Tag Archives: World of Warcraft

Big Robots and Bigger Grinds

As mentioned when I wrote about Iron Brigade originally, I bought the game’s DLC expansion, Rise of the Martian Bear, shortly after completing the main campaign. I didn’t immediately dive into it and actually ended up taking an even longer break than originally planned. In fact, it had been so long that I considered not even playing through it since I’d surely lost whatever skills I’d managed to build up over the course of the original campaign, and I’d read that the expansion was notably harder than the original campaign to boot. Alas, despite some reservations, I finally talked myself into it.

Back in the trenches again!
“Back in the trenches again!”

When I finally got around to playing it I discovered that the game had been pulled from Game Pass, popping up a licensing error when I went to launch it. Not entirely unexpected. What was unexpected was my inability to actually purchase the damn thing! When I went to the game’s store page I received a weird message that the game was only purchasable on Xbox 360 or on xbox.com. Ok? At first I thought maybe this was an odd side effect of having already had the game installed, so I went ahead and uninstalled it and tried again. No dice. I begrudgingly went to my PC and pulled up the Microsoft Store webpage. Oddly, I got the same error there. Finally I had to resort to booting up my old Xbox 360 and buying the game there, at which point it worked normally on my Xbox One once again. This whole thing was absolutely bizarre and I have no idea what the issue actually was – I could buy some other Xbox 360 games on my Xbox One, just not Iron Brigade. Perhaps this is some sort of licensing issue but that’d be even weirder since Double Fine is owned my Microsoft these days.

Anyway, onto the game. First, if you’ve read my original blurb on Iron Brigade, Rise of the Martian Bear doesn’t really change anything I had to say about the game back then. Instead, it adds a 5 mission sort-of epilogue to the original campaign and expands the level cap, adding a fairly large amount of new, higher level loot to compensate. The new maps are, of course, playable cooperatively as well as in Survival mode. And that’s about it! That was plenty for me though, and just like with the original campaign I replayed every level until I managed to get a gold rating on it.

Fuck. This. Map.
“Fuck. This. Map.”

Getting gold on these maps was no easy feat given how rusty I was at that game. In fact, I was stuck on the DLC’s third level, Settlement, for quite a long time, trying a mind boggling number of variations in strategy and loadout before I finally nailed it. Things got so desperate that I even briefly dipped into Survival mode to try to score of the game’s more exotic, mode exclusive rewards to buff my damage output. Eventually I succeeded and brought my time with Iron Brigade to an end. For the record, a combination of carefully placed sniper turrets, a few machine guns turrets to help mop up Knobs, and aggressively running my dual Muerte Fiesta Numero 6’d engineering trench around the map to do as much of the actual Tube elimination legwork as possible myself was the key.

Rise of the Martian Bear doesn’t really do anything significantly interesting and the ridiculous story is perhaps even more throwaway than the original campaign, but it’s basically just a content pack, so if you really liked the base game (or absolutely loved it in my case) the expansion pack isn’t a hard sell. If you didn’t, well then there’s absolutely nothing redeeming for you here.

Besides that, the other game taking up a lot of my time lately is, of all things, World of Warcraft Classic.

Checking out the original Dwarf model. D'aww!
“Checking out the original Dwarf model. D’aww!”

During a long and tedious build up that seemingly started from the moment the game was first patched and continued with consistent nostalgic whinging about “the good old days” of so-called vanilla WoW (and increasingly, the Burning Crusade expansion and even later eras) on every relevant forum out there and culminating with Blizzard finally caving and announcing WoW Classic, I never really owned that particular pair of rose colored glasses. Sure, I had some great memories of the early days of WoW and yes, some of the changes subsequent patches and expansions made were debatably negative, but there were also innumerable improvements, some quite major, along the way too. As I saw it, I was fine with the glory days of World of Warcraft remaining confined to exaggerated “back in my day” anecdotes and as an effortless yardstick to compare other, newer MMORPGs against.

In the summer of 2018 I changed jobs, going from working in IT departments consisting of just a couple of dozen people at best to working alongside literally thousands of fellow geeks. As the launch of Classic approached we ended up with more than a dozen people on my team alone signed on to play and I figured jumping on the bandwagon could be a lot of fun. When Classic finally launched and I joined my co-workers on Discord, I was surprised to discover that a lot of the members of my original World of Warcraft guild from back in vanilla along with numerous other friends I’d known over the years also logged in fighting the same launch day queues as we were. Remarkably, it seems like almost every last one of my online gaming buddies was drawn back into the fold. How long most of them stuck it out, I can’t say, but despite most of the gaming media I follow dismissing Classic, it seemed like it was actually a fairly big deal in my circles.

I accidentally screenshotted hitting level 2. Also, sorry boars...
“I accidentally screenshotted hitting level 2. Also, sorry boars…”

After a lot of internal debate I decided to fully embrace my nostalgia, creating a character absolutely identical to the character I “mained” in vanilla – the same race and overall appearance, the same class, and I even managed to score the same name despite it coming from the in-game name generator. Gulmorok the orcish rogue was reborn (the original having since been converted into a dwarf and moved between servers multiple times in WoW proper, as discussed before.)

Personally, jumping back into what seems to be a pretty damn solid recreation of original World of Warcraft has been an absolute trip. It’s amazing how well I remember the zones, the enemies and the particulars of many of the quests, and even the idiosyncrasies of various mechanics. The original 2004 era graphics and sounds still hold up incredibly well too, which surprised me after long since getting used to the newer character models. What doesn’t hold up quite as well is the actual gameplay. In 2004 the design, a fairly shameless mass market friendly iteration on the EverQuest style of theme park MMORPG, felt pretty damn great if you were in to those types of games back then. Having long since moved on to successors like The Old Republic, Elder Scrolls Online, hell, even newer World of Warcraft expansions, the design of vanilla WoW certainly feels as dated as it sounds to describe it like that. It’s not so much “hard” as it feels like it’s been designed to just utterly disrespect the player’s time – tedious, grinding quests, huge amounts of travel between different areas, a poorly structured quest content flow, and of course the ever present joy of constantly bumping up against the poverty line, are all things probably best left in the past.

Much, much later, grinding in the Alterac Mountains.
“Much, much later, grinding in the Alterac Mountains.”

Case in point, in my mid 30s, I’m having to constantly bounce between zones to do quests that are actually level appropriate (a luxury largely enabled by third party addons and data dump websites, by the way) and I know that, just like in 2004, I’m quickly approaching the level range where a lack of ANY appropriate quests becomes the problem, requiring grinding dungeons or mobs to stay properly leveled and geared. Adding to that, I’m playing on a PVP server for the first time in years and Blizzard just turned on the honor system, meaning that people’s willingness to go out of their way to gank you while you’re busy trying to complete a quest or otherwise mind your own business is at a peak. Of course as a rogue I’m uniquely equipped to deal with these assholes, or at least take opportunistic revenge on them, but it’s still annoying. Fun times!

While I have been tempted more than a few times to jump off the treadmill and devote my limited free time to playing through more single player games, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t having fun. The Azeroth that Blizzard built with World of Warcraft remains still somehow compelling to me, and looking forward to when PVP battlegrounds are finally launched and my co-workers and I can put together some “premade” groups is keeping a lot of us going for now.

In the meantime, Blizzard just announced yet another World of Warcraft expansion and Diablo-fucking-4, both of which have my attention. Despite being increasingly clear that they’re no longer the same company I fell in love with, Blizzard is still somehow managing to make a case for its relevance in my gaming life.

Settlement map screenshot taken from from misc. places on the Interwebz. The in game shot is actually mine though. An original Xbox 360 screenshot on here? Is this the end of an era?! Probably not!

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!

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.