Reading Challenge #72: Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

Whoops. I read this book for my challenge back in August, but never wrote up my review. Better late than never! Let’s talk about Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, first published in 1864.

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October 2018 Gaming Goals

It’s another month and time for another round of gaming goals. September started out optimistic but I got pretty derailed from what I intended to accomplish. Luckily it’s a fresh month which means a fresh start with new goals. Continue reading

Another D3 season

Blaugust took a bit more out of me than I had realized, and I’ve been pretty scarce around here this month. Whoops. I have been busy gaming, mostly focusing on stress reduction and occasionally doing random dumb things with my friends. That includes old raids for transmog and mounts/pets, running LFR and snarking about how terrible it is, and my main focus in the past week – killing demons in D3.

Season 15 is about a week old, and I’m much more engaged than I expected to be. It is hard for me to tell whether I’m going to bounce or not in any given season lately. Sometimes I just do the minimum to get the cosmetic rewards, other times I’m pushing all the way through the season journey ranks. I think this time around the combination of the luster fading from WoW’s new expansion and growing Diablo hype surrounding Blizzcon have made me much more excited to play than usual. I am really hoping for a big announcement this year, either a major new expansion or an entirely new D4 would make my Blizzcon.

As for this season, I think the fact that I arbitrarily chose to level a necromancer instead of a demon hunter is also helping keep me more entertained than usual. I don’t know the class as well so I have to focus a little more, and I don’t have all the builds and gear memorized so getting legendaries feels more exciting because I’m seeing new things. I’m also more motivated to farm good gear because I don’t have a completely ancient, augmented necromancer waiting for me in non-seasonal like I do with DH. The things I get this season might actually not get broken down for parts when the season ends.

I went with the Rathma + Jesseth build since Rathma’s was the free set this season, and it’s quite powerful. Once I finally got all the pieces for the build I rocketed through greater rifts and pushed up to 70 with no problems. Well, I died a lot, but I killed things so fast that I still had no trouble beating the timer. It did take me an unusually long time to get all the key legendaries I needed for my build this season. The two necromancer-only rings were the most elusive, which was frustrating because the circle of buy-one-get-one-free skeletal mages is really crucial. I finally had to resort to some degenerate behavior to force it to drop. Specifically, that ring has a minimum level requirement of only 11, which allows a nice trick to work. Instead of gambling at Kadala at level 70 and having a chance of every ring in the game, I leveled a new baby necromancer to 11 and gambled with her instead. That meant I was drawing from a pool of around 3 possible rings, instead of whole endgame loot table. This technique works best for items that can drop at very low levels, but if you find yourself in the situation where that one thing you need just won’t drop, it might be worth it to try.

Now that I’m all decked out (and have unlocked the possibility of primal ancients) I’m working my way through the season journey. I’ve cleared through Champion and just need one conquest to finish Destroyer. I definitely plan to get through Conqueror, and hopefully drag my buddy Belghast through with me since he still has a few stash tabs to unlock. The conquest choices this season are not some of my favorites. I plan on grabbing avarice first, since with the double bounty box event this season it will be very easy to cheese that one. The next easiest is probably the thrill, since I’ll have lots of paragon levels and high level gems to make GR45 less painful with or without a set. After that the realistic options are either masters of the universe, which requires leveling and farming gear with a second class, or boss mode, which will be very hard with only one or two people.

We’ll see if I keep my momentum this season or fizzle out before finishing. For now I’m still having lots of fun!

Friends and ponies

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What do you do when a dear friend has an extremely bad day? You help chase their troubles away with nostalgia. We went to ICC for fashion and fun, but lo and behold this beauty dropped. I’ve run ICC so many times I was starting to believe Invincible didn’t really exist, but there it was. Personal loot actually awarded it to me, and on any other day I would have squealed loudly and kept it without question. But since I was only there in the first place because of my buddy, I opted to roll for it. He won fair and square, and I handed it over gladly. It was such a ridiculously lucky find and I hope it really helped him feel better. I don’t get to keep those particular pixels, but I do get to keep the awesome memory of hanging out, having fun, and laughing about this stroke of luck.

October Daye

I’m taking a break from my reading challenge list to do some comfort reading. Specifically, I’m starting up my approximately annual re-read of the October Day series by Seanan McGuire. I discovered McGuire a few years back, by way of one of her other series under the name Mira Grant. That meant I was slightly late to the party on the Toby Daye books, but I’m a voracious reader and they are short, easy reads.

The biggest problem is that McGuire has obviously made some sort of dark pact or is secretly some sort of actual fae who doesn’t need sleep, because she is a hugely prolific writer. I often try to re-read all the Toby books every time a new one comes out, but it’s difficult. She’s now up to twelve books in 9 years. I anticipate at some point I’ll just have to keep endlessly cycling through them because there will be more than I can read in a year. Honestly I’d almost be okay with that – I find them hugely enjoyable. The main downside to that is I wouldn’t have the time to read all the other novels, short stories, poems, etc. that she publishes in a given year, much less anything by other authors.

The last time a new Toby book came out I only read the last 4 or 5 books, so this is the first time I’ve re-read the whole series in a while. I find the early books keep getting better in the context of the full series. They stand find on their own, but some of the characters and storylines they introduce get fleshed out later. McGuire has a long story in mind and it’s quite fun to go back and see how things were set up to pay off years down the road. The biggest of these payoffs happens in book 8, and it is a revelation going back to the beginning and re-reading in light of what happens there.

If you like urban fantasy that can be fun and not permanently grimdark, and that also doesn’t always focus on the main character’s sexual escapades like some other similar series (a pet peeve), I highly recommend giving these a read.

Here’s all the books in the series so far:

  • Book 1: Rosemary and Rue
  • Book 2: A Local Habitation
  • Book 3: An Artificial Night (Note: This might be my favorite book of the series).
  • Book 4: Late Eclipses
  • Book 5: One Salt Sea (My other potential favorite)
  • Book 6: Ashes of Honor
  • Book 7: Chimes at Midnight
  • Book 8: The Winter Long
  • Book 9: A Red Rose Chain
  • Book 10: Once Broken Faith
  • Book 11: The Brightest Fell
  • Book 12: Night and Silence

 

BfA One Month In

Battle for Azeroth has been out for almost a month now, so it seems like a good time to check in and see how things are going. I’ve been quite happy that I’ve had so many friends around this expansion. There was a surge like this at the start of Legion too, but it seemed smaller and shorter-lived. With the Robosquid Armada community we are slowly building a team to do M+ and maybe some raiding.

Aspirations of raiding aside, how does the game feel on a day-to-day basis? For me, the answer is a bit mixed. While I had mostly praise for the start of Legion, BfA seems to have some higher highs and lower lows. It got off to a rocky start before it even launched because from the moment it was announced I really didn’t like the premise of faction conflict that has been at the heart of all the marketing and build-up for this expansion. The War of the Thorns was great for getting some solid gear to start the expansion with. Unfortunately the story itself was equal parts infuriating and depressing. When BfA actually launched it was a bit of a shock that, at least on the Horde side, we almost instantly ditched all concern of Red vs. Blue and dove right into the cool troll stories of Zandalar.

After playing through every single quest I could find in all three zones, I have trouble deciding which was my favorite. Unlike Legion, there’s no place that feels bad or boring to quest through. I like them all. Zuldazar is enormous, richly packed full of the main storyline and tons of flavorful side quests. I love the jungle setting, and all the dinosaurs everywhere. My biggest complaint about the zone is at some point it starts to feel like it will never end. It’s not that I was bored with the story there, I was just eager to see the other zones too and it started to feel like I would never be able to leave! Vol’dun is a desert zone, which I usually don’t care for. This one, however, had lots of charm. There were times when I completely lost the thread of the main story, but I didn’t care because I was too busy hanging out with various undead and spirit trolls to worry about it. Plus this zone brought us the alpaca song, one of the high points of my leveling experience. Finally, there’s Nazmir. It has a pretty grim story, almost shockingly so in some spots. It also has a creepy swamp atmosphere which isn’t as fun as the jungles of Zuldazar. It’s the characters in Nazmir that make it really fun. Bwonsamdi and Talanji are the big ones, but the bit players are often really great too. I especially enjoyed the band of undead dealing with the snake incursion near the border of Vol’dun.

So overall the leveling experience was pretty great. I was blown away with the storytelling and leveling in Legion, and BfA is at least as good, if not better. Now the real question is: What is there to do at the level cap, and is it fun? Lots of things are fairly unchanged from Legion, like world quests and M+. World quests are much better than the old system of daily quests, but especially at the start of an expansion it can be easy to overdo it and burn out. I’ve been relieved that there’s not much my main needs from them anymore, so I can focus on just the emissary quest and maybe some pet battles instead of trying to do every single thing that offers gear.

The mythic+ system hasn’t really changed and I still have the same feelings about it. I don’t love the timer. It’s stressful and I would prefer a difficulty that ramps up without the artificial stress of having to beat the clock. At least you still get loot and an item in your weekly chest for finishing, even if you don’t make it in time. M+ also suffers from forced manual grouping. It’s fine for now when I have friends around, but in another month or two if people wander away I’ll probably just have to stop running them completely. Suffering through trying to join or organize a pug is not worth it.

There’s new things to do at the level cap too. Islands got boring for me after the very first time. There’s some mounts and pets in there so I’m sure I’ll keep doing them for a bit, but it is not an enjoyable experience. The random, 3-person group, combined with the race against the clock/ the alliance team also causes problems. Unlike in the old Pandaria scenarios, where you could always muddle through and take your time no matter what your comp was, getting an island group with 3 healing priests is pretty much a guaranteed failure. And yes, this actually happened to me. Not fun.

On the flip side, the warfront is actually fairly fun. I was skeptical because I don’t really care that much for RTS games or PvP, which are the major design inspirations for warfronts. But the gameplay is smooth and the rewards are pretty great. I’m concerned that they will feel stale in the long run, because the core loop is going to be exactly the same every time. Hopefully the fact that we alternate between taking the zone, having the zone, and building up the war effort will help keep it fresh for longer.

One last concern for me is professions. I know I’ve already complained about them a bit before, but now that I have been working on them even more I keep finding issues. For example, the raid crafting mats do drop in LFR, which is great! Except that if you are a LFR-only player you might still never be able to make the crafted raid gear. That’s because you can’t actually discover the recipes until you craft the mythic dungeon gear first. No mythics, no hydrocores, no chance at learning all your recipes. The other crafting annoyance is expulsom. Lots of things are very expensive this expansion, and scrapping unwanted gear for a chance at expulsom takes away one steady stream of vendor gold we’ve had forever. I feel an extra layer of pity for people who have the old popular combo of enchanting + tailoring, since they have to decide which they need more, enchanting mats or expulsom.

One last note to end on something positive. BfA is surprisingly kind to alts. After how horrible alting felt in Legion, it feels much better now. World quests are a speedy way to gear. LFR only requires a 320 item level. And the warfront is a fantastic fountain of loot without having to drag alts into mythics. Other than crafting feeling terrible, I have really enjoyed leveling and playing alts in BfA. My druid hit 120 over the weekend, and I can already do pretty much anything I want to do on her. The leveling story doesn’t feel stale yet, and I’m already excited to start leveling my next alt.

Overall I’d give the state of WoW right now a B+ grade. Some things are just not working well for me or are not very fun, but in general I’m enjoying myself and heavily invested.

Farewell WildStar

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 Raiding selfie.

The news broke yesterday that NCSoft shut down Carbine Studios and soon WildStar will be closed forever. I have so many feelings about this announcement, yet I almost decided to avoid writing about it. Why? Guilt, I suppose. I still have the WildStar launcher on my machine, and still log in about once a month just to look around, but I haven’t been playing it in any substantial way in over a year.

The game remains my favorite MMO of all time, but I’ve had a strange relationship with it toward the end of its life. I stuck around through some of its rocky times, even when almost all of my friends had long gone. I found a few different guilds, and sometimes even just stuck it out completely on my own. The point at which I left was when the writing on the wall became too clear to ignore. Once the staff had been reduced, and the flow of updates essentially dried up, it became hard to stay invested. I was in some sense trying to save myself some heartbreak when the game shut down by stepping away, and I guess it partially worked. Unfortunately I still also feel like I contributed to this sad outcome by giving up instead of staying a stalwart cheerleader. I know that my love of the game and extremely modest influence on my friends and readers wouldn’t have made enough difference to keep the game going, but I still feel like a bit of a traitor anyway.

Now that I’m faced with the certainty of WildStar’s looming demise, I’m not sure what to do with myself. On the one hand I would like to visit again, take some screenshots, and explore all my old favorite places. On the other hand I kind of want to keep all the amazing memories of the game intact without being colored by the lens of “this is the end”.

I send my fondest well-wishes to all of the Carbine folks who are now looking for new work. The WildStar devs to me were always the gold standard of positive interaction with the community. I hope everyone lands on their feet.

Finally, WildStar is the reason I have this blog. It’s the first game I got excited enough about to start writing, even creating guides. Here are some of my WildStar posts that give a timeline of my experience with the game:

Why Housing? – The exact moment when I discovered the magic that was WildStar’s housing system.

Farewell to Beta – The last chaotic moments on the beta servers were a fantastic party.

Healing on Nexus – WildStar’s healing was pretty different from any MMO I had played before.

I Leveled Up, Cupcake – I got my first character to the level cap and the whole world was opened up before me.

Strain! – WildStar’s early content patches were very meaty and fun.

Nexus is My Home – A few months after launch, when all the hype was starting to settle down, I was happily settling in for the long haul.

So Long, Moonshine Laboratory – An archive of my first major housing project in the live game.

Mega Madness – The game was less than 6 months old and we were already preparing for server mergers.

Relaxing for a Change – By October the game had gotten quiet, and my amazing launch guild had become “a ghost town”. I started looking for a new guild.

New Life – The server merger successfully made the world feel populated again.

Patchmas Eve – WildStar had a major content drop at the same time as some other MMO was launching an expansion that I wasn’t thrilled with.

Comings and Goings – The first time I wrote about coming to terms with the guilt of playing WoW instead of WildStar.

Zero to Hero – Announcement of WildStar going F2P brought me back to the game for a bit.

Raiding! – After playing the game for a year I finally got attuned and had the chance to raid.

Farewell to Blaugust! – I participated in Blaugust 2015 so there were a ton of posts. I’m most proud of the Shiphand Buddy series of guides that I made. This also marked my brief stint writing for a bigger fansite, WildStar Core.

RELOADED – WildStar went F2P. It had some rocky moments but I was happy to be invested in the game again.

Shade’s Eve – Still one of my absolute favorite holiday events in any game.

Cash Shop Complaints – With F2P of course comes a cash shop. WildStar’s shop was definitely far from perfect.

Sense of Community – Thaydfest, a completely player-run in-game event, was one of my favorite experiences in WildStar.

Rune Woes – Gear and end-game progression is a tricky subject in pretty much every MMO. Updates to WildStar’s system didn’t seem to improve things.

Space Case Blues – WildStar suffers from poorly implemented random loot crates.

They’ll Have to Kick Me Out – A round of layoffs at Carbine did not spell good news for the game.

November 2016 Gaming Goals – I had to start making goals for myself to play WildStar because I wasn’t spending much time there otherwise.

Weekly gaming grab bag – I mention WildStar and their newly-implemented post-level cap progression system. It felt daunting to a casual player trying to get back into the game.

After that last post, in April 2017, there are few mentions of me actually playing WildStar on the blog. I still constantly bring it up when comparing other games to it, because it did so many things right with its customization, fashion, and housing.

Forget your fears

Over the last few days I’ve been basking in the joy of having a group of friends all actively playing WoW together. I started this expansion somewhat resigned to the idea that I’d be pugging if I was running group content at all. Now, I’m almost daring to hope to be able to put together a small casual raid group. It’s so exciting!

Part of what makes me so happy about this is that it lets me do some extra dumb things that simply would not fly in a pug. For example, the other night I ran my first mythic. Now, I’ve had a reasonable ilvl for a bit so I could have been pugging these, but I chose not to. For whatever reason, the random groupfinder is fine, but my brain gets extra stressed out by having to apply to groups in the LFG tool. Instead, I grabbed a group of friends and coerced them into running a mythic. I had to coerce, because two of them were not even geared enough to randomly queue for heroics yet. I figured we might get a boss down and then give up and swap to heroic. What actually happened is we used CC and careful pulls and finished the mythic, while only wiping a couple times. It reinforced my negative opinions about people requiring 340 ilvl to run a mythic-0, and also reinforced my love for my silly friends.

This ridiculous process was the most fun I’ve had in WoW in a very long time. What I really want to do is translate this into raiding too. We might not get a full clear anytime soon but we can use every trick we have to get as far as we can, and laugh a lot doing it. The communities feature lets us scrape together our friends from every server, so that’s what we’re going to do. Check out Bel’s post if you are on a NA server, Horde side, and want to get in on this stupid fun.

2018 Blaugust wrap-up

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Today is the last day of Blaugust, and everyone is starting to reflect on the month and what we’ve accomplished. Before I get to that, though, I want to thank Belghast for setting everything up this year. There’s a bunch of time and stress associated with getting a community project like this off the ground. I’m so very grateful that he made the effort to revive Blaugust, give us some guidance and our Discord, and be our biggest cheerleader during this month of nonsense.

I managed to get 29 posts written here this year (counting this one). I would have had a perfect 31 but I decided to take last weekend off to avoid burn-out. Luckily I also have my other blog, where I have faithfully posted every single day. So in fact I will have a total of 60 posts up for the month. That’s so much blogging!

One thing that really set this year apart for me was the amount of interaction I’ve had with my fellow bloggers. I had more than double the views and almost ten times the comments compared to this time last year! I definitely attribute that to being more active in the comments here and on the blogs I’m reading. There are always so many awesome things to read over Blaugust, but I really made an effort to try to comment more this year too, which led to some really fantastic conversations. Most years I feel so exhausted and burnt-out after posting every day for a month that I end up taking a big break in September. This year I’m really motivated to stay active because I don’t want to miss out on chatting with the new friends I’ve made.

Thank you, fellow bloggers, for making this the best Blaugust ever!