Summer Steam Sale

Well I went a little bananas with the Steam Sale and picked up a bunch of games:

  1. Banner Saga
  2. Beyond Good and Evil
  3. Cities: Skyline
  4. Company of Heroes 2
  5. Don’t Starve
  6. Darkest Dungeon
  7. Euro Truck Simulator 2
  8. Europe Universalis IV
  9. Game of Thrones – A Telltale Games Series
  10. GemCraft – Chasing Shadows
  11. Hand of Fate
  12. Infinifactory
  13. Medieval Engineers
  14. One Finger Death Punch
  15. Please Don’t Touch Anything
  16. Stranded Deep
  17. TIS-1000
  18. Ultimate General: Gettysburg
  19. Wolf Among Us
  20. Xenonauts

That’s 20 games (!!) for $195.36, or a bit under $10 per game. All were recommended by various friends, bloggers, already on my wishlist, or were simply cheap enough to hit my impulse buy threshold. Which is apparently non-existent. ;)

On the other hand, I was recently subbed to 3 MMO’s (EVE, WoW, WS) for ~$42/quarter for each. I have since let EVE drop and will not renew WoW or WS (I have roughly 6 weeks left in each already paid for).

It is convenient to think of it as ~$42/month for 3 games. Granted, most people probably aren’t juggling 3 subs at the same time – and neither am I anymore since there just aren’t enough hours in the week to play those games much less the “free” ones! But by that metric, I bought ~4.5 months worth of 3 sub games.

As I mentioned, the sub free isn’t a deal breaker, MMOs are pretty good entertainment value for the money. The question is more: what else can I do with that money? The nearest competitor is other computer games, for example ones I can buy on Steam or GoG. Well, if I save up and buy during sale – I notice that GoG is also having a sale which overlapped the Steam sale period – I can get a heck of a lot of games for an average of $10 each. If I were even more disciplined, I could have scooped up games selling for super cheap, say less than $5, and lowered my average cost per game.

With this influx of titles, I am resolved to work down my ridiculously large Steam backlog. Much like Syp and Wilhelm, I need to step away from the purchase button and play the game I own. So I want to accumulate a “reasonable” amount of playtime in these new games, plus go through my library and play the ones I already have, unless I can’t get into a game at all. Maybe my best plan is to disconnect my credit card from Steam, which would throw a small barrier into each purchase – typing my credit card number rather than just the CCV code.

On the MMO front, a friend bought The Secret World during the Steam sale. I’m excited since this means I might have someone to duo with on occasion. I have another who is a huge Elder Scrolls fan, but unfortunately she is a dedicated console gamer, and ESO is keeping the PC, XB1, and PS4 populations separated.

And if it isn’t apparent, over the past few weeks I’ve decided to cull the MMOs I’m playing. TSW and ESO make the list for me, because I enjoy the storyline and questing in both games, and they are also fairly solo-friendly. Actually, all MMOs these days are, it is more that I almost don’t want to end-game raid or anything like that. I had a blast in WoW, but I can’t dedicate evening time slots to doing it – flexibility above all, and PUGging/LFRing end game stuff isn’t enough to keep me subbed.

Instead I’ll buy miscellaneous doodads from the in-game stores. I’ll probably dabble in LoTRO and GW2 as well, as a low priority. I can have fun on a few hours every other week or so.

Board Games vs MMOs

My Wed board game group has added an additional Mon “small group”, where the focus will be on 3-4 player games, or ones that play well with 3-4 players even if they support more (Dominant Species) and especially new (to us) games. Playing a game for the first time while also teaching it to others is challenging, so the Mon group are folks that like to try new games, learn as they play, have extra patience to plow through rules, and play slower in general. Somebody has to take the hit to learn so that future plays are faster and more correct (rules-wise); the advantage is also familiarity makes it easier to teach a game to a new player.

Wed is often about playing something everybody who shows up can play, which often comes down to Resistance Avalon, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, or a 7-8 player game like 7 Wonders, Eldritch Horror, and so on. Every once in a while we split into smaller groups but I’d say the group as a whole prefers to play something everybody can join in on.

The impact for MMOs is Mon/Wed perfectly overlaps the 2 days my WoW guild raids. And if push comes to shove, I’m not favoring computer gaming over RL gaming.

So, my time as a WoW raider might be coming to an end. I’m paid up through the middle of Aug, so I can see if the new Mon group sticks or not, but if it does, I won’t be resubbing WoW.

I’d like to whittle the MMOs I play even further, so we’ll see. I’d rather spend $15 to $20 a month in the cash shops of B2P/F2P games I enjoy, in order to support them.

Board Games

Lately, I’m finding more enjoyment in board games than MMOs. There are some interesting parallels between them and MMOs.

It seems most MMOs are F2P with micro-transactions, however board games are generally B2P. But, only one person in the group needs to buy the game in order for everyone to play.

Some MMOs have subscription fees, and the admittedly stretched analogy here are collectible/living card games, such as Magic the Gathering or Fantasy Flight’s various LCGs (“Living” Card Games – Fantasy Flight’s variant where the expansion packs are fixed sets). This is still advantage board game, because if you stop paying an MMO sub fee you have to quit playing; stop buying expansion/booster packs and you can still play with whatever you have already bought.

The board game equivalent to a F2P MMO is a cafe or store that has demo games for play testing. They may even expect a micro-transaction (buying food/drink from them) in return.

Like MMOs, board games feature PvP, except the PvP in board games is generally better balanced, especially in 1 on 1 scenarios. There is more variety in the conflict, from direct attack (Neuroshima Hex, War of the Ring) to out-maneuvering (Tzolk’in, Carcassonne; basically any traditional euro-strategy game). Some games are noted for their balance and different playstyles of the opposite factions (Android Netrunner).

Like a dungeon or raid in an MMO, board games also feature cooperative modes, where everybody fights a common enemy, solves the group puzzle, or defeats the “AI” represented as the game mechanics (Ghost Stories, Pandemic).

MMOs let players solo, and so do some board games. Some are designed for 1 player (Friday), many others have single-player scenarios (Onirim, Mage Knight). You can take most cooperative games and play more than one player (Forbidden Desert, Samurai Spirit), but not all as some feature hidden information or traitor mechanics (Hanabi, Battlestar Galactica).

Some MMOs have fairly developed economies, so games where you build an economy and try to outpace everyone else may appeal (Le Harve, Puerto Rico, Macao).

Theme and immersion are arguably better in MMOs, since graphics, sound, and a 3D environment go a long way. However, board games offer a wider variety of settings and roles, from underwater robot programmer (Aquasphere) to wine merchant (Viticulture) to post-apocalyptic tribes fighting for control (New Era) to spaceship crew member (Space Alert) to wizard battling others via summoned proxies (Tash-Kalar) to humans trying to flee a zombie attack (Escape: Zombie City) to… well, you get the idea.

As much as enjoy playing MMOs, it is also nice to do something besides killing as the bulk of the in-game activity. In a board game I can be fairly relaxed as a jewelry merchant (Splendor), raise bamboo (Takenoko), run my estate (Castles of Burgundy), be a spice trader (Jaipur) or monk sorting monastery gifts (Biblios), complete quests as a samurai (Yedo), or research and publish potion formulas (Alchemists).

Board games definitely have the edge in grouping and interaction as well, no text chat or Mumble/Teamspeak config required.

With my limited time these days, I’m finding it hard to pay as much attention to MMOs and computer games in general. The obvious solution will be to trim out ones I can’t effectively play solo on ~5-6 hours a week or less, scheduled 100% at my convenience. The culling has begun and I’ll report more on that later. :)

And yes, I own all the board games (except Magic the Gathering) I mentioned in this post.

LoTRO – Confusion in Glittering Caves

The good news is Naerys made it through the Glittering Caves epic battle… except I’m not sure how since I failed the final scenario. However, as the failure text faded, success text took its place. Confusing indeed!

I’d post a screenshot or two, but they aren’t interesting and it was so dark there isn’t much to see.

It was a frustrating Epic Battle because as usual, there wasn’t much guidance on where to go. I spent the first 3-4 minutes of the scenario simply looking for where Gimli was, since he was the first to call out for help, and the battle fails if he (or Gamling or Éomer) dies. I think I wandered into every little canyon or dead end looking for him, and basically resigned myself to failing the initial foray just to be more familiar for the second attempt.

But then I stumbled upon Gimli mining some rocks while being attack. I jumped in and cleared out the straggler enemies – I believe my NPC allies helped defeat the rest – and saved the mission from certain doom.

Next up was Gamling needing assistance, and it took a ridiculously long time to find him as well. Half the time I tried to follow the mini-map, I was led to some banner or barricade I had clicked and thus highlighted. Argh!

I found Gamling as well, and was able to hurriedly speak to various captains and instruct them to heal or defend. As Orcs streamed in I hung in the back, dealing with sappers determined to burn down our banners, or orc captains (orange mobs) that I taunted to myself, sparing my NPC allies the brunt of their attacks.

Éomer then cried out for assistance defending the women and children. I knew where she was, since she’s in the camp I spawned in at the start. But after getting there and waiting for a few minutes, uncertain of where exactly the enemy would appear, a new message popped up about dismantling barricades, disabling traps, and defeating Uruk bosses.

More ominously, there was an attached 5 minute countdown timer. Ok then, off to deal it, since I couldn’t locate the attack on the camp.

Here is where I thought I failed the mission. Actually, I did fail it because I achieved none of the objectives.

What happened was this: I got to what I thought were the barricades to remove, but couldn’t do anything. They were glowing so I’d right click them, examine them, what have you, but they didn’t ever go away. I’d kneel and go through a countdown, but the barricade remained. I couldn’t get past them to disable the traps further up the ramp, or defeat the Uruks… so I just watched the timer tick down while getting frustrated about the whole thing.

When it hit zero, I got a failure message… which was replaced with a joyous cry from Éomer that we could begin an evacuation. Say what?!

I’m not demanding I fail the mission since I just want to get through these Epic Battles and get back to the normal content and quest progression, but it was strange. I did nothing towards defeating the Uruks (Preparing the Charge quest), never saw any trolls attack the center of camp where all the women and children were (Civilian Defence quest), but passed the mission. Somehow staving off the first 2/3rds was good enough (Gimli and Gamling)?

I’ll take it!

If I had to guess, I think the scenario had some “glitch detection” built in. I didn’t destroy a barricade or disarm a trap, didn’t even damage an Uruk since I never saw them, fought no trolls either… so the game decided something was broken with the battle and let me succeed. I can imagine some angry tickets from players in the same situation led to a GM override that ultimately led to devs adding in a catch-all for this situation.

That’s my guess at least.

Anyway, Naerys spoke to Aragorn and will at some point in the near future start the 5th and final (hurrah!) Epic Battle, The Hornburg. I am really looking forward to finishing Vol 3 Book 13.

WoW – Flamebender

I took a break from computer games for a bit… I did manage to show up last Monday for the guild’s Blackrock Foundry raid, but that’s been it.

Blackrock Foundry

Overall it was a successful night. We downed 4 bosses: Gruul, Darmac, Hans & Frans (Hans’gar and Franzok), and Flamebender Ka’graz. I hadn’t seen Ka’graz before, so that was good – it is always fun to see a new boss fight!

Flamebender

Flamebender

As a healer my job was the usual keep the DoT’s going and avoid fire. I gather there was more to do as tank and DPS, since we would get occasional roving flame hounds (they looked pretty cool) and someone would call to “group up”. Hence the screenshot where we are all standing in some sort of bubble.

Glynneth’s item level remains at 665 – I am hoping to upgrade my pants as that item is currently my lowest (at 640).

The Culling

My WoW sub it up next week, but I’m going to renew for another 3 months. So in Aug I’ll be thinking about this again.

I let my EVE sub expire. It’s a great game and all, but I can’t play enough to make it worthwhile. Especially since there is certain fixed overhead as far as time spent in game goes – just getting from one place to another, scanning to exit the wormhole, dealing with PI and hauling goods to market.

Wildstar… well I extended another 3 months so I’m paid up until the end of Jul. It’s a fun game as well, and who knows, by then it might have dropped its sub or whatever the latest rumors are. If it doesn’t drop its sub, I will probably not extend.

This is not about the money. Really, I spend $15 a month at Starbucks every month. Or more. Just last week I went to see the Avengers with some friends and my ticket was $13. MMOs are pretty efficient as far as cost per hour of entertainment.

What it is about, for me, is comparing against equivalent goods. I’m not sure of the precise economics term, it would be some combination of utility and substitute goods, but WoW/EVE/WS are not in competition with me going to the movies, my Netflix subscription, or what have you. They are in competition with each other, any MMO that charges a subscription, and any MMO that is B2P or F2P.

I’m willing to throw in some money to an in-game store if I like a game, for cosmetic stuff or what have you. So for me, that ~$15 a month towards a sub game is money I could be funneling towards a game I enjoy more. Which in my case could be TSW, ESO, LoTRO, GW2, etc.

Actually, I haven’t been playing those much either lately – taking a break and all ;) – but I do plan to reorganize and cull some games.

Basically, out of curiosity I keep a log of how many hours a week I play MMOs. The result was: I average about 6 hours a week these days. And 3 of those are WoW due to the raiding my guild does.

This ties back into my perceived value for time and so on tradeoff: at ~3 hours a week, playing EVE is pointless, that game needs more like 15+ hours a week just to keep an income flowing and take care of logistics that are forced on you, the player, so you can do other fun stuff. At 3 hours a week I could farm planets and sell goods to stockpile ISK I don’t have time to spend on ships to do other stuff.

While I do enjoy Wildstar, ~3 hours a week means me soloing to the end-game and then, well, not having time to do much of it. The chances of me finding another guild, semi-casual enough to be OK with me raiding one night a week, having a raid spot for me, doing it during convenient hours (8-11 pm, about as good as I can expect), etc. trends towards zero. If it happened, I would consider a switcheroo – unsub WoW in favor of WS. But again, it’s a ways to the level cap for my WS char, and I’d need to gear, attune, find a guild, etc. Not impossible but many structural roadblocks along the way.

Therefore, almost by default, WoW is filling that “group content” slot I have time for. Yeah, all the criticisms of the rest of the gameplay, from unused dungeons to repetitive quests to garrison tedium to dull class design – all valid, but I don’t worry about any of that stuff because it doesn’t affect me. I’ve slimmed down garrison time to sending followers on gold missions and cut out all the resource queuing/gathering/harvesting because I don’t need it. Well, I stopped that after I crafted myself a Stone of Fire.

I’m probably not typical in what I want out of WoW, but playing 3 hours a week and spending all of that doing end-game group stuff is essentially the best ratio of time to actual fun in a game I could have. I pop into my garrison twice a week for less than 15 mins each time (I round that down to zero) and get summoned everywhere else. Contrast that to EVE where it takes 45-90 mins just collecting PI goods and going to market to sell them. And any inattention is risk for getting killed.

The question then becomes, how to best spend the rest of my available time. I’ve got more games than I have time to play. Keep pecking away in TSW, play another game if I have some extra time available? That seems like the most realistic, and given my recent gaming, the two I would most likely play with spare time are TSW and ESO, with a smattering of LoTRO tossed in there. All are solo-friendly and enjoyable to me. And I will spend some money in each in-game store to vote with my wallet, as the saying goes.

I do feel a pull to check out new games, however. I see Marvel Heroes on Steam, and lots of good press about Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn. The problem with FF14:ARR is that it is a sub game, so given my spare time it would be silly to take it up while I have a few months on WildStar already paid for.

GW – Ten Years

Ten years ago, I was in the middle of playing Morrowind and/or Neverwinter Nights (yes, both released in 2002 but I didn’t pick them up until ~2 years later). I had stopped playing my first and at the time only, MMO, Asheron’s Call, about 3 years prior. I read about a new game coming out, that promised no subscription fee. What the heck, I figured I’d give it a shot. And so I bought Guild Wars, and got around to creating a character 2 or 3 days later.

I wasn’t able to play much until months later, it was a hectic time because I moved to another state. My original day 2 or 3 character was a Ranger/Mesmer I named Dawn Stormborn, but I decided I’d rather have a Ranger/Monk, and not knowing I’d eventually be able to switch secondary professions, I just deleted and recreated the char.

Titles, Age, Elite Luxon Armor

Titles, Age, Elite Luxon Armor

That’s why as of when I took the screenshot (yesterday), the /age command shows me as playing 119 months and Dawn being 113 months old. That should flip over to 120 months in another day or two.

I played fairly heavy back then – I had more time available. 3318 hours total and 1266 on Dawn! That was accumulated over about 2.5 years so I was averaging nearly 10 hours a week just playing Dawn and nearly 25 playing Guild Wars.

I loved it all. I loved the missions, the bonuses to the missions, the skill system with limited space plus and optional elite skill, the storylines, capturing elite skills, fast travel to outposts after reaching them the first time, no permanent death penalty (clear vitae by getting to an outpost), henchmen, heroes, instanced zones, the guilds I was in, grouping with guildies to do missions even though at a certain point I basically had them memorized, grouping with the “Zoo Crew” on some Saturday afternoons to play through content as beastmasters, Prophecies quests that granted skills, etc. Good times.

I enjoyed the missions and storyline so much I did all of Prophecies, Factions, and Nightfall at the Protector level (all bonuses to the missions) on 8 different classes. The only ones missing were Elementalist, a profession I never really played – what I did was repurpose my mesmer as an elementalist secondary – and my Ritualist that I barely took into Nightfall. By that point in late 2007 I wanted some variety and turned to WoW and LoTRO. ;)

For Dawn, I did all that plus the Guardian titles (i.e. missions and bonuses in hard mode). I did most with heroes and henchmen, with a few exceptions such as Aurora Glade, Thirsty River, Eternal Grove, and Gate of Madness, where I grouped with guildies and friends.

Some of my most vivid memories of MMO gaming, even 7-8 years later, were doing those missions for Guardian titles, controlling my heroes and henchmen, determined to finish.

I enjoyed the elite skill capture mechanism, and decided early on to capture every elite on Dawn. Thus, when the official Skill Hunter track was introduced to the game, I was well on the way to finishing. I made an attempt to do cartography but that was too dull for me, wall hugging every zone. I started on Vanquisher but got tired of that as well. I really just wanted to get the Guardian and Skill Hunter titles, and wound up with 13 max titles putting Dawn in the “People Know Me” meta-title, 2 short of the next one.

By time time EoTN rolled around, and the bonus mission pack, I was getting a little burned out. I only took 2 characters all the way through EoTN – my ranger Dawn and my mesmer Rhaella. I think I brought another char or two in there but never finished the final mission. Or maybe I did on one of them.

I did not get into PvP much… until Factions released and brought Alliance Battle. I rolled up a few PvP chars and played that fairly often, it was just fun. That’s the only type of PvP I actually enjoy – I hate open world PvP, vastly preferring the instanced battleground-style version.

People talk about how you always fondly remember your first MMO. For me that mystical game on a pedestal was actually my second MMO! I had fun in Asheron’s Call but Guild Wars totally buried it (for me) in every way. GW overshadows GW2 such that I can’t seem to stick with its sequel.

EDIT: I should have included a visit to my Hall of Monuments!

Honor Monument

Honor Monument

Resilience Monument

Resilience Monument

Giant-size versions of my favorite armors.

Devotion Monument

Devotion Monument

Lots of mini-pets!

TSW – Blue Mountain (at last?)

Steam tells me I’ve played 89 hours of The Secret World, and I’m finally ready for the Blue Mountain zone. I’ve done every mission I can find in Solomon Island (not so sure about Kingsmouth but I’m also too lazy to backtrack just for completion) and I only skipped one that I know of (Hell and Bach). Nearly all my gear is QL5; I think only a minor pendant isn’t.

I’m at tier 12 of Dawning of an Endless Night, and also have the Stranger in a Strange Land mission. Both of these take place in Blue Mountain. I already did the one mission where you drop some dogtags off at an outpost in Blue Mountain, after exploring a cave, but that just finished there. It’s a quest that leads you to the next zone, not one that takes place in that zone.

Now, it really is time to move forward!

Blue Mountain Bridge

Blue Mountain Bridge

TSW Fighting

So two comments about how fighting proceeds, for me at least, in the Secret World.

I’ve read the criticism that combat is a bit dull, and I can see where that comes from. The way builders and consumers work, many fights come down to 5 X builder, 2 X consumer, toss in a few utility skills when needed. So in the respect, it is a bit repetitive.

However, after adding in dodging and mobility, it is better than planting yourself and hitting 1,1,1,1,1,2,3. It becomes more active: far more than WoW, a bit less than WildStar, around the same as a slowed down fight in GW2.

After considering the skill system – I can train all weapons and skills, change my role by swapping weapons – I’m really enjoying it overall.

Since consumer skills are more effective with more resources, I find myself staring at the small weapon resource area during fights. Or glancing frequently, and often catching the rest of the action in my peripheral vision. It is handy that a boss AoE charging circle is easily noticeable in the background.

I’ve been playing so much (relatively speaking) TSW lately because it fits my schedule very well. Many days I just have an hour or a bit more to play, and that’s enough time to finish a mission or 3 in TSW. Also, I’m a Grandmaster which gives me an xp-boost potion every day, and it lasts for an hour. The timing is good.

Runestone

Runestone

WoW – More Blackrock

I haven’t played WoW in a few weeks. By that I mean anything more than ~15 mins of garrison maintenance, every other day. I had other events crop up on the past few Mondays so I missed my weekly timeslot – the guild raids M/W but I usually can’t make Wed anyway.

What I had been doing garrison-wise was harvest frostweed in order to keep the work orders at my alchemy lab full. Those work orders generate alchemical catalysts, a material for transmutation and creating of the Stone of Fire.

Anyway, I was able to make this past Mon, for the first time in a month… and it was fun!

Since I hadn’t been there for a few weeks, I was a little behind on gear and thus received items everyone else passed on. The evening resulted in 3 big gear upgrades for me, and one side-grade (I replaced a slightly higher heroic item with a normal item that had a prismatic slot; basically trading single-digit stat decreases for a nice +50 secondary stat bump). The big score was moving up from my garrison-mission 645 weapon to the 670 Inferno-Flame Staff from Gruul!

Inferno Slice

Inferno Slice

We had trouble with Oregorger, but are getting better. By that I mean we usually get to phase 2 of the fight and more than half the raid survives for the 2nd phase 1. ;) We used to barely get him down to 85% and now we are consistently getting to 50%-ish before calling it due to most of the raid being down.

Oregorger Fight

Oregorger Fight

To wrap up, we fought a boss I hadn’t seen before, Beastlord Darmac. He provided the previously mentioned side-grade and I hope the next time he is generous and gives me better leggings.

Glynneth is now at item level 665, which is stratospheric to me, since I never imagined gearing up this well. My leggings are currently my worst piece of armor at 640, the next lowest are a few 655 items. I can also improve a ring by finishing the legendary quest line. But for now I’m doing pretty well.