MHR: Sunbreak – End-Game

The game proper ends at Gaismagorm, then you reach the end-game which is mostly about boosting your MR rank to various heights to unlock new content.

  • 10 gives access to tier 1 Afflicted monsters (tougher versions)
  • 20 gives access to Wind Serpent Ibushi and 2* Afflicted monsters
  • 30 gives access to Narwa and 3* Afflicted monsters
  • 50 gives access to Furious Rajang (Always in phase 2/3) and 4* Afflicted monsters
  • 70 gives access to Valstrax
  • 100 gives access to Scorned Magnamalo (permanent enrage)

Increasing MR comes from completing any quest, and getting to MR30 is fairly easy. Past that, it can feel grindy, which is an issue for 2 reasons. I’m at 39 now.

First, you’re likely to be fully kitted out on your gear by this point due to “ease” of drops. A decent talisman from base Rise is going to be fine in Sunbreak, same with decorations. 4 slot decoration slots are not common, and the actual decorations aren’t terribly interesting (except for perhaps Bow/LBG/HBG). If you are hunting for mats, odds are it’s to kit out a different weapon set.

Second, the optimal path for increasing MR depends on if you are in multiplayer or solo. Multiplayer has a single quest that dumps trucks of experience for low risk. Single player, you’ve got a few options but if you need to meld, it’ll probably mean farming Gaismagorm with a LBG.

Afflicted Monsters

This is a bit like Apex monsters from the base game. The monsters hit nearly twice as hard, and have a new debuff (Bloodblight) which is a permanent DoT and vampire effect, rewarding aggressive gameplay. You can’t capture them, which adds some difficulty. There’s a shared drop pool across various types (fur, claws, etc..) that are used to craft rank 10 weapons. Breaking parts gives higher chance of collecting these items… and you want them.

Once you’ve got your items, not much reason to take on the difficulty these monsters pose. Maybe if they had a better increase in MR rank to compensate…

Follower Quests

For solo players, this is likely the best way to farm materials. Each monsters has a quest where you can bring followers along, who will heal/tank/damage the monster. Extremely effective for non-countering weapons. It helps that the AI is quite strong here.

This mode is like the total opposite of Rampages from Rise. Rampages were painful solo, and with some Apex monsters, a stupidly high difficulty curve. Follower quests give you multiplayer benefits (NPCs + their palicos) and some added randomness on the battles. If they could get the AI to man turrets, then maybe Rampages would make sense. An interesting experiment, that’s for sure!

Ibushi + Narwa

Isbushi is quite similar to his presence in Rise, with a couple more air moves. You only fight him, and in the smaller cavern. Nothing terribly complex.

Narwa though… holy heck. The first half of the fight (until the ridable monster shows up) is not terribly hard. Past that point, Narwa goes HAM and spams massive AE attacks. I would recommend that everyone enter here with 20+ lightning resistance, as it’s very simple to get carted on a double attack. It’s one of a few fights in Sunbreak where you always want to have a Wirebug ready to use. Where Rise could have you farm Narwa for talisman materials, it is absolutely not recommended here.

End Goal

Content drop 1 is due sometime in August. It will be interesting to see what comes in that in terms of balance/QoL changes. Aside from that, I don’t see much reason to move past MR50 right now. Maybe I can add a challenge to add another weapon type – Dual Blade elemental seems quite interesting.

I will point that this is still hours and hours of content, and way better than most games are able to release. Would be curious as to how this does compare to where Dauntless is now (also on Switch). Still highly recommended.

MHR:Sunbreak – Campaign Complete

Meaning I’m MR6 with a new cap of MR10.

Monster Hunter games have never been strong on the story front, simply hand waving to present a new set of monsters. You get progressively more difficult monsters and then end up against a mini-mountain to close it off. Narwa was the pinnacle in Rise, and Giasmagorm in Sunbreak. Completing that monster runs the credits and the “end game” begins.

The monster variety in Sunbreak is lesser than I had hoped. You will see every monster but Narwa and Ibushi during the campagin, with a new moveset. There’s a minor increment in challenge here. There are new subvariants, like Aurora Somnacanth (ice), which adds some spice I suppose. The “new” monsters are generally twists of existing types.

  • Hemitaur and Ceanataur are crabs. I don’t understand why there are 2 crabs. They are the first monsters you reach, which makes them easy fodder.
  • Gore Magala and Shagaru Magala are dragon-cats, in the same form as Barioth and Tigrex. They look amazing, but have near identical movesets.
  • Garangolm is a stone monkey. It develops elemental attacks on its fists when enraged. I rather like this one.
  • Lunagaron is an ice wolf. I expected his attacks to be faster.
  • Astalos is an electric drake. This guy is insanely annoying due to the constant stuns and very fast attacks. Fun in a masochistic way.
  • Seregios is a ninja drake. Seriously. He moves constantly and ninja kicks you around. Probably my favorite new monster.
  • Malzeno is a blood dragon. This guy is a fun challenge. He inflicts a blight that causes a DoT that is only countered by attacking him. Has a very large moveset that doesn’t allow safe spaces. The “pure dragon” fights in MH are always impressive.
  • Giasmagorm is the big boss that takes up a large platform. You have less room here than with Narwa, making ranged attacks extremely challenging. It feels like constant explosions everywhere, and some bad RNG can kill you outright. I have yet to figure out how to counter any of his attacks consistently.

There’s only one with a new signature move (Malzeno), which feels like a lost opportunity given the variety of options present here. That said, MH is famous for it’s constant updates and monster additions, so I’m not exactly terribly worried. We’re certainly going to see some death-dealing monsters soon enough.

I will say that the quest variety is a weird one after MR6. There are always some solo fights to tackle (more on this), but there are more group fights than I expected. 3 or 4 monsters are very common. The good news here is that these monsters all have less HP, as the total monster HP for a quest is softcapped. A quest with 3 monsters will have each monster at about 33% total HP as a result. This is less good in a larger map as you can’t capture monsters as easily (I end up killing them accidentally), but very good for arena quests as you can mount monsters in a quick chain for a ridiculous amount of damage.

The solo fights are a weird one. Sure, you want to run them to get the quest done, and potentially unlock something new. But given that every (it seems) monster has a follower quest as well, you are way better off going that route. Having 2 or more NPCs follow you into battle is a huge benefit that doesn’t need explanation.

One additional quirk present here that was also present in Rise is that the end game cycle is self-driven. You may chase some material for a decoration or two, but 3 runs of a monster is usually enough to craft any armor/weapon you want. The RNG is limited to Talismans, which while useful, are not as game breaking as weapons/armor. Raising your MR therefore is a question of wanting to craft as much stuff as possible, rather than much in terms of power increment.

Next step is to get to MR10 for the August content patch. I’m 3 pieces shy of the gear I want, which should mean 1 more Teostra run, and then a couple of Giasmagorm. Let’s see how that goes.

MH Rise – Sunbreak – Early Impressions

I had played a significant chunk of Monster Hunter Rise when it launched – it was the reason for buying a Switch actually. I covered a few months of content, up to Valstrax near the end of May. I stopped playing when the power curve started to tip sideways (and that farming Lazurite gems was pretty easy). I stand by my prior assessment, that Rise is a further simplification of World, to various degrees of success. The skill floor dropped significantly, while the addition of the wirebug dramatically increased the skill ceiling.

Sunbreak therefore compared to World’s Iceborne expansion, which added new climates, new monsters, and some skill rebalancing. At the early stages, Iceborne is more favorable, as the “new” is upfront, and the prior monsters take a backseat to a slew of new ones. For Sunbreak

  • There are 2 new environments. A smaller jungle map (fun, tight design) and a castle ruins map (slightly too large for my tastes, could have been 2 maps).
  • The first few hours are battles against existing or reskinned monsters. Garangolm is a much weaker version of Rajang. Lunagaroth is an interesting ice-wolf. The existing monsters all get new skill sets, which is nice to see given that the new patterns are important.
  • The new hub environment is a nice addition, where the measure between the item box, quest giver, and dango (food) is still only a few seconds.
  • Each weapon has a new set of silkbind moves, where most of them act as counters to attacks rather than additional attacks. This re-enforces Rise’s push for less aggressive playstyles, and allowing for a lower skill floor (aka “easier”).
  • There’s now the ability to swap silkbind moves while in battle, which opens up some tremendous situational agility. Some skilbinds are “builders” while others are “spenders”, and you used to have to choose between them for a total fight. Now you can have both, which for some weapons is a complete game changer. Skill ceiling just went up.
  • There are now follower missions, where up to 2 NPCs follow you in battle for specific solo-only fights. This dramatically speeds up farming runs. I should point the AI for these NPCs is really solid. They use traps and move strategically to lure monsters into them. Consider this another skill floor drop.
  • The difficulty curve at the start of the expansion is significant, as the practically “free” armor they hand out is 20%-100% better than what most hunters will have on hand. If you’re not using MR-rank armor, you’re likely to die in 2-3 hits. MR-rank weapons are even larger power increments.
  • Customization of Palico/Palamute are now present. You can swap skills, target specific builds, and increase the # of slots for skills. Prior to this, it was a slot machine RNG to get the “perfect roll”, which could only be done once after each fight. This is a huge QoL change, and allows for more testing of skills, given you don’t need to invest 50 levels of experience to see if it fits a build.
  • Weapons were rebalanced a bit, so that there’s slightly more parity between choices. If folks thought Longsword was OP, they didn’t try Heavy Bowgun. That felt like an automated sniper rifle. There’s now more drift between shots, slicing ammo and blast ammo took a damage hit.
  • Oh, Rampages are gone. I think that was an interesting experiment (tower defense of sorts) that had some good ideas but suffered from implementation challenges. It was a mode that only really worked in multiplayer, and then required a ton of coordination to rightly pull off.

I’ve yet to unlock Malzano, the titular monster for this expansion. I think I have 1 more rank to go. From what I’ve seen so far, this is a quality expansion that has a tight focus on quality of life changes rather than huge content updates. Then again, the MH model is monthly content updates which keeps you going for a long time. It’ll keep me entertained for a while still I am sure.

Gaming Whales

For those not familiar with the concept, a gaming “whale” is someone who spends an inordinate amount of money as compared to the average. These people are what drive the free-to-play gaming model, where cash stops exist. If you have 1000 players, you may have 5 whales who account for 90% of the income. It seems strange to most, but it’s quite common for people to spend $1000 or $10,000 on a game in a short period.

Whales exist for 2 main reasons. First, because the game itself is a slot machine and they are addicted to the mechanics. It’s an addiction and certainly predatory in that the design is focused on that aspect. No different than the rules that exist around a casino.

Second, and not necessarily separate, is the artificial social value. A virtual popularity contest if you will. The kicker here is that these contests only exist if there are both competitors and spectators. In the same vein as being a SuperBowl champion is absolutely meaningless without the context of opponents and spectators. Think about it… those champions don’t help the economy, science, society, or any other portion. It’s a lottery for the players, and a money-making machine for the owners. Whales are similar in this concept, in that they have the ability to buy their way to the “top”, but need there to be folks to defeat and then the accolades from folks recognizing that achievement.

There are a few variables here… in older games, players often recognized the amount of effort required to achieve a given goal (which is more in line with athletes of prior generations). WoW raiders used to just stand around with their gear, as it was quite difficult to acquire. Larger and less educated player bases may not recognize the effort and simply enjoy the results (akin to 2nd generation athletes, who’s success is “bought” through the 1st generation wealth/contacts).

Whales aren’t necessarily the issue. If a cash stop sold a hat for $500, then that’s what a whale will pay to be above the rest. Lockboxes are the issue as they focus on the first type of whale, where the money spent is done so through predatory methods, in line with a casino and the addict issue it presents. Keep the lockboxes, treat them as the gambling mechanics.

Diablo Immortal

Which is borderline click bait I suppose.

This is an interesting one to me, where Wyatt Chang’s infamous “do you guys not have phones?!” in that the game is exactly what was expected.

It is a well-polished action rpg, built specifically for smartphones with an underlying gatcha mechanic. There are hundreds of these games available, have been for years. I’ve played a fair chunk and always uninstalled when I hit the pay wall. And further, as with the genre, it’s primarily a reskin of an existing game and re-use of assets from the Diablo franchise. There is nothing special about this game, if you look at it from the context of mobile games in the genre before it.

Where people seem to be taking issue is that this is against everything that the Diablo franchise stood for, as a shining pinnacle of the genre with a 1 time purchase and hundreds of hours of content. Agreed, but that was in 2013. The last Starcraft 2 DLC was 2015. Everything launched since has been either with lootboxes or a monthly fee or game-store supported. Blizzard barely held the line with some level of integrity while Morhaime and Metzen were around and it all died when Kaplan left. In that regard, Diablo Immortal is again, exactly what Blizzard was going to launch and certainly makes you question their next Warcraft mobile game model.

Blizzard is a company being still being sued for harassments, with some insane allegations. They banned someone for supporting Hong Kong and fired everyone involved. They hired a woman to co-lead only to pay her less than her equal partner, in part leading her to quit in 3 months. They pulled every union-busting trick in the book against Raven. Hell, we’re not even at the 1 year mark of J Allen Brack quitting because of the non-stop rollercoaster.

I am not quite sure what people were expecting here. Diablo Immortal is exactly what I thought it was going to be. What did others?

Games as an Escape

The news often sucks, and it’s a self-feeding depression cycle about how things are getting worse. In many respects they are, and in many others they are improving. r/mademesmile is a decent dose of good news on a daily basis, and I try to make efforts to avoid any 24 hour news channel.

Games are one of my escapes. There’s a slew of them, many of them season dependent, but gaming is the type of thing that seems to work in nearly any circumstance. Escapes may be the wrong wording though… Sure it has me focus on something other than my daily toils, which is a sort of evasion, but it also allows me to set and accomplish goals, which is full of that lovely dopamine kick we all need.

Over time my gaming habits have changed. I still do have the need to binge from time to time, but the larger commitments in my life prevent that from being any actual habit. Instead it feels more like there are burst of gaming, followed by lulls. Picking the right game, for the right time is the kicker. I’m not a monogamous gamer by any stretch… I need to try different things and experiences. I may have a few firm call backs that are a sort of comfort food (FF14, DSP are in that bucket), but there’s always that drive for something a bit different. Vampire Survivors came out of nowhere, and can scratch that 15 minute itch without much planning. Valheim certainly sucked all the air in the room for over a month. Lego Star Wars is right up there with about 50 hours played trying to get as many bricks as I can. Looking at my various game libraries, there’s still plenty to work my way through.

I will say that the games that are more experimental are the ones that seem to stick the most – puzzlers in particular. Return of the Obra Dinn, What Remains of Edith Finch, Disco Elysium, 12 Minutes … they are less (if at all) about a score, and more about a particular journey. Games that encourage experimentation, in the space that you effectively have no “wrong” answers, just different perspectives.

I do still enjoy the more braindead activities in games, where it’s just cruise control. Not much different than most stuff on TV I guess, or any MCU movie. There are times where I simply want to be entertained, and you’ll get something more like Lost Ark, Hollow Knight, or Hades. They may have a technical requirements, but once you get the rhythm down, the rest is just following through.

Which I suppose cycles back to the title itself and the desire for a game to have some sort of conclusion, an actual escape from its confines. I am not in the Achiever Bartle-type.. I could care less about trophies, or world rankings. I define a set of goals, work towards them, and then when they are attained, move on. With hundreds of quality games coming out all the time, it makes little sense to focus on one for a super long tail when I could just take on another awesome experience.\

Give me a problem and the tools to solve it. I’ll be a happy man.

AAA Game Dev Math is Bonkers

Somehow, Outriders hit 3.5m players at launch and has didn’t turn a profit in by Dec 31st

I’m piling on the Square Enix mystery math tour here, but it’s frankly astounding at how poorly finances are managed in that company if millions of games are sold and it isn’t enough. A brand new IP… clearly competing against its own games (Marvel Avengers) in a looter/shooter genre is beyond baffling. It sheds some further light on why Square Enix sold off so many IPs last week… their financials are a mess.

I’ve been on the wrong side of a contract in the past, and in most of those cases its the small print that gets you in the end. There’s no word of lawyers in public, but one would have to assume that there are some interesting conversations being held in the backrooms. Not much different that Fallout: New Vegas missing the bonus payment by about 1% on Metacritic.

Stories like these make you wonder why anyone would want to be at a large dev studio, or try to make a deal with the devil” to get over the hump. Maybe it’s just a parachute to get out of the grind? Some crazy hope that you are going to be that exception? Blind faith? Perhaps it’s simply the lesser of evils.

Games are a weird microcosm of other pieces. They are a massive entertainment industry, nearly $120b worldwide. Money makes for some interesting choices…

Acti-Blizz Numbers

I’m on nearly 4 months since my last Blizzard post (the MSFT buyout), and I’m certainly not missing it! While I’m certainly on record for armchair designing WoW, the business portion is equally fascinating.

We’re at the saturation point of the pandemic, where the large spike of “hermits” has ended. People are going outside and spending less time in front of screens. This is a challenge as the pandemic itself stretched out the pipeline on any development. So there were more consumers eating away at products that were taking longer to generate material. Eventually, something has to give.

Blizzard in particular here has had troubles launching much during this timeframe… and obviously struggling as a company as a result. Between the last results and this one, WoW saw Eternity’s End come about, the announcement for the next expansion Dragonflight, and attempts to drive interest in Diablo Immortal beta in June (simultaneous PC launch, and ~4 years since it was announced).

The financials this quarter were not good. 2m less monthly users. 43% less revenue. And that’s compared to Q4 where nothing launched. Those are painful numbers. In the aggregate, they’ve managed to lose nearly 20% of their userbase this year alone, and about 40% across the last 4 years.

The future isn’t looking so bright either. Overwatch 2 was delayed, and what people have seen so far is very “meh” in terms of being more of an expansion than a sequel (which is a mountain in itself). Diablo 4 is nowhere to be seen (hopefully they are paying attention to what Lost Ark did well). Dragonflight doesn’t have a release date or pre-orders (typically, you can buy it 1yr ahead). I have a lot of fundamental design questions on that expansion…but others are better equipped at that.

Perhaps we’re nearing that turning point where AAA game development is simply no longer sustainable. Where development for the sake of numbers has run the course. Where the indie scene can show that passion and smaller teams can have more success – and that there’s the potential for a sustainable market.

Square-Enix Sells some IP

I guess we’re simply in that age where there’s little ground in the middle for game development. Either you’re indie or you’re AAA. Reports of Square Enix of selling a rather large IP portfolio are going around, including Tomb Raider, Deux Ex, Hitman, and Thief. Embracer bought this package, for a relatively low price of $300m… low when you recall they bought Gearbox (Borderlands) for $1b.

What doesn’t appear included are the Marvel licensed games, either Guardians of the Galaxy (which was well reviewed and sold decently, but “missed targets”) or Marvel Avengers (which was neither well received nor sold well). That honestly makes sense, as there’s no way Disney (which certainly puts the Kingdom Hearts cross-over under new light) was going to give any sort of control to SE to decide where that went. Perhaps this is similar to Telltale Games and their over-paying for IP vs. the projected returns.

Of note, Tomb Raider and Deus Ex also didn’t hit sales targets. Tomb Raider has sold nearly 20m copies… so maybe I’m just bad at math that this isn’t good?

All of these seems to be couched in SE wanting to invest in: blockchain, AI, and cloud. I’ll break these into smaller pieces.

  • Cloud. I gravitate towards Stadia in terms of cloud-streaming games. This is the logical end point of gaming, but we are still a good 10 years away and limited by the speed of light. It would make no sense for SE to invest in a cloud distribution model… that is entirely saturated by Steam and EGS.
  • AI. This does have appeal in terms of enemy AI, or in procedurally generated content as a response to player actions. There are many patents in the works for this, though I would expect EA to take lead here. (There’s a foreboding aspect of training AI in combat simulators, no?)
  • Blockchain, which in this case is almost exclusively in the leverage of NFTs. See, the concept of NFT is that you can prove ownership of a unique item, but the reality is that it’s a massive scam with dozens of examples that point towards a modern ponzi scheme.

This isn’t a SE obituary, more like a divestment of western games from their repertoire. All we’re going to see now are the RPG franchises we’ve seen so far… Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Star Ocean, Kingdom Hearts. Or perhaps, they are going to change their accounting team math, so that investments and projected returns are closer to reality.

Odd way to start the week.

Lego Star Wars

2005. That’s when the first one came out and pretty much blew my mind as to how Lego may actually be cool again. It it the right blend of action, humor and nostalgia… and the timing was right before Episode 3 was released to cinemas. It effectively created an entire genre, which is astounding when you stop to think about it.

Over the years I’ve picked up various iterations of these Lego games. Batman, Marvel, Harry Potter, LotR among them. I completed each one’s main story without fault, and spent some minor amount of time collecting the extra bricks along the way. Yet, the only one that ever hit 100% was the Original Trilogy version. There’s a rather laser focus in that series, where nearly all the levels are linear, and the options while wide, are still limited. Unlocking more red bricks to add larger stud multipliers still feels like a gold rush. Just had the right amount of dopamine hits. Games since then have opted to go wider, notably the Harry Potter and Marvel games. It just feels like a never ending amount of content, and frankly gimmicky efforts to get any extra collectables. Tedious.

The Skywalker Saga has been out a few weeks now. I picked it up and have played some with the kids, some alone. It’s hard to explain how much I have the original trilogy’s layout tattooed in my memory. I could probably play it blindfolded. This version is the same story, but told in an entirely different method, with voice acting throughout (no more gibberish!).

Most notably, the camera is no longer fixed, so you’re in a fully 3D world now.. It sounds relatively minor, but it really changes the approach to level design. Plus the improved graphics make the gameplay the same quality as the cutscenes… it’s quite impressive. The older versions had a diorama-type layout, with relatively linear and contained environments. This isn’t open world in the typical sense, but much more fluid. As a result of this, there are many fewer vehicle-based quests as they were meant to give the semblance of “bigger” – I am rather happy with this change.

Second, the character differences are dramatically shrunk here. Force users, mechs, bounty hunters, stormtroopers, and scavengers are the only types now. Flyers, double jumpers and other niche skills are no longer present. Well, that’s not entirely true… as there’s now dialogue/quest options that require characters of a given faction to trigger. The net result is that there are simply more viable characters to play with, and once you complete the main game, pretty much 100% of the rest of the game is open to explore. – This is a big QoL change as it removes a lot of tedium.

The world itself no longer has a single central hub, and instead covers 24 planets related to the 9 episodes. Each planet has its own hub and space sector, which lead into the various story arcs. The hubs themselves are full of things to collect – bricks, characters, ships. Either you get it outright, or need to complete a small quest. Space is also pretty neat, you can eventually fight/capture capital ships in neat small activity. – This feels like bloat, in the same vein as Ubisoft add map icons to fill time. It’s a good hour+ per hub.

Which brings me to the last change, which is the introductions of quests. They could be very small things, like ride a Gonk 10 feet to a platform. There are medium ones that are on the same planet, or in the adjoining space. Then there are the long ones, which require visiting multiple planets, or going through a few space battles to the next bit. – I generally dislike this change as a completionist. It’s just not possible to 100% any specific zone until you pretty much hit 50% on every other one… this likely won’t bother most people.

In the end, I still think that the Original Trilogy version is the best of the bunch, primarily because of the very focused design. The Skywalker Saga fits just under that, primarily for the QoL changes brought about, but suffers from the sprawl … which is sort of understandable when you’re covering 9 movies. In that context, it’s a generational leap for the platform, and a good foundation for anything else that comes in the future. Very impressive.