Farewell to Wildstar and other MMO news

So I come home from a 12-day vacation and the MMO-gaming world has pretty much turned on it’s head. Huh.

Pearl Abyss is buying CCP Games. Since I play EVE Online and intend to continue to do so I hope this will be good for the game. There’s much doom and gloom going round of course. I prefer to share Wilhelm’s more upbeat view. Also, in my opinion Black Desert’s cash shop isn’t as P2W-heavy as many people claim it to be. I didn’t aim for being competitive in PVP though, so what do I know. We’ll see.

A billionaire doctor has invested in Daybreak. Any news concerning Everquest II that’s not decidedly good news makes me very nervous right now. I just fell in love with the game again and would very much like to make up for lost time as long as I can. A shutdown announcement would be heartbreaking. Bhagpuss is cautiously optimistic, and I hope he’s right.

Speaking of shutdowns, the time has come for Wildstar. Unlike others who said their farewells I’ve never played it, but it makes me sad nonetheless.

The game was on my radar since I first saw it’s brilliant gamescom ’11 trailer. It’s funny, it’s action-packed, it has Sci-Fi and Western style…it’s basically Firefly. What’s not to like?

Wildstar
Well, ok, Firefly with WoW-sized shoulderpads

Obviously a render trailer like that doesn’t tell you anything about how a game actually plays. Once details about the general gameplay direction became known I started to doubt if this was going to be a game for me: a themepark with action combat and ‘hardcore endgame’. This is what the devs themselves said about their raids:

How hardcore are our raids? So hardcore that they floss with BARBED WIRE!!!

Okaaaay.

Despite my fondness of playing solo I do like raids. The more people the better. I went from 24-man raids in EQII to 8-man raids in SWTOR and was like ‘this is no raid, this is a group with two extra people’.

My EQII raiding days have taught me one thing though: it’s hard to find enough players of compatible playstyles, skill levels, goals and schedules for raid groups that big. Even if you do find those people, keeping them all engaged and happy for a period of time isn’t just hard…it’s fricking impossible.

So how does the prospect of 40-man raids with super high difficulty sound? Awesome in theory if you do like that sort of thing, but very much at odds with reality.

Once I had read about ‘attunement‘ I definitely knew Wildstar was not for me.

It’s a shame, because I would have very much liked to at least check out it’s player housing. More than a few call it the best they’ve experienced.

Which makes me wonder, again, who exactly the game was meant for.

I have never, ever, met a player whom I’d call at least semi-hardcore who was into housing and other kinds of ‘fluff’. Those people want their game’s devs to do one thing only: design more dungeons and raids. Everything else is deemed a waste of time and resources. From their point of view it’s understandable.

Statistics show that they are a minority though. A vocal minority for sure, but still a minority. Enough to pay the bills for a AAA MMO? Apparently not.

And so it goes. It’s sad because the game has a lot going for it. I think I’d have liked the setting, style, music and non-hardcore features very much.

Farewell Wildstar.

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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.

Screens_BD

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.

Screens_Destiny2

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

Screens_EQ2

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

Screens_EVE

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?

Screens_Arkham

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.

Screens_GTAV

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

So much to play, so little time

You might have noticed that I tend to be very enthusiastic about the games I play at any given time, but don’t talk about them at all anymore just a couple of months later.

Black Desert Online, for example, was my main game from December to April. I played it a lot and chronicled some of my adventures. Not anymore. Why is that?

I’m not a game-hopper per se. In fact I wholeheartedly wish I’d find a game again where I feel at home and stay with for years, as I’ve expressed before.

The thing is, whenever I actually had such a ‘home-game’ and happily played it exclusively for long stretches, I still felt I was missing out after a while because new games are released all the time. Of course not every game being released is worth my (or anyone’s) time, but even if you only count the really good ones you couldn’t possibly play them all.

Here’s an incomplete list of games, just off the top of my head, that I’ve never played but wish I had: The Witcher 2 & 3, GTA IV, Mass Effect (all of them), Resident Evil 7, Nier: Automata, Inside, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Rise of the Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, Detroid: Become Human.

At least I’ve remedied one glaring neglect a couple of years ago by finally playing the Uncharted series. If there was any doubt left that video games are works of art, these games (especially from part two onward) crushed it with a sledgehammer.

Uncharted4
Not just because of the photorealism of course, but…wow!

Right now I feel very much at home in Everquest II, and I’m super happy about that.

How long it’ll take until I feel like missing out again remains to be seen.

#firstworldproblems

My blog’s first birthday

Yeah, I missed it by a couple of days. Oops. 🙂

birthday cake 1
Have a piece of cake anyway

On June 6th 2017 I wrote my first (and second) blog post(s). I had been reading fellow gamer’s blogs for quite a while and been thinking about writing myself more than once, but never got around to it until then.

I didn’t have a specific plan in mind, just that I wanted to write about things that interest me and occupy my thoughts. My target audience: myself, first and foremost. As I said in my first post, I want to capture and hold on to events that delighted, fascinated or just amused me. If anyone happens to stumble upon my musings and finds reading them worthwhile I’m all the happier of course.

The first year yielded 34 entries, almost one entry every ten days on average. This is of course much, much less than most bloggers produce. The main reason for that is my pretty high personal threshold for what’s interesting enough to be written about. While I like to read about fairly mundane things (if it’s done in an appealing way) I very often deem stuff that happens to myself not worthy to write down. I just can’t imagine myself or anyone else being interested in reading about how I did my dailies in Path of Exile for the umpteenth time or that yesterday’s EVE Online fleet went largely uneventful. But maybe I’m just not as capable an author as the good folks whose blogs I always like to read, no matter the contents.

If I do write about something I usually use a lot words though. If WordPress offers a total wordcount of all posts combined I can’t find it, but I’d estimate that I wrote about 800 – 900 words per entry on average, which would sum up to about 29.000 words. That’s not as much as it sounds (an average novel clocks in somewhere between 50k and 100k), but if you had asked me 15 months ago if I’d be willing to blog almost 30k words within a year I would probably have declined politely but decisively.

It seems that I don’t want to talk about stuff very often, but when I do want to talk I like to be thorough (Lakisa would probably use the word ‘exhaustive’).

Unsurprisingly the majority of posts were about the games I played. 13 were at least in part about EVE Online, 10 about Black Desert Online, 4 about Overwatch and 2 about Path of Exile, which more or less reflects the time I spent playing these games during that year. 8 were about broader gaming topics like player-made music, randomness or toxicity in multiplayer environments. I haven’t talked much about non-gaming topics at all yet, but maybe I’ll get to that during this second year.

I’m really glad to have started this blog. Writing is a lot of fun, lets me practice my English and, most importantly, preserves events and experiences I might forget about otherwise. A big Thank You to all bloggers who inspired me to do this, to Lakisa for reading it all and encouraging me, and to everyone who also takes the time to read it. Cheers!

Revisiting Path of Exile (again)

During the first half of April we went on vacation. When we returned home I was looking forward to diving into gaming again, but, as is often the case after such a ‘forced break’, once I sat down at my computer I wasn’t quite feeling it. To not log in and play your MMO of choice for a couple hours a day every day for a while sometimes changes your perspective on things, it seems.

I still log into Black Desert every day to get my login goodies and Boss scrolls, but that’s pretty much it at the moment. I don’t intend to quit, but I don’t want to invest the time and energy it takes to do something substantial either. For now.

Whenever I don’t devote most of my playtime to an MMO (or several) and just want to dabble for a bit every now and then my genre of choice is the Action RPG. I fell in love with the playstyle these games offer at the start of 1997 when I sunk ungodly amounts of time into the first Diablo. Since about four years ago my favourite ARPG is Path of Exile.

I started playing after I had watched a trailer for its first expansion, Sacrifice of the Vaal, which I quite liked. That many people dubbed PoE the ‘true’ successor to Diablo II, which I loved and still love, sealed the deal for me.

It’s indeed very obvious right from the start that the folks at Grinding Gear Games are big fans of Diablo II. Even the first thing you do after creating an account and logging in, namely choosing a class for your first character, looks and feels exactly the same.

It’s not a simple carbon copy though, far from it. What they managed to do is to take almost everything that was great about Diablo II and make it even better, perfect it and expand on it, while leaving out its (precious few) weak points.

For example, my most played and highest level character in Diablo II was a Frozen Orb/Fireball/Meteor Sorceress, but my most beloved character was a Necromancer with his army of skeletons, revived monsters and a golem. The playstyle of managing an army, supporting it with curses and other spells while focusing on staying out of harm’s way myself feels incredibly satisfying to me.

The Necro’s design wasn’t perfect though, especially concerning the minions. In PoE I can play an ‘Armymancer’ exactly the way I like, because the most glaring weaknesses the DII-Necro had are gone. When I revive monsters to fight for me they don’t vanish after a couple of minutes, so it’s actually worth it to take the time and hunt for the best possible monsters at the highest level for this. They even persist after logging out of the game nowadays! There are other minions which do have a limited lifespan, but I can do neat things with those too. I can for example place totems which then continuously spit out these minions, so I don’t have to cast them myself and can concentrate on other things.

PoE_Summoner
My Summoner-Witch in her element (sans minions, else you wouldn’t be able to see her).

PoE’s most talked about feature is the passive ability tree. Just one look at it perfectly illustrates why.

PathOfExile Skill Tree
My Summoner-build at level 88 with all available points spent.

It seems overwhelming at first, but you get used to and comfortable with it pretty quickly.

What it indeed does is give you a lot of flexibility to build your character of choice. In a lot of games such perceived flexibility often turns out to be pretty fake in reality because there’s just one or two ‘optimal’ paths. By not choosing one of those you’d gimp yourself, and who would want that?

With this passive tree you can fully play to your build’s strenghts, iron out weaknesses and/or let it do things that it otherwise could not. Above all it makes the character your very own. I’m pretty sure there exists no other Witch with this exact same passive tree, the same items and the same skill gems. As long as you don’t copy a character from the forums or reddit to a T it will be unique, and can still be strong at the highest levels.

Graphics, sound and moment-to-moment gameplay all feel very familiar to Diablo II veterans. The 3D-engine doesn’t quite match the level of detail Blizzard managed to cram into their 2D 640×480 pixels (800×600 with the Lord of Destruction expansion), and in terms of great, spooky atmosphere nothing beats DII’s Act 2 and 3. In my opinion these two aspects are the only ones where PoE doesn’t match or surpass its unofficial predecessor though.

PathOfExile Spectres
To be fair, PoE has some pretty creepy monster design. Fortunately these guys follow MY lead now!

Now, what about the payment model?

It’s free to play and has arguably the best (while not the cheapest) item shop of them all. Not a single item in that shop has any impact on gameplay whatsoever. GGG sell exactly two categories of items there: stash tabs and eye candy.

It’s true that you will definitely want some additional stash tabs once you play the game for longer than a couple of days, but if you wait for a sale on those you can easily nab a lot of storage space for the price of a normal game – and PoE is at least worth as much, let me tell you.

The eye candy is, as always, a matter of taste and completely optional. There are a lot of really nice armor sets, weapon effects etc. on offer, but also some rather hideous ones. Since most armor and weapons found in game aren’t exactly lookers and I wanted to support GGG anyway I’ve decked my other characters out quite a bit too.

PoE_Characters
From top left clockwise: Marauder, Scion, another Witch and Shadow.

If you like ARPGs and haven’t tried out PoE yet (unlikely but possible) I strongly recommend giving it a go.

Taking crafting in BDO to the next level

Until recently my experience with crafting in Black Desert Online had been limited to cooking, alchemy and processing as described here. Processing is as simple as it gets, and while considerable preparation can be necessary for cooking and alchemy the crafting process itself is also very straightforward.

Crafting more complex products like tools, weapons, armor, merchant wagons or boats is quite a different beast. Those things aren’t actually crafted by players themselves. The correct type of workshop has to be rented with contribution points and a worker has to manufacture the item.

Every village and town has lots of properties that can be rented for a range of purposes. Almost every one can be rented as a residence (the actual ‘housing’), more storage space or worker lodging (so you can hire more workers). Only some can be used as a workshop, and not all workshops are available in every town.

Black Desert rentables
I’ve already rented the white ones, the blues I could rent next. For the grey ones I’m missing one or more prerequisite properties.

Since I started doing gathering dailies in Olvia regularly I wear out a lot of gathering tools, so I figured making my own would be a good start. There are six types of gathering tools, which are all produced in a (surprise) Tool Workshop and need mostly the same resources. Because it’s very slow to gather with level 1 tools I aimed for level 2 tools from the start.

The main materials for all of those are Steel and Black Stone Powder. The former is made out of Coal and Melted Iron Shards in a workshop called Mineral Workbech, the latter needs Rough Stone and is crafted in a Refinery. Some tools also need Maple Timber, and the butchering and tanning knives need Hard Hide on top of that.

Luckily I have followed this video guide from Morrolan about lucrative worker nodes for quite a while now, so I already had a lot of resources lying around.

Black Desert produce
This is just my warehouse in Velia. Almost 8k Iron Ore came in handy now, but I could also serve lots of chicken wings on scrambled eggs should the need arise…

Melted Iron Shards are an intermediate material made by processing Iron Ore.

Black Desert heating
Melting iron while Spike, my cat, seems to have scented a mouse or something.

I also had a lot of Coal and Maple Timber already in stock. After gathering Rough Stone by hand for about an hour I was all set for the other intermediate products.

I rented a Mineral Workbench and a Refinery and set two workers on making Steel and Black Stone Powder respectively.

Black Desert Production1

Now I had to wait for a while. Had I logged off all workers would have finished their current task once and then stopped, so I stayed ingame and spent some time aquiring the last needed resource, Hard Hide. This is made by drying hides from lizards and such, so I rode into the wild and decimated the population of triangle head lizards by probably dangerous amounts.

When I returned with over a hundred Hard Hides in my backpack (it’s a large backpack!) the first batches of Steel and Powder were finished. I rented a Tool Workshop, upgraded it to level 2 and sent a worker to make my very first gathering tool.

Black Desert Tools

I went for tanning knives and fluid collectors first because those were the ones I’d need replacements for soon.

I didn’t want just any knife or collector though. When crafting a gathering tool there’s a chance to get a ‘lucky’ version of it. These have a pretty important bonus which increases the chance for rare drops. Hence I don’t actually intend to use every tool I make. I’ll only keep the lucky versions and sell the others on the market.

The first ones, which took about 20 minutes each to manufacture, turned out to be normal ones however. With the fourth or fifth try I got lucky.

Black Desert LuckyTool
No pun intended.

The normal versions sell pretty quickly on the marketplace, so there’s obviously a demand for them. Hence I’ll keep manufacturing as quickly as I can procure the resources, keep all lucky ones and sell the rest.

I’d actually earn more silver by selling the resources or the intermediate products, but by exclusively gathering with lucky tools the additional rare drops should more than make up for that. Besides, I’m having fun crafting them, which is always more important to me than my bottom line.

I’ve simultaneously started to let some workers gather materials for the various life skill costumes, which give speed and XP bonuses for their respective activity. Crafting these will be my next project. Although I might upgrade my gathering tool empire to level 3 first, if the needed resources aren’t too hard to come by.

Maybe I should start thinking about a brand name.

On non-consensual PvP in MMOs

The other day I was ganked for the first time in Black Desert Online.

The main quests had led me to Sausan Garrison, a popular grinding spot for leveling I had already read about.

Black Desert Sausan
More like Sausan Ruins I’d say…

I intended to kill just enough mobs for the quests I had and then be on my way again. Suddenly I took a whole lot of damage in a flurry of movement and effects, and before I had realized what was happening I lay dead on the ground.

Another player had obviously decided that I was contesting ‘his’ grinding spot and that losing a bunch of Karma was worth having it to himself again.

I respawned and, because I wanted to at least finish my quests in peace, switched to another channel (BDO has one huge server for each region, each with lots of seperate instances of the game world), which worked out just fine.

Was it a pleasant experience? Not exactly. But is the game worse for this even being possible? In my opinion, absolutely not!

I’ve talked about what my idea of a virtual world looks like. The more interaction between players and the environment as well as between players and other players a game allows the more alive and real the world feels to me. It also makes surprising and exciting things to happen more likely.

An example. When Lakisa, a friend of ours and I were about level 30 in ArcheAge our quests sent us to Cinderstone Moore, an area where PvP is allowed most of the time. The three of us as well as some other players in our level range were busy questing when a level 50 player ambushed and killed us all one by one. When we respawned and continued questing he did it again. Instead of giving up and leaving we teamed up with the other players and tried to take him down together. We didn’t actually manage to do so until another level 50 came in and helped us, but it was a really exciting game of one cat versus a bunch of very angry mice, and I had much more fun than mindlessly ticking off one quest after another would have brought me.

ArcheAge Balcony chilling
I have no screenshots of it, so here’s one of Lakisa and me chilling on my balcony.

Now, of course there have to be restrictions to and/or severe consequences for doing nothing but killing other players all day long, else a handful of sociopaths can and will ruin a game for everybody else. If these mechanics hit the sweet spot between leeway and punishment, between allowing to gank freely and prohibiting it outright, then, and only then, this can not only work, but be actually great.

In BDO Karma builds up slowly by killing mobs and falls rapidly by killing players outside of Guild PvP or Node Wars. Having negative Karma means everyone can attack you anywhere without losing Karma themselves (I think), and if you die not only normal PvE-death penalties apply, there’s also a chance that a piece of gear loses an enchantment level (which can be outrageously expensive to regain). As long as you have positive Karma you suffer no penalties whatsoever when killed in PvP.

The fact that I got to level 57 before being attacked by someone for the first time shows that ganking is discouraged enough to not be a common occurrence while not being completely ruled out. Seems like working as intended to me.

Black Desert Karma
Maximum Karma. Took me quite a while to get there. I hear you lose about 60k for one kill.

In ArcheAge a track record of your misconducts is kept, and once you’re past a certain threshold your next death teleports you straight to court where five more or less randomly chosen players put you to trial.

ArcheAge Court
My first time in the jury (second from left). I never stood in the dock myself.

The culprit’s criminal record is presented to the jury members who then get to choose a sentence, the minimum charge being Not Guilty, the maximum a certain duration of (online) jail time depending on the amount of transgressions.

My first trial was against a well known PK (player killer) named Kuroda. When there are ten pages of attacked and killed players to flip through you know someone’s been really naughty.

ArcheAge Kuroda1
240 minutes of jail time seemed like a quite appropriate punishment to me.

Because he was a repeat offender the other four jury members were obviously in favour of the maximum sentence though…

ArcheAge Kuroda2
Ouch! The highest sentence I ever saw.

The ‘RIP Kuroda’ chants in trial chat went on for quite some time, while he already lingered in the prison’s courtyard unable to harm anyone.

 

In EVE Online there’s the distinction between high security space (abbreviated ‘high sec’), low sec and null sec, each with it’s own rules and punishments (or in case of null sec, no punishments) for PvP engagements.

My punishment for having shot at a lot of people in low sec is that I can’t enter any high sec system anymore without being attacked by police NPCs, and other players can shoot me without any penalties whatsoever even in high sec. Which restricts me pretty severely in moving around, getting lost ships replaced etc. I can work around much of that with the help of alt characters of course, but it’s still enough deterrent for many players to not choose this path. It took more than ten years until I dared trying it myself.

EVE minus10
Once I did I tried pretty hard though.

I think these three games handle non-consensual PvP in ways that, while still not perfect, work quite well, and for my taste they would be much less worth playing if they didn’t allow it at all.