Horizon Zero Dawn: The Beginning

Bought a PS4 Pro.

Mostly in anticipation of Detroit: Become Human.

Thought I’d eventually get around to playing Beyond: Two Souls while waiting.

In the meantime, I Google searched for console-exclusive games I hadn’t been paying attention to. (Still love PC gaming the best, if only for mouse controls.)

After racking up an entire wishlist to keep an eye out for, the only one on current sale in my country’s Playstation store was Horizon Zero Dawn.


No regrets.

The screenshots don’t do it justice. This thing looks stunningly glorious on a big screen 4K TV.


It even comes with a built in photo mode where you can play around with camera angles, change your protagonist’s stance and expression, alter the time of day, tinker with virtual depth of field, apertures and F-stops… all in search of that perfect shot.

Why the hell don’t more games have this? Mind blown.


Cutscenes look great; the early story has been intriguing so far.

You play as Aloy, outcast as a child from a tribe known as the Nora. The prologue and tutorial gives you a little taste of the mystery surrounding your origins and lets you experience the relationship with your mentor/teacher/surrogate father Rost.

Your early goals revolve around gaining acceptance with your tribe, by running a trial known as The Proving when you come of age.


Before you know it, the plot moves along and you’re suddenly made aware there is a MUCH larger world beyond the one you knew. Cue end of learning/beginning tutorial period and the start of exploring what feels like a big open world full of mysteries and wonder.


The brilliance of the Horizon Zero Dawn world is in the juxtaposition of the primitive tribal (almost dinosaur hunter like) protagonist/origins with beasts to hunt that are machines and reminiscent of a Transformers movie – complex almost-sentient robots that act like animals… and even scarier monsters.


Right away, this situates you not in the dawn of prehistory, but a post-apocalyptic period that personally gives me Numenera-like vibes.


Somehow, societies have regressed to a pre-technology period, where they hunt (and are hunted by) autonomous robots. They salvage them for metal parts, which are used in ways distinctly not intended by their original creators, such as in shiny tribal decorations or as components in simple weapons and traps.

Aloy, the protagonist you control, is naturally just a little different, a little more touched and rebellious enough to go against the “common sense” of the time and delve deeper into the archaeological ruins of a more modern age in search of secrets. She doesn’t really understand what she sees at first, but from a more meta angle, the player guiding her does.


It’s this heady mix that proves immensely compelling.

You want to know what happened to the world. What it looks like now. How it was before. Who else is in the world. Who Aloy really is. On and on, questions arise that can only be answered by playing on and seeing for yourself.


An Addiction of Ravens

It’s been a long long time since I’ve felt anything close to an obsession about a game. The sort where it consumes your every thought and you catch yourself thinking about it even when you’re not playing it. The sort where you voraciously consume all the third-party sites, planning your builds or strategies, plotting your next move for when you actually have time to sit down and game. The sort where another game has a patch drop with new content and you don’t even want to take the time to play it because you’d rather play this one and keep going.

It seems like it’s been years since I’ve felt that way. A long season of drought and boredom even with a smorgasbord of games on tap; of a habitual cycle of logging in to grind without thought or passion. Of failing to care.

Obviously, taking an obsession to extremes equals life-impacting addiction or some manner of disorder, if one can no longer prioritize other equally or more important things like the obligations of work (aka earning sufficient money for a comfortable living or basic survival, depending on your values), self-care, basic hygiene, RL social needs/relationship-community-building (e.g. spouse or significant other, family, friends, etc.) and so on.

But I’d argue that going in the other direction, that of apathy or lack of caring, is equally disordered if taken to an extreme as well.

So it’s with a certain amount of relief and joy that I’m riding the thrill rollercoaster of the past couple of days since Path of Exile’s Bestiary league launched a week ago on March 2.

I haven’t been this deep into a league, or indeed a game, for quite a while.

No particular reason I can really put my finger on, but -something- has clicked.

It’s in part the idea that I’m repeating the basic build that has worked before, which assuages my insecurity that “this won’t work” and provides the last resort safety of “worse case scenario: I’ll respec the nodes that are different with respec points and go back to the old build… earning enough currency to respec would at least be a goal…”

…but then due to differences in the gear that drops for SSF players and my general inability to leave things well enough alone and start tinkering and experimenting to “improve” on matters has produced something novel and somewhat different from the last league. Enough so that it tickles my curiosity enough to keep wanting to push forward and compare and contrast.

It’s in part the idea of the Bestiary which gives me encouragement to collect all the things, “complete” the tome and fill all the beasties in. I’ve been staring at mob names a lot more, instead of treating them as moving targets for blowing up with one skill or another. I’ve been indulging in more complete, thorough and slow clears (gotta make sure I didn’t miss new beasts!) across all the maps, instead of feeling like I’m doing something wrong by not aiming towards speedclear meta – a style of play I’m more at home with, even if it puts my character at a ludicruous 5 or 6 levels higher than the map, instead of my usual underachieving 2-3 levels over.

Nor is the character ‘complete’ by any stretch of the imagination. She’s geared in basically stopgap gear – good enough to not explode if a boss mob looks at her funny or sneezes on her, but not even reaching the ‘acceptable build’ potential that I’m imagining, let alone optimal or ideal dream gear.

This leads to a LOT of obsessing over what would be good stuff to keep an eye out for, that can be tinkered with or somehow adapted to be an improvement over her present gear.

And this is fun. The anticipation, the pursuit, the hunt, the hope for the payoff at the end.

Level 72 and just beginning mapping. The sky’s the limit.


Whirlwind Tour Weekend

This Saturday, I played more games in one day than any other day this year… for very much less time.

Yep, there’s that unavoidable tradeoff.

Path of Exile essentially launched Bestiary League on the very same day A Tale in the Desert began Tale 8. Naturally, I had to make a character in both and check the launches out.

At the same time, my inferiority complex was still smarting from a notoriously poor showing of my Scourge’s dps (rock bottom, getting only about two-thirds the dps of the other three player’s Scourges) during regular Friday raids in GW2. If I didn’t make some attempt at diagnosing and fixing the problem by next week’s raids, my hope of getting to do dps on Dhuum CM (and thus avoid the excessive mental drain and stress of doing green circles) was going to die stillborn.

Furthermore, I’d been wanting to check out Trove again, revisit Warframe and there were still projects to tinker away on in Minecraft: Forever Stranded.

Frankly, I didn’t know where to start.

But my subconscious did.

I woke up bright and early on Saturday morning, knowing that Path of Exile had just launched Bestiary league at 4am my time. My mouse cursor found the icon and clicked it, setting up the download.

While waiting, I found myself hitting the icon for ATITD to set up -that- download, and then opening the browser to download Discord, register an account and figure out how to join the relevant ATITD Discord server.

Turns out Discord has the nearest thing to the persistent chat channels that I’ve found so unique and helpful to social community building that I’ve only ever seen in ATITD and no other MMO. I spent a while scrolling back and lurking, reading stuff to get a feel of the lay of the land: the two big takeaways were that there were now ‘factions’ in Tale 8 – the choice of which I’d have to think on before proceeding – and that the new Tale hadn’t quite launched yet.

Oh good. So I jumped straight into Path of Exile to recapitulate my SRS build from the old league, with a minor little cosmetic change. Instead of fiery skulls, I did a skill gem cosmetic swap to ravens.

I have my eye on the Harpy Alpha Supporter Pack at some point in the future. So my fashion theme this league is the Morrigan, all dark, ravens, witchcraft and bringer of death.

Imagine my surprise to find a new support gem, Summon Phantasm on Kill – supported skills or minions summon a Phantasm minion on landing a killing blow. The Phantasm does ranged projectile damage.

Are you kidding me? A mini-spectre type of mob that might support my leveling? Since I will be building for minion damage anyway for my raging spirits… 😍

The bonus is that they look like dark ghostly shapes shooting shadowy bolts, so I have the perfect themed entourage for my witch-necromancer right now. We’ll see how it goes when I get further up in levels.

As for the Bestiary itself, I find it interesting. As you catch beasts, you unlock crafting recipes that can produce more selectively tuned rares (like rares with fire damage, or rares with no physical mods or rares with critical chance and so on), except you have to defeat all the mobs involved in the recipes in a closed cage fight in an arena. For an SSF character, I suspect this is going to be a good source of decent leveling items.

It’s been having some teething troubles and negative reception on Reddit – powerful builds were apparently kinda deleting mobs before net throwing and capturing can take effect.

Since I’m a slower SSF player, that hasn’t quite been a personal issue just yet until Sunday night – I just made one raging spirit or leave one phantasm up to tickle a particularly squishy beast down to the level of low health a net needs. (For a few of the tougher mobs, it was all I could do to output enough damage to scratch it down.) It was also possible to throw the net first and then just spam spirits to knock it down to the low health required.

I did run into the apparently unintended glitch of the net lasting a split second (rather than a few seconds) and then the mob enraging for five seconds and not being able to be captured. At the point, I just assumed I’d failed and waited for the time required before netting again. I guess I’ve been too well trained by shitty catch chances in Pokemon Go.

The fixes are coming fast and furious though, I hear. The nets should last three seconds now, if thrown first, which is plenty of time for strong builds to delete the entire screen of mobs. And there’s talk of a backup necromantic net which can capture corpses, in the probable future event of fast builds going so fast that they don’t even see what they destroyed until it’s too late.

That should arrive at a perfect timing for my pace. I hit level 30 something this Sunday and started to realize my raging spirits were getting wimpy as all get out. So I bit the bullet and stopped to adjust my build – got a four link, though I don’t have the currency yet for a +1 or +2 level to minion or fire gems (*sad face*), respeced a few points to push to minion damage nodes sooner, picked up the Hatred aura, and struggled through an on-level level 33 Labyrinth, where I Ascended and went straight for the new Puppet Master passive skill.

The minion army is now at a point that can indeed be said to be effectively deleting mobs at my level range. Level 38 and showing no signs of stopping yet. All’s well until the next slowdown point.

In between PoE breaks, I turned my attention to A Tale in the Desert.

Apparently my Welcome Island lament got a couple of eyes – s’ not hard to rise in SEO when covering a niche game – and along with other new player feedback, a couple of tweaks have been implemented to the new player experience.

That’s one bonus of a niche game with active fanatical players – things turn and change at a much faster rate than say… trying to turn MMO oil tankers like *cough* Guild Wars 2 *cough*.

Welcome Island, I’m happy to report, is much more welcoming than before.


The messaging at the top of the screen has improved, providing more guidance. The signs on the island say pretty much the same thing, in the event that a newbie might skip past all the text and still need to refer to something.

Things like camera and setting up UI options are covered very early on, to help with the initial disorientation of any player more used to modern day games.

There’s a big fat road to follow – that leads to the tar pit – and a bit of a new, improved mini-map which is still working out a few kinks (but hey, there’s a zoom in and zoom out function, mind blown.)

There’s even a decorative pier that kinda indicates approximately where one should set up their ferry when leaving for Egypt proper.

Anyway, with the help of prior recent experience and pulling up the old guide, I got to the mainland in under two hours or so.

Here’s the odd thing, I didn’t feel frustrated, but I didn’t feel in any particular hurry to settle down or start factory grinding either. I think, in the back of my mind, I kinda know that I don’t have the time investment available to play hardcore powergamer with macros and alts right now. Maybe this will change in a few months, maybe not.

It’s also a been there, done that kinda thing. I know reaching really high levels and achieving in Tests is beyond my willingness to dedicate time and effort and interest to grind (sorta like reaching level 100 in Path of Exile, for that matter.) I reached level 30 something and got to see nearly all the tech and systems somehow and that was enough, I don’t have extreme Achiever dreams as a motivating factor.

So what are my other options? If I was a strong Socializer, ATITD is a dream come true, a tiny sandbox where you can get to know a community, have plenty of people to chat with and contribute in some small part to. There’s politics and drama and this Tale is looking like it’s going to be very rife with high drama and conflict-oriented sociological situations with another new and active developer at its helm – especially one that just introduced factions to see if that changes the dynamics of the ATITD community any.

But I’m not. I’m pretty introverted, and work lately has involved a LOT of interacting with people, so really, the last thing I want to do when I go home to play a game is be pushed into interacting with more people. I consider typing a word or a sentence into a chat channel, be it in-game or in Discord, and stop before I even hit a key. That would invite a response, and I don’t actually want a friendly response because that would lead to a conversation and that’s -tiring- to an introvert in desperate need of solo recharge time.

I suppose I don’t mind becoming a small cog in a big guild and helping out here and there, except I have timezone issues and just general free time issues right now, so any of my contributions would be a drop in a puddle, if not a lake.

Then too, I have to admit that the actual activity involved in producing such a contribution is not exactly triggering a ‘fun’ button for me right now.

Nothing to do with ATITD specifically, mostly to do with the place my brain is in right now – the same lack of ‘fun’ button is being triggered when doing grindy resource accumulation activities in GW2 (I stopped, mostly), and when I popped into Trove in between various gaming sessions and realized that I didn’t feel like learning how to play my Tomb Raiser again or visiting various mini-dungeons to kill the mini-bosses to get loot… for now.

I was getting the visceral adrenaline hit in PoE, and to a lesser extent, Warframe of all places, which I popped into after Trove to clear a single survival mission for 20 minutes (I was going for the survive 10 minutes to unlock Jupiter Junction, and wound up staying for twice as long because shooting endless hordes of Grineer in the face felt ‘fun’).

I also managed to unlock the Jupiter Junction, which was a face off against the most ridiculous spectre encountered so far, Valkyr. I was nearly at my wit’s end in an utter deadlocked stalemate where I was popping Rhino’s iron skin every time it wore off but couldn’t figure out how to deal enough damage… right up to the point where I thought my way through the problem while dodging behind pillars and running in circles, and realized my energy was constantly recharging… and thus could produce nigh unlimited Rhino stomps with maybe fifteen seconds of wait time in between casts. It became a patient game of stunlocking her every time she didn’t have her invulnerability up and then just showering her with pretty ineffectual bullets until the next time. I nearly ran out of ammo for the poor Soma Prime, but killed her with 8 bullets left. Phew.

Obviously, I still need to work out and work on modding for more effectiveness at some point, but… just not today. Or tomorrow. Some day. When I’m not so busy.

But I found it a valuable lesson to realize that my subconscious was kinda enjoying the gameplay of Warframe more than nearly any other game on my huge laundry list of games I was visiting that day – I had to feel it contrasted right there and then, kinda like wine or chocolate or coffee-tasting, in order to sense the subtle differences I might not have picked out if just trying one product on its own.

Still I found myself logging in and out of A Tale in the Desert. I’d log in for 30 minutes, attempt to do a teeny step on a mini-goal or project, scroll and read all the chat text in-game and Discord, and then log out because I’d rather wait offline than online. Couple hours later, I’d pop in for ten minutes and pop back off again.

I think, subconsciously, I kind of want to spectate, rather than be a participant at this point in time. The whole idea of factions makes me subtly uneasy; an active roleplaying developer doing stuff is almost… threatening, in a sense. Resource loss, resource waste (including wasted time) feels like it could very well happen this Tale. Which is all very well if you’re in the Tale to be entertained by the participation in such stories and the social community… but which personally strikes me more like Eve Online – great to hear about from a distance, but not really something I want to invest time playing in.

Maybe, between reading all the system chats and Discord chats and the odd in-game chat, that’s all the entertainment that I really need from ATITD right now.

After all, I already have one other game that I’m in an odd work/play relationship with… I’ve been on an ambivalent break from GW2. The Amazon servers are still shit if I’m not using a gaming proxy, which is subtly frustrating. I gave up doing dailies and found that I haven’t missed them. I log in twice weekly to raid and that provides sufficient influx of gold to keep me going when I don’t do anything else in game, thus requiring nothing of the game. Raiding on my condi warrior is comfortable. I like comfortable. Most of the raids go more or less smoothly, and then I’m gone till the next time.

The slight discomfort is the Dhuum CM attempts which are a challenging stretch. Challenging stretches require learning, which I’m okay with, except that it takes time. And is not comfortable, and often perplexing and frustrating. Part of the frustration is the lack of a good source for learning / the perfect coach to accurately diagnose issues and offer usable advice.

Youtube videos move fast and often don’t explicitly state things that actually need to be said to a new learner. Friends or raid members may be well-meaning but equally clueless or offer tips that are completely off the mark. (I asked myself, if someone in my team or indeed, anywhere, asked me to coach or offer them tips on how to play the class I play most… would I be able to do so effectively? Answer: No. Not at all. I wouldn’t have the faintest clue where to even start.) Practising blindly runs the risk of locking in bad habits. But ultimately, self-coaching and trying to figure out your own sources of information and improvement is where most players who aren’t esports athletes end up.

I made myself log in and hit the combat golem a couple times. Mostly meh, still rough around the edges, still mostly perplexed. I do suspect the main bulk of my loss of damage is missing epidemics, which can only be practiced in a more real world setting with another necromancer.

I had the bright idea on Sunday to take the scourge out for a spin in the open world, and remembered bounty trains as a source of high hitpoint bosses in a low stress group setting. This gave me more real world practice with skill priorities (complete with jumbled up rotations when panicking and moving and dodging) and I even felt a bit of muscle memory locking in. The bounty train and learning of ‘how to scourge’ almost felt… fun… right up to the point where I started lagging at 800-1000ms ping because I wasn’t using the gaming proxy.

Scenario A: I log out, start the gaming proxy, restart Guild Wars 2, log back in, rejoin the squad and continue.

Scenario B: I log out. Period.

I went for option B and did something else instead.

Like build a jetpack in Forever Stranded and extend my cobblestone bridge highway a little further.

Like borrow some digital library books and start to skim read them.

Like watch a Netflix movie or two.

But mostly to play juuuust a little more Path of Exile.

So I guess the whirlwind tour was somewhat useful after all; I touched all the bases I was intending to touch, and more or less figured out viscerally where my focus wanted to be.