TESO: Things I’m Liking So Far

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I’ve recently come back to The Elder Scrolls Online (again). It’s a really solid game that’s much better than the game that launched, even better since the One Tamriel level scaling system (which kind of calls into question why an Elder Scrolls game level restricted zones to begin with, and whether or not this is/should be an outdated mechanic for other games… but that’s a post for another day). I came back to it mainly because I’m interested in housing when it comes out in February (and I’m sure there’ll be a lot of gold involved in that, so I’m trying to get some saved up), but I’ve found a lot of things to love about the game in the mean time.

Crafting Is Interesting
I’m not a big crafting person. Sure, in Guild Wars 2 and the like I eventually get around to doing crafting, but more out of a sense of guilt for having all of these crafting mats than because I was motivated to craft for crafting’s sake. A lot of it is probably because, since I left my first MMO, Runescape, I’ve never gotten into any MMOs that are sandboxy or otherwise crafting-focused. But in Elder Scrolls I’m actually crafting starting at a very low level, not only because most of the stuff you get from quests is garbage, but also because they actually make it interesting and rewarding. I’ve already found a couple of motifs to be able to craft armor and weapons in styles other than my own race’s, which is always interesting and exciting. Daily crafting writs are basically free XP. And, of course, I always love it when all professions can gather all materials. Deconstruction is also an interesting idea; deconstructing something made by another player will grant more XP than something you craft yourself, which encourages trade of otherwise worthless items.

Story Is Interesting, Not Overwhelming
It’s hard to strike the right balance of story and gameplay. I must admit, for as much as I love SWTOR and its storytelling, when I did all of KotFE at once, I got a little sick of the amount of talking involved. Granted, a lot of that was because of the fact that the DvL clock was ticking, but there is such a thing as too much talking and not enough action. Conversely, I’ve always felt like Guild Wars 2 was a little light in its storytelling department. Elder Scrolls has, so far, seemed to strike the right balance of meaningful, voiced conversations, many with optional lines of questioning.

The Graphics
Man, this game is pretty. It almost makes the incredibly long load times worth it.

Subscription Optional, But Worth It
I almost never subscribe to MMOs if I don’t have a good reason, and this is the first buy-to-play game that I’ve subscribed to almost immediately. I was in the cash shop, thinking about buying the $15 premium currency package so I could get an account wide mount (later I realized that gold-bought mounts may be account wide as well… oh well, the black and white horse I bought is neat, and not too flashy), when I realized that subscribing for $15 a month gets you $15 of cash shop currency, and opens up the crafting bag, as well as all of the DLCs. SWTOR, take note, this is how you entice me to sub to your game; not by taking away features from your free players, by making your sub actually worthwhile.

Combat
I keep saying that I don’t really like action combat games, but I’m beginning to think that it’s more that I don’t like bad action combat, because ESO’s combat is actually pretty fun, if a bit repetitive. I’ve written before about how I actually like limited hotbars in many ways. Before weapon swapping becomes available at level 15 it feels a bit restrictive, but even so, I prefer it to anything in any other Elder Scrolls game.

How Player Build Guides Brought Me Back to The Elder Scrolls Online

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I have a paralyzing fear in games with open-ended, sandbox character development that I will put hours and hours into a character and then realize that I made a character that isn’t viable, or that I just don’t like. Yes, skill resets are a thing in most games, but they’re usually pretty expensive, especially around mid-game where problems start to show themselves. I’ve talked about this before with Rift, and Elder Scrolls Online is no different. I’ve been toying with this title for a while, but I’ve been put over the edge by the upcoming housing, which looks great.

My go-to play style in MMOs has always been to be DoT-focused. I started with a nightblade with a focus on bleeds and inferno staff, but I quickly realized that I was actually killing stuff faster if I just spammed one of my direct damage attacks. If I’m noticing this at level 7, is it going to get better as I run into enemies with more health, or will it just get worse? I did some Googling and found that many players were saying that DoT damage in TESO is pretty much crap; something to supplement your damage with, not to focus on. So I thought maybe I’d try a summoning sorcerer. Pets are basically DoTs with health bars, right? Well, pets are also crap, apparently. So I started poking around what is viable, and I found a templar healer/tank hybrid called Atlas that sounds really interesting to me. The description says it’s not good for Trials (raids), but that the author was able to 2-man some veteran dungeons with a DPS, which sounds more fun to me anyways.

I know some of you are thinking “You’re relying too much on other people’s opinions! Just play what you think is fun!” I know you’re thinking it because I would be thinking it too, and it made me feel a bit guilty at first. In most games, I’ll play my character in whatever way seems fun, then, when I hit the level cap and think about endgame content, I look up a build guide. I generally don’t follow them strictly, but these people have generally put a lot of theorycrafting and experimentation into their builds, so it would almost be dumb not to at least look at it. And, in Elder Scrolls Online’s case, I’m making decisions at the beginning of the game that will affect how my character plays at endgame (skill points and attribute points), before I have any idea what works and what doesn’t in this game. It’s really nice to at least see what other players are doing to at least confirm or deny that something I’m doing is worth my time.

Again, I probably won’t follow any particular guide to the letter, but there’s a certain amount of comfort in having something to use as a baseline in a game with so much freeform character development. So thanks to Deltia and everyone else out there who writes guides for noobs like me!

The Best Games I’ve Never Beaten

I saw this idea on another site the other day (don’t remember where, sorry), and thought it was an interesting idea. I have an embarrassingly large Steam library, most of them unbeaten, but, in general, really good games will convince me to stick around to the end. But every once in a while there’s a game that is really good, but, for whatever reason, I never end up finishing it. Here are a few.

Dragon Age Inquisition
I absolutely loved the Mass Effect series, so before I was even finished with it, I started looking into its fantasy cousin, Dragon Age. Inquisition had recently come out, and everyone was talking about it, so when I found it on sale for half off I jumped on it. I’ve played the beginning missions at least three or four times and never made it any further. It’s one of those games that I can’t explain why I haven’t been able to get into. I think a lot if it is that I don’t quite “get” the gameplay. I think my biggest problem is that I went in expecting to play it like Mass Effect, where I mostly play my character and let my companions play on autopilot unless I want to focus down something specific. Later I realized that Dragon Age is actually more closely related to the DnD games of BioWare past, and really ought to be treated as such. I’m sure I’ll get back to it eventually; it took me a few tries to get into Mass Effect, so Dragon Age should be no different.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
What does “beating Skyrim” even mean, really? There’s just so much to do in Skyrim that the main campaign doesn’t even feel like a primary focus of the game. For instance, since I restarted on Skyrim Special Edition, I’ve put nearly 20 hours into the game and haven’t even gotten around to talking to the Greybeards. I keep heading that way, but then I get distracted by a bandit-infested cave or end up with a quest to some far-flung corner of Skyrim that sounds way more interesting than shouting at a bunch of old guys on a mountain.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Another BioWare game that I really want to play more of, but has trouble holding my interest. In SWTOR’s case, it’s a matter of the story being more interesting than the game. I bought KotOR when BioWare started talking about SWTOR mainly because I didn’t want to be like all of those people who played World of Warcraft who had no idea that there were three other Warcraft games out there. I’m not sure if it’s a mater of it not aging well or if it’s just not my thing, but I’ve always really hated the combat. The weird “pause and cycle through attack options” system has never made sense to me. Maybe I’m playing wrong, but I always just put a bunch of points into one attack type or the other and queue that attack up a bunch of times. So why couldn’t I just have them do that as their auto attack? If there were cooldowns on them it would make sense. The clunky, awkward movement controls don’t help either. The sad thing is that I’m really interested in the story, especially because I like SWTOR’s so much, particularly the Revan-related stuff (though I have to agree with the consensus that Shadow of Revan was a little anticlimactic, especially for those of us who thought of our character as a Revanite).

Obduction
I was super excited about this game when I backed the Kickstarter, but I haven’t actually made it very far in the game. Maybe I’ve become one of those gamers I used to so despise for killing the Myst franchise, who would rather have games based around action and shooting stuff than puzzles, or maybe it’s because I just don’t often have enough time and mental energy to sit down and play a puzzle game. Either way, the game is excellent, but I haven’t gotten very far in it, despite my excitement for it.

Final Fantasy… any of them
I own at least six different Final Fantasy games (seven if you count Chrono Trigger), but I have completed exactly none of them. I’m really close on a couple of them, but somehow I always stall out at the end. In my defense, I actually hadn’t even played a Final Fantasy game until just a few years ago, so it’s not like I’ve been sitting on these games since the 90s or anything, but still, can I really call myself a gamer if I’ve never beaten a Final Fantasy game?

MMO Obligations

Life is full of obligations. It’s not always fun, but we have to put up with it because that’s life. So it’s weird that, as MMO players, we so often set up so many obligations for ourselves in our free time.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few weeks playing SWTOR for the Dark vs. Light event. I keep trying to write about it, but “I did solo dungeons repeatedly until I couldn’t stand it, then I did some story quests” didn’t seem like it would make for a very interesting read. About a week before the event was over, I finally made it to the Eternal level, which was my goal. That’s the highest I was ever interested in getting, because I basically just wanted the extra companion (it looks like it’ll be the Chiss Jedi, which is the one I was really hoping for, since Chiss are one of my favorite Star Wars species). I’m excited for this, but the last few days, as much as I’ve been enjoying Knights of the Fallen Empire’s much improved cinematic storytelling, I’ve been really wanting to get back to some other games (both MMOs like WildStar, Marvel Heroes, LotRO, Elder Scrolls Online, and non-MMOs like the Master of Orion remake and the new Pokémon), but I keep having to tell myself that I can play these games when Dark vs. Light is over, because I’m running out of time. In other words, if Dark vs. Light wasn’t a thing, there’s no way I’d be playing SWTOR right now. Marketing wins again.

And it’s not just time-limited events that create obligations in games. We also set up a lot of guild-centric activities and obligations as well. Raid nights, guild meetings, guild bank contribution–most guilds don’t make these things mandatory (and if they do, they’re probably elitist jerks I don’t want to be in a guild with anyway), but, whether they are or not, there’s an unspoken feeling that you really should, because otherwise you’re really just leeching off of the guild without contributing anything.

Subscription fees create a kind of obligation to play on a regular basis as well. It doesn’t make sense to pay $15 for a game and then play it less than a game you’re not paying monthly for. Companies know this, of course, which is how we got into the weird spot we’re in right now where almost every MMO out there is free to play with an optional subscription to entice you to stay (some are less optional than others, as in SWTOR’s case).

Feelings of obligation can be stressful, which is ironic given that we play games to get away from real life and its obligations. It’s what keep many of my friends out of the genre. But, just like many obligations in real life, things that require obligation are also rewarding. I now have a set of +50% XP boosting armor, a new companion and a crapton of (mostly ugly) cosmetics because of Dark vs. Light. Raiding, while it takes a lot of coordination and commitment from a lot of people at once, as well as the frustration that comes from relying on other people, provides an experience that you simply can’t get anywhere else, not to mention a chance at some shiny new gear. I guess it’s a cost/benefit thing, and, for me, the benefits of MMO obligations outweigh the costs.

My End Goals in Various MMOs

I’ve been playing a good amount of Star Wars the Old Republic lately. I’ve been meaning to get back in and see the last couple of expansions’ stories if nothing else, and Dark vs. Light gave me incentive to do that. Then recent announcements about changes to endgame that basically say that they don’t want my money unless I subscribe (cliffnotes version: no engame gear for F2P players, F2P players can no longer buy weekly passes for dungeons, raids, PvP, etc.) had me ready to ragequit, but, when I thought about it, I realized that I have literally never done a raid in SWTOR, and it’s been years since I did a dungeon with anything other than a PUG. Sure, this means that I will never expand beyond this kind of occasional, casual play that means I will give them little to no money, but still, it doesn’t mean much for the way I play right now. This got me thinking about what I really want out of my MMOs. The answer I came up with was that every game’s end goal was unique. Here are a few, in no particular order.

Star Wars the Old Republic
Since we’re on the subject of SWTOR, let’s start here. Since BioWare has basically told me the only thing I can do as a free to play player is story, that’s all I’m likely to be playing. After all, it’s what BioWare is best at, and what their focus has been on for a while now. If I skipped this expansion it wouldn’t be the first, but Knights of the Fallen Empire has me interested, so I’ll probably stick around at least enough to see the story once. I bought a couple of character slots while they were on sale, so I’ve been playing some vanilla content I’ve never seen before along with the newer stuff, which has been fun. It’s not likely to keep me in the game for long, but it’s fun for now.

Guild Wars 2
I created a new guild with some friends, and, in the first couple of weeks, the eight of us have done more as a guild than I (and several others) had done with their much larger guilds. This, combined with running the Halloween event (I finally got the Hexed outfit!), has, strangely enough, renewed my interest in the game. I’m looking to get enough hero points to finish off my elite spec on a couple of my favorite characters (necro is mostly done, working on my revenant now, as well as my healing ranger a little) and I’ve been running dungeons with friends more often. I’ve somehow never done fractals, so I’m looking to do that soon. Maybe even get into some raids eventually?

Rift
I like Rift, and I finally have a couple of characters that I like, but I’m still not sure what my goals are for this game. I’m certainly not playing it for the story, and I’m not sure I’m dedicated enough to want to get into endgame dungeons or raiding. I guess I’m just playing for the sake of a new game to level in? Nothing wrong with that, I guess.

WildStar
I actually have a decently geared Esper healer, and I was signed up to go raiding with my guild shortly before they fell apart. Finding a new guild has severely decreased my interest in playing, which is sad because WildStar remains one of my favorite MMOs, and it needs all the players it can get right now. The death of my guild has, however, freed me up to finally check out the opposite faction. I’ve been slowly but surely leveling a Dominion engineer, which has been a fun experience. I may have to level one on the Exile side when I’m done. I like the Exile faction a lot better in general, but man, their capital city is a dump. The one for the Dominion is so much prettier.

Elder Scrolls Online
This one is almost the same story as Rift. The story is a little more interesting, but I don’t have any clear goals, and the angst that comes with building a new character is paralyzing. I decided to put this one on the shelf until One Tamriel came out, but now that’s here and I haven’t decided on a character to play.

Lord of the Rings Online
Really, all I want is to simply walk into Mordor.
Seriously, though, my only goal is to see all of the world/story content in this game. I keep getting right up to the gates of Moria and stalling out. The rune-keeper class really clicked with me, and I want to get back to this one as soon as possible.

Nintendo Switch first impressions


By now you’ve probably seen news about the Switch. It’s Nintendo’s new console-tablet-thing (I’m pretty sure that’s the technical term) that was announced earlier today. As a Nintendo fan, I’m personally pretty excited. It’s no secret that Nintendo has been floundering lately, especially stateside. It has been suggested that they should do what Sega did in 2001 and give up on the console market and focus on making software for third party consoles. But Nintendo has always dominated the handheld arena. Yes, tablets and smartphones have stolen a bit of their market, but the success of the 3DS has shown that Nintendo can still hold their own in that area. I think the Switch is a great move for them, because it unifies their handheld and home console into one.

First off, let’s talk about controls. Ever since the Wii, Nintendo has been all-in on “unique” controllers, and the Switch seems to go back on some of the weirdness, which is much apreciated. As you can see in the above trailer, the controller is basically a normal, Xbox-style controller that splits in two and snaps on either side of the tablet. Razer has an Android tablet with a similar design, and I’m sure others have tried this, but I think Nintendo is the first company to do something like this in an elegant way that looks like something I’d want to play on. Using the tiny side controllers on their own is a nice option I guess, but I don’t see developers using them for much, as they look pretty cramped. I like the new version of the Pro Controller; nothing fancy, just a good, solid, traditional controller. It seems to have the same buttons as built-in one, so I’m really hoping that this means all games will allow you to use either controller. No more wondering which of your myriad controllers a game is compatible with, please (I’m still annoyed that I can’t play Splatoon on a pro or classic controller, which, judging by the end of the trailer, is set to change in the sequel).

I find it odd that we never see anyone touching the screen on the Switch in the trailer. It would be super ironic if they went from having a home console that has a touchscreen where it doesn’t belong to having a tablet that doesn’t. I’ll be really surprised if this is the case, however, and I suspect that they simply chose not to show it because they wanted to distance it from the Wii U in users’ minds. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s part of Nintendo’s design specifications this time around that every game must be playable with the controller only, since otherwise you won’t be able to play if it’s plugged into the dock. As an added bonus, they get people like me to speculate with their friends about whether or not it’ll have a touchscreen for a while.

I’m curious about the battery life. I’ll be impressed if they can get more than a couple of hours on battery playing a game like Skyrim. Will they drop the resolution for tablet mode to save battery? What about graphical quality? Come to think of it, my 3DS probably gets less than three hours per charge at this point, so maybe it won’t be a big deal.

Speaking of 3DS, this brings us to the interesting question of what happens with the current consoles. The Switch seems to have the capabilities of both of Nintendo’s current consoles. Sure, they’re saying that it’s a third category that’s meant to coexist with other consoles for now, but they also said that the original DS wasn’t going to take the place of the Gameboy line. I’m pretty sure Nintendo is giving themselves an out; if this ends up being a disaster, they can always bail on it and come out with new versions of the DS and home console.

I’m a little frustrated with Nintendo for the way they went about this. We’re well past convention season now, and it’s coming out three months after the holiday release window when new consoles traditionally do best. They’ve said they waited so long because they were afraid of competitors stealing their ideas, but I’m pretty sure that the amount of hype and press that they lost by announcing it this late in the year far outweighs any risk of some other company stealing their ideas (which is going to happen sooner or later anyways). Also, this trailer dropped just one hour before the trailer for Red Dead Redemption 2, which, let’s be honest, is probably much bigger news in the eyes of the average gamer. They announced that the trailer was coming out last night (really? Couldn’t you have at least tried to build hype first?), so it’s not like they didn’t know the biggest game of 2017 was being announced the next morning. Annoyances aside, for the first time since they announced the Wii, I feel like Nintendo is finally heading in the right direction. I’m cautiously optimistic, but I’m excited to finally be optimistic at all about a Nintendo hardware release.

Rift: Can An MMO Still Entertain If Its Story Doesn’t?

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“If the gameplay is good, everything else is just icing on the cake.” I’ve said this kind of thing countless times to friends who are criticizing a good game based on… well, anything but gameplay I guess. Usually I’m referring to graphics, but, in a way, this can apply to story as well. Tetris doesn’t need a story (though 2001’s Tetris Worlds tried… and it was awful). The only backstory you need to know about Space Invaders is in the name. Super Smash Bros. didn’t really have a story until Brawl’s Subspace Emissary (though you wouldn’t know it by the plethora of fan fiction). No one complains that sports games don’t have immersive cutscenes with meaningful story choices (as an Ohioan, I’m pretty sure LeBron got a ton of Renegade points for that whole “taking my talents to Miami” thing, but went back to the Paragon side when he came back to Cleveland). But is this universally true? Certainly any game can be made better by its story (there’s no way I would have made it through three Mass Effect games if it was nothing but shooting aliens for no reason), but there are some types of games, like Myst or Obduction, that are so tightly integrated with their story that I can’t imagine them being fun without it. Is the MMO genre one of these?

Maybe I’m just spoiled by Star Wars The Old Republic’s (mostly) excellent writing, but I’m thoroughly uninterested in Rift’s story. I really like the game in general, but the story just seems like an amalgamation of the most boring, generic fantasy tropes imaginable. Ok, there’s some time travel thrown in there, so that’s different I guess, but for the most part it’s all elves and dwarves and humans saving the world from dragons using magic and swords. I think that this is a lot of what turns me off to the game. I feel bad being that guy who skips all of the quest text and has only a vague idea of why I should care about any of the people I’m killing rats for, but, at the same time, I feel like I’m wasting my time reading quest text that doesn’t make me want to care about the people I’m killing rats for. So can I still enjoy the game while completely ignoring the story elements? I knew several WoW players who were hardcore raiders and PvPers who couldn’t tell a murloc from a warlock, and they seemed to get plenty from their game. But I’ve always felt like it cheapened the experience for them. If I blur through Rift’s story, am I going to feel like I missed out later? Or is it legitimately so dull that I might as well save myself the trouble?