IntPiPoMo – Horror edition

I like it when games are a little scary. Or more than a little. Hence I’ve played quite a lot of horror games during the years, among others most Resident Evil issues, Dead Space, The Evil Within, F.E.A.R., and of course my all time favourite, Silent Hill.

Most of those games ran on various older consoles though, so I don’t have any screenshots.

Fortunately there are many PC games that also have some ‘scary’ in them, and naturally I’ve always been drawn to those too.

As a die-hard MMO player I have to start off with The Secret World of course. In terms of conspiracies, fairytales and horror it’s the mother of all MMOs.

IntPiPoMo_TSW

One of the coolest, spookiest places in the game – which is saying something – is the haunted amusement park in The Savage Coast. Here I’m taking a ride on its roller coaster. Of course I expected something to happen, but it gave me the chills nonetheless, and I jumped in my seat when that apparition lunged at me just as I was about to pass her.

The next one is from a quest in Tokyo. Imagine you’re sent into a parking garage to investigate something. It’s dark, it’s gloomy, and something’s clearly not right. You walk down the ramp to the next level when suddenly what little light’s there goes out. It’s pitch black, but not for long. Before you can decide what to do next a blood red light turns on and you’re greeted by this:

IntPiPoMo_TSW4
I didn’t watch any videos, I swear! I don’t even own a VCS player anymore…

Then there’s the James Bond-esque mini expansion A Dream to Kill, which towards the end has you investigate a nursery. Evidently something’s gone horribly wrong here.

IntPiPoMo_TSW3
Yeah, I think I’d rather leave now…

One of my favourite games of all time is Vampire Bloodlines. Despite being a buggy mess and looking anything but fresh even when it came out in 2004 it’s so great that I still play through it every couple of years. I guess I have to talk about it in more detail some time. Until then you might enjoy Rakuno’s walkthrough series of the game, if you don’t mind spoilers that is.

Anyway, Bloodlines also has some seriously eerie sequences.

IntPiPoMo_BL1
That’s gotta be a haunted house if there ever was one

Actually the quest giver flat out tells you that a ghost is making trouble in that old hotel, and your mission is to put an end to that.

What you don’t know is who the ghost is and why it can’t find rest. During your investigation you find more and more clues about what happened. Apparently a family of four stayed at the hotel for it’s grand opening, and due to jealousy – and maybe also some otherworldly reason – the father’s mental state got worse and worse. He – spoiler – eventually killed his family and set the hotel on fire. I found this image drawn by one of the kids to be the most disturbing clue:

IntPiPoMo_BL2

In the end you can put a stop to the father’s haunting, and his wife’s ghost can finally rest in peace. At least there’s that.

Next up is Batman: Arkham Asylum. We have seen so many versions of Batman’s origin story by now that it’s gotten pretty stale. In this game though it’s done quite nifty (and short). During the course of the story Batman gets drugged by Scarecrow a couple of times. Sometimes it makes his worst fears become (perceived) reality, at one time it forces him to relive his parents’ death. Visually this is done exceptionally well, and the most emotional realization of the scene I’ve seen to date.

IntPiPoMo_BAA

Path of Exile makes you fight lots of big bads during the course of its storyline. Among the most sinister is Piety of Theopolis, the right hand of the game’s former end boss Dominus.

When you first enter her lair in Act III, The Lunaris Temple, the set pieces make it abundantly clear that she’s really, really evil.

IntPiPoMo_PoE2
Yep, definitely evil.

I played a bit of Left 4 Dead 2 with a couple of friends after it came out. It wasn’t really all that scary, but it sported pretty much the highest gore factor I’d seen up to that point to compensate.

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Rochelle and the guys having yet another bad day at the office

To end the post on a lighter note, here’s a shot of some rather unthreatening ghosts you’re probably familiar with:

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Yo ho ho and a bottle of…grog?

IntPiPoMo picture count: 9 (this post); 26 (total)

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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

Incursion League – final tally

My participation in Path of Exile’s current challenge league, which ends today, can be broken up into three parts.

A pretty active first month, a considerably slower second month, and a third and last month where I played just a little bit and then quit mainly in favor of Everquest II.

It’s not that I didn’t like the new league mechanics. In fact I think they’re pretty great and I’m glad that they’ll add it to the core game. My only wish would be that they dial back the RNG aspect of it, because as it is you don’t really have that much influence over how the finished temple turns out.

As for progression, not much has changed since last time obviously.

PoE_Queen
Still, level 87 in 2 1/2 months is my record by far

I’ve completed one more challenge, that’s it.

PoE_14Challenges

That’s ok though, since I wasn’t going to get the portal effect anyway.

So this was Incursion. In merely four days the next challenge league will already start: Delve. This looks very promising too, and they’ll also release a ton of other improvements alongside it.

I’ll pass though. Everquest II demands my full attention right now, but even if it weren’t I’d not be willing to start PoE from scratch yet again so soon. I’m sure these mechanics will end up being added to the base game too in the end.

I’ll return to PoE, that much is certain. It’s an outstanding game and I like to play it very much. This is no farewell, I’m just taking a break.

Actually I’ll be taking a little break from all kinds of online gaming starting tomorrow, as we’re going on an internet-free vacation. I’ll have posts scheduled for the rest of Blaugust of course, but after that there’ll be radio silence until at least September 10th. Sorry in advance that I’ll not respond to any comments until then. See you soon.

Appreciating the makers of our favourite pastimes

BlaugustReborn

It’s Blaugust Reborn, and we now have Developer Appreciation Week. So today I want to say Thank You to some groups of people and one very special individual.

First I want to thank Grinding Gear Games for their outstanding work on Path of Exile. Not only did they develop the in my opinion best ARPG and true successor to Diablo II, they have continued to enhance it relentlessly without ever slowing down.

That this extraordinary game is still free to play without any kind of content-limitations is nothing short of amazing. All the more because it’s cash shop doesn’t sell a single item that comes even remotely close to P2W territory. It’s expensive, sure, but I imagine that’s literally the price you have to pay if you want to fund an ambitious game like this just by selling cosmetics and stash tabs.

PoE_Forest

Next I’d like to say thank you to CCP Games for EVE Online, and generally for being the crazy mavericks they are. While it’s true that none of their projects since EVE has turned out to be a big success – and I’m still a bit grumpy about World of Darkness personally – I still admire that they’re always trying to push the envelope and break new grounds.

EVE itself is a very unique game that I love despite its flaws, and I’m glad that CCP never gave in to the temptation of attracting more players by creating safe zones or something. Lots of changes made the game more accessible and even outright easier over the years (remember the time before warp-to-zero?), but compared to most MMOs it’s still relatively hardcore. That has always been their vision for the game, and thankfully they stick to it.

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Lastly I want to thank Emily “Domino” Taylor. She was Everquest II’s main dev for all things tradeskills and housing between 2007 and 2017. That pretty much says it all.

Oh ok then, I’ll elaborate.

Domino’s work and dedication is the main reason why Everquest II has an astonishing wealth of crafting and gathering related quests. Seriously, look at that list. Those aren’t your standard ‘craft 5 of this, get XP’ quests other games have. Those exist too, like the repeatable rush orders I mentioned, but aren’t even worthy to be listed in that timeline. Most of the ‘real’ quests have expansive storylines that evolve as you complete your tasks.

When the Rise of Kunark expansion gave players their first Epic Weapon questline crafters got their Tradeskill Epic to match. It really is an epic quest, and so are the rewards.

EQ2_Epic

EQII’s player housing is, to me, the best there is. I’m not even talking about the abodes themselves or the placement mechanics, though those are great too.

What makes it really shine is the unbelievably huge amount of available items. Eq2wikia lists 9,732 entries in the “House Item (Item Type)” category, and that number doesn’t surprise me at all.

Of course many can be crafted by carpenters (which is why that’s my main tradeskill class). But you also get lots and lots as quest rewards and mob drops. Lore and Legend quests, which let you learn about specific creature types (by killing them, naturally), each give you a trophy and an actually readable book. The reward item of all Heritage quests can be transformed into a housing item if you don’t want to wear it. Seasonal events shower you with housing stuff. The list goes on.

EQ2_Library

Without Domino EQII just wouldn’t be the game that it is today, so again: thank you!

Memorable vs always fun gameplay

The other day Tyler contemplated about what kind of games are worth playing, and which one’s are more or less a waste of precious time to him. It’s an interesting read. He concludes that, while it’s all fine and dandy as long as you’re having fun, the most important aspect to him is if the game creates good memories. My first reaction to it was ‘Exactly, mate!’.

He cites Heroes of the Storm as an example for games that are fun to play, yet don’t leave lasting memories or feelings, making the time spent playing them meaningless to him in the grand scheme of things.

When I look back at all the games I’ve played I too hold those most dear that left me with lasting memories of thrilling or hilarious adventures. I even have a couple of posts in draft stage that will share some of those.

ArcheAge Adventure1
Just a little teaser, stay tuned

It’s no surprise then that I always gravitated towards games that offer much freedom, because that makes memorable stuff to happen more likely. It’s the reason why I still keep coming back to EVE after almost 13 years, and why I am more interested in sandbox style games in general.

But: everything has two sides. Thinking about this made me realize that the games I have the fondest memories of were also the ones with the highest percentage of downtime. By downtime I mean either doing a lot of extremely boring stuff, or even waiting for something to happen and essentially doing nothing.

EVE, for example, can be like that to the extreme. First you grind pretty boring missions or combat sites for hours on end to earn enough funds for your PvP ships, then you participate in fleet ops that take three hours or longer and there’s not even a single hostile ship to shoot. It’s not always like this of course, and when it’s not it can be very awesome. Unfortunately the ratio of boringtime to awesometime has always been pretty bad for me, at least until we joined Holy Cookie.

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Slowly repairing a station’s shield with no enemy in sight

On the other hand you have those games with pretty fixed gameplay loops, like HotS in Tyler’s case or Path of Exile and Overwatch in mine, which do let you experience cool moments but don’t really leave lasting memories or feelings. If you hear me tell a ‘That one time at bandcamp…’-story chances are it will be about EVE, Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Black Desert or ArcheAge. Maybe Everquest II. PoE, Overwatch, Call of Duty, Destiny 2…probably not so much.

What the latter games don’t have, though, is the aforementioned downtime. At all. You log in…and play. And play. And play some more. Until you log out again. It might always be pretty much the same and therefore not give me those coveted memories I want to blog or tell my buddies about, but if the gameplay is fun to me, it’s fun all the time and not just a small percentage of the time with a lot of boring in between.

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If this doesn’t look like fun I don’t know what does

Now, what to do with these insights? I guess I’ll just continue to play whatever I feel like at any given moment, until that one game finally comes along that has the potential for the most memorable experiences while omitting all kinds of boring gameplay and downtime.

One can dream, right?