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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ESO: Morrowind First Impressions

I’ve never been a huge Elder Scrolls fan. I like in theory–huge, open world RPG, deep customization, great story, and an incredible soundtrack–but its setting is just such generic fantasy (Nordic people running around mountains shouting and slaying dragons… how original) with uninteresting combat, and perhaps a bit too much freedom to the point where you can really mess your character up if you don’t know what you’re doing. I thought Elder Scrolls Online was going to finally be my gateway to Nirn, but, while the gameplay was more to my liking, a few things never quite clicked for me.

Morrowind was marketed as a chance at a fresh start for the game; a new tutorial experience, a new class, and a new part of the world to explore. Any normal MMO would have called that an expansion, but apparently that’s not cool enough, so they’re calling this a new “chapter.” Whatever, everyone’s still going to think of it as an expansion, myself included. Anyways, a fresh start sounded like exactly what I needed in ESO, so I jumped in.

I really like the new warden class. The classes in ESO have never quite clicked for me, but the warden has a lot going for it. The bear pet has gotten a lot of attention, and that’s a great addition. The game sort of had a pet class in the sorcerer, but their pets were kind of underpowered, and, given the tiny hotbar ESO gives you, you were better off putting points into something else. The warden does pets much better, with the bear summon skill being slotted to the Ultimate slot, with a free, no cooldown, short cast time summon skill, which turns into a nice execute command for the bear once your ultimate meter is full. I also have access to a nice mix of DoTs, direct damage, heals, and crowd control, even from a low level. The warden is truly the jack-of-all-trades class they promised.

The story of Morrowind has really impressed me as well. Not that the base game’s story was bad by any means, but the expansion story has been more engaging so far. I’m usually not a big fan of elves, especially in the Elder Scrolls-verse, but the contrast of the Dark Elves’ Ashlander outcasts and various noble houses (I was super confused for a second when one of the Ashlanders referred to “House Elves” and my mind went instantly to Harry Potter) and their very different, but equally complex cultures. There was a quest in/around Balmora (the town in Morrowind, not that awful planet in SWTOR) that was quite the rollercoaster: family drama, betrayal, noble house strife, politics, and a lot of exposition of the Morag Tong, a group of honorable assassins (because nothing says “honorable” like a license to legally break in and murder someone without trial because somebody told you they were bad). I was half way through the quest line before I realized that this isn’t the main quest, it’s a random sidequest line. It has actually made leveling really slow, because I’ve spent so much time reading/listening to all of the quest text, and I’m totally ok with that.

I’ve always known that The Elder Scrolls Online would one day click with me, and finally, thanks to Morrowind, I think it finally is. I’m not sure it’s ever going to be my main MMO, but it certainly has me more excited to play than anything else I’ve done in the game up to this point. Next I’d really like to find a good guild and give some dungeon healing a shot, so if you know of any, let me know!

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.

My House In TESO vs. My House In LotRO

I’m really glad ESO has added housing. I always love seeing the things players do when given creative freedom. But seriously, guys, I ran all the way to a public instance in Shadowfen from Ebonheart (because it was the closest wayshrine I’ve been to), and all you give me is the “deed” to a hotel room? (Who sells a deed to a room in an inn anyway?) They weren’t even nice enough to start me out with any crappy starter furniture; I have to go buy it off of a vendor before I could claim it. Oh, and I can put my pets and mounts inside for some reason, so if you’ve ever wanted a horse for a roommate you’re in luck. I suppose I should be grateful that I can run all the way to Shadowfen and unlock housing at level 15 thanks to level scaling, but until I get 40k-50k more gold, and then some more for a reasonable amount of furniture, it looks like my choices are between a tiny hotel room or a slightly larger hotel room. Granted, I’ve been playing LotRO a lot longer than I’ve been playing TESO, but I feel like I should be able to get something larger than a prison cell even at this point.

LotRO, however, has housing that is much more accessible to low-level players. Several of my characters’ crafting professions have several housing decoration recipes–something I have yet to run across in TESO despite my obsessive habit of checking every box and barrel in sight–in the first two or three tiers of crafting alone, and I commonly get animal skin drops that can be taxidermized into trophies for free. A few weeks ago, I would have complained about LotRO’s total lack of position controls, but recently (on the same day as TESO’s housing patch, oddly enough) they added in sliders that allow players to move items on the X, Y, and Z axes, allowing for much more freedom. It feels like a super quick-and-dirty fix to a clunky old system, because that’s precisely what it is, but it’s so much better than what we had before.

I guess the difference between the two is that TESO’s housing is geared toward endgame players and LotRO’s isn’t. Maybe level 50 me will look back at this and laugh at the fact that I’m complaining about shelling out 50,000+ gold for a house. We all know that inflation is unavoidable in MMOs (the gold cap in WoW used to be an unimaginably high 37 gold at launch, which is positively destitute by today’s standards), so it’s probably best to aim high on this sort of thing. But right now it’s frustrating that I technically have access to this cool system, and can see screenshots and videos of all of the fun things people are doing with their housing plots, but can’t really do anything myself. I almost wish it was level capped.

So which system is “better?” The answer is that I like the accessibility of LotRO’s housing, and it’s much better than it was, but TESO’s objectively has more potential. There are more decorations allowed, there’s more freedom of placement, and it’s simply a newer game with better design. I also think some of that potential will be tarnished by a system that’s designed to tempt you to just skip the fundraising stage and just buy a furnished house from the cash shop, but with cash shop house packages ranging from around $20 to well over $100 (!), I think I’ll stick to saving up my gold.

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!

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.

Is It Possible To Balance Melee and Ranged Classes?

It’s a perennial problem for MMOs: either melee classes have the advantage or ranged ones do. In WildStar, the constant moving and dodging out of red means ranged classes have an advantage simply because they can keep attacking while they move. In older MMOs like Lord of the Rings Online, where most of the ranged classes are rooted casters and most of the melee classes have a lot of instant casts, melee classes have the edge. From what I’ve heard about SWTOR, it seems that they’ve recently swung the pendulum; melee classes have always had more DPS/tanking potential, but many of the recent dungeon and raid bosses have included mechanics that require melee classes to move back to avoid massive damage, thus limiting their output. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that I do better with melee classes in games with action combat like Elder Scrolls Online because I’m more likely to miss with ranged attacks. Sure, this isn’t really a balance issue so much as a “stop failing” issue, and probably less of an issue in dungeons where, if it’s anything like every other MMO I’ve played, most bosses are the size of a small house, but still, this is a genre where people create massive spreadsheets of damage output to determine the META, and I’ve seen people literally complaining that one race or faction has an “advantage” over the others because their casting animation is a little more subtle.

The best solution I’ve seen to this problem is in Guild Wars 2’s, where most classes can be either melee or ranged depending on what weapon you’re holding. This allows the developers a lot of freedom when designing fights because everyone should be able to step back and hit things from range at least sometimes. Unfortunately, it also means that you really have to have at least one ranged weapon set to be viable most of the time, which is annoying because there are many classes that have two melee sets that I like (for instance, Revenant’s Mace/Axe and Sword/Shield). Couldn’t I have a whole bunch of weapon sets like Guild Wars 1?

So what do you think? Is it possible to truly balance these two class styles? Have you played any MMOs with any clever ways of bringing these two class types into balance?