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The Transitive Property (of Grinding)

Extremely recently, all my desire to play Warframe evaporated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Space Ninja Janitor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warframe of Mind

A while ago, I mentioned Warframe only in passing as a slick F2P loot grinder featuring space ninjas. Since that time, I gave it another shot to hook me, and hook me it did. It has now become my “I don’t know what I feel like doing” and “I only have 30 minutes to play” game.

I am still early on, but the general gameplay loop is finally big enough for me to slip through. The missing components were blueprints. As you might imagine, blueprints are necessary to construct new things like guns and other weapons, but also entirely new Warframes (e.g. classes). Once you have a blueprint, it will let you know how many of what resources you need to construct it – which might include components that themselves require blueprints – along with the Credits necessary to get started.

Credits in particular are a concern, as they are used for blueprints and upgrading the mods you get. In the beginning, I was spending pretty freely, for lack of anything else to spend them on (since I had no blueprints). Now? I’m pretty broke. While you can continue the story to unlock missions with greater Credit rewards, enemy levels continue to increase, which means you need to spend Credits upgrading your mods to have a chance, and so on. At some point, you have to grind/farm.

(Or, you know, pay real cash money, but nevermind.)

Luckily, Warframe doesn’t make things too painful. Every 20-30 minutes, there will be an alert on a specific map that grants bonus cash and occasionally a mod or blueprint as an extra reward. I have also discovered a few player-controlled areas which give generous Credit bonuses. Fundamentally, grinding isn’t too painful in Warframe because the moment-to-moment gameplay is fast and exciting. The minute that changes, the whole edifice will collapse in on itself, but until then there are plenty of “excuses” to jump/leap/bound/wall-run around maps like a goddamn space ninja terminator.

Ironically, something like Guild Wars 2 would normally have been my go-to game for incremental progress, but the expansion zones needing so much “Mastery XP” means that if an Event Train starts, you need to stay on-board lest you miss a significant chunk of progress. So, ultimately, the more serious I treat GW2, the more fun of a release Warframe becomes.

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.