Archive for the “MMO” Category

As I stated in my post last month, while I’m in training for my new job I wouldn’t have much time to actually play any games other than maybe (maybe!) my days off training. That pretty much held true as it turned out, so the main goal for October was to run an experiment tracking how much each of my KDF “doff” (Duty Officer) farming alts actually earns over the course of one month of casual use. By “casual use” I mean login once per day guaranteed (in the morning before I go to class) to run my typical “doff route” and if I have time, optionally twice per day (after dinner in the evening). No more than that.

I wasn’t sure how to present the numbers and what to count, however. Brian joked (at least I hope he was joking) about a spreadsheet with graphs. I don’t even know how to do that! What I decided on was: Energy Credits, Dilithium, Contraband, and Commodities then how many of those commodities are needed for the current projects we have in progress in our Fleet Holdings. We’re a very small, very casual fleet. Our Starbase is Tier 2, and roughly 50% to Tier 3. Dilithium Mine is Tier 2 and coming up on 70% or more towards Tier 3. The past month or two has seen an increase in activity and even a few new members and we’ve made a lot of progress in a short time; probably more progress, especially on the Mine, in two months than in the past two years. The other two holdings, the Embassy and Spire are both Tier 1 and roughly 50% towards Tier 2.

So, today is the 31st and the numbers are in. However, I did manage to throw a few glitches into the mix, but I still have good enough numbers to work with. The first is a simple one: while I did mention counting R&D materials in my original post, by the time Oct 1 came around, I’d forgotten about that so I didn’t clear out the farmers’ R&D inventory to have an accurate count. On the flip side, I really didn’t bother concentrating too much on jobs that gained R&D materials anyway, other than a handful of blue-quality ones. Starfleet characters get the same projects as KDF for those resources, so I didn’t see a need to concentrate on them when I could focus on resources that Starfleet has a dramatically more difficult time acquiring.

In couple weeks prior to the Delta Rising expansion’s launch, STO had a Bonus XP event going, so I ended up creating two more KDF doff farming characters because they would reach level 11 to unlock Duty Officers much faster. I made one standard KDF, the other Romulan. Both of them ended up throwing a huge monkey wrench into my routine, but for different reasons. The KDF one has so far encountered some sort of technical glitch where he never gets a promotion when he enters a new level bracket. He’s now level 34 but still in his original ship, which tops out at warp 5.72. He takes twice as long to travel and I have to get packed, get breakfast and catch the van to class so I ended up getting very discouraged to even do much with him. A lot of the time I’d only run him through two sectors instead of my full normal farming route. The Romulan, on the other hand, is crippled due to content-gating: you must play through a certain number of missions in order to unlock the ability to travel to all the sectors. The point of a farming alt is not to play missions, so I still haven’t made the time to run the next few missions to really get him on his way. Obviously, low level farming alts have the same low profitability as any other low level character. Low tier gear vendors for much less than high tier gear. Other low level problems were: marauding acquires prisoners, which are wonderful to sell them off to labor camps for dilithium. However, the Forced Labor Requisition project doesn’t unlock til level 22, so you end up with a brig full of prisoners and nothing to do with them. You can mail them to your account and hopefully use them in other projects on other characters, or just dismiss them. Also low level characters simply don’t have very many duty officers initially, so they can’t do as many projects, and all the initial duty officers are common quality (“white”) and have a much higher failure rate on the profitable jobs. So, low level farming can be somewhat frustrating.

Noob Numbers

The new KDF farmer was level 18 on Oct 1, and level 34 today. He ended up earning 190,993 Energy Credits and 28,740 Dilithium. 190 Contraband. A total of 1871 Commodities, 826 of which are in demand in our Fleet Holding projects.

The Romulan started at level 21, and is also 34 today. He ended up earning 88,322 Energy Credits and 17,576 Dilithium. 42 Contraband. 461 Commodities, 139 of which can be used immediately in Fleet Holding projects. See how being limited to two sectors limits the projects he’s able to do, limiting his total earnings? Once I take the time to play his missions to open up the rest of the game, he’ll be a fine earner but for now my best advice is to not make a Romulan farming character.

Oopsie

The other mistake I made was on one of my five primary farming alts. Two mistakes, actually. Apparently while clearing out everyone’s resources so I’d be able to count their earnings, I forgot to clear out her Energy Credits and Dilithium. Then, about a week into October when she did her first Starbase run to vendor stuff to clear inventory space, I stopped at the bank and realized she had several commodities that could be used to complete some Holdings projects right then. Which was my normal thinking. That’s what farmers are for, right? So before I caught myself, I put all her commodities in the bank and the in-demand ones into the account bank. So, I will post her numbers separately since her EC and Dilithium count will be higher because I didn’t clear them, and her commodities won’t be the full amount she actually earned.

She has 674,405 Energy Credits and 151,753 Dilithium. 177 Contraband. 1,767 Commodities, 693 of which can go into Fleet Holdings.

Hard Numbers

That leaves four of my five primary farmers to work with. I’ll post their totals and averages, then the total earnings for all seven farmers.

  1. 574,730 EC; 75,978 Dilithium; 155 Contraband; 1834 Commodities; 826 in demand
  2. 762,014 EC; 68,438 Dilithium; 305 Contraband; 2800 Commodities; 1046 in demand
  3. 561,184 EC; 53,498 Dilithium; 338 Contraband; 3062 Commodities; 1366 in demand
  4. 686,057 EC; 61,118 Dilithium; 329 Contraband; 3143 Commodities; 1078 in demand

Using those four characters, the average comes out to: 645,996 EC; 64,758 Dilithium; 2,709 Commodities; 1,079 in demand.

The difference in earnings mostly comes out to factors such as: the quality of duty officers, the number of successes (and crits!) versus failure and disaster (even worse because those duty officers go to sick bay so are out of commission for a day and can’t be used). I don’t spend any Zen on increasing the duty officer capacity like the hardcore farming players do, nor do I spend their dilithium or energy credits getting better quality duty officers. I only run the occasional duty officer job that will hopefully acquire a new higher quality duty officer whenever that farmer alt has them available. Even then, I’m often dealing with failures or disasters so come up empty-handed. But that’s one of the differences between casual doff farming like I’m doing versus the hardcore guys who spend hours and hours each day maximizing their earnings.

Total Earnings

The total income of all seven duty officer famers came to:

3,537,645 Energy Credits; 457,092 Dilithium; 1,536 Contraband; 14,938 Commodities; 5,974 Commodites I can use immediately for our Fleet Holdings.

All in all, I’d say that’s not bad just for logging in once per day and running some duty officer jobs! The dilithium alone should be able to finish up both of our current Upgrade projects and a few more.

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So, in MMO-land, I did end up canceling my Elder Scrolls Online subscription last month. Not because I didn’t enjoy the game – I certainly did, although I will admit to not often being in the mood to actually log in. That also wasn’t ESOs fault, just a general malaise over a more traditional MMO experience that went across the board. I still have those hardcore-ish urges, but every passing year it gets easier and easier to resist them. But the dungeons in ESO did look interesting, as did the PvP, and you guys knows I never say much nice about MMORPG PvP. But here I am with a new job and a 60% pay cut, and for at least two years my gaming time will be curtailed.

So, decision time. I’ve always really enjoyed Star Trek Online and Neverwinter. I’ve decided that given what my life is going to be for awhile, those two MMOs would probably offer the best of both worlds: the ability to play in short bursts if need be, and plenty of queued group content.

As it turns out, both games have upcoming expansions as well!

I just saw on the Neverwinter launcher yesterday that Module 5: Rise of Tiamat is coming soon. My impression of this one is that it’s not necessarily a stand-alone expansion, but more of a continuation of Module 4: Tyranny of Dragons. I took my break from Neverwinter shortly after Module 2: Shadowmantle launched. I’d visited the Dread Ring but hadn’t progressed very far in the campaign. Even now, I haven’t completed the campaign to unlock the dungeons. Icewind Dale (Module 3)? Forget about it! I’m still in Tier 1 gear (still lacking the head piece, too) and while my Gear Score is (barely) above the 10K requirement, I can’t do anything at all in Icewind Dale so I’ve given up on that until I can get Tier 2 gear. That and Devoted Clerics need a balancing pass anyway to boost both dps and healing, in light of the recent Scourge Warlock class. But I’m really digging the game, and I’m in a very active and friendly guild. Having a blast running around quite literally slaying Internet Dragons with the Module 4 campaign, and I’m very close to unlocking the first instance. Good times, and very excited to face Tiamat, one of the most iconic dragons in D&D history in the Module 5 expansion.

Star Trek Online also has its Delta Rising expansion coming next month. I’m very torn on this one. Content-wise, it seems like a fantastic expansion to look forward to. New stories in the Delta Quadrant, new queued content, a revamped queue system with an even more challenging difficulty level, new captain specializations, new bridge officer types, a revamped Intrepid ship (my main ship this whole time, except for STFs), both exterior and interior to finally fit with the actual Voyager canon… this sounds fantastic, right? Except for one thing: a level cap increase, and the accompanying gear reset. Tier 6 ships. One of the most endearing aspects of STO has always been that anyone can play ships and wear outfits from their favorite show’s era. There are plenty of Original Series fanatics out there, wearing the 60’s garb and tooling around in old ships. Plenty of TNG, DS9 and Voyager fans, such as myself with the Intrepid as my primary “RP” ship. Oh sure, I have a whole fleet of other ships to choose from, and I have several geared up for specific content but for story stuff or doing stuff with my fleetmates, I’ll be commanding from the Intrepid bridge, thank you. But now they’re introducing Tier 6 Intel ships, which are an all-new design. The Klingon ships look pretty cool, but I play Federation. I’m not overly keen on Romulan ships period, but they look ok. The Federation Intel ships, though? I guess out the of the three, the escort is the best looking one. But I play a Science captain, so even though I can have a blast in an escort, that career path doesn’t get the maximum performance (dps) out of those ships. And that Science Intel ship? FUGLY!

There will be an upgrade path for our existing Tier 5 ships, which will run approximately $5-ish, however that upgrade is only good for a “Tier 5U” (Upgraded) quality, therefore will not allow the extra Tier 6 abilities and Intel bridge officer. This has been an extremely controversial sticking point for many players, including myself. I’m not jumping on the “Doom Rising” bandwagon, but I’m certainly not happy that I feel “forced” to abandon the ships that brought me into the game in the first place. So for myself, Delta Rising has me both excited for the new content and new mechanics, but also a feeling of sadness and trepidation for what I fear will happen as a result of Tier 6 Intel ships. All I can hope for is that months down the road, Cryptic will allow us to fully upgrade our ships to Tier 6.

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Just finished Day 2 of Basic Indoc for the new job. Just wanted to check in with the blog and announce that, assuming I have the time to login to STO daily next month, that I plan to conduct a casual experiment.

I’ve always been terrible about “accounting” in MMOs, but next month I will attempt to track the total resource income of my little army of KDF “farmers,” meaning characters I created for no other reason than to acquire resources from the Duty Officer system. The Klingon Defense Force faction has a vastly superior pool of duty officer assignments to gain various resources compared to the Federation, which has caused players to sometimes refer to the KDF as the “Klingon Dilithium Farmers.”

So, my goal over the course of October is to track the total resources my little gang of farmers can acquire and transfer to my Federation main character for use in our Fleet Holdings. Starbase, Dilithium Mine, Embassy and Dyson Sphere Spire. The most easily obtained resources will be dilithium, energy credits, contraband, commodities, and basic raw materials which are the new ingredients for Research & Development (ie. crafting) formerly known as “data samples” under the old R&D system. There are two resources which farming alts are less able to supply: Fleet Marks and Duty Officers. None of my KDF farming alts are in fleets; there is no reason to because they do not exist to actually play, only to farm resources. I can technically farm civilian colonist duty officers on either faction every 24 hours, but the KDF side can convert them into dilithium more frequently than I seem to be able to do on the Federation faction. So I generally consider dilithium a more valuable resource than mailing colonists across factions, which sounds cruel saying it like that. The only way to generate Fleet Marks is to play queued content, and as I mentioned, those alts do not exist to be “played.” Their ships have no gear, they have no skill points assigned, they’d be useless in a fight. So for a teeny casual fleet like ours, Fleet Marks are definitely a bottleneck because we have to login and have the time and desire to play the content which rewards Marks. Dilithium has traditionally been a bottleneck as well because, being so casual, most of the fleet doesn’t have much dilithium to spend. I’m the only one who occasionally goes on hardcore-ish dilithium grinds to build up my stash.

So, that will hopefully be my little accounting project for October while I’m in training. I doubt I’ll have much time to actually play any games, so just being able to login every day and run my farming routes should hopefully be enough to let me unwind a bit.

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I haven’t done bandwagon-style “community” blogging in forever and a day, so I thought I’d do Jayla’s Gaming Questionnaire, which I suspect is really just an outlet to not-so-sneakily get some of us to admit our age. Smile On a side-note: I can’t even remember that last time a blog post has continued traffic seven days after the original post. Usually any given blog article has a lifespan of three days — tops, so congrats to Jayla (and yay for me discovering a new blog to add to my Feedly) for this one.

  • When did you start playing video games?
    I don’t remember the exact year but it was during the early or mid-70s.  So there, I just admitted my age. Feel free to #GOML now, ya whippersnappers.
  • What is the first game you remember playing?
    Pong. The arcade game Pong. Later Atari released a home console of Pong and I’m pretty sure my family owned one, which led to us owning an Atari 2600 console (originally called the Atari VCS).
  • PC or Console?
    Yes. Smile I love both. I go in phases where I will play heavily on one for months, then switch to the other, or sometimes even play both equally. Some types of games I feel better playing on a console — specifically, playing with a controller, which PCs are also capable of, but also playing on a couch sitting back rather than at a desk sitting forward, so it’s not just a hardware issue for me.
  • XBox, PlayStation, or Wii?
    Oy. I’m an Xbox-kinda guy at heart. I prefer the Live infrastructure for multiplayer and Microsoft overall has done a better job of keeping the service online than Sony has. However, for the current generation hardware, I defected to the Sony camp and got a PlayStation 4 because a software patch can’t fix inferior hardware. Though, honestly, both consoles this generation are running inferior hardware.
  • What’s the best game you’ve ever played?
    Ouch. This is a tough one. By what metric do I define “best?” Hours played? Favorite memories? Even using that one, my list would be extensive. Tell ya what, for this one I will cheat and just say the Mass Effect series as a whole. I don’t get to finish very many games, and I usually have a thing about not getting a sequel in a series unless I’ve finished the earlier games. I happily played through all three Mass Effect games, even playing the first one twice and most of the way through the second on on a replay. Red Dead Redemption gets a second place vote for being an excellent game overall, as well as the first Rockstar game that I thoroughly enjoyed finishing.
  • What’s the worst game you’ve ever played?
    Brink. Hands down, Brink. Holy fuck what an absolute piece of shit that game was. Absolutely nothing worked the way it was supposed to. I have only two “good” memories of Brink: First was the night Aaron, Paul and I got together on Xbox Live and finished the campaign (for the achievements mostly) purely out of spite, trash-talking the game and the developers every moment of it. Second was the next day when I took the game to GameStop and traded it in.
    Since this has been primarily an MMO-oriented blog over the years, I’ll add EverQuest II as my worst MMO. I’ve owned some turds, Warhammer Online coming to mind as a piece of crap game in a piece of crap engine by piece of crap developers but even then, when WAR was being shut down I at least logged in a few times to try to figure out what was supposed to be so great about it. But EverQuest II still stands out as the single MMO box purchase I regret. I would much rather have my money back.
  • Name a game that was popular/critically adored that you just didn’t like.
    Does “most MMOs” count as an answer? Winking smile This is the age of the “three monther” after all, and for me most are lucky if I get past three days. No? Ok, seriously then. Oh, let’s see… well there was Oblivion which I famously finished out of spite for 100% completion but didn’t really enjoy it, much to the consternation of The Elder Scrolls fans in my circles. Final Fantasy 7 comes to mind. I’ve never truly enjoyed JRPGs and for FF7 that was purely a “jump on the bandwagon” thing for me, trying to understand why J-stuff (anime, manga, JRPGs, etc.) was so popular among gamers (“gamers” at the time being the readers and writers of video game magazines like EGM back then) but not with me. I primarily played FF7 to watch the cinematics, which were great at the time (though incredibly crude and primitive today) and try to understand the story from that because the in-game dialogue didn’t exactly do a great job of relating a story. Pretty sure I lost a few IQ points just from reading the dialogue, actually.
  • Name a game that was poorly received that you really like.
    There are several, as I tend to march to the beat of my own drum and I like what I like, screw you all. But the moment I read this question, two games immediately popped into my mind so I will go with those. First is The Saboteur. Ever since the Battlezone games, I was slightly fanboyish toward Pandemic Studios even though a lot of their games afterward were highly flawed, or EA rushed them out the door. Probably not even the same developers who worked at Pandemic. But I felt The Saboteur was their greatest post-Battlezone achievement, and a fitting swan song for the studio which EA shuttered after The Saboteur’s release. It was also my very first 100% Completion on Xbox 360 which I am very proud of. The second game is Halo Wars, which was the swan song game for Ensemble Studios, and which I’ve written about a few times, most notably the game’s three year anniversary and also a brief Q&A I did with the developers at that time. A console RTS? The “PC Master Race” [insert rolling eyes and a coughing fit] laughed at the idea. But it was wonderful. Wonderful! Even now at 5 years old, Halo Wars has a healthy online community on Xbox Live.
  • What are your favorite game genres?
    Role-playing games and shooters get the “favorite” spot, hands-down. Those are broad terms, however. Not every RPG is anywhere near the same as another, and the same applies to shooters. And that’s a great thing! So many variations and categories within each genre to appreciate (or not).
  • Who is your favorite game protagonist?
    There have been a number over the years. Lara Croft, for example, sold me on the idea of having a strong female lead and there have been some great Tomb Raider games, especially with the new rebooted series. But I will have to crib from a previous answer and go with Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect trilogy. The Mass Effect series had some fantastic characters, and regardless whether you went with a male or female Shepard, leaned toward Paragon or Renegade paths, you gave a damn about Shepard and his/her crew and about saving the galaxy.
  • Describe your perfect video game.
    This would normally be the perfect question for a video game blogger, but I feel I’ve done it already in years’ past and as I write this answer today, I am uncertain that I even have an answer today. What I wanted a few years ago is most definitely unrealistic now, given my real-life demands on my time and not wanting to devote all my gaming energy to a single title. That hardcore, raider, open-world, yadda yadda guy is still in there yelling loudly to be heard, but as long as I’m being honest about my age bracket (see the first question above) I may as well be honest with myself that just because I “want” something doesn’t mean that’s something I “need” or can even commit to. Because if there’s one thing Real Life has eliminated, it’s my ability to commit to much of anything outside of work, because my work schedule is so hectic.
  • What video game character do have you have a crush on?
    None. Oh, sure, I can do the Guy Thing and “check out the pixel tits on her!” or whatever, but that’s not something that carries any legitimate emotional weight the way having a “crush” does.
  • What game has the best music?
    Another “best” question I cannot answer. The days of chip music are long gone and these days even the biggest piece of crap game has a professional composer writing the soundtrack. A shorter list might be “What game has the worst music?” But I’ll bite. I say Guild Wars. As in the first one. You know, the one they ripped 100% and plopped into Guild Wars 2? (That may, in fact, be one of the reasons GW2 doesn’t resonate with me? All that time and they didn’t contract its own soundtrack?) Jeremy Soule has done some fantastic work over the years on various properties, but I still love his GW soundtracks, especially some of the Factions themes.
  • Most memorable moment in a game?
    Oh gosh. So many! A successful campaign against the opposition in Air Warrior on GEnie way back in the day? Our guild harboring a non-guild Jedi friend from bounty hunters in Star Wars Galaxies? Pretty much all the big raids I did in World of Warcraft? And again in Lord of the Rings Online? The first time I took down a Scarab in the Halo series? Even the time playing Frontlines where Paul snuck up on me in a tank (!!!) and shot me in the face at point blank range still gets a belly laugh.
  • Scariest moment in a game?
    That depends on how I’d define “scary,” I guess? Most games aren’t “scary” per se, they go for “startles” instead. Back in Resident Evil where you enter the mansion and the first time the dog jumps through the window? Scared the pants off ya, didn’t it? Screamed like a little girl, I’ll bet. But that’s being startled, not being scared. One other time comes to mind, which was the first Tomb Raider game back in the day, where exploring Atlantis you climb Lara higher and higher until you can’t even see the ground anymore. It’s not so much “scary” but I definitely got that “holy shit I’m up so high my stomach is feeling queasy and my nutsack just turtled itself” feeling.

    Most heart-wrenching moment in a game?
    I’ve got three answers for this, in chronological order, because I’m OCD like that. First, when Sephiroth killed Aerith in Final Fantasy 7. You’re just shocked that it happened at all. I mean, that came out of nowhere. Sephiroth is falling, aiming at Aerith and you’re like “No. No way. She’ll move.” But no, Sepiroth goes all stabby then you’re shocked all over again. Did you see what you think you saw? No way. Then it happens: Aerith’s Theme begins playing during the cinematic and you know. You KNOW. It happened. And with that knowledge came the tears.
    Second, toward the end of Red Dead Redemption. You’ve spent all that time playing John Marston, getting to know and like the guy, then he makes the ultimate sacrifice to save his family. A very emotionally moving experience.
    Third, the goodbye scenes in Mass Effect 3. Oh, gawd! Everyone has their favorite crew members and those will be “the best” but just on an overall level, you’ve spent three games recruiting and getting to know all these awesome characters and now you’re saying goodbye because you know (or at least highly suspect) that your Shepard is about to sacrifice himself to save them all. If you didn’t get at least a little teary-eyed during any of these scenes, you are dead inside.

  • What are your favorite websites/blogs about games?
    Easy: none. Smile I have all my blogs in Feedly and the state of so-called “journalism” in the industry is so pathetic that it’s a rare event when I have any respect whatsoever for anyone who attempts to label themselves that. Almost everyone has a moment to shine, but they’re so few and far between that I rely on social media friends to link them rather than following any sites myself.
  • What’s the last game you finished?
    I don’t get to finish many games these days, so the most recent was Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon over the summer. Wonderful single-player shooter heavily laden with over-the-top 80s references.
  • What future releases are you most excited about?
    Well… as I mentioned recently I’m about to start a new job and I’ll be back to bottom of the totem pole with even less time to game than I already have, and less money to buy them. That being said, I’m looking forward to Destiny (already pre-ordered) on PS4 and Shadows of Mordor, though I’m not committed to buying that one brand-new. I have such a backlog of games, plus the handful of MMOs I play, that the smart thing to do would be wait for a price reduction or wait a full year when the GOTY version with all the DLC comes out.
  • Do you identify as a gamer?
    Absolutely, but very infrequently among “muggles” because as big as the gaming industry has become, it still has a very negative connotation among the general public either for “games are for kids” which is so untrue it’s not funny, or being a “waste of time” which is incredibly hypocritical when you consider the people who say that spend a ridiculous amount of time watching television (passive entertainment) like sports and/or “reality tv.”
  • Why do you play video games?
    Various reasons, “fun” being at the top of the list. From there, it depends on the game. Some games I like being challenged. Some games I play for the story. Some I play for the social aspect, whether it’s a co-op game with friends or chatting with guildies and strangers in an MMO. Some games I continue playing either for completion factor or progression. There are a lot of types of games, therefore a lot of types of reasons to play them. But in the end, all games are supposed to one thing in common: FUN. No one should be playing a game they don’t find any fun in.

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I don’t often talk about my job here, and even now that I’m writing a post specifically about my job, I’m going to be vague about it for my own protection. Suffice to say those in my closest circles of online friends know what company I fly for. Here on the blog, I will simply say that for the past 14 years I’ve been a pilot at the regional airline level; a captain for 12 of those years. Those 12 years have been one of stagnation in the airline industry beginning with the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our country and the following financial crashes and depression. Feel-good pundits refuse to use that word, saying “recession” instead, but I’ll just call a spade a spade: it was a depression.

Hiring and movement began last year at a trickle, but now the floodgates are about to burst open. The past month I was made aware of rapidly changing dynamics between my wholly-owned regional subsidiary and its new parent company. Both are short-staffed on crews but the parent is forcing the issue now. So, I was one of the first batch to undergo the new interview process held in Dallas a couple weeks ago. All of us quickly became the most popular pilots in the company as the rest of the guys and gals slightly junior to us wanted all the “gouge” they could get about what we went through.

Suffice to say, Friday I arrived at one of the out stations on my trip and was greeted to an email of the Chief Pilot at the parent company, who welcomed me to the team with a job offer! So, after 12 years as a regional Captain, I will shortly become a First Officer at a legacy carrier!

In the immediate short term, the new job means a 55% to 60% pay cut, so I am already examining my hobbies. I have parts for a brand-new high-end PC picked out, which will run me $1500 or so. Undecided if I will go ahead and do that, but I likely will just get it over with so that I’ll have a more powerful system to enjoy during my fewer days off for the next couple years. I won’t be jumping on any more New Shiny MMOs, especially if they launch using the subscription model. That leaves Elder Scrolls Online on my chopping block. I’ve been subscribed since launch but haven’t played all that much. Not because I don’t like it, just because I’m not always in the mood for it plus the Stalwart Guild is just like any other social media guild and hops from shiny to shiny. (Not a slam on the guild or anyone in it, it’s just an unfortunate fact of MMO life these days when you happen to want to make a “home” somewhere but everyone else continues to bandwagon-hop.) First it was Wildstar, now they’ve returned to Final Fantasy XIV, neither of which interest me in the slightest so I’ve been all alone in ESO when I do bother to login. I’m still deciding whether to drop it outright and save that $15 monthly fee or not. I’ve recently returned to Neverwinter, being two expansions behind now that Module 4 just launched a few days ago.

In the console world, the only new PS4 games I plan on getting are Destiny (pre-ordered) and the Shadows of Morder game, and I don’t have to get that one immediately since I have plenty of Xbox 360 games, PC games on Steam, Uplay and Origin and the couple PS4 games I already own. My backlog alone should keep me occupied while mixing in the occasional PC MMO. I’d been considering an Xbox One just for the platform exclusives but with the finances I can no longer justify that.

So while this is very exciting news for my career, for my gaming hobby it means my already rare spare time is about to become even more rare and precious, as well as my annual income for roughly two years until I’m back to where I am now and then quickly exceeding salary. I’ve been wanting to focus on my backlog of games and MMOs. I guess having the job force the issue is one way to go about it! =)

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After… oh, let’s see… roughly 30-ish years of playing online games, I unfortunately got to check off an item that was never on my bucket list: one of my accounts was compromised.

The offending account in question was my Cryptic / Perfect World Entertainment (PWE) although the attack was purely based in Neverwinter. I didn’t have anything in my Champions account and my Star Trek Online account was untouched.

I’ve been on break from Neverwinter for several months, only making a handful of logins just to invoke or set some crafting queues. No actual gameplay. But earlier last week I figured hey, I’m already one Module behind and the next one has already been announced, bringing with it the long-awaited Scourge Warlock class, so why not jump in and start catching up? I invoked, cleared up my crafting projects then started clicking around at the other icons to see what’s changed and what I was behind on. Clicked the mail icon and was greeted with:

Neverwinter: He Stole My AD!

On March 12, a common Thievery Kit was purchased for every single Astral Diamond I had. Say what? So I started clicking other stuff, the Astral Diamond Exchange most importantly. On the same date, all my Zen (not much remaining but still) was exchanged for Astral Diamonds, the pre-order bonus Astral Diamonds was loaded into the account then used to purchase this common item.

I checked my two lower level alts, then. Both were parked at a mailbox but neither of them had much AD or anything else to begin with. Only the Devoted Cleric, my main character, had any shinies and wealth.

So I went through the PWE Customer Support process. First off, obviously, setting a new and stronger password. Then the days-long back and forth of talking to CS reps about my ticket. At least I had screenshots and they had their login records which matched my story of activity.  Originally it sounded like they were going to implement a full character rollback but the final verdict was that it had been too long since the compromise and (my words) they didn’t have all the data to do a 3-month rollback. They did refund all my Zen and all my Astral Diamonds, though. I have no idea if anything is missing from my Vault though. Pretty sure most of the stuff I had was character- or account-locked so hopefully none of my pre-order goodies are gone.

At least the issue was resolved mostly to my satisfaction and I can begin playing Neverwinter at my leisure again.

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Now that my Hunter has been level 8 (the cap for this weekend’s alpha test) for awhile, I’ve continued playing him to unlock more skills and get new weapons and more importantly, to slow down and smell the roses and really try to pay attention to the details.

I meant to write some of this in my first Destiny Alpha post but if you happened to notice the timestamp, I finished writing that just after 2am so I wasn’t exactly in top mental form.

So, now that I feel more comfortable speaking about the details of what’s available in Destiny so far, let’s get down to brass tacks.

Quality as a Shooter

As expected, this is from Bungie who put consoles on the map for first-person shooters back with Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox, so Destiny is definitely top-quality when it comes to the overall feel and the tightness of the controls. In my previous post, I made a few comparisons to Defiance, and so did Belghast on his Manifest Destiny blog post this morning. I particularly like what he said here:

I feel like Defiance was an MMO with Shooter elements, whereas Destiny is a Shooter with MMO elements.

I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly. Again, I’ll reiterate Bungie referring to Destiny as a “shared world shooter” rather than an MMO, and despite having a dance emote (!) it does lack chat and (possibly) the ability to trade between players. There is a mailbox but so far it’s only been for receiving stuff from Bungie so that’s up in the air until Beta next month. I’ve not found any type of Auction at all to buy from and sell to players.

I was very happy that Bungie broke from their Halo reload controls of using the right bumper (R1 on PlayStation, RB on Xbox) and switched to what has become the “standard” for console shooters, the Square or X button which is quicker to press and more intuitive than the bumper. My only real stumbling point was they bound melee to the R1 button (RB on Xbox) instead of clicking the right stick (R3 on PlayStation) but I quickly got used to it. The right stick (R3) is used to highlight a player so you can interact with them such as emotes or inviting them to a fireteam.

Aside from Square or X being reload (thank you), the other controls are pretty much standard. X (PS) or A (Xbox) will jump, Square or X is also the Interact function to get a mission, gather a resource, etc. Circle or B will switch from standing to prone. There is no crouch. Triangle or Y will switch weapons from Primary to Secondary, and holding it (long press) will bring up your Heavy weapon. Clicking the left stick (L3) will sprint, and pressing B while sprinting will do a short slide. L1 or LB throws a grenade, which is a cooldown and does not rely on having a stock of grenades. Then R1 or RB is melee, as described previously.

In terms of overall performance, I feel like Destiny is chugging along at a fairly consistent 30fps. The Xbox One has been sadly underperforming in the first batch of cross-released games versus to the PlayStation 4 but Bungie says (thanks to the recent SDK that lets developers gain an extra 10% of power by removing Kinect from the equation) the Xbox One version will also run at 1080p and 30fps. 30fps is fine. It’s no Call of Duty at 60fps and that much is certainly noticeable but the recent Battlefields have also been 30fps and for bigger world games that works perfect. If the PS4 alpha build is dropping frames at all during busy times, it isn’t dropping more than 5fps for sure, but I do think it’s holding 30fps at all times.

The only feature that is truly lacking is a map. There is none whatsoever, not even a mini-radar map. Pressing the touchpad on the DualShock 4 toggles you in and out of “Nav Mode” which only shows you the location of nearby missions, or the next objective waypoint if you’ve already started a mission. Destiny is pretty big and currently there’s no way to get from A to B other than memorizing where everything is and how to get to and from the various locations.

PS4-specific, Destiny uses the DualShock 4’s lightbar. It’s normally white if your health is fully charged. If you take a beating and your health bar turns red on your UI, the light bar turns red as well. And if your Super ability is charged (Super Charged, get it?) the light bar turns yellow. Vita Remote Play works as well as can be expected. The closer to your PS4 the better, and there’s always a tiny bit of delay between the two since the data is being streamed to and from the Vita. It’s probably acceptable for general free roam PvE. I wouldn’t recommend it for a Strike (3 person) or Raid (6 person) PvE where the difficulty is ramped up and your team is depending on everyone. And there’s absolutely no way I’d use it for Crucible PvP where reaction time is everything.

Audio and Visuals

The music is very Halo-ish. I’ll just leave it at that. Sound effects are fantastic. Bungie is a AAA studio and Destiny has a AAA budget from Activision so there are no cheap beeps and boops here. Sound effect-wise my only gripe is that the sound for when your cooldowns refresh is the same sound as collecting an ammo pickup. I would prefer a unique sound so I know what happened without having to scan my UI. I’d already mentioned my disappointment in Peter Dinklage’s voice work for your Ghost AI, a sentiment I’ve seen shared quite a bit online. Other celebrities did some voice work as well, if you can pick them out. Nathan Fillion does the voice for Cayde-6, the Hunter Vanguard (ie. Class Vendor NPC) in the Tower. Fillion has done voice work in a few Halo games and it’s a shame he didn’t get used for something with more airtime than a Class Vendor. Out of all the voice work I’ve heard so far, Dinklage’s is still the most disappointing because it sounds “phoned in” and lacks any in-game character and personality. Shame, because he has a great voice with good annunciation and (to me) just the right level of baritone.

The Mass Effect is strong in that one!

Visually, Destiny is stunning. The art style, graphics and effects are all excellent and it’s great just to run around and see things. The class Super abilities are all very flashy and fun to watch with glorious particle effects. Even the skyboxes are some of the best I’ve ever seen. And the lighting! Oh, the lighting. I forget where I read this, I’m certain it was one of those Xbox One-inspired “is resolution really important?” type of articles but one of the tech-oriented developers said “next-gen won’t be about polygons, it will be about lighting.” Destiny has a full day/night cycle which is very well done. The first free roam zone has a dark red-lit tunnel and a large broken fan and sunlight streaming in from outside. Absolutely gorgeous. Some of the vistas are right up there with a Lord of the Rings Online in terms of “hey I just want to stop and look around, maybe snap a few screenshots.” When a Public Event happens, everything goes dark as the huge mothership momentarily eclipses the sun as it warps into the atmosphere. That’s a cool effect! As always I do have a gripe, but it’s just that some of the drops, especially gear drops can difficult to see on the ground. Everything glows but for some reason, perhaps it’s just the shape and size of the gear drop, it’s the one I have the most trouble spotting.

See? Pretty!

RPG Elements and Progression

There are three races in Destiny: Human, Awoken, and Exo. Awoken are blue aliens that resemble a mixture of elves and vampires while Exo are a cybernetic or robotic species, a sort of fast and athletic Terminator minus the organic skin. Once you’ve selected a race and gender, you choose one of the three classes: Hunter, Titan or Warlock. All three classes can use the same weapons, the real difference is their abilities and appearance. There is no MMO “trinity” at work in Destiny. The classes and their subclasses are to find a playstyle that fits you; no one class is “better” than another.

I mentioned in the first post a fear that at level cap (which appears to be 20) every subclass will have all the exact same skills. Thankfully, that is not the case. After unlocking upgrade abilities your XP later goes toward unlocking optional toggles. I think I saw two additional grenade ability types for the Gunslinger subclass of the Hunter, for example. You can only equip one at a time. Other abilities actually modify your attributes. One on the Hunter for example is called “Path Forbidden” and gives a bonus to the Recovery attribute but penalizes the Armor attribute as a tradeoff. This can allow each player to both customize their loadouts not only to accommodate their personal playstyle preference but also for specific encounters. So in that sense, I guess it’s somewhat analogous to how Guild Wars 2 handles skills: you have a smallish set of actives and passives but a larger pool to draw from and can swap them out on the fly.

There are three direct currencies in Destiny. The first is Glimmer, a blue crystal that would be the equivalent of “gold” in a fantasy MMO. Glimmer is acquired from killing enemies, completing missions or finding loot chests that spawn in random hidden spots in the world. Glimmer is universal to all your characters as well. Then there are Vanguard Marks and Crucible Marks which are obtained through completing Bounties and used to purchase Legendary equipment. Vanguard is a PvE reputation and Crucible is the PvP reputation. There is a third reputation, Crypo-Archeology which only applies to the Cryptarch NPC in the Tower. He will decode any Encrypted Engrams you collect from enemies, which in turn give reputation points. Buying engrams from him gives points as well. Ranking up lets you buy better engrams, just like ranking up in Vanguard or Crucible lets you buy better stuff.

There are also collectibles or what I will refer to as an “indirect currencies” which are used to upgrade your gear. In the first post I mentioned being able to gather Spinmetal Leaves but didn’t know what to do with it, assuming that a crafting system would come later. First, you can do something with it right now in the alpha: in the Tower there is a Crucible Quartermaster NPC who allows a Material Exchange. You can trade Spinmetal for Crucible Points. Each trade gives diminishing returns but that means if someone is willing to do that much farming, that he could level up the Crucible PvP reputation just by gathering resources in PvE. So far there are four gatherable materials listed but Spinmetal is the only one available in the alpha playable area. Secondly, the more advanced higher level armors requires multiple resources to upgrade in addition to Glimmer: one of the gatherable resources and a class resource. You don’t sell unwanted gear in Destiny, but you can dismantle it which will give a small amount of Glimmer and if the gear is better than white quality, you’ll get some class resource as well. Hunter armor dismantles into Sapphire Wire, for example. Dismantling weapons gives Glimmer and Weapon Parts which are used to upgrade weapons. Even the white quality weapons give Weapon Parts so I’ve been dismantling each one I collect then working on upgrading the green weapons.

Gear quality also has its own progression. White gear does nothing but green and better will eventually upgrade after enough use. For a weapon, you can upgrade its Attack rating, maybe get another boost then start unlocking different types of sights that could be useful in different encounter types. Armor upgrades might give a stat boost or some other perk such as faster reload. Elemental attacks are also featured in Destiny. You’ll start picking up guns with elemental attacks like Arc (electricity), Void, Fire and later on some enemies will be resistant to some elements and weak to others. So collecting weapon types and filling your Vault will be a thing come end-game.

With the level cap being so low in the alpha, it’s uncertain if there will be any type of level-scaling in Destiny. Last night I was in a fireteam with Scopique, who was level 6, and Scarybooster was level 4. I was level 8 with all green upgraded weapons and I was laying waste to everything before they had much of an opportunity to shoot so if there’s no type of level scaling, playing with friends might become an issue when the levels differences are vastly different. I think I’d approve of a Guild Wars 2 downscaling per area in Destiny.

Crucible PvP

So far the only PvP playlist in alpha is Conquest, a 6v6 matchup where teams try to capture and hold points on the map as well as kill the opposing team. Call of Duty’s Domination playlist would be a perfect analogy. There are two maps currently, one set on a moon and two types of vehicles are available: a speeder bike with guns (!) and a bigger slower hover bike-thing with a rocket launcher. Machine gun turrets are on the map in a couple spots. I’ve got a measly three matches under my belt so far, and… I’m undecided if it’s something I would stick with for the long-term progression. When I do play Call of Duty, Domination is my preferred playlist so Conquest should be right up my alley. Destiny plays slower than Call of Duty though, closer to a Battlefield feel perhaps. It’s a Bungie game so again, comparisons to Halo (in particular its Big Team Battle playlist) will be obvious. I normally loathed Halo multiplayer because it was primarily small teams and arena shooting, similar to the old Quake or Unreal Tournament games. Bungie unleashed Big Team Battle with Halo Reach and it proved popular so 343 Industries continued and improved on it in Halo 4. It’s the “best” (for my playstyle preferences) Halo multiplayer but even then, I can only play one or two matches before I’m ready to put it down. Destiny feels better than Halo to me, and that applies to the PvP here, but there’s still some as-of-yet intangible je ne sais quoi that causes me to quickly lose interest after a match or two.

One thing that is certainly putting me off is I think levels and gear matter in PvP. XP is shared so if you’re a 100% PvP player you can level up purely from PvP, all the while gaining Crucible reputation and marks to get the best gear in the game. I’m running around with the best PvE guns I can buy and have them upgraded but I go into PvP and get one shot, meanwhile it’s taking anywhere from 2-5 shots to kill an on-level opponent. Some of that is skill, as I’m more of an Xbox controller guy and still struggle a little bit with the DualShock 4 but the amount of one-shot deaths makes me suspicious that better gear makes or breaks the match.

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Bungie surprised everyone (or at least myself and my teeny circle of gaming friends) with the sudden announcement of a First Look Alpha test this weekend for PS4 players. I was at work during the registration period but somehow late this afternoon I received an alpha key anyway from Bungie. Hey, whatever, I’ll take it!

I set my PS4 to download the client then ran out to dinner. By the time I got home, the game was ready to go. Character creation is a simple process. Select one of the three classes, that’s the major choice as it will determine your abilities. Then for appearance, choose from a dozen-ish faces, hairstyles, and so forth. You’re primarily just creating a face. Body size is not an option. The gear you equip determines the rest of your look in-game.

The First Look Alpha starts off at the upper end of level 3 and you’re already in a mission. You’ll encounter a few groups of Fallen on the way to the objectives, enough to level up and get introduced how to upgrade your skills, etc. Then mission complete, and off to The Tower you go. That’s a Social Area where your typical NPCs are located: vendors, mail, vault (bank), etc. Destiny is a first-person shooter, but in the social areas it switches to a third-person camera. Running around the Tower in particular brought to my mind a strong sense of Mass Effect due to its similarities: third-person, futuristic shooter RPG, running around a Citadel-like station and so forth.

Your first visit to the Tower a few NPCs have green icons over them attracting your attention. You get some new gear and your starter vehicles. A basic spaceship for traveling to and from the Tower and the various planets (only a segment of Earth is in the alpha) then a Sparrow speeder bike (yay, Star Wars influence for the win!) for travel on the ground maps. The loading screens to and from the tower show your ship, and if you’re in a fireteam, also the ships of your teammates in formation.

Now you return to Earth again, this time in the “real game” where you can run into other players doing missions, help them out, maybe team up, whatever. As I mentioned in my previous post, Bungie has been calling Destiny a “shared world shooter,” avoiding the term “MMO” as much as possible. One big thing I notice is that (at least in alpha) there is no chat whatsoever. Even Defiance, which was labeled as an “MMO shooter” had chat, broken though it was for many months. Over on PCs well of course every MMO has chat, that’s what keyboards are for, right? But Defiance on consoles have chat. DCUO on PS3 and PS4 have chat. I don’t know if Destiny has local voice or not though. I soloed a few levels then joined a PSN Party with some friends where we had two fireteams running missions. Bungie has said they wanted Destiny to be more an organic experience, where you can play as a single player game but see other players or you can assist or team with them seamlessly, so I guess having a chat window filled with LFG (or LFF since groups are called Fireteams in Destiny) spam like I see in DCUO.

The catch was that even though we were in the same zones, we couldn’t’ find each other. We wanted a full six-person fireteam but ended with with two three-person fireteams and the other team wasn’t even in our “world.” GameInformer had an interview with Bungie’s technical director last December where he called their matchmaking tech “mesh-based networking.” It sorta-kinda halfway seems similar-ish to the “megaserver” of Elder Scrolls Online. Some of us we were able to invite to a fireteam and we’d all load into the same world, others would get an error or some message and be unable to join us, so we went with two teams. But it was still aggravating that we weren’t even in the same space in-game to at least see each other even if we weren’t teamed. That’s something I hope gets some attention before launch. Being able to find, or at least see, friends needs to be convenient and easy and fast, especially on consoles. What the “mesh-based networking” does try to do well is make sure the players you see in your environment are all in your level bracket so I guess that’s nice that pretty much every player on your UI is a viable candidate to team with should you want to.

In free roam mode, far as I can tell you just run around picking up missions from flashing green beacons such as the one pictured above. Unlike an MMO where you do a quest, turn it in then that quest is gone, these missions seem to be immediately repeatable. You can intentionally, or accidentally as we did a couple times, grind these missions to your heart’s content apparently. Every so often a Public Event will occur. I’m inclined to compare it to an Arkfall from Defiance but that game doesn’t really give any fanfare that any type of event is occurring anywhere. I suppose Rift, Defiance’s forebear, would be more similar as I seem to recall getting some form of announcement on the UI when a rift was forming nearby? Anyway, the event in first zone is a Devil Walker, a big spider-like tank that players have to destroy. After trying this a couple times, I think I’m comfortable saying that it’s sorta-kinda like Defiance where the boss’ weaknesses are highlighted but it seemed to be much less obvious in Destiny. Then again, it may have been less obvious when I was new to Defiance also, I can’t remember now. For now anyway, these event bosses definitely have some challenge. The Walker’s legs can be damaged individually and there’s some way of making the “head” separate briefly exposing the core underneath but I haven’t figured out what triggers that yet.

Apparently the final game will have crafting? So far I’ve seen these “Spinmetal Leaves” which are collectible, and dismantling gear will give parts as well as the “Glimmer” currency. But whatever these resources are to be used for is either not in the alpha at all or simply cut off due to the low level 8 cap for the alpha. Either way, this type of collecting I enjoy much like in Skyrim. The plants don’t glow or have any type of effect to get your attention, they just look unique compared to the normal foliage so it’s a nice addition to add to the scenery where you just happen to be exploring or fighting the Fallen and hey there’s a resource to gather.

I’m told that armor dying unlocks at level 20, which obviously is not available in this weekends alpha test, but that will go a long way towards appearance customization.

I chose the Hunter class, and the alpha defaults to the Gunslinger subclass. I’m hoping the implication there is that there are multiple subclasses to choose from and each one has its own subset of skills and its own Super ability. The Hunter has a great jetpack-assisted double jump. I’m told the Titan and Warlock double jumps are less desirable, especially the Warlock. I haven’t tried those two classes yet though. But I did reach level 8 with the Hunter. I did learn that even though the level cap is 8, you continue earning XP and can continue unlocking skills. But at level 8 it seems like most of the gear that drops is for level 9-11 so I can’t equip any of it.

Reaching level 8 was accomplished in the Devil’s Lair “Strike” mission, which is Destiny’s term for an instanced “dungeon” mission. It was fairly challenging for the three of us, and I was glad we went to the Tower first so I could buy new gear. I hadn’t been to the Tower since level 4 so by the time I was ready for the Strike, I was in dire need of better guns. Plenty of very strong Fallen in there, and even though I don’t like shotguns in most games (and really not a fan of the amount of shotgun recoil in Destiny) I was happy I got a fire-based shotgun that took down most of those shielded Fallen in two or three shots. The final boss was another Devil Walker just like from the public event but there are also waves of Fallen that spawn on both sides and really make the whole thing challenging trying to get a good shot on the Walker weak spots while avoiding its deadly shots and also trying to cut down the number of Fallen shooting at you.

Seriously, how can you look at that shot and not think of Mass Effect?

RPG-wise, I’m not sure what to think yet. I’m not sure if using certain abilities (guns, melee, etc.) give bonus XP towards unlocking certain skills or if they just unlock at specific levels regardless? But my first impression is that there isn’t a “skill tree” setup per se and at end-game every single person playing a certain class will have the exact same skills unlocked. I have not played the Crucible PvP yet but I’ve read XP carries over from PvP to PvE. Does that mean “levels matter” in PvP? They most likely will in terms of unlocked skills. What about weapon levels and damage? I dunno. I’ll give PvP a shot (pun intended) later this weekend but I haven’t read overly favorable things about it so far. Mostly just “meh” comments.

I really like what I’ve seen so far other than a few minor issues, but it’s alpha right? I will say that the voice work leaves much to be desired. Especially when they’ve got actual award-winning actors in there doing the work. Peter Dinklage plays the voice of your AI “Ghost” but instead of sounding like he’s giving a voice and personality to a character named Ghost, it just sounds like a very bored and disinterested Peter Dinklage is reading lines off a script in the sound studio. Shame, really.

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As I mentioned in the previous post about my new foray into comics, while I thought Volume 1 was underwhelming, I was willing to continue to see if things improved. So last week I read the graphic novel Justice League Volume 2: The Villain’s Journey. Oh, and before I get started, consider this whole thing a SPOILER ALERT!

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Volume 2 picks up 5 years after Volume 1 ended. I suppose the intent there was to show that in Volume 1 these super heroes who were used to being on their own and protecting their respective cities (or space sector, in Green Lantern’s case) and were grudgingly forced to become a team, while 5 years later and in the “present” New 52 day, they’re considered an established team and well-respected by the peoples of Earth. Unfortunately, other than Batman and Superman being friends now, none of the other characters have grown closer, or even grown at all. It’s as if  Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman were stuffed into Doc Brown’s Delorean clown-car style, while Batman and Superman remained outside with the remote control, Bats laughingly telling Supes “when this sucker hits 88 miles per hour, you’re going to see some serious bullshit!” and instantly reappeared 5 years into the future. (And boom! Another BTTF reference!)

Batman continues to be the punchline of Green Lantern’s jokes, some of which are actually funny, but still you’d think after working together for 5 years Lantern would see the Bat’s value as a tactician. Which brings me to some complaints I’ve read about Volume 2 — DC readers say the characterizations are off in Justice League compared to each hero’s solo adventures. As I’ve mentioned before, I never read DC and am only recently learning what the “New 52″ even means. What I don’t know is: are these New 52 series all happening at the same time? In the Batman solo series, writer Scott Snyder has him enduring the Court of Owls, being starved and psychologically broken as well as being hunted by their Talon assassin. Is this the same Batman who is simultaneously being poked fun at by Green Lantern for not having any powers? Or is Justice League in its own separate bubble? Because the writer for Justice League, DC’s CCO Geoff Johns, was also writing Green Lantern and Aquaman so if this is all supposed to be a cohesive universe, shouldn’t the characters act the same and their own story arcs carry over into their behavior and challenges as a team? Volume 2 also heavily features Steve Trevor who is now the liason between the government and the Justice League. Any romance between him and Wonder Woman had already been broken off by Diana, though Steve still pines after her. Neither is Superman dating Lois Lane. In fact, the end of Volume 2 begins a romance between Superman and Wonder Woman. In their solo books is that also the case or do they have their long-standing traditional romances? Then there’s Green Arrow. Mind you, I’m a huge fan of the show Arrow, which is partially why I bothered to read any DC comics at all. I haven’t read any Green Arrow comics yet because every time I pick one up in the shop, the art is so atrocious I can’t justify the purchase. So in Volume 2 there’s an issue where Green Arrow is basically stalking the Justice League trying to join. Quite literally begging to join. Way out of character, and just a weak excuse to have him show up, though Steve Trevor says he’s forming another team that Ollie might be a good fit for. I’m assuming that was Geoff John’s lame “origin” for having Green Arrow in Justice League America? I don’t know anything about JLA other than I’ve seen Green Arrow on the cover art a few times.

The title of Volume 2 is “The Villain’s Journey,” and that’s exactly what it is. The Hero’s Journey only in reverse. The end of Volume 1 had the heroes come together and form the Justice League and famous supernatural author David Graves wrote a book “Justice League: Gods Among Men” singing the praises of these superheroes after they foiled Darkseid’s attempt at conquering Earth.

Five years later, however, David Graves has lost his family to illness contracted on Apokalips, Darkseid’s world, and is terminally ill himself. He lashes out and blames these “gods” for being unable to save them, and used his research of the supernatural to visit the mystical Asura in Mount Sumeru that only the near-dead can see. They gave him great power which he uses to become a villain “Graves” who first visits each of the heroes’ enemies and tortures and kills them for to learn the heroes’ secrets. Even Steve Trevor is caught up in it, and brutally tortured for information about the Justice League and its Watchtower satellite. Graves wants to destroy the public’s faith in the Justice League, prove they are just flawed people like everyone else and not the “gods” he made them out to be.

I feel like in Batman, Scott Snyder eschewed the traditional villains to create the Court of Owls which was accomplished to great success. But this Graves villain Geoff Johns created, I dunno. He had a sob story trope that I didn’t buy as the reason for what he did. Nor did I particularly care about Graves. Most of the traditional villains in comics are still around decades later because the fans love them. I can’t imagine Graves coming back for more.

I did enjoy Volume 2 even though it seems like I’m trashing it here. It had its share of flaws, as I’ve pointed out, certainly. But all my jumping around trying to get back into comics two decades after I left the hobby, my tastes have changed and I have higher expectations out of the authors I read. I’ve had fantastic success in finding awesome new fiction authors for novels but comics? I keep hearing Scott Snyder, so I’m reading his Batman graphic novels (The Court of Owls series) and it’s enjoyable enough. I keep hearing Geoff Johns who is DC’s Chief Creative Officer for cryin’ out loud, but in both Justice League volumes I’ve complained of generic tropes and poor characterizations. Perhaps it’s a limitation of the medium. Just like critics refuse to consider video games as art, maybe comics can only do so much to tell a story. Maybe Snyder and Johns are great writes… “for a comic, anyway,” which is saying they wouldn’t cut it as a novelist. I don’t know. I am still searching for a series that I truly enjoy the characters, the stories, and the people creating them.

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Thanks to a few online friends, namely Hudson and Blue Kae, I’ve been trying out a few card games since last summer. I own four now — Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, Lord of the Rings LCG, Android Netrunner LCG, and Marvel Legendary — but haven’t gotten a chance to really dig into the LCG games yet. I might write about them all someday, but for this morning’s post is about my newest game: Marvel Legendary by Upper Deck Games.

Legendary is labeled a “Deck Building Game,” which immediately made me think of so many prior CCGs like Magic: the Gathering, all the way up to Lord of the Rings LCG, etc. where the player has to spend time doing “meta” to build your own custom deck out of the cards you have, and of course buying new card packs along the way. To be perfectly honest, that aspect of the Lord of the Rings LCG (plus the complexity of the rules) has been the reason I haven’t played yet, and that assumption very nearly kept me away from Legendary. However, I am pleased to say that is completely not the case here! The only “meta” I can imagine anyone doing is deciding which Heroes might mix and match to hopefully create a winning deck against the Mastermind and his Scheme.

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In Legendary, you pick 5 Heroes (3 if playing Solo) and you take all of each Hero’s cards to shuffle into the Hero deck. The above photo was my very first game, played solo, so I had all the cards from Hawkeye, Iron Man and Spider-man shuffled into the Hero deck. That makes it easy since you just grab every card from each Hero you’re playing.

When the game begins, you start with a player deck of 12 cards: 8 SHIELD agents (which have 1 Recruit point each) and 4 SHIELD troopers (which have 1 Attack point each), of which you draw 6 for your hand. Draw 5 cards off the Hero deck and put them into the HQ section of the board. From here, you can play the Agent cards to try to recruit Hero cards into your deck. However, a recruited Hero card does not go into your hand, it goes into your discard pile. At the end of each turn you discard your hand, then draw 6 more for your next hand. Once you’re out of cards to draw, you shuffle the discard deck and begin re-drawing. That’s where the Hero cards slowly start appearing into your hand, and turn after turn, your player deck begins building larger and larger. Deck Building Game! Easy, peasy!

Out of the group of card games I own so far, Legendary also has the easiest rules to learn. I played my 4th game last night (which ended up in a draw, took me awhile to notice the tactics I should have been using against that particular Scheme) and I didn’t need to touch the rule book at all. However, easy as it may be to learn the rules, it’s not necessarily an easy game to win. In my 4 games, all have been either draws or losses. The more cards you get in your hand, the more you have to kinda slow down and think about how you want to play each card, because some of the best cards have consequences so a little bit of “mental chess” is in order deciding how that card will play and what it will leave you afterward.

Legendary is primarily a cooperative game, however there is a little bit of competitive aspect in that at the end of the game, each player tallies up how many Victory Points he got during the game. So, it’s possible with certain cards to attempt to intentionally screw over your fellow players along the way. Deadpool, in particular, I’ve noticed is just as much of a screwup and a dick in the card game as he is in the comic — nearly all his cards have consequences which either screw over himself or one (or all) of the other players.

All in all, though, I’ve found Legendary to be a really fun game. Which is saying something considering I’ve only played solo so far. It’s fairly fast-paced, and as I said, the rules are pretty easy to catch onto. Good fun for a rainy day when you don’t want to be plugged into the internet!

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