Company and Misery (and also Fun!)

I’ve been playing WildStar and WoW mostly solo the past few weeks, and have recently resolved to at least make an effort to be more social again. So when I saw my buddy Lonomonkey (sorry for revealing your WoW shame, friend!) had logged into WoW for the first time in a year or so I grabbed him for some legacy raid silliness. Not only was I being social for a change, but it also kept both of us from just sitting around in our garrisons being bored and boring. I had been meaning to try soloing Elegon for the fancy celestial cloud serpent mount, so I dragged him along to pandaland to try it together. There were a few missteps due to him being out of practice and me playing a mage I hadn’t taken out of the garrison in a few months but we eventually killed Elegon and unsurprisingly there was no mount.

This is the moment where the afternoon started going off the rails. We decided to keep going to kill the last boss because neither of us was sure we had ever finished the place outside of LFR. Unfortunately between our lack of gear and our rustiness with our characters we just couldn’t get it down. Having resolved to be more social, I decided to reach out to Belghast to see if he could come help finish this fight with us. The three of us were more than a match for it, and killed it easily on the first try. Delirious from our victory, we decided to move on to Dragon Soul, which Lono had never completed on any difficulty. Since that raid was 2 expansions ago you’d think it would be a piece of cake, and it was…except for Spine of Deathwing. That fight has way too many needlessly fiddly moving parts, and is one of those sad circumstances where soloing it is easier than doing it with a couple friends because of the way the mechanics work. We died an awful lot, and there were a few way too close attempts where the last person standing got rolled off before they could finish the encounter. At this point I’m regretting my social attempts because after this everyone is about to murder each other. We did eventually win, no thanks to my squishy mage who ended up dying almost every attempt. Killing the final boss in that place always feels so anticlimactic after the stress of Spine.

Now in a flash of utter stupidity I decided that the best thing to follow that up with is a quick jaunt to ICC to get my blood infusion, a part of the legendary quest line from the Wrath of the Lich King expansion that my paladin has been sitting stuck on for forever. It required a lot of silly antics with mechanics again, and poor Lono had to keep dying multiple times each attempt on his warlock. It took fewer attempts than Spine of Deathwing, but felt even worse since this time my friends were dying for a silly quest for me. I’m so grateful that they both stuck around until we succeeded. After we won everyone seemed to disappear very quickly, I think we were all really eager for a break after so much frustration.

I still think that my social attempt was a success though. It is funny how even doing something kinda awful with friends was more fun than soloing dailies in WildStar or rotating through a dozen garrisons all day in WoW. I certainly wouldn’t want to make a habit of this exact choice of activities or we all might not remain friends for very long I think.

P.S. Speaking of social, don’t forget that the Diablo 3 season 6 is about to start this Friday evening! Leveling is way faster and more fun with friends, and I’ll be rolling around in a ball of murder with various folks all night until I get to 70. Are you excited about Season 6 too?

Chipping a tiny hole in the faction wall

The first dev connect for WildStar has ended and the results are in. Here’s what Pappy has to say about the changes coming for factions in WildStar:

  1. We will be dropping the Content Finder faction barrier.
  2. We will be allowing players of both factions to communicate openly with each other. There will no longer be a faction filter in chat.
  3. The faction barrier for open world grouping, housing, social systems, and guilds (which includes Arena teams and Warparties) will stay in place for now.

Well that’s very disappointing. Depending on where you sit on the faction issue, you can find reason for complaint here, or reason for hope. My opinion is that I would have liked to see the faction wall go completely out the window. I want to be able to play with my friends on either faction without having to reroll a new character, and I want to be able to inhabit social spaces with them without restrictions. Unfortunately these changes do none of that. Let’s see what we are getting out of this.

1: Dropping the content finder faction barrier. I understand this choice. Queues can be long, and this will help shorten them. I do think it will feel incredibly weird to be randomly dropped into a group with the other faction but know that there’s no way to reconnect socially with those folks once the run is over (see point #3 below). It may feel a bit jarring to end up in a mixed group if you are a strong advocate of the faction wall, and it is almost made worse by the fact that there’s no lore or social context at all for this. Basically the only place in the game where mixed groups can happen is in a random group setting.

2: Removal of faction filter from chat. This is such a non-issue for me I don’t even know what to say about it. There’s been chat mods and even workarounds in the built-in systems that have allowed cross faction chat since launch. The people who really wanted this already have it, and the people really don’t want it are going to be annoyed at having it forced on them when they’ve chosen to avoid it up to now. It should make coordinating world boss groups easier at least since everyone will be able to understand each other.

3: No changes to open world grouping and social systems. Well shit. This is what I really was hoping for, and now it feels like xmas is canceled. I wanted changes that would let me play with my friends no matter what faction. I was hoping to be able to check out the other faction’s housing, or to convince my dommie friends to join my awesome guild. The housing thing especially frustrates me since it seems like it would be straightforward to add an “Exiles only” toggle to the housing settings to appease folks who don’t want dommies stepping on their lawns or in their private RP areas. Housing is such a bastion of community and creativity which absolutely does not follow strict faction, lore, or even genre restrictions, so it makes me sad to see it stay closed off.

I have spoken with some faction purist folks who are upset about these changes because they wanted the walls to stay in place as-is. I almost feel like this result is bad for both of us. For them, they can be randomly placed into groups with the opposite faction with no context and no way to avoid it. For me, the only faction crossover is happening in a place that I don’t spend any time, since I usually run group content with friends not random pugs. I really think opening up the social systems would have been much more preferable. Those who want to play with their friends or meet new ones while questing or grouping in the world could do so, while the faction purists could choose to keep their guilds and personal social spaces to one faction only. There would be no forced grouping with the other faction. I believe enough in the lore team of WildStar to give us interesting reasons why this could work, and I believe enough in the player base that they could continue to create social spaces and events that make them happy.

I hope that this is not the final word on this issue. These dev connects are an interesting way to gather feedback, but I hope there continues to be a dialog even after the decisions are made. One of WildStar’s greatest strengths is the way the devs interact with the players, long may this continue.

P.S. Don’t forget to check in on the new dev connect, they’re asking for feedback on race/class combos!

Past and Future of World of Warcraft

There’s been a bit of fuss recently with the closure of a “vanilla” WoW server, and it has me thinking about the pull between nostalgia and progress. Now, for the record, I believe that Blizzard is 100% within their rights to force the closure of any 3rd party WoW server of any flavor. It is their IP, it is their game, they’re right to protect it. However, I’m also in the camp that would absolutely love to see them launch a legacy server or three. Full disclosure: I’ve played briefly on a vanilla server a few years back, during WoW’s Cataclysm expansion. I had never even played WoW during vanilla, I didn’t get sucked in until the first expansion, The Burning Crusade. The vanilla server still called to me because I wanted to see for myself what things were like back then, and because it conveniently erased all of the changes that were making me outright hate the game in its current state. It was a very different game at a very different pace, and I could have happily kept playing it indefinitely if the nagging understanding that I was walking in a moral gray area at best hadn’t driven me back to the straight and narrow. The fact that my chosen vanilla server has long since been closed down tells me I did the right thing by stopping.

I hold out hope that Blizzard might one day launch legacy servers the same way I still hold out hope that they’ll institute an invisible mode for battle.net. They obviously think both those things are not in their best interests or they’d have implemented them by now, but a girl can dream. Ironically, I think that having legacy servers might actually let people enjoy the current offerings more. There have been almost too many quality of life changes to the game to count, and running around questing on foot until level 40 with no heirlooms or dungeon finder might put some things in perspective. I also think that during the flatly awful lulls in content it would be nice to be able to travel back to a simpler time and be a tourist still in WoW, still giving Blizzard money but experiencing something a little different for a few months instead of quitting the game completely.

Looking forward towards Legion I don’t see a lot to excite me, and I do see a few things that turn me off. I feel like I am drifting farther away from WoW’s target demographic, and maybe that’s ok but it still makes me feel a little sad. I also look at the game itself and it is showing its age more and more. The older zones look pretty awful and that’s fine on a nostalgia server but a harder sell for an actively updating game. Each expansion works a little magic and brings a partial facelift but even the newest zones don’t hold a candle to the graphics of more modern MMOs in my opinion. After all this contemplation I find myself strangely yearning for the change that relegates all of WoW to “legacy” status, a fresh clean 2.0 with modern sensibilities and graphics. Maybe if that happens Blizz will finally open a vanilla WoW server.

Season 5 Conquered

season5_conqueror

I did the thing.

Diablo 3’s season 5 should be winding down within the next few weeks, so I finally got motivated to make the effort to unlock my extra stash tab. It definitely would not have been possible without the kind assistance of a few friends who helped me grind out paragon levels, legendary gems and gear. The reward of an extra stash tab was too much for a pack rat like me to pass up, but this process pushed me well past my comfort zone. Even after proving that I can in fact complete this level of content, I still believe that it was a mistake for a reward this desirable to be locked so far up the seasonal  progression ladder. Stretching my meager skills to get this far felt like a chore and a relief when it was over, not like an accomplishment. Since I mainly enjoy playing solo it was also frustrating having to ask for help on some of the tasks. Among my more casual friends, many struggled just to complete the main seasonal journey and earn this season’s pet (mostly thanks to having to master a set dungeon). Locking cosmetic items like portrait frames and banners behind difficult content is one thing, but locking away huge quality of life boosts like extra storage space is baffling. I sincerely hope that when the season ends that extra tab will be obtainable some other, easier way, or at very least that next season’s stash tab is at a  much more accessible point in the seasonal journey.

In any case, I’m happy to set D3 aside for a while now. Sure there’s one more tier of the seasonal journey left but I have zero desire to complete it, especially since it requires leveling at least one more character (in hardcore mode no less). The timing of my D3 hiatus couldn’t be more perfect, since I can devote all my attention to WildStar’s new Destination Arcterra patch!

They’ll Have to Kick Me Out

 

By now most folks have heard about the bad news. In a classic “bury bad news on a Friday afternoon” move, NCSoft laid off as many as 70 of Carbine’s staff last week, and canceled WildStar’s China release completely. Other folks have already laid out most of my thoughts on the matter (see Gamer Girl Confessions and Notes from Nexus for example), I can’t help but ramble about this a little here too. Don’t worry, I got most of the swearing out of my system on Friday night.

ws_beta_end

I saw the world end once and I survived. I’ll always stay until they kick me out.

I’ve said before that Nexus is my home and while a lot has changed since I wrote that post the one constant is that I haven’t stopped playing WildStar. I’ve gone through phases of playing other games more, sure, but I’ve had an active subscription since launch and I intend to keep it that way. Right now I’m all paid up through the end of this year. After the news on Friday though, I’m just hoping that the game is still here that long. The layoffs are heartbreaking, but for the health of the game the cancellation of the China launch is the most worrying to me. It screams that NCSoft don’t have any faith in the game, and worse, it completely removes the potential for revenue from that new market. It also has the secondary effect of destabilizing the current player base, both by causing some folks to abandon ship, and demoralizing those of us who remain. Combine that with NCSoft’s record of shutting down under-performing MMOs and the outlook is grim.

I’m looking forward to hearing from Pappy as promised next week, hopefully sooner than later. He absolutely needs to help calm the players’ nerves and I don’t envy him having to do that at a time when I’m sure the remaining Carbine staff are incredibly stressed. It is vital that he convince us though, because if people believe the game is truly heading for maintenance mode or worse they will stop spending money and make all the prophecies of doom true.

anniversary1

Everything feels like panic and chaos. And candy-coated rowsdowers.

I still support WildStar and Carbine’s awesome staff. Nowhere else have I seen such a lovely, committed group of devs who happily engage with the community on a daily basis. I want to support them with my wallet too, but as a broke student I’ve got to be careful about my finances. Convince me that the game is still moving forward with short- and long-term plans. Reassure me that the game I love will still be here this time next year. There are so many mysteries on Nexus that I want to solve and new places I want to explore and I’ll happily pony  up some more money for fancy hats or new dyes if it helps keep the doors open. But first I need to see clear goals and not hollow PR-speak. We’re all looking to you, Pappy, I’m with you til the end!

Growing Love

A while back I talked about that crummy feeling of missing out on something fun when your friends are all playing a game you are not. So when I saw a large fraction of my Twitter feed talking about Stardew Valley over the weekend, I took a closer look to see what all the fuss was about. Usually the Animal Crossing style of game doesn’t do a whole lot for me, but it looked like it had some neat elements and the price was low so I figured I’d give it a shot.

Stardew_jellies

They have a jellyfish festival! What’s not to love?

Now I can’t decide if I regret the purchase or not, because this little pixel town is so engrossing that I have barely touched any other games since I got it. I guess that means I like it though!

When looking up the game to see what all the fuss was about before I purchased it, I read somewhere that unlike a lot of other titles in this genre, there’s no rush to focus on a specific aspect of the game. I hope this is true because it really freed me to just explore and try a bit of everything without worrying that the girl I like will end up marrying someone else before I get a chance to win her over. What can I say? I enjoy exploring the mines all day and I’m bad at remembering birthdays. There’s always next year.

I’m not even through one full year cycle in the game yet anyway. There are still places I can’t explore yet and many upgrades and systems still completely out of my meager farmer-and-monster-hunter budget but that’s okay. I’m already planning ahead for the next harvest, and hopefully by next spring I won’t be all alone at the dance.

Change is Good I Hate Change

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you might remember me praising the (still in Steam Early Access) game Subnautica a few times. Well, I’m back again today to praise it some more, and also offer some thoughts on game updates, and game changes more generally.

First let’s get some formalities out of the way. From the beginning I thought that Subnautica was a beautiful and immersive game, and over the past few updates it has only gotten moreso. They recently did a pass on the game that effectively just made everything prettier, from improving some models and animations to updating the lighting effects. I want to spend so much time exploring this world because it is so beautiful.

Subnautica fishes

I did eventually craft an aquarium and grow some critters and plants!

Now it is time to move on to some meatier changes. The most recent update promised the ability to craft planters and large aquaria for growing your own terrestrial and aquatic plants, and for growing sea creatures from eggs. Cool! Unfortunately, this also required starting a new game again. This highlighted some changes since the last time I restarted that, while I think make the game better, made getting up to speed again much slower. There was a tiny bit more of an introduction sequence than I remembered, which was very nice. Once I hopped in the water and started working toward making a new sea base so I could start my new garden I discovered that many of the items I could craft immediately before now required blueprints, and the system for gaining those blueprints was different. Now you need to craft a scanning device to carry with you so you can scan fragments that you find until you scan enough to learn the full blueprint. You can’t add any sort of power supply to your base until you learn the blueprint for one. This really slows the pace of building, since it means you have to constantly run back to your escape pod to use the fabricator for much longer than before.

I think I’m so conflicted on this big change because I’ve been playing so long now and it is quite disruptive to my usual path of progress. It didn’t feel great to have to spend a while searching around for a blueprint for something I had from the outset before, especially when I just wanted to check out some of the cool new additions. Perils of early access I guess, but there’s also parallels to many other games. Leveling for the first time in a MMO I almost always want to take my time and explore. After that, I’m often just looking for the most direct route to get caught up to where I want to be. Having to re-earn something I already worked hard for feels incredibly unfun, whether a cosmetic item, reputation grind, attunement, or other unlocks. It is why big disruptive changes in a game feel bad sometimes, even when they’re adding great new content. The changes to old-world WoW in the Cataclysm expansion come to mind here. They added a bunch of new quests! There was so much to re-explore and see! But it disrupted my known alt leveling path, took away something I was so very familiar with (ah nostalgia!) and replaced it with new stories that I sort of wanted to pay attention to but mostly just wanted to get through quickly on my way to the level cap. To this day I feel like I never gave that content a fair shake because I was always in a hurry to rush through it, even when it was brand new.

This is a very different feeling from a simple addition of new content that picks up where you left off. New DLC for the most part, or new patch or expansion content in MMOs that adds max-level activities or increases the level cap doesn’t invoke so much resentment in me. Hopping into an existing game file or on to an endgame-ready character and working toward newly-added goals is satisfying because it feels like progress, not retreading old ground in a slightly different way.

I’m not sure exactly what all this means for me and Subnautica going forward. I absolutely love the game and will continue to highly recommend it. They are still adding monthly updates though, so maybe I need to space out my play time a bit and let a few  pile up before returning and starting over from scratch again. Hopefully that will allow more cool new additions to outweigh my grumpy resistance to change.

A Fog is Lifting

Apologies for the quiet around here in recent weeks. I was in the grip of a very strong introvert phase where I just wanted to hide from the world, and just as that started to abate I had to travel for work and was without any (non-mobile) video games for a while. Woe. My isolationist fog has mostly lifted now, though, and I’ve been bouncing around between multiple games to try to carve out a new direction for myself.

Taking a break from a MMO usually means spending way too much time figuring out wtf happened to your inventory and quest log when you return and this time was no different. I wrestled with my very large number of alts in WoW for a few days and mostly got everyone back into usable shape. I’m just not sure what exactly they will be usable for. I’ve made some plans to level on a new server to join a casual raid group with friends, but my main activity in WoW right now seems to be logging on to 1000 alts and making gold from their garrisons. I have a horrible compulsion to do this even though I am actively thinking “this is boring and awful and I want to be doing literally anything else right now” the whole time. The problem is that I know this cash cow is almost certainly going away soon, so I feel like I need to take advantage of it while I can. At this stage I’m sitting on 5 or 6 months worth of WoW token game time, far more than I had planned for. Somehow I need to let go of the notion that I have to maximize profits every day and just play for fun or I’m going to need to step away from WoW for a few months to recharge. As maddening as it will be to lose this revenue stream, I will honestly be thankful when these missions finally get nerfed and I don’t feel like I have to compulsively deal with 12 garrisons twice a day every day.

While my WoW interest is fading, my WildStar fervor has been renewed. My bag space was far worse after my short hiatus, but easier to fix since I only have 3 max level toons. I’ve decided to take advantage of the new PvP changes and flag myself while doing my dailies and it has been pretty rewarding. The few times I’ve run across a flagged Dommie we peacefully went our own ways without getting into any trouble. I’m sure once the PvP servers merge with us there will be more peril but for now it has been really great. I never imagined that I’d play a MMO and happily flag myself for PvP out in the world. Major kudos to Carbine for giving useful rewards and making the threat of imminent doom worth it! Now I just need to decide if I’m going to try to chase a few pieces of the PvP seasonal cosmetic gear, or if I’m going to focus on PvE goals for a while instead.

Finally I stopped briefly back into D3 for a few hours. Again, my inventory is a giant mess. I think at some point I was running with friends and just throwing every legendary into a stash tab to sort out later…but then never sorted it or got rid of anything. At some point I need to go through everything and try to return it to some semblance of order, but for now I just want to get back into the swing of things. I’ve officially completed all of my goals for the season! My add-on goal is to try to unlock the extra stash tab, but that requires a lot of extra effort and will definitely need some help from friends. I did manage to complete solo GR61 which is a personal best, so this season is a success whether I get that extra bank space or not. Maybe it is better if I don’t get it, that just means even more junk to sort through the next time I take a break…

Solo Mode

I’ve had a bit of self-imposed isolation over the last couple weeks. Work/school has been stressful and my brain tends to make me shy away from human contact when I get like this. Coincidentally, I’ve been reading Wolfy‘s great posts in response to Syl‘s comments about solo players asking for solo content in MMOs. For me personally, I like MMOs to have compelling and rewarding solo content so that I can get through these mental down times. Sure, I might be hiding from my friends list and avoiding group content like the plague right now, but solo content lets me still make some sort of progress on my characters. It also helps me stay connected to the world, and feel a little less alone just by seeing random strangers going about their business in-game. Without solo activities, I’d be more likely to completely take a break from the game when I feel like this. Instead, I’m still around and still invested, and ready to slide back in fully once I get over my mental funk. So I’ll happily “demand” (ok maybe politely request) that devs keep providing solo content for me and folks like me, who might waffle from time to time about how much they want to engage socially.

In any case, I can feel the isolationist fog starting to lift. I’ve started getting the urge to run dungeons again. Over the next few days I want to get back into the swing of things in WildStar. I also suspect it is only a matter of time before I fire FFXIV back up so I can heal butts. The cycle of introvert life marches onward.

 

 

D3: The Benefits of Friends

Time for an update on my D3 Season 5 progress. I feel like I’ve been flying though things this season.
1.    Hit level 70 on Friday night. Done!
2.    Complete the Seasonal Journey for the pet by the end of the weekend. Done!
3.    Reach solo greater rift 50. (My best last season was 45). At 46 now.
4.    Reach paragon level 400. (Last season I hit around 350). Done!
5.    Complete greater rift 30 with 2, 3, and 4 players. Done!
6.    Bonus goals: Reach level 70 on a hardcore wizard or complete at least one set dungeon on a witchdoctor. Still waiting on this one. I should really level a gem of ease I guess.

As you can see, I’m quite close to being finished with my goals, and we’re only a couple weeks into the season. How did this happen? I have been playing about the same amount I did last season. The big difference this time around is that I’ve spent a lot more time grouped up with friends. Even though grouping up can be a bit more stressful for me, the benefits are pretty obvious. The drops are better, everything goes much faster, and I can tackle higher difficulties than I could on my own.

This isn’t really new information. I’ve always known that grouping up in this game is way more lucrative. This is the first time I’ve had enough experience with it to really appreciate it though. As someone who still prefers playing solo it is a little overwhelming. And now we get to my next issue: the seasonal journey. Last season I got through the Champion rank, and last night I achieved this again for season 5. There are some parts that expressly have to be done solo, but I found that many of the goals were met easily during passive group play. I’m not sure whether to feel happy that I didn’t have to worry about them, or to feel robbed of any feeling of accomplishment. For now I think I’ll err on the side of being happy, because some of the upcoming goals are still going to be a real struggle for me.

You see I’ve decided to try to go for the extra stash tab you can unlock this season. It is locked up near the end of the season’s journey, behind things like “complete 2 conquests” and “solo greater rift level 60”, the kind of stuff I never even wanted to attempt in previous seasons. To be honest, I don’t really want to attempt it now. Trying to meet these goals feels way beyond my normal relaxed playstyle for D3. I’m afraid I might never be able to complete this, certainly not without help. I am nervous that I might not have a chance to knock out some goals that would be easier in a group before my friends lose interest in the game and move on. Mostly I feel resentful that something as desirable and useful as an extra stash tab is locked so high up the seasonal ladder.

I understand that a lot of people who play this game are more hardcore than me, but I always liked that in previous seasons the rewards for completing the higher levels of the journey were all cosmetic. You could push yourself as far as you wanted to but also feel comfortable stopping when you’ve had enough without feeling like you were missing out on something important. I’ve been playing Diablo 3 semi-regularly since it launched and have never even come close to achieving most of the things that are required to unlock the stash tab this season. Maybe that means I’m a terrible player and I’m ok with that because I’ve enjoyed the hell out of all the time I’ve spent with this game. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that pushing myself past my comfort zone to try to get some more room to throw my excess legendaries doesn’t end up souring this season for me. Hopefully I’ll still have good friends around for a while to help me along the way.