Path of Exile is really freakin cool.

29 10 2013

Straight up, I have been utterly consumed by a new game which I’ve hesitated to Youtube for two reasons:

  1. it’s not really fun to watch;
  2. it’s so fun to play that I’ve been doing it to the exclusion of everything else during fun time.

I’m daydreaming about Don’t Starve (and still have a pending episode to encode) and just  picked up King’s Bounty on TB’s recommendation (and it’s on sale) as well as Saints Row IV (also on sale this past weekend) soooo I’ve got a lot of pending entertainment that I don’t expect to finish prior to the arrival of a certain game that I will no doubt be obsessed with. Seriously, every day I’m seeing previews and opinion pieces praising the changes made to XCOM. I am chomping at the bit to test how resistant EXALT operatives are to bullets.

That all said, Path of Exile has currently taken a hold of me. It’s the Diablo 2 successor that I wanted D3 to be, introducing some brilliant adjustments to the click-fest genre: namely the monumental customization and brilliant gearing.

The passive skill tree is over a thousand nodes and shared between the classes, and while each class has little nests of abilities that the class is angled at, you can in every single case detour around the close nests and bee line for whatever you want, building a character that’s unique to you. The entire thing is very overwhelming, but if you grow your character organically with careful forethought you can have a good time of it; and if you fail, building a new character is actually not as prohibitive as it is in previous games of this type. Their entire market is founded upon that, actually: they have these Leagues in which you create a new character that can’t share assets with your characters in the Standard league, but they Leagues have special events, mobs, drops that you can only get in there. You play the League and, after some amount of time (a number of months) that League merges with Standard and they make a new one with new content. It’s like Ladders from D2. Leveling itself is quick (at least for the first 30 levels) and fun, allowing you to prototype a new character in a few days. Skills themselves are all drops – socketable gems – that level up with you and can be linked with other gems for fun effects.

My current main is a Ranger (the archer class) that uses a 2H sword and pushes Attack Speed and physical damage, using Smoke Bombs and heavy armor to survive. (Here’s the build.) She is super fun to play because she fits my style and – more importantly – breaks the mold. I did something with the Ranger that she was not ostensibly designed for (giant sword melee combat) and it’s working very well. I’ve got her in Act 2 of Merciless mode and her hang ups right now are that only two of my three resists are maxed and being Frozen straight up murders me. (Hence my  pushing for that node cluster on the far, far right of the tree.) Smoke Bombs are a gem, and my Faster Attacks + Double Strike + Mana Leech + Life Leech + Melee Splash (all gems linked together) = I kill stuff FAST. (I swing almost 5-times a second. It’s awesome.)

Now, I say “not ostensibly designed for” when it’s obvious to me that she was tested with builds not dissimilar to mine, but I feel like I broke the mold which is the mark of a good game: this game let me go my own way, use my own approach to the game. Brilliant.

It’s a great game, which I recommend. It’s Free-to-Play and the right kind, mind you: you buy only cosmetic (glowy swords) and quality-of-life (more stash tabs) and no power at all. Try it! It’s free.


It’s summer-time!

28 06 2012

Real-life really gets in the way of gaming (and writing about gaming) but I still make time for gaming. Here I am trying to make a bit of time to write about it once more. Wedding planning and a promotion have made for a lot of new stresses and adventures, but fear not, gentle reader: our hero still plays games.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Is still really good. The hate train on this has had absolutely no effect on me. What I like about the game can easily be summarized:

  • A really, really cool group of people, Two Percent (which refers to milk and not Wall St.).
  • Lightsabers; no, really, they never get old.
  • There is so much content. It’s ludicrous. I’m starting alts on the Empire side finally, seeing the light-side Sith Warrior I always wanted…only this time alongside some awesome people. The stories have all been very enjoyable. No surprise there, right? That’s like the Bioware schtick.
  • No really…a ton of content. End-game in most games is “repeat the same content”. SWTOR’s not immune to this as it has it’s share of end game raids (which, by the way, have uniformly been fun) but most of the “end-game” is alt’ing…which means, seeing the different stories (and in some cases, the different decisions) that are available to different classes (and in some cases, species and genders).

I get to play two to four nights a week now, depending. It’s rather restricted by real-life (wedding planning, general dates and outings, and also my job) but still a great time.

Diablo 3

This game is precisely what I expected it to be. It’s fun and I can pick it up and put it down very easily; if I have 15-30 minutes to burn, this is a great game to do just that with. If I need to quit immediately, worst case is I eat a repair bill. Jumping into games with others is trivial; I spent much of the initial phase of the game playing exclusively with friends. Barbarian and Monk are my favorites.

I even started a Hardcore character which – I admit – even very early on is extremely exciting.

Warhammer Fantasy and 40k

I finally got my dwarves on the table a few weeks ago and I’m hooked (as I expected)…it’s a lot of fun. They are largely unpainted: one large unit of dwarves is fully detailed and they’re some of my best work…but there’s a lot of ‘only base-coated’ plastic on the table.

The new rule-set for 40k drops on Saturday (at least, that’s when I pick up my pre-order…there are leaks all over the net already, of course) and I’m extremely excited for it.

(Very) long story short, I’ll be playing at least two times a week again. (This will cut into video game time, not only because of the game sessions, but I have a lot of painting to do.

Speaking of painting…

I’m taking a  painting class. No, really. Like, on canvas. It’s a lot of fun, I recommend it. When you have absolutely no skill at something and there’s no pressure…it’s nice to let go of that aspect of myself for a little while.

The Secret World

Was terrible and I won’t be licensing it. Maybe it’ll be awesome in a few years (e.g. the EVE Online growth model) but I’m not about to suffer through that long of a boot-strap. Besides, I’m not lacking for things to do. I am a bit disappointed I won’t live through the ARG…that marketing team is one of the best in the business. I am more disappointed that the gameplay is so dry.

D3: to us a game, to them a number.

1 06 2012

Reading this post by the Syp this morning brought to mind memories of rough launch periods for various games I’ve enjoyed, Diablo 3 being the most recent. I came down on them a bit hard in a previous post here; now I’m going to forgive them because (irony) I work in software.

The fact of the matter is that Blizzard does have the largest resume in the industry insofar as super-popular games that everybody plays on an online service that they host. Many people – myself included – put this forward as evidence that they had no excuse for that fail of a launch.

Actually, they very well could have an excuse.

Given the magnitude of their resume, I honestly find it unlikely that their technical departments or even their middle-management under-estimated how many people would play; they probably had a damn good idea that Everybody was going to play. Their only truly original IP; a game that resurrected and redefined the dungeon hack genre; people would come, Ray. They’d pass over the money without even thinking about it, because it’s money they have and peace they want.

Did I say peace? I meant “dead demon faces”.

One potential delimiter that I didn’t put forward before (I’m embarrassed to say that – in my disappointment – it escaped me) is the barrier of budget. Yes, even for Blizzard and Diablo 3.

They no doubt had a stupidly huge budget for the game, which was very likely not squandered. Game design, testing, balance; tools, assets, server and client code (the latter for three platforms – PC, Mac, and console), graphics and AI engines, hardware, testing, coffee and free lunch on Fridays for the staff, hardware for development, testing, and hosting, blah blah…the amount of cash they had on hand was no doubt massive but it was necessarily finite. The game looked awesome at launch…if you could log in.

They only have so much for resources, and if they work like any other company I’ve seen, they attempt to requisition funds for each piece individually, but the final total is what their backers are really interested in. (SIMPLISTIC ARMCHAIR ARITHMETIC INCOMING.) They put in M, they expect N*M for a return on a time table, which honestly means more to them than the game actually being fully ready. “Good enough” is what the backers are after. Good enough for N*M where M is as little as they can give and N has a floor that they’ve imagined, much in the way a child likes to imagine all the gifts under the tree at Christmas time.

So, Blizzard’s brass (the guys in charge of the middle-management) take their numbers to the backers and they say “Okay, we needs this and this and-”

“Waitaminute”, says the collective backers. “M is too big.”

“Yes,” says the BlizBrass “, but we expect demand for the game to be suuuuuuper high because 1. WoW, 2. Diablo 2, 3. it has basically no competition, 4. everybody’s been waiting for it for over a decade and they’re foaming at the mouths.”

“Of course,” says the collective backers, “and thus we expect to make a stupid amount of bank which will allow us each to buy six additional massive houses for no reason. Huzzah, America. Huzzah.”

“We simply won’t be able to meet demand if we don’t have all the-”

“Hush, now. We’re picturing it. Hooooooouuses. Yeeeeeees.”

Oh, look, video games.

30 05 2012

So, I wrote two pretty lengthy articles this week and I’ll probably shitcan both of them. One pokes fun at that Project Copernicus thing (R. A. Salvatore? Seriously?) and the other talks about the “single player MMO” thing. Amidst all of this, Massively (leave it to Massively) drops articles about the MMOcalypse (pronounced “muh-moh-calypse”) and that really pushed me over the edge. You guys all hate video games, I know; maybe me too.

Okay, not me too. I’m enjoying video games. That’s what this post is about.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Is still awesome. No, really. All those people shit-talking it don’t know what they’re talkin about. Did they aim to high? Did they make cuts because investors wanted a bigger margin? So what? That’s what happens when you are publicly traded and being risky and aggressive, but – more to the point – the game is still good, still making money, and still being worked on.

I still laugh out loud at every other conversation that my smuggler has. The Sawbones Healing game – even at lv. 35 (where I am now) – is damned fun. It is possibly the most fun healer I’ve played (okay, the Chloromancer is still my favorite, but finally I’ve found a contender) as the healing is rhythmic; not repetitive…rhythmic.

I have two resources that I need to manage: Energy and Upper Hand. The first resource is the standard smuggler Energy bar which regenerates at a fixed rate, which is one of three (fast, medium, slow) depending on how much I’m in the hole (i.e. the lower my energy, the slower it comes back). I’ve got a HoT (stacks twice, long-lived), a cleanser (removes debuffs), and a standard long-cast/big heal, all of which take Energy. Casting the big one generates Upper Hand stacks; the HoT also has a proc (on Crit) that gives me Upper Hand stacks. I’ve only healed for groups in FPs two or three times now, but I found that the HoT procs alone would flood me with UH.

Upper Hand serves three functions for me. First, if I have at least one stack of it, my healing is buffed. Second, it’s a resource I can spend for either a small instant heal, or a time-saver version of the big heal (which costs Energy and an UH stack). Finally, I can convert one stack of UH into a 45-second buff (cast is a 35 second cooldown, so I can keep it up indefinitely under ideal circumstances) increasing my Energy regeneration across the board. I can have no more than three UP stacks, so I try to keep my amount at one or two, so no procs are wasted but I have the heal buff as often as possible. Instant heals and HoTs mean I can very often heal on the move.

I also have a brief channeled “free heal” which heals basically nothing, however it gives me a few ticks of Energy regen; while that’s also miniscule, the idea here is not to “Give me more Energy”…the idea is to “Push me over the edge from Medium regen to Fast regen”.

Oh, and also, I have Stealth. I can Vanish, sneak past pulls, even long-term stun (“Sap”) a biological target from Stealth. Out of Stealth I have a long lock down for droids…both stuns are in the order of 60 seconds. I can also briefly stun many targets with a quick kick to the groin, which – for a healer – is the most awesome CC ever conceived. Attack the healer, will you?

In summary, I still really enjoy SW:TOR. The solo game is fun; I really enjoy leveling with a friend or two (and it’s way faster this way); I really enjoy the flashpoints and raids, both from a level-design standpoint and a party composition standpoint. The game’s a good one; pinnacle of the theme park genre. I really like it.

Diablo 3

My main is a Barb, as it always was. I’ve enjoyed the other classes too, though I haven’t tried the Demonhunter yet…Barbarian was always my class of choice. Let’s face it, no Diablo mage could have hoped to stand his or her ground against the Diablo 1 mage; that guy was unstoppable. (Except for Obsidian Witches. Screw those clowns.)

My spec is a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race kind of deal. As I ran a tank for a long while in theme park MMOs, I do try to tank a bit in D3…but “tanking” isn’t really the word for it. It’s more aptly called “running interference”.

I’ll do a full article on my build at some point, as it digresses a good amount from what I’ve seen as the “recommended builds” out there – but suffice it to say that I refuse to live without “Super Saiyan Musuo Mode” and “Seismic Knockback Party” as they are awesome to me.

The game is super fun and is an intriguing testament to the direction Blizzard wants to take social gaming in. I suspect that Titan will be a lot less like WoW and a lot more like Diablo insofar as how easy it is to game together: things like insta-joining your friends, complete divorce from the tank/healer/dps trinity, and a real-cash auction house. I have no hard evidence for this…unless  you count how ridiculously successful D3 already is. I do.


My friend and I have built a freakin city. I should say, we “are building” a city, because it’s 1. huge and 2. still in progress. Best $10 I ever spent, hands down.


There are some really sweet games out there right now. Thanks to Syncaine I’ve been eyeballing Crusader Kings 2; I will very likely pick it up when it goes on sale on Steam for the holidays. There’s no guarantee this will happen, but I very strong suspect that it will.

D3 and SW:TOR are thoroughly enjoyable; I recommend them.

Regarding the Secret World

23 05 2012

I’m in the beta, technically…but I only  logged in a handful of times. On principle I want to play the game because I regretted missing the ARG in Matrix: Online. That’s weird, no? Wanting to play a game “on principle”. It is less weird that principle is insufficient motivation to actually play a game.

I am about to come down on the Secret World rather hard.

The short of it.

The things I really like about the Secret World are:

  • presentation; in particular, how you go about solving quests, looking in real-looking phone books, sitting down to terminals, making your way through mazes, etc.;
  • the idea (not the implementation) of a “classless” system;
  • I guess that’s it.

The things I found disappointing are:

  • early combat is boring…of course I can’t speak for late combat, but if I can’t endure early combat, that’s silly nowadays;
  • the implementation of the classless system (stand by for elucidation);
  • it feels soooooo grindy.
The thing I really hate:
  • utter lack of sufficient social tools.

Classless and No-levels

First of all, “no-levels” is kind of silly; levels exist for a reason; they give the player (and the devs) an indication of what a given character can roughly expect to accomplish; what event(s) that player can expect to deal with. It’s an abstraction; a simplified one. There are games that skip this entirely; EVE Online has no “character level”, for instance…and any EVE regular will be quick (and wise) to tell you that the number of character points a player has accumulated does not necessarily correlate to that player’s level of skill or even that character’s intrinsic level of competence (i.e. what the character can roughly expect to handle). So this isn’t new, but it needs to be done carefully.

Herein lies the first issue I have with TSW; allow me to grossly simplify it for time. Consider this scenario:

  1. You do the initial quest area and get a bunch of points.
  2. As these points roll in, you pump them into Assault Rifles because you think they’re sweet.
  3. By the end of initial quest area, you hate Assault Rifles.
  4. Now grind the initial quest region again to get enough points to try something else.
  5. Repeat as necessary.

No, just no. We’re past this now. To their credit, this is an admirable attempt, but it is in fact too painful for me to endure. The first few evenings of combat, coupled with this very feeling that it instilled in me, did in fact boil down to “This is too bad to endure to see the ARG out.”

Now we have Diablo 3 where you not only have the level abstraction, but you literally have access to every skill and ability for your class and can – like TSW – pick a small subset of them (your hand from your deck of cards, as it were) but you don’t need to go back and grind hours and hours of content you’ve already seen in order to try a new build. Find a cool new weapon? Change out some abilities, wait like five seconds and go to town. If you hate it, the cost in time is in the order of minutes and not days.

How to actually do “classless”.

You might see Diablo 3 as not being “classless” but consider what the class abstraction is. Let’s take it to a new level of granularity so you might see what I mean. Here are some classes from Diablo 2 (this list is not exhaustive):

  • a sword-and-shield wielding Barbarian, SwordNBoard Barb;
  • a dual-wielding or Frenzy Barb;
  • a Whirlwind Barb;
  • a PoleBarb (or polearm wielding barb) which often was a Whirlwind Barb;
  • a BashBarb (a barbarian that uses the Bash skill).

One needed to specialize in one field to do anything effective late game, making for remarkably little variety. TSW tries to address this giving you the eventual option to slot in new abilities to try…but to get there you need to deny  yourself variety. Diablo 3 does this the right way, making your now “classless Barbarian” highly adaptable. TSW is actually doing this the Diablo 2 way…where if you are a SwordNBoard Barb and you want a Whirlwind Barb, you need to replay levels 1 through 30. Again.

The amount of content they’d need to add to the Secret World to give us sufficient variety for that effective repeat of levels 1 through 30 is unattainable; especially when you consider they could have done a D3-style route and then had plenty of content with what they have now. Maybe they’ll surprise me. I hope they do. But, honestly, my take away is “this shit don’t scale, yo.”

Social Tools

This is by far the biggest failure I’ve seen so far. The chat system is clunky and sucks. There is a guild or friends system, I think, but when you look at how graceful and intuitive the Friends/Grouping mechanics are in Diablo 3, Star Wars: The Old Republic, WoW, hell even EVE Online, you’d think they’d have enough examples to work with. Or, worse still, you’d think they’d have allocated more resources to the social tools as this is a damned MMO. Really. How am I supposed to work together with people to solve these ostensibly awesome and engaging mysteries when I cannot talk to anybody or form a sub-community in your game?


I’m overall disappointed.

It’s still beta, and these games are ever changing. Possibly a year after launch the game will look sufficiently polished, the combat system will be overhauled, and everything will be cool. Which is, I still think, the dumbest release schedule ever. Software is ever changing. I get that. But some of these things are solved problems and the most important ones don’t involve proprietary code bases. It’s a freakin chat system. Make it size-able, make the fonts select-able, I mean isn’t this in Flash? Outsource it! Ug!

The combat, the grind-tasticness, and the fact my characters look like they’re either members of 90s grunge or glam bands really buried this title for me. But, don’t take my word for it. I think you can still sneak into a weekend beta. I encourage you to try it.

Oh, and now that we’re past it, can I just say…

22 05 2012

This whole “error 37” thing; going down, crashing constantly…such a rough launch week, right? I mean, you might say “Thade, we should expect rough launches. That’s how software works.” You know, because maybe you don’t know that I work in software. Or maybe you are just a really nice, benefit-of-the-doubt sort of person. Or, possibly, maybe, you believe THEY HAVE NO EXPERIENCE IN THIS WHATSOEVER.

Whew. Thanks, I had to get that out. I ran out of words there even, so I failed to tack on Warcraft 3 and Starcraft 2 to their resume of Online Games That Basically Everybody Plays Through An Online Service That They Provide. Oh, and maybe we could include each of WoW’s expansions too, if we wanted to really flesh out their C.V. here.

C’mon, Blizzard. Do you really think that you are so invincible that you can ju-…oh. Oh, you do?

Well. Bugger.

D3 is not D2.

22 05 2012

Holy crap, I have a blog.

The good news is, I got promoted at work last week. It was a complete surprise. It was a very good kind of promotion. The bad news is that – immediately after the promotion – there was the necessary but unplanned trial-by-fire. Something blew up and I’m still scrambling to fix it. It’s not exciting. It resulted in a 60+ hour work week, not much sleep, and a necessary recoup weekend involving beer and Diablo 3.

I played more Diablo 2 than I have played any other game. Ever. So this review comes not from an MMO seasoned voice. No, this review comes from someone who is more steeped in  Diablo 2 than…well basically anybody I know. There’s something fundamentally appealing to me about the whole “Me versus a ludicrously massive and endless horde”-thing. The same reason I so enjoyed Dynasty Warriors through several iterations – however simplistic it was – I do so enjoy Diablo.

Back in the day my favorites were a SwordNBoard Barb, a BashBarb (2H axe with maaaaassive life steal), and a tri-elemental Sorc. I also ran a grossly suboptimal Necro who was fun but did not scale. Too many points in Summon Skeletons and Iron Golem…too little Revivify. Also, I hated Paladin game play so I never ran one past lv20. Same with the Amazon, the Druid, and the stupid Assassin.


Recall the  Tombs of Talrasha, and my dreaded and timeless nemesis, Ancient Kaa the Soulless.

Back then, the goal was max level. Gear was just a path there, and somewhere in the level 30s or 40s you had every skill you could want and only put points in to max stupid synergies for effective damage and survival. It was a loose and distant goal…a very, very, very long road. And it was a lonely road.

There was no reason to play with anybody else; in fact, it was discouraged. Oh, you wanted other people in the game with you…but not in the same area. More people in the game made the minions stronger and the drops better…but somebody in the same zone as you might race you for drops, so that unique you worked so hard to find…not yours.

Of course, to get that unique, you really wanted to kill specific monsters. Mephisto and the Council, in particular. Admittedly, my grinding of the Tombs was provably suboptimal, but I so craved variety and something more than a single boss kill. Oh, I would kill Meph in every game I rolled…but then I’d clear the tombs for the fun of it.

There was also the problem with optimization. There was a known, small set of specs that were viable for anything past Act 1 of Nightmare; fewer still specs that were viable for anything in Hell Mode. I never did it but my understanding was that the very late additions of “end game content”, the “Ubers” as they were called, was only soloable by a Paladin with a very, very specific build.


The longer you are in a game (at level 60, the max level), the higher your passive magic find increases; i.e. the more monsters you kill, the higher it gets.  This may not be true before level 60, but it certainly seems true: I found three uniques after having played in the same game session for basically ten hours straight…so no more grinding Hell Mephisto’s face to a smooth finish. No, my friends, you are encouraged to play the entire game through (like a session of Super Mario Bros. 3) and experience the truly crafty and down right mean in-the-field bosses.

Seriously. Giant Bull Guy That Charges. He’s got two powers. He’s “Fast” (very fast) and he’s a “Waller”. A Waller in D3 is a boss mob that can cast many walls to impede your movement. This particular guy cast a very special combo of walls: the combo put me at the end of a dead-end alley. Three walls, my back to one, and the only ways out being 1. through the Bull Boss, 2. leaping over the wall to safety, 3. being plowed out through the back wall at the end of the boss’s very, very painful charge.

When loot drops off a mob, you are the only one to see it. It’s yours and yours alone. A unique drops? Awesome. Take your time. Kill the monsters still present; even if you die and have to run back, it’ll still be there, at least for a little while. (I mean, if you’re excited – which is justifiable – and it’s right there, heck, I’d grab it too.) No rat race though. The only way anybody sees your loot is if you pick it up and throw it back down. (Note: I’m not sure whether or not a failed pick up – i.e. your bags are full and you can’t pick it up – results in everybody else seeing it. I don’t believe it does, but I haven’t tested it.)

Since you needn’t race people for loot ever, there’s no compelling reason to not bring along some friends. Indeed, despite the monsters growing stronger with more players in the game, all multi-player battles I’ve been involved in have been far easier than the fights were solo. We move through the content more smoothly and get XP and stuff faster and easier. Not to mention that the combination of specs make things interesting; two mages each wielding different abilities do what you cannot do on your own: stack nasty, nasty effects on the enemy. Not all things stack; e.g. the blizzard spell specifically states that it does not…but blizzard-spam, slow time, and two disintegrates stack, to devastating effect. Sure, you could do that yourself…but you’d be a one-trick pony. Now one player takes blizz, another takes slow-time, and hey, more boom.

The best part here is that Blizzard went a long way to facilitate co-op play with the easily accessible friends list, timely alerts to sign-ins, and the Quick Join feature. I would’ve appreciated some built-in VOIP (e.g. Left 4 Dead) but this is a very, very minor nitpick. Honestly, who doesn’t have access to Ventrilo or Mumble nowadays? Skype may be a touch sluggish, but who notices? And it’s free. VOIP is easy and makes the experience even more fun.

Finally, the specs. There are so many viable specs. Should my Barbarian find a really sweet polearm that I want to try, it takes me but a moment to drop Frenzy for Cleave and Seismic BOOM for Whirlwind. No points, no fuss: my abilities scale with my weapon damage and other character statistics. The numbers are in the gear and the gear is plentiful and fun to get. I am not hurting for variety and I need not do the same thing constantly if I do not want to. Beautifully executed. Everybody else should rip this off right now.


Let’s recap, shall we?

  • No compelling reason to farm the exact same content; playing through large swaths of content for long sessions is actively encouraged.
  • The boss fights are fun and interesting (for a dungeon hack).
  • Personalized loot drops mean no more rat-race for loot and no more reason to be a private-game hermit.
  • Multi-player is both encouraged and well facilitated.
  • Specs. So. Many. Fun. Specs.

The game is good. Play it.