Set Dungeons Round 2

To finish off my second conquest for the season I’ve been working toward clearing 8 different set dungeons. Last night I finally finished this off. I wrote about my experiences with the demon hunter dungeons here already, so now I want to discuss the wizard ones. Well, I mostly want to complain about the wizard ones.

The set dungeons are all incredibly uneven in difficulty. Overall, the demon hunter ones were pretty easy. The worst of those four was probably the Marauder’s, because you had to find and trigger all the rock worms but still avoid being in melee with them. In contrast, that dungeon was probably on par with the easiest of the wizard ones.

The first wizard dungeon I tackled was Tal Rasha’s. I love the mechanics of that set, but the dungeon was not super fun. It is very similar to the Marauder’s dungeon, complete with annoying worms you have to avoid. Keeping up stacks of the Tal Rasha buff isn’t too bad, the biggest challenge in this one is avoiding all the worms while still finding and killing everything within the time limit. I’d say this was one of the two easiest wizard dungeons.

Next up was the Firebird’s set dungeon. The layout was easy enough to memorize, but I struggled a bit with the objectives. You essentially have to group up mobs and let them “kill” you to spawn the meteor from Firebird’s set bonus, and hope you have collected enough to meet the objective. Since there’s a long cooldown timer on the meteor you only get a few chances over the length of the dungeon to finish this. The other objective, causing enemies to burn, was much easier. This dungeon is weird since to achieve both of the main objectives you have to artificially weaken yourself, so enemies can kill you and so they live long enough to catch the burning effect. It made clearing the whole place within the time limit a challenge, and it took me quite a few tries to finish.

The third wizard dungeon I attempted was Vyr’s, and honestly it was the worst of the four. The two objectives were actually fairly simple: getting stacks in archon form and killing enemies in archon form. Those things happen almost automatically in the normal course of clearing the place. What makes this dungeon awful is the size of it, combined with the number and type of enemies. Contrary to the Firebird’s dungeon, here you need to be as powerful as possible, to increase your archon uptime and to quickly kill all the enemy swarms so you can move away at high speed. The map is a maze and absolutely requires you to spam teleport to clear it in the time limit. Making things worse are the fallen-type enemies. The little guys run away which makes it hard to track down everything for the clear, and the shamans keep summoning more so they’re hard to keep track of. I spent an entire evening working on this one, and by the end every failure came down to one or two enemies that I had lost somewhere on the huge sprawling map.

Nervous after the rough time I had with Vyr’s, I put off the last dungeon for a couple days. Finally, last night I finished up with Delsere’s dungeon. I had a hard time finding written guides for this one for some reason, so I had to resort to watching a video guide, which I do not usually like. It turns out I really did not need to worry about it at all, it was by far the easiest of the wizard dungeons. Delsere’s is one of the set dungeons with a weird requirement that doesn’t seem to stem directly from the set bonus itself. In this case it means that you have to reflect 200 projectiles using wave of force. Luckily this can be done very early in the dungeon by finding a big group of bees and standing in a slow time bubble until they shoot a ton of tiny horrible bees at you. As long as you don’t get murdered by evil bees the only other thing you have to do is catch a few large groups of enemies in your slow time bubble and your main objectives are done. The map layout has some awkward spots that require a bit of backtracking but it is small enough and the enemies are generally grouped enough that it wasn’t a problem to finish in time.

Finishing the last wizard set dungeon netted me some achievement spam, finishing up my second conquest and completing the Conqueror tier of the season journey. I’m not sure it has been fun exactly, but mastering all eight of these set dungeons has at least been an interesting challenge. And I’ve learned which ones are easy to do for future seasons. Now I’m debating whether I want to try to finish the final, Guardian tier of the season journey. I have never actually completed that tier before, but I suspect I could make it this time around if I don’t burn out on the game first. I’ve already finished GR70 solo, extracted 40 cube powers, and leveled three gems to 70. That leaves a 4 minute (T13) speed run, a 15 second Adria (T13) kill, and one more conquest to do. We will see if I stay motivated long enough to finish those off.

Weekly gaming grab bag

I’ve been adrift a little bit in my gaming over the past week or so. The D3 season keeps progressing in smaller chunks, and I am getting close to finishing my second conquest. I just need one more set dungeon mastery, since I did Tal Rasha’s, Vyr’s, and Firebird’s after finishing my 4 demon hunter ones. The wizard dungeons have been harder overall than the DH ones, with Vyr’s in particular being quite awful due mostly to its size and spread of monsters to kill. I did the basic completion of Delsere’s before, but never mastered it. I guess as long as it isn’t worse than Vyr’s I should be fine. I am very much looking forward to being finished with these.

I’ve mostly wandered away from FFXIV, with most of my play time happening on Tuesday for our weekly raid night. There’s so much I could be doing but I’m in a really solid place to start the expansion so anything else is not very vital. It’s nice to stop obsessively grinding lore. I also made yet another attempt at FFXV and yet again bounced off it super hard. I guess I need to admit that the combat in that game is just not for me and let it go. At this point it is not that I can’t do it, it’s that I really just do not enjoy it at all. Instead I booted up a new game of Horizon: Zero Dawn and put in an afternoon reliving that joy. I think I’m going to try to motor through the story this time instead of doing all the side quests and exploration, just so I can have it fresh in my head to talk about with friends who are playing now.

I have also been logging into WoW every once in a while to work on my reputation grind to unlock flying. I’m hoping I can get it finished before my subscription runs out because I doubt I will pay for another month right now. The game is fun enough but the manic joy from the Legion launch is long gone and everything in front of me looks like a horrible long grind. While many of my WoW guildies have embraced the grind, it just makes me want to check out and do something else.

The same combination of overwhelming amounts of new stuff to do along with a long grind for character power rewards is keeping me away from WildStar as well. Every time I log in I have fun for a while but when I look into the long term progression I check out. These kinds of mechanics are great for people who are super invested in one game and need something to keep them engaged, but seem like this unassailable mountain that you will always be behind on when you’re a new or returning player. I guess this is one of the reasons why D3’s seasons are so appealing to me, because no matter how progressed or not my non-seasonal characters are, everybody gets to start over from scratch at the start of a new season, and you avoid that sense of “I can never catch up” that’s so demoralizing.

Well, that’s what I’ve been up to over the past week or so. I can feel the start of a super introverted spell coming on as I start poking at more single player games and avoiding group content. I’m mostly fine with this since I have a lot to keep me busy on my own, and my friends are somewhat dispersed across multiple games right now too. As long as I’m out of this mode by the time Stormblood launches I know I’ll be fine.

Book Challenge #93: A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

I finished another book on my list, and that means it is reading challenge time yet again! This book is #93, A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge, first published in 1992. This is notable because it tied with the Doomsday Book by Connie Willis for the 1993 Hugo. Definitely a good year for genre fiction. On with the show!

This book is an interesting amalgam. It is partly a sci-fi novel about artificial intelligence and interstellar conquest, and partly a fantasy novel about warring tribes of creatures with no advanced technology. Bridging the divide are a handful of humans who happened to be in the wrong places at the wrong times. The book opens with some human explorers/scavengers who uncover and activate a malevolent Power, or artificial intelligence, which gets released out into the galaxy. Only one ship escapes, carrying a family, a cargo of all the settlement’s children in cryosleep, and some fragment which may either be a piece of code the Power, eventually known as the Blight, requires or some means of stopping it. Either way the Blight desperately wants it.

The ship is able to escape mainly because of the “Zones of Thought” that this series is named after. This is the interesting conceit that there are different bands of the galaxy that permit more and more complex technology and things like advanced AIs and faster than light travel. Most Powers or AIs have to be in the Transcend or the High Beyond. The escaped ship ended up in the bottom of the Beyond, near the “Slowness” where high technology essentially breaks down and becomes useless. I think these zones make for a really interesting narrative device, but I was a little frustrated because they aren’t really clearly explained until fairly deep into the book, and because they feel like a plot device and not something that is scientifically plausible.

The story follows the two children who were awake on the escaped ship after they have an emergency landing on a low-technology planet populated by the Tines. These are creatures somewhat like dogs, where each pack of 4-8 individual animals is one whole person. I really enjoyed the thought experiment of what these creatures would be like and how their societies develop. Their politics and interpersonal relationships drive much of the narrative. There are major differences in how they respond to the fact that aliens have dropped down from the sky and bring technology and potential access to the stars.  The ship’s distress beacon is picked up by the crew of the Out of Band II, which escapes a Blight attack in the High Beyond and is racing against the Blight and warmongering aliens to get to the Tines world and hopefully find the countermeasure. By the time they get near their goal they have been tailed by three different fleets of aliens, and will have to deal with a war between different factions of the Tines, and hopefully be able to save the human children in addition to saving the galaxy.

There’s a lot of high concept ideas going on in this novel, and to its credit it still manages to be engaging and have interesting characters. It is also quite entertaining watching the rest of the galaxy respond to the ongoing crisis of the Blight via what is essentially a galactic message board system, complete with probable sources and bad translations. My only real complaint is that the mechanics of the way the different zones work are weird and slightly immersion breaking for me.

TL;DR:  Some high-concept ideas executed in an approachable and engaging way.

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

Rating: 4/5 stars

Verdict: Read it if you like thinking about how alien races and AIs might think

Next up: Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Ready, Set Mastery

I’m not sure why, but I ended up getting hooked into Diablo 3 season 10 in spite of myself. The season got off to a really slow start for me, barely getting through the main chapters of the season journey by the end of the opening weekend. Somehow that was still enough to get its claws in. I suppose it helps that I was sick a bit this week, and D3 is nothing if not the perfect mindless pastime when you aren’t feeling well.

One of the reasons I had written this season off is that the conquest options this time around are not that great. The “freebie” one is to level 3 legendary gems to 65, the rest are all stinkers. Two of them are speed run achievements that essentially require a coordinated group, and two more are multi-class achievements that require leveling at least one extra character. So of course I got it into my head somehow that I wanted to do the set dungeon mastery one. This requires mastering 8 different set dungeons. I had been throwing shards at Kadala trying to complete all of my demon hunter class sets and finally got them all.

I did the Marauder’s one first since that was the free gift set this season, and honestly it was one of the worst of the four. Those stupid rock worms are a pain and I was always tight on time because of missing an enemy or two in all the nooks and crannies of that map. Next up was the Unhallowed Essence dungeon, which had a lot of the same problems as the Marauder’s, but with fewer annoying worms. Mostly that one came down to RNG being kind and giving me nice double packs of spiders to hit with my multishot. The Shadow set dungeon was strange to me. I had never used that set before and clearing the whole thing in time with a single target impale build was pretty daunting. It turned out to be far easier than I imagined. After a couple practice runs to get the lay of the land I had no trouble with it. I saved the Natalya’s dungeon for last, mostly because I was waiting for a couple of extra pieces of gear to drop to help make it easier. Honestly I’m not sure it mattered. That dungeon was by far the easiest of the four. The map is nice and open and the objectives are incredibly easy.

The big lesson I learned from mastering all four of these is that set dungeons require a really different mindset from the rest of the game. For one thing, the map for each one is static, so it pays to memorize the layout (or look at the map ahead of time online like I did) to optimize your path. It also requires some patience and discipline, since for some of the objectives one misclick can mean failure. I found it helps to try to achieve a sort of zen state while attempting these. Do a few trial runs so your path through the map becomes second nature, since that will help make sure you finish in time. Then just focus on your objectives and glide along until either you win or you fail. I got very used to letting myself die quickly if I failed so I could port out and start over. All of these dungeons, even the easiest one, took at least 2 or 3 tries. I also recommend sticking with one until you clear it, because the few times I got frustrated and did something else just meant I had to get a few more practice runs in to get up to speed when I came back later. Better to just get through it while the dungeon and your build are fresh in your brain.

Anyway now I have two shiny new banners to show off my DH skills, and can start thinking about which other class I want to master. OK let’s be serious the answer here is wizard, which to my great shame I still haven’t gotten all of the masteries for. I’ll be leveling one up to correct this grievous error. And of course there is the ulterior motive here, which is that mastering ALL of the set dungeons scores you a sweet pair of wings. I honestly don’t know if I have it in me to do these for the melee classes, but maybe someday. Those wings are some serious motivation.

Diablo 3 Season 10 Starts

Each of the last few seasons seems to have started off worse and worse in terms of my enthusiasm, and season 10 continues the trend. I logged in on Friday night for the start and didn’t even have enough friends around to make a full group of 4 to level with. I guess I’m not the only one struggling to get excited about D3 right now. Sure the new quality of life additions are great, but there’s nothing fundamentally new or exciting about this season. On top of that, the conquests this time around are completely awful. If you want a stash tab you’ll probably need to either do a speed run which requires a coordinated group, or you’ll have to level multiple classes. I’m suddenly very glad I got all my tabs already.

As for my season progress, it is mixed so far. I only got to around level 50 on the first night of the season, which I believe is a new low for me. I didn’t play much at all on Saturday, so it took until Sunday for me to even reach 70. Luckily I’m playing a DH and their set this season is the Marauder set which I really enjoy and am familiar with. I also got a few lucky drops while leveling and doing early rifts, so I managed to clear up through chapter 4 of the season journey very quickly yesterday afternoon.

So my goal of getting my cosmetic stuff for the season is met, and I’m unsure how much farther I’m going to go with it. The game feels pretty stagnant right now, and I have no desire to work on this season’s conquests. Then again I really love the Marauder rockets build and am having a blast running around with it. I suspect I’ll play at least a little bit more and then let D3 fade again until there’s something new to do.

April 2017 Gaming Goals

Oh hey it’s April already! Wow. Okay let’s take a look at how badly I failed at my March goals and set some new ones.

March Goals

FFXIV: Keep up with the MSQ as it releases. Goal met! I had no trouble keeping up this time since FFXIV has become my main MMO for the time being.

Get at least one more job to 60. Goal met! I got both NIN and AST to 60.

Do the new Hildebrand quests. Goal failed, miserably. I still haven’t really started these.

Avoid burnout! Goal met! I think? I’m still playing almost daily but I’ve been varying what I do enough that hopefully I’m not about to burn out.

WildStar: Keep playing every week. Goal failed. I played a few times in March and got to check out the Primal Matrix stuff a little bit but it just didn’t keep me hooked since most of my friends are in FFXIV.

FFXV: Make some headway. Goal failed. I didn’t really touch FFXV at all in March.

Horizon Zero Dawn: I don’t even know that I had a set goal for this one although it was on my list from last month. I did finish the game though so I’m counting it as a Goal Met!

Justice Monsters V: I didn’t have a set goal for it for last month but I still want to put it on the list. I played it almost daily until they pulled the plug. I’m sad that I no longer have access to this great little game.

April Goals

FFXIV: Do the new Hildebrand quests. There’s not much left I really want to do before Stormblood so there’s no excuse not to finish these.

Finish the umbrite step of the anima weapon for my SCH. I’m currently on the step prior to that one, but have been squirreling away umbrite and various things to exchange for sands so hopefully that step should go quickly once I get all my aether oil.

WildStar: Play once a week. Yes I keep putting this on the list and failing at it. I really love this game and it makes me sad when I don’t play it. I think the thing holding me back is that most of my social circle has no interest in it anymore. I’m going to keep trying though!

Mobile Games: Find a replacement for JMV. I need to look into some of the actual pinball games available and see if I can find something that I enjoy for filling that void.

Very modest goals this month, because the real world is a bit overwhelming right now.

Finishing Heavensward


Level 60 AST get

Since I finished the story of Horizon: Zero Dawn, I’ve been getting most of my gaming fix from Final Fantasy XIV recently. This involves lots of tying up loose ends in advance of the new expansion launch. I hit a couple different milestones in the last couple weeks, and I think I’ll be in a really great place heading into Stormblood. Not a whole lot has changed for my Scholar main since I finished her zeta weapon about a month ago. I’ve been faithfully capping my scripture and very gradually upgrading her gear to 270, but it’s been slow. The increase in the weekly scripture cap should help me finish off her last few pieces in the next week or two. I have started working on her anima weapon, the Heavensward version of the relic weapon chain, and so far it seems just as much of a silly slow slog as the relic. I’ll be working on this for a while, and as with the relic I’m in no hurry to grind myself to death and will be perfectly happy finishing this months from now.

I have also been working on various alt class side projects. First I got my ninja to 60, mainly via palace of the dead with a small amount of Fate and leve grinding mixed in. I had most of a set of gear ready for it that I had accumulated from expert roulettes, so I could pop straight into experts and Dun Scaith. Since I don’t need anything from there on my SCH I’ve been using my gear lockout and UFO quest to grab a few ninja pieces. I don’t love being a melee DPS but having the NIN around has been really handy for doing quick beast tribe dailies and it is a nice change of pace from healing.

The next job I worked on was my white mage. I find that I really do not enjoy the white mage playstyle. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes me dislike it so much, but it feels incredibly slow and boring to me even though I know it is a very strong healer. Unfortunately, I made one of my retainers a conjurer when I hired her, and for her to level I either needed to start her over from scratch or get my white mage to 50 so I could give her a Heavensward job. So I leveled WHM to 50, mainly in POTD with a few beast tribe quest turn-ins for good measure. The process did nothing to improve my opinion of the class, but at least now my retainer’s level is no longer tied to it. Instead, I swapped it to astrologian.

As you might have guessed from the screenshot above, I managed to level my AST to 60 in a hurry. I think I like it even better than SCH in a lot of ways. It certainly has a lot of really fun tricks and tools to play with. Having all of my SCH healer gear waiting for me when I hit 60 was also a nice bonus, since it meant I could hop directly into whatever content I wanted, and not feel like I was underpowered compared to my main class. I am giving a lot of thought to swapping mains to AST for the expansion, but I’m playing around with it a bunch for now to see if I still like it when the novelty wears off. I was incredibly saddened that I can’t use my amazing SCH tophat as a glamour for it though. To make myself feel better about the loss of the world’s best hat I did some retail therapy and bought the AST ravana weapon pictured above. It is on fire and also has butterflies and I love it.

Between all of that and finishing up the main story quests that came out this week I am in a really great place for the expansion. Now I just need to stay interested and not burn myself out grinding the anima weapon until Stormblood arrives.

Book Challenge #94: The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

It’s reading challenge time again! This book is #94, The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov, first published in 1953. I actually really enjoyed the introduction to this one, since it gave a whole history of Asimov’s robot novels and shone some light on the state of publishing at that time. Now on to my review!

I had read this book a very long time ago, which was enough to ruin the “whodunnit” of the mystery but left my memory of the details vague, and I enjoyed revisiting them. The story centers around Elijah, a detective who has the unenviable task of investigating a murder fraught with diplomatic hazards between Earth and the “spacers” who colonized other planets but still have an embassy of sorts back on Earth. To complicate matters, the detective is forced to partner with a robot, R. Daneel. This is problematic in a world where robots are widely disliked or distrusted due to them replacing humans in many jobs, with only a minimum social safety net for those squeezed out of work. It is also challenging because all robots on Earth are instantly recognizable as such, while R. Daneel is effectively indistinguishable from a human without close examination.

As the story progresses the relationship between the human and robot detectives slowly thaws, with many missteps along the way. I won’t completely spoil the story here since it is technically a detective novel and for me knowing the who and the why of the murder in advance did detract from the fun of the experience a little. The murder case isn’t always compelling, but the social context makes this novel interesting. There’s a lot of interesting ideas in here about how you can pack the highest density of people into a city, which by the time of this story are sprawling monstrosities the size of some states or small countries, where people never see the open sky. The density and efficiency of these massive population centers are also what make them extremely vulnerable, and yet the people who live there almost never seem to realize that. The conflicts between the people of Earth and the Spacers are partially due to things like religion but are mostly related to how they view distribution of resources.  The goal of the Spacers is to find some way to convince Earth to start colonizing new planets again, for the good of humanity as a whole. This is an interesting concept and in stark contrast to many sci-fi works that pit Earth against its colonies as they fight for resources. It was fun to see things like interplanetary relations and the Malthusian growth problem tackled from a very different perspective than the Mars books I just finished reading.

TL;DR:  There’s a reason this one is a classic. It is a fairly simple story but told well, and with some thought provoking commentary on automation, planetary carrying capacity, and effecting cultural change.

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

Rating: 4/5 stars

Verdict: Go read it. It’s short, sweet, and worth your time.

Next up: A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

Another Horizon Weekend

I don’t really want to go on and on forever about this game, and yet it’s pretty much the only thing I’ve been playing lately so that’s what you’re going to get. I’m more than 60 hours deep into this game and much farther along in the story now, so there will be spoilers in this post. Consider yourself warned.

Horizon continues to hit a lot of perfect notes for me. This far in, I’ve gotten most of the available upgraded weapons except the last 2 hunter lodge ones. Combat has become about getting better at killing machines with the tools I have, instead of learning the strengths and weaknesses of the different kinds of weapons. Now that I have more health, I’ve switched from favoring laying out elaborate trap mazes ahead of time to either just letting machines kill each other with corruption arrows, or tearing off a few key components from a distance and then running in with the blast sling. The exception is with Deathbringers, which even fully kitted out at level 50 require some smart use of elemental attacks and precision hits to do real damage. I really enjoyed the challenge.

Progressing the story has been fun, even though it feels like a slightly different game when you’re exploring ancient ruins and getting saturated with lore instead of hunting down machines in the open world. I have been pleasantly surprised that the story, while improbable, isn’t completely stupid. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised that so much of the story of the world is laid out pretty clearly for you as you progress. I was half expecting some kind of unsatisfying hand wave of “it’s lost to history” but that’s not what we get. So far I’ve seen exactly what happened to the world in the 2060s and what project Zero Dawn actually was. I’m excited to see how the last bit plays out and whether Aloy is satisfied with her answers when I get back to the Nora sacred lands.

I have come to absolutely love Aloy, to the point where she is now pretty high on the list of my all-time favorite videogame protagonists. She’s smart and capable and snarky and strong and she suffers no fools. Initially I expected that there would be some type of romance, either optional or forced by the story, but so far there’s no sign of that. Or rather, folks keep hitting on her and she keeps shutting them down. I love this. The best of these was when the sun-king found out his lover had died, and then immediately started hitting on Aloy. You get a couple response options here, and in the one I chose she basically says “do you hear yourself right now? I don’t think you’re actually interested in me.” The reason why I know this is a game and not the real world is because instead of freaking out or getting angry the sun king basically says “oh shit you’re right I’m sorry” and moves on to other things. I love this whole exchange because Aloy has plenty of empathy but doesn’t get mired down in anyone else’s emotional issues.

Anyway I said I didn’t want to ramble a ton more about this game and yet here we are another 500+ words later. I can see the finish line on this game looming pretty close now and I honestly don’t want it to end. I’m sure I’ll write even more about it here when I do though.

Horizon Weekend

I spent almost my entire weekend playing Horizon Zero Dawn. By this I mean I stayed up until completely ungodly hours of the night, and then hopped back on as soon as possible after grown-up chores the next day. I have a burning need to talk about it, and since many in my social circles got distracted by Zelda I figure I get to talk to my lovely readers instead.

For the most part I’m a PC gamer. I don’t buy a lot of console titles because of the expense and because my PS4 setup is slightly awkward. That said, if Horizon is the only game I get for PS4 this year I will still be satisfied. I cannot express how deeply I am in love with this game. Before I gush about all the great things though, I will point you to this amazing piece about the cultural appropriation in Horizon and how uncritical perpetuation of some of these stereotypes is harmful to native peoples. It is definitely worth a read and some thought. I get the sense that the developer was trying to do the right thing here, but tried to get there by seeing which things appeared “less offensive” via google search instead of actually consulting with any native people. I hope they take it into consideration moving forward, because aside from that it was truly great to see both women in positions of power, and to see actual and frequent variety in the races of main and side quest characters.

So, the game is beautiful. I get that most modern games tend to be quite pretty in their own ways, but this one speaks directly to so many things I love. The first time you see a pack of machines with their eyes glowing in the early morning fog is like a dream. The scenery feels very real and as you find more of the “vista points” you realize it is representing a real place. One of the things I spent a ton of my play time on has been crafting upgrades for all my bags and ammo pouches. It probably would have been utter torture farming so many rat bones and raccoon skins if I hadn’t found a place I loved to farm them in. It’s just a little corner of forest, outside of a bandit camp I cleared and near a river. There’s no machines around, just peace and quiet and lots of wildlife to hunt. Several times I’ve gone back to this quiet place when I needed more meat or skins not necessarily because the hunting is great there but because I just love being there.

In contrast to the quiet moments, combat can be a bit of a roller coaster. I appreciate that the game really rewards thinking ahead. Laying traps, bombs, and tripwires ahead of time can really change the flow of a fight. Once a fight is engaged the pace can get a bit frantic, especially with larger monsters or swarms of things. I love the feeling of dodging and leaping out of the way of attacks, and running to slide into cover. The various concentration skills help to slow down time and still make precision hits even mid-battle, and make the whole thing feel incredibly epic. I also love that all of the weapons feel very distinct but still useful. Sure, I gravitate to using the precision sniper-esque bow, but I also regularly use the tripcaster, the normal bow, and both of the slings. They all have different uses, and as you get access to higher-quality versions they also gain new functionality via new ammunition types. It makes saving up for those purple-quality weapons way more satisfying since it unlocks new attacks instead of simply increasing a flat damage number.

This game is very good at making you feel like a complete badass. I’m not always the most proficient at shooting things in games, but Horizon gives me enough tricks and tools to make me feel amazing. The other area where this is really noticeable is during climbing sequences. I’ve played games that suddenly try to turn into platformers and feel like they are wasting your time making you learn a series of fiddly jumps with requisite falls to your death. Horizon clearly marks climbing-accessable areas with yellow paint or ropes. Yes this feels a little like cheating but I’m not complaining. Nor am I complaining about the way Aloy gracefully hops from one handhold to the next with minimal direction from me. It just works, it looks cool, and it gets me up to high vantage points where I can enjoy the view instead of leaving me cursing and swearing about missing a jump for the 50th time.

If I want something that more closely resembles a puzzle, I’ll head for a cauldron. These are part dungeon, part exploration/puzzle, and give some insights into the world story. I absolutely adore the two that I’ve seen. If you haven’t played through one yet, maybe skip the rest of this paragraph for spoilers… The first time I went to a cauldron I didn’t know what to expect at all. I really liked the change of scenery from mostly natural or time-ravaged landscape to actively functional machine works. I liked that it gave me lots of ways to be sneaky but I could also run in and brute force my way through things if I had to. The boss fights at the end were intense, although by the second one I knew enough to take my time and lay lots of traps around the room before engaging in combat. The cauldrons were a little time consuming but completely worth it, both for the experience of seeing how the machines are made and for the reward of new overrides upon completion. I can’t wait to explore the rest of these.

Ok spoiler-ish things over. I want to touch on the story but honestly there’s not a ton for me to say yet. The game does a great job of setting up both the current pressing issue that Aloy is working on as well as the broader mystery of what happened to make the world the way it is. I don’t know how involved the main storyline is because although I’ve spent what feels like an obscene amount of time playing I have only just arrived at Meridian, the big city that’s your first lead in tracking down the cause of the big bad thing that happens at the end of the quasi-tutorial section of the game. I am completely okay with this level of progress, because I’ve enjoyed every single distraction along the way. Errand quests, bandit camps, cauldrons, tallnecks, hunt challenge courses, they all have different levels of challenge and different but satisfying rewards. The only potential downside is that I’m now level 31 and my story quests are level 17-ish. However none of the story fights have been a complete pushover even with the level discrepancy so I can’t really complain.

Sometimes open world games lose me because they don’t give me enough direction, or they drown me in choices and I feel like I’m not making any progress on any one thing. Somehow Horizon avoids this and I’m not sure what makes it work. I think it helps that I bought all the available maps as I left the starting area, so vistas and collectables are marked and I don’t have to wander aimlessly and hope that I stumble into something cool. This basically saves me from having to open an external website or something, and lets me satisfy my compulsion to collect everything and essentially clear an area of content before I move on. I do enjoy the fact that they mark an area without pinpointing the exact location, though, so I still get a little bit of exploration and sense of discovery. It feels like a good balance, and the maps are completely optional so you can discover things on your own if you prefer that route instead.

Overall I am head over heels in love with this game. The story is interesting, the world is fascinating, the combat is satisfying, and you get to ride around on awesome robot animals. I know there’s an avalanche of great games releasing right now and in the coming weeks but if you were on the fence about this one I wholeheartedly recommend it. If you’ve been playing I’m curious how far you’ve gotten and what your thoughts are, so leave a comment and let me know!