Treadblades and Grenades

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A good chunk of this weekend was about me riding the high that was the Destiny 2 gameplay reveal panel.  I wrote about my feelings Friday, but I am still extremely hyped.  What I find interesting is that there are some hardcore Destiny players that walked away disillusioned by the announcement.  For me I largely wanted them to take the same Destiny mechanics that I love and apply them to a much more open world.  From the sounds of it that is precisely what we are getting.  However it seems like the competitive PVP scene walked away frustrated, because they were expecting ladder brackets and things like that to support their specific play style.  While I love the Crucible, I am anything but serious when I play it…  and as a result I largely am okay with a more casual PVP focus.  What is funny about this is that it is the same community that got super frustrated when they were only being matched against similarly skilled players, and have been the biggest proponents of moving away from skill based matchmaking.  I can at least see one of their complaints, which is largely that they were expecting the game to move to a server/client structure rather than the peer to peer setup that we have today.  I feel like the currently crucible matchmaking algorithm does a decent job of weeding out the “redbars”, and it has been a really long time since I have been in a match with more than one of them.  That could however be based on the fact that I am living in the center of the United States and have solid pings to either coast though.

What all the Destiny love created however is a strong desire to play the game I currently have my hands on.  Over the weekend I spent a good deal of time upstairs playing around, and picked back up my Xbox One character since it allowed me to experience the full circuit of Destiny emotions.  All of my PSN characters are comfortably at 400 light, and all I am really doing there is upgrading additional gear to that level.  So there is a missing chunk of the experience… the brief joy of seeing a higher light level item that you can then use to infuse into your gear.  So as a result I opted to spend most of the weekend playing my now 378 Titan.  On PSN however I did spend a bit of time working on achievements, and that meant a lot of chain running of SIVA Crisis Strikes for the purpose of trying to get super kills.  This also meant rocking my Bad Juju, because for me at least it seems to be a much better super energy magnet than the Zhalo Supercell.  I think right now I am 5 super streaks away from finishing up one book, and then I can start in earnest on the modern Age of Triumph book.  I am still a little bummed that they came out and dashed my hopes of “cross save” functionality between the various client versions.  I would have happily purchased Destiny 2 for all available platforms if this actually happened.

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On the World of Warcraft front, I indulged in something I had been wanting to for awhile.  With the recent spike in token prices I opted to purchase one and it sold for roughly 130,000 gold.  I then took that gold and purchased the Champion’s Treadblade… which I always thought was a way cooler design than the Warlord’s Deathwheel.  This also jarred me off center in being less of a lazy engineer.  I never actually got around to crafting the original Mekgineer’s Chopper.  It was one of those things I always intended to do… but never wanted to spend the money on.  functionally no matter how much faction discount you have the end result is always going to be 12,000 gold worth of parts.  I used this influx of cash from the token however to serve as a reason to go ahead and finish this off.  I happened to have pretty much everything else needed to craft it laying around on various alts, so it was simply a matter of flying out to Storm Peaks and buying the few vendor items.

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The last major event of the weekend is that I finally decided what to use my character boost on.  I have not really touched much of anything this expansion on the Horde side.  My friend Grace has reverted back to her Horde ways, and as a result I figured I should probably have at least one character that I like to be able to play with her.  As a result I took the Deathknight that I rolled on her server and boosted it to 100, and started leveling it last night.  The thing that I didn’t realize about the 100 boost… is just how lousy the gear is that they give you.  I remember I started Legion sitting in mostly 710 gear on my characters from the pre-launch invasion events.  My newly boosted Unholy Deathknight was equipped in a full set of 640 gear…  which if I remember correctly was the required level to queue for heroics in Warlords of Draenor.  As a result this is the first character I have taken to the Broken Shores invasion scenario that I actually had trouble surviving.  I died about four times during this invasion…  but that also could simply be because this late in the expansion there was only one other player actually doing it.  Whatever the case I clawed my way up from the frustrating gear level and am making progress in Azsuna.

Destiny 2 Feels

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So yesterday was the big reveal of Destiny 2 gameplay and I have to say I am not disappointed in the least.  In fact at this very moment I am feeling inordinate amounts of Destiny love.  There were a few things that were released that gave me all the feels.  The first is the “Story of Zavala” trailer of sorts that tells the tale of how he came from being a corpse somewhere in the cosmodrome to being the leader of the Vanguard.  Unfortunately I have not seen this trailer released separately so you have to catch it about 14 mins into the video that I linked… which is the entire Destiny 2 reveal stream dumped to YouTube.  In that trailer you see a young Amanda Holliday getting her first look at a starship, so that in itself was completely priceless.  The second cavalcade of feels comes from the gameplay reveal trailer…  which appears to be cut from what is going to be one of the intro cinematics showing how the tower falls.  There is a moment in the trailer for each class where they get to shine…  and I absolutely got all the feels when I saw Zavala call everyone to him and raise a Titan bubble.  There are similar badass moments where Ikora Rey Nova Bombs a Cabal transport, and Cayde-6 Golden Gun’s three Cabal troopers.

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Destiny 2 is a tale of starting over after a monumental fall from grace, which in itself is probably the best way of dealing with a power reset scenario.  Having spent the last week playing through the Fallen Empire storyline in Star Wars the Old Republic… I absolute approve of the notion that sometimes you need to shuffle the deck to freshen up the game.  What I like the most about what I saw though is that everything looked and felt like it was still Destiny…  just with the Destiny-ness sliders moved all the way to eleven.  They reveal that we are going to four new places…  but in part I am hoping that given time we will also revisit areas that we have been to before.  The maps themselves are supposedly more open world style, or at least the one that was showed reminded me of something on the scale of the Hinterlands from Dragon Age: Inquisition with lots of active hotspots to go explore and find adventures.  This is definitely playing to my core desires as a player, but I am also hoping that it still has directed story missions for the folks like Tamrielo who tend to bounce super hard from “now go explore” setups in games.

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It sounds like all of the things that made Destiny awesome are coming back, but that they are adding a whole layer of new stuff on top.  To be truthful if you look at my characters stats… I have spent a significant number more hours doing patrol missions than literally anything else in the game.  Just as a reference according to my Profile on Bungie.net… on my Titan I have played a grand total of 14 days 15 hours… and of that time 7 days 4 hours was in Patrol mode.  So giving me a big open world to roam in is absolutely going to serve my interests.  However it sounds like the strikes and raids and crucible modes are all coming back with a vengeance with brand new concepts being introduced.  It also seems like some of the specs are being tweaked… and I am not sure if each class is getting a wholly new sub class or if we are just losing one and gaining one.  Titans for example I know have a Void class that revolves around wielding a shield like Captain America.  Warlocks have a new sub class that gives them flaming angel wings and lets them wield a giant flaming sword.  So I am not sure if those are in additional to the subs we already have… or if those are now replacing the Defender Titan and Sunsinger Warlock.  I mean I am hoping we get something new… but Defender was absolutely one of those sub classes that was super niche and extremely hard to complete “kill with elemental abilities” sort of bounties.

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The biggest news from yesterday is that the PC client would be going through Battle.net…  which is curiously being referred to as Battle.net and not the Blizzard Launcher.  I said before that I would likely never stop calling it Battle.net, and I am guessing maybe they have rethought that branding decision…  now that a non-Blizzard game is going to be using that infrastructure.  This decision has a lot of positives and as far as I am concerned fairly few negatives.  I’ve spent over a decade now cultivating a community inside of the Blizzard franchise games, and knowing that I can carry that ready made community into Destiny is going to be a huge bonus for me.  What Bungie is getting from PSN and XBL is an account system that takes care of all of the day to day friend maintenance and messaging functionality and lets them just connect up a game to it.  I mean the option  that we all probably through they would be taking was to integrate this game with Steam completely, and rely on steam users for profiles.  However to be honest, Blizzard does a far better job of policing its own network than Steam does, because quite frankly it is not in the interest of Valve to clamp down too harshly.  The only negative here about any of this is that it sounds like the PC client will not be available on day one… and will instead be a console launch only.  Ultimately I was going to buy  this on PS4 and PC anyways… so this is not a huge deal for me…  however it is going to suck for anyone who wants to hold out for the PC.

My dream that is likely to go unrealized is that I could have a single set of character spread across all of the platforms.  I am perfectly okay with purchasing a PC client, PS4 client, and Xbox One client…  and not necessarily being able to cross play between them.  However I would love if my characters which are attached to my Bungie account carried over and worked on each platform.  Let me play with my PC friends, PS4 friends and Xbox friends with the characters I have spent so much time building.  I mean I managed to get my Xbox One character up to 370 light…  but that feels pittiful compared to my stable of three 400 light characters on the PS4 side, each with access to a vault full of awesome stuff.  Compared to the 14 days on PSN… I have only played 21 hours of the Xbox One gameplay because not having all of my toys was always a major set back.  Since the characters are bound to the Bungie account… they could absolutely make this thing happen.  They just need the will to do so.  So I have hopes and dreams… but I am fully expecting them to get dashed in the long run.  At this point however I am just riding the hype train and so freaking ready for this game to come out.

Addon Trolling

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I am having one of those mornings that I am simply struggling to find any inspiration to write.  It’s been one of those weeks, namely because I am juggling a huge meeting load and feeling like I am accomplishing nothing in the process.  When you have a few 30 minute blocks between the rest of your schedule being in meetings, it becomes really hard to make any headway in anything.  However I guess that is what happens when you move up to management.  The problem being that when I finally do get home I sort of revert to a gelatinous state and struggle to find any forward momentum in games either.  As predicted my forward momentum in World of Warcraft has stalled quite a bit upon getting the flight unlock.  I could in theory alt all the things…  but instead I am largely just logging in each day and doing whatever faction based world quest there is for a shot at fury friendly legendary items.

A few days ago I had installed an addon called Leatrix Plus, which adds a bunch of quality of life improvements for World of Warcraft.  Among the tweaks were a few settings that I figured were largely good ideas.  The first being to accept invites to groups from the guild/friends, and the second being to accept summons from the guild/friends.  Last night however I learned that maybe this is not the best idea to run with enabled.  Now in my head I had completely forgotten that Wednesday was raid night.  I mean it was one of those things that I was aware of, but not completely cognizant of.  So I found myself after eating dinner logging in to do my daily run at legendaries, and like I often do alt tabbed to do something else while the game finished loading in.  When I finally tabbed back I found myself in a raid and sitting at the Nighthold summoning stone.  While afk I had apparently been invited to the raid group and summoned… and my handy little addon absolutely allowed myself to get trolled.  I bowed out once I realized what had happened because honestly I am not ready for “serious mode” raiding.

After doing my nightly bombing run on a legendary, I wound up logging and digging into Star Wars the Old Republic.  When I started the night I was sitting on Chapter XIII and managed to play my way through to a good ways into Chapter XVI.  The whole chapter thing feels odd considering I am functionally doing the same thing as Netflix binge watching.  Its hard for me to see where the seams normally would have been between chapters, but I guess the content is naturally released in a format that feels akin to how Final Fantasy XIV does.  Looking at the Wiki page it seems like originally the content was released roughly a chapter a month between February and August of 2016, with the initial content providing the first nine chapters at release.  The only negative about binging the content like this is that I am not really spending much time with any of my newly acquired companions, since for the most part each mission requires me to use a specific combination.  Also the reveals are probably less dramatic than they would have been if I was being drip fed the content.  Whatever the case I am still very much enjoying it, and some of the shit is getting weird.  Going to be interesting to see what it is like to roll into the Eternal Throne content.

 

Enjoyment and PVP

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Last week there was a tweet that came across my feed that jarred something loose in my brain.  I am wishing I had thought to save it because I honestly don’t know at this point who tweeted or at least on what specific day.  It was one of those things that filtered into my subconscious and stuck there as it scrolled past.  The general gist was asking what exactly a game would have to do to make PVP palatable for you personally.  I was rushing between meetings when I checked Fenix on my phone, and never actually got around to replying.  However it is something that I have been mulling over for days now.  Why this was so sticky is the fact that I am a walking paradox it seems.  I will claim not to like PVP at all, and will actively go out of my way to avoid it if it is happening in the world.  If a game has one of those settings that prevents you from being accidentally flagged… I run with that on all of the time.  If it is raid time… and one of our PVP centric members runs into the instance flagged and in doing so gets jumped by the Horde.  I will sit there and watch them die, because in my mind they made a poor life choice for coming to a raid flagged in the first place.

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All of that said… I also look forward to the Iron Banner in Destiny which is a monthly PVP event, and if I am bored I often times pop into the crucible which is their version of a battleground match making system.  What I have never been able to reconcile is why player versus player activity in one game feels good and in others not great at all.  All I have been able to sort out in my head is that in Destiny there is no negative side effect, and the rewards for participation are balanced in a way that it feels like no matter what there is a chance that I get something really cool in the process.  Now Crucible hardcores in Destiny will tell you that the things that I love about it… are the things that frustrate them.  Functionally loot is not tied to performance, but instead participation.  Sure if you win a match you get more faction with Lord Shax the Crucible reputation vendor…  but regardless of success or failure it feels like my time spent is leading towards the goal of something interesting.  I am either going to get a faction package that gives me weapons or armor…  or I am going to have the chance of getting interesting gear rewarded to me at random at the end of a match.

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The other thing that has stuck out in my head is that in Destiny the total time of the match is relatively short ranging from 6 to 8 minutes… to at the maximum 15 minutes.  Even more than that the time to engagement is also short, with the lack of long runs back to where the objective fighting is happening.  I spent some time this weekend in World of Warcraft doing battlegrounds, since that system as a whole feels like a reasonable counter point to Destiny.  I knew I was in for something when about 5 minutes into an Arathi basin map…  I saw a pop up through DBM timers informing me that my team would win in 21 minutes.  The length of that match just felt prohibitive to my enjoyment, and the risk of that time spent…  had no real payoff waiting for me at the end.  Sure there is the chance of random loot, but the loot seems to be based on my current PVP rank… and not relative to my gear level which is a huge positive for the way that Destiny handles things.  So since I am late to the game, that means I would have to suffer through a lot of bad experiences in order to maybe have a chance of getting something that is going to be useful to me in the long run.  The risk versus reward equation is just not good enough for me to keep throwing myself at the gristmill.  So instead after a handful of maps I went back to grinding World Quests because they at least felt like they had tangible rewards associated with them.

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Basically my take away is that in order for me to find PVP interesting… there has to be one hell of a lot of carrot waiting on me and very little stick.  The truth is that PVP in general be it Crucible or Battlegrounds is the sort of thing that I might do if I have literally nothing else to do.  I participate in Iron Banner so often because it is a limited time event… and it also is a loot bonanza.  While I was working my way to the current 400 light cap in Destiny, a good chunk of that progress was gained through Iron Banner drops…  which tend to be one every third or fourth match.  In World of Warcraft I played a half dozen battlegrounds this weekend and got a single piece of gear that was 50 item levels lower than the rest of the gear that I was wearing, so another enchanting shard just doesn’t feel that exciting.  I think the shortness of the match also helps my enjoyment, because even if we are losing horribly…  it is a short term predicament and one that might be remedied in the next match.  Additionally battlegrounds that focus on huge scale siege objectives tend to be soul sucking for me, and each time I have to mount up and run to the opposite end of the map it just feels bad.  I guess I prefer quick skirmishes rather than protracted battles, especially for randomly queuing with strangers.  The other huge negative about PVP in games like World of Warcraft is the fact that I am lumped into chat with a bunch of horrible people.  Simply disabling the chat and making the maps clear enough not to need communication to complete objectives would greatly improve my experience.  A good chunk of my joy in Destiny is the fact that no one can spout off racist slurs in global chat.

 

Finally Flying

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Last night was an interesting night filled with running a bunch of the world quests out in Broken Shore in an attempt to get the faction needed to finish getting Legionfall over the revered mark.  However after doing everything that was available, and the daily goblin treasure quest…  I found myself still just shy of the finish line.  I needed just shy of 400 faction, and after taking a break to get some food I roamed around aimlessly trying to sort out what if anything I should be doing.  It was around then that I got pinged by a friend of mine and asked if I was up for tanking some mythic dungeons.  Last week was the “run 4 mythics and get a chest” quest in Dalaran, and I had not touched it myself because I didn’t think I would have any semblance of a regular group.  However when one reached out to me at around 8:30 I took the opportunity.

All told we ran Mythic Halls of Valor zero to get some keystones, and it also happened to be a world quest for a significant chunk of artifact power.  We then ran a Mythic Maw of Souls because it is super fast and I believe we had a 3 keystone for it.  From there I pestered the group to run Cathedral of Eternal Night, because I still had a quest for it and had never actually seen it.  It was around this time that I shifted from tank to dps as someone who had tanked the place before took over.  I am far from a reasonable dps, but I did okayish in the grand scheme of things…  or at least well enough to get us through the dungeon.  Finally I shifted back to tanking as we did a Mythic 3 Darkheart Thicket because it was either that… Eye of Azshara or Vault of the Wardens.  We all sort of thought that Darkheart would be the fastest.  We managed to three chest the dungeons, which largely meant we walked away with some extra artifact power.

After finishing the dungeon runs and turning in the quest I managed to cross the finish line with the faction I needed.  So as a result I can now finally fly in the Broken Isles.  The challenge now is…  am I functionally done again with World of Warcraft for awhile?  This was really the driving force for me returning was to finish off flight.  I mean Friday was fun enough that I will try and start making that on a regular basis.  However I am not sure how much I care to actually be logging in each day and doing stuff.  I am sitting at 890 item level… and in truth if I am going to be dps I should get some more legendaries.  The problem there is that the mathematics are stacked against me… since I have 4 tanking legendaries already.  The thought of trying to get 2 more dps legendaries seems daunting.  One of my legendaries is not a net dps gain… but it does at least give me some added survival because it heals me each time I spend rage.  In theory I should at least keep doing the daily faction chests because I got most of my legendary drops from them.

Fel Knight

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Things happened this weekend and apparently I am playing World of Warcraft again.  Even though this has nothing to do with her directly… I am going to blame Grace for planting the seed in my head that the game is much better once you unlock flight.  Next I am going to blame MMO Champion for having a tool at the top of their home page that showed me that I was literally only a reputation grind away from flying in Broken Isles.  The power of the thing things combined seemingly turned my “someday” into “do this thing now”.  There was a lot of bonus extra credit for folks like Erry and Mort telling me that they missed me, and that I should really show up on raid nights again.  As a result I spent my weekend mostly playing World of Warcraft with brief flurries of Destiny and Star Wars the Old Republic.  Maybe I just needed some comfort gaming, or maybe things really were the sequence of the events above.  Whatever the case I largely enjoyed myself…  but not in that “ahhhh… I’m Home” sort of way and more “this is perfectly okay”.  I think I would enjoy myself quite a bit more on Alts since really I am too well geared to get much use out of the Broken Isles content.

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Probably the highlight of the weekend was raiding with my guild again on Friday.  Traditionally Wednesday night is the super serious raiding time, and Friday is the blow off “lets do farm content” night.  In truth I don’t so much care about the blow off aspect, and more about the attitude of the two different outings.  Raiding stopped being fun for me when everyone got really serious Wednesday nights and stopped having fun.  Maybe I just hit a bad patch there, but when the tension in palpable and everyone is super concerned about squeaking that last bit of dps out of their spec…  that isn’t really enjoyable for me.  What is however is running around like a bunch of nubs and face-rolling content for the fun of it.  That is my jam and I have to admit I had an awful lot of fun Friday.  I had reached this point where once again I felt like raiding probably “wasn’t for me” but if I can repeat the sort of environment again I could be down with doing this on a weekly basis.  I managed to stay alive the entire night…  until we got to Gul’dan.  My eyes glazed over five minutes into a fifteen minute explanation of the fight and I am sure I died to something stupid and easily avoidable.  Regardless I managed to exit the night with a couple of tier pieces, so life was pretty damned peachy.

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The other big thing that I did this weekend was play catch up on a ton of content that I had not touched in ages.  Withered training was one of those things that I just never really cared about… but I now have a quest to do X number of world quests in Suramar and as a result I am looking for quests to do that are not super annoying.  The above haul involved unlocking a bunch of shit that I had never unlocked before, and in theory I will really be able to steamroll the place next time.  My biggest frustration with withered training has nothing to do with the training itself… and more to do with the fact that it is still annoying to get Ancient Mana.  Sure it is easy enough if you are out running around in Suramar to get it as a drip feed while you do other things… but to purposefully try and seek it out is really freaking annoying.  I mean I know there is the Vineyards trick, but every time I go there the lootables seem to be farmed down pretty heavily.  The real win of the weekend through is that I am roughly 1600 reputation away from being able to fly.  The question is if I will actually stick around after achieving this goal.

Two Years Behind

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Yesterday I had zero intent to sit down in the morning and start writing about level scaling systems.  Sometimes posts just happen.  However after writing it one of my friends mentioned a key point.  There should functionally be a way to flip off level scaling if you absolutely positively want to just go wreck things.  The prime example of this would be if you just want to farm up a bunch of low level materials quickly.  I remember when I was leveling any of my various tailors up in World of Warcraft, I would simply find a dungeon in the level range and mercilessly wreck it for the sole purpose of getting as much cloth in as short of a time as I could.  This would have been completely maddening were I not greatly over leveling the content.  Once again I think we can look to Final Fantasy XIV as a good example here because some time ago they added in the ability to queue for content “undersized”, which functionally turns off the level synchronization process allowing you to just wreck the content if you so choose.  However I still think I would prefer it if MMO worlds scaled by default, and then simply allowed folks to disable that option if they so choose.

I’ve said recently that I really love returning to an MMO after some time has passed and be confronted with potentially years of content to go off and experience.  The thing is this also has an extremely negative side to it.  Right now I am in this weird place where I am super into content that happened two years ago.  There is something to be said about experiencing things at the same time as your friends, because it allows you to have conversations about what is going on.  This has been one of the best parts of Final Fantasy XIV is that each time they give us a slow drip of story content we all consume it then can talk about the revelations that are contained within.  This allows us to have moments of theory crafting and speculation…  knowing that at some point in the future we will be able to resolve what is actually going on.  With Star Wars the Old Republic and the Knights of the Fallen Empire content… generally speaking either folks played through this content two years ago when it released…  or will likely never play through it.

That puts me in such a weird places because I have all these thoughts and feelings about the game and what it is doing…  but I don’t exactly feel right talking about them on my blog.  Knights of the Fallen Empire has some pretty big revelations that would be better experienced than told about.  This is one of those times when everything about it is extremely heavy on the spoiler front.  Each time new revelations come to light…  I wish there was a group of people that I could talk through them with.  Basically this is one of those times when I wish I had played through the chapter based content as it was being released rather than this current Netflix style binge sequence that I am going through.  I have a feeling that Guild Wars 2 and its living story content is much the same…  likely best experienced as it is being released a little bit at a time.  This also makes me really want to get caught up so that I can at least join the discussion happening with the Eternal Throne content.  However I am also extremely cautious of looking up too much information for fear of getting these plot twists completely ruined for me.

On the positive front I have stumbled across a really awesome YouTube channel that has helped me get back into the game and the modern concepts.  Swtorista has this awesome Star Wars the Academy series that breaks down a bunch of topics like “What to do at Level 70” or how the Galactic Command system works.  The best videos though are a sequence on the best looking craftable armors for each class, since we all know the true end game of an MMO is looking awesome.  Through her videos thought I have been able to catch up pretty easily without risking spoilers too badly.  Side note… there is a special place in hell for folks who put obvious spoilers in YouTube video titles… as I already have apparently one of the Iokath revelations spoiled because of this.  For those interested I am largely playing Belghast my Jedi Knight on Ebon Hawk at least while I do all of the chapter based content.  I have a large stable of character spread between the two factions and they are either in House Stalwart on Sith side, or Einherjar on Republic side.  If you are also playing feel free to ping me and say hi.

Level Scaling Tech

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I am in this place with SWTOR Knights of the Fallen Empire where I am honestly not sure what more I can say without my blog turning into a massive spoiler fest.  There are a lot of events going on and many of them have surprised me.  This is a little shocking given that I consume a lot of gaming media and that KotFE has been technically out since October 2015.  I am not sure if I purposefully ignored SWTOR articles… or if I just didn’t come across that many.  Whatever the case essentially everything from Shadows of Revan onward has been a completely new story experience for me without me knowing any of the elements ahead of time.  So while I recognized characters like Theron Shan or Lana Beniko…  I knew nothing about them going into this recent binge of playing the game.  We’ve talked about this on the podcast before, but returning to an MMO and seeing years worth of content laid out in front of you is a pretty great thing.  Especially in a situation like SWTOR where they have a reasonable level scaling system.

Yesterday Syp posted something over on his personal blog Bio Break talking about level scaling systems.  His specific discussion centered around whether or not level scaling systems were good for games, which was brought on by his recent journeys in LOTRO.  Over time my own feelings about the systems have changed.  You can scan through the backlog of this blog and find me talking about Mentoring systems, where games allow high level player A to drop down to the level of player B and run content with them.  This seemed to me like the most elegant solution to the problem of being able to run content with your friends.  That was until I encountered Guild Wars 2, and the fact that no matter where you go your character is scaled down to the level of the world.  The concept of evergreen content is a big one for me… because I like when a game expands over time rather than contracts.  While Guild Wars 2 is not the best example of this… because of the fact that there is plenty of content that you will never be able to play again in that game…  it did make me appreciate level scaling as a replacement for mentoring.

The only problem there is that when the world is constantly the same level as you, it robs you of one of the quintessential MMO experiences of leveling up and becoming more powerful.  The world always feels the same to you, because you are functionally always the same relative ability levels to it as you level.  In situations like that the levels themselves feel like a completely extraneous concept.  Why even have a number that goes up if the world is always going to be functionally the same difficulty.  When we started playing Final Fantasy XIV they had an extremely elegant solution for this in the form of their dungeon finder.  Each dungeon had a functional level range from the moment you first were able to zone in… to the moment that it considered was the upper bound of levels.  So if the average mob level in an area was 35, then functionally the maximum level the game would allow you to be was 40, scaling everyone over that level down to that point.  The only negative here is that this ONLY applies to dungeons, and in truth it would have been interesting to see this same sort of system just work out in the world as a whole.

That I guess is functionally what is going on in Star Wars the Old Republic, and I am loving it.  Each piece of content be it planet, flashpoint, or something else… has a functional level range attached to it.  Once again it is functionally along the lines of being five or so levels over whatever the maximum level of encounter for that area.  Then the game rewards you as though you were fighting something your own level in terms of both experience and loot drops.  This means that you can go anywhere and do anything without feeling like you are getting nothing from it.  At launch this was absolutely a problem with SWTOR and it was extremely easy to out level an area, and reach a point where the experience gain was no longer worth the time you spent on a planet.  This was especially true as I remember on Tatooine which in itself was a huge planet with lots of side content.  By the time I “did everything” I ended up several levels ahead of the curve and functionally kept getting more and more over-leveled as I went through the rest of the planets.

Now there is a certain measure of freedom in being able to just go and do the content without having to worry about level… and in many cases gear.  While leveling my Imperial Agent, there were a few points where I went 10 levels without upgrading any of my gear… and really did not notice a significant amount of power drop off.  Then again I did exit the class storyline at level 58… so there was some significant over-leveling going on there that might have been easing the transition.  The thing with this system is however that while you are gaining power and you FEEL powerful… there is never a point where you are just waltzing through  field of enemies gently tapping them and watching them explode.  When you run someone through a low level dungeon in World of Warcraft for example on your level capped main… you can functionally breathe on mobs and they impale themselves in a shower of loot.  SWTOR feels like a happy medium, of letting your power level increase without completely trivializing the game.  Sure most of the time I am not actually afraid of death, but I still feel heroic doing content…  because I am having to use my abilities to take things down rather than a single auto swing.  As a result I have somewhat shifted my focus from user driven mentoring systems…  to seeing more games adopt this sort of level scaling.  The best part about Legion honestly was the way that content has scaled to the player while leveling through it, and if only Blizzard had applied this tech to the world as a whole… it would be a much more enjoyable experience.  I like knowing that I can revisit those areas that I enjoyed so much in the past, and still having an interesting time.

 

Empires Fall

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This is going to be one of those “Bel is very late to the party” sort of posts but bear with me.  Additional upfront warnings…  I am entering a territory with this post that might have some minor spoilers.  For a long while I have avoided Knights of the Fallen Empire because I knew it made some significant changes that you simply could not step back.  As a result in my best Mass Effect fashion… I attempted to wring as much joy from the “old world” as I could and made sure that I saw all of the story content before moving forward.  Last night however I finally reached that point where I was at least reasonably comfortable taking the plunge and moving forward into the modern era of SWTOR.  Having said that…  there are a bunch of things I am extremely glad that I completed before doing so.  Firstly I am happy that I managed to see the main story arc for each of the classes.  Secondly I am happy that I took the time to progress every single companion and see all of their personal story before moving forward.  Additionally as far as I am concerned it is extremely important to do both Shadows of Revan and Rise of the Emperor (Ziost) before starting the Fallen Empire content.  I mean in theory you can just jump ahead to the modern era at any point you like, but if you want to have completed all of your story elements…  you need to do class story to completion, Revan and Ziost.

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Functionally Shadows of Revan and Rise of the Emperor are the unlabeled opening acts of the Fallen Empire campaign, and as a result I am extremely glad that I completed both of them.  Now the other big piece of warning that I had been given was that anything you want to do with your companions… you need to do before entering “chapters” mode.  This is because in truth you may or may not ever see them again.  I personally don’t have a list of which companions are findable in the game, and which are just gone indefinitely… but I have heard that some fan favorites are absolutely missing in action.  Once you enter Chapters the game is functionally changed, and you are sort of along for the ride.  It was that point that really concerned me and kept me from taking the leap for a very long time.  I had built up this comfortable stable of characters that I liked using, and enjoyed my jetting around the galaxy life style.  Once I started Chapter 1… literally all of that changed and I began playing a very different game.  That said…  I think it might be a better game.

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If Star Wars the Old Republic was functionally World of Warcraft in space…  then Fallen Empire is Knights of the Old Republic 3.  The game feels like it shifts from being a traditional check all of the boxes MMORPG… to being a much more story focused RPG that just happens to have other people playing it at the same time.  At this point I am still wrapping things up in Chapter VI and hope to keep moving forward tonight, but I’ve found myself in a situation that feels very familiar to anyone who has played KOTOR 1 or 2.  In that fashion I think its best to think of Fallen Empire and I assumed Eternal Throne as a sequel to Star Wars the Old Republic.  You are playing the same character, and you have all of the items you have built up along your first journey, but you are functionally playing a completely different game.  Maybe it is more of a new game plus mode than anything, as you shift your focus from the traditional tropes of an MMO, to starting over again.  It feels much the same as Mass Effect 2 did after the original, where you are set down in a world that is familiar, but the cast of characters has changed slightly… and you have to rebuild your legacy.

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I will likely continue to report in as I travel through the new content, but so far I have to say I am hooked.  There are a lot of events that happen in rapid succession, but functionally when you regain full control of your character five years have passed and the future is uncertain.  You are presented with a new cast of characters… some of which are familiar and others brand new.  That said the cast of characters are interesting and I immediately felt right at home…  in spite of no longer having my original team of companions.  I can see the potential for setting forth in a matter that cuts across the various class stories and potentially introduces me to characters from them all.  The other weird thing about this setting is that I am finding myself turning from pure Jedi…  to more of a balanced user.  I am giving myself permission to take more dark side choices when I feel like it suits my purpose better.  I am going to save the people that need saving… and I am absolutely going to take a lightsaber to the folks who deserve killing.  I am no longer the Jedi Battlemaster and am now instead known as the Outlander, and with that comes a change in focus.  Belghast is going to be a lot darker than before… and that is going to be okay.  I feel like this character is the vanguard of all of the characters I have played, and as a result sort of adopting my favorite traits from each of the class storylines.  In wild space, Sith and Jedi don’t matter anymore… but instead what matters is freeing the galaxy of this new threat.

Mixed Feelings

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This morning like so many mornings I have been feeling largely uninspired in my attempt to find something to write about.  In Star Wars the Old Republic I am in an odd space of doing some miscellaneous clean up before moving on to the Knights of the Fallen Empire content.  This is enjoyable but not exactly the sort of thing that makes a good blog post because it doesn’t necessarily reveal anything worth mentioning.  As a result I have spent way too much time looking at twitter, and almost like a miracle a tweet came across my timeline.  It seems that Secret World Legends is releasing on June 26th, which is admittedly way sooner than I was expecting.  It seems like it literally just went into beta about a month ago, which means one of two things.  One either the beta has gone so amazingly well that they are moving up their time tables… or two that they were always going to launch on the 26th regardless of what happened in testing.  Admittedly I have a lot of mixed feelings about this game relaunching.

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I have a lot of love for The Secret World…  but much in the same way as you might love that one movie you saw back in your childhood that you through was really damned cool and remember fondly as a sequence of memories.  It will probably always be one of the best story driven MMO experiences I have had.  They also did some interesting things with the deck building style ability system that let you mix and match actives and passives until you crafted a character that fit your specific play style.  For example I fell in love with Blades/Shotgun which was this amazingly fun build with a mix of ranged and melee abilities that let me adapt to pretty much any open world situation.  The problem being that these extremely custom builds all fell completely apart when you entered the end game.  The game saw every single one of my circle of friends, having to abandon whatever path they were on to choose something new and group friendly to be able to even start to make a dent in the nightmare content.  This is the point where most of us checked out, because we loved being whatever character fantasy we had built for ourselves…  and having to abandon that just ruined the game experience.

All of that said… my twitter time line is full of moments when I broadcast the game out to my friends in an effort to get everyone to experience it.  Each time it went on sale I talked about how good of a deal it was.  I love the setting and I love the challenge of some of the quests that force you to figure out how to do silly things like decode things from base 64 encoding.  In the trailer above they talk about switching the game from an MMO to a shared world action RPG…  which largely sounds like marketing nonsense.  They are switching the game to be reticle targeting, which can be a positive if all of the movement and interaction keys work nicely with it.  In many ways this could be an attempt to make it a more console friendly design, because that sort of a control scheme seems to simply work better with a controller than it does with mouse and keyboard.  All of the individual weapons seem to have a mini game aspect.  About a month ago Elemental was shown off on the dev stream to have a “heat” mechanic that you are trying to keep in check.  This makes me wonder however how well custom builds like my beloved Blades and Shotgun will work in this scenario.  Will we have to choose a single weapon and stick to that?

Mostly I think I am going to have to fall into the “wait and see” camp at least until I get my hands on the game.  I want it to work well, because I would really love to see a game like The Secret World succeeding.  It did a lot of interesting things that no one else is still doing, and presented a game setting that is unique and interesting.  The big problem however is all of that interesting bits came in a package that never quite worked as well as I thought it should.  The user interface was always a bit of a disaster that you learned out to work around, rather than something that really reinforced the enjoyment of the game.  Similarly the combat was scattered with a bunch of really great ideas that never quite coalesced into something that felt really good to play.  There were elements of sheer brilliance, but those were what helped you get past all of the things that you found yourself barely tolerating.  My ultimately hope is that with Secret World Legends they can go back and fix all the bits that never quite worked right, and then arrange the copious amounts of story they already have into a cohesive narrative.  If they can do that and give me fun moment to moment play…  then without a doubt I will be playing a lot more Secret World in the near future.  They are however launching during a super tight window following ESO Morrowind on the 6th and FFXIV Stormblood on the 20th.  That fact means without a doubt that while I might be playing this game… it is not going to even come close to being a primary game for me.