GW2: Verbosely Replying to Bhagpuss

I haven’t had time to blog because I’ve been too busy cramming in doing stuff in GW2 among ongoing delving in Path of Exile and dabbling in Warframe.

(You’re getting this quick and dirty response because I busted the character limit by a hair when attempting to comment reply to Bhagpuss’ impressions of Living Story Episode 4: A Star to Guide Us.)

That’s perhaps the highest praise I can produce for whatever Anet is doing right in this episode, that I’m more happy to be playing and -experiencing- the content, than complaining or commentating on it because something broke or didn’t feel right.

Beyond very tiny niggles like getting stuck in map geometry here and there because I like to climb all the things and a hiccupping instance that occasionally gets confused as to which phase its in and some eyebrow raising scaling, there’s a LOT more done right this episode.

It reads a bit like a love letter to some of our long ago wishes, hopes and dreams.

I recall Bhagpuss liked Rift’s planar invasions… some of the public events in Jahai Bluffs feels almost cut out of that same cloth.

I loved little places of peace like the peach tree in Lake Doric and Erana’s Peace in an old Quest For Glory game, Sun’s Refuge is like those places writ large, complete with a jukebox playing music from GW1 and GW2 and historical nostalgic lore references back to GW1.

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People wanted armor rewards that weren’t tied to raiding, and we get Elegy/Requeim armor. Others missed world bosses and map metas, and Death Branded Shatterer feels almost like Tequatl in the old days of “this will be a disaster till people learn how to do it properly.”

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Raiding-wise, I’m honestly not very representative of the mindset of a hardcore raider – I lack the competitive drive and overall obsession, for one, and do not really get emotional kicks of triumphant fiero on defeating a raid boss as a general rule.

But the boss mechanics in Mythwright Gambit feel good this time, in that they are predictable.

Pattern recognition seems to me to be part of why raiding is fun for some, to be able to predict what the boss will do and devise strategies to defeat it – a sort of intricate dance, where the strategy formulation is more fun, rather than feeling frustrated because you know what to do but can’t execute because the reaction time required is too short, or because RNG screwed you over by having unpredictable and unwinnable positions turn up.

Predictable equals tangible progress because people can learn the right dance moves through repetition, rather than hoping everyone can react in time and not err in human fashion.

There’s a lot more role and responsibility division / group splitting which has a certain appeal to the solo part of me. You have a job, you do it, that contributes to overall team success when it’s time to come together. I think as long as it stays simple, it’s not too bad – it might get frustrating if those individual responsibilities get made too complex and your team progression winds up at the mercy of someone who just can’t manage it.

The difficulty feels aimed pretty well at a middle of the road raider, not pitched at and balanced for the very topmost.

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The first boss is fairly easy, my group brute forced their way through our first day, after a few aborted attempts, as a number of our party coming in blind. I was honestly still mostly confused about the mechanics after we had won. Only reviewing the wiki and a video in preparation for challenge mode clued me in more.

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The second boss is more middle of the road, it took our group the rest of the raid night to manage it. It involved splitting the team into separate groups, and mechanics were such that you needed the whole team to understand individually how to respond correctly to certain attacks. A bit of repetition got our relatively experienced team through.

I appreciated that tells were relatively clear and gave enough time to prepare to react, for the most part, though things were made complicated by the small size of the enemy model and the general visual chaos of GW2 combat. There was only one thing, small red circles appearing under each player’s feet, that was not visually clear and could have used some of the garish yellow warning coloration in the UI that now accompanies the teleport circles for Vale Guardian and Cairn.

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The last and third boss took a separate night to deal with. I suspect he most resembles what other MMOs expect from raids. There are distinct phases and patterns to learn. Players have to split up into three or four groups at times and then come back together. There’s quite a bit of general lethality and wipes if someone makes a mistake.

I really liked the design of the arena for this fight. The geometric patterns on the floor provide useful cues for where things are going to happen, making a positioning reliant fight easier to predict. Especially interesting is the use of proximity as the aggro mechanic – no easy highest toughness = tank here. It takes groupwork to let the proper tank tank. Everyone else has to stay further away than the tank.

Our group eventually repeated their way through to success, but it was certainly touch and go, since it was our first time seeing whatever the hell happened after the boss reached below 33% health. The tension and excitement was palpable, and I’m not ashamed to admit this was one of the rare times which I actually did experience some fiero after defeating the boss. Not long enough to get frustrated by repeated failure from teammates, not relegated to a role that I disliked and would do badly at; the lack of those bad feelings allowed the joy of victory to take its proper place, rather than sheer relief.

I’m actually looking forward to more of this boss fight weekly, because there’s quite a lot more to pattern optimize – everyone was making mistakes left, right and center in our first attempt and things can only get better and smoother from here as people get more comfortable with it.

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The story (limited as it is – apparently you go for a tour of the mystic forge at Zomorros’ invitation and find that he has an ulterior motive for asking you because he had a mutinous compatriot issue, which your gleefully homicidal group of ten eagerly dealt with without much prompting) is pushed to more of a post-mortem reflection, which is better. Those interested can chat with the NPC after the fact of boss killing, rather than wind up in a conflict between listening to the chatter and getting on with making things dead.

(The environments are gorgeous. Which I think is a more than good enough trade for not too much story in raid instances. Far more enjoyable too after the wing is cleared; I turn settings down way low in raids to prioritize better performance.)

I’m a lot happier to talk about the main story in the Living Story episodes, obliquely, of course.

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Despite the disgraced narrative designer claiming over Twitter that everything in the coming episodes is her handiwork, I think I’d trust the current Anet devs’ comments that the new lead writer Samantha Wallschlaeger and the Open World writer Lily Yu had a far greater hand in steering the story ship.

It’s good.

More dramatic mood, characters who take the lore seriously and have impactful conversations, there’s always a little conflict in every story instance (not everyone will agree on the right direction to go in) and ups-and-downs that feel intentionally introduced for pacing purposes – a happy or comic moment segues into a sad or serious one into a triumphant one into something bittersweet, and so on.

On the whole, I’d call this episode well done. If only it didn’t take so long to produce. But well, we got a big map out of it and a lot more besides. Coulda been a lot worse.

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Path of Exile: Delving with a Witch Doctor

Delve league is out in Path of Exile, and I’m right back in the swing of things.

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The league is named for the supposed first of potentially many “infinite” dungeon type systems that Grinding Gear Games may experiment with or work on.

Though with the old Atlas of the Worlds endgame of ever expanding maps that open into more maps that link yet more maps recursively, you’d think GGG already had one.

That, and an old race event type called Endless Ledge which repeated a single map over and over with increasingly insane monsters until you wiped or ran out of race time.

But Delve is a little more sophisticated than Endless Ledge.

You get a map from which you select your next target location. You could plot a path that might take you laterally fighting roughly the same level mobs and earning various treasures and currency, or chart a route that takes you delving deeper and deeper, with presumably increasing challenges.

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I’m nowhere near a respectable deep level yet, but I’ve encountered a change in biome here and there.

At each stop, there are quick encounters with various swarms of enemies or some mini-bosses like rogue exiles to fight, and a mini-treasure awaiting.

The Delve system has its own currency of Azurite, a resource that for once isn’t a currency orb or physical object represented in Path of Exile to clog up your stash, but an automatically vacuumed resource that beelines directly for your character magnet-style and drops into your “wallet.”

At present, there are three things in it. Azurite, Flares and Dynamite.

Azurite is used for crafting Flares and Dynamite, as well as in a Delve specific progression system that increases your pool of storing these various resources, expands light radius, damage done by dynamite and so on.

The mine, you see, is dark. Very dark. So dark you might get eaten by a grue.

If you step away from the light for a short time, a dark debuff stacks on your very quickly and eats away at your health VERY rapidly.

So you’re usually following the precious light-bearing Crawler on its path from one stop to another, with occasional risk-reward forays into the pitch black.

The Crawler is fueled by a resource you can only harvest from the surface, so it is still necessary to ping pong back and forth from the old maps to the new Delve and back again.

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The Delve league also brings a number of less obvious but significant changes.

The devs apparently had to do some stuff in the lighting department to support Delve’s light/dark mechanic, and they managed to pull off light beams on objects at the same time.

Customable light beams, of different colors, on any darn thing you choose. If you can imagine it, you can tweak it.

Most people don’t quite have that imagination, me included, so we’re content reaping the benefits of some very hardworking players with a downloadable item filter – Neversink’s Filterblade, that also eases the work of customization with a whole bunch of options you can tweak via friendly website UI (as opposed to messing with textfiles and esoteric item codes).

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Equally mind-blowing, for me anyway, was a little patch note that said “You can now right click on any stash tab in the drop down list to send it all the way to the left.”

Hallelujah.

When you’ve bought more than a few stash tabs, all your special tabs for currency, maps, divination cards and so on all wind up to the far right at the start of every league.

This is terribly depressing because for many people, me included, it makes the most sense to have the currency tab – something that sees a LOT of use – as the very first thing you want to access on the very left of all your stash tabs.

Previously, one had to drag and drop, scrolling past dozens of stash tabs (I have around 40, what can I say, I’m a hoarder and a reluctant organizer) to get ONE tab where it needed to go.

This league, setup just involved a few right clicks and short drags, and that really motivated me to get off on the right organizing foot.

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We’ll see how long that lasts.

Build-wise, I decided to break from recommended build tradition and experiment with my own, since I started relatively on time this league.

I would still be following the main major changes. Last league, traps and arc got reworked, so arc traps was totally in.

This league, one major highlight is the new melee summoner archetype with a number of new skill gems to support this playstyle.

This is a dream come true. I love melee characters. I love doing damage. I also love supporting with buffs, offensive and defensive.

And I am totally for an entourage of questionably helpful AI-controlled killer mobs because I am a lazy bastard who likes to just walk around and have things die. (I played ranged summoners twice fairly recently and loved them.)

I get to have them all together, you say?

YES PLEASE.

Wait, what’s the catch?

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Well,  the catch is the class that makes the most sense to juggle strength for attacks and intelligence for minions and auras is the Templar, the naked old man above with no pants.

His Guardian Ascendancy was also reworked to support this melee summoner playstyle, and after studying both Necromancer Witch and Templar Guardian – the two classes that start relatively close to the stuff I wanted in the skill tree – it was decided that I really needed to use the Templar.

*sigh*

Microtransaction outfits to the rescue.

The Templar has a very holy, “God”, paladin-y vibe going for him, but it seemed a bit boring to go down that holy armored cleric route.

By chance, I combined a blue Harpy helmet I picked up last league with a red Gore body armor from a very long time ago, and thought “Hrrrrm…”

Red and blue is not really a color combination I’d go for, but it so happens that a lot of this character’s skills are all yellow. It’s high contrast, as they’re all primary colors, but there is a certain color wheel logic to this.

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It ended up working quite well, as my original idea was to try out the reworked Dominating Blow skill gem.

I was also going to swarm things with basic zombies as a minion meatshield – something I’ved used before for fairly decent effect with other characters (at least up to the point of higher level maps where one would then explode without good gear/defences augmenting you).

Dominating Blow wasn’t available till level 28, so in the meantime, I used the new Smite skill gem, in conjunction with Raise Zombies, and also picked up Holy Relic.

Dang, they were good. Smite lets you attack something, and then lightning strikes will hit other mobs. At the same time, if you hit something with it, you and your allies get a short term aura buff that adds lightning damage to your and their attacks.

Slot in the Ancestral Call support, and you get two ghostly helpers that randomly attack 2 nearby enemies at the same time, essentially tripling the Smite attack.

Holy Relic meanwhile will trigger an AoE nova spell on enemies that you hit with an attack (expanding the range of damage of the tripled smite attack) and put on a life regeneration buff that works immensely better on minions than you.

Some experimentation with the slotting of supports for Holy Relic suggested that minion supports could be put on it, increasing physical damage, fire damage, etc. Presumably, this only takes effect when the holy relic buff is on.

But as a melee summoner, you were going to attack -something- anyway, right?

Which in turn buffs all your little minions around you? Whee.

The synergy. Too awesome.

To add icing on the cake, Herald of Purity is the new herald skill gem that adds physical damage to you, buffs minion damage, and creates Sentinel of Purity minions when you kill enemies.

There is a Summon Phantasm on Kill support that creates ghostly ranged phantasm minions – something I was using to very enjoyable effect with my prior SRS raven necromancer.

It got to the point when I actually reached Dominating Blow, after some experimentation, I decided that the minions it created were a little more awkward to play around with than the existing Smite-Nova/Zombie-Phantasm Smash I already had going.

Guess we’ll save that for another build.

The rest of the build choice is a little haphazard for now. Lightning golem just for the attack speed and the off chance its aura might buff a minion or three.

Leap slam with fortify seemed like a decent movement skill. I am also tickled by the fact that both Smite and Leap Slam sound very similar, like the thump of a drum. It all melds with the witch doctor/shaman theme of Thuum Thuum of Doom, and then buffed zombies eat your face while lightning smites others in the background.

At level 46, I am feeling the shortage of life just a tide, but there are several life/energy shield nodes coming up in the planned tree, and my gear sucks for now, so we’ll see how it goes and adapt from there.

SSF experimental build life.

The fun is in the guesswork and tweaking things as you go along. If it works, you learn and remember. If it doesn’t work, you die and then you learn.

Most importantly, I am having a blast.

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And that’s the crux of it.

Warframe: Fashion Frame & Flow

Want to know the mind of a player who will put down $60usd for a Warframe Prime Vault Pack containing items that can be farmed for, or bought from other players for probably cheaper sums?

Yep, that’s me. No regrets.

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BIG RHINO P WINS FASHIONFRAME. IS FANCY. ALSO HAS DOGGO. HAS SLIGHTLY HIGHER VOK-CAB-BULL-LARRY THAN BASE RHINO.

I debated with myself for a couple weeks, but eventually decided the bottom line was “convenience.”

You know me, I’m a dirty soloing noob Rhino lover.

The problem was, I couldn’t quite convince myself to stick in items that would upgrade the basic warframe, when there was a slightly better Prime version (releasing very soon from the Vault / then already released) that would also benefit from said items.

Focus lens, exilus adapters, forma, you name it, it seemed like a bit of a waste. Especially when one is a noob and not exactly swimming in item wealth.

The other problems were a lack of time and not much willingness to interact with other players.

I mean, I -could- have farmed missions for a 7-9% drop chance of the correct relic, and then farmed other missions to open said relic for a 2%, 11% or 25% chance depending on the part. And it takes four said parts to build Rhino Prime.

If I did the missions solo, it would a) take a lot of time, and b) I wasn’t sure I could solo the harder missions, especially since some would be Void missions where enemies do quadruple their normal damage or something like that.

If I grouped for the missions, it would be a) not very fun as someone else would obviously be carrying for most of it, and b) it seemed like a good way to turn something enjoyable into a chore, e. g. clicking through mission complete screens every 2-5min while someone else did all the work with their overpowered characters.

(Or c) be an utterly horrible grouping experience with no desired prize at the end, which would be even more of a waste of time.)

Seeing as I needed every scrap of time I had to play around in Path of Exile’s Incursion Flashback league, with Delve league fast coming in the background; mess around learning how to hunt various wyverns in Monster Hunter World; attend GW2 raids twice a week; reread some nostalgic novel series and get other desired progress going in Warframe, choosing to farm for fractions of a Prime warframe didn’t seem like the best use of a limited resource.

The more recommended alternative, even for players who are not willing to pay real dollars, is to use platinum to buy the Prime parts from others. (They just have to go through some additional steps of farming for other easier to obtain desired items first and then trade for the platinum.)

Seeing as I bought a ton of platinum for 25usd when I received a 75% off coupon oh so long ago and have been conserving it in my usual miserly fashion for weapon and frame slots, it would not really have killed me to spend a couple hundred plat to buy the parts from other people.

But said frame would come without a frame slot, and all the other goodies in the pack (which were also technically not worth the enormous asking price… maybe $30 if you were pushing it, not $60) AND I would have to sit there, refreshing the Warframe Market webpage, sending multiple tells to people, figure out the trade system and basically engage in a merchant simulation minigame.

That minigame being something I also avoided like the plague in Path of Exile, preferring to play solo self-found instead.

I’m sure it’s great if you like that kind of thing. I don’t.

I have limited time to play games and I want to be stuck in the action fast, from the moment I log on and pewpewing things.

As awesome Rhino.

Like, right now.

The more miserly part of me stepped in to say, wait a bit, and I did.

But for three weeks, the “I want a Rhino Prime. I can’t progress my Rhino without a Rhino Prime, though I can play my free Frost Prime from Twitch. I still really want a Rhino Prime” feeling kept echoing around in my body.

So ohh, what the heck, I can afford it, why not?

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Yep, still awesome.

The Galatine greatsword is only rank 19 and not well-modded, so ignore the stats.

I could have just chosen to buy the $40 pack, but I figured it was a slightly better (if still a rip-off) deal to get all the other Prime stuff that I didn’t have, and the 1200 platinum, as opposed to half of the Prime stuff and only 400 platinum.

It did unfortunately repeat a Scindo Prime axe, which I scored from one of those ubiquitous Twitch Prime giveaways, but oh well, it’s an AXE, and a fairly fancy one at that. I suppose one day in the far future when I’m drowning in mods and endo, I can have the flexi option of having six (3 x 2 axes) loadout options for it.

(Or maybe one even further away day when Digital Extremes launches Melee version 10.0, they’ll let us dual wield two greataxes and I’ll be laughing all the way to the bank. Hey, I can dream, right?)

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In the meantime, it’s just fun to play around with the extras.

Boltor Prime is surprisingly quite enjoyable, compared to the base Boltor that I wasn’t terribly impressed with. Nailing enemies to things with its projectile dart is neat.

Less so when you’re trying to shoot down a flying enemy in the Plains of Eidolon and the darts just don’t fly far enough before plonking down to the surface again… boy, do you wish for a hitscan weapon right about then.

Ankyros Prime is weird.

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It’s like a giant pair of ugly boxing gloves.

The damage output is pretty sick, in a good way.

I don’t really like or feel the animations fit with my conception of my Rhino, the robotic frisbee boxing gloves look kind of stupid, but when you one shot regular critters with one punch and absolutely destroy tough-to-kill mobs by simply spamming the melee button for a combo that puts them on the ground to be demolished by a finisher..

… there’s a bit of a cognitive dissonance thing going on. Do I like them? Do I not?

Anyway, I got it to rank 30 before switching it out.

I figure I will eventually stumble into another frame which might be absolutely right for Ankyros Prime. (Maybe Atlas, I hear he’s One Punch Man or something like that.)

Alas, after thoroughly enjoying Rhino Prime all the way back up to rank 30 and slotting it with everything I can, besides a forma that would bring it back down again, I had to admit that I still don’t have the -good- mods that are necessary for most warframe builds.

I had to run a whole bunch of missions before finally finding Streamline by sheer chance in an Orokin treasure container, for example.

Flow, on the other hand, had utterly eluded me. (The mod, not Csikszentmihalyi’s version, though I guess you could say that too.)

I tried to do Tier 3 Dark Sector survivals for the 6.67% chance every 15 minutes; hunted without success in Orokin secret rooms and opened all the treasure containers; killed some Butchers in a Tier 1 defense while leveling low rank warframes on the teeny tiny off chance that the 0.03% drop chance would kick in; finally settling in for the long haul on a Tier 3 Dark Sector excavation – that is, Pluto, Hieracon – with also a 6.67% drop chance every 3 excavators successfully defended.

Naturally, Rhino Prime is not terribly awesome at defending objects – or at least I can’t play him well enough to do so. So I had to fall back on Frost Prime.

For days.

Granted, I have limited time, so I maybe could only do 3-5 runs a night, but that’s pretty much my limit for grind. 14 runs back to back is just not me.

So there was IMMENSE relief when on one of these interminably repetitive missions, it finally dropped.

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It was a screenshot worthy occasion.

Ironically, I’m now grinding other missions, for other stuff, and not really minding it too much.

I think it was just the backed-into-a-corner feeling that I didn’t have a large enough variety toolset to deal with Tier 3 missions without using my very best weapons and warframe for the job.

And even that was a little tough nearer the end part of excavator 3, where I was heartily wishing I had enough syndicate standing to buy skill augment mods… like Chilling Globe, for example.

That’s something to be worked on too. Along with the other still missing mods of their ilk – Intensify, Continuity, etc… *sighs* Ah well, it’s “content.”