EVE AT XVI – Salt Farmers win their first match

EVE ATXVI

The 16th EVE Online Alliance Tournament finally kicked off yesterday.

Just like last year I will hold back my posts covering our own matches until we either have won the tournament or got eliminated from it by being beaten twice.

The latter will definitely not happen during this first weekend though, because we won our first round match against Unspoken Alliance convincingly 100:0. Yay us! You can watch the match here.

I’ve said that I’d like to earn a nicer looking medal this time around. Well, I had a closer look at the prizes and as it turns out there won’t be character sheet medals at all this year “due to technical restrictions”. There will be inventory item medals for the top three alliances’ participating pilots, that’s it. A bit of a bummer in my opinion, but it can’t be helped.

Anyway, we’re starting to prepare for today’s match, so wish us luck.

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The end of an era

A couple days ago Captain Cean, the founder and CEO of Holy Cookie and my favourite fleet commander announced that he has decided to quit EVE.

I’ve heard many people say that over the years, myself included. The vast majority keeps coming back sooner or later, myself included.

The thing is, his reasoning seems sound. He has, as he put it, ‘won’ EVE. He has achieved more in this game than he had ever dared to dream of. He founded a very successful and long-lived corporation that grew into an alliance that’s a force to be reckoned with in low sec. He led countless fleets and celebrated many victories. He became the all-time leader in kills with his favourite ship (zKill is a bit broken at the moment, the stats should come back soon™).

So maybe one can, in fact, be finished with this game for good. Time will tell. Personally I’d be very happy to see him returning, that much is certain.

Fortunately he decided to take us out for one last fleet before leaving, and there couldn’t have been a better fit for this final hurrah than his staple: Monday’s public fleet with Command Destroyers and frigates.

Of course many came to pay their respects, and we left Kehjari with 42 in fleet. What a fitting number, too.

As if the whole of low sec knew that they all had to do their part we met our first juicy targets right next door. Neither the Dominix nor the Raven got away.

In Kinakka we caught a lone Pandemic Horde Scorpion. No idea what he was doing all by himself. Again, someone seemed to have batphoned everyone to bring out them battleships and make Cean and friends happy.

In Pavanakka Cean and our scouts managed to take a small gang of assault frigates by surprise in a plex. Three Wolves and an Enyo died quickly, and they obviously all decided to sacrifice their pods to the Cookie gods too.

Shortly after we couldn’t believe our scouts’ intel: a lone Revelation was traveling via stargates, and they had already tackled it in Pynekastoh. Of course we poured into system and started hammering it with everything we had.

EVE Rev
Swarms of tiny drones and ships circling a behemoth – David vs Goliath

Obviously a Dreadnaught can withstand our fleet’s DPS for quite a while, possibly indefinitely if fitted with an active tank. When it’s armor fell to about 75% without repping our pulses really began to surge. Maybe, just maybe this might actually happen.

EVE Rev2

Alas, before long our d-scans started to fill with more and more hostiles, a whole bunch of Machariels and Guardians as well as some caps and even supers among them. For a moment I thought Cean might end it then and there in a blaze of glory, but as soon as that fleet arrived on grid he warped us out to safety. Good call too, since our fleet’s value must have ranged somewhere between four and five billion total. Not quite the yolo-fleet you whelp just for kicks.

We were compensated somewhat for not getting that Rev kill a bit later by catching a pretty expensive Orthrus, which even dropped some of the good stuff.

Our very last kill was, quite fittingly, a special snowflake: a Triglavian Vedmak, the first sighting of one on Tranquility for many of us.

After the fleet ended and all non-alliance members had left we stayed ingame and on Teamspeak and chatted for a while. You could sense that nobody really wanted to log off because that would have meant to say goodbye. Cean started to give out a lot of his ships. He gave me a Stabber Fleet Issue.

EVE SFE
Held together by faith and duct tape, like all Minmatar ships

I’ve never owned let alone flown one, but my char actually has very good skills for it. When I see an opportunity I’ll fly it in Cean’s honor. He kept his 50-killmark Pontifex though, so there’ll be at least a little incentive to return after all…

We couldn’t sit there all night, so one after one people said their goodbyes, and finally so did I.

Take care mate! We’ll miss you, and should you decide to return to the game someday, maybe with the goal to do something drastically different than before, I’m sure we’ll all follow.

Alliance Tournament XVI is upon us

EVE_AllianceT_Logo

Since we had lots of fun – and more success than we had anticipated too – in last year’s EVE Online Alliance Tournament we were very much hoping to get in again this year. While we ranked in the top 32 in the end, we would have needed to make it to the top 16 for a guaranteed spot.

We were in good heart though and started our training before registration results were in. Unfortunately training isn’t as smooth and easy as it was last year, what with the Thunderdome event server not being accessible by everybody, but after a while everyone had their stuff sorted on Singularity (EVE’s normal test server) and we got used to the limitations relatively quickly again. After all we had also started to train on Singularity last year, as Thunderdome was made available only about a month before feeder round if I remember correctly.

At the end of May registration results were announced, and we’re in. Yeah!

It isn’t all good news though, because there actually weren’t enough registrations to fill all 64 tournament spots. In comparison, last year there were so many applicants that 24 teams had to be weeded out in a preliminary feeder round. This time, not so much. On May 31st there still were 10 open spots. I assume that those are long taken by now, but it’s still a considerable drop in registrations from last year.

While the tournament was never an event that interested, let alone engaged the whole playerbase, I still can’t help asking myself if this is a sign that EVE as a whole might be truly in decline now. No, this isn’t an ‘EVE is dying’ post, but a ~40% drop within a year makes you wonder what’s up. Maybe it’s a late protest against CCP laying off most of their community team, CCP Logibro, the main dev behind the tournament for years, among them.

Anyway, we’ve been training and preparing as best we can because next weekend the game will be on! No feeder round this time, obviously, so we’re going right into the fray.

Our first match will be at 16:00 EVE time on Saturday, July 28th. Our opponent is Unspoken Alliance., whom I know nothing about. We’ll see how that goes. It’s double elimination format again, so if we win we stay in the winner’s bracket and fight another first round victor next, while if we lose we drop to loser’s bracket. From there one can still win the tournament, but one more loss and you’re out.

The biggest question this year is of course how much impact the Triglavian ships will have in the tournament’s meta. Those were added rather recently, and I was kinda surprised to see them already allowed for use by the official rules.

EVE_Vedmak
Look, it’s Fricking Laser Beams again

Here’s the full schedule if you’re interested. EVE_NT is partnering with CCP again to stream the tournament on CCP’s Twitch channel for your viewing pleasure. They did a pretty good job last time, and I’m looking forward to watch the other team’s matches.

Now, let’s see if we can snag a better medal than last year.

Because this one looks kinda crap to be honest…

Vampire: The Eternal Struggle back in print, hooray!

My first collectible card game-experience was, no big surprise here, Magic: The Gathering. This was 1994, and I had never played something this exciting and engaging that didn’t run on a computer or console before.

The prospect of building my own deck of cards and competing against the decks my friends had built instead of the usual ‘everyone draws from the same deck’ was very intriguing to me. It combined the aspects of collecting and bartering I knew from my childhood (Panini soccer stickers anyone?) with strategizing a winning formula of which cards to use in your deck and how and when to play them.

My first deck used the colors red and black and was over 120 cards strong. I just couldn’t bring myself to take anything out, all the cards were just way too good (in my mind).

Magic_FireSkeletons
Regenerating AND firebreathing skeletons? OVERPOWERED!!!

During that summer we played every day at a friend’s place until late at night. I couldn’t get enough of it.

The excitement would remain high for quite a while. I played extensively from Revised Edition up to the Tempest block in ’98, after which I took the first longer break. I’ve played on and off since then, but never as regularly or seriously as before.

One reason for that is my then gaming circle pretty much dissolving after everyone had finished school/college/whatever and many of us, myself included, moving to different cities.

The main reason though is that somewhere around 2001 I was introduced to a CCG I fell even more in love with: Vampire: The Eternal Struggle.

VTES_logo
Apparently nothing says “Vampire” like green marble

It was also designed by Richard Garfield, Magic’s creator, and differs in some key aspects.

One, there are no land cards. In Magic these are an essential part of all but the most specialized trick decks, and at the beginning of a match you never have enough of them, whereas towards the end of longer matches you always draw them when you’d rather draw anything else. I often found this aspect of the game pretty aggravating. The vampires in V:TES (“Veetaz” or just “Struggle”) are indispensable too, but they are not part of your normal playing deck, called ‘library’ just like Magic’s. Instead they are shuffled into a second deck, your ‘crypt’, thus making sure that you don’t draw more than you actually need.

VTES_Cardbacks
Card backs of crypt cards (left) and library cards (right)

Cards from your hand are replaced the moment you play them, so you’re never empty-handed (heh). This makes it easier to set up and execute combos, which is pretty cool. You can also have as many copies of any card in your decks as you like (and own). This enables you to fully build around the strategy you have devised for your deck, but forces you to also think about card flow. It’s great to always have a copy or two of your deck’s staple card in your hand. Having seven copies of it and nothing else – probably not so great.

Lastly, there are pretty good dedicated multiplayer rules. For me these make the game so much more interesting and fun than any Magic multiplayer match I’ve ever played (although there are probably tons of new rules I’m not aware of to make things more interesting these days).

In V:TES the last player standing is not necessarily the winner. To win a match you need to have the most victory points. One VP is indeed gained by being the last one left, but the main source for VPs is ousting your current prey from the game, your prey being the player to your left. So in a match with four or more players you begin with your prey to your left, your predator (the player whose prey you are) to your right and one or more ‘neutral’ players opposite you who initially have their own battles to fight.

This makes for great table dynamics, sometimes resulting in the most unlikely of alliances. I have, for example, on occasion actively helped my own predator stay in the game, knowing full well that he’d try to oust me at the first opportunity. While this can be a very dangerous game it has ensured a table win for me more than once. When taking an aggressive stance towards someone other than your prey you have to keep in mind though that the VP for an ousted player always goes to that player’s predator, no matter who dealt the final blow. Being too aggessive can also lead to you being perceived as the table’s biggest threat and everyone ganging up on you. It’s a delicate dance, and mastering it’s steps can be as important for winning as the cards in your hand.

FamilyBusiness
A google search for “vampire master table talker” turned up this, so…yeah. Good luck with that strategy. (Taken from TV Recappers Anonymous)

The final reason why I like this game so much is the lore behind it. While most vampire stories range from cheesy to utterly ridiculous I’ve come to really like the lore of World of Darkness, the universe Vampire: The Masquerade, the Pen & Paper RPG V:TES is based on, takes place in. It’s serious, mature and dark, and at the same time fun and sometimes even lighthearted. Above all, I find it actually believable most of the time.

I’ve read a whole bunch of novels set in this universe, and while that was fun in and of itself it also gave me a lot of background knowledge and understanding about how that world works, what the motivations of different factions and clans are etc.

VTES_Novels
Please don’t mind the dust…

Unfortunately White Wolf discontinued V:TES in 2010, its popularity never coming even close to Magic’s, especially outside the US. The community has kept it alive and even devised new sets of cards available for download and print, but that’s not quite the same of course.

In April, though, an unexpected but very welcome news arrived: five veteran V:TES players have founded a company, Black Chantry Productions, and acquired the license to design and print new cards als well as reprint old ones in conjunction with White Wolf, and they have already released the first brand new set.

VTES_LostKindred

I’ve ordered and received two bundles, but haven’t had the time to incorporate any of the cards into my existing decks yet. But it sure has rekindled my enthusiasm for the game, and Lakisa and I have already played a couple matches as well as fiddled around with new decks.

More about how we build and playtest new decks next time.

Blaugust Reborn is here, and I’m in!

I’ve been reading gaming blogs for give or take six years now, so I already was aware of Blaugust – an initiative by and for bloggers, with the goal to write a blog post every single day for a full month. I didn’t blog myself back then yet, so for me as a reader it ‘just’ meant more content for my consumption. Thanks for that, by the way!

In 2017 Blaugust took a year off, so I didn’t have to decide if I wanted to participate. At the time I most definitely wouldn’t have dared to, what with just having started to blog and not yet knowing if I’d hang in there at all.

This year Belghast is reviving Blaugust, and after contemplating the pros and possible cons for a bit I’ve decided to give it a shot.

BlaugustReborn
Banner taken from Tales of the Aggronaut

To be honest, I’m intimidated. By signing up for this I’ve become part of a community that has been blogging for ages, in some cases on multiple outlets at once. Many of these people I admire quite a lot for their writing skills and tenacity.

I’m also a bit anxious how I will go about posting every day, when until now I’ve only been posting about once every ten days on average.

But: I’m very much looking forward to it! I’m sure it’s an opportunity for me to learn a lot about writing, and maybe I’ll also finally get around to write about some other things than just the game(s) I’m playing right now.

In any case this is gonna be a ride!

If you’d like to participate Bel has all the info you need here. Should you just want to indulge in the organiser’s and participants’ labour, he also lists (and links to) every new participant every day, and we’ll probably link each other on our respective blogrolls soon (if we don’t already).

Things about PoE that I love – Part II

In part one I talked about three things that Path of Exile does differently – and in my opinion much better – than other ARPGs I’ve played.

Here are two more.

The passive tree

Was there any doubt that this would make the list?

Since characters in PoE get all their active skills from gems socketed into their weapons and armor, skill points gained by leveling can be spent in a tree that ‘only’ contains passive abilities and bonuses. There isn’t an individual passive tree for each class either, instead there’s one massive tree for all classes, the only difference being the starting point. According to Lakisa it’s comparable to Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid.

With each level-up one skill point is gained, some quests reward additional points. As of now the maximum amount a level 100 character can have is 123.

This tree gives enormous flexibility to build the character of choice. While it’s not quite possible to play any conceivable build with any class (because even with 123 available points it’s not really viable to reach, say, the top left section of the tree with a Ranger, who starts on the bottom right hand side), but it’s pretty close.

The tree has a hierarchy of nodes consisting of attribute nodes, basic nodes, Notables and Keystones.

Attribute nodes give +10 to either strength, intelligence or dexterity and make up most of the spiderweb that connects the different clusters of the tree. As you move from one area to the next you gain attribute points en passant providing an ample supply that’s, while not quite enough for most builds, a good basis that can be increased further by bonuses from your equipment.

PoE_Tree_Attribute

Basic nodes give simple bonuses like ‘5% increased maximum life’, ‘8% increased physical damage’ or ‘20% increased critical strike chance’. Most clusters consist of multiple basic nodes that are either identical or at least follow the same theme.

PoE_Tree_Basic

The centerpiece of most clusters is a Notable, which gives considerable stronger bonuses than the basic nodes leading up to it. It’s almost always worthwhile to invest enough points to reach the Notable.

PoE_Tree_Notable

Rather than giving simple bonuses, Keystones grant special abilities or fundamentally change how specific things works, for example ‘Life regeneration applies to energy shield instead of life’. To make up for the advantages a build gets from them there’s also a drawback attached to most.

PoE_Tree_Keystone

Lastly there are nodes that do nothing by themselves, because they are sockets meant for placing jewels into. Jewels are dropped items that come in different flavours and can be quite powerful (a perfectly rolled rare one would probably be stronger than most top tier Notables). There’s also unique jewels. Some of those have a radius and affect some or all nodes inside that radius in one way or another, providing some more interesting possibilities.

PoE_Tree_Jewels

When planning a character you basically decide which Keystones, Notables and jewel sockets you want to get and build everything else around that, making sure that you have enough attribute points, damage output, hit points and mana in the end. At the same time you can offset weaknesses your gear might have, with the option to respec a couple of points later when you’ve got better items.

I haven’t felt that much freedom (and also power-gain) when allocating points in any other skill tree. To me it’s the mother of all skill trees.

PathOfExile_17-10-05_MarauderLvl83
My Marauder’s tree at level 83 a while back

The Atlas of Worlds

PoE has a pretty clever approach to it’s ‘endgame’. When you finish the story by beating the boss at the end of Act 10 your character should be somewhere around level 70. The highest level areas in Act 10 are level 67, so in theory you could grind those zones for leveling over and over for quite some time before XP gains would slow down too much. That’d be boring as hell though. PoE’s answer to that: Maps.

Maps are items that can be used to open a high level area with random layout full of mobs including a boss. They can have mods that ramp up the map’s difficulty while also increasing the rarity and quantity of loot-drops.

PoE_Map
Pain Chambers…doesn’t sound too inviting really

There are 16 tiers of maps, with monster levels (and corresponding difficulty) ranging from 68 to 84. They are consumed upon use, so building and maintaining a pool of high tier maps is a constant challenge.

Back when this was all there was to it ‘just’ running one map after another started to bore me pretty quickly though, to me it didn’t feel that much different to running the same areas over and over in Diablo II.

In 2016 GGG introduced the Atlas of Worlds. This made a hell of a difference for me.

PoE_AtlasOfWorlds
The Atlas of Worlds, fully revealed

The Atlas is basically a map of all existing maps…which sounds a bit weird, but there you go. When you beat a map (by killing it’s boss) for the first time you mark it as completed on the Atlas and the next tier is revealed. Thus you slowly work your way from the corners of the Atlas towards the center, where your final challenges await.

The biggest draw for me are the Shaper and the Elder though. These very powerful beings are constantly at odds with each other and both try to take control over the Atlas and the worlds therein. When you complete a map controlled by either entity you free it from it’s influence, and under specific circumstances the other takes control over it.

PathOfExile_x64 2018-06-01 09-00-34-457
Stars for Shaper influence, tentacles for Elder controlled areas

It’s a constant back and forth, also depending on if you have the right map at hand when you need it.

The final goals are to reach the center of the Atlas and fight the Shaper, and help the Elder to expand his influence, then fight him too (of course).

Elder- and Shaper-controlled maps can also drop loot with special properties, which makes running such maps even more desirable.

PoE_ShapEldItems
Shaper stuff looks much more appealing if you ask me

The Atlas has added much depth and variety to the Map-system. It also has that ‘just one more’ feel to it now and, to me, never gets boring.

Things about PoE that I love – Part I

As I’ve said before I think of Path of Exile as the true successor to Diablo II. Grinding Gear Games have taken pretty much everything that was great about DII and either kept it the way it was (because it was perfect already) or improved upon it.

Some of these improvements were quite large in scope though and considerably altered game mechanics/elements and also added completely new ones. A couple of those are, to me, simply a work of genius and are so bloody good that I can’t imagine playing an ARPG whithout them anymore.

Here are three of my favourite things about Path of Exile, in no particular order.

Flasks

Remember micromanaging potions in Diablo II? Picking them up, sorting them, upgrading them, refilling your belt whenever you had consumed some? While a kind of meditative activity like that can sometimes be a welcome change of pace after hours of monster killing, at the end of the day it really was just time consuming busywork. It actually made me reluctant to use potions at all because I didn’t want to have to replace them. I was always worried I might run out of precious Full Rejuvenation Potions as well (although I had tons). I died more than once just because I was too cheap to quaff a potion in time.

DII_Reju
Not my screenshot, but I had a mule character looking exactly like this

Flasks in PoE aren’t consumed upon use. They have a certain amount of charges, with each gulp costing some of those. Every killed moster refills one charge to all flasks, with rare or boss monsters refilling more.

Not only made this all of the above moot, it also made it possible to give flasks magic bonuses and enable players to incorporate just the right ones into their builds. They are basically five additional magic items to equip. My Summoner, for example, uses a healing flask that also heals her minions, and a mana flask that negates the effect of curses on her (which counters the drawback her unique robe has). There even are unique flasks that, like most unique items, have special properties you can’t get any other way.

They also look fancy to boot and taking a sip visibly empties them

The currency system

There’s no gold in PoE. No silver, platinum, Dollars or Credits either.

Instead there are lots of different Orbs used for a multitude of effects. There’s one to convert a normal item to a magic one, one upgrades a magic to a rare, one rerolls the stats of a magic item. Some reroll the number of sockets of an item, change the links of said sockets or their color. The list goes on.

PoE_CurrencySamples
Just a few samples. Maximum stack sizes fortunately don’t apply in the currency stash tab.

Low tier currency can be converted to higher tiers at certain exchange rates, and there are ways to get higher value currency for your sell-loot, for example by selling a full set of rare equipment all at once instead of selling piecemeal.

Their respective crafting purposes aside every currency item also serves as, well, currency. NPC vendors sell all their wares for a price in currency items, and they’re heavily used for trading between players as well. Chaos Orbs and Exalted Orbs have over time become the default medium- and high-tier trading currencies, though other types are used too. Since the exact outcome of using Orbs on your equipment is random every player consumes them by the hundreds and thousands over time, so there’s always a demand for more.

PoE_ExaltTrade
I still have no idea how people get so outrageously rich, but some obviously do

This system serves two great purposes at once. One, I don’t need to mindlessly farm until I find the exact item with the exact stats that I want. As soon as I have the desired base item I can try to craft the stats that I need. It’s still RNG, but with much better odds when done right. Two, there’s always valuable stuff to pick up, never a map run that feels like it yielded ‘nothing’. Which for me is a much bigger motivator than just hoarding piles of gold, especially if there’s nary a use for it at endgame and/or inflation has made it all but worthless.

Support-gems

Skills in PoE aren’t inherent abilities characters just have. They are gems that you plug into the sockets of your gear. This gives much flexibility in building characters because any class can use all existing skills in any combination.

What makes the system really shine though are, to me, the support skills. These are also gems that have to be socketed into your gear. They do nothing by themselves, but when they’re placed into sockets that are linked with one or more sockets with active skills in them they buff and/or alter those skills.

Some ‘just’ simply buff a skill by giving it a damage bonus at the price of higher mana cost, but others modify the way a skill works rather drastically.

PoE_Supports
Generosity is a blessing for minion builds, and GMP is used by many different builds all the time

This provides near endless possibilities to use the different skills and combine them to great effect. They even work with minion skills and such. For example, I use the Greater Multiple Projectiles support pictured above for my Spectres.

PathOfExile no GMP
Changing my Solar Guards’ default attack from this…
PathOfExile GMP
…to this

In part two I’ll look at some more features that make Path of Exile special in my opinion.