Complexity is Good

While I was playing some more Path of Exile, I got to thinking about how this game differs from others.  I mean, they are all just carrot-on-a-stick generators, but some seem to have better looking carrots I guess.  As always, comparisons abound.  The 4 that I think bear comparison right now are Diablo 3, Marvel Heroes, Torchlight 2 and Path of Exile.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that the visceral aspects of Diablo 3 are much better than the others.  Abilities have an impact, monsters are clear and unique and there’s a fair amount of variety in the bosses, if you want there to be.   That feedback is part of the initial draw and it’s something MH, T2 and PoE are not really that good at.  D3 is a rewarding visual experience.

The thing is that feedback system reaches a stopping point, where you’ve seen all the skills and all the bosses.  Maybe it gets you to the end level.  It isn’t a carrot so much as an endorphin push.  You eventually develop immunity to it.  It’s at that point where you start seeing games for what they are – loot pinatas combined with number generators.  And that’s a part that Diablo 3 really is the weakest of the bunch and PoE really stands out.

Loot

Typical loot drops are rarely scanned after a given point.  The amount of gearing options available at max level really boil down to some simple guidelines.  Either it’s a clear upgrade for you, for a friend/alt, or may sell for something decent.  In D3, if it isn’t orange/green, odds are you aren’t going to use it.  There is a massive lack of build diversity in D3 and it is limited mainly by the gearing options.  The unique/set items are so wildly powerful, that some classes are pretty much non-competitive until you reach a specific gearing point.  It also means that you’re ignoring 99% of the gear drops.

In T2 and MH, the build diversity is much higher and that’s due to the way that the gear drops work.  T2 has sets/uniques and MH has about 18 terms for their gear.  But while there are key items that boost a particular feature of a character, nearly any type of high end drop can be an upgrade because each item boosts a random set of skills.  Combined with crafting, drops that are mediocre can be transformed into something very powerful.  I think MH really takes the cake here simply because it has so many possible gearing slots and options but T2 is pretty close in sheer item variance.

PoE is the outlier here and that has to do with the core design of the game.  There is no cash in the game, only a bartering system.  Skill gems are how characters develop abilities and boost their power.  There’s an internal gambling-like system for crafting, where you can take a grey-quality item and turn it into a superb piece of gear (potentially).  All this combined means that you’re always paying attention to the gear drops.  Maybe that piece has 6 slots, maybe that one has 4 links, maybe that one has an innate bonus.  Some types of drops also trade for better items (like a red-blue-green item giving a chromatic orb).  Right now, my weapon is a rare with some rolled mods and skill gem slots.  I’ve had it for over 10 levels.  I’ve had multiple rares since, none have come close to the stats on this thing, in the way that I’ve built my ranger.  The items that I’ve seen that were good, I’ve banked or traded away.

What the end result means is that there is always some form of progress.  D3 loot is a clear black/white upgrade system, just numbers.  MH/T2 has you stop and think a bit as to how the item fits into your build.  PoE goes the extra step and makes you go back to town to tinker with your gear.

Numbers

This is by far D3’s single largest weakness, the simplification of its numbers.  Only 2 numbers really matter (outside of uniques/sets) and that’s weapon DPS and the mainstat (Dex/Str/Int).  I know I am simplifying it, as critical chance/damage and resists have an impact but neither have as much as the first 2 items.  There’s just no way to fix this and it was the foundation of all the problems with the auction house.  A clear delineation of power means that only a small fraction of items have any value.  It also gives an exponential curve to power, where the difference between max level-1 and max level is a number most people can’t count.

T2 values main stat and then skills.  Sure, main hand DPS has value but it’s the other numbers that really impact your skill damage.  Getting a +5 to glaive had a tremendous effect.  This system is the closest to D2 that I’ve seen implemented, and had a large impact on the build diversity.

MH is all about skills, as the item’s innate power is more related to its level requirement than anything else.  Sure, you’re still going to want to look for +energy damage if that’s your bag, but you won’t equip something with +to a defence skill if you’re built for offence.  The power curve here is actually rather linear.  It keeps you coming back as there always seems to be some progress.

PoE has both the passive skill tree (oh lord the options) and skill gems.  This makes for a rather complicated system, where the base stats on an items are as important (if not less so) than the gem sockets, combined with your passive skills.  So let’s say you spec as a dual wielding cold master.  You will be looking for items with +cold damage, a few red sockets and resistances.  Would you swap an item with better base stats for one with 2 less connected gem slots?  Maybe if you were able to find another item to compensate.  I have a rare chest item with 6 green sockets, 5 of them connected.  Those 5 connected skills give me an amazing attack (tornado, piece, GWP, physical damage, faster attacks) that I really don’t want to give up.  I could re-roll a rare with better stats, hoping to get better sockets, but that’s a less than 1% chance.  With so many variables and numbers at play, it really makes you think about what you can actually use and what you’re willing to give up.

Complicated is good

I’m not saying simple games are bad, I’m just saying that I have a penchant for the more complex ones.  I like having to think things through, rather than just bot my way to the end.  It’s also neat that there are options along that simple/complex line.  I would say that folks who give PoE a try, once you get over the first few levels and start finding linked sockets, that’s where you start to see the true complexity of the system.  It isn’t a game where you’re chasing an ilevel, it’s a game where you’re given tools to think through.  And I think in today’s world of simple mechanics, a bit of complexity is a welcome sight.

Path of Exile – Solid ARPG

I like action RPGs.  I can clearly remember high school when Diablo first came out and there was an internet arcade (well, just desktops) a few blocks away.  Our group of friends ended up spending a LOT of time there over the years.  Diablo, Command and Conquer and Warcraft 2.  When high school ended, I found another spot to play, though that was mostly StarCraft by that point.  It’s what really cemented my passion for games and computers I guess.  Now that I think about it, I guess I spent about 6 years doing that…hah.

From that point, I have played the majority of ARPGs that have come out over the years.  Diablo 2 is certainly the one I played the most of but other notables include Darkstone, Nox, Torchlight, Sacred, Dungeon Siege (1 & 2), Marvel Heroes and now Path of Exile.  There are certainly a ton on the console, think of the Zelda series…

While I enjoy Diablo3, well since the RoS expansion at least, there are still some gaps in the game.  I do enjoy Blizzard’s penchant for a simple interface but a complex game but D3 really went a little too deep on the simplification of mechanics for my taste, a massive pendulum swing from initial release.  Torchlight 2 was/is a much better implementation of that model, it’s too bad that after launch the only support was from the community.

Marvel Heroes does scratch an itch and the game is honestly getting more and more complex as time goes by, which is a good thing.  I think it’s a rather solid implementation of the ARPG and the IP and recommend everyone take a pass at it.  It does F2P really well.

Path of Exile

This is the game with the massive skill tree.  It’s a much more hardcore ARPG compared to other games.  Torchlight 2 is really the closest and even that is comparing monkey bars and a minefield.

Now that’s a lot of options

The game is an odd one, as the concept of classes exists but it doesn’t have a massive impact other than some minor stats and the look of your character.  When you select the class, you’re placed in a particular spot on the skill tree, so you may have more Dex nodes around you as a Ranger than as a Marauder for example, though all the nodes are accessible.  With 80 levels and quite a few quests that reward extra skill points, there’s a near stupid amount of customization available.  The kicker here, which is a drastic change from other games, is the complete lack of any respec.  You can roll back a dozen or so points by the tail end but that has minimal impact on the grand scale.

The compensation for this is two-fold.  First is that you can create up to 24 characters and that the leveling process isn’t terribly arduous.  A dozen or so hours to max level, if you’re optimal.  Second is that trading is completely open.  There’s no money for one, so it’s 100% bartering.  But the actual items, they can be changed between anyone at any time, as long as they meet the stat requirements – clearly a model that’s required if you’re going to barter in the first place.  The neat side effect here is that there’s no gold spam, or hackers.

The game also takes a harsh (in comparison) approach to defense and death.  As you increase in difficulty, defense becomes more and more important.  As nimble as you are, you will be taking damage and a solid resistance set is needed.  Dying also causes you to lose experience but not to lose a level.  Stuns, roots and slows are all over the place.  Enemies with big hits, massive spawns, you name it.  It takes a smart build to survive and with so many options, it can seem daunting.

I do need to take a minute to talk about art because if you’re going to play a game for dozens of hours, it needs to look good.  Diablo 3 isn’t unicorns but there’s a fair chunk of enemy variety and clarity around them.  The artstyle is clean enough and varied enough to no strain the eyes and be recognizable.  Maps are generally open, and those that aren’t funnel you to the goal.  Torchlight 2 has a sort of hub/spoke model where the main zones are open but the dungeons are tight/varied.  I like the artstyle but there’s a definite lack of variety in the enemy types.  Marvel Heroes has a ton of art that’s very vibrant.  If they could have added lens flare, you’d see it everywhere.  It makes things pop.  But there’s only about a dozen or so enemies, and they are either human, moloid or insect.  I think that’s more an IP restriction than anything else.  It can get long in the tooth after your 800th yellow humanoid kill in a row.

Path of Exile has a lot of different types of enemies, some of which seem more inspired by horror than fantasy.  The maps are more often closed than open, but offer a lot of branching paths, making for frustrating dead ends.  The map itself isn’t much use as it shows you the building structures (bricks and all, though hollow) rather than a crisp “this is the wall” type of map I’m used to.  The game is also very dark, so you’re not looking for enemies as much as you’re looking for movement.  It’s thematically consistent but more akin to Diablo1 for those with elephant memories.

The meat of the game is in a skill gem system.  Anyone can use any skill as long as they have the attributes to (str/dex/int).  Gems are slotted into items, who have randomly assigned slots.  Slots can be linked, allowing combinations of gems to work together.  My ranger has a tornado shot (a shotgun like attack) linked to a greater projectile (+5 more shots) linked to a pierce (each shot goes through 1 enemy) linked to a physical damage (+50% more damage).  So why Tornado might be a so-so skill, with the appropriate paired gems, it becomes a lawnmower.  There are over 100 skills that can be combined… so have fun with that.

Finally back to the economy basis, stones and gambling.  There are dozens of types of stones that all have a random effect on items.  They may randomize: number of sockets, colors of sockets, links between sockets, the stats on an item.  They can also wipe stats clean, upgrade an item to magic or rare, upgrade a skill gems, upgrade armor quality and a whole lot more.  It is theoretically possible to find a grey-quality item and turn it into a monster of a piece of gear.  That means that every piece has potential value.

There are quite a few more sub-systems I could talk about but they get a fair bit more complex.  And that complexity is something I’ve been looking for, given the more brain dead games of recent years.  Both have their place but right now, Path of Exile is scratching an itch oh so good.

Back-ish

The vacation I took was really quite good.  Being disconnected for a solid week from work and the ‘net really does wonders.  I’m just the right age where the internet was starting to pick up steam while I was a teen, so I clearly remember a time without it.  A week on a cruise ship, staring at the sea, that’s very close to being a teen sitting on porch or at a park doing nothing.  Maybe cathartic.

The downside was that when I got back into the office there were some rather large fires that needed to be put out and that took most of the first week.  It also meant that I wasn’t able to catch up or do work for that time and only last week was I finally able to close a month’s work of work proper.  Top that off with a complete restructure in the organization and it’s making for an interesting time.

An interesting anecdote here.  When my flight landed back home, I needed to make a call to sort some things.  My phone also gives me access to work email.  Anyhoot, I turn the phone on and do the work, but all the while it’s synchronizing with work and personal mail.  It reaches a decent number, somewhere near 200 and I thought it was done.  Well, that was just the personal side, because the work emails blew it out of the water.   Seeing that number grow and grow and grow, it was both fascinating and worrisome, since I knew I’d have to clean it up.

So back to work, back to life and hopefully back to blogging too!

Pillars of Eternity

PoE-Gilded Vale

This is really the only game I need to be talking about.  I played the crap out of all of Black Isle’s games, capping well over 200 hours in BG2.  Heck, it might even be more.  I own the BG remake on Android too, so the comparison between the Infinity Engine games and PoE is simple to make.

Gone are the D&D rulesets that were more hindrance than bonus.  In it’s place is a custom ruleset based on a D20 model but actually supports active combat.  The most important improvement for me is the casting/action bar, letting you know when an action will take place, making it miles easier to queue actions and movement.  Stats are a close second, where scumming just doesn’t make sense.  A warrior and a wizard may have the exact same stats, since they are not class specific.  For example, Might increases all damage and all healing.  Intelligence increase the AE and duration.  Constitution is HP and resists.  It’s smart and makes you want to spread the stats around a bit.

Where in the past, Wizards (and their kin) were always seen as the strongest bunch, that is not the case here.  There’s a limit of on the number of times you can rest in the wild and the Wizard takes a big hit here for it.  That’s compared to the Cipher who has skills used every combat that deal as much damage and cause as much disorder.  The Chanter isn’t too far behind with extremely powerful buffs/debuffs for the entire group, just like a Bard, and all passive to boot.  I made a monk (as my BG2 ultimate character was a monk) and I was pleasantly surprised at the power within.  It needs to take damage to survive but that happened most often.  A warrior with a shield is a sight to see mind you, Eder was practically immortal on my playthrough.

PoE - Adra Dragon

Combat itself varies from ho hum to crazy intensity.  There were multiple battles where I got squashed due to poor planning and execution.  There was only 1 fight where I was simply cheesed by the game, and that’s the optional dungeon final boss – the adra dragon.  At max level, with the best gear and skills I could find, he 1 shot the entire group (minus the tank) a bunch of times.  I spent 2 night trying to take him out “clean” but ended up using a petrification trap, a Chant for reload speed, damage buffs and 6x arbalests/guns to take him out.  Dead in 10 seconds.  The rest of the battles, for all their crazyness, were pretty darn fun.

I do have to mention the writing.  It is superb.  Each character is very well flushed out, with a unique point of view on the game.  Eder is wracked with guilt and questions about his brother, Aloth is going slowly insane, Kana is searching for a lost civilization, Durance redemption…The bad guy is also sympathetic in his own way, just like older games.  There are very few black and white decisions here, and there are ripple effects on your reputation across the game world.  Each person’s opinion adds more flavor and keeps the game very interesting.  Even the finale twist (there’s always a twist) is well executed.  A nice touch at the end is a Fallout-like storyboard of what your actions had as a consequence on the world.  I’ll take a few weeks off then make another run I’m sure.

Very highly recommended.

My Cup Runneth Emtpy

Long story short, which will probably be long anyhow, the month of February is my busiest month of the year for 3 years running. It seems losing those 2 days doesn’t equate to actually doing 2 days less work.

So while I’m fortunate to have a position that not only pays well and pays overtime, my family/sanity is my bartering price. And that is a very steep price to pay.

I’m still popping in a game here and there but nowhere near enough to actually decompress. My bus commute is about 45m each way, so I read my RSS feeds to keep abreast. Twitter is useless really, since it’s too fast and I have no time to digest.

The good news is that next week I’m on another vacation – a cruise once again. No internet, just the sea and a gin (or 3). Maybe the month of April will bring some more room to breathe again.

I Spent Some Money

I put in about $20 into Marvel Heroes and the same into TSW this week.  When I’m looking for mobile games, I prefer to buy a game rather than scum it.  I’m far from a whale but a few bucks here and there just seems to make sense.  Cripes, I spent more on coffee in a month.

I think Zubon hit the nail on the head here.

If I like a game and I want more of it, I’ll pay for it.  I would ask the same if I was selling a product.  Anyone who thinks they should be getting a game for free for eternity… wasn’t that what the 90s and pirating was all about?

Daybreak

Crazy work is keeping me from posting much of value lately. And sleep, or lack thereof.  But being tired helps me not think, which is oddly relaxing.

Daybreak Shenanigans

That Sony sold off SOE makes sense. They are restructuring and have zero presence in the PC market… so you knew something was coming.  So quickly after the Joystiq news is what threw people off.

That the new company cleaned house? Also not surprising. That’s the first thing that happens in all takeovers. Either they move the HQ or clear off the top. I honestly can’t think of a single takeover where this didn’t happen.  I’m sorry people lost their jobs but there’s just something really weird in the gaming field where everyone is a temp worker.  It’s the main reason I am not in that field.

On the other hand, I despise nearly every single decision SOE has made in the past 10 years. They have super dedicated folk, granted, but the top level decisions have been borderline criminal.

EQ2’s F2P conversion was worse than SWTOR. Wilhelm has quite a few posts, and I think Bhag does as well.  It was a joke and they’ve rebuilt the model multiple times over the years.

Nearly everything about Planetside2 makes my eyes bleed – they had to nerf actual content and force people to the cash store to make money.

Landmark is the breaking point for people buying alpha at stupid prices.  People paid hundreds of dollars to test a system, play it for a few weeks, then stop playing altogether.

EQNext is a pipedream people actually believe will launch.  I’m serious here.  Anyone, who in their right mind thought that this game would ever leave the drawing table, at any point, I have a bridge to sell you.

H1Z1 is the straw that broke the internet.  Great concept, Smed decides to put in $ based actions, again in alpha, where it was clearly listed it wouldn’t happen, even the week before.

SOE deserves everything it got. For all the quirky innovation the folks on the bottom tried, someone at the top gave a call to Bobby K and asked “how can I squeeze more blood”.

The good news from this is that great people are going to find jobs elsewhere because they have a good standing.  The bad news is that not enough people got fired.  The worrisome news is that a new company is coming in, and will be asking some tough questions.   Should be interesting to see what happens in the months that follow.

Marvel Heroes – Back at It

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.

Every MMO, and quite a few mobile games, have hooks.  These are incentives to keep logging on, if only for that small reward and nothing else.  It usually takes me a bit to realize I’m in that loop, where the daily activities are identical from day to day.  When that happens, I move on.  It happened rather quickly with SWTOR, unfortunately.  WoW hit that last week.  And what with my work life putting in nearly double normal hours, any respite is welcome.  But hey, you can only run that hamster wheel so long.  My rogue is at 100 (so 3 characters now) and he is way less fun than my Monk or Druid, as all the “uniqueness” and flavor has been squashed.  Too bad.  Still, he’s as old as the game and still max level, so I have that going for me.

What’s Next

I had to look through my steam library to see what was next.  Due mainly to my time constraints, I need an in-out game.  Where I can drop it, or I can play a small session.  While I want to get back into The Secret World, you can’t have small sessions.  It’s on the list though.

I did pick up Endless Legend off some good online reviews.  That game is superb.  I’ll write a post about it shortly.  The downside to that game is that it’s a “one more turn” game.  The first night I had it, I think I looked up at the clock and it was 2am.  So, not something I can handle right now.  You should give it a try though, it’s really quite amazing.  An iteration on Civ5, and a whole pile better than Beyond Earth.  The only downside I’ve found so far, is that the AI isn’t aggressive enough on the military.  They are for everything else though.

Hack and Slash

While Darkest Dungeon looks cool, and Isey has me sold, I have a thing about buying alphas.  It’ll have to wait.  I do have Diablo 3 and my brother seems to be pretty active.  I had a Crusader int he last season, who got to GR35, which was sufficient for me to consider it “done”.  From that point, I had all the gear I wanted, it was more about rolling perfect stats.  And that’s a grind I don’t need.

Marvel Heroes seems to always be there though.  The patches are insane (like 1gb per, all the damn time).  Sure, there’s less variety in the environments than D3 but each character plays differently, and there are dozens.  The grind to max level has a synergy with other characters, so you have an incentive to level other folks.  It’s a loot pinata, with a ton of stats on everything, so you can usually find some upgrade as you move along.  And I like it’s F2P model, where if you sink in tons of time, you can unlock a fair amount as well.  Or spend a few bucks to unlock some bonuses.

 

marvelheroes

Plus, there have been so many additions in the nearly 2 years since launch it’s hard to recognize everything.  Plenty of end-game activites, legendary quests, terminals, raids, group missions, uniques, crafting, legendaries, cosmic gear, team ups, rune words, enchants…crazy.  You see the gear slots above on the left around Rocket?   When the game launched there were 8.  Just so many ways to customize.

Anyways, with only a few minutes to spare, the game has a decent return on the fun.  I’ve spent a few bucks in the past, and I’m sure I’ll drop some more to reward the team working on the game.  Fun deserves some reward.