Blaugust Reborn comes to an end

BlaugustReborn

Today is the last day of Blaugust Reborn and assuming that nothing went wrong with scheduling I’ve met the goal of publishing a post every day. Yay!

It was a very interesting, fun and also challenging experience. Until July 31st I had published one post every 9,5 days on average. Going from there to one per day was a steep slope, and I had to leave my comfort zone in more than one regard.

I once said that I deem most things happening to me not worthy to be written about. This hasn’t really changed, so I had to overcome the fear of writing something completely trivial that’s just wasting my and any potential reader’s time more than once. When I look back at those 31 posts I luckily can’t find one that I feel wasted at least my time. I don’t know about yours of course. Not all posts quite meet my standards though (had I had the time I’d thought of a better title for some posts for example), so the pressure of having to meet the deadlines was indeed noticable.

Another thing I had to learn was to refrain from writing until I’m ’empty’, cramming everything I have to say about a certain topic into one post.

In this post of his Bhagpuss said “This is what Blaugust does to you. I’m already wishing I’d split the Bless First Impressions posts into four chapters instead of just two.”

Indeed it does, and it’s actually a good thing. Not only does it leave something to write about for another time, I feel it also makes for posts that are much easier to read and digest (I wish I had already known this when I wrote this 3,400 word extravaganza).

Now, where do I go from here?

I know that I’ll continue to write, and of course I’ll also continue to read the blogs of many fellow Blaugustans, some of which I probably wouldn’t have discovered without this event.

I won’t keep posting every day though. While it obviously isn’t impossible it was quite a strain sometimes, and writing is supposed to relax and not stress me out.

I will start to post with some kind of regularity, something I didn’t do before Blaugust, so that readers will know what to expect. I’ll make it my goal to post at least once a week, twice if I have more to talk about.

The first post after this one will appear on September 10th at the earliest though, because we’re still on internet-free vacation until the 9th.

In closing I’d like to say Thank You to all of you once more. Thank you for reading my stuff, for commenting, liking and for coming back. Thank you for writing so many wonderful, insightful, delightful and awesome(ful) posts.

Above all thank you Belghast for reviving this great event and doing the heavy lifting for all of us.

See you folks around.

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The beauty of gaming

While good gameplay is always much more important to me than fancy graphics I too like eye candy. Who doesn’t?

I also like to have mementos of my adventures so I can revel in nostalgia later.

Combine the two and it’s no wonder that I take lots and lots of screenshots. Today I’d like to share some highlights. As always, click to enlarge.

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This is the city of Calpheon in Black Desert Online. It’s the most realistic depiction of a medieval town (as I imagine it) I’ve seen in a video game to date, and it’s especially beautiful at dawn.

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Destiny 2 is a good looking game for sure. This was my favourite vista.

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Another shot of Everquest II’s Obol Plains. Not bad for a 6-year-old zone in an almost 14-year-old game.

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Multiple fleets are fighting here in EVE Online, with Lakisa and myself right in the middle. Doesn’t look like death and destruction from afar, does it?

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The Scarecrow levels in Batman: Arkham Asylum were really special, gameplay- as well as graphics-wise. Damn, now I’d really like to play it again.

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And what could be a more fitting shot to end this post than Trevor’s supercool Unflinching Walk from GTA V?

The times they are a-changin’

Long running online games have a problem franchises like Call of Duty or Gran Turismo don’t: they can’t as easily re-release themselves with a new graphics engine every couple of years.

This leads to these games becoming less and less likely to draw in new players because in addition to not being the new hotness they also look more and more dated in comparison.

Developers try to tackle this with little tweaks and upgrades to their graphics that make the games look slightly better without needing a whole new engine.

WoW has done this for example, and the difference between vanilla (2004) and Legion (2016) is quite noticable.

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Noticable, but not groundshattering – at least not on screenshots, and I haven’t seen it ingame.

What I do have experienced myself are the changes to EVE Online over the years, and those are pretty huge. I didn’t actually realize how huge until recently. It’s funny how quickly you get used to the new state of affairs after something changes, and soon you’d swear it had always been this way.

When I browsed my old EVE screenshots in search for a picture I needed for the blog I stumbled across a shot of an old PvE ship of mine, the Raven Navy Issue. I almost fell off my chair. First, here’s how the Navy Raven looks today:

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My Golem, which uses almost the same model as the Raven, looked like this in 2009:

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That’s not such a big change over nine years, is it? Well, strap yourselves in, because this was my Navy Raven in 2007:

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Holy crap, what the hell is THAT?

Seriously, I had no idea anymore that the game looked like this when I started to play. In fact I was already playing for almost two years when I made that picture.

And I clearly remember thinking that the game looked pretty great back then. That’s how much our perception changes with the times and everything we see and experience.

Kudos to CCP for putting in the effort, and thanks for another reminder that not everything was, in fact, better in the old days.

Stay awhile and listen: Forces of the Northern Night

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I’m not a huge fan of live albums in general. Being an extreme creature of habit, once I’m accustomed to a piece of music I like it just the way it is and don’t want it any different. Live music is by nature almost always different, and when it isn’t there’s no real point to it unless you’re there when it happens and it’s all about savouring the performance.

There are exceptions though, and this is one of them.

While Dimmu Borgir were always frowned upon by many ‘true’ black metal believers I instantly became a fan of theirs when I listened to their album Stormblåst in ’96. What really blew me away was their next release, Enthrone Darkness Triumphant, which remains one of my most beloved albums to this day. My favourite music genres have always been metal and classical (symphonic) music. To me Enthrone was, at the time, the best and most sophisticated symbiosis of those two. For that to work a great sound is needed, and it didn’t disappoint in this regard either.

Since then they’ve constantly refined their style, which I would call Symphonic Black Metal. For the recording of their album Death Cult Armageddon they used a real orchestra, the Prague Philharmonics, for the first time. This again elevated their compositions and sound to a whole new level.

In 2011 they collaborated with Kringkastingsorkestret, the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Choir, for a live show in Oslo. With Forces of the Northern Night they released the recording of that concert as well as the same show with different orchestra and choir at Wacken Open Air 2012. I highly recommend the earbook, which consists of two Blu-rays, two DVDs, four Audio CDs and lots of large format pictures. At Nuclear Blast Germany it’s heavily discounted, I assume that the Blu-rays and DVDs aren’t region free though.

The CDs are fine, with great sound and a good song selection. The video discs are where it’s at though. Watching them is obviously not as great as it would have been to see it live in Oslo or at Wacken, but it’s pretty close. The picture quality is superb, as is the 5.1 audio mix. They didn’t make the mistake (as is sadly often the case with surround mixes of rock and metal music) to route bassdrum, snare drum and vocals to the center speaker. Everything that’s ‘metal’ comes from the much more powerful main stereo speakers here, orchestra and choir are spread out over all front speakers and the crowd ambiance comes from behind. Perfect!

The stage setting is well thought out and I’m very pleased that neither camera work nor editing are as hectic as many other metal releases I’ve seen.

I’ve not watched the Wacken gig yet, but the Oslo show is already enough for me to rate this release 10/10.

Song recommendations: Progenies of the Great Apocalypse (I’d buy it again for this song alone), Vredesbyrd, Gateways.

Incursion League – final tally

My participation in Path of Exile’s current challenge league, which ends today, can be broken up into three parts.

A pretty active first month, a considerably slower second month, and a third and last month where I played just a little bit and then quit mainly in favor of Everquest II.

It’s not that I didn’t like the new league mechanics. In fact I think they’re pretty great and I’m glad that they’ll add it to the core game. My only wish would be that they dial back the RNG aspect of it, because as it is you don’t really have that much influence over how the finished temple turns out.

As for progression, not much has changed since last time obviously.

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Still, level 87 in 2 1/2 months is my record by far

I’ve completed one more challenge, that’s it.

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That’s ok though, since I wasn’t going to get the portal effect anyway.

So this was Incursion. In merely four days the next challenge league will already start: Delve. This looks very promising too, and they’ll also release a ton of other improvements alongside it.

I’ll pass though. Everquest II demands my full attention right now, but even if it weren’t I’d not be willing to start PoE from scratch yet again so soon. I’m sure these mechanics will end up being added to the base game too in the end.

I’ll return to PoE, that much is certain. It’s an outstanding game and I like to play it very much. This is no farewell, I’m just taking a break.

Actually I’ll be taking a little break from all kinds of online gaming starting tomorrow, as we’re going on an internet-free vacation. I’ll have posts scheduled for the rest of Blaugust of course, but after that there’ll be radio silence until at least September 10th. Sorry in advance that I’ll not respond to any comments until then. See you soon.

Why I love to solo in MMOs

The other day Wilhelm said something in one of his posts that immediately spoke to me:

“Why [being able to] solo was, and remains, important is a whole different topic that I might have to revisit.”

I’m gonna shamelessly nick that topic now. 🙂

I can’t overstate how important the ability to play solo is and always was to me personally. It’s been exacerbated by bad experiences with other players I had during the last few years, yes, but I’ve always liked doing stuff on my own. Also, working in shifts often means that you can’t play with others even if you want to.

If you speak about this openly you are often told “well, don’t play MMOs then”. This obviously misses the point though.

I’ve already stated some of the reasons why I like playing in a multiplayer environment in the article linked above. Of course there’s another big reason: I can play together with others if I feel like it.

The thing is, I don’t always feel like it. When I come home from work I often crave some peace and quiet. Interactions with people on the internet are seldom quiet and not always peaceful either. Bad PuGs, guild drama, you name it.

When I started to play Everquest II shortly after release I fell in love with it right away, I felt it was something special. Yet once you left the Isle of Refuge (newbie island) pretty much everything needed a group back then, you could do hardly anything on your own.

I already worked in shifts then, so being part of a regular group wasn’t possible. I quickly fell behind the friend I started to play with and had to make do with PuGs. For every one good PuG I found I wound up in at least two really bad ones. Having to wait for up to an hour until everyone in the group was at the chosen starting point, just to realize after a couple successive wipes that it wasn’t gonna work out wasn’t uncommon.

I had only made it to level 24 (of 50 at the time) when I decided that the game wasn’t for me, despite really liking it on many levels.

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Sad Warlock logging out for the (presumably) last time in Nektulos Forest

I returned for the first time half a year later after hearing many awesome stories about dungeons, raiding and the great guild said friend was in. There were some opportunities to level up solo by then, but still not nearly enough for me. Although the guild indeed was a great bunch and tried to help, I burned out while trying to reach max level as fast as possible and quit again.

It wasn’t before 2007 that the game had transformed into a much more solo-friendly experience, and this time I really got going. I played for about 1 1/2 years straight, pretty much every day.

I absolutely did play together with others during that time. I ran countless dungeons and raids with that guild, Vivere militare est, for two and a half expansions in a row. And it was great!

That was only possible, though, because the game allowed me to do many activities on my own, in my own time.

This is why whenever a new developer team comes along and advertises they’ll “make grouping great and important again”, I’m out. Been there, done that, no thanks.

The afterlife looks gorgeous

Everquest II has so much to do and so many places to visit that it can be hard to know where to even begin, especially if you’ve missed years and years of added content like I have.

What I’ve always done to deal with that is to set myself an objective like ‘I want to level up this character a bit’ or ‘I need to acquire the tier 8 advanced tradeskill recipes’ and use sites like Allakhazam or the Wiki to find out where to begin. Once I get going the game does a good enough job to guide me onward from there.

This is exactly how I ended up in Obol Plains for the first time. I’d leveled my carpenter to 95 already but was still missing all advanced recipes from 90 up, some of which you get there as quest rewards. My jaw dropped quite a bit when the veil (i.e. loading screen) lifted.

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Bhagpuss mentioned a couple of times how much better the newer zones look, and he’s damn right. While this zone is already six years old (in relation to EQII ‘new’ is a quite relative term) it looks stunning.

What totally blew my socks off though is the fact that this is actually the afterlife’s version of a zone I’m very familiar with: the Loping Plains. I only realized it when an NPC told me that this is the Ethernere and what I see before me is the Loping Plains how they should look like, or something along those lines. I don’t quite know what’s going on there yet. The zone layout is very similar indeed, it just looks completely different. What you see up there is the Obol Plains’ counterpart of the Village of Somborn.

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I think I prefer the afterlife version, thank you very much

I also met an old…um…friend…

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Wait a minute, does his presence here mean that he’s dead? Too good to be true…just kidding.

Qho Augren is one of those NPCs they totally nailed insofar that he’s annoying as hell, yet you’re really happy everytime he’s got a new quest for you.

He made me chase him around quite a bit, so I also got to see Eidolon Jungle, the second zone introduced with the Chains of Eternity expansion.

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This, too, is the afterlife version of an old zone: The Feerrott. Again the zone layout is similar, but the look is very different. And, like Obol, it’s absolutely beautiful.

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Same zone, different color scheme. These transitions were introduced way back with Rise of Kunark.

And here the Feerrott in comparison.

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One might argue that this is lazy game design, but I’d have to disagree. It’s obvious that all assets had to be made from scratch. The placement of mobs, NPCs and the like is also different, so I don’t think this saved the devs much work compared to designing completely new zones.

And I really like this from a lore perspective. I’m actually curious how the quests here will unfold and what the implications for the original zones might be. Great stuff!

When reading about or watching games is more fun than actually playing them

I really like to watch Overwatch tournaments. I’m currently catching up on Season 1 of Blizzard’s Overwatch League. It’s a hell of a lot of matches, and I watch at least one or two maps every day.

I don’t play the game myself anymore though. I gave it another chance after a long break a couple of weeks ago, but was instantly reminded of why I just can’t play it and stay sane. So I keep my hands off it and just watch others play.

How is it possible to have that much fun watching others play a game that’s not fun to play yourself?

To give credit where it’s due, Blizzard does a fantastic job with those presentations. The tools they’ve implemented for good camera angles, slo-mo replays, bird’s eye perspective etc. provide an excellent and entertaining viewing experience. They also have a great pool of casters who commentate the matches in pairs and do a stellar job at it (my favourites are Monte and DoA). I wouldn’t just watch some guy play the game on Youtube or Twitch, but this is highly professional e-sports broadcasting.

Overwatch League

I don’t think I’d have this much fun watching if I had never played the game myself though. The fact that I know the heroes, what they can and can’t do and how they complement each other makes it easier to follow what’s happening despite the breakneck speed, and theorizing why this hero was picked over that one adds another layer of excitement. But I guess you can learn all of that just by watching attentively for a while.

Still the question remains why I can’t play the game without instantly becoming the Hulk, yet watching others is so much fun.

EVE Online is a game that poses a similar conundrum for many people. They love to read about events that happened there, yet give up after a short while when they try playing it because they find it to be too complex and/or boring.

While I’ve never given up on EVE myself I can still totally relate to that. I know from experience that reading Wilhelm’s chronicles of big fights, for example, is indeed more fun than participating in such fights myself most of the time. At the very least it’s much, much faster.

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Looks like epic fun, but might well have felt like walking through molasses for a whole day

I guess what both cases have in common is also the answer to my question. Just watching or reading about these games lets you experience the great and fun aspects while sparing you the frustrating or boring parts.

For a long time I couldn’t quite come to terms with the fact that enjoying a game doesn’t necessarily require to actually play it. Whenever I had fun watching an Overwatch match I immediately thought ‘I really need to play myself again’. No, actually I don’t.

It’s a pity that I can’t enjoy playing Overwatch, but I think I’ve made my peace with that now. Instead of sulking and fretting about it I prefer to just be glad that there is, in fact, a way for me to still enjoy the game.

Power Creep vs Level Scaling

During the last couple of years level scaling has become pretty common in MMO space. Level scaling means that whenever a player enters an area that’s of considerably lower level one of two things happens: the player is leveled down to the area’s level, or the mobs are beefed up to the player’s level.

Some games, for example Guild Wars 2, launched with level scaling built-in, others like The Elder Scrolls Online, SW:TOR and WoW (to some extent) added it later on.

The problem I have with the feature’s implementation in those games: I can’t opt out of it. If I travel to a low level area I’ll always be leveled down, whether I like it or not. The thing is, I do not like it most of the time, for a number of reasons.

It feels so liberating to return to a zone I had to fight my way through back in the day and be totally ignored by all mobs, making for a relaxed stroll in the park. In Everquest II low level mobs even cower in fear before me when I walk past them, which I find hilarious.

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Yeah, that’s right! See what I did to your friends?

It also makes a lot of stuff much less arduous, for example low level gathering, completing collections or killing mobs for old quests cluttering up the journal. I love these zero-stress activities every now and then.

Speaking of killing stuff, this is where power creep also comes into play.

While power creep and level scaling aren’t exactly polar opposites they are related insofar that the latter can offset some drawbacks, but also undo the nicer aspects of the former.

Power creep happens when more powerful gear and abilities are introduced to a game (mostly by expansions), resulting in older gear becoming obsolete and older content ridiculously easy.

I’ve experienced power creep that was decidedly too severe. I don’t think the very first items you get for easy solo quests after an expansion should be way more powerful than the best raid gear you could obtain before the expac. This makes you feel like your weeks and months of working towards that gear were for naught, and that’s not a pleasant feeling at all.

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Raid gear on the left, outclassed and outmatched by an ordinary quest reward (actually these aren’t quite comparable, but you get the idea).

As long as it isn’t too extreme I’m fully on board with gear and abilities becoming more powerful over time though. Again, I like it when older content becomes much easier.

If you wait and level up enough in EQII you reach a point where you can solo raid bosses that were a tough challenge for 24 players way back when, and I think that’s great. Due to this you can, if not experience as intended, at least see all the content there is. If you look at it this way power creep actually has it’s upsides.

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Hi there! Remember me and all those wipes? Payback time’s here!

But what about the huge advantages of level scaling and the massive drawbacks of power creep? What if I want to play together with friends who have joined the game much later and are significantly below me in level and power? Or maybe I want to deliberately play older content at the appropriate level, what then?

Well, there’s a solution for that: player controlled level scaling.

In EQII it’s called mentoring, and there are two flavours. When playing together with lowbie friends you can lower your level to the exact level of a group member, which is free and can be done anywhere and anytime. If you’re solo you can visit a chronomage and mentor yourself to a level of your choosing in increments of five for a small fee. The chronoguys even give out rotating daily missions as an incentive to do old content while mentored down.

For me this is the perfect solution. I can enjoy and utilize my steady growth in power (and punch mobs that formerly gave me a hard time in the face), but reduce my level and power if I so choose at any time.

Forced level scaling? Get off my lawn!

Memorable Moments – Chapter One

In my very first blog post I outlined my main reason for starting to write: to preserve and share great memorable experiences that might be forgotten otherwise.

One of those events came to pass in ArcheAge. Lakisa, our friend Tristron and I had a day full of adventure and excitement, and this was the catalyst that kindled my desire to write stuff down for the first time.

I had no idea how to start though, and unfortunately didn’t put in the effort to find out at the time. So now I’m going to try and reconstruct that day, for stories like these really shouldn’t pass into oblivion.

In order to get your medium sized farm in ArcheAge you need to do a couple of trade runs. Trade goods are crafted at certain workbenches and can be sold to trade NPCs for gold or other rewards. The farther away you sell, the more it’s worth. The kicker is that trade packs are very heavy and slow you down considerably. You wear them like a backpack one at a time, and if you put it down on the ground anyone can pick it up and steal it.

If you don’t own a farm cart yet you can only speed up the process by using public transportation (carriages or airships), or by riding a donkey.

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We did all three during the quests leading up to this one

The last quest requires you to deliver a trade pack to the other continent, so you need to cross the ocean by boat. This is where it gets dangerous because as soon as you leave coastal waters you’re in lawless territory and anyone can attack you. We were still pretty low level at the time, so even without tradepacks on our backs we’d be easy prey for pirates.

When we finally reached the shore I spawned my clipper and we set sail.

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Myself at the helm, Lakisa at the harpoon and Tristron ready to reef or hoist the sail as needed

We were very nervous and kept our eyes peeled because the sight of any sail on the horizon was more than likely to mean trouble.

We tried to avoid the direct trade routes and zigzagged our way towards the destination. Nevertheless we spotted another ship once and collectively held our breath, hoping that whoever it was didn’t see us or had other things in mind. After a couple of tense seconds it was out of sight again. Phew.

Luckily the quest doesn’t actually require to hand over the trade pack to an NPC, you just have to reach a specific area with the cargo on your back. You have to get pretty close to the shore though, and since it’s the enemy continent its residents can attack you anywhere. I held my course towards the dock with trembling hands, ready to turn around as soon as the quest updated.

Then it happened. “Reef the sail!” I shouted on Teamspeak and turned the rudder (i.e. pressed the D key) as hard as I could. After having turned about 120° I gave the command to hoist the sail again, and we quickly gained pace and sped towards the open sea. Mission accomplished.

We made our way to our own continent’s nearest shore unharmed and delivered our trade packs to an NPC for a bit of profit.

Since this had been so thrilling and fun we weren’t ready to call it quits just yet. Instead we decided to try getting our hands on snowlion mount pups, which meant we’d have to do another trip across the ocean and even venture into the heart of the hostile country.

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First we took the scenic route by rowboat at night with Tristron on minstrel-duty

This time we crossed the sea without incident and soon Haranya’s coast came into view.

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The continent’s eastern theme is easily recognisable even from afar

But where to disembark? Enemy players weren’t our only concern, for NPC guards, too, would attack us on sight. The coastline consist of steep cliffs for the most part though, so we had no choice but to head for the village pictured above.

We found a spot without any guards close by, jumped off the clipper and tried to sneek our way into the hinterlands. We had to pass by a guard much too close for comfort once, but got through unharmed.

Once out of the village guards were no longer a problem, but we were still wary of other players and had quite a distance yet to cover. We decided to try going over the mountains instead of using the roads and paths.

We indeed managed to get pretty high up with the help of our gliders and some bold jumping maneuvers.

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And were rewarded with some breathtaking sights for our troubles

This proved to be a veritable shortcut. Not only did we not see another player the whole time, we were in fact very close to our destination once we started to descend the mountain range on the other side.

Now it was time to tense up once more though, because if the location of our own continent’s mount NPCs was anything to go by chances of encountering other players would rise dramatically the closer we got.

Shortly before we hit ground level we could actually see the NPC as well a a couple of players from a distance. Luckily the players were rather low level, so we figured we’d probably be able to talk to the NPC and buy the pups before anything serious happened to us.

We mounted our gliders and sailed right towards the NPC. We managed to land right next to him, quickly bought the pups we wanted and legged it as if the devil was on our heels.

We got what we wanted and didn’t even die in the process. Victory again! We decided it was time to port home, nurse the pups to grow them into mature mounts and call it a day.

It was a funny, exciting and very rewarding adventure, and this is why I really love to play sandbox-like games.