High Five!

You know the drill by now…

Gosh, has it really been another year already? I’ve heard many people say that the whole Covid stuff kinda slowed their perception of time down, what with them being at home a lot more and so on. For me though, if anything the past two years seem to have gone by even faster than those before.

Anyway, this here blog is half a decade old today. Time to pop the champagne, no?

I’ll rather have a Corellian ale, but thanks!

On the face of it, yeah, absolutely. As I’ve said before, I really had no idea where or for how long this would go when I started, but I surely wouldn’t have bet any money on still being active five years down the road – if you’re willing to call one or two posts a month “active”, that is.

Because here’s the thing – I can’t help but admit that my enthusiasm for blogging has declined even more since my last blogiversary. In that post I talked about how there were no MMORPGs I really wanted to play at the time. Well…since then I’ve tried New World, which wasn’t for me, and Lost Ark, a game I had high hopes for but turned out to be a huge disappointment after the first thirty hours or so. Man, what a treadmill.

I don’t need to be playing MMORPGs to have something to blog about though, right? True. But, as I’m only now starting to realize, I need to be reading other blogs to feel a motivation to write myself, and that is something I haven’t done much of lately either. I still regularly read my handful of go-to blogs (you know who you are) because they’re just entertaining no matter the subject. Anything that’s solely focused on MMOs and/or isn’t compulsory reading for me has fallen by the wayside however, and that includes MassivelyOP.

While this might not sound like much of an issue it’s pretty big for me. I’ve visited that site religiously since I stumbled upon it, which was in 2011 I believe, back when it was still under AOL’s umbrella. I helped to kickstart its rebirth as MOP, and I’ve even applied for a writing job a couple years back (which I obviously didn’t get, but given how things have developed that’s definitely for the best). The site meant a lot to me for a long time, is what I’m saying.

I didn’t make a conscious decision or anything, I just…stopped, and only after a while I realized that I had, and also that I don’t even miss it all that much. Of course that’s actually not very surprising when I think about it, what with them predominantly covering a genre I’ve become pretty jaded and unhappy about. That some of the writers themselves, especially the boss lady, seem to feel the same way doesn’t help matters either.

Anyhow, I’m rambling. My point is, I’m discontent with the state of the MMORPG-genre, I’m by and large not interested in reading about it anymore, and as a result I have a hard time finding motivation or inspiration to write about anything myself.

That said, I haven’t covered everything I’d like to say about Hunt: Showdown yet, so I’ll get at least one more post out of that.

Also, to end this on a more positive note, I have no intention to quit for good. Posts may well continue to be few and far between for the forseeable future, but if nothing else I’ll try and show signs of life at least once per month.

So despite all of the above chances are we’ll still share another cake a year from now…

Hunt: Showdown is the shooter I didn’t know I’d been waiting for

For many years now a lot of gamers, myself included, have been lamenting a severe lack of new and original ideas in video games in general and competitive shooters in particular. For every new IP or game-mode that’s introduced to the genre we seem to get at least ten sequels, prequels, remakes or just blatant copies.

I mean, shit, last year’s ‘new’ Call of Duty, Vanguard, was in fact the series’ eighteenth episode! Battlefield 2042 was the twelfth BF – and the crappiest yet to boot. I’m not even going to count every hero shooter or battle royale that was unleashed upon us since these game-modes became flavour of the month (or rather decade, it feels like) following the massive successes of Overwatch and PUBG, respectively.

An argument often brought to the table by the genre’s or a particular franchise’s white knights is that we’re living in a time where pretty much everything’s been done before, so of course the best any new game can do is to reshuffle and refine what we already know.

Fortunately that’s not quite true though…

When I was paying a visit to a buddy of mine a couple of weeks ago he insisted that I finally take a look at his current favourite game, Hunt: Showdown. He’d told me about it before, but at the time I didn’t feel like diving into a new game (new to me, it’s from 2019). What’s more, I thought that I was done playing competitive shooters for good, one reason being that those I’ve played in the past, especially Overwatch, stressed me out far too much, but also because of the aforementioned staleness of the genre.

Yeah, about that? There’s absolutely nothing stale about this game, believe it or not. Well, ok, there are zombies in it, and it does have an optional battle royale mode, but bear with me here, because the game’s main mode, called Bounty Hunt, is so much more than that.

And rather pretty, too

Here’s the gist of it:

Up to twelve players, either solo or in teams of two or three, are randomly spawned on the outskirts of a map spanning one square kilometer. Hidden somewhere in this area are either one or two boss monsters. The goal is to find clues pointing to the bosses’ locations, then get to a boss alive, kill it, banish it back to hell and finally pick up one of the two bounties it drops. With that in your pocket you either leg it to one of the extraction points scattered around the map boundaries, or try your luck with the second boss too, if there is one, and then extract.

Although this sounds pretty straightforward it’s much, much more complex in reality.

Get lost, deadite, I’m trying to be sneaky here!

First of all, the maps are full of stuff trying to kill you. Zombies of different flavours, hellhounds, hives (which send swarms of poisonous insects after you) and other hellish creatures lurk the compounds, which is what the various settlements, farms or factories where clues or the bosses themselves can be hidden are called.

These monsters absolutely can kill you, make no mistake, but their main purpose is to slow you down and, most importantly, to make you cause a ruckus. You see, sound in this game is your biggest asset and your worst enemy at the same time. The larger firearms can be heard from all across the map (literally), and since enemy players are the real threat you want to make as little noise as possible at all times. Playing with a good pair of headphones is pretty much mandatory, and it’s totally worth it not only from a tactical perspective. The sound is so good in this game!

The Butcher awaits…good thing I found this axe!

The bosses are not that hard to defeat once you know their weaknesses, but it takes a while, and you really don’t want other players to get the jump on you while you’re busy squatting in a corner, bandaging yourself after a nasty boss attack. Once you’ve finished the bugger it gets even more hairy, because you then need to ‘banish’ it. Starting that process only requires the push of a button, but it takes three minutes and twenty seconds to finish, and only then the coveted bounties drop. What’s more, during that time all players can see on their maps where exactly the boss died, and how far the banishment has already progressed.

Should you survive this phase you can then pick up one of the bounties, which will have two very important consequences. One, your approximate position is now shown to all players by an icon flashing every few seconds on the map, and two, your ‘dark sight’, which is normally used to locate clues and bosses, gains the ability to also show enemy players near you, but only for five seconds total, so you need to use it wisely.

Blue means clue, red means dead (i.e. enemy players).

If you manage to extract with a bounty you get the most rewards, obviously, and you will kinda have ‘won’ the map – although there can be more than one winner or winning team, as there are always either two or four bounties to claim, depending on whether the map has one or two bosses, and each player can only carry one bounty per boss. Extracting without a bounty still nets you some XP and currency, and if you managed to snag, say, a better weapon than what you had in the beginning you get to keep it.

What makes all of this so exciting is that you don’t just respawn a couple of seconds later if you get downed. In fact, if you went in solo then that’s it, the round’s over for you. While in a team your mates can revive you, provided they don’t share your fate while trying. If they’re successful you get up again, but with very low health, so you should take cover immediately and hope you still have a bandage on hand. You’ll also lose a bit of your maximum health each time, which can only be replenished when you or someone from your team initiates a boss banishment and you’re in the vicinity.

Oh yeah, and there’s also this. Ain’t as bad as it sounds though.

Of course there are many more details I haven’t talked about yet, for example how progression works, what kinds of weapons there are and so on. I will save those things for another time though, as I’d rather elaborate a bit more on why I feel this game is so special and innovative.

First of all, it’s nailbitingly (Is that a word? It is now!) thrilling, and in a really good way. Remember me saying competitive shooters stress me out? Yeah, always did, but for some reason this one doesn’t. I think the big difference is that when I played those other games I always went in with the expectation (or at least a strong desire) to win, and it often made me angry when I didn’t. Whereas when I play Hunt I always go in fully expecting to die, so I don’t fret when it happens, and when I do ‘win’ I’m all the happier for it. Sometimes the game giveth, sometimes it taketh away, that’s just the way it goes.

Another unique aspect is that players can choose pretty freely how they want to approach any given match. I’d never seen this in a shooter until now, at least not on this level. Don’t fancy boss fights? Just wait for other players to do it for you and attack them during the banishment phase. Or you initiate the banishment, but then leave instead of holing up, so you won’t be where others will surely expect you to be. Or you wait until others pick up the bounties and ambush them on the way to extraction (beware of their dark sight though!). Or use the sound of gunfire as orientation and get in on the action when two other teams fight each other, possibly being the last player standing.

Speaking of which, unless you really are the last remaining player on the map you’ll never know for certain how many others are left, so most rounds stay exciting until the very end.

It’s quite picturesque…except for the smell of smoldering flesh of course

So yeah, for me Hunt: Showdown really was a revelation of sorts. It’s probably not a game I’ll ever play each and every day for hours on end (if only because playing shooters for too long unfortunately makes me sick to my stomach), but it’s so exciting, innovative and exceptionally well designed – more on that next time – that I can safely say it is, in my opinion, by far the best competitive shooter you can play right now.

It is Buy2Play, but like most games on Steam it’s discounted more often than not. Highly recommended.

Movies I’ve watched…err…considerably more often than seven times

Almost none of these, actually…

A while ago another fun meme was making the rounds in our little part of the blogosphere, and boy, do I have the home-field advantage for this one.

The question was which movies one has watched at least seven times. Wilhelm had an eclectic list on offer, while Bhagpuss actually wasn’t sure whether there’s even a single one film he’s watched that often.

Talk of polar opposites. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many I’ve watched seven or more times, let alone write a comprehensive list, because it’s just too damn many. I’ve met a lot of people over the years who can’t for the life of them understand why, but to me the reason is rather simple: I really love watching stuff that I know and like over and over again.

I laugh at jokes in advance, I get goosebumps just before the big twist or reveal, I revel in well done match cuts, parallel montages and other technical gimmicks or easter eggs – in many aspects already knowing what’s coming enhances the experience for me instead of diminishing it.

But I could watch so many good movies I haven’t seen yet instead, couldn’t I? Well, yeah, and of course I do watch new ones regularly too (have you seen The Batman yet? Seriously, go and watch that one right now!). Still, when I come home exhausted from a workday and really crave a relaxing and deeply enjoyable experience, pretty much nothing beats re-watching a movie I love with a bag of chips (I mean crisps, you crazy Brits) and a cold glass of Coke.

There’s also a neat little side effect: I can recite pretty much every bit of conversation from the films in question, and it’s all sorts of fun to throw around movie quotes whenever there’s an opportunity. Great, kid. Don’t get cocky…I hear you say, and you’re probably right. Ahem, moving on.

So here’s what I’m going to do: instead of using the threshold of seven – or any threshold at all – I’ll give you a list of movies that I’ve watched the hell out of, and I’m going to make a ballpark guess about the actual number of times I did so.

    • Star Wars – The Original Trilogy

I have a bad feeling about this!

Nah, just kidding, good feelings all around. These three movies positively changed my life, and I’m not even exaggerating. If you’ve seen these for the first time as a kid or young teenager during the eighties, like I did, I don’t have to tell you how magical, epic and just awesome these were at the time, and if you didn’t…well…I can’t tell you because there are no words to describe what the experience felt like.

Of course this effect has diminished greatly over time, and watching them over and over has most likely played a part in that, but I highly doubt that 45-year-old me would still feel the same magic even if I hadn’t, and I always had and still have so much fun coming back to these masterpieces every few years that I don’t regret a thing.

Unfortunately I haven’t counted, but I assume I’ve watched them about thirty times each by now.

    • Ghostbusters 1 & 2

Listen! Do you smell something?

In my opinion these are two of the greatest comedies ever made – yes, I actually like the second one just as much as the first, maybe even a bit more. Sue me.

Everything’s absolutely on point, casual and over the top at the same time, and all the characters are quirky each in their very own way. While Bill Murray is terrific as ever my favourite has to be Harold Ramis as Egon Spengler. I mean, how can you not love a guy who, when inquired about his hobbies by a gal who seems to fancy him, says: I collect spores, molds and fungus, stoically yet ever so slightly embarrassed?

I’ve watched these probably about twenty times each, and I just realized it’s high time to give them another spin.

    • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

That belongs in a museum!

For once it’s not the whole (original) saga but one particular movie that I like the most. Don’t get me wrong, Raiders and Temple are great films, but to me they can’t hold a candle to the third installment.

There’s a couple reasons for this. For one, I actually watched it before the other two, and also in a movie theater instead of at home (at a time when I didn’t have a 55″ OLED screen and a powerful 5.1 sound system in my living room this obviously made a much bigger difference than it would now). Also, Sean Connery kills it as Indy’s old man. The origin story at the beginning is pretty neat too – I especially appreciate how it takes the time to explain not only the character’s fear of snakes, but also the adult actor’s chin scar. Talk about going the extra mile.

It’s the perfect action adventure movie with epic locations, bad guys who turn out to be good guys and vice versa, an awesome score and, of course, lots of action. Add the constant bickering between the extremely likeable main characters and you have a classic. I’ve watched it about fifteen to twenty times.

    • Back to the Future I-III

Nobody calls me Chicken!

Hearing Alan Silvestri’s famous main theme to Back to the Future makes my eyes well up a bit pretty much instantly, even more so than the Star Wars or Indiana Jones themes. Not only is it an awesome piece of music, it’s also such an integral part of these great movies which, as a whole, always trigger a strong emotional response from me too.

This story takes the ‘Teenager goes on an epic adventure and screws up lots of stuff along the way, but all turns out well in the end’-routine, adds time travel to the mix and polishes the whole thing to perfection. And boy, the time travel stuff is so well done. Are there logic holes? Of course there are. But it’s so damn entertaining and fun that I couldn’t care less.

Most importantly, I don’t know if I have ever cared and rooted for a movie’s main characters more than I always have (and still do) for Marty and Doc, which is saying quite a lot. My guess is that I’ve watched the three films about fifteen times each.

Now, there are at least a dozen more movies from the eighties and nineties I could talk about here, for example TRON, Blade Runner, Aliens, The Fifth Element, L.A. Confidential, Groundhog Day, Terminator 1 and 2, Matrix and more, all of which I’ve watched at least ten times. However, it’s not like no awesome movies were made in more recent years (i.e. since the turn of the millenium). Quite the contrary. Hence I’d like to highlight a few newer titles too, such as…

    • The Dark Knight

Some men just want to watch the world burn.

What can be said about Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy in general and this movie in particular that hasn’t been said a thousand times already? As great as The Batman is, The Dark Knight is the best film about the caped crusader we’ve ever seen and will probably ever see. I’ve watched it at least a dozen times, and I never tire of it.

    • Edge of Tomorrow

I think there’s something wrong with your suit…there’s a dead guy in it!

Basically a mashup of Saving Private Ryan, Starship Troopers and Groundhog Day, this is a really awesome movie. It’s only eight years old at this point, and I’ve watched it about ten times already.

I can’t go into much detail because it’s very easy to spoil important plot points in this particular case, but I’ll say this: As we all know every great body of work is more than the sum of its parts. This applies here too, but even the individual parts are terrific on their own. For instance, I would watch this film again and again for Bill Paxton’s hilarious yet believable portrayal of a Master Sergeant tasked with bringing an unwilling Tom Cruise into line alone.

    • Oblivion

Everybody dies, Sally. The thing is to die well.

Another Tom Cruise flick, another slam dunk. It’s science fiction, but pretty different from anything else I’ve seen in the genre. I like the story a lot, but first and foremost it’s the visuals and the sound that blow me away every time. OMG, the noises those drones make! The score is also superb. Since it came out in 2013 I’ve seen it ten to twelve times.

I have to say, Tom Cruise has slowly but surely become one of my favourite actors. I wouldn’t say that he’s the best character actor ever, but he always seems to give his all, and, most importantly, with very few exceptions he just doesn’t do bad movies. What I mean by that is that before he agrees to star in a film he seems to make sure that the script is excellent and the director capable. Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow are good examples of this. Another case in point:

    • Jack Reacher

You think I’m a hero? I am not a hero! […] I mean to beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot!

When I watched this a little while after it came out in 2012 I’d never heard of a guy named Jack Reacher. By now I’ve read the first twenty novels the author, Lee Child, has written starring this character, and I’m (obviously) a big fan.

As I usually don’t read crime stories I wouldn’t have been interested enough to even give them a shot if the movie was crap, but fortunately it’s anything but. Of course it’s not the first thriller we’ve seen where the protagonist hunts the bad guys while operating outside the law themselves, but this guy is really well written, and the movie makes the most of the material. I especially like how it lets us participate in Reacher’s thought processes without utilizing fancy slow motion montages of him scanning the scene and stuff like that. It’s almost a bit oldschool in some regards, but in my opinion that works in its favor.

Just recently Amazon released a series just called Reacher, and I like it even better than the movie – this time around the character even looks the way he’s described in the novels, which is approximately double Tom Cruise’s size. Still, the film is awesome and I come back to it fairly regularly. Up to now I’ve watched it around ten times.

And at this point I have embarrassed myself more than enough I guess…how much time can one spend watching the same handful of movies again and again? A fuckton, that’s how much.

No regrets.

Actually, I don’t like Lost Ark quite as much right now…

My interaction with Lost Ark has developed in a weird way during the past couple of weeks. Once the game had clicked with me I really wanted to play as much as possible, which unfortunately turned out to be not all that much because of the long queues. However, the shorter those waiting times – and, consequently, the longer the available time to play – became, the less I’ve actually played.

One reason for this is that I’m pretty big into Arknights and Warframe again right now. Most likely that’s a direct consequence of the second and more important reason though…my excitement for Lost Ark has waned just about as quickly as it had built up.

Here’s why.

As others have said right from the start, the questing- and leveling-process is very, very linear and really not engaging at all. The combat’s fun, yes, but everything around it gets boring quickly. In other words, the game’s a clickfest not only during combat, but also inbetween battles. The most recent CarbotAnimations video depicts this quite accurately:

Hilarious as this is, while actually playing the game it’s really not fun at all. Great set pieces still pop up regularly, but those don’t manage to make playing not feel like a chore either.

A week and a half ago I reached level 50, but my hopes that more gameplay-variety would present itself at that point were smashed as I learned that I apparently still needed to quest through two more continents first. Yawn.

Then there are the forced solo instances I already talked about last time. When I was playing on my own I took offense at those only on principle because the Striker is a very solo-friendly class and, well, I was alone either way.

Whenever Lakisa and I played together their frequent occurrence really started to bother us though. Neither the Bard nor the Artillerist are much fun to play solo (in our opinion at least), and, more importantly, why are we even playing together, in an MMO no less, when we are forced to chew through every bit of somewhat challenging content ( I say challenging in a very loose sense of the word here) on our own anyway? Seriously, this design choice sucks. Wilhelm and his group aren’t too fond of it either.

Now I’m going to talk about gear score for a bit. This will undoubtedly make a certain kind of player, of which there seem to be quite a few in Lost Ark, call me entitled, a crybaby or something along those lines. Or it would, if any of those people would actually ever read this. I don’t care either way.

I knew going in that Lost Ark is designed with a heavy emphasis on gear score, and I fully expected that fact to become a source of irritation or even annoyance for me sooner or later.

What I didn’t expect was that something as innocuous as a Mario Kart style racing event would push my blood pressure to dangerous levels long before I’d even reached a point in the game where my gear score actually mattered a damn.

You see, by participating in this little event once a day you can earn a heap of event currency with which to buy lots of goodies, blue and purple engraving books among them. This is really big as the latter specimens of the more sought after engravings are very rare and thus very expensive on the auction house. Players who now buy these off the event shop to actually use them will be very happy, and those who don’t need them anymore will earn thousands and thousands of gold by selling them to others.

But here’s the thing: when the event went live those rewards came with certain gear score restrictions, pretty high ones too from where I’m standing. At first I thought those values were needed to use these – but no, you couldn’t even buy them if your GS was lower than required.

Who the hell thought that was a good idea? Dividing the playerbase into haves and have-nots by gear score might be acceptable when it comes to normal gameplay (personally I don’t like it under any circumstances, but that’s a topic of its own), but c’mon you guys, GS-locked event rewards? Really?

You’ve probably noticed that I’m using the past tense here. That’s because Amazon and/or Smilegate reacted to the massive community backlash by removing these GS restrictions from all types of engraving books in a hotfix last week. For honing materials and such those requirements are still in place though.

Now, to give credit where it’s due, at least they have listened and made a (partial) change. Still, in my eyes the event shop’s first iteration has clearly shown what kind of design philosophy the people at Smilegate have for their game, and what they expect from its players: grind up that GS or fuck off.

Does this mean that I’m quitting? No, at least not yet. For now I’ll continue to push through the story until I can finally start to participate in proper group content. I sincerely hope that the oft-repeated claim “it gets much better at endgame” really applies in this case.

One thing is certain though: there has to be a serious amount of fun gameplay on offer to make me engage in any kind of gear score grind. I guess I’ll know soon enough whether that’s the case or not.

Lost Ark is finally here, and it’s much to my liking!

Although Lost Ark launched as far back as February 8th (for those who bought a Founder’s Pack, which I did) I haven’t been able to play nearly as much as I’d hoped yet. For one, I’ve still got a lot of stuff to do in the aftermath of my house moving, but more importantly, this:

Not my shot as I forgot to take one, but my record was just over 20k

As you’ve probably heard the server situation in the EU region is still quite problematic. When I come home from a normal day’s work, which is around 6 PM, and the first thing I do is log in and queue up, I’ve usually got about a three hour wait ahead of me until I can play. I could switch to a server on the newly opened EU West region, where queue times are reportedly non-existent, but Lakisa and I are on the same server as a whole bunch of our friends, with some of them already being at the soft cap, so a switch isn’t really in the cards.

Of course this situation isn’t ideal, but since I can actually make good use of the waiting time to tend to the aforementioned home-stuff it hasn’t bothered me all that much.

That being said, I definitely would like to play more, because I’m having a tremendously good time when I do.

At the time of this writing I have a Striker at level 37, an Artillerist at 27 and a Deadeye at 20.

During the first few levels of playing each class I found the basic gameplay loop, i.e. mostly combat, to be just…well…adequate. However, around level 20 or so the fun factor started to ramp up considerably, one reason being that I’d finally gotten used to some of the more unusual design elements – for example, I wasn’t accustomed to having to hold down skill buttons for longer periods of time or having to press a button multiple times for full effect.

Another reason is the skill tree system. Once I’d grasped that I can use the skill points I get with each level to strenghthen the abilities I like most, or even modify how they work, to mold my whole build specifically around my personal taste, I was totally sold. The fact that respecs are unlimited and free is the icing on the cake.

I can’t tell you how happy I am to finally find a lot of complexity and freedom of choice regarding building my characters in an MMORPG again.

At least that’s how I feel. Of course I know that New World, for example, also lets you create your own build out of two weapons and their corresponding skill trees, and basically every MMO out there has some form of that.

I also know that Lost Ark, too, has cookie cutter builds for every class that are considered to be “the best” for endgame activities, thus rendering said freedom of choice somewhat moot if you care about such things.

Still, the trend among mainstream MMORPG developers during the past 10 to 15 years seemed to be “Our players are too dumb/lazy to fiddle around with complex skill trees, and everyone uses the optimal build anyway, so let’s just dumb down that stuff or get rid of it altogether” – of the games I’ve played SWTOR and The Secret World come to mind – and for me that really severed the bonds that I had (or tried to have) with my characters. I just need the ability to shape and customize those digital people at least somewhat to fit the vision I have for them; that’s one of the things that make MMORPGs so special and dear to me.

Again, you may well disagree with the notion that Lost Ark lets you do that while other current representatives of the genre don’t, but that’s how I feel.

Of course it helps that by now I’ve found the perfect class for me: the Striker.

Look, sound, feel – everything about this guy is just perfect. Beating up whole screens full of baddies is extremely satisfying, and since I’ve invested lots of skill points into my favourite abilities it’s gotten even better. It’s fluid, has heft and force to it, and, well, it makes me feel like Bruce Lee on steroids (from space!). Says it all, really.

The game isn’t just about combat though…

Lifeskills are pretty fun too. Resource nodes are shared – meaning that you have to compete with other players for them – but respawn quickly, gathering times are relatively long at first (not nearly as long as when starting out in BDO though), but better tools can cut down on those and also give you more and rarer yield, and there’s gameplay variety as some forms of gathering have their own associated minigame.

When Lakisa and I are playing together I especially like logging, because it highlights one of Lost Ark’s little design elements that make playing as a group more fun and rewarding. You see, when you cut down a tree on your own your character uses an axe. However, when there’s two of you and you approach the tree from opposite sides the axes are replaced by a big two-man saw, which is much quicker and gives both of you a full yield. This even works when two players aren’t in the same group, encouraging working together with strangers. Genius!

I’ve also unlocked my Stronghold, the game’s version of housing. To be honest, while I can craft and freely place stuff like wells, hedges etc. it feels more akin to WoW’s garrisons than actual housing as of yet, but maybe that’ll change the farther I progress.

Next up, no impression piece about Lost Ark would be complete without mentioning the awesome and epic set pieces and in-engine cutscenes.

I’ve talked about this before (jeez, was that really almost three years ago?), and my own experience with the game hasn’t disappointed in this regard.

As great as the much talked-about siege sequence is, I’m actually the most impressed by the dungeons. To be quite honest, I don’t think I’ve had this much fun running dungeons since I did in Everquest II so very long ago.

Starting with the first “real” dungeon, Morai Ruins, they are sprawling, well designed and full of little (or not so little) touches like the zip line ride above. Or how about this neat homage to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?

That even these main dungeons are, in essence, completely linear doesn’t bother me at all because they don’t feel that way. Not least because at this point in time I’m still searching every nook and cranny, of which there are many, for Mokoko seeds, one of the game’s many collectibles. I’m sure once I have found them all and seen the “rides” a couple of times the effect will wear off, but I’m pretty certain that I’ll still enjoy dungeon romps in this game more than I have in any other MMORPG for quite some time.

The last thing I’d like to mention today is that, for my taste, the game handles the balance between solo and multiplayer activities extremely well, in that you can do almost everything solo no problem (including dungeons!), but having someone along for the ride is pretty much always a boon and thus desired. I firmly believe MMORPGs should be exactly like this in 2022.

The one gripe I have is that you are forced to do Scenarios, mini instances that depict key moments in the main story, solo. Unlike in, say, The Secret World, where many players struggled with that same design because of the game’s much higher overall difficulty, it’s absolutely no problem here to beat them on your own. Still, I think this shouldn’t be a thing in MMOs, the story making sense be damned.

For a first impression piece this is already quite long, so I’ll save some bits and pieces for another time. Suffice it to say that I’m having a blast, and I feel it will continue to get even better for a good while, what with me not even having left the first continent behind and set sail into the great unknown yet. Can’t wait!

Games I’ve played for 500+ hours

The other day Wilhelm had a post up about games he has played for at least as long as the developers of Dying Light II claim it takes to play their game to 100% completion. It’s a good read, and thinking about it I realized that it might be interesting to have a look at my own gaming history from this angle too.

The difficulty here is that I’ve never actively tracked how much time I’ve spent with any particular game, so if I haven’t launched it through Steam and the game itself doesn’t have a /played function either I can basically only guess. Hence I will sort them into categories of differing certainty, like Wilhelm did.

So let’s see…

Definitely have played for 500+ hours

    • Everquest II

This one is a no-brainer. EQII is easily my most played game of all time. I was the most active between 2006 and 2008, when it was pretty much the only game I touched, and I tended to play very, very long hours more often than not. Additionally, even before and after that particular time period I’ve spent a lot of time with this game over the years, and I can prove it: EQ2U says I have clocked 1,959 hours on my Warlock alone, so…yeah.

    • EVE Online

I created my first account and main character in December 2005, and while I’ve taken numerous breaks over the years only one of those was actually long enough to say “I’m not playing that game anymore” – and even then I eventually returned to have my longest and most active streak yet. Consequently, even without having any hard evidence, I’m absolutely certain that I’ve played a lot more than 500 hours of EVE.

Most likely have played for 500+ hours

    • Diablo II

As I’ve said numerous times Diablo II is one of my all time favourite games period. I actually wasn’t quite as hooked and therefore didn’t play as extensively as I’d expected right at launch, but by the time I’d burned out on Ultima Online towards the end of 2001 the Lord of Destruction expansion had come out and improved the game in every respect. This time there was no stopping me. It then became and remained one of my most-played games up until about 2010 – in fact it’s one of the very few non-MMORPGs I’ve played at all during that time period. The recent release of Diablo II Resurrected added at least another 30-40 hours to the tally, so yeah, it’s highly likely that I’ve crossed the threshold here.

    • Ultima Online

Speaking of UO, hoo boy, was that game a revelation. My gateway drug into MMORPGs, if you will. Starting in June 2001 I was late to the party, but I more than made up for that by playing every waking moment (literally, except when I was at work) for the next six months or so. Unfortunately I was so into it that I couldn’t stop myself from trying to level up dozens of skills on multiple characters each and every day, so I burned out and bounced off of it pretty hard. I returned after a thorough break and played on and off until a little game called Star Wars Galaxies came out, and that was that. Regardless, in total I should be over 500 hours of playing time, though maybe not by much.

    • Star Wars: The Old Republic

Weirldy enough I almost forgot to include this, although I’ve assuredly played it for more than 500 hours. The thing about this game is, my itinial enthusiasm waned pretty quickly, and I most likely would have quit much sooner had it not been for the great guild we were in. Except for some really well designed and fun raids all good memories I have about the game have almost nothing to do with the game itself and everything with this group of people. Anyway, it makes the list easily.

Probably have played for 500+ hours

    • Star Wars Galaxies

Like UO this is another game I really loved but still didn’t play for as long as I initially thought I would. As much as I like sandbox MMOs, turns out activities like gathering, crafting, housing or (light) roleplaying alone can only entertain me for so long, and unfortunately SWG didn’t have much else to offer at the time (at least to me). Again, just like with UO I played very extensively during the first few months though, so I assume it just about makes the cut.

    • ArcheAge & ArcheAge Unchained

I’m lumping these together because, well, they’re basically the same game with different business models. I’ve played each iteration quite a lot for the better part of a year, so I’m actually pretty certain that it’s been well over 500 hours in total. However, in this case I have next to no “feel” for how long I’ve really played for some reason, and no way to verify it either, hence its appearance in this category.

    • The Secret World

One of the truly great and unique MMORPGs, unfortunately underappreciated by many players and mishandled by Funcom, it never had a chance to reach its full potential. I loved it exactly like it was however, and consequently played it an awful lot.

    • Genshin Impact

My most played game from fall 2020 to summer 2021 by a wide margin, so yeah, pretty sure it’s been over 500 hours.

And there you have it. Which games did you ever play for 500+ hours?

A (real) sense of pride and accomplishment

You probably remember how Electronic Arts tried to talk themselves out of the Star Wars Battlefront II disaster back in ’17 by claiming the game’s lootbox-centric design was actually beneficial to its players. Yeah, that went down as well as expected.

However, greedy nonsense like that aside, video games obviously can make players feel proud of themselves for accomplishing certain goals or overcoming hard challenges. During the past few months I was reminded of how that actually feels like.

Arknights is, at its heart, a tower defense game. It’s a gacha game too, with everything that that entails, good and bad (which is a topic for a post of its own though, I’ll get to that soon™).

I actually didn’t anticipate to like it as much as I do because the few tower defense games I’ve played over the years got boring pretty fast – and they all weren’t very engaging to begin with.

This is a completely different beast however. First of all, the game has tons and tons of story and lore. You get to actually know the world and the characters, which gives the gameplay quite a different feel from just placing some generic units in whatever stages.

The gameplay itself is where Arknights really shines though. Holy crap, has this a lot of complexity and depth to it! Most of the time you can freely choose up to twelve of your characters (called operators) to make up the squad for the mission at hand, and there’s quite a selection. After only a couple of weeks I already had about 80 units to choose from, and right now, after three months, I’m at 107. Why do we need so many? Because there’s a plethora of different roles to fill and tasks to perform.

Here’s a look at the eight main archetypes:

Doesn’t look overly complex, does it? Defenders tank, Casters deal magic damage (called arts damage here) from range, Medics heal, and so on. Right?

Well, yeah, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as you’ll find lots of differences and specializations even within the same archetype. Take Guards for example, the game’s melee DPS units: there are Dualist Guards, which can only block and attack one enemy unit at a time, but usually deal a lot of damage and are quite sturdy; by contrast, AoE Guards can block two or even three units and attack just as many; then there’s Ranged Guards, which can attack from a distance and also deal damage to airborne units; Arts Guards deal magic instead of physical damage; and quite a few more.

It gets really crazy when you look at the Supporters and Specialists. There are operators that can pull enemies towards them, others push the baddies away. Some can slow or stun, others buff their allies or debuff opponents. Summoners are also a thing…the list goes on. In other words, the possibilities are nearly endless.

It’s no surprise, then, that choosing the best operators for a stage and utilizing them to their strenghts is the key to victory. Which isn’t to say that there’s only one “correct” way to do it. Quite the contrary, in fact. As the developers don’t know which operators each player does or doesn’t own they obviously can’t design any stage to only be winnable with a certain combination of units, therefore it’s always up to each player to figure out a way that suits their roster and playstyle.

And boy, this is so much fun! Actually it’s even more than that. I can’t describe how satisfying it is to beat a tricky stage by going in with my allround-squad first, failing, and then gradually figuring out the solution by substituting operators, placing them elsewhere or in a different order, until I finally get it right and am like “Well, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”.

Wait, you know what? I actually can describe that feeling: it’s one of pride and accomplishment, that’s what it is. Turns out that succeeding at well designed, challenging and fun gameplay can satisfy in a way that grinding mindlessly or swiping your credit card never could. Who knew?

It’s been quite a while since a game gave me this kind of experience, and frankly, right now I’m quite addicted to it. And I’m not even very good at playing strategy games. When I started out in Arknights I kind of assumed that it wouldn’t take long for me to quit out of frustration or impatience.

It’s so bloody motivating though, and fortunately there are various means of support when I can’t for the life of me figure a stage out. Due to the game’s RPG mechanics I can always try and level up my operators some more to brute-force it. If that also fails – which it usually does if the chosen approach is just bollocks – there are some very good content creators on YouTube providing walkthrough videos that usually help me “get it”, enabling me to beat the stage even if I don’t own all of the operators that were used in the guide.

So yeah, I’m having a blast, and I haven’t even talked about the game’s great soundtrack, its nifty base-building system (including a little bit of actual housing!) or how generous and rewarding everything feels.

These four rooms are my operators’ dormitories. Once built they can be furnished by the player, which I have already done here. In the game you can zoom farther in of course.

To my knowledge there isn’t a native PC version, so should you want to give it a try you’ll have to either play it on mobile, or install it via an Android emulator like BlueStacks, which is what I use.

Now, I do realize the irony of taking EA’s stupid claim I talked about in the beginning and applying it unironically to a gacha game. But, believe it or not, in my opinion gacha games – at least the ones I know – are actually a lot less unethical than what many western publishers try to get away with these days. I’d prefer Arknights’ or Genshin Impact’s monetization schemes over FIFA Ultimate Team, SW BFII’s “progression” or legacy ArcheAge’s P2W cash shop any day.

That, however, is a discussion for another day.

Still dreaming of a white Christmas

We’re coming up on the eleventh Christmas in a row without even the slightest trace of snow where I live, so I’m once again going to accomodate myself – and you, if you like – by posting a bunch of winter-scenery screenshots as a consolation.

So put on your virtual mittens, it’s going to get cold.

I’ll start off with Black Desert Online once more, because damn, does snow look good in this game. I love how it even covers the appropriate parts of my character.

In the real world there is no ice or snow on Venus, but in Warframe there most certainly is. It’s not my favourite planet in the game by a longshot, but that’s mainly because of the enemy faction that’s residing there. The planet itself, especially the open world zone Orb Vallis, is gorgeous.

Space is always cold and dark? Cold yes, but definitely not dark, at least in EVE Online it ain’t.

I’m not certain whether this has something to do with the currently ongoing holiday event, or if metaliminal storms can look like this all year round, but seeing it basically snow in space was a sight I sure wasn’t expecting.

Dashing through the snow in ArcheAge. No sleigh though, just one horse.

Star Wars Battlefront wasn’t a very good game, but the graphics (and sound too) were pretty amazing. It really felt like being in the middle of a huge battle on Endor or, in this case, Hoth.

This is what a winter’s night in 14th century France looked like, at least according to A Plague Tale: Innocence. Really makes one crave for a hot mug of mead at the bonfire, doesn’t it?

Arknights has its share of winter stages too. I especially like how even the enemies’ clothing fits the theme.

My operators always look the same however – luckily for them this game isn’t one of those bent on skimpy outfits, as you can see. SilverAsh (the guy with grey hair and cane) even wears a coat with fur collar, so all is well.

One of the great things about Genshin Impact is that pretty much nothing you see is just a backdrop – if it’s there, chances are you can actually get to and set foot on it.

The same is true for the mountain you see in the background up there. You can even climb all the way up to the top. It’s not just a mountain either, it’s actually a whole region with its own quests, puzzles, treasures and enemies.

It’s also the only place on this list where the cold has an actual effect on the player: staying there and not being near a heat source fills up your cold meter. Once that’s full you continuously take damage and will die if you don’t act on it. I admittedly don’t like mechanics like that very much, but hey, at least the snow isn’t mere eye candy this once. Also, you can cook and eat goulash, which halves the rate at which your cold bar fills up for a while. I like goulash!

And there you have it. Merry Christmas, everyone!

What I’ve been up to lately

As you might have noticed I haven’t been posting a whole lot as of late. Or more precisely, even less than in previous months.

The main reason is that I’ve been looking for a new home. In real life, that is. Finding a place in Cologne – or any other major city, really – that’s nice, located somewhat conveniently and affordable is quite a challenge, and it took about six weeks and almost a hundred applications just to get viewing appointments for a mere handful of places that weren’t complete crap.

In the end I found the perfect apartment though. Still a bit more expensive than I would have liked, but I feel it’s worth it. I’ll definitely show off some pictures once it’s all done.

Which it isn’t yet, of course. Far from it. Tomorrow the keys will be handed over to me, then the real work begins. Out with the flooring and wallpapers, new wallpapers in, painting the ceilings and walls (maybe also the doors and/or radiators), replacing part of the kitchen, in with the new flooring. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget shopping for furniture and of course the move itself. Le sigh…

No, this is not it. Despite what you may have heard we have actual buildings and stuff in Germany

In between all of that I still got a bit of gaming done though, because of course I have.

My main game right now is Arknights, which I stumbled upon a while ago when I went through my favourite Genshin Impact content creator’s backlog.

It’s a tower defense Gacha game for mobile platforms, and it’s surprisingly great.

Why are we beating up a giant tentacled flower, you ask? It’s evil, that’s why!

It’s by far the most complex and motivating tower defense game I’ve played. Not that I’ve played many. Anyhow, I’ll go into more detail in another post; for now all I’ll say is that it’s a lot of fun and also fits my current schedule perfectly because it doesn’t require a big time commitment.

For the record: No, I technically still don’t play mobile games, I use the Android emulator BlueStacks to play it on PC. 😉

The one time we both weren’t dressed like complete lunatics

I initially didn’t intend to buy New World because not much of what I’d seen and heard about the game up until launch made me feel like it’s a game I’d enjoy.

Lakisa and a couple of our friends were pretty keen on playing it though, and once Amazon Game Studios had assured us that we’d eventually all be able to transfer our characters to our friends’ servers I ultimately got on board so Lakisa didn’t have to play on her own until then.

Well, let’s just say it’s a good thing that the server transfers indeed worked out as planned for our whole group, because otherwise Lakisa would now be playing on her own regardless.

It’s not the queues, bugs and exploits that bother me. I mean, sure, those were/are huge problems, but stuff like that can and hopefully will be fixed. The game just doesn’t manage to make me want to play it, is all. Which is kinda weird since, on paper, many of its individual design aspects do seem right up my alley after all. Only, as it turns out, it doesn’t do any of them in a way that appeals to me.

As you know I’m a huge fan of virtual worlds. Having to get to places on foot never bothered me in other games – it even enhanced the experience more often than not – but in New World I got sick of running back and forth while questing well before reaching level 20. I like action combat, but here it feels clunky and cooldowns are too long for the few abilities we have. I like tanking, but aggro management in this game is a complete clusterfuck. I like gathering, but the long gathering times and severe weight restrictions suck the fun out of it. I like the idea of players fighting over towns or regions, but being at the mercy of other players regarding whether or not I can craft certain stuff in “my” hometown and how much taxes and rent I have to pay isn’t something I appreciate.

This could almost be a real photograph though, couldn’t it?

The world of Aeternum looks exceptionally good, I’ll give it that. However, right now that’s pretty much the only nice thing I have to say about it, and that’s obviously not nearly enough. Lakisa and our buddies are having a blast, and I’m happy for them, but I’ve called it quits for now.

Behold the Argonath! Err…no, sorry, wrong game

The title I would be playing the most right now had its launch not been delayed is, of course, Lost Ark.

I didn’t want to spoil the actual launch experience by playing last week’s beta too extensively, but at the same time I was too curious to not play at all. In total I got seven hours in and played two characters to about level 14 or so, the Striker and…err…a gal with two pistols, a shotgun and a sniper rifle. I can’t remember most of the classes’ names, now that I think about it. There’s a Bard on offer though, should you be so inclined.

To be honest, my first hour playing the Striker was rather boring. After that the game fortunately picked up the pace and I started to have quite a lot of fun. Combat, obviously the heart and soul of any ARPG-like, felt pretty good once I’d gotten used to it, and had me coming back for more. I chose to skip the prologue with the second character and consequently had fun with her from the get-go.

Strangely zoom levels are either very far out or very close, nothing inbetween

Had it not been for the fact that all progress was going to be wiped after the beta ended I certainly would’ve tried to get some more hours in, so I was clearly enjoying myself a lot. Can’t wait for the actual launch.

At the end of the day nothing beats the classics

Lastly, we’re also still playing Diablo II Resurrected from time to time. Our duo of Fireclaw-Druid and Frozen Orb Sorceress has just defeated Baal on normal difficulty, and my solo Skellymancer has arrived in Act II on Nightmare, which means that he now finally has a mercenary with the damage-boosting Might aura under his command.

Baal kicking the bucket never looked this good

And there you have it.

As I said in the beginning, posts will most likely continue to be thin on the ground around here for the forseeable future, but once things have settled down a bit I’ll not only be the annoying acquaintance who can’t shut up about his fancy new place with the great view, I’ll probably also have ample time for gaming and thus more stuff to talk about again.

‘Voting with my wallet’ works both ways

It’s no secret that I’d been hoping for and then looking forward to a Diablo II remaster for ages. Again, it is and always will be one of my favourite games period. Even so, with Blizzard being the trainwreck of a company that we now know it to be I initially wasn’t quite sure how to deal with the release of Resurrected.

After the Warcraft III Reforged debacle I definitely wasn’t going to preorder or buy on launch day, no matter how good people’s beta-impressions had been. That much was certain, and I wasn’t tempted to relent for even a second.

But now it’s been officially live for a while and, some server issues during the first few days aside, all reviews I’ve read since then pretty much boil down to “It’s exactly what you wanted, mate. Buy, you fool!!”

So Lakisa and I did just that a couple of days ago. And what can I say, I don’t regret the purchase in the slightest because it is exactly what I wanted.

Which means, the way I see it, that I did in fact vote with my wallet and that, despite rather not wanting to support a company like ActiBlizz for numerous well-known reasons, it still was the right thing to do – maybe not from a moral standpoint, but certainly from a gamer’s standpoint. Not that these are mutually exclusive, mind you, but in this case there’s a big difference in my opinion.

Let me try to explain.

The act of “voting with one’s wallet”, when proposed by gamers to other gamers, usually means not to spend any (or any more) money on a product, thus sending a message of discontent to the developers or publishers – the assumption being that this is the only kind of message that will actually be heard.

For the most part I can’t disagree with this, and I went with that approach myself in some cases, not the least of which when I decided not to give Blizzard – yes, the same Blizzard – any more money unless they’d finally manage to deliver a product again that I’m really, genuinely happy with. That was almost three years ago, right after the infamous Diablo Immortal Blizzcon, and at that point I already hadn’t bought anything with the Blizzard logo on it for at least a year, probably longer. Which means that the forty bucks I paid for Resurrected just now marked the first time in over four years that they made any kind of profit from me.

Of course I could have gone without buying it, thereby not breaking that streak. The original’s still there to play after all, and touched-up graphics, or lack thereof, don’t make or break a great game for me.

But here’s the thing. By not buying any of their stuff for so long I basically told them “You’ll only get my money if you make exactly the game I want”. Now, much to my surprise, they actually went and did just that.

So had I refused to buy this product now, not only would I’ve denied myself the pleasure of playing one of my most beloved games with a really great-looking fresh coat of paint, I’d also have made a mockery of the stance I’ve been taking for years: that I’ll not spend money on their games if I don’t like them, but that I will if I do.

If there’s any hope at all that publishers will continue (or start again) to greenlight and fund the development of games that I want to play, I feel that I’ve got no choice but proving to them that it’s profitable to do so by, well, voting with my wallet.

Here’s hoping that it really does work both ways.