Alternative Measures

I like to look at all sides during a debate.  Rarely is someone ever 100% correct.

WoW Tokens.  The interesting mechanic that Blizz put in place a long while ago so that people in need of gold could buy it with real money.  Sure, it helped get rid of a lot of the black market gold (not all, but most) but it also served as an interesting measuring stick for the game.

On US servers tokens were around 215,000g in the early summer.  It has been at that level for most of Legion.  Good enough.

When BfA launched, it took a massive nosedive.  Down to  a low of 100,000g.  That lasted exactly one month to the patch cycle.  It is now moving back up, currently at 140,000g.

wowtokenaug2018.png

Which is interesting on many fronts.

I have a passion for numbers, and even more so for the context behind those numbers.

BfA Launch

Prices on items dip for one sole reason – supply outstrips demand.  There were more people fishing for gold than there were people who wanted to buy tokens for time.  Which makes sense, since expansions typically have a spike in players and they are not necessarily buying tokens to get time.

I sold a staff for just 800,000g within a few days of launch.  Money was flying all over the place.  It was relatively easy for people to swap their gold stores for a month token at launch.  There’s a pile of analytics to be seen on this.

Interestingly, the price has started to spike on the 1 month anniversary of BfA.  Why?  Quite a few reasons I’m sure. My bet is that people have stopped buying tokens for cash, meaning that the supply is drying up, in addition to less people actually buying tokens.  I’d wager that people are figuring that with LFG/Warfronts out, they really don’t have any need for gold now.

It’s still quite early to see what this actually entails, we’ll need to see at the 2 month date.

Fishing for Cash

Blizzard is offering the Dreadwake mount for free for anyone that buys 180 days (6 months) of game time.  Offered the day after the livestream of 8.1, and at the 1 month mark.  It does look neat, and it’s not a horse.

Cynicism active. This reminds me a lot of the 1 year sub offer in Cataclysm that offered guaranteed access to MoP beta and Diablo 3.  That is not a good mental link.

Patch 8.1

More info from MMO-Champ.

High Level

  • Azerite trait rebalancing
  • A new Warfront
  • 2 new Island Expeditions
  • War Campaign continues
  • 2 new raids, on in Zuldazar and another below the Shrine of Storms
  • New Pet Battle dungeon
  • Kul Tiran and Zandalari Trolls are coming, requiring Exalted with Proudmoore / Zandalari factions
  • Heritage armor for Blood Elves and Dwarves
  • Champions of Azeroth rep levels will be account bound, making the +15 levels on the neck not requiring the grind

The Good

More content is good, can’t deny that.  Another Warfront on a separate timer will mean that people won’t twiddle their thumbs for weeks waiting.  More raids, and faction bound are an interesting twist.  A re-focus on the actual war between factions would be nice to see, since it’s been all but invisible so far.

The CoA faction change is good.  Heritage armor is nice to see.  The two new Allied Races added with a grind on existing factions is very nice, rather than a brand new one.  I still think that it should be baseline, and that the heritage armor is the actual rep grind… but hey.  The allied races should be selling features, but they are timegated behind 2-3 weeks of grinding.

The Bad

The lack of response on the fundamental issues with BfA.  The content itself is not the issue, it’s the systems that support that content.  Re-balancing the Azerite traits is good, but the entire system needs a massive overhaul.  Better view on that here

The Ugly

The need to wait for balancing.  Shamans in particular are getting a rather large re-tune, with the inclusion of two Legion artifact abilities as talents.  Which is better than now, but obviously worse than Legion, where you had 3 talents + the artifact bonus.  Even if it hit the PTR tomorrow, it’s still 2 months of testing.

Spider-Man Complete

That was both quick and satisfying.

I wish I could say there are spoilers, but Spider-Man is like 60 years old (1962), and if you don’t know that Otto Octavius is Doc Ock, welcome to Earth.  Which in turn means that there are no twists in Spider-Man.  Sure, it’s not exactly canon but it sticks with the fundamentals pretty well.

In truth, there are 3 games here.  The main game is split into two large parts – pre and post RAFT event.  The first part is relatively tame, with exploratory work and some rather minor skirmishes overall.  The story progresses in starts and fits, with some main quests simply cutscenes while others are large orchestrated battles.  Then the RAFT event, which looks really neat (if for the fact that there’s minimal player interaction).  Then the world turns to hell and there are rocket launchers, snipers, tanks and all sorts of killer things on every street corner.  For optional difficulty, you can try to complete all the various tasks during this setting, but it’s a good way to die.  The good part is that you become ultra proficient at dodging.

The third game is post-credits, where the death world sort of returns to normal, but you still have all those tasks to complete.  It’s like a middle ground, but after spending a couple hours in hell, it feels like carebear city a bit.

Combat

Enemy variety isn’t the greatest here, but the density of the enemies and the floor layout is the challenge factor.  Taking on a few grunts is easy work in the open world, but a robbery where there’s no vertical movement will mean you get hit.  Or taking a Sable station where there are 40 guards, 2 tanks, 2 snipers, 3 hover soldiers, and 2 rocket launchers… that’s just a mess of fun.

I found that of all this, the only truly differentiating skill is the perfect dodge.  When on the ground, and you successfully dodge an attack, you can counter with a single button to take down that enemy.  It sounds simple, but in takes practice to get going.  When it works… wow.

There are other skills that are useful, but they are somewhat niche or playstyle dependent.  I had a few 100 hit combos because I knew how to link the various attacks and avoid all enemy hits.  But that took a lot of practice to develop.  I am marginally stronger with hits, but I am empirically more effective with those hits – meaning combat is a fraction of the effort from my first fight.  It has nothing to do with muscling your way through combat.  You must simply be better.

Gadgets and Suits

This is a neat flavor aspect to the game with some interesting customization options gained while you level and complete tasks.  I stuck with the “generate focus” suit skill, since it allowed for free healing.  I swapped a few times when I wasn’t experimenting with combat, but always fell back to a solid safety net.

Building suits and gadgets requires various token types.  You get them from all the tasks – finding backpacks, taking pictures, breaking up fights, taking out enemy bases.  All rather simple items.  Then there are Challenge Tokens from the Taskmaster.  These come later in the game and are time-measured events – find bombs, chase drones, take out enemies.  You need to have most of your skills unlocked and a really solid understanding of the game mechanics to get gold.  Fast swing speed is rarely a requirement in any part of the game, but there are quite a few tasks that demand it.  How to be fast and how to improve is hard, since there’s no real measure.   I do like the concept of the Challenge Tokens, but I found them a bit too much of a gate on experimentation.  Most of the interesting suits and gadgets require them.

Sinister Six

No real surprise, most people saw the Spider-Man trailer.  A few originals are here; Vulure, Electro, Rhino, Scorpion, Doc Ock.  Mister Negative is a relative newcomer to genre (2008 I think) and he is portrayed as the main villain for most of the game.  It works well enough, as he’s a villain with a complex backstory that is slowly revealed over time.  There are two other baddies, but they are here and gone pretty quick.

The fights with the Six are a mixed bag.  Vulture and Electro are fought together, through a pretty hectic fight, mostly in the air.  Rhino and Scorpion are also together, though that’s more of a quick time event than anything else.  Mister Negative has multiple fights, though I think the subway one is the most fun.  It’s very claustrophobic, and the style is just spot on.  Doc Ock eventually has a fight and a 3 part affair that is quite poignant.

I thought that there was missing an act where you had a better explanation for the fall of Doc Ock.  He is one of the nicest people Peter knows, and the sudden swap in character drive is never really justified.  Mister Negative has more development.  Doc Ock is a genius level intellect here… and the steps he takes are quite mundane and without clear purpose.  His fall could have been much more dramatic if it was more in line with the game character, rather than the comic book character.

Overall

Still firmly believe that this is one of the best console games this generation.  It feels like a Spider-Man game should feel.  It’s fun to play, there’s a lot to do, and it tells a good story.

Putting it on Pause

Ion ran an AMA on Reddit on Friday.  One of the mods was nice enough to extract the tangible items from that event.

After reading that AMA, I decided to cancel my subscription.  The TLDR; answer is that I will wait until Blizzard actually launches Battle for Azeroth.  It sounds like a fun game.  I want to have fun.

Communication

“We need to do better”(R)

I kind of chuckled at this one.  The AMA is a good thing, and hats off to Blizz for doing it.  Cause there’s been nothing but crickets otherwise on a game that has had a large amount of bugs and daily hotfixes for over 2 months.  Is it hard to have client communications?  Yeah, it is.  But when you make a bajillion dollars, it’s not hard to hire someone to do just that.  T&E do a better job at this than Blizz.

Azerite Armor

Fully cognizant that the rewarding feeling is not there, and that there are many under tuned skills.  Great.  Not sure why this is news now.  DPS specs have a ton of options (some of various levels of interest) but tank/DPS have clearly better options than others.  This makes i370 items downgrades when compared to i340.  Ion agrees this is a problem that needs tuning.  (That word comes up often.)

That AP neck levels are a ridiculous gating mechanic for item upgrades.  The answer here is that everyone should be at level 18 neck and then this problem goes away, in addition to the 30% downtick in requirements every week.

Which is honestly an odd statement, since the AP gains after the first ring of a piece of armor are unlocked are relatively minor.  Once you pass that point, AP has minimal value.  In Legion, very few people unlocked all 35 traits until there were large catch up mechanisms and AP value dropped.  Odd.

Island Expeditions

They feel under-rewarding (because they are), and a hotfix was applied to increase all rewards drop rates.  So better RNG I guess.  Which really isn’t the problem.

The issue that island expeditions are just go-go-go fests due to the pressure of the azerite ticker.  There was an acknowledgement of this, but no actual plans to change it.  There will eventually be more islands to explore, and more random events… but that’s not going to help.

Armchair here… but if they reduced the number of enemies on the island and had larger events with competition against the other team, that would allow for more strategic play.  e.g. Should we take on this boss over here, or head over to the other side and prevent the other team from taking on their target?  Right now, it’s about chain-AE everything on the island.

Faction Gating / Grind

That this is an artificial gating mechanism bound to WQs.  The Paragon system is coming back, where you get a back if you max out reputation and keep getting more.  No plans to have the factions across the account, or the exalted items be account-bound (for transmog).  Which is odd, since MoP really hit this one out of the park with commendations.

The Alt Grind

That leveling an alt has a double grind – reputation and AP levels.  Unless I am drastically reading this wrong, this is working as intended.  Re-leveling a faction on another character is something to look forward to.  Odd statement.  In particular since the Champions of Azeroth are the real “hard gate”.

AP gains will be managed through the catch up mechanism.  So I guess the message is hold off on alts for a little while.

Shamans

That aside from guilds, Shamans are actively being ignored/removed from groups due to their perceived uselessness.  Kind of goes for Ferals as well in M+, since they have no real AE.  The changes required here are too large for a hotfix and will be in a patch.  There’s certainly a point of perception, but that usually is enough to become reality.  It’s really too bad for people impacted by this, and Blizzard really should have addressed this fully by now.  Guess another 2 months before we see any real change… and by then, I wonder if the stigma will leave.

Warfronts

On a factual note, the whole cycle is likely to be more like 3.5 weeks, and not 5. There are basically three stages you progress through as an attacker:

  • Donating to fund the war effort, turning in materials for AP (tuned to take 4-6 days depending on player contributions)
  • Warfront active, able to queue, with a once-per-cycle 370 reward and then repeatable 340s (7 days)
  • Zone control, can kill world boss for a shot at a 370 reward, 340s from the rare spawns (11-13 days, while the opposite faction does steps 1 and 2 on their end)

There are two reasons Warfronts are paced this way: First, it lets us give them generous rewards relative to other core content like dungeons, without completely obsoleting that content. Second, we want to make sure most players feel like they have a decent chance to participate in each step; if the Warfront were only available for 3 days instead of 7, the whole thing would move faster, yes, but someone who wasn’t able to log in for a few days would miss the activity entirely.

Yeah, this was the line that really made the decision for me.  There’s an allusion that this is similar to other weekly events, like Timewalking.  Except timewalking doesn’t give  raiding level gear for going AFK.  Warfronts are a prime example of everything I have issues with in BfA.  They are time gated, they require no effort, they negate other content, they are full of bugs, they are without replay value, and guilds cannot use them.

All Told

There are some really solid things in WoW.  The world building is great.  The art/music is the best it’s ever been.  The M+ dungeons are solid (with a few bugs), raiding seems to be in a decent spot.  But none of that is BfA-specific.  We had this before in Legion.

The BfA parts – Azerite Gear, AP, Island Expeditions, Warfronts, class re-builds, professions rebuilds… all of it is less fun than what we had 2 months ago.  Ion was clear enough in the responses that Blizz sees the issues and wants to address them.  Great!  Please do!  When that’s done, I’ll take another look.

Until then, Spider-Man and a dozen other things in my queue are calling me.

Spider-Man

Cause I need some fun.

Full stop, Sony PS4 is delivering most of the best games in this console generation.  Spider-Man continues that trend.

In Media Res

The game starts with the assumption that people understand how Spider-Man got his powers, that his Uncle Ben has passed, and his relationship with MJ is in a rough spot.  It also assumes that you know that he is a) web slinging everywhere, b) can shoot webs from his hands, c) is super strong, d) is super smart.

There are no training wheels in that sense, and the powers you have at the start of the game are pretty much the bread and butter for the remainder.  You will gain additional skills/gadgets that tweak your style, but they certainly don’t replace the starting skill set.

Fluidity

If you’ve played the Batman games, you’ll recall that combat there is very fluid.  There are hits, combos, counters, gadgets, and smoke bombs that present what is essentially a dance instead of a battle. Spider-Man takes that up a notch.  It feels like playing “the floor is lava” pretty much all the time, and for that to work well, you need to have solid tools and controls.

Spider-Man is stronger in the air than the ground, and his movement is extremely slick.  He zips across the field, just like you’d expect him to, and with an added weight on each contact.  It feels like you’re moving faster than everyone else, and truthfully you need to.  You are quite weak to bullets, more of a glass canon than a tough brute.

Mini Map

It’s an open-world game with mini-map icons.  The smart thing here is that they are slowly revealed and not at all mandatory (cept maybe the police scramblers to open up the map).  As you progress through the main story, additional sub-content becomes available.  And most of those missions are fairly different.  You may be taking pictures, or scouting for items.  You may have to clear out an open base.  Interspersed with these location-specific tasks are random criminal events – muggings, robberies, shoot outs, car crashes – that you can jump in and out of.  This provides an incentive to just explore the map, cause you’re never quite sure what you’re going to encounter.

Sure, the completion is going to want to collect every backpack, do every research station mission, but you’re never obligated to do so, and the at of doing so does not feel repetitive.   This is a major contrast to something like Assassin’s Creed where it’s the same 2-3 tasks a hundred times.  Feels a bit more like Horizon’s map icons, just with less overall clutter.

Crafting & Gadgets

For the various tasks and challenges you do complete, you’ll get crafting tokens.  These are used to create new suits, some of which come with interesting powers (more power, shock attacks, bullet proof, etc…).  These suits look amazing.  You can further customize them with modifications, like harder hits, less damage taken, and so on.

You also get various gadgets to use in combat.  Drones, web bombs, what seems like a shotgun web shot, concussion hits.  It adds a ton of variety to combat.  You can update each of these 4 to 5 times, improving both their capacity and their efficiency.

The Feels

The interwebs seems full of selfies from this game, and there’s a good reason.  The entire game feels alive, and quite reflective of both Manhattan and the Marvel universe.  The art is superb, the music is solid, and the voice acting is more than impressive.  There are even 2 tracks for Spider-Man… one when he’s standing still, and another for when he’s travelling and somewhat short of breath.

Maybe another way to put it.  It doesn’t feel like Spider-Man was dropped into a random game to smack other people.  Things here have purpose, and the story is interconnected with the various locations.  Even he police jabber on the radio is spot on, talking about neighborhoods you’re swinging on through.  There’s a surprising amount of detail.

Keep Going

I’d guess I’m a quarter of the way through?  Hard to really tell.  I am having a lot of fun, and little of it has to do with the main quest. Just exploring, and finding little odd events to complete is a joy.

Even when I do die (and it happens frequently at the start) I am not frustrated, just realizing that I need to change tactics.  I find myself more amazed at some of the fights I manage to get through.  It’s a fresh feeling and I’m quite enjoying it.

Highly recommended.

This is Odd

Themepark MMOs are generally predicated on the concept of increasing one’s power level.  In most games, this is measured on the level/rank of the items, and WoW is no different.  The carrot is to get higher numbers.  Let’s go over this a minute.

Fresh 120

You should be around 260, and the random rares around the world will top you off to 280.  So let’s consider that the “floor”.  Ok?  Let’s go up from there.  This is the list of content, as was

provided in Legion.  There’s a pattern that the item levels require increased challenge, or are on weekly timers.

  • 280 to 330 – random World Quest rewards, and the level increased based on your average.  Have a higher average level, and higher level gear is found in the world.
  • 310 – Regular dungeons.
  • 325 – Heroic dungeons
  • 340 – Mythic dungeons
  • 340 – LFR raids
  • 355 – Regular raids
  • 350 – World Bosses
  • 350-360 – Mythic+7 dungeons
  • 370 – Mythic+10 dungeons
  • 370 – Heroic raids
  • 385 – Mythic raids

Extra Bits

  • 355 – exalted reputation with any faction, though only specific pieces of gear.  Faction past honored is only acquired through World Quests or the mission tables on your boat
  • 0 – the item level from Island Expeditions, which at heroic/mythic levels require coordination across all team members to succeed.  The rewards are instead a very low chance at mounts/transmog/toys

Warfronts

Ok, let’s explain what Warfronts are.  It’s an asymmetrical instance of content, so that Horde and Alliance are doing different bits, on 2 week timers, that eventually flip over to the other faction.  For 2 weeks, one faction has an open zone (A) to hunt rares and a world boss on a 2 week timer.  During those same 2 weeks, the other faction can instance into an RTS-like game, the actual Warfront (B).

The A content has 39 rares that can drop i340 gear, which can warforge up to i355.  Do them all, and the odds are you’ll get 3 pieces of gear.  You can do this content as a fresh 120.

The B content is a 30 minute instance that you cannot fail (most are 50% AFK) and will reward a once per flip (2 weeks) piece of i370 (which can warforge to i390), and each completion will provide an i340 piece (which can warforge).  The only items that will not drop here are rings and trinkets.  This content is infinitely repeatable for the 2 week duration.  (Up until Tuesday, anyone could join on the Horde, but it was hotfixed to have a minimum of i320.  Before Alliance had a chance to try it.  And is, as the devs put it, per design.)

So what?

Catch Up Mechanics

Blizzard usually releases a catchup mechanic every large patch that allows new players/alts to get up to speed in order to raid.  Not necessarily enough to be better than  a raid, but about 10-20 levels below.

Warfronts are impossible to lose, can be soloed, and take 30 minutes to complete.  They can be infinitely repeated for their 2 week duration.  They provide at worst i340 gear, which can randomly boost up to 370.  Again.  This is content that you can AFK through.  That will at worst reward gear better than any heroic or mythic dungeon.  That will at best, reward gear that is better than heroic raids.  Every 30 minutes.

So Blizzard has released something  that negates all world content, every dungeon, and potential every raid but Mythic with Warfront gear drops.  For going AFK.  3 weeks after launch.

I am now out of words.

BfA Fishing

Legion set an incredibly high bar.

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Legion Artifact Fishing Pole

Not only was there an artifact fishing pole, but there were 2 different streams of reputation gains within Legion – Margoss and the Champions.  The pole itself provides a huge benefit to fishing, with built-in waterwalking, reduced detection range, and super speed while underwater.  That last one makes it on-par or better than a Water Strider – and certainly a whole lot less effort to acquire.

The reputation gains were mostly for toys, which makes sense since fishing isn’t exactly about the prestige.  Even the 6 fishing champions didn’t provide much more than cosmetics/pets.  It was a fun distraction.

Previous Expansions

Fishing is sort of the lead eating cousin in WoW, often neglected.  Archeology and First Aid are close, and one of those was taken behind the back.

It’s often been about just getting fish for cooking, and focusing on pools to get more fish.  The fishing tourney was a vanilla item, some dailies in TBC for pets, another tourney in WotLK, and nothing I can recall for Cataclysm.  Factions and daily fishing quests only truly came into the game when MoP came out – and the Anglers were a lot of fun.  WoD put Nat Pagle in your garrison, with a pretty incredible grind to get everything you wanted.  That was a beast.

Legion took all of that, refined it, and made it significantly more fun.

Battle for Azeroth

The good news to start.  The artifact pole still works, and 3 of those skills transfer over.  The skill to portal to the next fishing pool is gone, but that was rarely used except to climb to areas in Stormheim.  There’s a new mount from open water.  Fish can be converted to oil for cooking, or used au-naturel in some recipes.  It takes a lot of fish to make something.  2 fish for basic recipes, 10 fish for mid-rank, and somewhere close to 100 per feast (include 3 rare ones).  That last one costs ~2000g on my server.

The neutral changes are that fish are no longer zone specific but island specific.  Horde fish and Alliance fish, with 2 types per island.  Those types are inland (rivers) and coastal (sea).  And one fish shared between everything (Midnight Salmon) with a low catch rate.  Just to accentuate poor design planning in BfA, this fish is used for feasts AND has a per-click option to teleport you to the next pool.  That’s right, a fish with a 200g value has a 5 minute portal cooldown.

The bad changes are that pools no longer reward more fish, just guarantee a specific type.  Fishing skill also doesn’t reduce junk chance, or increase the amount of fish you get.   There are no daily quests. There are no fishing factions.  There are no fishing toys.

I’m hoping that 8.1 actually includes something for fishing, as right now there isn’t much point and it feels like a large regression to pre-MoP days.  There’s more fun to be had in Legion right now, than BfA.

Could be worse.  I could be an archaeologist.