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Hard(ly) Drive

I’m running out of space on my gaming SSD, which is 500 GB.

The primary offender is Ark, which at this moment is sitting at 104 GB. I have The Center and Ragnarok “expansions” installed too, but I mostly recall that the original install was north of 60 GB by itself. There is actually another expansion that is coming out soon, that I confess to be mildly interested in. Not sure that I would pay full price for it, whatever that ends up being, but I find it unlikely I would reinstall the whole game all over again in the future, just to play the expansion.

FFXIV is still installed, of course. That’s around 21.4 GB right now, as I do not have either of the expansions. Deleting it would effectively end the FFXIV experiment for good. Which gets more tempting by the day, honestly, as I have discovered that questing is no longer sufficient to reach necessary level milestones. Old news, I’m sure, but it’s still a little surprising that in such a story-centric MMO, one must explicitly farm dungeons, Leves, or FATES in order to progress. Side quests do not even remotely help anymore.

GW2 is sitting at around 35 GB. Just as before, I do not own either of the new expansions. However, I have been rather consistently logging on each day for the daily chest, for about the last three months. Each month means 10 Tomes of Knowledge, which is 10 free levels you can distribute around. I could probably power-level crafting professions to bypass any grind I wanted to, but I enjoy the ease and utility of the Tomes. I plan on coming back to GW2 for a bit once the expansion prices come back down.

WoW (43.7 GB) remains installed, of course. I don’t remember if I ever uninstalled the game; it’s possible it has persisted in some contiguous form since TBC, albeit copied a few times. In any case, that portion of my hard drive is reserved, even if it’s been almost a year since I’ve logged in.

Overwatch (13.8 GB) is a bit more dicey. The Halloween skins caused me to log in for the first time in years, but the game does not scratch any itches for me anymore. It’s a small-team arcade hero shooter… and that’s it. This one can probably go.

I bring all this up because there are games on my time horizon in which storage space will be relevant. The biggest one is Destiny 2, which requires 68 GB. Expansions to any of the MMOs will be 10-15 GB. If Nier: Automata ever goes back on sale, that will be 30-40 GB. I have a few Steam RPGs purchased but never played that clock in the ~30 GBs range as well. Deleting anything I am not actively playing is an option for a reasonable human being, but my gaming whims tend to brook no argument – I either play what I want to play right then, or the alternatives seem a waste of time.

Ark is the most reasonable sacrifice here, as over 100 GB for one game is truly absurd. But will I ever download it again? Hmm.

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Path of Thorns

The new expansion for Guild Wars 2 was recently announced as Path of Fire. Clocking in at $30 out of the gate, it is significantly cheaper than the prior expansion, Heart of Thorns. This is good news.

What is less good is the fact that Path of Fire does NOT come with Heart of Thorns.

Q: Is Heart of Thorns included for free when I buy Path of Fire?

A: No. As we said when we announced Heart of Thorns, we always want to give you the option to purchase both expansions for a single price. With the purchase of any edition of Path of Fire, you can add in Heart of Thorns during checkout and purchase both expansions together for less than the combined prices of the expansions. If you already own Heart of Thorns or only want to play Path of Fire, you can purchase Path of Fire separately. (source)

This is an especially brow-raising turn of events considering ArenaNet’s official stance two years ago (emphasis added):

Business Model Clarification

We want to be clear about our business model for future expansions now that we are approaching our first paid expansion for Guild Wars 2. We believe that to keep the game dynamic and vibrant with a constantly growing community, it should be as easy as possible for new players to get into Guild Wars 2. For Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns, we didn’t want the core game’s price to be a factor in a new player’s decision to begin playing Guild Wars 2. In the future, if we release further Guild Wars 2 expansions, we plan to offer all of the prior expansions, the core game, and the latest expansion for one single purchase price. (source)

Business models change, and there has been plenty of turnover in the ArenaNet side of things since 2015. But this explanation of things reeks of sleaze. “Core game + all expansions for a single purchase price” does not parse out into “add another $20 to get HoT and the total $50 amount counts as a single purchase price,” but that is what the Community Managers are spinning it into.

As if things were not bizarre enough, ArenaNet is also making it clear that you don’t actually have to buy HoT to play the new expansion. There is a whole list of things that will work and not work:

Q: Do I need to own Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns™ in order to play Path of Fire?

Owning Heart of Thorns isn’t required to access Path of Fire content. However, some content is exclusive to Heart of Thorns.

  • You must purchase Heart of Thorns to unlock and use the gliding mastery, as well as all other masteries introduced in and exclusive to that expansion. You will be able to complete all of the content in Path of Fire without the use of any Heart of Thorns-exclusive masteries.
  • You must purchase Heart of Thorns to unlock and use the 9 elite specializations introduced with that expansion.
  • Path of Fire includes access to the revenant profession, but not the Herald elite specialization. If you only own Path of Fire, you will be able to create a revenant character and unlock the Renegade elite specialization.
  • You must purchase Heart of Thorns to claim the new guild hall released in Path of Fire, and access the Scribe crafting discipline to fully upgrade your guild hall.

So, basically, if you want gliding or to access one of the 9 elite specs, fork over $20. Well, and I suppose all of the HoT maps (etc) are worth something.

This entire scenario puts me in a mental bind. Up to this point, I had been holding off on buying HoT because I was under the impression that it would be included with the new expansion. I had not been playing GW2 in general very much lately, mostly due to the fact that it was made clear that the Elite specializations that had been released were strictly better than the majority of your other options (as is often the case with new “classes”). GW2 basically only has a fashion endgame so it shouldn’t really matter, but it is hard to get excited about playing a game in which you are limited to objectively worse options. And nevermind that actually purchasing HoT would not give me access to the Living Story episodes I missed, so there is objectively less content available to me anyway.

With Path of Flame releasing in 1.5 months though, I anticipate the new Elite specs to be more powerful than the older Elite specs – designers are simply too incentivised to make shit OP at first. Lack of Gliding will suck, but I never actually had it to begin with, and the designers are promising that it won’t be required for anything in the new expansion anyway. And, hey, some of those mounts seem to be gliding already. So… what’s left? The maps, of course. Masteries that are being promised won’t be required for anything. And… that’s it?

For the people actually playing GW2 on a routine basis, this structure is nothing but upside: they get a new expansion for $30 instead of $50. For new players, it is also probably good, considering they get the base game plus expansion for $30 as well, and won’t really know what they missed in HoT. For anyone else like me, stuck inbetween, there really isn’t anything good about the situation. And while I could easily afford to just throw down for both expansions for “the single purchase price,” the principle of the matter is just odious enough to make me want to delay any decision.

Freedom from Hunger

I am currently playing through a rougelike called “Wasted,” and the experience has been interesting. It is an Adult Swim Game that I believe came in a Humble Monthly Bundle or something, as I don’t remember purchasing it. The premise is very non-serious – think Borderlands rougelike with permadeath – but that’s not particularly relevant. What’s relevant is the addition of the SOB Purifiers.

The general gameplay in Wasted pretty common in terms of opening doors, killing enemies, avoiding traps, grabbing loot. After about two minutes on each floor though, an extremely deadly (albeit predictable) enemy spawns at the entrance and slowly makes it way towards you. The first few times I encountered these SOBs, I very nearly quit playing the game entirely. Why do they need to exist? How much bullshit is it that their miniguns basically stunlock you? The SOBs seem to have sucked all the fun out of exploring the levels.

After a while, I realized something. Namely, that I wasn’t experiencing Fallout-esque burnout.

As the developer has gone through great lengths to point out in the Steam forums (even getting a bit saucy in the process), the Purifiers exist as a gameplay element to shepherd the player around and drive them forward. You aren’t supposed to be exploring, you should be making some strategic gambles on your way to the exit. If I had all the time in the world, I would be fully healed before opening any door, spending 99% of the gameplay crouch-sneaking, and micromanaging an incredibly-limited inventory with the attention of Warren Buffet. In other words, I’d be playing it just like I play every other post-apocalypse game. Or most games, period, if I’m honest.

Other roguelikes have addressed the “problem” of over-exploring characters with Hunger mechanics and the like, but the Purifier feels really interesting to me now. Mechanics like Hunger don’t actually impact my behavior in those games; if anything, it just makes me more committed to looting all the things in the vain hope that there is some half-rotten morsel in that broken filing cabinet. Hunger also evokes that most-hated of all gameplay mechanics: the Breath meter in underwater levels. It feels oppressive, cheap.

After I got over the first few bullshit deaths to Purifiers that nullified hours of progression, I started to realize how… well, elegant is not the term, but perhaps “fair” they are. The Purifiers always spawn in the same location (the entrance to the floor you started on), after roughly the same amount of time, and always move towards your location decently slowly. If you happen to be in a circular sort of area, you can lure them to your location and then double-back behind them. Yeah, getting caught in a long hallway or dead-end sucks, but the Purifier’s arrival is announced both when they spawn and as they get closer to your location (the music changes).

In a real sense, Purifiers give you a sense of agency that Hunger does not. If I hit a fork early in a level, I might skip the locked door (which the exit is never behind) so as to give myself more time to explore a later fork. Or maybe I’ll lay some traps near the entrance to the level so that the Purifier spawns in a mine field that will hopefully cripple a leg and give me additional time. And, hey, even if I just barely escape through the exit at the last possible second, I know that I still get a full X minutes to explore the next floor without having to worry about them. That is a far cry different than Hunger or whatever, which often represents a cumulative loss of time.

For the record, I am taking this mechanic way more seriously than the game does. Indeed, the premise of the game is drinking Booze and getting radioactive hangovers that will help/hurt your next Booze run. But the problem that Wasted solves with Purifiers is a problem that exists in every roguelike (and arguably any survival game), and it’s the best solution I’ve seen in quite some time. I’m not sure it would be especially applicable in future games ala Fallout 5, but I hope the eventual solution is more akin to this than something else.

I don’t think I can stand the freedom to collect 10,000 tin cans anymore.

What is Dragon Age Even About?

I was trying to describe the Dragon Age series to a friend the other day, and failing miserably. You see, this friend is a huge fan of the Mass Effect series. Should be easy, right? “It’s like a fantasy Mass Effect. It’s even made by the same studio!”

Except that is not really true.

I mean, yeah, it’s made by Bioware. But the longer I look at the Dragon Age series as a whole, the less it looks like a coherent narrative and more a mishmash of one-dimensional fantasy tropes. Dragon Age: Origins was a breath of fresh air with the Mage/Templar relationship, turning Elves into wandering Gypsies, and otherwise subverting a lot of traditional fantasy. Perhaps the genre has evolved in parallel or the novelty has worn off, as these days I’m finding the Dragon Age setting floundering for an identity.

I liked the Grey Warden schtick in the first game, even if it ultimately meant you were fighting dragons and orcs. In Dragon Age 2, you really weren’t doing anything of note; things just happened around you. While there is still time for Inquisition to kick into gear plot-wise (no spoilers, please), I’m at a bit of a loss in mustering up the motivation to care about anyone around me. Don’t get me wrong, party banter is pretty much the reason someone plays Bioware games; I just find it hard to like someone when there’s no real context for their decisions or personality.

For example, I have lost all investment in the Mage vs Templar narrative arc. The concept of anti-mage knights overseeing mage initiation rituals was pretty cool in the first game. It evoked a sort of Wheel of Time “mad dog on a leash” image; I started thinking that perhaps a similar thing should exist in the Star Wars universe vis-a-vis Jedi. It gets the mental gears moving, you know?

But now we are left with insane Mage vs insane Templar generic fantasy 101. My next Inquisition plot point indicates I will need to choose between seeking Mage support or Templar support, with the decision being mutually exclusive. I’m honestly about two seconds away from looking it up on the Wiki and making a decision based on which side gives the better loot. Quite simply, the game hasn’t given me any reason to care about the outcome. Compare that to my utter agony over the Genophage decision in Mass Effect 2. Same sort of binary, morally grey decision, but Mass Effect managed to get me to care. Dragon Age doesn’t even try anymore.

If someone asked you to sum up the Mass Effect series, you could say “scrappy Commander gets ship, builds galactic coalition to defeat Reapers.” As for summing up Dragon Age… uh… hmm. “Series of unrelated scrappy heroes collects NPCs and fights mobs.” Obviously it’s a lot harder to come up with a coherent narrative when you change heroes every game, but I’m not sure how much slack Dragon Age deserves. The Far Cry games have nothing to do with one another, and yet I can feel the thread that binds them. Where is the Dragon Age thread? What is Dragon Age even about?

I think Bioware would have been a lot better off sticking to the Grey Warden angle. Having a new Blight every game would be pretty formulaic (and unsustainable), of course, but I would of loved to have seen a more nuanced exploration of what life is like for the condemned Wardens in the post-Blight period. Sort of like a subverted fantasy plot, wherein your coalition and party members start strong and then fade out, slowly ground to dust via political machinations that find the Warden treaties inconvenient once the world is no longer ending. Perhaps there is a schism that develops amongst Wardens that desire children and security for their families. Maybe the Mage vs Templar rebellion could have started by the Mages deciding to free themselves en masse by joining the Warden cause.

Shit, can you imagine? Do you allow the Mages to essentially subvert the Warden code to emancipate themselves? They get their freedom, but there won’t be enough safeguards amongst the Wardens to keep a check on their power. Plus, what of the nobles who suddenly see the Wardens become a stateless army whose treaties supersede their sovereignty? Do the Wardens become complicit in the subjugation of Mages by rejecting them, especially when the Templars crack down extra hard after the attempted mutiny? Meanwhile, an Archdemon stirs from the all the conflict and bloodshed…

That would be an interesting decision. Not choosing between two NPC leaders that I was introduced to 10 seconds ago.

Who knows, maybe Inquisition will turn out to be super interesting in the final analysis. It isn’t terribly interesting now though, and it will have a hell of a time matching the plot I just invented a minute ago. The game is still fun, but I’d rather be playing Skyrim 2. Since I can’t, Inquisition will have to do.

Wrong Choices

Ghostcrawler tweeted the sort of thing I’m sure sends “real” MMO players into howling fits:

“No,actually,there is not a wrong choice.Wether we(players) buy new items OR upgrade old ones should be our decision,not DEV’s.”
Giving players the ability to make choices with wrong answers doesn’t make players happy overall. (Source)

Choices having bad consequences is the best (only?) way to make a decision matter, as the argument goes. However, this quote got me thinking: do such players actually enjoy being able to make the wrong choice, or is it simply that the bad choice existing (which they did not pick) validates their good decision? Or put another way, who really likes making bad decisions?

I understand that the demonstration of skill necessitates there being wrong choices. Demonstrating skill, or improvement thereof, is fun. At the same time, the Mass Effect series (for example) was fun to play even though there weren’t any “wrong choices” (provided you weren’t specifically looking for X result).

There is only ever one correct answer to the questions of “which does the most DPS” or “what is the most efficient use of resources.” Ergo, is there actually any real decision to be made when one is correct and the other(s) not? I suppose the fun is supposed to be the result of figuring out which one is which, but that sort of clashes with the mockery and disdain frequently attributed to those who don’t look up the correct decision from the Wiki/EJ. Compare that to the question of “which transmog set is the best?”

I do not believe that there has to be a wrong choice in order for choices to be meaningful generally. We make identity choices every day – what type of person do I want to be, what do I believe in? – and I do not think that anyone would suggest that those choices are either irrelevant or have wrong answers (well… no one with any sort of self-reflection). And while I am willing to concede gameplay being under the (broad) umbrella of choice, e.g. one makes a wrong choice by pressing 11342 instead of 11324, I consider there to be a distinction between executing a rotation under pressure versus avoiding falling into a designer trap. One has its place as a legitimate test of skill, and the other is simply you winning via a few mouse clicks several months ago.

Character Select Screen

It sometimes depresses me to think about how different a game experience can be depending on the singular decision you make at the character select screen.

As you might have seen down in the Now Playing sidebar, I have playing Borderlands 2 (BL2) for the past couple of weeks. While it might be easy to think that the character select problem would be worse in MMOs – by virtue of spending 100+ hours instead of 30-70 hours – I actually think it can be more important in shorter, single-player games given you are less likely to replay them.

Right now, I am level 40 in the New Game+ Mode as Zer0, the assassin character that can basically focus either on sniper rifles or melee attacks. While my power to go invisible while projecting a holographic decoy has been useful (I have literally one-shot a few boss fights with a melee attack), I am finding it significantly less useful when all the enemies seem to have 10x more health this time around. Also, the power is pretty useless against the larger bosses with their instant-kill melee attacks¹.

I could technically respec to a more sniper rifle-focused build to get around this problem, but it occurs to me that BL2 characters sans their special move are basically all the same. In other words, a sniper-built Zer0 that doesn’t use the Deception skill regularly is just a gimped version of a sniper-built Axton/etc. Plus, it really annoys me that Zer0 is the only character without a passive health regen talent, meaning one of my equipment slots is permanently taken up with a health regen relic.

In other words, I have a pretty big case of Other Class Envy at the moment.

Does it really matter all that much? No. But that is kinda the problem, too. I went ahead and created new characters for all the “classes” and leveled them up enough to unlock their special abilities. But the thought of plowing through the entire game on normal again, which I have already started via Zer0 with New Game+, was just too much to bear. The gameplay would be different with a different class, but not that different. Hence the unlikelihood of ever seeing how the other classes play out. The waveform has collapsed, and there is just the one timeline.

Which got me to thinking: does anyone else worry about picking the “wrong” class at the character select screen in a new game? And the followup question: how do you end up picking a character?

For me, I try to do a little research on how a class is supposed to function by the end of the game before I even start, including looking at every talent tree. Then, I usually get over my inevitable decision paralysis by just picking whatever sounds interesting to me at that moment. My first WoW character was a warlock because I heard they were rare but prized members, crushing their enemies under the weight of a thousand DoTs; I abandoned it somewhere in the Hinterlands, and rerolled my namesake paladin on the basis of always liking D&D paladins but chaffing at the Lawful Good requirement. With BL2, I chose Zer0 because Lilith’s special ability in the original Borderlands was handy in escaping otherwise certain death, and Zer0’s sounded the closest to that.

Around 70 hours into BL2, I kinda wish I would have just picked Maya. Or Axton. Or… yeah.

I would settle for being allowed to start new alts out at level 20ish. Gearbox, make it happen.

¹ I am aware that a level 50 Zer0 with a few specialized pieces of equipment can solo the 4-player raid bosses. Unfortunately, that does not particularly help my enthusiasm gap right now.