Rise of the Necromancer

Yesterday saw the launch of the new Necromancer class in Diablo 3. If you’ve been around this blog a while you know I’m a huge D3 fan, so it was a no-brainer for me to spend $14.99 to pick up the new goodies. I spent most of my evening yesterday checking out the class and some of the other offerings that came along with the newest patch, and came away very pleased.

The first thing I tried when I booted up D3 last night was the new Challenge Rift system. Okay I lied the first thing I did was run to my stash and rearrange things to take advantage of the 2 new stash tabs I got with my necromancer purchase. But after that the next thing I did was try a challenge rift! The system took me a minute to figure out. Namely, to get to the challenge rift, you have to select a character, but before you log into a new game you must go to the game settings. Challenge rift will be a new option for your game type (beside the old story and adventure modes). Selecting this will assign you the character for the randomly-selected greater rift run of the week. When you zone in you’re in a new mini-area where you can learn about challenge rifts, check out your assigned skills and gear, and practice on some demons they keep laying around for that purpose. It was fun to see someone else’s build and try to make it work. This week’s rift was a demon hunter with an impale build. The fact that it was randomly selected means sometimes you end up with strange choices, for instance this person had a cubed ability that boosted fan of knives…but they were not using that skill. In any case I managed to get through the rift in about half the time of the original run so I made it work just fine. I really enjoyed this concept and my main hope is that they either make it more rewarding (the crafting mats were nice but not exciting), or update the offerings more frequently. I can see myself trying it out once every week but I’m not that interested in trying to climb the leaderboards or anything. The real joy of it is just seeing what random build they give you and making the most of it.

Anyway after the challenge rift was conquered I finally made my brand new necromancer. I decided to level via the story since it has been quite a while since I played all the way through it. Like I sometimes do with single-player games, I made things super easy for myself so I could play around and focus on the narrative instead of the gameplay. That meant normal mode and a gem of ease, so enemies just fell over when they so much as looked at me until I got above level 60. I ended up setting on a build that I’m sure will not be remotely functional at endgame but has been keeping me very entertained. I’ve got 1 generator, 1 movement ability, and the rest of my abilities all summon minions of one flavor or other. I had a blast running around and turning the corpses of my enemies into part of my rolling death swarm. By the end of the night I had made it into Act V so tonight I’ll finish up and switch to adventure mode. Hopefully I can get some set pieces and start figuring out a viable build for running rifts.

I expect I’ll be heading back to FFXIV before the end of the weekend, both because all my friends are still deeply entrenched there and because I don’t want to burn out on D3 before the start of the new season next month. Still, I’d say I’ve already gotten my money’s worth out of this content pack. The cosmetic stuff is nice, the stash space is amazing for this pack rat, and the new class has been great fun. I am already looking forward to playing as a necromancer next season!

Stormblood: Roll Credits

I “finished” FFXIV Stormblood this morning. By that I mean I got far enough through the MSQ to see the credits. This is a pretty leisurely leveling time for me, clocking in at 9 days to 70 and 10 days ’til the credits rolled. Part of that was due to the launch difficulties and part was simply being willing to take my time more than I usually do in a new MMO expansion. Now that I’m 70 and through the main story, there are expert dungeons and primal fights to tackle, along with the sacred ancient rite of grinding bookrocks for gear upgrades.

The story, for the most part, has been some of their best so far. There is one villain whose writing I really disliked, but otherwise I’ve been impressed. They even got away with sticking me with Alphinaud again after letting me enjoy hanging out with his much cooler sister. They also managed to make me care about the fight for independence from the empire on two fronts. I know that “fighting the evil empire” is a solid FF mainstay but in FFXIV I’ve never cared about them that much. To be honest they’re still my least favorite type of enemy in the game, but at least this time around they’ve been a clear and constant threat instead of just popping in for inopportune plot points. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the aftermath of the 4.0 MSQ and how all the still-loose ends get woven together over the life of the expansion.

Stormblood’s group content has set a very high bar. FFXIV has some of the most interesting, beautiful, and complex dungeons and raids I’ve ever seen and this expansion does not disappoint on that front. The dungeons start off fairly simple but ramp up very quickly in complexity.  There are 6 total that unlock while leveling, and only one of them is not tied directly to the MSQ. The theme of the first dungeon is my favorite, a haunted shipyard. The second dungeon is the optional one, and is the most beautiful in my opinion. I’d love to live there once we clear out all the creatures who are trying to kill us. The third dungeon has the most flimsy story premise (“go face this challenge before we’ll let you get to the real fight”),  but it has my absolute favorite boss fight in any of the Stormblood dungeons so far. This game is absolutely making sure that by the time you get through the story, you’re also prepared for the challenges you’ll face at endgame. Dungeons 4, 5, and 6 are so deeply tied to the MSQ that I’m afraid to talk about them much for fear of massive spoilers. Of those three I think dungeon 5 is my favorite, but I haven’t run them as many times as I have the early dungeons, so I’ll reserve judgement a bit.

There are also three trials in the Stormblood MSQ. They are each very distinct and challenging in their own way, but the final trial is the most difficult by far. It took me 4 different pug groups to finally clear it. The start of the expansion is probably making this more difficult than it should be, since many folks (like me) are still in leveling gear and don’t know the fight yet. It is also a very long fight, with a truly ridiculous number of moving parts to keep track of. This is the one I’m most looking forward to the EX version of, when I’m safely in a group full of my friends and we can take the time to learn whatever nonsense amount of dancing will be required to win.

If you’re playing Stormblood, I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am, and if you’re not, now’s a great time to hop in and try FFXIV for yourself!

Stormblood Stuff

Stormblood is finally upon us and boy did the early access weekend have an extremely rough start. On Friday I woke up at butts-o’clock so I could log in and get a head start on things before I had to go to work. I did as much as I could of the main story quest until I ran into the roadblock of the first instanced solo duty. Being an optimistic sort, I ran to work and figured that I’d pick up where I left off when I got home. I spent all day at work worrying that my friends who had taken the day off were going to race past me and I’d be playing catch-up all weekend. By the end of the day I discovered that was not true. The instance servers were still overloaded and after a lengthy queue to get in my reward was being disconnected immediately when I tried to start my story quest.

All of Friday evening and Saturday I smashed my face against that quest, along with the thousands of other people milling around the questgiver and giving “insightful” commentary in the zone chat. In some other games this road block wouldn’t be quite so bad, but FFXIV gates their content heavily with their story. That means that all the new group content and zones were locked until we could get past this quest. On the plus side, I got some IRL crafting done, finished off my dad’s fathers’ day gift, and got to watch a movie. On the down side, I was so frustrated and angry I was about to just go play WoW and swear off FFXIV for a few weeks until I could calm down and they could fix the game.

Luckily, on Sunday morning when I got up the quest let me through on the first try. After that was a full day spent catching up on all the questing and dungeons and things I had wanted to do earlier in the weekend. I’ve seen the first dungeon and the first trial, and as much of the story as I can through level 64. The next step of the MSQ requires another level, and I’ve unlocked the second dungeon so I suspect I’ll be running that a few times until I can progress again. Some of my friends are doing all the side quests, but I prefer to level through group content if I can, so that those side quests are still around when my other classes need to be leveled. I greatly enjoyed the first dungeon, and ran it quite a few times as my friends got to that point in the story.

The story has been good so far. It is far too early to be posting spoilers, but I will say I am enjoying myself more than I thought. It is no secret that I didn’t care much about where the initial Stormblood story was taking us, but the MSQ is doing a good job of making me care. Also getting to travel around with Alisaie and Lyse has been one of the highlights of questing in any game I have ever played. The story leading up to the first trial was a joy, and if they swap out Alaisaie and make me go back to traveling with Alphanaud again I might never forgive them.

Reading Challenge #89: The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon

It’s reading challenge time again! This time I’ll be sharing my thoughts on #89, The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. This a relatively modern novel, as it was published in 1991. It is also a romance novel, a type of fiction I probably have not willingly read since around 1991. I had plenty of warning. It’s right there in the description on Amazon that this is a time travel romance novel. I’m not sure why I was surprised that it ended up being exactly that. I guess deep down I am still an optimist.

TW: discussion of abuse, torture, sexual assault

Continue reading

Stormblood This Week!

I have this weird mix of excitement and apprehension over the early-access launch of FFXIV Stormblood this weekend. On the one hand, I’m always glad when the stars align and all or most of my friends are actively playing the same game at the same time. On the other hand, I’m feeling pretty apathetic about FFXIV and MMOs in general lately. Sure, I had a brief burst of enthusiasm after the last live letter when we got to see cool things like the summoner getting to summon MFing Bahamut. However this has been tempered by the usual mix of positive changes, nerfs, and sidegrades that mean I’ll be relearning whatever class I decide to main. Because of course I still have not completely decided whether to be a scholar or astrologian this time around.

I wish I could steal some of the excitement my friends are feeling about this expansion. The sad truth is that I care even less about the Garlean empire and Doma than I did about the annoying pompous elves of Ishgard. I’m cautiously optimistic about the underwater content that’s been previewed. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you know I’m a sucker for beautiful sea creatures and underwater zones. The general consensus in gaming, though, is that underwater zones are really hard to get right, and a lot of people hate them. Hopefully FFXIV does them justice.

I’ve been playing tons of WoW lately and you might think that means I’m not excited about Stormblood because I think WoW is “better”, but you’d be completely wrong. WoW is currently scratching an itch that is more about nostalgia and inertia than any sort of compelling gameplay. In fact the most joy I’ve gotten out of it recently has been from ignoring what I’m “supposed” to be doing and just faffing about on alts. This makes me suspect that my return to FFXIV could be smoother if I try not to care about getting through all the content quickly and instead focus on enjoying whatever happens to capture my attention. Unfortunately if I want to capitalize on the brief time when all my friends are around and active, I’ll want to level quickly and be available for dungeons, trials, and raids. I don’t want to miss out on that all-important first-time-seeing-the-instance fun. That fear of missing out doesn’t mean I have to power level, because my friends are mostly adult people with jobs and families and things that mean we can’t all play for a week straight. It does mean I should probably pick one job and move through the leveling story with a purpose so I don’t get left behind.

There’s no easy choice for me between SCH and AST but at least I know I’ll still be maining a healer either way. And regardless of my apathy about the expansion itself I am genuinely excited to hang out with my friends and kill internet dragons or whatever their Doman equivalent is again.

More Class Mounts

After my previous run of class mount acquisition I thought I’d slow down a bit. The next mount on the list was actually not a mount, but druid flight form. I like Thisalee Crow, so I was happy to help her when she asked. We’ve got to defend the shrine of Aviana from a demon invasion, and take back the idol they stole so we can restore the flight form for all the druids of the talon who depend on it. This quest was surprisingly action-packed, and even though I’m not quite sure yet whether I like the new flight form, I definitely liked the quest to get it.

WoWScrnShot_061017_235310Next up was my rogue. I have loved everything about the rogue class hall and story so far, and this one started off with my favorite buddy Lilian Voss so I was excited. Unfortunately this quest chain is somewhat pvp focused and it stressed me out a lot. You have to kill marked targets in each of the opposing faction’s capital cities. This means using a lot of your various rogue-y tricks to infiltrate and murder your target before you get caught by guards or players. After I finished this quest I kept seeing Alliance rogues hovering around outside the Horde cities and now I know why. I have so much sympathy for them. On the plus side, I think this might be my favorite mount of all the new class ones.

Warlock started off slow because you have to gather a bunch of items up front, and one item you need only drops from the end boss of legion invasions. It felt very parallel to the pally quest, which makes sense since both of those classes had previous mount questlines. However where they pally one made up for its annoying start with a nostalgic romp at the end, the warlock quest just felt annoying. It might be because I’m not great at playing a warlock, but I didn’t think their mount quest was very fun. I do really like their mounts though.

The demon hunter quest might have been the easiest of all of them. They just have a short scenario where you fly down to the planet of the felbats and have to punch the felbat brood mother until she decides to be your friend. Or something. You have to chase her around a little bit and there is a cool moment where you have to glide down to her and jump on her back in mid-air. There’s also a set-up where you can use your demon sight ability to try to track her down, but it wasn’t strictly necessary to complete the mission. I might have been cooler to set up something that made it more vital, but it is difficult to make that work and not just be annoying. I was fairly happy that it was easy anyway, since I still felt like I was recovering from the rogue quest even after several days’ break. The mount is kinda cool looking although I hate the weird blade-on-the-head thing.

The only character I have left at 110 that doesn’t have her mount yet is my hunter, and she’s still a few days’ worth of questing away from unlocking the start of that chain. My shaman is still level 100, and the highest level warrior I have is only in the 70s, so it will be a while. So far, aesthetically the rogue mount is my favorite. As far as the quests go, if the start of the paladin one hadn’t been so awful that one would probably be my favorite. But because of the hangup of having to get crafted items and Suramar stuff it got knocked down a peg. Instead I have to say that the priest quest has been my favorite overall.

Class Mount Quests!

After how long we’ve had to wait for them to unlock, I was half expecting the quests for the new class mounts in WoW to be epic and complicated and time-consuming. This was not the case, and honestly I’m glad. Leveling up all the alts and finishing all of the broken shore quests to unlock the class mount quest was enough of a challenge. And for those who are dedicated to one class, there are a few extra goodies like spec-specific mounts and bonus pets for unlocking concordance. For me as someone who merely dabbles in all the classes for completion’s sake, I’m happy I get to see this little extra flavor content, and increase my mount stable a bit in the process!

For all classes, you need to complete the “Breaching the Tomb” achievement in order for the mount quest to unlock. It has been a lot of painful busywork doing those quests over the past few weeks, waiting for each new one to open up with the weekly reset. Now that they’re all available you can motor through them on new alts with no waiting. The main things that will slow you down are having to wait for an invasion for one of the early quests, collecting nether shards (I wait to spend any on new alts until after I finish this quest), and completing the broken shore order hall missions (if your champions aren’t leveled and geared yet). That last one was my biggest sticking point on many alts, but now that the requirement has been nerfed from 3 missions down to 1 I can finally move forward.

I haven’t done all of them yet, but much like the initial class hall quests, the mount quests are quite variable. Spoilers and opinions about the specific quests follow.

The monk quest was the first one I did, since that is theoretically still my main. Also because I can use the mount on my baby monk for our level-locked silliness. I was all ready to have more fun times with beer because that was pretty much the entirety of the monk hall quest line, but sadly after buying beer for one Master in exchange for a story there was no brew to be had. The quest has you running back to the peak of serenity to look for the tiger spirit who traditionally serves as mount for the grandmaster. It seems he’s been in mourning since the guy you replaced was killed in the demon invasion, which is why you didn’t know anything about his existence until now. It definitely has a very strong monk flavor even without much beer in it, and the mount is extra cool because he is a sentient being and will occasionally talk to you. Since this is my main I will also be attempting to get concordance eventually so I can unlock the matching tiger pet as well.

Next I did the pally quest. Sadly, one of the first things you have to do is buy a gem from some elf in Suramar. Did I mention I almost entirely skipped Suramar on all my alts? Before I could do the mount quest, I had to do Suramar far enough to unlock the mask so the vendors would even talk to me, and then I discovered I needed 500 ancient mana. My current cap was 300 so I had to first run and find 2 of the items that increase your  cap, and then go pick a few flowers in the vineyard until I had enough to buy the gem. After this inauspicious start, the rest of the mount quest was amazing. It is a huge callback to the original paladin mount quest from vanilla. You get to go back to Stratholme and kill a bunch of undead with a NPC all-pally party, and eventually purify Rivendare’s mount to turn it into your sweet new holy steed. I’m not entirely sure how I brought that undead horse back to life but I still enjoyed this quest a lot!

The next class on the list for me was priest. As someone who used to main a disc priest, I have not been happy with the direction of the “class fantasy” or the feel of priest healing in this expansion. This makes everything I do on my priest bittersweet these days. Anyhow, the priest quest premise was intriguing: Magni Bronzebeard, the dwarf who turned into a diamond and now speaks for the spirit of the planet itself, had a vision and sent me off on my quest. After my own heart, the quest sent me deep under the ocean in a submarine to a lost titan vault. Once there I got to see some banter between the Bronzebeard brothers and relive one of the most annoying Wrath-era dungeon fights with snarky dwarven commentary. It could have been obnoxious but I found it really charming. It didn’t feel especially “priest flavored” but it was an amazing quest and definitely one of my favorites. It also helps that I like the look of the priest mount a lot.

After priest, I tackled the mage quest. For that one you chase down a magic flying disc that Antonidas had been working on. It involved tracking down a couple archmages in various places around the world, and then a trial in the Eye of Eternity. I was hoping for some clever puzzles or something here but it was mostly a matter of tracking down the right mage and asking nicely if I could have their priceless artifact, please. The mage quest wasn’t as exciting or nostalgic as some of the other ones, but the trial was fun enough. You get to murder elementals of fire, frost, and arcane, which somehow bleeds off the excess energy from the disc parts and lets you combine them together into something that works. Sure, Antonidas never figured out how to do this and it was part of his life’s work and you knocked it out in 20 minutes. You’ll forget all about that once you’re riding around on your cool new mage frisbee.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten in the past 2 days, but Druid, Warlock, and Rogue are all ready to go and Demon Hunter is not far behind. I’ll have my comments on those quests up as soon as I get through them!

Silly Inspiration

Sometimes you get a weird bit of nonsense stuck in your head and there’s nothing for it but to see where it takes you. Such was the seed that started with a conversation lamenting that WoW doesn’t have level scaling in its dungeons like FFXIV does. This led to a discussion about the Herald of the Titans achievement (for killing Algalon at level and at the proper ilvl), and guilds that level lock themselves to do old content.

Suddenly this seed started taking root in my brain. I would love to do all those old dungeons and raids in a way that still felt meaningful, and let me have fun with my friends. Unfortunately I have no desire to try to find a guild that is already doing this, and I was doubtful that we could wrangle enough interest amongst our circle of friends to make it work. But. With three interested co-conspirators, we could still potentially do something silly and fun with the idea.

Thus a new guild was born. We three buddies would roll a new tank, healer, and dps and try to do all the dungeons in the game at level. Maybe even throw ourselves at the raids too, and laugh as we die horribly without a raid group. I think this will nicely scratch the itch to do something silly and fun with my friends for a little while, and should keep us entertained at least until FFXIV Stormblood gets here later this month.

Since Belghast beat me to the punch blogging about this, make sure to wander over there for his take on this nonsense. Maybe we’ll even stream our adventures!

Reading Challenge #90: The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock

I read this one while I was traveling, so it took me a little while to write up my thoughts. If you’re following along with my reading challenge this is #90 on the list, The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock. The first Elric novelette was published in 1961, with continuations, sequels, prequels, etc. being published through the early 2000s.

This one was tricky to get started on. There are a lot of Elric stories floating around and I had to resort to a chronological list to try to figure out exactly what I was reading and where it fell in the scheme of things. I ended up reading a collection that contained most of the stories from the 1960s, from Elric’s first appearance through the one in which he meets his end. From what I gather, the stories and novels published later are all meant to fill in the spaces in-between these original tales. While I enjoyed what I read enough to want more, I decided to stop in the interests of moving forward with this challenge, and not potentially ruining a good thing.

Elric appeared on the scene at a time when high sorcery and adventure were in favor and instead gave us a moody, evil, and ultimately weak anti-hero. The stories take place in a place and time that might be future or past but has to exist because the stories of heroes keep having to retell themselves. Elric himself is a long-lived, elf-like being, one of the last remnants of a dead civilization that’s been replaced by younger races. He’s the last of a royal line, but he’s sickly and weak and marked as an outsider by his albinism. The guy should be a giant walking cliche but even though I was rolling my eyes at the start, it turns out that these stories are actually strangely compelling.

There’s a thread of addiction and loss that feels personal even though it is presented in fantasy trope trappings. Elric’s sword, Stormbringer, feeds and empowers him via the souls of those he has killed with it. With it in hand he is nigh invincible, without it he can barely function, but in addition to being outright evil, it also has a penchant for claiming the souls of those closest to him whether he tries to prevent it or not. In the end Stormbringer is a necessary evil because without it Elric would be too weak to fight and chaos would take over the world.

The greater battle in this series is cast as chaos versus law instead of evil versus good. Many of the ideas presented here have percolated their way through so much of the fantasy media and games I’ve consumed, unknowing, over the years. In retrospect it is not surprising at all to me that some of the pantheon from these stories ended up in one of the early monster manuals for D&D. Again and again what was surprising was the quality of the writing itself and its somewhat more literary approach. Sure, some of its metaphors are heavy-handed, but at least there are metaphors instead of beating you about the head with the obvious like many genre works do.

Looking at the covers, the descriptions, and the date of publication of the Elric stories I would have guessed that I would be panning this series. Instead I really enjoyed it, and would recommend checking it out. Something about judging books by their covers I guess…

TL;DR:  A brooding anti-hero with a magic sword that manages to be engaging instead of completely cliched.

The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock

Rating: 4/5 stars

Verdict: I really enjoyed these, in spite of myself. Sword and sorcery isn’t usually my favorite genre but when it is this well written it is easy to see why so many people love it.

Next up: The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

June 2017 Gaming Goals

Hello again. I’ve survived yet another month and that means that it is time for this month’s edition of gaming goals.

May Goals Recap:

FFXIV: Get enough scripture to buy a weapon, and get it upgraded. Nope. I’m still sitting on all the materials for this because I could never decide if I wanted to buy it for scholar or astrologian. Then I stopped playing FFXIV for a while so it was moot.

Finish the aether oil step of the anima weapon. Yes! By some miracle I actually got this done. I blame a brief burst of enthusiasm for the game fueled by the most recent live letter with all the new Stormblood info.

Diablo 3: Complete the season. Yes! I honestly surprised myself with this one, because I was afraid I would get bored and wander away just before the finish line like last season. Instead I followed through and was weirdly proud of myself for accomplishing this.

WoW: Level one more class that I don’t already have at 110. Yes. Hahaha! I’ve been playing way too much WoW lately. The only classes I don’t have at 110 in some form now are Shaman, DK, and Warrior.

June Goals:

WoW: Level one more class to 110. I can tell I’m getting close to burning out on WoW, and with Stormblood on the horizon I know I’ll be putting it down once this month’s sub is finished. Hopefully before then I can get one of the 3 remaining classes up enough to see their story.

Subnautica: Rebuild my sweet sea base empire. This is my AggroChat game of the month for June, so I have to play it at least a bit. My intention here is to see what has been added in the 6+months since I last played, and to do my best to recreate some of the cool stuff I had acquired in my earlier playthroughs.

FFXIV: Play Stormblood. Ok this is basically cheating, of course I’m going to do this! But I don’t want to have any more strict goals because I want to be very chill and just enjoy the launch and the leveling process without having to rush things.

Once again this is a month with really modest goals. I’m hoping that means I will actually accomplish them for a change. And I know myself well enough to know that when Stormblood launches all other games will be purged from my attention for at least a few weeks, so there’s no sense trying to do anything ambitious in June.