“Is It Too Late to Learn X?” aka a Newbie’s Decision to Start Playing DOTA 2

So I have to confess I only reliably recognize Juggernaut in this picture... (I had to go look up Crystal Maiden and Rubrick there.)

In the last couple of days, I’ve decided that I wanted to devote a little time to gradually (very gradually) learn a game that I’ve always felt was too enormously deep, time-consuming and overwhelming for a complete newbie to grasp.

In part, this was born out of reading the umpteenth post on the GW2 reddit of someone asking “Is it too late to join in / learn this game / pick this up now?” or “Help, I’m overwhelmed, I don’t know what to do!” or “I have no motivation / talk me into continuing with this game / etc.”

  • No, for heaven’s sakes, it’s never too late to learn to play a game (or learn anything, in fact) until the servers shut down (or your mind’s server shuts down.)
  • Yes, it’s a big game (or topic), overwhelm is natural, you’re not going to be an expert after fifteen minutes of reading about something, be patient with yourself and take it slow and learn bits and pieces at a time!
  • *spreads hands helplessly at the last* Ultimately, your motivation is your own business. We can certainly help to encourage or inspire you (in general) or advise or coach you (on specifics), if you’re open to that kind of thing. But if you’ve decided that something else is more attractive and worth focusing your attention on at this time, go do that thing first, no point hanging on to this thing like a sinking ship when your interest or motivation isn’t there.

(And for the Newbie Blogger Initiates, this totally applies to you too, re: joining in or learning to write and blog regularly.)

I decided that I want to have a sort of solidarity of experience with these unknown newbies or irregularly returning players, a bit more of a shared understanding of what they’re going through, and to try and record that beginner state for myself and for others on this here blog.

I’ve played GW2 for 1000 days, apparently.

I vaguely recall that there was a time where I fumbled around with putting weapon skills together to effectively do damage, where I had to stop and read all the tooltips and actively figure out “which button should I press first? then the next? and the next?” and then proceed to test out this chain on the next 100 karka or so (hey, solo karka shell farming is a thing, ok?)

I took this screenshot today. I just turned off the UI and killed two karka without dying.

I took this screenshot today. I just turned off the UI and killed two karka without worry that I might die. I was busy adjusting the camera with my right hand to get a nice angle and then lifting it to press PrintScreen repeatedly, the left hand was running on automatic.

These days, the muscle memory is just -there-. Shift+E triggers my F1 skill, providing 3 stacks of might, and lighting the next thing I hit on fire. 2 sends me Flashing Blade teleporting into whatever I’m targeting, conveniently blinding its next attack. I let the auto-attack of sword take over, only controlling my positioning via strafing to make sure I hit, while avoiding getting hit as best I can. I trigger 3 if I want a projectile burst and a shield to absorb.

In a split second I decide if I need to use my defensive focus skills or utility skills to protect myself (which are on longer cooldown and usually only triggered for harder stuff, not regular open world mobs), if not, I may weapon swap to land a smite, immobilize and head back out of range with scepter autoattacking, throw a spike burst with torch for a little more dps or cone AoE a group as appropriate, or just be lazy and let sword finish it off via autoattacks.

I don’t even have to think about it. I just do it.

Conversely, a newbie (or someone unfamiliar to the game) may be squinting their way through those couple of paragraphs, going “WTF? I didn’t understand a word of that? Well, no, I understand each word of English, but put together, those sentences contained zero meaning to me.”

So I’ve decided that I want to start at that total ground zero on a game that I’ve always admired and enjoyed watching the pros go at it, but never felt I had sufficient time to learn and do it any justice, DOTA 2.

League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth or Smite fans may be all “:(” over this decision, but I can’t learn four different games as a newbie, I gotta start with one first, and dammit, I want to learn the big granddaddy of them all.

(Also, I had about a weeks’ worth of exposure playing the first DOTA with some friends, so a few hero names are not completely alien to me.

And I love the pomp and shininess around the International, and the slickness of the whole client that turns messing around with cosmetics in the store, reading up for more information and spectating into a mini-game or sport itself – it’s nuts, you can spend money on DOTA 2 without even having played a single match yourself and still feel like you had fun, following your celebrity heroes or doing all the other stuff spectators do for other sports, like speculate/discuss/bet on match results or what not.)

My vague goal is to gradually learn enough about the game that I can watch the International streams (sometime in July or August, apparently, so that’s a loose deadline) and appreciate more of what’s going on, without having to rely on the newbie announcers to hold my hand each step of the way.

I’d like to be competent enough at the game that I can meet a random friend or colleague and go “Oh, you play DOTA 2 too? Cool, let’s play a friendly game together” and not look like a colossal ineffectual flailing idiot, ie. attain average to good levels.

To be frank, I see this as very much a process that will never end.

I have no illusions about becoming some top-ranked player on the global stage, nor any aspirations towards that end. I don’t need a high MMR or some platinum diamond super-black definitely-not-copper-or-bronze trophy rank (or whatever they’re using to depict high-level play.)

I generally don’t seem to get noticeable adrenaline or dopamine boosts from winning and am thus not attracted by nature to competitive play. I’m fully aware that I’m going to drop in and out of this like all the other games I’m fond of. (eg. Minecraft, Path of Exile, Don’t Starve Together are all out of the immediate loop right now. Still enjoy ’em, just not ready to dip back into them yet.)

What does draw me like a beacon is an intense curiosity about the learning process – I kinda want to observe the progression from n00b to decently competent – “just how do people learn things?” and the thrill of having something new to explore, new concepts to understand and practice and slowly attempt to master (if ever. Work-in-progress.)

It turns out that the topic of learning is a big thing in education circles, as well as games, and I’ve been going down one rabbit hole and another of reading and watching videos about this fascinating meta aspect while trying to get at least one game of DOTA 2 finished each day, so that I can -eventually- complete this massive tutorial chapter that requests you play 5 games vs bots, and 10 games vs humans, each game probably lasting 45 minutes on average, give or take 15 minutes.

I’m discovering a lot of interesting stuff. Now I just need sufficient time to synthesize concepts and put it all together in short enough coherent blog posts.

It’s gonna take a while.

But that’s what I’ve been up to in the last few days, so do expect topics along that vein in the next month or so, once I finish up with CoH nostalgia and the NBI.

(Not to mention, GW2 will probably throw a spanner in the works with some mindblowing expansion-related revelation or other, just when I think I’ve got it all sorted out.)

Path of Exile: Milestone Achieved, Many More to Go *Twitch* (Pun intended)

Much of the Easter weekend was spent furthering my noob adventures in Path of Exile.

In the span of time a pro PoE player probably takes to get to level 80 (likely in hardcore to boot), I have been slow crawling my way in softcore past my prior lifetime peak of level 66 and moving officially into mapping (and farming, and getting semi-bored out of my mind, and farming some more.)

I’d been entertaining the vaguely optimistic thought that I might go from 62 to 70 on Friday, 70 to 75 on Saturday and maaaaybe 76 to 80 on Sunday.

Of course, I very well knew that a) Path of Exile’s level curve is decidedly exponential – no linear GW2 easy mode here, and b) there was the possible danger of running out of maps for one’s optimal level range, so I expected to not quite make it and possibly need to go another week to finally hit the magic 80.

I end Sunday at level 77, so… not too shabby, considering I’ve never done this before.

poe-library

Fearing that I’d run out of maps too quickly, I spent a while farming in the level 67 Library zone in Act 3 merciless while I was still in the range for it. (+- 7 levels, apparently, so I could theoretically hit 74 before I started getting an xp penalty.)

I also learned that I don’t quite have the mentality for repeatedly farming the same damn map over and over again, because it started getting awfully boring.

If I hadn’t set myself the goal to reach as many of the 1 month challenges as I could, I would definitely have stopped and went to play another game by now.

However, necessity is the mother of all invention. I discovered that I -could- farm quite well if it wasn’t the only thing I was focusing on (perhaps my safe flame totem build was also a bit boring to play, but hey, let’s not knock what was actually working to level me up.)

It ended up being a great opportunity to catch up on all the Swan Song and Mirrorshades roleplays in the other screen, led into being tempted to subscribe for ad-free video-on-demand on itmejp’s Twitch.tv channel, which then meant I needed to -make- a Twitch account and on the side, begin investigating this strange phenomenon of ‘Why would someone watch someone else play games when they could play ’em themselves?’

I’m still working on figuring that one out.

Sure, it’s kinda fun to flip through games on Twitch like flipping TV channels, marveling at how many people are just sitting around broadcasting themselves playing games, but really, I can only last for 15 seconds at best on most streams before I end up boggling at how this disgustingly low resolution stream has several thousands of viewers, or how that streamer’s voice grates on my spine, or how amateur the production values are on that stream, or hey, absolutely nothing is happening on this stream because it’s one of those PvP sandbox games where the idea of someone else playing the game for me -does- appeal… except that it appears to consist of a whole bunch of standing around waiting for something to happen and my attention span only lasts so long.

Well, maybe I should choose games closer to my heart, where I can actually understand the UI and the jargon and where I don’t have to fear spoiling myself.

So I try to watch a few GW2 PvP streams, which aren’t too shabby, except that GW2 is so active combat that my eyes have to stay glued to the other monitor to keep up, and that doesn’t work when I just want something to vaguely glance at while -actually- playing Path of Exile in the main monitor.

Oh hey, maybe I should watch a Path of Exile streamer being all pro in one screen while I noob it up in the other screen, that sounds all meta and stuff… Except that I realize it becomes -doubly boring- to see two little figures endlessly farm loot and xp, and it’s also depressing to see how the ‘pros’ do it – apparently they party up and trade a lot, both things that I don’t wanna do, thanks, and am ok with being slower as a result.

So I’m not exactly learning anything by watching how three people co-op and kill things much faster than my lonesome (I would rather watch them when they are solo racing to learn that particular fast playstyle) which makes this channel worthless too. Bah. *flip*

I end up going for the one type of Twitch content that -does- make sense to me, competitive matches with a commentator, because watching eSports is way cheaper than paying for a cable TV sports channel over here.

It so happened that an ESL Evolve tournament was going on, which was nifty. Here was a game that I know how to play, know how the game is supposed to be played, don’t have the time to play it and certainly not at a competitive level. I still ended up bouncing channels because one of the commentators in one stream sounded like they knew absolutely nothing about the game, which got on my nerves, but it was a great Path of Exile farming accompaniment for a while.

Until the third time I died by accident just standing around and letting a wandering mob beat on me because my attention was riveted on an exciting monster vs hunter play in the other screen.

Bah.

I’d have more use for Twitch if I was still playing A Tale in the Desert, that’s for sure. Now there was a game with hefty amounts of downtime.

I ended up following Youtube links for audio music instead, but that’s another story.

poe-1stchallenge

Somewhen during the weekend of endless farming, I finally caught up with the one last Tormented ghost I needed and completed the first of four challenges. Hurrah!

On Sunday, I got around to setting up a hideout and getting some Forsaken Masters established in my abode for the daily missions, so as to increase my chances at filling in some of the missions needed for another challenge.

I also finally managed to get a first sighting of Zana, the mapping Master, in a level 70 map and quickly ran her mission and got her set up in the hideout.

poe-mapping

Her daily mission was delicious in terms of maps produced. (Beginner’s luck, maybe, but there was a cartographer’s strongbox in the mission and it popped a ton of -admittedly low level- maps.)

A week or two more of this and I suspect I should be able to get at least three of four challenges done.

As for the last, I have no clue if I’ll ever get to high enough a map level to meet one of the unique bosses I’m supposed to kill, or whether I’ll get brave enough and venture in to Atziri – I have one complete map of the four vaal fragments sitting in my stash, but I’m thinking I’d rather hit level 80 first.

I -think- the non-uber version is only level 70, but y’know, it’s a fight I’ve never done and I don’t know how many deaths and re-entries I’ll get (usually 6 if it follows the other maps).

I peeked at a video and it -almost- looked doable, except that I worry that I a) don’t have enough dps, and b) don’t have a good solution to running out of flameblast aoe yet. That video someone was using lightning warp to zap out of there, but it’s definitely a reduced duration lighting warp and I don’t have that gem yet (sad face.)

I’m kinda vaguely entertaining the hope that it’ll drop during my farming and get me set up that way… or I could bite the bullet and send someone a whisper (the horror) or, and this just occurred to me while writing this, I could go check out the possibility of another travel movement gem instead of slavishly following the forum build (leap slam or flicker strike comes casually to mind.)

We’ll see.

Honestly, I’m getting very antsy and kinda want to start another alt (or two or three). I’ve dropped a stash tab full of uniques that look great for leveling, a whole bunch of skill gems that make me want to make a bow character, a lightning tendrils or arc character, but but *twitch* I just need to stay the course a little while more until I hit level 80.

The focus I’ve been devoting to Path of Exile also reminds me that I could be doing the same thing in Guild Wars 2 and leveling and playing all the lowbie classes I’ve been ignoring for a long time. Which I kinda want to do once my PoE stint is done.

Certainly there’s no shortage of things I could be doing until Act 4 in PoE arrives (and Heart of Thorns in GW2 too.)

In other news, they say that Path of Exile is going to get a customizable item filter soon, allowing one to hide junk and highlight desired items in different colors and borders.

poe-itemfilterneededyep

Yep, can’t wait for that functionality.

March in Review

UltrViolet from Endgame Viable planted a whimsical seed when he shared his February Progression Report using a timetracking software called ManicTime.

Hmm… sounds kinda fun, I thought, and decided to give the program a spin for March as well.

The graphs are a little hard to see unless you click and expand ’em, but I’ll try to summarize in text too.

week1

In Week 1, I was all about Minecraft, spending 16.7h that week. A hefty chunk of that was played on the weekend, with around 2-3 hours each weekday, dipping as my interest waned.

The cause of that waning interest? I started playing Grim Fandango (2.6h), having treated myself to the remastered edition as one of my anticipated games of 2015.

On replaying it, I realized that Grim Fandango’s greatest strength is in its audio – the voice actors nail their lines with perfect emotion and the music, while understated enough not to be annoying as you revisit each scene, conveys the mood to that ideal point where your imagination takes over and starts imagining what is left unsaid – the backstory, the sidelong quips that one ends up filling in.

Tim Schafer’s writing, of course, is spot on, with conversational lines speckled with humorous wordplay, but in my opinion, if the voice actors didn’t get it right, one wouldn’t want to select every option and sit through the delivery, grinning gleefully like the skulls in the game.

The remastered edition brings in mouse controls and a radial menu for commands that works decently, to the point where you don’t really notice the controls too much – which is far better than fighting the controls with every step, certainly.

You have the option of ‘tank controls’ too, aka ye olde keyboard operated style, and can even get an achievement for doing that the whole game, but I wussed out of that – it did occur to me that keyboard controls felt a little more immersive though, in that you feel like you’re moving Manny, as opposed to mouse controls where you’re clicking on the screen at one step removed and telling Manny where to go. Perhaps another time.

Guild Wars 2 stayed at a constant 6.5h on essentially standby mode, a half-hour for dailies most days with 1-2h longer spurts when I felt like Triple Trouble Wurm, or caught guild missions on Fridays.

week2

In week 2, Grim Fandango obsession had set in.

Finished it with a further 8.8h, which kinda surprised me at how long it took, I hadn’t realized that it contained so much criss-crossing from scene to scene, looking for one item or another. Guess one blanks out the tedium in one’s memories and only remembers the stories.

Guild Wars 2 had slightly more hours of play (11.1h) this week, mostly via attending a dungeon event on Saturday, iirc, making me stay online for longer.

I started casting around for another game to play, dabbling with the Steam free weekend of X1, X2, X3, X:Rebirth type games (a spaceship trade simulator with fairly non-intuitive controls, though it gets better with the latest Rebirth edition), a bit more Minecraft and the Talos Principle (a puzzle-story game in the vein of Portal with some interesting philosophical themes about God and AI – I’d like to play it more later but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for that week.)

week3

In Week 3, Endgame Viable again showed me the way with a casual post about how he’s started to appreciate Path of Exile as a low-energy game that can be played one-handed.

You know, I said to myself, you haven’t played PoE for a very long time and I can’t really remember why either, maybe GW2 came up with an update that tore my attention away and maybe it was my old computer blowing up and I forgot to reinstall everything that was on it.

Turns out that they were starting a new one-month league quite soon, in a few days, when I visited the website to redownload the game.

Gee, one month sounds like an interesting time period, short enough to focus on (as opposed to the usual three month leagues, which to me is like the normal game, an end point too far away to imagine, I’d probably lose interest in the game first), but long enough that it isn’t a race either (of which I would fail miserably at even being competitive.)

And they were offering cosmetic skins as prizes! That looked actually quite pretty! For tasks that almost seemed achievable by normal people as opposed to only achievable by PoE experts!

Well, ok, when your highest character ever is level 66, level 80 is a bit of a stretch. Killing a unique boss like Atziri is definitely a stretch goal, but hey, people speak of farming her as an endgame task. But 40 of 46 encounters with Tormented Spirits and Bloodlines mod magic creatures sound like one of those ‘play enough in the month to encounter them’ participation prize, ditto 18 of 21 Forsaken Masters missions.

Maybe, just maybe, I might be able to qualify for one or two shiny skins, with a super stretch goal of three or four.

Since the league hadn’t started yet, I thought I might as well get some practice in and try something I hadn’t done before (my old characters had one of those skill points completely reset things, which kinda stalled me on going further with ’em – who wants to screw up one’s build permanently when one can’t even remember much of the game, right?)

Conversation on Reddit was all about safe, easy builds for noobs who wanted to get some of the prizes. Flameblast and arc witch were some of the stuff that was mentioned, neither of which I had tried, but y’know, I had a low level witch I had been intending to make into a lightning throwing character.

Playing with Arc, it was.

She was in Standard league, so what the heck, just have fun, deck her out in some lowbie twink gear and run around. Hrm, this Lightning Tendrils gem seems new (It was. 1.3 update or some such.) DAMN, it hits 4 times and attacks super fast, with almost the same cone area as ground slam. But so so fast, look at my DPS climb.

Suffice to say that was one of the fastest characters I ever leveled, eventually slotting in Arc mid way. She was about level 55-ish when the new one-month league finally started.

10.8h of Path of Exile playtime, with an almost exponential climb in the above graph, except for Friday, which is GW2 Teq-Wurm-guild mission day. 8.7h for Guild Wars 2.

I dabbled with Assassin’s Creed (yes, I am still stuck on 1) too for 2.7h, before getting bored of the repetition for now.

week4

In week 4, I am officially in the throes of Path of Exile obsession with 20.9h.

There are a few weekdays where I’m busy and can’t play a thing, but when I can, it’s full steam ahead in the Bloodlines/Torment league.

Having cleverly outsmarted myself by playing a lightning thrower in Standard, I want to do something else for the actual league.

I decide on another build that looks fairly noob-safe and not really reliant on much traded-for gear (since I really loathe old fashioned whisper trading – talking with people is hard, and I don’t wanna get scammed or have to deal with the potential to be scammed – and would rather play self-found if not given any kind of automation or auction house.)

The dual flame totem blood magic marauder.

I’ve always been wanting to try totems. The description of blood magic has always scared me (spend life instead of mana for skills? wouldn’t I just kill myself spamming skills?) so it seemed safer to follow a tried-and-tested build that can cope with taking that node. Marauder is a comfortable tanky class that I’ve played before with molten strike and ground slam, so I know how to level it.

The build even helpfully provides leveling skill-tree setups, so that there isn’t too much guesswork in which path to go up first.

Best laid plans and all that.

Try as I might, I just can’t get a Greater Multiple Projectiles gem to drop yet, and the only quest rewarded one is via a Merciless difficulty quest. This makes my Flame Totems somewhat wimpier, though I did manage to get my hands on Added Chaos Damage, Fire Penetration and Faster Projectiles.

Instead, I end up leveling with a Searing Bond totem as well, whose Increased Burning Damage support gem helpfully dropped for me. The scaling on this particular skill is quite nuts, being super-forgivable and packing a hefty punch with only that support gem slotted. It does around 2-3x the DPS of my as yet not yet fully upgraded flame totem.

However, I’m not quite in a fully Searing Bond build (which I peeked at and it looks quite different, utilizing Elemental Equilibrium and an ice skill to inflict more flame vulnerability) so I’m still working towards getting the Flame Totems more scary.

Dual flame totems are interesting mobile flamethrowers, but because they don’t pack too much of a punch right now, they take a while to kill mobs.

Dual searing bond totems are amusing. In the words of a Youtube PoE streamer, it is sort of like Spiderman webslinging, where you build up a web of fiery lasers that melt things, and then move yourself around pulling a line of fire across foes. It’s a little more active than flame totems in that you need to be constantly repositioning, but it’s also annoying when mobs ignore your totems because they haven’t been hurt by them yet.

poe_creativity

I end up ad-libbing a curious mixture of the two for imo, the best of both worlds currently. I throw a flame totem down, whose flamethrower projectiles piss off any nearby mobs and encourages them to approach and kill the flame totem. Then I block the path with a searing bond totem to the side of the flame totem.

Now anything that approaches either totem ignites and gets set alight by the searing bond totem, getting constantly dps’ed. The flamethrower from the flame totem is also picking on at least one mob for extra dps.

The best part, anything that approaches me, crosses the last beam and also gets set on fire – which is something you don’t get with dual flame totems.

And if I feel like being active, I can pull the searing bond beam across anything this setup misses. If not, I just stand around and chill for a bit while the totems do the work and replace the totems as they die.

Leveling this character went a lot slower than the arc witch, but I think it’s finally coming into its own. I crossed level 55 the other day (where the arc witch was at) and am now level 60 in Act 3 Merciless, working my way towards the final Dominus.

Playing in softcore for now, since I’m an idiot that tends to die a bunch and I personally like blue over red anyway. Easier goal to possibly strive towards too.

6.4h for Guild Wars 2 that week, a pretty standard ‘waiting around’ sort of pace.

week5

The last week of March is more like a couple of days.

I was off on Monday, which is why Path of Exile playtime resembles that of Sunday, aka insanely obsessed. 18.6 hours and rising.

I also dabbled a little with Alien: Isolation (1.7h) , which was on Steam sale last weekend. Haven’t got very far into it, but it feels a lot like a first-person survival horror rather than a first-person shooter, which has fairly faithful nods back to the original Alien. A lot of sneaking around, dark places and shadows, barely seeing an Alien (except for one part where I was too slow and it came out to kill me for taking my time. Bah.)

GW2 over two days has been 0.5h – super quick dailies and then full steam ahead into Path of Exile.

I expect that it should slow down over the next few weeks, as I’m approaching the area where leveling begins to plateau off somewhat, leaving me trying to figure out the PoE map endgame once more.