In the aftermath of the cultist attack in the back alleys of Waterdeep, the party had concerns about the one cultist who got away. He had been shooting fireballs from a balcony, but quickly ducked into the building and was never seen again after that.
The party broke into the building which had housed this enemy and found a dusty old apothecary’s shop. A set of recent footprints lead through the building and out the door, but the only other sign they could find was discarded purple robe outside the shop.
Searching the bodies of the other cultists revealed something interesting: none of the corpses had anything about them that verified their cult membership. They had the purple robes, but they were of theatrical quality — unadorned, plain, and flimsy. What the party did discover, however, was that each of the bodies was sporting a small, pinky-nail sized tattoo on their neck at the hairline: a series of small and crude daggers.
Unsure of the meaning of the situation, the party convinced (financially convinced) a cart owner to help them bring the corpses back to the council house where their Harper ally Leosin met them and heard their tale. He had the bodies brought to the manor house’s cold storage room for later investigation. A chance meeting with the representative from Silverymoon, Taern Hornblade, validated the party’s concerns that this encounter might not have been random, but it didn’t seem to be cult-related either.
There wasn’t a lot of time to investigate further because the party had a meeting with Brawnanvil to discuss Elia’s request regarding her ancestor. He listened to the party, and although he knew about the dragon-skin armor, he couldn’t deliver it to them: he didn’t know where the owner had gone.
Brawnanvil seemed like a dwarf at the end of his rope. The party’s request didn’t seem to phase him — not like the 1/3 of the treasure horde promised to the dragons — but he was obviously feeling the weight of something. He told the party that Mithril Hall was his main concern and that his responsibilities to his kingdom clashed with his responsibilities as their representative. The Hall’s population was dwindling, which made committing an army to this united cause amounted to suicide for his people. He was torn between his duty to the Council and protecting what remained of his kingdom.
In the end, the party met Brawnanvil half-way. There was no way he would apologize to Elia for the entirety of dwarven history regarding the dragon moots; it was not his place, nor was he particularly sorry about it in any way. But the party’s argument that the dragon’s cooperation meant that maybe Mithril Hall didn’t have to be a front-line force, and that providing to the dragons what was negotiated would be a way to ensure that. Brawnanvil agreed to meet with Elia, in private, to issue a personal apology for what happened to her kin, which was all he was able to do.
+ + +
I had prepared more content for this week than we actually got to. I didn’t plan on the players spending as much time trying to track down the cultist as they did, which turned out to be one of those classical DM conundrums: go with the flow, or branch out.
In a fit of confusion, I opted to branch out, which may come back to bite me in the ass later on. Still, I’m pleased that I had a sudden epiphany, even though it came to me as I was trying to avoid giving the players too easy an out later on down the line. Theoretically — and this is meta-gaming talk, Adventure Co members — this thread could lead to an interesting side module if we didn’t have a pesky dragon cult invasion that required the bulk of our attention.
Speaking of which, we narrowly avoided ditching the cult invasion in favor of a trip to the old dwarven city of Gauntlgrym. See, Brawnanvil knew of the dwarf who killed Elia’s kin, but he knows him because he left Mithril Hall with Bruenor, the fabled not-quite-so-dead-anymore king who took an expedition to the abandoned city long, long ago. If there wasn’t more pressing content to get through, the party could have easily gone on another side mission to see if they couldn’t find this guy. The problem is Gauntlgrym isn’t just a dwarven city; it’s the D&D equivalent to the Mines of Moria, and also a gateway to the Underdark — and all that entails. A trip down there would be a whole campaign in itself, and while there’s a certain level of excitement about that, now is not the time.
Still, I think we got a lot done. There was a lot of discovery, and everyone seemed really focused on the tasks at hand.
I am happy to announce the incorporation of Blackstar Logistics Unlimited, a Star Citizen organization.
Well, right now? Me and one other guy. We’ll get another guy once he gets around to getting around to joining.
A few years ago, a group of my friends and I actually sat down and agreed on an MMO to play. You have no idea how monumental this was. We have several folks who are veteran MMOers, some who have turned to other games, and some who were never really into MMOs at all. We somehow gathered everyone together — six of us in all — and started playing…EVE Online?
Yes, we picked probably the best worst MMO out of all of the options available. The learning curve is a 25-degree angle. The community is several bridges short of a roof over their heads, and its reputation as a spreadsheet in space seems anathema to this group which usually favored shooters.
But we had a Good Time, until of course, some ass-hats ruined it for us at almost every turn. I think there’s still some vestige of interest there among several of the original members, however, because no one we’ve talked to about Star Citizen has actually and unequivocally said no…
Sandbox space sims seem to bring out the crazies. EVE‘s the template, but Elite Dangerous has them as well. These people’s main avenue of enjoyment is making sure other people don’t get any enjoyment because these trolls are sad and pathetic shells that never received the warm spark of humanity.
In light of that, I wanted our group to focus on doing Good Things for Other Players. I was inspired by the EVE University corporation in EVE Online, and by the Fuel Rats in Elite Dangerous. The former accepts new players into their ranks in order to teach them the ropes, and the later rescues stranded pilots who have jumped far beyond their fuel range.
Blackstar’s IC mandate is to provide resources for other players. Yes, that means we mine, salvage, and sell the items to other players, but we also hope to rent out ourselves and our ships for transporting cargo. Trading and transporting are going to be massive in Star Citizen, where cargo is actual physical objects and not just line-items in the tabular view of a UI window. You’ll need to load and unload crates from ships if you want to move items, which makes having a ship with a lot of cargo space an important asset.
I know what you’re thinking: that’s a set up for a real shit-show, right? Who’s going to trust anyone to trust anyone to move their property around in a sandbox environment? Either people will think we’ll steal their stuff, or we’ll get jumped, ourselves shot, our ships hijacked, and a whole lot of harassing messages in our inbox to the tune of “Nah nah nah pttttthhhh”.
Well, I’m a firm believer that “the world is what you make it”, so with what I hope will be careful vetting, we’ll try our hand at the Rent-A-Transport business.
Of course, we’ll also do other things that become available in the game, but the idea is that we’ll be doing them as a group.
The thing is, I’m not sure. What I am sure of, however, is that we need more people in order to be able to do it.
This is uncharted territory for me: being a group leader. I’ve never had much luck at joining other people’s groups, and while I’ve been honest (I think) about my own shortcomings that contribute to this fact — like my reluctance to insert myself into other people’s cliques — I’ve also believed that a lot of “like a family” groups out there fall far short of the mark themselves by not making recruitment an ongoing effort part of their behavior. I’ve always believed that if a new member seems to be hanging back, then the group that claims to be “like a family” should be reaching out to see what they can do to help…few if any ever do. Recruitment doesn’t stop at writing up a post and accepting someone into the group. It’s an ongoing process that ensures that every member feels like a member and not someone who’s struggling among strangers.
So I now get to put my money where my mouth is, and that’s a bit terrifying because my part in not having fit into an existing group — my introverted side — is going to get thrown right out the window. As the organizer of this…organization…it’s my role to ensure that the Manifesto is adhered to by all members, and not just by the one who wrote it (read: me). It’s the culture we’re trying to sell to potential members, and if they show up because they like the advertisement, we owe it to them to live up to their expectations, even when that means we have to bend over backward to accommodate them
(Sadly, our system ID is “BLUD”. I had originally designed it to be BLU, but that was taken. I could have gone with BSLU, but I didn’t think of that until it was too late to change it).
I haven’t watched the Star Citizen fan-fest CitizenCon videos in their entirety, but I did catch the bulk of Chris Robert’s post-event keynote (is it a keynote if it happens at the end of the event? Postscript? I don’t know). This was really the “meat and potatoes” portion of the whole thing, I suspect, because it focused mainly on two elements: the roadmap for 3.6 – 4.0 of the alpha, and a brand new video showcasing actual gameplay from space to ground.
Star Citizen’s 2.5 release was a Big Deal since it introduced a more comprehensive experience for the “shared universe”. Arena Commander and Star Marine — the starship and FPS dueling simulators, respectively — had been running for a while, but path 2.5 brought in an expanded Port Olisar, more ships to fly, more places to fly them to, and more reasons to fly. Although the rewards don’t remain in perpetuity, you can take missions in 2.5 and get yourself some cash from repairing downed communication satellites, blowing up wanted criminals, and collecting information from a derelict station. 2.5 was the first time I actually, really gave the game a shot, and it’s the update that finally hooked me. Although the game still has a ways to go (especially in terms of optimization), this little active slice showed me that the long wait was worthwhile, and any further delay isn’t a delay, but honest to goodness work being done to make good on as many promises a possible.
2.6 is going to bring more improvements to Star Marine, including two new maps featuring two squad sets. I’ve never looked into Star Marine, although I probably should at this point. Star Citizen isn’t just a space-sim; it’s an end-to-end universal experience that will allow you — and probably in some cases require you — to get in a ship, fly and land on some remote planet or station, and explore on foot. You’re going to need to shoot NPCs and other players as a matter of course, so any head-start will certainly be worthwhile.
3.0 was showcased in the Gamescom presentation, but the specifics were laid out at CitizenCon: trading, cargo transport, piracy and smuggling, mercenary activities, and bounty hunting. Admittedly, I’m not super keen on the last few, but trading and cargo transport are massive. RSI’s “Around the Verse” 3.5 video talks about the cargo system in development, and it’s more than just an inventory screen, as you might hope from a game featuring ships with massive cargo holds. Check out this segment on cargo:
3.1 is going to bring mining and refining to the game, allowing players to go out to retrieve raw materials, and turn them into usable resources. It also will include refueling (in space, I assume, since you can refuel and re-arm in the game already) and escort missions. It will also include quantum interdiction, which is basically the act of pulling someone out of warp travel, mostly for the purposes of blowing them up or stealing from them.
3.2 is an interesting update: repair and salvage. Salvaging is something that always sounds great on paper, but ends up being rather lame in practice. In order to have a real salvaging system, a game needs to either allow players to salvage from other players, or to have an almost impossible amount of NPC wreckage lying about in orbit or on planets in high enough quantities that makes it worthwhile for players to believe they have a chance at finding something. In the end “salvaging” might just mean “collect stuff from ships you blow up”, but I’m hoping that it’s much, much more than that, but since we’ll have the cargo system in place, I’m hoping that the idea is that you’ll need to essentially move goods from the point of salvage to your own ship, a time consuming and potentially dangerous process.
3.3 threw me for a loop, because it mentioned farming. Star Citizen is a game of interstellar flight and fight, and I had never heard of farming in the SC context. I guess that it makes sense, in some ways, as a kind of crafting system to make resources for sale, but it seems like a pretty stark contrast to the rest of the game. Also in this update is a rescue system, which sounds like it’ll allow players to “jump start” other ships (refueling was already mentioned, so I assume this is for situations far more dire than just running out of gas).
And in the far distance, 4.0 which will allow for travel outside of the Stanton system. It will also bring with it exploration and discovery, as well as science and research to give you something to do with the refined materials and crops we’ve been no doubt collecting all this time. There was no mention of anything beyond 4.0, although I doubt 4.0 signals the “end” of development. And, of course, no timelines were mentioned. I suspect that based on the progress they seem to be making these days, 4.0 might be aiming for the end of 2017 or the first quarter of 2018, but that’s nothing more than my uneducated speculation.
Each update also brings with it new ships and vehicles, whether they’re variants on existing ships, or concept ships making their debut. Most of the ships that seem to be in the pipeline are the larger or more specialized ships, so it’ll be quite exciting to see these “exotic” vehicles making their way into the game.
Thankfully, RSI didn’t let us down and leave without a new video. I’ll embed it here, and I urge you to watch it before you continue reading, and hopefully you’ll better understand my enthusiasm.
I was simulcasting this with a friend, who rightfully noticed that the into looked suspiciously pre-rendered, and I agree. There’s a nice orchestral bit, not a hell of a lot going on, and then some sudden transition to a Constellation-class Aquila that makes the whole thing look like it was made before the presentation. However, the segment right before this one (if you scrub back) talks all about their artist-driven procedurally generated worlds and how they used their tools to build worlds like the one in the video above, so while the planet was no doubt prepared ahead of time, we shouldn’t argue about the semantics of the word “procedurally”, since most people get it wrong anyway.
For those who can’t spare the bandwidth to watch the video — although you should at some point, to get the Full Impact — the video starts off in the Connie, tracking down a distress beacon. The player at the controls finds a place to land and then brings out the Ursa, a six-wheeled ATV that’s the hallmark of the Aquila. On the way to the beacon, the player is attacked by — let’s be honest — sandpeople who have set an ambush point that destroys the Ursa. The player takes out the nomads and finds that the beacon was meant to draw in unsuspecting victims, but it’s still a real beacon that leads to additional beacons. The player steals one of the nomad’s Dragonflies which are — let’s be honest — speederbikes that can be obtained in the game, and heads off to the next beacon. This one leads the player to the crash of a Javelin-class destroyer which is crawling with more nomads. This scenario is particularly noteworthy for three main reasons: first, the skeleton of the ship is a real ship and not just a specially constructed placeable. If you strip a Javelin model of its armor plating, what you’d get is what’s lying in the sand (this was covered in another “Around the Verse” videos). Second, we get to see the scale of the Javelin compared to the nomads who are patrolling it. Third and most spectacularly, the sandstorm in back (seen in the YouTube still) is real.
The player takes out a few nomads using a sniper rifle, a stealth takedown with a knife, and a sidearm. After weathering the storm that passes overhead, he tries to find a way out of the wreckage, but notices several more nomads approaching on their Dragonflies…but that’s not the worst of it, so I encourage you to watch the video if you haven’t already.
Usually, not playing a game falls into a pretty logical bucket, such as “I don’t own it and can’t afford to buy it right now” or “it’s on a platform I don’t own” or “I was savaged by wolves and am in a full body cast”. Very rarely does the excuse “my own dumb self is getting in the way” come up, but it’s not totally off the table as a reason.
Sometimes I stare off into space (usually when I should be doing something more constructive) and think of the cool games I’d really like to play, but don’t, and why not. Here’s a few!
This one comes up a lot because I love Battletech a lot. I played the original tabletop game, the games PC, the games on consoles, and then there was nothing until MWO (the ill-fated web-based Battletech adaptation notwithstanding), so you’d think I’d be all over whatever I could get until the official Battletech tactical game drops sometime…next year?
Nah, mainly because of that pesky Other People thing. MWO is like EVE Online in the sense that the mechanics favor those who really dig into the guts of building out your death-machine. That tends to lead to “good” and “bad” builds, or at least “very specific and powerful builds” and “did you really just take something off the shelf?” builds. People really like to rely on what works are aren’t super-tolerant of experimental or “learning curve” game play, and I’m just not good enough to qualify for people’s nice list in games like these.
Civ is well respected, but I’ve never really gotten into them. My initial turns are usually spent passing as I wait for things to get built and explorers to explore. Of course, being a strategy game, I have a deep interest in games like Civ that are positioned for mass-market appeal while still retaining the hardcore investment. Problem is, I don’t have the time to invest these days, so several consecutive turns of doing little but hitting the spacebar makes me question my sanity.
When Skyforge launched, it clicked with me for some reason. It was an action RPG, which I don’t usually go for, but I liked it so much I decided to get their premium pass…and thus began my descent into hell.
I somehow ended up with two accounts, and my progress was on the account which didn’t purchase the premium pass. I tried to get their customer service to switch it, but there were long drawn out bouts of silence followed by vague questions and vaguer responses. After about a month — during which time my premium benefits were rolling — things were finally ironed out, but I had little interest in spending money with My.com.
Still, I went back to play just a few months ago, and had as much fun as I’d ever had. Skyforge is a game I’d really like to play, but I’m not sure if their CS problems were launch-time woes or systemic and ongoing. Meanwhile, I just reinstalled. I ended up with eight 14-day premium passes and one 3 day pass, so I can take advantage of the loot boost when I think I’ll actually have time to devote to it.
Man, I was gung-ho for this one, if you remember. I spent the time researching the mechanics, and writing up what I’d hoped would be well received guides (despite the fact that others with more resources and better discipline were writing better guides, faster). I got — and still get — many hits on those posts, but as time wore on, the allure of BDO kind of faded when I felt I’d milked what I could from the resources I had, and needed to strike out to get more in order to expand.
That’s the name of the game, but not how I’d gotten into the swing of playing. I really loved BDO’s complexity and first-world non-combat gameplay, but when I had to go back to normal questing, I lost interest.
MMOs will always be near and dear to my heart, and most games listed here are “_MO” anyway. Many people look at MMOs as having very narrow gameplay requirements — you need to min/max, internalize the mechanics, gear up, raid, and most of all, play with other people. Fact is, I’ve always loved MMOs for their always-on, persistent nature, that things keep on keeping on while you’re sleeping. The world doesn’t always change, but you know there’s activity going on. The need for carrots for retention also keep the game expanding for years, well beyond what we can expect from any single player game. There’s always the possibility of making a home in an MMO…if you’ve got the support network.
That’s been my critical failure in the MMO realm, and why my love of the genre is also a hate-relationship. My gaming friends and I are all pretty much alike in that we’re creatures of experience who value a lot of broad opportunities over a specific and narrow ecosystem. We are ships that pass in the night, playing different games at different times, or even if we’re playing the same game at the same time, contrived barriers keep us apart — servers, factions, time-zones, previous commitments, and so on. Playing with people has never been my forte, and I seem to have fallen in with a specific crowd for whom commitment to game and group is on the same level as mine. I’m not the type to butt into someone’s established group, and few groups seem as welcoming to new folks as their recruitment pamphlets would lead us to believe.
No matter what the game, though, I’ll keep trying to find the time, the push, or the reason to maybe give it one more shot. Things change, people change — including me and what I’m able to deal with.
Because Star Citizen is moving along slowly, I’ve gone back to Elite Dangerous to get my space simulation quota filled.
So far, I’ve only been taking missions for item transfer. The mission board offers all kinds of wonderful work, but my focus has been on the “here’s some items we want delivered to another station in another system” kind of jobs for a few reasons. First and foremost, they’re easy. I just have to accept the mission. Second, there’s no additional work on my part because the items that need to be moved are placed in my cargo hold. With a Lakon Type-6, I have 100 “units” I can take, which means I can usually take more than one mission — assuming they’re all in the same area. Third, there is a penalty for not completing the mission, but it’s relatively small: usually a few thousand credits. The only risk to not completing the mission (since the time is usually exorbitant, like 24 hours real time) is getting blown up.
My current most profitable routes start in Kamocan, at Littrow Gateway, which is my de facto home base because it’s where my ships are parked. I’m eagerly awaiting the next update where we can get our ships delivered to other stations, because as much as Littrow Gateway is nice, I’m kind of in the armpit of the galaxy and might like to move somewhere closer to the action. The latest round of missions have me transporting items to Shou Gu Wu (my bad, not the actual system name, but it’s something like that), which is two jumps away with a full cargo hold, one jump if I’ve only got limited goods to move. The thing I’ve noticed, though, is that I’m almost guaranteed to have one mission change objectives on me mid-stream. This means that the destination of at least one set of items is going to require me to either bring them somewhere new, move them to their location faster, or in a bizarre twist, explode a named NPC. That last one usually means said NPC is going to come after me, which is a problem considering I don’t have any weapons on my ship in order to conserve mass and power. That means I have to submit to interdiction in order to get my frame-shift drive recharged faster, continuously hammer the afterburners, and bob and weave using my thrusters until I can activate the FSD. So far I’ve gotten blown up once, but since then I’ve upgraded my thrusters to make me faster, and fixed my controls so I can actually use afterburners.
I’m thinking of moving closer to the Pleiades, because that seems to be where the bulk of alien encounters are happening. Right now (as of this writing), there’s a community goal in Maia that I wouldn’t be able to reach in time, but considering that this region seems to be the epicenter of whatever is going to go down once the aliens make an actual appearance, it might be worthwhile to get out there and get a front row seat for the carnage. But Maia and other systems are quite a ways away from where I am now, which means I’d need to dedicate a lot of time to getting out there, and it would only be worth it if I could get my other ship out there as well.
The party was promptly returned to Waterdeep by Elia, who couldn’t stick around, on account of the fact that she was needed back at Metallic Dragon HQ to help prepare for the new alliance.
The next step was to take the dragon’s compromises to the Council. The party’s barbarian was somehow elected to be the spokesperson, and ended up angering the council with his insanity. Thankfully, that scenario turned out to be a bad dream sequence, and the warlock came up with a plan: whenever he said the word “dijon”, the barbarian would spring into action, but until then he should keep quiet. Unfortunately, in discussing the plan and agreeing to use the word “dijon”, the barbarian heard the word “dijon” and immediately bolted into the streets of Waterdeep.
Going in, the party understood that their compromises might be a hard sell for the Council, and they were right. The bard lectured the Council of Waterdeep on the necessity of compromise and the importance of the alliance that the Council themselves sent the party to broker before the party dropped the bomb that they’d bartered 1/3 of the Cult’s stolen hoard in order to secure the partnership. Several Council members, lead by Neverember and Brawnanvil, were outraged. Lady Silverhand explained that the hoard wasn’t technically up for grabs: not only did it belong back with its rightful owners, but the cities represented by the Council knew they’d be facing a massive expenditure after the crisis and beyond the value of the hoard to cover reparations for those who lost their homes and families. The warlock countered by reminding the Council that dragons will be dragons and that treasure was a surefire way to appease them, a point supported by Sir Isteval, sworn enemy of dragons, but supporter of the party’s actions and in begrudging agreement that the dragon’s assistance was to be secured by whatever means necessary.
The second concession went over a lot better: handing over the dragon masks to the metallics. At first it looked like Hornblade would object to losing some of the most powerful (and potentially useful) magical artifacts in Faerun, but seemed to think better of dissent when no one else seemed particularly upset.
The last point was saved for later. The warlock wisely opted to hold back the demands for an apology from Brawnanvil until it could be relayed in private, so after the Council disbanded for the afternoon, the party secured an audience with Brawnanvil for later that night.
Meanwhile, the bard went out looking for the barbarian, whom the party realized could be doing a whole lot of PR damage if left to roam the streets shouting “dijon” at random citizens. During her search, however, she noticed a flash of purple robes ducking into an alleyway. Stealthing through the narrow corridor, she saw the robed humanoid enter into a building in a secluded courtyard.
With the barbarian reclaimed, the bard collected the rest of the party and returned to the alleyway. Still, the barbarian was frantically searching for “dijon” and ran through the courtyard shouting for the spicy mustard, which earned him a fireball to the back from a hidden cultist on a balcony overlooking the alleyway. Several other cultists poured in from other alleys and from behind doors. The bard grabbed the barbarian and used Dimensional Door to teleport the two of them to one of the balconies where a cult fireball thrower was firing from, while the rest of the party used the mouth of the alleyway as a choke-point through which to funnel the oncoming cultists. Although the party took several hits, they were able to plow through the cultists — except one, who seemed to have vanished into thin air.
+ + +
The session got off to a slow start as we triggered several hallucinations in which the barbarian — who is under the delusion that he is actually a wizard — attempted to speak to the Council on behalf of the party.
The Council was obviously upset about the 1/3 share of the treasure leaving their eventual possession, although the vehemence with which some of the members protested the situation could be construed as having an agenda for the hoard beyond simple restitution.
The party rarely splits, adhering to the adage of “don’t split the party”, but in some cases having players go their different ways allows for different opportunities to present themselves, not always for the worst. When they’re all bunched up, an ambush is like a small war because the “ambush” part has to match or exceed the party’s strength. Plus, if they always travel in packs, then there’s always some level of assumed safety. More importantly, the Party With A Capital “P” means that I always have to address the Party and almost never get the opportunity to work with individual players.
Focusing on one or two players at a time can certainly be boring for the rest of the party, depending on how involved the current scenario ends up being, but I think part of our problem with us is that the Party Is All. We have some people who talk a lot, some people who talk A WHOLE LOT, and some people who say very little, in part because there are so many voices talking over one another because everyone is in the same place at the same time experiencing the same experience, and as a result no one can be addressed as an individual. Decisions are made sometimes by consensus, but often times it seems like everyone just goes with the flow because A) there’s not a lot of other options that would allow the party to take different routes (my fault), B) some folks are just feeling like throwing another voice into the fray would be drowned out or not really add anything new to the decision making process, or C) strength in numbers means never having to worry about the possibility of making a terrible, terrible mistake.
Because of the scenario, though, there’s not a lot of time or opportunity to split the party or for the party to really focus on individual paths within the same chapter, so I suppose it’s the impending deadlines that we can use as an excuse this time around.
We also saw the devastating results of Blight as the warlock turned a cultist to dust with a waggle of his finger, leading me to believe that I need a better class of henchmen for the future.
I think it’s safe to say that no one in these circles — the people this post advertisement will reach — is immune to cycles of interest and ennui regarding the games we play, or at a lower level, the kinds of games we play.
I’m sliding back into my phase of “I don’t know what I want to play”. I am obligated to get back into The Secret World, because it’s got just the right amount of creep for the Halloween season, despite the fact that I play alone and have never actually completed the Halloween event (I’m not holding my breath that I’ll fare any differently this season). I am actually making measurable progress now, which is one of my cornerstones to remaining interested in game.
I’ve also taken up the yoke in Elite Dangerous again. I’m still obsessed with Star Citizen, but there’s only so much to do with it right now: try out ships, fly around, and do repair missions and the one investigation mission for cash that’ll get wiped out eventually. And my system doesn’t run it all that well. Elite is still the imperfect beast it’s always been, with its limited engagement and single-minded route towards more money and bigger ships, but at least it’s working, and there are improvements on the horizon (get it!?). Except when I get blown up by NPCs, like what happened last night.
What I’m not doing is World of Warcraft. I cancelled my sub this morning after a discussion with a like-minded friend. My feelings about the situation were contained in the post previous to this one, and the situation still stands: too much themepark is showing through Blizzard’s sandbox attempt, and it’s just muddying the waters for me. I cannot take it to task for being shoddy. Even with my limited WoW experience, it’s their best expansion to date, but it seems to also be WoW‘s late foray into puberty: growing and changing, but really and painfully awkward.
Meanwhile, I bought the Destiny expansion, and instantly regretted it. I was originally not high enough in level to use it, but was also overlooked when my usual strike team decided to plow through it without inviting me. They completed it, and one member opted to not play it again from that point which left me high and dry, as half the fun of that game (2/3 the fun, really) was playing it with other people. I had put it on the shelf for months, and the only reason I’d taken it down was in anticipation of playing with others again.
I’m starting to get the feeling that I’m caught somewhere between wanting a really in-depth, thinking person’s game, and not having anywhere near enough time to devote to such a thing. I’ve still got Stellaris installed, and it’s a nightly contender but never gets the nod because I need several hours to feel like my sessions are worthwhile. TSW is fairly highbrow in this regard with its investigation missions, but I’ve been through them before at this stage and have therefor fallen back on looking up the answers. Elite fulfills the agency aspect of my need to forge my own way in the galaxy, but offers little else. Now what?
I have no idea. My friends will pretty much only play The Division, and only then on Monday night, or randomly through the week, so it’s pretty much the only game I have to play if I want to play with other people. I’ve taken to streaming with the newly repurposed Forge, but don’t have a groove there, or else I’m not streaming anything anyone wants to watch. All in all, my gaming time seems to be increasingly…pointless? Unsatisfying at best, I suppose. I don’t know if it’s restlessness, disappointment, or loneliness that’s causing the heavy sigh.
At this point a lot of words have been spilled over World of Warcraft‘s latest expansion Legion, most of which have been put forth by people who are much more familiar with the franchise than I am. I’m a casual WoWer at best; although I own all the expansions and have played each to varying degrees, I don’t do group content (for differing reasons), and I have no interest in the things that WoW tells us we should have interest in: raiding, loot, and the perpetual go-round formed by the two working in tandem.
There is something intrinsically awesome with Legion however. It seems to have more story than any of the other expansions. The design of the zones are top-notch. Some of the complaints from the past (garrisons) have been worked on (class halls) to great success. But one of the best moves, in my opinion, is also what’s causing me the greatest headache.
Legion is WoW‘s most sandbox-esque expansion to date. You have a mission to stop a demonic invasion, and in order to do so you need to collect class-specific weapons of legend. In order to do that, you take the floating city of Dalaran to the Broken Isles, a crescent-shaped landmass that is divided into several regions as well-demarcated biomes for the purpose of visual and narrative convenience. In expansions gone by, we’d expect to be dropped off on one coast of the continent and railroaded through each zone until we reach the final stages of the lore-driven story in some dark fel castle or some such, but Legion opts for a different tack this time.
Legion allows you to pick a zone to start in. Your pursuit of your weapons will take you all over the continent, as will the collection of followers for your class hall. This is made possible by Blizzard’s new scaling system. You may recognize this as a reverse form of adaptation of the system in Guild Wars 2 that down-levels the player, or from Bethesda’s “One Tamriel” initiative coming to The Elder Scrolls Online sometime in the future, which is kinda like the enemy scaling in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Because the mobs scale to your individual level, you have the opportunity to move anywhere within the Broken Isles at any time in pursuit of your objectives while always being properly challenged (for another perspective on this, check out Pete at Dragonchaser’s post on his concerns regarding TESO‘s One Tamriel [First] [ Second] [Third]).
I’m finding this nifty, but severely off-putting. Last night I logged in, intending to do some treasure hunting for class hall resources, and found myself re-visiting a zone I’d already passed through but not cleared of the hidden treasure boxes. I looked at my quest log, and found that I had a lot of tradeskill quests, one mandatory dungeon run (which is another severe annoyance for me), one last weapon-harvesting chain, and a few nickel and dime quests. As I was running through this zone on my hunt, I came across several “!”, but skipped over them with the intention of coming back later.
That’s when I realized that Legion wasn’t working for my gameplay style. WoW is a game of linear progression, but Legion is a sandbox, and what we’ve got is some kind of genetic mutation that ends up short-circuiting of my need for progression. I’m leveling well enough, I’m collecting class hall resources well enough, and am upgrading my weapons and gear well enough, but that Legion‘s design makes it OK to be in a zone with all new quests even when a previous zone’s quests have barely been touched — actually, when the game specifically sends you to another zone before you’ve “completed” the current zone — and that’s not OK with me. Even though Legion allows this through the scaling measures, they still rely on the “!” design as the drivers in each zone. That means you’ll always have work to do, but a limited quest log to do it with, and for me, a limited amount of focus. All in all, they could have just blown the doors of the quest log limit and pre-loaded all missions for you so you could just do them organically while chasing down the story elements and it would have worked just as well (if not better).
The workaround, then, is to not leave a zone before it’s done, even if that means putting critical work (weapon stories, class hall followers) aside for later, but I’m not sure that would work, especially for the class hall follower collection which is a critical part of Legion thanks to the mobile app that Blizzard released a few weeks ago.
I guess my take-home message is this: Legion is extremely well done, but now that I’m at that midway point (level 106), I’m finding that the traditional issues I have with MMOs are still here. The motivation to continue is waning. At a similar point in other games, I’d be looking at a plateau of the same mechanics stretching out towards the level cap, and while it seems that Legion should avoid this, it doesn’t. In fact, it seems to be making things worse by allowing me to be anywhere and everywhere at the same time. It’s like levels never happened and everything is available to me. I know that others would jump in at this point and say that at 110 the world quests open up and everything changes, but that’s really the same thing as what MMO devs have insisted on for decades now, that “the real game starts at the level cap”, which is a particularly vile Kool-Aid I’ve never opted to swallow.
I’m thinking that my plan at this point is to put the game aside. I played it semi-religiously when it launched, having done the pre-release events every single day and getting some serious levels for my Mage (though nothing like the power-levelers achieved), so maybe it’s just burn-out at this point. I’d been contemplating this for a while, since I realized that I couldn’t complete the first weapon story arc without doing a dungeon run, which made me much more sad than it did angry. Overall, I think that Legion is probably the best move Blizzard had to make in order to justify WoW‘s evergreen position as the #1 MMO in the West, but I can’t fault them for not getting everything 100% awesome for me, personally, at this time. I’m hoping that coming back to the game maybe in 2017 will give me fresh perspective and a renewed desire to make the push through the final four levels (at least on my main character).