Tag Archives: MMOs

Fall Update

It has been an incredibly long time since I’ve posted one of these, hasn’t it? Well, I’ve definitely played some games in that time. If anything, it looks like I’ve been a little restless for the last few months, though in addition to everything mentioned here, I’ve also played through an entire, lengthy single player game and been working my way through another classic DOS game, both of which I’ll dedicating separate posts to soon.

My crew about to head out on another raid.
“My crew about to head out on another raid.”

Continuing to play through Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds with friends, I really wanted something of a similar vein that I could play solo. I recall hearing discussion about it on some podcasts and was intrigued, but at some point more recently I stumbled upon some YouTube footage of Ghost Recon: Wildlands, and I was instantly hooked. I’ve been a fan of Ghost Recon since the early days, and while installments from Ghost Recon 2 onward have lost me more and more, it seemed like Wildlands was taking some of the best parts of those newer games and applying them to a big budget, open world shooter.

It turns out that my decision to hop into Wildlands was (mostly) a good one. While the gameplay quickly felt much more formulaic and repetitive, and a little bit more like GTA 5 with a Ghost Recon skin, than Ghost Recon with an open world, than I was hoping for, the main elements that drew me in remain compelling: playing dress up with the huge (though far from exhaustive, unfortunately) amount of customization options available for gearing up your character and your squad, taking that squad into whatever objectives you might want, whether the single-player campaign missions, or just randomly chasing new weapons and other upgrades, and finally, pulling off a coordinated, Tears of the Sun like stealth assault on an enemy position using silenced weapons, drones, and synchronized, long range shots.

A quiet nighttime op suddenly heats up.
“A quiet nighttime op suddenly heats up.”

The game world is awesome, the action, at its best, feels extremely satisfying, and the customization combined with the open world gameplay leads to a certain immersive quality that practically had me roleplaying the scenarios I’d bring my squad into. I’m 100% sure the game would have been even more enjoyable played cooperatively, but sadly none of my usual crew was very interested in checking out Wildlands for one reason or another. Even though I’ve mostly fallen off of the game by now, I’m keeping it installed for now in hopes that another one of my friends might eventually pick it up. That, and I’ve recently started watching Netflix’s Narcos, which the game seems to be undeniably inspired by, and I’ve already been feeling the urge to jump back in as a result. Wildlands definitely seems like it will be best enjoyed when viewed through the lens of that kind of on-the-ground, legally questionable operations where coordinating with “indigenous forces” is perhaps more crucial than more conventional small squad military or law enforcement direct action. While I personally rarely call on rebel support myself, there are certainly plenty of systems in place to play that way.

While it doesn’t seem like Wildlands is very popular (despite some stubborn attempts to foster an online, competitive community) reviews were generally quite positive so maybe there’s some hope for Ubisoft to justify developing a sequel. I’m sure everyone who still plays would love even more customization options, and maybe they could even throw a battle royale mode in to help boost sales the second time around. Oh, and including the PVP mode from the beginning would probably help get those numbers up too.

At around the same time my hype for World of Warcraft’s new expansion, Battle for Azeroth, was building. I decided to play a little catch up and play through the last expansion, Legion. The last time I took an extended break from WoW was just as Legion was being released, so I’d missed entire thing and really hadn’t spent any time following it. I went in more or less blind.

The Battle for Azeroth login screen looks like something of a throwback.
“The Battle for Azeroth login screen looks like something of a throwback.”

I ran my Dwarf Rogue through Legion’s single player campaign and I found the new zones and their associated storylines and quests to be quite enjoyable. I also enjoyed the whole artifact system and class hall/class quest system much more than I thought I would. That said, as a solo player, I was extremely frustrated by how much gating I encountered. Forays into dungeons and even raids for questline progression, in particular, were the worst offenders. There have always been items and recipes that you could only acquire as part of dungeon and raid drops, or deep rep grind purchases, but in Legion I found my leveling of Alchemy to be completely halted due to some of these non-solo friendly quests. This was the first time since classic I haven’t had my alchemy maxed out. I didn’t have much time to dwell on this for too long, as Battle for Azeroth came out almost as soon as I finished the core Legion campaign. This means only a few dungeons, no raids, not even any PVP (which is usually my primary activity in WoW’s endgame.)

With Battle for Azeroth, the zones are probably even better than in Legion. It impresses me how good Blizzard has gotten and how they continue to improve at world design, though I have to say that questing in World of Warcraft STILL feels a lot less compelling than games like my beloved Star Wars: The Old Republic or any number of single player RPGs. At least, outside of some vicious reputation grinding, the gating from Legion seems to be largely gone. Oh, and I need to give a shout out to the soundtrack, as this one might be the best by far, which is saying something after just playing through Legion.

The only issue that I feel strongly enough to really complain about is the change to the way the global cooldown (“GCD”) works, which I can sum up simply by saying that more (most?) abilities are now tied to the same timer, which means you can’t “spam” them out (or particular, between them) too quickly. What seems like a small change on paper can actually really change the feel of certain class specializations radically. For me, as an aggressive combat rogue, I feel like it makes combat feel noticeably clunkier, and I feel less capable as a result. I really don’t like it.

Gulgrim, my main, hanging out wherever I abandoned him months ago. Poor guy.
“Gulgrim, my main, hanging out wherever I abandoned him months ago. Poor guy.”

Anyway, I don’t have much more to say about BfA for now – I played through ALMOST all of the Alliance campaign, maxing my character’s level far before finishing, before getting distracted and falling off the bandwagon. I’ll definitely go back to World of Warcraft to finish the single player content and hopefully check out PVP and some of the other new systems, though for now I’m waiting to see what the upcoming 8.2 patch is going to look like.

I have to say, moving between WoW’s expansions back to back like this really serves to highlight the unfortunate cannibalistic nature of them. Warlords of Draenor’s central feature, the garrisons, were completely abandoned once Legion came out. With Battle for Azeroth, the artifacts and class halls we spent so much time leveling and working with? Abandoned. I’d really like to see expansions that change and build upon existing content in a less destructive way, personally. Maybe if expansion content were developed this way we wouldn’t need silly things like World of Warcraft Classic.

I finally feel like I’m getting close to closing this chapter of my life. While I’m still very much a fan of Warcraft and enjoy dipping back into it every couple of years, it’s the lore more than the gameplay keeping me around. With that in mind, I’m really looking forward to playing through the recently announced Warcraft 3: Reforged. I hoping that the whole generation of gamers who only know Warcraft via WoW will jump on it and enjoy it as much as I did back in 2003. I would have rather had Warcraft 4, but I’m interested nonetheless.

Back on the shooter front, me and my normal PUBG crew were definitely being tempted away from PUBG by the promise of battle royale modes in both Battlefield V and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Unfortunately, I and most of my friends were totally disappointed by the direction it seemed Battlefield V was going, and interest in that very quickly fizzled. BO4’s battle royale mode, Blackout, on the other hand, was looking fucking sick, and quite a few of us hopped into the Blackout PC beta weekend in September with most of us agreeing that it might very well take our interest away from PUBG.

Finishing off the boss of a public event. I've loved this system since WAR.
“Finishing off the boss of a public event. I’ve loved this system since WAR.”

Finding myself not wanting to give up the highly polished, smooth gunplay of Call of Duty to return back to the clunky, sometimes buggy feeling mess of PUBG, I decided to dust off Destiny 2, particularly because everyone had been talking about the pre-Forsaken expansion 2.0 patch, which made a number of much-requested tweaks and balance changes. I ended up playing through the single player campaigns of both Curse of Osiris and Warmind expansions. I had fun with both despite feeling a little bit like “more of the same” campaign content. Still, that content was pretty enjoyable to begin with, and neither it or these expansions overstay their welcome with too much unnecessary grind.

The 2.0 patch made plenty of other changes to the game though, most pretty positive. I strongly dislike what they did to the infusion system, changing it from an easy, convenient way to cash in your junk gear drop to keep your favorites useful, to making it quite cost prohibitive, meaning you’ll only want to keep your absolutely favorite items upgraded, and even those, probably not too often. I know that it’s viewed as a very positive change, but I also had a very hard time getting use to the new, lower TTK (“time to kill”) in PVP. I’d often find myself rushing into situations where I’d normally survive long enough to get a kill, or pop off my super, only to get mowed down without achieving anything but an embarrassing death. It was rather demoralizing, and despite quickly realizing why it was happening, the adjustment hasn’t been easy for me.

My poorly geared Warlock main hanging out with The Traveler.
“My poorly geared Warlock main hanging out with The Traveler.”

I fully realize I somehow never posted about my (relatively brief) time with Destiny 2 when it launched in 2017, somehow. I’ll leave the in-depth Destiny 2 analysis to the more hardcore players, but the short summary of my experience is that it’s the type of extremely polished AAA shooter experience that you’d expect from Bungie if you’re a Halo veteran, and the single player campaign and PVP modes are both quite a lot of fun. Tie that in with a loot drop system and a heavy focus on multiplayer, and it’s easy to see why people got so addicted to the franchise.

It’s far from perfect, however. I, for one, expected Destiny 2 to be more like the Destiny that Bungie was rumored to developing in the early days, rather than a polished up rehash of the first game, somehow including less of the features that kept players hooked during the later phases of that game’s life. In any case, with no investment in the first game, I feel like I got my money out of it and will be returning soon enough to play through the Forsaken campaign. With no group of friends dedicated to it (interestingly, most of friends who were hopelessly addicted to Destiny 1 bounced off Destiny 2 hard!) and no huge attachment to the endgame systems, I can’t see ever treating it more as just a fun single player campaign set in a multiplayer world at this point, however. I’m fine with that.

Parachuting down in Blackout!
“Parachuting down in Blackout!”

Finally, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 launched and, as planned, I played the absolute hell out of it. Much to my surprise, Blackout mode wasn’t actually where I spent my time though. While I stand by my opinion that this new battle royale mode is quite good and a worthy addition to the franchise, I found it somehow much less forgiving than Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds. In PUBG, it was always fairly easy to drop into an area and get looted up before having a conflict with the enemy, and those conflicts were usually fairly tactical when they did happen, but in Blackout I feel like I’m usually finding myself in furious engagements almost immediately, often before I’ve even found a firearm, and they often feel desperately frantic (and not in a good way.) Solo mode feels fairly good in this respect, though I much prefer playing battle royale games with a group, and squad mode feels far, far too hectic. Duos seem to be the sweetest spot to me. The biggest issue though, is that somehow the draw to hop back in and try again, especially after a terrible, frustrating loss, just isn’t there in Blackout, while being one of the most interesting parts of the PUBG “special sauce.” I’m not quite sure how to explain this, but it’s not just me – almost all of my group has also bounced off of Blackout, and from some posts I’ve read, we don’t seem to be alone in this. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher.

On the flip side, I got utterly hooked on playing through the normal multiplayer modes, especially team deathmatch. I don’t think I’d played Call of Duty multiplayer since Modern Warfare 3 in 2011 and I still find the multiplayer of Call of Duty to be quite a lot of fun, with the progression system giving me just enough of a carrot on a stick to keep me addicted to leveling up my character. This time around, I’ve actually stuck with it long enough to max out quite a few weapons and “prestige” my main account at least once now. I’ve even taken to playing in “hardcore” mode which eliminates most of the disparity between different weapons and weapon types (I fucking HATE getting “shotgunned” with a “no scope” 50 caliber sniper rifle shot… ffffuuuuu!) and changes the balance of firefights quite a bit in general.

Lining up a kill shot in Hardcore.
“Lining up a kill shot in Hardcore.”

While I did eventually grow tired of the churn of Call of Duty’s multiplayer, as I always do, and I’m finally considering returning to the slower, more tactical gunplay of PUBG, I legitimately hadn’t been this addicted to a “normal” deathmatch type gamemode in PC game for so long I can’t even recall when it might have been. All in all, despite not dedicating my time to Blackout like I’d planned, Black Ops 4 has still been money well spent.

It was a busy several months of game hopping, and every game I’ve mentioned I’ll definitely consider going back to at some point in the future. For now, I’ll likely dedicate my time to more and more single-player experiences, particular those that have been stuck in my backlog for far too long, while desperately being on the look out for the next multiplayer experience I can hop into with my crew.

By the time I finally got around to editing this and posting this, I hadn’t played any of the games mentioned in quite some time. I had to begrudgingly re-install Destiny 2 to get screenshots, which means I’ll probably be heading back to play Forsaken much sooner than expected. On the flip side, hopping into Black Ops 4 to play a few more rounds of multiplayer for screenshots felt great, and I was a little sad to have to resign myself to uninstalling it. That’s possibly the best complement I can give it.

Side note: New year and a new, slightly larger thumbnail image size! Rejoice!

Wars Among the Stars

Other than my semi-regular Oblivion updates and my Wing Commander review it seems like it’s been awhile since I’ve discussed any real PC gaming, and outside of a few dips back into World of Warcraft, I think the last time I really discussed spending a lot of time on a semi-modern PC game was when I reported my adventures in Rust two years ago. The biggest reason for that, besides my mighty backlog of console games, was that my PC was approaching relic status and not really up to some of the more demanding new games coming out, to put it mildly.

Back in Black!
“Back in Black!”

In late July I finally had enough reasons to justify building a whole new machine. Beyond gaming, I was planning on going back to college and needed a machine capable of running multiple VMs for labs. I also had plans to virtualize one of my servers which was running on even more ancient hardware than my old desktop was. Outside of the additional challenge of building something stout enough to run at least one VM fulltime and handle a modern game simultaneously, the build was quite easy and a lot of fun. It also happened to coincide with the release of Nvidia’s Geforce GTX 10 series, and I managed to score a nice overclocked 1070 early into the chipset’s life.

So what did I played with my hot new gaming rig? The latest AAA games? Did I hook up an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive? Nah, I actually decided to play some older games that I had wanted to revisit, for one reason or another.

First was Planetside 2. Failing to resist my own monumental hype for this game, I managed to download and install the massive client on my old machine. Performance was beyond terrible and I couldn’t even play it long enough to get a feel for the flow of the game. They did some major performance patches shortly after that but by the time I went back to try it again they had removed support for Windows XP so that was the end of my tour of duty.

On the losing end of a firefight.
“On the losing end of a firefight.”

Since giving it another shot on my new machine my time with Planetside 2 has been largely fantastic. For a free-to-play MMO that feels, for the most part, quite polished, I can’t believe more people aren’t playing it. It has some issues, sure, and I was definitely skeptical about some of the design changes from the first game, but all in all I was pleasantly surprised with how close the spirit of the gameplay experience is to the original. The same type of absolutely epic combined arms battles still happen constantly, though, as with the first game, I often find myself enjoying some of the smaller battles than following the zerg, using the open nature of the battlefield and numerous options for classes, weapons, and vehicles to give me far more tactical choices than typically available in most normal FPS games.

Anti-aircraft duty is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
“Anti-aircraft duty is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.”

Unlike playing a 25-40 minute Conquest game in Battlefield, the always-on nature of the PS2 battlefield and the various ways of quickly dropping into existing battles and skirmishes makes PS2 a great “gap filler” game too – just have 15 minutes to play? Not a problem. 2 hours to play? Where’d all of my time go? I spent quite a while ping-ponging between roles – at first I fell in love with the Lightning tank, then spent a lot of my time as a Combat Medic or Heavy Assault, then I dabbled with the Stalker cloak Infiltrator, then I discovered the majesty of the Engineer’s wire guided anti-vehicle, then spent a bit of time running various type of MAX units, and as of my last few sessions, I’d finally really clicked with the Light Assault class. Between all of that I had some amazing moments. The first few times I watched a gunship get blown out of the sky, spinning out of control before violently crashing, I had to pick my jaw off the ground. As with the vaguely similar Battlefield series, SOE managed to really nail something about the sound design and, despite the style being somewhat divisive, the graphics of the game, that helps keep me deeply immersed in the action.

My only real regret is that, unlike my time with the original Planetside, I’ve been playing PS2 mostly solo. Despite being a very easy game to pick up and play solo, I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that games like this are a thousand times funner when playing cooperatively with friends. The best way to leverage the combined arms style of combat is to, well, combine arms, and the few times I’ve grouped up with some random organized outfit squads were highly memorable.

Guarding a bio lab landing pad.
“Guarding a bio lab landing pad.”

I’ll almost certainly keep dabbling in PS2 from time to time in the future, but for now I think I’ve just about had my fill and will probably spend more of my meager amount of gaming time on other games. That said, if I ever had any friends interested in playing it I’d be back in a heartbeat. If you liked the original or like games like the Battlefield series and this looks interesting, definitely check it out. There are still plenty of people playing and the game has a surprisingly good out of game community, with tons of YouTubers uploading new content on the regular and an active Reddit community, for instance.

Exploding the local wildlife.
“Exploding the local wildlife.”

The next game I went back to was Star Wars: The Old Republic, BioWare’s infamous Star Wars MMORPG. My trajectory with this game has been fucking weird. Loving Knights of the Old Republic and being both a Star Wars and an MMORPG fan in general, I was completely hyped for this game but once it got closer to release and I discovered just how much of a World of Warcraft clone it was I was definitely let down. Then I got into the open beta and opened my mind a bit. Sure, it’s a WoW clone, but damn if it isn’t the best one I’ve ever played. By the time release hit, however, my free time was non-existent and between that and the group of friends I had guilded up with losing interested (like most of the rest of the subscriber base) I ended up bailing after only a month or so of infrequent play. Coincidentally ALSO about two years ago I came back once and played just a bit, as detailed here, but I decided to put the game down until I had a nicer gaming rig to enjoy it on.

This time I immediately scrapped my poor level 20 something Sith Inquisitor to go all-in on one of the classes I had tried out last time: a Bounty Hunter. This wasn’t really my favorite class or anything, but I liked the idea of playing a cold as ice female Bounty Hunter and, as usual with SWTOR, I quickly felt attached to my character through my dialog choices and the headcanon I filled in the blanks with. After I committed to playing again my mission was simple: play through the entire 1-50 class storyline and as many side quests as I could handle, and then move on to the next class. I wanted to play them all!

Bounty Hunters are prone to frequent Dirty Harry moments...
“Bounty Hunters are prone to frequent Dirty Harry moments…”

Of course, it’s been a few months now and the end of just now coming into sight, and this doesn’t even include venturing into the various expansion storylines, which also interest me, so maybe my plan was a little ambitious. Maybe not too ambitious though, as one oddity about SWTOR these days is that they drastically increased XP rewards so my new main, as it were, was max level long before I got into the last chapter of my storyline. In theory they’ve tuned this so you only need to do your character’s story missions, and each planet’s story missions so if you do all of the side quests, like I’m doing, you’re going to be way over level. The flip side is that when I finally do get around to playing some alts I can skip all of the side content and breeze through the story, which is greatly appealing to me.

My pet Jawa and I taking on a Jedi.
“My pet Jawa and I taking on a Jedi.”

I’ll admit I’ve also been distracted by playing with the cartel market, the auction house and, particularly, the new stronghold system since coming back. Ever since Ultima Online I’ve always love having a house I can customize and/or decorate which included chasing down expensive decorations, and SWTOR’s Galatic Stronghold system scratches that itch. I’ve also spent some of the “cartel coins” I had been building up while unsubscribed on various random loot packs and made a tidy sum auctioning them in game. It’s been kind of an addictive mini-game, one that I’m sure makes BioWare quite a lot of money. At first I was concerned that playing around with auctioning these items might not be viable given how dead the auction house was, but then I paid to transfer my characters to a much more active server and my experience has been great ever since.

Like Planetside 2, despite being free-to-play (now) SWTOR has impressive production values and a lot of meaty gameplay available, and the fans that are still into the game are rabidly into it. In fact BioWare continues to release new items into the cartel market, new patches, and even new major expansions. Maybe it’s more the Star Wars nerd in me than anything else, but I absolutely love this game. The fact that it has kept my interest this long, and that I still want to play some of the other classes, really says a lot about this game though, especially with World of Warcraft: Legion out there constantly tempting me to drop everything and head back to Azeroth.

Ground Up… date?

So, my switch to another server and to the Alliance has gone fairly well. The guild I found and eventually joined up with seems like a great bunch of people. The only downside (besides being Alliance scum) is that while they’ve got a semi-active forums and in game chat, almost no one in the guild uses voice communication outside of special events. Bummer! That said, I’ve had a good time adjusting to my new, much more active and interesting server and faction. As far as how I’ve spent my time, it’s been mostly accomplishing a few personal goals that I wanted to achieve:

Meet Gulgrim, Dwarf rogue.
“Meet Gulgrim, Dwarf rogue.”

First of all, I immediately set out to finish grinding Tol’vir Archaeology sites and finally crafted my own Vial of the Sands. Awesome mount, probably worth the trouble, or at least the price tag to buy one pre-made off of the auction house. I went after a few other mounts as well. Trying to solo Sartharion in the Obsidian Sanctum 10 man proved close to impossible with my previous PVP gear. I did at least use that as a good opportunity to assess my rotation and get real deep into improving my damage output and (especially) mitigation. Still, I put that one on the shelf for a while. Actually, speaking of my gear I didn’t have a great time of it in actual PVP either for that matter. With that said, that was next one my list.

I dove back into the honor grind in a hardcore way with the goal of completing a full set of updated PVP gear which includes learning all about the dailies in the Isle of Thunder and then kept going until I had enough Conquest earned to upgrade to Conquest level weapons and a few other items. That took a while, but I was able to use the excess honor on heirloom gear to supply to my alts. The primary alt I wanted to start leveling was a PVP Holy Paladin. I had a Tauren Holy Paladin that I almost exclusively PVPed with on my old server and besides generally scratching my healing itch, it was a surprising amount of fun. Unfortunately, for some reason, despite all of my uber heirloom gear, my new PVP paladin seems largely ineffective. I still occasionally have rare moments where I’ll be able to slip into a groove and provide some damn effective healing but most of the time I either get focused on and taken down almost immediately or my heals just don’t seem effective enough and I find myself the last man standing until I again become the target and die far too quickly. Either something seriously bad has happened to lower level Holy Paladins in the last few big patches or it’s just a case of everyone’s alts having even more heirloom gear than mine does. Ugh!

Once I had my new PVP gear and a lot more practice at playing my class I took Sartharion down in no time and got my black drake mount. I haven’t bothered trying to go after the twilight drake yet (solo the 25 man version, for the record) as I’m sure that would be fruitless. I also FINALLY, after all of these years, purchased every last one of the PVP mounts. Woot! After that I took a brief break from my tireless honor grinding and did a tiny bit more Archaeology grinding so that I found finally have a full “Professor” title.

4000 hours of Archaeology later...
“4000 hours of Archaeology later…”

Another thing I had on my checklist was to update my transmogrification look. I had been rocking a set of the Mists of Pandaria quest leathers for a long time because I liked their look on my Orc. It looked just as good on my dwarf but when they added the level 90 character boost an identical looking armor set seems to be the default armor for rogues meaning there are tons of clones running around now. Not only people wearing the same outfit as I am, but ones who are generally pretty bad at playing their classes correctly in dungeons and battlegrounds and the like. Not cool! I ended up finding some awesome war hammers on the auction house and dusting off a nice old set of previous season PVP gear.

Next I had hoped to max out my Fishing and Cooking skills but after the last couple of months of playing hardcore again I’m already feeling the burnout creeping in. Am I still compelled to play? You bet. The problem is that my gaming time is so limited at the moment that devoting ANY of it to a regular MMO addiction means that I’m not playing much else and I have a growing Xbox 360 and PC game backlog I really want to dive back into. So, it’s back on the shelf for my WoW account for a while. I may play my alts occasionally, as leveling in the Alliance zones is still pretty fun for me, but other than that I don’t think I’ll be back full-time until the release of Warlords of Draenor in the fall.