Path of Exile: Delving with a Witch Doctor

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

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

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

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

But Delve is a little more sophisticated than Endless Ledge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallelujah.

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

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

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

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

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We’ll see how long that lasts.

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

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

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

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

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

I get to have them all together, you say?

YES PLEASE.

Wait, what’s the catch?

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

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

*sigh*

Microtransaction outfits to the rescue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The synergy. Too awesome.

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

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

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

Guess we’ll save that for another build.

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

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

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

SSF experimental build life.

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

Most importantly, I am having a blast.

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And that’s the crux of it.

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.

Black and Blue…

Warframe’s servers have been having intermittent issues due to a DDoS this weekend, which leaves me time to ponder a blog post, while feeling twitchy and restless and almost cast adrift.

The irony is that I didn’t get back to playing Warframe till a few days ago, when I decided I’d check it out and scored the 75% off for some Platinum discount I’d been waiting for for ages.

I promptly bought some to show my support for Digital Extremes’ hard work and care for their community, then played the anniversary missions to nab the free weapons. Said weapons turned out to be fairly awesome in their utility and power level, managing to replace temporarily the maxed out Soma Prime I couldn’t function without, which gave me a reason to start playing with a tiny change up of playstyle.

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Oh yes, I also bought the Rhino Palatine skin. Fashionframe has never been sexier.

(Captura mode rocks, btw. Is this something being on PS4 demands or what? Both Warframe and Horizon Zero Dawn rock this so hard.)

I’d hit a wall around Jupiter since I’d mostly ignored purposeful modding beyond the basics of dumping in an endo’ed up Serration and throwing in whatever else seemed good from my random assorted collection of mods.

Thing is, I urgently needed -another- Serration, because I can’t exactly max out my only Serration for higher mastery weapons and then leave the to-be-leveled weapons out in the cold with zero functional damage mod.

I’d also mysteriously managed to cut paths through Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Phobos, bits of the Void, Ceres, Jupiter without scoring something as basic a Steel Fiber mod that increases Armor for my Rhino.

Obviously, some purposeful targeted mission farming was way overdue.

Some wiki reading and a failed solo Excavation attempt later, I settled on solo Survival missions for a 7 or 8% chance to drop what I wanted, and level up the new weapons at the same time. After some testing with Tier 1 and Tier 2, I eventually found a comfortable Tier 1 Dark Sector in Venus/Malva that had Infested that beelined straight for you, making Survival a lot easier than having to chase down other faction mobs.

The nice thing about new weapons is that their mod slots are more limited, so I sat down to mod them well, from a more limited list of options. The straight damage increase goes in, then maybe something to improve their handling like faster reload, and if there’s space, increase whatever damage type the weapons do and figure out what damage 2.0 type does more damage to Infested (Gas, apparently.)

Badabing, even shinier new weapons purpose-built for destroying hordes of Infested. Stay 15 mins for a shot at the Rotation B prize, linger 5 mins more for Rotation C if I somehow get delayed or distracted, extract, rinse/repeat.

Granted, the prize excites no one but me at my newbie “solo self-found” level but hey, it’s the core loop of Warframe and it’s fun in its own way.

In the other screen, I watched teams of streamers get up to shenanigans I’m not willing to experience firsthand myself in Sea of Thieves and it’s the best of both worlds. A solo experience on this end, and a delegated team experience on the other side.

It’s odd, but it seems some computer games these days are catered towards being something in a “spectator games” genre.

The actual number of players might be relatively small, as compared against the obsessive attempt of WoW-like MMOs to capture -all- of the players (which seems doomed to failure the more games fragment into various niches), while another proportion of consumers “play” them virtually by watching said players go at it.

In this case, I guess the money stream goes from the audience => streamers => game, and through advertising and tie-ups with platforms that allow said spectating (cough *Twitch*  cough).

Over in Path of Exile, things are chugging along happily. I hit level 86, lucked into a few teeny upgrades with plenty more improvement to go, alternating between going back and forth through white and yellow maps to unlock them / play some Shaper/Elder-influenced maps, with Tier 8 as the current main unlock goal.

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It’s virtually impossible to take a good screenshot of my current build. It’s just blackity black and blue everywhere. Black ravens (SRS), two lightning golems which spawn phantasms on kill, the phantasms shooting bolts of black darkness, a Hatred aura which gives all the minions blue circles and bonus cold damage… It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s sure fun.

I did a quick duelist alt to level 19 or so, thinking that I might do a really tanky melee ancestral warchief champion to put some of the STR-based and Axe uniques that have been dropping like candy for the SRS necromancer main to good use. I’ll get around to it. Eventually. Maybe. If the league doesn’t end first. (I’m sure there’s still a month or three to go.)

An Addiction of Ravens

It’s been a long long time since I’ve felt anything close to an obsession about a game. The sort where it consumes your every thought and you catch yourself thinking about it even when you’re not playing it. The sort where you voraciously consume all the third-party sites, planning your builds or strategies, plotting your next move for when you actually have time to sit down and game. The sort where another game has a patch drop with new content and you don’t even want to take the time to play it because you’d rather play this one and keep going.

It seems like it’s been years since I’ve felt that way. A long season of drought and boredom even with a smorgasbord of games on tap; of a habitual cycle of logging in to grind without thought or passion. Of failing to care.

Obviously, taking an obsession to extremes equals life-impacting addiction or some manner of disorder, if one can no longer prioritize other equally or more important things like the obligations of work (aka earning sufficient money for a comfortable living or basic survival, depending on your values), self-care, basic hygiene, RL social needs/relationship-community-building (e.g. spouse or significant other, family, friends, etc.) and so on.

But I’d argue that going in the other direction, that of apathy or lack of caring, is equally disordered if taken to an extreme as well.

So it’s with a certain amount of relief and joy that I’m riding the thrill rollercoaster of the past couple of days since Path of Exile’s Bestiary league launched a week ago on March 2.

I haven’t been this deep into a league, or indeed a game, for quite a while.

No particular reason I can really put my finger on, but -something- has clicked.

It’s in part the idea that I’m repeating the basic build that has worked before, which assuages my insecurity that “this won’t work” and provides the last resort safety of “worse case scenario: I’ll respec the nodes that are different with respec points and go back to the old build… earning enough currency to respec would at least be a goal…”

…but then due to differences in the gear that drops for SSF players and my general inability to leave things well enough alone and start tinkering and experimenting to “improve” on matters has produced something novel and somewhat different from the last league. Enough so that it tickles my curiosity enough to keep wanting to push forward and compare and contrast.

It’s in part the idea of the Bestiary which gives me encouragement to collect all the things, “complete” the tome and fill all the beasties in. I’ve been staring at mob names a lot more, instead of treating them as moving targets for blowing up with one skill or another. I’ve been indulging in more complete, thorough and slow clears (gotta make sure I didn’t miss new beasts!) across all the maps, instead of feeling like I’m doing something wrong by not aiming towards speedclear meta – a style of play I’m more at home with, even if it puts my character at a ludicruous 5 or 6 levels higher than the map, instead of my usual underachieving 2-3 levels over.

Nor is the character ‘complete’ by any stretch of the imagination. She’s geared in basically stopgap gear – good enough to not explode if a boss mob looks at her funny or sneezes on her, but not even reaching the ‘acceptable build’ potential that I’m imagining, let alone optimal or ideal dream gear.

This leads to a LOT of obsessing over what would be good stuff to keep an eye out for, that can be tinkered with or somehow adapted to be an improvement over her present gear.

And this is fun. The anticipation, the pursuit, the hunt, the hope for the payoff at the end.

Level 72 and just beginning mapping. The sky’s the limit.

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Whirlwind Tour Weekend

This Saturday, I played more games in one day than any other day this year… for very much less time.

Yep, there’s that unavoidable tradeoff.

Path of Exile essentially launched Bestiary League on the very same day A Tale in the Desert began Tale 8. Naturally, I had to make a character in both and check the launches out.

At the same time, my inferiority complex was still smarting from a notoriously poor showing of my Scourge’s dps (rock bottom, getting only about two-thirds the dps of the other three player’s Scourges) during regular Friday raids in GW2. If I didn’t make some attempt at diagnosing and fixing the problem by next week’s raids, my hope of getting to do dps on Dhuum CM (and thus avoid the excessive mental drain and stress of doing green circles) was going to die stillborn.

Furthermore, I’d been wanting to check out Trove again, revisit Warframe and there were still projects to tinker away on in Minecraft: Forever Stranded.

Frankly, I didn’t know where to start.

But my subconscious did.

I woke up bright and early on Saturday morning, knowing that Path of Exile had just launched Bestiary league at 4am my time. My mouse cursor found the icon and clicked it, setting up the download.

While waiting, I found myself hitting the icon for ATITD to set up -that- download, and then opening the browser to download Discord, register an account and figure out how to join the relevant ATITD Discord server.

Turns out Discord has the nearest thing to the persistent chat channels that I’ve found so unique and helpful to social community building that I’ve only ever seen in ATITD and no other MMO. I spent a while scrolling back and lurking, reading stuff to get a feel of the lay of the land: the two big takeaways were that there were now ‘factions’ in Tale 8 – the choice of which I’d have to think on before proceeding – and that the new Tale hadn’t quite launched yet.

Oh good. So I jumped straight into Path of Exile to recapitulate my SRS build from the old league, with a minor little cosmetic change. Instead of fiery skulls, I did a skill gem cosmetic swap to ravens.

I have my eye on the Harpy Alpha Supporter Pack at some point in the future. So my fashion theme this league is the Morrigan, all dark, ravens, witchcraft and bringer of death.

Imagine my surprise to find a new support gem, Summon Phantasm on Kill – supported skills or minions summon a Phantasm minion on landing a killing blow. The Phantasm does ranged projectile damage.

Are you kidding me? A mini-spectre type of mob that might support my leveling? Since I will be building for minion damage anyway for my raging spirits… 😍

The bonus is that they look like dark ghostly shapes shooting shadowy bolts, so I have the perfect themed entourage for my witch-necromancer right now. We’ll see how it goes when I get further up in levels.

As for the Bestiary itself, I find it interesting. As you catch beasts, you unlock crafting recipes that can produce more selectively tuned rares (like rares with fire damage, or rares with no physical mods or rares with critical chance and so on), except you have to defeat all the mobs involved in the recipes in a closed cage fight in an arena. For an SSF character, I suspect this is going to be a good source of decent leveling items.

It’s been having some teething troubles and negative reception on Reddit – powerful builds were apparently kinda deleting mobs before net throwing and capturing can take effect.

Since I’m a slower SSF player, that hasn’t quite been a personal issue just yet until Sunday night – I just made one raging spirit or leave one phantasm up to tickle a particularly squishy beast down to the level of low health a net needs. (For a few of the tougher mobs, it was all I could do to output enough damage to scratch it down.) It was also possible to throw the net first and then just spam spirits to knock it down to the low health required.

I did run into the apparently unintended glitch of the net lasting a split second (rather than a few seconds) and then the mob enraging for five seconds and not being able to be captured. At the point, I just assumed I’d failed and waited for the time required before netting again. I guess I’ve been too well trained by shitty catch chances in Pokemon Go.

The fixes are coming fast and furious though, I hear. The nets should last three seconds now, if thrown first, which is plenty of time for strong builds to delete the entire screen of mobs. And there’s talk of a backup necromantic net which can capture corpses, in the probable future event of fast builds going so fast that they don’t even see what they destroyed until it’s too late.

That should arrive at a perfect timing for my pace. I hit level 30 something this Sunday and started to realize my raging spirits were getting wimpy as all get out. So I bit the bullet and stopped to adjust my build – got a four link, though I don’t have the currency yet for a +1 or +2 level to minion or fire gems (*sad face*), respeced a few points to push to minion damage nodes sooner, picked up the Hatred aura, and struggled through an on-level level 33 Labyrinth, where I Ascended and went straight for the new Puppet Master passive skill.

The minion army is now at a point that can indeed be said to be effectively deleting mobs at my level range. Level 38 and showing no signs of stopping yet. All’s well until the next slowdown point.

In between PoE breaks, I turned my attention to A Tale in the Desert.

Apparently my Welcome Island lament got a couple of eyes – s’ not hard to rise in SEO when covering a niche game – and along with other new player feedback, a couple of tweaks have been implemented to the new player experience.

That’s one bonus of a niche game with active fanatical players – things turn and change at a much faster rate than say… trying to turn MMO oil tankers like *cough* Guild Wars 2 *cough*.

Welcome Island, I’m happy to report, is much more welcoming than before.

new-wi

The messaging at the top of the screen has improved, providing more guidance. The signs on the island say pretty much the same thing, in the event that a newbie might skip past all the text and still need to refer to something.

Things like camera and setting up UI options are covered very early on, to help with the initial disorientation of any player more used to modern day games.

There’s a big fat road to follow – that leads to the tar pit – and a bit of a new, improved mini-map which is still working out a few kinks (but hey, there’s a zoom in and zoom out function, mind blown.)

There’s even a decorative pier that kinda indicates approximately where one should set up their ferry when leaving for Egypt proper.

Anyway, with the help of prior recent experience and pulling up the old guide, I got to the mainland in under two hours or so.

Here’s the odd thing, I didn’t feel frustrated, but I didn’t feel in any particular hurry to settle down or start factory grinding either. I think, in the back of my mind, I kinda know that I don’t have the time investment available to play hardcore powergamer with macros and alts right now. Maybe this will change in a few months, maybe not.

It’s also a been there, done that kinda thing. I know reaching really high levels and achieving in Tests is beyond my willingness to dedicate time and effort and interest to grind (sorta like reaching level 100 in Path of Exile, for that matter.) I reached level 30 something and got to see nearly all the tech and systems somehow and that was enough, I don’t have extreme Achiever dreams as a motivating factor.

So what are my other options? If I was a strong Socializer, ATITD is a dream come true, a tiny sandbox where you can get to know a community, have plenty of people to chat with and contribute in some small part to. There’s politics and drama and this Tale is looking like it’s going to be very rife with high drama and conflict-oriented sociological situations with another new and active developer at its helm – especially one that just introduced factions to see if that changes the dynamics of the ATITD community any.

But I’m not. I’m pretty introverted, and work lately has involved a LOT of interacting with people, so really, the last thing I want to do when I go home to play a game is be pushed into interacting with more people. I consider typing a word or a sentence into a chat channel, be it in-game or in Discord, and stop before I even hit a key. That would invite a response, and I don’t actually want a friendly response because that would lead to a conversation and that’s -tiring- to an introvert in desperate need of solo recharge time.

I suppose I don’t mind becoming a small cog in a big guild and helping out here and there, except I have timezone issues and just general free time issues right now, so any of my contributions would be a drop in a puddle, if not a lake.

Then too, I have to admit that the actual activity involved in producing such a contribution is not exactly triggering a ‘fun’ button for me right now.

Nothing to do with ATITD specifically, mostly to do with the place my brain is in right now – the same lack of ‘fun’ button is being triggered when doing grindy resource accumulation activities in GW2 (I stopped, mostly), and when I popped into Trove in between various gaming sessions and realized that I didn’t feel like learning how to play my Tomb Raiser again or visiting various mini-dungeons to kill the mini-bosses to get loot… for now.

I was getting the visceral adrenaline hit in PoE, and to a lesser extent, Warframe of all places, which I popped into after Trove to clear a single survival mission for 20 minutes (I was going for the survive 10 minutes to unlock Jupiter Junction, and wound up staying for twice as long because shooting endless hordes of Grineer in the face felt ‘fun’).

I also managed to unlock the Jupiter Junction, which was a face off against the most ridiculous spectre encountered so far, Valkyr. I was nearly at my wit’s end in an utter deadlocked stalemate where I was popping Rhino’s iron skin every time it wore off but couldn’t figure out how to deal enough damage… right up to the point where I thought my way through the problem while dodging behind pillars and running in circles, and realized my energy was constantly recharging… and thus could produce nigh unlimited Rhino stomps with maybe fifteen seconds of wait time in between casts. It became a patient game of stunlocking her every time she didn’t have her invulnerability up and then just showering her with pretty ineffectual bullets until the next time. I nearly ran out of ammo for the poor Soma Prime, but killed her with 8 bullets left. Phew.

Obviously, I still need to work out and work on modding for more effectiveness at some point, but… just not today. Or tomorrow. Some day. When I’m not so busy.

But I found it a valuable lesson to realize that my subconscious was kinda enjoying the gameplay of Warframe more than nearly any other game on my huge laundry list of games I was visiting that day – I had to feel it contrasted right there and then, kinda like wine or chocolate or coffee-tasting, in order to sense the subtle differences I might not have picked out if just trying one product on its own.

Still I found myself logging in and out of A Tale in the Desert. I’d log in for 30 minutes, attempt to do a teeny step on a mini-goal or project, scroll and read all the chat text in-game and Discord, and then log out because I’d rather wait offline than online. Couple hours later, I’d pop in for ten minutes and pop back off again.

I think, subconsciously, I kind of want to spectate, rather than be a participant at this point in time. The whole idea of factions makes me subtly uneasy; an active roleplaying developer doing stuff is almost… threatening, in a sense. Resource loss, resource waste (including wasted time) feels like it could very well happen this Tale. Which is all very well if you’re in the Tale to be entertained by the participation in such stories and the social community… but which personally strikes me more like Eve Online – great to hear about from a distance, but not really something I want to invest time playing in.

Maybe, between reading all the system chats and Discord chats and the odd in-game chat, that’s all the entertainment that I really need from ATITD right now.

After all, I already have one other game that I’m in an odd work/play relationship with… I’ve been on an ambivalent break from GW2. The Amazon servers are still shit if I’m not using a gaming proxy, which is subtly frustrating. I gave up doing dailies and found that I haven’t missed them. I log in twice weekly to raid and that provides sufficient influx of gold to keep me going when I don’t do anything else in game, thus requiring nothing of the game. Raiding on my condi warrior is comfortable. I like comfortable. Most of the raids go more or less smoothly, and then I’m gone till the next time.

The slight discomfort is the Dhuum CM attempts which are a challenging stretch. Challenging stretches require learning, which I’m okay with, except that it takes time. And is not comfortable, and often perplexing and frustrating. Part of the frustration is the lack of a good source for learning / the perfect coach to accurately diagnose issues and offer usable advice.

Youtube videos move fast and often don’t explicitly state things that actually need to be said to a new learner. Friends or raid members may be well-meaning but equally clueless or offer tips that are completely off the mark. (I asked myself, if someone in my team or indeed, anywhere, asked me to coach or offer them tips on how to play the class I play most… would I be able to do so effectively? Answer: No. Not at all. I wouldn’t have the faintest clue where to even start.) Practising blindly runs the risk of locking in bad habits. But ultimately, self-coaching and trying to figure out your own sources of information and improvement is where most players who aren’t esports athletes end up.

I made myself log in and hit the combat golem a couple times. Mostly meh, still rough around the edges, still mostly perplexed. I do suspect the main bulk of my loss of damage is missing epidemics, which can only be practiced in a more real world setting with another necromancer.

I had the bright idea on Sunday to take the scourge out for a spin in the open world, and remembered bounty trains as a source of high hitpoint bosses in a low stress group setting. This gave me more real world practice with skill priorities (complete with jumbled up rotations when panicking and moving and dodging) and I even felt a bit of muscle memory locking in. The bounty train and learning of ‘how to scourge’ almost felt… fun… right up to the point where I started lagging at 800-1000ms ping because I wasn’t using the gaming proxy.

Scenario A: I log out, start the gaming proxy, restart Guild Wars 2, log back in, rejoin the squad and continue.

Scenario B: I log out. Period.

I went for option B and did something else instead.

Like build a jetpack in Forever Stranded and extend my cobblestone bridge highway a little further.

Like borrow some digital library books and start to skim read them.

Like watch a Netflix movie or two.

But mostly to play juuuust a little more Path of Exile.

So I guess the whirlwind tour was somewhat useful after all; I touched all the bases I was intending to touch, and more or less figured out viscerally where my focus wanted to be.