The Prestigious Endgame Viable Awards 2016

It occurred to me that the end of the year is approaching, and it’s time to do one of those year-end posts that bloggers love to do. Unfortunately I kind of hate doing them. It’s a lot of work. You have to actually look things up and think and count and multiply and divide and things like that. That goes against my normal principal of blogging by “just typing words into a text editor.”

Here are the 2015 awards. This year I’m going to award Biggest Disappointment of the Year, MMORPG of the Year, MMORPG Expansion of the Year, Game of the Year. In another post I’ll also be revealing my Most-Played MMORPG, and Most-Played Game.

2016 Contenders

As I defined it last year, my selections are based on the best game that I bought and played in 2016 which was also released in 2016. I also consider Early Access releases, to punish developers for releasing their game too early. You can have money, or you can have an award, but not both. :) Anyway since I only buy a handful of new games every year, the pool from which I can pick is often very small. Based on my extensive research of Steam emails, these are the 2016 released games that I’ve bought and played:

Battlefield 1
Black Desert Online
Blade and Soul
Civilization VI
DarkMaus
Dark Souls III + Ashes of Ariandel
Devil Daggers*
DOOM
Far Cry Primal
Riders of Icarus

* I can’t find out if there was an Early Access version available before 2016. Steam does an admirable job of “hiding” that games were released in Early Access before they were actually released.

Note: I could conceivably add The Division, but I only played an hour of open beta, so I’m discounting it. Same for Overwatch. Neither would have won anything anyway.

And these are the MMORPG expansions I’ve played this year:

Rift, Starfall Prophecy
World of Warcraft, Legion

These are some games I bought and played in 2016 but were disqualified from contention:

Bastion (Released Aug 16, 2011)
Black Mesa (Early Access Release May 5, 2015)
Immune (Early Access Release March 25, 2015)
Miasmata (Released Nov 28, 2012)
NEO Scavenger (Early Access Release Dec 15, 2014)
Novus Inceptio (Early Access Release Oct 5, 2015)
Salt (Early Access Release Aug 22, 2014)
SOMA (Released Sep 22, 2015)

On to the awards!

Game of the Year: Dark Souls III

I mean, come on. Not even a contest. Other games on the above list are play-once-and-forget-about-it games (yes, even Civ 6, in which I have not even completed a full game, and kind of wish I’d waited for a sale), whereas I could replay Dark Souls III an infinite number of times and not get tired of it. I’ve played it through at least six times already.

MMORPG of the Year: Black Desert Online

Riders of Icarus barely rates a mention. It was between Blade and Soul and Black Desert, and to me the easy winner is Black Desert Online. I had a lot more fun with BDO. I’m not sure I even made it out of the tutorial area with Blade and Soul.

MMORPG Expansion of the Year: Legion

This was a tough one because I played both Legion and Starfall Prophecy for roughly the same amount of time: Less than a month. Both expansions are basically more of the same in their respective MMORPGs. It’s a toss-up, but I gave the edge to Legion. Legion had less bugs and an impressive array of cut scenes, while Rift had more friction with some frustratingly difficult gameplay.

Biggest Disappointment Of The Year: Far Cry Primal

I was really hoping that Far Cry Primal would have more survival elements. I was hoping it would be the first AAA survival game that wasn’t just a rushed-out-the-door indie train wreck. But it wasn’t a survival game. It was a Far Cry game, set in prehistoric times. It was fun, and they have a good formula, but it was essentially “more of the same.” (I have the same expectations for Conan Exiles now: That it will be the first AAA survival game.)

Not Much To Get Excited About

I sort of lost interest in Rift when I got to level 68. Xarth Mire is not very pleasant to run around in, what with the lack of safe roads, the rather high mob density, and the frog tongues that constantly pull you to them no matter how much you want to run away from them.

But mainly I drifted away from Rift because I started playing Fallout: New Vegas. I played it for about 8 hours last year, then put it away when Fallout 4 came out. Recently I installed New Vegas again and my old saved games magically appeared, so I was able to pick it up right where I left off. It’s quite good. I dare say it’s as good or better than Fallout 4, at least in terms of story.

I also started playing, believe it or not, Morrowind. I’ve never played it before but I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m having some difficulty getting the Steam version to run consistently at a decent resolution though.

It seems like there isn’t very much news happening in the gaming world right now, or at least nothing that’s interesting to me. Free-to-play EVE is mildly interesting, but even free I don’t see very many newbies sticking around in that game. New ArcheAge servers aren’t appealing for the same reason that the old servers aren’t appealing: You can’t maintain land without Patron status. (At least I assume that’s still a condition.) One of the few games I was looking forward to was Conan Exiles but the recent trailer made that game look a bit like garbage.

I can’t find anything else to comment on. Scanning through the last week of Massively OP news items gives me a profoundly crotchety feeling of “who cares about any of this.”

Xarth and The Post-NaNo Blues

Last night I welcomed on old friend back into my life: The post-NaNoWriMo blues. I’ve written about this before. Here’s me from December 2011:

“The act of creation is so thrilling and stimulating and awesome that when it’s over, there’s nothing left inside but a black empty void of nothingness. For me, it generally manifests as a fervent desire to stare at the walls and feel useless all day.”

I remember writing much more colorful language about it, though. Ah, here it is, from 2012:

“That’s pretty much what writing a novel is like. You never “finish” per se, because there is always an infinite number of things you can do to improve it. In order to move on, you have to make a conscious decision to abandon it. I imagine it’s something like having a baby, except that instead of nature performing the normal birthing process, you have to do it yourself by tearing the child from your flesh, leaving behind a massive, bloody cavity of organs, meat, and bone fragments. Hrm. Yeah, that sounds about right.”

Anyway. This time the blues isn’t so much because I’m “finished” as much as from knowing that I’m not finished, and it’ll probably never be finished, and even if I do finish it, it’ll never be edited, and it’ll never be sold, and it’ll never be published, and I’ll never make any money from it, and I’ll never be able to quit my day job, and I’ll probably die before I get to retire just like my father did. You know, the usual.

So I watched a bunch of YouTube videos. Then I played some Rift. I had this one quest where I had to escort dragon whelplings across practically the entire Xarth Mire zone and it felt like it took about ten years to get through that. But in the end I got some new shoulder pads so I guess it was worth it?

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By the way I’m firmly into level 68 mob territory now, and I’m still level 67, even with Patron status. My Harbinger/Chloro build is holding up, though. Hotfix #4 even buffed the Harbinger a little bit, so I’m doing about 5k more dps. I also remembered to enable that one ability that uses charge to increase your damage, you know, that ability that looks like a blue electrified sword, which I’ve bound to Shift-Y. Right? It makes that sizzling sound when you activate it? I’m sure everyone knows the one I’m talking about.

To end on sort of a high note, I wrote another 1000 words on my novel before bed, and completely out of the blue, I figured out what the story arc for the novel should be. So the day after NaNoWriMo ended, I figured out what to write for my NaNoWriMo novel! But on the negative side, it means scrapping a lot of what I wrote last month. Oh well. They say you have to write a million words before you can be good at writing, so I’ll tack another 50,000 words onto my total.

Rift – This Thing Is Hard Yo

I broke down and bought 15 days of Patron status in Rift. The amount of extra XP gain is very large and noticeable and I would say almost mandatory, at least if you want to keep your sanity while leveling.

Before continuing with my Mage, in a fit of rage over being so under-powered in the new zones, I got out my Primalist and started leveling him. I made a Primalist back when they first came out but only got to level 9. This time, I discovered the Hammerknell Instant Adventures, which I’d never done before.

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Man, that place is amazing. I’m really glad they made it accessible for more people to see it. I proceeded to level from 9 all the way to level 50 in two days, taking screenshots all over the place. Then I used my level 65 boost and skipped from 50 to 65 (that’s the really slow part in Rift). I know it was a bit of a waste to go from 9 to 50 but it was a good learning experience. The point is now I have a level 65 Primalist.

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Primalists are kind of fun, by the way. The Berserker soul has some crazy AoE damage potential. It’s a bit like the Champion soul.

Anyway, after all the adventures in Hammerknell I went back to my Mage. I thought Starfall Prophecy was going to get easier the more gear I got from quest rewards, but not so much. At the end of the Scatherran Forest, the first zone, I had the full, stylish green-and-yellow-with-antlered-helmet cloth set.

Yeah, they thought this was a good look for a high level dwarf mage.
Yeah, they thought this was a good look for a high level dwarf mage.

By then it was relatively straightforward to kill level 65 and 66 mobs. But not level 67 mobs, which is what you fight at the start of the Gedlo Badlands, the second zone. When my Mage finally reached level 67, I started getting comfortable with the level 67 mobs. Of course now I’m starting to see level 68 mobs, so I’m back to struggling.

The point is, maybe it’s just me but this expansion seems harder than any previous one. Storm Legion was hard for the first one or two levels, then it got easy. Nightmare Tide was hard for the first level, then it got easy. This expansion seems determined to remain hard for the entire time.

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Boo! Scary new 65 Primalist.

Even my go-to survive-anything-anywhere build, the Elementalist, has issues. These Starfall mobs mow down a tank pet in no time if you’re not careful. I usually have to heal my pet about halfway through every mob encounter, and if I end up against two mobs I spend more time healing than doing damage. With three mobs, forget about it. So yeah I’ve died a lot. Don’t even get me started about that bleepity bleeping “Smash Time” quest in the Gedlo Badlands.

I actually prefer soloing without a pet in Rift (it’s faster, and the pets always ruin screenshots and stand exactly on top of gathering nodes so you can’t click on them), but these Starfall mobs do so much damage that if you go with a faster damage build, you end up having to heal up after every single fight, which is a pain. I like to go from mob to mob to mob one after the other without any down time. I tried my Harbinger/Chloromancer (melee damage + healer) soloing build but it doesn’t have enough self-heals. I tried a Pyromancer/Elementalist build (tank pet plus ranged damage), but it was too squishy. I tried an Arbiter (tank soul) but it takes too long to kill things and you still have to heal afterwards. I tried a pure Chloromancer build but it takes all day to kill anything. I tried a pure Warlock build but it doesn’t have enough self-heals.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with another Harbinger/Chloromancer build with a lot more points in healing. It’s working “okay” but it could be better. I wish the damage output was a little higher.

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I’m not sure what I think of the Legendary abilities yet. Some of them seem good, some of them seem like duds.

I’m not too crazy about the Fragment system. It’s just more busy work. I don’t know about anyone else, but I really don’t need another gear layer with every expansion. I would have been fine with plain old higher level gear. Now you need Base Gear plus a Rune/Dream Orb/whatever plus a Fragment for every slot. In addition to the Essences that have always been there.

Anyway, the best part about the expansion so far is the banter between the companions that come with you on the story quests. Unfortunately it breaks up the flow of the game a bit because you have to stand there and watch them play out the scenes. (It’s hard to watch the dialog while you’re traveling because they’re behind you, unless you watch the chat window, but that isn’t as fun.) I think they go too far into jokey territory, but I figure that’s a sign of the game’s age. They’ve run out of new fantasy material so they’ve gone into self-parody. (My recollection of Vanilla Rift is that all the quests and NPCs were dead serious. Humor only crept into the game later, I want to say after Storm Legion.)

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Gedlo Badlands

By the way, whatever happened to Nightmare Rifts? Those things were fun, but I guess they don’t exist in Starfall Prophecy, or nobody summons them anymore.

Starting Rift’s Starfall Prophecy

I grudgingly embarked into Rift’s Starfall Prophecy over the weekend. I wasn’t excited about it, but I needed an excuse to postpone writing for NaNoWriMo. I’m trying to catch up from a huge deficit, so it’s important to put things off as long as possible. Anyway I pre-ordered Starfall Prophecy, so I figured I might as well play it.

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The dreaded Tuathe’de, who don’t ever turn around

I was very thankful to see that you still get tokens for logging in. I would have been about five short of buying the squirrel mount if they’d stopped that upon launch. So yay! I bought the squirrel mount. It’s silly and I will never use it. I took a screenshot, though.

Anyway, back to the expansion. First there was the challenge of finding the expansion. This is always a thing in Rift. They never tell you in-game where to go. I guess they just assume everyone is going to Google it or read the forums or something. I noticed the new area on the map and the new porticulum there, but I figured there had to be some sort of quest that led you there.

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Silly sparkle squirrel is silly

This conclusion was based on my first experience with the Plane-touched Wilds. I got there first by walking directly into the zone from Lantern Hook. There wasn’t anything preventing me from going right on in there, except an NPC at the border who said, “Hey you might want to maybe not do that because it might be hard.” Once inside, the first quest-givers made it abundantly clear that I’d missed something, so I left again. I ended up Googling how to “officially” start that zone, which turned out to be a quest way out in Tarken Glacier that I never would have found in a million years.

So with that in mind I went looking for a Starfall Prophecy quest that would take me a million years to find. I first investigated a place near the porticulum in Tempest Bay I didn’t remember seeing before, where Cyrodil was handing out a story quest. It looked very promising. I followed this quest line for about 45 minutes before I could no longer convince myself that I was heading for Starfall Prophecy. I was actually doing one of the Saga quest lines, something about dreams. I logged out in disgust, because then I had no more excuses to avoid writing.

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The adventure crew

Later I gave it another shot. But instead of spending a million years porting all over the place trying to find a Starfall Prophecy quest, like finding a needle in a haystack, I just ported right to the new continent.

There was some ruckus there with a dragon breaking things but I didn’t really pay attention to it at the time. It didn’t seem relevent.

Then I talked to someone who gave me a “fragment,” which is apparently the new gear progression in Starfall Prophecy. I promptly installed the fragment. Then I realized the quest had asked me to do something else with it. It still let me finish the quest anyway, which was fortunate. Then I got another fragment, which I promptly installed as well. At which point I read that I was supposed to recycle it or destroy it or something. Oops. I couldn’t figure out how to un-install fragments so I guess I’ll never finish that quest.

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Find the dwarf and dragon

I struck out into the wilderness. Shyla Starhearth and a miniature dragon appeared by my side and started talking, urging me to go to the forest on the right. This is the point where I thought I definitely missed out on an introductory quest, because I had literally no clue why these two were suddenly following me around in this new zone. I didn’t mind them being there, but it was totally out of the blue. They didn’t say, “Hi, Ascended, mind if we tag along? Because ___”. They just started talking as if we were already in the middle of a conversation. They mentioned the ruckus about breaking things so maybe I missed something there. I’ll have to go back and look at the video. :)

I recognized Shyla by her name, but she was wearing a totally different outfit than I’ve ever seen her in. And I recognized Tasuil because that was the name of a corgi from Dendrome but now he’s a dragon I guess. I sort of vaguely remember something about Tasuil and a young dragon at the end of Dendrome but not really. All I remember is the Rift developers killed off Tasuil the corgi in the end and it made me really mad and I had to enter a Chronicle to exact bloody vengeance upon whoever it was that did that.

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Magic exploding garden gnomes!

The point is it would have been nice to have a little bit more of an introduction for the expansion instead of forcing me to try to remember a story from years ago. (I had the exact same criticism of Legion.) Maybe there was an introduction, if I’d spent a million years searching for it. If that’s the case, then it would have been nice to know where to find the introduction without a painful search. Why do developers keep doing this? It happens in like every game every time. Well, almost. GW2 made it pretty easy to find Heart of Thorns as I recall.

(If the beginning to Starfall Prophecy was at the end of Planetouched Wilds, I never got past the first porticulum in there.)

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On the dusty trail with Smashy, the screenshot-ruining earth elemental

I wonder if a Defiant player would have somebody else as a companion. When I think of Shyla I definitely think Guardians. She’s right there standing next to Cyrodil in Sanctum. Would it be a totally different conversation with somebody else? Or the same conversation just with a different person? If it’s someone like Asha Catari I can’t see her being quite as sympathetic as Shyla Goody-Twoshoes Starhearth. Sadly I don’t have any Defiant characters at 65 to check it out.

Since I didn’t happen to have any top-tier raid gear when I started, the expansion was a little rough in the beginning. Most expansions are, so it was no big deal. I had to use my Elementalist build to get through the mobs, healing Smashy the stone elemental tank pet very frequently. I used to love the Elementalist, back in the old days when I leveled my first char to 50, but it got all weird and complicated in Storm Legion and I don’t like it as much anymore. But I had a build and macros already so I went with it. As I got more updated gear from quest rewards, the fights got easier, and finally when I got a new staff it got exponentially easier. I switched back to Harbinger.

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This is where the unicorns are, in case you were wondering

At least until I got to that Blackthorn area. That’s when all the mobs turned level 66. Unfortunately, I myself was still only halfway through level 65 at that point, and there was a noticable increase in difficulty in the level 66 mobs around Blackthorn (mainly those unicorn-killing Tuathe’de).

I’m pretty sure the reason I was lagging behind in experience is that I wasn’t subscribed. You get a pretty substantial bonus in experience gain when subscribed, and I imagine if I’d been subbed, I would have gotten the necessary experience to reach level 66 by the time I got to Blackthorn. That’s kind of annoying, especially since I can’t see any easy way to make up the difference in experience.

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I figured I’d play some Instant Adventures until I picked up enough experience to make level 66 before continuing. But for some reason, IAs are “disabled” right now.

Rifts are out because every one I’ve seen is level 66. And nobody ever closes them unless they’re part of a zone event, so I would have to close them solo and I don’t think I’d be able to. Not in a timely manner, at least.

So now I’m stuck behind the power curve. Killing random mobs for experience isn’t going to cut it in this day and age, and you can only do those Carnage quests once. I tried going back to the Plane-touched Wilds but the experience gains there are pitiful.

Slogging through difficult level 66 mobs at level 65 isn’t all that fun. I could handle it if I knew it was temporary, but I’m sure I’m going to be behind the experience curve all the way to 70, because it’s an effective incentive to subscribe.

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World boss!

I might be tempted to subscribe except for one thing: Trion doesn’t give you any credits with a subscription package. Nothing, zip, zilch. You get a small discount but you still have to pay real money to buy anything from the store, even after you’ve subscribed.

Maybe I can dig up some old experience boost potions. Either that or I’ll have to wait for the Instant Adventures to return before continuing the story quests. Which sucks, because now I’m sort of invested in the expansion and having fun. I have to save the unicorns!!!

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A nifty area above the trees

(And don’t even think about suggesting a dungeon. I haven’t optimized my builds and macros since roughly Storm Legion, so there’s no way I’m going into a group with people who know what they’re doing. I don’t even have a DPS meter installed for fear of what it might show.)