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Combat Flow

I have been playing a lot of WoW the past week or so. While the original goal was to grind some reputation to unlock Allied Races, I am now focusing my time on getting my stable of alts up to level 110 prior to BfA going Live. And in that time, I am finding it fascinating how great (or horrible!) combat feels for the different classes.

My “main” in Legion has been a druid Moonkin. The thought process was A) I wanted to DPS, and B) my historical knowledge of Feral was that you basically had to play Dance Dance Revolution perfectly to only achieve adequate DPS. Thus, for pretty much the entire expansion, I stayed Moonkin. That is in spite of Moonkins feeling terrible to play.

I say Moonkins feel terrible, but it’s difficult to enunciate why. There just doesn’t seem to be any particular flow. Let’s say that I’m facing a fresh target 30 yards away. I can start with a New Moon rotation, which is a 3-spell sequence of escalating damage and cast times. The target is likely to die by the time they get hit with the third spell, and I’ll have enough Astral Power to fire off at least two Starsurges (instant-cast, hard-hitting spells) to finish off anything that survives. Then the clunkiness comes in. While the New Moon rotation is on cooldown, I pretty much just spam Solar Wrath until I can Starsurge again, or I toss on two dots and hope for instant-cast Lunar Strike procs from being hit.

One of the alts I’m leveling is a Demo warlock, so let’s compare there. Starting at 30 yards, I cast Summon: Dreadstalkers, followed by two Shadowbolts, then Hand of Gul’dan. At this point, the mob is either dead or about to be dead from the force of like 6-8 demons auto-attacking. When the Dreadstalkers go away, I get two Demonbolt instant-cast procs, which are mini-Pyroblasts that also give me Soul Shards to recast Summon: Dreadstalker and/or Hand of Gul’dan.

There is a flow with the Demo warlock that practically turns into a roiling boil if you immediately engage another enemy. Compare that to the Moonkin, with it’s anemic refractory period inbetween possibly blowing one mob up.

Another flow impediment is just a clunky rotation. Exhibit A: the Unholy Death Knight. Festering Strike costs 2 runes, and gives your target some Festering Wounds. If you hit them twice, they’ll have four debuffs, and you can spend your two remaining runes on Scourge Strike to pop two of them. And now… you wait for runes to regenerate, or possibly throw out a Death Coil. Alternatively, you can only Festering Strike once, and then Scourge Strike four times, the latter two of which won’t deal extra damage. If there’s a 2nd mob, you just sort of face-tank them for a while. I mean, you have AoE options like Outbreak or Death & Decay/Defile, but those consume runes too, and you’re left with awkward gaps in the rotation regardless.

Retribution paladin used to be the king of awkward rotation gaps, but I have been enjoying it since the 8.0 patch thus far. Judgment, Blade of Justice, Templar’s Verdict is sometimes enough to kill a mob outright. If not, Crusader’s Strike and another Blade of Justice (via Art of War proc) will get you another 3 Holy Power for another Templar’s Verdict. If the mob still ain’t dead, or if something else wandered into range, Wake of Ashes hits hard and instantly gives you 5 Holy Power for some additional Templar’s Verdicts. Point being, there may be some gaps later on, but they only show up after prolonged combat.

Sometimes the rotation is fine, but there is something else that is ever-so-slightly grating about the class, which interrupts the flow. That has been my experience with Havoc (aka DPS) demon hunters. Nominally, the spec feels fine. In fact, it is extremely satisfying when you gather up mobs and watch them literally melt from Eye Beam every 30 seconds. The problem is… the sounds. The auto-attack and Demon’s Bite and Chaos Strike abilities make a discordant “ching-ching” sound, like metal on metal. It’s annoying as shit, and just about enough to get me to not want to play the class entirely, despite loving everything else about the kit. I might seriously investigate if there’s an addon or something that can change the sounds that those abilities make.

Of all the alts I’ve played thus far, the one that was the most surprisingly satisfying to play has been the Fury warrior. As far as I can tell, the spec is not even that particularly strong. But, guys, seriously, give it a go sometime. Charging your foe, hitting with Raging Blow/Blood Thirst/repeat, then launching into that amazing Rampage animation… glorious. Left, right, both swords. If you’re not careful, there can be a 1-2 second boner-killing gap in buttons to press within the rotation, but it’s otherwise a very good time. The sounds, the animation, the damage, the flow – the whole package.

Having said all that, it’s entirely possibly I have been doing things wrong. Talents play a huge part in rotations and spec feel, and I may have simply picked the wrong ones. For example, I’m looking at Icy Veins right now, and it’s saying that the New Moon talent for Moonkins is crap, which probably has a lot to do with how weak/clunky the spec feels. I’m not sure that spamming Solar Wrath or casting DoTs on mobs that should ideally die within 10-15 seconds will feel better, but maybe. The rest of my alts are all sub-110 also, so it’s possible that mobs scaled below max level are weaker than my druid main is used to fighting. As I bring each one to the level cap – almost entirely from doing Legion invasions once every few days – we’ll see how they feel.

It has been an interesting experience playing all these classes/specs nonetheless. A lot of people have kinda railed against the notion of making leveling new classes a trivial exercise, between heirlooms and XP streamlining and other nerfs. But I feel like it’s a great tragedy for new players of WoW to be coming in and possibly losing on the character creation screen. Or if not outright losing by sticking with a clunky spec/class, missing out on a class/spec that they would enjoy playing 1000% better than whatever they originally picked. This isn’t FF14 where you lose nothing in particular by switching classes. I’m stuck with the druid main at least until BfA – unless I’m willing to forever abandon unlocking the Allied Races – because I sure as shit ain’t grinding up the reputation again.

In any case, it’s my goal to get a stable full of max-level alts ready for the BfA release. And, you know, hopefully find the one that’s the most fun to play.

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.

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.

Dilemmas, Part 2

As mentioned in the last few posts, on top of everything else I have to decide on what class I’m actually going to play. While there is usually some kind of shake-up with expansions, I feel like Legion is fairly unprecedented in its complete overhaul of everything, top to bottom. How does one even decide what class to play anymore?

Just like you might expect, my own method is slow, methodical, over-examination.

I started with my namesake paladin, Azuriel. Clicked some talents, moved some hotbars around, and found myself rather appalled at the ability pruning. Retribution wasn’t especially complicated before, but this feels even more Fischer Price than ever. Two builders, one spender, one debuff to combo with spender, and… one cooldown? Looking at the other melee specs, it seems many were hacked to the roots as well, but at least they typically have self-buffs or DoTs or something. I was no fan of Inquisition, sure, but damn. At least give us Hammer of Wrath back.

Shadow priest was interesting. At first, I was not especially interested in the build-and-burn rotation, especially given how weak Mind Flay feels as a filler. The residual haste buff after popping Insanity feels cool, but again, that mostly feels like it’s used on faster Mind Flay ticks. Once I started fighting the invasion mobs though, things started falling into place more – can’t really use Shadow Word: Death on training dummies. Plus, strategically using Dispersion to prolong Voidform and thus get more stacks/wait for other cooldowns is an interesting twist.

I then tried all three flavors of warlock. I honestly have no idea what Blizzard is thinking with Affliction. This might be another training dummy situation, but only passively getting Soul Shards and needing to wait to toss an Unstable Affliction just feels bad. Plus, what the hell is up with that Artifact? Two of Affliction’s “elite” powers trigger on death… which is fantastic for raid bosses, I imagine. Conversely, Demonology felt butter-smooth. Granted, it feels weird when basically half of your casts only serve to buff your demons, but everything about all the buttons feel really satisfying. I only played Destruction for a moment, but was not especially impressed.

Next was the druid. I’m thinking that a druid character is probably the best to use one of my two level 90/100 boosts on, should I decide to create a character on another server, primarily out of practicality concerns, e.g. cover all the class role bases. Feral seems as goofy as ever with the complexity. Balance though… wow. I skipped the entire Sun/Moon pendulum game design period, so I was a little intimidated going in. The current system though, wasn’t bad; I could get used to that.

Death Knights were high on my list of possible new mains, but now I’m not sure. Unholy is supposedly one of the strongest specs at the moment, but I did not like it much at all as I played through the invasions. Part of that might have been the whole melee deal, considering how many times I died to random cleave damage. Turning Scourge Strike into a ranged attack helped somewhat, but I still don’t quite like the Festering Wound mechanic in general. Perhaps it’s not much different than combo points or Holy Power in the abstract. I did not give Frost a chance, so I might end liking that instead.

I played my rogue for about a minute. In that time period, I was very impressed with Outlaw, less so with Assassination. I have no real idea what to make of Subtlety. I plan on coming back to this class to investigate further.

Enhancement shaman was probably the most pleasant surprise of my entire time trying out classes. I enjoyed it before when leveling a few expansions ago, minus the need to drop Flametongue/etc totems all over the place. Now? It looks – and more crucially, sounds – badass. All the buttons feel substantial to press, and the cadence just flows. Definitely will be giving this one a closer look as well. I didn’t end up trying Elemental simply because I did not have a weapon to use it with.

Mage was hit or miss. Arcane was meh. Technically a lot of specs have a conserve/burn phase built into their rotation, but it just feels bad when you hit 4 Arcane stacks without proccing Arcane Missiles. Fire, though, is a different story. I know that Hot Streak has been a thing for a while now, but there is something deeply satisfying about Fire Blast being off the GCD and castable while casting other things. Perhaps it’s because it harkens to Frost’s good ole Shatter combo. Incidentally, I did not get a chance to try out Frost.

And that wrapped up my testing for the past few days. I have a level 80 hunter, 96 warrior, and 21 monk, but declined to even get them to the training dummies. I might try the hunter later on, although I’m not usually a fan of them outside of BGs. The monk and warrior might not get a second look though, given how flooded the market is for melee this expansion. Again, I doubt I end up going raiding in any real capacity for Legion, but I would hate to change my mind later and be rebuffed.

Class Fantasy

Now that my move has more or less been completed, my attention has shifted to Legion.

…sorta.

Remember when Ghostcrawler mentioned that Blizzard didn’t like to change things too much between expansions since change can be overwhelming? I laughed then. I’m not laughing now. Seriously, I actually played in the current expansion (about a year ago), and my eyes glaze over just at the thought of looking at Wowhead again.

Some of that will likely go away if I just, you know, jump back into WoW. But I don’t enjoy blind jumps. I need to have some kind of idea first. I enjoy research. Legion research though? Jesus. It’s not even as though you can ignore the Artifact stuff either, as that will be mission-critical in a few months.

After spending considerable time looking over things, the classes and specs that piqued my interest the most were Rogue, Death Knight, and… basically that’s it. Maybe Enhancement Shaman and Affliction Warlock also. My namesake Paladin? Not so much.

I do know that Blizzard spent a lot of time focusing on the “fantasy” of the various specs, and it shows in the talent choices and such. For example, I do get the impression that Destruction Warlocks are all about chaos, fire, and… ripping holes in dimensions. Okay, that one might be a bit weak, but still a massive improvement over the prior fantasy of “Fire Mage.” Shadow Priests seem pretty cool with the Cthulhu business. Rogues have more flavor than which DPS cooldown you want to use now. I especially like how Assassination is poisons and bleeds whereas Sublety is more mystical shadow damage-esque.

Indeed, the flavor thing is really bringing me down when I think about my former main, which spent most of her time as Retribution. What’s the fantasy of Retribution? There isn’t much, you know, retribution going on. Eye for an Eye is neat, I guess. And, whatever, there’s Retribution, but you know what I mean.

You can’t even really say “holy damage” because Exorcism is gone, along with Hammer of Wrath, and basically Execution Sentence (now a talent) and Consecration (mutually exclusive). I thought it was bad last year, but now it’s even worse; I expected nothing, and was still disappointed. The spec seems entirely reliant on Ashbringer for its whole fantasy.

For as flavorful as paladins can be conceptually, the amount of squandered possibility is sad.

Paladins Are Boring

Is there a more boring class in WoW than paladins?

This question has been fermenting in my mind for quite some time now, and it’s a rather depressing one as someone who has had a paladin “main” for damn near a decade. It isn’t a “grass is always greener” issue either, or even a “Retribution brings nothing that a Holy paladin couldn’t” issue. The issue is just straight-up soggy cardboard class design.

I am primarily speaking towards Retribution, as that is what I level and play as most of the time. And it’s mind-numbingly boring. Judgment, Crusader Strike, Exorcism… wait for procs. Sometimes a long string of connected procs appears, and I pretend like I’m having fun for 20 seconds. It never works though, because none of my attacks feels like it has any weight behind it. Part of that could be because every special attack sounds like I’m squeezing water out of a sponge.

Then you get to paladin abilities. Avenging Wrath was the peak of Retribution design, or any paladin design, really – everything else has been downhill. Every button on my bar is defensive. And not like “cool defensive cooldown,” just straight boring damage reduction most of the time.

  • Hammer of Justice. “Trinket this and win” button.
  • Word of Glory. An “I LOSE” button.
  • Lay on Hands. Full heal. Neat.
  • Divine Shield. Aka Bubble-Hearth.
  • Cleanse. Okay?
  • Divine Protection. Damage reduction, wheee.
  • Hand of Protection. Ghetto Divine Shield.
  • Hand of Freedom. “Dispel me” disco ball.
  • Emancipate. For when Hand of Freedom is dispelled.
  • Avenging Wrath. The one legit ability.
  • Hand of Sacrifice. Soooo useful, Blizzard, thanks.

The talent tree is also incredibly sad:

  • Tier 1: Remember when paladins were actually mobile? Now they aren’t!
  • Tier 2: Remember when Retribution had PvP utility? Now they don’t!
  • Tier 3: Remember when there was a cool interaction between Sacred Shield & Flash of Light?
  • Tier 4: Straight-up useless.
  • Tier 5: Want a cooldown for your cooldowns, or proc for your procs?
  • Tier 6: Have another button that you press once and forget to press again.
  • Tier 7: YOUR ULTIMATE ABILITY IS… hey, let’s make Divine Storm not suck.

Glyphs? Just look at them. They’re total garbage. Damage reduction or more healing. Wait, wait… one of them increases the damage on ONE ability, but only for the second mob you hit. Which is just fucking fantastic, exactly what I was looking for. Where’s the glyph that completely changes your leveling rotation, like the priest’s Glyph of Mind Harvest?

Find me a more boring class for leveling, for farming, for PvP. When I get on my Death Knight alt, it’s like 10 years of the hopes and dreams of paladins everywhere, condensed in playable form. “Here’s damage reduction… and a stun break/stun immunity!” “Here’s spell damage reduction… and CC immunity!” Look at Tier 7 talents for DKs. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

…they are all goddamn abilities from the Lich King! That feels amazing and gets you pumpped to hit max level. Where is that cool Uther or Tirion feeling in paladin talents? Nowhere. Total garbage.

When I play my warrior, I feel excited because I’ll basically be able to Charge every mob. When I play my DK, I feel excited because I can Death Grip every mob. When I play my rogue, I feel excited because I can fucking teleport behind every mob (seriously, Cloak & Dagger is amazing for leveling). When I play my druid, I feel excited because I’m playing a nuanced class that some designer actually gave two shits about because whoa, look at all the things I can do.

The more I think about it, the more it feels like the paladin class was transplanted from another game entirely. It doesn’t fit WoW anymore, assuming it ever did. The niche it fulfills is “all these buttons are for other people” when the game has been about all the cool individual things you can do for the last three expansions. In fact, every other class has so many individual things they can do that they don’t need paladin assistance anymore.

I haven’t felt excited about paladins since Wrath, really. Not because there were moments when Retribution was overtuned – although it was glorious for a while there – but because it felt like there was actually nuance to the gameplay. Hand of Freedom broke stuns. If you cast Flash of Light on yourself when the 6-second shield from Sacred Shield was up, it was almost always a crit. There was some interplay between abilities back then.

Paladins need an(other) overhaul. Or, at least Retribution does. There’s nothing retributive about them. Too many of the Ret abilities serve no function to the paladin him/herself nor hinder enemies in any way. Again, if that’s supposed to be the paladin schtick, it’s a dumb one for the way the game is currently designed.

Want some suggestions? Invert the Hand spells for Retribution for starters. Hand of Freedom becomes Hand of Confinement for enemies. Hand of Protection becomes Hand of Sequestoring, e.g. same exact effect except castable on enemies. Hand of Sacrifice becomes Hand of Punishment, where 30% of the damage you take is dealt to that enemy. Hell, how about inverting Divine Shield to Divine Retribution, so that instead of being immune to everything you simply reflect incoming attacks/spells?

The devs wouldn’t need to give Retribution all these abilities either. Make us choose, if you like. Have it be talent, or gylph, or (sigh) cooldown. Make it so that if you take Hand of Confinement, you can’t cast Hand of Freedom anymore. Something, anything.

I originally chose to play a paladin in WoW because I always found them conceptually interesting as a class in D&D, but disliked the Lawful Good limitations. Being a frontline fighter killing things with a sword of light was cool. And that concept can still be cool. Remember Seal of Blood? Conceptually cool.

Tirion. Uther. The Ashbringer. Did you feel anything from those names, and if so, were those feelings at all comparible to the feeling evoked from WoW paladins? From where I’m sitting, whatever class Tirion and Uther actually belong to, it sure as hell ain’t paladin.

Wildstar: The First 4 Days

I am likely playing Wildstar all wrong.

Basically, none of my characters are above level 8. I started off playing a Medic, which has been pretty fun. Once I hit a certain point in leveling though, I started asking questions in the /Advice channel – pretty brilliant of Carbine to include that by default, by the way – and realized that I should probably come to some sort of decision on a Main. Would it be Medic? What about all the other classes I hadn’t tried out?

Low-Grav buff stacks with Scientist Low-Grav buff. SCIENCE.

Area Low-Grav buff stacks with Scientist Low-Grav buff, by the way.

Let me state for the record that stopping your progress in newbie zones to reroll five other classes through the same sort of newbie zones is both very logical and a very dumb way to play. But since I did, I may as well go over how I felt about things.

Medic seems pretty powerful. Unlike most classes, they start with their resource system at full power, which lets you front-load a lot of damage into mobs. Also unlike a lot of classes, their “finisher” has no cooldown, so if you 1-2 shot the mob you attack, you can almost instantly transition into the next mob in the same fashion (the resource bar regenerates quickly outside of combat). Also, Science.

In comparison, playing a Warrior felt terrible. The filler attack was weak, and their multi-tap finisher has an 8-second cooldown. So while most classes press 1-1-2-2 to kill mobs at this level, the Warrior enforces an 8-second cooldown between mobs. None of the abilities that come later seemed all that exciting, which is a problem considering that you’re stuck using the early abilities for most (if not all) of your gameplay to cap.

Brutal character deletion.

Brutal character deletion.

I’m pretty sure the Engineer is broke, or at least was in the area that I was leveling. In principal, having bots out is cool. Not getting any feeling that the bots are contributing damage is less cool. Pets in MMOs generally fall into either Overpowered or Useless categories depending on their AI and pathing, and my impression is that Engineer pets are the latter. Considering that the Bruiser Bot and Missile Bot count as Abilities, having two of your early abilities feel useless is not encouraging.

Esper was somewhat of a surprise to me, in that I anticipated it being unfun when the opposite is true. In a game of constant mobility, what sense does it make to have your #1 filler attack require standing still? Then look at the level 4 ability, which is instant-cast but does nothing until 4.4 seconds later. Nevertheless, it feels kinda fun to be able to set up a lot of damage on mobs that lands all at once. I’ll likely have less fun in PvP and in situations where I can’t wind-up attacks though.

This Esper didn't come out bad at all.

This Esper didn’t come out bad at all.

The Stalker is toned down from the closed beta, but in principal and effect still feels a tad overpowered. Stealth has no cooldown outside of combat, your #2 attack is basically Ambush, Energy regens quickly outside of combat, so you can start every encounter with a huge burst of damage like the Medic. Plus, Stealth is always fun for bypassing mobs/players. If you go the Stalker route though, be sure to check out each race’s Stealth animation. The female Mordesh animation, for example, is grandma power-walking; meanwhile, the female Aurin is Naruto/ninja running.

Finally, the Spellslinger shot up in fun-levels once I figured out “the trick.” Basically, your “cooldown” ability is Spell Surge, which gives your abilities extra power for as long as you have Focus (or whatever). However, Spell Surge is actually a buff that lasts until you completely empty your Focus bar, and Focus regens (somewhat slowly) outside of combat. So, under normal circumstances, fighting mobs goes: 2, wait 5 seconds to charge, fire, 1-1-1-1. With Spell Surge up though, your 2 ability charges in 1.4 seconds and one-shots mobs if it crits. Even when it doesn’t, most encounters end with 2, wait 1.4 seconds, 1-maybe 1 again. Mobs die so fast that it starts getting annoying waiting for 2 to come off cooldown (10 seconds) before one-shotting the next, but I just unlocked another cooldown button that essentially one-shots mobs too, allowing me to alternate.

...okay, Spell Slinger with Surge up may be even cooler.

…okay, Mordesh Spellslinger with Surge up may be even cooler.

Now, obviously, these impressions of the classes could not be representative of their final forms, so to speak. If someone was describing the level 8 paladin experience in WoW as indicative of endgame, I would… hmm, bad example. Level 8 Elemental shaman… err. You get what I mean. Some classes don’t “click” until a key ability is unlocked, and other classes that start out as overpowered can fall out of favor once mob Time-To-Kill increases past a certain threshold. Medic, for example, will likely get annoying if two front-loaded #2 abilities aren’t enough to burst something down. Or maybe it won’t, because Science.

I would be interested in hearing the experience other people had with the Warrior. Was there a level or ability where it became fun? Maybe I was missing something like with the Spellslinger.

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I want to take a minute to talk about the Paths. Thus far, I have a hard time justifying anything other than Scientist. I mean, the Settler buff stations are really good – 50% run speed outside of combat is tough to beat – but I’m not sure how you compete with the endgame utility to summon group members or summon portals to capitals. Explorer abilities are almost a joke, and Soldier will entirely depend on what exactly a “Weapon Locker” does and/or what “Bail Out!” even means.

I analyzed the blue crystals at the left to get a jump buff to reach the hidden stash.

I eventually analyzed the blue crystals at the left to get a jump buff to reach the hidden stash. Scientist FTW.

Of course, you can pick a Path depending on the type of side-quests you enjoy too. If you don’t particularly care though, I have found Scientist to be the best: not only do you get easy tasks, you unlock special areas that no other Path has access to, e.g. bypass doors, unlock jumping buffs to reach secret stashes, etc. Sure, Explorer gets exclusive jumping puzzles, but those are less obvious than the locked Scientist doors in the course of normal gameplay.

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I was asked by another ex-WoW friend if Wildstar was worth purchasing. Not at full MSRP… but $48 at GMG? Probably. I am having enough fun at these low levels that I’m certain I’ll play and hit the cap even if my other friends abandon the game tomorrow. Will I enjoy the hardcore dungeons and hardcore raids? Unlikely. The concept of Challenges in busy zones is a huge design oversight that doesn’t exactly engender faith in social aspect of the game; you need to make friends to do endgame stuff, but the rest of the game causes you to hate other people. I do not anticipate 40m raiding to survive the year.

Which is worse: empty TP roll vendoring for 75s, or me being too afraid to vendor it?

Which is worse: empty TP roll vendoring for 75s, or thinking it’s worth WAY more than that as decor?

Overall though? Not bad. I’ll be interested in seeing if I can pay for my next month via CREDD.

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.