FFXIV: V-Day and artificial love

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Valentine’s Day is quite weird in the MMO realm. You see every title struggling with whether to do something with it or not. Some think it’s too silly and can’t find a good opening in regard to the game’s theme, others are starved for a good real-world holiday a month and a half after Christmas (because why make up a new one? That would take creativity!). From a cursory view, I’d say about a third of the MMOs I know decide to do something with V-Day.

This marks my first time doing holiday stuff in FFXIV, as I was just finding my feet in the game around the Christmas/new year period. I went off to Limsa Lominsa to do the few quests in the courtyard that was being practically smothered by hearts and pink. Now, we all know that FFXIV doesn’t always elect to be subtle, and with this event it’s using every excuse to be as zany and extroverted as possible.

The weird thing was that to do the fortune teller quest, I had to team up with another player and put on the opposite set of earrings (because… I have no idea, call it Final Fantasy reasoning). A cat-girl in the vicinity needed a partner, so after a lot of finagling — she couldn’t figure out how to drop her duty finder, then couldn’t find her earrings — we went around and found that we were quite the perfect match. Naturally, the second the quest was done we dropped group and never spoke again. Love, everyone!

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Gotta say, ever since I got my scholar job, I’ve been absolutely living it up as a healer! It’s not just that I can get into dungeons/guildhests within minutes — or even seconds — of queuing (although that’s nice), but it’s absolutely sating the desire I’ve had over the last half-year or so to get back into healing in MMOs.

It’s a really satisfying role, especially in an MMO where I’m not jumping around like a jackrabbit (TSW/WildStar) but instead can set up shop and heal/shield my team while throwing out DoTs on the side. And boy is that fairy pet great. I know people say I should put her on manual to utilize her the most effectively, but I’m not there yet. The whole fun of having a healing pet is that it’s helping out without my direct input, which takes something off my plate so I can spot heal and shield.

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FFXIV is a very pretty game, I think most of us would agree, but I do have a small quibble with the graphics. Structures, particularly wooden ones, look a little too pristine and perfect, just enough so that it keeps grabbing my attention and making me think of older games (especially console titles). Like there should be a little more texture and dirt and not-quite-perfect angles. The above fishing village looks like a place that was created by a player level designer.

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…says the game ironically right before it sends me off to do a near-endless string of trivial tasks instead of fighting the big threat that is bearing down on civilization. But no, no, I’ll go get your wine and kill your flies. That’s more important.

Also, Y’shtola earned my ire by fleeing with a flimsy excuse right after saying this. She’s apparently too good for trivial tasks.

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This player was perched right above a doorway, and with the lighting and all I thought it made for a marvelous picture.

The Secret Adventures: The sword in the stone (Blue Mountain #9)

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(Join Syp as he attempts to document a complete playthrough of The Secret World from start to finish. What will The Secret Adventures discover next? Find out in this exciting installment! WARNING: Spoilers and stories ahead!)

Signs and Symbols (side mission)

  • I’m pushing hard to clean up the remainder of the quests in Blue Mountain so I can jump back into the main storyline and then head off to Egypt. Stick with me here!
  • Near the Blue Mountain mine is a stone jutting out with strange Wabinaki symbols on it, and it’s not the only one. Time to go check them all out!
  • Finding all of the symbols (not hard) leads me back — once again — to the Wabinaki settlement. Man this game must really, really want players to go there. A little light reading in the library here reveals that the symbols are signs of high-risk areas — not quite as powerful as Illuminati symbols, Geary dryly notes.

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Treasure Hunt (side mission)

  • We start out by seeing an Orochi soldier in his natural state: Stone-cold dead after having done something really stupid. In this case, going treasure hunting on a beach filled with zombies and creatures from the black lagoon.
  • A developer got really carried away with this mission, because it’s pretty much Beeping: The Epic Quest. Yes, you have to use that radar/beeping mechanic, and yes, it goes on forever. I had to find 10 different objects all over the beach, and by the end my head was quite throbbing with a headache by all of those beeps.
  • BEEP BEEP BEEPBEEPBEEP
  • This is another one of what I’m going to term an “elevated side mission” — one that really should’ve been a main mission of a sort. It’s somewhat long and ends with a pretty cool battle with you and an earth golem fighting against the sea creatures.
  • And that’s it! All done with the standard Blue Mountain quests, save for the Tyler Freeborn series (which I cannot do since it’s QL10). I’ll have to come back for those at a later date.
  • To celebrate, I jetted off to London to buy myself a new outfit and drop off some of my inventory. Also — taco stocking! Can’t have enough tacos in TSW, no sirree.

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Dawning of an Endless Night (tiers 12-18)

  • Back to the Franklin Manor, where a painting, when touched, opens a secret door to Edward’s private study. It’s your typical “crazy man” den: lots of notes all of the walls, scrawled messages that refer to “honeyed ancestors,” and a ghost — Ed — who likes to hang out in here. Feeling bad for himself, no doubt.
  • Ed’s notes are all about the Blue Ridge Mine, so I jog over and reaquaint myself with this lovely place. This time I’m using the elevator to go down into the deep shaft, presumably where they drilled where Man Was Not Meant To Tread.
  • It’s really, really dark down here, so the mining helmet comes in useful once again (seriously, once you get this item never, ever ditch it!). Gradually I make my way through the inky corridors, past some nasty shades, and into a cavern where…

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  • …Loki/Beaumout is already waiting. With Excalibur. And a chip on his shoulder.
  • Loki monologues a bit, but the important thing that he mentions is that we’re standing in the middle of an Engine — one of the devices that makes the world spin and does other amazing stuff. Then he stabs it and ushers in the start of the end of the world.
  • The Filth takes over me, I black out, and then… I’m on the ridge above the mine (uh, how?) where Ami and her daughter are trying to revive me. Ami can feel the world unraveling but doesn’t know what to do — only Old Joe does, and that family rift between the two is going to keep either party from teaming up without some intervention.
  • Me. I’m the intervention. Syp, professional family therapist and world-saver.
  • Old Joe seems pretty open to reconciliation. He explains how the tribe split when some stood up to the mining corporation back in the 60s or 70s, how Ami grew up in the shadow of a broken family. He also said that the wards that both the Wabinaki and the Vikings put into place 1,000 years ago have been broken, that the tribe failed to maintain them, and that they must be repaired.
  • Me. I’m the repairman. Syp, professional warder. Also, I do gutters.
  • That means it’s fun trip time through all of the Solomon Island zones to find and activate the wards. At least this time the game gives me allies, as undead thanes pop up to help me fight off waves of draug.
  • The only downside to doing the three wards is that the ensuing fights take freaking for…ever. There are multiple waves and way too much downtime between each wave.

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  • The wards are repaired but the main threat needs to be neutralized or else it’s all for naught. I meet back up with the Wabinaki in their secret club cave, where they’re patching up their relationships and filling the pool full of Ancestor Power(tm) for me to drink.
  • Kyra ends the whole meeting with a hearty “Go team!” which cracked me up.
  • The showdown with Beaumont went a lot more smoothly than the first time I got here. This encounter can kind of kick your butt if you don’t pay attention (and kill) the adds, but this time I whittled him down easily. I’m loving my pistol/elem build.
  • Right as I’m about to claim Excalibur and presumably sit on the throne of Camelot, a portal sucks me away. Cassie shows up in the room afterward, strutting by Beaumont to take the sword for herself. “It’s not you, it’s me,” she says, kicking Beaumont in the face. Who or what Cassie is has always been a deep mystery to the game, and while there are many theories I’m not sure if one has been proven yet to be the definitive answer.
  • Anyway, I wake up in the Dreaming Prison, which initially looks like a mountain expedition camp.
  • Notes lying scattered around tell of the expedition, of which “Belmont” was a part, climbing the mountains and finding something called “Shambala.”
  • The cavern is then littered with little “memories” — ghosts and buildings. A voice tells me that it wants to grant me a gift, and that some people have used that gift for wealth, language, or beauty. I can be so much more than that, of course.

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  • For the record, when the moment came to choose — one of the genuinely few branching choices in this game — I rejected the gift. The first time through I did mixed (accepted once, rejected twice). The voice wasn’t that happy with me and spat me back out into Blue Mountain.
  • Geary called, a little upset that I went totally AWOL for a bit there, and tells me to get back to NYC.

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The Uncertainty Principle (action mission)

  • One last Solomon Island mission (for now). I double back to Moose and pick up the quest to get my first auxiliary weapon.
  • Moose has been tinkering about with weapons (apparently his former life as a financial analyst helped him with this, numbers and all) but doesn’t quite know what to do with a “quantum core” that Edgar sent to him.
  • At first I get to experiment with creating some of Moose’s weird weapons using Edgar’s quantum core. My favorite is the battery acid rocket launcher and why can’t I play the rest of the game using this weapon already?
  • I like how the quest keeps telling you to kill 50 enemies with each weapon, which is way too many, but then each weapon ends up breaking down after the 4th or 5th fire. It’s a nice little psyche-out.
  • The quest eventually leads to Edgar, who is shown being some sort of instinctive mechanical genius even as his mind isn’t quite all there. His ending rant, where he quotes schoolkids that made fun of him and calls himself a “retard” in order to rob the word of its sting, is one of the more poignant moments in the game. You can sense the sadness, the anger, and the vindication that lurks in this man.
  • The mission concludes in a series of battles with super-charged golems and one inexplicable blue dude (Tobias Funke?) who keeps showing up. Who’s the blue dude? What’s his story? Pshaw, this game never feels like it owes you an explanation. If you’re lucky, maybe one day it’ll give you one.
  • And after all that, I can’t equip the quantum bracer that I just won, as I need 10 quantum skill for it. Well, that’ll be a while. Into the bank you go!

Progress Day: FFXIV, The Secret World, and Diablo III

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Final Fantasy XIV

It’s been about a month-and-a-half now that I’ve been playing FFXIV as my MMO main and I’m generally pleased with the decision. Sure, there are annoyances and the whole game took some time to get used to, but now I’m in a nice groove and genuinely looking forward to logging in every night. I try to run my roulettes while pushing the main story quest further, and that seems to be working for me.

I hit level 35 or so with my Archer, which now became a Bard thanks to backtracking to do a couple of class quests and unlock my first soul stone. Final Fantasy has a passionate, inexplicable love of both stones and crystals in all their forms. It’s kind of a fetish that I think fans politely ignore. I hadn’t heard great things about the Bard, and after several levels with it and looking ahead to what future skills offered, I decided that this would ultimately be a disappointing track.

So I switched up and went back to my Arcanist. I spent my FFXIV time this weekend mostly leveling that class up from the low 20s to 30 in order to pursue healing with the Scholar. It’s weird that I can’t use the Arcanist to queue as a healer, so I have to wait until 30 to be able to do that with one of the class’ jobs. But I’m pretty happy with the decision to go this route, since pets and DoTs are always a safe bet with me. The only downside that I have to the class is the generally unsightly outfits (variations on wearing giant cones and puffy pants) and having a book as a weapon instead of something cool-looking. Then again, my LOTRO Lore-master used a book a lot and I was on board with that.

Last night I got my Arcanist to 30 and tackled the final class quest, which was a doozy of a fight that took me about seven tries to successfully complete. Nice to know that the game can be challenging in a fair way. Following that, I immediately went to get my Scholar soul stone, which apparently comes with Tinkerbell packaged in. It’s not the first game where I’ve had a fairy pet — thanks, RIFT — and as long as she pulls her weight, I’ll tolerate her presence.

Actually, I loved the switch over to Scholar. I jumped right into a guildhest and then a dungeon to give healing a try. Both popped really fast and the guildhest even gave me a nice bonus to rewards because there was currently a need for healers.

Having the fairy pitch in with healing was pretty awesome (especially since I only have two healing skills myself right now). Depending on how each fight was going, I could still toss out some DoTs to keep the damage going. I think I’m really going to like this job, although I’m a little dismayed that at some point I’m going to need to level the Conjurer to 34 to get the stoneskin cross-class skill.

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The Secret World

I’d been drifting back in the direction of doing a lot more Secret World, but this past week’s announcement of subscriber improvements actually helped to accelerate that process. I kicked my Secret Adventures series back into gear (as you have already seen) and wrapped up Blue Mountain in a couple of sessions. It was a great time and made me go, “Man, I have *missed* this game!”

So with newfound determination to get my playthrough done before the game’s demise some day, I joined a new cabal and decided to splurge on a grandmaster pack. The GM pack is going away this week and was on sale at 25% off, and since I knew that I wanted to sub up, I ran the numbers and realized that if I got more than 10 months of playtime out of TSW from here on out, I’ll be coming out ahead. Sure, it’s one of those long-term gambles that might have me kicking myself, but so far I haven’t had any buyer’s regret. Those new subscriber perks sound great (and will really help flesh out my AP wheel) and I like some of the loyalty rewards that will be heading my way over the next few months.

Now on to Egypt with my playthrough character! I also want to jump back into Yeti’s shoes and do the latest issue, both the 4 regular missions and the 4 side missions. It’s weird having two characters like this, and maybe one day I’ll abandon one completely for the other, but for the time being she’s all the way at the end and I’ve run her through most everything to date. Would be a shame to give that up now.

Diablo III

Diablo III’s been an on-again, off-again gaming experience. It’s definitely been enjoyable but it’s not always clamoring as loudly for my attention as my MMOs. I’m pleased to say that I’ve now progressed further than I ever have in the game, having wrapped up Act II and started Act III. I’m still experimenting with my build, but mostly I’m using strafe for my main attack complimented by a bat pet and three homing rocket-firing sentries.

The desert wasn’t totally my thing, but man I love the art and detail in this game — especially with the enemy mob models. I’m not quite sure at this pace if I’ll have everything in the season done before it officially ends, but I’m having a good ride and I suppose that’s what matters most.

The return of the MMO subscription?

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Some of the big MMO news last week all had to do with business models and how they’re changing up a little in 2016:

  • RIFT is starting to charge for earrings/Planeswalker: Water accessibility
  • Trove is adjusting the free store so that you can’t buy free classes any longer, will be putting undisclosed content behind a sub
  • RIFT and Trove are beefing up their subscription packages
  • The Secret World is increasing the value of its subscription starting this month
  • SWTOR’s subs are rising

And while the cynical might claim dying games (except Trove had a banner year and there’s no sign that RIFT is on the way out) and a desperate cash grab, I think it’s a sign that businesses are being smart and constantly reevaluating how their business models work. Other than the ham-handed way that Trion handled the RIFT thing (what with little advance notice and slapping up a paywall that seems to hurt new players far more than veterans), I’m in approval of these moves.

More than anything, I want MMOs to survive and thrive with their souls intact. That means that I want them to make money to not only sustain operations but keep adding content while not compromising the fun and engagement of the game with their business model decisions. And I think a studio always has to be looking at multiple channels for making revenue, balancing between the need to make money and the desire to please players with unfettered content.

We can’t get it all for free. We need to accept this. F2P and B2P models have a lot going for them, particularly in getting warm bodies in the door that can get to know the game with no (or a single fixed) up-front cost. And while a complete freeloader does add some value to a game — by providing a bigger community, more player “content,” and more word of mouth — they don’t put the food on the table or get expansions funded. The only way you can get money from stalwart freeloaders is by shoving ads in the game, which is something only a couple of MMOs (Dungeon Runners, Anarchy Online) have ever flirted with.

I deeply understand the appeal of wanting to play for free, but I’m not a child. I know these games need to make money and I can’t resent them for taking moves from doing so. I just always rather them do so in a way that makes me WANT to spend money instead of feeling penalized that I’m not. I’d also rather not see lockboxes up the wazoo, but the world-weary realist in me knows that they make a lot of money, so as long as I can ignore them, I’ll turn my ire elsewhere.

Beefing up the value of subscription packages is a great way to wean players off the freebie teat and into spending regular amounts of money. Heck, I haven’t subbed to The Secret World since it went B2P, but you can better believe that now I’m going to with these changes. It became worth it for me to do so.

It’s funny to me that in 2014 we were decrying WildStar and Elder Scrolls Online for being so dumb as to launch as sub-only, and that now in 2016 subscriptions seem to be more of an in-thing. Oh, it was dumb for them to do that, but what conventional wisdom, which said “F2P or bust!” missed, is that it was the hybrid business model that should have prevailed. Most “free-to-play” MMOs actually sport a hybrid model that offers a subscription package, and even some buy-to-play games, like ESO, do as well.

Of course, there are bad ways to handle these models, and as players we should always be critically examining them. SWTOR’s subs are up, to be sure, but that’s also taking place in a game where you’re downright penalized for not subscribing and where gaudy “subscribe and get these shinies!” lures are shoved in your face. Practically everyone I knew playing the game was subbed up; F2P players were seen as an outlier in my guilds. It’s the stick-and-carrot double approach. Guess it works for them, but it feels kind of skeezy even so.

Really, gamers shouldn’t freak out to the level they seem to when studios make these business model adjustments. Nobody likes change and we all like our free stuff, but there is a problem with a game being SO free that it nose-dives into insolvency because players never broke out their wallets. Even World of Warcraft has shown over the past few years that it’s looking beyond the subscription to other revenue channels (WoW token, cash shop) to financially prop up the game.