On Top Of The Bell Curve
By the time you’re reading this, I’ll have been playing World of Warcraft again for…let’s see…almost a week. At the time of writing this, however, I am comfortably at 95. Progress is steady and relatively quick; I leveled from 93 to 95 during a marathon vacation day, and enjoyed the experience.
At this rate, I suspect that I’ll actually manage to get to 100 well before the end of the year. Sure, there’s people who were 100 the day after the expansion released, but the fact that I’m 50% of the way through to the (new) level cap is a monumental occasion for me, regardless of the time it’s taken to achieve it.
I’m going to give huge props to the Warcraft team for creating content that’s compelling and which flows well enough that I’m actually interested in doing what are essentially the exact same fetch quests. It’s not even the garrison business that keeps me interested; There’s a cinematic ending to each of the zones I’ve been in so far, which is a great end-cap to the mindless bunk you’ve been asked to do by lazy, immobile NPCs in the world. The Battle for Shattrath was particularly excellent [SPOILERS!]
The garrison business is strangely turning out to be less of a draw than I had originally hoped. Finding that a quest NPC opts to become a follower is always fun, but the missions that are available to send them on are predominantly XP rewards. I was hoping for more of a system that benefitted my character directly, and sometimes they do, but leveling followers for the sake of leveling or on the off chance I might call them into battle or assign them to a workshop seems like work for work’s sake. I can’t add any more buildings right now, but I did upgrade my tannery (as a skinner, that’s a massive help). Aside from that, I basically use the garrison as a rested XP source, and little else.
I now have to figure out what the plan is once I start to slide down the far side of the bell curve as I get closer to 100. I’ve never been one for dungeons, and this being WoW the LFG tool frightens me more than it probably should. I don’t raid, because people take that shit WAY more seriously than I do.
What I DO have is the potential to go pet hunting. My main is a hunter, and I just learned about epic hidden pets that hunters can get through careful investigation and tracking. I’m also seriously deficient in pet battle pets. My next progressive battle is back in Darkshire, and my highest pet is level 6. I see a lot of potential captures in Draenor, but I can’t do anything about them due to the level disparity.
What I doubt I’ll do is continue with an alt. I rolled a new Panda on Earthen Ring because I have some friends who have an established guild there, but when I look down that road I see the same content that I was never interested in completing previously. Not much has changed (I have played before and after Cataclysm) so I don’t think I’ll find it very appealing. I might end up subbing for another month after I reach 100, just on the off chance I suddenly feel differently about the game, but I strongly doubt that I’ve become SUCH a convert that I’ll suddenly see the pre-level 90 game in a significantly different light.
My Own Inquisition
So like a dumbass, I went ahead and picked up Dragon Age: Inquisition for the PS4. There’s two ways to think about this game and the process that lead me to this point. The first is that this is a Dragon Age and a BioWare product. I’ve played a little of the two previous DA games, and I’m not as big of a fan of BioWare as I used to be, so the idea of DA:I was kind of sour to me. The second way is all about how the game presents itself. Strip away the Dragon Age association, and decouple the product from the reputation of it’s creator, add a dash of incessant side-by-sides with Skyrim, and there’s absolutely no reason for me not to want to play this game.
I was less than impressed when I first started playing, however. The character eyes were just dead; my character was talking to someone, but his eyes never moved from the 45 degree angle they had assumed before the conversation started. Everything was jerky. Add to that the fact that the graphical fidelity was just abyssal. The hair was atrocious. Some of the effects around the demon rifts were shooting off Minecraft-sized pixels. Everything was overly shiny and wet looking. I’m not normally so hopped up on visuals, but these horrible graphics were just so noticeable that I could barely concentrate on anything else.
But as soon as I completed the first demon battle, the game suddenly told me that it had to complete installing itself. Wait, what? I was at 63%, apparently, and the popup screen’s progress counter was moving agonizingly slow. I put the controller down and went to play WoW for maybe a half hour or so until I heard dialog from the other room.
I’m guessing that the game had been using low resolution placeholder visuals or something for the initial action because most of the graphical nit-picking seemed to be resolved once the install had completed. The eyes work better, although the cut-scene animations are really sub-par compared to those I’ve seen in videos of the contemporary Assassin’s Creed: Unity. It’s a little jarring, but that really only happens during conversations, and generally initiated, non-cut scene conversations have a distant camera so I don’t see that kind of stuff.
That’s a lot of text to bitch about graphics, so let me say that I’m seeing where all the Skyrim parallels are coming from. I didn’t spend a lot of time in Haven, the Inquisition’s base of operations. I sent my advisers out on a few missions (more minions!), chatted up a few “!” folks in town, and then set off to find Mother Genevieve, or whatever her name is, who was caught in the crossfire between apostates (rogue mages) and Templars (mage handlers). The land was absolutely gorgeous and fully designed with vegetation and outcroppings. I happened upon a kind of telescope thing that introduced a mini-game which had me drawing a constellation without re-tracing any lines. Supposedly it’s one part of of a triad that leads to some treasure. I read a lot of notes and books. Stole a lot of loot. Harvested a lot of materials. Killed a lot of animals. I found a cryptic treasure map. I almost died once because of a re-spawn of enemies in some ruins: the first time I cleared them out I didn’t have an issue. Second time, they were epic quality enemies and took down three of my four party members. I should note that I’m playing on casual mode, so this freaked me out.
My biggest gripe at this point is the control scheme. I’d like a lock-and-face system. I picked a sword and board warrior, figuring that I’d get enough ranged followers that taking a bow would hurt us with too much ranged. In any game I dislike playing warriors because of the need to close gaps, so when there’s an enemy ahead of me, I need to run to it, and once it’s dead, I need to scan the battlefield for the next target, and then close that gap as well. I’m finding that aspect difficult in DA:I, especially with a game pad. Also the curious use of the buttons on the game pad. I think there’s an unspoken “standard” that moving side-to-side on a menu is handled either by the left thumb-stick or the directional pad, or more often by using the L1 and R1 shoulder buttons. DA:I uses the left thumb-stick to navigate menus, and the D-pad up and down changes which character in your party you’re working on. This got really annoying initially when trying to navigate inventory, only to find that I was on the third party member when I wanted to work on the first. I had to slow down and think about where I wanted to be in the UI, and which buttons I needed to use to get there.
Overall, though, I’m above-warm on Dragon Age: Inquisition so far.While it still suffers from the “cue card conversations” that plague BioWare titles — your character queries NPCs using nothing but curt, one-line requests– I spend as little time as possible in elective conversations. Combat is just OK. I think in my old age I’m finding it more difficult to get a handle on the tactical aspect, so I generally just worry about my own character and let the AI blow stuff up on it’s own (Solas’ default but upgraded ice magic is pretty kick-ass). Casual mode will hopefully allow me to play the game entirely on my own terms, which means that the combat isn’t going to tax me any, and the cut-scenes — which I can handle — will be enjoyable as a narrative and not just a break from frantic button mashing.
As a sidebar, I wish Sony would get some cloud storage for PS4 screenshots and images. Having to sneaker those pictures from the console to the PC to get them out to the masses without spamming social media is more work than I’m willing to do.