Looking forward to Lost Ark

I don’t often get hyped for a game before I can actually play it, at least not anymore. As we all know sky-high expectations almost inevitably lead to disappointment, so I’m trying not to fall into that trap.

The gaming industry has given me a helping hand with that in recent years. There just weren’t many game announcements for me to get excited about, sadly. Of course I’m looking forward to Cyberpunk 2077 though. I mean, who isn’t? But even in this case I’d describe my current feelings as mild to medium anticipation rather than anything resembling hype.

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More Keanu is always a good thing though

So nobody was more surprised than myself when I stumbled upon this video review of a Korean game called Lost Ark, and somewhere in the middle of watching it I already wanted to play that game right fucking now!

The funny thing is, I’d actually been aware of the game’s existence because I’d read about it over at MOP a couple of times, but somehow I hadn’t quite grasped what kind of game it actually is. The fact that we can’t play it here in the west without jumping through some serious hoops surely helped with filing it away under not interested without a second thought.

Thanks to Quin’s review I now know that it might be the almost perfect game for me.

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Lost Ark seems to be, at its heart, an Action RPG like Path of Exile or Diablo. So far, so good for my taste. However it has some qualities that no other ARPG I know does, most of which borrow heavily from MMORPGs. My favourite genres rolled into one nice package? Count me in!

Keep in mind though that I haven’t played it myself. All knowledge I have about the game comes from the videos linked throughout this post as well as a few others, so I might have misinterpreted some details. Also, most of the videos aren’t exactly recent and stuff might have changed already.

Anyhow, here’s why I’m anxious to play the game and hope for a western release, which unfortunately hasn’t been officially announced yet at the time of this writing.

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The game world is huge and can be traversed and explored quite freely. It’s not an open, seamless world however, as the individual areas are all instanced. Still, I think compared to its peers this one should feel much more like a world rather than just an assortment of zones. The fact that you travel from continent to continent by boat and discover islands and who knows what else during your journeys adds a real sense of exploration and adventure, which is also lacking in most ARPGs.

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Lifeskills! OMG, the game has lifeskills. There’s a whole talent tree that’s seperate from combat stuff and solely dedicated to six different forms of gathering: herbing, fishing, mining, archaeology, woodcutting and hunting. Apparently each character can learn all of them, but I assume that if you want to get really good at one you need to specialize.

What little I know about the skills themselves does sound pretty cool, obviously the devs weren’t content with doing your typical run-of-the-mill stuff. Mining, for example, doesn’t just let you mine rocks, you can also learn the ability to blow up certain obstructions and thus get access to resources you couldn’t reach otherwise. Or how about fishing without having to hold your rod all day, placing traps and bait instead? I like it.

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One thing I really dig and that I haven’t seen on this scale in any RPG whatsoever until now is epicness, for lack of a better word. Here are two good examples (I can’t for the life of me manage to embed the videos with a predetermined starting point, so I’ll just use links for you to click):

Watch at least 30 seconds of this clip for some epic siege goodness. A bit later on there’s more cool stuff as well.

Here you will see about 25 seconds of environmental destruction and oh crap moments. I highly recommend the video as a whole too, as it is an entertaining summary of how the first few hours of the game look and feel.

The only games I’ve played to date that have this kind of in-engine epic moments are the Uncharted titles and GTA V, but even those don’t have literally hundres of units on screen. Scattered across various videos I’ve also seen player characters riding zip lines, floating platforms and mine carts, jump over ravines, mount strange beasts and lots of other crazy stuff. Pretty impressive. Also, this:

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Then there’s the fantastic training room which lets you check out every subclass or ability before you make your decisions. You can spawn waves of mobs and even bosses so you can actually test everything in a somewhat real environment instead of just hitting thin air or training dummies. This is so great, I wonder why hardly any RPG has something like it.

What about content? There’s reportedly lots of stuff to do for PvE- as well as PvP-oriented players. Dungeons, raids, world bosses, instanced PvP, island PvP (whatever that is) and more. You can also have an island of your own, but I couldn’t find out what you can do with it.

Progression systems are supposedly more akin to those of MMOs than ARPGs, but I don’t know what that means exactly. Some people even feel that Lost Ark isn’t an ARPG at all, but rather an MMORPG that happens to be played in isometric perspective. If so that’s fine by me too.

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There are also some cons. Aren’t there always?

Many activities in the game are gated by a minimum ilvl. I hated that in FFXIV, and it will almost certainly piss me off here too at some point.

A lot of abilities have quite long animations which lock you in place. Since there’s a total of 12 classes with even more to come I just hope I’ll be able to pick a couple that suit my playstyle.

There’s other bits and pieces like genderlocked classes or weird pathfinding, but nothing too serious or even gamebreaking from my perspective.

Overall the game sounds right up my alley. I really hope it comes to the west, and soon. You hear that, folks at Smilegate? That’s soon as in soon, not as in soon™. Can’t wait!

A shoutout to Quin69, TheLazyPeon and ZiggyD for their awesome videos. Thanks guys!

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Another round of Blaugust incoming

It’s that time of the year…

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Once again we gather to celebrate our hobby and show the world that blogging is not, in fact, dead.

The challenge Belghast, the event’s inventor and host, has laid out before us is the same as last year: to post at least once every single day during the month of August. I we feel like it, that is. Nobody is forced to do anything.

I’ve already signed up as a participant, meaning that I don’t quite feel like a newbie anymore, but not experienced enough to perform the role of a mentor either.

Last year I was up to the task and published a total of 31 posts, exactly one per day. I’m not sure if I will be able to hit that target this time around though, as we’ll be on an internet-free vacation from August 20th to 30th. Some timing, huh?

Anyway, Bel has all the info you might need and the application form here. If you’ve ever thought about starting a blog but never did, now’s the time. You can also join the Discord channel and ask any questions you might have about blogs or blogging, we don’t bite (usually).

I had much fun and also learned a lot last time around, so I’m looking forward to what this year will bring. At the very least there will be many, many great posts to read, and for that alone the event is a blessing for our community as well as every reading- and gaming-enthusiast out there.

MMOs didn’t invent The Grind

Several times over the last couple of years I’ve read the sentiment that more and more grindy game mechanics are creeping into single player games of late, and that the success of such mechanics in the MMO genre are to blame for this development.

I disagree. In my opinion The Grind has been an integral part of video gaming since, well, the advent of video games.

First off I’d like to make clear what I mean when I say grind in this particular case, since grind, like P2W or casual, seems to be a rather subjective gaming term.

By my definition to grind in a video game means doing the same thing over and over and over again in order to reach specific goals.

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Don’t ask what I’m doing with an icebear on a boat, you don’t wanna know

Let’s play a little game. Name the first five video games you’ve ever played, as far as you remember. If you’re around my age (which is 42) your list probably looks similar to mine:

Pole Position, Asteroids, Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Jungle Hunt.

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Why is a game about shooting at marshmallows called Asteroids anyway?

Pole Position is the only one of those that I played on an arcade cabinet first, steering wheel and all. The rest I played on the Atari 2600, my first home-gaming device. Like pretty much every game of that time they all were originally developed for the arcade though.

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Consequently these games had to encourage players to spend as much money as possible, and their gameplay design very much reflects that.

You always had a limited number of lives or tries, and the difficulty was always high enough to ensure that even very good players couldn’t possibly beat the game with just a few bucks spent.

At the arcade, whenever you decided not to continue by spending more money, in my case usually 1 DM for another set of lives, or if you had no continues left you had to start over from the very beginning.

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Obviously the games’ console ports didn’t require you to insert any money, but since the gameplay usually remained unchanged you still had to go back to square one whenever you’d spent all lives and continues.

So that’s what we did. A lot.

During the mid- and late-eighties the huge success of home consoles and computers ushered in a new era of video games. More complex genres were devised, the ability to save and load game states became more common. Nevertheless a lot of new releases still followed the arcade formula for many years to come.

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This is one of my all time favourite games, the Amiga version of Turrican 2. I bought it shortly after it released in 1991 and still play it from time to time on an emulator, believe it or not. I’ve probably seen the end credits about 30 to 40 times. How often I’ve played the first stages, however, I have absolutely no idea. It must have been hundreds of times.

My enjoyment didn’t suffer from it though. The game has nicely designed stages, superb music and slick controls. Advancing further and further with each try was motivating, it was more of a fun challenge than tedium and repetition. Even after I’d beaten the game I challenged myself to get better still, my measuring stick being the amount of lives I had left when the credits rolled. I believe my record was 32 (you start with three).

Going by my definition this is a prime example of grinding your butt off, as it were. And as I said, if you intended to beat pretty much any game during the eighties, and a great many games during the nineties as well, this was the only way to do it.

I think the fact that this type of gameplay-loop still persisted long after the arcade’s heyday – and still exists today – clearly shows that there’s more to it than just making people throw more money into coin slots. It seems human beings just like the kind of challenge I described in my example above. Many of us do, anyway.

So this is it? The grind has always been there, and that’s a good thing? Well, not quite.

The grind we encounter in a lot of games today is missing a key element: the aforementioned challenge to progress further than last time.

We don’t do our dailies or fight our monsters again and again because we didn’t manage to beat them before. We do it because the games withhold our rewards if we don’t. Rewards, I might add, that didn’t even exist in games of old. I guess in the end it’s a matter of taste which kind of grind is the worse one – or better one.

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Yes, yes, I’ll do what you’re all asking…again

Anyhow, MMOs aren’t to blame for the latter kind of grind either. Endless slaughtering of non-challenging mobs just to level up has been around for ages, for example. Whether you played Final Fantasy, Ultima or any other RPG, chances are you’ve encountered a boss you just couldn’t beat at some point, so you had to go and get some levels before you tried again. Or how about killing the same bosses over and over for specific loot drops in Borderlands or Diablo?

This is getting kinda long, so I’ll try to get to the point.

The way I see it there’s always been grindy mechanics in video games. Some are specifically meant to keep us playing and paying, but most of them are mainly there because we actually like doing repetitive tasks and/or running against walls until we finally overcome them.

The former type is found in pretty much every MMO out there, yes, which is no wonder since those are and always have been about keeping people engaged and playing for a long time. But they definitely didn’t invent that stuff. I wish people would stop making that false argument to cast a poor light on the genre for whatever reason.

Galactic supremacy achieved

After a couple of abandoned matches where we were trying to figure stuff out we finally managed to finish (i.e. win) our first Stellaris campaign the other night. Today I’ll share some impressions and opinions.

I recently read an article that had the TL;DR at the top, and I quite liked that, so here it is:

Stellaris is a 4X strategy game in space, and it’s pretty great fun. Some systems need a bit of work still, but overall I highly recommend it.

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50 years into the match. Lakisa’s lilac, I’m red, and this is a small galaxy

Getting started wasn’t quite as easy as I’d hoped. This is a complex game, and while you’re given the choice between a ‘just the basics, please’ and a ‘full’ tutorial, I felt even the full one didn’t help all that much. As you can see there’s a lot of stuff on the screen, and the UI definitely takes getting used to.

It was fun from the get go though, and we deemed it worthy to put in the effort. After a couple hours of trial and error (and googling) we got the hang of it, and things started to get interesting. The CPU expands aggressively, so the just explore and colonize part of the match was over rather quickly and we needed to ready ourselves for war.

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Mixed fleet with my very first battleship overseeing the back line

I like that the devs put so much effort into making the game look good up close. All that’s lacking is an option to turn off the UI. You don’t spend much time zoomed in this far however, and even if you do you can’t really intervene much. The battles basically play out by themselves.

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Watching them is worth it for the lightshow alone though

Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how you look at it – going to war isn’t as easy as sending your fleet anywhere and letting it rip. You can’t even touch other empire’s ships or planets unless you have officially declared war on them, and you have to specify war goals when doing so. Once you’re at war both parties suffer from ever growing war exhaustion. Once yours is at 100% the opposing side can force you to surrender after a while, even if you’re not finished yet and might even have the upper hand in terms of military strenght. It’s a lot to learn and get used to.

This isn’t a bad thing as it makes matters more strategic, but it surely prolongs the duration of a match considerably because you can’t just build the biggest fleet and steamroll the galaxy in one fell swoop.

If you think managing your fleets is the only thing demanding your attention, think again.

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A medium sized planet in the thick of its development

Managing your home planet, colonies and, over time, planets you have conquered is another whole game in itself. You need to make sure there’s enough housing and amenities (seriously) available for your ever growing population, as well as jobs for everyone. Oh boy, the jobs. The game basically goes for hyper realism here I feel, because unemployment becomes the biggest threat to your empire as the match progresses, much more so than any opposing fleet ever could.

Jobs are provided by districts and buildings you construct, which is great because that way you can suit a planet’s production to your empire’s needs. If you want to build large fleets, for example, you need huge amounts of alloys, so you build Alloy Foundries for your citizens to work in which refine raw minerals into said alloys. If you want to speed up your research you build Research Labs, and so on.

The catch is that the maximum amount of districts and buildings is restricted, and your population grows and grows and grows. Even worse off are conquered planets whose native population is treated as slaves and can’t be used for advanced jobs at all.

Lakisa and I had one revolt each during the course of this game. Multiple planets splintered off our empires and declared war on us, which was quite a nuisance. Obviously just ignoring rising unemployment isn’t really an option. To be honest, I still have no idea how to tackle that problem properly. Like I said, realism.

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200 years in we’d conquered almost the whole galaxy…almost

We managed to get everything back under control and defeat the remaining NPC empires. The last one required some more military buildup on our part because it was a Fallen Empire which do not expand but have very powerful fleets, but given our combined economical strenght we came up on top easily.

Since no other empires were left and we’d agreed to work together from beginning to the end we were basically finished, yet decided to continue for a while just to see what else might happen. After all we’d not reached year 2500 yet, and the game was set to declare a winner at that point. We also wanted to experiment with some more game systems.

I’d researched the Colossus technology too late to try the ship – basically a Death Star – on one of our opponent’s planets (and Dantooine was too remote to make an effective demonstration), so I tested it on one of Lakisa’s planets. After saving the game of course.

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A disturbance in the force all right

That thing “only” wipes the world clean of infrastructure and population alike, the planet itself can be re-colonized afterwards. Pretty effective…and scary.

Meanwhile Lakisa finished building her first Megastructure, a Ring World.

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This may well be one possible solution for the overpopulation problem

Other than that not much happened until year 2470…

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Feeding ground?? Time to teach you some manners, newcomer

A dimensional portal appeared in one of my systems, and out came fleet after fleet of these blue guys. For a couple of weeks it looked like they were just sitting there waiting for us to attack them, but then they started to spread out in all directions, easily taking systems as they went.

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To have a fighting chance at all we had to retrofit all of our fleets because theirs were specifically fit to do as much armor and hull damage as possible and had very strong shields, so our ships needed to counter that. Refitting and building some more ships took some time though, and we lost many systems until we were finally ready to fight back.

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Unbidden…I’ve never seen a more fitting name for a faction

Even with our counter-fit fleets it wasn’t easy to reign them in. As you can see they’d spread out quite a bit, and their reinforcements kept coming. With combined efforts we finally pushed them back and took a foothold right next to the dimensional portal. From then on any fleet coming through was obliterated instantly, which gave us the breathing room needed to mop up the rest of them. While we retook system after system we discovered that they’d not just conquerered the inhabited worlds, they’d destroyed them. So they get to use a real Death Star and I don’t? Pff…

Once we took their last system we’d officially overcome the endgame crisis.

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Shortly after we reached year 2500 and I was declared winner, mainly because I’d done quite a bit more research over the course of the game and also destroyed a couple more endgame crisis ships. Could have gone the other way, really, and it didn’t matter anyway since we’d worked together all the way.

So that was our first full game of Stellaris. It’s a really fun game if you like this kind of thing. It’s not for the impatient though, nor for the time-strapped. A match takes a lot of hours, especially when you’re still learning all the things. As long as it’s fun that’s not a bad thing though, right?

Oh, and it’s also pretty funny, I almost forgot to mention that. Many of the dialogues are written very tongue in cheek, and I’ve had a lot of laughs.

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So yeah, totally recommended.

I love scavenger hunts in MMOs

For the better part of two weeks I’ve sunk quite a lot of time into the Traces of the Black Spirit event in Black Desert Online. It asked players to visit five of the game’s cities and find and examine 20 traces the Black Spirit had left in each of them.

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What do you mean, you didn’t see anyone? Fell asleep while on duty, did you?

At first I didn’t think much of it gameplay-wise. I intended to do it mainly for the rewards, specifically the Advice of Valks (+80) you could earn by finding at least 80 traces total, an item greatly helping with enhancing stuff to high levels.

My plan was to look around and find as many as I can for a while and, once I’d grown tired of that, use a video guide someone would surely have created by then to collect the rest.

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The Heidel Herald reports: Multiple Acts Of Vandalism Around Town

However, as it turned out the folks at Pearl Abyss knew full well that most players would opt to go the lazy route, so they’d decided to make things a littler harder: The traces changed locations every day!

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Apparently the cleaning personnel has been working double shifts

I guess there were about 40 possible locations in each town, so if you didn’t manage to find all 20 on the same day – and I sure didn’t – there was quite a bit of searching to do. It did get tedious at times, especially once you’d found 15 or more in one place, making it ever harder to remember where exactly you’d found them and where you might not need to look anymore.

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It’s Getting Worse – Now The Culprit Is Using Waterproof Markers

While that probably doesn’t sound like a lot of fun it actually was, at least to me. It shouldn’t have surprised me either because I’ve always liked scavenger hunt type quests in the games I’ve played.

The main reason for this is that they make me look at those worlds with different eyes. When I have to search for something I see so much stuff I’d never noticed before.

It’s a testament to the enthusiasm and love for detail game designers incorporate into their work. For example, have a closer look at the topmost screenshot’s uncropped version (click to enlarge):

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Hello?!? Jeez, I think his lance is the only thing that keeps him upright

I definitely hadn’t noticed those barrels full of swords, the sword rack or the toolbox before, nor the stabilizing crossbars running beneath the walking planks.

Now, I get that those details aren’t there to be actively noticed and admired – though the person who made them would certainly appreciate it. They mainly serve as props to give the scenery more believability and realism, and as far as I’m concerned they do a hell of a job.

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Why is all that stuff lying around here? Someone call the safety officer!

Over the years I’ve participated in quite a lot of scavenger hunt types of content, and they’ve always had this effect of fleshing out the world and making it feel more real to me.

I cannot even count the quests that made me trek all over Norrath to look for hidden doodads in Everquest II. The most notorious ones are probably the dragon language quest I already talked about and Knights in the Round, which had you collect 50 (!) statues scattered across the game’s already pretty huge world at that point in time.

The hunt for Datacrons in SWTOR kind of falls into the same category, although finding those often wasn’t the challenging part, but actually getting to them. I’ve heard a lot about jumping puzzles in GW2 and how much some people loathe them. Well, at least the jumping mechanics in GW2 are, you know, good. I’ve always wondered how Jedi, bounty hunters and the like even survive, let alone do their jobs properly while being as stiff and nonathletic as an arthritic 80 year old. Snark aside though, it was still fun, and the stubborn controls added to the challenge.

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WoW called – it wants its trademarked giant shoulderpads back

A Halloween event in APB Reloaded made players look for (and shoot) pumpkins for various rewards. Not only did I see some funny graffitis and other details I’d missed before, I even found some really good hiding spots I hadn’t been aware of. So in a way the event had a lasting impact on my normal gameplay.

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Obviously not this one, hiding behind pillars always ends badly

While we’re in non-MMO territory, the GTA series always had boatloads of collectibles to find, and San Andreas was the title where I spent the most time looking for them. I sprayed over rival gang graffitis in Los Santos, made photos of specific places in San Fierro, collected horseshoes in Las Venturas and went pearl diving in the ocean. The worlds of Rockstar Games games (heh) are always brimming with detail and atmosphere, so it’s no surprise that I stumbled upon more funny stuff while doing this than I can recount.

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GTA V, meanwhile, has the most stunning views on offer

This particular BDO event lasted for three weeks, but I had found all 100 traces towards the end of week two. It was a lot of fun, but I’m also glad that I now don’t have to be quite as focused while playing anymore.

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Time to stretch my legs. Why isn’t there a sun lounger up here? Clearly a design oversight!

Sometimes I’m close to giving up when doing these scavenger hunts, especially when there’s a huge number of things to find. Like I said, it can get tedious. But I usually pull through, not only because I want the rewards, but also because I like the feeling of satisfaction when I’m done.

Besides, who knows what other secrets I might uncover if I just keep looking?