World of Warcraft: Level 120 or bust

Blizzard is the wise shepherd, leading us to fertile fields of its new ideas, only to have us spit out those ideas and return to the more familiar fields of yesteryear.

Now that I’ve moved and am starting to approach something near a semblance of a return to routine, I’m able to game in blocks longer than ten minutes at a time. And while I made an effort to diversify my sessions, I also used last weekend to pour some serious time into World of Warcraft. The goal? To hit level 120 on a single character.

About one month in is pretty much my regular pace, at least when I look back to how long it took me to reach 110 in Legion. With alts and other games and my preference to actually read and absorb the stories, a month is about what I’m facing. But I decided that my dilly-dallying was growing a little too long in the tooth, and with a desire to jump into warfronts and get in on that easy loot, I pushed hard to get my Death Knight through her second zone (which I had already seen most of with my Hunter) and scoop up as much XP as possible.

I suppose another reason for hitting 120 is just to take away the psychological pressure of the task and free me up for other pursuits. World of Warcraft is always enjoyable to me in moderation but not when I’m pushing myself through a massive grind or marathon.

And while I did drop my Hunter to the road and haven’t looked back, I am still giving some time for my Horde alt as she plods through the content on that side. Yes, I said “plod.” I’m sure this is so incredibly subjective, but there’s so little that’s actually good over here on this side. As I said on Twitter, it’s like the Horde lost the biome lottery and ended up with the three worst types — jungle, swamp, and desert — then had to make the best of it.

Then we’ve got Trolls to the left, Trolls to the right, here we are stuck in the middle with bad accents. I’ll overlook the fact that Trolls are basically uglified elves according to lore, they’re just not a good race. They look so off-putting with the hunches and tusks and nose rings, and it doesn’t help that everything they say has to be written/said in a weird Jamaican dialect. I don’t know, I’ve never warmed up to Team Troll, even though that race was huge in the whole history of Azeroth.

Alternating between sides, I keep going from savage lands and mud huts to Pirates of the Caribbean. Some nights, I can’t wait to be done with the Horde side so that I can get back to Alliance. At least I’ve found a great groove with my Affliction spec and can take out whole packs of mobs without breaking much of a sweat. The only thing that worries me is when my voidwalker gets overwhelmed and I can’t keep him (it?) healed up fast enough. At least bringing out a new one takes only a second or so.

What’s next? Finishing all of the zone stories, war campaign, and gearing up, of course. Probably doing that at a much more leisurely pace. Hopefully getting in place for the first content patch of this expansion cycle. Weirdly enough, I don’t think I’m going to be pushing as hard for gold any more. I’ve been doing that most of this year, and now that I got the expansion for free and have a full year’s worth of free play time ahead of me, that feels like it’s enough.

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The WildStar farewell tour, part 1

With WildStar on the way out, I wanted to say farewell in fashion. And if that mean putting myself through the torture of reinstalling the game and logging in, then so be it. There are screenshots to be taken and accomplishments to be preserved!

For this first excursion, I wanted to take pictures of my characters. In the end, I had two primary characters at level 50, both named Syppi: a Medic and an Engineer. But I also wanted to touch base with my lowbie Aurin, Jem Hologram:

She… she does not look happy about being consigned to the eternal void of doom. Poor girl. You deserved some actual play time from me.

At least she’ll be able to take her faithful party Rowsdower with her when it all goes down. Nice color matching, too!

Next up: Checking out all of my outfits for my Medic. The purple/aurora snow hat look was most definitely my favorite of the six, although that cowgirl one looks pretty tough…

My Medic’s housing plot. I didn’t do much with this after Carbine vastly expanded the available space on which to build, so this looks pretty empty. I really liked the little hedge maze plug over there.

I took lots of pictures of the insides of my houses, but for the most part, they aren’t that impressive (or finished).

I didn’t do a lot of actual play, but I quickly got refamiliarized with WildStar’s movement. And I have to say that it is still really fantastic. The animations, the feel, the double-jumping, the swooshy hoverboard — all slicker ‘n snot.

I didn’t regret buying this Halloween second house for my plot — but I did regret never actually finishing it as a fully-functional haunted house!

Making this tranquil little pond took me way, way too long. But I think it was worth it.

The WildStar nativity that I made for several Christmases ago. It’s adorbes!

My Engineer outfits. Top left was the coolest, top right was my everyday wear, and bottom middle was my funkiest.

Arcterra — a zone that I never got to explore. Looks winter-sharp though!

Nostalgia Lane: Dogz

Back in the mid-1990s, the internet was only really starting to take hold in homes, and on our college campus, it had finally arrived in the fall of 1995. We endured all kinds of long website loading times on very slow modems to see the glory of the world wide web, and it was both strange and glorious.

One of the effects of the internet invasion was that software was easier than ever to share and download, especially with all of the different trial programs out there. So when I went to work in the computer center help room on our college campus, I found out that everyone had been bowled over by this program called Dogz for Windows 95.

Dogz wasn’t a game, not really. It belonged to the virtual pet craze of the 1990s, but also to the “things doing unproductive stuff on your desktop” craze that was infecting a lot of Windows machines. We were kind of nuts for overloading our computers with all sorts of gimmicky programs that would slow everything down to a crawl. Today it seems like the opposite — we’re all about streamlining and simplifying our workspace. I guess it was the novelty of it all.

Anyway! Dogz! So the idea here is that you would adopt one of five highly animated dogs and then raise and train them. Each dog had a specific personality, so generally you’d pick the one that was suited to your own. Personally, I liked Jowls because he had a sweater, but your mileage may vary.

I thought it was a nice touch that the pet would then break out of the window and romp all over your desktop (if you had the window reduced in size instead of fullscreen). You could then train the dog with spritzes of water and snacks, feed and water them, pet them, and play with them using a variety of objects from the screen. Throwing the ball around to see the dog chase it or playing tug of war was pretty entertaining, at least for a while.

I guess the idea here was similar to vanity pets in MMOs — to give you that feeling of virtual companionship, even if you were so desperately alone. So alone. Why? Why wouldn’t anyone date me? Why was I destined to be alone each and every Friday evening? WHYYYYYY HUG ME DOG AND LICK AWAY MY TEARZ

Ahem.

Anyway, while we spent a good amount of time fiddling with Dogz at our job, it was mostly because it wasn’t seen as a game and playing games there was frowned upon. I never took Dogz with me on my laptop or fell in love with it — it was more of a temporary fascination that became dull once you’d seen all that it had to show you. I know that the series kept on going for a good long while on many platforms, but right there in 1995 was where Dogz and I crossed paths and then parted for good.

Neverwinter: Ironclad

So with the initial rush and excitement of Battle for Azeroth settling down — and my own efforts to settle into a new house and area — I felt that this was a great time to shake myself out of what had become a one-game routine for a good month there and diversify again once more. While I’ll continue my adventures in WoW and LOTRO (so much more to do in both) as well as group, I feel the need for new characters and horizons.

As such, I’m going to be rolling up brand-new characters in a few other MMOs this fall, starting with Neverwinter. Yes, Neverwinter, the popcorn game that might be as non-nutritious as it is weirdly flavorful. I keep getting reminded that there’s so very much content in this game that I’ve never seen. I blame MOP’s Larry for this recent foray, because he was talking up this game after spending time in the latest module at PAX.

I still can’t believe how few classes Cryptic has added to this MMO over the years, but I figured that I would try something different and go with a buff-happy Oathbound Paladin this time around. Race? Boring human this time (those racial bonuses are nice!), although I made her a little stocky on purpose to emphasize her power and muscles.

While I waited for the game to update, I amused myself by taking advantage of several free giveaways for in-game goodies. I mean, why not? Free is free if you’re using a disposable email address.

Between those and several promotional items that Cryptic winged (wung? wanged chun?) my way over the years, a new character is set up from the get-go with some nice items. I just really appreciate a purple companion and my ginormous spider mount, which might just be one of my all-time favorite MMO mounts.

High-five, zombie lich queen! Looking sharp and pointy there!

So while there is a ton of material that I’ve never encountered in this game to date, the problem is that I *have* gone through the opening 20 levels or so numerous times (and then keep drifting away and deleting characters so as to start over next time). I know I have to push through the ultra-familiar before I get to the new stuff and possibly arrive at a point where I can consume the fresh releases when they come off the line. Probably a pipe dream, but it’s a nice thought.

Anyway, after doing a little research on a capable soloing character, I went with the self-healing, self-buffing Paladin to give me the best prospect for adventuring in high levels without as much frustration as I was getting from my former squishy Rogue.

How does one put this much armor on a giant spider? Does it sit still for it every day? Feels a little redundant, since there’s an exoskeleton and all that, but oh well.

Over the course of a good night’s play session, I raced through the introduction quests and deep into the Blacklake District parts. Having the sparkle trail to follow, as I’ve said many times, is actually really relaxing, like following a GPS and not worrying about getting turned around. I can wander away as much as I like and not have to fret that I’ll get lost. That creates a pretty optimized and yet flexible play experience, which I appreciate.

Got to say that this guy’s pavilion was a little immersion breaking. And by “little” I mean “seriously, there’s the logo of the game right up there and everything, that’s not subtle, guys.” Kind of hard to peg the tone of Neverwinter, but I think that there is this underappreciated subversive humor that runs through the game. I’ll have to keep my eye out for that.

Fornite and the freedom of gaming silly

My relationship with the uber-popular, can’t-escape-it Fortnite has been one of an educated outsider. I’ve covered it for news and have listened to my teens talk about it endlessly, but it’s not a game experience that I’m eager to have myself. Kind of like how I feel about MOBAs. I can acknowledge that it’s hot, I can understand why it appeals, but it’s just not for me.

That said, in attempting to dissect the Fortnite phenomenon, there’s an element here that I think a lot of the battle royale copycats have overlooked, which is the spirit of humor in the game. DayZ, H1Z1, PUBG — all, by and large, skew more toward gritty and realistic (not entirely, but by and large). Fortnite, on the other hand, has been a goofball since the very beginning. And that definitely has played to its favor. There’s a particular joy that can be found in games that free themselves up to be silly.

I’m not talking about nonsensical lunacy but rather “Weird Al” and “Simpsons” kind of silly. The type of silliness that isn’t afraid to go for the cheap visual gag, the doofy outfits, or the bizarre juxtapositions of a fight-to-the-death arena and players wooshing around in golf carts and shopping carts. This whole approach gives Fortnite some key advantages in drawing in large crowds, including:

1. There’s that attractive, colorful art style and palette that softens the PvP nature and is visually inviting (see: League of Legends).

2. Humor takes the edge off of winning or losing — because as long as we’re entertained and having fun, winning and losing don’t matter as much as they did before.

3. Being silly opens a game up to creative approaches that aren’t always grounded in reality. Look at the old Duke Nukem 3D. There were tons of 3D shooters at that time, but DN3D distinguished itself with an “anything goes” tongue-in-cheek approach that wasn’t afraid to push aside realism to have goofy, pointless fun at times.

4. It also allows over-the-top combat without anyone complaining that it is “immersion breaking.” Those fights become the game standard and everyone is OK with that.

If you were to chart MMOs on the spectrum of silly to serious, you’d probably get a good range… but would also see more titles lean toward the latter. Get humor wrong, and you alienate players. Include too much silliness, and you might be communicating that your game is just a joke.

Titles like World of Warcraft, WildStar, Fallen Earth, and TERA, in varying degrees, embrace their silly side. You get a lot of this from eastern titles, too, that have that anime bizarre wackadoodle attitude to them, although that’s not always appealing. Usually I don’t mind a game having fun in this way, but it does have to be incorporated into the game’s base design and personality — and not just appear out of nowhere as a non-sequitur.

I definitely enjoy when a game can cut loose a bit and have fun. As kids, teens, or adults, sometimes we need that, especially in our relaxation. There’s a value to going goofy, and it doesn’t exclude adults by default when that happens. Some of the silliest people I know are as old or older than I, because they know that it’s important to laugh and play as well as the other parts of life.

How the PlayStation 2 killed console gaming for me

While computer gaming was really important to me in the 80s and 90s, I held an equal fascination for console games. They simply worked, for starters, and that wasn’t always something you could take for granted with loading up PC games and trying to get them to run. They were popular, too, and full of fresh experiences. From the Atari 2600 through the original PlayStation, I spent countless hours playing Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and more.

In fact, the PlayStation quickly became my second favorite console of all time. There were SO MANY great games for it, including some terrific RPGs, and I depended on it greatly toward the end of my college years when my laptop was aging and couldn’t really handle any modern titles whatsoever. Getting the PlayStation 2 when it came out in the fall of 2000 seemed like a no-brainer. Yet it turned out to be the move that killed console gaming for me going forward.

Some of this wasn’t the PS2’s fault. I am, at my core, a PC gamer, and when I got a new desktop following my college graduation, I had the ability to play those PC games once more. Throw in the internet and the intriguing field of online games, and I found myself starting to distance myself from the SNES and PlayStation in my gaming time. I simply wasn’t following console market that much any more, and most new systems didn’t set me on the edge of my chair with anticipation.

But the problem was in 2000, I wasn’t married, I had virtually no social life, and I had way too much free time on my hands. If I wasn’t working, I was most likely home, and that gave me a lot of hours to fill up with gaming. A LOT of hours. For those four years prior to meeting my wife and three years prior to really getting into MMOs, I was starving for games. I simply ran through them too quickly and would be prowling Media Play on a regular basis looking for something new and different to experience.

Even though my interest in consoles was waning, when the PS2 came out, I remembered all the great times I had with the PS1 and purchased it on launch week. That did not pan out so well for me, because there really wasn’t that much to play — at least, no games of great interest. I held out for Final Fantasy X, which ended up being the only title on that console that I played to any great length, but for the most part, I’d buy or rent PS2 games, get bored of them quickly, and then despair that I had just wasted that money.

I was in denial that I had outgrown consoles, or at least what consoles were offering. The types of games that interested me — strategy sims, RTS, adventure games, RPGs — were not the games being made for the PS2. Yes, it was pretty, but it felt surface-level and hollow.

After a while, I simply stopped buying anything for the PS2 and used it, as many did back then, as a DVD player. At some point I sold it off, and after that, I never really looked back on the decision to divorce myself from consoles. Sure, I fiddled about on the GameCube and Wii, because who didn’t? But I never got back to those long sessions on the couch or cared much about the console wars after that point.

The PS2 had an amazingly long run, and I’m sure it’s a favorite to many who owned one. But it’s telling that I could not formulate even a top five — nevermind top 10 — personal best game list from that console. It was time to move on, and the PS2’s lackluster launch lineup and subsequent titles showed me that what the console market found interesting and what I wanted to play were quite divergent from each other.

Perhaps it’s time to break down and take the easy mode

Back in the 80s and 90s, I don’t remember computer RPGs offering difficulty modes — although first-person shooters sure as heck did. In fact, I vividly recall how Wolfenstein 3-D would outright taunt the player with difficulty levels ranging from “Can I play, Daddy?” to “I am Death Incarnate.” The easiest of those, I should mention, was illustrated by your hero’s portrait wearing a baby’s bonnet and sucking on a pacifier.

This got the point across to the player fairly well: If you go the easy route, you’re a baby. Even though it wasn’t a multiplayer game and no one else would ever know, the player would — and so the player’s pride and honor were attacked.

In me, at least, this cultivated a long-standing tradition when it came to any game that offered difficulty levels: Never, ever, ever take the easiest one. In fact, never go below “normal” in any circumstance. To do so would be to admit defeat, and that was unacceptable.

I know I’m not alone in feeling like this, because I’ve seen other players mention as such. Easy mode doesn’t exist for us, because even though we’re not Ironmen or Vikings, we have some standard of toughness.

But…

But maybe I’m starting to relent on this, especially when it comes to RPGs.

The thing is, RPGs these days take an insanely long amount of time to complete. Less, of course, than the eternal treadmill of MMOs, but still, you plop Fallout 4 or Witcher 3 in my lap, and you’re asking for a time commitment from start to end that is pretty staggering. These aren’t walking simulators done in two hours or action games done in 20. We’re talking 80, 100, 150+ hours to finish. And that number tends to skew on the high side if the game’s combat is difficult or impedes progress.

Divinity: Original Sin 2 recently put out a definitive edition or somesuch, and as part of that, it offers a new “story mode” that is easier than the easiest mode that it originally launched with. From what I understand, the story mode doesn’t eliminate combat, but it does make it far less punishing and reduces fights as an obstacle to progression.

That actually has some appeal to me. Not every RPG is created equal — nor are their combat systems. Some games have combat systems that aren’t as much fun to me as others, and I’m not the type to relish an encounter that takes 10 minutes to resolve these days. So a more streamlined approach actually sounds appealing, especially if it would let me see more of the game world and experience the story.

Then again, there’s always my pride. And that baby bonnet. And this very public admission that I might be losing my edge in my middle age.