Blaugust Promptapalooza incoming

In light of the rather trying cirmumstances we all find ourselves in this year the regular Blaugust event was rescheduled to April, which was great, but left us with the question of what to do come August.

Belghast, reliable as ever, had another great idea though. As being asked to post for thirty-one days straight is quite trying for many – even if it’s voluntary, the pressure to deliver is kinda there once you’ve signed up – we’ll not do that a second time within half a year. This time around we’ll pass the torch on a day by day basis. Enter Blaugust Promptapalooza.

Prompta2020

On July 31st Bel himself will start the event by offering a prompt to write about a certain topic to the blogging community, and he’ll also present his own thoughts about said topic to us. Towards the end of his post the next day’s participant will be revealed by him, who in turn will give us his own prompt on August 1st, and so on.

If the suspense of who’s gonna post when is killing you already, fret not, for it ain’t a secret at all:

I think this is a really great idea, maybe even better than ‘normal’ Blaugust, because it creates more interaction between us, more cross-linking and -promoting, and it also gives us all a plethora of, well, prompts for topics to write about.

Can’t wait to read it all and to chime in!

If you’d like to hear from the man himself about his idea behind the event, here’s the original post.

New gaming rig ordered

I built my current PC in January 2015. It was the first time I could afford to spend more than my usual 1000-1200€ for the whole thing (Monitor and other peripherals excluded). I was really looking forward to having a high-end machine that, hopefully, would be able to run current games at max details for years to come without the need for further upgrades.

I ended up spending about 2000€, and my plan has worked out beautifully. To this day I haven’t had to replace or expand anything, and it still runs everything I play pretty well.

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It even looks like new if you don’t get too close

So why a new rig then? Well, there’s actually not one single main reason but more like lots of little ones that, added up, have become a pain in the butt lately.

The 500GB SSD I run Windows and the most important software and games on is constantly full, so every time I want to install a new game I have to uninstall something else first. Of course I could buy another one, but now that we have NVMe I feel money spent on a SATA SSD would be kind of wasted.

16GB RAM don’t cut it anymore either. I run multiple game clients at the same time quite often, which, together with browser, voice chat and all the other stuff that’s constantly running in the background fills up the memory rather quickly. Some games even manage to claim it all by themselves and still wanting more (looking at you, Cities: Skylines). For over four years I had the Windows swap file deactivated, but I eventually had to turn it back on, and I don’t like it.

I’m also still running Windows 7. What can I say, I’m a big fan of ‘Never change a running system’. I’ll have to switch to Win 10 sooner rather than later though, obviously, but I just can’t be bothered to do it on my old machine when I know that I don’t want to use it for much longer.

Then there’s the usual small stuff like fans not running smoothly anymore and thus making more noise than they once did, or the fact that, after more than five years, re-applying the CPU’s thermal paste is probably long overdue, but I just can’t be arsed.

Again, none of this is a biggie by itself, but all of it combined really makes me crave a new machine.

More importantly though, yes, my old PC runs every game I’m playing now just fine, but barring any more delays this will most likely change come November…

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Not only am I hopeful that Cyberpunk 2077 will be an awesome game, I absolutely want to be able to play it on the highest settings without the slightest hint of framedrops or stuttering. So yeah, need moar power!

After spending quite some time researching what’s currently out there these are the components I’ve settled on and ordered yesterday – keep in mind though that this is by no means a recommendation to buy that stuff as I’m far from being an expert, it’s just what (hopefully) works best for my needs and budget right now.

CPU

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AMD Ryzen 9 3900X

A lot has been talked about AMD’s new generation of CPUs, and while they aren’t perfect the performance you get for the price is just phenomenal. I got this 12-core beast for just over 400€, and since the boxed cooler is said to be pretty efficient and also looks quite nice I won’t even have to spend another 30-60€ on a better one.

Mainboard

PC_mainboard

Gigabyte X570 Aorus Ultra

At almost 300€ this is by far the most expensive mainboard I’ve ever bought, and it’s mainly due to the fact that third gen Ryzen CPUs don’t run on boards with an older chipset unless you flash the BIOS to a newer version – which you can’t do without having a working CPU installed. As I said above, they aren’t quite perfect.

I do get more bang for my bucks than just native support for the CPU though, like PCIe 4.0, three M.2 slots and high-quality sound-, LAN- and WLAN-chips. Unfortunately all X570 boards – except for one with a 700€ price tag – cool their chipset with a small fan; I really hope that it isn’t too noisy.

Graphics card

None.

The thing is, I just didn’t know which one to buy.

Those I had on the short list are terribly expensive, and to make matters worse Nvidia is expected to release their new cards later this year, so buying one now doesn’t seem like a good idea. Hence I’m going to wait for a bit and continue to use my GeForce GTX 980 in the meantime. Hopefully current cards’ prices will drop some once the RTX 3080 is out, then I’ll decide what to do.

RAM

PC_RAM

32GB G.Skill DDR4 PC 3600 CL18 KIT (2x16GB) 32GTZR Tri/RGB

Why do so many PC-components have names you need a dictionary for? Anyway, as pretty much everything in my new rig will be able to glow in RGB I thought my RAM should too. 32GB is a given, and I decided to go for dual- instead of quad-channel this time to save two slots for a possible upgrade at a later point (my current machine has 4x4GB, which is why an upgrade wasn’t really feasible).

SSD

PC_SSD

Corsair Force MP600 1TB

When I have to pay for a PCIe 4.0 mainboard anyway I’ll buy a matching SSD of course. I’m pretty anxious to see it in action.

Power Supply

PC_power

700W be quiet! System Power 9 CM

Be quiet! power supplies are a bit hard to come by at the moment, many models are out of stock everywhere I looked. I’d have preferred one with full cable management, but as the mainboard cables will all be used anyway I feel this one will do the job just fine. Going by reviews it’s efficient, quiet and has more than enough headroom for whatever graphics card I’ll eventually decide on.

HDD

4000GB WD Blue WD40EZRZ 64MB 3.5″ SATA 6GB/s

It’s a data tomb, ’nuff said.

Case

PC_case

Sharkoon Night Shark RGB

Lakisa and I both have Sharkoon cases right now and we’re pretty happy with them. They’re inexpensive yet built rather well, have a good size and weight and look quite nice. Also, cases with an external 5 1/4″ drive bay are relatively rare these days, but this has one. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m going to re-use my ancient but great Plextor PX-880SA DVD drive once again. Although I don’t actually use CDs to play music anymore I still buy music CDs quite often, so I want to be able to get the stuff into iTunes easily.

And there you have it. All in all this runs for about 1300€, with an additional 120€ for Windows 10 Home USB. The parts ought to arrive by the end of next week (as the Mainboard and the SSD aren’t in stock now but should be by Monday or Tuesday). Can’t wait.

Turning the trinity up to 11

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Why do I always have to go first again? Oh, right, “tank”…

I don’t like to break my promises, I swear (heh), but before I actually, finally, start to talk about The Secret World’s quests and story I need to rectify one glaring omission I’ve made in my posts about its skill- and gear-systems.

Since my return to the game I’ve made a couple of friends (or let’s rather say acquaintances) with whom I’ve been running some dungeons every now and then. Not only are TSW’s dungeons really great fun, doing them again also reminded me of the fact that this game allows for even more creativity when designing your class and build than I’d initially remembered.

Now, sure, the most common way to run the majority of these dungeons is the tried and true One tank, one healer, rest DPS group setup, and that’s also what the group finder looks for when assembling a team of five. The “Holy Trinity”, as it were, if the holy spirit had two siblings. However, in The Secret World even such cookie-cutter groups can vary quite a lot in how they’re set up.

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I wonder if that’s a good safespot behind the tree there…

For example, there are three really strong damage-enhancing buffs that every group wants to have. Usually one DPS player provides two of those (locking that character into a Pistol/Shotgun weapon loadout) and another one the third, but it’s just as viable to split them up between three players, and if needed even the tank or, in a pinch, the healer can fit one into their builds. Of course no good group strictly needs these buffs, but they’re obviously very nice to have, and I really like having the freedom to puzzle out a solution that works for each new team composition.

Also quite important for how a group operates is which kind of healer it has. Technically there are three different flavours of healing, namely Blood Magic for barriers and a little direct healing, Fists for strong direct healing and HoTs, and Assault Rifles for leeching, i.e. healing for a percentage of the damage one does.

In reality though there are just two basic types of healers: ‘full healers’ that mainly use Fists and may or may not choose Blood Magic as their secondary skillset, and ‘leechers’ who use an Assault Rifle and, again, may or may not have a Blood Magic focus in their off-hand.

TSW_Trinity3
If you keep this up no kind of healing will do you any good, mate

Full healers are very powerful and can heal pretty much anything when geared and specced right, meaning that as long as no one gets one-shot, no one dies. Additionally they don’t care much about boss abilities like shields or damage-reflect because they can build their resources without hitting anything and thus just keep on healing however long it takes. The downside is that they deal no damage whatsoever.

Leechers are quite the opposite. They need to shoot stuff to build their resources and, more importantly, they need to deal damage to actually heal anyone. This obviously puts more strain on that player as they need to always be in range of and have line of sight to a) the player(s) they want to heal and b) a mob to hit. If the target has a shield or ability that reduces incoming damage a leecher also heals less and thus has to have some kind of ace up their sleeve for situations like that. This is even more true for some bosses who get a reflect-shield under certain conditions as everyone needs to stop attacking those altogether the instant the shield goes up if they don’t want to kill themselves.

By the way, the whole leeching-mechanic is made feasible by allowing players to have two targets selected at the same time, one friend and one enemy. Whatever hurty stuff you do is unleashed on your offensive target, whereas all buffs, heals etc. go to your defensive target. It’s another of TSW’s great little ideas I wish more MMORPGs had adopted.

The huge advantage a leecher brings to a group, the bigger and possibly much desired challenge for that player aside, is additional damage output equal to, sometimes even greater than a fourth DPS player.

TSW_Trinity4
There are times when you just need to deal all the damage

This is all fine and dandy, but until now we’ve yet to leave the confines of a ‘normal’ group composition. So, what if that’s all gotten boring and you want to mix it up and would also like a bigger challenge still? Well, how about trying yourself at heal-tanking?

Yep, that’s a thing. The idea behind it is that a healer builds up a lot of hate and is notoriously prone to draw aggro anyway, especially of newly spawned adds and such, so why not use this to the group’s advantage and let the healer tank altogether?

This is made possible, once again, by the game’s extremely flexible skill-system. You see, a tank in TSW keeps aggro mainly by slotting a passive ability named Agitator.

TSW_Trinity5

This beautifully simple – and obviously very strong – effect makes it a must-have for any tank. But, as is true for every passive in the game, anyone can use it. All you need is to have it unlocked and one free passive slot.

There’s a bit more to heal-tanking than using Agitator of course, like having more hit points than a normal healer, some defensive stats and a couple more bells and whistles, but basically it’s what it says on the tin: tanking by healing, and healing while tanking. And just like that your group has a free spot for another DPS or whomever else you want to take along.

TSW_Trinity6
Sometimes a severe beating is all that’s called for

Still not enough? Enter the leech-tank.

By now you can easily deduce what this is: a heal-tank who heals by shooting stuff. Or, in other words, it’s a tank, a healer and a full-fledged DPS player all in one neat package.

I saw a video once where a group of three players led by a leech-tank beat the New York raid. That raid is actually meant for ten (!) people, has aggro-swap mechanics (meaning that you need at least two players with some tank abilities) and all kinds of other nasty stuff. Mind you, this was before rising gear-levels made that raid much easier. And what do you know, the video’s actually still up on YouTube:

Unfortunately this isn’t from the leech-tank’s point of view, but it’s still impressive if you know that fight. It looks kind of easy, but I assure you it’s not.

Personally I have never done such extreme things, and it still boggles my mind how stuff like that is even possible. But it is, and this is one more reason why I love games so much that offer loads of freedom in how to play them and tackle the challenges they present us with. Amongst all MMORPGs I’ve played The Secret World clearly takes the crown in that category.

Clothes make the man – but not the stats

TSW_Gear1

The Secret World did a lot of things differently than its contemporaries. Of course different doesn’t necessarily mean better, but one of the design choices that truly seemed like a stroke of genius to me at the time – and still does – was to entirely separate player characters’ looks from their stats.

Sure, pretty much every MMORPG provides some sort of wardrobe system nowadays, but most I’ve fiddled around with require exactly that – a lot of fiddling around. There always seem to be some caveats too, like certain consumables being necessary to convert stat items into appearance items, limited wardrobe space (until you buy more, of course) or other inconveniences.

TSW went a completely different route from the start. It’s quite simple and elegant, really. There are stat items and there are clothing items. With the exception of weapons you never get to see the former on your character, and the latter will never have an impact on your (combat-) performance whatsoever.

TSW_Gear2
Wait…where was I when the 3rd anniversary t-shirt van came by?

Clothing items don’t take up space in your inventory either, they go directly to the corresponding tab of your Dressing Room. As far as I’m aware there’s no limit to the amount of clothing you can store. I have lots and lots of stuff to choose from and can swap around at will knowing that my stats won’t be affected in any way.

TSW_Gear3
Which comes in handy during full moon, let me tell you

The bulk of your stats, on the other hand, comes from talismans. They’re called rings, bracelets, belts etc., but you won’t ever see them on your avatar.

Just like the skill system gearing your character is a rather complex and unfortunately not very intuitive matter, but once you’ve dug into it you can tweak your stats just so to make your build work the way it’s supposed to.

At least the weapons are very simple at a basic level. They only have one intrinsic stat, Weapon Power; the higher that score, the more damage all attacks done with that weapon deal.

Additionally you can wear a total of seven talismans, with each of them boosting one of your three main stats: Attack Power, Healing Power or Health. Here you ‘just’ need to find the right ratio for your build. For instance, if you’re going to be a tank you’ll want to have enough HP to give your healer a chance to keep you alive, but not more than absolutely necessary as you’ll also need to deal some damage to hold aggro. An effective solo-build might even utilize a mix of all three stats to kill stuff and stay alive while doing so.

Of course these aren’t the only stats you need to think about. Each talisman and weapon also has a slot for a Glyph and another for a Signet, which is where things get complicated.

Glyphs add well known RPG-stats like chance to hit, crit chance, crit power, evasion, block and stuff like that to the talisman or weapon you slot it in. Unfortunately the game does a very poor job at teaching you how to actually weigh these. Oh, sure, in order to do damage I obviously need my attacks to hit their target. But how much chance to hit do I really need? How exactly do block, evasion and defence work, and how much of each should a tank have?

Signets add even more complexity, as most of them don’t give a flat bonus but some kind of proc. For example, the Signet of Breaching I use in my sword adds “When you penetrate a target you make that target take 16% more damage from further penetrating hits for 7 seconds”. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But how much penetration rating do I need to a) actually proc this reliably and b) make the most of the damage bonus it gives?

To be honest, while gearing up as a tank for Nightmare-dungeons I relied very heavily on some great theorycrafters’ expertise who’d posted their findings on the forums, primarily this very thorough guide (still worth a read if you play or have ever played the game).

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Known for our inconspicuous appearance we were not

So, just like with the skill system, the game should definitely have done a much better job at explaining things, and the failure to do so is most likely one of the reasons why it wasn’t a big success.

But, also just like the skill system, once I’d weathered the initial storm of bewilderment and wrapped my head around it all I had so much fun gearing up my various builds, getting the different talismans and chasing the right Signets – I really think it was more than worth it to persevere.

TSW_Gear5
Who do I want to be today?

Being able to swap your whole build – skills, augments, gear, everything – at the touch of a button is the icing on the cake of course. I’ve never much liked being locked into a specific role at character creation, but even MMORPGs that didn’t do that, Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies come to mind, at least made me level up my new skills or professions the hard way every time I’ve swapped. TSW lets me keep everything I’ve unlocked once forever, and I can now run one dungeon as a tank, the next as a healer and then do a scenario as a Jack of all trades no problem.

Doesn’t this take away some of a character’s identity though? Maybe a little bit, yeah. But I feel my character expresses most of his identity by way of his looks, and he also uses his trusty blade as the main hand weapon for most of his builds anyway, so a common theme is still there.

In any case, of all character- and gear-progression systems I’ve experienced this was and remains one of my favourites.

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Just another day at the office…what, you don’t have a killer-bunny colleague too?

Next time around I’ll finally talk about the game’s outstanding quest design, as promised.