Comfort Gaming Marathon

I had a pretty busy weekend with various real life events and crises taking up a lot of my time and energy. That meant that when I got time for gaming I really needed it to be quiet and relaxing time. Often that means Diablo 3, but since everything I need for the season means pushing really high rifts or doing speed runs, I opted for a change of pace. My WoW subscription is still active, since I was trying to finish the achievement that unlocks flying for the Legion expansion zones.

I actually had forgotten that I unlocked flying at the end of last week, and then immediately logged off because I was pretty sick of WoW. Since that was the last major goal I had in-game, and because I wanted something low-key to do, I gave myself permission to not care even a little bit about gear or raids or anything difficult. Instead, I decided to work on my mostly-abandoned Horde characters. I’ve been in Alliance guilds since Pandaria, but Horde is where my heart is, and where my biggest stable of high level characters is too. Of the 9 characters on my Horde server that were 100 at the end of WoD, only my priest had been leveled in Legion, and this made me pretty sad. So I decided to fix it.

First I logged into that priest, who was 110 and had finished the class hall story but not done anything else, and got her up to date with artifact knowledge and the broken shore story. Since gearing up and raiding were unappealing to me, I stopped there and swapped to my paladin. She was in Dalaran and had picked up her first weapon, so I could start straight into questing. Flying makes a huge difference. I appreciate that having control over your movement lets the developers tell you stories and craft more specific experiences, but once I’ve gone through that on one character I really enjoy the freedom of flying. I thought Highmountain would be the most noticeable place where it would make a difference but honestly it felt amazing in every zone. Even more so when I wanted to dart off and grab a gathering node every once in a while. Flying let me pick and choose my questing experience, doing what I enjoyed and mostly skipping the bits I knew would frustrate me. It also let me grab a bunch of treasure chests for artifact power and class resources along the way.

Flying, and switching my focus to alts, transformed WoW from a painful slog into some seriously comfortable comfort gaming. By the end of the weekend my pally was 110. After yesterday I’ve unlocked the broken shore and her class hall quest line is just waiting on a few follower missions to progress. I was expecting to struggle with world quests when I hit 110 because my gear is terrible and I still haven’t unlocked my 3rd weapon relic slot, but surprisingly things went pretty smoothly. I leveled entirely as Retribution, something I have never done since that character was created 10 years ago. It still isn’t my favorite spec, but since I don’t plan on doing any group activities with her it seemed like the most reasonable thing to focus on.

Normally a big reason I like having so many alts is crafting, but since Legion’s take on professions is so painfully awful I don’t know how much I will focus on that. I did her mining quests as they came up, and the few engineering quests so far have not been prohibitive. My priest still has alchemy and tailoring quests sitting in her log for months because I didn’t feel like running dungeons to complete them, so I’m not optimistic about making much more progress on that front. Instead I’m already trying to figure out which alt to work on next. Normally that would be my druid, but since I already have an Alliance druid at 110 I may focus on warlock instead. I got my affliction weapon last night so I’m ready to start leveling.

I’m happy I’m getting more mileage than I expected out of my one month’s return to WoW.

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.