Dark Souls III

Fantastic game and a worthy sequel. Nothing new or radically different, mind you (except a mana bar), just more of the same, excellent quality gameplay in different yet somehow familiar settings. Visually it resembles the first game more than the second one, in my opinion, but at the same time it’s got its own bleached-film style. My only complaints so far are that I seem to get stuck on terrain a lot and sometimes the camera is more wonky than I’d like.

The new FireLink Shrine.
The new FireLink Shrine.

If you’re someone who hasn’t played any Souls games before and you’re wanting to start with III, be aware that this game does not pull any punches. It is much more like I than II, in other words. I encountered the first boss about 25 minutes into the game, at the end of an extremely sparse tutorial area, leaving you very little space to practice before getting thrown right into the fire. There is also a very tough monster in the tutorial area. Practice your blocking, dodging, and stamina management. :)

Dark Souls II is a friendlier introduction to the series, in my opinion. It at least gives you some time to learn the controls before throwing you up against the bosses. (I can’t really recommend the PC version of the original Dark Souls because it’s a pain to get it running. Whereas you can install and play II right out of the box.)

P.S. The Knight starts with a 100% physical block shield!!! That’s a huge improvement over DS2. :)

Low Energy Gaming Week in Review

The past couple of weeks have been really trying at work. I’m in the process of training other developers, writing documentation, and frantically trying to tie up loose ends before moving to another project in May. It involves spending pretty much all day every day doing things that I’m not particularly good at, i.e. interacting with people, leading, making decisions, and generally trying to be a role model for everyone who stares at me with big round eyes wondering what to do after I’m gone. It feels a bit like acting in a play.

The point is that I haven’t had much energy for gaming. I haven’t given up on Black Desert Online per se, but I don’t login very often and I don’t do any offline activities which means that I’m falling farther and farther behind. It’s not a big deal of course since it doesn’t cost any money, but the less I play, the more I realize that I don’t “need” to play it and the less inclined I am to log back in. (To be honest, it’s hard to see what to do next even if you just want to go hit some monsters for a while, so I just stand there staring at the quest list for a while and then log out.)

BDO Harpy Castle

For the record, at last count I was level 33, and the last story location I saw was the harpy-infested Delphe Knight’s Castle. That was a pretty amazing place. I can’t think of any other MMORPG I’ve seen with such a visceral depiction of a battle zone. (Except that the harpies completely ignore you unless you attack them.)

Instead of the brain-draining BDO, often I’ve chosen to play more “lightweight” games like Far Cry Primal. I like the Far Cry games overall, and this one is definitely a refreshing change of pace, but it’s nowhere near the “survival” game I was hoping for. (One day I will publish a post on the essential ingredients a game needs in order to call itself a survival game.) Still, it’s fun, and doesn’t require much thinking.

Far Cry Primal

I tried to get into Terraria for a few days, but I still don’t understand why that game was so popular a while back. (Someday, after a future Steam sale, I will probably say the exact same thing about Stardew Valley.) I find the interface and controls very clunky. I generally dislike overhead or side-scrolling games where you move with WASD. As far as the look of the game, I kept waiting for Lemmings to drop in and start walking back and forth. Anyway I managed to dig a big hole and lengthen my playing time from about 30 minutes to about 2 hours.

This week, I also returned to another low-energy game I picked up on Steam for $5 last year: Enslaved. One day I’ll write a post on it, or post the videos I’ve been recording of it, or something. It’s a fun, Tomb Raider-eseque puzzle-solving, jumping, button-mashing game with a dumb story, but I find it charming.

The highlight of this past week by far was the arrival of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Blu-ray. Coincidentally, a new Blu-ray player arrived at the same time, since, in this modern disposable world in which we live, it was far more convenient to buy a new player than to try to find and hook up my PS3. It’s the first time I’ve watched a Blu-ray in many, many years, and holy jeepers do those things look amazing compared to Netflix, Amazon Video, and the blotchy, grainy, distorted jumble of pixels known as Verizon FIOS Video-on-Demand. I recommend them. :)

The Weight of Black Desert Online

I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s accounts of their adventures in Black Desert Online, mainly because I feel like I haven’t done much “adventuring” in the game yet (by which I mean exploration). I’ve spent most of my time with my head down, running and riding back and forth between NPCs to finish “Life” quests. It’s a bottomless pit if you follow that route. I don’t think the quests ever end. And they are all essentially tutorial quests, teaching you how to make more and more stuff.

Don't know what this is but it doesn't matter because I need ash sap and pig's blood.
Don’t know what this is but it doesn’t matter because I need ash tree sap and pig’s blood.

My world thus far includes Velia, Heidel, and Glish. In Velia, my workers collect logs and ore and I occasionally raft out to sea for fishing (I still have two fishing quests to finish out there on the islands). In Heidel, I mainly store food for cooking quests. In Glish, I’ve recently setup an alchemy station. Though I’ve run out of alchemy quests for now, I’ve been assured that I’ll meet someone in Calpheon who will resume my training. (I don’t know where to find this mythical Calpheon I keep hearing about, though.)

I spend a lot of time riding back and forth between the above three towns, which is getting a bit frustrating. I feel like I’m wasting a lot of time on the road, instead of actually “doing” things. I also have to stop by my farm a lot to kill bugs and prune my plants, which is another detour to add into the mix. I don’t care for the farming system in BDO (at least compared to ArcheAge) but I can’t complain about free carrots for the horse. Somehow I even managed to get on the rankings board for Farming, which I assume must be a bug.

bdo_farming_rank
There’s either a major bug here or not very many people doing Farming.

The sheer magnitude of Life quests in the game is starting to wear me down, though, and I’m feeling a bit disillusioned. It’s exhausting to maintain forward momentum on more than one activity at a time. On weeknights when I get home from work, I’m increasingly tempted by the easy, straightforward gameplay of some of the other games on my desktop. (Like Far Cry Primal.)

I’m starting to think BDO is going to end up like Mortal Online for me: A game that I really like for its depth and complexity, but also a game that I just don’t have the time or energy to fit into an average day. At least not the way I want to play it.

Is Black Desert Online Alt-Friendly?

I’ve been thinking about alts in BDO. I saw a lot of comments early on about how alt-friendly it is, but I disagree.

When I think of an alt-friendly game, I think of a game where each alt has a different gameplay experience. So that if you get tired of playing with one character, you can log in with another to see or do something completely different. The most famous example of that is, of course, WoW, where every race has a different starting zone and their own storyline for 20 levels or so. SWTOR might be an even better example, since those class stories go all the way up to level 50 I think. Rift is very alt-friendly to me because of the wide variety of playstyles you can put together with the soul system.

I’m not seeing anything like that in BDO. Each alt follows the exact same story, talks to the exact same NPCs, goes to the exact same places. Every class even has the same trainer. From what I can tell, the only gameplay difference between alts is the style of the combat.

One alt I tried and then deleted.
One alt I tried and then deleted.

So what are people talking about when they say BDO is alt-friendly? I think they mean that your storage space is account-wide, so you share storage between all your characters. They also mean–much more importantly to min-maxers–that each character has their own energy pool, so you can log in with different characters to invest that energy in the various account-wide tasks. I’m still not entirely sure what investing energy in a town actually does, but with four different characters doing it, it would obviously go four times faster.

That’s too much work for me. Honestly I’m starting to get a bit exhausted with the amount of multi-tasking I’m doing in BDO, just using one character, without even adding any alts into the mix. I really need to start focusing on progressing one thing at a time or I’m going to burn out really fast.

WildStar’s Doom

At the risk of sounding pessamistic, WildStar’s probably going to close soon. I’m not sure whether to jump in and play as much as I can before it closes, or just let it go quietly into the night and remember fondly that one month I played.

Okay, let’s be real, it’s going to be the latter, because I’m playing Black Desert now and Dark Souls III hits Steam on April 11, and that will be that. I suppose it’s possible WildStar could survive another year in maintenance mode, but knowing NCSoft I kind of doubt it.

The sad thing is that I generally liked WildStar. The only real problem I had with it was that it gave me all my skills right up front, then asked me to grind all the way up to level 50 using those same ones. That’s the main reason I don’t play WoW very much, honestly. I really need my character to change somewhat over the course of the leveling process to stay interested.

Granted, other MMORPGs are like that (hello, GW2) but for some reason it felt particularly onerous in WildStar.

Perhaps it was this: I remember also that the questing mobs in WildStar were fairly challenging, and any casual mistakes in dodging or interrupts typically resulted in a pretty quick death. So it was slow, painstaking, and repetitive work. Not the most fun combination.

But boy was it hardcore! I kid, because of course the biggest flaw in WildStar was that whole “it’s all about the hardcore raiding” marketing attitude, which resulted in what, 2 guilds completing that 40-man raid? Or was it even that many? :) Seriously, I’d love to see them release some statistics on exactly how many people entered that raid versus how many people finished that raid, and compare that to the total player population. After the game’s gone, what would it matter? If nothing else, perhaps WildStar could serve as a cautionary tale for future MMORPG developers.

Still, I hate to see the game close down. I’d rather see them rework it, or maybe even re-launch it under a new publisher. Fat chance of that happening, though.

Goodbye EverQuest Next

I don’t have much to add to the EverQuest Next wake that hasn’t already been said, except for this possibly controversial thought:

I’m kind of glad they cancelled it.

Wait, wait, let me explain. We’ve known all along that Landmark was the prototype for EverQuest Next. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was dreading the day that they released Landmark with Norrath assets and called it EQN, because Landmark is not a very good game. There’s no doubt in my mind that EQ1 and EQ2 fans would have hated it.

Imagine how bad it would have been for the MMORPG industry if they had pushed out the next, long-awaited, highly-anticipated EverQuest game and it had been the same dismal failure that Landmark is.

Black Desert Online

TLDR; I’m enjoying Black Desert Online, and I think it’s worth $30. If you like crafting, it’s well worth $30. It’s not your grandfather’s MMORPG, though, and it takes some time to get used to it.

I mentioned on Twitter that I didn’t understand why people were drawn to The Division, and it occurred to me that I should explain why I’m drawn to Black Desert Online, in case anyone is looking at the BDO hype and scratching their heads.

It’s not the combat or the classes, and it’s not the leveling experience or the questing or the story. I consider those parts fairly average for an MMORPG. (Although I’ve grown to find myself weirdly interested in what the deal is with that Black Spirit.)

No, it’s the gathering and crafting and by extension the trading systems where this game excels.

This is where BDO shines.
This is what Black Desert Online does best.

But even more than that, what impresses me most about BDO is the way they’ve managed to bring something brand new into the MMORPG genre. This game is really a mashup of an RPG and a city-builder game. Once you press ‘M’ to open the map, you’ve transitioned to a completely different, Civ-like game. The way you hire and assign workers to build up your production empire reminds me a lot of Banished, which I loved. That’s the main thing that excites me about Black Desert right now.

That, and the fact that you can spend 50 hours playing and barely use any class abilities or fight any monsters.

I had the same sort of reaction to the trading in ArcheAge, which is undoubtedly coloring my BDO experience. In the first few months it was all very exciting to have the ability to build a farm and grow things and make trade packs and sell them in distant lands by riding a donkey across the dusty roads of the world. Those are things you don’t usually get to do in an MMORPG. Now it’s been ramped up and improved in Black Desert.

I’ll admit that newness is usually what attracts me to a game. Something I’ve never done before, or something done better than what’s come before it. I know there’s a lot of MMORPG nostalgia flying around the blogosphere right now, but from my own perspective, any time a new game comes out with a new or better mechanic in it, it’s cause for celebration. And BDO has a lot of new ideas in it. (Some of which are terrible, but that’s another story.)

Another thing that attracts me is the complexity of the game itself. I think it’s because I’m one of those weird people who actually enjoys figuring out complicated things, so I’ve loved experimenting with clicking on all of the buttons and reading all the descriptions and studying the crafting manuals and figuring out which things are beneficial and which things aren’t. (Sometimes it’s hard due to translation issues though… like a description will say something restores Energy but it means it restores Stamina.) It’s like I’m “leveling up” my own brain as I play. I’ve gone so far as to turn off all the chat functions so I wouldn’t see anyone answering questions, and I’ve avoided all but a few Google searches so far.

The launch itself was very smooth for me. (But then I didn’t have any pre-order items, which I understand a lot of people had trouble claiming.) I haven’t experienced any launch queues or lag. I haven’t seen a single gold spam. I also haven’t seen any botting behavior, but then a lot of automatic behaviors are built right into the game (AFK fishing, auto-running, etc.). It’s an interesting strategy to combat bots by building the botting behavior right in. :)

So that’s why I like Black Desert. It’s well worth the $30, in my opinion. I’ve already gotten my money’s worth and it’s only been a few days.

As with all MMORPGs, though, the question is will I still be playing a month from now? Will there be any future updates to this game? Will Daum fix any of the terrible translations? Will Pearl Abyss expand on the classes? Will there be anything to do once I’ve amassed a personal fortune from hauling crates of potatoes around? Will the game turn into a total unplayable gank-fest after PvP kicks in? Who knows?

Of course, what would a post about an MMORPG be without some complaints?

I was reminded of this after listening to @Syp on the MassivelyOP podcast: The first couple of hours of playing Black Desert Online is like being dropped into the middle of a bad dream or somebody’s acid trip. It’s got possibly the worst new player experience I’ve ever seen in an MMORPG. The opening cinematic makes no sense. The first NPCs speak in disjointed, poorly translated English, and sometimes they talk over top of each other. The NPCs say one thing verbally while the text says something completely different. Windows pop up all over the screen, covering each other, obscuring important text. It’s a bit like pop-up ads back in the 90s. It’s the worst. You just have to embrace the weirdness or power through it. I didn’t really start to “get” the game until a good five hours into it.

I initially had a lot of trouble with clutter on the screen. The “Simplify UI” setting helped a little bit, but it doesn’t do as much as I might like. For a while I turned off other players’ names. Eventually I think I just got used to the clutter. It needs a lot more settings to let you customize player nameplates.

My biggest complaint and disappointment about BDO by far is the complete lack of variety among player appearances. I mean, this game has the most amazingly detailed character creator ever seen, but unless you zoom way into people’s faces to examine their eyelashes, everyone looks identical. One sorceress might have white hair and another might have purple hair, but they’re all the same from the neck down. (Hair color choices are pretty weird, too, there’s very few “normal” choices.) The only variations in the costumes are a choice between Free Outfit and Cash Shop Outfit.

This point was hammered home for me when I saw Murphy’s tweet of his wizard’s face and I did a double-take. He looked exactly like my wizard!

Okay, maybe not exactly like mine, but it was close enough for me to blink.

I don't wear the hat in-game. It's the only thing that makes me look different from other Wizards.
I don’t wear the hat in-game. Wizard hats are dumb. :)

And I spent a lot of time giving my guy a broken nose and a weird-looking eye. Pointlessly, it turns out. The only thing you can do to make your wizard look different from other wizards is to disable the hat display. (Which I did. But now everyone can see my weirdly extended, apparently double-jointed neck.)

Wizard On Horse

BDO wreaks havok on my time-tracking software, though. It’s going to say I’m playing 24/7 because you have to keep it running all the time. :)