Stormblood Very First Impressions

Glad I got the memo about the dress code here.

It’s here! Well, if you pre-ordered.

Upon first logging into Stormblood, I was greeted by this very prominent window explaining the new Song Gauge for the Bard job.

“Here we go,” I thought, sighing heavily. This was exactly what I was afraid of: Huge changes to my class that will require mental energy and work to learn. The FFXIV equivalent of a talent point respec. I skimmed the window but didn’t really absorb any of it, so I took a screenshot, closed it, and hoped that, by ignoring it completely, it would magically go away. That didn’t work, so a bit later I decided to bite the bullet, picked a spot in the world, picked some random mobs, and started attacking them.

I was very relieved to see that the basic function of the Bard seems roughly the same. The base rotation that I worked out in Heavensward still mostly works: T-R-4-5-shift V-V. (Everybody uses those keys, right?)

The big difference is in the Ballads, which changed from passive buffs that you turn on at the beginning of a fight to long cooldown damage abilities that you have to repeat periodically. It’ll take some time to get used to it, but it’s not as bad as I feared it might be.

Also: Bards can move again!!

I’ll have to redo my hotbars, though. Eight of my abilities appeared to be obsolete right off the bat. That’s good though because I’ll need to put more Ballads on there for easier access.

Hrm, Swiftsong is gone too?

The other most obvious change to the HUD (other than all your hotbar abilities being crossed out) is the addition of a prominent reminder of where you are in the Main Scenario in the upper-left corner.

It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that if you’re not doing Main Scenario Quests, you’re probably falling behind the power curve, drifting back into the obscurity of the dreaded “casual player population,” where you won’t get to do much of anything cool on the launch day of the next expansion.

Another visual change I noticed was in the map. I’d be hard pressed to tell you what actually changed without seeing the new and old side-by-side, but something is definitely different. I think they added details instead of making it an artsy-style hand-drawn map.

Samurai and Red Mage

I can’t look into any new Bard stuff until I finish the Heavensward story, so I went looking for the new Samurai and Red Mage jobs. Unlike the previous expansion, you can access the new jobs right away without any gates. You do have to be level 50, though.

I started with Samurai. When you talk to the job-giving-guy, you get the usual soul crystal thingy and a samurai sword, but you also get a chest with level 50 gear appropriate for the samarai. That’s a fantastic new feature that I don’t think they’ve ever done before. Previously I seem to recall you had to scrounge around in your inventory to find job- and level-appropriate gear, or walk around nekkid.

Yeah I have no idea what any of those buttons do but I still beat the master samurai from the East.

The problems begin when you go into your first Job Duty because, since the job begins at level 50, you have a whole slew of hotbar abilities that you don’t know how to use. Maybe everyone else has been studying Samurai guides for weeks, but I was looking at it cold for the first time. I just pressed keys and flashy effects happened on the screen and eventually I won. (Against a supposed master no less.)

Despite not knowing anything about how to play a Samurai, I was very surprised to find that I liked it. (I expected to have zero interest in it.) I love the starting Samurai gear set, and you look cool as hell running with the samurai sword out, so that’s a big plus.

Then I found and unlocked the Red Mage. (Both of them unlock from Ul’dah, incidentally.) This is the one I expected to like more, but I’ll be honest, I was a little underwhelmed. It seems to be considerably more complex than the Samurai, what with managing “white mana” and “black mana,” and since I again didn’t know how to use any of the new abilities effectively, I felt pretty useless and underpowered and thoroughly confused. I even failed the first Job Duty because my instructor went and got himself killed on the last boss. (I am sure it was entirely his fault, and it had nothing to do with any shortcomings on my part.)

My instructor’s outfit was more redder than mine.

I didn’t really care for the default Red Mage gear, either. So at least on first impressions, I have to award the win to the Samurai.

On a side note: While in the first Duty for the Red Mage, I got really annoyed at how many flashing spell effects my character was doing. Every time you do anything, melee or spell, there’s a huge bright effect centered on your character. It completely obscured the character and most of your target, so I finally went into settings and set the spell effects to partial, which helped a lot. (I tried no spell effects but it makes ranged casts look very weird, since nothing travels from your character to the enemy.) I don’t remember ever being so annoyed with the spell effects before. Maybe it’s always been like that and I’m only just now noticing it.

After playing the Red Mage I went back to the Samurai. I learned that both of these new jobs are pretty complex. I went into Palace of the Dead to try to work out how to play Samurai from a simpler starting point (a tip I learned somewhere on the Internet but I can’t remember where) and thought I had a decent handle on it. Then I went out to fight some level 50 mobs in Coerthas Western Highlands and got thoroughly confused again. It’s a bit like the Dragoon in that there are a lot of combos and you have to use them in the right order to maximize your potential. It’s not a 1-2-3-4-5 rotation, it’s more of a 1-2-1-3-1-2-4-1-5 kind of rotation. The kind that takes a lot of practice to get it in your head and your muscle memory, in other words. The kind that would be great if you could start from level 1 and slowly build up the rotations over time, instead of having the whole thing thrown at you at once.

As for the inevitable launch issues, I had some queues and got kicked off a few times, but that was about it. Certainly not the worst launch I’ve ever seen. There’s apparently a quest in the new area that’s completely broken though. I imagine the only people who care about these kinds of issues anymore are the ones who are trying to zoom through everything and finish first, or the people who are trying to be the first to post guides, or the game sites who are trying to post something controversial so people will read it.

Fractured Announced

Blatantly stolen from fracturedmmo.com

In addition to the bizarre announcement of an MMORPG based on Magic: The Gathering, last Wednesday we saw our first news about another new MMORPG called Fractured. (Not to be confused with The Repopulation’s survival spinoff of the same name. Seriously, do people never even look at the names of other games anymore?)

Once again, it’s way too early to say anything good, bad, or indifferent about Fractured. It’s going to be a sandbox. But better than any other sandbox. For reasons. Reasons that will certainly work out exactly the way they are planning them, because games never change in response to early player feedback.

Fractured is notable for being another project based on Improbable’s SpatialOS, along with Chronicles of Elyria and Worlds Adrift and others. We’ve been hearing a lot about this SpatialOS thing lately. Probably because it seems to have a pretty low barrier to entry for small development teams.

But what is SpatialOS? Presumably, SpatialOS is middleware and/or backend software/hardware that allows game developers to easily create MMORPGs with Unity. They describe it in a lot more grandiose terms than that, but that seems to be the gist of it. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ve been watching it for a while now. To be honest I’m a little suspicious about Improbable’s motives, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. I just have this weird feeling that they’re trying to build some crazy DARPA military AI project and they’re somehow exploiting gamers as free labor. I just know they’ll be gathering all the behavior data from us playing these SpatialOS games and using it to create an advanced army of super soldiers.

I’m also a little worried that every new MMORPG based on SpatialOS is going to play exactly the same, and we’re going to be assaulted with a slew of games that are only differentiated from each other by the textures on the character models. But I might be overthinking that. After all, ESO and SWTOR are both based on the same Hero Engine and they are quite different.

So we shall see. Someday. Hopefully.

Cryptic’s New MMORPG

Literally a screen capture of the web page, since there’s nothing else to look at.

Last Wednesday, Cryptic announced they are making an MMORPG based on Magic: The Gathering with help from Wizards of the Coast. As yet it apparently doesn’t have a title.

That’s basically where my interest ended but in the name of thoroughly documenting the event and making a more appropriately-sized blog post, I’ll add some more thoughts.

There was some confusion at first, but this is going to be a real live MMORPG with characters that walk around, as opposed to a card game. I’ve never played Magic: The Gathering, and I don’t know anything about the lore or setting or the so-called “multiverse.” I’ve always understood it to be a fairly generic fantasy setting, but it’s hard to see why the game would remain popular for so long if that’s all there was to it.

It’s also hard to understand why a “setting” is required in any way, shape, or form for a card game. To me, this announcement is somewhat similar to announcing that they are making an MMORPG out of Poker. Um …. okay?

By which I mean this announcement contains a lot of words that are very confusing to me when you put them together. MMORPG, Magic: The Gathering, and Wizards of the Coast do not belong in the same sentence in my limited little world. I had no idea Wizards of the Coast had anything to do with Magic: The Gathering. That’s still the D&D people, right? Did I miss something? I guess they own the Magic IP.

Anyway, as for the MMORPG, my main concern is that given Cryptic’s history with Neverwinter and STO, it’s more accurate to call their games a series of loosely connected instances, which is not quite the same as what I’d call a traditional MMORPG. I hope this new game is different. But all we have to go on is “free-to-play,” “action MMORPG,” and “next generation MMORPG.”

And that’s about all I have to say until we get more information. It’s really hard for me to get excited about “announcements” anymore. I guess I must be dead inside, because I very rarely feel anything resembling “hype” until I can actually sit down and play the new game for a little while, or at least look at a gameplay video.

P. S. As I’m scheduling this, I realize this post sounds incredibly jaded. Believe it or not, I am glad to see that new MMORPGs are being made, and I can’t wait to try it out. (I mean, unless it turns out that there’s a big card game component.)

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

I bought Prince of Thorns back when it was relatively new on the market (a few years ago?). I read the first chapter, didn’t particularly care for it, put it away, and moved on to something else.

Recently I found it again in my Kindle library after I wrote that bit about the grimdark genre, remembered that I’d only read a single chapter, and decided maybe I didn’t give it a fair shot. It’s at least popular enough to have spawned two sequels, so somebody must like it.

So I went back into it using my patented “read the first sentence of every paragraph until something catches my eye” method, which is a surprisingly fast way to read, if not entirely comprehend, a book. (Then again you might be surprised how often the first sentence of a paragraph summarizes the whole paragraph. It’s a trap I fall into myself quite often.)

This time I got to Chapter 24, the 49% mark, before I reached the same conclusion as the first time I tried to read it. (Actually I had reached that conclusion at about the 10% mark but I kept skimming through it because I had nothing else at hand to read.)

It’s a first-person narrative where the narrator is kind of a bastard (figuratively, not literally). It’s set in a medieval-Europe-like setting during the “Hundred Wars” which presumably is supposed to resemble The Hundred Years War (by most accounts one of the worst times in European history). It’s heavy on dialog and light on description and exposition, so it’s a fairly fast read. The story begins with our hero (cough cough) in the middle of a rampage of vengeance for something that happened earlier.

In the interest of learning to be a better writer, I’ll try to diagnose why I don’t like the book.

I don’t mind the grimdarkishness of it. I don’t mind that our character is a bastard. The problem I think is that it’s shoved into my face so fast that there was no time to get accustomed to it. We are introduced to our main character in the first chapter and the author tells us through this character’s actions and thoughts that he’s consumed by hate, bent on single-minded, bloody revenge.

Um. Cool?

The classic story of revenge doesn’t bother me. But the author fails to give us any time to get to know our main character and develop any kind of sympathy for him before we see him rampaging. Revenge stories are supposed to start out by showing our hero being a great person who doesn’t deserve the bad things that happen to him or her. This book does not start that way. It starts out with, “Eww, this guy’s a creep.”

Compare with Arya from The Game of Thrones. She launches into a classic tale of (albeit slow-motion) revenge, too, but we root for her because GRRM gave us three-quarters of a book to get to know and like her before bad things happened to her. Compare also with that guy Glokta from The Blade Itself. He was kind of a bastard, but Abercrombie was able to make him sympathetic enough (through humor and crippling injuries) that we could turn a blind eye on his monstrous behavior.

Our main guy Jorg in Prince of Thorns is just a straight-up monster. He says monstrous things without a trace of humor. He thinks monstrous thoughts. He doesn’t struggle with the moral implications of his monstrousness. He doesn’t wish he wasn’t a monster. He just jumps up and declares, “Yes, I’m a monster, and I want things, so don’t get in my way.” Even his companions are scared of him. And not only is he a monster, but he’s a teenaged monster. (Redundant, I know.)

Now it’s true that Bad Things happened to him when he was younger. His behavior is partially a product of his time and his upbringing. (His father is also a monster.) It’s the kind of thing you might see in a supervillain origin story. In fact, the author is doing a decent job of building up Jorg as a complex villain.

Except, you know, he’s the protagonist.

Maybe that’s the whole point of these books. “What if there was a book where the protagonist is the evil villain? Ha ha! The joke’s on you, reader! Trope subverted!”

Well unfortunately it’s not really working for me. I’m all for subverting tropes but this either goes too far or it isn’t executed well enough for me. It’s not very satisfying to read a book and root for someone to kill the main character the whole time. It’s destined to end in disappointment. (Because there are two sequels.)

The worldbuilding falls a bit flat for me, too. It’s some sort of alternate Earth I guess where some things are the same (the pope, Jesu, Roma, the Hundred Wars) but some things are different (place names). I think there might be some kind of magic but it seems unimportant. It feels a bit lazy to me.

On my precisely-calibrated rating scale, I give Prince of Thorns a “meh.”

Stormblood’s a’Comin

FFXIV’s Stormblood expansion is arriving on June 16 for head start players, so I figure it might be a good time to talk about it. I pre-ordered it a long time ago, but I haven’t commented much about it. I did at one point write a post about some of the early feature announcements, but naturally, I never got around to publishing it, and it’s super obsolete now.

When last we left our intrepid main character back in January, she was sitting at ilvl 224, having just geared up with ilvl 230 items from The Weeping City. She was avoiding the Antitower dungeon in the Heavensward Main Scenario, and wondering if there was an easy way to upgrade her pathetic bow beyond ilvl 210. I’ve logged in for maybe a grand total of 15 minutes since then (just long enough to keep the game client updated and verify that it still works).

To be honest I haven’t seen much in this expansion to make me excited to jump back in. I barely play enough to keep up with my Bard, so it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to get around to playing a Samurai or a Red Mage. I hardly touched the three new jobs in Heavensward (in fact, I don’t think I ever unlocked the Dark Knight at all).

I am very much looking forward to expanded inventory, though. I don’t know if they’ve said how much extra space, but I’m hoping for at least doubling the current amount, in both the backpack inventory and armory inventory. It better not be something dumb like one extra row. (I’d love to see an auto-sort, too.)

I’ve got mixed feelings on retooling the class abilities. I agree that it’s needed, so they don’t keep multiplying with every expansion until it’s a big mess like some others (*cough* EQ2 *cough*). Keeping a limited number of abilities is one of the best things about FFXIV. It makes it one of the easiest MMORPGs to re-enter because you don’t have five hotbars of abilities to remember like some others (*cough* EQ2 *cough*). Yet there are still just enough abilities to make interesting rotations that matter.

But I’m not looking forward to re-learning how to play my Bard yet again. It took me a long time to come to grips with the Heavensward Bard, and I’m expecting it to be a drudgerous chore to learn the new rotations at level 60. (Though it will be nice to be able to move again.) That’s not even counting all the other jobs that I’ll have to start over on.

The most interesting parts of the expansion to me, the maps and story, will be largely walled off until I finish the Heavensward Main Scenario, which is still waiting on me to PUG the Antitower. I guess it’s conceivable I could push through to the end before June 16, but it seems unlikely given my current enthusiasm level (tonight I logged in three times fully intending to run that dungeon, only to stare at the Duty Finder screen for a minute and log back out).

I thought about using one of those potions to skip ahead, but I feel like I’m too close to the end already. It’s a great idea to skip 50 or 100 hours of quests, but I’d guess I’m probably around 10-15 hours from the end. If my research is correct, I’m mired in patch 3.2, with just 3.3, 3.4, and 3.5 parts 1 and 2 remaining (about 5 more dungeons and trials).

Is This The Life We Really Want? by Roger Waters

I’ve been trying to write about a movie or television show every Saturday, but I didn’t have anything ready for today. So you get an album review!

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a long-time Pink Floyd fan, so when I saw that Roger Waters would be releasing a new album, I instantly clicked that pre-order button on Amazon. The CD and AutoRip MP3s both arrived yesterday, Friday, June 2.

I was very nervous to hear this album. After all, Waters’ last album Amused To Death is a masterwork of musical perfection. It would be hard to top it. Also, the only criticism I ever had of ATD is that Waters’ voice didn’t sound that great compared to his earlier stuff, which I chalked up to the ravages of the aging process. That was way back in 1992.

Now it’s 2017, and presumably Waters has aged another 25 years. Speaking from some personal experience, that’s a lot of mileage to put on vocal cords that didn’t sound that great to start with.

I’m happy to say his voice sounds fantastic. Admittedly there’s a lot of technology available to fix vocals these days that weren’t around in 1992, but his voice doesn’t sound unnatural to me.

The album begins with When We Were Young, a sort of spoken-word prelude that sets the tone and announces that this is, indeed, unmistakably, a Roger Waters album.

Most of the album consists of quiet, simple melodic instrumentations of piano, acoustic guitar, and bass over light drums, with accents of synths, strings, and backing vocals. But some tracks venture into more electronic, trancey, Floydian territory. Familiar, topical television sound bites pepper almost every track. And as always, the lyrics are a stinging rebuke against politics and politicians and war.

I hate to compare new music from an artist against his older music, but there are a couple of tracks that really stand out as Pink Floyd-style music. Picture That sounds like it was inspired by One Of These Days. Smell The Roses has a very similar riff to Have A Cigar.

I like every track from start to finish, but the ones that really piqued my interest were: Picture That, Is This The Life We Really Want, Bird In A Gale. I like them because they sound a bit more musically experimental.

Is it better than Amused To Death? No. But it doesn’t need to be. It stands just fine on its own.

Far Cry 5 Outrage Hype!

Hey look, I downloaded the fan kit with ready-made images for blog posts!

There wasn’t much happening Friday the 26th except some kind of Far Cry 5 reveal, so I’ll see if I can summon up some words about it.

From what I can tell, Far Cry 5 is going to be essentially the same gameplay as Far Cry 2, 3, 4, and Primal, except it will be set in America with a Christian cult as the bad guys, and of course, that’s where the controversy begins.

The controversy seems to be the only reason anyone is talking about this game, though. And actually I’m only assuming there is a controversy,  because I’ve read repeated headlines which have told me something to the effect of, “You won’t believe how much controversy Far Cry 5 is stirring up! Click here to find out!” (I haven’t clicked on any of them.)

I admit, though, that I personally have not seen anyone in my circles arguing over this game, which makes me wonder if the “controversy” is made up out of thin air just to sell more games. (It’s probably just that I’ve successfully curated my social circles to exclude the kind of people who would get upset over this kind of thing.)

Late-breaking news: I saw someone retweeted a Change.org petition to cancel Far Cry 5. It’s probably legit, but would I be surprised to find out that Ubisoft PR was behind that? Nope. We live in a time when it’s incredibly easy to social engineer people.

[Note: I tried to look at said petition Tuesday night, but Change.org was down. Did somebody DDOS the petition to death? I think the petition is silly, but I think trying to DDOS away unpopular viewpoints is worse.]

I watched the reveal trailer. I’m guessing Ubisoft has taken the Branch Davidians–David Koresh’s heavily-armed Adventist sect from Waco, Texas–lifted them out of the headlines of 1994, and put them into Montana under a different name. Supposedly we’ll be playing a character trying to “infiltrate” this sect, and there will be local residents which form a sort of resistance to the sect, who will fight by our side.

What do I think? The short version is I find it a bit unrealistic as a setting (I’ll explain that later), but I’m willing to give it a shot. I doubt if I’ll buy it on day one, though. Far Cry is an easy series to wait for. Once you’ve seen one Far Cry game, you’ve basically seen them all.

As an American, what do I think of making Americans the bad guys? It doesn’t bother me in a broad sense, since I’m well aware of the extreme diversity in cultural opinions across these United States. But I don’t particularly enjoy the prospect of being lumped into the same category as a bunch of zealots. It should be really obvious that folks of the Branch Davidian ilk do not represent mainstream America in the slightest. (Even mainstream right-wing America.) But I suppose it depends on how the game handles it.

I mentioned that I thought the Far Cry formula was “unrealistic” in an American setting. That’s because, if we go by previous Far Cry games, the bad guys have always taken over the section of the country in which they reside, essentially replacing or becoming the government. They allude to that in Far Cry 5, too, since your character will be meeting part of a “resistance” fighting against this cult militia. It appears that this cult has taken over the entirety of “Hope County.”

That formula works if your setting is in the Third World–in a lawless country where whoever is in power is the one with the biggest guns. But that does not work for me in an American setting, certainly not in a post-9/11 setting. Here’s a hint: The U.S. Government always has the bigger guns. Not to get too political here, but we live in a near police state these days, at least when compared to our past.

So I’ll be curious to seehow they’re going to spin this story in a way where it makes logical sense for a (presumably) criminal militia to control part of Montana.

Montana is a huge, remote wilderness, but they still have laws and law enforcement there. The only thing that a militia could actually control–anywhere in the U.S.–is their own “compound” (ie. private property). But the idea that there might be a “resistance” on said private property, or that the militia’s influence extends beyond the borders of said private property to a whole county–that’s very unrealistic. If there were armed militia gangs roaming the streets of Montana in the way that they tend to do in Far Cry games, I imagine the Feds would get involved pretty fast.