A Loop of Destiny

I’ve been playing Destiny on PS4. It’s not perfect. The story is incoherent and bland (though a dig through the grimoire cards on bungie.net reveals considerably more interesting world building). Boss fights could use a chop to their HP, and maybe a more varied pool of tactics. There are more, though few have made enough of an impression to remember. In spite of its flaws, I’m a little in love with the game, and I think it comes down to a supreme satisfaction with its core loop. Let me try to break it down.

I load up my Titan and head to the Tower to check the day’s bounties. Bounties are parallel to missions, tasks like “kill 200 of this enemy type” or “kill 100 enemies with precision kills” or “earn 9000 experience without dying.” You complete bounties during the course of other activities. They are available for PVP matches in the Crucible, along with PVE content. I check a few vendors in the Tower while I’m there, and it’s fun because Destiny’s movement feels good. I see other players in the Tower, running around or dancing at each other, and there is a strong sense of place. I like visiting here.

I check my friends list. Doesn’t look like there’s anyone online. That’s okay. Two of the bounties I picked up want me to complete patrol missions and kill enemies on the Moon, so I head that way. I zip around the Moon, completing patrol missions and killing mobs. I run into a few other players, find chests, and harvest resources I know I’l need soon to upgrade my weapons. Enemies drop six or seven pieces of loot, both regular pieces and unidentified engrams. Loot drops show up as bright, glowing crystals colored by rarity: green, blue (purple & gold I’ve yet to see!). Seeing these drops gives me the same feeling as red box drops in Phantasy Star Online.

After my bounties are done, I head back to orbit. I check the side of the map to see the daily heroic story mission. The daily missions reward extra reputation points and tokens to use for more powerful gear. They’re missions I’ve played before, but at a higher difficulty and with modifiers to add different challenges. Before I start, I check my roster and see one of my friends is online. I invite him to my fireteam and he joins me for the mission. After it’s done, we join one of the Strike playlists and hop into a random dungeon.

Two strikes down he has to go, so we leave the queue and I head back to the Tower. I have new weapons and gear to check. I equip a few upgrades, then break down the rest for upgrade parts. I take my unidentified engrams to the Cryptarch and get a few more pieces. I turn in the bounties I completed for more experience, then check out my new skills, gun and gear upgrades. I buy a new armor shader and admire myself dancing on the edge of the balcony overlooking the City, beneath the Traveler’s sphere.

For me, these are satisfying loops, made even more fun when you can play with friends. Shooting feels good, movement feels good, and new activities are easy to access. The story is forgettable, and I hope they spend more time on developing characters and fleshing out the world in future chapters. But if they don’t, I’ll still enjoy the game. I’m making my own stories.

Dungeon Delving in Diablo 3

The world of Sanctuary is a giant, gothic pinata filled with gold, gems, and skull-studded pauldrons. Crowds of colorful demons explode with all kinds of loot, an upgrade around every corner, and I’ve spent the last few weeks in front of the PS4 hoovering up as much as I can.

When Diablo 3 first came out on PC in 2012, I only played for about a month. I made it through the first two levels of difficulty but quickly ran out of steam. It’s changed a lot since then: more control over difficulty, the paragon system, more frequent & more exciting loot… I’ve watched all this, but waited to jump back in because I knew it would be coming out on PS4 and I had a feeling I’d have a blast playing from the couch. I was right.

Diablo’s clicky action translates like a dream to the controller, and the introduction of a dodge ability (mapped to the right stick) gives me a better sense of mobility. Menus are a little less intuitive to navigate, but everything’s still pretty easy to figure out – it just takes a little longer. The action shines at an almost-rocksteady 60 FPS, broken only occasionally in the particle showers of co-op.

Couch-co-op is really where the game shines. “Apprentice Mode” erases any level disparity, so my girlfriend’s level 40 witch doctor scales up and she can hold her own with my level 70 crusader. It takes 10 seconds or less to hop into a game with friends. Really, the only drag is inventory management with multiple people. You can only have only character’s menu on-screen at a time, so we’re always in for some downtime when we head back to town.

I’m having a blast with the game, and my only regret is that its release fell so close to Destiny. My attention will soon be divided.

I hit 70 with my crusader and started earning paragon levels a few days ago. I’ve been running bounties on Master, building up my DPS and trying to optimize gear until I’m ready for the first level of Torment difficulty. I’m running with Blessed Shield and I feel like a homicidal, hyperactive Captain American, tearing through hordes of demons and watching my shield bounce between them. Right now it seems like the best way to boost my DPS is to stack crit chance and crit damage gear, and I’m seeing some huge hits. Looking forward to finding some of the really crazy legendaries!

Beta Blitz

Two upcoming beta events have caught my eye…

Archeage

I’ve been watching Archeage since before they started offering founder’s packs to get into the alpha. $150 was way too steep for me to consider. Now that the first closed beta event begins tomorrow, $50 for access to that isn’t looking terrible… but I don’t really like that it’s still blocked off into weekend events, not a 24/7 closed beta. There’s a lot about this game that sounds interesting, but I haven’t dug into the info or watched enough footage to know if it’s really for me. I’m hoping for a random beta invite to try it, otherwise I’ll consider the $50 drop if the closed beta goes 24/7.

Destiny

Tomorrow tomorrow tomorrow! I’ve been itching to spend more time in Destiny since I only caught about a half hour of the alpha event. It was enough to hook me, or at least guarantee my interest. I’ve already pre-ordered, so I’m a lock for the beta event starting tomorrow and I’ve cleared the night of all non-Destiny activities. I haven’t played around too much with the PS4’s sharing functions, so I might try grabbing some video if I run into anything cool. Current plan is to spend most of my time with the free roam and co-op, but I dive into the Crucible if I’m feeling brave enough to get my face melted.

Gaia Rocks: TSW’s 2nd Anniversary

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Playing The Secret World during events highlights a part of MMOs I don’t usually experience. I know what the MMO stands for, and yet I find myself playing most of them solo. When I run dungeons or do other group activity, it’s through in-game LFG or just random chat connections. I’m a loner, mostly, never really joined a guild or anything I could stick with long term or carve out a lasting identity for myself. This doesn’t really bug me, since I play a lot of games and don’t end up sticking with MMOs long enough to be reliable. TSW is the rare game that makes me want to change that.

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It’s a small enough community you start recognize the names that pop up in random grouping. Join the #Event channel and you’ll see the same people chatting, calling out guardian encounters, and answering questions about the event. TSW may not have flight paths, or an easy solo travel system, but with meetups I can hop from zone to zone in seconds, join the fight and follow everyone to the next one.

Since I’ve been spending more time in-game, I’ve realized how much I haven’t seen. I’ve started Nightmare dungeons, but never progressed beyond 18s. I’ve never seen the NYC raid. I’ve never done anything with raids. I’ve still never upgraded an auxiliary weapon. I’m  missing boatloads of lore and clothing items to collect. I’ve never even attempted any of the Master Planner achievements. Most MMOs I can look at a checklist of my unexplored frontiers and feel nothing, but TSW honestly compels me to pick up every rock and check for filth crawling underneath.

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So where do I go from here? I’d love to jump right back into Noobmares and run more NM dungeons, but lately I don’t often have free time in multiple-hour chunks. Maybe I should just commit and jump into them when I have the time. I’d love to join a dedicated group, but my available shifts so much from week to week I just don’t think I’d be reliable.

For now, I’m still enjoying the anniversary event! I’ve managed to collect all the clothing items (except for the stuff for the KD golem, damn him), all the pets, plenty of black bullion and signets, and I was somehow lucky enough to collect these two trinkets:

heroics

Now if I only knew what they did… Soon, hopefully! Also, I put together a little video to highlight the golem fights. They really don’t require much in the way of strategy, but the creatures themselves are pretty impressive.

The Hive Hits Tokyo – Issue 9 is Live!

plaza

I haven’t been subscribed to The Secret World for months – Whispering Tide kind of killed my enthusiasm for awhile – but the much-anticipated launch of Issue 9 & the first Tokyo zone pulled me right back in. Technically, Issue 9 is still in early access and only available to subscribers for 3 days. I just couldn’t wait, so put down my money for a month. Maybe just this month, maybe more if I really get back into it.

Originally, I only intended to spend an hour or so checking out the new content, but that hour spun into 5. I’ll give some first impressions and try to avoid any big spoilers…

inbega

bow

The new characters I’ve run across so far are excellent. For this first zone, looks like each faction has a particular contact, kind of like a sub-faction colored by Tokyo culture. Samurai for the Templars, Oni demons for the Illuminati, and Yakuza-types for the Dragon. Even as a Templar, I think my favorite so far is Inbega the Oni. Very entertaining dialogue.

Combat encounters can be pretty challenging! Even without the extra effects of the AEGIS system, many of the enemies I’ve run across have FAST AoE attacks and some quick knockdowns. I’ve been wishing for a faster recharge on the dodge ability. One Oni mob in particular has a brutal combo: he goes invisible, then pops back on top of you with an AoE knockdown. If you get hit by that you’re down for a few seconds, giving him plenty of time to hit you with another AoE in a weird fan pattern.

tank

I haven’t revisited my build yet, but I’ve been brainstorming ways to be more effective in Tokyo. The way AEGIS works is you can have 2 types slotted, one corresponding to each weapon. Enemies have shields corresponding to demon, psychic, or cybernetic AEGIS controllers. This means ONLY the weapon with the right AEGIS slotted will damage the shield, and also means aux weapons have no effect on shields. I’m embarrassed to say it took me a while to figure out why my flamethrower kept hitting zeroes on shields.

Out of new enemies, the Oni have the standout design  so far. Nothing else has really jumped out at me, though I’ve been watching general chat and it sounds like there’s some cool stuff left to find.

I’m not sure what to think of AEGIS yet. It definitely adds another element to combat, and I’m looking forward to seeing how different enhancements and controllers change gameplay. But the way you upgrade controllers already looks like a massive grind. When you have controllers equipped in combat, AEGIS enemies have a chance to drop filth samples (or something) that charge up your controllers. They start at 0%, and I think once they hit 100% you can boost their QL level. After a few hours, my most-used controller is at 30%, which isn’t too bad I guess? We’ll see. At least I don’t think it takes AP. I have very little interest in augments thanks to their ridiculous AP cost. I’d rather put that toward completing my wheel!

Tokyo’s cool so far, and I can say without a doubt it’s renewed by interest in TSW. I’ll be spending a lot more time in-game, and I’ll probably have more to say once I’ve gone through the main story and spent more time with AEGIS. I took some video yesterday too, and I’ll try to get some of that online.

If anyone else is exploring Tokyo, let me know so we can meetup. With the increased difficulty, I’d feel a lot better running down Tokyo’s streets with a few friends.

office

Sidenote: Arturo’s office is gorgeous. I didn’t care about housing in TSW until I walked into there (and it’s still not a high priority) but MAN would I love to set up shop in a spot like that…

80 & Clueless

Hey, I have my first 80 in Guild Wars 2! I hit level cap on my Charr warrior while roaming in WvW sometime last week, and since then I’ve been bouncing between different activities so much my head’s whirling. I always knew there was a lot to do in this game, but before I had always had one clear path of progression: just keep leveling. If I wasn’t sure what to do in the game, I was always secure in the knowledge that I was gaining experience, and could worry about the finer details once I hit 80. Well, the time is now! Here are a few things I’m struggling with…

Build

I really wish GW2 had a build manager like The Secret World. Right now I’m running Sword & Warhorn / Longbow, but thinking of switching out the bow for a hammer, as I’ve heard that’s better. Mostly I’ve been sticking to Longbow just because it’s easy to tag a bunch of people and drop fire fields in WvW. For extra skills I’m running For the Victory, Stomp, Dolyak Signet, and Battle Standard for the Elite. I have to look up my skills when I get home…. but I think it’s something like 0/0/5/6/3. My goal for this build was to be useful in a WvW zerg, mostly, since I’m trying to focus on that until this season is done.

BUT I also want to be able to do decent damage, and I don’t know if that’s possible. So questions for warriors out there: are there any must-have traits you would recommend? Anything that works particularly well for the Sword&Horn/Hammer combo? Good ways to balance between group utility and damage-dealing? I’d like to set up a build that works pretty well in PvE too so I don’t have to switch back and forth. Any tips are much appreciated!

Gear

Right now I’m running all greens, with a rare or two in there, and I’m ready to upgrade! I just don’t know the best way to go about it. Between gold, karma, laurels, dungeon tokens, crafting, etc, there are so many different avenues to get gear I’m not really sure where to start. What are some of the most cost effective upgrades I can make?

 

 

Wildstar Blues: Sensory Overload

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After hovering somewhere around the 25% mark on my hype meter for the last few months, Wildstar’s dropped to neutral. I’ve spent some solid hours in the open beta, and while it’s improved since I tried one of the weekend betas a while ago it’s not enough to grab me. It still has potential, and I’ll be keeping an eye on it, but I definitely won’t be playing at launch. There are a few things I really like about the game, but those factors are up against stiff competition.

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The design aesthetic is right up my alley. It’s a good looking game. I’ve always been charmed by the cartoonish, stylized visuals in World of Warcraft, and Wildstar skews the same way with science fiction. Out of the four or five zones I’ve seen, Nexus is a beautiful world filled with unique geography and lots of little nooks and crannies to explore.  Weapons look awesome. I have a hard time getting excited about gear when it looks bland, like for most of the leveling weapons in FF14, and the swords & guns of Wildstar keep me entertained. I get the sense they have a strong vision for the world they’re trying to create, and it’s a visually exciting one.

On the other hand, they have some serious issues with clutter. I’ve got beef mostly with the UI for this, but the in-game world gets awful busy at times too. Between pops up for quests, lore, loot, and everything else you’ve got bubbles and windows all over the screen. To their credit, Carbine gives you some good options for UI customization right out of the box, but the designs still feel built out in too many different directions. Feels like a lack of unity.

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I could talk about more, but these factors left the biggest impression on me. Combat feels fine, like WoW with less targeting & more movement. Quest design is nothing revolutionary, and the use of % bars instead of the “8/10 rats” format means zilch. My engineer’s at level 8, and I’m still debating whether to push to 14 so I can try out housing. It looks cool, but the rest of the game leaves me so neutral I don’t really want to put more time into it right now. Still deliberating, I guess… Should I push a little further to see more?

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