3 Things to Play or Not Play a Next-Gen MMORPG

Can you guess the MMO?

Keen’s got one of those ubiquitous lists up and is inviting everyone to give their views about what they’d want or not want in a next-gen MMO.

Honestly, I dunno how this is ever helpful for developers. Ask ten bloggers or commenters what they want, and they’ll give you twenty different perspectives back, most diametrically opposed to each other, and possibly end up starting a few flame wars in the process.

I’m not very picky. I’ll play most anything once to give it a shot. In that sense, typical questing or sandbox/themepark doesn’t bother me one whit. Graphics-wise, I can deal with ASCII and text all the way up to super-photorealistic, and even give uncanny valley a temporary free pass until I’m absolutely creeped out and have established other reasons not to play.

On the other hand, I realized I don’t stay long in games that violate the following principles:

1) Going Solo Must Be Viable/Valued Playstyle

Note this does not preclude the option or choice to group. But if I have no time to waste in a particular gaming session to find other players, or simply don’t feel like interacting with others that day (for those games that automatically assign you to pickup groups,) I want to still be able to enjoy your game’s gameplay solo and make reasonable progress towards my goals / victory conditions in the game.

I enjoy my autonomy and locus of control in a game. Being forced anywhere, or to do anything I don’t want to do, interferes with that drastically. After a while, I don’t put up with games that hamfistedly do that instead of subtle positive encouragements to do different things, and I’ll take the ultimate step to regain my autonomy, aka choosing not to play your game (and pay you.)

2) Design Should Foster Pleasant/Decent Social Relationships Between Players

Most players will no doubt smell a Guild Wars 2 influence here. Certainly in terms of next-gen MMO tweaking to ensure -by design- that players are encouraged to cooperate and at least tolerate each other’s presence in their vincinity, rather than be antagonized or dropkicked unwillingly into ultra-competitive mode, GW2 has been much talked about.

While I really enjoy GW2’s style of design, I just want to point out it’s not the only way of establishing this criteria (for fear of the next fleet of MMOs just blindly copying what works.)

A Tale in the Desert, a game I still support, by a mix of accident and design and slow iterative evolution has a carrot-stick model that also seems to work. The small size of the community establishes meaningful name recognition, exerting underlying pressure to behave or be ostracized from the game. Players are forcibly reliant on others in some aspects (but not all, so there’s still stuff to do if one is alone) inducing completionists and veterans to be nice or at least build cooperative networks. Solo being viable here is debatable, but worked around by paying extra for the privilege, aka buying a second account to give yourself an extra set of hands, which I feel is a fair enough financial model.

This is as contrasted with a game like Eve Online, which I’ve tried twice and was somewhat intrigued, but ultimately couldn’t buy in to the model of paying monthly for the privilege of possibly being preyed on by anyone who felt like it and had more friends/time/power than thou, while fostering your own network of allies to do the same to others. That sort of nuclear escalation can only end badly in the long term.

Reality may indeed be that the glass is half empty and half full at the same time. I want games that highlight positive behaviors in order to encourage it, rather than glamorize the negative and make that habit-forming.

3) MMO Should Return Equitable Gameplay Value For Price Being Asked, as Compared to Other Games on Market

Okay, this general statement is cheating, I know. It’s very subjective, what is good gameplay value to me is different from what others prefer. But it’s the best way I can summarize the final decision to play or not play a particular game.

It encompasses what you’re supposed to do in a game, and all your options for doing stuff. Personally, I like killing mobs (mindlessly, meditatively and methodically, or with good tactical use of skills and positioning, preferably alone or with tools under my control aka henchmen/heroes), exploring, building, minigames, and certain kinds of team/objective-based PvP. I don’t mind crafting, collecting, achievement hunting and vanity dress up but am not completionist about them. I enjoy experiencing a good story and narrative. I tolerate with some neutral sway playing in a group. I’m open to some vertical progression like levels, but I wouldn’t mind leaving it in a heartbeat to focus on lateral goals like mission/story unlocks, optional challenges and so on.

It takes into account the pricing model of the game. How much am I supposed to pay monthly to enjoy doing the main bulk of the stuff in-game? Can I choose not to pay for a time and still have a viable good experience, if I don’t necessarily need it ALL, NOW? Can I use in-game currency (or time invested in playing the game) as a viable alternative to real life currency? Can I leave and come back after a time, without feeling like I’ve lost out completely and it’s now impossible to catch up with anyone?

(For the record, I’m comfortable with $0-20 monthly. Yes, yes and yes, are the answers I want to hear to the other questions.)

Then finally, does another game on the market give me better return for the same cost or less? If I keep thinking how I’d be better off playing another game, while I’m playing your game, well… Yeah.

As for what I don’t want, there’s possibly some consistency and repeats, if you flip them and compare them to the want list.

1) Holy Trinity Co-Dependency

First of all, it’s been done. To death. I love an MMO that gives me an interesting twist, a new take, an innovative feature. I hate MMOs that fall back on the same lazy tank/heal/dps standard combat.

I loathe the co-dependency involved. I’m big on being able to act as an autonomous party. Needing a pocket healer to keep me alive is not at all part of that plan. Being a meatshield that can’t do any real damage at all is gimped. Choosing squishy dps, you end up having to wait for two other suckers to take the less wanted roles.

Screw all that. If I’m a good player, I want to be able to juggle my skills and positioning and react with good timing and situational awareness to do damage, help and support other players as needed with the overall goal of taking the mob down. If I’m a less good player, I’d like a good player to be able to step in and catch me/save the day with the above, while still contributing a valuable, decent amount to the overall cause. I especially would not want to be the sole cause of a group’s downfall if I’m not as good playing the game as a baseline average of players (that just sorta long-term whittles out your playerbase as the elites group together in insular groups and everyone else is discouraged from joining in.)

I’m not at all keen on the super-specialization of builds/roles/functions a player is expected to perform when joining any group. That leads to cookie cutter builds and gameplay expectations. Deviate and be scorned.

Eff that. I enjoy the flexibility to choose melee or ranged or even dance back and forth between them at short, medium, long ranges as appropriate to the combat. I enjoy the freedom of a well-timed skill that saves someone’s butt (including my own.) I enjoy being able to kill stuff at a good pace when I want to.

2) Forced Group, Endless Hamster Wheel Progression

I’m cheating, I know. It’s two things. But since they often blend the two into *coughcough* raids, I feel justified to lump them together.

Forced group has been explained before. I find it very distracting and situationally chaotic to have too many people in one place at one time. Even worse if I feel pressured into the situation in order to progress further with the game. It’s a bloody game, I play to relax and enjoy myself – if I wanted that kind of performance anxiety and stage fright and excessive mental effort, I’ll go make a speech at an auditorium or do a public performance and get paid for it or something. Remember, I’m paying the game to entertain me, not torment me.

The hamster wheel of running in one place to get nowhere at all is a model that needs to die with subscription games falling out of vogue. The bottom line of that design is to keep you subscribed to the game. “Work” so hard defeating this foe, that challenge, “earn” a pretty reward, and what do you know, the baseline gets redrawn, and you get to do it all over again, and your reward is now considered trash. Go get the next uber sword, now, there’s a good donkey.

Ultimately, all you end up with is an increasingly smaller group of people who faithfully chase these goals and become elite and insular, and everyone else has fallen by the wayside (or chosen to stop, turn around and walk in the opposite direction giving you the middle finger… or simply meandered away somewhere else.)

3) Non-Compatibility with Older Computer Systems

Beyond those, I’m not terribly picky, so it was a bit of challenge coming up with number three. I settled on the point that could literally, stop me from playing your next-gen MMO.

I’m eventually going to upgrade and rejoin the ranks of ‘serious’ gamers who have stellar rigs with phenomenal graphics cards, CPU and memory out the wazoo, which will then make the point moot from a selfish standpoint (until two years after that.)

But my current situation gives me a lot more sympathy and understanding for those that presently don’t have the option to upgrade – kids dependent on parents, broke college students, people with families to maintain on a limited budget, out of work folks, people in less privileged countries, whatever.

I’ve been systematically crashing out of a number of games, including GW2 and TSW, as the programs happily exceed the 3MB RAM limitation on Windows XP systems while loading the next graphically-intense zone. GW2, at least, doesn’t crash if I have everything on its lowest settings and still looks decent, which suggests they must have taken it into account – even if Steam shows WinXP users are 15% of their population and dropping. It’s still 1 out of 10 players, y’know. Designers give worse drop rates to treasure tables and still assume players chase them.

I could always go out, pick up Windows 7, spend an entire evening backing up stuff and installing a new operating system… Just to play your game.

Or I could… play a Steam game, play a browser game, play TOME4 (or another roguelike, gogo ASCII and pure gameplay,) play Minecraft, play Civilization (and all its sequels and clones), play a game from GoG (old games, hooray for lower system requirements), hell, play Skyrim (it doesn’t crash and it’s graphically gorgeous) and basically play a game that plays nice with my geriatric computer.

No accounting for personal taste, eh?

Spec Ops: The Line – Random Thoughts

Just finished Spec Ops: The Line.


I’ll try to avoid spoiler-ing anything here, because the game is indeed worth playing through for the atmosphere, the moral dilemmas set up in individual scenes, and some thoughtful thematic questions raised about war and what can possibly happen to soldiers and civilians in a situation where there are no clear-cut “good” choices.

Some of my screenshots are from later parts of the game, but I have tried to put them out of any kind of context whatsoever.

Just be warned that its overall theme is pretty much… War is hell.

Laying on the symbolism a bit thickly, are we?
Laying on the symbolism a bit thickly, are we?

And war, war never changes… (To quote another neat game.)

How to describe it then?

Narrative-wise, there’s a touch of Planescape: Torment with, unfortunately, a lot more plot holes and significantly more linear railroading. There’s some Heavy Rain flavor in one or two scenes, (no QTEs, don’t panic,) but I wish there was more.

It's not Heavy Rain. I swear. There's a certain eerie similarity of beard and likeness, perhaps.
It’s not Heavy Rain. I swear. There’s a certain eerie similarity of beard and likeness, perhaps.

One of my nitpicks is that in certain scenes, you are forced by the game into taking certain actions, or else the game simply doesn’t progress. I’m not so fond of that kind of narrative, it’s a bit of a lazy cop out. As gamers, we tend to do whatever the game requests us in order to see the end. Playing with moral and ethical questions regarding something the game railroaded us into doing… well, it’s a bit of a cheap trick in order to reap emotional impact – sorta like how horror game tropes are always play with lighting, play with pacing, play with scary sounds and flash something HORRIBLE onto the screen for a split second. Yeah, it gets a reaction out of us, but it’s been done.

It was interesting to observe my reactions as I played through the game. Knowing it was a game about morality, at first, I tried to be very careful about my actions. I never fired first. I waited for people to shoot at me before firing back in self-defence.

One of the nicer vignettes near the beginning with moral implications. They're not actively opposing you. Do you kill them in cold blood? Order your squad to do it for you, so your hands aren't personally dirty? Or do you give them a chance to fight back by alerting them then shoot them while they're holding a firearm pointed at you?
One of the nicer minor vignettes near the beginning with some moral implications. They’re not actively opposing you. Do you kill them in cold blood? Order your squad to do it for you, so your hands aren’t personally dirty? Or do you give them a chance to fight back by alerting them then shoot them while they’re holding a firearm pointed at you? Don’t think sneaking past peacefully is an option in this game though.

I even managed to avoid killing a civilian, who in one of those cheap-ish designer tricks does a sudden jack-in-the-box act in front of you, and you’re carrying a loaded gun in the midst of a firefight. (It was a near thing the first time though, I fired bullets into the floor near their feet from a combined sheer reaction of EEP and WAIT, NOT-TARGET, which was kind of fascinating to have happen.)

I like what they've done with this option game-wise. Sometimes when you shoot enemies, they don't die immediately, but are still alive and may shoot back. Or simply lie there groaning.You can choose to kill them. And opposite to Bioshock, you get an in-game reward of ammo for the guns you're currently carrying - as well as a violent execution animation sequence. There was also a neat touch where the executions got very brutal after certain plot points, as contrasted with the start of the game.
I like what they’ve done with this option game-wise. Sometimes when you shoot enemies, they don’t die immediately, but are still alive and may shoot back. Or simply lie there groaning.
You can choose to kill them. And opposite to Bioshock, where the goody-goody path is the obvious optimal choice in the long term, here, you get an in-game reward of ammo for the guns you’re currently carrying – as well as a violent execution animation sequence.
There was also a neat touch where the executions appeared to get more brutal after certain plot points, as contrasted with the start of the game, reflecting the state of mind the main character is in.

Unfortunately, after a couple railroading tricks where the main character acts in a way beyond my control, I started to sense that there was a narrative ride we were being sent on, like it or nay, and it began turning into a problem-solving exercise of getting to the next plot checkpoint, since I didn’t have any real options until I got to certain scripted scenes where I could choose stealth/shoot or one of two or three possible paths through a moral dilemma.

I would have much rather been faced with situations where there are no good choices, and you simply have to take one based on the available information you have, and deal with the consequences of your possibly failed intentions. (There were a few places in Spec Ops where they did appear to be trying for this, which was nice.)

The other nitpick is the story unravels a little at the end to become extremely ambiguous and open to multiple possible interpretations. Minor spoiler warning: It’s basically the ol’ unreliable narrator gimmick. Anything and everything might have been a dream after all. Oh, don’t get me wrong. The multiple endings end rather artistically. It’s not at all as bad as Indigo Prophecy where you end up going “da fuck?” after a certain point, but there’s a teensy degree of it where you’re still left trying to glue several story threads together attempting to have it make unified coherent sense. (I haven’t quite accomplished it, to be honest.)

That said, it’s a shooter that attempts to tell a very -different- kind of story about war.

If only for that, playing through the experience is worth it.

But I bought the game though. So I may as well play it to the bitter end, rather than choose not to play, eh?Still, in a sea full of shooters who don't even bother to reflect on deeper themes of war, a slightly incoherent, forced perspective commentary is better than none.
But I bought the game though. So I may as well play it to the bitter end, rather than choose not to play, eh?
Still, in a sea full of shooters who don’t even bother to reflect on deeper themes of war, a slightly incoherent, forced perspective commentary is better than none at all.

Merry Economical Christmas

Just an update post – I’ve not really dropped off the face of the earth, merely ran out of stuff to talk about till now.

I’ve proudly survived Guild Wars 2 Wintersday without spending a single cent of real life money.

The two minis I chose to make from the in-game stuff were the toy Ventari and the plush griffon, I’m too much of a lore fan to resist the first (even if he is kinda preachy and annoying) and the griffon just oozes cuteness.

Unfortunately I missed being able to craft a third mini from the extra cogs given out via mail through a crazy accident of fate.

I was playing on an extremely low level alt when the mail came, I clicked on it automatically to read it, but decided not to detach the gift from the mail and open it on the under level 10 alt. I mean, who knew what could come out of the gift based on one’s level, right?

Instead, when I later got on my level 80 alt, the mail had mysteriously changed to some kind of automated form message from Customer Support and the gift itself had morphed into an unlocked Black Lion Chest. There was a tiny little line in the automated form message that sort of implied that I might be seeing this message because I was on the wrong character. A sensible person, of course, would have spotted and registered this and got back on the low level alt to check once more, but the extreme weirdness (and temptation) led me to detach the Black Lion Chest and open it to check wtf was inside.

No lucky pop that would have made me extremely rich, but I did get a karma booster and another key, which led to yet another karma booster and some random junk like snowman tonics. So I got that instead of a duplicated 15 slot chest and 200 extra cogs that could have been converted (with additional stuffing and glue cost) into another mini. Not terrible, not great, just… odd.

Anyhow, I always have use for karma boosters, that’s two more months where I don’t have to feel compelled to buy one from the gem store when converting stockpiled jugs of karma.

With the remnants of my stuffing and glue (supplemented by some from the TP), I made a couple attempts at the endless tonic versions of the soldier and the griffon (bought another frame via 250 sweaters) and naturally, didn’t get them, but have about 5 each. Which is probably enough, given that I’m not the sort to hang around in a city or in a big guild group socializing in the first place.

All I’d really do with them is take cute screenshots anyway

I did, however, fall in love with the look of the toy soldier after becoming one briefly. Chasing an Endless tonic, however nice it would be to have one, is only for the filthy rich or the lucky though. I know my limits. Including my budget limits.

After some calculations and agonizing, I eventually came to a set of interesting conclusions:

a) If I was going to buy gems for real money, like $10 for 800 gems, I’d really rather spend it on something like a character slot. I still have two more unmade classes, and want a duplicate Guardian quite badly, ie. at least three more slots needed. Each character slot would yield a lot of gaming time and thus would be worth it, even if it is costly.

b) One mini, being 350 gems, cost an equivalent of $4.38. I can get an on-sale indie game or two for that. The mini, in real life money cost, is not worth it for me.

c) Gems are also worth in-game gold. Rounding up current rates to 2 gold for 100 gems, that means a mini would cost about 7 gold, and a character slot 16 gold. Bit on the pricey side for my tastes, but still, I -did- have 40 gold stockpiled in my bank. (I’m not a trader, alas, that somewhat miserable sum is just accumulated from playing the game and a bit of farming.)

d) For the toy soldier mini, I was willing to spend 7 gold (which would dip into my lifetime in-game savings) but not $4.38 USD, which could be used to buy other things.

And so I did.

Luckily, I think the princess doll is ugly as sin and the toy golem isn’t that special a companion cube, so I’ll happily pass on those two.

(Further equivalency calculations will yield you things like $1.25 USD = 100 gems = 2 gold. I can usually only earn 1-3 gold an hour or two on my level 80 – the higher limit is two paths of AC explorable with omnomberry bar buffs on, which means 3-7 hours of gameplay to earn a mini. Strangely, that sounds quite palatable to me.

Why strange? It’s also earning peanuts in term of USD, which suggests those people who suggest taking a temp job and working for an hour or two for higher USD rates, then converting it to gold in-game are rationally on to something there. Sorta kinda.

I’d posit that the difference is 7 hours playing Guild Wars 2 is a lot more fun (if less economically profitable) than an hour or half working at a fast food joint. And somehow, earning something in-game to trade for something else in-game feel likes part of the game, rather than cheating by dropping out-of-game cash for it and fast-forwarding through stuff.)

After doing those calculations and coming to those conclusions, it also got strenuously obvious that I could afford a character slot right NAO by wiping out half of my in-game savings.

I’d previously been procrastinating because I wanted to buy 2 slots at once to get my mesmer and engineer rolled up, but…

  • $20 is currently a lot for me to drop on a single game (see footnote below with reference to my drastically cut gaming monthly budget)
  • I’ve promised myself those two slots only after finishing up some rl tasks (which aren’t complete yet)
  • And I’d really be damned if I help add on to ArenaNet’s December RL $ profit report when they’ve been playing so many lockbox lottery tricks this month

Buying a character slot for 16 gold got around all that.

Yes, I know the gold to gem price is quite high being a seasonal holiday. It would probably drop later, but I was sitting around obsessing about it for a couple days so waiting patiently was a less preferable option in this case.

Yes, it demolished my in-game gold savings, but what the heck, it wasn’t doing much in the bank except being stocked up for a rainy day.

I got wanting-to-try mesmer and engineer out of my system for a while by rolling one up then taking it for a spin against combat dummies in the Heart of the Mists before deleting the character. Both seemed intriguing. The mesmer was especially complex. Also exceedingly ugly. I was trying for a noble male human mesmer look, but couldn’t quite pull it off. Back to the drawing board on that, it’ll make waiting for the slot easier.

The engineer, on the other hand, was almost perfect.


I wanted a ferocious female Ash Legion Charr that would almost look male except for her fluffy tail.

In-game though, she didn’t look that bulky and there was a distinct narrowing of the waist that seemed a little odd – may have been the armor or I mis-clicked a body type on creation. I also noted with some dismay that the Charr tail clips right through most of the medium armors. The Crucible of Eternity one was -perfect- though I shudder at the thought of getting enough explorable modes going for it.

Those two little niggling issues were the only thing that helped me delete her and wait for later.

That left the slot finally free for another alt bouncing around my mind. Literally. An Asura Guardian.

I like my Asuras as ugly as Vekk. Deal.
I like my Asuras as ugly and snotty as Vekk. Deal. Big ears is seksi.

Because the Asuran cultural armor looks really good and a small guy slinging a big sword or hammer over his shoulder and running with it is frigging awesome.

And I’m dying to explore the jungle zones with a lowbie, that is -easy- to play and not fiendishly complex like the human elementalist that I was trying to level and attunement dancing all over the place in order to not-die and achieve uber stuff.

Not to mention, try new Guardian builds without screwing up my existing one who is in a decently happy place. Yes, traits swapping only costs 3 silver. The headache of remembering where each trait originally went and/or swapping around new armor and jewellery is too much of a pain for me.

It’s been fun. A lack of drops forced my lowbie to use mace/focus for quite an extended while, and I have to say, I’ve learned to appreciate it a little more. Especially skill 3, which I previously attempted using in dungeons but didn’t really have a clue about. After playing the thief, whose one underwater spear skill involves timing a block for a return counterstrike of devastating effect, I suddenly understand that the Guardian’s mace skill 3 can also work that way, with less devastation but a decent “thunk” or apply protection if it doesn’t.

I especially look forward to using a hammer for a decent part of this Guardian’s time, I’m planning to go Altruistic Healing on him to see how it works, and also greatsword, which I didn’t use while it was flavor of the month for leveling guardians. I might even try mace/torch to see if the offensive torch can help to balance out the defensive mace’s nature. (And when push comes to shove, I can always fall back on what I already know, sword/focus, staff, sceptre/shield, sword/torch, and so on.)

This should keep me quite entertained with GW2 until I either earn another 16 gold or get things done in real life and can reward myself with bought gems.

So, footnote and other non-MMO games update.

For various real life reasons or other, I’ve had to cut drastically back on my gaming budget the past six months.

As a point of comparison, I used to give myself upwards of $600 SGD ($480 USD or thereabouts) per month as a maximum limit, though I’d usually spend under half of that. These days, I don’t want to break the $100USD mark and would rather keep within half of that too.

Surprisingly, it hasn’t yielded any shortage of games or quality gaming time.

The keys to my successful frugality have been significant amounts of patience waiting for games to get old (six months to a year easily does it, two years tops) and go on 75% sale before picking them up, checking on bundle offers / Steam / GOG frequently, not being picky on the type of games I play, playing F2P games and above all, being wise to marketing and sales tricks and measuring relative and absolute values very carefully.

Besides yielding to temptation during the month of the Steam Summer sale, I’m happy to report mission successful for the other months – including December.

I dare to say this now, even though there’s still five days to go, mostly because the Steam Christmas sale this time around isn’t that great, in my humble opinion. A number of fairly popular games have had their original prices increased to $14.99, leaving sales at $7.49 or $3.74 at best.

Me, I’m used to seeing them go for $4.99 or $2.50.

Perhaps it’s just inflation and those prices may stay constant for the next year, but I dunno… a certain amount of jadedness suggests that retailers know people buy gifts for Christmas and may just pick up things on 50% or 75% off without looking at the absolute cost itself. It’s a small markup and if you really want the game now and will be playing it now, it’s probably not worth sweating about, but for me, I’m more of an eclectic collector of games. I’ve honestly too many games in my Steam collection to finish playing in my lifetime (trying them out though, that’s different) so it’s not the end of the world if I wait.

The only drawback is I’ll be quite behind on the gaming trend curve, which fortunately isn’t much of an issue for me. If you have a large collection of friends who -need- to play such-and-such a game together NOW, then yeah, keeping up with the Joneses might be somewhat important.

My significantly smaller assortment of friends, alas, it’s like pulling teeth to persuade them to play a free or cheap game together (even giving them a free gift copy doesn’t work), let alone an expensive one,  and I’m always the initiator despite extreme introversion. I still have uncompleted games of Alien Swarm and Magicka that would be nice to maybe coop again someday. Ah well.

Someday, I would like and will pick up things like the new X:COM, FTL, Mark of the Ninja, Towns, Torchlight 2, et al.

I’d love to support the devs more, but I’m currently not made of money, so I’ll have to wait and be part of the long tail.

For now, here’s what I picked up in December:

ArtRage Studio Pro – $20.39 USD – a splurge, but it seemed like a good deal for the price. The painterly style intrigues and would be fun to experiment with, and might complement the Photoshop-style image manipulation I’m more used to.

Tales of Maj’Eyal donation – 10 Euro (aka $13.23 USD) – also a splurge, but this game has been taking an equivalent amount of time that I used to spend on Guild Wars 2, it’s that good and worth it, imo.

Ultima bundle from GoG.com – $8.94 USD – GoG’s sales this Christmas have beat Steam’s in worthwhile deals. I was staring long and hard at the Deponia bundle, and I may recant if it goes back to $13.74 or thereabouts again. I was overjoyed to see the Alien Crossfire expansion added to Alpha Centauri, which I already owned, and will be playing the heck out of that soon. Thinking long and hard about Wing Commander and a few other games, some of which I used to own but haven’t played in forever.

Spec Ops: The Line – $10.19 USD – it’s not the best price for this game, I have a feeling it can and will go lower next year, but I’ve wanted to play it ever since it released. I’m a big sucker for a good story and commentary on morality.

Magic: Duel of the Planeswalkers 2012 Deck Pack 3 – $0.74 USD – Yep, 2012. I’m behind a year. Frankly, I haven’t even finished the 2011 version. Which helped me procrastinate on 2012. For some reason, I own the game, the expansion, two deck packs but not the third. So finishing it up. I note that the entire 2012 bundle is now going for $4.99, the usual sale price of just the game. This is really helping me to put off the 2013 version until the -next- year where no doubt, the same thing will happen.

Penny Arcade’s On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 – $2.00 USD – Bright side, I finished volume 1. No, I haven’t finished volume 2. But I may as well, eh? It could get even cheaper at around $1.50 later, but that’s too much nickle-and-diming even for me for just two quarters.

Humble Bundle 7 – $6.42 USD – I already own Dungeon Defenders, and Legend of Grimrock, and Binding of Isaac, which frankly, are the main draws. But I don’t own the DLC. So well, sorta like paying for that and the other stuff is a bonus.

Grand total: $61.91. Not likely to exceed a hundred even if I go crazy with GoG in the next few days.

That’s a ton more games and value than buying a brand spanking new game on launch day.

Or *cough* buying 60 Wintersday Chests just to try to get Foostivoo and the other three minis.

Subjectively, anyway.

GW2: Wintersday 2012

I’m pretty much thoroughly enjoying this Wintersday event. It’s a massive improvement over Lost Shores. (With just one teeny tiny niggling exception, but we’ll get to that later.)

Shall I count the ways?


I logged in from my extended break in the Heart of the Mists and was immediately taken with the festive snowy decorations of the PvP lobby.

Zoning into Lion’s Arch from there led to paroxysms of delight and immediate /sleeping fits of impulsive screenshot-taking. Anet completely nailed that wintry wonderland atmosphere.

Winter Wonderland Jumping Puzzle

Speaking of which, the difficulty level of the jumping puzzle was dialed back a notch. For which I am extremely grateful.

Awesomely amazing look too
Awesomely amazing Wintery look

The wider platform and three different random starting points did help to reduce some of the initial crowd chaos. I also liked the possibility of different paths to get to the same place, just in case a particular jump is just defeating you. (I was developing superstitious dread of the snowman path’s candy canes for a while there.)

The overall time limit was also less soulcrushingly pressurizing than the Mad King’s Clock Tower. There was enough time for a half-second breathing room between jumps, or a second or two of recovery should one almost screw up a jump.

The drawback of extending the time limit, of course, is the additional wait time should one flub a jump near the very beginning. But I personally think the two design decisions made there quite helped to ease the pain of the wait.

The snowballs give the easily bored and frustrated something to remain active doing. Even if it’s just flinging ineffective snow at large Charr wearing spiky armor. I attracted a few of those at the start. Much preferable and more in-game immersive somehow than a player spewing vitriol over chat at you. I also like that it’s opt-in. I rarely do. So very quickly their attention is distracted by other people who have chosen to pick up the snowballs and thus enter into the game. And they are thus promptly diverted into a mini snowball knockdown duel of effectively consenting parties.

As for those who don’t choose the aggressively competitive route? Well, you can watch other people’s progress on the jump puzzle. It can be a good learning opportunity as you watch how other people handle jumps, and help you plan your next attempt. It gives you a sense of what to expect next from a more big picture view than clinging with your claws to the next platform. And depending on your personality, you can either feel cooperative success at people making their jumps, or cackle with schadenfreude delight when they miss one, fall and end up appearing next to you.

Somewhere between 5-10 tries at the puzzle, I made it to the end. Which seems more reasonable a difficulty setting than the previous one which took 3 solid hours of plugging away at it.

Returning later to repeat it led to finding a lot more ways to fall than before, but I was also able to get there in the end for the reset daily. I’m probably never going to be good enough to nail it on repeat runs, but I don’t at all begrudge those who can and find it a profitable way to farm up giant wintersday gifts. I like the idea of skill-based rewards, as long as the lower rungs still remain accessible to most/all.

Gingerbread celebrations are more sinister amidst a roasting Charr in a firepit (or a Khornate demon summoning)
Gingerbread celebrations are more sinister amidst a roasting Charr in a firepit (or a Khornate demon summoning)

Bell Choir

Instead, I’ve been spending a heck of a lot of time in this activity. And I foresee a good many more profitable hours of 4 personalized gifts per 8-10 minutes in here.

Love does not begin to describe how much I enjoy this. It’s fun. It’s low-stress and not pressurizingly important, per se. It allows individual players to jump in and out at leisure and work on improving themselves. And it addresses an often ignored part of MMOs – music systems. (I’ve written about that before.)

I see the choir bells and the ability to play notes and I keep flashing back to LOTRO, their musical instruments and glory of glories, Weatherstock.

It would be mind blowingly fantastic if Guild Wars 2 manages to smooth out the kinks and introduce more portable musical instruments throughout next year, because it’s tools and toys like this that lead to some amazing player-created content and events.

Of course the first attempts at Guitar Hero Guild Wars 2 style led to some personal hilarity. One cannot coordinate at all when your 6-9 keys are bound to Z, X, C, V and attempting to play all 8 notes with one hand. 🙂 Several flailing attempts later, with mistimed mouse-controlled hail marys of frenzied clicking at the 6-9 buttons, I retreated out of the ring to rebind and put back 6-9 as secondary alternate keys.

From there, it was just a matter of some patience, some experimentation and rereading of instructions to determine the appropriate timing to press keys (when the notes hit the blue circle, ie. about to cross the white line), and muscle memory learning.

I found the melody (middle part) was my favorite part to play. I just do a little better when I’m controlling how the main tune of the song is supposed to go, rather than risk listening to someone else possibly do it badly and unrhythmically, while attempting to ‘harmonize’ with what the game expects the music to be. To me, it’s just slightly more tricky than the lower part / lower harmony, which I find is possibly the easiest of the three to play and score well. I screw up the most notes with the upper harmony, though it’s a good change when one is bored but still wants to repeat the activity.

Nitpicks are that the game does arbitrarily lag in spurts sometimes, and the notes seem to disappear off the board and you have to give it your best estimate of when they’ll hit the blue circle. Those tend to lead to missed notes and shattered scores across all the players. But on the whole, the game generally behaves.

I also appreciate that the maximum reward of 4 personalized gifts is not that impossibly hard to reach. I think by the time I crossed the 400s mark or thereabouts, I was getting those, and the festival achievements were also attained quite easily. By now, I tend to play at the 550+ range, and my highest score so far was 592. But I think it would go against the fun spirit of the event to put something insanely desirable as the top prize and ‘force’ people to go through an activity they don’t like. Pressuring people to play music seems…wrong, somehow.

Still, it’s not easy getting 600, and I probably will still try for the intrinsic sake of it. Nor would I mind the unbreakable bell as a perfect score 600 prize. 😛 It seems fitting. The only people who’d care for the toy are those who consider themselves musically-inclined in the first place. (As contrasted with say, a piece of exotic gear or a desirable mini as a top prize.)

Snowball Mayhem

Interesting minigame. I mainly joined it to get the achievements done. I like the idea of being able to select unique classes that are just relevant to that game. The lack of mobility of the heavy class seems to make that particular choice a little weaker, though I’ll grant that I have seen occasional effective play by heavies who help with middle position control by tying up the opposing team at the foot of their base or shielding a flag runner from frenzied opposition with their big bubble. The control options for support are quite hilarious, and effective.

But ultimately, I ended up going as scout to work on the achievements. Which can sometimes lead to play that’s counter to what would be sensible if one was playing capture the flag with the primary objective of team score.  Still, if you consider that in most team-based objective games, there’s a hefty part of players who are busy playing team deathmatch instead, one more bit of erratic achievement-seeking behavior doesn’t really matter.

The standard Reddit suggestion for running the flag is to go scout, use 5 for swiftness, grab swiftness boosts and try to be the first one at the flag to run it back. Or run with the flag bearer and hope he dies so you can pick up the flag and continue on.

I also found flag trading as an acceptable secondary option. *ahem* Basically, when the opposing team gets the flag, they run off to protect it on its way back, and your own team’s frenzied marauding hordes are also rushing headlong into snowball carnage. Which may or may not succeed in making them drop the flag. Instead, hover around the middle point for the next flag spawn. Either they score, in which case the flag returns. Or they drop the flag and the flag also resets in the middle. If you’re already there and grab the flag, you can be halfway to your spawn before the zerg at the other base can get to you.

Flag stopping was slightly more tricky, but after realizing the close-range shotgun effect of the scout skill 3 (great for finishing downed players too) and that scouts get bonus damage hitting people from behind, it was mostly a lot of 1 spamming, opportunistic sniping with 4, going invisible with 5 and speeding right up to a wounded flag carrier to shotgun him down with 3. And praying he doesn’t drop the flag before you down him. (While jumping back with number 2 is not exceedingly productive for catching up with a flag carrier, it does add a brief cripple, which isn’t stated in the tooltip help. That can be situationally useful.)

The downed skills are quite enjoyable. Between the ice that slips up anyone trying to get near you to finish you off, and the number 3 skill that freezes someone in place if you’re close enough (great for disrupting flag carriers for your teammates), one still feels effective from a control (as opposed to damage or support) standpoint.

Tixx’s Infiniarium

I like.

So far, I’ve managed to verify that it’s possible to solo both the Sylvari and Divinity’s Reach dungeons as a level 80. Just like the Mad King’s dungeon, it’s possible, but it will take you longer than going as a group of 5, which I think is a GREAT balance point between those who would prefer to do these things alone or in a small duo or trio, so as to go at their own pace and admire the scenery and talk to the NPCs and even smite every last tree in a diorama without making others impatient or having mobs trained onto you, and those who prefer the madcap speedrun chaos of a 5-man PUG who can also buffer some upleveled lowbies to successfully complete the event.

Aiieee, it's the Stay Puff Marshmallow Golem!
Aiieee, it’s the Stay Puff Marshmallow Golem!

For a moment in the Sylvari dungeon, I was worried that filling the tanks with balls of ooze from tar elementals had to be done simultaneously, as the ooze seemed to keep leaking out over time. (Or a skritt was stealing it, I dunno.) Fortunately, a bit of lateral thinking solved that problem, as I realized what a solo’er actually had to do was to pull and kill enough elementals in AoE fashion to load up the machines before giving it time to leak out.

I also had a heart-stopping moment in the Divinity’s Reach one as the golem Toxx kept healing to full as I tried to use my prior successful strategy (keep at range and plink away and wall of reflect.) Eventually, through a bit of guesswork and trial and error, I hypothesized that maybe someone had to be inside the reflect bubble rather than stay beyond range of getting hit. That meant me, since I was alone. Rolling into the bubble when it was put up worked fine and stopped it from healing.

That’s not to say there weren’t a few deaths from angry Ventari toys or damnable confuses from the Princess toys. But I’m okay with solo difficulty being higher, involving more skill and being more time-consuming. As long as it’s POSSIBLE.

I admit to a certain sense of dread that the impending Toy Apocalypse will probably not be soloable. Or how achievable surviving 50 waves of toys in a group is going to be. Possibly, that 50 wave one may not be too easy. The overall Wintersday achievement after all just needs 12 of 14 total, which suggests that there may have been some built in leeway for difficult achievements they don’t expect everyone to get. Guess we’ll see.

There’s been some unhappiness that we will only be able to make 2 of 5 miniatures from attending all the activities in-game and the rest will have to be supplemented with gems if one is a completionist.

I dunno. Honestly of all the monetization strategies, I think this is one of the least harmful while still being fairly effective at milking people of money. It’s a miniature. It’s a PRETTY miniature, yes. But it doesn’t have any in-game effect or unlevel the playing field between the haves and the have-nots. You will not be shoved out of parties or play more poorly if you don’t have all five miniatures.

All it does is leverage on the “gotta have it now, gotta complete my collection, or gotta show off” urge. If one cannot resist that temptation or cannot stand holes in a collection, they will pull out their wallets and be parted with their cash. Or their in-game gold buying gems. The most dedicated fanatics end up spending the most money to support the company. If you can resist the urge, or tell yourself that you can wait another year (assuming the event repeats, which we won’t know for sure) and generally deal with uncertainty and the prospect of not-having-everything in a game, then you don’t have to spend that money.

Collectors Screwed This Wintersday

Yeah. This was the niggling thing I said I’d mention earlier.

Crushed hopes and a stuffed quaggan plushie
Crushed hopes and a stuffed quaggan plushie

This month’s monetization experiment seems to be testing how many ways they can get rich collectors to spend untold amounts of money.

Gambling, lockboxes and lotteries for a small chance at winning something good is something Guild Wars designers have known how to do since their first game, if you really think about it. All their events have dropped bags which roll on random reward tables to give you stuff.

I still remember the year I decided I wanted a gold miniature for my Hall of Monuments points and decided to grind out as many Lunar Fortune bags as possible for a low chance at a celestial rabbit. I did eventually get one, but I played a heck of a lot more than I usually would have.

This Wintersday in GW2, the in-game grind looks to be for a chance at an Endless Tonic or the Unbreakable Bell or the Festivoo mini, with some decent toy skins and rare/exotic insignia recipes popping out as a consolation prize.

The gem store isn’t immune to this either, with the Wintersday chests providing a -chance- at other miniatures, which in turn, will let you forge Festivoo if you get three of the right kind.

This is a different approach from Halloween, which allowed one to buy a three pack of spooky miniatures straight off, and then another three pack if you wanted to forge the special mini.

Yes, the quaggan mini is the cutest thing yet. Yes, even I look at it and -want- it and feel an urge to possess it and have it running around next to me. But it’s just a mini and I find I resisted the urge for the spooky minis and I won’t be spending real money on these either. (I will, however, be playing the game quite intently to open as many Wintersday gifts as possible in the hope I get lucky.)

What would be interesting to compare, though the public will probably never get that data, would be how much money the truly dedicated crazies spend on their quest for Festivoo, as opposed to the number of people who just bought the pack and forged the Halloween ghost. It may be that there’s more money to be made milking the whales than expecting the bulk of the population to care.

(Then again, Steam and things like the Humble Bundle make a lot of money milking the long tail by letting a lot of people spend a small amount to get a good bargain. Perhaps Guild Wars 2 might do this later, years or months later, after the must-have-it-now-and-will-pay-a-premium craze has run its course?)

Mysterious Presents

I wonder how many people realize this part of Wintersday exists?

This seems to be an interesting way to get level 80s out roaming that part of the countryside that ISN’T Orr again.

I haven’t checked every zone, but it seems from Mount Maelstrom and lower, there are Mysterious Presents dotted around the landscape and respawning at a good clip. Opening these as a level 80 gives a decent chance at a Giant Wintersday gift, and maybe one or two other varying level-appropriate sizes from extra presents or dropped by the mobs that spawn.

While I haven’t accumulated 250 Giant gifts, I’ve opened enough to get the monthly done, and score the two exotic Giver’s recipes, which saves me from needing to buy those off the vendor. (Good that there’s an alternate option for those chronically unlucky though.)

I’ll probably keep at it in the hope of getting lucky with the odds and having something truly rare pop out of the bags. Along the way, there’s stuff to harvest and mobs to kill and pop stuff too.

ToME4: So I Found Something Which Tore Me Away From GW2

This is the game that caused me to miss three days of daily completion in Guild Wars 2. In a row.

And I barely cared. Which is rather surprising for someone of an OCD nature who was previously having a kick out of incrementing the meaningful-to-no-one-but-oneself ArenaNet point number.

Play an action-based, movement-oriented, real-time game for too long, and one suddenly finds oneself craving a change.

Tales of Maj’Eyal or ToME4 is that amazingly refreshing change.

It’s a roguelike with an interesting history. I vaguely remember encountering it when it was still an Angband variant, but ran afoul of some copyright issues, causing them to change name and direction to Tales of Middle-Earth. I think it was notable even then for a persistent world map, with dungeons in roughly the same locations as prior games. Memory fails me.

I recall I played it then, but found it brutally hard, often dying to a quest given at the start of the game (I’m never going to learn how to put those off, I just expect the game to play fair somehow) or an overland encounter or just starving to death because I ran out of food and couldn’t afford any more from extortionist shopkeepers.

All that innate frustration of the roguelike genre has been lovingly polished off in its latest incarnation.

This is a roguelike that belongs in this decade. On start up, one is greeted with a very pleasant graphical loading screen, oddly reminiscent of Legend of Grimrock, rather than the typical ASCII titles of yore.


The next thing one realizes is that you can actually create online profiles, which save your characters and unlocks and achievements and so on to a server and allow you to retrieve them from another computer, and also links you to a chat channel of other players, for that MMO feel. You could ask them for advice, link items to show off or fearsome monsters to brag or worry over, or just listen in on conversations to pick up tips and not feel utterly isolated, or just take delight in the background noise of other people gaining various achievements and getting gibbed horribly by all manner of strange creatures.

It’s optional, so if you don’t like that sort of thing, you can also log right off the online profile and play it offline in guaranteed peace and quiet.

Best of both worlds, really. I started offline, since I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy the game, and after getting hooked, went online to check out its other aspect. I can see myself switching between both as desired – I find the online one a bit more distracting with the chatter, but being connected is sometimes nice.


On starting a new character, there’s a lot that jumps right out at you.

The graphical interface for a start. It’s really pleasant and polished for a roguelike.

As I played the game further, I can confidently say that ToME4 has pretty much nailed it for a user-friendly interface. Players of MMOs and Diablo-style affairs should feel right at home. The mouse is usable for all kinds of selections, and it has a nice context-sensitive right-click menu bar for extended options.

Explanatory popups on mouse-over are all over the place, which is extraordinarily useful and make the game much easier to learn than the typical ancient roguelike method of forcing one to navigate an archaic keyboard help system to read long text essays just to find out about races, classes, or the appropriate keyboard command to do something.

The other atypical thing from ‘normal’ roguelikes? EXTRA LIVES.

See that adventure mode? You get a few more chances at not blowing it. But you have to earn them.

This is a game mode that works really well, in my opinion. It’s more forgiving for roguelike newbies, who may not be accustomed to the casual brutality of the roguelike genre to knock off your characters permanently on dying. Even for players who are used to permadeath roguelikes, some leeway in being able to avoid the really stupid deaths or foolishly venturing into a place too high leveled for you is nice. The tension still ramps up as you run down your lives counter, and eventually, that final life is also used up and your character dies for good, but at least he/she had a decent run and a few chances at it.

Oldfashioned masochists can still choose an option with only one life. Which works fine as an ironman or hard mode type of difficulty level. An added challenge, rather than forcing everyone to adapt to it from the get-go. (I’m fine with one life roguelike permadeath, personally. I’ve played too many variants and am used to it by now, but I know it’s a bit of a hard sell for players new to the idea.)

The last interesting thing is the concept of unlockables. Rather than throw a surfeit of choices at a confused player starting for the very first time, one is limited to the easier options at the beginning to get one’s feet wet, and as one plays through the game, scoring various achievements, your birth options open up with more variety.

Besides taking a page from MMOs and getting some of that fun buzz from “Achievement Unlocked” announcements, it also cushions the blow of the inevitable death, because there’s more new stuff to try next time. Some more intricate than others too.

Again, if some people find this unfun, there are ways to ‘cheat’ around it by editing some files and get everything unlocked at once. But I enjoy the concept personally, it gives something to strive for and work towards.

For this post, I’ve decided to create a Higher (human) Alchemist.

(I’ve mostly been playing with the melee Berserker and Bulwark warrior types, so this will be new to me too. I fully expect to die horribly within the next hour. I’m not terribly good at mage-types.)


The character creation screen is amazing, for a roguelike. It may look strange and confusing, but it’s pretty accessible with the mouseover tips, and shows off the significantly more usable graphical interface very well.

Stats are on the left, strength, dexterity, constitution, magic, willpower and cunning. Clicking on them allows you to assign points and increment them on leveling up.

Class-based talents and spells are in the middle. Again, mousing over them brings up context-sensitive explanations of each skill, and clicking on them allows you to assign points and ‘buy’ them or improve them.

I especially like that ToME4 has plenty of active skills to fire and activate for all classes. Even the melee types get exciting skills to stun or cleave or strike a bunch of people adjacent to them or knockback stuff or whatever. It’s a lot more reminiscent of hotkey style MMO combat in that sense, with skills going on cooldown, and being able to use stuff to cleverly survive battles, rather than just relying on bulking up with gear and a good weapon and autoattacking your way to victory or more likely eventual death. The only difference is that it is turn-based, so good tactics become a lot more important and one gets a chance to take as long as you like to think through your next move. (Not to mention, you can get up and go to the bathroom at leisure without fear of getting jumped and dying while you’re not looking. ToME4 will be happy to pwn you only when you’re staring at the screen. Disclaimer: If you have a cat, then all the above goes out the window.)

I picked a few skills that sounded good, since I’ve no idea how alchemists work at the moment. Stuff like Throw Bomb (alchemists get to infuse gems with magic and throw ’em like bombs, apparently) and Extract Gems (to get said gems out of melee weapons and armor). I also buffed up the golem’s first skill.


Yes, apparently alchemists get a golem as a pet.


ToME4 has a very nice set of graphical tiles as the default. I think this makes the game immediately more accessible to those who hate ASCII graphics, and puts it into a class of roguelikes similar to Dungeons of Dredmor.

Ignore the funny-looking “@.” That’s me. Somehow, after switching to ASCII graphics and switching back to Shockbolt’s tileset, it doesn’t want to convert back nicely.

I played for a while with the graphical tileset and enjoyed my time with it. It definitely makes the game look better, and more ‘immersive’ in a sense.

The only flaw that had me retreating back to the ASCII tileset was that it got -too- immersive. When stumbling across, say, a roomful of snakes or ants, I found it extremely hard to think tactically when looking at a swarm of graphic images of snakes, rather than facing simple “J”s like so.


Going back to ASCII allowed me to fit more tiles into the screen, giving me wider situational awareness and a better top-down view of things.

I found it easier to spot diagonal paths of movement, whereas the graphical tiles tended to block that view a bit, especially with the trees. This got especially obvious when I wandered onto the world map and was trying to spot the way out of an elven town with two starter dungeons (Norgos’ Lair and Heart of the Gloom) nearby. They look nice. They look realistic. They just… made it a bit too unnecessarily difficult for me, playing guessing games of “can I walk here?” so I switched.

For the sake of this post though, I’ll play on graphic tiles so that the screenshots are more immediately readable.

Anyhow, back to the alchemist:


ToME4 is amazingly easy to customize. Hitting “M” brings up the screen that allows you to rebind all the talents to hotkeys 1-9, ctrl 1-9, etc. Very familiar in style to those of us who play MMOs. Note the friendly hotbar below with graphical icons to help us keep track of our talent cooldowns.

Hitting “Escape” and selecting “Key Bindings” also allows one to customize all other key binds as well.

After taking a few minutes to get everything bound comfortably (which is also a good time to read through all one’s abilities), I turn my attention to the actual game.

As a human, we start in a forest called Trollmire. (Different races have different starting locations, which is quite fun.) A look above at the previous screenshot will show a white worm mass. Mousing over it shows it has 8 hp. Should be easy peasy.

I decide to ‘wait’ a few turns by hitting 5 on the numpad to stay still. I want to see what my golem does. It should spot the worm mass and attack. Sure enough, it does. It even “Rushes” which is a skill that allows fighters to charge through several squares in a single turn. I’m more used to doing that myself as a Berserker. The golem kills the white worm mass in a single hit…

…Revealing a wolf lurking behind it.


68hp wolf. It’s a good thing I was a coward and stayed behind.

I decide to approach it by one square and see what my golem does. Numpad arrow up one square.

(You can also click to move with the mouse, by the way, which is why ToME4 is so amazingly accessible in its UI. I like to use it to speed run to a safe location, and keyboard for finer turn-based control.)


The golem shields itself. Cool. Then it hits the wolf for 17 damage. The wolf hits it for 0. Nice tanky golem.

I suppose it might eventually kill the wolf by itself. But I feel like helping out. Got to try out what I’m capable of, after all.

I try out my first skill, Channel Staff, which uses mana, and apparently is able to shoot right through friendly targets without hurting them. I do 10 light damage. The golem also helps me hit the wolf again. A few more exchanges, and the wolf is dead!


Walking around incautiously led me to bump into a snake. Aaah!

My golem is behind me, dammit. The snake’s got 28hp, and I’m not especially keen on tanking as a mage type. It may also poison me, though poison here is less lethal than other roguelikes. You can generally tough them out (in my newbie experience anyhow) and there are other ways around it.

Time to try out the other skill I have. Throw Bomb. It apparently does 45ish fire damage, so that might finish off the snake in one hit.

I can’t help but notice it’s an area of effect when I trigger the skill, so I quickly mouse move it away a square, rather than center on the snake (which might hit me in the process.)


On clicking, the bomb is thrown. The snake lights up on fire. I hit it for 23 fire damage. It hits me for 5 physical damage. Then I hit it again for 8 fire damage (which might be it burning since its on fire.) I dunno. All I care about is that the snake is dead. Whee.


One move later, and joy. Rodents. There’s also an interesting looking staff on top of the brown rat. Both rodents only have about 17 hp, so they probably aren’t much of a threat.

Still, it’s a good time to practice safer fighting techniques. In roguelikes, one generally doesn’t want to be hit in multiple directions by different mobs. So a basic tactic is to try and retreat down a corridor where only one at a time can get at you.

This forest layout makes it trickier. Still, I retreat a couple squares, which conveniently puts the brown rat out of sight (it may or may not have seen me) and my enthusiastic golem rushes out at the white mouse. I get ready to help it with a Staff Channel.


The mouse is dead, but now more enemies show up.


Good thing I’m way back here. I’ll help my golem out from range and let it do the dirty work.

A couple of staff blasts later, the green worm mass is dead (after it multiplied itself once) and the midge swarm is also gone. But two 104hp trolls show up. It IS the Trollmire, after all.


I want to cry. A couple of staff blasts and a bomb later, the troll that has gotten immediately adjacent to me is on 19 hp, but his brother is still perfectly healthy. My golem is dozing off in the middle of nowhere.

I could try to run, but I decide I want to see just how tough (or not) an alchemist is in melee combat. So I take a swing at the weakened troll by moving into it (or clicking on it) and I hit it for 14 fire damage.

(I figured out that I could make my staff change damage types with Command Staff, which was fairly cool, and everyone knows trolls are weak to fire. If you don’t, there’s always that helpful context sensitive mouseover to show you the -50% fire resistance it has.)

My golem helpfully rushes back and whacks it for 20 damage, and the troll is dead. Heck, it could have killed it without my help, but how was I to know?

Some frantic exchanges of staff whacks and a bomb blast later, the other troll is down (and the brown rat which wandered in and got squished by the golem) and I’m a little worse for wear with half health remaining. The troll’s left a bit of gold too.


Good time to collect it, then attempt to rest up and heal by hitting ‘r’ to rest until healed. No enemies are nearby, so this works as planned.

After those exchanges, I’m 34% of the way to level 2.

Time to go looking for more trouble…

I could continue on, but it’ll make for way too long a blog post. Suffice to say that I’ve barely scratched the surface of ToME4 in this show-and-tell.

Every class plays at least a little differently, the monsters are different, there’s a lot of room for tactical thinking and interesting decisions. It’s incredibly beginner-friendly with a user interface that ought to be copied by more roguelikes. It’s fantastic, and it’s free.

What’s not to love?

I should be back in GW2 in time for Wintersday.