Blog Archives


The other day Bhagpuss was talking about the myriad reasons why Guild Wars 2 had fallen off of their radar. Of particular note was this one:

GW2 also famously has appallingly bad rewards, quite possibly the most disappointing in the genre. I nearly said the worst “risk vs reward” there but of course GW2 offers no risk whatsoever and never has, which is presumably why the rewards for doing anything have always been so abysmally poor. For most of the run of the game, ANet’s solution to this has been to emphasize quantity over quality which, for me, has just meant an unconscionable amount of time spent organizing my bags. If I can blame any one game for finally making me agree with the common consensus that inventory management is a chore not a pleasure, it’s this one.

As someone who still logs in daily to hit up static treasure chest spawns and immediately sell their contents (Jade Runestones) across four characters before logging off, I can confirm this assessment. The game felt unrewarding back in 2018 and especially so in 2012. There are dozens of Youtube guides on how to achieve 20g+/hour of farming certain things, but even the most profitable paths have you churning hundreds of low-value items through the AH in apparent fulfillment of someone’s big-box retailer fantasy.

I do want to correct one thing though: there are very clear risks in certain GW2 meta-events, e.g. the risk of it failing and resulting in nothing. I recently got involved in a Dragon’s End meta wherein we got the dragon to be ended down to 2% HP before time ran out. Poof. Zero rewards after 45 minutes of pre-events and the fight itself. In contrast, winning would have resulted in approximately 23g worth of stuff. There is a reason why this particular meta is so dead despite being one of the top earners.

Putting that aside, the question to me became: what does rewarding mean in an MMO?

Bhagpuss identified rewarding (in part) as being able to “complete an entire project in no more than one gaming session and preferably in about ten minutes.” That, of course, lends itself towards a very player-driven motivation basis. For one thing, how many 10-minute projects could you possibly generate? “Infinite!” no doubt, but seriously.

For me, tangible progress towards a discrete goal is rewarding. Which means GW2 should be right up my alley, because goddamn the game is filled to the brim with insane stretch goals in terms of achievements and Legendary items and the like. The problem is the “tangible progress” bit. The designers’ adherence to the volume-based loot system leads straight to the early Diablo 3 disaster that was “vendor everything, buy what you want.” For example, one component (of many) for the Gen3 Legendary weapons requires 100 Antique Summoning Stones. You can buy 5/week from a vendor, earn another 5/week by doing Challenge Mode Strike Missions, and 1/day from doing the Dragon’s End meta (which routinely fails, remember). That is six weeks of some hardcore grinding the most challenging content.

Or you could just buy them off the AH.

Another example: Bolt, the Legendary Gen1 sword. One component requires 100 Charged Lodestones. How do you get those? The AH, basically. Charged Lodestones are random drops across core content, although you can technically target a half-dozen drops or so on a rotating basis through specific maps. But basically you are very obviously never intended to collect them yourself. Maybe that is supposed to be a good thing? You know, to give you options to farm whatever content you want and collect gold instead of in specific areas. Somehow though, the exchange does not feel rewarding to me. Probably because gold is fungible and not specific to the thing I was working towards.

Thinking back, I would say WoW’s World Questing system was perhaps one of the more rewarding game mechanisms I have encountered in any MMO. You could view them and the rewards from the map (no randomness), completing them was easy (no grind), the rewards themselves were often direct gear upgrades that scaled all the way up to a cap (meaningful), but the incremental upgrades meant the rewards didn’t become useless for a while (longevity). Plus, it was extremely useful for your alts.

Of course, the counter-point is the derisive “log in, collect epix” charge, or perhaps the more salient “what now?” when the goals are (easily) achieved. But… is that actually a concern for anyone anymore?

My own MMO apostasy no doubt clouds my vision, but that era of ascetic toil seems over. Possibly has been for years. There are some holdovers in Classic WoW, no doubt, but is that population derived from nostalgia-hunters or actual new blood seeking flagellation? And I do not mean to imply that this is a generational issue – it is simply a rational consequence of people wanting to actually enjoy their time with games now, rather than possibly maybe after months and months of grinding.

Delayed gratification is a virtue and we desperately need more people willing to plant trees whose shade they will never enjoy. But when it comes to gaming, well, let’s just say that the Marshmallow Experiment becomes a bit moot when you can just eat the marshmallow and then enter another of the 37 rooms running the same experiment.


In today’s Two Minutes of Hate, we’re once again getting very angry on other peoples’ behalf for something we find them stupid for buying in the first place:


In short, the $200 Power Armor edition of Fallout 76 is advertised as containing, among other things, a canvas bag. But the bag that arrived was actually nylon instead. When someone wrote into Bethesda support to complain, they were greeted with the meme-worthy:

We’re sorry that you aren’t happy with the bag. The bag shown in the media was a prototype and too expensive to make.

We aren’t planning on doing anything about it.

An actual Bethesda PR went on to clarify:

Thanks for tagging us in this post. We’re not sure if you’ve seen this make the rounds on various areas of the internet, yet, but we’ve made an official statement about this issue and included it below:

“The Bethesda Store’s Support member is a temporary contract employee and not directly employed by Bethesda or Bethesda Game Studios. We apologize to the customer who took the time to reach out. The support response was incorrect and not in accordance with our conduct policy. Unfortunately, due to unavailability of materials, we had to switch to a nylon carrying case in the Fallout 76: Power Armor Edition. We hope this doesn’t prevent anyone from enjoying what we feel is one of our best collector’s editions.”

Many people are hammering on this response as well, for essentially restating the first message while throwing the other employee under the bus. After all, is there much of a difference between “unavailability of materials” and “too expensive to make”?

Well… yeah, actually. Enough canvas might not have been available in order to reach the distribution date, whereas enough nylon would have been. Sometimes you can throw money at a problem and make it go away, and sometimes you can’t. Or maybe it truly was a $1 vs $5 decision and they scrapped the plans for canvas based on that alone.

Speaking of $5, Bethesda put a little extra squirt of acetone on the PR fire by offering 500 Atoms to anyone who purchased the Collector’s Edition of the game. It’s difficult to imagine this amount not having been selected due to $5 being the actual value of the canvas bag in question. In any case, the gesture itself only inflamed the nonplayerbase further, who then took to the streets of /r/fallout to advise others to not accept the Atoms, lest they forgo their potential class-action lawsuit payouts.

I was originally planning on making a joke about how my food never looks like the pictures on the menu, but this older article on false advertisements is making me think people might have a case. The ad says canvas, it wasn’t canvas, case closed. I’m no expert in bird law though.

That said, I get it. If I were a nonplayer of Fallout 76, I’d be bored enough to be outraged too. As an actual player of a game that has become a punchline however… well, shit. It’s tough defending an otherwise fantastic game (IMO) that’s going to get better with each patch when the company behind it can’t seem to stop embodying (hilarious in the abstract) metaphors of their own products. “We were promised canvas, but the game we got was nylon.” Shit literally writes itself.

Ultimately, Bethesda will be fine. “I’m not going to buy Elder Scrolls 6 at release based on Fallout 76!” “Bethesda’s reputation is ruined forever!” Yeah you are, and no it’s not. Skyrim sold 30 million copies since 2011. Fallout 4, which was widely panned before and after release, sold 12 million copies the first day. This doesn’t mean that Fallout 76 is safe from being dropped, but as controversies go, this will be forgotten (and forgiven) the moment we get another 5-second video clip of some mountains overlaid with monks singing. Or by Christmas. Either/or.

I just hope that, you know, there continues to be Fallout 76 patches until then.

Sense of Pride and Accomplishment

In addition to Hollow Knight, I have been playing a bunch of Dead Cells lately.

Because apparently I hate myself.


I definitely recommend letting traps do the heavy lifting.

Dead Cells is basically a roguelike Metroidvania that has more in common with Rogue Legacy and Binding of Isaac than, say, Hollow Knight. Defeating enemies occasionally gives you a currency (Cells) that you can spend at the end of each level to unlock permanent upgrades and blueprints of items that are then seeded into the item pool of future runs. Of course, that assumes you make it to the end of the level – die before then, and you lose everything you were carrying, and have to start over at the beginning of the game.

Of course, that’s how roguelikes work. It’s expected that you start over a bunch of times. And in this regard, I definitely felt less terrible after a death in Dead Cells than I did in Hollow Knight.

…up until The Hand of the King encounter, that is.

The final boss in Dead Cells is so absurdly more difficult than anything that comes before it. While its attacks are not inherently “unfair” beyond their massive power – they can be dodged just like everything else – most of them will prevent you from utilizing health potions, lest you get hit again mid-swig. Thus, you have very little opportunity to practice learning his moves, and dying here means it’ll take at least ~30 minutes of re-clearing everything else along the way to get another shot.


Amazing ranged synergy… what could go wrong? (Failed run)

Well, after 26 hours /played in Dead Cells, I finally killed the last boss.

According to conventional wisdom, I should be feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment. I died to this boss at least ten times, re-clearing the entirety of the game to get another chance each time. The fight itself is difficult, and difficult = rewarding. Permadeath confers a sense of risk, and overcoming risk = rewarding. Right?

I feel none of that. And it sorta makes you question the whole “difficulty” edifice.

To be fair, I did not expect to win on the particular run that I did. The items offered on each run are random, and while you can sometimes affect the odds by resetting shop items, the best gear drops from bosses and you don’t have many shots at those. I had strolled up to the final boss several times before with what seemed to be unassailable combos, only to die embarrassing deaths. On the winning run, I made a last minute substitution that basically had no particular synergy with anything – it simply offered an extra 30% damage reduction, which apparently was enough to get me over the finish line.

I have never particularly believed that difficulty was valuable in of itself. But the total emptiness of having beat Dead Cells makes me question why I ever tried to debate anyone on difficulty previously. It is often taken as a given that “log in, collect epix” is bad, and defeating the game on extreme permadeath Ironman mode (or whatever) is good. But I know for a fact that I would have enjoyed Dead Cells more had I beaten the last boss two runs earlier than I did two runs later. And that disappointment and dissatisfaction I felt at losing was not made up by eventually winning.


Successful run items. Ice Grenade was a late addition.

What makes the situation all the more absurd is that there is a lot more left to Dead Cells. Defeating the last boss unlocks “Boss Cells” which are essentially bonus modifiers you can apply to all enemies and bosses. Defeat the last boss on this new, higher difficulty and you unlock another Boss Cell slot. And so on, up to 4, which is the current limit. Ergo, the last boss could have been easier, and everyone else who craved a harder game could have been more than satisfied with four additional difficulty tiers.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m still just salty from winning when I didn’t expect to, and losing (several times) when I did. Perhaps that was the secret sauce all along – expecting to lose from the start led me to have lower anxiety levels during the fight. Or maybe I had seen the boss’s moves enough to commit them to muscle memory.

All that I know for certain is that difficulty, by itself, doesn’t particularly add anything meaningful to a game. In fact, it often can poison an entire experience. I’m not sure how you balance a game such that there are difficult moments without being frustrating, but Dead Cells ultimately did not get it right when it comes to the final boss. Which is a damn shame, because I otherwise had fun.