Trove: First Impressions

Why do all the games I like have a floating castle?

Trove.

Simple, colorful, pixelated and addictive in the vein of Free 2 Play + Cash Shop games like Spiral Knights or Realm of the Mad God.

It has the blocky building nature of Minecraft, albeit only saving and preserving your creations in certain approved areas (Cornerstones and Club Worlds.)

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It uses procedurally generated biomes, producing the endless (yet similar and possibly ultimately recognisable) variety and novelty that explorers often like, especially when they discover a treasure trove of needed resources.

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It dots the landscape with player-created structures – aesthetically attractive dungeons and lairs filled with platforming and traps, where it’s sometimes even a challenge to locate the entrance IN – taking advantage of crowdsourced content creation to sate the Adventurer subset while giving Creator types that all-important audience and sweetening the deal with extra reward perks.

It’s probably what Landmark hoped it could be.

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Comparing the various popular games in this genre:

Landmark stresses more heavily on voxel creation/building and ‘realistic’ immersion, before crafting and game aspects.

Minecraft places the focus more on ‘survival’ exploration, creation (building/crafting) and immersion, while many Minecraft mods tend to lead up the intricate crafting and tech trees to focus on mechanical design.

Terraria is a lot more about game (in terms of boss combat) and gear progression, with creation as a runner-up, with less care for anything resembling immersive exploration.

Trove very much follows in Terraria’s footsteps as more ‘game’-focused. It’s an MMO (complete with gear progression, soloable and group content) meets Minecraft, in a smoother, slicker Adventure Mode, with a sidelong helping of mobile-browser-like F2P that takes care to make things colorful and attractive, while dangling ‘speed-up-now’ conveniences for cash.

Any form of ‘realistic’ immersion is cheerfully thrown by the wayside in favor of a more cartoon-y whimsical genre blend of fantasy and sci-fi and steampunk and dragons and ghost pirates and candylands.

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It does, of course, mean that one has a vast variety of costumes (pixelated they may be) to play dress up with. Especially since those are also player-created.

And boy, does it have gear progression. It has it in spades. So many spades that it reminds me of Dungeon Runners, the only other game I’ve encountered that cheerfully used rainbow as an item rarity level. (I’m sure there are some MUDs or Asian MMOs that have this too, but I couldn’t name them off the top of my head right now.)

Biting down on my automatic revulsion of anything that pegs performance to ever-increasing stats (and rest assured, Trove does), if you accept the premise of grinding for better stats in order to defeat essentially identical but enemies with numerically-superior stats for shinier numerically-superior gear rewards so that you can repeat this treadmill over and over and look shinier/more glowy/blacker-than-black-cool with wings and flying mount things and feel good about yourself, Trove does this very very well.

It feels very good. You go from green uncommon gear, to blue rares as you level. (Wow, rares, sounds cool already.) Next comes purple epics. Orange legendaries will drown you as you hit the mid-level of 10+. Occasionally you find a red relic. Then oh wow, is that RAINBOW resplendent in quality?

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(Darn, too bad it doesn’t have the stat spread you want. *flush* into the item deconstructor it goes.)

And all of it will apparently become meaningless when you hit max level 20 and realize that you can only level up further by increasing your gear to edgy /shadow/ levels that go from Shadow-1 to Shadow-6.

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Oh, and the last update apparently now brought -Radiant- item rarity, because glowy white is the new black, I guess.

(I lied, some Googling reveals that Radiant is indicated by yellow text surrounded by a bright blue outline. I like the phrase though, and I’m keeping it!)

While I’m usually not a fan of this sort of hamster wheel, especially since Shadow Arenas are apparently meant to be defeated by a manually-LFG-assembled group of 8 (smells like a raid, to me!) I am heartened by reports that -some- people find it possible to solo the higher end content with a good solo class (and presumably overpowered stats out the wazoo) plus good tactics.

If it is possible to get ‘there’ in the end via both group or solo means, even if solo is a touch slower than grouping, it makes the game less of an immediate write-off to me.

Anyhow, as a secondary game, it’s unlikely I’ll even get ‘there’ before I get distracted by something else to play.

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(I’ve realized that when I play vertical progression games where rising stats are pegged to improving performance, I tend to play them solo. In this way, it becomes a game with -myself- that I’ve willingly entered into, to grind for improvement like how the game wants, so that I can feel that ‘sense of progress.’ And when I no longer enjoy it, I just walk off the treadmill and stop the game there, until I want to experience that feeling again.

Grouping makes the whole system grate more, due to that possible unevenness in playing field. Someone might be stronger numerically than I, or the other way around. And once there’s a disparity there, it tends to lead to negative attitudes regarding the perceived ‘weak link.’ Not just from the stronger party, whose thought patterns will tend to follow along an elitist ‘don’t waste my time’ mindset, but also from the weaker party, who may worry that they’re holding back the group or not performing up to par.

Skill disparities are fixed by knowledge, learning, time and practice. By challenging oneself to reach a higher state.

Stat disparities are most typically fixed by repeating a doable activity over and over until one gets lucky with RNG. No learning there, just a lottery. Meh. But I digress.)

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There are two big attractions of Trove to me, and this is subject to personal taste, is its straightforward simplicity (but without handholding) and its action combat system.

Many of Trove’s systems are simple and straightforward to grasp. You can fish. You can harvest things. You can venture into lairs and dungeons and kill stuff. You can buy a boat to let you sail on water. You can craft rings for more stats. You can garden for decorative items and several useful resources. Unsoweiter.

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But it won’t pull any punches or make it super easy for you. This is what is needed. Yes, it may take some time to accumulate what you need to accomplish what you want. Your job: Figure out how you’re going to get what you want. Play the game while you’re thinking about it. Or just play the game and let what you need come with time (kinda like GW2’s legendaries.)

Playing the game, of course, involves my other favorite thing about Trove. Its action combat system, simple but not overly so. After GW2, I can no longer adapt well to static tab-targeting combat, I like to press a mouse button or key and see a sword swing, a spell fire, my avatar dodge in reaction.

More importantly, I have to be able to -move- as I do it, and preferably jump as well.

Trove absolutely lets you run and gun (with possibly some skill exceptions.)

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Jump? Haha. Heard of double-jump in 3D shooters? Trove takes it over the top. Triple and quad jump are not good enough. Here, have +6 Jump as a stat on your gear. Take +7 jump on your ring, if you want. Subscribe as a premium member? Enjoy 5 extra jumps in mid-air.

You can literally hop and float in mid-air as you navigate strange gauntlets of platformer-like traps, mostly negated by running along at mount speeds and +15 jumping your way to freedom (or the big boss at the end of the gauntlet.)

There’s probably an upper limit of usefulness (which feels to be in the 6-7 jump range, imo, but depends on your class,) but it sure is pretty ludicrous fun.

The dodging is a bit more slippery, and it may be a latency issue, as I simply can’t time dodges right for the life of me. I see the cue, I hit dodge, I usually get hit anyway.

But fortunately, there’s jumping, which throws off the AI a little more, there’s kiting in circles, kiting at range, and in perfectly good Minecraft vein, there’s being able to build your own pillars or walls to flummox dumb enemies if you were so inclined.

You have one character/account, but can switch classes, similar to games like Marvel Heroes, and unlock a variety through time spent playing and earning a special currency or shortcutting the process with cash. This does tend to extend the longevity of a game, as folks switch around and get the variety of leveling up different classes.

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The classes I’ve unlocked – Knight, Dracolyte, Shadow Hunter – all feel quite different in playstyle and reports are that Trove has done pretty well with varying their feel for the other classes too.

Skill-wise, there’s less variety than in traditional MMOs, resembling more of a MOBA.

You get one skill as a left-click attack, another typically stronger one with some extra flare (like AoE damage, a control aspect, etc.) as your right-click, button 1 is a little extra flavor and button 2 is an ‘elite’ on a timed cooldown. And a fifth passive skill that gives extra class flavor and synergizes with some of your active skills.

Coupled with moving and jumping and dodging and positioning, it generally is sufficient enough to be engaging, and simple enough to immediately grasp.

Timing and staggering them for best effect though, while managing your available energy, may be trickier to get the hang of.

I personally enjoy the combat of Trove more than I do that of Marvel Heroes, which has nearly always struck me as more punching bags gratification (as long as your stats are overpowered enough.)

Trove complicates the simple action combat just a little further with some mobs that have overhead swings that do knockback, some that do ranged attacks, some that lob arcing bombs at you and so on.

There’s no complex raid dance pattern to learn, just some basic patterns and typical things certain mob types do, but nothing Dark Souls or even GW2 hard. It’s ‘just right,’ skewed towards the easier side of the difficulty spectrum, but not insultingly simple.

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It’s structured well for short play sessions.

One ventures into an Adventure world of appropriate level range.

One instantly calls up a mount with a keypress and zooms toward a small lair or large dungeon, navigates as one likes to the boss of that locale (aka speed past all trash or treat it like a dungeon crawl, up to you), defeats it, badabing, a quest reward of xp and a chest of items are yours.

Rinse and repeat as often as you like.

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With more time on one’s hands, you could putter around with crafting and building, fishing, harvesting resources (mining ore and collecting crafting ingredients) and so on, interspacing non-combat activities between all the swordswinging and spellflinging.

Trove bears the social design of the more modern-day MMO. Xp and resources are automatically shared (as in doubled, individual loot to each person, not divided into half.)

It errs on the side of generosity, shrugging about leechers. Galloping through a dungeon or lair and some guy speeds past you on their much faster mount and slays the big bad? No matter. You get the quest complete xp anyway.

It is possible and does speed things up if one does lairs in an unofficial group – I’ve had the occasional duo or trio that decide to follow me or vice versa for a time, but it seems many playing are soloists at heart and will eventually go their own separate ways after a string of lairs and then both seeing something else shinier in different directions.

The groups, I suppose, have already found their way to the top, in their Clubs (guild-equivalents, of which you can join 5. Hoorah! And each has a separate club chat!) and private parties of friends they already know.

It’s not the first game I would think of, if someone is looking to meet up and form firm bonds with new friends that last for years. There are other games for that sort of thing. (Though I’m sure there are exceptions, even in Trove, such as clubs that spend all their time building musical creations and socialising and so on.)

Trove is more of a dip-in, dip-out, loosely attached temporary alliances, group for a time or solo at will sort of affair.

It’s an affair that I am happy to dally with.

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P.S. If you’re tempted by this post to make an account, please feel free to use this Refer-A-Friend link so that I might conceivably get a really cool black Elder Dragon mount one day!

(They did, however, set the bar quite high by requiring the recruit to hit Mastery Level 30… I haven’t even hit Mastery Level 20 myself. But eh, I can always dream, right?)

Says It All, Really

In case anyone is wondering why I dislike on principle games that heavily stress vertical progressing stats-on-gear-make-performance-better gameplay: A Rant Over At The Grumpy Elf’s – You’d Be A Good Player, If You Had Some Gear.

Of course, it is conceivable that part of the dislike stems from the excessive and almost hostile competitive-focus of that particular game too.

A game that promotes the mentality of “if this player has more stats, it helps everyone and has no detrimental effect on your personal rewards gained” can nullify the instinctive dislike a little, though it’ll still grate when one realizes another player is only doing better because they have more numbers on their gear.

Where Did Jeromai Go For Most of July?

Well, the blog break wasn’t exactly intentional, but I have to admit it was a pretty refreshing change this month to not feel beholden to writing another post, or indeed, to end up locked in the same habitual cycle of logging in every night to GW2 to faithfully play for 3+ hours and then heading off to bed.

What’s the story there, you may ask?

It was a curious set of coincidences adding up to surprise revelations.

You may recall that I’d previously fallen into a GW2 routine of attending TTS raids every evening, which tend to occupy one’s time from 6.30 – 9.00pm, depending on how early I felt I could attend.

(In truth, I usually missed Karka Queen and Teq most of the time and only stood by for Wurm, having developed a habit of consuming dinner while watching the Dog Whisperer from 6.35-7.35pm. 8.10pm was my local gathering time for Wurm, so sneak in the daily in the half hour in between, done by 9pm, then do whatever else I felt like until bedtime.)

That I can recite the timings sight unseen might suggest how structured and habitual my gaming schedule had become.

On a whim, I decided to make collecting an entire set of Scientific weapon skins my new ‘chase’ goal.

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This broke the “attend TTS raid for lack of anything better to do” habit, and replaced it with new and novel (if obsessive) behavior of seeking out gold-earning tactics.

I get drops of Black Lion Salvage Kits faster than I can use them up. Surely there was something I could do with them? There’s the old standard trick of buy stuff off the TP, salvage it, sell the sigil or rune for a profit. But exactly which was profitable?

I ended up in a fun few days of Excel experimentation, trying to figure out how to pull from various trading post APIs (and settled on an on-demand if manual method of getting the JSON direct and converting to CSV for use in Excel, giving me more up to date info than the delayed half hour of GW2spidy) and create formulas for calculating profit.

Turns out, those niches are pretty well-covered by people a little more dedicated than I at playing with spreadsheets, and the profits per BLSK weren’t exactly mind-blowing at the level I was willing to trade at.

There was dungeon-running for gold, which I managed for a couple days before my nature just up and rebelled at the whole grouping thing.

There was sitting on the World Boss bus for rares/ectos… which led to some more novel experimentation with the GW2 Personal Assistant Overlay. Turned out quite handy, if you like that sort of constant UI feedback and had some hours to kill in GW2, making a boss timer worth it.

There was running around being a node miner/harvester while listening to music, watching Youtube videos or movies in the other screen – which I’m really partial to, and started paying more attention to waypoints with clumps of nodes in the vicinity that I could harvest and then waypoint off to some other destination.

Silverwastes chest train? Yup, did that.

Kill things for T6 drops? Did that too.

I even did the whole karma into crab-grabbin’ gloves into linen/wool for gold.

Generally, given the time I had to play, I was earning some 10-20g on the weekdays and more on the weekends, and was gradually and methodically able to afford a scientific skin every 5-7 days or so.

Then, ArenaNet threw a spanner in the works when they released their -next- Black Lion skin set some two weeks after, raising the price of the scientific skins to 3 tickets.

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For a brief space of time (turned out to be one more week or so, before a patch fixed it,) there was still one particular NPC vendor in the Lion’s Arch area selling scientific skins at 1 ticket.

That promoted a bit of a rush of prices skyrocketing, and I ended up pulling out all the ticket scraps I had saved up to get one or two more skins instead of paying the astronomical prices.

(I also threw some of the 4000 gems from the Heart of Thorns CE into buying 25 Black Lion Chests for the fun of opening them. No lucky ticket, but enough scraps to make up one ticket.)

Then it was a slow grind to accumulate more gold and wait for skin prices to dip a little before pulling out practically ALL my banked gold (and selling off a spare stack of ectos or two, thanks to prices rising from the new gambler NPC) for buy orders.

And I -still- hadn’t finished the collection and had about 7 more skins to go, meaning there was nothing for it but to grind for more gold and stick to the schedule of a skin a week, while hoping prices didn’t soar out of reach, now that the skins were officially 3 tickets.

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Talk about a voluntary grindstone I’d shouldered… for “fun.”

Some time in Week 1 of July, I encountered one of those pep talks about efficient setting of goals and was encouraged to put down on paper some work and personal goals.

One of those personal goals was naturally my structured/calendared plan for earning the remainder of those scientific skins.

The other has been nagging at me since time immemorial. There are piles of stuff around the house that have been in existence for a decade (or two) that need to be sorted, cleaned, decisions made on what to do with them, be it figure out a place to keep them, or somehow preserve their memories/essence and then let the physical object go.

Side by side, it was kinda obvious that the piles had been left there because I’d been happy to procrastinate on them and blow all my time escaping into gaming instead. (Why wouldn’t I? Gaming’s a lot happier an activity than mucking around with moldy objects.)

In fact, if you offered me 70-100 bucks to clean up the piles, I’d probably go “Ehh… that doesn’t seem like large enough a sum to undertake such an effort. Handymen and contractors are paid more to do simpler stuff.” (Some of those piles could probably be filmed as a lesser version of those found in Hoarders TV shows.)

It then occurred to me that it was a very curious thing that I was reluctant (yet sorely tempted) to spend the same objective 70-100 (USD 70 = SGD100) bucks on GW2 gems, and convert them into gold and just buy the remaining skins off the TP that way.

Some twisted form of equivalency just sat around in my mind going “Hey, you’re not supposed to spend $100 a month on a single game! You can buy a collector’s edition game at launch price for that kind of sum!”

Yet my obsessive motivation was such that I was throwing a good 3+ hours every day into the chase for skins, earning essentially a pittance in gold. Economists might talk about “opportunity cost” at this point in time.

A blinding revelation then hit me.

I wanted the skins really really badly. So badly that I was willing to move mountains for them.

That intense, obsessive motivation and three hours every night could be channeled into something else constructive, like finally working on those piles I’d been trying to ignore.

All I had to do, was demarcate clearing one area as being worth USD$10, that area $10, another area $20 and so on.

For a working adult, that’s essentially pocket money and not exactly motivating in an objective sense (eh, it’s worth a movie night, look at that highly intimidating pile to clear, nah…) but translated in terms my current OCD could understand… “IT’S A SHINY SCIENTIFIC SKIN, IT WILL FAST TRACK FINISHING YOUR COLLECTION.”

Suddenly, I had all the motivation in the world.

It just took mentally linking a cheesy reward that my weird self somehow valued so highly.

So for two or three weeks, gaming time suddenly became cleaning time.

GW2 time dropped off to the bare minimum for dailies. Blogging didn’t even make it on the priority list.

I finished digitizing the music CD collection. Case finally closed on that.

Clothes closet decluttered.

In certain parts of the house, the floor has actually become visible.

Digitizing the book collection is winding up to be a slower grind than the entire scientific skin collection, but significant progress has been made.

One bookshelf has been cleared, and has been replaced with a display case. The Rytlock statue from the GW2 CE has finally found a home, after being chucked unceremoniously under the printer table for the past… oh, several years?

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It’s not complete, by any means, but some major portions have been addressed.

All for the low low price of a hundred dollars promised to oneself to spend on something normally deemed too frivolous to fritter away on.

If only I’d realized this brain trick sooner.

A curious but beneficial side-effect was that it broke a number of routine habits (ie. GW2 all night long, blogging) and has encouraged a re-examination of goals and priorities and the creation of new projects.

I’m in my third year of supporting the Reaper Bones Kickstarter and I haven’t painted a single one yet. (Admittedly, some still look good in white, like accidentally gigantic Kaladrax.)

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I’ve been meaning to try other games like Trove, Warframe, Skyforge, Path of Exile’s new expansion, and so on.

The declutter project still has subsequent parts 2 and 3 and more, though I’ll probably tackle those at a more dialed-back, less laser-focused pace.

And I’ll likely squeeze in a bit of time to pick up blogging again.