Earlier this month, Texas Tech University published a highly questionable study about the effects of “violent” video games and cooperative play versus competitive play. I only read the article once, and very quickly at that, but one take-away was that it was pre-disposed toward an anti-videogame bias from the get-go with the overuse of the word “violent” at every turn. While they kept using the term “pro-social behavior” what they were really measuring were the subjects’ level of aggression — or empathy — toward their fellow players. Unsurprisingly, the subjects were drastically less aggressive to their cooperative partners. No duh, right?

So yesterday, Engadget picked up on the study and wrote about it with the headline Gaming cooperatively makes you more sociable, scientists say. But apparently being a paid writer does not give you the knowledge that headlines are to be capitalized. Anyway.

Really? Being less aggressive, or perhaps more empathetic, equates to being sociable?

: liking to be with and talk to other people
: involving or allowing friendly and pleasant social relations

Source: Merriam-Webster

: inclined to associate with or be in the company of others
: friendly or agreeable in company; companionable
: characterized by agreeable companionship

I don’t know about you, but pretty much any definition of “sociable” doesn’t necessarily equate with aggression levels.

But let’s take the TTU article out of the equation and just take the statement in Engadget’s headline at face value. “Gaming cooperatively can make you more sociable.” I can attest the truth of this statement for myself. For all my textual chatting over the years, from BBS to USENET to IRC to instant messaging to email to texting to Twitter and other social media, I’ve always been far more “sociable” via typing than any other means of communicating.

I’m relatively certain I’ve written similar things before, probably even here on this blog but hey, that’s what we do on blogs: occasionally re-hash topics, right? :)

At the risk of appearing to pat myself on the back, I’ll go ahead and state that I was one of the more popular regular IRC help-deskers back in the mid-90’s because I always had some funny quip along with boatloads of knowledge. I helped the people who asked for help as best as I could and in the downtime I was very chatty and we all kept each other entertained. I still keep in touch with a few of the other help-deskers today.

The same went for my early days of online gaming. Probably starting with Air Warrior, as I seem to recall being active on their “forum” (was it even called a forum back then?) but certainly with my foray into MMO’s, with Star Wars Galaxies and World of Warcraft being tops of my list for “how sociable was I?” Next would be Lord of the Rings Online, as I was not only playing pretty hardcore but very active in my guild chat, the GLFF user chat, and other custom channels for other guilds and friends I was acquainted with. Then things went downhill for me and being sociable in MMOs. Until Star Trek Online anyway, but even then, the past year or so I still read all the chats but I very rarely participate. But I do enjoy that feeling, and via text I still have… I suppose that vague sense of anonymity might be a factor but it’s mainly that I’ve never felt I’m a very good conversationalist. If I’m typing my reply, well that takes time, and I can take advantage of that time to think of what I want to say and how I want to say it, perhaps even edit myself a time or few before pressing the Enter key. But face-to-face or voice-chatting? Whoah, now I’m back to feeling a bit more insecurity about my self-perceived lack of conversation skill. I’ve known people like say, Chris over at LevelCapped.com or Pete at Dragonchasers.com for years online. We type at one another daily on Google+ or Twitter. We’re all quite loquacious. But stick me on a voice chat with those same people, and I’m quiet to the point of them wondering if I’m still there. Because, while I “know” them via typing, for me putting a voice and realtime communication into the mix, it becomes more “real” for lack of a better term. I stumble and stutter and freeze up a lot of the time because I don’t know them as well in that more “real” environment as I do in a more “distant” text-based environment. Or something.

The good thing is that’s something that gets better the more I do it. I was equally as quiet several years ago when Aaron from Anyway Games and Oakstout and I were heavily into gaming together on our Xbox 360s. But we did it so often that it wasn’t long before I was just as talkative over voice as I am over text. For any number of reasons, I’ve obviously gotten away from that and my “online social confidence” (as I phrased it in my Hopes for 2015 section of last year’s final post) has waned dramatically.

So what am I doing about it? To start off, I’ve done quite a bit of Toukiden Kiwami co-op with a couple guys from AGE. Also some Marvel Heroes 2015 over Steam Voice chat with some other online friends. The main guy I played Toukiden with got me into my first Destiny raid (Crota’s End) recently, where we took down Crota and me being the brand-new guy, I won the best rocket launcher the game had to offer. LOL! I’m trying to be more active (posting video clips, screenshots and comments) in the Forge Early Access client. I’ve already committed myself to playing Elder Scrolls Online and The Old Republic this summer, and that includes the group content so I’ll be working on making a few in-game social contacts plus doing the queues and seeing how things go with pick-up groups. From there, hopefully I’ll find new guilds that are friendly and that I click with. Ideally, I’d like to find something that Chris, Pete and I all enjoy and are each willing to play cooperatively because out of everyone on my social media feeds these days, those two are the ones I type with the most and whose opinions I respect the most, yet we’ve spent the least amount of time doing coop-with-voice so I’m still the most nervous or insecure around them. That needs to change!

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Yesterday marked the 7th anniversary for Funcom’s Age of Conan. They’re celebrating it with the release of the Hyborian Tales: Shadow of Vanaheim content pack. Far as I could tell from my Twitter feed and my Google+ circles, no one noticed whatsoever. Even I didn’t find out until later in the evening. Kinda sad, really, especially when many of appear to get a kick out of being semi-on-top of MMO “news” or developer releases.

But even here on my own blog, the last time I wrote about Age of Conan was in 2010 when they announced the offline leveling mechanic. I like the game. Always did. It just never got any traction with me because not a single one of my online friends played the game and I never bothered finding an AoC-native guild.

Sometimes I wonder if AoC would be more successful if they did yet another revamp — this time to Buy-to-Play (B2P) like The Secret World? Maybe not, since Funcom can’t seem to catch a break (see their 2015 Q1 Financial Report) and even their latest LEGO Minifigures Online is proving challenging to monetize. The report states they will be converting LEGOMO (ha! — I could easily make a parody of a Styx song… but I won’t) to a B2P model as it’s F2P model isn’t working out and TSW and AoC are still the company’s biggest moneymakers.

I have an idea. Well, a concept. The nucleus of an idea.

I’ve already committed my summer — MMO-wise — to Elder Scrolls Online and The Old Republic. Perhaps in the fall or winter, I’m thinking I’d like to try to connect with at least 6 other like-minded individuals within my little social network spheres and setup a “static” group. Meaning we only adventure together. Which therefore means everyone will be at the mercy of my schedule, something I’ve been very much against doing to anyone else, but for this idea I don’t see any way around that, unfortunately. What I’d like to do is ideally take our low- to mid-level characters (no sense starting new ones and prolonging things unless everyone else insists?) and try to get through all the Age of Conan content, including the dungeons, though not the raids.

I know some people still have fond memories of Age of Conan, I wonder if over the coming months I could convince enough people to make a temporary stop to fully enjoy the content the game offers?

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I don’t get me, sometimes. Really, I just don’t. I’ve been in an MMO Malaise yet again for quite some time now. I did re-subscribe to Elder Scrolls Online a few months ago when they announced the whole Buy2Play and Console Character Transfer stuff. I logged in once when I first re-subbed, ran around town, logged out. Think I logged in again maybe a month later, and did the same thing.

I just haven’t been in the mood whatsoever for the “traditional” MMO, or MMO questing, or much of anything else.

Then last week one of the big discussions on Google+ was that Star Wars: The Old Republic brought back their 12x XP for Story Quests. The MMO Hopping Bandwagon jumped right on that, and for reasons I’ve yet to explain to myself, somehow I wound up over on my BioWare account page resubscribing to TOR despite less than zero interest in actually playing an MMO.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Mind you, I never disliked TOR like some people have. I had a few gripes with the game — and still do — but overall I thought it was a perfectly fine take on the traditional MMO, and for my two cents all the cinematics and voiceovers make me want to do the side quests whether or not I or my character care about the side quest narrative. I think the main reasons I’ve stopped playing so quickly in the past are two-fold: The previous times I was headed into an MMO Malaise phase and TOR just happened to be the last straw that broke my camel’s back, and that the guild I joined imploded, which is typical for MMO Blogger Guilds in my experience.

This time, maybe the MMO Malaise is wearing off and I’m coming into a more positive mindset where MMOs are concerned because TOR is really clicking with me this time. I’ve been doing every side quest I can find interspersed with my Sith Warrior’s story quests, learning more about how some of my class mechanics work and how gear modding works so my Juggernaut is now quite the badass! He finished up Balmorra yesterday morning and is continuing his story on Nar Shadaa, currently at level 29 and very happily using Malavai Quinn as his new questing companion. I’ve only had Vette up til now and while she’s fun, I spend time after every fight using the Channel Rage ability to heal my Juggernaut for the next fight. Quinn is a healer companion and a darn good one so far; I haven’t stopped to heal myself a single time since Quinn joined the crew.

I’ve learned quite a bit the past week, and now that I’m leveling up and getting more abilities I’m starting to sorta-kinda get what I hope is a decent tanking rotation down. One major derp I had yesterday was very impulsively deciding to get into crafting. D’ravendaar previously had Bioanalysis (gathering) and Biochem (crafting) but without looking anything up whatsoever I decided no, Synthweaving sounded cool because D’rav uses the Force after all so why not craft his armor? So I switched. Then I heard about Artificing, which is crafting stuff for lightsabers. Ok, he definitely needs that, so I switched again. Then two things happened back-to-back. First, I used my head after the fact and remembered TOR is a traditional MMO, which means “themepark” which therefore means the best gear is from dungeons or raids, not crafted. Then I was taught about moddable gear because I just happened to hit the right level to start using some then learning that gear can stay with you because the mods you install determine the gear’s level. Then I asked Google what crafting profession is best for Juggernauts. You guessed it: Biochem for potions to help keep me alive, and of course by switching professions, I just lost all my progress! So a trip back to the first two low-level planets was in order to gather materials to re-level the crafting and gathering skills. In the meantime, I used commendations on the Imperial Fleet to get mostly orange moddable gear, only missing a couple pieces now, but could not for the life of me find a main-hand lightsaber. A player offered to give me one so we grouped up, he visited his bank and brought me a brand-new “level 1″ orange quality lightsaber and I promptly went to the mod vendor and cranked the lightsaber up to my level with tanking stats! He hung out for awhile giving me more tips and answering my questions. Friendly players for the win!

Only thing I haven’t done yet is group activity: Heroic quests and Flashpoints. I think I’m comfortable enough with the skills to be able to pull it off now so those are on the agenda for next week when I get back from work. That’s really the only downside I see to choosing this class: tanking is stressful for me, especially for public groups where players brutally and viciously blame the tank for every little thing. Healing is way less stressful. I never really understood why groups evolved to have the tank lead the group, either. Back in my “vanilla” World of Warcraft raiding days, I could lead just fine on my healing-spec druid because she was standing out of the way. Tanks are friggin’ busy, who has time to handle the aggro, the positioning and lead the entire group or raid while being face-first into a huge boss’ torso? I was the same in my Lord of the Rings Online hardcore days, I could lead wonderfully with my Lore-master because, again, she’s out of the way with a way better picture of the overall fight than being down in the middle of it. I would even make some of the pulls because I had long-range but very low-damage abilities and could position myself to have the mobs pulled directly to where the tank wanted to pick them up. Those were the days… But whatever, now everyone relies on the tank to do everything for them. I’d love to have a friendly guild, and maybe that will have to be on my agenda too. The 12xp is rumored to last until Autumn so the current plan is to maintain the subscription til it’s over, then decide where my headspace is and whether I want to continue or move along to something else.

Elder Scrolls Online

Talk about unexpected! As I’d mentioned above, I’ve been subbed to ESO for two or three months now but the most I’ve maybe done is complete one quest? TOR was down for a patch and maintenance this morning and for whatever reason my mouse wandered over the ESO icon. I stuck with it for awhile and did a few quests on my Templar. I never really had a plan set in stone for that class other than I wanted to be able to do my quests and switch to heal in groups. The Templar seems like a very amorphous class which can handle pretty much every Trinity role, and consequently I’ve had a mismatch of light, medium and heavy armor pieces and primarily using a bow to hopefully kill things from range. I have a little time using one-handed plus shield but I stuck mostly with the bow just like in Skyrim.

I was getting by with the bow and all my whatever-the-hell-drops gear but that’s about it. A lot of fights were very close, with me barely getting off a heal plus using my healing potion quickslot. But at some point the bug hit me again and now I have an interest in actually playing ESO! I suspect this is also two-fold: first, because my Templar is DPS and Healing so the stress level is so much lower for groups, and also because the console launch of ESO is coming next month. Either Bethesda or Zenimax Online Studios had a promotion going on last month where PC players who had pre-ordered the Imperial Edition (that’d be me) could get a console edition for a mere $20 so I jumped on that for PlayStation 4. On PC I’m still in Belghast’s Stalwart guild but that guild has also imploded except for me and one other guy. On PS4 I’ll have all the AGE guys to guild with. Either way, I now own both and the game is B2P so far as I’m concerned I can switch back and forth, just my PS4 character won’t have the same progress if I continue playing on PC as well.

Anyway, once the bug hit me to actually try playing the game, that entails actually learning a bit about the class too and being more effective that merely “getting by” with the bow. I went with the Omega Templar leveling build by Deltia, one of ESOs most prominent livestreamers on Twitch.tv. I asked how to respec and got several offers to teleport me to a nearby city with the appropriate shrine to respec my skills. I picked a player, and that ended up being a great decision because not only did he give me the teleport and show me exactly where the shrine was, he also gave me tips on playing the class and the game overall, then looked up that Omega build and crafted all the gear on the list at no charge! All that took an hour or so between the initial answering my question about respec, handling the teleport, fielding my questions than switching to his main to craft all the gear, switching to his other alt to craft me two stacks of food for magicka buffs then traveling back to me for the trades. I mean seriously, in two days back-to-back I hit the jackpot for finding awesome, friendly and helpful players. Gives me a little bit of hope for the genre’s playerbase yet after twelve years of cynicism crusting over my soul.

So, completely out of the blue, I just got a double-barreled whammy of MMO goodness! Guess I know where I’ll be spending my MMO time this summer now! Oh, I still have plenty of other non-MMO games I will keep in my rotation on both PC and PS4 but I’m oddly happy at being taken by surprise at playing MMOs again the past week! Two of them now! Told ya, I just don’t get me sometimes…

 

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Shortly after mentioning Elite: Dangerous at the end of my post about space games in January, I ended up purchasing the game on an impulse, despite stating that I was going to wait for the 1.2 Wings update (released in March) which would enhance co-op play.

I’m actually somewhat torn on Elite: Dangerous. I played the original Elite back on my Amiga 500, but I don’t recall getting very far along in the game nor do I recall playing any of the sequels. It isn’t a game I play constantly. In fact, I didn’t get overly far along before the 1.2 update in March, and I took a break shortly afterwards until just last week. Some of my trepidation is because Elite is a pure sandbox. I often love the idea or the potential of a sandbox more than the actual sandbox itself. At the end of the day, despite all you can pretend to create, there’s only sand in the box and that gets washed away all too easily. In the case of Elite, “all you can do” is fly a ship alone. There are a few activities you can do with that ship, such as bounty hunting (mostly what I do), trading (I only do this via missions for now, not “for real”), and exploring (I am so not looking forward to partaking of this aspect). A good deal of my frustration is because I’m a pilot by trade so computer flight games or simulations automatically rub me the wrong way in many aspects. To my knowledge, I’m the only professional (or even private for that matter) pilot among the blogger circles I dip in and out of. Many of you are some form of IT or web development, so just imagine how you’d feel about a “web development sim” that gets so much “wrong,” or at least bases certain things on assumptions or for the sake of gamification. That’s where I am with most flight-based games.

Oh, to be fair, Elite has a pretty darn decent flight model. I even read that it’s better than the current flight model in Star Citizen but that’s purely second- or third-hand information; I do not have Star Citizen myself to make that comparison. It’s the World War II aspect of Elite (and pretty much every other flight-based game) that irritates me. It’s the year 3301 and humanity has populated most of the galaxy. We have starships capable of transluminal velocities and stellar navigation yet at the same time lack basic features that our real aircraft have had for decades. Oh, and the combat. I suppose we can thank Star Wars and its reliance on WWII footage to inspire its space battles but seriously, all the advanced weaponry and computer targeting systems we would have come up with 1200 years from now but we still regress to dogfighting? To actively scan anything, I have to maneuver to keep that object in a very narrow cone out my front window? Yes, I totally get that all that is to make it a “game” and if I weren’t a pilot I would probably be fine with it like most Elite players probably are.

There are many other pilot-specific complaints I have that make me twitch in Elite (and others) but for the sake of my sanity and overall sense of fun I’m trying to just come to terms with them and take the game for what it is.

To some degree, I’m using a teeny bit of role-play to decide what to do in the game. In what is very slowly becoming a more common habit, I ended up re-using a character name for Elite Dangerous. I took the name of my Guild Wars monk, Benjeth and used it for my Commander’s name. Part of that pains me, as Benjeth was primarily a healer and his role-play was very compassionate whereas his space-faring counterpart is primarily all about killing wanted criminals for credits. I also partially regret not using the last name as well, instead of simply being Commander Benjeth. But whatever.

Benjeth got his start in LHS 3447, a Federation-controlled system. While learning the basics of the game, I lost his starting Sidewinder twice attempting to travel longer than the ship was able to (or at least longer than I was able to smartly plan at the time). I even purchased a fuel scoop but kept flying into systems with unscoopable stars. I cleared my game save once and started over when I realized I didn’t have the fuel to make the trip to the next system which did look to have a usable star. Little did I know all I had to do was simply auto-destruct my ship and I would have been placed at the most recent starbase I’d docked at for free or for the cost of the re-buy insurance. Live and learn.

My first ship upgrade was an Eagle, which I had a lot of fun in. It’s a very maneuverable ship, and the most television-style starfighter-looking ship in the game, in my opinion. But it’s the first upgrade so it’s not a very “high level” ship at all. Its shields were only slightly better than tissue paper, and while it had three weapon hardpoints, they were all of the “small” classification.

Still, that Eagle was my baby until last week. I’d finally been keeping my overall credit balance over 1 million and was ready to get the next ship but couldn’t decide between a Cobra or Viper. The Cobra is far more versatile with what activities you can do, but I’m still in a combat-focused frame of mind so the Viper is my new ship! It’s mostly geared out the way I want it. I’d love better thrusters but I’m not sure I can power them with recent changes made to the way power priorities work.

The Viper is a dedicated combat ship, so that’s pretty much all its good at, whereas the Cobra is a good trading, exploration, even mining ship. But I’m not yet to a point where I want to engage much in those aspects of the game. Especially exploration, but even the hardcore trading will be off my radar. I fly across the country for hours at a time for my job, the last thing on the planet I want to do when I come home is flying a 7-hour each-way trade route. When I do feel like lighter trading, I’m thinking I’ll get a Lakon Type 6 just for that and keep the Viper docked somewhere handy for my bounty hunting and combat missions. Right now I’m looking for a region where I could keep the Viper but there’s also profitable trade routes nearby so switching ships won’t be too time consuming. I will agree with many other players that the Viper has a really unique and sexy engine sound. Its growls and purrs go along with its deadly maneuverability and firepower. For weaponry, currently I have dual beam lasers set to the small hardpoints as firegroup 1, then dual gimballed multicannons on the medium hardpoints as firegroup 2. A kill warrant scanner on the utility hardpoint to get the extra cash if a criminal is wanted in multiple systems and a shield cell just in case some baddies manage to strip the Viper’s powerful shields.

The next major update, PowerPlay, will focus on the impact the various factions have on the galaxy. That’s an area I’ve been giving a little thought to lately, but no progress toward deciding where my loyalties may lie. I think all new pilots begin in Federation space? I was excited last week to finally be able to make the journey to the Sol system and see Earth, birthplace of humanity and heart of the Federation. The Empire seems very popular with players, though for the life of me I don’t see any reason in-game to change my loyalty, other than to get the Imperial Clipper. The Alliance doesn’t yet have its own faction ship. Maybe it’s because all I’ve done in-game so far is bounty hunting with a few courier jobs mixed in but I haven’t yet seen any actual in-game difference between the three major powers. I’m sure I could go read some wiki entry somewhere, but who gives a crap if the lore isn’t in the game being played out? If the Federation is run by corporations and turns a blind eye towards rampant slavery then I want to actually see this while I’m playing. If the Empire is so much better, again, I’d love to see the faction play out in-game and woo me that way not just dangling a sexy ship as a reward. The Alliance needs more development, period, though I’m reading it’s gradually becoming a popular faction for players as well.

I guess I did title this post my “initial thoughts,” so what are they? Elite: Dangerous is actually a pretty good game that’s doing very well at what it set out to do. Thing is, what it set out to do might not be enough for a lot of gamers. Chris at levelcapped.com was very specific to me that he was not going to actually recommend the game to me. A co-worker has recently been asking me about Elite: Dangerous and I found myself parroting Chris’ reaction: I gave some pros and cons but outright said I was not going to make a recommendation because I didn’t want to be held responsible if he didn’t like it. There’s technically a “demo” (I suspect it’s the single player training portion of the game?) out there people can check out some of the basics to get an idea how the game will play. I do like the game’s flight model for the most part. I like that the game has been released, unlike Star Citizen. I like that Frontier listens to the players, and that Frontier continues to develop the game in large almost MMO-like content updates. So overall, I’m pleased with my purchase even if the game isn’t something I would be itching to play for hours a day every day. But then again, no game has been that for me in several years. I’ve put more time into Elite than many of my Steam purchases, that’s for sure! On that note, Elite recently was added to Steam officially and on May 28 Frontier is giving players who bought the game through Frontier’s store the option of a Steam key to transfer their game to Valve’s digital distribution platform. I’m giving serious thought to that, but haven’t made a committed decision yet.

See you in space, commanders!

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March 31 saw the release of Toukiden Kiwami on both PS4 and PSVita (also compatible with PSTV). I wrote about the first game, Toukiden Age of Demons last year. I had recently came back to Age of Demons to make some more progress before Kiwami released and I imported my save. As it turns out, I’m simultaneously playing both games now just to continue my Age of Demons progress on its own and hunt for trophies.

So what does Kiwami bring to the table? It contains the entire Age of Demons game, which is 7 single-player campaign Chapters and 8 online Phases, then adds the Kiwami expansion of 6 additional single-player Chapters (13 total) and 9 online Phases (17 total). The Kiwami wiki entry rattles off the entire laundry list of additions and improvements. Kiwami also features online cross-play between PS4 and PSVita (or PSTV) platforms!

My favorite improvement off that list?

Better AI. In Age of Demons, your AI companions are rather dullards. Break a part off a large Oni? They may or may not try to purify it. Need a heal? They may or may not come heal you. Stunned? They may or may not come break the stun. Kiwami makes the AI way more proactive. They aggressively go after the oni on the map, but are also more apt to purify body parts and support the team. The Oni AI has also been improved, so fights can be tougher than they were in AoD.

United Destroyer. Not only does each player keep their normal Destroyer, now there’s a team-wide United Destroyer. Each player contributes to the new Unity Gauge, then the person who contributed the most gets the ability to execute the move. The more players in close proximity and therefore linked by the unity power, the more damage done to a large Oni. Rather than breaking only one part off a large Oni, now you might break off a few at once.

Three new weapons. Club, Naginata and Rifle. Club is very straightforward, it’s a huge two-handed blunt weapon with slow attacks but a lot of damage per hit. Naginata is an awesome new weapon with fast attacks, a parry, and an aerial attack. Rifle is another ranged weapon that is even easier to lock onto parts than the bow. It has different bullet types, and each time you reload you choose which type is loaded in which order so you can attempt a sort of combo or rotation to your attacks.

Two new Battle Styles. Plunder and Support. Plunder is focused on crit damage to body parts for easy severing while Support, like it sounds, is focused on helping the team’s survival.

 Kiwami is chock-full of Quality of Life improvements as well. One easy example is the Quests, smaller tasks to carry out for various NPCs around town while you’re out doing Missions or Phases. In Age of Demons you have to scroll one by one to check if you’ve met the requirements for a Quest. Kiwami changes the Quest to blue text so you can see immediately which ones are completed. Your Tenko? In Kiwami you can equip it with its own Mitama and if you are hunting in the same age as you sent your tenko, there’s a chance you might find it and it will be able to use the abilities of the mitama to assist the party. It can also revive you and purify oni parts. Plus for customization fans, there are new food types to change your tenko’s color and voice. The Pool of Purity? In Age of Demons you were completely at the mercy of the Random Number Generator (RNG). Oka might give you a buff to Gouge or Hayatori might give you a buff for Spin but you’re using a bow which doesn’t have those abilities so it was a waste of a pool ticket. Kiwami lets you assign a mitama to the pool, then a list of which NPCs are available at the time show up, and your reputation with them. Choose your NPC and you’ll get a random buff out of their list. In similar fashion the Offering Box (sometimes called the “PrayStation”) has been improved where you can narrow down exactly which type of prayer (buff) you want to receive then you’ll get a random one from that list. There’s still randomness involved, but you now have control over it and can guarantee that the buff will benefit you.

I believe I had around 53 hours in Age of Demons by the time Kiwami launched and I imported my save. My Age of Demons time is now up to 64 hours while my Kiwami time is at 106 hours. Obviously I’m enjoying the game quite a bit and I’ve been playing a lot of online co-op with some friends.

If you enjoy HRPGs I’ll recommend Toukiden Kiwami, and if you’re curious about the genre Kiwami is certainly easy to learn and get into, and it’s a faster-paced affair than Monster Hunter.

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It seems the “space game” genre is making a comeback the past year or two. Probably fueled mainly by the hype factory that is Star Citizen.

I already mentioned a post or two ago that I now own Endless Space, though as I also mentioned in that same post, I don’t “get” the 4X genre. I still don’t, so Endless Space has gone mostly unplayed in favor of another couple games I just bought plus Guild Wars 2. I hope to find some common free time with a friend or two who are more knowledgeable about 4X to show me what I’m supposed to be enjoying.

A couple weeks ago I noticed one of my Steam friends playing Starpoint Gemini 2 [Steam Store URL]. Curiosity got the better of me so I visited the store page and was intrigued. Every time I saw him playing, I’d revisit the store page and look some more, even looking at commentary in the forums. Added it to my wishlist. Finally I pulled the trigger last week, mostly out of curiosity still. It’s most described as “Freelancer-esque,” and I could not remember if I even enjoyed Freelancer. I owned that game briefly but I don’t remember if I even put over an hour into it. Starpoint Gemini 2 is also single-player only, and didn’t I just recently say I have a horrible track record with single-player games on PC?

spg2-taurus-ui

Anyway, Starpoint Gemini 2 is fantastic! It’s gorgeous and it’s pretty relaxing even, unless I get jumped by enemy ships who are too strong for me to deal with. It took me several sessions to get a grip on controlling my ship, learning some keybinds and realizing that my ship has a crew and I can tell them to do things, especially Fire At Will instead of me having to do starship dogfighting maneuvers to shoot one ship at a time. What I’ve been doing recently is just flying a route between Trinity and Iola looking for lower- or on-level ships to attempt to capture and sell so I can earn enough credits to buy and gear a bigger ship. My end goal is to command (and I did choose the Commander profession; there are three to choose from when starting a new game: Commander, Engineer or Gunner) a destroyer or carrier so I can deck the thing out with weaponry and launch fighter wings.

SPG2 also has some RPG elements. You level up your character, and different ship types are level-gated. Missions have recommended levels but you’ll see plenty that are much higher level than you. Enemy ships may also be much higher level so you’ll need to be ready to flee rather than fight. There are weapon upgrades and enhancements, as well as hiring troopers for your ships’ internal defense if you’re being boarded, or to send over via your transporter to board and capture enemy ships. You can hire up to three officers for a monthly salary who can each provide a boost to certain abilities or attributes. Mercenary ships are also available for hire to accompany you into combat.

SPG2 also has a glorious ambient soundtrack from composer Vladi Sabev. Digging through the game installation reveals all the tracks in MP3 format so we can easily play them on our own. I perked up immediately when one of the tracks, “Genesis,” played on my first session because it is the exact same track used in Star Trek Online when you’re on the New Romulus ground map. It’s a calm but provoking number I enjoyed listening to during my time on New Romulus maxing reputation, so it’s certainly a welcome addition to my space travels in Starpoint Gemini 2.

spg2-combat

 

SPG2 plays at 60fps almost constantly on both my desktop and laptop, only dropping into the upper 40’s if there are lot of objects onscreen such as flying through asteroid or debris fields. It’s also moddable! There are several mods already available on Steam Workshop. I’m using three myself, just for minor graphical tweaks, but there are mods that add more money or cargo space or outright ship modifications and even mods adding ships from Star Trek, Star Wars and Mass Effect.

Playing Starpoint Gemini 2 has already piqued my interest in Elite: Dangerous, mostly for the cooperative aspect, but Chris over at LevelCapped suggested I wait for another update or few when more content is added and the cooperative gameplay is more functional than it currently is.

Recommended!

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So, today was the big announcement at PAX South, broadcast live on the Guild Wars 2 Twitch channel. The “mystery” of Heart of Thorns has been solved: it is indeed the first expansion pack for Guild Wars 2.

New zones! The expansion’s story is set in the Maguuma Jungle, which had some great areas in the first Guild Wars and which was added to in the Eye of the North campaign. Guild Wars 2 has a few areas of the Maguuma Jungle, and the Heart of Thorns expansions looks to add an additional three areas.

New professions! Well, officially one new full profession: the Revenant, a heavy armor-wearer to even things out. Each armor type will have three associated professions now. It remains to be seen how the Revenant will actually play, but lore-wise, he channels the powers of long-dead important Guild Wars 1 figures from The Mists and uses that power for his skills. Two figures mentioned were King Jalis Ironhammer, the last king of the now-extinct dwarves who performed the Rite of the Great Dwarf before leading the final attack on the Destroyers at the finale of the Eye of the North campaign, and Mallyx the Unyielding, one of the demonic Margonite overlords who ruled the Domain of Anguish in the Nightfall campaign. The focus on spirits as well as Rytlock’s blindfold in the trailer makes me think the Revenant will be a sort of amalgam of the Nightfall’s Dervish and Factions’ Ritualist classes molded into a sword-wielding soldier.

Additionally, each class will have specialization paths which will open up new weapons and skills. Hopefully HoT will ship with multiple specializations, but the ones announced today are that Rangers can specialize and become Druids (whose ancient home was the Maguuma Jungle for some Guild Wars 1 Lore Points) and wield a staff, while Necromancer’s will have a specialization that lets them wield a Greatsword.

New focus on World vs World and a new WvW map. I’m not usually a PvP guy in MMOs but WvW was one of the few types that ever looked fun. I never really tried it yet since I don’t have a level-capped character in GW2 nor do I have a group of regulars to run with but hopefully if I manage to “get” GW2 and make it a usual game in my rotation I’ll get to WvW as well.

Guild vs Guild! GvG was the only type of PvP I ever played in GW1 because it was waaaaaay less elitist and hardcore, and because I played a Monk who in Arena PvP would be the first one the enemy team would kill but in GvG Monks weren’t focused on nearly as much for whatever reason. And as any GvGer knows, you can’t have Guild vs Guild without a Guild Hall so those will also make an appearance in the expansion!

No level cap increase! No gear reset! I’m glad to see ArenaNet sticking to their original GW1 guns and their current “no grind” philosophy. What they are adding is additional means of specializing your class and crafting so you can still have meaningful progression without the usual bandaid method all the vertical progression MMOs continue to use.

All in all, this sounds like great news for the game! I have been playing a little here and there the past week or two. But I’m also still struggling to discover… actually what I’m struggling with is identifying what I don’t “get” about the game. I’m having a hard time figuring out what I want to do as my end-goal. Some games I just level and leave, other games I invest myself enough in the character and game mechanics that I want to do end-game dungeons, etc. But given that I’m not really sure GW2 has an “end-game” per se I don’t really have a specific goal in mind. I haven’t had the opportunity to do a single GW2 dungeon, however, so I don’t know if they are still the “chaotic clusterfucks” I believe were the words used to describe them? I guess I just don’t know what there is to do at level cap besides repeating all the Hearts I’ve already done? I haven’t fully decided on a class I enjoy either. I originally made a Guardian because I was told that was the closest thing to a Monk class which is maybe true in spirit but not in gameplay. I have a Ranger alt which is certainly easy to play and keeps me out of the big melee “circle of sparks” that is beyond me why ArenaNet hasn’t done something to fix by now.

Finally, just one passing comment. I don’t understand why in some crowds there’s this massive disappointment that Heart of Thorns isn’t a free expansion. I may not know much about GW2 but I’m a GW1 player from the get-go. ArenaNet invented the Buy2Play model you all rave about. That means you buy the expansions. Duh!

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So today the big bombshell everyone is talking about was Zenimax Online Studio’s (ZOS) announcement that The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO, because the letter T doesn’t exist in Tamri… err…) switching it’s model from Subscription-Only to Buy to Play (B2P) with Optional Subscription, known as ESO Plus, alongside the long-awaited release date for the console editions of the game.

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Buy to Play (B2P) isn’t nearly as ubiquitous a business model as Free to Play (F2P) but I welcome this particular shift. Guild Wars 2 launched with the B2P model; indeed Arena.net practically invented B2P with the first Guild Wars. The Secret World also switched from subscription to B2P. There isn’t a specific console MMO with this model so for now Destiny (not truly an MMO) will have to be the closest analogy.

How does Buy to Play work? Pretty much like any standard non-MMO game, actually. You buy the initial game, so there is that initial barrier to entry unlike F2P titles, and you play it as much as you want whenever you want. You’re not paying for access to the game like a subscription does. There is usually a shop to buy cosmetic and convenience items (does not apply to Destiny) for a virtual currency bought with real-world currency. Updates and patches occur normally like any other MMO, but Expansions are now considered DLC. Zenimax has not yet detailed how the game will be handled for players who do not own DLC, but it should be fairly innocuous as it’s a live game in a shared virtual world and not everyone will the the DLC at the same time, if at all. I’m expecting it to be handled similar to Lord of the Rings Online where the Expansion have separate patch notes for all players then notes specifically for those who own the expansion.

Virtual currency? Perfect World Entertainment games all have “Zen.” Guild Wars 2 has “Gems.” The Secret World has “Funcom Points.” Star Wars The Old Republic has “Cartel Coins.” TERA has “En Masse Points (EMP).” Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online have “Turbine Points.” Sony Online Entertainment has “Station Cash.” Zenimax is calling their virtual currency “Crowns” and will put the shop on ESO’s Public Test Server (PTS) next week for current subscribers to check out what’s on offer, get a handle on what Crowns are worth, and provide feedback to ZOS.

ESO Plus? That is their optional subscription package detailing the incentives for members. In addition to the Guide to ESO Plus I linked above (and here again) there is a FAQ with specific information on membership perks.

  • Access to all DLC for the duration of membership
  • Exclusive character progression bonuses for the duration of membership
    • 10% bonus to experience point gain
    • 10% bonus to crafting research
    • 10% bonus to crafting inspiration gain
    • 10% bonus to gold acquisition

There are 30-day, 60-day and 90-day membership subscriptions, allotting 1500, 4500 or 9000 Crowns respectively at the beginning of each membership period. Until the test shop gets pushed to the PTS next week, no one knows what 1500 Crowns is actually worth however. Given that Lord of the Rings Online gives 500 Turbine Points per month and Star Wars the Old Republic gives between 500 and 600 Cartel Coins per month (depending on membership period) I’m going to hazard a guess that the prices will be a higher number than we’re used to seeing, but the actual Point-to-Dollar ratio should be equivalent to other titles.

Before I sat down to write this post, I watched Zenimax Online Studio’s livestream on Twitch (archived here) where they gave their spiel on the business model switch, talked about what they mean by B2P (exactly what I said above), talked about how so-called “Pay2Win” won’t be an issue, showed some of the cosmetic costumes that will be in the shop, and also demoed some PS4 gameplay footage. Costume-wise, this reminds me of what Guild Wars 2 is doing with their shop, although I’m extremely new to coming back to GW2 so don’t quote me there. They also said convenience items such as Health potions (I forget the ESO names but there were three types of potions) will be in the shop but they are equivalent to medium potions in-game; player-crafted potions will always be better.

They also specifically said there will be no Crowns to Gold trading, nor will shop items be tradable. I noticed Guild Wars 2 lets players trade Gems for Gold. Cryptic’s games use an intermediary currency earned in-game (Astral Diamonds for Neverwinter, Dilithium for Star Trek) which players can trade for Zen, or vice-versa. For now, ESO will lock all Crowns and items purchased with Crowns specifically to your character or account.

There will be a Character Copy available for current PC players to copy their character over to the console version, but console cross-play will not be available. Each platform will remain in its own walled garden.

Personally, I am looking forward to the PS4 edition. I enjoyed ESO quite a bit but I did not (and still do not) have the free time to justify a monthly subscription, and to beat this dead horse again, ESO requires me to use the mouse constantly so it aggravated my old Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) in my right wrist more than a normal MMO would (so do Neverwinter and TERA but not as much). I liked the tweaks to the UI that the console editions have. The livestream did not show any chat, but I did see a little tab where you’d normally expect a chat box to be, so I’m guessing the chat box is minimizable (Star Trek Online does this too and I love that feature!) since font size must be increased to account for the distance between couch and TV. Consoles will have voice chat for your group, but also public “Say” range chat. I’ve played a few console games that have similar features and, in concept it’s a great idea and will probably work fantastic for ZOS and their in-house testing. Live, however, we’ll have kids singing, playing music, swearing, belching, screaming trade offers and just generally being the exact reason people don’t like public voice chat. So I’m already tempering my excitement for the PS4 edition with the knowledge I will likely spend most of my time in private Party chat to avoid the Douche Mouth Factor.

See you in Tamriel (Unlimited!) in June!

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I completed my Initial Operating Experience (IOE) at the new job a month ago. Since then, I’ve flown one day. Two legs. That will probably change this week, as I’m on for 6 days. 5 remaining, since I didn’t get used today. I’m at the bottom of the totem pole on what’s called Short Call Reserve, which means I have to be in base (Philadelphia) so I’m ready to go at a moment’s notice if they call. But Short Call guys are the last choice; Long Call Reserve guys get the open trips that are known in advance. I only get a call if someone calls in sick, or stuff like that. Why am I bothering to say this on a gaming blog? Because I’m sitting around a “crash pad” a damn lot bored out of my skull. I have my PlayStation Vita and my new laptop: Acer V7-482PG which plays games pretty decently – when it plays them. I’m possibly exaggerating, but it feels like I’m running 50/50 on whether or not it will play any given game.

I have plenty of little-played or unplayed games on Steam and Uplay. Games I enjoy, but I typically get distracted with an MMO of one sort or another when I’m on my desktop PC at home. I have difficulty focusing on non-MMOs on PC for some reason, which is where the PlayStation 4 or Xbox 360 come in. Here, though? Yeah, let’s load some stuff up on the laptop!

Company of Heroes, a 2006 RTS technically plays, but the models won’t animate, and the soldiers have no textures and remain in their T-pose. Which means I won’t play it like that. Company of Heroes 2, however, which is known to be graphics-intensive plays perfectly fine. Oh well.

I don’t “get” the 4X genre at all, but for whatever reason I want to. I’ve owned Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion for several years and have never managed to even complete the tutorial. Mostly because I spend too much time fighting the camera control to actually play the game. The laptop won’t even run the game. On a side note, I did attempt twice this past week at home to play the very first tutorial, probably the seventh time since I’ve owned the game. I can sorta-kinda see where there would be some appeal but once again I spent way too much time fighting the camera and getting angry. The combat seems kinda boring too so, I dunno, I think I may just call that one $30 down the tubes and move on.

So I bought Age of Wonders 3 which I keep hearing is a cool 4X game. It plays pretty well, although it reminded me very much of Might & Magic Heroes VI which I also own and enjoyed a bit last year. However, that won’t play on the laptop. Not even sure MMH6 is even considered 4X? Regardless, I guess I can switch between that at home and on the laptop I can do AoW3.

I also bought Endless Space. I know, I know, everyone and their monkey’s uncle raves about Endless Legend but that’s yet another fantasy 4X and since I already own two, why not try a sci-fi one? Runs great on the laptop so far, but turn-based games just get to me. That applies to MMH6 and AoW3 also. In combat, fine. But if not a damn thing is going on, why do I have to click the End Turn button? Just friggin’ do it already! I watched a few YouTube vids on Endless Space and the combat looks to be quite cinematic, hopefully more what I’m looking for versus Sins of a Solar Empire. But I haven’t had a combat of my own yet. In fact, I’ve had what seems to be an inordinate amount of turns where I had nothing to do except click the End Turn button. Yeah, I’m more of an action or real-time gamer, so that just seems “off” somehow and leaves me feeling that multiple turns went wasted even though I clicked all my systems and planets and didn’t see anything I could do. Like I said, I don’t “get” 4X yet. The one disappointment with Endless Space is that there is no campaign or story, it just throws you into generating a galaxy seed then go forth and… 4X yourself.

Oh, speaking of Might & Magic Heroes VI, I also bought Might & Magic X Legacy last year on Uplay. I never thought for a second I would like one of those first-person dungeon crawl games. I didn’t like them back when they were the hotness in the early 90’s. But somehow this one had a certain je ne sais quois and it plays wonderfully on the laptop so who knows, maybe I’ll actually get to finish it sitting around here.

Divinity: Original Sin seems to play fine on the laptop. That’s one I would really like to start, but I would very much like to try cooperative with a friend or two. Not sure if that will ever happen, though.

Finally, my two favorite isometric Action RPGs both play perfectly fine on the laptop as well. Marvel Heroes 2015 and Path of Exile. I’m trying to talk one of my co-workers into installing both of these so we can duo.

Then some MMOs. Of course, I have the Arc client so I can play Star Trek Online which runs really damn well so far on the laptop, though I’ll add the caveat that I haven’t played any of the more intensive group content with it yet. Also Neverwinter appears to run at a great framerate, but I had to take a more noticeable hit there on graphic fidelity than I did with Star Trek. Finally, I had mentioned in my 2015 Gaming Goals post that I wanted to return to Guild Wars 2 and see if I could “find the fun” in that game. Holy crap does it run awesome on the laptop! I still don’t “get” GW2 but my aforementioned co-worker will be getting it soon so maybe we can duo some stuff and I can learn what the dealio is with this game finally.

Also, a bonus for laptop gaming at a Philly crashpad: it’s friggin’ freezing up here, even indoors, so the CPU/GPU heat while gaming is awesome!

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I am always the first to admit that my blogging has slacked off in recent years. Especially in light of social media such as Twitter a few years ago, and more recently Google+ where full blown conversations occur on a daily basis. It became far more interesting to participate there than to spend hours writing a blog post that a fraction of those same people would read and most likely not comment. The “rent” was due on this server last week, in fact, and I thought long and hard about not renewing it. But what the heck, the past few months have been all about starting over, so who knows, maybe I will again find that spark that originally got me blogging about games and a few of my other interests so long ago.

WordPress Stats:

To rub salt in the wound, WordPress tells me I only made 16 posts in 2014. It’s not midnight yet, so this will technically be the 17th. Not much readership over those 16 posts. My second Destiny Alpha post was the most-viewed at 61. 6 comments was the most any single post received. I can spit out a 30-second post on Google+ any given day and get more than 6 comments. So it’s not hard to question the whole blogging thing. But let’s not get too down and depressing into “blogging is dead” territory. My Feedly is still filled daily with my usual circle of bloggers I’ve followed for years.

Aside from finding that “spark” to blog again, I’ve noticed I don’t have or take the time to write those in-depth nitty-gritty break-it-down-to-the-numbers posts that I used to. Honestly, my gaming these days tends to be for pure enjoyment, not analysis with a small dose of enjoyment on the side. I run around with a couple guns in Destiny and shoot anything that moves. Not a whole lot of thought going on, and no need (for me, anyway) to try to analyze the stats and min-max whatever could be min-maxed. I haven’t had time to “really” play MMOs either, which are the genre it can be most tempting to bury oneself in stats. But now that my training is completed, I can get back into gaming in my spare time.

My MMO Gaming in 2014

As usual for the past few years, Star Trek Online was my single most-played title, followed by Neverwinter.

I did start off the year with a lot of Firefall, though. I really enjoyed the game, it’s mechanics, and the larger events and invasions were truly a blast. Even though I spent most of the time ungrouped or “playing alone together” it’s those times when open world events occur and players flock from all over to that one area to fight cooperatively that still brings that fresh “this is why I play MMOs!” smile to my face. The various Battleframes each have their own unique playstyles and I enjoyed switching between them, though my favorite ‘frame remains the Bastion. Dropping all those turrets and blasting stuff… ah yeah! I supported Red 5, supported Firefall, spent probably $200 on a Founder’s pack once they started talking about releasing the full game… Then they did. In the process they turned the big level-less sandbox-ish shooter into something else. Now the world is split up into level-bracketed areas. Now there are freaking levels! LEVELS! What the hell? I haven’t managed to muster the interest in logging in at all. Maybe that will change in 2015. I certainly hope so – I’d like to get some enjoyment out of my money.

I did briefly subscribe to a couple MMOs in 2014. The Old Republic first, just to pick up on my Sith Warrior a bit. I do technically enjoy SWTOR, but I found myself extremely disliking any “traditional” questing model MMO this year. I did gain a few levels on that character and tried a few Flashpoints which I enjoyed quite a bit, but became aggravated that the more useful tanking skills are still several levels away. Single-target tanking becomes difficult and not very enjoyable when nearly every pull is a group and there’s little I can do to hold aggro on more than one mob. But still, once I feel I might be “ok” with traditional questing I would like to return to SWTOR.

The Elder Scrolls Online was the other subscription. I didn’t get very far in the game due to my job and everyone else in the guild was flying through the content. Again, here’s a game with “levels” which are a horrible, horrible mechanism when it comes to playing with friends or guild-mates. I did enjoy the Elder Scrolls-style questing, and mostly appreciated the minimalist Skyrim ripoff UI except for everyone’s primary complaint: it’s impossible to tell friends and guild-mates from anyone else. I did not get to participate in the PvP but from watching livestreams it seemed like it was fun and I was interested in picking it up if I ever got to level cap. Who knows, maybe I will give it another go. I’m particularly interested in the PlayStation 4 version if they ever ship the console edition of the game.

Speaking of traditional questing MMOs, I finally picked up Lord of the Rings Online briefly, after being on hiatus for what? 3 years? 4? I got my Loremaster into Rohan with the specific goal of getting the war steed. That just seemed so cool in my head. Went through I don’t know how many zones, completing all the quests, gaining several levels. Then I achieved my goal – I got my war steed! In true “the grass is always greener” form, turns out it was way cooler in my head than it is in the actual game. It sorta-kinda works from a game mechanics perspective and the “mounted combat” is functional. The “driving” is absolutely atrocious, however and that well and truly ruined the experience for me. There are some bits of what appears to be “group war steed” content in the form of open world events (I think?) but here I am coming back into the game a couple years after the Rohan expansion so again: levels ruin everything. All the players are in the new level-cap zones. No one was in Rohan doing much of anything and certainly not the “group mounted combat” stuff. So I gave up all over again, and my Loremaster is parked in lonely Rohan until next time.

Hopes for 2015

I won’t do a “resolution” because those are the first thing to get thrown out with the trash on New Year’s Day, right? So I’ll just rattle off a few off-the-cuff hopes that I have for myself and my 2015 MMO gaming.

Return to Neverwinter. I returned a bit for the Tyranny of Dragons bit, which is a lot of fun plus I’m still catching up on the previous expansions that I missed out on at the time. I’m in a new guild that is very large and always active, chatty and friendly. But I was also starting my training so I wasn’t able to put my full effort into really learning the nuts and bolts of what had changed, and especially into doing the more difficult dungeons to get better gear. When I get more gaming time, I’d like to fully invest in guild dungeon runs and maybe finally learn some PvP!

Find the Fun in Guild Wars 2. It’s gotta be there somewhere? I was such a Guild Wars fan, and I had such high hopes for GW2 and then… this pointless mess appeared with the “Guild Wars” name attached to it. Pointless. That’s the most common thought I have when playing the game. I just don’t see a point to any of it. An awful lot of people play and love the game, so there is obviously something I’m missing? I never feel that I am “required” to enjoy a game that others do or vice-versa so I am unable to put into words why I feel this way about GW2.

Regain Online Social Confidence. So many factors have all contributed to me losing that social enjoyment of playing online. My job keeping me away from home most of the time. Me jumping from game to game, making it difficult to make in-game friends. Plenty more I won’t get into here. But I’d like to regain that enjoyment and the self-confidence to be more social while gaming online with friends. That’s the whole essence of gaming right there, and I’ve managed to let go of it to more of a degree than I am comfortable with. As we get older, life becomes so much “meaningful seriousness,” so why not balance that with “meaningful fun” in our downtime? Work hard to play hard, right? Smile This applies to non-MMO multiplayer gaming too. For that matter, even tabletopping!

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