murderer” status kicks in and they’ll be a big target for everyone else while also losing the ability to see other players coming for them on the map. It’s not specified whether or not this status persists if they log off, or lasts until they are killed, or what. The griefer will also lose Caps directly from their own pocket, although it isn’t specified what happens if they don’t have the amount of Caps available.

Or, you know, what happens if the griefer has a buddy or alt account. Account A kills you, gets Wanted status, Account B kills A, and then hands the bounty reward back over to A.

And just think about this PvP system for a moment. You “poke” them with bullets, and if they return fire, then the match is on. If you’re looking for a fight, there’s no reason not to just fire off a few rounds at everyone you see. I mean, the only way you can even find consensual PvP is by firing at other players. Presumably you would only start fights from an advantageous position, and being ahead on HP is already good. So we’re absolutely in a “shoot first, ask questions later” state.

Plus, death penalties are back. You don’t lose your weapons or armor, but you drop your “Junk,” which I’m assuming means generic crafting materials. Considering that that is probably why you are out exploring in the world in the first place, it’s pretty important. Unless, of course, you want to engage in some PvP, in which case you likely aren’t carrying around any Junk with you, since you drop it all on death.

So, we have two classes of players. The ones who want to fight and will have nothing to lose, literally, for just shooting you several times… and then everyone else just trying to get on with their day. Instead of, you know, just making PvE and PvP servers. This convoluted nonsense is what happens when you split a baby.

None of this is even what really worries me about Fallout 76. What worries me is the incredible lengths Bethesda is going through to prop up this pillar of specific gameplay. Which means this was an arbitrary, top-down design decision that they are willing to bend the whole game around just to make it work. “Every NPC is a human player!” You can still do that in a PvE server. So… why? Why bullet pokes instead of emotes, or raising a flag on your map marker, or just having PvP servers?

The simplest explanation is that they feel there’s nothing else worth doing in the game. Getting more powerful so you can kill your human opponents though? That’s a perpetual hamster wheel that will be spinning until the heat death of the universe, no further dev time required.

A Good Bad War

The final part of the War of Thorns pre-release event was released on Tuesday. Other than Elsa Jaina coming to the rescue on her father’s ghost ship, it was yet another exercise of Alliance impotence in the face of the only faction clearly capable of any strategic planning. But, whatever. Sylvanas needs a foil for her antics, and Anduin’s character is about as flimsy as aluminum foil already, so let’s all just buckle in for the inevitable “Sylvanas never prepared to face the power of LOVE!” arc.

What I wanted to talk about today though, was everything leading up to this point.

First, if you have a few minutes, I highly recommend reading A Good War. This is a short story that came with the collector’s edition of Battle for Azeroth, but was recently released for free. I’m going to “spoil” most of the biggest plot points below, but it is essentially “the rest of the story” in terms of the War of Thorns pre-expansion content already on Live servers.

One of the many, many poorly explained (in-game) motivations surrounding the actions of Sylvanas was why we were going to war in the first place. Yes, Azerite is bright and shiny and supposedly useful, but other than vague eye-brightening, is did not seem to have many effects. This is supposedly explained in the Before the Storm book, which I do not have access to, but we do have some quotes and a summary from Wowhead. The main takeaway is that when Sylvanas touched it…

She was no longer a Dark Lady or even a queen. She was a goddess of destruction and creation, and she was stunned that she had never understood how deeply the two were intertwined. Armies, cities, entire cultures – she could raise them.

And fell them. Stormwind would be among the first, yielding its people to swell the numbers of her own.

She could deal death on a scale that —

In short, Sylvanas wants to destroy Stormwind, murder its people, and revive them as Forsaken. She wants to do that because, as explained in A Good War:

[…] “I believe that there will be no permanent peace with the Alliance—not unless we win it on the battlefield on our terms. And believing that, answer this, Saurfang: what use is delaying the inevitable?”

[…]

“She pointed at the map. There was a large marking in Silithus, the place where the Dark Titan’s blade had pierced the world. “No matter what I do, that will change the balance of power. Azerite sightings are coming in from across the world, Saurfang. We still do not know its full potential, nor does the Alliance. We only know that it will create a new generation of warfare. What will war look like in twenty years? In a hundred?”

Saurfang’s voice had dropped to a low growl. “A hundred years of peace is a worthy goal.” But as soon as the words left his mouth, he wanted to take them back. He knew what Sylvanas would say.

And he would agree with it.

The warchief did not disappoint. “If a hundred years of peace ends with a war that annihilates both sides, it was not a worthy goal. It was a coward’s bargain, trading the future for temporary comfort. The Horde’s children, and their children’s children, will curse our memories as they burn.”

This is the first major disconnect I see with people offering opinions concerning the start of the war. Sylvanas is starting a preemptive war, a war of opportunity, one in which the express goal is to completely destroy the Alliance forever, and to chain the people of Stormwind as slaves in undeath. Saurfang doesn’t necessarily know that last bit, but he knows the ultimate goal is the destruction of Stormwind. And he’s fine with that.

Until our navies are rebuilt, the high seas are wild again.

That would take years to change. And once that happened, yes, that stalemate would return, and war would become too costly to pursue.

And by all the spirits, Sylvanas was right, no matter how strongly Saurfang tried to deny it. War would come again one day, and if both factions were strong, that war would raze entire nations. How many different peoples on Azeroth would become extinct in that fight?

But before then, both sides have vulnerabilities and a limited time to exploit them. For a price, we can survive.

Just so we’re all crystal clear on this point: Saurfang and Sylvanas believe there can be no permanent peace between the Alliance and the Horde, that any attempt at peace is a “coward’s bargain,” and that they are actually doing everyone a favor in getting the war “out of the way” now, rather than later. And there are people crawling all over Reddit and elsewhere who suggest that this notion of war “makes sense” and is otherwise perfectly justifiable.

To which I say: I agree. The Alliance should have murdered the orcs as a race when they had the chance, rather than putting them in internment camps. That’s what we’re saying, right? There can be no permanent peace between the Alliance and the Horde because the Horde is a brutal faction of war-mongering monsters with no redeeming qualities. Well, maybe Taurens, but thus far they are simply a gelded race who lashed their ropes to a warchief that has zero respect for them.

In fairness, it’s possible Saurfang did not know about Sylvanas’ ultimate goal of torching Stormwind.

“And that is how you defeat Stormwind.” Saurfang was in awe. It was brilliant. Destroying the Alliance wouldn’t take a thousand victories. It would take one. With a single strategic push, the pressure on the Alliance would cripple them for years, just as long as they could not conjure any miracles on the battlefield. “You destroy the Alliance from within. Their military might counts for nothing if their members stand alone. Then we strike peace with the individual nations and carve them away from the Alliance, piece by piece.”

“If you want your enemy to bleed to death, you inflict a wound that cannot heal. That is why I need you to make the plan, High Overlord,” Sylvanas said. “The moment our strike begins, there will be no turning back. We can divide the Alliance only if the war to conquer Darnassus does not unite them against us. That only happens if the Horde wins an honorable victory, and I am not blind—the Horde does not trust me to wage war that way.”

Saurfang does not ponder on what it would mean to be a citizen of the Divided Alliance. I find it difficult to believe it would be pleasant, regardless of the Horde “striking peace with the individual nations.” It seems especially foolish considering how Saurfang already agreed with Sylvanas that peace was impossible anyway, given the atrocities committed by both factions up to this point. I have to imagine the point is that these nations would sue for peace because they were otherwise forever incapable of creating war. Peace for some, the torch for others.

In any case, we can see Teldrassil was intended to be taken as a means to shatter the Alliance with infighting. Crucially, the plan also hinged on being able to kill Malfurion and/or Tyrande. Taking out these faction leaders was not going to be a bonus, but a requirement. This was not explicitly called out in-game or even in the books, until later. When Saurfang hesitates in finishing off Malfurion, and allows him and Tyrande to escape, he Sylvanas reflects:

This battle was not about a piece of land. Even Saurfang knew that. Taking the World Tree was a way to inflict a wound that could never heal. Losing their homes and their leaders would have ended the kaldorei as a nation, if not a people. Even the loss of one leader would have been enough to create a tide of despair. The wounds of this battle would have bled, festered, decayed, and rotted the Alliance from the inside out. Anduin Wrynn would have lashed out in a final, desperate war, looking for a miracle, because only a miracle would save them.

But a miracle already had. A miracle granted by the honorable hand of a foolish old orc.

Incidentally, the constant referring to Saurfang as “honorable” is downright comical. Huge sections of A Good War talk about rogues sneaking about, assassinating targets with poison, and so on. Tossing an axe into the back of Malfurion is about as dishonorable as, you know, all of the actions that led to that moment in the first place. I dunno, maybe there is room in the definition of honor for waging preemptive war and “ending the kaldorei as a people.”

Anyway, when Saurfang comes back empty-handed, Sylvanas conceals her rage:

This conquest of Darnassus would rattle the kaldorei people. They would grieve for their lost, fear for their imprisoned, and tremble at the thought of the Horde ransacking their homes. But they would not fall to despair. Not anymore. Malfurion’s impossible survival would give them hope. Their wound would heal.

Even in this dark hour, they would say, Elune still watches over us.

And that was almost certainly true, wasn’t it? Elune had intervened. Perhaps she had even stayed Saurfang’s killing blow. And she wouldn’t be the only force beyond the Alliance to oppose Sylvanas’s true objective.

Sylvanas’s anger grew cold.

She had known this would happen. It had simply come sooner than expected. That was all.

“Sylvanas’s true objective.” A bit ominous, no? I am still assuming this to be “torching Stormwind and raising all of its people as undead,” but it could be foreshadowing of another sort. Possibly one with tentacles.

The book leaves out the conversation between Sylvanas and Delaryn depicted in the Warbringer video, but it expands on what happens immediately afterwards, when Sylvanas burns the World Tree. It is worth posting it in full:

He struggled to form words. Finally, pure hatred made him spit out a condemnation. “You have damned the Horde for a thousand generations. All of us. And for what? For what?”

Her expression didn’t waver. “This was your battle. Your strategy. And your failure. Darnassus was never the prize. It was a wedge that would split the Alliance apart. It was the weapon that would destroy hope. And you, my master strategist, gave that up to spare an enemy you defeated. I have taken it back.

When they come for us, they will do so in pain, not in glory. That may be our only chance at victory now.”

He wanted to kill her. He wanted to declare mak’gora and spill her blood in front of Horde and Alliance alike.

But she was right.

A wound that can never heal. That had always been the plan. And Saurfang had failed to inflict it. The story of Malfurion’s miraculous survival would have spread among the armies of the Alliance as proof that they were blessed in their cause.

War would still have come. That had been certain the moment Saurfang had led the Horde into Ashenvale. And it would have been what he had feared most: the meat grinder, spending so many lives to achieve so little, ending with a whimper, and thus dooming future generations to a war nobody could win. Once again, Sylvanas had seen it before he had.

And so . . .

She had sent a message. This was not a war that would end in a stalemate. Not now. The Alliance and the Horde would both understand that the only choices were victory or death. Lok‐tar ogar.

If World of Warcraft were not an MMO, I might have been excited at this turn of events. This feels like the penultimate chapter, the crest of a wave. Things will be sorted out once and for all.

But it won’t.

There will be an expansion after this one, and another after that. There will still be the Horde faction, and Forsaken running around in it, blighting things with Tauren chewing their cuds in the background. While I am convinced Sylvanas will no longer be warchief by the end of Battle for Azeroth, I can’t be certain whether it will be due to some impossibly sparkly “redemption” arc or because she went into hiding.

What I am certain of is that the Alliance will continue to be the bumbling white hats forever extending their hands in love and friendship and peace, only to get shit on by the Horde time and again. That is in spite of the fact that there should be no redemption for the Horde this time. And I don’t mean because Sylvanas burned the World Tree with all the civilians inside. I mean because the most honorable orc in all the Horde agreed that peace with the Alliance is impossible, and thus started a preemptive war in an attempt to destroy the faction permanently.

Like, I don’t think I can stress this enough. Even “preemptive war” makes it sound like the Horde were simply striking before the Alliance can move their war machines into position. To be clear, there were no Alliance war machines. The Alliance did not even really have access to Azerite. Sylvanas had ZERO Casus belli, and Saurfang the Honorable Orc drafted the battle strategy with minimum fuss. In fact, he was happy to do so, because he thought it would save Horde lives down the road. Which is all “justifiable” until you allow the Alliance the same courtesy.

By all rights, this expansion should end with the genocide of all orcs and Forsaken.

I suppose we’ll begin to see how it plays out in less than a week. If the Horde skates without Jaina or Malfurion torching the Barrens though, I will be very… not surprised at all.

Consequences for crimes is so 2015.

The Last Reset

This week is the last reset before Battle for Azeroth goes Live.

In the three weeks that I have been back playing WoW, it has consumed a rather large part of my gaming time, as it did in the past. I have since reached the level cap with my paladin, rogue, warlock, demon hunter, and death knight. Two additional classes are just barely past level 100 – the priest and warrior – but I have had great fun with playing them, so I plan on getting them to the cap as well.

I am abandoning my mage at level 92, as I tried out all three specs and found them lacking. In fact, it’s pretty awful considering mage is the only class that can’t face-tank mobs, and yet cannot blow them up either. Or maybe WoD is still overtuned post-squish? All I know is that I accidentally aggroed a bunch of crabs in the the beginning Garrison quests, blew all my cooldowns, and still died. I don’t think I’ve died to non-elite mob pulls in… five years? Maybe longer.

Anyway, the shaman is a big Nope for me, Zappiboi notwithstanding, and I never was particularly serious about the hunter in all my time with WoW. I’m probably going to wait until I unlock Void Elves before using one of my three stockpiled instant-100/110 tokens on getting a monk up to speed.

This last reset is going to be somewhat important for me in the transmog department. Specifically, I have been trying to obtain the Tunic of Unwavering Devotion since the release of the Nighthold raid. A similar model drops from a world boss, but it’s one of 11, and the order was completely random week-to-week until recently. I’m not especially confident that Legion raids or the world boss will be soloable on a leather-wearing class at the beginning of BfA, nor do I imagine there being much interest in small-party raiding of old content. If I have to wait 2+ years to obtain these transmog items, well, they are effectively removed from the game as far as I’m concerned.

We’ll see how it goes. I will have six opportunities (3 leather classes + bonus rolls) to snag the chest piece, and potentially another two if the demon hunter tier piece chest (same model) can be used for transmog on other leather-wearing characters.

Tabletop Simulator

In case you were unaware, there is a Steam game out there called Tabletop Simulator (hereafter TS).

TS is basically an emulator for board games, with the Steam Workshop operating as a ROM storefront. In fact, I’m not even sure how any of this is particularly legal. TS by itself is “merely” a toolset… but it is fairly robust and powerful to the extent that it’d be difficult to find some board game that it couldn’t recreate.

Tabletop-Simulator-Agricola

Hand sizes of 14 cards is a bit much though

The first time I used it, my wife and I played Agricola with a friend on the West Coast. The version of Agricola we played did not have any scripting beyond the starting board state, so we still had to manually place the extra resources on the board each turn.

Something I really appreciate about the game is the ability to see the “hand” (i.e. mouse cursor) of other players – it allowed us to point to cards, see who was already moving a piece, and so on. The 3D nature of the simulator itself obviously leads itself to some exciting possibilities in custom games (or presumably in VR), but it is more of an annoyance in traditional scenarios. For example, it’s sometimes difficult to pick up only one card from a stack, or place down multiple cards, or accidentally stack pieces that you did not intend to stack.

Tabletop-Simulator-Catan

Classic millennial gaming.

The second session a few weeks later had us playing a semi-scripted Settlers of Catan game. The starting tiles and numbers were already randomly placed for us, and the roll of the dice would highlight exactly which tile produced resources that turn. Settlements and roads also snapped into place, so there was not a bunch physics-based fiddling necessary. Oh, and scoring was semi-automated as well. I was somewhat disappointed that resources did not automatically arrive in our hand, but I suppose there should be some sort of interaction going on. I did like how you can take cards out of other players’ hands, for when you move the Robber.

Tabletop-Simulator-Robots

Good thing we already knew how to play…

After Catan, we played a few rounds of Ricochet Robots. This used to be a fairly obscure board game that sold for $80+ on eBay, but it looks like it was reprinted here recently as it’s selling for about $40 on Amazon. There was not particular automation here either, as there really isn’t any need for any. There were a few features that I wish were available, and depending on how difficult it would be to code, it’s probably possible to add them myself.

Having played about ~10 hours of board games using Tabletop Simulator, I will say that there is no substitute for sitting around an actual table with real people in the room. Right-clicking and rolling dice will never be the same as rolling them yourself. But if you are in a scenario in which remote gaming sessions were the only option, Tabletop Simulator is an extremely viable option. To say nothing about its usefulness in testing new games before buying them, or using it in the wild ways of creating your own games, running D&D campaigns, and so on.

“Can’t I?”

The WoW community has been in a roiling boil for almost a week now over the pre-patch events transpiring in the lead-up to Battle for Azeroth. Specifically, there is a sense of incredulity surrounding the actions of Sylvanas. I recommend watching the Warbringer video below, but I will also include a little transcript:

Sylvanas: Secure the beach. Prepare to invade the tree.
Delaryn: (cough) Why? (cough) Why? You’ve already won. Only innocents remain in the tree.
Sylvanas: This is war.
Delaryn: No. This… is hatred… rage. Windrunner, you were… defender of your people. Do you not remember?
Sylvanas: I remember… a fool.
–Flashback of fighting, dying to Arthas, then being reborn–
Sylvanas: Life is pain. Hope fails. Now you understand.
–Tears fall from Delaryn, Sylvanas smiles–
Sylvanas: Ah, don’t grieve… you’ll soon join your loved ones.
Delaryn: I grieve for you. You’ve made life your enemy. And that is a war you’ll never win. You can kill us… but you cannot kill hope.
–Sylvanas glances at the tree, then back at Delaryn–
Sylvanas: Can’t I?
–Sylvanas turns Delaryn’s head towards the tree, and then looks at her commanders–
Sylvanas: Burn it. Burn it!

First, let me just say it: this cinematic animated short is amazing in isolation. Delaryn’s wounded coughing sounded a bit amateurish, but the dialog was tight, the imagery engaging, and it summarized Sylvanas’ entire character arc in less than four minutes.

Second, this is Sylvanas. “She would have had a more strategic plan!” Would she? I’m open for a longer debate on the subject, but to me, Sylvanas’ naked nihilism has been on display from the very beginning. Hell, I remember rolling a Forsaken character back in TBC and wondering how many expansions we would go before the Forsaken broke off and became a third faction. The casual sociopathy in plague deployment, and the understanding that the race only expanded by desecrating the dead always made it feel like the Horde accepted the Forsaken only grudgingly, out of existential considerations. The Forsaken were a part of the Horde, but stood apart.

That said, I sympathize with most of the outrage.

If you are a Horde player entertaining the fantasy of being part of an honorable band of misfits just trying to survive, Blizzard has been throwing you under the bus lately. I was not actively playing through the entire Garrosh arc, but the summaries are reading pretty similar already.

That’s not even getting into the problems that the Taurens and other Horde races/classes should be having with A) burning Teldrassil to the ground, B) being tasked with killing Malfurion (a druid leader to both factions), or C) working with a Warchief whose motto is “Life is pain, hope fails.” Sylvanas might get a pass during Legion, but if there is not widespread in-game, in-character outrage from at least the druid and shaman corners, then the Blizzard criticism is 100% warranted.

[Edit: Ah, Saurfang, you beautiful bastard. Well played, Blizzard.]

On the Alliance side, when turning in the post-fall quest to Anduin, he says:

You have shown courage and heart, champion. On this, one of the Alliance’s darkest days. My whole life, I have prayed for peace in this world. But that dream can never be realized so long as Sylvanas Windrunner leads the Horde. She expects this atrocity to crush our spirits. Shatter our unity. But this I vow… the Alliance will endure… and the Bashee Queen’s insidious reign will be ended.

So, regardless of whether Sylvanas retreads exactly the same path as Garrosh or veers into a more interesting direction, I think there is enough foreshadowing here to suggest, at a minimum, she will not remain the Warchief by the end of the expansion. Which is a rather high turnover rate for even the most diehard Horde fan to endure.

We’ll see how it plays out in the coming months and patches.

Let me just say though, oof, that Alliance quest inside the burning Darnassus was rough. And brilliant. It took my 10+ years of completing quests in WoW and used it to twist the knife in a way that not Arthas or Sargeras ever could. We can kill Old Gods… but how many civilians can we save from the flames?

Twenty-five. I saved twenty-five. Out of nine hundred and eighty-two.

[WISP] The Division

(e.g. Why I Stopped Playing: The Division)

I can show you precisely the moment I decided to stop playing The Division:

TheDivision-BossSponge

I’d like to read the Tom Clancy book about taking 6+ bullets to the face…

There is nothing particularly special about this “boss” character. I had actually died to him once already, as he has a machine gun and is able to just keep firing for like 30 seconds as he walks around your cover and mows you down in a realistic way. Having respawned, I was able to safely stay at my pictured elevated position. I was compelled to take this screenshot because I just shot this dude 5 times in the face with a sniper rifle, and he still has a sliver of “armor” left.

I have had a tone issue with The Division almost from the beginning. This is not a game where you are shooting zombies. You are not even shooting infected people behaving erratically. You are shooting “looters” or “Cleaners” (who are trying to burn the infection out) or gang members or prisoners who broke out of jail. Granted, all of your enemies appear to be killing innocent civilians or otherwise impeding efforts to maintain law and order. But… The Division (thus far) made no attempt to even address the wholesale slaughter of people trying to survive in a government quarantine zone.

TheDivision-Beauty

A very, very pretty quarantine zone.

I bring this up because “motivation” is hugely critical in cover-based shooters for me. The core gameplay in these games is so banal and simplified, there is often nothing else to go on. Stay in cover, peek and shoot. Leave cover, die. The Division technically has some additional elements like special powers, and is definitely geared towards small-squad teamplay, including a trinity of sorts.

But otherwise? Peek and shoot. And 100% of the missions up to the point I stopped playing had been about killing people for vague reasons. Even when you are rescuing hostages, there is no sense that A) the hostages were actually being ransomed, or B) the hostages will be better off going back home.

I was actually going to quit playing two weeks ago, but Alex posted this live-action video in the comments. That was… kinda compelling, and set me in the right frame of mind for getting back into the game.

…at least up until I kept encountering these predictable boss characters, with their predictable face armor which takes a half-dozen sniper rifle rounds to remove.

I understand that the game is a looter shooter, and things are not supposed to make too much sense – not quite sure how a new holster is somehow giving me extra armor, but whatever. It would be quite the boring game if the first rifle you picked up from the body of an enemy was the same one you used throughout the entire experience.

But… I just can’t do it anymore. The Division just piles up too much unsupported nonsense and my suspension of disbelief cannot bear the weight. And if I don’t respect the setting and don’t care about the story, there is zero reason to play a cover-based shooter. So I’m not, anymore.