I started playing Outer Wilds this week.
So far, I’m only 22 minutes in.
…five or six times. You know, because the solar system explodes and time loops back around.
I don’t think I’ll be talking much about the experience of Outer Wilds as I go along, because a lot of people have gone to great lengths to not “spoil” anything. Not that I have encountered anything in-game that might constitute a spoiler yet. Supposedly the game can be completed in 20 minutes if you know the right place to go, but… of course it can. The sun explodes every 22 minutes of game time, so by definition it has to be solvable within 22 minutes.
What I will say though, is that Outer Wilds has not thus far been anything approaching peaceful or idyllic or an explorer’s dream or anything of the sort. That seemed to have been the impression I gleaned from reading other posts about it.
In my first foray in space, I brought my spaceship over to some interesting orbiting debris, took a space walk to explore, and when I turned around I realized that my ship had floated away. Or rather, was in a rapidly decaying orbit around the goddamn sun. So I chased after it, damn near skimmed the surface of said sun, and then was slingshotted out into the abyss of space where I eventually suffocated in the darkness, alone.
That was the “first death” too, so I had to watch it play out in its entirety. Kind of fitting, I guess. On all subsequent screw-ups, you can use the menu to manually reset the time loop at will. But that kind of starter experience really sets a tone.
After that, I started exploring an ocean planet with constant, horrific tornadoes that are so strong that they LAUNCH THE ISLANDS YOU WALK ON INTO SPACE. That was a fun second experience. After surviving re-entry somehow, I died walking off a cliff, not having realized a jetpack at full thrust was unable to overcome the planet’s 2.0x gravity. The next few deaths were “only” due to sun explosion as I tried exploring some other ruins. Fun times.
So, yeah. Outer Wilds. Fun in the way I imagine Alien Isolation or the Chemical Plant level in Sonic 2 can be considered fun. But I’m getting the hang of things, and hopefully the experience will improve as time goes on. And loops again. You know what I mean.
According to the Blues, Blizzard’s F2P “Free to download, optional in-game purchases” Hearthstone will be released for real in a matter of weeks:
How close to the end of the beta are we? Don’t need an exact date, because I know that would be horrendous, but is this a matter of days or weeks or months?
I can’t say exactly, but it is soon. Not months.
Although there are a number of annoying bugs still kicking around, I have largely considered the game to be ready for Prime Time since the closed beta. The level of polish when it comes to sound effects, the implied physicality of the game pieces, and everything else is pretty astounding considering the size of the development team. For a while there were rumors floating around that the game wouldn’t be released until the iPad version was up, but it seems like that might be referring to the planned single-player Adventure Mode.
Whatever the case, I am very much looking forward to the release and any potential card tweaks that might go along with it. To an extent, it’s easy to sit on the sidelines and call the release of new card sets/expansions as “greedy,” but goddamn does it get annoying after a while when you see the same dozen cards get played in game after game. The metagame is in a healthy state of flux, but the core staples of most every deck do not.
In news that I likely care about more than any possible reader, apparently there is a 4th (5th?) entry in the Deception series called Deception IV: Blood Ties and it’s being released this month. While it is obscure as hell, the Deception series was a set of rather groundbreaking PS1 games that were the precursor to games like Orcs Must Die. Essentially, you set up a number of nefarious traps in a mansion and then must lure trespassers to their doom by controlling an otherwise unarmed Gothic lady.
Here’s a video from Kagero: Deception 2, which is the sort of foundation of the series:
The graphics were pretty hideous even by the time the 3rd game was released, and the plot was Japanese nonsense, but the gameplay? Equal parts brilliant and hilarious. A large part of the game revolved around chaining trap combos, both because traps had cooldowns and because getting the bonus currency was required to unlock more traps/upgrade existing ones (and there was no farming). A fairly simple chain would go like this:
- Bear Trap at bottom of stairs.
- Giant Boulder crashes down stairs, knocks target into back wall.
- Push Wall knocks target back onto Bear Trap.
Sounds quaint, right? Well, it should, considering Deception started doing it in 1996 and Kagero in 1998. Those were good years – FF7 was 1997, FFT was 1998 as was Xenogears.
…all of which happened almost 20 years ago. Sigh.
“…He vowed: ‘Forsooth, verily shall ye never again take up an MMO at launch. So sayeth the LORD.'”
Given that I fancy myself a topical blogger now, and that my prepaid prepurchase of the prelaunch of Guild Wars 2 was predicated on previewing, this is yet another Commandment that I am probably going to break in the future. However! If you have been waiting to jump into GW2 for whatever reason, let me say that I envy you. The game will either be better, or you will know exactly how dumb it is/stayed.
Stream of consciousness-style:
I have made characters. Lots of characters.
- Asura Elementalist, level 19
- Sylvari Engineer, level 13
- Norn Ranger, level 12
- Human Guardian, level 6
- [Deleted] Charr Warrior, level 3
- [Deleted] Human Mesmer, level 3
I typically do not play MMOs this way, insofar as splitting my time amongst many alts right away, but GW2 in particular makes me worry that I picked the “wrong” class. You see, I actually enjoyed my Engineer quite a bit, but… well, once I unlock all of the weapon skills, most of these classes just fall apart in terms of interest.
The Engineer in particular gets hit hard because dual-pistols is the only rational weapon choice for leveling; which means pressing 2, 3, 4, backpedal a bit, mob dead. Over and over and over again. For 80 levels. Given the Engineer mechanics, you cannot swap weapons in combat, although you can spice things up by dropping turrets or swapping to a Flamethrower, Landmines, Grenades, etc. But none of those alternate weapons seem to work better than dual-pistols, unless people are accidentally tanking for you. In which case… nope, dual-pistols are still probably the strongest.
Since my friends are now in the mid-20 range, I have been focusing on the Elementalist, which is honestly what I should have been doing all along. I stick in Fire mode 99% of the time, but unlike dual-pistols with the Engineer, it somehow feels different. I think the main thing is how one of the “rotation” buttons requires ground targeting, which necessarily changes from mob to mob, spicing things up (dual-pistols is all straight tab targeting with inherent AoE).
I deleted the Warrior and Mesmer so early for a few reasons. First, the whole Mesmer mechanic of summoning and sacking phantasms/clones did not seem like something especially fun. In PvP? Probably pretty fun, or annoying to the opposing team, which is another way of saying “fun.” The warrior was deleted for much simpler reasons: I died at one of the newbie Events right past the tutorial. Remember how I warned everyone that if you were melee, popular Events would kill you practically instantly? Yeah. If you want to be stuck as a Longbow-Rifle warrior, go right ahead, but I was not looking forward to 80 levels of getting owned in Events when I could be dropping meteors and volcanoes and having fun.
Before deleting either class though, I did take them to the PvP lobby to take a look at their Traits lines (aka Talents) and later Skills. The warrior was pretty straight-forward and boring to me. The Mesmer had some pretty cool ones that got the PvP juices flowing though. For example, how about a wall of crazy magic that automatically turns all your teammates invisible when they pass through it? I was imagining dropping that when storming the bases in Warsong Gulch… until I remembered that this was a whole different game, the invisibility lasts 4 seconds, and this would take a coordinated team effort that isn’t likely to happen unless I am in some PvP guild running premades. Which is too bad, because the Mesmer can also make a portal entrance/exit that can be used by anyone to zip you between the two locations instantly as well.
Auction House Trading Post
As of today, still down.
It does periodically come up from time to time, and I make oodles of coin in that brief window. However, I do recognize that actually making money from the Trading Post will not be a particularly long-term endeavor. Crafted goods were generally selling at 1 copper above their vendor price, which is actually selling at a loss considering the obscene ArenaNet 15% cut. Mats are where it is likely to be at, so to speak, but once the Trading Post opens for real, it will be a race to the bottom against botters and their crippling 72 bans.
Where I made my money this past week was selling the Unidentified Dyes for in the neighborhood of 10 silver apiece, which is pretty astounding. It might not sound like a lot of money in any typical MMO, but keep this in mind:
At the time of this writing, I have accumulated 400 gems in this fashion, all for less than 34 silver per 100. The real money exchange rate works out to $1.25 per 100 gems, so I’ve made a cool $5 selling roughly 1g 20s on one character. In case you need reminded, my highest toon is level 19. Incidentally, that is more than I have made in Diablo 3 for the entire 2-3 months I played.
So when I tell you I am very annoyed about the Trading Post being down for the vast majority of the prior week, that is not “entitlement” speaking. This is SRS BSNS. God only knows what the exchange rate for in-game currency is going to be a month from now.
Hint: not likely 30s per 100.
Dynamic (Death Trap) Events
While I will admit that some of these Events have been interesting gameplay experiences – taking out bandits before they set up poison traps for Skritts, or disabling the traps before the Skritt trigger them is probably not something a traditional MMO quest can do – the vast majority of the ones I played are simply trash farming. Which is great for making money (see above), but does not deviate much from the “zerg ALL the things” stereotype I had from the betas.
And then I started running into Events that are either poorly designed, poorly tuned, or (Badly) Working As Intended.
Let me unpack that collage of failure for you.
First, I was originally questing in the area to fill up a level 15 Renown Heart. Suddenly – or should I say “dynamically”? – the entire complex was filled with level 16 mobs. I died pretty much instantly. After respawning, I came back inside to see if I could chip away at the Renown Heart still, and perhaps see if there were more players around to take down the Event proper. But then I got confused. The Event says it is level 14. All the mobs are level 16, pat around in groups, and even the ones by themselves were generally chained to another mob 20 feet away. I did eventually find a group of 5-6 players, but I was never able to tell whether they were on the premises the whole time (which might explain the higher-level mobs) or if they came in once the Event popped on the radar.
The very next area North of here was the 15-25 zone, and immediately featured two more Dynamic Death Traps. Remember people telling you to complete Events and then follow the NPC when they run back home? Sometimes it results in some exposition dialog, or even another Event. And sometimes it results in instant death.
There was zero warning that the very next step was going to be [Group] level boss Event. None. Again, it is possible that there were “enough” people in the general area (that I could not see) that would make a level 16 Champion spawning from a collection quest make sense. I saw one dude, who died with me, twice.
By the way, at the current exchange rate, each death costs me $0.0125.
After respawning and heading in the other direction, I encounter this lovely Renown Quest:
What exactly a level 21 mob is doing in the level 17 Renown Quest area, I have no idea. But, you know, I am a total pro and (slowly) take these fools out. Heart completed, I notice a Dynamic Event spawn nearby. Given my prior experience getting nickle and dimed to death, I said to myself “fuck that noise” and started heading back to the Renown guy to check for upgrades. I make it about ten feet before this happened:
What a swarm of eight level 20 mobs are doing heading towards a level 17 Event is a secondary concern to why they have to…
…you know, what? Whose mind do I imagine I’m changing here? You are either already drinking the Kool-Aid or you are not, and I am fine waiting for the first bodies to hit the floor.
And it is not as though there isn’t other things I could be doing, like…
Just kidding, perma-queues.
I will say that I am impressed by ArenaNet having free server transfers open during this time when ~70% of all available American servers are Full, even at 4am. I have talked a bit with my friends as to whether we want to bail from Northern Shiverpeaks and go down to a Low pop server, but the downside to that would be lack of people in the world for Dynamic Death Trap Events, grouping in general, and so on. Given the PvP guilds located on this server though, it is quite possible that no one else will ever be able to zone in. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
By the way, I hate the crafting system thus far.
Hmm… maybe “hate” is too strong a word. It’s boring. You only make items in 5-level increments, e.g. level 5, level 10, level 15, etc. Every recipe is Piece A + Piece B + X, where X is either a mob drop, or a token you create from a mob drop. It creates an illusion of “hundreds of different recipes to discover!” when the reality is that a pair of boots with +Condition Damage on it is not really different from another pair of boots with +Power. Yes, if you were stacking Condition damage or something, it matters.
But do you understand what I’m saying? Within 30 seconds of crafting two different boots, I implicitly knew the recipes for (possibly?) every pair of boots in the game. Six different mob drops –> six different tokens + six different super-tokens = 12 variations of each item * six levels of the base material (Jute, Wool, Cotton, etc). Looking at the Wiki for Tailoring, it looks like there are 14 token variations instead of 12 at higher levels, but come on.
Anyone remember Spidersilk Boots? I do. Seeing that recipe for a blue item was the precise moment in WoW that I became keenly interested in crafting and doing things with the AH. Contrast that with what I described above; simply rearranging stats around is a Diablo 3-esque crafting system, not an inspiring one. Maybe all the cool crafting stuff happens at higher levels, or at the Mystic Forge. Maybe there are super-secret recipes no one knows about.
Regardless, right now GW2’s crafting system feels like it has been designed by an accountant.
One final (positive!) thing I want to talk about today is actually an area where Guild Wars 2 nails down a quality I did not fully understand: immersion.
A lot of people pretend that immersion is some kind of objective term, that the things that pull them into or eject them out of a game are universal Truths. Those people are wrong. Sense of immersion is a personal thing, which should be immediately obvious to anyone who is into fantasy or sci-fi novels but thinks Twilight (etc) is dumb. Different people look for different forms of escapism. Suspension of disbelief is a voluntary action, or at least is informed by your own tastes.
What GW2 has taught me thus far is that I (hitherto subconsciously) place a heavy emphasis on a sense of existing in a 3D space for immersion. It might be easier to show you what I mean:
This fence is Real to me, as it exists in a 3D space and I can interact with it. Namely, by standing on it. You probably do not know this about me, but one of the first things I do in an MMO is find a fence and try and stand on it. Why? Because it tells you a lot about the “depth” game. If the fence is simply a 2D texture papered over an invisible wall, you know there is not likely to be many “real” objects in the game. God forbid if you cannot jump at all.
And I apparently have a thing for fences. Don’t judge me.
While it is also impressive how our feet can actually appear to stand at the correct levels of the fence, I understand that that is more of a “trick” compared to the 3D object itself. A good trick, for sure, but a trick nonetheless.
The above is another one of my favorite screenshots. It looks better in motion, but it feels even better inside my head. GW2 evokes the sense that these floating islands actually exist, that the character I control is not just an elaborate 2D model but an actual set piece moving in 3D space. Immersion success. Indeed, I usually find myself frustrated when I come across a hill in-game that I cannot find some way of climbing straight up, as opposed to going around the “right way.” The hill exists, therefore I keep trying to find that slightly less sloped polygon so I can shimmy my way up to the top. It does not cross my mind that there might be an invisible wall around the hill edge, because invisible walls are for fake-3D games.
And the weird thing is that I’m not even that into platformers.
With all of that off my chest, in the next GW2 post I might spend some time handing out gameplay tips in the same vein as the Quickstart guide. Because while the things I complain about do legitimately annoy me, GW2 has subsumed the entirety of my gaming time since the head start. Which, if I’m honest, is not something that happens very often.