Iceborne Storyline Complete

I guess spoilers in some sense within.  But frankly to reach the end of Iceborne you’ve put in nearly 60 hours.

So the “last” elder dragon is down, and that’s a hell of a fight.  One move in particular I don’t think it’s possible to survive, and you need a Farcaster to avoid it (return to base).  It’s very similar to the Xeno fight, in that it’s a very LARGE dragon, and it seems like you’re tickling it more than anything else.  I won’t go and say that it’s necessarily difficult, but I can say that it punishes mistakes.  Painfully so.

There are a few more monsters to discover in the Guiding Lands.  I have a chunk of optional quests to clear out, including some arena battles.  Then there’s the whole process of levelling the Guiding Lands themselves.  That will be it’s own topic at some point.  The general idea is that it’s a large map with 6 zones.  The zones level up as you do battle/collect materials.  Higher levels = tougher monsters and better materials.  But raising one zone will reduce the level of another, so that you can realistically only max out 2 zones at a time.

While those are activities I can undertake, there’s still the underlying purpose of gear acquisition.  Iceborne put in a TON of new gear compared to base game, and really seems to have gone all out on set bonuses as well.  There’s plenty of new levels to charms (element attacks go to 5!), and the general augment/enhance options for gear is deeper than prior.

Quick math bit.  Deep Schnegel II has 480 base ice attack.  With augments it can be boosted to 550.  Then add level 7 Frost attack for an extra 100 + 10%.  Then the 4 set Namielle which adds 90 more ice damage.  The end result is something like 880 ice damage.  In more practical terms, it’s double the damage… and not at all clear to players in game.  Now, this only applies to Ice damage (since it’s based on the weapon), so you need a different gear set for Ice resistant/immune enemies.

The big thing here is that there’s a LOT of RNG to get to the end.  We’re talking about some decorations that have a <1% chance of dropping – on battles that take 15 minutes to complete.  Then the material to actually augment your gear is also RNG based (and guiding lands level based too).

MHW, in that sense, is very much like the long tail of an MMO.  You complete the main story in a week or two, then have months of re-runs of the same content.  Except in MHW, the monsters themselves have random spawns/battles, your weapons change your class at any point, and you’re always getting something.  No run ever seems a waste – whereas I could run 10 dungeons a night and get zero for it in WoW.  In that sense, MHW has a similar long tail, but a much wider one.

Overall Thoughts

I had some early thoughts, and this I guess would be the mid-point.

  • The story is more nonsensical than the base game.  Nergigante is somehow the ultimate badass.  (side note, Ruiner Nergigante is infinitely more fun than AT Negigante)
  • There’s a larger reliance on item pouch management.  Great that there’s a new slot for the garden, just wish personal inventory was a few slots larger.
  • There are 30 “new” monsters.  16 of them are reskins – generally just “tougher” with more damage or a new element.
  • The added movesets make combat more enjoyable than simply using the same combo over and over again.  Lateral moves and flinch shots are a joy.  Offset with the addition of snow/sand to restrict movement.
  • Clutch attacks are extremely powerful, but there’s a lack of training on how it all works.  A successful knockdown (to the wall) causes an enrage.  Attacking the head requires specific timing.  Combined with creature mounts, it’s a great way to “get off the floor”.
  • There are still some bugs that need to be worked out.  Using the radial menu to equip Mantles doesn’t always work.  Enemy health indicators don’t always trigger.  The new MASSIVE monsters can block camera angles.
  • Some new monster’s effectiveness is entirely based on their movement speed and your ability to react.  Tigrex/Barioth/Deviljho are good examples.  It’s cool the first few times fighting them, but eventually you just want the ADHD stuff to end.
  • The looks of the armor is top notch.   The player housing is also really cool, but sadly you need a loading screen to get to it.  The weapons though… there was a general lack of effort there.  Lots of reskins, or things that just don’t match the theme.
  • Fishing is still in the game.  All small creatures have a quest to capture a gold trophy (very large version) for some room cosmetics.
  • PC version has mod support!

Let the hunting continue.

Breadth & Depth

I’m further along into Iceborne, with a lot of sidetracking along the way

  • I’m only missing 2 canteen ingredients now.  Having more food choice is a major benefit
  • I’m still with Charge Blades, but I’ve moved from Blast to Poison.  That required a half dozen other hunts to get the pieces for a Rank 10 weapon.
  • I’ve upgraded a bunch of mantles and boosters.  This increases the effectiveness of items (like being able to take 50% more damage, or heal duration).
  • Velkhana is down.  I should have invested in more Ice resistance to simplify this fight, but hey, it’s down.

Going through this, I’ve come to a realization that this expansion requires a different level of thinking than the base game (or Dauntless for that matter).  It instead requires you to plan ahead of time, research the enemy, learn their tactics, then exploit them.  Sure, that sounds simple but it’s not in practice.  Some examples.

One of the first enemies you find in the base game is Great Jagras.  You can pretty much button mash and take him down.  Anjanath is a few bits later, and he shoots a ton of fire.  You need to learn to dodge roll.  Diablos comes along, and now you need to learn to guard and counter.  Nergigante shows up a bit later, and now you need to learn to evade dive (or you will be 1-shot).  Teostra/Lunastra teach you the benefits of resistance.  Along the way you learn that food buffs are super important, you need to use palico gear for damage/support, and that decorations can make a huge difference in end-game gear.

End-game is the base game was about perfecting skill builds, with both gear an decorations.  Hunting the perfect decorations was a very long process.  Some are so rare, I never found them in 100 hours of play.

Iceborne assumes you’ve mastered all of that before hand.  It doesn’t hold back, and throws a massive amount of preventable damage your way – but only preventable if you’ve been paying attention.  It assumes you know how to use the radial wheel, that you understand that resistances are a big deal, that instant use items (max potions, herbal medicine) are essential, that you always need slinger ammo, that you need to keep a farcaster at all times, and a dozen other bits.

When I started Iceborne, I had forgotten a fair chunk of that.  My first fight against Banbaro (the big moose) was a trainwreck.  I remember barely winning that fight, and then taking some time to re-assess what was going on.  MHW doesn’t ever provide any feedback as to what’s working or not – it just leaves you to it.  The player needs to discover what works, what doesn’t, and how it all intermingles.  I found I could just shoot a rock at the Banbaro when it has something to charge with, and it would just drop it.  That the head took way more damage than the legs.  That I could Clutch mount it after specific moves, but not after others.  The best times where I could pop a potion to heal, or lay down a healing booster.  All these bits together allowed me to take down a tempered version with barely a scratch.

There’s just a sheer breadth of things to take into consideration in this game.

In Dauntless, you consider the weapon type, the damage type/resistances, the passive skills, and then the enemy attack patterns.  There are some consumables, but they really don’t have a huge impact unless you’re speed running.  They are a pain to craft, and battles are so quick you feel like you’re farming more than playing.

In MHW you have the above, as well as:

  • Terrain
  • Grimalkynes
  • Palico gear
  • Canteen
  • Consumables
  • Environment  (reduce stamina or health)
  • Other monsters (turf wars)
  • Mounting

I could (and likely will) write something about the seemingly insane depth of weapon combat, but for simplicity I’ll talk about Terrain, since it seems rather simple.  Each map has multiple places to have a fight.  Maybe movement is restricted (water/mud/snow).  Maybe the area causes damage (spikes/fire/poison).  There are small creatures around that are likely to join the fight against you.  There are minor traps (poison/sleep/paralysis) that you can lure the monster.  There are large traps that cause major damage to the monster.  There are walls to jump off and attack, ledges to roll off and hit the monster on the head.  Heck, there are places where the floor just gives way.  Some monsters are just miles easier to fight on one map vs. another.

Each category of things has a high level of variety and inherent complexity.  When it all comes together, it looks like a cakewalk.  Reminds me a bit of people speedrunning something like Celeste on 1 life, when I went through a few hundred to complete the game.  Each hunt you undertake, even if you fail it, provides valuable information for the next one.  It’s a rare game that provides that level of challenge and reward – and dramatically improves the “stickyness” factor.

 

Skill Ceilings

Checkers is much easier than chess.  There are only 4 basic rules in the game.  A child can play, and even the best checkers players can get there without much effort.  Chess has different rules depending on the piece, but still only has about 10 total rules to the game.  It takes 2-3 games for most kids to learn the fundamentals.  The best chess players require thousands of hours of practice, and a very high level of intelligence to execute.  The current world champion can recall games from 15 years ago (which he did not play), on a move-by-move basis from a simple picture.  It’s insane.

Games with long-tails (forever-games I guess), in particular those popular in the e-sports fields, have approachable entry points and very high skill ceilings.  MOBA’s, shooters, battle royales… they are all have relatively basic rule sets but add complexity and options as players develop.  It’s quite impressive, and the skill level is often translatable so that even people with limited understanding of the game can appreciate what is occurring.

MMOs today have a much higher skill ceiling than 15 years ago, when zerging was an acceptable tactic.  Dungeon bosses today are more complex than raid bosses from 10 years ago.  The difference here is that MMOs have a skill floor that is continually raised with both fixes and increased player statistics.  Imagine playing chess and after every 10 turns you got a new piece to play on your board.

Monster Hunter World has a high skill ceiling, though it does a really bad job of showing it.  Often times players feel like luck plays a larger role than skill.  Due to the structure of the game (30+ minute solo battles), it’s hard to experiment with new tactics.  The training area is good to explore damage options, fine.  The real challenge is connecting attacks, while avoiding getting hit, which is really hard to practice effectively.  Some monsters can kill you in 1 or 2 hits, with no real feedback to see why.  It would be neat to have a death camera to figure that part out…

When it comes to specific weapons, they all have relatively simple button presses to get things started.  Then some combos.  Then some movements that can chain into combos. Then damage types.  Then wounding.  Then slinger attacks.  Then….it just goes on.  Where it may have taken me dozens of attempts to take on a basic Nergigante because the game didn’t explain diving made you invulnerable, I can also find videos of people taking him down in less than a minute.  I know part of the challenge is moving like this person, but I am also aware that their stats are such that they can reliably stun/attack and keep their patterns working.

I really like the Charge Blade.  It’s a high risk/reward weapon.  When it works, it’s glorious.  When it doesn’t, you get chain stunned and die in frustration.  When you finally learn about Guard Points, the weapon completely changes into an offensive powerhouse.  Instead of slowly moving around, you can deflect almost any attack and chain into massive damage.  Battles against ultra fast attackers become a game of daring them to attack you, instead of waiting until they stop moving.  Heck, here’s a video of players killing a monster with blocking alone.

There are plenty of little nuances like this that have a dramatic impact on the game, and it’s more noticeable once you get a decent way into Dauntless as to how integral it is to the enjoyment of the game.  I’m not saying Dauntless has a low ceiling (time trials prove otherwise) but it’s noticeably lower than MHW.  In fact, I’d argue that the skill floor is the biggest difference between the two games, where Dauntless is much lower.  You can reach the end-point of Dauntless with button mashing due to the LFG mechanism.

I really like games where I’m continually making mistakes and learning from them.  Games where I’ve perfected, or come as close as I care to, tend to be put back on the shelf.  Still amazing games (God of War notably), but time to move on.  When there’s always something new to learn, or perfect… then there’s your forever game.

Monster Hunter: Iceborne

I have the base game on PS4 and PC, though quite a few more hours on the PC version.  Figured I’d wait for the PC expansion, which hit last week.  A few random thoughts on this while I make my way through the main quest.

  • This is an expansion and not DLC, in the sense that you need to complete the main quest before even stepping foot in this world.  That’s a solid 40 hours before this has value.
  • The new snow map is solid.  The various nooks all have tons of interactive bits.  The stamina draining cold effect is easily offset if you’re paying attention.  The waist high snow really slows things down, but can be offset as well.
  • New monsters have interesting mechanics that build on previous ones.  Very strong emphasis on status effects now (sleep, poison, paralysis, fire, cold, bleed).  If you gear up properly, then you can immunize yourself and make the fight a billion times easier.
  • As a general rule, most monsters have one (or more) moves that require a smart counter.  You can’t just go HAM and hope to win.  This makes combat painful until you learn the tells, then oh-so-rewarding.
  • General enemy speed appears to have increased a tad.  Or at least the new ones.  Barioth feels like a snow tiger on drugs.
  • Every weapon got a tweak, and the majority of tweaks focus on added mobility.  The Charge Blade (my favorite) got some crazy tweaks for Axe mode that make it both familiar and refreshing to try out.
  • The Clutch Claw allows you to climb the target while in combat, for some limited effects.  If you can climb their head, point them in the right way, and have a full Slinger, you can knock them into a wall for great damage and a stun.  Hitting any part causes it to be wounded, increasing overall damage.
  • Fights are still quite long.  My average first-encounter fight is somewhere near 25 minutes, with no ability to pause.
  • The difference in defense levels between HR (base game) and MR (Iceborne) is very high.  I was in the 70s before, and basic MR gear is 114.  I’m now using 140.  It means that the skills on the gear matters not…so you’re focused almost entirely on decorations.
  • Decorations seem to drop after every mission.  These are random, and can be slotted into gear for various effects.  This expansion wouldn’t work at all without them.
  • There are numerous QoL changes applied throughout.  The new town hub is a dramatic improvement in terms of layout/interface.  There are more cooking options.  Changing gear is easier.  Palico hunt interface is in town.  Your new quarters can be super customised.
  • Palico gadgets are improved.  Vigorwasp (healing) in particular has a major boost with 1 free revive per mission.
  • Mantles / equipment all have a 1 rank upgrade which increases their duration (from 60 to 120) with the same cooldown.  Matters less for some pieces, but a big boost for the Boosters and Bandit Mantle.
  • Upgrading Charms is pretty much required now.  A fully upgraded Charm can grant full immunity, freeing up all the gear decorations.
  • Monster health scaling is better for 2 players.  Same for 3/4 players as in MHW.

 

  • I still have a gripe when it comes to item drops/farming and the inability to search for them.  You need the wiki open.
  • With a focus on status ailments, some fights feel impossible without immunity and then practically trivial once you have it.
  • Fishing does not appear to have been touched.  Boo.
  • Lots of customisation options (looks) it still feels limited since many things are thematic.  I mean, there are a dozen metal-based armor sets.
  • Grouping in this game is still obtuse.  You can only find people through the SOS mechanic, and there’s limited chat ability when not in a group.  It could be so, so much better.

 

There’s an essential question of Dauntless vs. MHW that remains.  MHW is the more complete game, in every sense BUT the group/social mechanics.  Dauntless is a real pick-up and play game, with battles only lasting 10 minutes at most.  There’s a very long grind near the end due to the system mechanics forcing a broad approach (you need to master everything).  MHW instead has a laser focus, with optional things to help out.  Sure, some fights may be easier with a Bow vs Dual Blades, but that’s a personal choice.  You can certainly complete the game with a single weapon type.

More thoughts on this after I complete the main quest in Iceborne.  So far though, it’s more MHW, which is an amazing thing.

Small and Meaningful

Every morning at work, I look at my coffee cup with the words:

There’s no such thing as quality time.  There’s just time.

The point here is that people often wait for events, or put a lot of effort into a thing, while ignoring everything else around them.  It can be seen as a lack of appreciation for the simple things, but it’s often more related to an effort/reward mindset.    I’ll give some examples.

A successful relationship is not at all defined by the number of times you go out for dinner, or how expensive it is.  It’s defined by doing the dishes, telling them you care on a regular basis, actually wanting to spend time with them.  I can’t think of any marriage that ended in divorce because they didn’t get a new car, or take a trip.  Nearly all were chipped away over the years because they didn’t appreciate the small things.

My greatest memories with my dad have nothing to do with trips to the cottage as a kid (which was still amazing mind you), it was spending entire days at the rink, either skating or helping out other people.  My kids smile way more when we’re doing Legos, a puzzle, or a board game.

My best MMO memories are from EQ, farming experience with a friend in OoT til the wee hours, talking about life.  I did every raid for the first 2 expansions, yet this is what sticks most with me.

Even the best games today are not about the large payoffs, but the ridiculous refinement of the seemingly mundane.  Horizon’s best moments are outside of dungeons and bosses, and simply related to taking down a T-Rex that can shoot lazers.  The Last of Us excels at the quiet moments.

 

As I’m looking forward into 2020 and the messages I want to share with my family, the general theme is going to be on appreciating all the moments, not just the “big” ones.  That 2 minute chat in the car ride, telling my daughters that I think they’re beautiful every day, helping my wife without her needing to ask.   Even the smallest of gestures can make a mountain of difference.

What Remains of Edith Finch

In the ever expanding catalog of games I’ve had the chance to play, few ever come across as art without feeling artsy.   It takes a special kind of blend to present game mechanics wrapped up in such a fashion that it plays more like a movie.  Shadow of the Colossus has been at the top of that list for a long time.  What Remains of Edith Finch is pretty darn close to that level.

Presented as an anthology of short gaming segments relating to the Finch family, and the possible curse that has caused all family members to pass away, you play the teen Edith looking for the root cause to all the story.  The actual Finch house is something to behold, as it’s not presented as a set piece but feels like it’s an actual house.  All the various bits and bobs look like they belong to someone, and were placed for a specific reason.

edithfinch-1280-1493245671809

As you progress through each short story, you get to understand that individual person and a very stylized telling of their passing.  There are some simple enough game mechanics to be had, but the point here is more about the interpretation of the story and how the game mechanics reflect the state of mind of the person in question.

Personally, when I finished most segments, I needed to take a breather in order to collect my thoughts.  I needed to digest the person, the message, the medium, and how it all fit into the larger picture.  I’d scour their room for some additional personal tidbits.  I’d imagine how the rest of the family felt at the loss, and how it motivated them in their stories.  The point here isn’t so much how they died (everyone dies eventually) but how their lives were beforehand, and the trickle effect unto others.

The game is only a couple hours to go through, and you will only get out of it what you want to.  My wife took a stride through the game after I did, and you could see the wheels turning when it was all over.  Highly recommended.

Rise of Skywalker

I’m a fair bit conflicted about this movie.  The Last Jedi had some major plot holes and infuriating character developments, but it was generally consistent on its message – the past does not dictate your future.  Rise of Skywalker pulls a massive 180, and instead says that your past entirely defines your future.  Aside from Luke being a Force Ghost, you can pretty much ignore the entirety of The Last Jedi… every “major” development is ignored/retconned.

*Spoiler inbound*

Rose Tico

I’ll be the first to say that the Finn/Rose arc in TLJ was weak.  Rogue One did the whole “shades of grey” thing a lot better.  But to have her have a minute of screen time, and the Finn relationship entirely ignored, is plain absurd.

Finn’s Secret

There are 2 major plot beats that focus on Finn having a secret to tell.  Never gets a chance, never comes back into the conversation.  He’s also made general, by another general (Poe) who stays general himself.

Holdo Manoeuver

The big plot hole of TLJ, where a lightspeed ship can destroy another, is called a one-in-a-million chance.  Which either makes Holdo a force weilder (since Luke used the force to destroy death star 1), or the luckiest person alive.

If you’re watching the end of ROS, over the moon of Endor, you see another First Order ship destroyed by the Holdo manoeuver.  Least it sure looks like it.

Spaceships

A big plot point is that to destroy a nav beacon (exposed to the elements) you need to attack on the ground.  While a really neat set piece, it’s beyond dumb when you consider all the aerial acrobatics in episodes 1-8.  Two shots and this thing is down… next.  Also dumb that the enemy would leave this entirely out in the open.

Final Order Resources

A planet that no one can get to.  Hidden for at least 30 years.  Has the resources to build a modern fleet, with ships that each have a planet destroying weapon onboard.  Must have some amazing clone facilities on this planet to staff these ships…a plot point the First Order deals with by kidnapping people from planets.

The Magic Trick / Deux Ex Machina

Apparently Rey and Kylo can teleport things with their mind across planets.  Which looks frikkin’ cool, granted.  But the whole dyad in the force gimmick reeks of plot device to make things look cool.

What I mean here is that Star Wars succeeded because it was small people in a large world, trying to find their place in it all.  In these last 3, we have superhuman people that are able to conjure miracles, which dramatically lowers any sense of risk.

Ben’s Redemption

It had to happen, and the trigger for it is ok.  He apparently loses the ability to talk from that point forward.  From the start, the sequel trilogy had him set up as the ultimate bad guy who would redeem himself.  Which he does, but the really bad guy cheapens it.

Knights of Ren

Silent monks to walk slow, carry a big stick, have no force powers, no guns, no lightsabers.  With the buildup around these folks… major disappointment.

Palpatine

He makes for an intimidating bad guy, I’ll grant that.  But there’s no explanation of how he survived, this new dark magic where all the Sith live in one emperor, how he can summon lightning to disable an armada.  How he somehow let his kids (?!) become good (?!) people and take away his grandchild.  How pretty much everything about Rey is because she’s his grandkid.

Also, Snoke was apparently a hand puppet.  True story.

The Good Bits

The photography is well done, as are the set pieces.  The lightsaber battle over a raging sea is impressive.  The escape from the capital ship even more so.  Music is still top notch and gets you into the space.  Zori Bliss is a neat addition that adds some larger impact to the ongoing events.  Exegol is straight out of Knights of the Old Republic and it looks amazing.

TLDR;

The movie feels like pandering, and a general lack of understanding of the issues with TLJ.  Rogue One was an amazing movie, set in the same world, constrained by the plot and timeframe.  It still did an amazing job at character building and consistency.

I’d go into a tangent about how George Lucas’ success is almost entirely due to an amazing editor (his ex-wife), and how the lack of editing here is apparent… but this post is long enough.

ROS is an ok movie.    Could have used another 6 months to a year in the bacta tank.