Of Fish and Blenders

The problem with playing singleplayer games is that it almost never occurs to me to share what I’m doing.

I mean, the very -point- of a singleplayer game is to toodle around doing things on your own having experiences of your own, right?

In contrast to some players who find they must have company when playing modded Minecraft, be  it for general camaraderie or friendly competition or to show off what they’ve made/done, none of those are very strong motivators for me when playing.

I mostly play to assuage my own curiosity, to learn the ins and outs of a particular game, to tickle an underlying achiever urge, and to be lost or immerse in another world/story for a time. None of which particularly require ‘sharing one’s experiences’ in order to tick the checkbox.

So I conveniently “forget” I have a blog and let it lie fallow, in favor of oh… playing Stardew Valley for an extra hour or two.

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We’re now into the Summer of Year 2, and getting a minuscule bit more serious with the farming thing. I’m trying to earn enough moolah to afford the larger animal barns, because it’ll be a really boring Winter if I don’t.

The fishing craze continues, and I’m fast running out of Summer days to catch my new obsession, the legendary Crimsonfish that lives in the east ocean.

It’s not that it doesn’t bite. Oh no. That dang varmint has chomped down on my bait more than ten times now.

It’s that it twists around so wildly, even at level 9 fishing skill (with an extra +3 from a Dish o’ the Sea reward I got from the community center, so I’m capped at 10)  that it escapes me every time. It is officially “the one that got away.”

I have been -sooo- tempted to install an easier fishing mod, just to nab the varmint, but that would probably just cheat myself of the satisfaction.

I spent the hour after I quit playing reading up on Tackles on the wiki, and am going to try a few new ones and see if they make the task any easier. I can also level up my fishing skill one final time to level 10 and see if that does anything. Failing which, there’s modding as the very last resort.

I got so pissed off by the Crimsonfish, I actually ran into the Sewers one night after an entire failed afternoon/evening at the ocean, thinking to use the last 30 seconds of my +fishing food on an attempt at another legendary fish.

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Well, it wasn’t an attempt. It was one hit, one reel. Super easy.

At least it proved there was nothing wrong with my fishing rod, or my fishing skill.

CRIMSONFISH, I’LL GET YOU NEXT TIME, I SWEAR.

On the Path of Exile front, I’ve been finding new fancy things to spent microtransaction points on.

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A currency stash tab is the newest thing GGG has come up with, and I immediately nabbed one.

Some people felt it condensed their wealth too much, into a numerical value that they couldn’t feel the tangibility of (an image I now can’t locate on Reddit said it best, a roomful of cash Scrooge Mcduck style versus a bank account transaction slip listing only numbers), but you know what, I don’t care.

I only care that I managed to empty the two Stash tabs full of currency that I had on the Standard league into one nice neat tab, and got 1/24th closer to having a usable stash in Standard (maybe it’ll happen, one day.)

Having a condensed currency page in the Perandus league ain’t bad either.

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I was mildly amused to see that Path of Exile also had its own share of lockboxes.

Albeit a fully cosmetic-only lockbox wherein you are confirmed to get the full value of the points you spent (just that you get purely random things you may or may not want), and the forum announcement also requested you to “spend responsibly.”

I dunno if that had any effect on the whales who promptly dropped some hundreds of dollars for 2000-3000 points to open a ton of them, but hey, people spend hundreds of dollars on various hobbies, so who’s to say they were irresponsible?

Everyone has their own spending limit.

I was feeling mildly curious, so I decided to open three. 75 points, or $7.50 USD. That’s more my kind of spending limit.

I popped a gargoyle decoration for my hideout, which I was quite chuffed about, and a radiant gloves that some people might have liked, but I personally didn’t like the look of, and decided to stop there, one less than originally planned.

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The hideout menagerie grows…  (The biggest gargoyle is the decoration.)

A day or two later, the infernal footprints went on sale, and I gladly nabbed those, to finish off the whole cosmetic look – essentially you leave fiery footfalls behind, just like carting around a GW2 legendary.

On the non-spending and actually -playing- front, my Righteous Fire/Searing Bond totem Marauder officially ascended to Chieftain a few days ago, by visiting a very outleveled Normal Labyrinth.

The Labyrinth is interesting, but the necessity to stay connected for an extended period of time sorta puts a damper in my enthusiasm to run it, as I don’t have that kind of time except on holidays/weekends, and I’m not 100% sure the servers will stay up even when I do have the time.

Instead, I’ve been enjoying running maps. He’s level 73 now, and still climbing, in spite of really horrible gear. I’ve been searching around desperately for upgrades and just not finding much of anything. The woes of the self-found.

Admittedly, I’m also reaching the limits of my understanding on how precisely to upgrade him further. Else it is always possible to grit my teeth and send a trade whisper out to someone when I’m feeling brave, but the truth is that I don’t even know what I want, how I want to slot further (even though there’s now a million and one skill gems available from the NPC vendors) and it’s going to take time to slowly work it all out.

In the meantime, he can still do maps, albeit exploding every now and  then when encountering the wrong type of boss sporting the wrong type of damage that he now lacks resistances to, because his gear ain’t up to snuff anymore.

For a change of pace, I decided to start up an alt, and make use of all the delicious uniques and stuff that the first character had been dropping.

On a whim, I decided on Blade Vortex, apparently a fairly new skill that was just introduced some few patches ago.

It took a bit of leveling with other gems to get past Merveil and the level you could start slotting Blade Vortex, but now that I’m in Act 2 proper, Blade Vortex is officially on the menu.

And it is hilarious. I now fully understand why folks say that this gem is for fans of “Will it Blend?”

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Essentially for each button press of the skill, you conjure up one blade circling around you for 5 seconds or so. The more you press the button, the more blades get conjured and spin around you.

Eventually of course, you want Faster Casting and Increased Duration to increase the number of blades you can have spinning around you at any one time.

As of now, it’s about 12 as the max, holding down and spamming while being stationary, and to be honest, about 3-5 blades is all that is needed to grind the majority of the throwaway mobs running around the maps.

They run towards you and literally explode on the blades of a blender.

This is cause for much unbridled giggling.

No doubt, the weakness of this build is going to be lethal ranged attacks from afar, but well, I’m following a guide, and let’s see what defences they propose later down the road. It’s a problem for another day.

In the meantime, the answer to the question “Will it blend?” is YES.

 

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I Guess PoE and GW2 Just Swapped Places

A couple days ago, I dropped $110 USD buying a supporter pack for Path of Exile Ascendancy expansion.

That’s basically $105 USD for 1050 microtransaction points, and $5 for some fancy gargoyle pets and glowy particle effect weapon skins.

I then promptly spent 420 (or $42 USD) on an armor skin set that’s basically black metal and tons of fire, and another 420 points (aka $42 USD) on another armor skin set that’s dark gothic demon king-esque.

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Mostly because I wanted to look pleasing to my own eye while playing Path of Exile and suspected the demon helmet would look great with the rest of the fire set, but also wanted the option to mix and match the other skins too.

I had a brief moment of doubt – in the sense that if a $20 sparkle pony was controversial and a $70 monocle was cause for riots, would I be doing something against my personal principles or in an overall ‘support ethical games’ sense to output $42 for an armor set or $110 in the name of looking awesome?

A month back, Tobold was whaling it up in various mobile game apps, possibly as a sort of experiential experiment to see how it felt.

Me, I draw the line at feeding with my wallet with games that purposefully use unethical tricks (such as loss aversion or creating delay roadblocks that ask you to pay to get past or create an uneven playing field between payers and non-payers.)

At the same time, I don’t really have an issue with personal convenience that doesn’t affect other players  or a payer looking shinier. (I have spent money on Freeblade and Dragonvale, both apps I enjoyed enough to support, and bought stuff that made life slightly more convenient for me, but I could still live without if I was playing free, that didn’t impact other players at all)

The moment I see apps that put paying players in competition with non-paying players, and gives them an advantage, I feel distinctly uncomfortable and only play the app for free, seeing how far I can get on it with zero money and more patience than the average joe. (eg. Dungeon Boss, in my book, and the current app I’m fooling around with, EA’s Dungeon Keeper, which has been the subject of considerable controversy and features more unethical tricks than other app’s I’ve toyed around with, in my book. As such, I’m hesitating on even footing out $7 SGD or $5 USD for this game, and will probably not do so.)

And yet, here I was, whaling it up (or at least taking steps into becoming a mini-whale) in Path of Exile.

Me, the person who normally sits around waiting for Steam games to go on 50% or 75% off before buying them.

Just dropped the equivalent of a collector’s edition box price set on PoE, both to support a game I’d gotten back into and was thoroughly enjoying, and to increase my immersion/involvement while playing by wearing some eye candy skins.

Weird thing was, though I couldn’t put it into words at the time and kept wondering why, I felt HAPPY. Overjoyed. Deliriously happy, even. It was like retail therapy to a deprived shopaholic.

I ran around in my own private hideout, admiring how awesome I looked.

I zipped over to maps with enemies on them to revel in how my outfit now matched the fiery incinerate skill I was using to clear packs and packs of mobs.

Enjoyment of the game went up about five-fold, because my character avatar now both looked the part and reflected the image I had in my mind’s eye, and also blended into the environment more (in the sense of looking lore-appropriate powerful, rather than a country bumpkin with mismatched armor pieces.)

If there was anything that was a downer, it was the twinge of apprehension I had when going to visit my stash in the various Acts’ public lobbies.

In a completely 180 degree motivation turn from what I’d expect a majority of folks who splurge on skins would want (aka to keep up with the Joneses and have the hoi polloi admire their bling), I was almost embarrassed to stand out so prominently and wondered if others would think badly of me for what could be perceived as flaunting one’s wealth.

Fortunately, I play PoE as a primarily solo game with zero need to interact with anybody, period, so barring a few stash runs, I was squarely back in my happy me place of HAHAHA,  FIRE IS AWESOME, I LOOK AWESOME, MUCH FIRE, BURN ALL THE THINGS before long.

poeskin2

PoE now allows you to have two pets out at a time. I couldn’t resist picking up the wolf pet either. For rather obvious reasons to anyone who looks at my web avatars.

(The gargoyle is also kinda fun because it’s essential a cat-goat thing. And we all know one other game with cat-goat hybrids, right? *ahem*)

Speaking of which, way to go, GW2.

Reddit just exploded this Saturday morning (my time) with an announcement that Mike O’Brien would be taking over from Colin Johanson as game director (for a little while, up to the point he hires or promotes a new one).

Goddamn.

I can only keep repeating the above word, for various reasons.

One, a changeup in game directors usually means somewhat of a change in game direction – even if the overall philosophy doesn’t shift to reflect what that head usually likes, each person’s take on things is going to be a little unique and the decisions on what to focus on is going to differ.

The big question in the air is… is that direction going to be swerving back to what I personally like? Or further on in a direction that I don’t like?

Magic 8-ball says, “The future is unclear. Reply hazy. Ask again later.”

The good news is that we’ve gotten a ton more clarity out of this one announcement in terms of Anet’s roadmap than we’ve gotten in the past year or longer.

Mike’s stated preference is to “do fewer things, but do them well.”

From that we can easily extrapolate that there’s going to be less trying to cater to all and sundry. There’s going to be a few niches they’re polishing, to hit possibly what they perceive as the majority of their players. Looking at the teams, that’s, in no particular order, Fractals, Raids, Living Story, WvW, PvP and probably not much else.

(There’s the “Legendaries” team too, which I presume covers that extended crafting grind, precursor-related quests, and bits of rewards sprinkled here and there to add up to the overall Legendary. More of a functional thing to enable new legendary skins/reward achievement sequences to be introduced, rather than a ‘new content’ thing.)

There’s also more of a high-level timeline being shared. The two week content drops appear to be essentially a dead experiment now. Just not feasible for the devs to keep up with and still produce content of a quality they’re satisfied with, apparently. The bad but realistic news is that players are going to have to wait longer for content.

On a not-terribly-encouraging personal note, getting the Spirit Vale raids out appear to be the biggest PvE thing for the first half of the year. We’d best be expecting Living Story 3 only in the third quarter soonest.

The other PvE thing appears to be coming in April, sort of a features cleanup and excess grind removal thing, that essentially seem to be  HoT expansion fixes, basically. Cutting back on the overenthusiastic tedious bits that came with HoT. Overdue. Needs putting in to refine a lot of HoT things up to enjoyable levels (random things I can think of offhand: zone timers, adventures locked behind event chain completions, provisioner token vendors locked behind event chain completions, guild hall costs, blah blah blah.) Just not going to be new /new/ per se.

Hey, maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll get Super Adventure Box showing up for April Fool’s (and they’re just keeping mum on it for now to surprise players. Hopeful, much?)

Iterating on WvW is going to take up the time between April to August or thereabouts, with a brief interjection of the last Spirit Vale raid wing…

… and I suppose PvP is somewhere in there-ish, though now seems to be its time, with season 2 ongoing right now (dunno, stopped caring a while back.)

Goddamn, Anet.

You sure know how to make me feel better.

About having spent $110 USD on another game.

I’m not quitting. I really appreciate the realistic roadmap, so my expectations are set appropriately.

It looks like what I’m going to end up doing for the next three months or more in GW2 is: dailies, 3-4 evenings raiding in various Spirit Vale wings (unless my raid group disintegrates for reasons that are out of my control), the occasional toe into whatever they’re testing on the public for WvW, the odd organized group world boss or zone meta now and then, and that’s about it.

So erm, I guess for the time being, GW2 is now going to swap over to become a secondary game, and I’m going to need a new primary game.

I suspect the two contenders for the crown are going to be Path of Exile and/or modded Minecraft.

To set my readers’ expectations realistically as well:

I think you can expect a lot less GW2-related and more PoE or general game (I have a really long Steam unplayed games list) blog posts in the coming months.

GW2: Earning Money From Me Even When Burnt Out

I’m still comparatively burnt out on GW2, but the glider latency fix just got me to pay ArenaNet the first sum of money since Heart of Thorns. Going from 250ms to instantaneous deployment is worlds apart in responsiveness feel.

It’s a princely sum too, more than a typical two months MMO subscription, $35 USD for five shared inventory slots.

I can only hope that I’ll feel inclined to play more this year rediscover a sense of enjoyment while playing GW2 for a balanced amount of time, later this year, after my break.

Path of Exile: First Impressions

Shiny! Such shiny! As shiny as it gets in shadowy Path of Exile...

I’m finding it nigh impossible to blog about Path of Exile.

Every time, I start the game going “Ok, today is the day I will take some screenshots and, during gameplay, try to formulate some coherent thoughts with which to begin a blog post…”

…I end up surfacing nearly three hours later with nary a thought in my head beyond having played inventory tetris, trying to figure out the complex barter/vendor system currency to determine if I should identify items before selling or sell them unidentified, plotting the next target skill I want for my character after having explored the next tiny offshoot of PoE’s crazy skill tree, desperately trying to stop myself from the “just one more map, one more quest, one more waypoint” compulsion because it’s way past midnight already.

And barely any screenshots either, because there was just too much action going on.

Really now, be honest, would you stop to screenshot, or would the first thing on your mind be to check out all that shiny loot?
Really now, be honest, would you stop to screenshot, or would the first thing on your mind be to check out all that shiny loot?

Also, Path of Exile is dark.

As in, the aesthetic is grim n’ gritty, grimdark, shadowy dark, and downright gloomy.

It is as filled with black and mud brown and shades of putrescent green and grey as Wildstar explodes with cartoon rainbow laser light show effects.

This is a stated preference by the devs, so it is what it is.

Neither aesthetic is a problem for me, but it might be for you.

And it certainly doesn’t make the game very screenshot friendly.

It sort of reminds me of the period where I played a Dark/Dark defender in City of Heroes
It sort of reminds me of the period where I primarily played a Dark/Dark defender in City of Heroes and through all my spell effects, became a connoisseur of all things dark: darkity dark, dark tinged with green, dark tinged with purple, black tinged with purple, dark lightened with grey, absolute black, and abyss.

My very first few battle encounters in Path of Exile were mostly of the “I can’t see shit, or what I’m hitting, or IF I’m hitting at all” variety.

During my graphics tweaking for performance, I turned off shadows and think it’s a much better visual improvement to not have even more monster-shaped patches of black moving about obscuring the action.

Your field of vision also drops as you lose health, so things can get claustrophobic in a hurry.
Your field of vision also drops as you lose health, so things can get claustrophobic in a hurry.

Despite the lack of photogenic appeal, Path of Exile has a powerful draw in other ways.

Its Diablo roots, for one.

The general gameplay of these types of games involves lots of clicking, lots of mobs that die in a few hits per encounter to make you feel powerful, and waterfalls of loot.

Which you then sift through, learning to ignore the lower tier items and leave them on the ground in short order, and being thrilled to make out like a bandit when you get a lucky desirable rare drop from RNG.

Growing steadily more powerful from leveling, picking up skills and loot with better stats, so you can go to harder areas and kill bosses, which usually have a much higher reservoir of health and more interesting attacks and patterns to learn and overcome.

Plus, the ‘trash’ mobs start their own ramp ups in power, skills used and start using various sorts of movement tactics, etc.

Unsoweiter, challenge and difficulty rising to unimaginable levels, and you eventually finding your way to a comfortable, profitable level of challenge and trying to push  it a little higher when you think you can.

Path of Exile does this very well.

I earlier criticized Neverwinter for being simplistic in its combat, because it mostly involved clicking (or clicking and holding) and waiting for mobs to die.

In Neverwinter, there was very little discernable difference in the pattern while killing kobolds, orcs, magical zombies, or human bandits. There were always little groups of minion health mobs which could be cleaved through using autoattacks or a wide aoe sweep skill.

Periodically one or two medium health melee mobs that would use a three-quarter AoE attack hitting front and sides (solution: dash through mob to get to its back, turn around, continue hitting.)

Periodically one or two medium health caster mobs that would use a targeted AoE attack, centered either around the player or itself (solution: dash out of the AoE field, continue hitting mob when safe to do so.)

Periodically a large slow attacking big telegraph ogre-like mob that would take eons to swing (solution: treat much like melee mob, dash around to its back and whack while it is stuck in a slow frontal attack animation.

The most complex thing I encountered in Neverwinter was attempting to solo the starting five-man dungeon The Cloak Tower with just a cleric hireling and me. This mostly enforced understanding of the above tactics as each mob had larger health bars and so took longer to whittle down.

The trickiest and main cause of initial repeated death was the first boss, who was a caster type who would summon two medium melee types when it got down to 3/4 health, creating overlapping zones of serious damage that became tricky to avoid.

Eventually, I powered through one melee mob using healing potions to get rid of the overlapping kill zone, and proceeded to learn in depth how to best avoid the caster boss – swing three times, completing one attack animation chain, start moving one quarter of a circle clockwise or anticlockwise to move out of the way of the AoE it would cast, swing three times, move again.

In Neverwinter, the skill tree mostly involves increasing percentage damage, or percentage defences. Lateral viable options are lacking, reducing depth.

I have an AoE skill? Well, use it when I have multiple mobs, and just keep spamming it for extra damage because it doesn’t cost me anything to use it regardless.

I have a skill that does damage and heals me for a bit of the damage done? Spam whenever off cooldown.

I have a skill that knocks an enemy prone? Oh. For once, I actually have to think about timing. Let’s use it on vulnerable mobs (aka non-bosses) when they’re starting their aoe telegraph attack so that I have more freecast attack time then! Still spammed whenever off cooldown.

In Path of Exile, you do click, or click and hold, and wait for mobs to die…

…but you probably would have done well to think about exactly how you were planing on getting them to die in the first place.

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It begins with the crazy looking skill tree – of which this is only a partial shot.

On character creation, you get to pick one of six different classes. (The seventh class, the Scion, unlocks after you’ve nearly played through the standard game once, I believe.)

Three classes are aligned with the major attributes Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence as pure representatives of that attribute. The Marauder is the Strength brute, bringing to mind something hard-hitting and very tanky and armor/resistance based. The Ranger is your Dexterity rep, conjuring images of something fast-hitting, nimble and evasive, possibly using bows or dual-wielding weapons. The Witch is the Intelligence based spellcaster.

Then you have the hybrid classes. A Strength-Intelligence hybrid, the Templar. A Strength-Dexerity hybrid, the duelist. And finally, the Dexterity-Intelligence Shadow.

Each class begins at a different position on the crazy skill tree, so they have easier access to certain traits over others for cheaper skill point cost.

The Scion, of course, sits at the very center, open to all possibilities, inviting massive theory-crafting for those who have finished the initial game and want something even more complex but flexible and high potential.

It’s a little insane to try and grok it all the moment you begin, so I decided not to make the attempt and just settle on focusing on learning about the tiny area my character started out at, and had more immediate access to.

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I picked The Shadow, which is something a little uncharacteristic of me. I tend to like the tanky melee Strength type classes, but thought it might be interesting to see how the other two attributes would fare, as a hybrid.

Turns out, bloody well.

Even in the immediate area, there are options. You could choose to go the intelligence path and bump up stats, or the intelligence route and increase spellcasting attack speed or elemental damage percentage (implying you’re a more caster type of Shadow), or you could go the dexterity route and increase projectile damage (implying shooty Shadow) or one-handed melee weapons (the more up-close-and-personal type) or straight dexterity increases.

From there again, casters could branch into lightning, cold or fire type of improvements to their spells. Melee folk could choose increased one-handed melee weapon physical damage (which also  applies if you’re dual-wielding two one-handed weapons) or dual wielding bonuses.

And nothing whatsoever stops you from going up or downward the tree to pick up some life and mana bonuses, and grab that caster or melee portion, even if you started on the other path to begin with.

On and on, making stuff very complex indeed.

Since I was just beginning and playing on the easiest normal difficulty, I opted to bother less with learning most optimal theorycrafting and just went the “pick what sounds fun” route. The first character can always be ruined in the name of learning the system, after all.

I generally just looked for the nearest big circles and decided what I wanted more of, and aimed to plot the best course towards those desirables.

In this case, I went a stabby style rogue dual-wielding weapons, attacking fast and trying to crit a lot.

I initially left it open in case I wanted to switch from daggers to swords or claws or whatnot, but as luck would have it, I got some rather decent dagger drops and I’m seriously considering specializing now and leaving the other weapons for another character on another playthrough.

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Adding to the delightful case of options are the skills.

You pick them up via gems, they’re not automatically given to you when choosing a class or going down the skill tree.

Socketing them into your gear allows them to be used and assigned to various buttons, and again, there appears to be a limit for the number of skills you can have in play at one time – similar to nearly all newer MMOs of the TSW, GW2, Wildstar ilk so that you pick and choose those that best synergize and work for your desired playstyle.

There are additional support gems that can be connected to the skill gems, to give things like increased critical damage or more projectiles, and so on.

Each requires things like having the correct color socket, or connecting sockets, so a whole minigame of using orbs to alter sockets (and stats) as desired is formed to complement inventory tetris.

In this case, Reave became my bread-and-butter mind-blowing attack skill.

As a dual-wielding dagger rogue-alike, I can crit ordinary minion-type mobs for a heavy amount. This skill turns my single target attack into an AoE. That increases in size with  each hit.

A good chain with an onrush of hordes of small mobs becomes a delicious spectacle of mobs exploding in unison.

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Some, pretty far away from where I was standing, even. (My reave has stacked up to 8 times, as indicated in the upper left corner.)

Naturally, I need mana to feed these, so it was natural to start exploring up the skill tree for stuff that gave back mana on kill.

And I started looking for gear that gave back life on hit or kill, because I’m lazy to quaff potions on a regular basis and would rather save them for PANIC situations.

Did I just ruin the game? Did I turn it into a mess of simple clicking to kill things?

Hell, no.

The next couple maps I went through started introducing mobs that leap onto you (necessitating evasive movement through clicking to avoid the leap)

…mobs that shot arrows and moved back when you tried to melee them (separating themselves from aoe attack damage)

…mobs that fired magical projectiles at you (kinda hard to melee kill things if you’ve just caught 10 frost bolts to the face trying to get close)

…mobs that raised a ton of minions (necessitating search and destroy, though the minions were easy enough to carve through with reave) and my favorite…

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Exploding mobs.

I highlight this one because it neatly countered the strategies I had developed.

I’d taken to raising minions like zombies and skeletons, because I found it fun and they were handy temporary tanks to shift aggro to, while I ran about and amok in their midst stabbing and killing stuff. (I hear minions are much less viable in the late game, or at higher difficulties, but eh, I’m a ways from that yet.)

Well, exploding mobs blow up minions.

If I go and attack them by myself, they explode, and their explosion takes out other mobs that explode, or my AoE reave explodes them all at once, and guess what… surprise surprise, -I- explode.

This one totally forced a strategy change by learning to -not- attack on sight and let them run close, triggering their explosion animation, which one then quickly ran away from and let them explode by themselves, hopefully taking out all nearby exploders as well.

Boss fight strategies are also different, due to the amount of health they have.

I usually end up stacking a DoT poison-like venom strike, along with ordinary attacking, and running around evasively and quaffing potions like there’s no tomorrow.

I’ve also tried an animate weapon strategy, where I bring in my zombie minions, raise skeletons, and prepare in advance weapons which get thrown onto the ground and turned into animated minions to add damage and deflect aggro.

(Animate weapon is an interesting skill as it sort of makes all the white throwaway loot on the ground relevant again. If it’s a melee weapon, and under the level of your gem, you can sacrifice it and turn it into a minion instead – but you lose the loot drop.)

I have also been dying to try my new situational skill out on a proper boss.

poe_vaalskeleton

This is a Vaal version of Summon Skeletons.

Vaal gems are corrupted forms of a skill gem, that are quite a bit more powerful than the normal version. They’re obtained via little side maps that have additional conditions (eg. increased size of mob spawns, shocking or frost patches on the ground, etc.) to make encounters harder.

For example, the normal Summon Skeletons conjures two skeleton warriors at a time, and limits me to 4 of them in play at once.

The Vaal version conjures an ARMY.

A whole bunch of warriors, a few archers and mages and a general that gives them buffs.

The catch is that Vaal gems require souls to work.

So essentially, you run around killing stuff on the map, building up soul power for your Vaal gem, charging it up for one glorious unveiling – hopefully at a good time.

Sort of like a situational elite.

On a big and populous enough map, you can do it more than once, of course. Just depends on souls… Death death murder kill nom more souls.

And the beauty of it is, not all Shadows need to play how I play.

If I chose differently, I could have been a bowcaster. Lots of shooty, maybe some AoE cold spells to help slow things down for more pewpew. Maybe I would still throw in minions as mobile tank pets.

Or I could have jumped down a sword and shield route and visited the strength and armor side a little more (though perhaps ignoring the intelligence portion may be less effective than beginning a str/dex class indeed, but I -could- do it if I chose.)

Or maybe a dual claw evasive life regen Shadow channeling Wolverine for all he’s worth.

Needless to say, this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the other five classes that I still haven’t played nor seen much of their skill gems or tree yet.

Frankly, the only negative thing I can think to say about Path of Exile is its connectivity issues.

On starting the launcher, it occasionally pops up with a “Connection Failure: Unable to connect to patching server message.” One has to repeatedly launch the game and -hope- that one will eventually contact the patching server at some point.

Strangely enough, I don’t really face disconnection issues once on a map (though some do, according to forum reports, and I’ve had it happen once in a blue moon), but more often face problems during the transition from one map to another.

Sometimes, the server(s) just seem to lose hold of my client and go, “Nope, not talking to you anymore” and I get dropped back to the login screen while changing zones.

This happens on both American and Australian server gateways, so I dunno… Seems like the game just gets temperamental sometimes.

Other times, I play with nary a hitch at all.

Your mileage may vary.

The good news is that the instance states save.

For around 8-15 minutes, even if you leave via portal to go to a town, or unexpectedly fall off the map via disconnecting, what you’ve already cleared stays cleared, so you can run around, travel and make progress with exploration without having to wade through unending hordes.

If you WANT the unending hordes, then ctrl+clicking and zoning in will renew the instance on demand.

Best of both worlds, really.

Payment model-wise, the damn thing is free.

Really. Honest. And the devs hold to what they call “ethical microtransactions” in their store.

Which generally means costuming and visual and vanity perks… like shiny wings and shiny armor.

They do also sell character slots and bank/stash space, but imo, this has been an acceptable ‘convenience’ microtransaction in play for a long time now in assorted games.

You are apparently also allowed to make multiple free accounts to ‘mule’ if you’re unwilling to drop any cash on the game, but I suspect by the time you find the need for that many characters and stash space, you’re committed enough to the game to give them $5-$15 for the peace of mind and convenience of not needing to juggle multiple accounts.

(Still, if you’re a broke and starving student or artist or unemployed, the option is there!)

Conclusion?

I will be playing Path of Exile.

I will be playing it a lot.

Sneaking in time between all the other games on my plate.

It will have a place enshrined in my list of games to play along with Torchlight (and if I ever got around to it, Torchlight 2) where Diablo III did not even get me to buy a copy.

And I suspect a couple months down the road or sooner, alt-holic me will be paying Grinding Gear Games for more character slots because two is never enough, and everyone will be happy…

…living happily ever after in the grimdark land of Wraeclast.

GW2: Picking Apart a Pick – Your Help Needed Evaluating the Fairness of a Cash Shop Item

And here, we have shining examples of "haves" and "have-nots..."

I need a variety of outside perspectives on this one.

I fear I’m a little too close to the issue and conflicted to know what’s right and what’s wrong.

There are three items in the GW2 gem shop that I’m eyeing this month.

My cash budget would very much prefer that I only spend RL money on two of them, and either forgo the last, wait till next month or when it comes around on sale again, or convert in-game currency into gems to pick it up.

perfectlyacceptable

Two of the items leave me with absolutely no moral conundrums or philosophical issues about whether one should support further development and production of more similar items with real life money talking.

The first is the musical harp. It’s a toy. It’s a luxury vanity item that happens to be a musical instrument. There is absolutely no gameplay advantage that a “have” has over a “have-not.” There is merely a cosmetic and “trivial fun” advantage, skewed very much to the personal, as the person paying the most attention as to whether one has this item is oneself.

Much like vanity costumes, colors/dyes and looks, this has been accepted as a perfectly reasonable use of a cash shop across many games. If you like the look, and want to pay RL money to support the developers in making more such options, everyone is generally happy with this state of affairs and accepts it as fair and reasonable that “haves” may get to look a bit more fancy than “have-nots.”

I love music. I love music in MMOs. I’m a big fan of more MMOs introducing such toys and musical instruments in the vein of LOTRO, in the hopes that more Weatherstocks will one day appear. The harp is a no-brainer must-buy, just like how I grabbed every other musical item that turned up.

Now, one could always be paranoid and point to a slippery slope scenario where the developers decide they need tons more money and release five musical instruments onto the cash shop in one month – and while one would definitely not be pleased, choosing to buy only one or two favorites, wait and get others later, or not buy at all are all valid alternatives.

The second is the quaggan finisher. It, too, is a luxury cosmetic item. It changes the animation and look of what your character does when performing a finishing move on a downed foe. Whether or not you enjoy the visual effect and choose to buy it, the finisher is still functionally the same and takes the same amount of time gameplay-wise.

One might argue that perhaps the emotional effect on an enemy player is different, whether he or she is trolled to death by cuteness or executed by a sinister assassin or merely impaled on a generic stick. There are, however, free alternatives that could produce similar effects – such as a bunny finisher that everyone has access to.

Anyway, finishers very much fall under the same category as other cosmetic designs. Fancy art assets take paid manpower hours to develop. Want more? Support with dollars, then. Game-wise, a player that goes without is not at all disadvantaged when compared to a player that has one.

rathermoredubious

It’s the third item that gives me a headache.

Infinite harvesting tools have been sold in the gem shop since the beginning of the Living Story updates. They are functionally equivalent to in-game-available items except that they have unlimited charges.

A few people did the calculations a while back and basically, you would have to mine a ton of nodes over several years to make back the gold equivalent of the gems put into the harvesting tool over just buying many many many sets of orichalcum tools at 4 silver a piece.

Your RL money then, essentially, paid for two things.

Looks: Each infinite harvesting tool has its own unique animation and generally looks fancier than the plain-jane generic harvesting animation. This, we have established, lies in acceptable cash shop territory, selling cosmetic advantages.

Convenience: Time is saved by never having to stop to look for a vendor when your charges run out. Less inventory slots are sacrificed to the necessity of keeping a bunch of tools in one’s bags and thus potentially one has more bag space for valuable loot, or at least cuts down on the need to keep stopping and selling stuff to free up bag space.

Convenience has always been a bit of a grey area where cash shops and the doom-ridden phrase “P2W” are concerned.

Too much convenience for paying customers, and rest assured those that do not partake in the cash shop will keenly feel the difference and begin to evaluate if it’s worth paying up or just quitting.

For some games, this does not disturb them. Non-paying customers are basically freeloaders anyway and do not really need to be catered for. The ‘free’ portion of the game merely serves as an extended free trial and once you cross a certain boundary, you’d better have paid up a minimum amount or look out, you’ll bash headfirst into a paywall.

By choice, I do not like paying for or supporting those games and that payment model. It reeks of exclusion, and my more regular readers are well aware of my eccentricities regarding games that promote rampant exclusion and elitism via their design. I generally do not like to play or pay for a game where it is culturally “understood” that one has to pay such-and-such amount to be among the hardcore hoi polloi and that the free players are merely content and fodder. I believe this model eventually shoots itself in the foot when they run out of free players that are willing to convert, and certainly, snooty attitudes from the paying elite would not at all help this conversion rate.

By choice, I prefer games which keep the playing field level between payers and non-payers, and leaves it up to the players to exercise their option to spend $0 – $100+ in the cash shop as and when they feel like they can afford to pay. Naturally, I understand that this produces a game where developers WILL dangle very tempting and very nice-looking options in the cash shop every month to appeal to player vanity and desire for convenience, while possibly preying on a player’s lack of self-control and leads to potential tragic stories about addiction (to game-playing or gambling).

To others, this is an ethical slippery slope that they can’t condone. I fully understand and respect their decisions to not even come near this sort of payment model.

For myself, I watch carefully for extremes, absurdity and slippage. How much is a player expected to spend every month? I think it is reasonable for such games to operate on a $0-$20 a month basis, equivalent to most subscription games, with more extreme hardcore players paying $30-$50 (similar to say, 2-3 subscription accounts) and the really crazy whales spending lots more (which the onus is then on them to determine if they can afford it or no.)

As for convenience via cash shop items, a little advantage seems to have proven acceptable enough to most.

Boosters tend to give accelerated rates of some kind of in-game currency gain. To me, the key here seems to be that the same thing can be still earned by non-paying customers, but at a slower rate.

The degree of slowness and “time grind” involved ends up determining the acceptability factor. Too absurd, and the non-paying customers give up before they even begin. Have it at a reasonable pace, and then ramp it up and/or double it for people willing to pay for and rent a temporary boost, and it seems to be relatively acceptable to many.

In GW2’s specific case regarding the infinite harvesting tools, the established precedent seems to have been that the infinite tools are an acceptable convenience item, providing mostly peace of mind to folks that choose to buy ’em for their mains, while those that choose to go without do not lose anything by merely relying on the in-game vendor tools.

In fact, they save money, and lose some time.

Which seems to be a bit of a refrain with the better-balanced microtransaction games. Money gets traded for time, and vice versa. The use of player exchanges ends up regulating this via the economics of supply and demand, and players get the option to choose on which side of the scale they lie. Do they value their time or their money more?

Throwing a massive clockwork spanner into the works, is the release of the Watchwork Pick, which suddenly ups and CHANGES the established precedent.

(We previously had a change of precedent when the infinite harvesting tools rose in price from 800 gems to 1000 gems, but this was due to them becoming account bound as per player requests. Previously, they were soulbound, which made switching them between characters impossible. Turning them account bound was a big bonus for players who might have wanted to switch mains or just play a lot of alts and were willing to spend time via bank slot juggling. There was some grumbling at the increase in price, but by and large, it makes acceptable sense to charge a little more for account bound convenience.)

notsayingenough

Despite the in-game tool tip looking exactly the same as all previous infinite harvesting tools, it was advertised on the website that this new pick had a chance of producing a Watchwork Sprocket item when mining. Exact details have not yet been revealed by ArenaNet, but player experiments have suggested it appears to be a 25% chance of getting one per node strike.

This is extremely disturbing to me, in more ways than one:

I was previously minding my own business and cheered up immensely by the thought of being able to buy another nice-looking infinite pick for another one of my alts who dearly needs one for the convenience factor. Except now I have to stop and evaluate all over again whether I should be supporting this chain of affairs with a wallet vote or no. Pragmatically, I want it, but I’m a person of fairly strong philosophical values and would like to conduct myself consistently according to them.

It truly annoys me that the in-game tool tip does not mention the new gimmick this pick has. Someone less fanatical about keeping track of websites and Reddit might have simply bought it via prior precedent, and has now accidentally skewed whatever statistics their marketing department has about whether this gimmick is useful in increasing sales. Meanwhile, I am stuck agonizing over whether I should or should not contribute to those statistics.

That someone may also now have a potential advantage over the have-nots.

Some prior purchasers of the other tools are outcrying over the perceived +1 ramp up and vertical progression of the infinite tools. What they now own is no longer “best in slot.” Instead, this new pick is. Surely, they say, is that not “forcing” us to buy this tool?

This argument doesn’t completely apply to me. For one, I didn’t buy it for a “best in slot” aspect. I’m just not motivated by such things, but I can see that for some other players, this perception would indeed lead to a very insistent pressure to buy it in order to feel like they’re staying ahead.

What I AM concerned about is the have / have-not disparity. Is this a level playing field?

There is no functional equivalent of a limited charge pick that has a 25% chance to produce sprockets, available for in-game currency. The playing field has tilted, ever so slightly.

This is very distressing to me because what it implies is that someone is carefully testing the waters of what players will accept. How do you boil a frog? Increasing the temperature very very slowly and hoping it doesn’t notice.

It’s a precedent. I don’t know if I’ll call it a dangerous precedent yet, but it’s definitely striding into murky grey territory here.

We’re left with the very difficult task of trying to evaluate something that isn’t trivial, and isn’t absurdly extreme.

Some players will tell you that this IS trivial and that other players are making a big to-do about nothing. The watchwork sprocket is a crafting material commodity that has previously been released into the game in large quantities via prior Living Story updates. The TP price for the sprocket as the pick released was around 34 copper. It’s a pittance.

Oh yay, you get an extra 34 copper per node strike 25% of the time. Doing a quick dungeon gets you 1 gold (plus extras.) That’s 294 sprockets you could buy. How many nodes do you have to mine to get that equivalent via the pick?

Of course, what they seem to be overlooking is that TP prices are not constant over time. They fluctuate according to supply and demand.

Enter the guessing game. The fear of the more paranoid is that watchwork sprocket sources might eventually dry up as the Living Story updates progress. They drop rarely from the Twisted Watchwork faction, dropped like candy during the Queen’s Jubilee update, and at a more moderate amount during this season’s Origin of Madness / Marionette boss. Folks who complete this season’s meta-achievement get a mining node that produces sprockets with any tool (including in-game ones) but only at a rate of 6-8 a day. Someone owning the infinite Watchwork Pick can definitely exceed that daily cap via hitting the many ubiquitous ore nodes out there.

Just how valuable might these watchwork sprockets get?

A prior example commodity are the pristine toxic spores, used in a fairly popular consumable recipe. It’s much harder to obtain these now that the Tower of Nightmares update is over and the bulk of the crowds have left Kessex Hills. They’ve gone up to 3 silver 74 copper as of today, which is admittedly quite extreme.

How many sprockets can a watchwork pick harvest? Since I don’t own one as yet, I have to resort to theoretical math based on possibly incorrect reporting. Assuming 0.25 chance of mining a sprocket on a node strike, and that each node gives three strikes, each node visited yields a 57.8% (1 – 0.75 x 0.75 x 0.75) chance of yielding at least one sprocket. The gathering daily requires 20 node strikes, let’s just waffle and say a player has to hit 7 nodes to complete their daily. That’s possibly 4 sprockets from completing their daily.

If a player had a gathering pattern that resembles mine a lot more, which visits quite a bunch more nodes in a day, I feel safe enough doubling or tripling that number.

Now let’s say watchwork sprockets do follow the pattern of pristine toxic spores and rise to 2-3 silver a piece, I personally wouldn’t turn down an extra 8 to 36 silver a day. For some, this may still seem like a pittance, if they’re earning a ton more from the TP or from multiple dungeons. Certainly, it’s still not going to make back the price of the pick in a hurry, considering the rather astronomical exchange rate of gold to gems these days.

The problem is, it’s really quite impossible to speculate on how watchwork sprocket prices will go. We simply don’t know. If a future update introduces a zone with permanent spawns of Twisted Clockwork faction, one might arguably say that sprockets may still be available from an in-game source that won’t be daily capped. On the other hand, they may not, and it may become a rare resource.

Sprockets at the moment are used in a number of recipes, but nothing as popular as the toxic sharpening stones that utilize pristine toxic spores – but that’s going to be hard to predict once again when the critical damage nerf hits. Sprockets are used in Zealot’s and Keeper’s recipes, which produce Power Precision and Healing stats. Those favoring the current meta presently laugh at these stats. Healing, yeesh, right?

On the other hand, my City of Heroes background argues, damage/support hybrids have a lot of team potential and may become much more favorable if critical damage becomes less important and mobs get tougher to survive as pure zerker, especially if ArenaNet decides to tweak healing coefficients once again in a balance pass somewhere.

But there’s simply no predicting whether we’ll get a new meta or not. Celestial stats certainly haven’t turned out very popular. Considering how many people love to DPS and see big numbers, even nerfed zerker may still be considered better than everything else.

Finally, with the utmost irony, I also have to note that people seeking to P2W may end up canceling themselves out via the TP and supply and demand. If many people buy the pick and produce lots of sprockets, supply goes up, and prices will fall.

However, it does seem safe to say that sprocket prices will probably remain within the 30 copper to 3 silver range, and that someone earning 12 sprockets a day from the pick will get the bonus of a green (3.6 silver) to a rare (36 silver) daily. Escalate up and down depending on your estimation on how node crazy someone is willing to be per day.

Is this acceptable or no?

And if I do buy the pick, am I going to regret my contribution to the slippery slope later down the road – either seeing the gem shop spiral out of control into something resembling LOTRO’s present nightmare and ending up quitting the game when it gets too absurd, or becoming one of the elite “haves” that the “have-nots” are going to jealously look upon and abhor, with the eventual result that I run out of people to play with?

(Both scenarios being something that I would never wish upon my dear and beloved game…)