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.

2019_BD1
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.

2019_EVE
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.

2019_PoE
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.

2019_EQ2
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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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.

Diablo_Fire
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.

Diablo_AzureDrake
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.

Diablo_KSoH
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?

92!

Not very long ago I talked about having reached level 91 in Path of Exile, a level I’d never thought I might achieve in that game. Well…

PoE_Lvl92

Unfortunately there was so much going on – as you can see – that I didn’t manage to press the screenshot button while the golden beam of light announcing my awesomeness was still…err…beaming.

Anyway, the build is still a lot of fun, and the XP bar still keeps on moving. Not quite finished yet…

IntPiPoMo picture count: 1 (this post); 27 (total)

Quo vadis, Blizzard?

I initially didn’t want to talk about this, and now I’m way late to the party. I realized that I need to get it out of my system though, so here goes. There will be bits of strong language in this one.

Seriously Blizzard, what the fuck?

I’m of course talking about BlizzCon and Blizzard’s unfathomable decision to present Diablo Immortal, a title for mobile devices, during the first and thus main presentation on their ‘mythic stage’ – and absolutely nothing else Diablo related.

Seriously, this is what they expected their hardcore fans, who had spent a good amount of time and money to be there, to get really excited about. It didn’t quite pan out as they seem to have imagined.

Well, who could’ve known, right? It’s not like the vast majority of people attending BlizzCon are used to playing high quality games on PC and crave only one thing: more of that, just bigger and better.

The assembled Diablo fanbase basically wanted to see one of the following things (or, preferably, all of them):

Diablo IV on PC; new content for Diablo III; a high quality remaster of Diablo II on PC.

Had Blizzard announced at least one of those after their Immortal thing, this would’ve been a wholly different story. Personally I wouldn’t have cared much about the former two, as Path of Exile sates my needs for a modern ARPG well enough, but I’d devour a good DII remaster, that’s for sure.

DII
It’s astonishing how much nostalgia fits into 800×600 pixels

This isn’t the first time Blizzard comes across as tone-deaf, indifferent and even arrogant towards their playerbase though. As I’ve said before their attitude of ‘we know better what you want than you do’ has effectively kept me from playing WoW when I maybe would’ve at least tried it out at some point otherwise.

Until now this arrogance seemed to have been limited to the people in charge of WoW, at least to me, but right now it’s hard to shake off the feeling that Blizzard as a whole has gone full ‘Shut the fuck up and just buy our shit’-mode.

You see, Starcraft II didn’t fare any better. I bought all three of its collector’s editions at the time, and I’d kill for new story missions. Instead we get more co-op heroes which, of course, cost money but add nothing storywise.

SC2
One of many great ‘holy crap’ moments during the campaign’s missions

Overwatch seems to be the only franchise that’s still handled by people with a healthy portion of love for their own game, which is mostly to ‘Jeff from the Overwatch Team’s credit. Sure, not everything’s perfect over there either, but, again, I can at least feel some kind of connection between the makers, the game and the players here.

Its monetization though…no thanks. I unfortunately have to admit that I bought some of their lootboxes during the game’s first year, but I don’t intend to do so ever again.

Overwatch 2016-08-26 23-57-21-479
My favourite bad guy looks best sporting his default look anyway

For a long time I’ve been one of those people who said ‘Yeah, some of this is bad, but the game is fun, so I just play and ignore everything else’.

Not anymore. During the last couple of years things went from bad to worse in terms of customer friendliness, and I’ve finally decided to draw the line. From now on I’ll boycott the worst offenders.

Yes, I might miss out on some stuff, but you know what? There are other games to play – too many, in fact – and other products to use.

Blizzard and Apple are the first companies who won’t squeeze another buck out of my wallet as long as they don’t manage to genuinely convince me that they value me as a customer again. If enough people do this maybe, just maybe, things might change again.

IntPiPoMo picture count: 3 (this post); 17 (total)

Return of the Firestarter

I hadn’t played any of my non-summoner characters for quite a while in Path of Exile, the main reason being that summoners are just so much fun.

However there are some things I’d rather do with a different type of character. Also, a change of playstyle every now and then keeps things from becoming boring.

So I decided to brush the dust off my level 85 Marauder. I didn’t quite know what to do with him though. Until now I’d always just specced back into his old build that I’d used for over four years and that was quite fun. Unfortunately that build isn’t really viable in today’s endgame content. A couple months ago I tried to do the Eternal Labyrinth with him and couldn’t even beat the first Izaro fight due to lack of damage output.

I did what I always do in this situation: I went to the Classes / Builds forums and browsed various build guides looking for an inspiration. My old build had had a fire theme going and I really wanted to retain that, so I specifically looked out for builds using Molten Strike, a skill that was introduced after I had settled on Infernal Blow back in the day, which seems to be a strong choice if you want to go melee in the current meta.

After a while I stumbled upon a build that not only sounded pretty strong and fun to play, it also utilizes two copies of a unique weapon I just recently found when I killed the Elder (for the first time even): Nebuloch.

PoE_Nebuloch1
I’d rather bugger off than let that thing hit me. Yuck!

When I found it I thought “Well, the bonuses are nice and all, but no way I’m working around that drawback, how’s that even possible?”. Which again shows that I’m not very good at theory crafting, because of course it’s possible. Did I mention that the build dual-wields those bad boys?

The trick is to use items and skill tree abilities that give you a truckload of passive life regeneration in combination with a high fire resistance (which mitigates a lot of that damage, a fact I hadn’t even thought of). That way you can fully benefit from those nice bonuses and don’t even notice the drawback.

So I went to work. Building the passive tree was easy enough, but almost all of the character’s items and gems had to be replaced, and since I don’t have everything the guide suggests at my disposal (and some pieces are quite expensive to trade for too) I had to find substitutions. For starters it works pretty well though. He regenerates almost 600 life per second at the moment, while taking a maximum of about 336 damage per second from Nebuloch.

What I also had to do was complete the Labyrinth once to change his Ascendancy class. He was a Juggernaut before, but for this build the Chieftain is the class of choice.

PoE_Nebuloch4
I am the god of hellfire, and I bring you…

In hindsight it would’ve also been the class of choice for my old build, but, yeah. I’m bad.

For changing your Ascendancy it doen’t matter which difficulty you run the lab on, so I went for Cruel, which is level 55. Although the build is far from finished it went without problems.

And I have to say, Molten Strike really is a great skill. It’s strenght is that while it’s a single target skill it also has an AoE-component in the form of magma balls covering the ground near the initial impact, which can also hit your main target for extra damage. This makes it equally great for clearing packs and killing bosses, you don’t actually need two different skills. I just swap out one support gem depending on the situation.

PoE_Nebuloch2
This is the more-AoE-setup, obviously.

Now I also have a couple of specific goals to persue: get a second Nebuloch, get the rings and a couple of other items suggested in the guide, beat Eternal Lab for those last two ascendancy points.

And get a good looking skin for the maces. Nebuloch doesn’t have it’s own 3D art yet, and the default one-handed mace looks pretty unimpressive even with a fire effect applied to it:

PoE_Nebuloch3
Big man, short…stick.

I’m having much fun already and have done maps up to tier 6 without problems. I’m looking forward to playing the build in it’s full glory. Thanks to FJ for the great guide!

Reaching new heights

The other day this happened in Path of Exile:

PoE_Lvl91

This is the highest level any of my PoE characters has ever reached. I used to regard level 88 or so as ‘max level’ for my characters, with 90 as a distant, long-time (but rather unrealistic) goal.

How different things can look when you have a build that’s powerful enough to make tier 8+ maps a breeze and sturdy enough to die only very rarely. Sky’s the limit, hell yeah!

Reaching level 90 a while ago was an even bigger milestone for me though, because that was an alltime-record in more than one regard: highest level in PoE, but also highest level in any ARPG ever.

My most played and highest-level character before PoE was my Sorceress in Diablo II.

Diablo2_Sorc
Rocking Tal Rasha’s Wrappings, one of DII’s high-end sets

I played in ‘Closed Battle.Net’ which means that the characters were saved server-side instead of client-side, and if you didn’t log in they were deleted after three months. I obviously failed to do so at some point, and that was that. Made me pretty sad to be honest, but it had become quite a chore to log in all those characters regularly (I had three accounts full of mules alone), and I didn’t really play anymore at the time. Oh well.

Anyway, level 89 had already been a pretty huge achievement for me, although a big round 90 would’ve looked much better of course.

Now I got that 90, and even surpassed it by one. We’ll see how far this can go.

A new flavour of summoner

Yeah, I couldn’t resist for long. Alongside Path of Exile’s new challenge league came quite a few changes to the passive tree, so as I had expected we all got a free reset. I seized that opportunity to change my Incursion-character’s build to a different kind of summoner centered around the unique helmet The Baron.

PoE_Baron
Live and let die indeed seems like a good PoE-motto to me

As you can see having as much strenght as possible is the name of the game. It gives you more zombies, boost your minions’ melee-damage, and if you manage to hit 1k strenght your zombies’ attacks leech life to you.

The summoner build I played until now was rather squishy and I died more often than I would have liked, so I definitely wanted that last bonus. It’s not easy to get that much of any one stat though. Fortunately the game provides a bunch of different means to get there.

Wearing items with strenght on them is obviously the most straightforward way.

PoE_STRitems

Rare items are utilized to provide much needed life and resists, since those are in scant supply on most unique items. The uniques give significant bonuses to strenght, but also supplement the build nicely with an additional skeleton, life regeneration as well as a lot of dexterity and intelligence.

The latter is important because in order to level up all skill and support gems used in the build the other two stats can’t be neglected. Especially intelligence needs some love considering that a couple of the passive tree jewels also used to reach 1k strenght do this at its expense:

PoE_Strenght
Need…more…strenght!!!

I’m just over 1k now with enough int and dex to make everything work. The life leech from the zombies is very noticable and makes surviving much easier, as does the fact that I’m wearing actual armor instead of energy shield items this time around.

Offensively the build absolutely rocks. I have 13 zombies and a maximum of 12 skeletons. Since I summon three skellies with each cast I’m at the maximum pretty quickly, and their damage output is tremendous. The zombies are socketed into The Baron, the skeletons into a five-link chest, so there’s still room for improvement. The fact that I leveled from 87 1/2 to 89 in just two days is a testament to the clearspeed the build already has in it’s current state.

Also helping with that are the spectres that I use. Monkeypower!

PoE_Monkeys
I call them Bud and Terrence

They don’t do much damage by themselves, but that’s not their purpose anyway. One uses a warcry that gives frenzy charges to surrounding allies, making them run and attack faster as well as do more damage, the other’s warcry gives power charges which increase crit chance. When supported with a Blood Magic gem, which makes a skill cost life instead of mana, they spam their warcries constantly as long as there are enemies in range.

PathOfExile_x64 2018-09-26 14-08-22-404
My army and me, pumped to the eyeballs with charges

The build is so much fun to play! It still has all aspects that I find great about summoners, namely that I don’t need to kill the monsters all by myself, yet I still have my hands full with directing and supporting my minions. Sure, in lower level areas I can casually stroll about and watch everything around me die, but on high level maps I have to be on the ball and can still die myself if I’m not careful.

What the build doesn’t have is the clunkiness and rather slow ramp up that my previous iterations of summoners had. I’m really happy with it.

Here’s her passive tree at level 89 with all points spent:

PathOfExile_28-09-18_BaronLvl89