Costumes, Costs, and Consistency

I had an interesting conversation with some folks last week that started because of the cost to swap specs in the current WoW: Legion alpha build. It got me thinking about the various costs and restrictions associated with the activities I enjoy in MMOs, how they differ between games, and which ones really rub me the wrong way.

For example, I love the cosmetic system in WildStar. It is flexible enough to let you unlock the appearance of almost any item in the game regardless of whether you can equip it or not. The costs come from unlocking more outfit or item appearance slots, and purchasing and applying dyes. It mostly feels fair because it is a somewhat rare event to make a whole new outfit. Once you have one put together you can swap to it at any time for no cost. It does highlight a major inconsistency though. Item appearances get unlocked across your entire account, but dyes do not. The system that seemed so flexible and amazing on your main suddenly feels unnecessarily restrictive on your alt. Somehow having one part of the system account-wide while the other is not feels worse than restricting the whole thing. The overall system feels unfair because the restrictions are not consistent.

This brings me to the upcoming changes to WoW’s transmog system. The announcement at Blizzcon touted account-wide transmog, and that got me really excited! As people asked for clarifications and folks got their hands on the alpha they discovered the restrictions. Sure, unlocks are account-wide. And they are going a bit above and beyond by unlocking the appearances of quest rewards for all the quests your characters have completed. The big caveat is that for item drops you can only unlock the appearance of gear that is appropriate for your class/armor type. This severely limits the usefulness of an account-wide transmog system, and potentially really frustrates RP-ers who routinely equip multiple different armor types to achieve a particular look for their characters. The excitement of account-wide transmog feels suddenly hollow if I still need to run an old raid on a character of every armor type to unlock all the appearances I want.

Now this is the part where some folks might speak up about all the potential reason why the system is good this way. I just really want to highlight the huge inconsistency in how the rules are applied, and that is what makes it feel so frustrating and unfair to me. Here is an example. Say I have a pally (plate wearer) and a druid (leather wearer). To get full use of the transmog system I have to collect appearances separately on each. Meanwhile, my buddy with a rogue and druid (both leather wearers) only has to run something once to unlock items that can be shared with both of their characters. It is this situation that puts the lie to claims that the limitations are good for the “prestige” of earning an appearance, or that it encourages replayability or generates content. When two players experience vastly different restrictions just because of the classes they happen to play, that’s simply not fair and it makes me just angry enough to rant about it here on my blog for a few minutes.

There have been hints that the dye system in WildStar may indeed eventually become account-wide. I am not nearly so hopefully about that sort of change for WoW’s transmog system. It is funny how restrictions on a non-vital system like cosmetic wardrobes can still generate really strong feelings from the player base. Mostly, I just wish that the devs would try to make sure everyone has a level playing field.

That Feeling of Missing Out

When you play with a group of friends sometimes the stars align and you all get excited about one game that everyone enjoys. Most of the time, though, everyone is checking out multiple different games, and occasionally tries to gather everyone to try something they thought was fun.

warframe1I’m in this situation now where most of my friends are playing Warframe together. They certainly seem to be enjoying themselves, and what little of the game I’ve poked at looked ok to me. Meanwhile I’m still excited about Diablo 3 season 5. This puts me in a tricky position. Do I drop D3 for a while and play with them? Or do I keep playing the game I’m excited about, but miss out on fun times with my friends? I’ve seen this pattern happen often enough to know that it probably won’t be too long before some or all of them get distracted by other games and drift off to do their own thing for a while, so it makes sense to try to hop on the bandwagon and play together when everyone is in the same place. From what  I’ve played last weekend I enjoyed Warframe fine, but it didn’t exactly grab me and pull me in. The allure is more about playing with friends than playing that particular game.

It doesn’t help that my introverted nature makes group play a weird thing for me. I crave it, I really do want to hang out with friends and spend time together. However, it also tires me out much more quickly than playing alone, and I often get that urge to “hide” in solo games for a while if I overdo it. In a weird way MMOs are actually good for me because there’s often solo tasks like farming supplies that need to be done, and group activities like raiding are usually scheduled just a couple times a week. Games, even ones like D3, that are “better” or more rewarding if you are always grouped are the ones that tend to burn me out more quickly unless I am good about enforcing some “me time”.

Anyway I’m still torn between playing with my friends and playing the game I want to play. The biggest time this happened to me was with WildStar, when I watched people go back to WoW or other MMOs and I stayed behind with the game I loved. I don’t regret that at all, but it is still sad to see your friends having fun times without you and hard to seek out new social circles. Maybe this weekend I’ll give Warframe another shot and try out its group play. But I still want to make D3 my focus until I meet more of my goals for the season.

Season 5: Record Burnout?

Maybe the title is a little hyperbolic, but I guess time will tell. I had a blast on Friday night. I logged into Diablo 3 and voice chat a little before the season start time and got a group of 4 friends together. We had a few minutes of annoyance when the season began, creating or rebirth-ing characters was very slow and booted us from the game. Fortunately this only cost us about 5 minutes or so. After that we were up and running.

We decided to do bounties together to level. The first few levels where we didn’t have full skills and such were a little slow, but after that we were flying. Over the course of the evening we had a couple people tag in and out of our party, and after about 5 hours it was down to just me and one other friend. I absolutely wanted to get to 70 on the first night, and I’m happy to say that I made it easily. Then, because we had momentum going, we worked on a few of the seasonal achievements to unlock our free class sets. It took me 2 tries to get the level 20 greater rift done because my gear was so bad, but eventually I got it and headed to bed with my 6-piece set bonus in place.

I think that amount of focused play combined with actually playing with other people the whole time did burn me out a bit. For the rest of the weekend I found myself avoiding D3 or setting my status to “busy” so I could unwind alone for a bit. It isn’t that I’m burned out on the game, more that my introverted nature means I need solo time to recharge. I did make some good progress though. I’m now sitting around paragon level 180, and have completed the seasonal journey and received my cute new pet. I’m going to keep putting some time in and hunt for the items I still need to complete my build. Hopefully this weekend I’ll be able to really push greater rifts.

The leveling this season felt a little faster than normal for me, probably because I spent the whole time grouped up. Even more than that though, the gearing has felt super fast since you get handed a full set almost immediately. Looking through my bags, I still don’t have a full 6 piece of any other set yet, so in a previous season I’d still be hunting for that and probably struggling a bit. Instead I’m comfortably running on T7 and can pay more attention to things like leveling up my legendary gems instead of stressing about getting a set finished. I’m missing 3-4 items still for my build, but they are more helpful than critical so I don’t feel broken without them. I expect to get a huge boost to survivability once I finally get everything in place.

So how am I doing on my goals for this season so far?

  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 34 so far and there’s plenty of time!
  4. Reach paragon level 400. (Last season I hit around 350). 180 and counting
  5. Complete greater rift 30 with 2, 3, and 4 players. I want to do this soon while people are still active.
  6. Bonus goals: Reach level 70 on a hardcore wizard or complete at least one set dungeon on a witchdoctor. I made a witchdoctor but I don’t want to level her until I’ve completed most of my other goals.

I think I’ve learned that I need to pace myself on group play. A few hours a week is fun but too much makes me want to delete my battlenet friends list and hide. I am making great progress toward my seasonal goals though, and had a lot of fun playing with folks this weekend. Next time around I just need to avoid 10 straight hours of group play…

Underwater Interlude

Last night was very odd for me gaming-wise. It was one of those days where I got home from work and felt exhausted no matter what I did. My intention was to try out Warframe with the other Aggrochat folks, but it was taking a few minutes to download and I was getting sleepy and impatient. I spent a bunch of time staring at my Steam library and poking at things until I finally settled on Subnautica.

Gigantic squid creatures? Sold!

Reusing this image because these giant squid monsters are still amazing.

I talked about my feelings for this game a while ago when I first got into it. I really loved building a cool undersea base and exploring. Unfortunately a bit before the holidays they added an update that changed some of the terrain and messed up my structures. These are the perils of playing a game that is still in Steam early access. On the plus side, they do keep adding new cool things almost every month or two. The newest one supposedly lets you access some new areas of your crashed ship, so I definitely wanted to check it out.

Starting up a fresh game was a bit daunting after all the hours and work I had put in and lost, but it was the only way forward. I waffled for a minute trying to decide between a normal game, or an exploration-mode only setting where you don’t have to worry about silly things like food, water, or oxygen. Eventually I decided to stick with the normal survival mode, since the “story”, such as it is, supposedly doesn’t progress in exploration mode.

This game is perfect for relaxing. The sea creatures, underwater vistas, and even the music are very pretty and for the most part very chill. Sure, every once in a while a sea monster tried to eat me, but that’s a small price to pay. Starting from scratch was a little annoying, but within a half hour or so I had a store of food and water and an all-important O2 tank. By the end of the evening I had a 1-room structure and had even managed to build a mini-sub, so the next time I play I should be good to go exploring  and gathering resources.

I didn’t manage to get far enough to start exploring the new stuff yet, but I did see some signs of the changes in the past few updates like new crafting recipes. I am incredibly glad I fired this game back up , it was a perfect calm way to spend the evening. If you weren’t sold before by “sweet underwater exploration plus building cool sea bases and submarines” then there’s probably nothing new that would change your mind. If you were on the fence though, it might be worth checking out. It is definitely more than enough to distract me until Diablo 3 takes over my world tomorrow night!

My Diablo 3 Seasonal Plan

From my last post you may have guessed that I’m a bit hyped about the new D3 season this week. To help calm and distract myself, I’ve decided to write down my plans and goals for the season. Maybe some of this will be of use to you if you’ll be joining me on Friday for Season 5.

A new area to explore!

A new area to explore!

The Plan

Stage 0: Being prepared. In the last few days before the season starts, I’m looking up builds and figuring out what and how I want to play this season. I’ll be leveling a wizard first, because I just love wizards and they’re my go-to class. The seasonal reward set for the wizard class this season is the Firebird’s set, so I can plan my initial build around that. There are tons of guides and build suggestions out there so it helps to be able to narrow them down to just the ones that use that set. Knowing ahead of time is really useful since I can be sure to save and cube any specific legendaries I might need if they drop while I’m leveling.

Stage 1: Reasonably speedy leveling. I’ve done lots of different flavors of speed and power leveling in the past. At the start of a new season power leveling is not an option since that requires a higher-level friend to drag you around, so the focus is on speed leveling. Usually I level solo, since it lets me go at my own pace. I’ve found I like to do bounties on hard difficulty. Higher difficulty settings give more xp but seem to slow me down more than they are worth. Running rifts can sometimes be faster, but at the start of a new season there’s a lot of value in grabbing the cube crafting mats that you get from completing each act’s bounties.

This time around there’s a good chance that I will be leveling with a group, so I hope to try out the slightly modified bounty method. Basically if there is a bounty to kill a boss for the act, everyone goes together to do it (for sweet boss xp and loot). After that, the group splits up and each person does a different bounty to finish them quickly. Once they are all done everyone will get credit for the act, with the big chunk of xp and loot that comes with it. Rinse and repeat for each act.

Gearing up while leveling is not a hugely exciting process, but there are a couple key things to keep in mind. Mostly it is important to craft the highest level 2-handed weapon you can equip, and remember to socket a red gem in your helm as soon as you can. There are some other tricks you can use, like trying to craft a level 60 and 70 weapon with reduced level requirement, but honestly you’ll level so fast anyway it may not be worth the time and mats to try to craft it. Hang onto any legendaries with useful abilities that drop, and cube them when you can. The level of the legendary doesn’t have any impact on how it works in the cube. I will be saving any puzzle rings I get until I hit 70 and can do the vault on a mid range Torment level for maximum gold though.

Stage 2: The surge. This is honestly when the game is at its most fun for me, because your power level changes dramatically over a very short time. You’ve hit level 70 but don’t have a ton of gear yet. Running rifts can be a challenge but it feels like everything is an upgrade. Usually as soon as I hit 70 I craft as much gear as I can use, then bump up the difficulty to torment 1 or 2 and chain run rifts for a while. Hang onto any ring or neck that has a socket, even if it doesn’t seem that great, because you’ll probably want it once you get some legendary gems. This time around I will also be making sure to complete anything I need to for the seasonal journey, since I want to get my free Firebird’s set ASAP.

Once I get a few keystones I’ll start on greater rifts. The goal here isn’t really speed or gear, but rather to get the legendary gems I need for my build. Even without upgrades they can make a huge difference. Once I have them I’ll focus on speeding through regular rifts to stockpile gold and hunt for legendaries, pausing to do some bounties as needed to spice things up and get mats for the cube. As I get better gear I can start bumping up the difficulty for regular rifts some, but until I’m in my full class set and reasonable legendaries/cube powers the plan is to prioritize fast runs.

Stage 3: The meat. At this point I should have a full class set and most or all of the other legendary pieces that I want to go with my build. Now it is time to have some fun. I will be checking out the new class set dungeon at this point, as well as starting to push into greater rifts to upgrade gems and start searching for ancient legendaries. Hopefully by this point I will be done with the main part of the seasonal journey for the cosmetic rewards. That means I can start working on the bonus objectives for the fancy versions of the portrait frame.

This is also the stage where I’ll be starting to think about other builds. Just because the Firebird’s set is free this season doesn’t mean I will want to use it the whole time. Also, any class set item is getting saved so I can try all the different dungeons available. Hopefully I get the chance to complete all the wizard ones before the season ends.

Still missing so many things.

Still missing so many things.

Stage 4: The grind. This is when the game starts slowing down for me. It is all about pushing ever higher into greater rifts, searching for the elusive ancient legendaries, and upgrading gems and items as much as possible. Around this time I’ll probably start getting bored and level my witch doctor, or start a hardcore wizard that I’ll never finish. Maybe the chase for all the different class sets and the challenge of those dungeons will keep me interested a bit longer than previous seasons, I guess we will see.

I expect to get to stage 3 by the end of this weekend without too much trouble. Here are my goals for Season 5:

  1. Hit level 70 on Friday night.
  2. Complete the Seasonal Journey for the pet by the end of the weekend.
  3. Reach solo greater rift 50. (My best last season was 45).
  4. Reach paragon level 400. (Last season I hit around 350).
  5. Complete greater rift 30 with 2, 3, and 4 players.
  6. Bonus goals: Reach level 70 on a hardcore wizard or complete at least one set dungeon on a witchdoctor.


Only 2 more days left to wait!

D3 Season 5 is Coming

What a difference just a couple days can make

Last season’s look

Diablo 3 for me is a very relaxing way to spend an evening. The changes in the game since the Reaper of Souls expansion released have been hugely positive for my enjoyment of the game, and the addition of “Seasons” has made it far more evergreen. That’s why I’m super excited that season 5 is starting up this Friday. This post is all about the reasons why you should be excited too.

Everyone with any interest in D3 will be playing again for a little while. D3 can be enjoyed solo or with friends (or strangers!). If you are the sort who prefers playing with others, or if you just like having people around in-game to chat with, a new season will deliver. Some folks are planning to accomplish as much as possible and will be online and ready to go as soon as the season starts, but even very casual folks will be enticed back to check out the new goodies over the next couple weeks. The start of a new season means D3 is going to be as full of friends as it can possibly be.

There’s a level playing field for new folks and veterans. Been thinking about taking D3 for a spin but annoyed that playing as a noob when your friends have maxed-out characters is really unsatisfying? Or just want to switch to a wizard but feeling bad about all the time and effort you spent grinding gear for your monk? A new season wipes the slate clean. Everyone will be starting from scratch on Friday, at level 1 with no paragon levels, gear, or gold. It is a great time to play with others and not feel like you’re behind, or to try out a new class.

New content livens things up. My D3 playstyle has been to level and play a ton when a new season launches, and then just casually hop in once in a while after a month or so has passed. Part of the reason why it still feels good to come back and get invested again is that there’s new content to discover each season. This time around I’m especially excited to try out the new set dungeons, special challenges that become available when you equip all of the pieces of a class set of armor. Most of the time I pick one build and stick with it for the season, but I can see this addition might get me to try out lots of new things just to play with every set.

Cosmetic rewards are always cool. Every season brings new cosmetic goodies, from character portrait frames to pets. Sometimes there are even cross-promotional rewards, like last season’s HotS mount, although I’m not aware of anything like that for Season 5. Completing a basic set of tasks like leveling to 70 and completing rifts and bounties will unlock the main rewards. If you want extra bragging rights, you can aim for additional challenges that reward fancier versions of the season’s portrait frame. This time around you are also guaranteed a full set of class armor for one class for the season. That should make getting hooked on the new class dungeons a breeze.

So that’s my blatant attempt to convince you that you should hop back into Diablo 3 this weekend. My goals for this season are to top my best solo greater rift from season 4 (rank 45), and to at least attempt all of the class set dungeons for Wizard. I really want those beautiful wings for beating all of the class set dungeons (for every class), but that seems like more of a long-term project. Why not join me for some demon-slaying fun?

Old Year New Year

Hello friends! It is a brand new year so it is a good excuse to try to get back in the habit of blogging regularly. I had some much needed time off over the holidays, and squeezed in a good amount of gaming. Here’s a quick summary:

The Good: Undertale

I’m just a few months late to this party but I have to say I’m very glad I finally got to play. It has been sitting in my Steam wishlist for a bit and a good friend gifted it to me for xmas (thank you, again!). I didn’t go in exactly blind, since I’d seen lots of folks discussing the game, but most of what I knew was focused on how the game is possible to beat without killing anything, and how it remembers and “judges” you if you do kill. I made it my mission to do a pacifist run, and was happy that I made it all the way to the king before I had to break down and look up how to finish a fight.

I played a lot in a hurry. It was that good.

I played a lot in a hurry. It was that good.

I’m not sure what I can say about this game that hasn’t already been said before. I really enjoyed it, and it definitely gave me some feels. It did not make me cry but it came close. Gone Home still gets the prize for “made Gracie cry the most”. I have mixed feelings about how Undertale plays with the ideas of saved games, but I do understand why it works the way it does. I’m also glad I went in knowing I wanted to avoid killing at all costs. I don’t think my mental state would have dealt well with the guilt of murdering innocent monsters in addition to all the other stresses of the holidays.

Overall I am super glad I played this game,  really enjoyed most of it and absolutely loved some of it. If you have interest in it I’d suggest picking it up. I think it is worth a try if the turn-based rpg style isn’t an immediate turn-off. The music alone is worth the price of admission.

The Adequate: SWTOR

I managed to somehow avoid Star Wars hype for the most part. While my friends were getting increasingly excited as the movie premiere approached, I was busy hardening my heart. I guess I had been burned too deeply by the prequels to have much hope. I did still get tickets for opening night, I just tried not to have any expectations. Then I saw the movie and fell in love with Star Wars all over again and all bets were off. No, it wasn’t perfect, but it was fun and funny and had a kick-ass jedi and creepy sith and adorable droid and my entire holiday became colored with Star Wars fever. Thanks Disney, you managed to pry my heart and wallet wide open again for all things Star Wars.

The only screenshot I remembered to take. At least I'm cute.

The only screenshot I remembered to take. At least I’m cute.

In a fit of Star Wars fever I did something I had vowed I’d never do again: I subbed to SWTOR for a month. Sure, it is F2P, but the F2P model is so punitive that if you want to play at all you might as well sub or not bother. I rolled up an Imperial Agent because that seems class most folks say has the best story, and I hadn’t seen it yet.

SWTOR was having some sort of bonus XP event, and with their new adaptive level scaling thing I ended up hitting the level cap of 65 well before I had even finished chapter 1 of my class story. This felt very odd, since the game was trying to gently shove me toward the new content, while I just wanted to finish the story without getting it spoiled. Once I hit 65 I stopped doing any quests except the class story ones just to get through it faster, which reminded me how much the game likes to send you back and forth between planets. During normal leveling it isn’t too noticeable but when you’re just doing the story quests it feels like you’re spending more time traveling than questing.

I eventually did finish the main (level 50) story for the agent, and promptly closed the game and have not logged back in since. The story was quite good compared to most of the other ones I had seen, and I still haven’t figured how it ranks in comparison yet. My bottom line seems to be that it was a good story but it didn’t feel “Star Wars” enough for me, especially right in the middle of my movie-fueled fever. The Sith Warrior for example, felt like a fairly strong story and way more Star Wars flavored. In any case I don’t regret the time and money spent, but it didn’t quite do what I wanted in terms of scratching my Star Wars itch. In retrospect, I probably should have picked a class that gets a lightsaber.

The Inexplicably Unsatisfying: WildStar

I love WildStar, and still think of it as my “home” MMO. But for whatever reason over the holidays I just could not get invested in it no matter how hard I tried. I still logged in almost every day, and did some of the holiday Protostar event stuff, but my heart just wasn’t in it. Some of this had to do with me needing some “alone time”, which meant I needed a change of scenery from my usual game. Part of the problem may have also been that I had too many other games vying for my attention, and the attraction of new shiny things is strong.

Bringing holiday cheer, for money!

Bringing holiday cheer, for money!

I think some of it was also due to plain old liking the halloween event better than the xmas one. For me there’s no contest between the two holidays in real life, candy and spooky stuff are just way more fun than trees and snow. In-game, I liked the Shade’s Eve expedition much more. I love the idea of the mall in the sky, and the changing rotation of challenges each time you play through. However I wish some of the challenges were combat-based. it just didn’t feel like the rest of the expeditions to me and after a few runs I got tired of clicking on things in a way that I somehow don’t get tired of shooting things.

I ended up playing far far less than I did during Shade’s Eve, and never even got all of the rewards. I did at least get my rowsdower slippers, because I do have my priorities right.

The “Why am I still here?”: WoW

I subbed for a 2nd month of WoW using in-game gold. I’m not entirely sure why. This is the game that perpetually feels like going to visit your old home town long after you’ve moved away and lost touch with all your old high school buddies. It is technically the same place but everything is changed and even though it is familiar and you can’t help but go back once in a while to see how it looks it mostly ends up reminding you that the good old days are well and truly gone.

I continue to play almost completely solo, mostly running old raids for mounts and such, and messing with the follower system to earn more gold to buy more game tokens. It feels a bit like a self-perpetuating treadmill, but it is familiar and easy and oddly comforting in its way. My goal is to stockpile at least 3 more WoW tokens this month, and then take a hiatus until Legion is on the horizon.

I think a huge part of my indifference to WoW is that I have a huge stable of characters on a server where I have no friends and no guild. I can’t force myself to reroll someplace else because it is too hard to walk away from the self-sufficiency and gameplay options of 6 level 100 characters, and I can’t transfer because the cost of moving one character is prohibitive right now, much less 6-8. To make matters worse, by far most of my WoW-playing friends are Alliance side and my main stable of characters is Horde. So I play by myself because it feels like I don’t have much choice. I’m planning to use my 100 boost to plant a character on a server with my friends once I save up to buy Legion.

The WTF is this Even?: Hatoful Boyfriend Holiday Star

It's ok, your hunter-gatherer instincts will save you!

It’s ok, your hunter-gatherer instincts will save you!

I loved me some Hatoful Boyfriend, so when I saw that this holiday-themed addition was coming out in December I knew I’d be on board. I still haven’t finished the whole thing, but so far it has been enjoyable in a “I don’t know what is happening but I like it” sort of way. It feels even more like a visual novel and less like a game than the original, but I’m more used to the style now and am happy to just hang on for the ride. My main disappointment has been that I haven’t actually been able to date any birbs. I will be reporting back on this one once I finally finish it.

So that was my holiday gaming for 2015. Enjoyable. Comfortable. A little weird. Just the way the holidays should be.