August in Screenshots

Sorry for being mostly absent during August. This was partly due to the fact that I was very restless in my MMO gaming time which meant that I messed around in a lot of games and didn’t get anything interesting or blogworthy accomplished, and partly due to the fact that I’ve been having that writer’s block/self confidence problem that I know writers much better than I struggle with as well. Anyways, I thought I’d catch you up on what I’ve been doing this month with a few screenshots.

The Elder Scrolls Online

I rolled a new warden. I’m not proud of it, but I did it. It’s mainly because I’m an altaholic, but also because I read about this cool ice-based magicka tank, and I wanted to try that out without respecing my stamina healing warden. Yes, I realize that I’m playing both of those roles with the stat opposite of what you would expect, but maybe that’s why the warden has clicked with me so much more than other classes in ESO.
Screenshot_20170803_233216While my first warden started out doing the Morrowind story, this one went through the main vanilla story. Because levels don’t really matter anymore, you can pretty much do it all as soon as you get to your faction’s first city where The Prophet is. I got all the way to the penultimate chapter by the time I was level 15 (apparently, even though it ignores level for the entire rest of the story, you can’t do the final chapter until you’re actually level capped), and I spent a few days doing that and a few other quests that interested me around Stonefalls, but, when it quickly became clear that my new tank warden was my new main, I decided it was time to start on Morrowind again. Some day I’ll go back and see all that the vanilla game has to offer, but right now I feel like I should experience the shiny new expansion zones while they’re still somewhat populated.

Guild Wars 2

Probably the most interesting thing about my August in Guild Wars 2 was also a new character. I, of course, preordered Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire. This time around, the more deluxier packages are actually really nice. I bought the cheapest Heart of Thorns package because nothing in the nicer packages were really that exciting (a mini, a PvP finisher, a guild hall decoration, and a lame glider skin… meh), but this time around, ArenaNet actually talked me into buying the deluxe package (Sunspear outfit, a character slot, a makeover kit, and one of those passes to one of those premium crafting area things they’ve been doing recently), and, of course, if you’re buying the deluxe package, you might as well drop the extra $25 to get $50 worth of gems in the ultimate package. I was planning on making a new mesmer anyway, because I really like the Heart of Thorns elite spec as well as what I’ve seen of the Path of Fire one. Couldn’t I have just switched back and forth for free? Absolutely, but I never turn down an excuse to make a new character, and if I didn’t make a new character, that level 80 boost would go to waste, so my new mesmer was born. His name is Random Axes Memory, which celebrates both my love of computers and my love of puns. The new Path of Fire elite spec, of course, gives mesmers access to axes, so I’m really banking on the fact that I’m going to like it, or this play on words would make no sense.
While Guild Wars 2 is in that pre-expansion holding pattern, I’m trying to turn some of that anticipation and impatience for expansion day (less than three weeks!) into motivation to finish finish up some things. First, I finally, for the first time, actually finished the Trahearne personal story chapters in Orr. That’s right, with all of my hundreds of hours in Guild Wars 2, I had never personally done the part of the story where you defeat your first elder dragon. And sure enough, it’s just as anticlimactic as everyone said it is. You don’t so much slay the dragon yourself as ride along while the airship does all the work. I’ve also put a lot of time in the Heart of Thorns zones getting hero points so I can hit the ground running in Path of Fire’s new elite specs. I’m getting really sick of these jungle zones, and I’m so ready for a big, new, wide-open desert to explore. I also put some time into the various betas that they’ve been doing recently, and I’m really excited to play the new story and elite specs. Mounts are going to be fun too! I’m probably looking forward to this expansion more than any other expansion I’ve played to date, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say come September 22nd.

Sonic Mania

Anyone who has known me for a long time knows that I’m a huge Sonic the Hedgehog fan. Modern Sonic games, however, have been hit-or-miss (mostly miss) and have generally failed to recapture the magic of the originals. I had a big post written up on how big game companies so often fail to realize what made their older games great, and how fans so often recognize it much more readily than the people who get paid the big bucks to design games, but it was really too big of an issue to tackle in a blog post, so I scrapped it (see opening paragraph). Anyways, along came a team of fans–headed by Christian “Taxman” Whitehead, whose claim to fame is that he wrote a a perfect, ground-up remake of the first level of Sonic CD in 60fps and widescreen for iOS, then got a cease and desist order from Sega, who then subsequently hired him to finish it. After doing a couple more iOS/Android remakes, they were then given the green light to make a (mostly) original Sonic game in the style of the classic Genesis games, called Sonic Mania. And the results are absolutely incredible. I haven’t been this excited for a Sonic game since I was a kid. I actually canceled my PC preorder because it got delayed and bought it on Nintendo Switch instead (honestly, though, the portability of the Switch is nice, and I can probably pick up the Steam version on sale a few years from now). The graphics are beautiful, the physics are perfect, and I couldn’t ask for a better soundtrack. I could probably gush about its perfection for a whole post, but no one is interested in reading it. Except for the Oil Ocean octopus boss, which is absolutely awful.

I also puttered around LotRO–my rune-keeper is still in Moria, and I’ve been tempted to bring my low level lore-master out of retirement, but I’m trying to resist that temptation–as well as Guild Wars 1–working on a Paragon to catch up on area lore for Path of Fire. I also gave Destiny 2 a try, and can’t say that I overly thrilled by it, but the beta was pretty limited. I might buy it on sale eventually, but it’s certainly not my next big thing. It did, however, remind me that I bought Mass Effect Andromeda at launch and barely played it due to some technical issues that are now fixed, so I’m back to playing that as well.

Anyways, here’s hoping that September brings lots of interesting new gaming experiences, and hopefully more frequent blog posts.

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Looking Back At April, Ahead To May

April turned out to be a busy and stressful month for me, with a lot of short gaming sessions and not much worth writing about. Still, I covered a lot of ground, so I thought I’d check in with what I’ve been doing.

Master X Master
So this one was a surprise. I’m not really into MOBAs at all, and when I saw this title announced, I pretty much ignored it. It’s just NCsoft jumping on the bandwagon, right? Yawn. But, to prove the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, in the midst of the announcement of Statesman as a playable character, and the (predictable and wholly understandable) outrage that followed, I heard some people talking about how great its PvE game is. Bite-sized PvE dungeon runs with a wide variety of characters/classes? That I can get excited about. I felt a little bad for supporting a game that stomped all over what little hope there was for a City of Heroes revival (not that there was much hope to stomp on at this point), but I’m really glad I tried it. My favorite moment was running the Ascalonian Catacombs Dimensional Rift, which is surprisingly accurate to the Guild Wars 2 dungeon. I’ve never played any of NCsoft’s other games, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the dungeons from their games, but this one really impressed me. I’m considering buying a founder’s pack, but we’ll see.

The Elder Scrolls Online
Apparently controversy has been following me around the MMOverse this month, because I managed to get back into ESO right as a big kerfuffle erupted involving a bunch of nerfs coming with the expansion, which many players believe are simply to prop up the new Warden class. I’m a super casual ESO player, so maybe I’d be more bothered by this if it was one of my main games, but it seems to me that this is mostly just MMO players complaining about MMO class balance. Nothing new to see here. Honestly, I’m not too worried about it; MMO class balance is always in flux. What’s good this month won’t be next month and vice versa. That’s the great thing about MMOs; there’s always a chance for studios to fix their mistakes (and make new ones). What is different about it is that, back in my day, players would go to the forums and throw a temper tantrum until they hit the post size limit, and the average person didn’t really notice unless they went to the forums looking for it. Nowadays, with the popularity and accessibility of streaming and YouTube videos, certain players have been given much higher visibility than they used to have (some of them were even promoted by Zenimax, according to someone in zone chat), and when those players ragequit, people notice.
Ironically, the classes getting hit hardest with the nerfbat are the healer templar and the stamina DPS nightblade, which are my two main characters, but I’m not worried because the Warden looks super fun and I would probably be dropping my current characters in favor of the Warden even if it was garbage. At the rate I progress through ESO content, there will probably be two or three balance patches before I get half way through the expansion anyway.

Lord of the Rings Online
I started out strong with LotRO in April, but ended up tapering off in favor of Elder Scrolls later in the month. Man, I forgot how clunky the Legendary Item system is. It’s a cool idea, but it doesn’t seem very well designed. I did make it back for some of the anniversary festivities. I’m too low level for most of the 10th year scavenger hunt stuff, but I did the usual firework launching and pub brawling activities. I’m excited that this year’s mount selection included a fast goat. I’m all set for Moria now!

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I’ve been playing Zelda a lot lately, more than I expected. I “beat” the game (that is, finished the final boss), more because I didn’t want to go into it super overpowered than for the actual feeling of completion. I’ve continued to put a decent amount of time into it, and I’m still discovering new things. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m pretty sure this is my new favorite single player game from Nintendo. Yes, I think I even prefer it to Metroid Prime, which is saying something (though Metroid can feel free to take that title back any time now…).

Mass Effect Andromeda
I became a big Mass Effect fan fairly recently, and binged through the trilogy. I was pretty excited when Andromeda was announced, with its return to its RPG roots and more open, explorable maps, but it really hasn’t drawn me in. I like the game, but it just doesn’t grab me the way I thought it would. I don’t know if it’s the writing, or the design, or even just the awkward interface and longish load screens, but something about it just feels less engaging than the other games in the series. Granted, it took me a while to warm up to the beginning of some of the other games as well, so maybe I just need to push through, but so far I’ve put way less time in this game than I expected.

Plans for May
So that’s what I did in April. In May, I’d like to get more time in Elder Scrolls Online, hopefully getting a character to cap by the time Morrowind comes out. I’d also like to get some more time in LotRO, hopefully digging a little deeper into Moria (pun intended). Guild Wars 2 will certainly get some time as well, with the new Living World episode and accompanying zone to explore. Star Wars the Old Republic has been calling to me, as it often does when I play another BioWare game, but I’m more interested in playing through the story and then leaving than actually doing anything MMOish. I also just recently found out that OldSchool RuneScape is available to free players (it probably has been for a while, but when it launched it was originally going to be for subscribers only and didn’t realize that had changed), so I’ve been toying with the idea of giving that a try. Trying to go back to the live game is, for whatever reason, completely uninteresting to me, but going back to the game I knew and loved more than ten (!) years ago sounds appealing. I don’t know if I’ll ever sub up, but it would be fun to roam the world and noob it up for a while.

Monthly Gaming Check-In: October

During my blogging hiatus (see previous post), I plan to give at least monthly check-ins about what I’ve been playing lately. Here’s the first, catching you up on what I did in October.

I know this is probably news to you all, but there’s this little-known company called BioWare that makes really good games. What? You knew that already? Well apparently I didn’t. I’ve owned Mass Effect for a while now–I got it and its sequel free for filling out some survey about Origin (summary: Steam is better, don’t bother trying)–but never played it past the opening level. Ever pick up an older game go “holy crap, why didn’t I play this years ago”? That’s what I just did with Mass Effect. I’ve been hearing for years about how it’s the crowning achievement of humanity, but I’ve been told that about a variety of games that I’ve been unimpressed by (Skyrim, I’m looking at you). But a few weeks ago I was bored and looking for something new and different, so I figured I’d give it a shot, and I was blown away. The depth of the story, the quality of the graphics (MoCap!), the voice acting… it all blends together into one incredibly immersive package. Better yet is that they’ve done a masterful job of keeping the gameplay and story feeling fluid, thanks in large part to the conversation wheel. I don’t feel like I’m stopping to watch a cutscene, I feel like I’m there helping make the decisions that determine how the story plays out. And many of the decisions aren’t easy, either; I’ve had to stop and think about what to do, and I’ve even found myself reloading because things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to. I also love the idea that your save from the previous game loads into the next one to continue your story and relationships with your teammates.

Speaking of BioWare, Mass Effect reminded me of how much I missed Star Wars: The Old Republic. I played it a lot when it first came out in late 2011. It’s one of the few games I’ve ever actually paid a subscription fee to, and it’s probably the most excited I’ve been for a new MMO launch. Sadly, though, a few months after release, the new content dropped off, and so did I. I’ve never been back since, mostly due to the rather overly restrictive F2P. But there’s been an expansion since then (plus the starfighter and housing updates, both of which sound pretty cool), and another one on the way next month, so I figured I’d give life as an F2P a try. As I mentioned, free game is pretty restrictive, even compared to F2P early adopters like LotRO. Here’s my breakdown of restrictions:

Kind of terrible:

  • A few of the raids must be purchased.
  • The raids that are available are restricted to a few plays per week, as are PvP arenas, unless you buy a weekly pass.
  • Restrictive gold cap with no way to unlock other than subscribe (seriously, I’d gladly pay $5-$10 for this, but apparently you don’t want my money).
  • Must purchase the right to wear purple gear. This one probably bothers me the most. Worth the $20ish to remove it for all characters? I haven’t decided yet.

Not so bad:

  • Can only play as the three most boring races, namely Humans, Cyborg Humans, and Zabrak (aka horned Humans with face tats).
  • Small inventory and bank. Expansions must be purchased.
  • Several cosmetic options must be purchased (hide head piece, unify colors to match chest, etc.).
  • Must pay to unlock hotbars. This one is just silly. Sure, as a preferred player I can have four, which is all I ever used four when I subscribed, but it’s still ridiculous that they expect to make money off of adding a box to the interface.
  • Only two crafting skill slots. You really only need two to craft gear, but to craft augments (not unlike gems in WoW), you need a third.

Note that I’m a former subscriber; many of the restrictions on people who haven’t payed a dime are worse. BioWare will tell you that a lot of these restrictions (most notably the gold cap) are to cut down on gold farmers/sellers/spammers, but it just feels like I’m being punished for not paying the game tax. But F2P isn’t completely without merit; I can play the story to my heart’s content, and that’s where the game really shines anyway.

I had a few Cartel Coins (premium currency) lying around as a reward for subscribing prior to the F2P transition, and, rather than doing something sensible like saving for the epic gear unlock, I bought the Cathar species, because why wouldn’t I want to play as a cat person? I’ve rolled an Imperial Operative, because it’s almost universally regarded as the best story and I never got very far with my sniper last time around, and a Jedi Sage, because I miss wielding a lightsaber (even if I’m mostly a caster, it still looks cool). Yes, both of those are healer classes. Apparently Guild Wars 2’s “everyone is a healer, therefore no one is” policy made me really miss healing. Both are still pretty low level, but I’m having a lot of fun.

Speaking of recent expansions to licensed sci-fi MMOs, Star Trek Online just released its Delta Rising expansion. I was excited about this one, but somehow it isn’t pulling me in the way I thought it would. I was playing it for about a month before the expansion hit (during the bonus XP time), and sadly I think I got just enough of a taste of the game before the expansion hit for the fun to wear off and remind me of the frustrations that caused me to drift away the last time. Star Trek Online is one of those games I can’t seem to get away from for too long, despite its faults, so I’m sure I’ll be back to play the new content eventually, just not right now.

October also saw the release of Super Smash Bros 3DS. My excitement for this game warrants an entire post for itself, but for now, suffice it to say that I’m a long time Super Smash Bros. fan, and I’m absolutely in love with this game. It feels so much more well-balanced than any previous game, and the online play actually works most of the time (as long as the person you’re playing isn’t on the other side of the ocean and/or have really bad Wi-Fi reception). Playing the game on the 3DS’s circle slider and tiny buttons is no substitute for the almighty Gamecube Controller, but it took surprisingly little adjustment. Can’t wait to play the Wii U version in a couple weeks!