Monday, June 29, 2015

X12 Buff Progression: Inquest for the Inquiring Inquisitor and FFXIV

After powering through three class stories (bounty hunter, consular, knight) in as many weeks, I've decided to relax quite a bit and take the Inquisitor at my own leisurely pace.  I'm feeling a certain amount of reticence in leveling my Chissquisitor; this is last class story I have left before 'seeing it all.'  Well, seeing the class stories, anyways.  It takes a bit off the shine of SWTOR knowing that I'll be seeing new class stuff for the very last time.

I've done Makeb a couple of times and found it to be competent.  I've yet to experience the Shadow of Revan stuff, but from all accounts it is well done and intensely fascinating.  I may hold off on that for a while just to prolong my game experience; after all, I'm very intent on taking SWTOR as casually as possible this time around to avoid inevitable burnout.  And that means trying new things and taking time off from the game if I need to.

Nowadays, I busy myself with being outside, playing my Xbox One with my son (Forza Horizon 2 is a particular favorite of ours), and trying out new games.  Or more accurately, trying older games I haven't played in a while.

Enter Elder Scrolls Online!  Again!

TESO captivated my interest from the early announcements.  It looked like Oblivion (but prettier) and played like Skyrim (at least later in development).  There are several very cool things about it (good starting races, good starting zones) and some bad things (lol auction house wtf, twitchy combat).  Mainly, my wife plays it a lot and I sometimes watch her and think, HUH.  Maybe I should do that again!

TESO can't catch a break.

I downloaded two MMOs over the weekend.  One was TESO.  I won't be playing that any time soon, thanks to the *other* MMO I downloaded.  On a whim, and it was a complete and utter whim, I also downloaded the trial for FFXIV: A Realm Reborn.

Now, I played the original FFXIV on a trial account early on.  To say that I hated it would be a shockingly inaccurate statement.  I *loathed* that game.  The opening cutscenes on the ship, the 15 minutes of voiceover, the hilariously bad menus and UI.  God, everything about original FFXIV was 'wtf lol dis game suxxx' bad; the combat, the graphics, even the chatbox.  I tried it and dropped it almost immediately.  It's important to remember that my only real MMO experience prior to FFXIV Original Flavor™ was World of Warcraft (and to a lesser degree Puzzle Pirates).

Then came a cavalcade of other MMOs, including SWTOR.  I tried EQ2 as well and found that I enjoyed it a bit despite the busy and antiquated UI.  Rift came and went; while it was a bit clunky, I appreciated what Trion was trying to do.  Some Perfect World MMOs came after that, so generic and bland that I've forgotten their names.  There was TESO as well, and a trial of Wildstar which did not impress me at all.  Heck, I even tried MMO shooters like World of Tanks (nope), World of Planes (better but didn't last long on my HD), War Thunder (better than WoP but still not good), and Destiny (bought it on sale, ok for a time, got old fast).

The only one besides WoW that really stuck to me was SWTOR.  That may have changed yesterday morning.

I booted up the trial of FFXIV: ARR (which is now pronounced in my head 'Fix-iv arrrrr') and was pretty impressed with the visual style.  Even the start screen was snazzy.  The character creator was pretty outstanding as well; it may be missing all the sliders and customization of TESO's crazy editor, but it had more than enough options to make me happy.  Much more than SWTOR or WoW's creators, that's for sure.

The opening cinematic definitely lets you know you're playing a Japanese RPG.  It's weird and makes no sense, but not in a horribly awful way.  I generally dislike JRPGs intensely, so the fact that this one did not immediately piss me off was a good sign.  The opening scenes aren't skippable, which makes it rough if you create more than 1 or 2 characters though.

The game starts you off in 1 of 3 different cities based on starting class;

  • Limsa Lominsa for Marauders and Arcanist: A beautiful seaport that boasts some truly inventive vertical design.
  • Gridania for Lancers, Archers, and Conjurers: A fairly standard woodland realm that's sprawled out and mildly inconvenient to traverse.
  • Ul'dah for Pugilists, Gladiators, and Thaumaturges: A desert city with all the Arabian trappings you'd suspect.  I've spent the least amount of time here so far and can't really give a good indication of what it's like.

So far, the game is interesting and fun.  In stark contrast to Warlords of Draenor, FFXIV's world feels alive and bustling.  There are an immense amount of NPCs wandering around in cities and small towns, enough to make it feel like a real place, and they interact with your character for the most part.  The creature density is pretty damn high in the wilderness, though thankfully (at least early on) most of them are not aggro-on-sight.  Leveling is a steady process, with decent pace and excellent quest writing.  All in all, I'm pretty impressed.

I started as a 14-day trial account, but since the base game is only $20 and includes a free month, I signed up for the whole shebang.  I'll be interested to see my engagement level in 30 days; will FFXIV stay with me like SWTOR did?  It's off to a promising start ... but then again, so was Rift.

I'll report again with my impressions beyond the starting zones soon!

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Road Map to Knights of the Fallen Empire

October 27th isn't too far away, so let's lay out the road ahead (as we know it) for the new expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire.

There are five bonuses for players if they are subscribed from July 31st to launch day (or, more technically 7 days before launch day).  A new companion, some blasters, a coat, a swoop bike mount, and early access.  These are earned in order ... each one can be earned individually, but you must be subbed for the first four in order to activate early access.  Also remember; these bonuses will be mailed to you either on Early Access start date (October 20th) or launch day ... they will not be available before then.

The official site lists them:

  • Subbed on July 31st - Nico Okarr, a new companion for KotFE
  • Subbed on August 31st - Nico's twin blasters (can be used for Nico or yourself)
  • Subbed on September 30th - Nico's coat (can be used for Nico or yourself)
  • Subbed on October 19th - Swoop bike-inspired mount (inclusion in swoop gang not included)
  • Subbed from July 31st to October 19th - 7 days of Early Access to KotFE

Remember, you must be subbed from July 31st to October 19th to get the early access!  If you miss one of the cutoff dates, you're shit outta luck on Early Access.

If you 'd like to sub, hey, gimme free cartel coins and earn yourself a goodie package by using my referral link!

Bioware has made a big deal over 'returning to their roots' with this expansion by making it story-focused.  It almost sounds like a is a single-player expansion (CONFIRMED).  My fears about the new story were solidified in an article/interview at MassivelyOP.  So what does it mean?  There will be a single story in KotFE, the story of the Outlander.  Much like KOTOR or any other Bioware RPG, you'll have a singular story to play.  Granted, the story will branch out and take twists and turns as you make choices, but this really means that the much anticipated and long awaited class story continuation is very much dead (for now).  Bioware states that there will be 'class flavor' in the Outlander story, but I sincerely doubt there will be much other than, "Hail <class name>, well met!  We have a mission for you.  Kill 10 droids!"

Is this such a bad thing, though?  If it's a true return to form for Bioware Austin and they really are channeling both KOTOR and Mass Effect, can it even remotely be a bad thing?  My personal belief is that it will be equal parts awesome and disappointing.  The class stories were something that made SWTOR so incredibly special and also so worrying ... their ability to carry on that much development on 8 different game stories at once was often brought up pre-launch as a potential failure of the game.

There's also a new free level 60 feature for KotFE ... sound similar to anything?

To be fair, I think this is a GREAT feature.  The ability to instantly make a new character at level 60 is a springboard to the new content.  It instantly engages new players and lets Bioware concentrate on the story they want to tell.  The downside is this; brand new 60s mean brand new players who don't really know what they're doing.  This is basically ok, though, since the multiplayer content will be pretty sparse.

Also remember that this is not a *boost* to 60.  You can create a new character at level 60.  Existing characters cannot be catapulted to 60.  Bioware also states that they are working hard on providing us 2 extra character slots for the new expansion; no need to delete old characters to clear space.  And finally, the level 60 option will of course be available in the Cartel Market because OF COURSE.  I'm not mocking it ... I mean, why WOULDN'T it be available?  It'll sell like hotcakes.

The lack of class story continuation is disappointing but ultimately practical.  When I was watching the E3 conference and the subsequent interviews/press releases, in the back of my mind I knew there would be no class story ... they reference 'the Outlander' way too often and way too heavily for me to think there'd be class-centric stories.  It makes me wonder if all the current companions will be jumbled up and spread throughout the expansion as quest givers instead of hanging with us.  I'm betting we'll get a whole new crew of companions instead, plus whatever Cartel Market companions we've bought over the years (Treek, HK-51).

It's a bit sad, but expected.  It still hasn't really affected my excitement for KotFE, but it has taken a tiny bit of the shine off.  Oh well.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

X12 Buff Progression: Knight Complete!

Well, that was a snoozer of a storyline for 2 chapters.  Then, enter the Emperor (and a shout-out to the Children of the Emperor in the Consular storyline) and blammo, the Knight ends with a flourish!

The beginning chapter for the Knight was decent enough.  Hunting down super weapons was tedious but not mind-numbing (read: Consular noetikon scavenger hunt).  My only real question is great googly moogly, how many terrifying super weapons does the damn Republic have?!  I mean, seriously.  You're supposed to be the 'good guys' yet you apparently greenlit horrific projects like: the Planet Prison that can annihilate an entire atmosphere (with Imp modifications, of course) along with every person on the surface, the Shock Drum that can shake a planet's core to pieces through the power of dubstep, the Death Mark laser that can autonomously take out any target on Alderaan (aka US drone program), and the least offensive yet possibly most horrible Power Guard project that subverts a personality and augments a soldier with cybernetics powerful enough to face Jedi.  Christ on a cracker, what the hell are the guys on Coruscant thinking?

Straight homey chillin' on Nar Shaddaa.
The second chapter was a mish-mash of Emperor-related stuff; he basically acted as bogeyman and you meet Lord Scourge (the first time).  It wasn't bad or good ... I guess the most damning thing I could say was that it was utterly forgettable up until the end.  That's when it got very interesting as the Emperor becomes a full-fledged villain in your story.  The assualt on the cloaked fortress was pretty impressive and fun and the twist in the end is a pretty awesome setup for an excellent third chapter!

And woo boy, what a third chapter.  After breaking free of the ol' Emperor's control, you race across the galaxy (well, to 3 planets) to stop him from becoming an all powerful Force-controlling Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.  I particularly enjoyed Corellia as I got to finally face Braga, but also interact with the Sith/Jedi I'd encountered along the way.  Bengel Morr!  That weird alien guy I apparently saved on Tython named Unaw!  Lord friggin' Praven!

I'll be honest, I got a serious kick out of seeing Praven.  I chose to treat him honorably on Tatooine and seeing him here, so strong with the light side and forthright was very fulfilling.  I wish I could have taken Praven instead of the remarkably one-note Lord Scourge.

Using level 50 basic comm gear for the final two planets felt like cheating.  I liked it.
The final assault on Dromund Kaas and the encounter with the Emperor was legitimately nerve-wracking for me.  I thought it was great to see DK from the other side, as an invading party hell-bent on annihilating the Emperor once and for all, was fresh and exciting.  The cutscenes placed around the actual assault were pretty wimpy; I was hoping to see some semblance of a huge fleet action as the Republic forces clashed with the Empire over Kaas to buy you time to make your approach but alas.  The attack on the temple and the actual encounter with the Emperor was all handled very well and fantastically written ... the first two chapters (up until your capture) were pretty much a snoozefest, but Bioware truly redeemed themselves with this final arc's story and feel.

Another interesting thing I noticed; this is the 3rd character I've leveled through story with this particular buff and each one has ended up right at level 53.  I've had 10% XP from guilds on two of 'em, and 7.4% on the other; I used 25% boosts occasionally on my bounty hunter and consular, and then very, very heavily on my Knight ... and each one wound up the same dang place.  I'm guessing the leveling curve flattened out those levels through xp (at higher levels, the xp decreased) but still ... odd to all wind up at 53 like clockwork.  I also was pretty sparing with my comms this time around and bought myself a nearly-complete 146 set when I hit 50!  Boy howdy, this made stuff easier late in the story on Voss and Corellia.

I was pretty sure that I'd rank the Knight on the lower half of my story favorites, but the 3rd act just completely redeemed the entire arc.  I'll place it in the top half alongside Agent, Warrior, and Smuggler.
  1. Agent
  2. Warrior
  3. Smuggler
  4. Knight
  5. Hunter
  6. Trooper
  7. Consular

*Yet to finish Inquisitor

Friday, June 19, 2015

New Layout!

I got tired of looking at the old layout, so I changed it.  If you don't like it, suck an egg.

Just a tiny update for SWTOR today.  Looks like some folks were holding out hope that the Fallen Empire or Infinite Empire or whatever the third faction is going to be called in KotFE, it won't be playable.  Cuz duh.

So, now that's cleared up.  I'll be working on getting my Knight to 50 this weekend.  I'm heading to Voss to be all goody-two-shoes and shit.  I'll be honest, being a light-side Knight is pretty boring.  The plotlines are ok ... but they lack the real gusto of the Agent or Warrior stories.  Even the Smuggler!  I'll have a more in-depth review once I complete Chapter 3, but I can safely say that this story will go right in the middle of the pack.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Knights of the Fallen Empire - New Expansion Impressions

Hot diggety damn.

I've honestly not been this excited about SWTOR since launch.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch this:

Holy hell damn shit fire, boys and girls!  Blur Studios made another film for SWTOR!  And it was excellent.  It told a better story in 4 minutes than 9 months of vomit-inducing 'story' from Warlords of Draenor.

So, let's get a bit of a breakdown going:

  • October release date
  • Story-driven
  • Level cap raised to 65
  • Free for subscribers
  • Free level 60 character (ala Draenor's boost to 90)
  • New companions
  • Old companions
  • Ability to betray companions
  • Possible ability to choose a new faction/side? (I doubt it)
  • Chapter-based story with monthly updates (supposedly)
  • Old flashpoints/ops raised to 60+
  • Continuation of class stories? (maybe?  god, please do it!)

There's a lot to chew on there and frankly, others are doing a better job of it than me.  So I'm going to concentrate on a couple of points I find most interesting: companions and subscriptions.

There was a large stink made in the press release that we'll be getting new companions and that we could kill/betray them possibly.  This article at Polygon lays it out a bit better; in an interview with Jeff Hickman, he states that you can recruit up to 5 new companions for the expansion, as well as companions from other class stories that were previously unavailable to us.  Does this mean I can finally find a way to murder Quinn?  Or Skadge?  Please?

I'm going to guess that the 5 new companions are the ones listed on the website under 'Cast of Characters.'  That would be HK-55, Senya, Koth, Vaylin, and Lana Beniko.  I think Lana is part of the Revan story in the latest xpac, but I wouldn't know ... I've not gotten there yet.  HK-55 seems to be yet another meatbag-annihilating droid to go along with the original KOTOR HK-47 and the MMO's HK-51.  I'm remarkably ok with that.

Each companion has little blurbs that sort of sums up their philosophy; there's the exiled general and the angry apprentice and at least two of them seem to be from Zakuul ... the planet this new Immortal Empire threat hails from.

Sounds neat!  And, seems like we may be able to turn the tables on these jackwads if we don't like 'em.  That's all I really want.

The other point I want to discuss is the subscription issue.  Bioware is being super cagey about how folks who aren't subbed will get the new content.  So far, the only answer out there is 'subscribers will get the new expansion for free.'  There is almost no mention of what free or preferred players will get.  I assume there will be a way for folks to get the new content once it goes live without having to subscribe, but I find this beating around the bush to be ... unusual.  SWTOR has trumpeted its F2P transition as being hugely successful.  This newest launch though seems to walk back the idea of TOR being a free to play MMO.  Maybe it's all about changing the perception of the game, maybe it's just a quick and dirty way of getting a few thousand more subs before they release plans on how free and preferred folks will get the new stuff.  Either way, it intrigues me ... could TOR be returning to form as a premium sub-based MMO?  I've never heard of an MMO going from sub to F2P and then back to sub.  It'd probably end in disaster, but from the available information Bioware may just be trying to do it.

Needless to say, SWTOR ... you have my attention.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Flying in Draenor: A How-To For Shitting Your Own Bed

"Flying is a crutch, you filthy casuals!" - WoW hipsters

Flapgate, as I'm calling it, was as depressingly stupid as it was predictable.  Once again, Blizzard completely misjudges the community's wishes and shits the bed with poor communication and asshattery.  It all started with this excerpt from Polygon:
"Having looked at how flying has played out in the old world in the last couple of expansions, we realized that while we were doing it out of this ingrained habit after we introduced flying in The Burning Crusade, it actually detracted from gameplay in a whole lot of ways," Hazzikostas explains. "While there was certainly convenience in being able to completely explore the world in three dimensions, that also came at the expense of gameplay like targeted exploration, like trying to figure out what's in that cave on top of a hill and how do I get up there."
Ion continues:
"The world feels larger, feels more dangerous," he says. "There's more room for exploration, for secrets, for discovery and overall immersion in the world. At this point, we feel that outdoor gameplay in World of Warcraft is ultimately better without flying. We're not going to be reintroducing the ability to fly in Draenor, and that's kind of where we're at going forward."
And the award for tone-deaf, bed-shitting, hysteria-inducing blunder of the year goes to Ion Hazzikostas!

In all seriousness, I sort of agreed with him on a few points; not being able to fly in WoD did make the game world feel more dangerous.  It felt alive and brutal (and annoying) to traverse all over Blizzard's new world to find some stupid shiny thing.  And for level 90-100, that's totally fine.  Acceptable.  Fun, even!

But once your level 100 with an ilvl in the 670s or 680s and you're clicking garrison missions like a drone, the dream of flight seems like a welcome reprieve from the daily wizard chores of being a 'Commander.'  Being able to take wing and more fully explore the game world woulda been sorta nice, hey?  But nah.  Bed.  Shit.  Hysteria.  Pitchforks.

Flapgate only intensified once the forums got a hold of this information.  Multiple threads capped out (I lost count at 6), creating over a thousand pages of frothing nerd rage, soaked in the bitter tears of betrayals and face slaps and poorly articulated rage.  So many players threatened to quit (or did quit, who can tell really) over Flapgate that Blizzard was compelled to hold a Q&A to ostensibly talk about Patch 6.2: The Hellfire Citadel But Totally Not That Other Hellfire Place That Was In The Previous Expansion That We're Constantly Hearkening Back To In Order To Activate Your Nostalgia So You Give Us More Money Totally We Promise For Realsies You Can Trust Us Guys.

This Q&A would have been a bloodbath of epic proportions.  But it was rescheduled for another day because LOL Heroes of the Storm had a livecast at the Youtube offices on the same day.  Whoopsies!

Commence forum meltdown.

Blizzard let this froth over for a few days.  It was an exciting time to read the forums.  Not since Real ID (which I wasn't a fan of) had there been this much vitriol and hatred displayed by the WoW fanbase.  Players were going at each other with reckless abandon; friendships were formed and sundered, names were called, kudos were earned, strawmen were built and ripped apart by forum-going, argyle-wearing, fedora-adorned hipsters!  Oh, what a happy time!

The good folks in Irvine finally decided to call a halt to the proceedings by dropping this bombshell:
We appreciate the spirited discussion on the topic of flying. The subject has brought out passionate viewpoints and sparked insightful conversations on our official forums and blogs, on community sites, and in chat channels. Your feedback has been a valuable part of the ongoing conversations within Blizzard as well, and today, we’d like to share some updated plans for how we’ll handle flight going forward.

Mic drop.  Exit stage left.

So flying is coming to Draenor after all.  And not in the way that's good.  Instead of doing a special quest or whatnot, you have to go achievement hunting.  Then you need to collect some treasures.  And then all your characters 90+ have flight unlocked.

Dammit, Blizzard.

The pendulum swung too far once again.  Just like raid difficulty, accessibility, class changes, class homogenization ... once again, they go too far.  It's either go big or go home.  I don't know if I like unlocking flight for all characters over 90 through one account-bound achievement hunt.  I'd prefer a 100+ only quest chain that becomes unlockable once you get to level max.

But at least we can fly.  And I don't know how fair it is for me to expect them to fully write, test, and implement an entire quest chain on such short notice.  That's probably not terribly feasible.  Still, it is mildly annoying that they didn't have an answer for this when they blurted out to Polygon that "LOL NO FLIGHT IN WOD."

Flapgate was entirely avoidable by just being prepared.  Don't sell flying mounts during WoD if we can't actually fly them in WoD.  Don't remove a massive game feature and think the playerbase won't notice it.  Don't sacrifice flying mounts on the altar of 'proper game design.'  Just my two cents really.

Damn was it fun though!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

x12 XP Buff Progression: Consular Complete!

I thought that I'd do my Inquisitor after the completion of the Bounty Hunter, but for some unknown and frankly strange reason, the (dark-side) Consular just called out to me.  I'd heard that the storyline was ... suboptimal to put it kindly.  I'm happy to report that the Consular storyline is not completely dog-shit awful.

Chiss Consular is best Consular.

Oh, it starts slow enough.  The Great Noetikon Easter Egg Hunt is atrociously stupid.  Saving Yuon or Yuong or whatever the hell her stupid name is simultaneously anticlimactic and insipid.  Yes, let's expend all this effort to fight a dark side plague or something.  Sure, let's concentrate on this one Master and largely ignore the far-reaching implications of this 'plague.'  Oh, and let's call it a plague and then never, ever, not even for one second think that it could spread.  Yes, let's be surprised that a plague has spread!

And the whole dark side plague thing?  Jesus, stab me in the dick.  Ugh.  That's about on par with midichlorians and cutesy Darth Vader kid blowing up a warship with gumption and a goofy hairdo.

Thankfully, once this stupid shit is done in Chapter 1, you can opt to off your Master.  I've never hit a dark side option so fast in my life.

The second act picked up a bit; the Rift Alliance storyline may also have been insipid and ridiculous, but to a lesser degree.  The idea that this mega-powerful secret alliance could exist and possible turn on the Republic beggars belief, actually.  And for the Rep big shots to openly beg the Rifters to come back or to stay or whatever the hell they're doing, well that shit don't fly.  Sure, Balmorra's important for the weapons and Manaan's important for the kolto supply.  But last time I checked, wasn't Manaan neutral?  Weren't they supplying both sides?  I'm falling back on my original KOTOR information here though, so it may be a bit different now.

Anyways, these Riftwads stay with you for the rest of the story, alternating between being in awe of your prowess and totally throwing shade right in yo face.  Fun guys, really.  Bastards.

The last act really redeemed the whole story for me though; the search for the First Son and systematically murdering the Children of the Emperor made me feel like my dark-sided, pig-tailed Consular was a major player on the galactic stage.  And the First Son reveal was something I didn't quite expect, which was nice!

Also, murdering the First Son with my massive Force skills was good too.

My only real complaints, other than the paper-thin plot for 2/3rds of the story and the dipshit political fatcats I had to constantly impress/threaten/ego-boost, were the incredibly sparse dark-side choices.  In fact, any sort of alignment choices would have been nice.  I felt a real lack during the entire class story of any decisions that affected light/dark side.  My Bounty Hunter seemed to have more choices, to be honest.  It may just be my feeling too; I have no facts to back this up.  But they felt few and far between.

Anyways, at the end of the day I rate this story as "OK."

EDIT: Nope, I hated this damn story.  After thinking on it for a bit, I've decided that the entire arc can't be redeemed by the final 2% of it.  This story sucked ass.