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

Quitting EVE Online – For real this time (question mark?)

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while now. It’s been a fair few months since I canceled my main account’s subscription, although I admittedly hadn’t made any final decisions at that point yet. In a way CCP made that decision for me a bit later on, when they decided to raise their subscription price by a third back in May.

I know, I know, writing “I quit”-posts is lame and all that, but this is kind of a big deal for me. I created my main account and -character on December 22nd, 2005. Fricking two thousand and five! Yes, there were breaks in between, but I’ve played this game for a hell of a long time. I’ve seen – and been, at times, part of – empires rise and fall. I’ve been a manufacturer, trader, policeman, mercenary, pirate and lowly fleet grunt. Features came and went. Things changed, and we all adapted. This is truly a game like no other.

However, for me personally many of the changes CCP have made during the past couple of years resulted in a game that’s become less and less enjoyable to play, and along the way my willingness to adapt has all but vanished. EVE has always been a game you had to put work into in order to get to the enjoyable bits, and each and every time I took a break it was because the tedium had started to outweigh the fun. Well, by now the tedium has reached a point where I just don’t want to deal with it anymore at all, and the game’s become more expensive to boot. So, yeah.

Now, of course I could just leave it at that, but since this is my own personal platform I’m also gonna use it to tell anyone who’s willing to listen (well, read) which changes in specific made the game so much worse for me. Keep in mind though that I’m not saying reverting these changes would make the game better per se, I’m just saying it would make the game better for me.

    • The big Cyno change

Almost three years ago CCP drastically reduced the selection of ships a Cynosural Field Generator could be fitted on. Before that you could fit this device, used to provide a jumpdrive-destination for capital ships, to almost any vessel, which meant that even as a solo player you could move your capitals around with almost no financial risk (provided you didn’t make any mistakes, and making mistakes is very easy in EVE). Since the change you have to use at least a Force Recon Cruiser, which means that you’re forced to put upwards of 300 million ISK at risk – per jump.

Not even taking into account the fact that you also need to have your cyno alts trained up to the point where they can even fly these things, this change alone put a hard stop to any activity that would have required to move a capital ship on my own.

So no carrier ratting for me anymore – which I’d only just begun to do, goddammit – but even more importantly, no more moving all my shit without the safety of a whole fleet. Ever since then life in null sec has become a huge bother for Lakisa and myself, because we know that we absolutely can’t risk missing any move ops else we might get stuck. We also can’t get stuff into or out of null without using the services of a shipping company, and I’ve always liked to do these things myself (and it was cheaper that way too of course).

I know that this change has brought its upsides when looked at on a bigger scale, but for me as an individual it sucks big time.

    • The economic starvation plan

Not very long after the cyno change CCP began their assault on too much wealth and stuff and everything being too easily obtainable in the game (their opinion, not mine). In their usual way of sledgehammering every perceived problem into an unrecognizable pulp they heavily nerfed mining outputs, ratting payouts, the efficiency of the once strongest mining ship and probably some more stuff I can’t recall right now. The value of minerals soared to all-time highs, and naturally prices of ships and, well, most player-manufactured goods (which is almost everything) followed suit.

Now, it is true that out in nullsec it could feel, at times, like pretty much everybody had their army of Rorqual-alts as well as their own Supercarrier and/or Titan. However, I can assure you that such was not the case. I certainly didn’t have any of that, and a substantial percentage of any fleet’s regular grunts didn’t either.

Still, I’m not saying that they shouldn’t have done anything. Some kind of change probably was needed. The way I see it a better way would have been to somehow incentivize more usage of caps and supers, so more of that stuff would have gotten blown up. Their solution led to much less caps being fielded instead, because most people were too afraid to loose them all of a sudden.

Worse for me personally – and for many more I’m sure – is that the “little man”, as usual, got affected just as bad as the trillionaires, if not more. The fact that the nerfs were primarily aimed at capital ships, which are all Tech I hulls, meant that other Tech I ships got a lot more expensive too – only that those are actually supposed to be the “cheap stuff”. Suddenly flying battleships instead of Tech II cruisers wasn’t the much more affordable alternative it once was anymore. Aspiring to own one of the big toys some day, a daunting task even before all those changes, has become entirely unachievable for the average player.

As for income, since the cyno nerf effectively took carrier ratting away from me my modus operandi for ISK-making was pretty much back to “run level-4 missions in highsec”, and let me tell you, when that’s your only viable income stream you really don’t want to buy, let alone lose, anything of value. Yes, there are other things I could have done to earn some more ISK, but I didn’t want to do those things, simple as that. The game felt like a job at times even without any additional busywork.

CCP can argue that doing this was necessary all they want, it has made the game less fun, end of story. I don’t know about you, but in my opinion any change developers make to their game should make the game more fun, not less.

    • More focus on (and power to) the cash shop

You know what I dislike even more than seeing a beloved game getting worse and worse? Seeing that and also being bombarded with cash shop advertisements, every new “opportunity” being more pay to win than the last.

I don’t give a damn whether it’s Pearl Abyss pulling the strings in this regard or not (because what difference does it make?), fact is that the cash shop is being shoved right in our face at every opportunity nowadays, and you can pretty much buy everything your heart desires. Yes, even skill points. Not that it matters much ever since the introduction of skill extractors, because PLEX is a thing and you could always sell that for ISK and then buy injectors with those.

As you know I generally don’t consider cash shops to be the spawn of the devil per se. But the bottom line is this: to me EVE Online in 2022 is a game that’s as unfun to play as it ever was since I started, has a higher subscription price than any other MMORPG on the market (as far as I know) and seemingly cares more about selling me shit I don’t need than entertaining, let alone humoring me as a player…nuff said I guess.

Of course the timing couldn’t be worse, what with Goons getting a new leadership just recently and declaring the time of stalemates to be over. There might be interesting times ahead.

Oh well, I guess from now on I’ll just be one of those guys who keep saying that watching the goings-on in EVE from the sidelines is a lot more fun than actually playing the game.

I’ve said that before though, so we’ll see.

Blaugust 2022 post count: 2

A gaming session to remember

The other day my mates, Dark and Elric, and I played Hunt: Showdown in the evening, as we regularly do. However, what was initially planned as “just a couple rounds” turned into a full four hours of hilarious shenanigans the likes of which only few games can provide.

I’ve talked about the variety and unpredictability inherent to the game’s main mode, Bounty Hunt, before, and during this session we had lots of that. But that wasn’t even half of the fun, as we additionally stumbled into various situations that would not have seemed out of place in any silly slapstick movie. This was well above and beyond what you’d normally expect to experience when playing a shooter, and I don’t think I’ve had this much fun since we used to blow each other to bits with proximity mines in Blood a long time ago. Yeah, we were easy to please back then.

Of course stuff like this falls into the category You Had To Be There more often than not, so you might not find this as hilarious as I do. Just like the guy at the watercooler who won’t shut up about whatever it is that doesn’t interest you in the slightest I’ll tell you about it anyway.

Awww…missed the triplet by just two yards or so

Things started out relatively calm. These guys just kept running into our line of sight one by one, trying to revive each other. You’d think that at least the third one would have learned from his buddies’ mistakes, but apparently not.

There’s a reason for me bringing an axe to a firefight by the way. Before we started Dark wondered why I still hadn’t unlocked the throwing axe. As it turned out picking up and using one of the axes lying around in the game doesn’t reward usage-XP for the combat axe, a certain amount of which is a prequisite for unlocking the thrown variant. So instead of a secondary gun I brought the stock combat axe to the fight.

Actually, as any XP your teammates earn when using a weapon that you have also equipped award you with an equal amount of XP, we all had one to speed up the process. Yes, we were a trio of axe murderers, prowling through the bayou of Louisiana.

The catch is that you can only equip either one large and one small weapon or two medium ones, and since an axe is a medium weapon we were a bit outgunned in the…well…gun department. Not that we’d let that stop us.

Many more funny tombstone inscriptions can be found on this graveyard

Here we had just scouted out a compound, a church with surrounding graveyard, without finding anything interesting and were about to leave, when I spotted another hunter just outside the premises. I called her out on Discord, adding a general description as we always do, so we all know what to look out for. This person kinda looked like a nun (I think the skin is called Hail Mary), so I said that. Maybe she just wanted to go to church, but we weren’t in a particularly pious mood.

We always try to fan out a bit – staying too close together is usually a recipe for disaster – so it happened that I ran down a little slope towards a waist-high brick wall on my own, when another hunter came into my sight, sprinting from right to left on the other side of that wall. Without thinking I immediately aimed my revolver and fired a shot. Unfortunately my aim isn’t all that great most of the time, but lo and behold, I hit his head right away and down he went.

I had just finished laughing out loud to celebrate my glorious kill when I thought I heard Dark suddenly shout “Aahh, the nun has killed me with an axe!!”. She obviously wasn’t just going to church after all. I swiveled around to locate my downed friend (you can see teammates through walls, dead or alive). He wasn’t far away at all, I just had to jump over said brick wall, which I did, axe at the ready, only to find them both, him and the nun, lying dead right next to each other.

Because what actually transpired is this (seen from Dark’s perspective):

So he’d actually met the nun and her buddy head on. Fortunately the latter cowardly turned and made a run for it as soon as Dark pulled out his axe, only to promptly appear in my line of sight and eat that headshot I talked about earlier (it’s my laughter you hear right after the guy dies just out of frame). So my axe-wielding maniacal friend has clearly earned an assist for this kill of mine, well done! After that it’s actually Dark who kills the nun with his axe, but she gets a shot off at the last millisecond and downs him too. A proper double-kill, albeit involuntarily.

I promptly revived Dark and the three of us went on with our business. To be honest, I can’t remember whether we actually survived that round or not, but it was glorious either way. [Edit: Elric informs me that we indeed won that round most gloriously.]

This is what a mission summary looks like when you did quite well yet didn’t survive

The next one happened when Elric and I rummaged around a compound mainly consisting of a large wooden barn and some smaller sheds surrounding it, while Dark was on the lookout from a nearby sniper tower.

I can’t recall how the fight began, all I know is that hunters appeared and Elric was downed, which left me more or less on my own in the compound, as Dark’s line of sight was pretty restricted by various buildings and objects. I tried to be sneaky and get a jump on them, but since they had superior numbers chances weren’t looking great. Then I heard the hasty footsteps of at least two hunters – they had detected me.

To hell with stealth, I thought, time to go on the offensive. I wasn’t going to face multiple enemies head on though, that’s usually a surefire way to die. Instead I ran away from them, my plan being to make a full circle around the little cluster of buildings and get behind their backs.

There – a little shed with its door facing right towards me. I’ll take a shortcut through there and will be behind them in no time. I rip open the door, dash into the dark…and this is the sight awaiting me:

Actually not quite, when I pressed the screenshot-button I’d already killed one with my knife. Funnily enough you can see Dark’s blue silhouette far in the background too.

Imagine yourself entering a room only to find four zombies standing there, slowly (but actually not that slowly) turning towards you as they take notice of your presence. Yeah, exactly. I panicked.

After I’d instinctively taken out the first one I immediately realized that a) I didn’t have enough stamina to take them all on, and b) there were still some hunters after me who’d undoubtedly heard the ruckus I’d just made.

I dashed right through them towards the rear door, astonishingly without them so much as leaving a scratch on me. I crashed through the door, turned to the left and believed to be saved for at least a moment. There was no time to linger however.

Sure enough my luck ran out very soon. Just as Dark had said “Don’t die on me down there, mate” I turned another corner and got instantly perforated by a guy with a chain pistol and the Fanning trait, which is pretty much akin to auto-fire, and that was that. And you know what? I was grinning from ear to ear. I’d released so much adrenaline – those zombies in the shed almost gave me a heart attack – that I couldn’t have been angry even if I’d wanted to.

There were even more cool moments that evening, but these were my favourites.

It doesn’t happen often to come across a game that can create this kind of great memories. If such a game also has pretty much zero chance of nothing happening at all and doesn’t hold much potential for frustration either…that’s a very rare bird indeed.

Blaugust 2022 post count: 1

Keep your monetization out of my gameplay, ffs!

So, Diablo Immortal is out. What a shitshow, eh? Yeah, this is going to be a rant, however a slightly different one than you might think right now.

I wish I could truthfully say that I’m not at all surprised by the game’s nefarious monetization schemes, but the reality is so much worse than even the most cynical of us were expecting that it boggles the mind. Turns out that in exchange for not needing a phone to play after all one needs a humongous credit limit instead.

Here’s the thing though. In my personal opinion the fact that players can spend bazillions of dollars on a game if they so desire is not a problem in and of itself.* When the entire game is designed to incentivise said spending as aggressively as humanly possible – that’s a problem, because that kind of design unavoidably makes the gameplay experience worse, more often than not even if you are spending.

* Of course spending lots of money on a video game can become a huge problem for some people, and it’s not my intention to downplay things like gambling addiction and debt. However, in this piece I’d like to focus solely on whether or not a game’s monetization has negative ramifications for its gameplay.

Here’s just one little example. Black Desert Online has an elaborate system for taming, breeding and training horses. It’s pretty fun if you’re into that kind of thing, and I’ve spent a lot of hours with it. However, it’s also one of the game’s many systems that not-so-subtly try to make you spend some money.

If you’re lucky (or you’ve spent a couple bucks already to help make it happen) and your horse learns one of the more desired skills like Sprint you might assume that you’ll be riding like the wind right away. Alas, you’d be mistaken.

You see, your steed will need to become proficient with the skill first, which means that for the next couple of hours your gameplay loop will consist of repeatedly playing an annoying minigame which either stops you dead in your tracks (the best possible outcome, believe it or not) or outright throws you off the horse every few yards. It’s completely unfun, and it undoubtedly only exists so they can sell you a ticket that instantly trains a horse’s skill to 100%. Or all of its skills, which is the more expensive option of course.

Stuff like that I can just barely stomach in a F2P or cheap B2P game – it’s terrifying how much bullshit we can somehow get used to, isn’t it? – but I’m going to draw a line now, and that line is where a game tries to a) make me pay money and additionally do specific things at specific times to actually get what I’ve already paid for, or b) make me pay money in order to get something that’s actually supposed to be an integral part of the gameplay experience.

I’ll start with the latter as it applies more to Diablo Immortal than any other game I’ve ever seen, and I also feel it’s not even the slightest bit debatable. A no-brainer, as they say.

What we have here is a game series that’s always been about killing monsters to get shiny loot, so we can kill even more monsters for even shinier loot. Only now the loot is going to be complete crap 99,9% of the time unless you spend real money to “enhance” your dungeon runs. Let me think about that for a second…yeah, fuck the hell off!

I know this is something where opinions will differ, but I for one despise the other scourge I alluded to, namely stuff like “Premium Battle Passes” and their ilk, almost just as much.

I’m not a fan of login-rewards and battle passes at the best of times because I don’t like the feeling of pressure they induce – either log in and do stuff every day or miss out on rewards you could be getting. And there’s even more to it than that, which I think is what many folks fail to realize.

Because if those login- and battle pass-rewards are to make people log in and do stuff even if they weren’t going to anyway, they need to be rather generous. They need to make sure you really don’t want to miss out on them. Which in practice means that they often shower you with more power/wealth/glamour than you could possibly gain by just playing the game whenever you want and doing whatever you want. In other words, the game’s designers need to keep much of that stuff off the game’s normal loot tables, or at the very least be pretty stingy with it. See the problem?

By the way, I consider login-rewards and free-of-charge battle passes as part of a game’s monetization scheme because they’re basically there to keep you logging in and interacting with the game, thus increasing your “opportunities” to part with your money. In this sense they are another case of monetization impacting gameplay in a negative way, even if it doesn’t feel like it right away.

As for “premium” battle passes…let’s see, I pay for something up front, but only if I log in and do specific stuff every day for weeks on end I’ll actually get the stuff I’ve paid for? Yeah, thanks, but no thanks.

Which is why, although I was moderately interested before and will even get access to it for free as I own its predecessor, I have absolutely no intention to play Overwatch 2 anymore. The other day I got an email informing me about the opportunity to buy the Watchpoint Pack. For “just” 40 bucks I would get (emphasis mine):

    • Two all-new Overwatch 2 Legendary skins: Space Raider Soldier:76 and Cassidy
    • The Season 1 Premium Battle Pass
    • An exclusive Overwatch 2 Player Icon
    • 2000 Overwatch 2 Virtual Currency

So what’s the problem? I don’t need to buy this, nor the individual premium battle passes (plural because after a Season 1 more will surely follow), right? Well, as I said, the mere existence of this crap turns me off, because it does have a negative impact on the gameplay experience. On my gameplay experience, anyway.

All the talk about Diablo Immortal was good for one thing though: it made me feel like playing Diablo II Resurrected again, which I’m totally hooked on right now. And the best part: this is a game that couldn’t care less whether I actually play it or not, and it doesn’t try to dictate my course of action when I do play it either.

How do I know what to do then? Well, I just do whatever the hell I feel like at any given moment. You know, whatever I deem the most fun.

Just having fun playing a video game, fancy that!

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.