2018 in review

My only gaming-related resolution for this year was to stop playing stuff when it isn’t fun anymore, and I adhered to that. Looking back I can say that, yes, I indeed had more fun and less headaches with gaming overall due to that, so mission accomplished.

One consequence was that I alternated between games even more than I did in the past. While that’s not an inherently bad thing it means that I still haven’t found a proper home game.

That being said, for the last two and a half weeks I’ve played the heck out of Black Desert Online again after shelving it in April, and I’m having tremendous fun right now.

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To boldly go…where I hadn’t gone before. More on that soonish.

But let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

From January to April I played mostly Black Desert and EVE Online. In BDO I was very excited about the adventures that I had, and also about gathering, cooking and crafting. In EVE we had some great fights and participated in moon mining for the first time.

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But mostly we just kept shooting stuff

I also mused about randomness, player made music  and non-consensual PvP in MMOs.

In April I started to play Path of Exile again, which absolutely dominated my playtime until mid-August. I talked about how much fun I have playing summoner characters, playing the Incursion challenge league and things that I love about the game in general.

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I also killed Queen Atziri for the first time…only 4 1/2 years late

In June I celebrated my blog’s first birthday.

In August two things happened. One: the venerable Belghast revived Blaugust, and I signed up intending to reach the goal of posting every day during that month, which I managed to do. Two: I returned to Everquest II after a break of almost seven years. I fell in love with it again and wrote quite a bunch of posts about it since then.

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The terrific ‘Crafting Epic 2.0’ netted me this sweet mount a couple weeks ago

During Blaugust I also talked about playing American Football, our participation in EVE’s Alliance Tournament and some more MMO-related stuff like level scaling, soloing and faction grinds.

In November International Picture Posting Month came along, and I posted a couple of themed screenshot collections.

During the year I also expanded my fledgeling columns Memorable Moments, where I share gaming related adventures I had that are special to me, and Stay awhile and listen, thoughts about music that I like.

As I said in the beginning I recently picked up Black Desert again, but I also still play EQII and EVE regularly.

The gaming industry in general and MMO industry in particular gave us a crapton of headscratchers and serious fuckups this year, I think more so than in any other year before. I don’t want to talk about that though, this is supposed to be a positive post after all.

Ok, well, I’ll just say this: yes, Blizzard, I indeed do have a phone, but that’s none of your goddamn business because in my opinion quality games and fucking phones don’t have anything to do with each other!

Anyway. I don’t really have any resolutions for 2019 except continuing to have fun doing what I love, and I feel exceptionally blessed that, barring any disasters happening to me, I’ll be able to do just that.

I wish you all a happy and above all healthy year 2019!

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Let it snow, MMO!

Sorry about the title, I just couldn’t resist. I’m not even sure if that’s a proper rhyme. Ahem, moving on.

It hardly ever snows where I live, so when I crave some proper winter weather I need to either travel a good bit in real life, or get my fix in one of the virtual worlds I also inhabit.

While the latter obviously isn’t as good as the real deal it has the benefit of not actually being, you know, cold. MMO developers are well aware of that appeal, and most titles have at least one zone where there’s always winter. Those that have weather systems also tend to let it snow regularly during winter months.

Here are some places to savour virtual winter should you ever feel like it.

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Black Desert Online is one of the best looking MMOs out there, and it’s especially spectacular during winter. A screenshot doesn’t do it justice really, in motion it’s downright stunning. When it starts to snow the world doesn’t just turn white from one moment to the next, instead the snow blanket gets more dense over time. Later it starts to melt and turns to mud or water, depending on the surface, before it finally dissipates.

It’s not just a feast for the eyes either. Walking over snow sounds very realistic, and I could swear all ambient sounds are a bit muffled. I might be imagining that last bit, but it shows that the whole experience just feels right and is probably as close to the real thing as it can be.

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ArcheAge has a similar approach, but falls short in comparison. Still, it too looks pretty great. During sunshine you can see Marianople, the city in the background, clearly and with many details from this distance, so the snow’s effect on long range visibility seems to be even a bit more realistic here.

Now we move on to ‘eternal winter’ territory.

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The Coerthas Highland zones are among my favourites in Final Fantasy XIV. The architecture and mood fit perfectly to a region where it’s always cold. I wouldn’t have been surprised at all to discover Winterfell just around the corner. Winter isn’t coming, it’s already here!

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This Everquest II zone is fittingly called Everfrost. It dates all the way back to the game’s release, and it shows. From a distance it still looks quite good though, and I can’t help but feel a little bit chilly when I see it.

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Another one from EQII. These are the docks and the entrance to Thurgadin, city of the Coldain dwarves. It’s an impressive and majestic place, and it’s huge. A player character would fit a couple of times into the head of one of those statues. The winter theme fits very well here I think.

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If you want to freeze your butt off in The Secret World the Carpathians have got you covered. I hope you don’t mind that vampires are all over the place though. Definitely bring your collection of stakes along. Or Buffy Summers.

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I can’t remember the name of this zone in TERA, nor why my horse is hovering a foot above the ground. Maybe it didn’t want its hooves to get cold…

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I didn’t mind the stylized look of Star Wars: The Old Republic in general. Some places, like Tatooine for example, actually looked really great. Somehow the ice planet Hoth didn’t feel right though. The above mentioned effect of feeling cold just by looking at it just wasn’t there for me. Still, this list wouldn’t be complete without Hoth, would it?

I wish you all a merry and hopefully white Christmas.

Happy Frostfell to all!

I have to correct myself. Back in October I said that Nights of the Dead is my favourite Everquest II holiday. Now I was reminded that I actually love Frostfell even more. I guess if you manage to get me in a nice and cozy Christmas-mood you’ve already hit the jackpot.

Since I had last visited Frostfell Wonderland Village there’s been a quite drastic graphical overhaul of the zone, so I was in for a big surprise.

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It’s almost unrecognizable, and looks especially great at night

Fortunately ice skating and hurling snowballs at one another are still in, and just as fun as ever. Most quests I already knew are also still there, and they added a bunch of new ones in my absence. Of course I played through them all.

Some of the newer quests revolve around a ‘secret’ workshop where the Gigglegibber Goblins actually manufacture all those presents Santa Glug distributes.

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If this was available as prestige housing I’d buy it! *wink wink, nudge nudge*

Them being Goblins lots of things go awry of course, as usual, but thanks to my help all the good kids will be getting presents this year after all.

Of the old quests I always liked EQII’s version of the Christmas Carol the most. You’re tasked to take the place of one Mr. McScroogle who’s an irredeemable asshat (surprise) and sick of being reminded of that fact over and over again come Frostfell. So this time it’s you who is visited by three well known ghosts and are shown his/your wrongdoings.

Although I’ve done this quest a couple of years in a row back when it was introduced some of the dialogues still make me crack up really hard.

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I’ve faced pre-nerf Venril Sathir, mate. THAT guy was scary!

I’ve always loved EQII’s humor and there’s much more of that spread all over Frostfell content.

As is tradition new crafting recipes have also been added every year, so I had lots of new goodies to look forward to. In contrast to Halloween-craftables the Frostfell stuff can only be made using the workbenches in the Wonderland Village, which means that you have to craft everything you like while the event lasts or wait until next year.

So I quickly let my pack ponies gather some Frostfell ingredients and started hammering, sewing and, of course, cooking.

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Who says Christmas is only about sweets? It’s also about a nice roast!

This gave me the perfect opportunity to tend to an unfinished project in my Bruiser’s home. I had started to furnish a dining room when he moved into his Qeynos manor many years ago, but until now I’d never put food on the table, literally.

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Now I can feed an army and then some

The room isn’t finished yet, but I’m quite pleased with the centerpiece now.

There’s also new armorsets and weapons. These aren’t really suited to be worn all year like the Halloween stuff is – they’re a bit too colorful for that I feel – but until January Lakisa and I will both be sporting the cheerful plate armor.

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Only complete with the matching cheerful scarf…and I normally hate scarves

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you like nothing more than holiday events you just have to play EQII. There are so many that you can play them pretty much all year round, and they’re all great.

Frostfell will be around until January 3rd, so there’s still time to take a look. I know I can’t get enough of it and will enjoy it while it lasts.

Trying out Co-Op PvE in EVE Online

Last month EVE’s Onslaught update – one might call it a mini-expansion – went live and brought a couple new features with it. The one most interesting to Lakisa and myself is the addition of Abyssal PvE sites designed for up to three pilots working together.

Before this there really wasn’t any type of PvE that worked well for duos or small groups. Sure, technically you can run sites or missions together, but why share the spoils when you can solo everything easily as long as you bring the right ship and setup? For example, my mission running alt handles every level 4 mission currently in the game with ease, and while bringing along another player would speed things up a bit it wouldn’t cut the time in half, so it’s more effective if both players do their own missions by themselves. We’d like to do stuff together though. Also, mission running is boring, no matter if you do it alone or in a group.

So how do Abyssal sites work? You basically open a portal anywhere in space which can be entered by up to three frigate sized ships. This teleports you and your friends into an instance not accessible by other players. Each site consists of three pockets that have to be cleared of all NPCs before you can proceed, and some loot containers. After 20 minutes the whole site collapses, and any ship still inside is destroyed along with its pilot’s pod.

Considering the risk I cooked up some cheap Tech I frig fits for starters, two of which should be able to run tier 1 sites successfully going by early reports. Not wanting to go in completely unprepared I also looked up a bit of info on EVE University’s Wiki on the matter, then off we went.

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My Kestrel heading into the fray

The very first thing you notice is how much more is going on visually than anywhere else in New Eden. It’s quite beautiful. You don’t have much time to marvel at the sights though, because the NPCs are all over you in an instant and the clock’s ticking.

Turns out tier 1 sites really aren’t all that hard, and we didn’t have much problems disposing of the enemies while zipping from one loot cache to the next.

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Passing by a destroyed cache, picking up the goods

There’s not just enemy ships though. Nebulae give penalties to various ship systems if you fly through them, and automated towers have similar effects. There’s even one that attacks drones and missiles when in range.

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Defense tower all guns blazing

All of this doesn’t only affect players, the NPCs also get every bonus and penalty, so you can actually use it to your advantage.

Even with the info we had going in we still needed to learn some things on our own. For instance, Lakisa used a Tristan at first, but her drones missed their targets very often. A bit of research revealed that the penalty “Dark” sites apply to turret optimal range and falloff not only applies to player and NPC ships, but also to drones. So she uses a Kestrel too now when we run Dark sites.

Once all NPCs in a pocket are killed the gate is unlocked and you can proceed to the next, or, if you’re in the third pocket already, back to the spot in normal space where you started.

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Unlocked gate waiting for us to jump through, with another defense tower next to it

You have to be aware that the entrance/exit is visible on D-scan in normal space and can be scanned down by combat probes, so other players could be waiting for you and your loot. In high sec chances for that happening are slim, if you run the sites in low or null sec though – which we have to because high sec’s NPC police doesn’t like us – you should choose your point of entry wisely.

So what’s the early verdict then?

The first couple of sites we ran were tremendously thrilling and fun. No surprise really; it’s new, it’s shiny, it’s quite a bit more unpredictable than other types of PvE, and you’re racing against time. Once you get used to it the effect starts to wear off, unsurpsisingly. Still, it’s much more engaging and exciting than the alternatives. And we’ve just scratched the surface. We’ll take a shot at tier 2 sites soon and work our way from there.

It’s not the Holy Grail of PvE by any stretch of the imagination, but in my opinion that’s not what you play EVE for anyway. For us it’s a way to play together while there’s no PvP going on and earn some ISK in the process, and it’s doing that job pretty well.

Memorable Moments – Chapter Three

Most people are pretty averse to suffering significant penalties for dying in the games they play. While you always see folks demanding games to become challenging and ‘hardcore’ again in forums and on reddit, whenever such a game comes along next to nobody actually wants to play it.

All things considered I’m definitely no advocate for full looting or permadeath myself, but there’s no denying that a higher risk provides for much more excitement and a greater feeling of accomplishment if you succeed.

Which brings me to a tremendously thrilling rescue mission I undertook more than 20 years ago that I still remember very vividly and fondly.

It was somewhere between autumn ’97 and spring ’98. Two friends of mine and I were still playing a lot of Diablo. We’d regularly schlep our PCs (along with those bulky CRT monitors we had back then) to our computer club to play together.

Multiplayer characters in Diablo had one special ‘feature’, possibly to up the ante in PvP duels: when you died every single one of your equipped items would drop fountainlike to the ground, to be picked up by either yourself – provided you managed to fight your way back there without them – or by anyone else. While the irony of the heroes becoming a loot piñata for once wasn’t lost on us we were always a bit on edge due to this. Fortunately whenever one of us died the others were usually there to the rescue.

We had the game’s three classes divided between us. I played the Warrior, one guy the Rogue and my then best buddy the Sorcerer. The latter was by far the most powerful class for most encounters in the game, and he’d always talk shit to me (in jest) because I had to, you know, walk up to the monsters and actually hit them with my sword one by one like a barbarian, while he could set a whole room on fire with a flick of his fingers.

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He’s such a showoff!  [All screenshots found on Google]
There were two types of monsters though that the Sorcerer had a very hard time against: Blood Knights and Azure Drakes. Both melee mobs who, at the time, were completely immune to fire and lightning, the only two spell damage types in the game. His spells rendered useless the Sorcerer could pretty much do nothing but angrily wave his walking stick at them. Of course the Rogue and I were always happy when they appeared because those were our rare moments to shine.

One day in the late afternoon I was sitting at home doing whatever when my phone rang. It was the Sorcerer, and he said “Pack your stuff and get your ass down here, I’m in big trouble!”.

Turned out he had died to a bunch of Azure Drakes and tried, unsuccessfully, to get his stuff back on his own a couple of times. In doing so he had led the monsters closer and closer to the staircase leading down to that level. Now the whole gang sat right at those stairs and just waited to eat him alive should he try again.

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A terrifying sight for sure

Of course my first reaction was the one you would expect from a good friend: I laughed and made fun of him. “The mighty Sorcerer has died? No way! Now you need, of all people, MY help?? Impossible!!”

Then I packed my stuff and got my ass down to the club. Meanwhile the Rogue had also arrived by coincidence, but decided after looking at the Sorcerer’s screen, where his most recent body was still being swarmed by those drakes, that this was indeed a job for the Warrior.

In theory my task was easy enough. Join his game, walk down those stairs and immediately start klicking as fast as I can while chugging health potions like crazy. Just one problem: had I failed and died both our full sets of gear would’ve been irreplaceably lost.

I hesitated. What tipped the scales was the Rogue agreeing to lend me a sword he’d found a while before, with the stat combo most coveted by every Warrior: a King’s Sword of Haste.

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Just one power level shy of The Sword Of A Thousand Truths

With that beauty I shouldn’t have too much of a hard time killing those pesky drakes. Theoretically. Hopefully. Maybe.

I wish someone else had been there to take a photo of this: me sitting there, sweaty hands cramped around mouse and keyboard, the Sorcerer and Rogue standing to my left and right, anxiously staring at my screen. We remained like this for what felt like an eternity and must have looked like a still life.

Finally I gave myself a push and klicked on the stairs.

As expected I was swarmed the moment the level had finished loading, and I started swinging that sword like a madman. The first drake died, then the second, and another one. My health dipped every now and then, but potions in Diablo were instant and I never dropped to a critical level.

After what must have been less than a minute it was all over. The drakes were dead and the way to the Sorcerer’s precious items clear. We let go a huge collective sigh of relief. He picked up his gear, I gave back the sword and we decided that we’d had enough excitement for one day. If I remember correctly we celebrated by getting ourselves a nice, unhealthy meal at our favourite greek fast food place and headed home pretty soon afterwards.

Like I said in the beginning, I don’t really miss the danger of losing all my stuff in today’s games, but I do miss these kinds of great adventures that would’ve never occurred without such mechanics. Quite a dilemma, isn’t it?