Banished From MMOs For A Bit

Most of my time lately has been spent playing Banished, which is a city builder game that I picked up on a Steam sale for $6. This might be the best $6 I’ve ever spent on a game.

I love this game. Historically, I am terrible at city builder games and usually give up on them quickly because it’s no fun to watch people starve to death. (That’s how my cities usually end up.) Even going back to the earliest city builder game I can remember, a type-in BASIC program called Hamurabi that I played on a TRS-80 Color Computer, I almost always starved my people.

But for some reason, Banished is simple enough for me to grasp the mechanics of it and actually enjoy playing it. Maybe it’s all of the cool built-in graphs that you can see, which gives you a pretty good idea of where your settlement needs work without having to wait for people to start dying.

This is not good. Time to make some more food.
Not the direction you want your food graph to be trending.

It’s fascinating to watch all the little people milling around like ants as they do their jobs. It’s a little weird that people age at a faster rate than the seasons go by though. It’s sort of like a Game of Thrones world where the winters last 10 years.

Banished also has a time-traveling feature: Somehow time disappears when I’m playing it so I can only assume it’s transporting me into the future somehow.

Here’s one very important tip if you decide to try Banished: Do not build two storage barns next to each other. You do not want to see what happens to your fledgling town if a tornado touches down right on top of them and destroys everything you’ve produced.

State of Decay Is A-OK

In January, I went through a phase where I wanted to play some survival-type games. The first game I pulled out was State of Decay, which I already had on Steam.

I’m probably the last person to discover this, but State of Decay is pretty cool. I had played it before, somewhere back when it first came to the PC I think, but it didn’t really “click” with me the first time. This time, I got into it and spent some 40+ hours playing it. I kept thinking it would make a great MMORPG (minus the permadeath). If H1Z1 turns out to be anything like a multiplayer State of Decay, then that would be very cool. (From what I’ve seen, though, it doesn’t look like it’s going that way.)

The biggest problem I have with State of Decay is that traveling from place to place takes a long time. It takes a long time to run from place to place, sometimes it takes a long time to drive from place to place. I ran into a problem where too many new missions would pop up before I could complete old missions. I’d journey toward one mission, get sidetracked, or get injured, and then have to return to home base to heal or something, and by the time I got back to that mission, two new ones had popped up. And some of them disappear if you don’t complete them fast enough.

The other problem I had was that the game ended! I escaped the valley or whatever and won. I wanted to play more and take over everything! I suppose I could have kept going, but it felt somewhat pointless after “winning.”

The Forest, A Visual Feast

In January, I went through a phase where I wanted to play some survival-type games. I’ve been intrigued by The Forest ever since I first saw it show up on Steam, but I generally try to resist buying Early Access games, particularly from unknown sources. Until one day when I was bored out of my mind with my current games and wanted to look at something new. And hey, it was only $15.

In a nutshell, you play the lone survivor of a plane that crashes in the middle of a procedurally-generated forest. You have to find food and shelter and protect yourself from weirdo cannibals that also happen to inhabit the forest. Each game has a different landscape, so it looks like there’s a lot of replay potential.

TheForest 2015-02-02 15-55-12-88

The main thing I want to get across is that this game is drop dead gorgeous. The forest environment is extremely realistic and immersive. That’s what attracted me to the game in the first place, to be honest. Whatever engine this game is using should be used for all future MMORPGs, in my humble opinion.

Collecting logs and sticks.
Collecting logs and sticks in the warm glow of the morning.

Beyond standing around looking at the pretty forest, the gameplay is also pretty decent, too. I’m not exactly a connoisseur of survival-type games, but this one so far seems to have a good balance of crafting, exploration, and combat.

It’s supposed to be a survival-horror game, but I didn’t find it to be all that scary. The cannibals are a bit creepy but I didn’t jump out of my skin or anything. (However the first time the cannibals beat you up they take you back to their cannibal cave of horrors, which is pretty messed up.) The environment is realistic, but fortunately the hacking and slashing is not.

These jerks keep ruining the nice scenery.
These creepy jerks keep ruining the nice scenery.

There are some oddities in the game though. Once you cut down a tree, it’s gone forever, but sticks and rocks and plants seem to respawn indefinitely in the same places. (Not that I’m complaining, because you need a lot of them. You need leaves to feed your campfires.) The cannibal AI is pretty smart, and you do not want to get caught out in the open around these guys, but they have a tendency to blindly step into campfires and burn themselves up. I’m not sure if that’s intended or not, but it seems a little overpowered right now. It makes for a very effective means of protecting yourself from them. Far better than trying to fight them hand-to-hand.

Don't worry, I didn't axe the turtle. Because they turtle up in their shell.
Don’t worry, I didn’t axe the turtle. Because you can’t. They turtle up in their shell.

I’m not really sure what the goal of the game is beyond surviving as long as you can. After five or six tries I was able to build a home base in which I felt like I could survive indefinitely and I was fairly well protected from the cannibals, so I think I “won” the survival part of the game. But then there was still a lot of environment around me to explore. Maybe the final game will have more objectives in it. There was a hint in the opening movie that maybe I’m supposed to rescue someone. Anyway the whole landscape changes with each new game so I could see myself playing it again and again even after winning.

I like the way building works in The Forest. You put down a “blueprint” of the structure you want to build, then you keep depositing materials into it until the structure is completed. So for example if you want to build a shack, you put down the blueprint where you want to build it, then go cut down trees and add logs to the structure until it’s finished. That model works for me. It feels like you’re really building something without it being so tedious that you have to actually place every single log in precisely the right place (like, say, Landmark). I don’t even mind running back and forth between picking up materials and placing them in the structure, because when you add in the roaming cannibals, it adds a certain element of “gaming” to what might otherwise be a boring process. Sometimes you have to stop building and run for your life.

I really like the game but I think I’m going to put it away for now and wait for some more updates. I would hate to burn out on it before they even finish it.

How To Survive (A Game, Not A Guide)

In January, I went through a phase where I wanted to play some survival-type games. Perhaps I was inspired by the news that H1Z1 rushed itself out the door too soon came to Steam Early Access. I already had TUG and Don’t Starve, but they never really grabbed me. (I keep hoping TUG will improve.) I have a bunch of these kinds of games on my Steam wishlist, but as I’m sure you know, 99% of them are still Early Access (including TUG), so I tried to find something else.

I settled on How To Survive because it was cheap at $15, had mostly good reviews, and had achieved the near-impossible task of actually being finished.

HowToSurvive 2015-02-03 17-00-35-47

How To Survive’s basic gameplay involves finding things to eat and drink, killing zombies, and finding and clearing out shelters to sleep in before you get tired. At night, you have to tread carefully because of these weird Gollum-like creatures that stalk you, but run away if you point a flashlight at them. And along the way you pick up pieces and parts that combine together to make bows and armor and guns and gadgets that help you. And there’s a simple leveling progression system so you gain experience points for completing quests and select skills from a tree now and then.

It’s a fun, quirky game that’s reminiscent of a real-time Fallout. Especially in the way some zombies blow up. If you shoot one of the fat zombies, they explode into gruesome chunks and leave a huge red smear on the ground. (And damage you if you’re standing too close.) And there is a pretty funny Survival Guide (Kovac’s Rules!) that pops up now and then to explain the game mechanics.

(Possibly a mildly spoiler-ish video below, as finding a new Rule is a fun carrot in the game.)

And there are talking monkeys.

You’ll run across headstones all over the place that show where other players in other games have died (including yourself!). It’s a bit like Dark Souls in that way. You never actually see those other players, but you can get a pretty good idea of where the dangerous parts of the map are from the number of graves.

Staring at my own grave.
Staring at my own grave.

It was a leap of faith for me to buy a game with a Diablo-style isometric-ish kind of view, because they aren’t my favorite. I’ve grown to dislike that viewpoint over the years for one simple reason: I hate that I can’t see what’s beyond the edges of the screen. I should be able to see over there. I mean, my guy is standing right there. It’s like a stone’s throw away. I can see that he can see past the edge of the screen, so why can’t I see there?? Left-click-drag, left-click-drag. Nothing!

And it’s always something really dangerous that’s just off the edge of the screen, too. You’d think my guy could warn me about that. Just a simple chat bubble would be nice. “Get ready,” or “Don’t make me go over there!”

Other than that, the biggest negative in the game that I’ve seen so far is the same drawback that almost every game with an inventory has: Not enough inventory space. If I’m supposed to gather things and combine them together to make stuff, I want to gather everything. But even after making a couple of pouches, eventually you’ll start running out of space and have to drop something to pick up the thing you want, and that’s a painful chore.

So far I’ve played about five hours, which I figure is close to the break-even point on a $15 purchase, when you consider an HD movie rental is $5 or $6. And I can see myself playing it now and then in the future, at least until I finish the “campaign.” After that I think there are “challenges” to complete where they drop you somewhere on a map and ask you to survive. All-in-all, How To Survive is a surprisingly fun diversion.

Planetside 2 – First, Second, and Third Impressions

This is unrelated to MMOs (sort of ), but I’ve been on a Quake CTF nostalgia trip for a while, so I went looking for a modern AAA shooter that would provide the same sort of team-based competitive spirit.

I don’t know if such a game still exists, but my first candidate for testing was Planetside 2, a game which I haven’t played before. (Well, that’s not entirely true–I installed it sometime around when it first came out, played it for about 30 seconds–enough to see myself airdropped into a chaotic mess–and then decided it wasn’t for me. I don’t remember it launching with the tutorial it has now and I had no clue how to play it.) I suppose technically PS2 is an MMO, but I think of it as a shooter because there is no PvE element.

It's a nice-looking shooter at least.
It’s a nice-looking shooter at least.

First Impressions

My first impression of Planetside 2 now after playing for a handful of hours is: It’s not what I was looking for, but it’s a fun and dare-I-say addictive game. (If you can set aside all the standard problems that modern shooters have.*)

In a nutshell, Planetside 2 drops you (sometimes literally) into a battlefield with hundreds or thousands or millions of other people. I’m not sure exactly, but it’s a lot of people. The gameplay is very similar to Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, if anyone remembers that, but with a whole lot more people.

There are the standard overall team objectives, like capturing enemy bases and defending capture points and so forth, but when you start out they are unimportant to your immediate survival so you don’t really think about them. At least I didn’t. Mostly I just thought about staying alive and trying not to shoot the teammates that kept jumping in front of me. (I imagine that is similar to what real warfare is like, not that I would have any clue about that.)

In more practical terms, when you start out your best bet is to find a group of other people running somewhere and help them shoot whatever enemies they’re shooting at. Most likely those enemies are very far away so you can’t really see what it is you’re shooting at. Even when you use your iron sights or whatever you still can’t see individual people very well. I end up spamming the “spot enemy” key while waving my gun around until I see a red triangle. Not that it matters because the enemy probably has sniper rifles and they’ll kill you the second you stick your head up to look around. Because all scrubs use sniper rifles in these games. (They don’t know they’re scrubs though, which is the worst part. That’s probably going to get some hateful comments but god I hate snipers.)

Side rant: God I hate snipers. I don’t know about anyone else, but I still curse the day that sniper-like rifles were ever added to the shooter genre. The first one I can remember was the Railgun in Quake 2, and snipers have destroyed the fun of anyone who prefers “fair” combat ever since. (At least the Railgun didn’t usually kill you in one shot like most modern sniper rifles.)

Anyway, back to Planetside 2. It’s yet another one of those progression shooters where you “level up” by gaining experience so you can unlock new stuff and whatnot, which makes it sort of like an MMORPG. You’re never really sure exactly what it is that you’re doing to gain these points, but sometimes you get a lot of points and sometimes you get a few points, and eventually your “battle rank” goes up. (I assume that’s meaningful but I can’t really tell any difference except that I can create more loadout sets–which is useless to me since I only have basically one gun.) That’s the essence of what makes these progression shooters so addicting. You’re always thinking to yourself, “Well, if I just play a little bit more, I’ll be able to unlock X, Y, or Z and that will really help kill those bleepity bleeping bleeped snipers.”

One thing I really like is the nifty report that appears each time you die that shows how well you did during each “lifetime.” It also shows who killed you so you can see just how much that other guy out-ranked you and how hopeless your chances are to run back and avenge yourself upon him.

I don't know what any of those numbers mean but it looks pretty impressive. EXTREME MENACE KILL. Yeah!
Don’t know what any of it means but it looks impressive. EXTREME MENACE KILL. Yeah!

One thing I don’t like is the placement of the minimap. SOE must have been sitting around thinking, “Let’s see, every other game puts the minimap in the upper-right and a few put it in the lower-right, so everyone is familiar with looking to the right to see where they are. I know, let’s put ours in the lower-left!”

Ahem. Anyway. I set out to find something like Quake, but this isn’t it. The scale of the battles in Planetside 2 is way too big to feel like you’re playing anything like a team-based “sport.” In these massive battles I don’t feel like my playing matters much when I’m only doing roughly 0.1% of the damage, or whatever. You’re mostly playing against yourself at that point; just trying to see how long you can stay alive while hopefully contributing a few bullets in the right directions.

To be fair, there are occasional times when the action feels a little more Quake-like, for example when you’re trying to hold one of the capture points. Those times are quite fun. But they are pretty rare.

While on I’m the subject of massive-battle shooters, let’s talk about sound effects. Something that bugs me about Planetside 2 and other shooters of this kind is the unrelenting assault of sound effects that wash over you the entire time you play. Don’t get me wrong: It’s perfect for the kind of game it is, and it’s brilliantly immersive, but I just can’t handle it anymore at my advanced age. It jangles my nerves and makes my muscles hurt from the tension. (I am the same way about continuous loud noises in real life, too.) If I lose track of time and play for too long (which unfortunately is easy since there aren’t any breaks in the action), I feel like I’ve been in a boxing match. I really wish there was a way to adjust the sound in such a way that you only hear the things that really matter to your particular gameplay. Or maybe have some way to adjust the volume of your effects versus the effects of other players versus incidental world effects. (Final Fantasy XIV has some nice controls like that.)

Overall it’s a fun game* that’s worth a look (since it’s free), but I can only play it for short periods of time. (I usually set a timer so I only play for about 20 minutes per session.) So far I don’t see any compelling reason to pay any real money for it. I’m perfectly happy with the free experience so far. (Unless there is a way to pay them a one-time fee or something to unlock everything–like a super-sniper-seeking-death-bomb–but I have a feeling they are more interested in nickel-and-diming you to death. A quick glance at the store confirms that it’s a subscription model–that SOE All Access Pass thingy–with the obligatory cash shop.)

Second Impressions

After playing a little bit each night for about a week, I’ve started to notice some trends.

The deck is seriously stacked against people who like a more defensive playing style, like, say, me. All weapons do incredible amounts of damage. Snipers almost always one-shot kill you (typical in modern shooters). Standard duels between two automatic weapons at relatively close range last for about two seconds if you’re lucky. Even the defensive turret positions at bases don’t last very long against flying vehicle weapons. So if you don’t like dying repeatedly, you may want to steer clear.

The game makes it possible to use plenty of super-cheesy scrub tactics. Things like suicide-ramming a position with vehicles over and over again. And of course the sniper thing. You can never, ever stand still if there is a hillside anywhere in the vicinity.

I’m not quite prepared to call it a pay-to-win game, but you can definitely buy better “stuff” with these things called Nanites (like Maxes and Tanks and Flying Gizmos), which are given out periodically while you play, and I think you get more Nanites if you’re a paying customer. (You also get more XP I think.) Basically, I believe it’s designed so that paying customers control the overall battlefield. The rest of us freeps are beholden to their whims. (Cannon fodder, in other words.)

But for some weird reason, I still think it’s fun*. Maybe because it’s the only game like this that I can play for free hehe.

Third Impressions

As you can tell from my statistics page, I’ve played about 18 hours of Planetside 2 and reached battle rank 14. My kill/death ratio stands at 0.27, a rating which I would have found shameful back in my Quake days, and today I find only slightly less embarrassing. People who are good at modern shooters would probably put me in the “loser scrub” category based on those numbers. (But I saw plenty of people worse than me, so there.)

Anyway, the freshness of the game has now worn off. I might pop in every now and then (because it’s free) but it doesn’t really feed the reward center of my brain very well now that the “ooh shiny” phase is over.

(By the way, the statistics page in Planetside 2 is very, very cool. The obsessive attention to detail in tracking statistics is one thing I love about modern shooters.)

Modern Problems

  • All modern shooters have these problems, no matter how fun they are:

1) Usually, you are the only person on your team who knows what to do and how to do it, because you’ve played team-based shooters for ages and everyone else is just there to shoot stuff and look at the pretty lights. 95% of the rest of your team either doesn’t help or actively hinders you somehow, which makes for a frustrating experience. Since Planetside 2 is a Friendly-Fire game, you can expect your teammates to be particularly adept at either shooting you in the back, or jumping in front of you when you’re about to make a crucial kill.

2) Everyone else has unlocked all kinds of uber weaponry and armor so you have basically no chance of killing anyone who has played the game longer than you, which makes for a frustrating experience. I really miss the old days when everyone was on a level playing field equipment-wise. (After carefully reviewing the weapons of the people that kill me, I can say that it’s not quite as bad as I first thought.)

3) In most modern shooters, old people like me can’t see what they’re shooting at. The enemies usually blend in completely with the background terrain somehow via. some sort of camouflage, or the enemy models are so small that they are just specks of pixels.

4) Ever since 1999-ish, somebody somewhere will always make a bot or a hack or something for online games so even if you do manage to get yourself the right equipment, you’re still never going to be able to beat the cheaters. Maybe I’m paranoid but I still clearly remember when cheating ruined Quake 3 tournaments. (And people were cheating, it wasn’t just our imaginations–back in the old days it was easy to tell the difference between a very good player and someone using an aim bot–so once the genie came out of the bottle, in my mind, there is no reason to think that cheaters aren’t continuing their efforts to create more and better cheats as the years pass.) (By the way, I don’t think everyone that kills me is cheating, like some people do, but some small percentage of people out there are definitely cheating in online games. The only thing you can do is keep repeating the mantra, “It’s just a game. It doesn’t matter.” And try to enjoy the scenery while you’re running back to the battle.)

Elite: Dangerous Opinions and Advice

Elite: Dangerous is a neat game, however right now I see it mostly as a single-player game. I play it entirely in the “Solo” mode, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything without other people around. Thus I wouldn’t consider it a contender for 2014’s MMO of the year, despite how bad the other choices were.

From what I can surmise, there are only two possible outcomes that can happen if you encounter another person: Either they can a) ignore you or b) try to shoot you down. (I suppose some weirdos might try c) start a conversation.) As far as I know, there are no group objectives to go after yet (such as world bosses), so there is nothing to “team up” with other spaceships for. So if you’re not a fan of Open World PvP I would suggest just sticking with Solo play. For me, Star Wars-style space battles aren’t what I want from a space game, so I just play Solo. (I’m not sure what I do want from a space game, but I know it’s not space battles. At least not with other people. It takes long enough to kill the AI pilots–it would probably take a good half hour to kill another person in an evenly-matched battle.)

The fact that you have to manually pilot your ship everywhere in Elite: Dangerous is both a blessing and a curse. I’ve always liked the idea of EVE but in practice I always felt like there was little or no interactivity in the gameplay–that is, you just click a couple of buttons and your ship automatically flies to a new spot. It’s neat, but during that time, you yourself just sit there staring at the screen doing nothing. That makes it very hard for me to justify paying a subscription for it.

In Elite: Dangerous, the process is entirely interactive, which makes it feel more like a game. Unfortunately, over time, the curse of it is that piloting your ship between systems gets a little old. Flying from system to system feels like “grinding”–just repeating the same actions over and over again. You start to wish for an auto-pilot so you could press a button, get up, do something else, and come back to find your ship docked at the next system. (In real life, I would think real space ships would have exactly that.) There’s an auto-docking computer you can buy which is sort of the right idea, but it doesn’t work very well (it keeps dinging my ship because it lands too hard) and it doesn’t pilot between systems. Maybe they’ll add a full auto-pilot in the future. I’d probably even pay real money for that.

Advice

Beware that it takes some time and practice to learn to fly your ship. It took me a couple of days before I could do anything but rotate around like an idiot in one place.

The default mouse-and-keyboard setup gives you your basic flight-simulator controls: Left and right to roll, up and down for pitch. You can get around like that, but to fly more efficiently (especially while docking) you’re also going to want to learn to use the up, down, left, and right thrusters, and the left and right yaw.

Expect it to take a dozen or so docking attempts before you start to get the hang of it. In those first ones, you’ll feel like a senior citizen trying to drive with macular degeneration. Do not turn off the rotational correction unless you are a serious masochist. Your ship will survive banging into walls and stuff so don’t worry too much about that.

Don’t worry if you run out of oxygen and die in deep space like I did. You’ll get a new Sidewinder ship for free. (Also, don’t forget to refuel every time you dock somewhere.)

Get to know your Frame Shift Drive (the ‘J’ key by default). It took me a while to realize this, but there are actually two different “modes” of the Frame Shift Drive. One is for flying between systems, and one is for flying within systems. If you notice that you can’t stop, it’s because your Frame Shift Drive is still on because you’re flying inside a solar system.

The basic idea with trading is to buy goods that have a High Supply and sell them to systems where they are in High Demand. The Galactic Map is not terribly helpful in giving you that information either. If you follow the trade routes on the map, you might end up getting boned. I don’t know if it’s a bug or if I’m using it wrong, but I’ve had to make lists of the items in high demand at various systems in a separate document.

The fastest way to make money by far is trading, by the way. Exploration, mining, and collecting bounties is really, really slow. It can take you hours and hours to make the same amount of money you’d get in one trip between adjacent systems. I’d really like to see those activities get improved rewards. I would do more of them but it’s just not worth it right now.

Conclusions

Since trading is pretty much the only effective way to “level up” in the game (ie. make more money), it gets pretty routine after a while. For that reason, my attention has drifted away from Elite: Dangerous to other things. Still, it’s a cool game, and I think I got my money’s worth. I’ll pop back in from time to time to see what they’re doing with it.

Rift – Nightmare Judgments

One thing I’ve noticed in Rift’s Nightmare Tide is more pressure to spend money. I don’t mean in terms of a sales pitch; I mean in terms of making the game less tedious.

2014-11-17_074514
Losing my head over Nightmare Tide! (Not really, it’s a Halloween costume mask.)

For example, two new things in Nightmare tide are Earring Slots and the Planewalker “attunement” which allows you to wear some of the new gear. Each of these costs 100,000 Void Stones (the new zone event currency) in the Rift Store. The Planewalker attunement is account-wide, but the Earring Slots must be bought for each character. It is technically possible to grind out the Void Stones to buy those two important things without spending cash to unlock them, but keep in mind that there is a limit of 35,000 Void Stones you can collect per week, so you have to grind zone events for a minimum of six weeks to get both of those items for one character.

Me? I happily paid to get the $50 Collector’s Edition so I don’t have to do that for any character. (Even the $25 edition comes with them, so I highly recommend it.) Did I have to pay to get those things? No. Did I have to pay so that I didn’t die of boredom getting those things? Abso-freakin-lutely. (For reference, I don’t think I’ve picked up more than about 5,000 Void Stones in a week yet, and I’ve been playing a lot, so the amount of effort it would take to grind out 35,000 a week is mind-boggling.)

Now technically, you don’t need to wear earrings or have Planewalker attunement gear. You can still do everything in the game (I assume). I’m a relatively new level 65 and I’m only wearing two Planewalker items, and I’m not having any trouble with world quests and zone events. (Mobs are more difficult at 65 than they were at 60, though.) But obviously, you’re not going to be invited to any high-end Raids without earrings, and it’s going to be that much more difficult to meet the Expert Dungeon requirements without the stats from two extra items (and two extra rune enhancements).

The other area I’ve felt pressure to spend money in is Crafting. Crafting materials are abundant in the Plane of Water. However, it costs a lot of platinum to level up your crafting skills from 375 to 450, in the form of training recipes and store-bought materials. It costs so much money that it would be super convenient for me to drop $10 for a REX thingy, which I could sell for about 1250 platinum. The most platinum I’ve ever had on my main character is about 450, and that was when Attanium was selling like hotcakes. Alternatively, rather than taking your chances with REX prices, you can now, for the first time ever, buy the store-bought crafting materials for 3 credits each instead of spending the expensive 1 platinum each.

Savant-tier crafting materials as compared to the Grandmaster-tier crafting materials from the last expansion.
Savant-tier crafting materials as compared to the Grandmaster-tier crafting materials from the last expansion.

And lest you think you don’t need the store-bought materials, I can assure you that nearly every single crafted item going from 375 to 450 requires at least 1 store-bought item (essence, wax, string, etc.). The least expensive way to level from 375 to 450 seems to be to save up your materials and level up all at once with a +160% Transcendent Skill Sphere, which if you don’t have one costs 1000 credits. It’s credits well spent, though, in my opinion, because of the savings you’ll reap from not having to spend so much on materials. (I happen to have some from previous giveaways, and I plan on using them.)

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind spending money on Rift at all. But this is the first time I can remember feeling any kind of pressure to buy. Pressure in the sense that it’s better and/or more enjoyable to spend money than to play for free. In the past, I’ve felt that spending money is only necessary once you’ve grown bored of a particular activity that was inherently fun, whereas now the activity is so tedious and time-consuming that you don’t even want to start on it.

Despite all of that above, Rift is still a cheap game in the global scheme of things. If you’re keeping score, so far I have spent $70 on Rift Nightmare Tide. $50 for the Collector’s Edition and $20 for some Credits which I used on Minion slots and some Minion cards. I could have gotten away with spending only $25 for the cheapest Collector’s Edition and had much the same experience. Considering I just paid some $90 for Warlords of Draenor and a 3-month subscription (and I still haven’t played more than a few hours of it), what I’ve spent on Rift so far is a bargain and for me, it has a lot more bang-for-the-buck.

Rift – Nightmare Tide

I’ve been playing nothing but Rift since the expansion came out.* If you even remotely like the game, you should definitely check out Nightmare Tide. I’m a little biased though, since I think Rift is the best themepark MMO out there, far surpassing WoW in every possible way. (Except in the amount of available content and player population.)

Just thought this was a nice vista in Goboro Reef.
A nice vista in Goboro Reef.

Good things about Nightmare Tide:

Ridiculously Plentiful Gathering Nodes. In Storm Legion, mining and foraging nodes are pretty few and far between. In Nightmare Tide, you trip over them every two steps. My mage started with Foraging at 375 but Mining at only around 50. (I had decided much earlier that I was going to add all of the gathering skills to my main, but hadn’t gotten around to leveling them.) So I went back and leveled up Mining before I spent too much time in the Plane of Water. It only took a couple of hours to get from 50 to 300 in the “old” zones. But then I hit the Storm Legion zones and progress ground to halt. It took most of the day wandering around to get from 300 to 350, because suddenly you couldn’t find any mining nodes, and on those occasions when you did, you only got like 1/3 of a point! Once I got to 350 it was easy to get to 375 by grinding on some mobs up in Dendrome. I also leveled up Butchering and ran into the same problem. Huge dead zone between 300 and 350. Then you go into Nightmare Tide and you can’t move an inch without hitting a plant or a mining node or something to butcher. This is what I call a good adjustment by Trion. (It would be nice if they could go back to Storm Legion and double or triple the number of nodes.)

Carnage Quests A-OK Now. In Storm Legion, I became pretty irritated by all the Carnage quests. It got so that I actively tried to avoid killing things so another stupid quest wouldn’t attach itself to my already-huge list. I guess it’s not that I didn’t like the quest objectives, it’s that you could never finish one before two new ones popped up. In Nightmare Tide, I’m not seeing that anymore. The Carnage quests seem to be just right. (Or maybe I’ve just gotten used to them.)

Zones Appropriately Sized. In Storm Legion, the zones are enormous and they seem mostly empty. Except for the accursed Carnage Quests. In Nightmare Tide, the zones seem to be just the right size. Or rather, they are still enormous, but there is stuff in them all over the place.

Gyel Fortress, the location of a new dungeon in Nightmare Tide.
Gyel Fortress, the location of a new dungeon in Nightmare Tide.

Leveling Pace Exactly Right. Unlike Storm Legion, where leveling from 50 to 60 was a rather daunting grind-fest, leveling through these three new zones seems just right. I have not yet gotten Patron status, and I don’t feel any need to do so. Without any bonuses (other than the 25% bonus they gave because of the outage) I’m still plugging along at a decent clip, even out-pacing the zone quests a little bit. So if you end up using a lot of bonuses, you’ll probably zoom to 65 in no time. So 5 levels in 3 zones seems like the right call. Good expansion size. Now if we could get one of these every six months instead of every year, it would be even more awesome.

Minions. At first I was befuddled by the minion system. I didn’t really know what it was good for. But then a weird thing happened. I kept sending out minions on adventures even though I didn’t fully understand the appeal, and then I still kept doing it, and then later, I still kept going back and sending out more minions on adventures. I don’t exactly love it, but there is something really compelling and interesting about it that keeps me coming back. I even bought two more slots. It seems to be the only way to get Artifacts in Nightmare Tide zones, because I haven’t run across a single Artifact out in the wild yet. Also you get just crap tons of Dimension Items, if you’re into that. I’m not particularly into that, so I just keep dumping them into my trash heap of a dimension to get them out of my inventory.

76 stages in a Silverwood Nightmare Rift is the best I've done so far.
76 stages in a Silverwood Nightmare Rift is the best I’ve seen so far.

Nightmare Rifts. These things are awesome. The only problem is that some jerk wad will inevitably try to sabotage the group’s progress by pulling mobs away from the center. (Public Service Announcment: Make sure everyone is on board with pulling the mobs to the center so everyone can AoE them down faster. If you’re a DPS and you get aggro, run to the center and stand there, don’t run away like a dufus.) If you’re in a big guild or whatever, I think you can open private Nightmare Rifts so you can avoid that.

By the way, if you’re afraid that the expansion is all about swimming, don’t worry. You only have to swim for about the first 15 minutes. Then it’s mostly land again. (Which also means you mostly wasted your money if you bought that shark mount.) There was much, much more swimming in the Song of Dreams mini-expansion last year. (Last year?!? Good lord I didn’t realize it was that long ago.)

* I almost killed off my geese in ArcheAge.. I logged in to find them starving and half of my fruit trees had already died off. By the way, I have heard people say they think ArcheAge is somehow similar to the look and feel of Rift. I just can’t see it. They are totally different to me.