GW2: Heart of Thorns Day 1 Impressions

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If we measure success by the sheer number of things that one could do, without doubt, GW2’s Heart of Thorns expansion is an unmitigated success.

One look down the achievements list (sorry Bhagpuss, it’s still here), the collections tab, the new masteries, the legendary precursor sections, the Heart of Thorns zones, the Heart of Thorns story chapters, the new guild initiatives, and oh, there were elite specializations and a new revenant profession, wasn’t there? (haven’t had time to even progress on any of those.)

Not to mention, all things WvW and PvP related that I haven’t even glanced at.

Oh, did we mention Halloween is in full swing in Lion’s Arch, so you -could- also be grinding out limited time festival goodies for shiny skins if so prioritized?

Drooburt up to his old ways in the afterlife.

Drooburt is still up to his old ways in the afterlife.

If we measure success by server stability and lack of game breaking bugs or everybody-can’t-login-or-play crashes, ArenaNet completely blows the competition out of the water on this one.

So far, most of the problems I’ve been hearing about are related to people being impatient and jumping straight into the game once it’s downloaded past the “playable” mark, and then charging headlong into a new zone or a story chapter where the content hasn’t fully downloaded yet – whereupon it either pauses/hangs or unceremoniously crashes the player out.

Duh.

I was patient (albeit in a knuckle gnawing, restlessly listening to others on Teamspeak, “I think I shall go and have some lunch while I wait for the full download” manner) and downloaded to 100% before logging in, and the whole experience for me has been silky smooth and perfect.

The servers are holding up in a remarkably rock solid manner, considering that my online friends list that usually is about half a page of people online stretched out to about 2.5-3 pages of people all online and checking out the shiny.

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Impressions?

The jungle feels a lot better than I thought it would be.

One thing that’s definitely helping is the music. I turned it back up from silent to appreciate the new scores and wow, the one on the character loading screen has to be heard to be believed.

Everything has a new coat of HoT shiny. The launcher now features a green tinted charr (Rytlock?); the character selection screen looks super-dramatic and shows off more helpful information, including which crafting professions are on which character.

The new HoT zones feel better when they’re all interconnected in one giant three-tiered map that goes from treetop canopy to roots, as opposed to one tiny section on reveal during beta. The former feels expansive and freeing, the latter felt small and cramped.

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The fun of a launch zerg – an event turns into an impromptu sniper rifle shooting gallery.

Add on some good accompanying background music, a little mob clutter, some NPCs (though some of them are chattering away at a slightly abnormal cranked up pace) and they become zones that seem worth exploring.

It also seems to me that they may have populated the floor with more jungle plant entities, which helps the atmosphere greatly (though I have no idea if this is an issue for older, slightly less updated computers now. The ‘perils’ of enjoying a new-ish rig.)

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I need to find the time to figure out what this says… It appears to be some wreckage from the Pact fleet.

The story feels promising.

I just passed chapter 7 – Personal Possessions (which made me rage quite a bit, I’ll tell you, frickin’ latency and zephyrite-ish jumping puzzles = most of the drama and pacing taken out by multiple fall/deaths to the point where one was running as essentially naked charr), which properly segues us into the next zone past Verdant Brink, Auric Basin.

Given that there are two more zones past Auric Basin, and that I’ve only uncovered about three-quarters of the Verdant Brink map and definitely not touched a great many events and mastery points and adventures in VB itself, there appears to be a sizeable chunk of content on offer.

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I’m trying to avoid major spoilers, but I suppose by now, most people do know there’s a city of gold somewhere in the jungle with some strange things called the Exalted. (End of minor spoiler.)

It’s the chapter before that lets us meet some old friends and has significant plot movement.

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It’s amazing how many people have rushed past the story and into just wandering about the new zones though.

I would have really appreciated some alone time playing through all the story chapters, but I knew one of my guilds was looking to claim a guild hall ASAP, so most of yesterday was spent with Teamspeak voices in the background, doing my best to power through some masteries while waiting for the expedition so that I wouldn’t miss the essentially one-off event.

Turns out that one was still lacking an Exalted mastery to get past a gate, but fortunately, there are mesmers to help guildies skip through that part, and I managed to zone into the instance.

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Wasn’t too bad. It definitely needed some communication and cooperation, along the lines of “split up your zerg, you morons.”

Whatever messaging system the devs were using for cues and instructions -needs- to be used and repeated in future zone events and even raids, imo. The pop up message was concise and offered feedback of the direct “shove it down your throat” kind – you failed this, this consequence now happens. Try doing X instead.

Given the mess of 40+ players running around, whose first impulse tends to be “follow the other yellow dots and commander tag,” the direct messaging was very helpful.

It took a bit of turning like an oil tanker (and one failure phase, but not failed in its entirety) for the group to learn and figure out what it had to do, but it was done in the end.

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Oh, speaking of other guild changes, the yellow dots are an interesting touch.

Some people don’t like it, but I’m fairly neutral about it. I kind of like that it makes me feel a bit more interconnected with the other people in the guild, in that I can see their names repeated in my daily game encounters (leading to a sense of familiarity) and at a glance, you can also see if there are any fun congregations of group activity going on in certain zones.

The multiple guild chat channels, though. FREAKING GODSEND. ABOUT TIME. HOW DID WE PLAY THREE YEARS WITHOUT THIS.

That one change makes my chat window suddenly worth looking at and reading, rather than mostly ignoring.

Makes the whole place feel a lot more lively and social now.

(And I don’t even talk much. Just listen to the chatty ones mostly.)

My one criticism of the Heart of Thorns expansion?

The 6 new stats sets being introduced.

Apparently, even though we are not having any increase in item gear rarity ever (so sayeth Colin), someone has figured out a clever little workaround and decided that they can get away with putting two primary stats and two secondary stats on new gear, as opposed to the one primary and two secondaries of old.

Um, are we power-creeping a little here? Did we just obsolete the desirability of things like Berserker or Sinister because now everyone should want one of the newer stat combinations for that secondary stat bonus now?

Not sure. I haven’t looked at the actual numbers to compare yet, but I’m sure someone will be doing those calculations sooner rather than later.

And then we shall see if there was any attempt at equivalency or just an outright “this gear is better, by X%”.

In the meantime, there are masteries and lots of candy corn to chase.

And I suppose I should make that revenant some day. (I’m in not that much hurry, I don’t think the asura name I have in mind will be grabbed any time soon.)

Minecraft: Regrowth – First Thoughts

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Minecraft: Regrowth is a modpack with an interesting premise. You awaken in a wasteland of nothing, dead trees, dead rock, dead everything.

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If you’re lucky, you find a pool of oil near your front doorstep / spawn point.

From this auspicious beginning, your task (if you choose to accept it) is to bring life back into the world.

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That mini-forest and grass patch is entirely man-made.

It’s a modpack that doesn’t believe in hardcore pwning you the minute you walk out your front door (which is a very strong point in its favor after trying out mods like Crash Landing or Void World, where I tend to lose patience with urban city fighting fending off an army of crazily modded zombies and skeletons, never-ending thanks to strategically placed and nearly impossible to find spawners)…

…but cleaves to a philosophy of removing the (often easier) standard “go-to” tech mods like Minefactory Reloaded, Thermal Expansion, Extra Utilities etc. in favor of walking you through less explored mods of a nature and magic flavor, such as Botania, Agricraft, Magic Crops and Witchery.

A few tech mods are still present, but mostly of the less explored, slightly more tedious/grindy variety, Buildcraft, Railcraft, and Mariculture being some of those you’ll be asked to learn and progress through before reaching the ability to comfortably make a Tinker’s Smeltery.

It’s quite a well done progression, helped along by a very comprehensive HQM quest book that walks you step-wise through unfamliar mods and always provides multiple goals to be working toward at any one point.

The overall feeling is that of a relaxing, growing/farming progression, that gives you sufficient time and space to build however you wish.

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In my case, that’s still pretty much a functional home of the ‘hole in the ground’ variety.

I find it quite impossible to break the habit somehow. I vaguely considered flattening out a huge open space on which to grow squares and lines of crops out in the world, but my spawn point happened to be in the Arid Mountains biome and the landscape was just too daunting to consider massive terraforming.

Besides, a gigantic walled compound was so… ugly.

(I ended up digging a 3 deep moat around the outside of my base to demarcate a relative safe area with torches to prevent monster spawns. This has the advantage of being almost invisible to the eye, if you’re not looking directly at it.)

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While the experimental industry is left outside, most of the really valuable stuff happens inside:

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My initial hobbit hole with resource storage / crafting chamber and a lower room for initial experimental Botania flowers and crop growing.

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A week later, it’s significantly more upgraded, and starting to reach the limits of its confines.

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I was perhaps a little foolishly optimistic in thinking this tiny chamber would be sufficient. It’s now been more or less converted into the initial crossbreeding zone – one produces new crops/seeds by crossing two existing crops such as those dandelions produced by crossing sugarcane and melons (don’t ask.)

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It turns out that seeds can increase in strength and growing speed and yield, and the easiest fire and forget method of propagation (since weeds are disabled in Regrowth and you don’t have to hover anxiously over the crops ready to smite them) is to stretch them out in a long line.

By the time the seeds propagate themselves to the end of the line, that last seed is often at the ideal 10/10/10 stats, or close to it (whereupon you start the line again.)

My second growth room was stymied by my poor architectural planning. I couldn’t widen it any further because there are mushroom corridors along the right wall that don’t appreciate any light being let in, and on the left, those windows pretty much overlook the sea.

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Third time lucky. (We hope.) Left and right views of the slightly more industrial sized underground farm.

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The sprinkler system is newly installed. One is still working out the kinks. Several water tanks are connected to it outside but it’s been proving really hard to create an infinite water supply in Regrowth without my standard easy way out of an aqueous accumulator.

I think my only hope at this point is to use a Buildcraft pump (which requires me growing redstone) and a 3×3 infinite water source.

It will also involve some wrangling with Buildcraft pipes, which I honestly quite loathe after getting used to the more flexible and intuitive Itemducts and Fluiducts from Thermal Expansion via Agrarian Skies or the conduits of Ender IO via Wanderlust Reloaded.

Buildcraft pipes feel like a massive programming throwback to something decades earlier where you have to specify -everything-, starting from the extraction wooden pipe (that apparently has to be powered by a separate engine, which in turn has to be powered by a redstone lever – unless I’m misunderstanding something) and then the actual transport itself requires differently colored pipes made out of different materials specifying the speed at which it travels and then god forbid you want to do something complicated while stuff is in the pipes because that requires more pipe colors to sort/divide/filter and so on.

Well, we’ll see. Regrowth leaves me with no choice but to learn how to manage it (or forcibly custom install another mod, but that feels like cheating) so manage it we shall, for the time being.

It’s like how I’ve started wrangling with Railcraft’s Steam Boilers and really primitive-feeling steam engines (which I hear can explode if you treat them badly, like pour water into an empty overheated steam boiler) because I don’t have anything more modern on hand and I need -some- amount of RF power.

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The beginning of the experimental ‘machines’ phase. I decided to do a more Agrarian Skies-like floating cobblestone platform to house the machine experiments.

I figure if things really go badly and explode, everything will just fall into the ocean and I can do recovery from there.

No doubt I will have to widen it further as time goes by, but at least there’s potential for a nearly infinite flat space in this direction.

Definitely a modpack worth trying.

Just don’t say I didn’t warn you if you go silent for several weeks and no one hears from you in a while. *coughs*

Trove: First Impressions

Why do all the games I like have a floating castle?

Trove.

Simple, colorful, pixelated and addictive in the vein of Free 2 Play + Cash Shop games like Spiral Knights or Realm of the Mad God.

It has the blocky building nature of Minecraft, albeit only saving and preserving your creations in certain approved areas (Cornerstones and Club Worlds.)

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It uses procedurally generated biomes, producing the endless (yet similar and possibly ultimately recognisable) variety and novelty that explorers often like, especially when they discover a treasure trove of needed resources.

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It dots the landscape with player-created structures – aesthetically attractive dungeons and lairs filled with platforming and traps, where it’s sometimes even a challenge to locate the entrance IN – taking advantage of crowdsourced content creation to sate the Adventurer subset while giving Creator types that all-important audience and sweetening the deal with extra reward perks.

It’s probably what Landmark hoped it could be.

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Comparing the various popular games in this genre:

Landmark stresses more heavily on voxel creation/building and ‘realistic’ immersion, before crafting and game aspects.

Minecraft places the focus more on ‘survival’ exploration, creation (building/crafting) and immersion, while many Minecraft mods tend to lead up the intricate crafting and tech trees to focus on mechanical design.

Terraria is a lot more about game (in terms of boss combat) and gear progression, with creation as a runner-up, with less care for anything resembling immersive exploration.

Trove very much follows in Terraria’s footsteps as more ‘game’-focused. It’s an MMO (complete with gear progression, soloable and group content) meets Minecraft, in a smoother, slicker Adventure Mode, with a sidelong helping of mobile-browser-like F2P that takes care to make things colorful and attractive, while dangling ‘speed-up-now’ conveniences for cash.

Any form of ‘realistic’ immersion is cheerfully thrown by the wayside in favor of a more cartoon-y whimsical genre blend of fantasy and sci-fi and steampunk and dragons and ghost pirates and candylands.

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It does, of course, mean that one has a vast variety of costumes (pixelated they may be) to play dress up with. Especially since those are also player-created.

And boy, does it have gear progression. It has it in spades. So many spades that it reminds me of Dungeon Runners, the only other game I’ve encountered that cheerfully used rainbow as an item rarity level. (I’m sure there are some MUDs or Asian MMOs that have this too, but I couldn’t name them off the top of my head right now.)

Biting down on my automatic revulsion of anything that pegs performance to ever-increasing stats (and rest assured, Trove does), if you accept the premise of grinding for better stats in order to defeat essentially identical but enemies with numerically-superior stats for shinier numerically-superior gear rewards so that you can repeat this treadmill over and over and look shinier/more glowy/blacker-than-black-cool with wings and flying mount things and feel good about yourself, Trove does this very very well.

It feels very good. You go from green uncommon gear, to blue rares as you level. (Wow, rares, sounds cool already.) Next comes purple epics. Orange legendaries will drown you as you hit the mid-level of 10+. Occasionally you find a red relic. Then oh wow, is that RAINBOW resplendent in quality?

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(Darn, too bad it doesn’t have the stat spread you want. *flush* into the item deconstructor it goes.)

And all of it will apparently become meaningless when you hit max level 20 and realize that you can only level up further by increasing your gear to edgy /shadow/ levels that go from Shadow-1 to Shadow-6.

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Oh, and the last update apparently now brought -Radiant- item rarity, because glowy white is the new black, I guess.

(I lied, some Googling reveals that Radiant is indicated by yellow text surrounded by a bright blue outline. I like the phrase though, and I’m keeping it!)

While I’m usually not a fan of this sort of hamster wheel, especially since Shadow Arenas are apparently meant to be defeated by a manually-LFG-assembled group of 8 (smells like a raid, to me!) I am heartened by reports that -some- people find it possible to solo the higher end content with a good solo class (and presumably overpowered stats out the wazoo) plus good tactics.

If it is possible to get ‘there’ in the end via both group or solo means, even if solo is a touch slower than grouping, it makes the game less of an immediate write-off to me.

Anyhow, as a secondary game, it’s unlikely I’ll even get ‘there’ before I get distracted by something else to play.

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(I’ve realized that when I play vertical progression games where rising stats are pegged to improving performance, I tend to play them solo. In this way, it becomes a game with -myself- that I’ve willingly entered into, to grind for improvement like how the game wants, so that I can feel that ‘sense of progress.’ And when I no longer enjoy it, I just walk off the treadmill and stop the game there, until I want to experience that feeling again.

Grouping makes the whole system grate more, due to that possible unevenness in playing field. Someone might be stronger numerically than I, or the other way around. And once there’s a disparity there, it tends to lead to negative attitudes regarding the perceived ‘weak link.’ Not just from the stronger party, whose thought patterns will tend to follow along an elitist ‘don’t waste my time’ mindset, but also from the weaker party, who may worry that they’re holding back the group or not performing up to par.

Skill disparities are fixed by knowledge, learning, time and practice. By challenging oneself to reach a higher state.

Stat disparities are most typically fixed by repeating a doable activity over and over until one gets lucky with RNG. No learning there, just a lottery. Meh. But I digress.)

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There are two big attractions of Trove to me, and this is subject to personal taste, is its straightforward simplicity (but without handholding) and its action combat system.

Many of Trove’s systems are simple and straightforward to grasp. You can fish. You can harvest things. You can venture into lairs and dungeons and kill stuff. You can buy a boat to let you sail on water. You can craft rings for more stats. You can garden for decorative items and several useful resources. Unsoweiter.

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But it won’t pull any punches or make it super easy for you. This is what is needed. Yes, it may take some time to accumulate what you need to accomplish what you want. Your job: Figure out how you’re going to get what you want. Play the game while you’re thinking about it. Or just play the game and let what you need come with time (kinda like GW2’s legendaries.)

Playing the game, of course, involves my other favorite thing about Trove. Its action combat system, simple but not overly so. After GW2, I can no longer adapt well to static tab-targeting combat, I like to press a mouse button or key and see a sword swing, a spell fire, my avatar dodge in reaction.

More importantly, I have to be able to -move- as I do it, and preferably jump as well.

Trove absolutely lets you run and gun (with possibly some skill exceptions.)

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Jump? Haha. Heard of double-jump in 3D shooters? Trove takes it over the top. Triple and quad jump are not good enough. Here, have +6 Jump as a stat on your gear. Take +7 jump on your ring, if you want. Subscribe as a premium member? Enjoy 5 extra jumps in mid-air.

You can literally hop and float in mid-air as you navigate strange gauntlets of platformer-like traps, mostly negated by running along at mount speeds and +15 jumping your way to freedom (or the big boss at the end of the gauntlet.)

There’s probably an upper limit of usefulness (which feels to be in the 6-7 jump range, imo, but depends on your class,) but it sure is pretty ludicrous fun.

The dodging is a bit more slippery, and it may be a latency issue, as I simply can’t time dodges right for the life of me. I see the cue, I hit dodge, I usually get hit anyway.

But fortunately, there’s jumping, which throws off the AI a little more, there’s kiting in circles, kiting at range, and in perfectly good Minecraft vein, there’s being able to build your own pillars or walls to flummox dumb enemies if you were so inclined.

You have one character/account, but can switch classes, similar to games like Marvel Heroes, and unlock a variety through time spent playing and earning a special currency or shortcutting the process with cash. This does tend to extend the longevity of a game, as folks switch around and get the variety of leveling up different classes.

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The classes I’ve unlocked – Knight, Dracolyte, Shadow Hunter – all feel quite different in playstyle and reports are that Trove has done pretty well with varying their feel for the other classes too.

Skill-wise, there’s less variety than in traditional MMOs, resembling more of a MOBA.

You get one skill as a left-click attack, another typically stronger one with some extra flare (like AoE damage, a control aspect, etc.) as your right-click, button 1 is a little extra flavor and button 2 is an ‘elite’ on a timed cooldown. And a fifth passive skill that gives extra class flavor and synergizes with some of your active skills.

Coupled with moving and jumping and dodging and positioning, it generally is sufficient enough to be engaging, and simple enough to immediately grasp.

Timing and staggering them for best effect though, while managing your available energy, may be trickier to get the hang of.

I personally enjoy the combat of Trove more than I do that of Marvel Heroes, which has nearly always struck me as more punching bags gratification (as long as your stats are overpowered enough.)

Trove complicates the simple action combat just a little further with some mobs that have overhead swings that do knockback, some that do ranged attacks, some that lob arcing bombs at you and so on.

There’s no complex raid dance pattern to learn, just some basic patterns and typical things certain mob types do, but nothing Dark Souls or even GW2 hard. It’s ‘just right,’ skewed towards the easier side of the difficulty spectrum, but not insultingly simple.

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It’s structured well for short play sessions.

One ventures into an Adventure world of appropriate level range.

One instantly calls up a mount with a keypress and zooms toward a small lair or large dungeon, navigates as one likes to the boss of that locale (aka speed past all trash or treat it like a dungeon crawl, up to you), defeats it, badabing, a quest reward of xp and a chest of items are yours.

Rinse and repeat as often as you like.

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With more time on one’s hands, you could putter around with crafting and building, fishing, harvesting resources (mining ore and collecting crafting ingredients) and so on, interspacing non-combat activities between all the swordswinging and spellflinging.

Trove bears the social design of the more modern-day MMO. Xp and resources are automatically shared (as in doubled, individual loot to each person, not divided into half.)

It errs on the side of generosity, shrugging about leechers. Galloping through a dungeon or lair and some guy speeds past you on their much faster mount and slays the big bad? No matter. You get the quest complete xp anyway.

It is possible and does speed things up if one does lairs in an unofficial group – I’ve had the occasional duo or trio that decide to follow me or vice versa for a time, but it seems many playing are soloists at heart and will eventually go their own separate ways after a string of lairs and then both seeing something else shinier in different directions.

The groups, I suppose, have already found their way to the top, in their Clubs (guild-equivalents, of which you can join 5. Hoorah! And each has a separate club chat!) and private parties of friends they already know.

It’s not the first game I would think of, if someone is looking to meet up and form firm bonds with new friends that last for years. There are other games for that sort of thing. (Though I’m sure there are exceptions, even in Trove, such as clubs that spend all their time building musical creations and socialising and so on.)

Trove is more of a dip-in, dip-out, loosely attached temporary alliances, group for a time or solo at will sort of affair.

It’s an affair that I am happy to dally with.

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P.S. If you’re tempted by this post to make an account, please feel free to use this Refer-A-Friend link so that I might conceivably get a really cool black Elder Dragon mount one day!

(They did, however, set the bar quite high by requiring the recruit to hit Mastery Level 30… I haven’t even hit Mastery Level 20 myself. But eh, I can always dream, right?)