Outriders: RNG

All good looters have some RNG, though there’s a lot of debate as to how that RNG is applied. Diablo 3 went through two major revisions, with a horrible first pass under Jay Wilson, and then an amazing rebirth after Reaper of Souls. Games with any duration need to nail this down at the fundamentals, or they risk turning into Anthem 2.0

The good news here is that Outriders appears to get this part right, and mostly because of the combination of mods, limited stat pools, and weights.

Level Up

I do want to start with the mechanic of levelling up a weapon. From 1-40, the costs are relatively minor, depending on the quality of the item. Blue items in particular are super mega cheap to upgrade. At 40, you need Pod Resources to upgrade an item, and you need significantly more every increase. Enough where it’s pretty much 1 run per upgraded item.

Mods

Every green/blue item can have 1 mod. Any purple/orange item can have two mods. If you disassemble an item with a mod, you ‘learn’ that mod and can re-use it as much as you want. You can replace any 1 mod on any item. There are tiers of mods too, with purple items having the best ones right now. Orange items have some solid ones too, but they are quite situational – and you probably want to keep their good mods on the item and replace the other one.

This mod effectively lets you slot 6x boosts of your choice based your playstyle. 90% chance you’re going to want to mod on something like Death Chains for some really high DoT damage. Rather than hunting for an item with a perfect mod while leveling (pre item lvl 50) you can use pretty much any drop.

Limited Stat Pools

This is the real smart part… each item only has a set amount of stat rolls possible, and you can’t roll the same stat more than once on an item. Here’s an explanation. Given that each class build has a favored set of stats, you’re really drawing from a limited pool of options. So let’s say I want with my stats… well I want

  • Firepower Bonus (not Health or Anomaly)
  • Long Range, and Short Range/Cooldown Reduction (not Status, Leech, or Healing)

Those are actually some decent odds!

Random Weights

One bit I didn’t get into is the randomness on the base stats of an item. Armor and Firepower roll in a given range for any item, and a fairly significant amount as well (25% it seems). This isn’t anything earth shattering, and as a general rule doesn’t mean much for Armor. Weapons though…25% is a lot. The range is set on drop and isn’t related to item level. Purple will roll higher than blue though! It has nearly no impact on the quest portion of the game, but does mean a whole lot in expeditions.

Same item level, vastly different stats
Firepower is worth more than armor

Expedition Scaling

The gains from gear are not linear to the challenge from enemies. I’m at CT11, with ‘maxed’ out items for my level with the stat rolls I value. Enemies themselves are more challenging, either in new abilities from the champions OR simply having more hit points. The grunts aren’t so bad, but the champions and end bosses a heck more painful. The timers on expedition progress are generous enough to allow relatively easy movement of +1 CT per run, but I do die often enough now.

Right now, it seems the best path to CT15 is to find amazing rolls in the sub CT10 space, and then just upgrade them to get to CT15. Find an amazing weapon with a good mod, and same with 2 solid armor pieces. The rest can sort itself out.

Overall

That doesn’t mean you’re going to see the best gear drop quickly, but it does mean that there’s higher odds of finding something useful as you go through. It’s not the drop speed that we see in Diablo 3 now, where there are tons of catch up mechanics to optimize the RNG, but it’s a hell of a neat way to get people to keep playing!

More than anything here though, this goes to show that you don’t need a super complex loot pool to make it interesting.

WoW Gold Update

I’ve gone super passive with WoW now that Valheim is taking up so much time. That said, I try to log in every day or so to post up some stuff.

With 9.05 coming today, it’s really the inclusion of valor tokens that would see any possible player spike. Maybe that will cause more players to run content, and therefore an uptick in new gear. New runs = new consumables. New gear = new enchants & gems. New tokens = likelyhood of alts actually playing.

Why is this important? Because the AH right now has become saturated due to low demand. An enchanting shard that went for 60g is now less than 30g. It’s not possible to make any profit on any enchantment. Potions are in a similar space, where the sales are much less than the value of the materials.

Of the various methods I’ve applied to make gold:

  • Leatherworking (cosmetics or other) move 1 item every 5 days or so
  • The cloth shuffle (Cloth–> Bracers –> Shards) turns in a 5g profit (I peaked at 70g)
  • Transmog flips have dropped in volume by 75%
  • Glyph sales are still oddly consistent.

I’ve now acquired all the glyphs that turn a 500g profit, but one (that’s a super rare WQ in the broken isles). Dark Absolution was the most painful of them, given the single run per day. It has sold for 12k a shot, and costs about 600g to make. I’ve also come to terms with the need to mill my own pigments for this, as Sallow can be quite expensive.

The Curve

I’m showing the gold progress from when I started Shadowlands til now, across all characters. You’ll see the trend is somewhat linear, while I only really stated the gold making efforts about a month ago. I have a habit of leveling characters with gathering skills. The monk was an herbalist, the DH was herbalism & mining. The first went the campaign route, the latter took the threads of fate route. Both turned in a similar profit range from the 50-60 portion. The daily quests still give about 2k in grey material, so that’s really the floor on the curve. Anything under 2k a day means you’re not playing, or at least it means you don’t have any cares about gold. Which, you know, makes sense given there’s very little to actually spend gold on.

Just looking at this you can see when I started playing Valheim pretty darn clearly.

Anyhoo, in the general goal of quickly paying for tokens, it would seem that 2-3 minutes a day selling glyphs is by far the simplest route. I’ve got enough gold now for 10 tokens at current value. I’d have to hazard that the prices on tokens goes up given the sheer glut of gold all around. But that’s for another time.

WoW Gold Making Update

Still trying to find the right battle plan to make a quick token. The context of Stormrage is that it’s like 95% Alliance and one of the largest servers, so there’s a TON of competition in the market. That means prices are generally lower due to competition, but that there’s more general gold to make through higher volumes.

I’ve got a few methods that are proving effective.

#1 Transmog Flips

I’ve made about 200k since starting in just flipping transmog items. I scan once a week (takes about 5 minutes to complete), load up stock, then have a 24hr auction go up just around prime time. I usually have 30 or so items up at a time. I don’t bother with anything under 1k, or that sells less than 0.03 items per day. Just not worth the hassle.

#2 Glyphs

This one I lost a ton (like 15k) of money on because of the way the crafting was calculated, I then hardcoded it to be 100% based on market value, not milling value. Since then, there are a dozen or so glyphs that sell for 2k each, and I clean house every day. They are almost exclusively Legion glyphs, which are not from a vendor but require either a really long quest chain, faction exchange, or rare drops. This one is borderline more profitable than Transmogs, just takes a lot longer to set up.

A nice side note, I purchased 1000 Sallow Pigment (needed for Legion glyphs) for 1s each. The median price is 60g. Hell of a steal.

#3 Cloth / Shard Shuffling

There’s always a shuffle you just need to find it. In SL, it’s turning cloth into dust/shards. You only need level 50 (do the intro quest) and get like 20 tailoring in SL to get access to the blue bracers. They cost 10 Shrouded Cloth, 2 Lightless Silk, and 3 Penumbra Thread (which has faction discounts, so 7.25g is the cheapest price). They DE into 1.4 Shards, and 1.5 Dust.

At my market rates, it costs about 77g to make and sells for 105g. So let’s say 25g profit per. I can make / DE about 10 in a minute, so 250g per minute profit. Getting a good deal on cloth, or having a spike in value on dust/shards can (and has) doubled that profit margin. That’s the nature of high volume transactions, small changes can have massive repercussions.

#4 Transmog/DE Farming

To get the recipes for the glyphs, I needed to grind quite a bit. The best selling items drop from TBC zones, by and large. I could spend say 30m chain running dungeons and make a decent coin. Anything Legion and below I can chain pull the entire zone, bring to the boss, nuke everything, lag for 10s while I loot, and do it again to clear the dungeon. DE the BoP items, DE the BoE items that won’t sell, mail transmog item to an alt, and sell everything else.

Raids are also good… set it to 25 players and you’re pulling in 4-5k a run easily.

Things that are NOT working

  • Leatherworking transmog is not working, at all. I think I sold 1 piece of Pandaria gear which should turn a decent profit. The costs are minimal thankfully. If stock sold, I’d have close to 100k profit.
  • Alchemy prices are crazy volatile. Herbs go up and down 25% a day with no reason. Pots are all over the map. I could make 100g at 8pm, and lose 15g at 10pm.
  • Enchanting remains stupid. Unless there’s a mystery source for cheap purple shards, there’s nothing on the AH that turns a profit.
  • I have not tried BoE group farming. I prefer to set-it-and-forget-it, and grinding even for 100k/hr is not something I enjoy.

Token Prices

It’s around 120k for a token. Transmog can easily cover that, but the profit/minute is all over the place. The Cloth shuffle, at 250g/minute would mean 8 hours. Glyphs turn about 10k a day for 2 minutes of work, which does turn into a month affair but only 25 minutes of actual effort.

Can anyone turn a profit? Yeah, install TSM4, don’t configure anything, and just fill up the AH with your bags. Optimizing that profit takes more thought process, as would be expected. It’s an interesting mini-game.

Mandatory Buffet

The only benefit to consumers for a buffet is the sheer variety of options for a fixed cost. The quality is rarely that of a focused restaurant. The benefit to the restaurant is that they have a much larger client base and a rather consistent income stream because of it. The expense management aspect is similar to other restaurants (people make different choices), yet there can be massive spikes with no corresponding income spike. You should be able to identify trends and accommodate, but the launch is going to be rough – or if you get a sports team show up. Consumers generally sour on buffets if there is not enough food, or if the quality dips beyond a certain level (e.g. it’s cold).

Why is this relevant? Most games offer a buffet type approach. Assassin’s Creed is a perfect example of this, you have dozens of possible activities. MMOs also have this, in that you can craft, hunt, dungeon, raid, or other. The difference is in the structure of the buffet in that things are an option or not.

MMO players have differing goals. Some like the social part, some the achievements, some discovery, some the competition. Most games have a gate that prevents access to a given function, either player level or player power. Some are soft gates (you can try something while underpowered but it will be very hard) or they are hard gates (you simply cannot access the feature).

In WoW, there are both. The hard gates are usually related to levels (90% of the game is locked at max level), or to a quest. The quests are notable in WoW, as most items are time gated. Even if you have all the pre-requisites done, you still have to wait for that gate to be accessible (covenant storylines, twisting corridors). The soft gates are power related, or ilevel. You need a certain level to do dungeons, another for raiding, and so on. If you want to access the full buffet, then you need to increase your power level or renown level.

To increase renown, you need to do your covenant quests. These require you to do a set of activities (you don’t get to choose which):

  • collect souls from the maw (weekly)
  • collect 1000 anima (weekly) – anima comes from WQ + dungeons
  • complete some combination world quests (daily)
  • complete a specific dungeon (uncommon daily)
  • complete a PvP event

If you want to increase your power level, you need to:

  • complete the odd WQ that has a reward
  • complete the covenant story (through renown + dungeons) and boost your item level
  • complete relevant dungeons and get a drop
  • complete raids and get a drop
  • complete PvP and raise your rank
  • open the weekly vault, which stems from completing mythic+ dungeons, raids, and/or PvP
  • complete the weekly open world boss and get a drop
  • complete 2+ Torghast runs to get ash for legendary upgrades

Assuming you’re a fresh 60, that’s a big buffet! Nearly all of it is right at your door when you start too. You’re going to try as many pieces as you can, then develop a taste for one or two. Then you realize you’ll need…

  • to do WQ for the weekly anima quest
  • to run the Maw once a week for the souls quest
  • to do WQ for renown increases
  • to run Torghast multiple times (at least twice) to get soul ash for your legendary
  • to PvP for renown and vault rewards
  • to raid for vault rewards
  • to run M+ dungeons for vault rewards

“Need” may be a harsh word, you don’t need to do any of it. You can ignore all the systems if you want, and just do the content you enjoy. The game will hamper that enjoyment if you don’t engage in more systems, but that’s entirely up to you. That loot is so incredibly sparse, if ever you do see something drop, you’re going to jump on it and forcibly try any avenue to get that artificial number to increase.

The cynic in me see this design approach as on par with mobile games and their focus on engagement. Or, as we’ve all seen reported, Monthly Average Users (MAU). The game is purposefully designed to tunnel you into ALL activities, whether you enjoy it or not. If you don’t enjoy content and (feel the) need to do it, then that is not a positive feedback loop. If that content is not working properly (e.g. Beastwarrens bugs, placeholders in Torghast, anima rewards that don’t scale, broken mission tables, broken WQ gimmicks, etc…) and you need to do it, then ugh.

In the individual mechanism space, on the whole, Shadowlands improves on BfA. You never have a reversion of power. The borrowed power mechanic doesn’t scale to absolutely stupid levels. You’re never looking at triple RNG (-forging). But as I’ve mentioned before, I can’t see how the game could have gotten worse than BfA. It reminds me of an Eddie Murphy joke.

Shadowlands feels like this.

The Maw

Leveling and Torghast so far have a thumbs up. They have their quirks, but all told, positives. Now for the Maw.

I clearly remember the Timeless Isle in MoP, targeted as a daily activity to hunt down rares and frankly, gear the crap out of any alt you may have had. It was an interesting zone, and really quite innovative at the time. Each expansion has brought their own version to bear since then, with varying levels of success. Legion is still a high water mark for me. Nazjatar I have a crazy dislike due to zone design, and Mechagon seems like it could have used the space better. The less we talk about Tanaan, the better. None of them allowed for flying at the start, but all of them allowed mounting.

The biggest point about all of these is that they came after the main expansion, and were mechanically bound to catch-up mechanics and new storylines.

The Maw is this weird space where it takes a lot of pieces of those zones and puts them at the start of an expansion. It has plenty of rares and it’s own faction. Travel is improved over time. It has an interesting (-ish) time gate mechanic so that you can’t just grind it for hours. On the surface, it’s an interesting proposition.

The challenge is in WoW’s risk vs reward mindset, caked in through nearly 15 years of training. The rewards from the Maw are

  • Faction & currency to improve travel (which is character bound)
  • Faction & currency to improve RNG in Torghast (which is account bound)
  • Faction and currency to randomly improve a low level conduit (character bound)
  • Faction and currency to add a gem slot to a legendary (character bound)
  • A weekly i183 gear drop chance
  • A potential mount (3 days out of 14), but from a quest broken since launch
  • Access to 2 more “hard mode” zones in the Maw

You can optimize and get ~1500 faction a day. 42,000 total to max, so you’re looking at a month of daily play to get there (weekly quests are there too).

Jailer Levels

As a time gating mechanic, this sort of makes sense. Level 1 is meaningless. Level 2 is easy to manage, if you’re not in an massive AE battle (e.g. Jailer event). Level 3 is a new level of annoyance, spawning an NPC that keeps you in battle for the entire map. Level 4 can’t be avoided, you just get scooped up and need to kill the target before they kill you, and survive the fall damage. Level 5 is just like level 3, but if they touch you, you die.

It’s entirely possible to run around with level 5, it is not possible to enter combat and survive at level 5. Completing both daily quests will get you to level 2. Hunt rares to go higher.

Early Experience

As a fresh 60, you’re dropped into the Maw to run some basic quests. Horrendously undergeared, and a map that makes little sense, it’s not a good first run. You’ll see some rares, and promptly get wiped out. Most players are going to have a rough time at the 150-ish gear level. That the mobs are so tightly spaced, you’re going to aggro tons of stuff just getting around. And thematically, the zone is supposed to be punishing, right?

I should mention it’s the first open world zone in which you cannot mount, and the game does nothing to explain why that is, or how to change it. If you’re a DK, be ready for a bad time.

Finally, its near impossible to navigate the Maw without an add-on. HandyNotes is practically required,

The Mid Game

Frankly, the only reason to even bother with the Maw is if you like Torghast. Aside from a potential renown quest from your faction, there are zero reasons to go into the Maw. There are no transmogs, the achievements are gated behind harder content, there are no gear drops.

This is further examined as you open up the other areas in the Maw and see that there’s no one there. All the players are in the “starter” area of the map.

The End Game

Is a month end game? I dunno. Is 1 gem slot worth a month’s faction grind? By the time you find value in the Maw rewards, you’ve so dramatically overleveled the zone that you’ll be killing everything in there in 5 GCD. And after you’ve done it once, it’s a near guarantee you’ll never want to see that zone again.

Overall

The Maw feels like an undercooked mechanic. It’s nowhere near as bad as the Isles in BfA, and that’s primarily because it can be done solo. But that’s also the Achilles heel here, if you don’t like Torghast, then there’s no reason to go in the Maw aside from the random renown quest. Every other system in the game offers a better reward for your time, even just walking around.

Credit to Blizz here in that no alts are required (or even suggested) to do the Maw. There’s zero in here for them, aside from a potential weekly quest for renown. It does make you question why they would have designed an ENTIRE zone that no one wants to go through. I have to hold out some hope that there are long terms plans for the Maw. The concepts here are well worth exploring.

Torghast Thoughts

Hades is my game of the year. Dead Cells has a few dozen hours. My mobile device always has some sort of incremental installed. I really like the concept of growth over time, and that there are ceilings where you need to restart. The “pure” rogues are frankly more like Mario Bros on the NES, where each playthrough is independent of the next, aside from experience. Todays’ versions take that concept, then add RNG to a given run (skills/weapons/spawned enemies), yet maintain a set of rules (e.g. the map has X drops, Y set of enemies). The most popular ones provide tiers of progress within their structure. As much as they are pauses in a given run, they often give rewards for the meta gameplay. In other words, while a full run gives 100% resources, a partial run gives you something.

With that foundation of expectations, my thoughts on Torghast are a mixed bag. First, the not so good.

There are a lot of anima powers. They are average to good, though there are quite a few that drop that are outright bad. Some are bugged. Some have horrible descriptions of what they do. Some are actually built to destroy a run (e.g. can’t move). While I’m game that experience tells you which powers are better than others, there are limits. A good rogue-like will define a run quickly through choice… and it’s rare that by the end of floor 1 you have a defined build in mind.

Ravenous Anima Cells allow you to convert an enemy into a power. You need a wiki entry to see which are actually useful (or just try on the dozens of enemies), which is a giant waste of anima. Some wings are useless, others are amazing. The concept here is great. The implementation… not so much.

Some of the tuning is really weird. Using this week…Mort’regar is full of very large fights with enemies that are hidden. Skoldus Hall has an enemy that continually casts AE attacks that debuff players if they get touched – like 10% per stack and that stick around if you die. So either you kill the bugger (and use their power to cleanse yourself) or your run is pretty much over. Bosses are all over the place, where you may find floor 5 a cakewalk, then the 6th floor boss hits you for 25% a shot. (Credit to Blizz for the downtuning on Dec 17th for pretty much everything.) The RNG on floor design is also a bit iffy. You can have a straight corridor that lasts 2 minutes, or you can have a maze that takes 20 minutes.

The reward structure is only based on completion, which is surreal. There is no content in the game where you can do something for an hour and get nothing for it. (Group content still has drops, whether you can use it or not is different.) The meta buffs, which impact future runs, have NOTHING to do with Torghast. You get those through faction gains in the Maw.

Torghast should be account based, not character based. Full stop. Time gating on content here is dumb, since if you’ve done it on one character, then you know what’s coming. There’s zero benefit here except stalling the ALT enjoyment process. The meta boosts are account based, the floor rewards are meta. But accessing the quests or twisting corridors? Nope.

There are no rewards for exploration except more currency. Seems a wasted opportunity.

Now for the good.

The variety in builds is nice to see. There are some crazy OP options for nearly everyone, but they require amazing RNG. Some only shine if you stack them, or if you combo them with others. Or, you could end up with a run where you just end up with +HP. It rewards adaptation.

The skill floor is at a decent spot. It may not be communicated, and it’s certainly RNG heavy, but players need to use most of their skill set to survive (e.g. interrupts / stuns). It could use a couple “long cast” options where it’s near certain death, especially at the floor bosses. If we can’t get the proving grounds, then this is the next best place for it.

The NPCs you meet are useful. Very useful. To the point where you don’t want them to leave, and only complete their quest after clearing the entire floor. It makes the other rewards (chests) seem “meh”. Which, again, the RNG fun of it all.

The enemy variety is nice. You have melee, ranged, AE, DoTs… the whole mix. You need to prioritize targets, stun a few, and pull away to AE. It can get painful, especially where multiple enemies can fear and throw you to the edge where a small step kills you. (The chain bridges have horrible clipping…)

The rare elites are really nice changes of pace, and about half of them have interesting anima powers. They feel like a much better expression of risk/reward than anything else in all of Torghast.

The diminishing returns of Torghast are also good to see. 375 ash for layer 4, and only 195 more if you get to layer 8.

Summary

Rohan said it best, Torghast is effectively a Rextroy simulator. What kind of crazy can you come up with and make it work. It is not a measure of player skill, and barely one of item level. What you go in with has only a small impact on your ability to succeed. Sure, rocking 210 gear is going to be a boost, but you can still clear most of it at 155.

There are still some weird questions here, as to the long term purpose of Torghast. In particular why it doesn’t have it’s own mechanics and why it is gated behind 7 weeks of time gates to get someone else into the twisting corridors. Still, it’s a solid alternative to the go-go-go of M+. With a few more tweaks, this could be a transmog / collection dream come true.

Shadowlands Leveling

WoW has already undergone enough squishing that I sort of expect it in every other expansion. I’ve talked at length on the insane power curve problems that Blizz has self-inflicted, and this continues in SL. The squish does nothing to fix that problem, it just makes sure that their servers don’t blow up dividing by zero.

The Early Game

Squishing levels though, that’s different. After BFA’s attrocious power “wave” approach to leveling and gearing (where everyone got weaker, then stronger, then weaker, and again…), SL had a goal of resetting the leveling power curve. Levels themselves were meaningless, aside than an artificial gate on content. With the squish to 50, it makes the dings a tad more meaningful. After having gone through it, it could have had even another 20 levels shaved and no one would really have noticed. There were really only a dozen times where I stopped and re-ordered my play style – some basic rotational skills and then the 6 talents.

Speed-wise it was admittedly a lot faster than prior. There’s still a “hell level” section in the 30s (which was the 70s prior) where it feels like molasses, but the overall process is MUCH more enjoyable. The fun part here is that the entire leveling experience can be contained to a single expansion. War mode is a nice bonus, but as always, you need to turn it off for the real content (50-60).

I find it somewhat hilarious that WoD is the defacto leveling zone. The bonus objectives are reasonable (more so than SL), the double hearthstone makes a big difference, the treasures are a big boost, and most of the zones are decent while on the ground. Having WoD flying is a huge boost to time, and the garrison is almost entirely ignored. I still don’t have a positive memory of the WoD leveling experience, story-wise. Mechanically though, it is hard to argue the efficiencies. If Legion didn’t have class halls, it would be the fastest by far. Pandaria is my next favourite way to go, but you miss out on a lot of “bonus xp” stuff.

So the 1-50 stuff goes by pretty fast. The Azeroth Auto-pilot speeds it up further (I usually put that on for the 2nd alt and beyond). My last attempt was a Druid, which is like turbo mode for leveling. Herbalism/Mining is still a wild XP boost while leveling. And the way that the game dumps tons of gold into the bag isn’t hurtful (WoD is extremely generous). I had no issues getting 30 slot bags and all flying unlocked at 50… with a lot left over.

Chromie Time deserves a thought. This makes it so that the entire game scales to 1-50. If you don’t do this, then you’re going to max out a zone’s level. With no in-game explanation. This option is only available if you already have a level 50 character… so the whole refer-a-friend thing doesn’t work here. Why does this even exist as a choice and not be the default?

Overall, a significant improvement. But…

The class trial does a better job of getting you ready to play the game than anything 1-50. The content from 1-50 (aside from pet battles) is completely irrelevant, and in no way resembles the gameplay in SL, at or before 60. The amount of opportunities available here to ease new players into whatever it is Blizz has in store for them is absent. I know, I know, who hasn’t played WoW that would be interested at all? Enough for it to be worth it. Exile’s Reach is a good attempt, but it should end with the player ready for that expansion’s content. And for the love of all that’s covered with cheese, why oh why can’t Blizz find a way to make the proving grounds part of the leveling experience?

Shadowlands Content

I did both the campaign and the threads of fate. Or rather, the tutorial and then expert mode. The world design is still something to celebrate, and there are plenty of times where I just stopped to appreciate it all. The characters, the arcs, the arts… just really well done. The flow of the story is decent too, so much that you don’t really notice the travel time between the points. I’m sure everyone comes out with a favourite by the end, and the trial of the covenant abilities is solid. Blizz’ dependency on every fantasy trope in the book generally works, especially considering that they have access to every single Warcraft character they’ve killed (where’s Arthas?), making for some interesting interactions. It also allows access to every other world in the Warcraft universe… By the time you’re done the campaign you have a good idea of what’s going on, what skills you’d like, and which team you’d like to pledge for. In terms of “consistent” story, this is really top notch.

The threads of fate opens up after your first campaign, allowing you to level as you want. Each zone has a bar that fills up based on your activities, then you move to the other zones. The advantage here is that each zone gives you 1 renown level, the only catchup mechanic in game currently. The disadvantage is that you need to find the content to complete. Quests are great, as are rares (if they are up), yet you need to travel A LOT to find them. Bonus objectives are so very, very painful to complete, and with pitiful rewards. Harvest 20 of anything and you’ll get more experience. Travel itself is also unpleasant, since the quests are not typically chained. It is neither faster, nor more rewarding than the campaign. The real benefit is if you want to chain run dungeons and get renown. Well, not completely true. There are some hidden gem quests that you will really only see in this mode. A shame really.

I will point out that people will truly appreciate zone design if they take the threads of fate path. Revendreth has a dense and vertical design, almost claustrophobic. Andrenweald has a branch/leaf design (you’re in a hub, then in a field, then in a hub). Bastion is large open plains. And Maldraxxus… well, it’s there alright.

Another post will go into the experience from 60 and beyond. What I will say is that when you do hit 60, the deluge of new systems-with-no-explanation comes at you fierce. This is the expansion with the least amount of training wheels I’ve yet to see. It gives you all of this, no explanation of why or even if it’s important.

Overall

This is WoW at it’s most streamlined. It has never been faster to level. Nearly every ding has some meaning (big or small). There are no bells and whistles, systems just come at you full speed. The 1-50 portion highlights how meaningless it actually is. The 50-60 campaign/thread of fate is a great choice for leveling, with two truly distinct paths. It’s arguably a better single player RPG than most AAA games out there. Hats off to the art/world design teams.

Paragon / Renegade “Choice”

With the the upcoming Mass Effect remaster coming (March?), it brings back to mind an interesting stat that 92% of people played the Paragon line of game. I think it somewhat obvious, but if 92% of people do something, then it’s not really a choice. Or at best, it’s an un-interesting choice.

I think this is a general problem with RPGs, in that the “evil” path is actually more like “hard mode”. In many cases, the Paragon choice keeps all options on the table AND rewards you. Like taking out a group of bandits terrorizing a village. Side with the village and you get the bandit loot and more village quests. Side with the bandits, and you get the scraps of the village and nothing else from the bandits. It’s not so much bad design, as years of training.

Look at any list of best RPGs. Do any of them provide a viable evil path? The only one I can think of is New Vegas. Even Divinity 2’s “bad choices” have bad outcomes. Every time you take an evil decision, you reduce your rewards, or add some sort of difficulty marker to the game. Maybe townsfolk all attack on sight. Maybe you can only walk around during the night. Whatever it is, you’re making a trade from safety to unknowns.

Which, if reality is any comparison, is a fair view on the choice. Or rather, we hope it to be. (It would be great if bad choices came with costs to powerful people, huh?). Yet this only works in a world of absolutes, of binary cause and effect. The world is more complex than this, and only a few games accurately reflect they natural grey of reality. Stealing bread is bad. Stealing bread to feed a starving kid, not so bad. Stealing bread from a millionaire who’s hoarding bread in order to feed a starving kid, that’s good. The context matters.

Short tangent here, but this is what really gets under my skin when looking at WoW. It does a really poor job at building grey characters. In nearly 15 years, it has two. Illidan and Saurfang. There were other attempts, I can grant that. But they ended up as pure good or pure evil (what they did to Garrosh still irks me). At no point would anyone ever argue that the Alliance was the bad guys and the Horde the good guys. That ~75% of the player base is Horde is a different topic I can get into.

Back to main topic. The concept of good/bad choices is inherently flawed if the game reflects normal life. It works in Star Wars, because that world is entirely focused on the dichotomy of the world (at least until the Mandalorian came about). Lucas, in all his wisdom, posited that to achieve full power you have to commit to one side or the other. There’s very little grey, and in turn, that makes everyone the bad guy. How many times do we see the “good” Jedi make insanely poor decisions because of their rules?

Instead the games where we find the most attachment are the ones that live in the grey. Where hard choices are present, where it’s often the lesser of two evils. Outer Worlds has tons of these quests, where the choices are really not obvious at first glance. Energy stolen by rebels who don’t want to live under company oppression? Someone is gonna die, no matter what you do. Ghost of Tsushima starts with the obvious good/bad choices, but as you progress you realize that these choices get harder and harder to make. The sacrifices you have to make to combat an opponent with no morals.

Tyranny is a game which is great because it explores the complexity of implementing order after the bad guys win. With few exceptions, there are no lawful good choices to make, and a couple chaotic evil ones as well. Since there are no “good guys”, everything is pretty much the lesser of two evils. And the impacts of those decisions have long term consequences. Areas become hostile, entire quest lines are changed, and your final list of options to close the story are changed. There’s no obvious answer to any of them, as they are more ethical than power based. How do you see the world going? That’s way more important than saving the puppies.

I’d be remiss to not mention Red Dead Redemption 2. You’re a crook from the start, but focused more on survival than anything else. There are no decisions to be made here, as they are all scripted, but the story does an excellent job of showing the snowball effect of bad decisions and not accepting the consequences. That final bank shootout seems really black and white, but the context leading up to that situation is really the juicy bit.

As more games come along, our palettes are also expecting more nuanced and complex storytelling. Not to say that grade school storytelling doesn’t have value…. there’s plenty of room for that. It’s more than the potential for great storytelling is at an all-time high, and if a dev wants to put a feather in their cap on that thread then they have a much higher bar to reach. I for one, greatly appreciate it!

The World’s Watching

I had something else scheduled for today, but given yesterday’s insanity, that is pushed.

There’s a psychology term that is sometimes thrown about, a monkeysphere. This is the outer limit on the number of people with whom you can empathize as individuals. Outside that number, it’s not that you don’t care about them, it’s just really hard to get there.

Like if your 8yr old kid was making sweaters for a company, you would take issue. But if that kid is halfway around the world, then that sweater is a great bargain! It’s not like there’s a tag on that thing that says “hey, this is made by child labour”. People are just ignorant of something unless its in their backyard – it’s work to care.

When your monkeysphere is made up of similar people to yourself (e.g. an echo chamber) then those outside that sphere are hard to relate towards. Sometimes that builds resentment. There’s an infamous clip of two very rich people guessing the price of common grocery items. Where some people have trouble putting food on the table, others have trouble keeping track of their millions. There’s no way for someone like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk to have any concept of this. Both of them are not self-made, both of them took hundreds of thousands of dollars from their parents to “build their dreams”. Same goes for someone in the rural parts of Georgia… they have next to nothing in common from someone in urban California.

I’m not excluded. I can’t relate to being a visibility minority because I’m not. As a white male, I’ve been given every opportunity to succeed, regardless of my low-income housing beginnings. I try to be conscious of that bias and work entirely on merit, but cripes there are days where it’s not easy.

Yesterday appears to be a day where one group disenfranchised from society were supported by the highest office in the US to march. The world got to watch the supposed beacon of democracy fail on its basic elements. I for one was not at all surprised by the events, it’s been pretty clear that this was a logical step in the process. And not the last one either. On the one hand, I’m happy it happened because this releases some pressure and forces people to look in the mirror. On the other, it’s an interesting quirk that had these people not been white, we may not have seen barriers opened by the police or selfies being taken. Again, another look in the mirror for the US.

The wife and I watched with a lot of interest. It appeared that some decorum had been found in the senate, with only 1 person with greater aspirations continuing to press a dead point (dead in the sense that its entirely outside of their power to manage, as was made clear). The house though, wow. That’s clearly a group that despises each other. The whole thing looks like an episode of Jerry Springer. That’s the leadership team.

I do get that some people are going to say “they don’t represent me”. As a group they may not, but the person you voted for does. That’s the whole point. Maybe it’s the lesser of two evils? I’m sure everyone has their own justification, but again that whole mirror thing.

As we continue to watch from the outside, the question is what’s next for the US? Or maybe, who’s next given that the best of us can’t make it work. Shitty start to the year, that’s for sure.

2021 Predictions

I really need to learn to make simple headlines… a whole lot easier to find them later!

2020 was a real crapshoot when it comes to predictions. The only one I consider that held true is that cross-play is the expectation for multiplayer games (Destiny is getting it in 2021). Now, I’m not saying Marvel Avengers tanked because it didn’t support cross-play, but I am saying that it’s a massive factor when the foundation of end-game activity is group-making.

For 2021, I do expect a lot of stuff from 2020 simply shifts to the right. I don’t see much happening until after March, otherwise

  • High speed internet moves further towards commodity (like running water) than a luxury. This will mean more competition and more municipal offerings.
  • Netflix will lose subscribers to alternative services, who don’t end up cancelling series on cliffhangers.
  • The break-up of Ant/Alibaba will spread to other large IT companies, with Alphabet/Facebook the next global targets
  • There will be no repeal of section 230, and no further progress of holding liability to internet falsehoods. The general lack of a spotlight on a mediocre boy-child peddling conspiracy theories will be put into a corner, where it will fester and grow.
    • Section 230 is the bit of US law that protects IT companies from being sued from what their posters put up. The only alternative to 230 is to have the Blizzard RealID (remember that?) on the majority of the internet. The companies would validate your real identity, and hold you liable for posting. What this means is that if THEY get sued, YOU get sued. And by proxy, would mean that only people that CAN get sued have access to the service. E.g. Twitter would no longer be global, and the user base would drop by ~90%. The only winners here are the lawyers.
  • 2021 will be the death of the western movie going experience, which was already struggling before the pandemic. Does mean that global filmmaking will come into a larger being.
  • Related, 2021 is the year of affordable 4K and smaller audio equipment, allowing for a cinema-like experience at home.
  • This is not the year of 5G, because there’s no incentive for it to be deployed anymore. 5G’s major benefits are in the mesh network, allowing for high speed connections while travelling. Everyone’s home network is 5G already, just that your provider doesn’t give you the speed needed.
  • Life will get back to normal in time for the new school year. The summer months will be a massive vaccine push to the masses, and in some places, you’re going to get “a card” to prove you’re vaccinated. Cue the outrage.
  • The dumpster fire in the US does not go quietly into that good night. “Whatabout-ism” becomes a default policy.

Games are a different beast. Large dev shops are learning to work effectively remotely, though the serendipity aspects of development are going to be harder to figure out.

  • Diablo Immortal will launch, make the news for a month or so, then go away.
  • Blizzcon will focus on Overwatch 2, and give a target date for Diablo 4 (2022). WoW will have a Classic BC launch this summer. Pathfinder in retail will come out in the first major patch.
  • Blizzard implements a “social score” system for Acti-Blizz games. It works similar to ranked matchmaking, so that similar scored people play together. Player PvP ranking would take precedence.
  • The Fall of 2021 will be the major launch window for most big-budget games (God of War, Horizon, FarCry, Hogwarts)
  • Sony will continue to dominate the first party exclusives domain for the foreseeable future. Bethesda won’t release anything until 2022 at the earliest.
  • An updated Nintendo Switch will be announced in the spring, or at least a console that plays Switch games. Long shot – but Nintendo finds a way to make game streaming work for the masses.
  • The PC equipment shortage continues until the summer, due primarily to supply chain disruptions from the pandemic. This will leave consoles as the available and importantly, cheaper alternative.
  • Star Citizen won’t launch.
  • BioWare gets a new lead after the launch of the Mass Effect remaster, then they are rebranded. Anthem NEXT is confirmed vapourware.
  • Crystal Dyamics pulls a Hail Mary and launches a working expansion of content for Marvel Avengers that rewards group play.
  • Everquest (1&2) each launch a new expansion, while LOTRO goes into permanent maintenance mode.
  • Monster Hunter Rise will sell a ton and see a related spike of Switch sales. (MH:World is still in the top of Steam charts.)
  • The New World will launch. And it will close in 2021, joining the other Amazon game studio projects.
  • 2021 will continue the trend of indie/small devs creating some knockouts that make you question why AAA studios can’t do the same.
  • Ubisoft will the first company to support a developers union, if only to protect itself from the chain of lawsuits of harassment from nearly every person in a leadership position.
  • 2021 won’t be the year of VR, driven primarily from Occulus’ insistence of a Facebook account.

Relatively safe bets all around, with the union entry the real longshot. It’s going to be an interesting year.