FFXIV – Titan Hard Mode, The Impossible PUG

In FFXIV, one of your endgame tasks is to follow the Relic Reborn quest line in order to build your "relic weapon," which is one of the better weapons in the game (but not the best, of course, because that would be too easy). I’ve been pretty lazy about it because statistically the Artimes Bow doesn’t seem that much better than the Garuda Bow I’m currently using. But anyway the final step of the Relic Reborn quest (at least I think it’s the last one) involves retrieving some primal materials by defeating the three Hard Mode Trials.

I’ve done Ifrit and Garuda several times in PUGs. Not all PUGs can do them, but I would say at least half of them are successful. So I knocked those out pretty quickly.

So far, Titan hard mode has a PUG success rate of about 0%.

I must have tried a hundred times over a weekend with twenty or more different groups. Not once did anyone beat this dude. Only once did a group even come close to beating it. Only a handful of groups even made it past the heart phase, which is the halfway point.

I’ve done it so many times now that the first half of the fight is second nature to me. It mainly involves a lot of dodging. This is pretty easy for a Bard, and most other people can manage through the first half without too many incidents.

(This fight makes me wonder about the relative DPS output of Bards versus Black Mages and Summoners. I feel like BLMs and SMNs might have higher DPS abilities, but all of their spells get interrupted whenever they move, and there is a lot of movement in Titan Hard.)

At the halfway point, you reach the the first barrier to success, which defeats a majority of groups. After Titan jumps the third time, you have to switch to his Heart and burn that thing down. I don’t know exactly how much time you have, but it can’t be more than a couple of minutes, during which he casts two Gaols. You’re supposed to free the person in the first Gaol but ignore the second one. Most people try to do all this without using a Limit Break, which I first thought was nonsensical, but after seeing the chaos of the post-heart phase of the fight, I can understand why it might be better to save the LB for the end.

If by some miracle you get a PUG which has enough DPS to kill the Heart, with or without a Limit Break, you then enter the nightmarish part of the fight. (That’s right, the first part is a cakewalk.)

Unfortunately, because PUGs almost never make it past the heart, most people have never seen the really hard part. For that reason, the triumph of defeating the heart is usually quite short-lived.

I think the main problem in the second half is the new bomb pattern that throws everyone off. In the first half, you only get two bomb patterns. You see those hundreds of times and get quite familiar with them. But in the second half, Titan throws out a new one, and it’s a surprise when you first see it. Most people panic or get confused (me included), and it wipes out half the party right there. (Even if you’ve watched a guide, which I did, it’s nothing compared to experiencing it.)

I’ve seen it enough now to know: Run to where the last row of bombs fall, wait for the middle row of bombs to explode, then run there. (For some reason I have a mental block and keep wanting to run to where the second bombs fall, which is not a good idea.) You’ll probably have to dodge a Landslide, too. Conceptually it’s exactly the same as the other two patterns, but it’s hard to remember it in the chaos of the moment. You also have to see the order in which the bombs fall, which is sometimes difficult in the middle of dodging all the other stuff.

The other part of the second half that is especially hard on healers is Titan’s stomps. He does more of them, and they do more damage. They do unavoidable AoE damage to the entire party. If the healers aren’t able to intervene, a lot of people are going to die from the stomp damage. (My ~3800 Vitality wasn’t enough.)

As if all of Titan’s mechanics weren’t hard enough to contend with, I also have to deal with an increasing number of annoying lag spikes. I’ve heard that this might be the result of ISP traffic shaping, which is even more annoying. Everybody on the screen freezes, while I can still run around, then one or more seconds later, everybody moves at warp speed and catches up. Sometimes this is just a comical nuisance. But when six of Titan’s AoEs suddenly appear under your feet and blow up without giving you any chance to move, it’s pretty annoying. The only thing I can think to do during these lag spikes is to take off running somewhere and hope that you dodge whatever is happening that you can’t see. (I’ve been seriously considering signing up for the Pingzapper service to see if it helps.)

On Sunday night, I lucked into a group that made it farther than I’d ever seen before. This group made it past the heart mostly intact, and a lot of people managed to stay alive in the second half. I, of course, kept getting killed by lag and/or the escalating stomps that Titan does. In the end only a heroic healer and tank survived, and eventually they were both Gaoled, and the fight reset. We considered it a success anyway because technically, Titan didn’t kill everyone. We had him down to around 20% health. Then the time limit expired and we all went our separate ways, hoping that maybe the next PUG will be the one that finally defeats Titan.

Landmark – Now With Inversion

Last Wednesday, SOE patched Landmark with a pretty significant list of bug fixes. The only part that mattered to me, of course, was the addition of an invert mouse option. Yay! I can play!

I’m still not going to build anything complicated, though, because … well, it’s going to get wiped. Either accidentally or intentionally. So there’s no point in wasting the effort.

So basically all I’ve done so far is run around and chop down trees or dig holes in the dirt.

That sounds intensely boring when you write it, but I have always liked gathering in MMOs, so running around chopping on trees and digging holes is actually kind of fun for me. Well, maybe "fun" isn’t the right word. It’s more like relaxing. In Landmark, there is this nice ambient music playing in the background, and a nice landscape all around you, and it’s just kind of pleasant and stress-free just to be there.

The animations in the game are very nice, too. Your character does a lot of interesting moves based on the landscape you’re on. Like if you’re going downhill, he’ll start to "slide." They’re completely meaningless in terms of gameplay, but it’s cool to watch. I also like the way resources fly out in chunks and then get vaccuumed up.

I’m a bit confused about the mining, though. I thought the Founder’s Pick was supposed to be a good pick, but so far I can only mine Dirt, Stone, and Agate. I keep running to places that look like veins of something cool, but I always get ‘your tool isn’t good enough to mine this material.’

I guess I’m supposed to craft a better pick, but how am I supposed to craft anything with Dirt and Stone? :) I once went to the crafting station and looked through recipes, but they all seemed to require materials that I hadn’t seen yet.

(I later discovered that I had somehow gotten into a Tier 2 zone, where there was no copper to mine.)

The bottom line is that I like it, but it’s going to need more stuff to do and more stability before I see myself playing it for hours on end. Right now it’s just fun to pop in and mess around for fifteen minutes here and there. (Similar to Trove, which is a more developed game, but looks and feels totally different.)

Rift – Dreamweaving In 2.6

Don’t get me wrong, I am ecstatic to see Rift adding new "stuff" to the game, but unfortunately Dreamweaving–a crafting profession for enhancing Dimensions–is way far down on the list of things that interest me. Dreamweaving allegedly allows you to craft thingys and gizmos and whatsises for your Dimensions, but I have yet to do much of anything with my Dimensions, except dump in all the Dimension items that keep filling up my inventory. My Dimension space (which is so unattended that I don’t even know its name) looks like an episode of Hoarders.

The only saving grace to the new profession is that you can create ‘Dream Orb’ armor enhancements which apparently stack with runes. So everybody will have to add another column to their ‘Best in Slot’ spreadsheets.

I doubt that I will do much with it though because I’ve never been much into collecting artifacts. It’s a cool feature, and I always pick them up when I see them, but unless you actively spend hours and days and months shunning other tasks to hunt for them, you only get maybe 1% of the number that you actually need to fill out collections. It’s been–what, 3 years?–since Rift launched and I think I still have less than 20 of those lucky coins. (That’s a hard sentence to punctuate, by the way, and not something you’re going to find in any style guide, but I want a colloquial tone dammit!)

They’re also adding a new Loyalty Tier, but I’m not sure I understand how a person is supposed to get to it without spending just gobs and gobs of cash in the shop. I’ve spent a bit on Rift over the years in subscriptions, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t even made it halfway up the ladder yet. And I’m sorry, but nobody needs to buy fifty thousand different decorative outfits, mounts, and pets.

I’m a lot more interested in the Bloodfire invasions. Ultimately it doesn’t mean much except some new achievements, but it’ll be something different to look at. I believe we’ll also be getting a World Event in 2.6 as well, so that might be fun.

I guess I’m having a hard time getting excited about Rift in general, which is sad. I remember being incredibly excited to hear about new classes in Rift 3.0, and now I’m just kind of meh about it. Where has the magic gone?

Landmark – Paying For Alpha

On the issue of paying for Alpha access, I’m having a hard time getting worked up about it. On the surface it seems like an outrage, but the more I think about it, the more it sounds conceptually identical to pre-ordering.

It’s long been a trend that if you pre-order an MMO, you get "early access." I remember this was the case way back with Warhammer Online. It’s just that now, instead of 5 days of early access, you get 5 months of early access. Or more.

And that comes with all the problems of playing a game 5 months too soon. If you look at any game 5 months before launch, chances are it’s going to have a lot of bugs to work out.

I do think they should not wipe any of your progress after you’ve paid money, though. That’s a problem for me. It means that I won’t spend much time playing your game until you declare no more wipes.

For me, another part of the decision to buy early involves one’s confidence that the game is on track. I don’t feel like I’ve taken any big risks by paying early for either Trove or Landmark (or ESO), because I have a lot of confidence that those games will be released. These are big name studios with big reputations. It’s a whole different story with Kickstarter games, though. I doubt I would spend more than $20 on those, because the risk is much higher.

There’s one thing that troubles me about some early remarks from Landmark players and even SOE. They seem to think that it’s somehow our responsibility to help make the game, and that we have an obligation to report bugs and give feedback to SOE. Many people said the same thing in Neverwinter’s "open beta."

Well, no. Just no. We’re not testers in the traditional sense. We’re more like spectators. If I choose to report some bugs, it’s purely out of the goodness of my heart, and not because I feel like I have to. If I see a bug that doesn’t impede me in any way, chances are I’m not going to bother reporting it, and I’m just going to move on with my day. That’s generally what I do in released games, too. (And no matter how you slice the semantics of it, Landmark is released.)

In other words, if you want me to help build your game, you need to get out your checkbook. I’m just there to observe the spectacle.

I’ve toyed with the idea of getting my money back for Landmark. I don’t feel like I was misled about the nature of the game in any way, but it was a total impulse buy, and I don’t know if I would have bought it after a long deliberation. It’s a building game, after all. Those are not normally my thing.

FFXIV – Conjurer, Part 2

With such slow casting times, you’d think that the optimal way to play a Conjurer would be to spam Cures on the tank so he’s always full. That’s what I did in Rift, more-or-less, with the Purifier class. (Prior to Storm Legion, at least.)

Welllllll, see, there’s this thing called ‘threat.’ I may be completely wrong, but in my meager experience so far, I feel like healing generates a lot of threat in FFXIV. At least in the early levels. That means you can’t just keep blasting Cures all over the place unless you want every mob running straight toward you. (It reminds me a lot of the early days of Neverwinter.) So there’s a balancing act of casting just enough Cures to keep the tank alive but not enough to pull threat from him. Which leads to some uncomfortable waiting, knowing your tank is taking damage, but also knowing you can’t cast a heal on him without commiting suicide. If I’m in doubt, I cast the heal anyway and hope that the tank is aware enough to pull the mobs off of me before I get killed. Most of the time that works. Mostly.

Usually the balancing act of healing is manageable and it’s pretty easy to heal through the low-level dungeons. But only if your tank has learned how to maintain threat.

I have not yet tanked any dungeons, and it’s for this exact reason: New tanks in the low-level dungeons often don’t hold threat very well on trash mobs. I feel like it must not be a straightforward process to maintain threat, because apparently not many people know how to do it. And I’m sure the first time I try to tank a dungeon, I will also fail miserably at it and everybody in the group will think I’m a moron. So I’ve been avoiding tanking, even though I really wish there were more tanks in the game.

From the healer’s perspective, here’s what a "problem tank" looks like: The tank runs in, hits a few mobs, then the healer casts one or two heals on him, and suddenly one or more mobs are running straight at the healer. It’s very similar from the Bard perspective. When mobs start running away from the tank, I know a dungeon is going to take a long time, and it’s going to be very stressful. (A conscientious tank will see the problem and attempt to regain threat, while a totally oblivious tank will just stand there wondering where the rest of the mobs went and why the rest of the party is running around like crazy–those latter ones are the really stressful dungeon runs.)

That’s why it’s sometimes a little dicey healing the low-level dungeons.

But one handy trick I discovered is judicious use of the Bard’s ‘Quelling Strikes’ ability, which reduces enmity generation. (Of course, you need a level 34 Archer/Bard first.) When you’re spamming Cure to keep a dying tank alive, and you can see the threat meters turning yellow and about to turn red, hitting Quelling Strikes will give you a little more time before the mobs come for you. Hopefully that gives the DPS that extra bit of time to kill something, or gives the tank a little more time to notice he’s about to lose threat.

P.S. Most of the above threat issues seem to vanish once you get to TotoRak and Haukke.

UPDATE: Oh, you can’t use Bard skills anymore once you become a White Mage. So nevermind about that Quelling Strikes thing.

FFXIV – Conjurer, Part 1

During the time I’ve been waiting in FFXIV endgame queues for my Bard, I’ve leveled all my other adventuring classes to 15 through a combination of FATEs, levemetes, and hunting log completion. (You’d think leveling to 15 would be easy, but in reality the time it takes to get from level 10 to level 15 seems endless.)

My goal was to get all the classes to 15, then pick one to dive into and level the rest of the way to 50. At the time of this writing, the winning class is Conjurer, which I have gotten to 27, mainly in dungeons.

Conjurer is one of the healing classes in FFXIV. I’m not an especially great healer, so it’s a challenge for me right off the bat. I tend to buckle under the crushing weight of responsibility that I feel for the safety of the party. As a healer, if you make one mistake at the wrong time, you could literally get the whole party killed. At least, that’s how I feel. It would be fine if I was always running with a party of nice people, but you never know what you’re going to get in a PUG.

The Conjurer basically has one single-target healing spell: Cure. It has an insanely long cast time, so you have to plan ahead with your casting. That’s in addition to the rather lengthy global cooldown in FFXIV, by the way, and the occasional spikes of 1-2 second lag. It’s a little nerve-wracking. ‘Oh crap, the tank’s health is dropping really fast, I better cast a heal. Oh look, now his health is plummeting straight down to zero, but my cast bar is still only half full. Oh, now everyone’s dead.’ (That’s a slight exaggeration. In reality that only happens if the tank is really bad and over-pulls, or a DPS pulls threat on everything at once.)

There’s also an AoE heal called Medica, but it’s an even slower cast-time, and costs a whole lot of mana, so I don’t use it much. (I have to assume it’s more cost-effective at level 50 because I see WHMs casting Medica II almost exclusively.)

The other major skill is a dispell called ‘Esuna’ for some reason, which is a relatively fast cast but so far when I’ve needed it, I’ve needed to cast like nine of them in a row (in I think it was Toto-Rak when everyone gets poisoned).

And that’s pretty much it, unless I’m totally missing something in my noobness. At the start of the dungeon, you cast a Protect on everyone, then you follow the tank around casting Cures. If you have a good tank, it’s a pretty easy ride. But that’s the trick, isn’t it? Getting a good tank.

WoW – Outlands Completed, Or At Least Left

Due to a heat pump failure, my normal schedule of writing scintillating posts (ha!) was totally borked. But lucky for you, I found some posts that I have previously rejected as being totally lame and irrelevant, pulled from the dregs of the barrel of mediocrity.

My WoW Hunter has finally reached the level cap! Of Burning Crusade, that is. Which means he is now Level 70, a mere twenty levels and five years behind where everyone else is. I spent a weekend burning through quests (ha, get it?) in the Blade’s Edge Mountains and Netherstorm, and when I was nearing the end of level 69, I suddenly realized that it was pointless to finish the questing in the Outlands because the very first quests in Wrath of the Lich King would probably give me ridiculously awesome gear, higher experience, and more money. So I dropped everything and left.

I stopped by the flying trainer dude in Honor Hold on the way out, and finally bought the permits to let me fly in Azeroth and Northrend, which wiped out most of my money in one swipe (I am not very good at building wealth in MMOs). I also stopped to take a picture of the colorful, mismatching gear I had been wearing in Outlands, because I figured it would be gone soon. And I changed my hair style to celebrate the upcoming new era of my venerable old character from 2006. (He’s my oldest still-active MMO character. Well, the oldest one with a respectable level.)

Spending all my gold before leaving the Outlands
Spending all my gold before leaving the Outlands

So after some Googling to find out where the Lich King was Wrathing, I went all the way back to Stormwind to catch a ship to Northrend. The very first quest it gave me was a flight to the hub city of Dalaran to bind at the inn, which I think is a new addition since the time the expansion was first released. I dinged 70 on the experience I got from discovering the city there.

Easiest level ever.
Easiest level ever.

After that I got started on quests back in Valiance Keep. In the time it took to do enough quests to get a friendly reputation, most of my gear had been replaced by new, darker, broodier pieces. I was also about 3/4 of the way to level 71, amazingly enough. It sure is fast to level in WoW. :)

Didn't take long to replace my gear.
Didn’t take long to replace my gear.

Since my subscription is almost expired for the time being, it’s likely that’s where my Hunter will stay until the next time I get an urge to subscribe. In my remaining days I think I will play with Battle Pets.

LotRO – Left Angmar For Eregion

Due to a heat pump failure, my normal schedule of writing scintillating posts (ha!) was totally borked. But lucky for you, I found some posts that I have previously rejected as being totally lame and irrelevant, pulled from the dregs of the barrel of mediocrity.

My LoTRO Hunter reached level 48. Normally a level like "48" doesn’t seem like that much of an achievement, but in LoTRO I feel like it takes an eternity* to level, so each new number is a major milestone. Asian grindfests TERA and Aion are the only two games I can think of that level slower right now.

I was going to hang around in Angmar until I reached level 50, but I just don’t like that place for some reason. It’s all dark and red and there’s spooky music and weird noises everywhere. I finished the "Fen" quests that gave me a nifty set of Hunter armor, and then I left to check out Farochel in the hopes of getting to 50 there. I spent a little time with the eskimos, but that place was somewhat depressing too so at level 47 I decided I was "close enough" to 50 to head to Moria. (I’m hoping I don’t need to finish the Shadows of Angmar epic quest line to start into Moria.) The only way I know of to get there is via. the old-fashioned "walking" method, so I headed south from the Trollshaws into Eregion, where I discovered a bunch of quests around the level 48-49 range. So now the plan is to hang out in Eregion until I reach 50. There’s a bunch of crebain and worms (the dragon kind, not the wiggly kind) and half-orcs around there that need to be dealt with for the helpless folk of Middle Earth.

I don’t know why I think level 50 is an important goal. That’s, what, a little more than half the level cap now? And people wonder why they let you buy your way to the level cap. Not every part of these long-lasting games is actually fun. I kind of wish they would sell tiers. Like pay one amount to get to level 50, another amount to get to level 70, and another amount to get to level 85. Something like that. Or hell, just pay X amount per level, so you could buy 1 level or 5 levels or 50 levels. Then you can choose where you want to start. Why not?

* Note: The leveling rate of "eternity" is defined as more than one or two days of casual gaming time per level. And yes I know it used to take weeks or months to gain a level so I should shut up and stop complaining.