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The Return, part 54846

Mere days after I derided FFXIV for offering four days of free play, Blizzard offered the same thing… and I took it. Looking at my payment history, it appears that it had been almost exactly two years since I last had a subscription.

The returning WoW experience was a bit jarring, to say the least.

The shoulderpads get bigger every year

The level squish resulted in a roster of level 45s. At first, I was perturbed, thinking there had been some mistake. Did I not have a bunch of toons at the prior level cap? As it turns out, not so much. In fact, I had just the one Demon Hunter at the cap. Really shows how little I cared for Battle for Azeroth.

So the first order of business was taking my erstwhile Legion main (a druid) from 45 to 50. And I did so… in Redridge Mountains. Such is the power of Chromie Time. On a practical level, it makes every mob scale to your level, and all quest rewards likewise. I have lived through multiple expansion transitions, but seeing white gear with a vendor price of 66g and almost being better than your current equipment in a traditionally beginner zone is something else. I carried on, primarily because War Mode offered a 25% XP bonus and the odds I would encounter Horde in Redridge of all places was quite low.

That finished, I decided to take stock of my stock. And vendored 90% of it. My old goblin self would be spinning in his hypothetical grave, but he’s dead for a reason. I did toss a bunch on the AH and actually walk away with 10,000g, but I’m not about to chase that dragon again. At least, not the degree in which I’m crafting Cataclysm potions and other bizarre crap that somehow still sells on occasion. Flying around TBC zones trying to mine Khorium which sells for 400g+ per ore? That’s a bit more likely. Especially since every resource node is about 1/4th of a quest in terms of XP gain in Chromie Time. You can hardly afford not to, right?

As for other goals… we shall see. The four days have since expired and I could pop the WoW Token sitting in my bags at any time. There is a current pre-expansion event going on, but in looking at the rewards, it doesn’t seem worth much. Certainly nothing like the Wrath events, which offered Haunted Memento, which still sell for tens of thousands of gold all these years later. Capping all of my toons would be a reasonably achievable goal. Aside from that? Maybe unlocking the Allied Races?

I could also just continue doing what I had been doing until I heard about the free trial. Which, admittedly, wasn’t exactly much more than grinding out meaningless shit in other games. I really should be doing anything else.

It’s also been 2020 all fucking year, so maybe I’ll just do whatever I want.

Post-Magic Apocalypse

I knew it was coming, but it nevertheless stung a bit when Bethesda hotfixed “magic weapons” in Fallout 76.

Made famous by this Angry Turtle video, “magic weapons” were guns that did inordinate amount of damage due to bugs derived from their Legendary affixes. This predominantly affected shotguns (each pellet did full damage) and fast fire-rate heavy weapons like gatling lasers (each hit seemed to hit 4-5 more times). In practical terms, magic shotguns would 1-shot most enemies and magic heavy weapons needed only a few seconds of fire to melt foes. As you might imagine, this was quite fun.

Was it OP though? Maybe. But not especially so considering the overall meta.

“Bloodied” builds have been meta for… if not since release, at least for the last year. A weapon with the Bloodied affix deals up to 100% damage per shot based on your remaining HP – the lower your health, the higher your damage. While you would assume the build makes you a glass cannon, Fallout 76 includes a number of Perks that combo with low HP, such as Nerd Rage (40 DR, +20% damage, +15% AP when under 20% HP) and Serendipity (45% chance to avoid damage while under 30% HP). Power Armor already gives passive damage resistance on top of the armor, but the Emergency Protocol mod further decreases damage by 50% (!!) and increase speed by 25% when under 20% HP. Then there is the Adrenal Reaction mutation that basically adds Bloodied (yo dawg) to your weapons at low health, so you can Bloodied while you Bloodied.

Oh, and did I forget Unyielding legendary affix on armor? That gives you +3 on all your stats per piece (!!!) depending on your low health, which means people running around having 30 Strength, 30 Agility, etc, before even considering buffs or chems. So not only were they dealing insanely more damage, they were also passing all the Speech checks added with actual human NPCs no problem as well. Clearly, this was how Bethesda wanted the Fallout 76 experience to be.

As you might imagine, Bloodied/Unyielding items are in demand and thus expensive when sold in player vending machines (if available at all). Thus, I felt like this short era of Magic Weapons was overall good for the game, or at least more equitable for us plebs than the poorly balanced baseline.

In the meantime, I have been making do. All shotguns get scrapped. I have been cycling through various weapons to gauge their efficacy, and have winnowed down the field considerably. While Magic weapons have been removed, there are still a number of probably-unintended glitches, such as how first-hit Sneak Attack bonus damage is applied to several bullets when shot from automatic guns. Targeting the head amplifies the damage considerably, which takes us back to Magic weapon territory. Indeed, overall auto > semi-auto is the name of the game – if your one shot doesn’t instantly kill your target, you are wasting your time in comparison.

Is Fallout 76 still fun for me? Yes. Well, in that general MMO-grind sort of way. I’m collecting Gold Bullion by doing dailies and Events to unlock the highest tier of armor and a few other weapons to try out. I’m doing the Daily Ops to unlock a CAMP item that would be a convenience option. And otherwise biding my time until the next content drop.

So, yeah, exactly in a MMO sort of way.

Still No Man’s Sky

Right as my interest in My Time at Portia was ending – sadly, before the end of the game proper – I started hearing about a major update to No Man’s Sky. Called Origins, this particular update seemed mainly focused on reseeding the universe with new planets with more extreme terrain/plant/animal possibilities. Having missed the past couple of other major updates, I decided to go ahead and jump back in with a fresh character.

Some 40-odd hours later, I have hit that same existential wall the last time around.

Almost all of the particulars of the game have been improved. Base-building restrictions have been lifted across the board. The once-ubiquitous Sentinels are now just policing fun on certain planets. The UI has been improved… to an extent. The various avenues to raise cash have been widened. The Nexus has been made into a multiplayer hub of sorts, and its vendors allow you to bypass quest-restricted tech if you wish.

And yet… it’s still missing something. And it might be something dumb like “challenge.”

Some games are not meant to be challenging. No one is going to play My Time at Portia while looking for a Dark Souls experience. In this regard, No Man’s Sky is very obviously tilted towards a chill, Explorer player-type. Sentinels are robots that used to patrol every planet and turn aggressive when you started mining resources in front of them. As mentioned, they no longer exist in every world. For the vast majority of your gameplay, the weather is going to be your biggest foe – one defeated by pressing two buttons every few minutes, consuming resources you can buy in bulk at nearly every space station. 

Which, again, fine. Whatever. It’s a chill, exploring game. 

But things get a little crazy once you start flying around in space. At some point, your ship will be scanned by hostile pirates, who will disable your ability to escape and start trying to blow you up. While you can again survive just about anything by recharging your shields with elements purchased by the thousands, you can also equip your ship with missiles, laser beams, a space shotgun, and all manners of similar things. Regardless, this is decidedly a less chill, exploring experience.

After a while, the dissonance in the game between space combat and terrestrial combat became too great for me. See, your Multi-Tool can also receive a number of upgrades to add a shotgun, laser cannon, a grenade launcher, and so on. But when would you ever use it? Attacking Sentinels is periodically required to progress the storyline, and bigger and meaner ones do end up showing up. But under all other normal circumstances, there is no challenge whatsoever once you are on a planet. 

Where are the pirates or mercenaries on the ground? Where are all the hostile wildlife? You will see the same half-dozen varieties of hostile plants on every planet across the entire universe. But nothing in the way of meaningful challenge. About the closest you get is “the Swarm,” which puts up a decent fight when you try stealing their eggs. Facing them on every planet would be silly, but that kind of thing might justify having anything more than the same unupgraded rifle you build from a quest 50 hours prior.

Again, No Man’s Sky doesn’t have to head that direction.

The problem for me though is the existential crisis that hits mid-game, in which you question what it’s all for. In my fresh save, my character has 45 million Units and a B-class ship with about 28 slots. The normal drive would be to search for an A-class or S-class ship to buy, and then upgrading those further while simultaneously upgrading my own suit and Multi-Tool. There are several mechanics in the game now that allow you to pursue those goals in measured (read: grind) fashion.

But… why? I mean, sure, “why do anything in a videogame?” In No Man’s Sky though, progression is basically bag space. Can you equip weapon mods that increase damage or clip size? Yes. Do they have 5 rarities and slightly randomized number ranges? Also yes. Does any of it matter at all? Absolutely not. You can go 50+ hours without shooting a damn thing, even accidentally. Oh, unless you’re flying through space, in which case we’re actually playing X-Wing sometimes.

I think the devs might eventually get there. Last time I played, all the alien NPCs stood or sat in the same spot, never moving. Now they move around and make the space stations feel, well, actually populated. Slap some helmets on them and give them guns and maybe shoot me planetside on occasion and we’re in business. Or ramp up the aggressiveness of hostile fauna on some of the planets. Think ARK. At least on some planets, anyway.

I’m not looking for challenge challenge, at least not in No Man’s Sky. Actually, I would love a 3D Terraria/Starbound experience if I’m being real. That might not have been what everyone signed up for in this game though. Perhaps add another game mode? But it should be Game Design 101 that if you add a Chekhov Shotgun, you should craft encounters in which a shotgun is necessary.

Clashed Out

I’m real done with Clash Royale.

My trajectory was set for a while now. I have been playing near-daily for over four years now, after all. While there have been a lot of new cards developed in that time, systemic issues made them functionally useless – when you are playing in the top leagues, you need max-level cards to succeed, and all new cards start at level 1. Still, Supercell managed to make a few intelligent changes along the way that kept things moving. For example, nowadays new cards are “boosted” to your King Level for a month, meaning I can actually use them straight away.

The problem is that Supercell hyped up the “Clan Wars 2” changes that were aimed at breathing new life into the clan part of clashing. And the delivery wasn’t just flat, it actively destroyed what existed and replaced it with some real shit.

Odds are none of you play Clash Royale or particularly care either way, but hang with me a second.

The old system had a two-day cadence. On Day 1, your clan had a rotating set of three “collection” battles. For the most part, these battles were way different from normal battles: you had options like Draft (build a deck), Classic Deck (get a random pre-built deck), Sudden Death, and so on. The important bit is that these game modes are quite fun AND don’t require max-level cards. Win or lose, your clan gets X amount of random cards that they will later use for the actual clan battle. On Day 2, your clan all has to use the same cards that were collected to build the best deck they can, and fight other people under similar limitations (but different cards). Your card levels matter here, and sometimes the card selection forced you into a deck archetype you aren’t comfortable with.

The new system? You need to build four decks using your own cards, and none of the cards can overlap. Then you participate in a “River Race” in which you… use those four decks playing 1v1 battles. Just like you were playing ladder, aside from being stuck with sub-par decks due to the no-overlap limitation. Each deck has a 12-24 hour cooldown. There is technically a wrinkle insofar as you can instead attack enemy ships directly, which results in a weird PvE-ish situation, and can cause said enemy clan to be forced to repair their ship instead of doing attacks and acquiring more Fame (which determines how fast your boat goes).

My clan completed the race within 2-3 days and netted 1st place. There doesn’t appear to be any particular reason to keep playing the River Race after that. Maybe you can still get some gold or something?

Regardless, this update took the one interesting part of the game – the unique game modes – and jettisoned them away. There still is a rotating game mode that can be fun, but it only changes a few times a week and there are some stinkers in the rotation. Everything else is basically just 1v1 ladder. Well, it’s ladder for the first game, and then you are stuck with whatever shit decks you can throw together with your remaining cards as you face three Hog Cycle decks in a row. I’m better off than most insofar as I have mostly max-level cards… but I hate ladder. It’s the same shit meta month after month, and all I’m doing is just grinding gold to upgrade cards I don’t actually use.

Enough.

The funny thing is… some people will say this is a success. After all, I have given Supercell $100 or so and I have gotten untold hours of entertainment over four years. From a mobile game! And yet I could not possibly be more burned out, worn down, disgusted. Well, I could, and have been, with other games like MMOs. But I haven’t played MMOs in a while precisely because of this level of burnout, and I don’t like experiencing it from a mobile game too.

That’s my own damn fault, of course. I could have been wasting (more of) my time on Reddit or whatever instead of still playing a game I was growing to dislike on a daily basis. Nevertheless, I suppose that is the price we pay for seeking games to worm into our daily routines: they leave holes when you eventually root them out.

Path of Self-Exile

Browsing through my new-and-improved Steam library, I notice Path of Exile sitting there. Looking for something different, I download it and boot it up after like… damn, six years ago? My characters are still there, so I load up my Witch and…

POE_Grid

Ain’t nobody got time for this.

…shut the game down.

I ended up going to some websites to look at what constitutes some good Witch builds. What I found were builds labeled “3.8| Stress Free PoE – COLD-HEARTED CURSER |Clear the Atlas w/ YOUR Items @ YOUR Pace (SSF & Co-op).” Sounds good. Let me just look at the video of its gameplay…

Oh. Just literally pressing one button and running around.

There were other builds, of course, but most of them were, shall we say, thematically similar. Plus, knowing that the above build is possible, what motivation would you have to do something else?

As it turns out, very high. Just in a different game.

Do Nothing, Save Money

It’s amazing the value of doing nothing.

Recent Steam sale? Bought nothing. There are like 30 items on my wishlist, but none of them are particularly… buyable? For example, I have Sekiro on there but A) it’s a newer game that won’t see a deep discount, and more importantly B) I have no means of playing. I’m actually coming up on the end of my 4-week baby probationary period (i.e. paternity leave), but that just means a new reality of daily babysitting and the same lack of any ability to do much of anything after work still.

Recent Amazon Prime Day? Well, I did buy some house stuff because I’m a bleeding heart liberal that nevertheless enjoys next-day delivery of… let me check… 100 ft extension cords, razors, fish food, and USB chargers. More importantly though, I did not buy that PS4 Pro $300 bundle despite the fact that I was actually browsing Amazon right when it went up.

If I’m honest, it was less willpower and more dithering. “Surely I would play it! Totally different scenario from the PS3 I have hooked up next to the monitor I’m currently typing on.” “If I’m buying a console for no reason, why not a Switch instead? There are fewer Playstation exclusives I’m interested in, plus it’s portable when watching the baby!” “Yeah… but Final Fantasy 7: Remake.”

“…aaaaaaand it’s gone.jpeg.” “Success baby.jpeg.”

I have talked in the past about my digital hoarding predilections, insofar as it is more centered around avoiding paying MSRP. A good deal on a game that I want to play eventually is very enticing, because when the mood strikes, it strikes hard and turns any other game into ash in my mouth. This used to be a big problem.

Now? I have accepted my fate. I play phone games and browse Reddit for nine hours, then maybe play something equally mindless, like Fallout 76 or now Graveyard Keeper when off baby duty. Could I jump back into Divinity: Original Sin 2? Not really. I mean, I could play it, but I’d probably be interrupted every 30 minutes or so, and only have about two total hours in any case. When that becomes your gaming time horizon, your tastes shift.

I am hoping that things will eventually settle down. My child doesn’t sleep through the night, or even in a crib for longer than 15 minutes yet. I think babies are supposed to though? I have no idea. All I do know is that sometimes doing nothing is the correct answer, which just so happens to correspond to my existence at the moment.

Christ, I just want to sleep. And play videogames.

Treading with Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But… why?”

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

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

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

Slain Spire

Remember when I said I wouldn’t buy Battlefield 5 because it would consume all my free time but not “accomplish” anything? Well, I did resist the purchase…

…and promptly put like a dozen or so “empty” hours into Slay the Spire instead.

I think my total hours /played in Slay the Spire at this point is north of 50 hours. Those are rookie numbers compared to Zubon at Kill Ten Rats, who probably put more hours into writing Slay the Spire posts last year than I have playing the game. Which it entirely deserves, by the way – it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It’s just not a novel experience (to me) anymore, and yet I feel compelled to boot it up any time I spend more than thirty seconds looking at my Steam library.

That’s probably a sign of good game design.

Last year, the devs at MegaCrit tweeted that they were looking at a Switch and mobile version of the game after coming out of Early Access. It’s 2019 and the game is still in Early Access, although there has been a third class added and, more recently, Steam mod support. If and when Slay the Spire ever receives a mobile port, is likely the day that I earn a Corrective Action Report at work.

I can’t wait. Because then I might be able to get home sated, and ready to play something else.

Why? Just why?

Why did I think it was a good idea to start playing Stardew Valley for the first time this weekend? The Fallout 76 Beta is coming out like tomorrow, and I decided it was a good idea to boot up a game that has already consumed 10 hours of my time in two days? Good lord.

As a side note, it’s amusing experiencing the same synapses firing off when I farm and plant crops as I do when playing survival games. It’s starting to make me wonder whether I like survival games, or if I have been using survival games to scratch the itch for farming simulators.

Either way, it’s trouble. I gotta do stuff this week.

So… Now What?

The problem with goals is that you complete them.

When I originally wrote Monday’s post about farming transmog pieces in WoW, I had not yet acquired the Tunic of Unwavering Devotion. Since I had technically been farming since Legion (via LFR), I was buckling in for the long haul. After a presumed failed run over the weekend, I was going to get back to leveling my Monk character to the cap and then seeing if she can also solo Nighthold.

Alas, like a strange monkey paw curse, I got exactly what I was looking for.

WoWScrnShot_340i

Oh, and have I mentioned that my Demon Hunter is sitting at ilevel 340 now? It took a dozen dungeons to go from 310 to 320, but about three days of casual, mostly solo content to go from 320 to 340. So there really isn’t much of a point in doing much of anything on the Demon Hunter now. I will do the occasional WQ if it offers reputation, but only in the off-chance that I continue playing WoW once flying is (re)(re)(re)released.

Leveling alts to the cap seems like a fine goal on the face of things, but… eh. They will not be used for raiding or dungeon running or farming transmog, so what’s left? PvP? I usually reserve my Warlock for PvP endeavors, but the forums are pretty clear about the apparent sad state of Warlocks this expansion. I could try going the healer route for giggles, as I do have a Priest at 111.

The real problem I have is that I somehow lack the motivation to do much of anything, anywhere. Post-game Depression is a thing I talked about a few years ago, and it may well triggered when I got that last piece of transmog gear. Or maybe WoW has been on its way out with me for several weeks.

I dunno. I have a million other games I could be playing, but no motivation to load any of them. The 7 Days to Die Alpha17 patch keeps getting pushed into Star Citizen territory, and Fallout 76’s beta isn’t until the end of this month. In the meantime, I am just logging into WoW and puttering around on the AH, or closing the client and watching people play Hearthstone on Twitch.

Guess my next goal should be to get more goals.