#WoW Legion – Day 1

It’s ok.

 

So a few more words.  I started with Stormheim, which is a cross between Game of Thrones and How to Train Your Dragon.  It’s mostly Vrykul lore (think Nordic gods) and you get a hook shot tool to swing yourself up on ledges.  The zone has quite a few vertical spots, so the hook shot is very useful.  I completed the overall zone story and I have to say it’s pretty solid.  The part where you get sent to hell and have to come back is pretty neat.

You know what’s great about Stormheim?  Not a single Orc.  Screw those guys.

I also started my Class Hall (Monk, since I want to heal) and it’s exactly in the spot it should be – turtle island.  The legendary quest was pretty straightforward – it scales with your gear and not level.  Instead of Garrison missions you now have Class Hall missions.  I am curious as to how that plays out at max level…

The cinematics are top notch, though each intersects with the other faction so you’re missing out on a lot of context. I have no idea why the horde is attacking the alliance (should be the other way).

Each zone has a flavor, which is more based on the most popular aspects of previous expansions.  Where each expansion had a unified lore behind the land, Legion does not.  Remember, this was supposed to be an island with only the Tomb of Sargeras.  Now it has people who have been living on it for centuries, people who were isolated on other continents (as per their lore).  So if you’re looking for a cohesive view of the expansion, look somewhere else.

Shout to the music.  I usually keep the music on for the first month or so of an expansion before tuning out.  So far, great stuff.  If you hate bagpipes though… might want to turn on mute.

Dungeon

I completed the Halls of Valor.  That was a neat dungeon that took just the right amount of time.  Boss mechanics were fairly simple, though there was a fair chunk of AE in each.  When I see “spread out” or “move from boss”, I think to my previous post.   The art is solid, the lore is great (sort of like Valhalla) and the final boss is hyuge (again, sucks for melee).

Mechanics

I think this deserves some consideration.  Combat is mostly the same as before – press buttons, things die – though there is arguably more AE stuff going on than before.  There are no new talents for existing classes.  There are less skills, though the skill dance is more complex than before as everything seems to be on cooldowns.

No flying.

Dalaran has it’s own Hearthstone.  But it doesn’t have an auction house.  So… everyone should be in the MoP capital, for practical reasons.  Again.

Very similar to WoD, there are world uniques and treasures to collect on the map.  Dissimilar is that all the bosses I’ve found so far can be soloed, and scale to more people.  Treasures seem more abundant and less based on climbing to weird places, but more about exploration.  It’s an overall improvement.

I’ve died.  A few times.  Not to gimmicks, but to actual combat scenarios where I mucked up – again mostly due to AE.

Artifact weapons are ok.  I’ve leveled mine up a bit based on drops (lots of drops) and taken some additional skills in its tree.  Item levels are boosted by slotting items in the weapons, and those are obtained from quests.  So there is some progression.

Quests are a mixed bag.  Lots of kill X or collect Y.  Lots of it.  There are some different ones, where you need to follow a set path, or sneak around.  Just not a whole lot.  The optional quests require you to spend double or triple the time in an area to clear the objectives.  Since they go away at 110, I would argue that they are not worth the time.

Overall

Clearly these are first impressions.  The game is an overall improvement over WoD.  It’s not baby-bathwater, but it’s forward movement.  I have some questions about longevity of certain design choices, but time will tell.

The Myth of Melee

If the Legion invasions have taught me anything, it’s that melee is an ever-aging design mechanic.  Aside from an MMO, what multiplayer game has anyone playing melee combat in open spaces?  (Slight side note, why do bosses give such big chunks of XP and nothing when dead?  It means you’re safer tagging and hiding.)

Whether it’s indicative or not for Legion bosses going forward, invasions are incredibly anti-melee.  There are rings of death everywhere, and most have range issues, so that you need to run away from the boss for periods of time.  I’ve done it on my Monk, Hunter, Warlock, DK, Druid, and Shaman now and woo-boy does it suck with a DK (monk at least has some self-healing).

Wildstar has very few massive AE attacks, and those that do exist impact ranged as much as melee.  Honestly, it sucks evenly for everyone.  FF14 takes a similar approach, where attacks are either cone based (tank dancers) or massive AE that fill the screen.  Why does WoW still focus on AE mechanics that are within 20 yards?

Hell, more importantly, why do melee attacks have such a small range/hit box?  Positioning, I can get that.  Anyone can face the cone behind a boss.  But short-ranged AE attacks, or AE pulses that require 2-3x more time for melee to get out of, and that you deal zero damage… that’s just punishment.  Playing recently makes me remember why I shelved all my melee players – my Rogue in particular, due to the dumbness of the melee penalty.  Did I mention that bosses are bigger, hit boxes are smaller, so that you can barely see what’s going on?

You can certainly make an argument that it makes thematic sense to have melee combat.  You could also make the argument that spell casting loses accuracy/power the farther away you are from the target.  Yet the mechanical implementation is where the trouble begins.  Other games are able to find a viable balance, where the benefits of range are offset by the sacrifice of cast time (FF14 in particular with a 2.5s GCD).  It certainly was that way in vanilla – even the hybrid tax made sense in terms of time investment. (Makes no sense today, since you can level an alt in a couple days).

But over time the ranged folk were upset they were losing uptime due to mobile mechanics and class homogenization starting taking hold.  There’s honestly very little difference between the classes now, you press 1, 2, 3 then 2 again.  It’s just that some of the classes are going to eat dirt way more often.

Demon Hunters seem to exemplify that to me.  They are highly focused on movement, almost like an early apology for what’s coming.

Perhaps it’s more that I’ve been playing games where there was a balance between melee and range, and that the lack of it in WoW is so jarring.  Maybe it’s expectations that with a new expansion that rejigs many mechanics is somehow not fixing one of the key gripes since the game launched 12 years ago.  Hell, maybe I’m just too old for this.

Either way, looks like I’ll be benching my melee squad.

Summer’s Over

Alive and well, thank you.  As in the last couple posts, we bought a cottage on a lake/river and have spent the majority of the summer on its shores.  Canadiana.

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Spent the summer with a small boat to fish, as fishing is extremely fun for me (so much so, that an MMO has to have fishing for me to be hooked).  Sadly, there were issues with the motor and my last week of vacation wasn’t all that much fun being land-bound.  So we bought a new (used) boat.  A Legend Excalibur 18, with a 115ETEC motor.  We pick it up on Friday, but here’s a pick of the current model.  It’s a good compromise for me wanting to fish, and my wife wanting to cruise/pull things.

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Health

Cottage country and exercise don’t usually go hand-in-hand.  Still, I made due with a pair of adjustable free weights (up to 50lbs each) as much as a I could.  When I was home, I continued to use the barbell and StrongLifts 5×5 program.  Squats are 240, Bench is 175, Rows are 160, Press is 130, Deadlifts are 260.  Accessories are good too, with a 25lbs chinup/dip going, 250lbs shrug and 95lbs curl.  I still have progress on a few of the movements, but not that much before having to swap programs.  Maybe another 2 months worth, as it’s about 90 minutes of work due to the rests between sets.

Also, I really like beer.  Like is probably not the correct word.  I had too much over the summer (I always do) and am a few lbs heavier now than in June.  I can get rid of that in the next couple months anyhow, and be close to ideal weight for the holidays.

Gaming

The cottage doesn’t have high-speed internet, so what gaming I had was board-based, or an emulation on my tablet.  In the few spots I did have at home, I gave the Batman Arkham Knight a try.  It’s better than the previous ones, certainly, but the batmobile/tank is off-putting.  I gave up on the Division pretty quickly, as the end game is non-existent.  It’s worse than when D3 originally launched and Inferno mode required perfect stats.  At least there you could game the AH and it was a PvE game.  Division requires the same perfect stats but you need to be in a PvP zone to get them.  Surround by demi-gods with nothing to do other than ruin your farm because they already have the gear.  Too bad, because the game from 1-30 was great.

I have recently installed another game though.

WoW and Legion

I have no shame in admitting I reinstalled WoW.  You can buy time with gold, and I had more than enough gold to last a year+.  I also purchased Legion, because I have spare money to burn (not really with a cottage/boat).  Where WoD was a baby-bathwater exercise after Pandaria, Legion is taking a different approach, with multiple game paths and simplified builds.  My monk in WoD (remember, they came out in Pandaria) had 3 bars of skills – now he has 5 buttons.  My Hunter is down to 4 skills.  It makes for a clean interface.  There are interactions (procs) between skills, so yeah, you could mash 4 buttons, or learn to read the patterns and do more.  The whole easy to learn/difficult to master portion I guess.

Demon Hunters are ok.  I’ve mained a Rogue and a Monk, so  I have certain expectations.  DH don’t feel as smooth as either of them, more of the clunkyness of a DK waiting for rune procs way back when.  They feel more powerful mind you.  Time will tell.

The invasions going on now until launch are a neat way to level alts.  Heirlooms have been streamlined into a separate interface and I already had the level 90 variants.  An extra 8k gold to get them to work until level 100 (cloth ones) and send the alts to invasions.  The extra 45% is noticeable.  Clearing one invasion gives about 75% of a level (from 90 beyond), and there are 6 that spawn every 2 hours.  Each takes about 30 minutes or so to clear.  And each gives 2 loot boxes that provide level appropriate gear.  My hunter went from 90-100 in 3 days and has ilvl700 gear.  That’s the gear required to to heroic raiding.

Long story short, it’s fun enough for now and doesn’t have any monthly costs for the foreseeable future.

 

Back to the ARPG

I like Dark Souls, I just don’t have the fortitude to learn how to play it.  Quite simply, my days are extraordinarily draining of late.  After work (where I’m doing 5 jobs for another 2 weeks), eating, playing and putting the kids to bed, then exercise, I have very little brain juice left.  Dark Souls requires a lot from the player and I just do not have that to give right now.  Maybe in a month or so.

Hack n Slash

That said, I’ve gone back to some ARPG staples.  D3 is off the list since I played the crap out of season 4, and season 5 isn’t really a season.  Path of Exile is on the list to go back to, but I wanted to give Grim Dawn another shot.  One of those few “kickstarter-like” projects that actually released something of quality.  I picked it up before the full launch and there have been some QoL/balance tweaks since.  I like the build diversity without the complexity of PoE.  Plus the game isn’t as dark, so I can see what the heck is going on.

Tap Tap FarAway Kingdom

Version 2 was released.  I wrote some more about it.  The long tail was (getting to floor 3000) was put in the realm of achievable with the most recent patch.  Before the path, it was about a day’s worth of effort to get to 2700.  Now I can get it done in an hour.  I find the game strikes the right balance between strategy, gameplay, passive play and reward.  Plus it’s the only tapping game that doesn’t make my battery drain within an hour.

Exermecise

Still running Strong Lifts, though I’ve modified it slightly to include some ICF accessories.  My problem with SL is that it is too short and lacks isolation.  I fully realize that as a novice lifter, compounds are required for foundation work, but there are specific items I need to have in the program.  ICF is too long, somewhere between 60 and 120 minutes, depending on how you get your supersets integrated.  I do not have anywhere close to that amount of time – that program is for people who are dedicated and working out is their primary hobby.

So a small modification with a couple accessories is what I’m doing now.  The linear progress is a good feeling and I’ve reached the point where there’s some decent effort involved in the movements.  I had opted to take a low starting weight in order to focus on form for the first few weeks.  That had be plateau at a given weight.  Moving into the heavier stuff has caused the numbers on the scale to drop consistently.  I’m just a few shy of the target weight, so a few more weeks of cutting before maintenance begins.

It is surreal the effect of working out has on my stress levels.  All the above may be gobbledygook to some, but the net effect is that pushing and pulling heavy things unleashes a torrent of hormones that drastically improve my mood.  I have missed this tremendously.

Dark Souls

Outside of gaming, my wrist still hurts and I’m off for a referral.  Physio hasn’t done much, unfortunately, though the last round found a good taping job that relieves the pain temporarily.  Basically, any pressure against the palm with the wrist at a non-neutral angle, causes spikes of pain.  Sleeping was uncomfortable, cutting veggies too.  Exercise is an odd one, as nearly all exercises should be done in a neutral grip, if done correctly. Upright rows, and twist grips (like a clean and jerk) simply can’t be done, nor can pushups.  But I can do a squat, deadlift, press, bench, pull up, chin up, bar curls and dozens more.  I guess it’s one way to make sure my form is perfect. Oh, and there’s something to be said about linear gains in exercise.  Supremely motivating.

Inside of gaming, I’ve put the Division on hold for a bit.  I’ve tried a bit of the Dark Zone and it’s like a dumbed down version of the 1-30 content.  It feels like a meat grinder, with the only goal being to collect more numbers, to grind more meat.  I realize that’s the entire point of “end-game” content, it’s just that there’s no strategy to it.  Point and shoot and that’s it.  The hard mode missions are neat though.  It’s just that I recently played all of them, and I can do with a break.

That brings me to Dark Souls.

The Heck Man?

My experience with DS starts with the NES.  Seriously.  I played Battletoads, TMNT, Ninja Gaiden, Punch Out, Ghouls and Goblins, Contra, and Castlevania.  I have played against the RNG of gaming, and I have played within the crazyness of pathing of the AI.  I was raised in the fires of a Game Over screen.  Clearing the Ninja Gaiden remake is the only recent high bar I can compare to… and that was nearly 10 years ago.

DS follows that thought process and applies a bit of an open-game mindset.  I like the concept of respawning enemies when you save.  I like that enemies have patterns that you can learn to exploit.  I like the complexity of the stats, and the interactions between items.  The feeling of being the little guy against a mosh pit of enemies.  I like that when you die, you can get the lost souls back, and that any gear you did acquire stays with you.

My only gripe is in the controls.  It took me an hour to break the instinct of pressing X to attack.  So much so that I had to swap out what X did and put in an item I couldn’t use to avoid drinking all my potions.  Rolling to avoid damage is inconsistent, along with the collision detection.  A roll that works the first time, you may completely miss the 2nd time.  Attacking is similar, where the lock-on doesn’t always register due to movement.  Enemies hit you with an unknown hit box, making it really hard to figure out if you actually evaded correctly, or if they missed you my an imaginary pixel.  Or that you can’t interrupt an attack (at least I haven’t figure out how to on anything other than a grunt).

I tried the first boss about a dozen times.  I was trying to figure out his attack patterns, and found that rolling in was more effective then out, for most attacks anyways.  When he transforms into that purple snake thing, the camera angle is so poor that I have no idea what he’s doing unless I’m so far out of range that I can’t attack.  It just turned into “dodge in, attack 3x, dodge out, circle strafe”.  And that strategy has worked wonders on anything since then that takes more than 5 hits to kill.

I clearly still have a learning curve to get through, in particular in learning how to be more aggressive when I get the patterns down.  The controls are slower and less responsive than I’d like, so that’s a big part of it.  I think it may have more to do with unlearning 30 years of gaming.

Still, it’s a fun game.  One where you feel yourself progressing, and there’s minimal AI cheating (mimics aside, those bums).  It’s not often I play a game where I learn something brand new, and I’m quite glad this one offers it.

Forbidden Desert

A the Geek Market a few weeks ago, I picked up Forbidden Desert.  I played once with my 5 year old that week, then again last night with the 3 & 5 year olds.  They were not the same experience.

The game is based on Forbidden Island and follows a similar structure.  There are 24 cards set up in a grid, with the center piece missing, acting as a sand storm.  The goal of the game is to find 4 missing pieces of a ship and reach the landing pad to escape.  To find a piece, you need to uncover 2 indicator cards and find their intersection, then go and get the piece.  Each turn allows you to take 4 actions, move or dig the sand, and most character can only move north/south or east/west, and 2 levels of sand means you can’t cross but have to dig through.  There are tunnels spread about that can speed play, and you do unearth various gizmos to help clear sand, protect from the sun or zoom around.  After the 4 turns, you flip over storm cards, and that’s where it gets rough.

The cards move the eye of the storm around the board, and based on that movement, more sand shows up.  There are a few cards that increase the storm force, thereby requiring you to pick up even more sand cards.  Finally, there’s the sun card, which drains your water (effectively hit points).  Too much sand and you die.  Not any water and you die.  RNG can be a pain here.

The first game was, or felt, like an even spread of storm cards.  It was manageable and fun.  We barely escaped mind you, but the idea that there was some level of control was key.  We needed to refresh our water supplies and working together made it happen.

The second game had horrible RNG.  Within the first 2 rounds, the storm had picked up 4 notches and I was down to my last hit point.  I tried to get my character to water, but the storm cards had put so much sand on the board it just wasn’t possible to move there.  My 5 year old had her turn and pulled out two more sun cards, which wiped 2 of us off the game.

I’m thinking back to Pandemic, which also has RNG, but thankfully places the bad cards in an “even” spread.  Back to back epidemics can (will) kill you in the mid game, so a decent spread is very good.

The next run through Forbidden Desert, I will be splitting up the storm pile and distributing the storm/sun cards evenly between the piles, my guess 4 piles should do.  Then I’ll shuffle each pile and stack them up.  While it’s certainly possible to have back to back poor pulls, it should be an extremely rare occurrence to pull up 3 in a row.  Random within limits, because really, who gives a crap about pure RNG except when it’s in your favor?

 

The Division at 30

I hit level 30 over the weekend and the game took an odd turn for me.

Each sub-zone has one group mission, and on the penultimate one I was teamed up with 2 folks who were level 30 and had a high gear score (or it appeared high).  Yes, this game has a gear score, easy to identify with other players.  They were both near 150, which is the average item level across all pieces.  I was having a tough slog through the zone, taking quite a few hits to take an enemy down.  15K per headshot, which I thought was pretty decent – at least in the solo play.  These 2 guys didn’t even both hiding, they just ran through the entire zone, a clip dropping an entire room.  My first thought was that they had hacked the game.

And then I hit level 30.  I crafted some level 89 gear and went to do the last mission.  In it, I got a new sniper (marksman) rifle and was now doing almost 60K per headshot.  My mine skill was clearing out any solo mission in a single hit.  In the space of 30 minutes, I had quadrupled in power.  The sad part is the difference in power between me at 29 and 30 was about the same as the difference between me at 30 and those 2 guys at 150+ gear score.

Now, I’m all used to power curves.  Diablo 3 has one of the worst I’ve ever seen.  Most MMOs have bad ones as well, though dying while leveling is a rare enough occurrence these days.  The Division just takes it to a level I’m not used to.  It feels like I’m using cheat codes.

But, this is only related to the “normal” level gameplay.  I haven’t done any Dark Zone content, nor any challenging/hard missions.  I’m fairly confident a level of challenge exists within that space.  Perhaps this is like SWTOR, where once you hit level cap, they provide you with a set of epic gear to take on the “now relevant” content.  It does make all the solo-content essentially irrelevant to complete (aside from credits I guess).

So now, I’m looking for some builds and better understanding of stats in the end game.  From what I can see so far, having scavenging up to 99% has a dramatic effect on drops, though getting it to 100% causes a bug to make it worthless.  Crit chance has no impact on head shots.  Weapon Damage has diminishing returns, Skill Power affects pretty much anything you do, and there’s a bear minimum level of hit points you need to survive a sniper shot.  In a game where defence means little (from what numbers I’ve seen), optimizing offence seems to be relegated to a very small set of stats.  Curious as to the long tail in this game.

I’ll give it another week or so, to see where things fall into place.  Afterwards I think I’ll give Dark Souls 3 a try.  We’re a month in, someone is bound to have a 50% off sale right?