Horizon Weekend

I spent almost my entire weekend playing Horizon Zero Dawn. By this I mean I stayed up until completely ungodly hours of the night, and then hopped back on as soon as possible after grown-up chores the next day. I have a burning need to talk about it, and since many in my social circles got distracted by Zelda I figure I get to talk to my lovely readers instead.

For the most part I’m a PC gamer. I don’t buy a lot of console titles because of the expense and because my PS4 setup is slightly awkward. That said, if Horizon is the only game I get for PS4 this year I will still be satisfied. I cannot express how deeply I am in love with this game. Before I gush about all the great things though, I will point you to this amazing piece about the cultural appropriation in Horizon and how uncritical perpetuation of some of these stereotypes is harmful to native peoples. It is definitely worth a read and some thought. I get the sense that the developer was trying to do the right thing here, but tried to get there by seeing which things appeared “less offensive” via google search instead of actually consulting with any native people. I hope they take it into consideration moving forward, because aside from that it was truly great to see both women in positions of power, and to see actual and frequent variety in the races of main and side quest characters.

So, the game is beautiful. I get that most modern games tend to be quite pretty in their own ways, but this one speaks directly to so many things I love. The first time you see a pack of machines with their eyes glowing in the early morning fog is like a dream. The scenery feels very real and as you find more of the “vista points” you realize it is representing a real place. One of the things I spent a ton of my play time on has been crafting upgrades for all my bags and ammo pouches. It probably would have been utter torture farming so many rat bones and raccoon skins if I hadn’t found a place I loved to farm them in. It’s just a little corner of forest, outside of a bandit camp I cleared and near a river. There’s no machines around, just peace and quiet and lots of wildlife to hunt. Several times I’ve gone back to this quiet place when I needed more meat or skins not necessarily because the hunting is great there but because I just love being there.

In contrast to the quiet moments, combat can be a bit of a roller coaster. I appreciate that the game really rewards thinking ahead. Laying traps, bombs, and tripwires ahead of time can really change the flow of a fight. Once a fight is engaged the pace can get a bit frantic, especially with larger monsters or swarms of things. I love the feeling of dodging and leaping out of the way of attacks, and running to slide into cover. The various concentration skills help to slow down time and still make precision hits even mid-battle, and make the whole thing feel incredibly epic. I also love that all of the weapons feel very distinct but still useful. Sure, I gravitate to using the precision sniper-esque bow, but I also regularly use the tripcaster, the normal bow, and both of the slings. They all have different uses, and as you get access to higher-quality versions they also gain new functionality via new ammunition types. It makes saving up for those purple-quality weapons way more satisfying since it unlocks new attacks instead of simply increasing a flat damage number.

This game is very good at making you feel like a complete badass. I’m not always the most proficient at shooting things in games, but Horizon gives me enough tricks and tools to make me feel amazing. The other area where this is really noticeable is during climbing sequences. I’ve played games that suddenly try to turn into platformers and feel like they are wasting your time making you learn a series of fiddly jumps with requisite falls to your death. Horizon clearly marks climbing-accessable areas with yellow paint or ropes. Yes this feels a little like cheating but I’m not complaining. Nor am I complaining about the way Aloy gracefully hops from one handhold to the next with minimal direction from me. It just works, it looks cool, and it gets me up to high vantage points where I can enjoy the view instead of leaving me cursing and swearing about missing a jump for the 50th time.

If I want something that more closely resembles a puzzle, I’ll head for a cauldron. These are part dungeon, part exploration/puzzle, and give some insights into the world story. I absolutely adore the two that I’ve seen. If you haven’t played through one yet, maybe skip the rest of this paragraph for spoilers… The first time I went to a cauldron I didn’t know what to expect at all. I really liked the change of scenery from mostly natural or time-ravaged landscape to actively functional machine works. I liked that it gave me lots of ways to be sneaky but I could also run in and brute force my way through things if I had to. The boss fights at the end were intense, although by the second one I knew enough to take my time and lay lots of traps around the room before engaging in combat. The cauldrons were a little time consuming but completely worth it, both for the experience of seeing how the machines are made and for the reward of new overrides upon completion. I can’t wait to explore the rest of these.

Ok spoiler-ish things over. I want to touch on the story but honestly there’s not a ton for me to say yet. The game does a great job of setting up both the current pressing issue that Aloy is working on as well as the broader mystery of what happened to make the world the way it is. I don’t know how involved the main storyline is because although I’ve spent what feels like an obscene amount of time playing I have only just arrived at Meridian, the big city that’s your first lead in tracking down the cause of the big bad thing that happens at the end of the quasi-tutorial section of the game. I am completely okay with this level of progress, because I’ve enjoyed every single distraction along the way. Errand quests, bandit camps, cauldrons, tallnecks, hunt challenge courses, they all have different levels of challenge and different but satisfying rewards. The only potential downside is that I’m now level 31 and my story quests are level 17-ish. However none of the story fights have been a complete pushover even with the level discrepancy so I can’t really complain.

Sometimes open world games lose me because they don’t give me enough direction, or they drown me in choices and I feel like I’m not making any progress on any one thing. Somehow Horizon avoids this and I’m not sure what makes it work. I think it helps that I bought all the available maps as I left the starting area, so vistas and collectables are marked and I don’t have to wander aimlessly and hope that I stumble into something cool. This basically saves me from having to open an external website or something, and lets me satisfy my compulsion to collect everything and essentially clear an area of content before I move on. I do enjoy the fact that they mark an area without pinpointing the exact location, though, so I still get a little bit of exploration and sense of discovery. It feels like a good balance, and the maps are completely optional so you can discover things on your own if you prefer that route instead.

Overall I am head over heels in love with this game. The story is interesting, the world is fascinating, the combat is satisfying, and you get to ride around on awesome robot animals. I know there’s an avalanche of great games releasing right now and in the coming weeks but if you were on the fence about this one I wholeheartedly recommend it. If you’ve been playing I’m curious how far you’ve gotten and what your thoughts are, so leave a comment and let me know!

Gear Valley Woes

I’ve been happily poking at FFXIV over the last week. It doesn’t have its claws back in me super deep yet, but I have at least been enjoying myself. Part of what’s keeping me from fully embracing my return to the game is that I am once again stuck in a bit of a “gear valley”. By this I mean that my gear isn’t good enough to do the newest content yet, but it is good enough that doing the highest level content I can will only net me marginal upgrades at best.

I’m aware this is often an issue in MMOs but it feels more pronounced in this case. I’m not sure whether it is because my fastest option for gear is Weeping City, which is painful compared to its 2.0 counterpart, or whether it is the fact that the more fun options like Alex have prohibitive queue times. Anyway after playing for a week I’m only a couple points away from being able to run expert roulette. I know it isn’t the end of the world to have this delay but I want to be able to play with my friends and also see the new story stuff that’s such a key part of the game.

To prevent myself from burning out running the same two dungeons over and over for “bookrock” currency I also made a tiny alt. Alts in FFXIV are a terrible idea, since you can of course be every single class on one character without having to start the whole story over. On the flip side, seeing the beginning of the story again after several years has been pretty fun, and wandering around the woods outside Gridania has been surprisingly soothing even if it is full of gross bugs and fungus. It’s been forever since I spent more than 10 minutes at a time just questing in FFXIV, and it has been good for my enjoyment of the game. I’ll probably try to fold things back into my main and maybe spend some time leveling one of my lowest classes like lancer, but for now part of the fun is going back to the start like re-reading a beloved book. It is a nice way for me to remember how much I enjoy the game when I’m not slamming my head against a gear check wall.

An Alt Problem

It is no secret around this blog that I have a serious case of alt-itis. In a lot of ways I envy folks that have one fixed character in an MMO and can focus all their time and energy into making that character the best it can possibly be. I sometimes try to do that, but far too often I get curious about how other classes feel to play, or even just want to replay the leveling content from a slightly different perspective. This has led over the years to a truly massive stable of alts in many games. The closest I’ve come to a single focused character is in FFXIV, where at least you can try every class on the same character. Even there, I have a couple low level alts bouncing around because I wanted to see the main story over again.

In WoW, which I’ve been playing for almost 10 years now, I have a giant pile of alts spread across factions and servers. This problem was exacerbated by the pre-Legion invasion event, which let me level quite a few more all the way up to 100. Horde side I’ve got 2 priests, 3 hunters, 2 druids, pally, mage, lock, shaman, DK, rogue all in the mid-90s or higher. Alliance side is also looking crowded, with priest, pally, druid, demon hunter, 2 mages, 2 hunters, 2 monks all 100+, with a warrior, priest, and a DK in the mid 70s as well. I’m probably still forgetting someone. If that sounds like a lot to keep track of, it is. Believe me, I’m incredibly glad that garrisons are no longer the gold making machines they once were, because in Warlords I spent all my time swapping between alts and doing chores instead of enjoying the game.

In Legion I’ve been a bit slower dealing with all these alts, and my usual mode of operations feels much less satisfying than it used to. Part of the reason I like having so many alts is to be self-sufficient with professions. Legion’s profession system is so painful that there’s much less incentive for using alts this way now. Heck, even my “main” still hasn’t maxed out her jewelcrafting. Once I got to the point where the only skillups to be found were not 100% chance from rank 3 necklaces that cost at least 4-6 blue quality gems to craft and sell on the AH for less than 1 cut gem I threw up my hands in disgust. I’ll get to the skill cap in about 3 months worth of Darkmoon Faire rather than waste my time and gold right now.

My other alts are in similar positions. I’ve got 2 monks, a mage and a druid all at 110 and none of them have a maxed profession. It just doesn’t feel worth it for the effort involved. I’m slowly working my way through the profession quest lines at least, and I do like that there is a bit more flavor injected into professions this expansion. The forced dungeons and the usual trap of being able to craft things that are expensive to make and useless to you by the time your skill is high enough to craft them are a huge turn-off though. I’d like to be able to make my own enchants and flasks, but the highest rank recipes are still pretty far out of reach on characters that I don’t want to be playing more than my main. At least I can do some gathering, and so far sending mats to my guildies in exchange for goods and services seems to be the way to go.

Leveling alts is extremely fast this expansion, but there’s not much payoff once you get to the level cap. I applaud the huge amount of “stuff to do” in Legion, it is definitely the most engaging expansion for me since Wrath. That same wealth of stuff to do makes alts overwhelming. I’ve obviously reached the point here a couple months in where I want to be branching out a bit with different classes and professions but it doesn’t feel good right now to do so. I’m still in love with this expansion, but it is not conducive to my alt-loving playstyle.

A little privacy

You’ve all seen me ramble about some of my social anxiety issues before, but Blizzard has brought it all back to the surface again. In patch 7.1 there’s a new Quick Join feature that allows your friends to see that you’ve joined a queue or a group finder group and easily join you. In theory this can be great. In practice I’m not sure this is something I ever want to use. I’m too timid to randomly join anybody who was starting a queue, I would rather pug than impose on my friends. Conversely, sometimes I want to pug, for the goodie bag or because I’m feeling antisocial. If a friend asks to join either I have to tell them no and feel bad, or let them join and then I’m not doing the pug I wanted to do. At least if you queue for a Call to Arms (goodie bag) it will not show you as available for Quick Join. Maybe I will start only queuing for things that are Call to Arms, honestly that’s not super different from how I play normally. Still, I will continue to shout this from the rooftops: Give us a damn invisible mode already Blizzard.

This also complicates getting mythic or M+ groups for people without a lot of friends on their list. Now any group that forms has a higher chance of filling up with friends-of-friends before strangers get a chance to sign up. This means if you have a huge friends list your chances of doing more mythics just increased, and if you have few friends it will be even harder to get a group. Just add regular mythics to LFD already Blizzard. This Quick Join tool is solving a much less pressing problem, and causing new ones.

I’ve been slowly working my way back up to a friends list with nearly 20 or so people on it, which is about 20 more people than my anxiety could handle before. If this new tool becomes a problem for me, I’m back to either purging my friends list or just running away from the game again. I get that this is not a problem that most people have, but I also know I’m not alone. It would be nice if Blizz ever once gave any indication that they acknowledged people like me exist and have valid concerns.

A month of Legion

Are you sick of me talking about Legion all the time? I’ll be honest I’m a little tired of writing about it, but I’m nowhere near sick of playing it. Now that we’re a full month in I wanted to do a little analysis of what’s working and what’s not in this expansion.

Great:
Scaling tech: I was super nervous about how this would work but the reality of it is that it’s seamless. It worked great for leveling and it meant I could run dungeons with friends and not care about everyone’s level at all.

World Quests: I love pretty much everything about this system. They’re varied and usually quick, you can do as few as 4 a day and still get your emissary quest done for rep and loot, and the rewards for individual quests feel more meaningful than the tiny gold and rep you’d normally get from dailies. The fact that you can have up to 3 stored emissary quests also helps you get things accomplished on your own schedule without feeling like you’re missing anything important.

Titanforged Gear: Related to world quests, the fact that any piece of gear can potentially upgrade makes lots of tasks feel more worthwhile. Sure, that quest reward gear might not be that great, but I’ll do almost any quest that rewards gear because there’s that chance it could titanforge and be amazing. I got a sweet pair of i865 boots this way the other day and I’m still excited about it.

Suramar: Suramar as a zone is huge, full of nooks and crannies that I still feel like I haven’t completely explored. Doing all the quests there, I kept finding subzones with long quest lines and tons more content than I expected. On top of that you have Suramar City and the nightfallen. Multiple times questing in the city I got the feeling that I was not even playing WoW anymore, and I mean that in the best possible way. It felt like a completely different, story driven RPG and I loved it.

Mixed feelings:
Legendaries: Random legendaries that change the way you play your class like in Diablo 3 seem pretty neat. The fact that they are a random drop is less neat. For something this powerful, I prefer a way to work towards it. At least they put in a bit of RNG protection behind the scenes. Only a couple of my friends have gotten one yet. I’m sure I’ll get one eventually, but I’m mentally preparing myself for inevitably getting one that is the least helpful for my spec and being sad about it.

Artifact Weapons: Getting artifact traits has been pretty neat, and does a decent job of replacing the fun of getting talents as you level up. The way the gains speed up with artifact knowledge seems to scale pretty well. It still feels a bit bad when you either make a new character and have a long road to catch up, or if you’re trying to split points between multiple specs.

Dungeon Difficulty: I’m mixed on this because while I enjoy the more difficult settings, the system feels a bit cumbersome. Normal, heroic, mythic, and mythic+ feels like a lot of options, but then you realize that the game really wants you to play on mythic or m+. Mythic difficulty has been the most fun by far, and some of the dungeons (I’m looking at you, Darkheart Thicket) feel incomplete or boring at lower settings. Many quests and dungeon meta achievements require mythic difficulty, yet there’s no random group finder for that setting. I really wish they had either allowed quest completion in heroic, or added mythic to LFD. That said, mythic and M+ have been really fun, and I’m hoping I can keep a coherent 5-person group together long enough to progress.

Not so Great:
Professions: Blizz did their usual swing here. Profs went from almost completely meaningless in WoD to complicated quest-locked monstrosities in Legion. For example I need to run around to 6 different old world zones and run a bunch of different dungeons to unlock some things on my jewelcrafter, and the gear I’ll be able to craft after this will still be ilvl 815 and fairly useless.

Meaningless Faction Bullshit: There’s really two items in this category. First is the stupidity of the faction story in Stormheim. It is bad and it should feel bad. I love my chosen faction and will wear my Horde t-shirt with pride like any other nerd but the faction conflict in the story feels incredibly weak and forced. I am so over it. The other item is tagging. Making normal mobs be multi-tag is amazing, but faction locking them is annoying. This doesn’t enhance my faction pride or desire to pvp, it just makes me angry at the designer who thought this was a good idea.

Odd Content Gating: This includes mythic-only dungeons, locking story behind mythics and out of the reach of LFR, and the fact that there’s no LFD for mythics. I am lucky I have a group of friends playing right now but lots of people don’t. Why is so much of the story gated behind more difficult content with no easy grouping option? Related- this contributes to my feeling that LFR is almost entirely useless. You can get better gear from world quests, and it doesn’t work to progress story. Why on earth would anyone go in more than once just to see the fights?


Overall I’m still in love with this expansion a month in. I would currently rank it as my 2nd favorite, after WotLK, and if it keeps going well it might even move up to first place. How do you feel about Legion after the first month?

Yet another week of Legion

Another week has gone by and I’m still in my infatuation mode with Legion but it is starting to wear a bit at the edges. In the big picture sense I haven’t made a lot of huge progress since last week, but everything has still been moving forward in a satisfying way. Mage and Monk are still my only 2 characters at 110, but I now have 2 druids, a priest, pally, and another monk in various stages from unlocking the class hall through level ~105. Other than the minor faction BS that happens in Stormheim, there’s not much difference between Horde and Alliance side. This is making me feel less bad about focusing on my alliance servers where my friends are. It also helps that professions are so tied to quests that having my army of alts horde-side isn’t as huge a benefit, and is more a liability at this point.

I got to raid a tiny bit on Friday! We only cleared the first boss and put in a few attempts on the spider-bird boss, but it was a fun time. I also got to try a couple mythics and my first mythic+. Mythics are fun, they feel about what I’m used to for heroic dungeons. My only complaint about them is that they aren’t available through the group finder. I am hoping as the expansion goes on and the gear cap rises that they might lift that restriction, because there’s nothing about normal mythics that makes me think a restriction on grouping is necessary. Mythic+ on the other hand, that kicked our butts. I mean it probably didn’t help that we had never been in that particular place on regular mythic. We had a good time and we did complete it, but nowhere near beating the timer. With a couple weeks worth of experience and gear I’m sure we’ll be in good shape.

A few other things happened inside my brain over the last week. First, I finally realized that yes, I really am a healer at heart. Goodbye short-lived mage main, we hardly knew ye. Monk healing is fun and satisfying, and since I have a good group of friends to do mythics and raids with I think it needs to be my main. It will take a couple weeks to get fully up to speed on her compared to where my mage was, but it will be worth it to be settled in and not feel pulled in multiple directions. I even kinda enjoy windwalker, even though I usually hate melee. I’ve been playing it enough during world questing to get used to it though, and ran a dungeon as dps and it wasn’t awful. That was my one outstanding worry about monk and it is pretty resolved so I think I’ll be really happy going forward.

The other brain thing that happened is that Blizz’s insistence on forcing people to manually group for things and putting story content out of reach of the group finder has made me stop giving any fucks about it. I’ve got groups and friends so I can totally do these things! But sometimes I just want to queue for LFR and knock out a quest or run a random dungeon when my friends aren’t around. Now LFR gives absolutely nothing I need, not gear or quests or anything, so I have zero reason to do it. And heroics are only really worth it if there’s a world quest or a healer goodie bag. I am wondering if this expansion is going to really divide the population, between casual solo-ish folks who only do world quests, because they can’t move the story forward in accessible content, and raiders who group with their guild for the hard stuff and have no reason to do LFR or heroics. There doesn’t seem to be much incentive this time around for those two groups to overlap. At least in the last 2 expansions you could work on the legendary questline in LFR. Anyway I’m curious to see how this plays out, but I’ve decided I need to stop caring about the story and rewards that Blizz put in front of me and just wander around doing whatever I feel like instead.

Complicated Past

On the Aggrochat podcast this week we all talked a bit about our various histories with World of Warcraft and why it sometimes sounds like it physically pains us to speak about that game today. One of the things I didn’t go into on the show was a huge part of my relationship with WoW. Not too long after I started playing I was struggling with medical issues and in particular chronic pain. WoW was a source of comfort and companionship no matter what weird hour of the night I found myself needing it. I even found folks who were going through the same thing as me, and had a bit of a support group of blood elves with medical problems. When I was stuck home on medical leave and recovering from surgery, WoW helped me feel like I was still connected with the outside world. To this day it is still a comfortable refuge when life is crappy, even though the game itself has changed dramatically, and even though I lost touch with most of the people I was friends with in that painful past. It also means I can’t think or talk critically about WoW and its history without remembering what I was going through back then, and all the friends I gained and lost.

The Invasion Roller Coaster

It’s no secret that I’ve been having some fun with the pre-Legion events happening in WoW. The new quests are interesting and chock full of lore, and the invasion events are entertaining, quick, and showcase some pretty sweet new tech that we’ll see more of in the expansion. Those invasions have gone through some major changes since they went active, though. While my enjoyment of them in general is still high and I do still think they are a success, the whiplash-inducing speed at which xp gains have fluctuated has been troubling. It showcases what appears to me to be the usual Blizzard motif of making huge changes, reversing them, then eventually settling in a middle ground that nobody asked for. See: flying, daily quests, etc.

When the invasions started last Tuesday they gave almost zero XP for leveling characters. I did a few on my baby mage back then. While the scaling tech was cool and getting level-appropriate gear out of the treasure chests was nice, without any XP there was no incentive at all to farm on low level characters when I had perfectly good 100s around that needed gear.

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Not-so-baby-anymore Mage’s new arcane transmog for level 100!

Then the invasions were hotfixed to provide XP. Oodles and gobs of XP. Delicious XP as far as the eye could see. A single full invasion could give multiple levels worth of XP for lowbies, and even at 90+ they still gave a huge fraction of a level. During this bounty I leveled my baby mage from 61 to 100. For the last 10 levels I held onto my boxes, and when I dinged 100 I had almost a full set of ilvl 700 gear, including a fully upgraded ilvl 725 weapon and a couple of warforged 710 and 720 pieces. Truly it was a glorious time to be a baby alt.

The update this Tuesday pretty thoroughly derailed this XP train. Yes, you still got XP for invasions, but only a fraction of what they gave last week. Yes, technically there was more XP available in any given 4-hour window for one toon, because there were more invasions spawning. Unfortunately it required much more work, traveling around getting to each invasion and completing 6 instead of 2. During this time, I’d say that invasions were still worthwhile for lowbie characters, but only to do a few times to earn specific rewards you might be chasing, or fill in time between dungeon queues. There was just way more effort required to get the same amount of reward as last week. This led to even more people than usual afking to get the stage completion XP, instead of actually participating in the event.

More recently there’s been yet another adjustment to try to address the afk problem. Now XP from killing mobs in the invasions has been substantially increased. I get that this is to try to encourage people to actually participate, but it has some nasty side effects. The XP gets split depending on contribution, and depending on how many people are attacking a given mob. That means that big bosses with dozens of people hitting them still give almost no XP, and even smaller mobs that you could solo will have their XP reward halved if someone else touches them. This encourages people to hunt down smaller mobs to solo kill in hidden corners of the zone, and to get belligerent if anyone comes along to try to help. It seems like exactly the opposite of what you would like to see in terms of people working together to take on these big social events. It is also extra rough for lower level characters, since with no or only slow flight it is hard to get out of the main town and contribute in phase 3.

I’m not sure why they felt the need to keep changing things so drastically. I honestly would be fine with either of the first two XP options they tried. The first way, with no XP to speak of, at least let lowbies participate and see what all the fuss was about, while encouraging people to gear up their level 100s. The second way, which worked the most in my favor, let people get to 100 quickly and get ready for the expansion. Since it is such a limited time event I’m not sure why Blizzard sees it as so bad that people are excited about the expansion and want to have their toons at max level to be ready to see the Legion content. It seems like it would encourage expansion sales, although I guess it would probably hurt the sales of level boosts.

All of the additional changes this week have mostly served to annoy me. At this point I have no idea what to expect from invasions from day to day, and what the most useful and profitable way to participate in them will be. While I could use the ilvl 700 gear on some of my alts, I don’t need anything else for cosmetic purposes, so maybe this is just the point where I stop bothering with invasions altogether? If everybody starts feeling this way though, we’ll get to the point next week where invasions are popping up everywhere all the time, but nobody cares enough anymore to bother trying to stop the Burning Legion. That would be a bummer of a way to start off a new expansion.

All the Fel

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My garrison was feeling left behind so I brought the demon invasion to it.

When the 7.0 patch hit I was surprised how much I still stayed in my garrison. There was cloth to make and missions to run to stock up on resources so I could buy fur so I could make more cloth…it was still almost as tedious and exhausting as it was before the gold missions got nerfed. I was starting to worry that I’d end up spending Legion still hearthing back to my garrison just so I could keep working on professions and making bags to sell. Fortunately last week’s demon invasions have thoroughly cured me of my garrison addiction. When I bother to check in on them, my garrisons are full of resources and waiting for me to restock everything. In between, I’m not thinking about them at all and that’s 100% fine by me. My baby mage is 92, she’s going to hit 100 this week, and the stretch from 60-100 will have been fueled largely by invasion events instead of questing. I’m going to squeeze all of the leveling goodness out of this that I can because I know it is going away at the end of the month. The only other question is, can I level another alt to 100 before it goes?

Are you watching Steven Universe?

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I didn’t get as much time as I would have liked to play games last night, but I did get to watch a few episodes of Steven Universe that were sitting on my DVR. I started watching the show a bit late, and I admit I was pretty baffled by the outspoken love for this show on my social media radar. The show is about a young boy named Steven and his alien gem friends/caretakers who protect the planet earth. It is a fairly normal-sounding premise for a generic kids cartoon, but luckily the delivery is anything but generic.

Steven Universe does so many amazing things I wish I had seen on TV when I was a kid. Almost all of the main characters are women and girls. It has perfect beautiful normal flawed queer relationships. I realize it is 2016 and I should be taking things like this for granted by now, but it is still amazing to me for a cartoon to step forward and say “these people love each other” without being either so subtle about it that it could be overlooked or so awkward that it is meant to be a lesson not a relationship. Likewise, the show covers some pretty grown-up sounding themes like consent in a straightforward honest way without ever having to mention sex, and without sounding like an after-school special. To top it off it packages it in a cheerful fun art style and some of the most amazing catchy music I’ve ever heard on television.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I really recommend you give it a try. Start from the beginning if you can, because the series is definitely telling a story. The most recent episodes pack a real emotional punch for fans, but might just be 15 minutes of confusion for someone new to the show. I was hooked within the first 5 or 6 episodes, and if you make it to episode 12 (Giant Woman) and aren’t completely sold then I think you can probably walk away safely. At this point the show has become enough of a cultural touchstone among my social circles that I couldn’t imagine being without it.