Appreciation Through Play

Last week turned out to be an exceptionally busy week in terms of the number of games I suddenly wanted to be playing – all at once, at the same time – an impossibility to be certain, but not something the desire would stop to consider.

It was a good kind of problem – how fortunate that so many games suddenly tickled my interest – and bad at the same time for someone with barely any ability to organize or prioritize.

Unavowed had just launched, at practically the same time as Monster Hunter World, and I’d made the uncharacteristically hasty leap into buying both of them at launch price. Both interested me, for varying reasons, one for story and characters, and the other for big monster hunting action. Plus, gotta get my launch money’s worth.

Path of Exile had floated back up to my attention (Incursion league was ending at the end of the month and I hadn’t even tried it/ Incursion Flashback was just about to begin, offering laggards like me a last chance to run through the league boosted by the mob quantity insanity of  a whole bunch of past league mechanics acting as map modifiers).

Warframe was quickly rising from secondary game status to threatening to depose Guild Wars 2 as primary game. 6 years of GW2 was giving rise to an increasing sense of ennui and boredom, while Warframe was busy launching devstreams of “here’s what we have planned coming soon(TM)” with the main story plot was busy blowing my mind at every turn.

Yet there was still that nagging commitment of two nights of GW2 raiding plus the self-nagging of “maybe if you finally clean your inventory and get organized, you might actually be willing to take the game seriously again.”

It is, after all, somewhat likely that the detritus of the years is mentally bogging me down and making me unwilling to do stuff, knowing full well that either a) MORE crap is going to get accumulated and added to the “do something about eventually” pile or b) all my bags will be full and nothing can proceed.

I wish I could say that an angelic light shone down and I miraculously got my act in order and played through everything like an efficiency monster.

It was more on the scale of a lonely traveler meandering through various landscapes, making some manner of forward progress, not as quickly as one might hope, but reaching a kind of contentment all the same, with a side of bittersweet regret.

After sampling a little of all of the above, Unavowed pulled the strongest. It was a small, short game in the larger scheme of things and the story was both unknown (bearing that sense of novelty I crave so dearly) and compelling as a narrative. So I finished that.

I had it in mind to replay it again with new origins, but other games yanked my attention away as the days passed.

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Path of Exile was a curious case of conflicting desires.

On one hand, I’ve done most of it all before. The story Acts and maps are not compelling when attempting them for the umpteenth time (think I’ve done at least 4-5 runs through Act 1-10 by now) and my SSF builds would be likely to hit an upper limit somewhere amidst yellow-red maps. Their eventual fate would be to move over from the current league when it expired to Standard league and my ever-optimistic but impractical hopes of getting further through patient grinding with them “some day (but not today).”

On the other hand, it would really suck if I never tried out the Incursion mechanic and made a few Temple forays and maybe even collect some league specific uniques when I had the opportunity to.

There was also a deadline to this; Incursion league ends 27 Aug.

Driven a little crazy by these compulsions, I had a heart-to-heart talk with my brain and wherever the hell these urges come from, ending up with a bargained compromise – I wouldn’t invest all the time necessary to get to lvl 80+ this time around (something my prior two SRS characters had done, quite effortlessly but with plenty of time put in). Instead, I’d aim for lvl 60-70ish, and just -try- the unique league stuff.

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Over the course of the week, in fits and starts and 3-5+ level jumps per play session, this was accomplished.

I was okay with playing the flavor of the month build – arc traps – since the plan was just to play for just long enough to mess around with the new league stuff.

Naturally, the game had other plans.

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For the past couple of years, I have -never- gotten a single Tabula Rasa until I spent the last SSF character farming the Blood Aqueducts for 2-3+ hours to gather 9 Humility cards.

Of course, my second Tabula Rasa is offered completely unexpectedly for a pretty cheap price in Perandus Coins when I was planning on ending this character between lvl 60-70.

6-link arc traps is pretty giggle-inducing. I am now lvl 70 and a little bit torn. I might just keep going for the remaining week.

My resistances are absolute shite, since I’m not actually interested in putting in the effort to regear everything to a new tier. But I’m still living by the skin of my teeth between layered defences like acrobatics, immortal call and being quick enough to toss traps at anything that moves, thus eliminating the -entire- pack and possibly a few more besides in a single action.

We’ll see. I guess we’ll stop when I keep blowing up because the gear can’t cut it anymore or the league ends.

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Then there’s Monster Hunter World, the game of meeting interesting big monsters and killing them to carve them up for parts.

I was fortunate enough to escape most of the technical troubles that were said to have plagued the PC port.

For about a heart-stopping half-hour, starting the game was quite impossible as the thing would keep crashing about ten seconds into the first video cutscene. I intuitively suspected this was due to my ancient graphic drivers – which I had to roll back to practically the time I first bought the PC (ie. 4 years ago) when installation of newer Nvidia drivers failed six months ago while trying to fix GW2 lag/latency problems.

I was not looking forward to a repeat incident where the installation deleted my current drivers yet failed to install the new ones, leaving me with naught but Intel embedded graphics. I had to roll back all the way to the original OEM graphics driver installation before it took.

Still, before I refunded the game, it behooved me to at least give it a shot. So I downloaded the current Nvidia driver installation, set it running and crossed my fingers.

Lo and behold, it actually worked as one would normally expect. My drivers updated!

And sure enough, when I started Monster Hunter World again, it ran the cutscene without another crash.

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Lookin’ good to boot.

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Except when they’re ugly as sin.

I escaped most of the connection problems by not really intending to connect and play with another person.

First, there’s the desire to solo it all to both feel a sense of accomplishment and go at my own pace, and later, while eavesdropping on various conversations over Discord and Reddit and forums, I must admit that my own pace is probably too damn slow for the greater part of the player locusts who are just rampaging through the game and aiming straight for High Rank armor.

Here I am, still content to murder a Great Jagras every other day and planning to make a vast collection of every type of Low Rank armor eventually, before finally moving on to whatever High Rank armor implies.

It’s perhaps not the best way to play this game – I may end up with zero allies by the time I hit better-to-group content, but given all the other games on my plate, I have to reluctantly acknowledge that things must be prioritized and MHW sits lower in that priority order for me.

Part of the issue is that I just don’t feel like intensively learning anything these couple of weeks.

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MHW has an exceptionally helpful training ground that shows you all of the neat moves each weapon can make, just like a fighting game. But I’m really not familiar with either genre, and when you don’t have time to play intensively, you don’t have time to memorize through theory, practice or muscle memory every movement either.

It’s cool, certainly. And when I finally have time to treat this as a primary, or even secondary game, I think it would be fun to master a weapon or three.

But for the moment, it’s slightly frustrating to flub things because you’re not familiar with the controls and it pushes the game as a whole down a priority notch until one has time to deal with it the way it expects you to.

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You get cat sidekicks though. Which is ridiculously awesome, in a Japanese game kind of way.

And then there is Warframe – the game of way too many lateral options similar to GW2.

To keep my focus, the long running goal there was that I wanted to play through all the main story quests.

I finally decided to get past the barrier of Tier 4 Void missions Mithra and Mot by public grouping. Those went by fairly uneventfully.

Then it was on to the Chains of Harrow quest.

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The creativity of Digital Extremes never fails to amaze me. The whole quest turns the standard procedural spaceship maps you run around into a horror movie transplant.

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If you think you stepped into The Secret World for a moment, I would not fault you.

As is usual for Warframe, the story quests are confusing but epic, making a dozen allusions to historical events that reveal tiny mysterious drips of lore and plot for players to speculate for months thereafter. It is somewhat fondly reminiscent of GW2 Season 1 – except done way better, because the reveals are serious and for main storyline characters, rather than bit players or sidelong tidbits to be forgotten in the next chapter.

Then it was on to the Apostasy Prologue and The Sacrifice.

Oh, they were fucking good.

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Suffice to say, there are many things in this screenshot that resonate for players in the know. (But it will hopefully just look interestingly epic for players who have yet to experience it all.)

You earn the Excalibur Umbra warframe by the end of it. There are many reveals to be had; and even more questions will bubble up as a result of those reveals… to be continued… in the next installment. *mind blown*

Now that I’ve finished the main quests, side quests are also now on the agenda.

I’m also turning attention back to Cetus and the Plains of Eidolon, because certain missions in The Sacrifice were, let’s say, a massive pain.

I was lacking certain accoutrements the game was plainly expecting me to have, and dying and restarting every 3 seconds because of that lack. I ended up googling for help and settled for relying on z-axis abuse and very patient tickling of a certain mob to death. It worked, but it was pretty ugly.

So rectifying that lack is also on the agenda… though it looks to be a month-long faction grind sort of affair.

Speaking of faction grinds, Syndicates were yet another thing I hadn’t looked at, and that was rectified this week. After some guide consultation, I decided on the four syndicates I was probably going to aim towards accumulating standing for and started by putting on the first sigil I was supposed to put on. I should probably have done this a little sooner, but oh well, we all have to start somewhere.

Suffice to say, I am deeply enjoying being a busy little bee in Warframe and anticipate quite a few more months, if not years, of gameplay out of this surprising game.

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GW2: Inventory Woes

One of Bhagpuss’ topic starters for Blaugust touched on inventory management, something near and dear to my heart, if only out of sheer desperation at not knowing how to do it correctly and rarely having the inclination to invest the time to do it properly.

Seeing Endalia’s lament and screenshot of their own “Inventory Full” issue in GW2, it’s a little comforting to know that I’m not alone in this matter.

Here’s an appeal out there to all those triggered by messy, chaotic inventories to do a sharing on tips and strategies on just how they manage.

Heck, I’d like to hear speculative ideas on just how MMOs and other games with uncontrollable item drop spam could help those on the “hoarder” side of the tidy spectrum through better game design and inventory management systems (e.g. deposit all collectibles in GW2 at least helps me manage crafting materials/resources.)

In case you think I’m exaggerating for effect, here’s my main’s inventory in GW2.

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It gets cleared periodically out of necessity, but a few days of play fills it right up again.

As for every time a festival comes to town, well… *sigh*

The bank has 15 tabs full of something similar to the below. The good news is that we have been allowed 17 tabs, so I have some expansion space if I ever decide to convert gold to gems when desperate; the bad news is that I really don’t want to wind up with two more tabs looking like the other 15.

bank-inventoryfullI have two solo guild banks, into which I’ve taken to storing non-account bound materials, such as extra crafting resources that would block the ‘deposit all collectibles’ limit – which I’ve already expanded to 1250 over time.

(Expanding to a higher limit seems no longer worth it, as many of those slots -e.g. cooking materials, gemstones, etc. – do not really exceed 500-1000. Only the common crafting materials do. Yet, I can’t very well sell mithril on the TP when Astralaria is a long term plan – have you seen the -amount- of Deldrimor steel that needs? GW2efficiency’s crafting calculator says 7200 mithril ore needed in total.)

The problem is serious. Send help.

GW2: Light Up The Darkness

The more things change...

5 years (shy of 1 week) to the date, I defeated Liadri the Concealing Darkness for the first time.

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(Still the same mini, but I might have consumed a teensy bit of bloodstone dust in the interim…)

There are orange circles now in the arena; and the ceiling dome has gone.

The power creep is tangible – where I used to be in exotic berserker gear and called it a day, ascended zerker is now my standard baseline; the burst damage I can output as a raid-built dragonhunter who knows how to use food and utility now is likely 3 to 4 times higher than whatever I was using back then.

I’d like to think that my ability to analyze and solve for a GW2 combat situation has gotten a hair more refined. Am I too slow? Is it because I am always crippled? What condi cleanse do I have for that? Unsoweiter.

I actually know that I can count off and dodge for an invulnerability frame now (even if the execution still requires practice to refine), and can stand relatively unfazed in a sea of orange ready to dodge at the proper timing for my latency, so that the invulnerability kicks in as the shadow orbs shower down.

Even the stress of gearing for a specific encounter has been muted somewhat, by owning both a legendary light and heavy armor set, and not a few ascended pieces across 25 or so alts.

Not completely gone, because inventory management is still hell, but if I want to waste an hour or two to rummage around and/or spend a few currencies here and there, I can probably put together something if I’m desperate enough.

But between my usually played characters and classes, there’s probably something that will work already.

We cruised through the first three tiers in a day, killing two birds with one stone by taking the On Fire gambit and finishing both Gauntlet Contender (defeat 12 bosses) and Gauntlet Favorite (defeat 12 bosses with one gambit) achievements at the same time.

My hoarding habit came in handy, because I found nearly two stacks of really old Queen’s Gauntlet tickets in the bank – all 250 + 231 of them ready for the using. I threw the full stack into the newfangled shared inventory slot to make my life easier.

Oh, there were a few speedbumps here and there. I’d forget how a particular boss worked (thanks, Suriel!) and experiment a little here and Google for an old guide there.

I’d realize my dragonhunter wasn’t going to be the best for a particular achievement (kill one Subject 7 ooze without touching the other oozes? When I pretty much do AoE in all directions? Yea, not happening) and swap to another character. Something I also vaguely remember doing in the mists of time. Usually on the necro. Same old, same old, except more powerful.

Revisiting basic 3-orb Liadri took another day, mostly because I wanted to plan ahead a little, plotting out various build options after reviewing some old guides and videos.

It was surprisingly painless on the whole, maybe taking some 8 tickets or thereabouts to recall the old patterns of where to stand (thank goodness I blogged about it). It was a lot easier to deal with the shadowfall with the orange circles and overall calmer confidence in my capability to handle it (plus willingness to eat +dodge food.)

And once three orbs were thrown into Liadri’s face, dragonhunter spike damage with spear, trap, scepter and torch is almost unfair.

Turai Ossa took another couple of days. His fight patently favors the fast and mobile tanky/healing build types with preferably lots of blocks/evades/invulns as the goal is to avoid or withstand his ludicrously hard hitting stunning attacks in some way until he divests himself of first his shield, and then his sword… by flinging them at you in extremely painful fashion. After which, you must break his bar with crowd control and then proceed to damage and defeat him.

I own practically zero tanky/healing builds, nor am I terribly practiced with fast and mobile classes. A mirage is apparently near perfect to deal with him, and I don’t even know how to play base mesmer well, let alone chronomancers or mirages. *shudders*

There was a fair bit of build experimentation, courtesy of legendary armor and a bit of scheming. I gave it a shot with a tanky/healing block-laden guardian – except I’m not really practiced with that aspect of the class, and I rather did not realize at the beginning that Turai was supposed to be broken after he flings his shield and sword.

I tried a healing/barriering scourge, with not that much success as well – others succeeded by being very adept at necromancer mobility skills, but I was essentially flailing around with unfamiliar non-muscle-memory skill sequences.

Ultimately, what worked for me was going back to a familiar class – warrior. I put a bit of Soldier gear on, switched my traits based on watching a video of someone who did it with a warrior, and while watching said video, it -finally- clicked that I needed to break Turai before he was open to being damaged.

A few more trial-and-error attempts later, learning a bit more at each go, Turai was defeated (by a hair, I was kinda downed at the last, but we’ll take it. Fear the warrior Rock.) Kingslayer get.

And now we were back to that old bugaboo – 8 orb Liadri.

In 2013, my framerate was 12, on a good day. Maybe dropping to 6, if the Boss Blitz zerg went under me. I surrendered.

In 2014, my system apparently could manage 20+, but I wasn’t mentally ready for it then.

“Maybe next year,” I said, but next year never came. No festival in 2015. Or 2016. Or 2017.

It’s 2018, and the Queen’s Gauntlet is finally back.

My upgraded graphics card and system manages 50 FPS. (My ping has increased to 280ms -with- a VPN, but hey, you can’t win ’em all.)

It was time.

30+ tickets were thrown into the meat grinder, along with the first build I’d determined I’d give a go. A tanky necromancer with parasitic contagion and blood magic, with spectral grasp pull and spectral walk for speed, maybe some minions to distract Liadri, a shroud bar for extra health reservoir.

It wasn’t horrible. I’d get about 4-5 orbs in before things started to fall apart.

Picking up orbs felt really slow with my ping, while I was locked in combat courtesy of the minions and while the standard sigil of geomancy on my weapons kept trying to proc unnecessarily each pickup.

I just could not figure out how to use spectral grasp in a reliable fashion to pull 2-3 minions into the light – the whole reason for the pull to begin with. It’d pull one if I was lucky, leaving the rest nearby to contend with, while locked in a pickup animation. If unlucky, I might pull all three into me, with only one turning into a light orb and the other two inches away from blowing me up.

I ended up swapping it for the blinding well, which was somewhat helpful, in that I could put it down, blinding the visions as they popped and cleared the arena to make life easier. And somewhat not helpful, in that there were then less visions that could be used as light orbs.

The problem I encountered was that the necromancer was still somewhat slow, especially when crippled, with limited escapes besides two dodges.

In theory, I could clear the crippled condition; in practice, there were so many things on my mind, including not dying, trying to position self for visions to turn into light orbs, trying to pick up orbs without dying, trying to remember just how many damn orbs I’d thrown, trying to remember to renew conditions on everything in order for parasitic contagion to kick in and help prevent me from dying, while running around at half health and almost dying, that I’d run around with crippled and THEN die to some mistake or another.

All that chill and crippled on the visions were probably also not helping the speed at which they were approaching the light pools to be converted into light orbs.

Adding a little salt to the wound, my latency meant that the visions’ movement could get a little de-synced and unpredictable. They’d look to be a feet away, but then suddenly, you’d be downed and booted out of the arena. (In one memorable instance, I was watching a vision walk straight on at me into a light patch, except it managed to pop and kill me first before hitting the light patch. What the-? I don’t even…)

To make things laughable, nearer the end part of the 30-something spammed tickets, I was getting kicked out of the arena with “Event Success” and no achievement.

Apparently, as I started losing track of orb throwing and just trying my darnest to survive, the necromancer’s conditions while autoattacking were whittling down Liadri’s health faster than I could hurl 8 orbs safely at her. (With goodness knows how many missed opportunities I just had to walk away from, because I’d die if I tried to pick up that orb at that point in time.)

With another 100 more goes at it, I might have made it work, but it wasn’t quite working out as I’d hoped… so I went to plan B earlier than intended.

What I needed was something that would clear conditions fairly automatically, have more than two dodges, and keep the visions controlled enough to be harmless while I walked in and out to pick up the light orb with not the greatest latency.

Without any experience worth speaking of on a mesmer (ie. clones, mirage evades and pulls), that meant a daredevil.

P/D, apparently, was the way to go, said one 8 orb Liadri video.

Lovely.

Of course, it’s the ONE armor weight I don’t yet have legendary armor for. (It’s so fugly.)

The video I watched said berserker was fine. Another Reddit thread I read said they managed it in marauder. I wasn’t quite sure because I’m really pretty bad on a thief too – just a tide more experienced on it than a mesmer.

P/D, if you look at the pistol, also strikes me more as a condition damage weapon?

I rummaged around in GW2efficiency to look at my available medium armor sets on all my characters – no marauder unless I wanted to buy one wholesale with magnetite shards, plenty of berserker…. oh wait, what’s this? A Trailblazer set?

Toughness, Condition Damage, Expertise, Vitality.

I’d been using the set as part of a WvW roaming pistol thief experiment once upon an age, before repurposing the thief as a berserker deadeye for more lethality.

This seemed pretty good to try. Not much tankier a thief could get while still doing -some- damage. I could practice with this for safety and getting the hang of the build, and if I ended up running out of time to kill Liadri, then I’d switch in pieces of berserker or viper.

I started with the traits and skills as shown in the video, decided that I wasn’t really putting the precision signet to any real use after a few attempts, and swapped it to scorpion wire for a pull.

Man, P/D daredevil felt so good. Three dodges. One pull. Cloak-and-dagger on a vision to stealth for four seconds – juuust enough time to run in and snatch a light orb from under the visions’ noses, if I didn’t screw up. One teleport when alive, one teleport when downed. Vigor and decent amount of healing. Some thieves’ guild allies every now and then to keep Liadri tangled up while you busied yourself hurling light orbs at her.

The one problem? I was still losing track of just how many orbs I’d thrown.

3 orbs had an obvious counter and tell – there’s a buff for each and she starts moving at you after three. Each orb after that apparently adds a stack of vulnerability. So in theory, you want 5 vulnerability stacks, then you kill her.

In practice, goodness knows how many other skills add vulnerability, you’re detargeting her every now and then to deal with the cosmic rifts or stealthing off visions, and you’re still trying not to die from everything that could kill you in the arena. (Even if a daredevil has a lot of tools to manage this, it still needs managing.)

So it actually came as a surprise amidst all the dodging and throwing and stealthing and throwing and dodging some more, when I got chucked out of the arena and a 32,500 AP chest opened up in my face.

Eh? Wha? Huh?

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Oh.

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OHHHH.

It’s really rare in a game that I feel strongly about anything – even a Dhuum kill left me feeling mostly tired/relieved/”Ok, that’s done” rather than triumphant – but the abiding sense of satisfaction that washed over me is hard to put into words.

Five years.

I couldn’t do it then. Between my lack of tools and lack of requisite knowledge.

And now it’s done.

It feels… good.

Completionism sated. Achievement get.

Apparently, between all the pistol autoattacks layering conditions on her and the thieves I’d been chucking at Liadri, they took care of the killing portion and I’d managed to hurl 8 orbs without even realizing that I could be defeating her already.

That was pretty good yet unintentional timing on the AP chest though. It was an extra rewarding surprise.

Stress over, that albatross hanging around my neck is gone. A bit more cleanup on some leftover achievements, then maybe I’ll mess around with the other new champions for fun in the leftover festival time.