998 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

I’m feeling quite under the weather and my whole family is in isolation for a while. It sucks.

Given that I am therefore not working, and in the moments of some lucidity outside of cough syrup, I figured I’d see if I could log into FF14. “Peak hours” were giving me queues near 3,000 or more. Can’t be that bad near lunch time, right?

Well, the queue was 998.

Let’s play a game. You get to guess how long that took to clear through?

Just a tad over an hour. Of which, thankfully, I have wireless headphones that let me do something actually useful during that period. Or semi-useful given my state of mind.

Interesting tangent. In the mid 00’s I used to work in a science organization. One of my tasks was scouring eBay for 386 components because the foundry we had was only able to run on a specific set of hardware. Hard-coded and proprietary elements made scaling or support a challenge…and it was cheaper to get parts on eBay than to rebuild a black-box system. Was.

Early Thoughts

It’s FF14, just more of it? Can I say how pleasant it is not having to relearn my entire class kit when an expansion comes out? It’s like going to a restaurant that has undergone renos and they have a brand new menu. Why should I just not go to another restaurant? This is more like the local pub having a few new beers on tap.

It’s more of the good stuff. Like how XCOM2’s War of the Chosen kept all the good bits and added more. I won’t spoil anything, because clearly if I could only experience the game while so ill I need to isolate, there are many more people who have not even dipped a toe.

There are a few QoL items to highlight. First, city Aetheryte give you a map for easier (and logical) transport. Belts and HQ items being gone are super nice on inventory. The Aether Compass has moved to collections, which was a bit jarring. Daily hunts are way easier to complete. And on the instanced quest duties, you get a profile of the character speaking rather than just their name… that’s oddly useful to remember who-is-who in a game with what feels like 4 dozen side characters.

Next Up…

Well, I have 21 days of “free” playtime, which I guess makes up for 19+ days of quite astounding queues. I’d have to guess that this will extend until the queue times peak to something considered “reasonable”.

Blizzcon 2022 Cancelled – Larger Trend

Not exactly surprising.

There’s the pandemic factor, no question, but having a virtual con is still something of use. Warframe and EvE can still manage this, with arguably much smaller bases, so that’s a fun factor to consider. And yet…

The purpose of a convention is to get a bunch of people who are fans of something together, and use that herd to pump up the view of the future around the theme. As much as they can be seen as massive interactive ads (SDCC for example), there is still the base that people go to these things to get good news and good vibes.

BlizzCon has had issues on this for some time, because the relationship between the fans and the developers has been very one sided. A cool idea gets pitched, people get pumped, and the eventual product is cut down to bare bones and doesn’t work. I can still remember WoD’s garrison pitch – you could move it between zones and it was interactive with other players, very customizable. What the heck actually got delivered? Farmville. That Blizzcon was nearly 10 years ago. And all goodwill for this was lost with the Diablo Immortal presentation – an announcement that should have been an email and not a stage delivery. tldr; if you don’t have good news to share, that you have a reasonable chance of delivering, keep quiet.

This assumes that people actually want what you’re selling. There is a lot of “you think you want it, but you don’t” mindset from the dev team, where player feedback was ignored and instead favored the extremely simple themepark design of “this way and only this way”. It’s certainly a difficult balance to manage a very large playerbase, one that is clearly distributed across multiple veins. The folks that enjoy pet battles are unlikely to enjoy raiding, for example. And yet, when the people who do enjoy pet battles provide feedback, and that is ignored, or raid feedback is ignored, well… you end up here. Where the player base has lost a lot of trust in the dev team.

Kaylriene’s post on this facet had me head nodding a lot. One the one hand, there’s the simple fact that Blizzard takes ages to deliver relatively tiny bit size morsels, which often lack the necessary polish that you’d expect with more time. On the other hand, Blizz puts in clear time gates to stretch out the content for as long as possible, which means people experience the flaws for a longer period. From a dev perspective, these things should offset each other – from a player perspective that’s a different story, because the market has changed.

10 years ago we were starting to scratch the concept of always online games. Games in the sense of more than an MMO. The larger proliferation of smartphones really pushed this model to the mainstream, and then consoles quickly followed. Nowdays, you can’t take 2 steps without finding something that is permanently online and has a massive player base. Every game today on a best-seller list is multiplayer (if it is SP, then it’s there a month and fades). Dev companies are fighting for eyeballs and clicks with the minimal amount of investment possible (*cough* FIFA *cough). So let’s look at Blizz pipeline.

  • Overwatch – hasn’t had an update in over a year and won’t have one until Overwatch 2 comes out
  • Overwatch 2 – ummm
  • Heroes of the Storm – this is on maintenance mode
  • Hearthstone – 3 releases a year or so, with a big release this Spring
  • WoW – 9.1.5 is all recycled content and no dates for 9.2 (is that the last patch?)
  • WoW Classic – perhaps a Frozen Throne announcement, but the general vibe from TBC is that the model is somewhat broken where 2007 content is meeting 2021 playstyles (and bots)
  • WoW Classic 2.0 – seems something closer to progression servers from EQ is coming.
  • Diablo 4 – we’re 2 years away
  • Diablo 3 – nothing
  • Diablo Immortal – it’s still in beta and is not targeting the Blizzcon audience
  • Diablo 2 / Warcraft 3 / Starcraft 2 – all in the rearview mirror

There’s not much to talk about!

Oh, and the fact that Blizzard is still being sued and a chunk of their leadership has moved out certainly changes the tone of any conversation.

It’s a really fascinating case study of multiple smaller issues causing a cascade of larger ones, resulting in a problem space that has no single solution. Seems oddly analogous to Theseus Ship – the Blizzard we grew up with is certainly not the same one we have today.

FF14 – Fishing

I’ve written numerous posts on the fact that fishing is a pre-req for me to consider any game an MMO. I’ve seen all flavors of this skill in what feels like 30 years. From WoW’s ultra simplistic point and click, RIFT’s artifact hunt, to UO’s really fascinating view on treasure hunting.

FF14 takes the more complex road for fishing. Leveling fishing isn’t hard. You could just take a trip on the Fishing Boat (every 2 real time hours) for 20 odd minutes and fly through the levels. It’s extremely efficient and barely costs anything – plus, gear level makes no difference here at ALL, from level 1 to 80. If you want to optimize that fishing for the highest returns, then I suggest Zeke’s spreadsheet. You get rainbow fish, dolphins, gulls, secret fish and of course, mounts to claim here. So there’s a very good reason to keep doing this at 80.

Alternatively, you could fish in Foundation from 10-60. There’s some benefit as you can sell the material, but it’s hard to argue with a ocean trip that gives you 8-10 levels in 15 minutes.

If you were to take the more traditional path, things can get pretty complicated. IRL, fishing requires water, line, and bait. Well, FF14 takes that approach as well which makes it harder to figure out.

  • Water isn’t obvious. Some things look like they are fishable and they are not, others suddenly are. Eventually you will fish in sand, clouds, and lava.
  • Line (or overall gear) impacts the ability to real in a fish (gathering) and the quality of a fish (perception). Nearly every quest required a HQ version of a fish. This is meaningless for ocean fishing.
  • Bait is something else. There are dozens of types of bait and each fish has a favorite. Some fish just won’t bite without. Bait is used on each cast, so you can go through a fair chunk. To combat this sprawl of bait, you can instead use lures. They work on more fish, but bits take longer (~50%) and you’ll catch everything instead of the specific ones. If you are hunting a specific fish, then you want to use bait – makes a world of difference in ocean fishing.
  • Fishing is heavily based on RNG. Botany/Mining is clear what you’re going to get. You could have the best gear, best bait, and the right location and still not find the fish you want.

In Stormblood, you’ll unlock the ability to spear fish. Thankfully, you will only be required to use that skill for 1 single quest. That quest feels more complex than it should be. Gathering in that expansion was mostly underwater… not much fun.

The actual fishing skills you get as you level are a bit different than the other gathering jobs. You can mooch (re-use a caught fish as bait), try to double hook fish to get more than one, have patience (which ups HQ but you must press the correct hookset button to catch), or a few other “manage the RNG” skills. So while you don’t have any control once the line is in the water, the rest of the fishing is plenty complex if you want it to be.

So why fish then?

Well, the most notable part is that fishing is a ridiculously profitable profession, more so than Botany and Mining on my server. Ocean fish will not sell, but everything else does. Most HQ fish for quests are in the 1k-10k price range. Normal fish for cooking are 200g-1000g each. That’s not bad for standing in one spot.

Second, you can frame most fish for decoration. There are others that you can plop in an aquarium as well.

Third, the ocean fishing gameplay is my kind of fun. 24 folks throwing lines over the boat, all trying to trigger the rainbow effect and get to that 10k point threshold for the final mount.

Fourth, and most importantly, it’s fishing. Is that not enough?

My only complaint in all this is that the game gives you a few dozen tools to fish and the general idea of what they do, yet the fishing log is really bad at giving you the actually useful data to keep catching fish. Knowing that a specific fish likes a specific bait and a specific time of day would be super useful information to have in-game. Sadly, you need a web page open to make sense of the chaos.

Fishing in FF14 is probably the most enjoyable implementation of the skill I’ve ever played in an MMO.

Tanking in FF14

I’ve got a healer (WHM) to 80, and there’s a reason they call it green DPS. The goal of the game, at a high level of skill, is to spend as little energy as possible on healing, everything should instead be focused on DPS. It’s a strange balance… and had I not played a Monk in WoW with Fistweaving, I’m sure it would have been much more jarring.

Tanking is a different boat though. It’s often seen as the hardest role in an MMO, the default leader since you’re the vanguard for any given run. M+ tanks in WoW certainly suffer from that… and DPS love to complain about not skipping certain trash packs, or things taking too long, or a dozen other things. They never step up to tanking though!

FF14 tanks are all pretty much the same. Getting aggro (enmity) is extremely easy here, and near impossible to lose. There’s the odd tank swap in a raid, but in so much of the content, it’s just not a consideration.

That leaves the idea of giving and receiving damage.

Tanks as DPS

Each tank has an optimal DPS rotation, and that often depends a lot on the target. There are breakpoints for AE attacks, and then staggering buffs to optimize damage over long cycles. Blah, blah, blah… what you need to know is that some skills trigger other skills and you should continue to press buttons until there are no more blinking icons – then start it over again. And in all honesty, you could just press the same button all the time (AE attack for trash, single target for bosses) and most would not see the difference.

Tanks as Sponges

This is different, where tanks share a common set of cooldowns that reduce incoming damage. All damage mitigation is multiplicative, so you want to avoid stacking any particular cooldowns. When pulling groups of enemies, you want to use the better cooldowns at the start, when there are more things attacking you. The idea of “wall to wall” pulls, meaning pulling all the trash up to the next hard door requires not only great understanding of cooldowns, but a healer that can pump out a decent rate, and more importantly, DPS that can clear out parts of that pack before your cooldowns expire. I like to take on the first group in a dungeon, and then time how long it takes for the enemies to die and see if the healer does DPS or not. Quick kills and green DPS = good to try a large pull.

For single target enemies (bosses mostly), they usually have 1 big attack called a “tankbuster”. Understanding which attacks are tankbusters and not is important more for progression, less for leveling. For a LOT of fights, you should be able to soak the damage on the first pass, if you’re at full HP. Eventually you’ll use your big cooldown, then 2nd cooldown, and the first one would be back for the next big attack.

Tanks have stuns and interrupts. I wouldn’t stress too much about those. Put them on the bar, learn when to use them. Your healers will thank you for it, but it also won’t break a run.

Each tank also has a “oh crap” button. Gunbreakers should not use this skill.

Tanks as Herders

This is really where tanks shine. An ok tank will run into a pile enemies and then be surrounded. A good tank will run through the enemies and group them together for AE attacks, having them face away from a group. A great tank will do all that and then “shuffle” the AE attacks, meaning that they will move out of the AE attacks, and then return to their original spot, reducing the amount of movement enemies take.

This is very obvious for trash pulls, especially wall-to-wall ones. It matters a lot for bosses too.. especially those that have rear attacks. There are a few DPS classes that really want an enemy to stay in one spot.

Tanks as Peelers

To get an enemy to attack you, you need to hit it. Enemies that spawn while you’re already in battle need to be attacked and sometimes it can be really hard to target them. In most cases they will show up on the target list on the left side of the screen, which you can manually select and then attack at range. In the odd cases where there are spawns and they don’t show up, you need only walk a tad an perform an AE attack. You will be peeling enemies off your teammates.

What if We Wipe?

The joy of FF14 is that there are very few timers and you can take your time to get through most content. There’s no big push to go faster… at least until you reach the max level content and have some comfort on the role. If you die, then there’s usually a really good reason for it (90% of the time it’s the DPS).

Tanking itself seems to be a stressful position and you do have some additional responsibilities, but it’s also the easiest roles in the FF14 party structure because of all the various things you’ll be doing. If the enemy is hitting you and not your group, and you’re not dying, then you’re doing fine.

Access to Flight in FF14 + WoW

There’s a lot of stuff I need to unlock in FF14… months of stuff that has nothing to do with Endwalker (Nov 23). So that means I’m working through a list of sorts, with the odd distraction along the way. Unlocking flight per expansion is one of them. I already had it for Heavensward (which retroactively applied to ARR), so it was more about Stormblood and Shadowbringers.

The neat part here is that the process is zone specific, rather than expansion wide. Boon and bane because each zone requires:

  • Finding all the nodes on the map (8 or so) that attune you to the wind. Some of these are really simple, but there’s always one that’s a milk run to find.
  • Completing 5 quests. One of them is on the MSQ chain. The other 4 are (with only 1 exception) simple quests.

The end result is a somewhat tedious process of unlocking it, with what effectively is an achievement system. I can take tedious.

Because the alternative is to not have any flying, like WoW insists upon every expansion. Or when they do, to put so much time gating that it takes weeks to get it done. They are either very complex faction quests that only open over days of effort, or are reputation grinds that take weeks to sort out.

But why does this even matter, what benefit does flight actually give?

Faster Access to Places

There are 2-3 places you can instantly teleport within FF14. I’m in the starting (level 1) city, I can easily reach the level 80 town with 2 clicks. Getting to anywhere is already pretty smooth. Moving around in the local map is certainly faster, and a huge benefit to gathering classes or FATE hunting. Since gathering is a sort of minigame, it’s not something that is easy to automate.

WoW has flight paths, boats, and portals. Getting to Shattrah is a crazy complex exercise. Northrend? Let’s say you want to do Bastion of Twilight, you’re looking at 15 minutes of travel. It takes forever to get anywhere, and flight gives you the ability to set your compass and just do something else. It also helps gathering bots, as the act of harvesting is only 1 click.

Access to Unreachable Places

There really aren’t any of these in FF14, at least that I can see. There are however places where it is difficult to reach, or time consuming. Stormblood has quite a few locations that are a vertical challenge to reach – and the final zone in Shadowbringers is really weird in that regard.

WoW had this at the start – TBC really went all in with this idea. Since then, it has instead relied on teleporters / flight paths to get people around. Navigation is relatively easy now, at least in terms of landscapes.

A Safe Place to Rest

There are only a few spots in any given map that are dangerous for players to AFK in FF14. Maybe you really luck out and a FATE spawns on you. Otherwise, you’re pretty much always in a safe space.

In WoW, almost any area is a death trap full of stuns and knockdowns. BfA was really bad for this – good golly was this bad. It makes the world feel more threatening and meaningful. For a couple weeks at least, then it’s just more hurdles to get where you want to go. The weekly raid bosses are a good example of this, when the game is fresh it’s actually hard to get to them. Once you have a few ilvls, then it’s just mosquitoes. Flying bypasses that annoyance.

A Sense of Pride and Accomplishment

Hah! No it doesn’t. You had it before the expansion launched, lost it because you are “discovering” a new world. The definition of explored is the debateable one.

FF14 doesn’t put a ton of focus on world exploration, at least in the context of the maps, outside the MSQ. So by the time you’ve completed the entire MSQ, there really aren’t many corners left to see.

WoW on the other hand has a LOT of exploration and optional content. I do buy the argument that if you bypassed it all, then there is still a lot of content left to do without flying. I can almost see why factions are a gate, since they are the prime mechanic to explore the map outside of the main quest. Now… does doing the same quest every day for 6 months a valid measure of explored? Ehh.

Forward

I think the fundamental bit where time management feels like it’s more respected in one game vs the other is they key differentiator. As much as this has been about flying, the real thing is how the developers view the players and what they are trying to do with their time. It’s an interesting design paradigm that applies to so much more than this singular issue – but is most certainly highlighted.

FF14 – Gathering Leveling

Not that I need to write a guide, but the information out there isn’t the clearest out there. Mainly because there are options depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. I mean, obviously you want to hit level 80, but what else are you doing?

  • Are you trying to maximize money?
  • Are you trying to go as fast as possible?
  • Do you already have a level 80 job (e.g. MSQ complete)?
  • Are you leveling crafting at the same time?
  • Do you have a PILE of levequests available (3 come automatically per 12 hours, caps at 100)?
  • Do you have a few ranks in the GC to purchase consumables?

Get Flying

Don’t bother with any gathering profession until you’ve unlocked flying for that expansion. Seriously, unlock that stuff. It’s faster than you think and a HUGE time saver in the long run.

Consumables / Gear

  • Anything with 3% experience should be active at all times, you can find cheap food almost anywhere.
  • Your GC sells books that doubles exp, last for 18 hours, and work up to level 50, for up to 1m exp. You’ll need a dozen or so per job.
  • Your FC buff will give 10% bonus exp.
  • The pre-order earring (20% bonus exp) doesn’t work for gathering.
  • From 50-80, job quests reward books that double xp. You will get more than you need.
  • You can buy gear in all capital cities. Not worth buying tools, and marginally for armor (not at all if you level 2 at a time).
  • I do not recommend any jewellery purchases, or materia.

From 1-50 the job quests give more than ample rewards. You won’t get any jewellery, which is fine for the early levels. After 50, you will upgrade you gear at 53, 63, and 73. Why these levels? Because that allows you to equip everything but a belt with very good stats to get you to the next 10 levels. You can buy from the market board, which can be a bit pricey, or just complete the job quests at x3, x5, x8 and x0 to get basic versions.

This stuff mainly applies to Miner/Botanist – Fisher is all about Ocean Fishing and way more zen.

Class Quests

Every 5 levels you can access a Class quest. For normal quality items, buy them from the market. For high quality items, you need to farm them. Use the 100GP skill that increases HQ chance. I suggest that you “bank” 2 of them and get half way to the 3rd. So complete the level 20 quest, gather up until lvl 33, complete 2 quests and that should be enough to unlock the 3rd.

Levequests

These come in 2 flavors – a simple delivery and then a timed event. Early quests are more delivery focused, and once you hit 50 all quests are the later one. The ones prior to level 50 are also split across towns based on level ranges. Avoid those early ones like the plague.

You really want decent stats for these. There’s nothing worse than having a 40% chance to collect the base item… things drag on.

I would STRONGLY recommend having flight available for any levequest.

tldr; don’t do levequests before level 50.

Beast Quests

Not worth it for levelling.

Job Quests

From 1-60, you can buy all the material from the Market Board – and you really should. From 61+, you won’t be able to buy the material, you’ll need to actually gather it. This part can be tedious, as even with good stats, you’re going to have a 5% chance to collect a HQ item. Do them as they become available, they give great experience and odds are you can sell the gear for 20k per piece.

Starting (1 to 10)

This is simple enough, you just harvest for your given class, needing a level 5 node to pick from. North Shroud for Botanist, Central Thanalan for Miner. Get to 10 and head back to complete the class quest.

Choice A – Levequests or Diadem (11 to 50)

If you have TONS of Levequests, you can just pound through levels with relative ease, assuming you are just teleporting around or playing the market board for items. It is not braindead though, and it can cost you some gil.

Alternatively, you can head to Foundation and then Firmament (take The Brume exit). This will give access to some minor quests and unlock the Diadem. This is an instanced location where you start off heading to the left, take an air current, and land on an island with tons of nodes. If you have flying, this is ultra easy mode. This is brain dead and you will end up with Ishguard materials by the truckload. You can use these to level a crafting class, or sell them on the market for some rather easy gil. This is super brain dead and easy leveling up to 50.

You’ll unlock job quests every 5 levels. You can technically skip them all, as they have no impact on the ability to collect material from the Diadem and you buy the quest items on the MB.

Choice B – Levequests or Diadem (50 to 60)

Experience slows dramatically at 50 because your dbl exp consumable won’t work anymore. If you don’t have a pile of Levequests, then stay in Diadem. Diadem becomes extremely brain dead at this point – you can turn on a movie and just get to it.

I would strongly suggest Levequests instead from 50 to 80. They are much easier to locate (capital cities), come in batches, and should be giving a couple levels per turn in.

50 to 80

Levequests are the way to go, and you should pump up the difficulty for better rewards. You WILL need to use skills to maximize the harvesting, so that means some decent investment in jewellery to have enough GP. Pick up 2 of them, they should be in the same zone, and then go to work. This part goes relatively quickly as it’s much more streamlined than the 1-50 portion, and the maps are generally better designed.

Remember, it is always better to collect a base material than to miss a HQ one. Hit the base one for a chain of #4, and you can get a 100% chance on the final swing.

The only Gil you will receive is from the quest rewards. You won’t be able to sell any material gathered. If you want to recoup that money, then you should use this time to keep Retainers leveled up and once at 80, consider how market rates work on your server.

ActiBlizz – Part 2

Let’s start with a disclaimer in that the all the allegations of abuse at Activision Blizzard are abhorrent. At no point am I defending any of those actions, and I’m not too far away from the idea that it’s simply too corrupt to continue. It’s a farce to believe that capitalism exists – it’s an oligarchy driven by a sole purpose, more power through more money. Power corrupts, plain and simple.

In my prior post I was somewhat curious as to what the fallout would be of the DFEH lawsuit. Considering what came before it, the odds of any significant impacts were rather low. A few shuffles, but generally not much else.

We’re at 2 weeks now, and J Allen Brack is gone (no surprise, he was named in the suit) as well as a formal release of the head of HR (who was out of that position in January, indicating knowledge this was all coming). That’s expected. The replacements with Kotick-assigned members is also expected, given that has been the trend for nearly 10 years now.

There are other bits in this too, all standard things that are part of the corporate dance. There’s an internal bad cop, the staff express dismay and write a letter, the good cop steps in with some sort of plan to address it (but not). Shareholders complain that the value of the stock is tarnished. There’s a lot of hand waving is what I’m getting at.

Kotick is a smart bugger, you have to give him that. Employees wanted a big response… they got one from one of the largest law firms on the globe. A firm that will report to Kotick, and zero reason to anything other than the bare minimum.

Tangent for a second. Amazon treats most of their employees as garbage and disposable (enabled by our massive consumer tendencies). They account for turnover rates near 150% per year. Amazon employs so many people and turnover is so high that they have a corporate risk that there are not enough people to replace those leaving and that they will have burned out that pool. In other words, they are at a point where it’s possible there are not enough people who want to work for Amazon in order to keep the thing moving. This is a new concept, where most companies figure that cheap labour is practically infinite (and to Amazon’s credit, they somehow found the value of that term.)

Kotick has only one concern here… making shareholders happy. Doesn’t matter who is stepped on to get there, there’s always another job applicant waiting to fill in the ranks. The stocks dropped by about 10% when the news broke on July 26 (the volume commensurate to shorts) and then bounced to halfway to continue the year-trend of a downward slope. The anticipation of the Q2 report had another dip (5%) which has pretty much bounced back after they reported that they met their financial targets (well, Activision did. Blizzard is still hemorrhaging players and their pipeline is even dryer than before.) And if you think he’s not going to do everything in his power to crush any possibility of a union, then you’re not paying attention.

Is it a good thing that Activision is trying to build a corporate culture on top of a “bro” culture? Honestly, yes. Corporate cultures evaluate risk to make decisions. Blizzard assumed (from the allegations) that a reminder was enough to stop the bad behaviour. If anything this raises the floor of bad behaviour to the industry average, rather than the bottom. Industry is still very bad, so it’s more about the lesser of two evils. There’s no “return path” for Blizzard here.

All back to the topic of actual meaningful change. I don’t see that actually happening in this case, not unless there is a massive financial incentive to do so. I’d love for that to not be the case, but we’re talking about companies that rake in billions of net revenue dollars per quarter (close to $10b a year). It’s like if you had $10 dollars and I said you need to pay me 10c a year and do what you want to your employees.

If ever there was a time for me to be completely wrong, I wish it was here.

Loki

The joy of vacation is that the world keeps going while you’re away. It meant that by the time I came back the entire season of Loki was ready for a binge watch. And it is a worthwhile binge.

I won’t get into specific spoilers here, since that’s part of the ride. I will hit some broader strokes, which I think make this the most “comic book” of all the Disney series so far. The larger plot point tries to answer the question about free will or pre-destination.

The series deals with a time travel agency (TVA). You learn this in the first 5 minutes, and the set design is astounding. It’s borderline brutalist in architecture design, but also full of whimsy – making for a very anachronistic setting. Each episode has something going on within the TVA, and it always feels real. This is a big contrast to the Easter-egg-a-thon of episode 5, which is almost entirely CGI. Comics work because they don’t live in the grey. They have a base foundation from where people start, then end up in space or another dimension.

With the exception of the last episode, every other one manages to build an idea and then subvert expectations. It’s very close to Dr Who under Moffat, where it feels like a roller coaster in the dark, never quite sure of what twist is coming along, but it’s a fun ride. It’s supremely helpful that all the actors here do a great job with the material (casting Owen Wilson seems madly appropriate in his role). The last episode is almost entirely exposition, which I’ll get to in a bit.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the development that Loki goes through. He’s one of the most interesting villains in the MCU, and has been in as many films as the Avengers (10+ years). MCU isn’t known for character development, and Loki was certainly in that package. He was interesting because you were never quite sure what his next crazy plan would be to betray everyone. He was consistent in his inconsistency – sort of like Jack Sparrow. That is not the case in this series – he goes through ample character development, to the point where he is all but unrecognizable by the end. It’s a bit weird that a being thousands of years old has a major change in a couple day’s adventures. He’s not causing any mischief – which is sort of his bag.

The last episode is pure comic book exposition. Love it or hate it, comics books follow a story line for months, then when it’s about to close, they put on bigger stakes or a bigger villain. Loki goes all in on this, and sets up phase 2 of the MCU multi-verse with the grace of a sledgehammer. Which, fine if it wasn’t preceded by 5 episodes of character progression. The sole saving grace in the last episode is that the character doing the exposition is frankly the most interesting character I’ve ever seen in MCU.

Some caution on the multi-verse… I read comics in the 80s when this took off. Without a leash, it goes off the rails super quick and nothing matters anymore because there’s another version to make up the gap. You get something like Sliders rather than Fringe. I’m less worried because it’s clear that Marvel has the larger plot points locked up 5-10 years down the road (as compared to DC), and yet the movie audience is not going to see these movies for the plot.

I liked Wandavision’s slow burn reveal, which was also wonderfully acted. I didn’t like Falcon and the Winter Soldier as it wasn’t episodic, with a really weird pace and structure. Loki feels like the best of the MCU series, while still being handcuffed to the larger story arcs.

Puzzle Boxes

There’s this weird intersect where virtual and physical items meet. You look at movies and the old Harryhausen stop-motion creatures existed for decades. It took Toy Story for industry to realize that digital effects could be a viable alternative. Sure, we still have some serious uncanny valley issues, Star Wars notably, but by and large most things are turning into digital assets.

D&D is a good example of something that has bucked the digital trend. Sure, there are some amazing D&D games, and WotC has some digital tools to help with sessions, but the real experience is still only available in a semi-live event. Two reasons… it’s a whole lot easier to design and adapt a session with physical media, especially with real-time curveballs. Second, the face to face aspects still aren’t working perfectly through video calls. There was a time where digital media looked like it would take over, but the advent of 3D printers and massive price drop in miniatures has reversed that trend.

I’ll roll back the clock to Myst for a minute. Revolutionary at the time, it was a 3D puzzle game that focused on logic and the environment. There was a spike in that type of game, but eventually it became saturated with rather poor clones and frankly, bad puzzle designs. We reached a point of brute force clicking to find hidden clues, or solve puzzles. The genre didn’t die though, it embraced that commodity aspect and went straight to Flash’s waiting arms. For a decent period, JayIsGames was the hub for escape room games. There were all sorts of games here, good and bad, with multiple coming out every week. Some were click fests, others key hunts… but there was some gold in there. Long logic-based quests to save a planet, or get out of jail. The genre was tailor made for digital, as the solutions only had 1 answer, and the assets and logic could be reused later on. If you have the chance, you should check out The Room series on mobile… a near perfect example of solid puzzle design. And yet…

In the mid 10’s we started to see Escape Rooms come out into the real world. You and some friends paid money to get locked into a room and have to solve a large set of logic puzzles within an hour. The beauty of these rooms is that while they require some thought to design, they need next to no upkeep for a very long time. You can set up 3-5 rooms and never change them for a year and people will still pay to do them. Mobile Escape rooms are not available, letting you have a similar experience (though MUCH less tactile) from the comfort of your house. They are pretty much multiplayer Myst games.

Roll the clock back even further, and you have old wooden puzzle kits. Slider puzzle. Rubik’s cubes. Things that kept you busy for a while until you unlocked the logical solution. They remained somewhat ‘simple’ because the cost of construction was so darn high. Mr Puzzle is a great window into the ever increasing complexity of puzzle designs. C&C machines + 3D printers have opened up a new world of puzzles and complexity. For $20-$50 you can get some real brain teasers that will get you really going crazy. I recently opted to pick up a pair of wooden puzzles, with multiple steps.

Beer for scale

It’s an impressive feat to take the concept of a puzzle room, in that you solve one puzzle and use that result to solve another, in a physical form. It took me over an hour each to solve the puzzles. Each time I was stumped and came across the solution, I was frankly amazed at how the logic was physically applied. Nothing felt cheap or a cheat to get through.

I’ve got my eldest taking a look at one of them now. It’s supremely fascinating to see a child’s brain at work at solving these things. Maybe someday I can show her Myst and where I cut my teeth on the genre.

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.