Offline Adventures – The Medium

I’d read about The Medium here and there a while ago, but although it did look somewhat interesting I wasn’t intrigued enough to actually give it a shot. Until I learned that none other than Akira Yamaoka (of Silent Hill fame) had contributed to the game’s soundtrack, that is. At that point I just had to buy the deluxe edition – including a digital artbook and, most importantly, the soundtrack – right away, so off to GOG I went.

I’m glad that I did because the ~12 hours it took me to see the end credits were a pretty good experience. I’d describe The Medium as a rather easy third-person adventure game with light to moderate stealth elements and psychological horror. It’s not an all-time classic, but if you’re a fan of the genre(s) I can recommend it.

I won’t spoil anything about the story as I feel it’s actually the game’s strong point, and I think knowing too much about it beforehand would seriously lessen the experience. Instead I’ll talk more about gameplay, controls, sound and graphics, which are also pretty important for a game like this in my opinion.

I had to crank up the brightness of all screenshots significantly – the whole setting is pretty bleak

First of all – the graphics are simply stunning. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite come across on stills, but this is easily the most realistic looking game I’ve played to date. As usual the characters’ faces don’t quite reach that high standard, but apart from that I felt totally immersed in the environments – well, at least those located in the real world.

The game’s advertised standout feature is its “Dual-Reality-Gameplay”. The main character, Marianne, is the eponymous medium, her ‘special ability’ being to let her consciousness slip into the spirit world. Well, I say let, but most of the time it doesn’t actually happen by choice. Also, she can’t stay separated from her body for too long in that state, so most of the time she’s moving and acting in both worlds at once and in unison. These scenes are shown in split-screen, sometimes divided horizontally, sometimes vertically.

When an obstacle is blocking her passage in either world she can’t pass it, which is when she has to temporarily leave her body behind and hurry to cook up a solution in the spirit world, or alternatively find a way around in the real world. Many of the game’s puzzles revolve around this.

The feature isn’t as revolutionary as advertised, but it is quite neat. Navigating a character through two worlds at once that look kinda the same but also very different feels pretty cool. As this is all rendered in real time it’s also taxing on the hardware though, so a newish gaming rig is recommended.

During the course of the game Marianne is confronted by a nightmarish creature every now and again. It can’t be defeated, because of course it can’t, so the only option is to hide and sneak, as it were. I’m not a fan of such mechanics, but it didn’t bother me too much here as these scenes are short and not terribly hard to beat. They feel pretty intense too, so op success I guess.

As Marianne advances through the game she finds more and more story clues, often in text form (letters, postcards and such), but there are also disturbing sketches like this as well as conversations that happened long ago, still existing as echoes in the spirit world.

If there’s one thing I’d have to criticize it’s that the amount of objects actually being utilized in puzzles is miniscule compared to the stuff that’s “just” there to unveil the story. Consequently there aren’t that many puzzles to solve overall, so as far as adventures go this one is an ‘adventure light’ at best.

At certain points in the story you take control of another character’s spirit form. This tormented soul, obviously also a medium and central to the plot, has to face some really dark places, which are the game’s most impressive set pieces.

But what about the music? That’s what I bought the game for, isn’t it?

Well, it’s quite good. Really good, actually, now that I’m listening to it again as I type this. The crux is, it’s neither as atmospheric nor as disturbing as Silent Hill’s soundtrack, so I guess the fact that I’m not totally over the moon is simply due to too high expectations. What else is new?

As for controls, I used my trusty Xbox 360 pad and had no problems, except that I use it too rarely and always need an hour or two to memorize where A, B, X and Y are located. I assume using mouse and keyboard would work just fine too, but haven’t tested it.

Checkpoint placement is regular and fair. I was annoyed only once during my playthrough when I had to repeat a section a couple of times, and that wasn’t because of the checkpoint itself, but because of the 20 second-long unskippable cutscene right before the tricky part.

And there you have it. Overall I really liked the game, and if I were to make one of those tier-lists that are so popular these days I’d give it a solid B.

Towards the end the atmosphere even lightens up somewhat. Whether that’s a harbinger of a happy ending you’ll have to go and see for yourself.

Three changes that would make Genshin Impact even better

Having played the game daily for about five months now I think I have a pretty good grasp of which aspects of its design do and do not work well. It’s a great game overall, don’t get me wrong, but in my opinion it could be even more enjoyable with some tweaks here and there.

I’m going to try and keep it reasonable though, so don’t expect me to say “They should get rid of the gacha mechanics and make their monetization non-predatory and fair” because, while I obviously would welcome such a change, it’s just not going to happen.

Without further ado, here are three possible adjustments to Genshin Impact that I think would be really great for its players while not hurting miHoYo’s bottom line – at least I assume they wouldn’t; in fact they might actually turn out to be beneficial for the company’s profits.

Usual combat rewards on the left, expenses at lvl 79 on the right

Greatly increase XP and Mora rewarded for combat

While we do get some character-XP and Mora for killing monsters in the open world the amounts are so negligible that they might not even be there.

Despite this being the case I still only level most of my characters to 79 instead of 80, for example, but that’s just because I’m weird like that and won’t let anything go to waste, however little it might be. In reality though, it would take years for an 80+ character to gain another level this way.

The thing is, unless there’s an event going on getting hold of XP materials and Mora in actually useful amounts is, like most everything, gated by the resin system. I get why they do it that way, but at least in this case I think it’s a mistake.

Here’s why: being able to level up all my characters would feel much better, be more fun and also make me want to have even more characters.

This is so sad…

You see, at the time of this writing I have 26 characters at my disposal, and the max level is 90. However, the current level-distribution is as follows (rounded):

    • Level 90: zero (!)
    • Level 80: seven
    • Level 70: five
    • Level 2-60: four
    • Level 1: ten

Now, it’s not that I can’t play the game well with these characters, quite the contrary. As a matter of fact the difficulty curve I talked about a while ago flattened considerably once I’d reached adventure rank 40 and stopped doing daily comissions, and by now my teams smash everything but the lowest two levels of Spiral Abyss with relative ease.

Still, all those characters sitting glumly at level 1? I really would like to level those up too, and getting my main damage dealers up to 90 wouldn’t hurt either. Alas, I can’t afford it. As a consequence I’m not looking forward to any new character banners right now. Even if they look really interesting, I just don’t need any more when I can’t even use half of those I already have.

What’s more, roaming the open world and killing stuff would be much more enjoyable and feel more rewarding if we could actually level up our characters that way and also earn some Mora while we’re at it.

As long as it isn’t excessively overtuned I don’t think this would break anything either. The game has so bloody many progression-bottlenecks – character ascension- and XP-mats, weapon ascension- and XP-mats, talent books, artifacts, Mora – that loosening the chains a bit on two of those wouldn’t result in us getting bored or fed up anytime soon.

So, what happens when players have more fun, feel more rewarded and are even encouraged to get hold of and level up more characters? If you gave this a shot it might well turn into a win-win situation, you folks at miHoYo. Just sayin’.

This was really fun…while it lasted

Make event-content permanent with reduced rewards

All those great gameplay additions that came alongside the numerous events we got to play since the game’s release? Yeah, they’re all gone now.

I’m not a developer, so I don’t have a realistic notion of how much work went into that stuff, but I’m pretty sure it was too much to just throw it all away after a week or two.

What’s more, it was ‘something else to do’ for players. And also fun. Why not make it permanent?

Oh, I get it, they want us to feel that FOMO really bad. But trust me, as long as the rewards remain on the generous side (a tad more primogems would be even better though!) we’ll still log in every day to participate in the actual events for sure. But once those are over, just dial the rewards back considerably and let us continue to play the stuff if we want to.

I’ll use Theater Mechanicus as an example. They could bring this back and let us play it as often as we like. The reward per match could be a choice of either, say, 30k Mora, two blue talent books or two blue ascension mats. The first two matches per week are free, after that it costs 10 resin per. Maybe those numbers aren’t quite optimal yet, but you get the idea.

This would encourage all players to engage with the content at least from time to time, while giving those who really love doing it the option to earn their Mora or character mats this way instead of doing leylines and domains, without either being the obviously better choice.

Fire ventures with you? Fine, but please leave me out of it!

Make constellations toggleable

For non-whales constellations mainly exist to take the sting out of getting duplicates from the gacha system and are supposed to make the characters in question stronger.

However, the effects of some character’s constellations can actually have a negative impact, depending on how you play them and which other characters you team them up with.

The most obvious one is Bennett’s C6 (shown above), which makes his ultimate ability convert most characters’ normal and charged attacks to Pyro damage. Under the right circumstances this can be really great. Unfortunately, if your group’s main damage dealer mainly relies on physical damage (and thus probably wears gear with bonuses to that type of damage on it) this actually lowers their damage output considerably.

So…you’d like us to happily pull for more characters and constellations, right? Then at least make sure that we can’t accidentally mess up our characters by doing so and give us a toggle for all constellations please.

This is supposed to always be a joyous moment, isn’t it?

And there you have it. I think these changes would make an already great game even better, and while I’m not an expert on such things I really believe that none of this would make players spend less money on it…so why not do it?

Accuracy is a bad stat in MMORPGs

The other day I was fiddling around with my characters’ artifacts in Genshin Impact, pondering which ones to keep or ditch, which to upgrade further or leave as is and so forth.

Getting really good artifacts like the one seen above is quite hard as there’s a lot of RNG involved.

Firstly, the main- and sub-stats they drop with are – with a few exceptions – completely random. You can (and regularly do) even get pieces of such a set, this one is obviously meant for Hydro characters for example, with a bonus to, say, Pyro damage as its main stat. While such an item isn’t necessarily useless it certainly isn’t what you’re hoping for when farming a particular set.

Secondly, each time you raise an artifact’s level by 4 it gets an additional (random) sub-stat unless it already had four. In the latter case one of the existing sub-stats is chosen, you guessed it, randomly to get a boost.

MOAR CRITS, MOAR DAMAGE, MUCH GOOD!!

It isn’t all bad though. With perseverance and a bit of luck it’s absolutely possible to get very strong artifacts, as you can see here.

The main reason for this, I believe, is that there aren’t actually that many different stats for the RNG to choose from. Therefore you’re gonna hit the desired combination eventually.

Anyway, all this made me think about the different kinds of stats I’ve encountered over the decades in various RPGs, MMO or otherwise, which finally brings us to the point I’m trying to make today: depending on class, playstyle et cetera there are always desirable stats and undesirable stats…

…and then there’s Accuracy.

Seriously though…why?

I’m really glad that Accuracy doesn’t exist in Genshin Impact because, as far as I’m concerned, it is the most annoying, unnecessary and, above all, unfun stat of them all.

The way I see it Accuracy, sometimes called Hit Rating or somesuch instead, is a remnant of Pen & Paper RPGs that should never have made its way into RPGs played on digital devices in real time.

“But Mail, when characters in Dungeons & Dragons have a THAC0 it makes sense that characters in computer- or console-RPGs have it too, right?”

Well, no. Let me explain why.

When you play Pen & Paper a dice roll is usually the only way to determine whether or not your character succeeds at whatever it is you want them to do (unless the GM hates you or something). If you didn’t need to win those rolls your alter ego would be pretty much infallible because in order to make them do something you but need to say it.

Go ahead, try to do that in a real time video game. I’ll wait.

Didn’t work out so well, did it? That’s the thing. ‘Telling’ your character what to do is so much more complex and, at times, difficult in Action RPGs, MMORPGs and other games of their ilk nowadays that this already is the challenge. Adding an arbitrary dice roll to decide whether you succeed or not is not only unnecessary, it’s downright mean.

So you’ve positioned your character correctly, selected the right target and pushed your myriad of buttons in the optimal order and all at the right time? Well done to you, mate, but unfortunately the dice roll says that you failed to interrupt the boss’s one-shot mechanic, and now you’re dead.

Sounds like fun? Yeah, didn’t think so.

In order to minimize those frustrations you can try to maximize your Accuracy-stat of course. I see two problems with that though.

One, more than a few games that have a Chance To Hit mechanic also have a hard cap for it, so you’ll still fail a roll every so often no matter how much of the stat you stack on your gear, which makes it even more unfun.

Two, and this is what bugs me the most, it’s a must-have stat that does basically nothing for you. In The Secret World and SWTOR I stacked as much Accuracy on my tank gear as theorycrafters had figured out was necessary to practically (in SWTOR’s case literally) have a 100% chance to hit in any situation, just to be sure I’d never miss an important impair or taunt, respectively.

So what I did was, in essence, to waste a whole lot of my available stat pool to make sure I’d never realize it’s even there.

Ok, maybe I just fell off the platform this time…

But isn’t raising our characters’ stats supposed to be one of the really fun things about playing RPGs? Hitting harder, running faster, jumping higher, all that jazz…that’s fun! Notice how “Missing less often” isn’t on that list, and it feels even worse when I’m basically forced to pour stats into this instead of those other things that are actually enjoyable.

And, again, having another way to fail in video games where the difference between victory and defeat hinges as much on my skill as a player as it does on my character’s stats anyway is just not necessary. I can easily manage to screw up on my own, thank you very much.

So, yeah, I know where the Accuracy stat is coming from and why it makes sense in its original context. But can we please get rid of it in MMO- and Action-RPGs? Like, for good?

Don’t miss out on this – Genshin Impact

An event is currently running in Genshin Impact – as per usual – and I highly advise anyone who’s played and liked the game before to put Valheim away for a bit (c’mon, we all know you’re playing that one right now) and take a look. It’s so worth it on every level!

The event is called Lantern Rite and is most likely based on the Chinese spring lantern festival. Storywise it’s full of feelgood-moments and laughs, the new gameplay mode is awesome, rewards are great and festively decorated Liyue Harbor is a sight to behold.

The quests are all centered around helping Liyue’s populace with their various preparations for the festival, and they’re quite numerous.

I won’t lie, gameplay-wise these aren’t revelatory in any way, shape or form. But, again, the stories are mostly quite good, and you learn a lot about various people, many of which you’ve already met before while doing world quests or daily comissions. I’m really curious now about what the future might bring for some of those NPCs, which is a feat not many games have managed to accomplish.

The new game mode is called Theater Mechanicus, and it’s basically tower defense, Genshin Impact style.

On first glance it’s simple: monsters come out of one or more purple portals and walk (or run) towards one or more blue exit portals. You can’t deal damage with your characters directly, but applying elemental statuses with your attacks works. The only way to actually damage the mobs is to build automated turrets. They come in different flavors, and those that deal elemental damage can also trigger one of the various elemental reactions for even more damage.

The turrets have varying ranges and attack speeds, so careful placement is key, as is choosing the right characters going in. Those that match the turrets you’re intending to use best for setting up the strongest elemental reactions will yield the most devastating results.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like this mode as tower defence isn’t exactly my cup of tea. But I gotta tell you, this is so much fun!

It’s incredibly satisfying to set up big reactions and see a whole bunch of those big shield-wielding hilichurls explode in an instant. Or, even better, once I’d upgraded my hydro turret to level 5 and thus unlocked its ability to trap monsters in a bubble of water I instantly knew what I was going to do: give those annoying Abyss mages a taste of their own damn medicine!

Setting this up took a bit of work, but the result made me squeal with glee

It’s even more fun with a partner – yes, two player Co-Op is enabled for this mode. Lakisa and I play at least a couple of rounds every evening since the event went live.

Of course the rewards are nothing to sneeze at either.

As you can see I’ve already accumulated a lot of the event currency. What can I say, I’m saving up for a big shopping spree, hehe. There’s talent and ascension materials on offer, XP scrolls, Mora, the lot. A very rare Crown of Insight, an item needed to get a character’s talents to level 10, can also be bought, as well as an event-exclusive namecard style.

Probably the best reward of all, at least for F2P players, is a free four-star character. This isn’t the first time that’s happened, but which character we’d get had always been predetermined until now. Well, not this time:

All of these characters are really strong in their own way, so there should be something there for everyone.

At the time of this writing there’s 10 days and 15 hours remaining to play the event, so there’s still plenty of time to see and do everything. What are you waiting for?

I gotta say though, in my opinion it’s a shame that it’s all going to go away so soon. I really hope miHoYo is at least considering leaving Theater Mechanicus in the game in some form. It would be a real waste to take it out completely because it’s well made content that surely took quite a while to develop, and, well, is a lot of fun.

Thanks Paimon, I’ll take it!

Technically not tied to the event, but still worth patching up the game for too, is the current log-in campaign. Most notable are the up to ten Intertwined Fates you can get, which means ten free pulls from one of the time-limited gacha banners containing characters and weapons exclusive to those banners. There’s 8 days and 15 hours left to claim these seven reward tiers, so better get to it right now.

I’m still surprised about the high quality and quantity of content this game keeps getting. Again though, it’s a shame that so much of it isn’t permament, and I really hope they’re planning to bring the best events back at some point – maybe on a yearly schedule or something?

Anyway, you’ll have to excuse me, those turrets aren’t gonna build themselves…

Like opening Pandora’s Box

Last time around I said that Black Desert Online is a complex game. Oh boy, what a hell of an understatement.

Many MMORPGs I’ve played are designed like a pyramid in that once you’ve left the tutorial stage there’s a broad base with lots of different stuff to do at first, sometimes to the point of feeling overwhelmed by it all, but the closer you get to the top your gameplay options seem to shrink down more and more.

BDO is, to me, the exact opposite of that. When I tried the game out for the first time my initial impression was that running from one place to the next and killing anything that moves on the way is pretty much all there is to it. Unfortunately my chosen class’s combat mechanics didn’t feel too great to me either, so I concluded that the game wasn’t for me and dropped out.

When I gave it another shot a year or so later I’d done enough research to know that a bit of perserverance was called for. It just takes a while until more options start to present themselves – at the time your character had to be at a certain level to even see all quests, for example. I think they’ve scrapped that level requirement, but you still need to proactively tell the game that you want to be shown all types of quests, not only those focused around combat.

Anyhow, once all questgivers deem you worthy to talk to a gigantic rabbit hole opens up and you need to take but one step in any direction to lose yourself completely, as Aywren, Bhagpuss and Naithin all can attest to.

Can snow actually remain for long on a moving ship?

And don’t even think for a second that a somewhat seasoned veteran of the game like myself becomes immune to this. Not a chance.

I mean, sure, I did what I set out to do a couple of weeks ago and started a career in bartering with the (distant) goal of upgrading my frigate to a formidable carrack. Still, I actually ended up spending more time on various other stuff. Much more time. Here are some examples.

Believe it or not, this isn’t even the whole map

Not all of the necessary materials to upgrade my ship are acquired via bartering, I’ll also need a variety of normal land goods. Hence my choice is to either gather those myself or let my workers do it for me. I like the game’s gathering, but since I have enough other stuff to do right now I’m not terribly keen on sucking gallons of sap out of trees manually for the next few weeks. Workers it is, then.

However, as most of my contribution points are always in use I needed to redistribute a bunch of them first, so I had to decide which nodes to give up. In doing that I realised that I’d actually been collecting quite I lot of resources I’d never had any use for as of yet.

In the end I freed up and reinvested considerably more CP than I’d originally planned, the result being that my workers now gather lots of materials I didn’t have before, some of which are actually worth quite a lot on the marketplace. The whole process did take some time, but should pay off nicely.

Please just ignore the outfit…um, it was Halloween, ok?

Yeah, I’ve also picked up fishing again. Not quite voluntarily, mind you. The thing is, there’s a questline on Crow’s Nest, an island hidden out at Ross Sea, that awards a very generous amount of ship upgrade materials for only little work. Or so I’ve heard.

Well, technically it is true, only that the NPC in question now wants me to catch a tuna and bring it to her. Tuna’s a rare fish though, and what’s worse, my fishing skill isn’t high enough to see tuna hotspots yet – at a hotspot you only catch the corresponding type of fish – so whenever I’m not doing something else right now I’m trying to bring my fishing skill up to snuff.

Have you noticed this little checkbox above your horse’s health and stamina bars? It’s not really hard to see, but it still took me a while to realize it’s there, probably because it hadn’t been there yet when I’d last played the game, and I usually don’t pay much attention to those bars anymore.

Holy crap, what a game changer that is! You see, of all skills horses can learn Sprint is the most important one because it provides such a big speed boost. Still, even with that skill at my disposal I sometimes want to use the auto-ride function and do something else while traveling, which, without Sprint, can take ages given the huge distances. Hence this change is a pretty big deal.

Only when I played my main I couldn’t check the box however hard I clicked. Then I finally took the time to read the tooltip:

Well, that explained it. Of course my life skill alt already had the Training skill above Artisan 1, but my main, who only ever uses max level horses and thus doesn’t get to level up his own skill, did not. However, he travels much more and much farther than the other character, so I felt he really needed this too. Consequently I went back to taming and training horses.

Fortunately last week’s patch enabled 50% boosts to both horse XP and Training XP, just at the perfect time for me. Those buffs will stay active until February 9th, by the way.

The Striker hit Artisan 1 on Monday, so now he can ride like the wind too while I play Genshin Impact or something.

As a side effect I also have almost a dozen new tier 5 horses in my stables, which is the highest tier that can be caught in the wild. I’d thought I was finished with breeding for good once I had two good tier 8s, but why let this opportunity go to waste? So now I’m leveling all those horses up – four at a time, in front of a merchant wagon – to breed them, then the foals will be leveled up too, and so on, until I have some more tier 8s. Maybe I’ll even go for a ‘Dream Horse’, who knows?

Yeah…a fast horse really is a godsend

As if all of this still wasn’t enough I also stumbled upon the fact that a couple of legendary items have been added to the game – and for once these really deserve that lofty adjective.

How about HP- and Mana-potions, a compass and a teleport-item that aren’t consumed upon use and never expire?

Believe me, in BDO these amenities really are legendary. Depending on the class you play you’ll consume potions by the hundreds if not thousands rather quickly. A compass lets you use the map on the high sea and in the desert – a big quality of life boost if you traverse these regions regularly. An item that teleports you to the nearest town can also be a huge boon in a game that has you run everywhere on your own otherwise.

Of course getting even one of these is a monumental undertaking. I decided to go for the HP-potion first. When I checked out one of the grindspots I’ll have to kill mobs at for a rare drop I noticed that there weren’t any daily kill quests available nearby, which is highly unusual.

It turned out that I hadn’t advanced the region’s main story questline far enough to see them. As a matter of fact I hadn’t even finished that of the previous region either. So I postponed the grind and started questing. I also did a few side quests on the way, but only those that didn’t force me to make any detours. “Only” ~150 quests later I arrived at the grindspot and, lo and behold, now there are daily quests on offer.

Needless to say, I haven’t gotten that rare drop yet, nor any other component for the potion.

On the plus side, I got about quite a lot once more

And there you have it. As you can see playing this game can really be like opening Pandora’s Box, only that in this case it isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually quite a lot of fun.

Four? For this gourd?? It’s worth ten if it’s worth a shekel!

I hadn’t engaged in Black Desert Online’s sea content – or the game period, really – in quite some time until about a month ago, which means that I completely missed, among other things, a pretty big overhaul of said content.  The Great Ocean update, released in October 2019, added new islands, quests and ships, a crew system for the bigger vessels, and a completely new way for mariners to make money: a sea-based bartering system.

BDO is a complex game though, and it took me a while to reacquaint myself with all the different systems and layers. However, once I felt comfortable with the day by day gameplay again I couldn’t wait to board my trusty Epheria frigate and try the new stuff out.

Going ashore on a yet unexplored island

As it turns out there’s a lot of additional stuff to do. My ship, the cream of the crop back when I finished building it, basically ranks just one step above ‘cockleshell’ nowadays, for example. Especially for bartering it’s barely adequate as its cargo hold can’t carry all that much weight. It’s a start though, and as most of the materials needed to upgrade the ship further are earned via bartering and defeating sea creatures anyway this seems to be working as intended. I’ve got to work my way up, as it were.

And that really doesn’t bother me at all, because frankly, once I’d finished building the frigate and crafted the corresponding gear almost two years ago I lost interest in the whole sailing thing rather quickly. My big goal was achieved, and at the time there actually wasn’t all that much to do out at sea beyond that, at least not for solo players.

Now I have another long term goal to pursue, and I also know that there’s an actual use for it once I’ve reached it.

This is a carrack. Look at that beauty…and all those cannons!!

As for the bartering system itself, I think it’s pretty neat. In a nutshell, you trade certain ‘normal’ goods like raw or processed materials for Level 1 trade goods at one place, then take those someplace else to trade them for Level 2 goods, and on it goes up to Level 5. With some exceptions low level goods serve no other purpose than to exchange them for higher tiers, while tiers 4 and 5 can be sold to NPC merchants for hefty sums of silver or a special currency used to buy various goodies.

Trade goods are very heavy and need to be in the ship’s cargo hold in order to barter with them anyway, so getting a bigger boat soonish is definitely advisable.

Seems like a good deal…I guess? (click to enlarge)

What the system doesn’t entail, despite this post’s header, is any kind of haggling. What can I say, I just can’t resist an opportunity to use a Python quote. Anyway, I’m actually pretty glad that there’s no negotiating involved, as the game’s onshore trading already has something like that, and I really don’t like it.

Which doesn’t mean that there’s no RNG involved however, because of course there is. This is BDO after all. You can reroll the trade routes a couple of times per day, and from what I can tell everything about it is completely random: which land goods are required, which Level 1’s you get for them and what you can trade those for in turn, where everything is etc. Not rerolling at all isn’t an option either as every trade route runs dry after a certain amount of barters.

Grilled bird meat? Hell yeah, I can do that!

Consequently, to make efficient use of your time and resources you need to carefully plan which routes to take, how to optimize your available cargo hold, when to reroll and even what to trade and what to keep – that Level 2 piece you’re about to give away might well be needed at a later point to exchange for ship upgrade parts, for example.

I will say that it all seemed a bit tedious at the beginning, but the more barters you’ve completed the more routes open up, which reduces the need to regularly make overly long trips for just a single exchange by a lot. It’s actually starting to be quite fun now.

I also really like that I finally have a meaningful use for all those land goods. Ever since I play the game I’ve had workers accumulating all kinds of resources for me, and while I’ve obviously used up some here and there the majority has just been collecting dust in my warehouses. Of course I could’ve sold any surplus to other players at any time, but I didn’t want to – I might still need that stuff at some point, you see. Yeah, I’m a hoarder when I play RPGs, sue me. And, what do you know, at some point is actually now. Ha!

Yep, bird meat up the wazoo. Care for some eggs or mushrooms too?

The new questline also introduces players to sea monster hunting. I’ve done quite a lot of that back in the day to collect materials for my frigate’s cannons, sails etc., but I’m still glad about the refresher because the damage- and hitpoint-numbers have apparently been tweaked since then, and it’s actually feasible to shoot them with my cannons now instead of trying to ram them to death (!).

This is definitely much more fun, and it also makes me look forward to getting the upgrades for my frigate even more – not only will those have more cannons to shoot with, I’ll even be able to fire broadsides right from the steering wheel instead of climbing down, manning a cannon and firing it manually, then climbing back up to change the ship’s potition, and so on. Can’t wait!

For the moment this works well enough though…BOOM

So, yeah, if seafaring is your thing and you’d like it to be just one aspect of a proper MMORPG – instead of playing something like, say, Sea of Thieves – I can wholeheartedly recommend giving Black Desert a shot. Just be aware that pretty much everything in this game is a marathon rather than a sprint. Don’t expect to be cruising around in your carrack within a week or two.

Personally, I like it that way. Finishing the frigate felt like a real achievement at the time, and I feel those are rather hard to come by in most modern MMORPGs.

Sidenote: if you’ve played BDO in the past but don’t right now you might have missed the memo about Kakao Games handing over publishing duties for the game’s western version back to Pearl Abyss pretty soon. You need to transfer your data over to a Pearl Abyss account before the end of May, else you’ll lose everything. Naithin and Bhagpuss have all the details, should you need them.

Events done right – Genshin Impact

Yep, I’m still playing Genshin Impact every day. As great as the game is, I honestly didn’t expect it to have this much staying power in my gaming lineup, what with the likes of Cyberpunk 2077, EVE Online and ArcheAge Unchained vying for my free time, and as if those still weren’t enough I also longed for some more adventures in Black Desert Online around mid-December (as per usual), so I’m playing that one again as well.

Even so, the thing about Genshin Impact is that its developers, miHoYo, definitely do not rest on their laurels – nor their piles of Dollar bills, probably high enough to make Uncle Scrooge blush. Quite the contrary. Frankly, I haven’t seen such a high cadence of new and interesting stuff to do in an online game, like, ever.

Now, granted, in terms of what’s usually referred to as content patches we “only” got two since the game’s release at the end of September, with update 1.1 being rather smallish (yet pretty epic) and 1.2 giving us a whole new region to explore and lots of other cool stuff. Not too shabby overall for just over three months’ time, especially given the current circumstances.

However, what really makes all the difference, at least to me, are the events – lots and lots of events.

Always accompanied by these really nifty charts to guide you and track your progress

It certainly feels to me like the periods of time with at least one event up and running exceeded those without any by quite a bit. Impressions can be deceptive though, so let’s check.

Here’s an overview of all ‘proper’ events we’ve had until now (stuff like Gacha banners, test-scenarios for new characters or login-campaigns don’t count, obviously):

    • Elemental Crucible (October 12th-19th)
    • Marvelous Merchandise (October 26th-November 2nd)
    • Stone Harbour Treasure Journal (November 13th-22nd)
    • Unreconciled Stars (November 16th-30th)
    • Gliding Challenge (December 4th-14th)
    • While it’s warm (December 11th-18th)
    • A thousand questions with Paimon (December 18th-20th)
    • The Chalk Prince and the Dragon (December 23rd-January 5th)

The game was released on September 28th, which was exactly 100 days ago at the time of this writing. If I didn’t miscount (which is entirely in the realm of possibility though) 65 of those had at least one event active, which means that my gut feeling was indeed accurate.

Yummy…I’d rather have kept these for myself to be honest

Having events running constantly is all well and good, but of course the deciding factor is whether they are actually fun to do, isn’t it?

Unfortunately the very first one, Elemental Crucible, wasn’t all that good. It was forced Co-Op, meaning that bad pings or other players not doing what they were supposed to could really mess things up. It was also pretty grindy, and to add insult to injury the rewards weren’t even worth all that hassle. I didn’t have high hopes for any future events after this one, to say the least.

Clean sweep, gold medals all around

I don’t know whether it’s because folks at miHoYo actually took player feedback to heart or if they just needed some time to get into a groove, but in my opinion each and every event that came after the first was much better in every regard, and they still keep getting better yet.

As for technicalities, they’re less grindy, Co-Op is always optional and the rewards are decidedly on the generous side now. More importantly though, they’re really fun to do, and there’s something there for everyone.

Gliding Challenge, for example, was all about…well…gliding challenges (which Lakisa hated, but I had so much fun doing them that I earned all the gold medals on her account too). While it’s warm tasked players to deliver food from one place to another within a certain time frame, always with some caveats like not being allowed to sprint, glide and/or climb or take damage. Stone Harbor Treasure Journal was more like a browser game than anything, but pretty fun too.

Also definitely more on the silly side, this one

Of course combat-loving players weren’t left out in the cold either, especially the two multi-week events provided lots of it. If I have one criticism about the last one, The Chalk Prince and the Dragon, it’s that the repeatable boss fight that made up the fourth and last stage of the event was actually harder in Co-Op than alone and rather annoying in general. Other than that though I was really happy with this one too.

What’s more, the next three events are already announced, all coming in January. Lost Riches will run from 8th to 18th, Hypostatic Symphony from 16th to 31st, and the second run of Marvelous Merchandise from 23rd to 30th.

This is what astounds me the most: until now absolutely no part of any event has been reused for another, it’s all been brand-new every time.

Just look at this one, it’s almost a piece of art

Of course there are also two possible downsides to miHoYo’s approach.

One, it certainly seems like a lot of developmental time and effort spent on something that’s only in the game for a week or two. One might argue that this much effort – we’re talking multiple chapters of story including fully voiced cutscenes in some cases – should rather be spent on content that stays in the game permanently. As it is now, if you haven’t played the game while the events were active you’re simply out of luck. Unless they bring them back at a later time you won’t be able to experience them.

And two: fear of missing out. If you play the game more casually, maybe not even every day (imagine that!) the time-limited nature of the events combined with the generous rewards they offer may well make you feel like you have to log in and do them regardless. I know that Lakisa would much prefer the events to come at a much slower cadence than they currently do.

Free character? Hell yeah, I’ll take it, even if it’s a nutter like this one…

Personally though, I’m pretty happy with how things are going. Again, the gameplay is mostly fun, the rewards are great, and it isn’t actually all that much to do every time either. On average I’ve probably spent about twenty to thirty minutes per day on event stuff while any were active, and with few exceptions it was absolutely possible to take a day or two off and still finish everything. Seems like a pretty good balance to me.

The most important bit though is this: I have always stuff to do, but it’s pretty much always something new. This is so much better than running the same dailies over and over and over, and I’m tremendously thankful for that.

So, yeah, as far as I’m concerned look no further than Genshin Impact for ‘events done right’. Keep ’em coming!

Cyberpunk 2077 – First impressions

Welp, only one of my four most anticipated games for 2020 managed to actually launch. Considering what kind of year it’s been that’s the least of my worries though, obviously.

Anyway, Cyberpunk 2077 is finally here. Or is it? Depends on who you ask, really. As far as the majority of console players as well as some PC users are concerned the game isn’t even remotely close to being a finished, playable product.

I won’t rehash the stories about myriads of bugs, Microsoft and Sony offering full refunds and the latter even pulling the game from its store, corrupted save files and everything else that went wrong. Let’s just say that it ain’t pretty.

Like that guy on the right. Not pretty at all.

If I didn’t actively follow the gaming news I’d know nothing about all of this though, as my own experience with the game has been drastically different. A few graphical glitches here and some (unimportant) items that I wasn’t able to pick up there…that’s the whole extent of problems I’ve encountered during just shy of 30 hours played.

And I’m having a lot of fun, too. I’m not quite as enthralled as Jeromai and Belghast seem to be (at least not yet), but as a fan of the genre roaming around Night City is definitely a great experience.

I actually can’t tell you why I’m not totally in love with the game at this point, because I honestly don’t know. It has a lot going for it, that’s for sure.

This city feels more alive and real than any other place in any other game I’ve been. The atmosphere, already very good by day, cranks up to 11 at night. The contrast between rich and poor, people with power and those without, is palpable. Death lurks at every corner, it feels like – not for the player, mind you, but for normal people.

I didn’t really have a preconception of what the game world should look and feel like beforehand, but if I’d had one it probably wouldn’t be very far from what we’ve got.

The quests are pretty good too. Each and every one of them, even those of the shorter, optional variety, has a story to tell. You will find no kill ten rats quests here.

The tone is very bleak though, and while I’d expected as much going in some events still managed to get to me pretty good.

[Spoiler] For example, one side quest asked me to retrieve some stolen meds. Once I’d made my way into the culprit’s hideout I could’ve just killed him and called it a day of course. Instead I managed to talk him into just handing the meds over peacefully. He turned out to be a former soldier with PTSD who just wanted the stuff to make the pain go away.

Satisfied with myself for not killing the poor guy I turned around to leave the place, when a gunshot cracked. I immediately knew what had happened, and sure enough there he was, his head blown off by his own shotgun. For a minute I just stood there, feeling numb. Then I just left without giving the place or anything in it another look. I didn’t take his gun to sell or dismantle either, although that’s what the game teaches you to do all the time from the get-go…but I just didn’t feel like it. For some people there just isn’t a happy ending in the cards in this world. [End spoiler]

The gameplay of shooting, slashing, sneaking and driving works well enough, although nothing feels quite as smooth and polished as a Call of Duty title or a racing game, respectively, but I guess that’s kinda expected when a game has everything and the kitchen sink thrown in.

Variety comes in the form of hacking, which is unfortunately nothing more than a little, non-complex mini game, and the braindance, which is to relive a recorded segment of someone’s experiences, including everything they’ve seen, heard and even felt. It’s basically an advanced version of the SQUID clips from Strange Days. The kicker here is that you can switch to ‘editor mode’ and analyze the scene thoroughly to catch every little detail, even if the recorded person perceived something only subconciously.

Despite the overall dark tone the game isn’t completely without humour, thankfully. Some conversations, and especially the dialogue options my character is given, are hilarious, and there are many little details strewn all over the game world that made me laugh.

He doesn’t know how to use the three sea shells, he he ho ha he…

What I really don’t get is how we don’t have a proper wardrobe system. I mean, this is an RPG, right? One that even lets us freely choose any combination of male and female looks, voice and genitals (not kidding!). When the ability to define who and what exactly my character is is so damn important, why the hell can’t I wear the clothes that I want to wear without compromising my defensive stats?

I mean, seriously, look at the shit I’ve worn so far:

Stop laughing, this is NOT funny!

I’ve been doing all kinds of serious stuff, even given a speech at a friend’s funeral, while looking like this…I can’t think of much that kills immersion quicker and more thoroughly than that.

Maybe that’s why I’m not completely enthralled by the game despite liking a lot about it – it kinda doesn’t feel like it’s my adventure. This character, V, is doing all that shit, and I’m just along for the ride.

Quite literally…

This is definitely complaining about first world problems though, because the game is, in my opinion and on my hardware, really good. If you like this kind of game and own a decent PC I can absolutely recommend giving it a shot.

And now I wish you all a good and healthy start into the new year. May it be better than this one. Not too much to ask for, is it?

How to level up slowly in Genshin Impact

Whenever a new game with any kind of RPG mechanics hits the shelves it usually takes mere hours until a plethora of videos pops up on YouTube showing us how to LEVEL UP FAST!!, or something along those lines. Of course it’s been no different with Genshin Impact, as you can see above.

My general bewilderment about people’s urge to be “finished” with a game as quickly as possible notwithstanding, in this particular case it really, really puzzles me. As I talked about last time, while playing at my usual pace my adventure rank kept rising much faster than I would have liked, all the way up to 40, and although the required amount of XP increases with each rank it didn’t slow down all that much even then.

To prevent the ever increasing world level from ruining my enjoyment of the game I decided to do something about it, so I took a closer look at how much adventure rank XP each activity actually yields. It’s true that a lot of stuff awards some of it, but as it turns out the amounts vary by quite a bit.

Without further ado, here’s what you can do to LEVEL UP SLOWLY, as it were, in Genshin Impact.

Let’s start off with the big kahuna: daily commissions.

Once you’ve reached adventure rank 12 you can do up to four daily quests, depicted on your map by a purple symbol. They are usually quick and painless (also sometimes fun) to do, and they award a whopping 250 AR XP each, as well as another 500 once you’ve completed all four. That’s 1,5k XP per day right there, or up to 10,5k per week.

To put this in a bit of context, at AR 12 you only need 1,650 XP for the next rank! At AR 24 it’s 4,300 XP, and still only 7,175 XP at rank 34. As you can see refraining from doing these commissions will slow down your levelling speed considerably.

Unfortunately there is one big drawback to this however, as these quests are also a source of free primogems, the game’s funny money used to buy more resin and, most importantly, to wish (gamble) for characters and weapons. By not doing the commissions you’re missing out on 60 primogems total per day, so you need to decide what’s more important to you.

Personally, I’ve stopped doing them almost two weeks ago and I’m much happier with the game for it.

The next biggest source of AR XP are non-repeatable quests, meaning your archon, story and world quests.

Of course I’m absolutely not suggesting to ignore those, as they are one of the game’s strong suits and so much fun. However I do advise to take your time with them. There isn’t that much story content in the game yet anyway, so rushing through it will only make you run out of ‘stuff to do’ sooner (as per usual).

Also, world quests usually award 100-400 XP each, story and archon quests even more on average, so doing quest after quest after quest will contribute to raising your AR pretty quickly while not helping a lot with progressing your characters to match.

Then there are the various repeatable activities you need resin for: ley lines, abyssal domains and bosses. These all award AR XP too, but as your available resin is limited you can’t do them ad nauseam anyway.

Hence my only advice here is not to use primogems to buy more resin – which I wouldn’t do anyhow as I’d rather be able to make more wishes.

The other source of additional resin, fragile resin, one-use items awarded by some quests and for hitting certain adventure rank milestones, are best saved up until you reach at least AR 40, as you’ll get much more bang for your buck then. At that point the 100 XP per 20 resin spent aren’t going to speed up your levelling all that much anymore, so knock yourself out.

Various aspects of game world exploration also reward AR XP.

Treasure chests, for example, spit out some XP in addition to weapons, artifacts and upgrade materials, but the amounts are pretty negligible. A common chest gives a mere 10 to 20 XP (I believe it’s 20 when you open it for the first time, and 10 after respawn), exquisite chests yield 20, precious chests 30 and luxurious chests 40. At least the latter two types don’t respawn (I’m not sure whether there are exquisite chests that do), so overall this doesn’t contribute to your AR all that much.

Unlocking teleport points, turning in Anemoculi/Geoculi to level up your Statues of the Seven and stuff like that also gives you some AR XP, but these are things that you’ll always want to do at the first opportunity for obvious reasons. As none of this is repeatable it isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things anyway, so I don’t see any potential nor need for savings here.

Of course there are also activities that don’t award any AR XP at all.

Running around the map and killing stuff, for example mini-bosses like ruin guards or abyss mages, is fun and supplies you with many different materials you’ll need to ascend your characters and weapons.

While you’re doing that you can and should take the time to also pick up any flowers, fruits, ores…basically anything you come across that isn’t bolted down. These, too, are needed for ascension as well as cooking and forging. Keep in mind that some characters can help you hunt down specific stuff. Having Klee or Qiqi, should you be lucky enough to own them, in your active party makes region-specific gatherables appear on your mini-map in the Mondstadt and Liyue regions, respectively, and Ningguang does the same for all kinds of ore no matter where you are.

You can also always do Spiral Abyss, but since I’m not a big fan of that mode I can’t tell you much about it. I think that it doesn’t award any AR XP though, so there’s that.

One last tip, if you want to finish your weekly battle pass challenges but don’t have enough resin and/or don’t want to get the AR XP you can still do ley lines, domains, elite bosses and weekly bosses, just without claiming the rewards at the end, and you will get credit for the battle pass.

In summary, if you want to slow down adventure rank progress in Genshin Impact you should stop doing the daily commissions, take your time with questing, not use primogems to buy additional resin and only start using fragile resin at AR 40 and up. Other than that you can pretty much do whatever you fancy while levelling up at a much more casual pace.

I enjoy the game a lot more when I play like this, and maybe you will too.

Genshin Impact – A Janus-faced jewel

For about five weeks now I’ve been playing Genshin Impact each and every day, and I still enjoy it a lot. A couple of days ago we got the first content patch since the game’s release, which gave us some more things to do, new characters to chase and a whole bunch of great quality-of-life upgrades.

I’m playing in my usual middle-of-the-pack kind of way, neither chasing to max-level (or max-something) as fast and efficiently as possible, nor “just” exploring and goofing around.

That being said, I’m now rapidly closing in on adventure rank 40, which means that my world level and thus the game’s overall difficulty will increase for the fifth time (the world level goes up every 5 ranks starting from AR 20), and let me tell you, this is having a dramatic impact on how I play the game. Or rather, how it pretty much has to be played.

Casual players’ reaction to the difficulty curve; power-gamer in the back, smirking

I feel Genshin Impact is basically a mashup of two very different types of game, and if you plan on playing it long-term you’d better like both of those, else you might find yourself having a hard time.

On the one hand it’s a lighthearted and funny, well-written story-driven RPG-light with lots of exploration and many oohs and aahs along the way. I haven’t laughed this much while gaming for a long time, and that world…just wow.

It’s also one of the few games that give me dialogue options I would actually say myself

Until about AR 25 I was primarily running all over the place, doing quests, opening chests and collecting anything that wasn’t bolted down. I didn’t pay much attention to my characters’ stats at all, only when I saw mob levels noticeably higher than mine did I use some XP items – of which I had plenty –  to push my weapons and characters to match.

However, at AR 30 at the latest the game turns its head and shows its other face, and this one is a very much progress-oriented and exceptionally grindy not-so-light-RPG that gets harder and harder quickly and has you scrambling just to keep up.

Sounds bad? Well, again, it depends on whether you like this sort of stuff or not.

I am liking it thus far, yet I can clearly see the downsides too.

This required more effort than meets the eye

My main DPS character, Razor, is maxed out for my current AR bracket, meaning that he’s level 70, as is his weapon, and his skills are all level 6. My go-to support DPS, Xiangling, and my main healer, Qiqi, are close behind.

All other characters I own are much below that though, and many are still at level 1. Which is a shame, as I would really like to, for example, check out Fischl as another support alternative, or see if Chongyun could be a good main DPS for my second team, but I just can’t afford to “waste” any resources on them. I don’t even have a second team to speak of. Because, again, I need to focus on my main characters as the next world level increase looms.

For the last three weeks or so I’ve even kind of followed a schedule, as this is just how the game works.

On Mondays and Thursdays I farm talent mats for Qiqi and, to a lesser extent, Barbara. Leftover resin, if any, is used to farm whichever elite boss I need character ascension mats from.

On Tuesdays and Fridays I’m going for Razor’s and Xiangling’s talent mats, as well as ascension materials for some of my secondary weapons.

On Wednesdays and Saturdays it’s heavy farming for Razor’s claymore, my main source of DPS, and more elite bosses.

Lastly, on Sundays I only kill bosses as the domains are on a weird random-drop rotation that’s pretty ineffective.

Getting the three aforementioned characters up to snuff required spending pretty much all my available resin – which, by the way, is the game’s slowly-regenerating energy resource aka gating mechanic most mobile games have (or so I hear) – on these activities. Even now I’m not allowing myself to branch out much as I want to be ready for AR 40, meaning that I continue to farm the exact same mats so I can spend them on these characters the moment the game lets me.

In addition to the above I do the daily comissions, try to fulfill all daily and weekly tasks for the battle pass, and also make my rounds around the map to kill various mini-bosses for their drops. It’s a busy day, every day.

As I said, so far I’m having fun doing all this stuff. I’m just not sure how long it will last. I really hope that adventure rank progress slows down significantly after 40, because it just rises too fast for my taste. I’d like to try out other characters, I want to go and explore again (still have some Anemoculi and Geoculi to find), and do all the quests I haven’t done yet because I didn’t have the time (and because they give massive amounts of adventure rank XP, speeding up the treadmill even further).

Technically there is a way to slow this process down a bit. At AR 25 and 35 you are offered an ascension quest. Until you’ve finished it you don’t get the perks attached to that rank (being able to ascend characters and weapons further, getting more/better loot etc.), your rank doesn’t go any higher and the world level stays the same too. At the time I didn’t see the benefit – who doesn’t want to get better rewards for the same activities? In hindsight I would have liked to stay at 35 for a week or two. Or maybe rather not, as the XP you get during that time isn’t lost, and you might well skip a couple of ranks if you wait long enough, possibly even resulting in a double world level increase. *shudders*

Bottom line is, there’s no escaping it. If you like the game and play a lot your world level will rise constantly no matter what you do, and you’ll have to try and keep up if you don’t want the game to become tough as nails.

Now, of course I know that some players like their games tough – or don’t perceive the same things as tough that I do – so your mileage may vary. Personally, I was fond of the gameplay as relaxed as it was in the beginning. I get by, but I really don’t want it to get any harder still, hence I keep grinding to be as strong as possible.

So…is it even worth playing if your preferences are more on the casual side, then?

Right now my answer would be yes. The characters are fun to play, combat is slick and the progression systems motivating. It’s grindy, but doesn’t feel like a chore, is what I’m saying. That story, character development and voice acting are far above average by video game standards and the game’s open world just sublime goes without mentioning at this point….and yet I did just now. Fucked that up, didn’t I? Anyway, yes, it’s worth it.

This doesn’t change the fact that I’ve never played a game quite like this though – one that combines two extremely different and, arguably, contradictory playstyles and absolutely does not let you opt out of either. Maybe over in Asia this isn’t anything out of the ordinary, but to me that switching of gears came very unexpected.

At least you now know what you’re getting yourself into should you pick up this game, if you haven’t already. What to do with it is up to you.