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.

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Nintendo Switch First Impressions, or How I Accidentally Bought A Switch

switch-logoI fully intended to not buy a Switch at launch. The only launch title I was excited for was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and that was coming to Wii U, so why bother? Let other people scramble around to find pre-orders. I was pretty excited about Breath of the Wild, so I pre-ordered it at Best Buy, and went to pick it up on my lunch break. My local Best Buy recently moved/split their Customer Service and Online Pickup desks, and I went to the Customer Service desk out of habit. As I was standing in line, I saw a stack of a few Switches and several of the people in front of me were buying them. Surely these were pre-orders; pre-orders filled up the first day and there was a midnight release. After the guy at the desk informed me that I was in the wrong place to pick up my pre-order, I asked, on a whim, if any of those were for sale. He informed me that all pre-orders were at the other desk, and these were indeed all unspoken for. So, while I was waiting in line for my Zelda Wii U disk, I started thinking. This is Nintendo we’re talking about; who knows how long it’ll be before I find another one. It’s not going to get any cheaper if I wait. We have plenty of money in savings. I could sell it on eBay for a profit… ok that’s probably not going to happen; if I have it I’m going to want to play it. So I called my wife and opened with “So… talk me out of this.” She in fact talked me into buying it, which is one of many reasons why I love her, and said basically all of the things that I was thinking.

So I’m now the proud owner of a Nintendo Switch. The grey version, of course, because the mismatched neon controllers make me cringe. I, of course, exchanged my Wii U copy of Breath of the Wild for the Switch version. The game is absolutely beautiful. I’m not sure how the Wii U version compares, but the Switch version has some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen from a Nintendo game (which, to be honest, isn’t saying a lot, but remember we’re talking about a tablet here). This feels like the Zelda-meets-Elder Scrolls (Zelder Scrolls?) game players have been begging for for ages. They finally nailed the graphical style (Windwaker was too cartoony, Twilight Princess was nice but felt like it was trying too hard to shoehorn cartoony characters into a photoreal world, and Skyward Sword tried to be somewhere in the middle, to some success, but to a lesser degree than Breath of the Wild), and the open world is a joy to explore. From the marketing and the reviews, it seems like there’s a ton of stuff to do in the game, which is good because it’s looking like it will probably be my only game on the system until the release of Splatoon 2 or Mario Odyssey, whichever comes out first.

The only problem I have with the console so far is the controller. The thumbsticks on the Joycon (the controller that snaps onto the sides) are short and feel a little cheap (the guy at Best Buy said they’ve had problems with them snapping already, but he was probably just trying to sell the protection plan), the buttons feel small, and I’ve had some connection issues (granted, my couch is pretty far away from my TV, but I never had any problems with the Wiimote or DS3). Also, controllers for this thing are freaking expensive. One half of the Joycon is $50, or $80 for both halves, and that doesn’t include the grip that links them together into a real controller. The pro controller is actually cheaper at $70, so hopefully that will be reasonably well supported (I don’t see why not, as it has the same buttons at the Joycon). I’m sure it’s all the new tech packed into these things–NFC touchpoint for Amiibo, accelerometer+gyro “HD” rumble, etc.–but I wish they would offer a stripped-down version that just took my inputs for a little less money. I’m sure some third party will make one, but, in my experience, third party controllers are universally terrible. In any case, though, it’s better than that awful, bulky Wii U tablet.

Controller issues aside, the console seems pretty solid. I like the touchscreen a lot better than Nintendo’s previous consoles (it’s capacitive like smartphones and tablets instead of resistive like the (3)DS and Wii U, which is less accurate for some things, but just feels a lot easier to use) and it feels light enough to hold for a while without my arms getting tired. The toaster TV dock attaches easily and the switchover to HDMI output is almost instant. In tablet mode, you can tell the graphics are dialed down a little, but it’s far from painful to look at. I like that there’s a screenshot button and the ability to share your screenshots on social media (sorry, Twitter followers, I’ll try to keep my Zelda screenshot spam to a minimum). The battery life isn’t great–I haven’t run it all the way down, but when I did it seemed to be on track for the low end of the 2.5-6.5 hours estimate that Nintendo gave. It’s frustrating that there’s only one game that I’m excited about, but I’m not too worried. Nintendo, for some reason, never seems to care about launch titles, so I’m sure we’ll have a good library of titles about a year from now (the DS, for example, was heralded as a commercial failure at launch, but once they got some actual games out, ended up being Nintendo’s highest selling console ever). Until then, I’ll be in Hyrule if you need me!