Xbox One: Full Circle

“I’m an Xbox kinda guy.” Been saying that for years now. I used to be a PlayStation guy, but that’s because PS1 and especially PS2 was where it was at. Then a buddy talked me into trading my PS2 for an Xbox (the original) and “that’s all she wrote.” Had a blast with the Xbox but when the Xbox 360 came around, whew, that just really connected (not Kinected!) with me. I was in a very anti-Sony phase in my life so I avoided every Sony product imaginable except their movies. Nothing specifically against the PlayStation division, though I certainly ragged on the inferior PS3 fairly mercilessly over its lifespan. It didn’t help matters that the PS division came off as very arrogant, which made it all the more satisfying when the 360 trounced it in sales for years.

However. When the current generation came around, I was all set to get an Xbox One up until I started watching those pre-launch hype presentations from E3 and the like. Like many people, I was left scratching my head wondering “what about the games?” Cable TV? Multimedia box? What the hell? I just want to play awesome games. Then came the hardware specs. It seemed this time, the roles had reversed, and Sony was more humbled and just wanted to put out a gaming console whereas now Microsoft was the arrogant party who assumed they could just coast by on the 360’s reputation and do whatever they wanted, inferior technology be damned.

So, thanks to heavy persuasion on the part of a few social media friends, Pete from Dragonchasers in particular, I went with the PlayStation 4 first this time. I already own and enjoy a Vita which helped me get over that initial “I Can’t Believe I’m Buying Sony” hurdle. I’m glad they did, and again, Pete in particular. I feel like, to some extent, I’ve “gotten over myself” a little bit when it comes to PS vs Xbox and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing the handful of PS4 titles I have.

Today, however, I took advantage of the final day of Microsoft’s trade-up program, and traded in my 360 Slim for a new 1TB Xbox One!

It feels so great to be back in Xbox land! Oh, the One isn’t perfect by any means, but it feels like home. Mostly. I can use my bumper buttons to scroll between “category tabs” (my term) again. PS4 won’t do that. Not that it matters, really, since on PS4 you have to intentionally scroll up to the menu bar. The Metro (-esque?) UI on the Xbox One in my opinion fits a console much better than it does a desktop PC environment. I’m not sure exactly what the new OS will look like this fall, but they keep saying it will be a dramatic improvement in performance. Which will be great. The Xbox One UI has a bit of lag to it. Nothing like the Xbox 360 at least, but it’s still noticeable. The Achievement overlay in particular is noticeably taxing the CPU; if you didn’t notice the Metro lag, you will certainly notice the difficulty it’s having giving you an achievement notification.

By far the most annoying “feature” I’ve come across in my few hours fiddling with the One today is there isn’t really a cutoff to the “go back” clipboard. Normally in Xbox applications, the B button is for Back. However, if you back out of whatever you’re doing and pressed the B button again (spamming it, or in my case simply not having each facet of the UI memorized) it will re-launch the last application or game you had running. I’ve lost count how many times today I’ve swore then had to press the Xbox Guide button to “tab” out of the game then exit the game. I don’t know who thought that was a good idea, but that person deserves a Gibbs Slap to the back of the head.

Gripes aside, if I’m being totally honest with myself, had I gone with the Xbox One at launch like I’d originally intended, I probably would have been perfectly happy with it and just stuck with it as my only console. Now, thanks to Pete and a few others, I have both consoles and can enjoy each platforms exclusives. The only downside now is that I will have to actually choose which one to get the multiplatform games on! Which friends are getting which game on which platform? Ugh! But that’s not a bad “First World Problem” to have is it? :)

 

Bethesda E3 Showcase

I happened to glance at Google Plus last night while trading in Elite Dangerous and saw that Bethesda was doing a showcase stream at E3. “What the heck,” I thought, nothing else on TV.

For me, the only two interesting bits — for different reasons — were Doom and Fallout 4. I didn’t play Dishonored so the sequel holds no attraction, and Battlecry looked like something that will be dropped and forgotten just as quickly as it was picked up. Judging from the polite golf clap applause after the presentation, I’m not the only one who felt that way.

DOOM

So. Doom. They didn’t even bother saying Doom 4, just plain Doom. I know the name “Doom” is nostalgic for a lot of people, so that was probably a good title to start the show off with, but for me it was an incredibly unexciting presentation. First off, I was never a Doom fan. At all. I first got into PC gaming (coming from Amiga) right when Doom and Duke3D were big. I played them both, and preferred Duke. Each had equally horrible graphics and sound, but Duke had stupid tongue-in-cheek humor which, for me, gave it an edge up. I didn’t become an id fan until the first two titles in the Quake series. However, despite Quake and QuakeWorld getting me heavily into the first person shooter genre, and playing competitively in Quake 2, I’ve said for years that id makes great tech, not great games.

DoomE3

Doom today is the same as Doom then, just prettier. (Although I was dismayed that idtech still has very plastic-looking textures.) High-speed arena combat and power-ups… everything I got sick and tired of two decades ago. When they showed the multiplayer part, all that came to mind was “oh, it’s Quake 3 Arena with Doom textures.” But that’s ok. I’m a firm believer that not every game has to be for everyone, just like not everyone plays a given game the same way. There are still fans today of the original Doom gameplay and this is for them, but perhaps more importantly there’s a whole new generation who did not grow up on arena shooters. I am not the target demographic for Doom, and that’s fine with me.

The flip side of the first sentence of the previous paragraph is “well, of course it’s the same now as then.” Any given franchise, despite changes for better or worse, always has a few key elements that define that franchise. An Assassin’s Creed game without the acrobatic combat, parkour, blending into crowds, etc. wouldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed game anymore, for example. That’s a sentiment I wish Hollywood would realize: when you “reboot” a franchise and the end result bears no resemblance to the original, it’s no longer that franchise — it’s something different and would have been better served being treated as such.

Not to be totally negative on Doom, I did like that they recognize recent trends in shooters and added a variety of melee moves that looked brutal and interesting. I felt they could have gone the extra step and added similar moves for the jumping and climbing a la Far Cry 3 and 4 but all in all, good stuff.

FALLOUT 4

The main event! I’ll be honest, I’m not all that much of a Fallout fan. I never played the first two 2D games. I still own Fallout 3 on Xbox 360, and two summers ago I was going pretty heavy on purpose to try to finish it but obviously that didn’t happen. That said, I definitely see the attraction.

Now, last week when Bethesda released the teaser trailer, I was less than impressed. I mean, it’s 2015, those flat textures on that dog and hell, you can practically see the polygons and meshes for the model… ugh. It looked more like a Fallout 3 mod than anything, so I can’t say I had high hopes for Fallout 4. Last night, however, alleviated all those worries. Their next-gen Creation Engine (still unfortunately with some legacy Gamebryo code, but whatever) looks fantastic, the world looks more varied than what I remember from Fallout 3 and I’m exceedingly happy that Bethesda is finally embracing the third-person view with quality animations. Something that definitely could not be said about Fallout 3. Skyrim was mostly playable in third-person except for narrow dungeon corridors and a few combat bits, and what we saw of Fallout 4 is a drastic improvement over Skyrim’s third-person.

fallout4-e3

I’m looking forward to what Bethesda has done with both the narrative story aspect and having your character voiced. Todd Howard mentioned it was a big decision for them to go with a voiced protagonist. I usually enjoy that, at least more often than not so I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like.

One new feature that really caught my eye was the addition of the base building mechanic. Build your own city, defenses, etc.

fallout4-e3-building

I’ve recently tried a handful of games in the so-called “Survival” genre. Savage Lands. Rust. ARK: Survival Evolved. The first thing that came to mind when I saw the crafting and building part of Fallout 4 was that Bethesda should totally wait a few months after launch then release an official Fallout 4-based multiplayer survival game priced around $25 to $30.

Bethesda’s little mobile game Fallout Shelter looked like a cute little time-waster, and something I possibly would have been interested in trying but they chose to make it (at least for now?) iOS-exclusive. That’s a shame, given iOS is down to 36% market share in the US but Todd Howard pretty much admitted they were Apple fanboys, so whatever.

Let’s see what the rest of E3 2015 has to offer!

My (Current) Wishlist for Elite: Dangerous

The beta for the “Power Play” Update 1.3 just went live this week, and it looks like it should add quite a bit of nuance to the game. Frontier Developments definitely seems anxious for player feedback and have already made several changes to the beta based on that feedback. Mind you, I’m just reading the forums and reddit; I can’t access the beta as I did not support the Kickstarter.

Power Play is already adding a handful of things that were on my wishlist, but I certainly have more. Things which potentially have an affect on my game on a daily basis, based on the way I am currently playing anyway. Here are my Top 4 as of today:

Group Chat

I play probably 99% of the time the Mobius private group. I wish there was a “global” (galactic?) channel for when you’re playing in Private Group mode. Currently there is only Local, Wing, or Direct messaging another player. I see Mobius pilots from time to time (especially this week as many of us are working on the bounty hunting Community Goal) but it sure would be nice to be able to chat with them at will. Supercruise is by far one of the most boring aspects of the game, you’re just sitting there aiming at your destination, twiddling your thumbs. In an MMO, the “boring” or “downtime” aspects of the game is especially where I want to see players chatting, whether I only read it or if I participate in the conversations. Makes the game feel more “alive.” Elite isn’t an MMO per se but I see no reason a larger scale chat couldn’t be feasible.

Power Play is adding a live GalNet stream to our ships so we can keep up on current news, so taking that into consideration I see no reason a Galactic Relay Chat (GRC) could not be a game feature. I almost never play in Open but I suppose that makes (even more?) sense there, as well. Conversation and coordination. Hell, right now I am up for promotion within both the Federation and the Empire, but those promotions are to assassinate generals who are flying elite Anacondas. I doubt I can pull that off solo, but there’s no way in-game to recruit assistance.

Repair Drones

Power Play is adding Cargo/Mining (collection) drones, Fuel Transfer drones, and Prospector drones. I’m going out on a limb and assuming that the fuel transfer drones allow a player with drones equipped to fly to another player who has ran out of fuel and transfer some fuel to him? I’d like to see Repair drones added as well. Just yesterday while working on the Community Goal, an Anaconda (forget the pilot rank, might have been elite because he was crazy good) targeted and destroyed my Viper’s thrusters. So I went spinning off into space, the rest of my ship fully healthy but no thrusters to get myself to a station. I tried the Reboot/Repair option (added in the 1.2 Wings update) but that also repeatedly failed to fix the thrusters. So I had no choice but to self-destruct, losing roughly 4 million credits in bounties plus the re-buy cost for my Viper.

Wouldn’t it have been nice if upon reaching 0% on my thrusters, my ship had sent out a distress beacon over N light years and a player or NPC could get a job to come repair me? Repair (and Fuel Transfer also) jobs could be added to the revamped mission structure and would be an additional path for non-combat jobs for both credits and potentially reputation as well, if the customer was a high-ranking NPC (or player?) in whatever faction. Starpoint Gemini 2 has a lot of jobs to repair structures, so why can’t Elite have jobs to repair ships? I’d say to even tow the ship back to port but apparently in 1200 years we still haven’t invented tractor beams.

Ship Transportation

I currently have two ships: the Viper which I use for bounty hunting, and a Lakon Type 6 Transporter which I recently bought for trading. I bought the Type 6 at whatever system the Community Goal was a couple weeks ago, which means that’s now a permanent “home” base. Though as it turns out, it’s a rather inconvenient location for doing anything other than the one trade route someone gave me. I would love to have the ability to pay a fee to have my ship transported to a system of my choosing. It can take real-time, and either require that I fly a different ship or that I be offline during the transport. Either is fine by me. I like having choices, and what I’m finding is that apparently I should have done a ton of homework out of game and decided on a “home” system before buying a second ship. I wish there was some means of accommodating the transportation of player ships at a cost. I don’t think there are any player ships capable of transporting another ship so that would have to be an NPC function.

Rank Notification

Power Play is adding progress bars so you can see how close to the next rank of Combat, Trade or Explorer you are but I haven’t heard anything about actually notifying the player that a new rank has been achieved. Either a simple notification from your ship’s computer or GalNet or whatever would suffice, but if they really wanted to beef things up, perhaps a special job to officially attain the new rank? I see promotion missions for the major powers (as I mentioned above, I’m due for both Federation and Empire promotions) so why not additional job paths for non-Power-related ranks? Regardless, seriously, at a bare minimum there should be some sort of notification so the player can do a little “yay me!” right then and there, instead of when he randomly happens to check that panel and notices the change.

Just this morning I saw my Combat rank is now Expert. No clue exactly when that happened; either last night or this morning. I think? Would have been great to have been notified of that!

Cooperative Gaming and Being Sociable

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!

Conan Had an Anniversary and No One Noticed

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?

Reloaded: Double-Barreled

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…

 

First Thoughts: Elite Dangerous

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!

Toukiden Kiwami

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!

[pe2-image src=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-54AkIyyoZIY/VTE8NYIhA0I/AAAAAAAARi0/jaP7uRb2Nks/s144-c-o/Toukiden_%252520Kiwami_20150417123515.jpg” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116544365793034736458/20150417?authkey=Gv1sRgCIrwy9Hnw8fP9AE#6138753967596831554″ caption=”Today’s new armor: the Skeletal set! And yes, my tenko is now green =)” type=”image” alt=”” pe2_gal_align=”center” ]

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.

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 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.

Space: The Resurging Frontier

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?

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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.

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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!

Expansion Time! Heart of Thorns

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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!