Blips

What have I had my hands on lately?

Destiny. Still going. I managed to find an excellent static group for raiding, so I’m online at least once a week for that. I don’t feel much pull to upgrade gear or anything, so I’m not grinding through daily bounties much anymore. Just having fun with friends a few times a week!

I don’t know what kind of legs Destiny will have. The raids are fun, but the rest of the game is lackluster, and without some heavy duty improvements in the next expansion it’ll probably drop out of my rotation.

Infamous: First Light. Free through PS+ this month. The story is short, and only really interesting if you like Fetch as a character, but that’s not where the attraction lies: this game has a kickass battle arena. You’re either trying to survive endless waves of enemies or rescue hostages as they pop up. In the later waves it gets really challenging, but you get fun boosts like invulnerability, super blasts, and infinite melee finishers to help you tackle the mobs that spawn. I like it a lot, and I think I’m gonna try for the platinum.

Diablo 3. I hopped back into this a few weeks ago when Blizzard gave us a 100% experience boost for the weekend, and I used that to get my hardcore monk to 70. Rediscovered a little bit of love for smashing and looting in the process, not to mention my brother just started playing this and i’s fun to run rifts with him. Currently debating between trying to gear up my crusader to tackle Torment 6 or just start more characters and mess around.

The Swapper. I played a few hours of this on PC then dropped it, but I’d like to clear it now that it’s free on PS+.

Dragon Age: Inquisition. Woooow. This or Destiny probably my game of the year for 2014. I finished my first playthrough at around 80 hours, almost entirely satisfied by the experience. I was getting a little burned out on the side quests at the end, but I was still having enough fun to immediately start a second character. This time I’ll be sneaking around a dagger-wielding rogue.

Persona 4. I have finally almost reached the end of this one, after playing it on and off since sometime early this summer. The more time I put into this, the more psyched I get for the next installment. Which is hopefully still coming out this year? Anyway, I’ve hit the point toward the end where I have access to some crazy demon fusions, and I really need to sit down, spend a little time, and try to create some of the awesome ones. Now I just have to decide if I want to put time into a second run and access more of the super secret stuff at the ending…

I’ve been trying to play a lot of games lately on relatively little free time, so I’ve been a little scattered. In the midst of this, I still find myself wanting to pick up FF14 again, especially with the first expansion dropping in just a few months. It seems to be the MMO with the best support out there right now, and I reeeeeally like the look of some of the new classes coming, especially Dark Knight. I might resub to this soon and mess around in preparation for the summer, when I’ll have a lot more free time.

Destiny: Crushing Crota

Destiny’s first expansion, The Dark Below, dropped last Tuesday, and first impressions reveal a thoroughly mixed bag.

A patch dropped just before the expansion gave players a much easier way to gain materials and upgrade gear, which many of us took advantage of, before revealing that those items would be pretty useless. Exotics can be upgraded, increasing their max attack from 300 to 331, but they lose all upgrades along the way. Plus, the list of exotics which can be upgraded is determined entirely by Xur’s random weekly inventory.

Legendary weapons and armor from the first raid, the Vault of Glass, cannot be upgraded, and can in fact be replaced by newly available superior equipment from vendors. I completed the raid ~10 times just to get two pieces of armor…. and I’ve already sharded both of them.

Compare this to new expansions in WoW. Gear from the high-tier raids would never last you through the whole next expansion, sure, but you wouldn’t replace it immediately. At least if Destiny offered cosmetic options like transmog there would be a reason to keep it around, but there’s no way to know if that’s even in the cards.

At least glimpses of the raid armor & weapons offer more unique perks than those in VoG. I think every weapon from that first raid only offered “deal more damage to oracles.”

So itemization overall has been disappointing and confusing. The new missions are more rewarding, but do absolutely nothing to redeem Destiny’s empty shell of a story. This is a sore spot for me. The Grimoire cards reveal such a detailed mythology, full of interesting characters and environments, and we see only the smallest fraction of that in-game. This approach has not changed in The Dark Below.

Bungie’s attempt to improve their storytelling centers around Eris, a new Tower NPC/rep grind who dispenses “quests”, new bounties, and a selection of emblems, shaders, and upgrade materials. Quests are basically just bounties, and the ones introduced by Eris lead you through three missions and a new strike. There’s an additional, Playstation exclusive strike as well. These missions are fine, basically the same level of quality as those in the vanilla release… BUT. They barely introduce new areas, and always start with running through environments you’ve already seen a hundred times. And they have the same “get to this point, then defend against a few waves of enemies” missions structure as literally every other mission. It’s just getting old.

This new story line has all the same old problems. Destiny has no villains, only monsters. What are we fighting against? Is Crota affiliated with the Darkness? Omnigul, the new strike boss, and Crota have no dialogue. No motivations. We’re fighting them because they’re bad. I’m not really surprised The Dark Below doesn’t show a major step here; it had to be pretty far in development by the time the game first released and they got hit with feedback. Not a lot of time to make huge changes. But I’ll be really disappointed if we don’t see some serious evolution in House of Wolves.

All that aside, the meat of the expansion lies in the new raid: Crota’s End. While the raid suffers from the same lack of story/motivation, at least Crota is introduced in story missions, whereas Vault of Glass was totally out of left field. You can tell the majority of Bungie’s work goes into raid design, and Crota’s End is an excellent followup to the superb first raid.

The encounters are fun and challenging, and the environment is awesome. Fantastic design. I ran through it this week with a great group. We finished most of the encounter in 3 hours one night, then went back in and spent another 3 hours finishing off Crota. We had a lot of close calls and noticed a few glitches (along with one super frustrating batch of lag) but managed to take him down in the end.

It was exciting for me to clear the new raid so close to launch. When Vault of Glass came out, I didn’t get in there for a few weeks, and by then most people had a pretty good handle on it. This felt a lot more like uncharted territory.

One thought – in the next raid, I would like to see more variety in enemy types. So far, all the enemies you see in raids are just reskins of the same old shit. Well, I guess Atheon was a little more unique. Crota’s just a big ol’ knight. I’d like to see some kind of massive final boss, where we have to attack different parts of his body one at a time maybe. No more scaled up humanoids; let’s see something truly weird.

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.

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.