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Roll Them Boulders

My blog roll is filled with WoW Classic posts, and I am loathe to add another one to the pile. But it was interesting to me scrolling through them, as there was a lot of words surrounding the sort of meta experience, but not so much the moment-to-moment or even the “but… why?” piece.

It was not until SynCaine tried to explain the difference between Easy and “easy” that I realized what WoW Classic is all about:

With that said, one major reason why Classic is fun is because it isn’t faceroll easy. Starting right at level 1, you simply can’t run into a group of mobs solo and expect to survive. When you are doing at-level content, you are always at least aware of where mobs are, about what you are pulling, and what keys you are pressing. Now don’t get confused, once you do those things, killing a mob or two is ‘easy’. But that itself is the point; you have put in the work to get a decent pull, so your reward is being able to kill said mob without too much fuss. That ‘simple’ combat is also its own strength; you really don’t want the most basic aspect of your MMO (combat), that you hope people experience for hundreds if not thousands of hours, to be tiring or require near-constant button mashing.

WoW Classic is Something To Do. Which is not to be confused with “something to do.”

Before I get into that though, I just have to laugh. “It only seems easy, because of all the work you have to put in.” Ehh… no. WoW Classic is easy. That rules exist at all does not make it any less easy. Pulling only one or two mobs at a time is the equivalent of Paint By Numbers – the hardest part is not becoming distracted by all the other things you plan on doing later while actually doing the thing you clearly don’t need to pay close attention to do. Notice how nowhere in the description of Classic combat is any hint of “engaging gameplay.” Methodical, sure. Engaging, no.

Sort of like rolling a boulder up a hill.

But that is the thing: it is Something To Do. I miss that. The other day I logged onto Guild Wars 2, walked around a capital city a bit, then logged off. There was nothing compelling to do. My characters are all max level, Ascended gear already farmed, literally nothing else than to grind out Legendaries or achievements or gold to buy Cash Shop clothes.

Meanwhile, gaining a level in Classic is also a chore, but a real one, like washing dishes. It isn’t as though there are more challenges between the start and finish, but more… stuff. Steps. Drag anchors. It takes more generic units of Time. Because of that extra time spent not engaged in anything, the cognitive dissonance is thus stronger and you end up feeling better about your life after completing the task as a defensive mechanism. It becomes Something To Do rather than something you did. More important. Certainly more meaningful than watching an episode of Big Bang Theory or scrolling past page 18 of Reddit.

It seems as though I’m making fun of people having fun in Classic, but I do in fact miss Something To Do. Yesterday I was playing Moonlighter, which is a game where you kill monsters in a dungeon at night and then sell the items during the day, so you can buy better items to do it all over again. Sound familiar? I was racking up some nice coin in the game and then… just stopped. Nobody cares, least of all me. I still had three dungeons to go before the end of the game, but I already saw myself at the end of it, with nothing to show for it but this shoehorned paragraph in a post about a totally different game.

Of course, that’s the other Classic secret sauce right there: timeliness. Leveling in Classic is Something To Do that is also exciting, as though it were a new MMO launch. I have pointed this out before, but Dark Age of Camelot is still a thing you can play in 2019. Same with Ultima Online. My blog roll isn’t filled with posts about those games though, because Classic is fresh and shiny and a game many millions of people have played. Just look at all the MMO posts from people who had otherwise stopped playing MMOs until literally last week. Amazing how that works.

I don’t think many of them will be able to Go Home Again, but if they are as starved as I am for Something To Do, maybe they will set up a tent in the empty lot. At least for a few weeks.

Graveyard Keeper

In my still-limited free time, I have been playing Graveyard Keeper.

Even before I purchased the game – or got it through a bundle, I forget – Graveyard Keeper had been unfavorably compared to Stardew Valley. Specifically, how the game devolves into an inordinate grind. Having played the game now for about 25 hours, I have to agree. But it is not the grind that is the problem, but the overall disjointed experience.

As you might imagine from the name, the primary task is the maintenance of the graveyard and nearby chapel. Bodies will be delivered periodically, and interring them can not only improve the overall quality of the graveyard, but gives you a Burial Certificate which you can trade for coins. As things progress, you get the ability to perform autopsies to improve the “quality” of the bodies before burial – primarily by removing “sinful” organs – such that higher quality headstones and such can unlock the full potential of a buried corpse.

So, the gameplay loop starts relatively tight. You chop trees and mine stones/ore to build headstones and such to improve the graveyard. Improving the graveyard eventually allows you lead sermons that generate Faith resources, which allow you to research further technology.

Things fall apart in the mid to late game. The ultimate goal of the game is to collect six items from certain NPCs in town and spend 12g on a last item. 12g is 1200 silver and you get 1.5 silver for each buried/burned body. Thus, you need alternative means of making money. Which is fine, because the quests necessary to get the special items are long and involved and require you to do all sorts of tech-tree development, building dozens of workstations, and basically creating a little empire. However… you can’t specialize. The bartender will purchase the wine you make, for example, but each bottle sold will reduce the price of the next bottle, and prices only recover slowly over time. Which means you need to do all the things all the time, when there will never be enough of it to matter.

To me, that is not even the worst part. The worst part is that your time horizon is ever only seven in-game days. In Stardew Valley, you had seasons and yearly events to plan towards. Sometimes that was a massive pain and source of min-maxing, given that you could spend a lot of time on crops only to have them all die a day before harvesting because the calendar changed. But it also gave you a focus. Hell, you could focus on just a few things, e.g. fishing vs animals vs growing crops, depending on your mood. Graveyard Keeper requires a generalized approach of running around all day every day, never really getting a sense that you’re making progress on any particular thing.

I even have some zombies now to assist in automating resource collection, and I still never have time to do all the things I need to do to feel satisfied on my progress. At one point, I just abandoned the whole corpse part of the game for several in-game weeks because I couldn’t be bothered. I was trying to unlock the second-tier Alchemy Bench so that I could actually start using the Embalming techniques I had unlocked 10 hours beforehand, but the convoluted tech tree and components meant I couldn’t do much of anything. Even when there are interesting choices to make, such as removing more organs than necessary to turn them into alchemical ingredients at the cost of corpse quality, all it becomes is just another chore to do on the path to something else.

It is difficult to discern why I still like playing this game. Well, perhaps not too difficult: it’s a game that encourages planning and thinking even when not actively playing. Same with Fallout 76, really, in that even at work I am strategizing on what I plan to do in-game when I get home. But this chronic tension and sense of never making particular headway is also exhausting, and the last thing I need more of in my life.

Treading with Purpose

I continue to “play” Fallout 76 (F76). It’s really more akin to treading, but it suffices.

Caps are the universal currency in F76, and there is a daily vendor cap for… Caps. Basically, since nearly everything that isn’t nailed down can be sold, Bethesda decided there should be some limiter involved so someone doesn’t grind or glitch their way to the hard, player cap of 25,000c. It used to be each faction vendor had a 200c limit, but that was changed to be a universal 1400c, resetting daily.

Actually having 1400c worth of shit to sell isn’t impossible, but it requires some grinding slash borderline exploitative practices. One of the easier methods is finding the plans for the Marine Tactical Helmet and then crafting a bunch of those. I just so happened to locate the plans the first time I looked for them, and now can create a helmet for 1 glass, 1 plastic, and 3 rubber, then sell it to a vendor for 28c apiece. Getting 150 Rubber each day is not technically a struggle, but it has been. One of the best sources of Rubber is a school building that spawns a bunch of Kickballs in the gym. Alternatively, there is also a river shop that has a bunch of life preservers that can also be scrapped for Rubber and Plastic.

Unfortunately, as these are the best places for collecting vast amounts of these resources, and the Marine Tactical Helmet is the most straight-forward way of getting Caps, they are often swept clean before I ever show up. One can “server hop” by exiting to the main menu, but that’s also what everyone else does when they find those places empty too.

There is technically an easier helmet to craft and sell – the Civil War Hat – but the plans for those are a random spawn on a corpse that is itself a random spawn.

The end result is that I spent a not-insignificant amount of time in loading screens as I play F76. Checking the school gym, fast traveling to the Overseer’s Camp (near one confirmed random spawn location for the Civil War Hat), fast traveling to the river shop, then server hopping. To break the monotony, I’ll also hit up player bases along the way and check out their wares. Then repeat.

“But… why?”

Part of it is fear of missing out, specifically regarding the 1400c from vendors. With an angry baby at home, I do not always have the opportunity to play F76 or any game each day. So when I do find 30 minutes or less, I definitely want to drain those vendors before doing anything else. Considering that players can and are selling 3-star Legendary items in their Camps, gaining these Caps is basically the equivalent of farming Legendaries without actually having to do so directly. There is a question about why I care about better gear when I’m not actually “playing the game,” but that conundrum exists in any MMO anyway. “Defeat the boss for gear that makes it easier to defeat the boss.”

The other part is that playing F76 this way is still better than playing any other game at the moment. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is right out if I can barely finish one fight and one dialog box before having to put the game down. Oxygen Not Included could be an option, but there is a big content update that was scheduled for this month, but got moved to July. The latest Humble Bundle includes Streets of Rogue and Graveyard Keeper and a few other games that I was interested in, but I just sat and looked at the purchase button before closing the window. When could I even play these games? Can all them be paused/saved at any time?

Fallout 76 is perhaps worst out of those options given there is no pausing or saving at all. But in terms of “value” for time spent, it definitely is at the top of my list, still. Plus, you know, I still like the game. So I will keep treading, and do some swimming when I can.

GW2 Gameplay Thus Far

I technically have four max-level characters in Guild Wars 2. For a while now, I have played all of them regularly, insofar as I use them to farm Winterberries. The gathering itself is simply pressing a button, but each node is frequently guarded by 3-4 mobs, one of which is usually a Veteran, e.g. equivalent to a WoW elite.

While it is not really a high bar, I do appreciate how differently each of the classes play when encountering the same content. Of course, some are (much) better than others. Sometimes even the weapons the class equips is enough to radically alter the gameplay.

Necromancer

I consider the Necro to be my “main” in GW2, and so I have been spending most of my time playing this class. It was tough choosing which Elite spec to funnel my expansion Hero Points into, but I settled with Scourge. While that decision was based on what research I could find regarding DPS and raid-worthiness, I feel like perhaps my normal gameplay style would’ve been better suited to Reaper.

The big change with Scourge over default Necro is that the Shroud (F1) ability is replaced with Manifest Sand Shade. This feels more powerful – and by all rights is – but it also introduces some clunky, fiddliness. Shroud always felt awkward for me to use, because it was basically an Oh Shit button that sometimes made sense to use as a DPS cooldown. The Sand Shades of the Scourge are more obviously DPS cooldowns, but it requires you to basically pick an area to create a stationary damage field. This clearly works in more known locations like raid encounters, but gets really annoying really quickly as you roam around in the the world.

A running theme throughout my experience with GW2 is that I hate the F1-F5 abilities. In fact, I hate all Stance Dancing in every MMO I have ever played. I ended up remapping the F1-F5 keys to something easier to press, but the Scourge represents a step backwards to me, as it took one button (F1) and turned it into five buttons, three of which you need to press regularly. Meanwhile, Reaper appears to be something more like I was looking for: turning F1 into a straight DPS cooldown, plus increasing survivability from a bunch of disposable pets.

Mesmer

The Mesmer is a class I used one of my level-80 boosts on, primarily because everyone talked about how boring it was to level. That boost automatically decks your character out in passable Exotic gear, so I felt relatively comfortable using her to farm Winterberries. What I ended up discovering was a playstyle that really suits me… providing I can figure out how to deal more damage.

The Mesmer is all about creating Clones and Phantasms, both of which can distract foes and deal damage themselves. In short, they have all of the positives of pets, with none of the downsides, considering they exist for only 10-20 seconds at a time during combat. It also amuses me to no end when I automatically create a Clone when dodge-rolling, as the mobs chasing me break the pursuit to attack something that disappears moments later anyway.

The problem is that while I can create a lot of distractions, it takes a lot longer to actually kill anything. Which might explain the whole “it’s boring to level a Mesmer” trope. I do not have either of the Elite specs unlocked, so perhaps that could improve things. Right now I am using Sword/Pistol and Greatsword, so that could be another avenue to explore.

Thief

I enjoy the Thief, but it is squishy as hell. The straight-forward F1 ability, spammable attacks, the Stealth… there is a lot here to like. From everything I have been reading though, the Elite specs are where it is at in terms of improving everything. I can kill things decently as it is, but I always seem to be hovering around 25% HP by the end of the fight.

Perhaps I need to move away from Dagger/Dagger…

Elementalist

Let’s see… squishy, no burst damage, 20+ skills to keep track of across F1-F4, and stance dancing. Yeah, Elementalist is my least favorite class by far. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even bother using it to farm Winterberries. There just isn’t anything fun about the way it plays.

Others

My other two characters are an Engineer and a Ranger. The Engineer in particular is one that I have always enjoyed – it was my second character created, in fact – but I unfortunately did not spend one of my two level boosts on her. Which might have been a mistake, given how the Thief is turning out. That said, I am accumulating those +1 level books at a decent clip based on my dabbling in WvW, so who knows when she will join the others at the cap.

The Ranger is another class I enjoyed to an extent, but not enough to play consistently. I like pet classes, but I don’t like fiddling with pets; I prefer cannon fodder to a companion in my MMO. That might sound cruel, but in my experience, what actually happens is I find a pet that I enjoy having around, but the optimal pet to use is something else entirely, so I am constantly forced to choose between form or function. Plus, there are usually dozens and dozens of pets to choose from in the first place, so actually picking one is difficult. Give me a generic, useful demon pet any day.

And… that’s it. Can’t really play a Warrior or Revenant until there is a sale on Character Slots.

The Transitive Property (of Grinding)

Extremely recently, all my desire to play Warframe evaporated.

While there is (a lot of) grinding involved, I mentioned several times in the Warframe post that the game itself is very fun to play. And it is. Leaping from wall to wall as a space ninja terminator is an experience not commonly found in gaming today. But here I sit, looking at the icon, and feeling… nothing. At all.

While I was thinking about what might have changed, I realized that I had, moments before, been playing GW2 and grinding Winterberries. Each character on an account can collect around 50 of them a day, and you need 200-500 of them to purchase a piece of Ascended gear. I don’t need Ascended gear for anything in particular, but it’s character progression, and it’s something relatively mindless to do when I don’t feel like doing anything else in particular.

…oh, yeah. Sort of like what I was going in Warframe.

I had been playing both Warframe and GW2 in my gaming sessions up to this point without issue. The change was alluded to in this post, where I mentioned thinking about grinding LS3 maps for the Ascended trinkets. Before that, I grinded some Warframe, then completed some Story missions in GW2. Now that I’m grinding in GW2, I didn’t “need” to play Warframe anymore.

This also explains why my travels in No Man’s Sky met a similarly abrupt end. Well, the NMS gameplay at the point I stopped was more “leave the game running and check back in 30 minutes to harvest nodes” than grinding per se. But if I were looking to replicate the feeling of a slow accumulation of resources, I could do so as a space ninja terminator. So I did. And then I transferred that sensation to the other half of the MMO I was currently playing, closing the loop.

I don’t imagine that “grinding is grinding” is an especially grand epiphany to anyone reading this. Indeed, chances are you are intimately aware of this relationship if you find grinding to be tiresome and hate it in your games. But in all these years, I never quite realized how… transitive the property is. Like, for a moment, I had considered installing Black Desert Online again to give it another shot, but then realized that its entire economy relies on AFK accumulation of resources. Which is a feeling easily replicated in No Man’s Sky, which has a much more coherent narrative (which isn’t saying much). Which is replaceable with Warframe. Which is currently replaceable with GW2.

In a sense, this is a good situation for me. I am getting all my gaming “needs” met in a singular title. This is a terrible situation for other games, however, because I am able to get all my gaming needs met in a singular title. Why would I play something else? This helps explain why zombie MMOs exist, and how it can be difficult to dislodge a market leader once they achieve a critical mass (beyond the fact that a large audience becomes a draw all by itself).

That said, it’s a bit precarious for ArenaNet in my personal situation, because while I am satisfied at the moment, any upset would send me smoothly into the arms of the next title with some sort of grinding elements. And a not-insignificant part of me feels like bouncing from game to game is a more ideal scenario in the first place, as it exposes me to more novel experiences in the non-grinding portions. For now though, GW2 is satisfying enough. Emphasis on “for now.”

Space Ninja Janitor

Warframe was going so great. All the way up until I wall-ran into the payslope and slid back down on my space ninja ass.

The problem I currently have is that all of the blueprints I have available require materials I do not have enough of. In my specific case, it’s Plastids. While mobs do drop some resources, your primary source of most everything are breaking containers and opening lockers. This is essentially the equivalent of breaking clay pots in Diablo. But hey, it’s a looter shooter, right? No big deal.

Let me tell you, there is nothing more disillusioning than a space ninja terminator walking around at normal speed breaking open containers and opening lockers.

Warframe is about leaping through the air and slamming into the ground, knocking your foes aside. Warframe is about drawing an energy sword from the void and instantly slicing five enemies in half. Warframe is about dodging attacks and taking down tough bosses and then escaping as an infinite amount of enemies try to block your path.

I was not expecting Warframe to be a JRPG in which you perform the equivalent of pressing X on everything to discover hidden Elixirs.

Alas, this is a F2P game with cash money solutions to the problems it arbitrarily introduces for that express purpose. I can buy 300 Plastids from “the Market” for 30 Platinum, and $20 will get me 370 Platinum. So… $1.67ish? Warframe will periodically give you 50% and even 75% off Platinum purchases for 48 hours coupons, so technically the price can be a bit lower than that. At a certain point, it absolutely makes more sense to pay to skip the parts of the game which require you to not play as a space ninja terminator. Both money and time are fungible, after all.

…then I remember that these designers do this shit on purpose.

For now, I will ignore my empty crafting queue and continue progressing through the story missions as best I can. There is technically a “resource extractor” that I can purchase with in-game currency that will presumably collect things like Plastids while I am away. It also apparently takes damage and could blow up if I do not retrieve it fast enough, e.g. leave it running for longer than a day. Because of course it does.

If I end up burning out from having to use the same weapons and classes I am stuck with, well, that’s the designers’ fault. I’m 25 hours into the game and am still hunting down the final blueprint that will allow me to “craft” a new class. Once that occurs, I’ll reevaluate and see where things stand. Considering that I only have two Warframe class slots by default, and have to pay Platinum to open more, things might get a bit cramped.

Unfair Impressions: Darkfall, Final (?)

I was not sure there was going to be a Day 3 to this series. Hell, Day 2 came as a complete surprise for that matter. My default expression in life is “Impress me,” to which Darkfall just laughs. “Okay, show me what you have to offer.” “Show yourself.” There is an inherent nobility to that uncompromising sentiment, a sense that all the other games out there selling themselves are, indeed, engaging in prostitution. Darkfall instead has the purity of your back yard, with the creek your mother told you to stay away from. No one gave you a quest to turn over rocks to see what lied beneath them; you just did it because you were there, and hey look at that weird bug, I wonder what happens when I… eww.

Sorry, sometimes I get carried away with my own bullshit.

#MMOLogic

#MMOLogic

In truth, I continued playing Darkfall because I was interested in how onerous it would be to make arrows for my Skirmisher. The spiders never dropped any coin, the vendors were asking for 30+ crafting mats for 1g, and my initial try at crafting wooden planks left me with not enough gold to purchase a pick axe to mine the requisite stone for arrowheads. Considering my character was ostensibly an archer, would the game allow me to run out of arrows?

Of course it would.

I abandoned the spider spawns, and tried the other starter monster spawn location. It too was farmed out; in fact, I don’t even know what mobs spawn there as none lived long enough for me to point at them. From the map, I noticed some ruins off to the west. If there’s ruins, there’s monsters. Sure enough, it was zombie spawn city.

My potential future. Kill me now.

My potential future. Kill me now.

While I sat on the fringes watching characters in clearly superior gear farming through the zombies like butter, it occurred to me that there is a distinction between sandboxes that few ever make. There is the sandbox in which you perform repetitive actions in order to have fun later, and there are the ones in which you have fun doing fun things that leads to more fun later. Darkfall, to me, is the former; Minecraft would be the latter. And the funny thing is that the former doesn’t sound all that different from what I was required to do in WoW.

The zombies that trickled past the farmers did end up dropping hard currency – around 1-3g every 5-10 mobs. Examining the pleasure I felt when I walked away with 22g at the end of the farming excursion was a sobering experience. There were likely better spots for gold farming, even in the protected newbie zones, but it was a glimpse back into the churning abyss of a grind without end. Work hard today so you can have fun later, as opposed to having fun… having fun.

In any case, I remain pleased that I gave Darkfall the ole college try. Every time I read Syncaine’s latest post about ganking a dude and stealing all his stuff (and his boat), or about how he AFK farmed while writing the post, I can visualize what exactly all those shenanigans looked like. And then realize that game he and others are playing exists primarily in their own minds.

Which isn’t a bad thing, of course. It’s just not my thing.

5.2: From Most Alt-Unfriendly to Best Alt Expansion Ever?

Patch 5.2 should be out today. It is always a bit overwhelming looking at the huge, collated MMO-Champion post, but one thing should not be missed: 5.2 changes Mists from the most alt-unfriendly expansion ever to perhaps the friendliest one yet. Here are some of the changes I had been keeping an eye on:

New ways of gaining Reputation

Daily quests are fine the first time around, but grinding them multiple times is simply cruel. Commendations came out in 5.1, but you still had to do the dailies, albeit half as many. Now, as long as you fully unlock the Farm, you can do two work orders a day for 400 reputation apiece. Additionally, the first heroic dungeon and first Scenario of the day gives you 750 and 325 rep respectively. On top of that, the 5-person rare spawns on the new island have a chance of dropping BoA tokens that can be consumed for 1000 reputation with a particular faction. I am unsure if the 1-2 man rare spawns drop smaller versions of the same token.

While it may be still worth doing the actual dailies to compliment the bonus reputation, the point is we now have a choice again.

Accelerated Catch-Up Gear Acquisition

I am not sure what the official percent increase is, but the drop rate for the 5.0 LFR bosses and Elder Charm rolls will be greatly increased. The prices of Valor items from the vendors have been decreased by 50% and 25% for the 5.0 and 5.1 items, respectively. Season 12 PvP gear is now on the Honor vendor, as usual, but now you can buy the ilevel 476 weapons for Honor. Additionally, the new Conquest weapons will not have a rating requirement. Blacksmiths can make BoE versions of the Burning Crusade Blacksmith weapons, at either 463 blues or 476 epics.

Tangentially, if you have a tanking spec, you might actually be able to farm more Honor by running heroic dungeons than doing random BGs. One of the changes in 5.2 is that you get 100 Justice Points for each heroic boss kill. That means for every 8 bosses you kill, you can turn in 750 of the 800 otherwise useless Justice Points into 500 Honor (or 375 JP –> 250 HP). Even if there is a more efficient way of farming Honor – and assuming you’re not killing more than 4 bosses every 30 minutes – the fact remains that you can gain that Honor while also gaining +725 reputation of your choice plus Valor points.

This is actually starting to feel a lot like Wrath again, when I would tank the daily heroic on 3-4 toons a day.

___________

On a complete different note, I spent nearly four hours yesterday attempting to get the last 24 Motes of Harmony necessary for my Scribe to craft one of the 476 BoA staves. The idea was to craft one of the staves, mail it to my main to upgrade twice, and then bank it for one of my other alts before the upgrade vendor is removed with the patch. I had (obviously) waffled quite a bit over whether this was worth my time, and just decided this weekend that it was. Unfortunately, between all the time spent leveling this weekend (my DK Scribe was level 85) and the mad dash last night, I damn near came away snuffing the small flame of my interest in WoW entirely out.

I ended up with 3.4 Spirits of Harmony, a gain of 8 Motes across levels 87-88.5. For a minute there, I honestly considering spending 4000 Honor at the vendor to get 10 Motes (400 H for a Mote is goddamn robbery), but I was hating life pretty hard at the end and I would still be short a few besides. I washed the taste out of my mouth with a little PlanetSide 2, but I am definitely not going to be doing something as crazy again. Those days are long over for me.