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Finding the Zone

I continue to play Guild Wars 2 every day.

I also continue to make almost zero progress on the story.

That may not be technically accurate. I have completed Living Story Season 3, Part 3, e.g. the Winterberry Farm. I used the remaining gems I had left over from cashing out my gold years ago to purchase the missing LS3 parts (1, 2, 5), and then worked my way through the LS3:P1 to start generating that map’s currency. While I had read that the Winterberry farm is by far the best place to, well, farm things, I had not quite realized how bad the others could be. With Winterberries, all my alts can farm ~50 a day. All the other maps can only be farmed once per account, and I get maybe ~13 currency if I manage to find a zerg. Considering the reward is Ascended-level items (the best possible now and possibly forever), I probably should not complain that it could take me 10-20 days of constant farming to get those rewards. But comparably, it’s much worse.

Farming though, is just a symptom of my larger problem finding a class and spec I enjoy. A problem that I might have actually solved. See, I had chosen the Necromancer as my GW2 main, and actually geared her up pretty far. I still farm Winterberries for my other alts, such as the Thief and Engineer, but the more I play them, the more I realize that the Necromancer is better in every conceivable way.

There are three main areas one needs to concern themselves with in GW2’s combat. The first is survivability. Everyone has a self-heal ability, but it typically has a ~20 second cooldown and a lot of things can happen in those ~20 seconds. Plus, there is nothing worse than sitting at less than half health, desperately waiting to heal again, and having to choose between continuing your attack as normal or dancing around the edge of combat. To this end, it’s extremely nice to have some kind of ability or talent that allows you to gain health by attacking or some other means.

The second area is, well, AoE capabilities. As mentioned before, I very much enjoy the concept and execution of Pistol/Pistol Thief vis-a-vis Unload spam, but that is a decidedly single-target attack. Having to focus on just one mob at a time when there are 4-6 guarding your Winterberry node simply isn’t fun. Plus, it impacts your survivability insofar as unanswered cannon fodder can promote themselves to deadly threats if you ignore them.

The final area is ranged options. I honestly don’t understand how Warriors and Guardians and Thieves do it, but every time I have moved into melee range of a Champion/Legendary mob as part of a zerg, I have ended up eating dirt, hoping someone finds the time to rez me before the end of the event. Beyond the zerg though, and especially in the Winterberry farm area, there are Griffon enemies that take to the skies and rain down an extremely annoying (and surprisingly deadly) AoE in melee range beneath them. My Daredevil Thief deals well with grounded foes, but having to Dodge away and wait for them to land ain’t something anyone got time for.

But then there’s my Scourge. My beautiful, capable Scourge.

Scourge is the Elite-spec for the Necromancer and by far the most powerful character I have played. It has two healing abilities that also create a damage-absorbing bubble, on top of a 5-second debuff cleanse, on top of a debuff-transference skill (from off-hand Dagger), on top of passively gaining 10% of the damage I deal as HP, on top of having a Flesh Golem tank. The AoE capabilities of the Scourge as pretty much the benchmark of all other classes. And, as you might imagine, all of this is at range. Instant-hit range too, I might add.

It all honestly reminds me of leveling Warlocks in WoW. You know, running around DoT’ing half a dozen mobs at a time, and just standing there letting them beat on you as you they die one-by-one, healing you all the while. You can’t quite be that cavalier in GW2 given the level scaling and such, but it gets closer the better gear I get.

So, yeah. I’m having fun in GW2. Just not in a way that progresses the story as of yet.

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Estimating GW2’s Population

About two weeks ago, I was browsing the Guild Wars 2 subreddit and came across this post that estimates GW2’s “active population” to be 3.3 million players. That number seems so impossibly absurd, that I almost did a spit-take. Even if you define “active population” as someone who logs into the game once a month, it still seems way too many.

The methodology behind the estimation involves the following very difficult math:

From /r/GuildWars2 subscriber counts: 165,105 * 20 = 3,302,100
From GW2Efficiency account numbers: 169,052 * 20 = 3,381,040

No, really, that’s it. The estimate hinges on a game developer(s?) on Tumblr, who says 80% of a given playerbase doesn’t ever engage with the community outside the game, 20% of them do, and 5% provide content/posts. And Reddit subs are the 5%. Ergo, just multiply whatever by 20 and you’re good to go, QED.

Incidentally, the /r/wow subreddit has 511,692 subs, which means WoW’s current population is 10,233,840. And /r/FFXIV’s turns into 3.3 million active subscriptions. So there you g…

in fact, you don’t need any kind of rule to estimate subscription game player numbers: you just count the number of subscribers.

this rule, in fact, is only useful for estimating the population of games like GW2.

Of course. That’s not what the Tumblr dude stated, but whatever.

Well, applying the math to /r/PUBG means there are 2.2 million people playing per month… of which a little over half are playing right now, simultaneously, as I type this at 2pm. The reality is PUBG hit a peak concurrent userbase of 3.2 million last month – and the weekly playercount is 20 million (!) – which requires some rather vigorous hand-waving to salvage the Pareto Principle-esque methodology.

In the interests of science though, let’s explore some alternative facts.

One way is revenue. Luckily for us, NCSoft reports quarterly numbers…. quarterly. And they happen to break out how much revenue GW2 specifically brings to the financial table. Here it is, going back to GW2’s release:

GW2_Chart

The number there is revenue in millions of Korean Won. Google tells me the exchange rate is about 1072 Won / $1 USD, so last quarter GW2 had $18.8m in revenue, $12.6m in the previous quarter, and so on. You will notice that the spike there at 4Q15 and 1Q16 corresponds with the Heart of Thorns expansion release (October 2015) and the transition to F2P. The present “bump” in 3Q17 is similarly explained by the fact that Path of Fire was released in September 2017, which sort of straddles the quarters a bit. The question of the hour will be the 4Q17 results, which will likely come out in the next week or two.

Incidentally, Wilhem has posted SuperData’s latest report, which includes the 2017 revenue figure for GW2: $87 million. I’m not sure if SuperData has some sort of insider access to revenue figures before they go public, but… we can work with that. The first three quarters of 2017 add up to 47,928m Won, or just shy of $44m. If SuperData’s number is accurate, that means 4Q17 brought in $43m. That pretty much lines up with the prior expansion: the two quarters HoT released in added up to $62m, and PoF’s two expansion quarters will hit just shy of $62m as well ($43m + $18.8m).

Here is another point of information:

“Guild Wars 2 has proven pretty resilient historically, with about 1.5 million monthly actives,” SuperData Research CEO Joost van Dreunen says. “Since it switched to free-to-play in late August, Guild Wars 2’s monthly active user base has doubled to 3.1 million (October 2015).

Yes, it’s SuperData again, whatever. What is tricky and/or pure conjecture at this point is how to incorporate the above quote into the revenue graph. Can we correlate 4Q15’s revenue and purported monthly active playerbase? Because six months after the expansion, one or both dropped by 46%. Even without the expansion though, revenue stayed in a 19k-22k range for six quarters pre-HoT and that was with “1.5 million actives.” In the five quarters since HoT, revenue hasn’t broke 16k. Is that because the playerbase is declining? Or is the playerbase steady, but filled with more non-paying players now?

Here’s my gut check: GW2 probably has ~1.5 million monthly “players,” and many times less people who actually log on when there isn’t a holiday event/Living Story taking place.

Look, the numbers and the quotes can be massaged to basically say whatever you want. What is considerably more objective is what ArenaNet does. And what they did extremely recently is the following:

Even though world linking has brought world populations closer together, it is impossible for us to get populations and coverage any closer because the current worlds do not give us the granularity needed to do that. For example in NA, Blackgate has decent coverage across all time zones whereas worlds like Crystal Desert have higher peak times and lower off-hour times. Because world linking isn’t granular enough, we don’t have the ideal link that allows Crystal Desert to have coverage that is similar to Blackgate.

This is why, in the new World Restructuring system, we will remove all players from their current worlds, and make new worlds every eight weeks. This will create more granular pieces, which allow us to avoid situations like the Crystal Desert example.

What the above does is make “World vs World” the biggest misnomer since… well, “Guild Wars.” Originally, WvW was Server vs Server. Then there were megaservers in 2014, which are server merges with lipstick on. Then there was world-linking, which was Cluster vs Cluster. With the above change, it’s now pretty much Warm Body vs Warm Body.

Combined the number of times I have been bribed to transfer to more populated map channels in general PvE, makes me extremely skeptical there are millions of people kicking about.

Ultimately though, I think Guild Wars 2 is actually uniquely well-positioned to survive regardless of whether it consists of a million actives or three million tourists. For one, there is no monthly fee, so people cycle in and out all the time. More importantly though, the game is structured to funnel people into zergs no matter the map. This gives the “illusion” of a populated, lively community even if everyone is transient strangers you literally cannot even Inspect. But you know, that’s worlds better than my experience in other MMOs with higher monthly populations that were sequestered away in private realms.

 

[GW2] Noob Tube

Way back in the day, I played Battlefield 2 pretty religiously. During one update or another, they introduced a 1-shot grenade launcher as a new weapon. Considering the grenade launcher didn’t require precise aiming (auto-detonated when it struck an enemy) and it usually instantly killed your opponent, it got a bad reputation: the Noob Tube. If anyone saw you killing people with it, you would be subjected to verbal abuse for the rest of the round.

Of course, the problem is that the Noob Tube was rather effective. The Time-To-Kill in BF2 was short, such that most people had only a moment or two to outshoot an opponent that appeared around the corner. As long as the titular Noob had the Tube ready, they had a fighting chance against even the best veteran – just fire in their general direction and hope for the best. Plus, the firing of the weapon and the resulting explosion also felt rather satisfying, even if you did not kill your opponent.

In Guild Wars 2, I have turned the corner with my interest in the Thief, by virtue of equipping the equivalent of the Noob Tube: Pistol/Pistol (P/P) Unload spam.

GW2_Unload

Extremely satisfying.

P/P is not an approved meta build for Thief DPS. If you bring it into a PvP match, you will be laughed at/accused of throwing the game, depending on which team the abuse is coming from. It is so unsupported by serious players, I don’t think anyone has even bothered explaining whether a Power or Condition Damage build is better. I’m guessing Power because big numbers, but GW2 is sufficiently convoluted that it being Condi wouldn’t surprise me.

But, whatever. Spamming Unload just feels so damn good.

Given my displeasure over stance dancing, this shouldn’t come as a big surprise. But what surprised even me is, again, how fun it is. My Thief is running around with dual pistols and literally unloading both of them into trolls and elementals like some goddamn John Woo fantasy movie. The sound of the skill is satisfying and has weight behind it. If spammed with sufficient speed, the hits are totaled together into a number that quickly breaks five digits. Although the skill is channeled, I am completely mobile throughout on top of it having a decent range. Each attack buffs you such that subsequent attacks hit harder, and the talents I have chosen multiplies that damage further by debuffing the enemy as their HP decreases. There is cadence and staccato and… I really want to press the button again right now.

Of course, it’s likely that Unload is a newbie trap. I will not be invited to Raids or PvP zergs by spamming Unload. Relying on a single ability will not hone my muscle memory in an otherwise stance-dance meta. It is EZ mode, the equivalent of a WoW Hunter spamming Explosive Shot, back when that was a thing. I should feel the shame as one would taking up BF2’s Noob Tube.

…but I don’t. Pistol/Pistol is fun, effective for the content I currently engage in (dailies), and that’s more than enough for me. You can pry this Noob Tube from my cold, dead hands if you dare. UNLOAD SPAM FOR LIFE.

Or until I get bored, or find something else better. Whenever.

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.”

Mount Up

As I settle into the routine of daily play, I just wanted to take a moment and express how amazing the mounts are in GW2.

GW2_Mounts

Fantastic animations too.

To be clear, I have only unlocked the Raptor mount at this time. My understanding is that the other mounts behave quite differently, and all have different abilities that they bring to the table. For example, the raptor can leap long distances, whereas some other mounts float above water, others leap vertically up, and there is even one that can fly/swoop around.

Looking just at the Raptor though, GW2 demonstrates a refreshing sense of design that works especially well in its gamespace. The Raptor has momentum and a turning radius. At first, this makes it seem unwieldy and difficult to maneuver. But then I started to ponder why it “feels” like anything at all. The answer is because in other MMOs like WoW, mounts are just reskinned players models. If you have ever flown around in WoW when the mount model fails to render, you can see your character in a swimming animation in open air. That is basically what mounts, flying or otherwise, are in WoW. They aren’t anything.

GW2_MountLeap

Sometimes ill-advised, but leaping is always fun.

The Raptor’s primary movement ability is the Leap, and here again the subtle genius of GW2’s design shines through. The length of the leap is a function of how long you press Spacebar, and the amount of times you can leap is tied to the “Endurance Bar” aka the Dodge bar. In text form, those are merely details. Running along the strikingly three-dimension space GW2 constructs, the mere act of riding the Raptor is great fun. Intermittent leaps, large leaps, traversing canyons simply to see if you can… all of them provide stimulation in a way simply going from Point A to Point B never do. Presumably there are entire maps in Path of Fire constructed to take advantage of these movement capabilities, but the default maps are just as fun.

And did I mention that mounting up is instant? For those that experienced it, the Halloween holiday in WoW (and Druids, I suppose) are the closest we have gotten to instant mounting, and the devs seem ever resistant to changing that, as if the 1.5 second delay is some integral part of the questing experience. Well… given the radical difference in feel between zero and any other number, perhaps they are right. But instant is fun. Now that the last vestiges of non-consensual PvP are gone, perhaps the WoW devs can take a page out of GW2’s playbook on the matter.

In any case, the mount system in GW2 is the best I have played in any MMO. I think Aion might have came close, if you consider wings to be “mounts,” but this definitely takes the cake.

Heart of Thorns: Impressions

Having (painfully) unlocked mounts in my prior session, I felt ready to unlock Gliders in this one. Once again, I limbered up the Elementalist, and got ready to trek into the jungle.

…if only I could figure out how.

I think one of the most enduring legacies of WoW that no one gives much thought about are the seamless transitions between zones. Guild Wars 2 has big and beautiful zones… inside very defined silos. Mountains and invisible walls grid everything so that the only way to get to A is through the single zone gate B. Assuming you can find said gate.

So, I teleported to the zone next to the expansion content, mounted up, and road my way down the perimeter. Then, 15 minutes later, I looked up where the fuck the portal was supposed to be. Ah, that little brown smudge on the map.

After a cool cinematic, I started working on the directed quests. They referenced a bunch of stuff I never did – apparently I killed some dragons, like you do – but it was easy enough to follow. After a bit of follow-up, I was dumped into the jungle and told to unlock Gliders to progress further.

It’s been several days since that moment, but I still have a look of incredulity all but permanently affixed to my face. Nothing was explained how to unlock Gliders, just that I needed to. No map markers, no quests, no “Hearts,” no dialog, nothing. Hell, even doing searches in Google and Reddit turned up next to nothing. What, exactly, were the devs wanting me to do?

In case you ever follow my footsteps, here it is: to unlock Gliders in Guild Wars 2: Hearth of Thorns, you must mindlessly grind XP in the expansion zone. That’s it. There are no Hearts in the beginning section, so you must rely on Events you don’t know about or Champion trains filled with mobs that will one-shot you without warning. There is a Day/Night cycle in the jungle that ensures a steady stream of Event-ish things to do, but again, you have to complete enough of them to fill your entire XP (i.e. Mastery) bar before you can unlock Gliders and get on with the rest of the story.

It’s tough to imagine a dumber way to design an expansion, but there is still time to surprise me.

Anyway, my dilemma remains. For sure, I do not want to continue doing anything on my Elementalist. Perhaps either of the two Elite Specializations might make the class more fun to play, but that requires gaining 100% of all your standard abilities, e.g. grinding out additional Hero Points. I’m pretty sure that also means hitting up all the Hero Point challenges in all of the default maps, but who knows. That means I’m either going to continue progressing through the vanilla GW2 story on my Necro, or boosting the Necro to 80 and doing the same thing. Not sure if there would be an advantage to the boosting immediately – I’ll have to research if the XP at the cap turns into Mastery XP or whatever.

I dunno. I’m going to have to look at Thief and Mesmer again, as those would be good candidates for my free level 80 boosts. There is also the Revenant, of which I have only looked at in the PvP lobby. Having permanent Swiftness seems cool, but is less relevant now that I have a mount. The Necro is good, and mostly feels good to play, but I’m concerned about the fact that it seems to hold no relevance in group play basically anywhere. Chronomancers, Druids, and Warriors or bust, is what I’m reading.

I suppose it’s no different than any other MMO: the struggle is always finding that class that is both useful and fun to play. And how do you do that, if not playing for hours and hours and potentially burning yourself out with an unfun or non-useful class in the meantime?

GW2: Re-Reloaded

Oh man, Guild Wars 2. If ever I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with an MMO, this would be it. My first reloaded post was in January of 2016, and the time before that was back in 2012. It’s now January of 2018, so about as good a time as any to get started again.

Once I purchased Heart of Thorns for $15, I was immediately faced with a dilemma. My dilemma was thus: I had an Elementalist at level 80 and an Necromancer at level ~45. The Elementalist had been my “main” back in 2012, but I became increasingly annoyed with its mechanics and penchant for immediately dying at every available opportunity. At the same time, all my alts were dozens of levels behind, and I had little desire to grind my way through the same zones, so I stuck with a class I didn’t like. Eventually, I said Screw This and leveled the Elementalist the rest of the way to 80 via crafting professions and called it a day.

Now that I was back, it made much more sense to actually play a class I enjoy (for now), e.g. the Necromancer. However, that presents its own challenges. I technically had enough Tomes of Knowledge (+1 free level) to instantly get the Necro close to the cap, and enough gold to get the rest of the way via crafting. But was that what I really wanted to do? Immediately get to the zero-progression endgame? It would seem to make more sense to just level the Necro normally and derive what enjoyment I could from the everyday GW2 experience.

Which is what I did, for a while. I gained about 2-3 three levels from Events and Story quests.

The problem is three-fold. First, at some point ArenaNet changed Daily Quests to all but force you to complete expansion content to complete them. Before, you could slum around starter zones, blow through a few Events, gather some nodes, and then you were done. That may or may not have been before they started giving you straight-up 2 gold for finishing the Daily, I don’t know. But if I wanted to get a free 2g, I needed to have access to the endgame stuff ASAP. Or rely on WvW/PvP stuff, which I wasn’t going to do. So I needed my level 80 available.

The second problem was Gliders. I had the expansion, and unlocking it on one character unlocks it for everyone. Again, you need to be level 80 for that. So… why not just unlock that and be done? Seems reasonable.

The third problem was the kicker though: mounts. Every time I saw someone running around on a mount, it reminded me of how slow my character moves and how many crappy talents/abilities I have to equip in order to slum around at a bonus 33% speed. It got to the point where I no longer wanted to play the Necro at all because, in my mind, the worst case scenario was the expansion not going on sale by the time I hit the endgame, thus ensuring I had a lame experience for months and still bought the “full” price expansion later.

So… I went ahead and bought Path of Fire, and immediately unlocked the Raptor mount.

I say “immediately” but that certainly did not feel the case. I died about half a dozen times on “normal” mobs in the initial story quest, and at least half a dozen more on the “bosses” at the conclusion. If the Veteran Flame Dogs’ health actually reset after each death, it’s entirely possible I would have never completed the scenario. I know that I was a bit rusty on the Elementalist, and I did not have full Exotics in every slot, but I was at level 80 and had level 80 gear everywhere, and knew how to avoid the red circles, and goddamn who were these mobs designed for?

As it turns out, this was just the beginning.

…I mean, yeah. Figuratively too. More later.

Holiday Updates

I got in some quality gaming time in the past few days.

Far Cry 4

As mentioned in previous post, I was having some issues getting into (or really, staying into) Far Cry 4 despite it being better than what else I was playing. I originally attributed this to the breakpoints within the game, but as others deduced in the comments, it might have been from other tertiary concerns as well. After thinking about it, I agree it was not so much the game itself. Part of my “obligation” in playing Far Cry 4 was that it was taking up a lot of hard drive space, and I thus felt like I needed to finish it and make room for something else I had wanted to try.

After the insight, I went back to Far Cry 4 and enjoyed the experience more as I coasted into and past the endgame. I feel like Far Cry 3 is the better narrative experience overall, but Far Cry 4 plays much better and is a much more cohesive as a whole. Being able to get mobility options like the Wingsuit early on really opens the game world up, without being overpowered.

The Talos Principle

In a word: Amazing.

Portal 1/2 are better games overall, but The Talos Principle is the first puzzle game in quite a while to engender a sort of mild existential crisis. And that’s really what puzzle games are for, right?

Inevitably, everyone always seems to point out the most superficial philosophical questions when it comes to games like this – “Can robots be people?” “Are people just robots?” – and then just stop there. The Talos Principle should invite more salient questions though, and did for me. The game’s setting is one in which mankind is slowly dying, and you can read (and listen via audio logs) to how various individuals react to that inevitability. Some fight on to the bitter end, some leave to spend their last days with family, others do a LAN party, and another pair enjoy one final sunset and then commit mutual suicide. Milton, the AI “serpent,” will question your grasp of the meaning of life over the course of the game, and how it can be ascertained, often deconstructing arguments in ways that would lead some people I know IRL into tears.

That is what The Talos Principle should be noted for, not because the player-character is an android. If anything, whether the player’s android avatar is truly conscious in the same way people are is the least interesting question posed.

Anyway, I highly recommend it if you intrigued by philosophy or pathos or puzzles. It gots all three.

Warframe

According to the Search bar, I have apparently never talked about Warframe before. I played it once last year for about two hours, and then dropped it. I was interested in taking a second look primarily because my Amazon Prime account gave me Twitch Prime, which in turn gives free goodies every month, including what I thought was a free “warframe” but ended up being cosmetics. I think.

Warframe is a third-person over-the-shoulder looter shooter. Think “Diablo meets space ninjas” with a generous helping of impenetrable nonsense. It is also about the slickest F2P experience out in gaming right now.

The general idea is that you are a space ninja and need to space-grind ninja-resources across the solar system. Maps are surprisingly well-crafted, although you will be seeing them quite a bit, as each one serves several different gameplay types – sometimes you need to kill X mobs, sometimes you need to do a sort of King of the Hill node capture, etc. As you finish missions and kill bosses and collect loot, you unlock the ability to craft different warframes (aka classes), which come with different movement abilities, attacks, and so on.

I doubt I stick with Warframe for much longer than what I have already played. While it is a lot of visceral fun being able to jump around the map as a space ninja doing cool space ninja things, there doesn’t really ever feel like much of a narrative “point.” When I completed the first story section, for example, the next required me to reactive a Solar Relay to access missions on Venus. The activation though, required a laundry list of different, metagame-related things, like obtaining 20 mods, equipping four of them, etc. While that is a good way to ensure I am playing the game properly, it also meant I had to play several maps for the express purpose of trying to obtain randomly-dropped mods. Each map probably lasts 10 minutes or less, so it’s not a huge ask, but it still didn’t sit well with me.

Guild Wars 2

Even though I had not been playing playing GW2 for quite some time, I kept it installed on my PC and had been logging in once a day in order to accumulate the free goodies ArenaNet gives you. The currency is nice, but the real prize for me were basically the Tomes of Knowledge, which are free levels. The idea was that once I ended up purchasing one or both of the expansions, I’d have the opportunity to actually experience the content on a class of my choosing, rather than having to stick with the Elementalist, which is the only level-80 class I have.

Well, I picked up Heart of Thorns this past weekend for $15. So I’m playing GW2 again.

It’s funny though, the sort of things that go through my mind when playing MMOs like this. For one thing, I really enjoy the Necromancer, and that is the class I wanted to experience more of the game with. Since she was level 45, I could have skipped near the cap with my 34 Tomes. But wait a minute, I could also get an easy 10 levels via leveling up crafting, right? Gotta save those Tomes for when they are more valuable. Probably like never. But, whatever, I have level 400 Cooking now.

As I cycled through my characters just to re-familiarize myself with things, I also noticed that at least three of my characters received a 5-year anniversary present pack. Which, incidentally, meant I got three level-50 boosts. I had already leveled the Necro into level 55 by that point, but it will be good for later alts.

Anyway, I will be playing GW2 some more now. Seeing people running around on mounts really makes me want to pick up Path of Flames, just to make leveling alts easier, but I’m going to hold off for now. Will my GW2 experience be another passing fancy (again)? Will not jumping in with both (expansion) feet cause the game to be another passing fancy? Stay tuned.

Loot Boxes, Supplemental

We already know that Star Wars: Battlefront 2 has loot boxes and that they’re bad, but we can always use more articles about them, right? In the comments of that Kotaku article though, someone questioned the author about what exactly the “moral issue” is when a company is trying to extract money from their consumer base. The author responded with some more general criticisms of capitalism as a whole and the conditions it creates, but when pressed by the commenter again, came back with this:

If you really want the “Heather isn’t fucking around version,” here it is:

Loot boxes are, ignoring the hair splitting of insufferable pedants like yourself, gambling. They are crafted, from probabilities to visual to their contents, to condition individuals and encourage repeated purchase and use. People with addiction problems will be funneled towards a system designed scientifically to exploit them. Kids will open the shiny boxes. They’ll do it with their parents credit cards without understanding the effect. Players frustrated with the grind will throw down money because that’s what the grind is designed for: to fuck you over and take your cash so some executive can take a vacation while the people in the trenches crunch.

If you don’t see what the problem is or if you somehow think this an acceptable state of affairs or what to talk about how it’s some God given providence of the rich to seek further profits at any cost, I don’t know what to tell you because I am so very tired and I just don’t know how to explain to you (or anyone anymore) that you should care about other people.

Yeah, that.

Pretty much the only thing I would add to that is how the rise of “recurrent consumer spending opportunities” has perverted the fundamental design of these games. SWBF2 doesn’t need loot boxes in order achieve some gameplay goal – progression from simply playing the game is more than sufficient to generate fun. The loot boxes exist to make money, and that’s it.

If you don’t care because you’re not going to be playing SWBF2, well… just wait a while. Guild Wars 2 introduced the Mount Adoption License as a method of randomly delivering 30 new Mount skins. Most of the outrage has understandably been directed towards the fact that it’s gambling, especially if you were only interested in a few of the skins (a few of which are for a mount you might not ever get). But here’s the real rub: 30 Mount skins were introduced into the game with zero gameplay elements. These aren’t spoils for defeating a boss, these aren’t the rewards for a long quest-line, these aren’t the goal at the end of a difficult achievement. Nope, they’re just item shop fodder. If each were attached to a task that took an hour to complete, that’s like a month of casual content removed from each individual player.

Do loot boxes make games better? Fundamentally, that’s the question you should be asking yourself every time. A raid boss dropping random gear on a weekly reset creates content by encouraging you to face that raid boss again. A loot box dropping random gear does… what? You do not have to care about other people – although you probably should – to care that loot boxes are fundamentally destroying elegant game design. Instead of developers focusing on tighter gameplay loops or additional content, they care more about monetization opportunities. Which used to be “sell more copies of the game,” but is now “sell random in-game content for cash.”

You know, I never thought we’d see something more abhorrent than on-disc DLC. But here we are.