Games Played – September 2017

September was a fairly low-energy, chaotic gaming month. I tried a lot of different games but nothing really clicked. Most of my time in GW2 was spent on either Living Story Season 3 or mindlessly working on map completion while watching television.

  • Guild Wars 2 – 25 hours
  • Elite: Dangerous – 11 hours
  • Final Fantasy XIV – 5 hours
  • 7 Days To Die – 3 hours
  • Lord of the Rings Online – 3 hours
  • Rift – 2 hours
  • Assassin’s Creed 3 – 1 hour
  • Stellaris – 1 hour

GW2 – Season 3, Episode 1, Out of the Shadows

I bought the Path of Fire expansion on Friday morning, about four hours before launch time. Not that it matters, but I hope that my purchase was late enough that it doesn’t “count” in the video game industry’s pre-order shenanigans. It was early enough that I got the bonuses, though. (Not that I’ll ever use them.)

When I logged in around 11:30, I realized that I had not yet started the Living Story Season 3, and I remembered that I had planned to finish that before going into Path of Fire. (I actually meant to finish it before buying Path of Fire, but I forgot about that part.)

So while everyone else is checking out the Crystal Desert or whatever, I’ll be bringing you up-to-the-minute reporting on the Living Story Season 3.

The first episode is called Out of The Shadows and contains six chapters. I was surprised that there were so many. It took me around two and a half hours of game time to complete it over the course of three days, not counting grinding for the Mastery Point.

It starts with Eir’s Memorial in Hoelbrak. (When everyone toasted, “To Eir!” I, of course, responded, “Is human!”) Then we pay a visit to Taimi in Rata Novus, and take an airship to the new map Bloodstone Fen, where a giant bloodstone exploded. Kind of.

As usual, I don’t fully understand the story. At this point I mentally hear static whenever people try to explain what’s going on because it never makes any sense to me. I feel like there’s some foundational piece of Guild Wars lore that I just don’t get or never heard that renders everything after it nonsensical. As if I’m reading Game of Thrones but I don’t know that the seasons are longer than normal.

Anyway, the new map is another Heart of Thorns-style map, full of verticality. There’s an entirely new set of Ancient Magics Masteries added with this map, the first one of which (“Counter Magic”) is required to finish Episode 1. I ended up going back to Verdant Brink to grind out the majority of that Mastery, as there weren’t very many people in Bloodstone Fen doing events. (In fact I didn’t see very many events to do.)

When you first get to Bloodstone Fen, you are required to visit several places in the zone before you can continue the story. During this part, I rage quit twice. :) There was one particular point, the Colosseum of the Faithful, that I tried to fight my way up to twice, and both times I gave up and concluded, “Screw this. This is impossible. I’m just going to start Path of Fire.” But on the third try I figured out that you can glide over to that spot without having to defeat the hordes of Veteran Angered Spirit mobs. That was the most irritating part of the episode for me. I get very irrationally angry when I encounter difficulty simply running from one point on the map to another point on the map to continue a story.

The inevitable tedious, drawn-out boss fights occur in the final chapter, Confessor’s Stronghold, where you confront this guy Caudecus. Allegedly we are supposed to know him, but when I hear the word Caudecus, I only know of the Caduceus Rise dungeon in Rift. (I know, I know, different spelling.) Then some guy named Lazarus shows up, and Caudecus gets away. Then Taimi tells us Primordus is active and the episode ends, as if we’re supposed to know who or what a Primordus is. (Spoiler: It’s a dragon.)

So by my count there are three different foes to deal with by the end of the episode. Since I played the Path of Fire demo weekend, I can already sort of guess who one of them is and which one will end up being the most important.

Curiously, I noticed a lot of people have gone into Path of Fire to get their mount, and then returned to older areas. I saw a lot of raptor mounts jumping around Heart of Thorns maps and Bloodstone Fen.

Elite: Dangerous Horizons

I’m currently uninterested in any game on my hard drive, but I had a sudden flash of inspiration and re-downloaded Elite: Dangerous. I impulsively paid 20 pounds for the Horizons expansion, which sounded cheap until it turned out to be 27 dollars in real money charged to my credit card. After a somewhat lengthy downloading and installation process I was back in the game that I last played for about a month after it’s initial launch at the end of 2014.

Of course I spent the first several hours of game time in tutorials, trying to learn how to fly again with mouse and keyboard. Thankfully it came back to me quicker than I expected, and I was able to get from system to system without crashing into too many space station walls. (I left the default WASD keyboard configuration even though it feels so wrong to put my ring, middle, and index fingers on ASD.) Then I Googled how to outfit my ship (a Cobra I think?) with an atmospheric module and an SRV bay and whatnot so I could land on planets and drive around and experience “Horizons.” It was neat.

I was able to drive around on a planet’s surface to some kind of base, apparently the only one on the entire planet, where I was warned to leave or I would be fired on. So I left and drove around some more on the bumpy terrain for a while. I accidentally sent my ship away while trying to figure out how to get back on board, which was a little concerning until I learned you could call it back again. Eventually I figured out how to board my ship again. It was fun. In true E:D fashion, the SRV is overly complicated to drive and the default keys are not intuitive. But it didn’t take that long to get used to it.

I’m going to land right in that crater.

But the thing about Elite: Dangerous is … it’s not really a game. It’s more of a simulator.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really cool simulator. Flying around feels very realistic and every solar system’s sights are pretty cool. And landing on planets is very cool, and driving around in the SRV buggy is very cool.

But I don’t have any compelling reason to do any of this very cool stuff. Once I’m on a planet’s surface, I just sort of drive around and think, “This is neat. Look, a rock! I wish I had something to do. Guess I’ll leave now.”

Is it because I always choose Solo Play? I hope not. Solo Play is the best feature of this MMO and every MMO should have it. :) I’ve always been under the assumption that the only thing that other players would add to E:D is more people trying to shoot at me, or people asking me to help them shoot other people. But ship combat in E:D is not all that interesting to me, and it’s especially annoying to be attacked when you’re just trying to go from one system to another.

Oh, I also made a Holo-Me for myself, which was pretty cool. It’s a nice character creator. But again … what’s it for? I never see myself. I can’t get out of my SRV and walk around or anything. (Even if I could, what am I going to do, pick up rocks?)

Now to be fair, the game does give you some direction with Missions at every space station. Upon completing them, you get credits and reputation. But they are all basically the same: Take this cargo to another station. Find some cargo and bring it back here. Mine some stuff. Go to a system and shoot some bad guys. I haven’t yet found any missions that direct you to drive around on planets, though.

Driving in the RSV looks and feels pretty similar to flying your ship.

What the game needs is more story-based missions to motivate me to move around. For example, something like going to a planet to talk to a guy, who tells you a compelling story and gives you a map to another planet with alien ruins on it that you can go drive around sightseeing in your SRV, where you learn about a long-dead civilization, then dig up a gizmo to bring back to the original quest giver. But pirates attack and steal the gizmo, so you follow them to another system where you learn that the gizmo will power their dying civilization for ten years, so you have to decide whether to let them keep it or steal it back. That would keep my attention.

So I guess I still don’t understand where the “game” is in Elite: Dangerous. Maybe this is one of those games that you need to play with friends so that they provide the entertainment when the game doesn’t. There’s a fantastic framework here and a really interesting space flight simulator, but not much else. It still seems as empty of content as the void of space.

Line 6 Spider V 30 Practice Amp

I bought a new electric guitar amp! Finally. I haven’t had one since around 2001. It arrived from Amazon yesterday.

I settled on the Line 6 Spider V 30 for $200. It’s a little 30 watt practice amp. I wanted something I could simply turn on and go, as opposed to something like RockSmith on Steam which takes about an hour to load and has that dreaded input delay.

I was undecided between the Spider and a Fender Champion 40 for the longest time. Historically I’ve stuck with “traditional” brands for musical equipment, but I went out on a limb and got the high-tech newcomer. (To me, brands that entered the music scene after the 90s are still “new.”) My main deciding factor was that the knobs looked cooler. :) Also, the Line 6 has a USB output so you can record direct from it, which will come in very handy for me.

If you’re not aware, a “modelling amp” differs from a traditional amp in that the “sound” is largely created by a computer DSP instead of the inherent characteristics of the speaker and cabinet. They are more versatile but purists might argue they are sonically inferior. It’s the first one I’ve ever owned, and so far it sounds fine. In today’s pop music world where people cheerfully accept songs with instruments that sound like they were recorded at the bottom of a rusted metal garbage can with a cheap 80s Radio Shack tape recorder mic and too much gain, I doubt anyone would notice the sonic impurities. It’s a small trade-off to get a lot of fiddly buttons and knobs on the front to satisfy my need to change the sound.

If you’ll permit me a bit of nostalgia, the last electric guitar amps I owned were these monstrosities:

The top amp is a ~60 watt H&K tube amp I bought in roughly 1993. The bottom one is a ~60 watt Crate tube amp I bought some years later when the H&K started to die. (Later I fixed it.) Both were around $400-$500 each, considerably more than the Spider. They worked but I was never really in love with them, since they didn’t have a wide variety of sound possibilities. They were traditional amps with a single speaker and cabinets tailored specifically for electric guitars. It may not look like it, but they weighed a frickin’ ton and they were a huge pain to carry around. I sold both of them c. 2001.

As it turned out I didn’t use them very much. When recording, I used preamps and pedals to get the tone I wanted, and I used an H&K Red Box amp simulator gizmo to record direct to the mixer. First I had an ADA MP-1 tube preamp, which I loved. (I sold it c. 2001 and I wish I hadn’t.) Later I had an ART SG-1 tube preamp and effects box, which I also loved. I threw it away in c. 2013 because of various wear and tear that made it a door stop. I still have the Red Box though!

I also had a little acoustic guitar amp for a while, too. I can’t remember the brand but it was kind of cheap. I used it with pedals as an electric guitar practice amp but it wasn’t very good for that. I think I threw it away around 2013. (I got rid of lot of stuff in the great moves of 2001 and 2013.)

Anyway, now I can practice playing guitar again, and even record some music! I just need the mental determination to build up calluses.

Week of Movies

I’ve been in a very passive media consumption mood for the last week, so I’ve spent most of my free time watching movies instead of playing games. Here’s what I’ve watched in the past week or so:

Amazon Prime

Oasis. Pilot for a stylish science fiction series. A priest is requested at a struggling offworld human colony. I always find it interesting when people of faith are portrayed as something other than stereotypical villains, especially in science fiction. This priest is a little too far on the stereotypical “cool guy therapist” anti-trope side, though, but hey, it’s a step in the right direction.
Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation. Popcorn flick. It was okay. Good stunts, as usual.
Terminator: Genisys. Popcorn flick. It was terrible. #NotMyTerminator
13 Hours. Story of the Benghazi attack. I expected this would be a typical Michael Bay seizure-inducing flick, but it was remarkably reserved. I question the details of the film, but overall it “sort of” matched what I had read of the incident and was better than I expected. The entire film I was distracted by the fact that John Krazinski looked exactly like Zachary Levi from Chuck.
The Battle of Chosin. Documentary on a disastrous Korean War battle that I had previously not known about, and the entry of China into that war. I watched it because I wanted to know more about how we got to where we are today with North Korea, and the roots of that are very much in the Korean War. It was a good documentary, but a terrible event.
Hornet’s Nest. Documentary following two embedded reporters during the Afghanistan War and an intense battle with the Taliban. Initially I watched this to understand more about the conditions of fighting in Afghanistan, but as it went on I felt it was more important simply to bear witness to what those guys went through. (Incidentally, Sand Castle is another good movie about the Afghanistan War–it’s a drama but it presented the political situation pretty well.)
Apocalypse Now. I’d never seen it before, and it’s been on my “I should watch that someday” list for ever. It was okay. Some parts were good, other parts seemed to be drowning in pretentious cinema or like you had to be high to enjoy it. Not surprisingly, young Martin Sheen looked exactly like Emilio Estavez from Young Guns.

Netflix

Jaws. Never seen before. It was pretty good. Better than I expected a movie from the 1970s to be.
The Siege of Jadotville. Dramatization of a Cold War incident that I’d never heard of before, about Irish soldiers trying to defend a town in the Congo during the 1960s.
Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden. A dramatic recreation in the form of a documentary. It was okay.
Tropic Thunder. Parody of Vietnam War movies by Ben Stiller. It was funny, but it was the kind of humor that you’re ashamed to be laughing at and would probably not admit to anyone that you thought it was funny. :) Generally I prefer my humor to be a little more subtle, and this movie kind of hit you over the head with it. Still, it was better than I expected it to be.

FFXIV – Yo-kai Grinding

I’ve had a Yo-kai Watch in my inventory for a while, but I never knew what it was for or where I got it. I remember finding it in my inventory, and I kept looking at it, thinking, “What the heck is this thing for?”

Well it turns out that I must have accidentally done the Yo-kai Event quest in 2016. I have no memory of that, but when I went to find the Yo-kai quest-giver in Ul’dah the other day, he/she/it was nowhere to be found. I went to the Gold Saucer, followed the crowd of people, and found the Yo-kai vendor, which I must have already talked to in 2016 too. I even had the Yo-kai Medallium book, and one Yo-kai Medal on one of my Retainers.

I’m not much into minions (especially these extremely weird minions) but if nothing else, this Yo-kai Event is a great opportunity to level some alt jobs. People are out in droves grinding FATEs right now. Basically all you have to do is equip the Yo-kai Watch and participate in FATEs in low-level zones, and you earn one Yo-kai Medal per FATE. But more importantly, you get experience points! Oh, and you can purchase the minions from the Gold Saucer vendor with the medals.

I don’t know what these things are supposed to be either.

Once you have Yo-kai minions, if you equip the watch and summon a minion and participate in FATEs in the correct region, you earn Legendary Yo-kai Medals (at I’d say roughly a 30% drop rate), with which you can purchase weapons from the Gold Saucer vendor. The weapons have no stats and are kind of silly-looking, meant only for glamouring. You can find the correct region to farm by consulting the Yo-kai Medallium book (in your quest item inventory).

So some of my Labor Day was spent getting two weapons: The White Mage staff and the Bard bow. I gained a White Mage level (up to 56) and a Dark Knight level (up to 40). Sadly, neither White Mage or Dark Knight are particularly well-suited to FATE-grinding. Instant-cast ranged damage is your best bet for FATEs, which means you see a whole lot of Bards, Machinists, and Red Mages out there killing everything before you can even get to the mobs. Thankfully it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to get a silver or gold medal in a FATE.

Games Played – August 2017

Final Fantasy XIV slipped to third place in August, behind LotRO and, amazingly enough, Guild Wars 2.

  • Lord of the Rings Online – 45 hours
  • Guild Wars 2 – 27 hours
  • Final Fantasy XIV – 21 hours
  • Subnautica – 2 hours

All tied for 1 hour or less: Destiny 2 Open Beta, Dark and Light, Secret World Legends, Dark Souls III, WildStar.

 

Destiny 2 Anti-Hype

I tried out the Destiny 2 PC Open Beta Tuesday night. I’ve never played Destiny before or even seen it or read much about it.

It was incredibly easy to install and play through the Battle.net launcher. I just clicked on the “Install” button and less than an hour later it was ready to go.

It was not quite as easy to configure though. It gave me exactly one opportunity to adjust my video settings and then I got a class selection screen. The class descriptions gave very little indication of the kind of mechanics to expect so I randomly picked the first one (I can’t even remember the class name). After picking a class, the game launches right into cut scenes and then into the game. There was no character customization, but that could have been a limitation of the beta.

My first complaint surfaced right away. I was trying to record my play session with OBS Studio and the default video settings did not record. All I got was a black screen in OBS. I fiddled with the OBS settings with no luck. I have no trouble recording most other games, but Destiny 2 decided to make things difficult.

Since I didn’t want to spoil too much of the game before I started recording, I tried to exit out of the cut scenes to get back to the main menu. No such luck. Once it starts, you’re stuck with it. I had to ALT-F4 to exit the game to try again.

When I started the game the second time, it no longer asked if I wanted to adjust the video settings. It went straight into the class selection screen and then on into the cut scenes. I tried again after ALT-F4 a couple of times but there were no menus anywhere to change any settings.

Eventually I gave up and skipped past the two cut scenes until I got to the first playable section, where it drops you on a burning ship or something in the middle of a battle. Then I could bring up a menu and fiddle with the video settings. I tried changing to fullscreen windowed, but still couldn’t record.

As a last resort I setup a new scene in OBS to record the whole display, and it finally worked. This is the first “modern” game that I haven’t been able to record with the standard Game capture plugin. It was very annoying.

I started over again so I could watch all of the cut scenes. I think I was supposed to geek out over Nathan Fillion but when I heard his voice coming out of a robot face I kind of rolled my eyes. Another sarcastic robot doing comic relief in a sci-fi motif. Never seen that before!

I thought I also heard Lance Reddick’s voice as well–the black FBI agent from Fringe with the very distinctive voice. (IMDB research confirms this.) (IMDB research also confirms that the woman’s voice sounded familiar to me because it was none other than Gina Torres, so it’s a big ol’ Firefly reunion.)

I played through the single-player campaign. The story made no impression on me. They made zero attempt to draw the player into it. They just dropped you into a setting and said, “Here, everything’s exploding so go save the day… because … well, that’s what you do in shooters.”

The combat was very smooth but completely ordinary. The only thing I could see to distinguish this game from any other shooter was the double-jumping jet pack thingy. Personally I thought it was a bit too slow and floaty but I could get used to it.

One nitpick: I did not like how the iron sights shifted the gun all the way from the right side to the center of the screen. It felt like an extremely unnatural shift in perspective. In real life, you don’t bring the gun up from your right side to stick it under your chin. You raise the gun up a little and tilt your head to the right.

For comparison, below is Far Cry 4, a very polished shooter. The change from one position to the other is less dramatic, and the change in the basic shape of the gun is far less noticeable. (Yes, these kinds of things matter to me and can have a huge impact on my perception of a game.)

Anyway, I finished the Destiny 2 campaign with very little trouble. I died once in an area that looked like it phased from a single-player area into a multiplayer “public quest” area. I was warned to get inside a protective bubble and then literally one second later I got killed before I could even take a step toward the bubble. It’s always a great feeling in a shooter to get killed without even having a chance to fight back.

The phasing was kind of neat, I have to admit. It was a 100% seamless transition from being by myself to being surrounded by a few other players, defending a checkpoint. And when I left the area the other players disappeared.

The Big Bad at the end made a really dire speech about stealing light that made no sense considering the complete lack of context I had for the story. He sounded like Mr. Burns with his plot to cover up the sun and it was a bit silly.

I didn’t try any of the other PvP or Coop options after finishing the single-player campaign. I spent a total of about 50 minutes playing before logging out with no compelling desire to return.

I know I’m going to regret this, but: What’s all the hype about? I didn’t hate it, but Destiny 2 looked and played like every other shooter. You run around, you shoot things, and numbers fly out instead of blood. I found myself thinking more than once, “The Division open beta was better than this.” And I didn’t really care for The Division that much. (It wasn’t terrible either, it was just … average.)

I actually missed having cover mechanics. The last shooter-ish game I played was Mass Effect Andromeda, which had completely seamless, natural cover mechanics, and I liked that better. It doesn’t feel very comfortable anymore to stand out in the open while people are shooting at me. :)

I get the impression from Twitter and other blog posts that this open beta is only showing a fraction of what will actually be in the game. Okay, well, what is the point of that? Isn’t this open beta supposed to sell me on the game? (We all know open betas aren’t for testing.) Isn’t it supposed to show me what’s new and unique about this particular shooter, to convince me to shell out $60+ as opposed to playing any of the perfectly good shooters that I already own?

I guess this speaks to the points that Scopique and Belghast both made in their posts: This was not a very good sales demo for me. I was interested in seeing why everyone is so hyped for this game, but after playing the demo, I have no interest in buying it. Not unless it goes on sale. (I said that about Overwatch, too, and to this day there have been no sales that I know of and I still don’t own it.)