Snap Judgment – Warframe

I’m not entirely sure how to categorize a post about Warframe. It’s usually covered by the MMORPG press but after only a few minutes with it I can say it’s obviously not an MMORPG. Perhaps I finally need to add that “MMO” category to my blog, for discussing what are effectively little more than regular old multiplayer games.

I’ve never heard anyone say they didn’t like Warframe. In fact I’ve heard a lot of “positive buzz” about Warframe.

I’m here to change all that. :)

The Good

But first, let’s try to think of some good things to say about this game.

  • It’s free.
  • It installed successfully.
  • It did not crash.

Careful observers will note that those are pretty much the same items from the Kritika Online list. Those last two are the absolute lowest hurdle that any game must get over for me to try it out, so they did well there.

Truth be told, I’ve actually tried to try out this game at least twice before. Both times I downloaded it through Steam (still free) and got to the point of launching the game, and then stopped when it told me that I needed to create a Warframe account. Since it didn’t want to use my Steam credentials, which, in my mind, is the entire point of getting it on Steam, I uninstalled it without playing.

This last time, I bypassed Steam and went directly to the Warframe site to create an account and download the client, like I would for any MMORPG. It was more of a hassle, but again, I’ve heard a lot of good things about this game.

The New Player Experience

I was actually looking forward to playing it. I’ve seen a lot of people say a lot of good things about this game. I was in sort of a grumpy mood so I thought it would cheer me up to play a fun new game.

Alas, it was not meant to be.

The new player experience is awful, so I’ve gone ahead and uninstalled it before I punch a fist through my monitor in frustration. Perhaps in 2018, or 2019, or whenever they ever get around to ending the golden goose of “open beta,” they will care what new players think, but until then, I’m out.

Allow me to elaborate in exhaustive length.

I don’t mean the new player experience was “awful” in the sense that the story didn’t make sense (which it didn’t), or that I didn’t know what to do (which I didn’t). I can deal with those things. In fact, the game seemed perfectly serviceable, if not particularly noteworthy, in terms of killing enemies with guns and slashy weapons.

No, I mean it was “awful” in the sense that the UI is incomplete and riddled with bugs and doesn’t meet the needs of its users (namely me).

There’s probably going to be a backlash against this post, because I’m nitpicking about little things in great detail. But I’m a software developer, and it’s basically my job to nitpick about little things in great detail, so it boggles my mind to see games out in the wild from other software developers who completely ignore these little details. Not only does it make it painful to play the game, but it makes me wonder about the future of the software industry.

That Tiny Desktop Window

When I launched the game for the first time, it started in a window on my desktop that covered maybe 1/4 of the center of the screen. It started on a screen that asked you to enter your account credentials, so I thought it was a launcher, like the kind I’ve seen for a thousand other games. I typed in my name and password and waited for the full screen game to start.

Except it didn’t.

It started into the introductory story cut scene right there in that little tiny desktop window.

I had OBS setup and ready to record my first impressions of this game, like I usually do with most new games now, except I couldn’t record it because it was running in a window on my desktop, instead of a full screen game window like it was supposed to. Eventually the cut scene ended and the game asked me to choose a warframe. “Ah,” I thought, “now I will simply hit Escape to bring up the display options, change to full screen resolution, and restart the game.”

Except there were no display options. There were no menus at all. I could do nothing but select one of the three warframes there in that tiny little desktop window. I had a brainstorm, though: I would press ALT-ENTER! That usually switches games from windowed mode to full-screen mode in Windows, a time-honored tradition since the 1990s.

Except it didn’t work. It took my keyboard input as confirmation that I had selected one of those three warframes (the first one, as it turned out), and launched merrily into the next cut scene, still in that tiny little desktop window.

I threw up my hands. I went to Twitter and vented my frustrations.

By the time I got back, the cut scene had ended and people were shooting at me. Only then could I hit ESCAPE and find an Options menu, where I could change the display to full screen.

“Well,” I thought, “that was irritating, but at least now I’ll be able to start over and record my impressions from the beginning.” That’s what I thought at least. Until I started looking closer into the ESCAPE menu. Where was that Quit button? Or the Log Out button? It was nowhere, that’s where. There was no way to stop the game.

So I used the key combination that trolls have been trying to get new players to use in global chat since the beginning of time: ALT-F4. It was the only way to get out of the game and start over. Honestly I was a little surprised it worked. By then I expected I would have to bring up the Task Manager and use End Task, or reboot entirely.

Press 1 On Your Controller

That was the first ten or fifteen minutes of my experience with this game. That’s not a very good first impression. There are way, way too many great games out there, some of which are already installed on my PC in fact, for any new game to come out of the gate with such a terrible first impression.

But wait, there’s more!

Again, I had heard a lot of positive buzz about this game, so I pressed onward despite already wanting to uninstall it. I started out using my controller, because it just seemed like a controller kind of game. My very first instructions in the game told me to “Press 1 to use Slash Dash.”

I looked very closely at my Xbox 360 controller, searched it high and low, turned it over and around, and did not find a “1” button to press. “Lotus” in the corner proceeded to yell at me to hurry up, because I wasn’t using my Slash Dash ability fast enough for her.

The game thought I was using a mouse and keyboard, when I was clearly using a controller. I had used the controller to navigate the menus to select my warframe just a few moments ago. But it still wanted me to press 1 on my keyboard.

Eventually I figured out that pressing the right controller button performed the “Slash Dash” ability and Lotus stopped yelling at me.

Pet peeve: I really hate it when games tell me to hurry up. Especially when there is no associated fail state for going slow.

Keybinding Disaster

Rather than deal with the hassle of trying to translate the screen instructions for keyboard into controller buttons, I switched to mouse and keyboard. This required the obligatory keybind-remapping phase where I have to stop and change everything.

I went through the keybinds and changed the obvious ones: ESDF for movement, A for dodging, C for crouch, Q to interact, etc. You know, the normal ones everyone uses.

But there were some keybinds in the list that I couldn’t puzzle out what they meant. What is the difference between “Quick Melee” and “Melee Attack,” for example? What about “Change Weapon” and “Change Gun?” I’ve never seen this game before. I’ve never read about it. I’ve never seen it on Twitch. I’ve never seen a YouTube video of it. I looked high and low for some tool tips or explanations, but there were none. I just shrugged and thought, “Well I hope those aren’t important.”

At first I set “Quick Melee” to T and left “Melee Attack” blank. Because it seemed like melee should be quick instead of not-quick, I guess. But the game yelled at me that I needed to bind something to Melee Attack. It did not explain why, but I took its word for it. So I set “Melee Attack” to T. I expected it to remove T from Quick Melee, but it didn’t. So I figured I’d better erase it. I’ve played plenty of other games that blindly let you bind the same key to multiple actions and the results are never pretty. But guess what? There is no way to erase keybinds. At least, nothing intuitive. No delete, backspace, or right-click, like other games have done in the past. No “clear” button next to the key setting. Nothing. Eventually I just set it to backslash and hoped I never hit it accidentally.

Update: I left out the funniest part! Later, after resetting to defaults, I learned that those two keybinds were supposed to use the same key!

Moving Is Kind Of Important

I’m pretty annoyed at this point, but now that I’ve gotten my keys setup, I’ll finally be able to start playing this game in earnest and see why everyone likes it.

Right?

Wrong.

After changing my keybinds, forward and backward movement didn’t work. Pressing E and D didn’t do anything. I could strafe side-to-side with S and F, but I couldn’t go forward or back. Even the up and down arrow keys didn’t work.

I grumbled a lot and decided to reset my keybinds back to the WASD defaults. Clearly the developers just didn’t test ESDF. Since, you know, 2013. Four whole years now and nobody has tried changing their keys from WASD to ESDF, and nobody has added “test changing keybinds” to the regression testing scripts for every release. But okay. It happens, I guess.

I hated moving my fingers, but at least I’d be able to play the game.

Right?

Wrong.

Even after resetting the keybinds back to WASD, I still couldn’t move forward or back with the keyboard. I threw up my hands.

Button Guessing Game

So I just went back to the controller. It worked. I could move in any direction, a challenging game programming hurdle apparently! But every single onscreen prompt that appeared continued to tell me how to play with the mouse and keyboard, even though I was using the controller.

The keyboard-to-controller universal translator was not working.
Spoiler alert: I fell.

By then I was very annoyed with this game. Warframe, I think, has been out in the world for quite some time now (the “open beta” launched in 2013, according to Wikipedia). People have spent a lot of money on this “open beta” game through the cash shop. I even remember hearing about an “expansion” for this game.

I played my way through the rest of the tutorial, stumbling my way around trying to work out the right controller buttons on my own, trying to ignore that lady yelling at me to hurry up the whole time. It wasn’t very fun. I stoically soldiered onward just to say that I did it, but I can assure you that my heart wasn’t in it. I was already thinking about this blog post.

One other thing I noticed during the time I could actually run around and shoot things: There was virtually no visual distinction between the enemy mobs and the background. In fact, my player model, the enemy models, and the textures of the environment all were composed of the same basic shades of green and brown. Is that how they teach it in game developer school these days? “Make sure everything looks the same.” I thought surely by now there would be some backlash against all the military shooters where you can’t visually distinguish between the enemies and the background?

“And make sure the marker over the enemy’s head is muted and small.”

After finishing the tutorial, I uninstalled Warframe. If they ever decide to polish the new player experience, maybe I’ll try it again. But don’t hold your breath. I don’t particularly want to monetarily support a game company with no quality control, especially one that has a long history and should know better. I don’t appreciate being treated like garbage, even when the game is free.

* I lol’ed at the guy in that link saying he thought he was the first to think of ESDF in 2015. Update: Oops I left the footnote but deleted the text that referred to it.


Snap Judgment – Kritika Online

I alluded to trying out Kritika Online in my last post, so I thought I would write a bit about it. For one thing, I want to have a post to link to later in the year for my “Game/MMORPG of the Year” post, and for another thing, Friday is looming, and I don’t have anything to post yet.

I downloaded and played Kritika on November 22nd, the day before Thanksgiving.  I uninstalled it the same day.

Nevertheless, I will try to think of some positive things to say about this game.

  • It was free.
  • It successfully installed on my PC.
  • It did not crash.

I’m aware that just completing those three things is a major accomplishment for any game developer these days. It is not lost on me that real human beings put in a lot of time and energy to make this game, and I’m sure they are very proud of their accomplishment, and they should be proud of it.

But I’m not the right target audience for it.

According to Syp’s MMO Timeline (an invaluable resource), Kritika Online launched in September. I was reminded about the game on a recent MassivelyOP podcast because The Psion class had just been released. I had heard about this game once or twice before, but it did not even make my Games On My Radar 2017 post. So it was largely unknown to me.

That might be because this is not an MMORPG at all. At least not what I would call an MMORPG. In terms of player interaction, it is more like Guild Wars 1, which I also would not call an MMORPG (now) either. Other connected players can only be seen in very small “hub” areas before you go off into instances by yourself, or presumably in coop groups. The instances are known as “danger zones” in Kritika Online. They are a bit like dungeons, except about 1/10th the size: You follow along a path, kill trash mobs, and then confront a boss at the end.

To be fair, the “About” page for Kritika Online does not make any claim that it’s an MMORPG or even an MMO for that matter. It describes itself as a “3D RPG.”

Personally, I struggle to even call it an “RPG” because I feel like character customization should be a large component of an RPG, and there is very little to be found in Kritika Online. You pick from one of five gender-locked classes, each of which has a very distinct anime look that you can adjust only a tiny bit. Even more disappointing, equipping new gear in the game does not change your appearance.

Visually, the game looks like a Saturday morning anime cartoon. It sounds like one, too. That design aesthetic unfortunately does not resonate with me.

The game describes itself as a “brawler.” I have no idea what a brawler is, but if this is an example of what brawler combat is like, I find it somewhat lacking in complexity. I played a Gunmage, and I didn’t have to do anything to kill mobs except point in the general direction of the bad guys and click my left mouse button repeatedly. There was no discernible targeting system or crosshair. Just click your left button and things died. For variety, you can also press some number keys and watch things die with different visual effects. There was no gameplay challenge at all in the first half hour.

It seemed so easy that I experimented with pointing 90 degrees away from the enemy, to see if it mattered at all where I was looking when I pressed the left button. It turns out that yes, you do have to point toward the enemy. But there is a good 5-10 degrees of leeway in where you point. You can point far enough to the side that if there was a crosshair, it would clearly miss the target, and still hit the target.

The soundtrack consists of high-energy music with metal-sounding guitar solos. It’s very, very loud, as in highly compressed. It pegged all my meters and I had to turn the “master volume” down for, I think, the first time ever. Certainly the first time on this PC.

In fact, when I first started this game, it launched into a high-energy, super-loud advertisement for the Psion class. This was literally the very first thing I saw when I launched the game, and it looked something like this, but actually went on much longer:

On the character selection screen, each class has its own vignette like the one above that plays in the background while you peruse the class’s capabilities.

This game seems like it would be much more at home running on a cabinet in an early-90s arcade than on my PC.

Did I mention this game is not for me?

I don’t really know who this game is for. Except maybe kids. That’s probably it. This is a kid’s game. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just that I don’t get it. I have little or no frame of reference for how to evaluate a kid’s game. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t challenging. It wasn’t interesting. It wasn’t engaging in any way. Such things didn’t exist when I was a kid so I can’t even say if I would have liked it back then.

In the end, I played for about 30 minutes–about the length of a Saturday morning cartoon–logged out, and uninstalled it.

Snap Judgment – Necropolis (Brutal Edition)

Not surprisingly, there was a Steam sale for Halloween, and one of the games that’s been on my wish list for a long time was really cheap: Necropolis. They apparently made some changes from the original launch version and now call it the “Brutal Edition.”

I didn’t want to buy it, because even though it was only $4.49, I didn’t want to send the signal that it was “okay” to release an incomplete buggy game at launch and then fix it later. Still, it was supposed to be a “Souls-like” game, and it looked visually interesting, and I’ve heard some good things about it. (And some bad things.) And frankly, I was bored with other games. So for $4.49, surely I could get a little bit of enjoyment out of it.

It turns out that yes, I could in fact get exactly “a little bit” of enjoyment out of it. But only a little bit. Pretty much the bare minimum of enjoyment. Was it worth $4.49 and the hour of time spent playing it? Honestly, no, not really.

I’ll start with something positive. One thing I loved about Necropolis: The mobs could hurt each other. Sometimes they would accidentally hit each other while trying to hit me. They would walk across traps and get killed. Once I saw them ignoring me to fight each other. That was very cool, and I wish more games would do things like that.

The rest isn’t very positive.

The art style turned out to be a lot less appealing inside the game than in the screenshots and videos I’d seen. It looks like a game where they just forgot to put textures on the walls. A lot like a demo game engine project, to be honest. I might be okay with that, because you would think a game with a very basic polygonal style would render really, really fast and be super responsive. But no, not really. Not in this case. Necropolis chugged sometimes and dropped way below 60 fps on my Nvidia 1070. That’s not good for a game that has a bare minimum of graphical detail.

There is no immersive story element in this game at all, as far as I can tell. You don’t know who you are or why you’re running around chopping up monsters, and the game doesn’t tell you at the beginning. There’s nothing particularly interesting about your character that makes you want to learn more, either. You’re just a bunch of polygons. You don’t even get a short paragraph of “character details.”

There’s a disembodied voice that talks to you sometimes with jokey-jokey humor, but it actually doesn’t talk because the sound you hear is an alien language that sort of sounds like words, and you have to read the translation on the screen. There was no explanation for alien-voice-guy in the first hour of the game, and no compelling hook to interest me in figuring it out.

The controls are very similar to Dark Souls (except no backstabbing?), but they didn’t feel as tight. (I played with an Xbox 360 controller, like I play Souls games.) Swings and rolling felt like they were in slow-motion. Jumping felt like there was little or no gravity in the dungeon. Each time I blocked an attack, it wouldn’t let me respond immediately with a swing like I usually do in Dark Souls. I tapped the attack button after letting go of the block, and nothing happened. I don’t know if it’s a deliberate mechanic where you’re “stunned” for a moment after a shield block, or the game is bad at responding to button presses, or maybe I didn’t quite have my finger off the block button yet. In any case it was a bit annoying.

The crafting system is a good idea, but in practice it’s tedious. It didn’t take long for me to wish I didn’t have to craft food to restore my health.

It was a bit difficult to see and compare the items on the floor with the equipment in your inventory. You’d have to stand there and wait for a moment to see what was on the ground before you could make a decision about whether to pick it up or not. Often there would be multiple things on the floor in the same spot and it was difficult to select the one you wanted to look at.

Little UI problems like that make what could be a fun game a bit of a chore to deal with.

Even worse, the combat didn’t feel particularly good, either, which is just about the most important component of a Souls-like game, to me. It was a little slow. I didn’t feel very invested in it. I didn’t feel like I was in any danger. It was mindless button-pushing. It felt a bit like fighting the nameless, faceless enemies in ARPG games which are not so much enemies as they are blocks of pixels that explode into loot, like a Mario game. There was a distinct lack of immersion to the experience. (This is in sharp contrast to Dark Souls games, where every encounter feels meaningful and engaging to me.)

Bottom line: I wasn’t into it. If you have to buy it, wait for it to go on sale for $5.

FFXIV – 4.1 Features

Last time I only talked about the story, but this time I want to talk about some of the new features in Patch 4.1.

Royal City of Rabanastre

The new Rabanastre Raid is typical for an alliance raid. Lots of mechanics and most of them try to kill you. By now I’ve learned that it’s pointless to try to watch a guide beforehand for these things, so I just jumped in totally blind. (The guides out in the first week aren’t that great anyway. Video guides just drone mechanics at you in a monotone with background video that may or may not be related to what is being said. That means you, MrHappy. :) Thankfully I recognized many of the mechanics from previous instances. But some of them are brand new, especially on the last boss, and some explanation is needed. That first PUG wiped three times I think. (Though honestly I don’t remember dying on the last boss even though I had literally no clue what to do.)

Incidentally, a week after it was introduced, people are already whining about wipes. Seriously?

I don’t think Rabanastre is as hard as some of the previous raids were when they came out, but I’m not a great judge. I love the alliance raids, even the hard ones. I don’t feel any pressure to perform well in them, because I feel like I’m pretty invisible in a group of 24 people. They are like Rift rifts and GW2 world events in that regard (except you get awesome loot!). You know, unless I accidentally wipe the whole raid. But so far that’s never happened. I think. :) Also I think they specifically design the alliance raids so that even if a certain percentage of people have no idea what is happening, you can still get through them. (As opposed to the 8-man “real” raids, which are designed so that every participant needs to be on their game to at least some degree.)

The gear drops are item level 330, which is awesome for me, since I’m still wearing the drab green-and-orange item level 310 gear. The first drop I got was a pair of orangey-brown gloves, though, so I’m a bit dubious about what this gear is going to look like.

The Alliance Raid Roulette is a nice addition. I initially pondered on Twitter why anyone would need or want to go back to the level 50 and 60 tier raids. I have only done the raids at 50 and 60 specifically to get the endgame gear needed to do the next tier of activities, and/or as a casual way to get the newest tombstones. But Aywren rightly pointed out that these raids are now a useful leveling activity for getting from 50 to 70, which currently isn’t a very easy path after you finish the Main Scenario Quest on your main job. At least it isn’t for me. I almost wonder if they are intentionally making it more difficult to level alternate jobs above 50, passively urging people to choose and stick with a “main” job for endgame.

Command Missions

I really haven’t played very much FFXIV for the last couple of months. The only thing of any note that I’ve accomplished is sending my Adventure Squad on missions now and then. They reached Rank 2, which conveniently is the requirement to try out the new Command Missions in 4.1. (Incidentally I seem to be “stuck” at rank 2.)

My first Command Mission was the dungeon Halatali. I played my lowly level 26 Rogue class. Running Halatali with the AI squad was like no PUG experience I’ve ever seen. :) Trying to get my squad not to stand in the purple AoE on that last dragon was quite a chore. I can’t say it was terribly fulfilling, compared to a human run. But it had the very impressive advantage of popping immediately as opposed to waiting thirty or forty minutes in a DPS queue, and of course no human interaction was required. I even gained a level, so not bad. I only did that dungeon once, though.

Next I tried Toto-Rak, the dungeon that almost every human player I’ve ever seen groans about whenever it pops for a PUG. I always want to apologize when I’m at that level. Rest of group doing leveling roulette: “Oh god, not THIS dungeon!” Me: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it’s the best dungeon I can do at this level!” I personally don’t mind it, but there’s a lot of mindless running toward the end.

Anyway, armed with the knowledge that my AI companions would be behaving like drunk teenagers, Toto-Rak went a little better. I abandoned any pretense of using “normal” dungeon behavior. My basic strategy now is to run headlong into each pull and attack the nearest mob, then switch to whoever the tank decides to attack, which may or may not be the mob I started with. (I have a macro key that selects the tank’s target.) It’s faster than trying to direct the tank to “engage” first.

The last boss in Toto-Rak, unfortunately, is a chaotic mess that basically boils down to a DPS race of me killing the boss before the mechanics overwhelm the party. Sometimes I die and have to run all the way back through the slime that slows you down, and it’s annoying. But still, I gain levels very fast, so it’s a minor inconvenience. It’s far, far quicker than waiting for real dungeon queues if you’re a DPS.

This zone better be in the next expansion. It looks amazing!

The command missions are great for leveling alts, but I don’t think they are very good at teaching dungeon behavior. The AI tank behaves strangely, and the AI DPS pulls threat almost constantly. The AI healer is generally okay… it even does some DPS, apparently afraid that the AI party will yell at it for slacking back in the squad room.

If, like me, you thought you could learn to tank better so you could do more PUGs as a tank and maybe even level a tank somewhere closer to the endgame, you might need to rethink. I tried to tank normally using my Gladiator job, trying to maintain threat on everything. I pull a mob, then watch as my party attacks the other mob, pulls threat instantly, and I’m left fighting one mob while the party fights the other mob(s). I gave up and went back to the above method. I pull something, the party attacks whatever they feel like, which is usually not what I pulled, but it doesn’t matter because eventually everything dies.

Admittedly Gladiator is the worst at establishing threat at low levels, and back when I tried to tank, “real” dungeon runs typically went roughly the same as I just described with me trying to chase mobs all over the place to regain threat because DPS just blasts away without giving new tanks even one second to establish threat. (Insert comments from veteran tanks saying, “It’s so easy! Just do so-and-so and everything sticks like glue!” Sure, okay, whatever. :)

Bottom line: Command Missions are fantastic for gaining alt levels fast, not so great as a learning tool.

As for what they do for your Adventure Squad, I have no idea. :) It doesn’t look like much.

 

FFXIV – 4.1, The Legend Returns

I dragged myself away from Guild Wars 2 for a little while to play through the FFXIV 4.1 Main Scenario Quest, “The Legend Returns.” I’m so happy to be caught up with FFXIV and be in a position to play these patches when they come out, instead of rushing to catch up later. I didn’t even have to get any new gear. This is probably the first time I’ve ever been so caught up in any game.

Story spoilers below if you haven’t played it yet.

First of all, let me quickly say that the difference between the story development in Guild Wars 2 and Final Fantasy XIV is night and day. FFXIV is extremely character-driven, while GW2 seems much more plot-driven. Not to play favorites or anything, but character-driven stories are objectively, unquestionably much better. :)

Overall I felt like The Legend Returns started weak and ended strong. Until the very last quest, I felt like we were ping-ponging all over the place (not unlike GW2 hehe) with no real direction. Then everything tied together, and I was honestly surprised at how it turned out.

But: I’m a little concerned about what they are doing with Lyse. While I like Raubahn a lot, I feel like bringing him back to Ala Mhigo undercuts what I feel like is Lyse’s main story arc–growing into a strong leader in her own right. How is she going to do that with Raubahn looming over her shoulder?

They really *did* sit in a circle. Hippies!

It’s possible that Lyse could become the civilian leader, while Raubahn confines himself to the military. Given the new democratic structure of Ala Mhigo, that makes sense. Lyse showed signs of growing again, at least as a diplomat. But I’m just … worried about it. Raubahn is a huge presence on-screen, while Lyse isn’t. She as a character could easily get lost behind his massive shadow.

I did not expect Raubahn to end up back in Ala Mhigo. I was 100% sure that they were setting us up for Raubahn to die at the end of this patch. (I thought he would die before the end of Stormblood too, since he gave his sword to his son.) Frankly I think that would have been a better story choice. It would force Lyse to grow into the leader she needs to be, without any crutches. Failing that, I thought they would surely send Raubahn back to Ul’dah, to give Lyse the room she needed to grow. (She even said it herself, something like, “what will I do if Raubahn leaves?”)

But enough about that.

Initially I questioned the choice of frivolously putting a new dungeon (an “adventure”) at the very beginning. It was a bit of a turn-off. (I don’t play the MSQ to unlock new dungeons, I play it to learn more about the characters and their stories! And, you know, because you have to play it.) In retrospect, given the serious nature of the rest of the story, it made more sense. And people who don’t care about the story at all probably appreciated it.

I was very happy to see more of Fordola and her backstory. I think I mentioned that I wanted to know more about her character after Stormblood. I liked that they showed us a sort of bond between Arenvald and Fordola, which may or may not develop in the future. If nothing else, they are two sides of the same coin: Two people from the same background, “of an age,” who made radically different life choices.

I was glad to see Fordola have a redemptive moment, and I was glad to see that she chose it. (I am a sucker for redemption stories, though.) I think they played the “angry mob’s” reaction pretty well, represented by that one old man. It was a small step, but a positive one. What’s next for The Butcher?

What the heck is going on with Yotsuyu?? She must have lost her memory or something. When they kept the camera on her face after Gosetsu left, I fully expected her expression to change from child-like surprise to an evil smirk, but it didn’t. Some sort of post-traumatic childhood regression I guess. How will her redemptive storyline compare and contrast with Fordola’s?

And I guess somebody must have dug up Zenos’ body or something. They offhandedly mentioned something about his grave site, and then at the end we saw a couple of Imperial folks talking about rumors that he never died in the first place. Palace intrigue!

P.S. The new dungeon was okay I guess. I PUGged it, stumbled and bumbled through it, then forgot about it five minutes later.

P.P.S. Am I crazy, or have they done something to improve the graphical quality of the cut scenes? Several times I remember thinking, “This looks better than usual.” Particularly the scenes in Fordola’s cell. Something about the lighting perhaps.

GW2 – Season 3, Episode 6, One Path Ends

Apologies for the delay, but my SSD drive failed and caused all manner of random crashing issues for four days. PC problems have a way of pushing all other concerns to the background. Once I finally determined it was the SSD (not so easy, since all tests indicated it was perfectly fine), I installed an older, smaller SSD from an old laptop and reinstalled Windows, so I’ve now got a blank new machine for all intents and purposes. This is the first time I’ve ever seen an SSD fail, but it’s only the third one I’ve ever owned, so I have to conclude they don’t have a very high success rate.

By the way, I probably should have mentioned that all of these posts contain massive spoilers for Living World Season 3. This one probably more than any of the others.

One Path Ends, the last chapter in Living World Season 3, begins with a trip to the temple in Divinity’s Reach, where we find that the Priest of Balthazar is amusingly “drunk on faith” now that Balthazar has returned. Countess Anise speaks some techno-babble about the Eye of Janthir being able to lead us to Balthazar, so we head off to Northern Brisban to find one of Anise’s contacts who also happens to be on the trail of the Eye.

This leads to a White Mantle Hideout and a massive jumping puzzle. The Commander unintentionally voices what we’re all thinking about the Guild Wars 2 story all the time: “Why put your hideout somewhere easy when you can put it up there?” Indeed, why make any part of a story accessible when you can gate it behind arbitrarily difficult challenges?

Then we meet Anise’s contact, Exemplar Kerida, a new character for this chapter whose vocal stylings somewhat resemble Cruella De Vil. She is imprisoned in a Bloodstone trap which is a thinly-disguised brain teaser puzzle. I wasn’t in the mood for a brain teaser so I used the tried-and-true random clicking method, which eventually worked. (I think the actual solution was to click every other anchor point.)

Several fights later we find the Eye of Janthir, and a mini-boss protects herself in another Bloodstone trap mechanic, so then we have to solve the brain teaser puzzle in the middle of a fight. Exemplar Kerida gets caught in another trap, and the Eye floats away. There is also something about “aspects” and Lazarus but I can’t relate it very well because I just plain didn’t understand it.

Obviously the next course of action is to join the Shining Blade, so we go through some super secret oath ritual with Countess Anise and Exemplar Kerida. I think it was so they could tell us more about the Eye of Janthir without breaking their oaths of secrecy. (I don’t understand how that’s in their interests, but okay.) Then we go to the last new map, Siren’s Landing, another part of Orr. Once there, we need to “activate” a series of Reliquaries which basically means completing all the Hearts on the map. Somehow these things are connected but your guess is as good as mine on how.

The last reliquary is Abaddon’s Reliquary, which is apparently where we’re going to find … something. The Eye of Janthir? I honestly don’t know what we’re looking for at this point. In practical terms, we find a bunch more puzzles to solve and some more boss fights, which are at just about the right difficulty for me.

In the last room, Exemplar Kerida reveals she had a secret plan all along, and resurrects Lazarus, presumably the real one, and not the fake one that was really Balthazar. Confused yet? Well, it turns out that Kerida is really Livia, and she has an old grudge against Lazarus. This is apparently something that only people who played Guild Wars 1 will appreciate and understand. The final boss fight goes on for a long time, it has a lot of different mechanics, and there’s a lot of expositional dialog throughout it. For a wonder, I didn’t have much trouble with it.

When it was all over, we learned that most of this entire chapter was a wild goose chase, because Balthazar went to the Crystal Desert. But I guess we got to hang out with a legend from Guild Wars 1 for a while, for whatever that was worth. (To me, not much.)

UPDATE – The Video

GW2 – Season 3, Episode 5, Flashpoint

For the record, I’ve finished Living World Season 3 and started into Path of Fire. As of Monday morning, I’ve just gotten to the second map, Desert Highlands. It’s a far better expansion than Heart of Thorns already, although I just ran into a story gate that isn’t obvious how to open. Now back to the past…

Living World Season 3, Episode 5, Flashpoint, starts off with a trip to Taimi’s lab, where we find Kasmeer chastising us for not inviting her to join Dragon’s Watch yet. As usual with Asura, there is a slight diversion as we fight back the experiments (hasn’t anyone learned yet to keep Asura far, far away from technical gadgets?).

Taimi built a device that is supposed to weaken? kill? enslave? both of the dragons Jormag and Primordus using (insert unimportant techno-babble here). Taimi’s character, incidentally, continues to ride exactly on that line between adorable and insufferable.

Marjory suddenly arrives to tell us that Lazarus is coming, and by the way he is up to no good in the Fire Islands. When Lazarus arrives, the first boss fight commences and we dispel his illusion to find that it was Old Man Withers all along! Actually, it was Balthazar, the unsurprising reveal I’ve been expecting ever since the Path of Fire demo weekend. Balthazar steals Taimi’s dragon-killing device, Marjory goes down with an injury, and Kasmeer freaks right the hell out and runs away hiccuping. (At this point, I just shrug at these strange character developments and move on.)

A submarine next takes us to a massive steamy volcanic cave (“a cavern created by gases during a volcanic eruption”) called Draconis Mons in the Ring of Fire. Most of the rest of the gameplay in this episode involves running around the map to get to the green stars. It’s designed essentially like a massive spiral ramp going upward from the submarine landing to the summit of the volcano (on the inside). Personally I enjoyed picking my way up to the top (well, except for the pocket raptors and rolling devils). It was sort of like one massively long, extended jumping puzzle.

Once you get to the top, you have to find a bunch of druid plant thingys who give you the buff you need so that you can enter the heart of the volcano and survive to fight Balthazar. More running around, yada, yada, yada, then you earn a protective green bubble and finally get to jump into the volcano to go after Balthazar. (I’m not exactly sure what nefarious thing Balthazar is up to, but it has something to do with awakening? killing? consuming? the dragon Primodus, who lives? sleeps? works? in this volcano.)

Taimi arrives in an unfinished Scruffy 2.0 golem to supervise the recovery of her device and and help us get through some barriers. We find Balthazar on a floating platform over a sea of lava, using Taimi’s device to shoot a beam of (something) into Primodus’s head, so naturally we have to intervene. We don’t get to fight Balthazar, but his two dogs. At this point we are treated to another one of those kinds of GW2 boss fights. This one has similar rage-inducing properties, much like the one at the end of Episode 4. The basic idea for this one is that you have to glide a lot to collect “dragon energy” and bomb Balthazar’s dog minions from above.

I’ll admit it’s a creative design for a boss fight, but the problem is that GW2’s gliding and camera control is not sophisticated enough to implement the flight simulator mechanics they wanted us to do. I had tremendous difficulty trying to get my camera turned to face the direction I needed to look to target the dogs, and since the updrafts constantly pushed you upward really fast, half the time you drifted out of range and missed the bombing targets.

Eventually I had to go into my settings and enable “Use Free Camera” to keep the camera from re-aligning itself all the time. (Something I normally like on the ground.) I use “Fast with Range Indicator” for Ground Targeting, which unfortunately made it difficult to use Taimi’s scanner on the device in the center of the platform while the dogs were attacking me. With this setting, ground targets normally center themselves on whatever enemy you have targeted, but I needed Taimi’s scanner to work on the device in the middle. So half the time I wasted my scans on the dogs.

I got pretty mad during this fight. Especially when it kept repeating over and over again. (That is another typical boss fight formula: Complete a challenge once, then complete it again with more difficult parameters, in case it was just a fluke that you got through it the first time.) It wasn’t that hard per se, but most of the fighting was with the Guild Wars 2 controls and camera. I was very glad to see the end of it. I hope they never do that again. GW2 is not a good flight simulator. I would have preferred an underwater boss fight, to be honest.

When it was all over, I wasn’t clear what happened, story-wise. This is not unusual, but it wasn’t the same kind of confusion as in previous episodes, where I grasped the events that happened, but didn’t think it made any sense. In this case I wasn’t clear what even happened. I think we had to make a choice between killing the dragons or killing Balthazar, and we chose to kill Balthazar. The dragons … went somewhere? Went back to sleep? Do dragons sleep? Or they were released from Balthazar’s grip? Or something? I don’t know. But it sounded like the dragons are no longer a threat, and what Taimi and I did also somehow affected? defeated? helped? Jormag way up in the Shiverpeaks, too. (Which is going to make Braham mad that he won’t get to complete his suicide mission against Jormag.)

All I really know is that Balthazar didn’t die, because of the Path of Fire demo. So I’m not really sure what we accomplished in this episode. In any case, it was one of the shortest ones.

UPDATE – The Video

GW2 – Season 3, Episode 4, The Head of the Snake

Episode 4 is entitled The Head of the Snake, and by the end, I was hoping someone would cut off my head to put me out of my misery.

It began innocently enough, with a party at Divinity’s Reach with Queen Jennah. It reminded me of another story instance I vaguely remember from the distant past, perhaps in another Living Story, where you had to walk around talking to party guests. This time, White Mantle forces crashed the party by attacking Divinity’s Reach, which miraculously created a new map right next to the city where we’ve never seen one before. (Or was that little space there the whole time? If so, did they plan to put a map there all along?)

The new map is all right I guess. I didn’t hate it. Any map that isn’t a jungle at this point automatically makes it better than average for me. I even had some fun roaming around doing Logan’s dirty work (since when do I work for him?), doing the events necessary to progress the story. The fact that you can wander around is a big plus.

Then I got to the final part of the episode, Confessor’s End. My apparently randomly-assigned companions for this mission were Anise and Demmi Beetlejuice (Caudecus’s daughter if you didn’t know because how could you). We assaulted Caudecus’s Manor to finally bring the dastardly Caudecus to justice, and that’s when the fun ended.

His manor is filled with White Mantle of course, which are annoying but I can deal with them. (It is absolutely true that the more you play Guild Wars 2 the easier the game gets–assuming you stick to one build and learn it intimately.) There were also a pair of Jade Armor Thingys that you could either sneak past or fight. I foolishly thought they were regular Jade Armor Thingys and didn’t work very hard to sneak by them and ended up fighting them. Countless deaths later, I had to exit the instance in a huff, repair my armor, and start over again. The second time I took special care to sneak past them. I didn’t know it then, but they had an extra attack which had to be countered with one of those new situational special abilities.

After fighting through some White Mantle we got to Caudecus in the heart of his manor and a boss fight commenced (Canach also arrived for this). It was a bit annoying at first but I finally figured out through painful trial and error that I needed to hit my special ability action whenever I got a sniper target thingy over my head, which negated the worst part of the fight. (I still don’t know what that special ability is or where I got it or why it negated the attack. I never had time to hover over it and read a tool tip.)

Someone named Valette was there too. I don’t know who she is. But she’s apparently really important to this Caudecus story. I think she was an ally of Caudecus but then decided help us?

Anyway, I should have suspected that the boss fight was too easy, because instead of dying, Caudecus ran away again. Anise, Canach, Valette, and I chased him through some dumb riddles to an inner sanctum and another boss fight.

The second Caudecus boss fight took place in a very small room that made it difficult to see because of the camera bumping up against the walls. The ground was bombarded with orange circles so you had to move and dive constantly. I’m sort of used to that now, so that wasn’t the worst part. (Incidentally, I despise the fact that you can only dodge twice before running out of energy.) He had shields so you had to pickup bloodstone from the floor and throw them until his shield blew up. Then you could attack him and actually do a minuscule amount of damage. Once his shields were down he threw all kinds of attacks at you that you had to dodge, and you had to use your special ability to avoid the sniper attack things, and move around and avoid all the little bloodstone creatures that exploded all around you. Of course his shields would come back fairly quickly so you had to repeat this dance roughly fifty times.

Not only that, but the walls would spin around periodically, and loud, bombastic music blared at you the entire time. Later I realized that the frantic music probably contributed to my overall annoyance level, as it sometimes does in Dark Souls boss fights.

I’ve figured out the formula for GW2 boss fights: You start out not really knowing how it works, and you spend the first 10% learning how to fight without getting killed. During that time you’re frustrated and confused and cussing a lot. After that phase you figure out what you’re supposed to do, and you slowly become proficient at it. At some point you get into the rhythm of the fight and feel confident that you’re going to win.

At exactly that moment, they throw in some new element that wrecks everything and you go back to the frustrated, confused, cussing phase again until you learn the new patterns. Sometimes it doesn’t take long. Other times it makes you want to throw your mouse at the monitor and storm away from the computer.

This last Caudecus fight was the latter case.

Just as I was getting everything under control, after what seemed like an hour of frantic running, dodging, dying, and repeating, they threw a Jade Armor Thingy into this little room with me and Caudecus. I died a lot. I mean, a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever died so much in a boss fight before. By the end I had no pants. The only good thing about this fight is that you don’t have to restart it every time.

Typically I would think you’d want players to feel elated and happy after finishing a boss fight. But I usually feel exhausted and traumatized and angry by the end of GW2 fights, none more so in recent memory than this Caudecus fight.

I wanted the episode to be over, but then things got worse because after the boss fight you’re supposed to investigate Caudecus’s room. Instead, I somehow got lost and spent 20 minutes running around his manor unable to find it. (It turned out to be literally right next to where I started, which made me even more angry.) Even after the boss fight his manor is still full of White Mantle folks and I died a bunch more times. My chest piece was the only unbroken piece of equipment by the end.

In the end, story-wise, Canach finally got to deal with Caudecus (even though I did all the work) and was freed from Anise’s service. (I don’t remember when that happened or why it was important.) Now the mysterious Valette took his place as Anise’s … I don’t know, servant? Apparently people who commit crimes around Divinity’s Reach are punished by having to hang around with Countess Anise.

In plot developments that actually matter, we learned that Lazurus is an imposter. (Surprise, surprise, given what I know from the Path of Fire demo weekend.) Also Canach didn’t want to join Dragon’s Watch.

UPDATE – The Video