I got the six

Another year in the books and the blog’s still going, so here’s the obligatory cake for y’all.

The good news is that, despite my inkling that it might happen as early as two years ago, I haven’t turned my back on MMORPGs completely after all. As a matter of fact I’ve been playing the heck out of Black Desert Online since December, which has only slowed down a bit during the past few weeks.

I’ve taken a break from sailing and bartering for the time being, but am still grinding away for the infinite HP potion every now and then. I’ll also make sure to do the preparatory quests for Land of the Morning Light’s release, which is slated for June 14th.

And of course: checking in on my workers, as one does

As much as I’m looking forward to the new continent though, what I’ve come to realize is that BDO’s, like any other long-running MMO’s, biggest strength is the enormous wealth of content, systems and progression opportunities that are already there, as well as the countless iterations and (hopefully) improvements that all those things got over the years. I mean, the game was already quite good at launch, but by now it’s absolutely awesome and, in my opinion, one of the best there is.

Now, the anticipation for a game’s release can feel really great of course, and the craving for something new and shiny is always there in the back of my head. Still, when I look back on which MMORPGs I’ve played at or shortly after launch during the past few years…well, there’s pretty much only New World and Lost Ark, both of which disappointed me greatly.

I guess from now on I’ll take more of a wait-and-see approach towards new titles, while continuing to play stuff that’s had time to cook and already proven itself. Well, at least unless a game comes along that I feel I just have to play right away for whatever reason.

Still prefer this one over any of the alternatives

Diablo IV is not one of those games, in case you’re wondering. Even if I were to ignore the many good reasons not to buy it – like the fact that Kotick’s still in charge of the company, or the game’s steep price tag combined with a rather expensive cash shop and paid battle pass – I would still nope out for the time being.

Think about it – even Diablo II and III, which were made by “Good Old Blizzard” (anyone remember those times?), each needed a big expansion and many more patches to become as great as they are today. Why would it be any different now? I mean…worse? Sure, that may well happen. Better? Not bloody likely.

And, again, there’s already so many great games out there that are evidently good, polished and content-rich…

I like desert zones in general, but this in particular hits all the right notes for me

Yep, my rekindled enthusiasm for Genshin Impact hasn’t waned yet. I guess my playtime is split about 50/50 between it and BDO at the moment, which feels just right [Edit: Actually it’s more like 40/40, and 20% Hunt: Showdown]. The new (to me) regions, The Chasm and Sumeru, are really great; exploring those while questing and fighting along the way is tremendously fun.

I’ve even managed to get the character I talked about last time by investing only half of my available gacha currency, so I’m still sitting comfortably at 5 bucks spent for a full month of entertainment, with a handful of ten-pulls left over to boot. Take that, Bobby!

He’s… tougher than he looks

So, yeah, still playing, still blogging (well, occasionally). Good times.

I’ve also been watching a lot more basketball this year, starting right after Super Bowl. In years prior I only tuned in for the playoffs; turns out it’s much more satisfying to watch those when I already have a feel for what’s what and who to root for. Also, being there (kind of) when LeBron became the all-time scoring leader felt more special than I’d thought it would.

I’m even considering watching next season right from day one, but I’m afraid following the NFL and the NBA at the same time might be just too much (and pretty expensive too).

Either way, chances are the blog will remain primarily gaming-focused. What can I say, when it comes to sports I prefer doing it myself or at the very least watching. Talking about it – not so much.

Anyway, enough rambling. Year seven, here I come. Groovy gaming guaranteed!

What once was bad is now really good…despite still being bad

It never ceases to fascinate me how the human brain works, especially the part that’s responsible for motivating us and making us happy. That sweet, sweet dopamine is one hell of a drug for sure. And dangerous, too.

It’s been almost two years since I quit playing Genshin Impact due to being thoroughly fed up with its treadmill-like and RNG-heavy game design. Do your dailies, spend your resin, work on the battle pass, do this, do that…it just wasn’t fun anymore.

You already know where this is going, don’t you?

Two weeks ago I decided on a whim to patch up the game and have a look at all the new content I’ve missed and also to see whether they’ve made any changes to its overall design. Yeah, as for the latter…pretty much nothing’s changed at all, which is disappointing to say the least. But here’s the thing…I’m playing every day and having a blast again nonetheless!

Of course I’ve already spent quite some time exploring the new regions they’ve added during my absence, and it’s enjoyable as ever to hunt for hidden treasures, solve puzzles and collect hard to reach shinies.

However, despite my characters being more than strong enough to conquer any challenge the open world has to offer, I’ve also started to work on their gear, talents and levels again because, damn, that kind of stuff feels so rewarding.

Especially when it turns out as great as this every once in a while

The funny thing – or tragic thing, depending on how you look at it – is that I’m well aware of my newfound enthusiasm’s temporary nature. It’s just a matter of time until I’ll once more tire of running the same domains over and over, or get fits of rage when yet another potentially good artifact rolls into a load of crap. Still, I’m enjoying it so much right now that I simply don’t care.

So here I am, doing all the things that made me quit the game once already, in order to get a new weapon for my Xiangling (a fishing spear, believe it or not), better artifacts for my Ganyu and so on, because the dopamine rush just thinking about reaching those goals triggers tastes oh so sweet.

Look at all that new and shiny stuff!

Unfortunately, like I said in the opening paragraph, that rush can also be quite dangerous. This is where the fact that Genshin Impact is a gacha game comes into play.

A couple of months before I took my leave from the game back in ’21 I stopped pulling for new characters because I couldn’t keep up with leveling and gearing them all anyway. At the same time I also decided that I would not spend any more money on the game going forward, no matter what.

Fast forward a couple years and, well, just two weeks in that resolution has gone out the window already because, upon realizing that I play the game every day again anyway, I couldn’t resist buying the Blessing of the welkin moon for five bucks, which pays out a (relatively) generous amount of funny money spaced out over thirty days of logging in.

Now, five Euros ain’t a lot. However, as people designing this kind of shit aren’t even ashamed to tell you, getting players to spend that first couple of bucks is the “ice breaker”. After that it feels okay to spend on the game. At some point it might even feel like you actually need to spend more.

Of course people aren’t all equally susceptible to this. I guess I’m somewhere in the middle of the pack here, and fortunately my disposable income is such that I can afford my (very mild) level of obsession* without going broke, let alone incurring debts. Also, if you’ve been reading some of my stuff before you probably know that I think it’s important to support the makers of video games I really enjoy (even though the “real” makers only receive but a fraction of that support, obviously).

* I won’t call it addiction because I don’t intend to downplay the seriousness of real addiction, which I fortunately do not suffer from, in any way, shape or form.

Still, gacha mechanics aren’t something that should be condoned, and certainly not supported.

On the other hand, that Baizhu fella looks like he’d be a really great addition to my team right now, and I do have some funny money left over…

He also has a talking snake around his neck, what’s not to like?

I guess we’ll see which part of my brain comes out ahead.

My house, my boat, my car…err…I mean unicorn

Like any MMORPG worth its salt Black Desert Online lets you collect, work and fight for pretty much all the things. Gear, wealth, property, mounts and/or vehicles, XP-based progression in all shapes and sizes, you name it.

In my opinion BDO does it even better than most of its competitors in that the ceiling for almost everything is extremely high (if there even is one), meaning that you won’t be “done” and get bored anytime soon, yet you can do meaningful things right from the get-go and don’t have to rush to the top as quickly as possible in order to get to the “good stuff”.

Since I first picked up the game in earnest towards the end of 2017 I’ve accumulated about two years’ worth of active playing time – active in my case meaning basically every day, sometimes an hour per, sometimes several hours – and I’m nowhere near feeling like I’ve got nothing more to do or see.

Here’s what I’m up to right now.

One of the goals I had in mind right away when I returned to the game in December was to continue working towards improving my trusty Epheria Frigate. I’d like to own a formidable Carrack eventually, but there’s an intermediate step I had to take care of first: upgrade the frigate to an Epheria Galleass.

Getting the required materials took a mix of bartering, sea monster hunting and collecting plain old land goods like ore and sap. It’s definitely advisable to also do Ravinia’s questline on Crow’s Nest as it generously rewards half of the needed amounts, as well as very large chunks of sailing XP and Crow Coins, basically just for sailing around a bit. Keep in mind that these quests are once-per-account though, and you can complete only one on any given day.

Overall the project didn’t take all that much effort – definitely less than building the frigate itself did – and before long the galleass was mine.

Somewhat anticlimactically it looks almost exactly the same as before, and for some weird reason it doesn’t even get the much cooler paintjob and black sails that the frigate got by equipping the old crafted gear (which is still good, hence I continue to use it for the time being).

Of course the more important question is whether the upgrade was worth it in terms of functionality. The answer: Hell yeah!

Unless you have a friend or two tagging along hunting sea monsters with a frigate is a rather arduous task because you have to let go of the steering wheel and man a cannon every time you want to fire, then get back to the wheel to reposition. The galleass’ cannons however are fired in broadsides directly by the captain, and it has four on each side to boot, adding some much needed oomph.

This is so much better!

The second huge upgrade is the cargo weight capacity, which has doubled! This has transformed bartering from a time consuming chore into a somewhat enjoyable –  yet still time consuming – activity that actually feels like making progress. By now I’ve built a considerable stockpile of bartering goods, so I can concentrate on the good deals and ignore the bad ones most of the time.

So yeah, worth it! Now I’m in the process of collecting the required materials for the crafted galleass gear, which is not only better than what I have, but also ultimately needed for the Carrack-upgrade. This is a really long process, but I’m having fun.

One of the game’s features I’ve been messing around with pretty much from the start is the taming and training of horses. It’s enjoyable if you’re into that sort of thing, and pretty rewarding too as not only can you get lucky and end up with a very skilled and fast steed, even the ones you don’t want to keep do sell for quite a lot of silver these days.

Despite that I had absolutely no intention to ever engage with the “Dream Horse” awakening system they added a couple of years back. Past tense because, well, as you can see above I eventually caved and decided to give it a go after all.

I still don’t think it’s a good system because there are just too many layers of RNG involved. It’s quite ridiculous, frankly. First you need a Tier 8 horse that’s eligible for awakening, which requires it to have a certain set of hard to get skills. Next up, the chance for a successful awakening attempt starts at a measly 1% and only increases by 0.2 after each failure. Of course the materials needed to even try are consumed in the process no matter what. Lastly, there are three types of dream horse, and you have no way to guarantee getting a specific one. The best you can do is a 50% chance at the one you want the most, the remaining 50% can be divided between the other two as you see fit (and have the materials for).

With all that being said, why do I still own a sparkly unicorn now? Well, after training many Tier 8 horses to level 30 I had not one, but two coursers (which is what a steed eligible for awakening is called) in my stable, so the first obstacle was already cleared. I also had lots of the required materials lying around, mostly from login rewards and playing the Black Spirit minigame. So I thought, heck, why not?

As it turns out you can get lucky and unlucky at the same time. I only needed around ten attempts to succeed, which, mathematically, is quite good of course. However, I did not hope to get Diné, the unicorn. It’s actually the one I wanted the least. I had the chance for Arduanatt, the pegasus, set to 50% (because it’s the fastest while auto-travelling and can glide), and for Doom, the…um…black fiery horse, to 30% (because it looks the best and is the fastest while riding actively). Thus only a 20% chance was assigned to the one I ultimately got.

It’s ok though because Diné is still a bit quicker than any of my Tier 8 horses, and its specialty is that it can ride at full speed in the desert – every other horse slows down to a crawl in the sand – which makes it much faster than even the best camel.

Now I’ll stockpile more materials for Arduanatt and Doom while selling those for Diné (not all of them can be sold, unfortunately), and once I have enough for 10+ tries I’ll go with the 50/50 method. Fingers crossed.

I’m still a bit torn regarding BDO’s housing. The instanced-yet-part-of-the-world aspect is pretty nifty, no doubt; it clearly has its drawbacks too though. For example, at least 90% of all available residences aren’t even a consideration for a somewhat serious decorator like myself because they’re just too damn small. Tiny, in fact. What’s worse, even many of the bigger ones somehow manage to feel kinda cramped to me. Maybe it’s the game’s camera angle or the lighting, I’m not sure.

Of course there’s also the universal truth of real estate in play: it’s all about location, location, location! What good does the fanciest of mansions if it’s rotting away in the middle of nowhere?

Which is why I’ve decided to relocate my main residence, which I moved into almost three years ago, from Duvencrune back to Heidel. I still think it’s one of the best residences available in terms of room layout (and the balconies are rather spiffy too), but it’s just not where I tend to be in the game.

I’ll miss the view though, that’s for sure

However, here’s the thing…there’s a new region coming out soon, and there will be huge asian themed manors to inhabit!! I don’t know many details yet, and of course this, too, will be far away from the game’s usual main hubs. Still, I’m holding off on decorating my new/current home for the time being.

If I indeed make the move to the Land of Morning Light once it’s released you’ll be the first to know.

Do MMORPGs age like fine wine? This one does!

I initially wanted to talk about my latest seafaring adventures in Black Desert Online today, but the updates the game got during the past few weeks (and months and years, really) were just too amazing to not duly praise them.

If you ask me the fact that the game still gets a patch each and every week like clockwork is already pretty remarkable in and of itself. I mean, BDO originally launched in December 2014, and even our younger NA/EU version just celebrated its seventh birthday. If there’s another MMORPG of that age that receives substantial balance changes, quality of life updates and bug fixes on a weekly basis I haven’t played it.

Of course not every patch contains stuff that I actually like and/or affects me, but overall there’s a whole lot to commend, especially in the quality of life department.

Believe it or not, one of the most recent changes is one I’d actually thought about and wished for just a couple weeks prior. I was trying to promote some more of my workers to their next respective tiers, a process that used to take 24 hours per attempt, and I thought Wouldn’t it be great if they reduced this to, say, 22 hours, so we wouldn’t lose half a day whenever we have to go to bed or work a bit earlier than the day before?

Well, they did even more than that. As of two weeks ago the promotion test only takes a mere eight hours, with increased success chances to boot. As if that wasn’t enough the probability to recruit Skilled- and Professional-tier workers from the get-go has also gone up. Last but not least, once your Artisan-tier workers have reached level 30 they now need less additional XP for each attempt to reroll a skill. The bottom line is, it has become much easier to set up your perfect worker empire.

Which is doubly great because…

…they also lowered the Contribution Point cost of many worker nodes in the game. If you had invested into any of these nodes prior to the February 22nd maintenance you have been refunded the according amount of CP automatically. I, for example, had 6 unspent points prior to the patch; a couple of hours later that number had ballooned to a whopping 25. Time to recruit some more workers, eh?

Now, I guess one might argue that all these were more like game design changes, not really QoL improvements…ok then, strap yourselves in, here comes the good stuff.

At some point last year a rather big questline was added, revolving around The Magnus, some interdimensional…sphere…thingy…look, I have no idea. I don’t play BDO for its story, mkay? All I know is that many of these quests have some puzzle- or riddle-like elements to them, and I quite liked that.

Anyway, finishing that questline rewards you with the ability to access any and all of your storages as well as your marketplace-warehouse from any storage NPC (the latter only if the town you’re in actually has a marketplace NPC too). Hoo boy, if you’ve played the game before you know how huge of a change this is. No more riding from Heidel all the way to Valencia City and back just to pick up some dates for cooking.

Actually you don’t need to ride much at all anymore if you’re not inclined to do so. Each region has an access point (hidden inside a well) to the Magnus, and from there you can go to any of the other wells in an instant. Moving around like this comes at the cost of some loading screens and a few million silver each time, and since I actually like to travel the game’s world I pretty much never use this, but the option is there.

As I said in the opening paragraph I’m currently pretty engaged in the game’s naval content once more, and us sea dogs got some goodies too.

If you’re planning to upgrade your ship to a Carrack, the highest tier an individual player can own at this point in time, you’ll have to, among other things, do the sailing dailies (aka “sailies”) on Oquilla’s Eye, an island sitting right at the edge of the Margorian Sea. And you’ll have to do them often. We’re talking not days or weeks, but months.

I don’t stress myself out over this, and ever since I upgraded my Galleass’ cannons fighting the bigger sea monsters is actually quite fun, so I don’t despise these dailies nearly as much as I do those in many other MMOs. Still, until recently there were some annoyances.

A few of those quests made you choose only one out of two or three different reward items. Problem was, you need all of those items, and lots of them, so whatever you chose, it always felt kinda bad to miss out on the others. Also, some quests were strung together, letting you accept the next one only after completing its predecessor, which meant taking numerous trips back to the island to complete just one full cycle of sailies.

Now we can pick up all but one of the quests right away (I hope they’ve just forgotten the last one and a fix is on its way), and every one that has multiple items on its list of rewards gives you all of them at the end. Great stuff!

Something that’s changed a couple of times over the years is how the game handles its main currency, silver coins.

In the olden days each of your characters and each city storage had their own coin purse, so to speak, meaning you had to actively manage having enough cheese at your disposal where and when you needed it. Because nothing beats getting the rare opportunity to recruit an Artisan-tier worker just to realize you actually don’t have enough silver to pay the recruitment fee, despite having millions or even billions lying around someplace else.

Additionally the stuff had weight, so when you went out to grind it wasn’t just the loot drops that filled up your inventory slots and carrying capacity, even the raw silver started to weigh you down sooner rather than later. Good thing they sell all kinds of stuff to increase your capacities for real money, right?

Well, to give credit where it’s due, they did away with silver weight quite a while ago (I wanna say two or three years, but I don’t remember exactly). Towards the end of last year they took the next step and consolidated all those different purses down to just two: your marketplace wallet, where your sales revenues go and from where you pay your purchases, and a thing just called “My Silver”, which is everything else. You can pay any kind of stuff in the open world with that, no matter where you are and which character you’re on.

There is even more good stuff I could talk about, like the ability to repair depleted cooking and alchemy tools on the spot instead of having to replace them all the time, or the fact that when you cancel a worker’s task you can immediately give that worker something else to do instead of having to wait for the current cycle to end.

Suffice it to say, the game keeps getting better and better, especially in the QoL-department, and if any of this was what kept you from enjoying the game in the past it might well be worth another look by now.

Back in Black (Desert Online)

Sometimes you think you are done playing a particular game for good, regardless of how much you liked it at some point, only to pick it up and fall in love with it again later anyhow.

Of course, with MMORPGs this isn’t actually that uncommon. After all there’s always a chance that features or design elements you really dislike get scrapped or changed for the better later on, or things you wish the game had are finally realized.

Such is the case with myself and Black Desert Online right now. When I put it down sometime in 2021, supposedly for the last time, it was for one very specific reason: I just couldn’t stand having to compete with other players over grindspots anymore.

Yeah, this is much more like it…

Long time readers know that open world PvP doesn’t bother me – in fact I’m usually a big fan. However, the way it’s implemented here is really bad in my opinion.

You see, PvE in BDO basically works like this: you choose a grindspot for a specific reason – for example, I’m currently grinding at the Blood Wolf Settlement for a rare drop needed to craft the legendary (i.e. reusable) health-potion. Once that’s decided you stock up on buffs, potions etc., then mount your horse and hoof it to the chosen spot, which, given the world’s size, can take a while. Upon arrival you get ready to grind, meaning you tether your horse, place your tent if you have one, spawn your pets and pop tons of buffs for more and better loot drops as well as stronger offenses and defenses if needed. After all that you can finally start to kill stuff, preferably as quickly as possible.

It’s a rather optimized process, is what I’m saying. Given the extremely low drop chances for everything noteworthy it’s pretty much the only feasible way to do it if you want to actually get anywhere, which also means that once you’ve got going interruptions aren’t welcome.

The problem here is that a single player can clear out a whole grindspot, at least the smaller ones, pretty much all by themselves, so sharing isn’t really an option.

One glance at this AoE’s range and you know what’s cooking

This is where the aforementioned open world PvP comes in. Since grindspots aren’t safezones every player has the ability to flag up for PvP and attack others at any time here. However, doing so lowers your Karma, so you don’t really want to be the one doing the attacking. Which is why the game’s community has kind of established an unwritten rule: if you’ve been there first it’s your spot, and if anyone else wants it they have to take it from you by force.

I can’t count how often I’ve arrived at a grindspot only to find the mobs lying dead on the ground, sending the unmistakable signal that someone’s already there. What’s worse, if that player sees you they will, more often than not, take the time to stop their killing for a couple of seconds, come to a halt near you and write a single word in local chat: “taken“. Man, I hate that word so much by now! What can I say, I just don’t fancy being told by others what I can and can’t do in a game I voluntarily spend my free time and money on.

Switching servers has a 15 minute cooldown, so if the second one you try is also occupied and you really don’t want to take the Karma hit and fight for the spot you’re basically shit out of luck.

If you actually do happen to be first on the scene once every blue moon you better hope that no one comes along who is willing to fight, because as soon as you’ve activated all those important (and in some cases pretty expensive) buffs you really don’t want to stop grinding until those have run out.

Unfortunately hermitism isn’t really a solution either

It’s just crappy design in my opinion, simple as that. This is nothing like the PvPvE options other games have (the way Hunt: Showdown does it, for example, is pure genius). In BDO, when you engage in PvE you really want to be able to focus on that, anything else just screws up your efficiency. Those who want to PvP a lot, on the other hand, pretty much have to do node wars and stuff like that because, again, Karma is a thing. There’s nothing synergetic about it, PvE and PvP just get in each other’s way.

Which is why, after I’d ridden all the way out to the Drieghan region numerous times only to find both grindspots that would’ve been worthwhile to me occupied on multiple servers, I decided that I’d had enough. I quit the game, never to return unless Pearl Abyss somehow enabled me to play the game however and whenever I wanted.

I really couldn’t see it happen though, what with this being such an integral part of the game’s design. Why and how would they change something like this almost seven years (at that point) after the game’s initial release?

Moving on to pastures new…or maybe not?

Well, what do you know! Turns out they added “private monster zones”, also known as Marni’s Realm, in May 2022. You can now go to a grindspot, press a button and immediately have a certain part of that area all to yourself. Hell yeah, instanced grindspots, I certainly didn’t see that one coming! Granted, you can enter Marni’s Realm only for up to 65 minutes per day and it’s not available at all grindspots, but still, this is a huge change and does everything it needs to as far as I’m concerned.

An hour of running around in circles and killing the same mobs again and again is usually all I can take anyway, so the limited duration doesn’t bother me much. Also, since all areas where specific rare drops for the various legendary items can be found are included I’m fine with the choice of grindspots too.

Hence, when I pondered what to play next towards the end of December I decided to give BDO another shot, and so far I don’t regret it one bit. The things that were always great, some of which I’ve already talked about in these here parts, are still great, and additionally I can now finally go and kill mobs…err…in peace…you know what I mean.

Trophy Room – The Secret World’s scenario missions

I’m not much of an achiever when playing video games. Being the first, the best or any other superlative you might think of – I pretty much don’t care. Two different personality tests for gamers I did a while back came to the same conclusion, so I guess I can’t be too far off base in saying that.

However, it’s not like I’ve never set goals for myself during all those years playing hundreds of games. Of course I have.

Not all goals are created equal though, certainly not in regard to difficulty. When I played the Uncharted series, for example, my only objective was to play each title all the way through to the end of the story, which isn’t much of an actual challenge if you’re comfortable with that kind of game. Hardly an achiever’s wet dream.

A couple of steps up the ladder would be clearing a SWTOR raid for the first time. Much more difficult on a personal level, but even more importantly a team effort instead of an individual achievement. I feel that I’m generally more inclined to tackle harder challenges when working with others, probably because having people around who rely on me makes me push myself further when I would most likely just quit otherwise.

And then there are the very few special ones. Goals that I consider very hard to achieve – even next to impossible at first – and that I’ll have to work towards all on my own. Maybe there’s not even a tasty carrot dangling at the end of that particular stick. But for some weird reason I still want to get there, even if the only reward will be to know that I did it.

This is about one of those cases, a trophy I’d like to proudly display on my mantlepiece, if you will.

A bit over a year after The Secret World went live Funcom released the game’s eighth DLC, The Venetian Agenda. Its main gameplay-feature was the introduction of so-called scenario missions, basically a holodeck simulation of search and rescue operations in three different locations. To incentivize doing them a new form of progression was also introduced, with the required loot only dropping in scenarios.

You can tackle these missions either solo, as a duo or a full group, with rewards and difficulty scaling accordingly. The goal is always to protect a group of civilians from TSW’s usual range of monsters. If you manage to save them all you earn Platinum ranking and thus the most rewards.

Hang in there, fellas, cavalry’s here!

Unfortunately the game didn’t do a good job at easing players into the whole thing when it came out. We had to learn the hard way that tried and trusted character builds and tactics don’t work in scenarios at all, and many, myself included, became quite frustrated pretty quickly. Of course it was heaven on earth for the hardcore theory crafters, but us ordinary mortals got our asses handed to us time and again.

You see, in contrast to any other type of content in TSW your biggest enemy in scenario missions is time. The monsters spawn in waves, and the spawn timer doesn’t care whether you’ve defeated the previous batch or not, they just keep on coming. This means that your damage output has to be top notch, and you also need to have memorized all the spawn points as well as the routes from each of those to the survivor camps (of which there are at least two in each mission), so you can intercept the enemies before they even get there. Oh, you also have to stay alive of course, and some baddies hit like trucks on higher difficulties. Bottom line is, you need to tank, deal lots of damage and heal yourself, all at the same time while also being constantly on the move.

Get your filthy mitts off me, you ugly…whatever it is you are!

If this sounds stressful that’s because it is. However, TSW is a game that always managed to make me feel like anything’s doable, no matter how impossible it might seem at first, and that I just need to find a way that’s suited for the task and also works for me as a player.

So back to the drawing board I went. As usual I consulted the Builds & Decks section of the forums for some ideas first and worked from there. I tried different combinations of weapons and abilities. I learned the maps, spawn points and routes. Figured out how and where best to fight the various bosses. Got a feel for spawn timers and general flow of each map (except for The Castle…man, screw that dump!).

The pride and accomplishment (there they are again) I felt when I managed to get a Platinum rating on Normal difficulty for the first time was priceless. What’s more, once I got the hang of it and started to have success I also began to find doing these missions a whole lot of fun! So much so that I still pop in every now and then, just because I like doing them.

Did you miss me? Did you miss me? …miss me?

Anyway, next up was Elite difficulty, which wasn’t that much of a step up from Normal…and then came Nightmare. Oh boy, what a…well…nightmare.

It’s not that I couldn’t beat it at all, mind you, but a couple of survivors always managed to die – making the term “survivor” ironic, which is exactly what the scenario AI smugly tells you whenever it happens. Yeah, thanks for that, b*tch! No matter how hard I tried, I just wasn’t able to save them all, the main reason being that I was still killing things a tad too slowly.

The breakthrough came when I stumbled upon yet another guide, one that suggested using a weapon type I would never even have considered for this purpose – Elementalism. What’s special about it is that, among other things, it lets you place manifestations on the ground which then deal either single target or AoE-damage on their own for a while. I don’t think they were ever used much in other forms of content, but for scenarios they’re absolutely perfect as you can place them in the enemies’ path right where you intend to fight them just before they arrive, freeing you up to then exclusively use your main hand and effectively deal almost double the damage.

Lightning never strikes twice? You just wait!

It still took more than a few tries to get the hang of it and also a helping hand from the game’s RNG (get certain environmental hazards combined with the wrong monster types and you’re screwed no matter what), but after many almosts and if onlys I finally did it:

It’s been over five years and I’m still hella proud of this!

I didn’t “beat” the third map however, because, as I said, I decided pretty early on to ignore that one. I just really hate its whole layout, and one of the possible final bosses is already a massive pain in the ass on Elite difficulty, so much so that I’m certain getting it on Nightmare would screw up an otherwise perfect run right on the home stretch. So, no. Just no.

What? I said that I’m not an achiever right from the start, didn’t I?

Diablo II Resurrected – Now with extra terror!

When Blizzard released Diablo II Resurrected almost exactly a year ago I assumed that they’d only do a couple rounds of bugfixes after that, if needed, and then leave the game as is for good.

This seemed likely to me because a) they’d made abundantly clear that they intended to give us the original, basically untouched gameplay experience of DII – a few minor QoL-improvements being the exception – just with a fresh coat of paint, and b) since they have no means to monetize the game beyond the initial box price (yet?) I just couldn’t imagine any ActiBlizz-exec greenlighting more work being done on the project than absolutely necessary.

Well, color me surprised, as the team has been working on the game continuously since then. Until a few days ago patches mostly contained fixes, more QoL improvements, the revival of the ladder system and a handful of new runewords.

The update we received just now however is one of the biggest game-changers the game has ever seen, probably only surpassed by the introduction of runewords and the implementation of skill synergies, which happened all the way back in June 2001 and October 2003, respectively.

Click here for full patch notes

The update’s main feature is the introduction of Terror Zones.

Until now no area in the game had a higher level than 85. That’s important because the level of a zone also determines the levels of the monsters in it. A higher monster level means more XP, and it also affects which items they can and cannot potentially drop. Since most players always want to get the most XP as well as the best items and zone levels never used to change this naturally led to the same areas being farmed over and over for many years. Also, as characters have a maximum level of 99 this also meant that getting there was a painfully slow process as monsters more than 5 levels below you give less XP, significantly so the bigger the gap becomes.

Enter Terror Zones. A whole range of areas throughout all of the game’s five acts can now become terrorized, always one main zone and the adjacent dungeon(s) – with some exceptions – for an hour at a time on a rotating schedule. The monster levels here will scale with the level of the character that created the game, like so:

Normal difficulty

    • Base: +2 levels up to level 45
    • Champion: +4 levels up to level 47
    • Unique: +5 levels up to level 48

Nightmare difficulty

    • Base: +2 levels up to level 71
    • Champion: +4 levels up to level 73
    • Unique: +5 levels up to level 74

Hell difficulty

    • Base: +2 levels up to level 96
    • Champion: +4 levels up to level 98
    • Unique: +5 levels up to level 99

As you need to have beaten Baal on the respective difficulty level for the terrorizing to even happen I’m not sure whether this will have a big effect – or any at all – on playing through Normal and Nightmare, but for levelling and farming on Hell this is obviously a huge deal. More XP, more gameplay variety and potentially more high-level item drops; what’s not to like?

Apparently not being content with having only one ground-breaking feature up their sleeves they’re also adding a new type of unique charm when ladder season 2 starts on October 6th: Sundering Charms.

For a very long time encountering and dealing with monsters that are immune to at least one type of damage has been a big part of playing the game on Hell difficulty. You pretty much had to choose between either playing a build that can dish out more than one damage type, or just accepting the fact that some areas are not meant for your character to farm in solo.

Now, there always were a few ways to break immunities, but those didn’t necessarily work for every class and/or in every situation and were mostly rather cumbersome to utilize as well.

From October 6th onward you’ll “just” need to get your hands on the appropriate sundering charm, put it in your inventoy and boom, no monster will ever be immune again if you deal that type of damage to it.

“Immune to Fire”, my ass!

So why did I put “just” in quotation marks? Well, there’s a whole bunch of caveats to getting and using these things.

The biggest one for me personally is that they will only drop for ladder characters. I’ve never owned a ladder-only item in Diablo II and I probably never will, because, well, I simply don’t play on ladder. It’s not that I dislike levelling new characters, quite the contrary, but I absolutely don’t fancy having to start over from scratch without being able to make use of the stashed treasures I’ve spent so much time collecting. Having good items to deck out new characters with is actually one of the things I like the most about ARPGs.

Of course once a ladder season ends those items do become part of the non-ladder ecosystem, but as you can imagine the good and thus sought after ones tend to be outrageously expensive to trade for, and I’m fairly certain that these charms will be even costlier than most ladder items that came before.

The second obstacle is that they’ll exclusively drop in terror zones, and only from Champion monsters and upwards, meaning that they’ll probably be pretty rare even if you are playing ladder.

If you do manage to get one you’ll then have to somehow compensate for the hefty debuff to your character’s resistance against the very damage type the charms sunder, which they all have as part of their “bonuses”. You can’t kill the monsters if they kill you first, right?

Lastly, they require a character level of 75 to use and you also need to make room for them in your inventory, but after all of the above this should be barely an inconvenience.

Despite all these hurdles sundering charms totally are game-changers though, make no mistake – which is why it’s probably a good thing that they aren’t too easy to get.

Want to play a maxed out Blizzard Sorceress or fire Druid without having to dump skill points into anything else and still be able to farm any area in the game? Get the appropriate sundering charm and you can! Too poor to trade for the runes to build Infinity but still want to play lightning only? Equip The Crack of the Heavens and you’re good to go (what a hilarious name is that, anyway?)!

I won’t even try to count the builds that haven’t been viable to solo Hell difficulty or were at least severely restricted in where they could farm for the longest time now, but there are quite a few. With the help of a sundering charm many of these will become very viable all of a sudden, and who knows, maybe some of them will even turn out to be proper powerhouses.

So yeah, these are massive – and in my opinion pretty great – changes to a game that’s almost a quarter of a century old now. I kinda hate to say it, but…not bad, Blizzard. Not bad at all.

Introducing my not-so-new-anymore apartment

As always, click the pictures to enlarge

Blaugust’s Introduce Yourself Week is long over, but since my last post already featured some parts of my home I figured I might as well show you a bit more. Considering I promised as much to y’all over nine months ago it’s about damn time anyway.

What you see up there is indeed the view from my apartment’s balcony, amateurishly stitched together by yours truly. Technically I moved in on February 1st, however neither bed nor couch had been delivered yet, so I’m actually living in it since about a week later.

The kitchen arrived another two months further down the road – I don’t know if you’ve tried to buy anything other than everyday-stuff lately, but delivery times are hell on toast since Covid started, no matter the line of business. Luckily I already had fridge, stove and washing machine, so I lived, but it wasn’t pleasant regardless.

This is the view from the kitchen window, obviously at dusk. On the left hand side you can see Cologne’s big cathedral in the distance. I don’t care for it that much as I’ve seen it basically every day for over twenty years now, but I’m sure I’m paying part of the rent just for that.

As you can see living on the 12th floor (of a 23-story building in this case) definitely has its upsides, and I’m digging it a lot. I’ve always been fascinated by tall buildings anyway; every time we’re in a city like New York or San Francisco I love to just wander through the street canyons with wide eyes and stiff neck. As Germany doesn’t have many high rises I never would have placed this high on my must-have list for apartment-hunting though, so I consider myself very lucky in this regard.

There are downsides too however. We have two elevators, and in a building with approximately a hundred flats there’s pretty much always someone coming or going, so waiting times are a thing. By now I’ve gotten into a habit of taking the stairs when I leave, especially on weekday mornings. When I come home though, not so much. Lakisa and I had to climb up once because both elevators were out of order, and, well, it’s manageable of course, but I really wouldn’t want to do it every day, especially not during summer.

Overall I’m very pleased though. Another plus is that my “cellar” is on the 22nd floor, consequently it’s completely dry and for the first time ever I don’t have any concerns about storing stuff there long-term.

This is the building from the outside, and the X marks the spot…err…I mean, the circle marks my balcony.

You’ve already seen parts of my living room, but since it’s rather big the gaming cave has also found its place in there:

Now you know where that Diablo II record went

All those CDs I mentioned last time have to be stored somewhere too, as well as books, photo albums and stuff like that. This is still a bit of a work in progress though. Of course the keepsakes of my time playing football are kept in a place of honor (pardon the reflections):

The dining table in the foreground turned out to be a tad tiny, so I’m currently looking for one that looks basically the same, but is bigger, yet not too big at the same time. It’s funny, some things you thought will be difficult turn out to be a piece of cake, while stuff you’d basically taken for granted can become a real headache. Astonishingly that table falls into the latter category.

As soon as I own enough records for storage to become an issue the bookshelf on the left will be moved next to the one on the right, and the vacated space will be occupied by a dedicated record-shelf.

And there you pretty much have it. I won’t bore you with pictures of the other rooms, as they look like…well…like kitchens and bathrooms and stuff usually look.

I’m really glad that I found this place and the owners accepted me as their tenant. Here’s hoping I won’t have to look for a new place anytime soon.

Blaugust 2022 post count: 5

Relearning to spend musical quality time

Two weeks ago I went and bought myself a record player.

Now that’s a sentence I’d never thought I’d say or write, but there it is. I also bought a HiFi-rack to put it on and a CD player while I was at it.

Depending on how old you are you may wonder what’s so bloody remarkable about this. I was born in 1976, so neither records nor CDs are anything new or special to me. Or at least they shouldn’t be.

But here’s the thing. During the past year I’ve mused a lot about the stuff I do or don’t do with my free time, and I’ve realized that there is something I used to do a lot in the past but pretty much never do anymore, and that’s spending quality time with music.

It’s not that I just don’t do it – I’ve basically forgotten how to do it.

Of course there are multiple factors that led to this, but I believe my biggest mistake was to move away from physical media and only use my phone to manage and play music anymore. Now, I still made sure that I listened to it in fairly good quality at all times, either via ‘real’ speakers or a good pair of headphones; just using the phone’s speakers or some such always was out of the question. Nevertheless my listening habits changed dramatically because of this without me even being aware of it, at least initially.

First of all, I very rarely listened to an album all the way through anymore. Just one or two tracks, then off to the next. What’s worse, I was already browsing my library for the next track while listening to something, which of course meant that I was barely paying any attention to what I was hearing.

Over the years I started to perceive this as a problem, and I’ve been feeling the need to do something about it for a while now. During the past six months or so two things happened that nudged me over the edge.

One, I had an extensive talk about the issue with my buddy Dark, who himself started to listen to and collect records a couple of years ago and confirmed my assumption that it’s a much more conscious and appreciative experience. Thanks for the tons of advice, by the way!

Two, my rekindled love for Diablo II made me wish I had something physical to display in my gaming shelf – other than the original Diablo and Diablo II boxes, which I obviously already have. So I browsed the net and found this:

The collector in me loves this SO much

As you can see I bought it right away, and it all looks and feels amazing. Only now I suddenly owned two records that I couldn’t actually listen to.

So I finally made up my mind – I would buy a record player and “force” myself to relearn how to fully experience and appreciate music again.

Obviously I don’t have a great many records to listen to yet. What I do have are about 500 CDs though, so I thought what the hell, I’ll also get a new CD player, something I didn’t have for over ten years now either. Sure, I could’ve used my PS3 or Blu-ray player at any time, but those don’t have displays of their own, and I don’t like having to turn on my TV just to play music. Fortunately I still kept buying at least some music on CD throughout the years regardless, I just never listened to it the way it was intended anymore.

Well, I’ve swiftly started to make up for that missed opportunity now that I have a “complete” HiFi-rack again (sans tape deck because screw that crap). For the first time in over 25 years I’m in that position, and I’m simply loving it!

Oh, and it looks pretty nice too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some music to listen to and don’t want to be disturbed.

Blaugust 2022 post count: 4

Warframe- The New War (new to me, that is)

Released in December 2021, The New War continues and concludes the game’s main story arc revolving around Ballas and the Lotus, which began all the way back in ’17. Despite being available for eight months already I only now played through it.

Not that I hadn’t been anticipating it before it came out. Despite featuring some annoying bits of gameplay here and there I always liked Warframe’s main story quests a lot. The thing is though, most of them have such an immense importance to the player character’s – and sometimes the whole galaxy’s – fate that once you’ve started there is no going back to regular gameplay until you’ve finished it. The New War is no different – in fact the game even warns you about it before you start.

Since I’ve played only sporadically and been rather strapped for time in general this past year I didn’t want to commit to that. Now I’m taking a vacation at last, and we’re not actually going anywhere until the 25th, so I’ve finally dug in and finished it over the course of two days.

It’s really great!

Spoiler warning: I won’t talk much about the story itself, but obviously the screenshots show scenes from it, so if you haven’t played it yet and want to go in with a blank slate I’d suggest you stop reading now.

First of all, the visuals are jaw-dropping once more. Warframe isn’t the most gorgeous game out there, not by a long shot, but DE always go all-in for their big story moments.

The huge vistas are enhanced further by some nice little details. For example, during the first hour or so you play a couple different characters, and they all have their own distinct UI-elements fitting their themes and abilities. Above you see a Grineer soldier, below a Corpus tech, and finally Theshin (whom you’ll be acquainted with if you’ve played the preceding quests).

They even designed a new hacking mini-game (of which I forgot to take a picture), a nice variation to the well-known Grineer- and Corpus-style hacking.

Overall there is a good mix of combat, stealth sections, boss fights and cutscenes. Yes, the stealth bits could be a bit more forgiving, and you know how I think about boss fights in general – but these really were ok.

Also featured are Railjack- and Necramech-gameplay, and to even start this quest you need to have finished building both.

I liked the story itself too, especially since we don’t just go back to normal after it. In the tradition of The War Within and The Sacrifice not only we as players have grown and learned in the end, but also our characters, and the whole galaxy has changed too. Well, at least a little bit.

I didn’t keep track of time, but I’d guess that the whole thing took me five hours or so, whithout skipping any cutscenes and with the occasional pause to take screenshots. Time very well spent in my opinion. Highly recommended!

To cap it off here’s some more pretty pictures:

Blaugust 2022 post count: 3