On Top of the Bell Curve; My Own Inquisition

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.


I like fun systems in my games. Something I look for in a game (especially MMOs) is whether or not the game cleaves closely to the tried and true model of all combat, all the time, or if it concedes that there are times when people don’t want to just collect animal parts for NPCs. Most games, unfortunately, don’t seem to think that spending development cycles on these kinds of secondary systems is worthwhile, but every now and then a company comes through and tries something different.

Minions systems seem to be the new hot feature, the same way public groups were five years ago. A minion system is a kind of personal valet who goes off and “does stuff” on your behalf while you’re out getting your levels up. What these minions do differs from game to game — currently RIFT, Star Trek Online, Neverwinter, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and World of Warcraft have minion systems, although there may be others that I’m not aware of. In Star Trek Online, your duty officers are assigned to missions and bring back goods and XP for you. In RIFT, minions bring back items like dimension goodies (housing) and crafting materials, but only get XP for themselves. Now World of Warcraft is getting into the pool with it’s garrison system. Unlike the other systems, WoW‘s followers mainly take on missions for the XP, the benefit being that you can call random followers to aid you in the field and keeping them current is going to be important.

Although it’s strictly a “first nerd problem”, if you play more than one game that features minion systems, you’re in for a lot of child-support. I’m currently running RIFT, STO and now WoW, and I have to log into each to tend to my stable. For those of you with alts, the time-sink is magnified, as each eligible character has it’s own stable to tend to.

So while I really like the idea of minion systems, I can’t help but see them as another form of busy work. Personally, I prefer STO‘s system over the others because my character derives a direct benefit from the duty officer missions. While I like RIFT‘s system a lot, the random nature of the missions on offer means that minions return with a lot of crap that instantly goes to the vendor or AH (or alts, if you’re into that). WoW‘s system forces you to return to your garrison to deal with your people, which is both a time and a money sink since you can’t fly in Draenor. While I think the systems which bring you gifts is nice, I prefer the systems where the player character can derive a direct benefit. After all, if I have to interrupt my questing to deal with all of these needy employees, then I’d best get something out of it myself.

Onward to Draenor #WoW

So after Wednesday’s post about the hemming and hawing I was doing surrounding World of Warcraft, I bit the bullet, got the expansion, and set up a sub. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since I’m always saying that there’s a handful of games that I always return to time and again; I just never really considered WoW to be one of them.

I don’t know if it was dumb luck or how the prequel setup worked, but when I logged in I was right in front of the NPC that I needed to talk to for the “expansion prep” series of missions. My skills and talents had been wiped, and I was left with a single hunter pet and a handful of starter skills. As I progressed through the intro series, each quest reward provided me with a package of skills based on their function: buffs, control, pet abilities, and so on. One reward was to unlock my talents. The final quest decided I had re-learned the basics well enough, and it just dumped the rest of my skills and abilities on me.

This is how things should be done for returning players. I’ve always had issues going back to a game that I’ve been away from, for two reasons. First, chances are good that features have been added or removed, and I don’t know what the new UI elements do, or where the ones I relied on went. Second, relearning the “groove” of playing the character and existing in the world. For example, I was mildly frustrated on Wednesday night because my attempts to circumvent mobs was failing. Skirting the distances between mobs that works in other games just wasn’t cutting it in WoW, which is because their mobs are a lot more densely packed into a space. I just had to come to grips with the difference in distribution of mobs in WoW compared to other games I’d recently played, and realize that I won’t be traveling anywhere uninterrupted.

I ended the night with everything back where it was on my person, a new set of level appropriate gear with some extra from the quests, and a new battle pet (a system which I am horribly behind on). I joined the masses hanging out by the Dark Portal, and logged out.

Yesterday morning, though, I jumped in before work since the expansion went live while I slept (actually I woke up at 3AM and considered going to the computer to play) and got a popup window which told me that there was a new major quest available. I like this method. RIFT does something similar when there’s a seasonal event or an expansion event, although not as in-your-face. Rather then just instinctively knowing where to go for it, it tells you specifically where to go so if you get lost it’s your own damn fault. This quest was to plow through the gate to Draenor, but not until after a cool cinematic! Naturally.

On the other side, there was a lot of killin’ going on, and after shutting down the gate our small band of survivors was trapped in the new lands. We now have to find a safe place where we can set up our base of operations — the garrison. Sadly, I didn’t make it to that point yesterday morning, as there were quests that needed to be done (always quests that need to be done). I’ve seen people say that they’re getting it done even before they hit level 91, and since they did it between the time the game launched and the time I saw the info this morning, it sounds like maybe a few hours of work…so Soon(tm).

On Thursday night (admittedly when I should have been preparing for the Adventure Co. D&D game) I completed the into series of quests and dammit it was exciting! The end result was obtaining my garrison, and learning about how to set it up and send followers on missions that’s very much like RIFT‘s minions. I hit level 91 and have a whole new suite of gear. I’ve even gotten back into crafting, having skinned several animals and checking out what I have available to me at crafting level 600. I also gained a reputation tier with the guild, which is awesome, except there’s no one but me active as of recent. I’ve stumbled upon the trademark “WoW humor”, like the human guard asking a Draenei woman if she wanted to get some steaks for dinner, and she replied “you know I’m a vegetarian, right?” And Newbie McGreen, fresh-faced recruit for the Alliance. Of course he is.

The question now is: how long will this last for me? As of this moment, everything is riding the wave of new expansion excitement as people are getting out there and exploring and settling into a new area (for those who weren’t or didn’t spend a lot of time in beta). For me, whose attention seems to swing wider than a blind man at bat, it’s unknown. There’s only seven or so new areas to move through, and then a whole lot of stuff for people who do dungeons and raids (I’m in a guild with flagging membership, so it’ll probably be LFG for me or nothing at all).  Since my main is a Draenei, and this is as close to her homeland as the game offers at the moment,there’s a kind of RP attachment to the expansion, which is kind of nice.

There’s actually two potential reasons for me to stick around this time, though. First, the boost to 90. This puts me in a place that’s not behind the majority of everyone else. As I said on Wednesday, though, I still don’t have the historical foundation of reputation and fancy gear and perks that other folks do, but since we’re all trapped in Draenor right now, we’re all more or less equal from this point on. Second, the last expansion was a new race and a new land; it was a tangent to an existing game. My favorite character was stuck — prophetically — in the Blasted Lands which is a horrible zone to be stuck in, with nothing ahead of me except whatever aged content that was added in Cataclysm. This time around, though, the expansion content is ahead of everyone, not a sidecar to everyone else’s hard-fought progress. Basically, I can move forward now, almost as if I had been playing all along, and that’s something that carries a lot of weight with me, even in WoW.

It’s Unpossible #WoW

The way things work around LC.com baffles even me.

Last weekend I was eye-rolling so hard I gave myself a concussion as people were getting a weepy over Blizzcon. I like video games as much as the next person, but the level of kumbaya that was going on over there was bordering on creating a new Jonestown. Had Blizzard asked people to go invade a small nation, I think we’d have to update our maps this week.

Of course, then I had to hold up and reflect. I don’t feel strongly about any game that I play. I don’t even play them strongly. I kind of meander through either until I get bored or in anticipation of becoming bored at some point. I don’t know why, and on several levels, that really bothers me. I’ve got the passion for the hobby, but not the products that constitute that hobby? How the heck does that shake out? In all honesty, it makes me sad and jealous which translates into irritation (don’t ask why; it’s the Internet)

I try to steel myself against the overwhelming tide of other people’s fanaticism by deploying sarcasm turrets and Shields of Refute +1, +2 versus World of Warcraft. The Internet does something to people who find themselves on the losing side of an equation, prodding them to get defensive and start a counter-flow of useless statements telling people why they aren’t going to join the ever-swelling brigade, as if it really matters to anyone except the person shouting into the wind. As if anyone can hear them over the sound of the communal experiences that they’re enjoying.

This past few weeks in the run-up to the next WoW expansion, I’ve gone back to RIFT as a potential bulwark against being sucked into the vortex of euphoria, buying into their latest expansion and boosting my main to level 60 for all the new content. It’s fun; I’m enjoying it, but deep down inside I have to admit that this tactic results in a situation not unlike the Eddie Murphy McDonald’s versus the homemade hamburger routine.

Hey, don’t get me wrong: RIFT is good stuff (I’d prefer Mrs. Murphy’s hamburger over McDonald’s, personally), but when everyone else is excited about their McDonald’s, it’s difficult to ignore it. An overwhelming tide is overwhelming for a reason: Because it’s overwhelming.

The answer? Re-install World of Warcraft. Yes, it’s not the only answer; those who are militant about their hatred of WoW will tsk tsk and say “resist!” by offering suggestions of going away from the networks until the excitement once again runs it’s course (in a few days, I’m sure), or by playing something else, but it’s not a hatred of WoW that drove me away, just my usual apathy. I’m intrigued by the garrison system, a kind of mobile-game-esque town builder which offers you all kinds of interesting perks that sounds similar to several mini-games within the game, and it’s primarily that which I’m interested in playing.

But I can’t do that because you need to have a level 90+ character to take on the starting quest that opens up the garrison, and I don’t have that. Of course, I’d need the expansion to even get the garrisons in the first place, and if I order now I can get that level 90 boost (Technically I have a release day retail key coming my way from a friend of a friend at Blizzard, but it’s post-pre-order and won’t come with the boost to 90), but there lies a deeper issue that I’ve understood via RIFT‘s boost which is that I’d be taking my highest level character — somewhere around level 67 or so — and catapulting her way past the remainder of the content I haven’t yet experienced in the non-expansion game. She probably won’t come with appropriate gear (a la RIFT, which was awesome) or even the cash to buy crap from the AH that people shed as they push on into Draenor. I’d not have the results from the proper grinding that is required through natural progression. I’d have a character in level only, but lacking in pretty much anything that makes a level 90 effective.

So my struggle is this: is it worth it? I’m not anticipating being able to play with anyone, so I’d be resorting to my old M.O. — plus paying a subscription for the privilege — of soloing because everyone I know who will be playing is all spec’d up and current and out of my league. The garrison concept is really interesting, kind of like Star Trek Online‘s duty officers, or RIFT’s new minion system, but with other stuff to do and build and grow. I need a 90 to even consider that, and unless I get that boost, it’s probably never going to happen. Ever.

So my greatest concern is that boosting to 90 is going to actually be a disadvantage unless the process of doing so comes with the whole shootin’ match of points to spend and gear to equip. Even if it did, there’s still deficiencies in reputation, and a whole back-log of quests between levels 67 and 90 that I could do, but would be horribly overpowered for. Looking at the situation, I’m not sure that it’s possible for a lapsed account like mine, with my “personal situation”, to derive any benefit from following the crowd into the expansion, although admittedly I don’t have the knowledge about what the boost to 90 actually does for a character. If you’ve made it this far, thanks!, and if you have any info, please let me know.