ESO – Fungal Grotto

Elder Scrolls Online is the MMO I played the longest without ever grouping with anybody. Granted, there was a multi-year break when I didn’t play – about 3 years from mid-2015 to the Summerset release in mid-2018 (and sporadically since then) – but that ended yesterday when my friend and I grouped up to tackle the Fungal Grotto (part 1).

OK, not super epic, but we decided to do our own hard-mode by just grouping with each other: 2-manning this rather than PUGging a full group of 4.

Grouping intimidates me in this game, due to build and play mechanics. In other game, like FF14, all the level X whatever class players all have the same skills. That player may be pathologically bad and not actually use them ;), but that can happen anywhere. Group content can be tuned to know that Scholars at level 50 have access to Sacred Soil, Paladins at level 50 have access to Hallowed Ground, etc. However in ESO you have huge latitude in what skills you take into battle.

I did some research and found groups mostly expect healers to provide group buffs, some healing (of course, but not full-time as I felt was expected in WoW for example), and off-DPS. At least for regular dungeons, veteran difficulty, trials and so on will require higher performance. Recommended party buffs include Aggressive Horn, Energy Orb, Elemental Drain, Combat Prayer – these are from skill lines available to everyone, so I looked into skill morphs needed. Obviously class specific skills are great to bring along too.

My friend came over and we grouped by being in the same room, and thus could talk/shout/scream-in-panic to each other. She can only play ESO via Stadia, where I have it on PS4 (doesn’t help group with her because no cross-play) and PC (linked to Steam and Stadia). She used my Stadia controller and CCU to play on my TV, where I grabbed a PS4 controller and played on my PC. I tried mouse and keyboard but ugh movement felt terrible compared to using the left joystick. Being mobile is huge in this game, so back to a controller.

Unfortunately I didn’t take any screen shots of our adventure – didn’t think to map a key and the PS4 share button didn’t take screenshots (Stadia controller has a separate screenshot key).

We generally did OK, dying once or twice to each major fight: mini-bosses and the first boss Ozozai. The final boss Kra’gh the Dreugh King was a different story – we needed around a half-dozen attempts.

Each time we fought him down to ~20% health before something happened: a damage spike caught us, or he’d reset (one time I dodge rolled out of an AoE too close to the edge and fell off the platform into a river. On the way back I probably exceeded an anti-exploit range and that reset the encounter. Dang it!). One time we didn’t take care of the adds he dug up (swarm of mudcrabs) quickly enough and got overwhelmed.

The fight was tough but never felt impossible – each time we felt we were doing well enough to make another attempt. It’s one thing if we were dying and the boss was still at 80% health, at that point you pack up and come back with more people or higher level. But most attempts went well even if we had to kite like crazy, use all skill cooldowns, fire our ultimates as often as possible… finally we made no major errors and defeated the boss!

Afterwards we spent ~20 minutes turning in quests, selling and repairing, and managing inventory at the bank. Overall it was a lot of fun and we’re going to do this again. I need to level up to qualify for Pledges (need to be level 45, my friend is 50 and into the Champion Point system) and obviously having better gear, more skills, etc will make future Dungeons “easier” for us to duo. We can also group for trickier storyline or zone quests.

I’m having enough fun on the PC version of ESO I don’t mind mostly abandoning my PS4 account. That’s fine, the PC version has too many advantages because I/we play via Stadia – can play while traveling (works just fine on my chromebook) or when visiting each other (we might figure out some simple voice chat solution to use too; Discord might work for this). A minor advantage for me is Stadia saves my gaming PC ~100 GB of disk space.

Before this I hadn’t actually seen Stadia on my TV. I… kind of like playing on my PC because my other computer is next to it, and that is convenient for referring to other websites while playing. But ESO does look pretty nice playing on the TV via the Chromecast.

StS – Ascension 10 completed

Slay the Spire is an example of a game that didn’t initially click with me. I played it enough to unlock the 3rd character (the Defect, at the time), maybe beat the first boss, and the kinda put it aside.

Later, a year ago, I picked it up again. I vaguely remember it being on sale for the Nintendo Switch, and I thought the game was perfect for that system, especially since you can save the game whenever and come back at the start of whatever fight you were doing (this can be used to save-scum). A new character, the Watcher, was rolling out and I wanted to unlock it.

This time, I paid more attention to the game. Card effects, status effects and how they worked, what game terminology meant (e.g. ethereal vs intangible, etc). I found the wiki, and did some reading: relics and what they did, the patterns of encounters, etc. I even watched portions of streamers that the SlayTheSpire subreddit recommended (Jorbs, LifeCoach) and came away some good info.

Now, Slay the Spire is one of my favorite games. It’s the game, outside of MMOs, that I have the most time in. It’s a fantastic mix of luck and skill… and like Scrabble and Backgammon, player skill can steer towards a positive outcome.

I’d say half the reason I buy games during crazy sales is I’m hoping to grab another gem like Slay the Spire.

Anyway, after a lot of games (hundreds?), my favorite character is the Defect. He’s a robot that summon orbs to assist in the fight, so a successful run involves trying to build up a lightning, frost, or dark deck, or a mix, whether or not to pick up focus cards, or increase orb count, etc. Basically, choosing what to do given a menu of choices, building the deck towards a goal, trying to address current weaknesses and future needs. A successful run also involves choosing what cards not to draft, because each card taken dilutes the deck, lowering the chance of any particular card getting drawn. Or another way to look at it, more cards means more turns to get your best cards another time.

The basic outline of the game is a series of encounters leading to a boss fight, repeated 3 times. If you beat the 3rd boss (which means you also beat boss 1 and boss 2), you unlock a new challenge – Ascension levels, and a 4th boss, the Corrupted Heart (I’ve beaten the Corrupted Heart on everyone except the Watcher) if you also collected the red, green, blue keys along the way.

I have all characters in various low Ascension levels, but for now, I’m concentrating on advancing the Defect as high as I can get. I’ll play the others for variety, but 4 times out of 5 I’m playing the Defect.

This run began with me trading in my starter relic for a random one, and I got Busted Crown: extra energy each round but 2 fewer cards to choose from after a fight. I used that to keep my deck thin, selecting frost cards and eventually creating a strong blocking deck. I just had to survive a few turns to set it up. πŸ˜‰

So each encounter revolved around playing blocks to minimize damage while adding frost orbs, or invoking them to help prevent damage. After getting my blocking machine established, I would wear down my opponent. For boss 3, the Awakened One, I eventually was passively blocking for a huge amount per turn, allowing me to win.

Beating Ascension 10 grants an achievement, as well as the ability to start the next Ascension level. The ultimate goal is to beat the Corrupted Heart in Ascension 20 (!!). My victories against the Corrupted Heart have all occurred at low Ascension levels, and relied more on luck than typical runs (great relics, encounters that granted strong cards as well as luck drawing them when needed, etc.) That’s just honesty, the Corrupted Heart fight is MUCH harder than any of the regular boss fights and I don’t always beat them.

ESO – Stonefalls

My plan to rotate among the MMOs I’m playing? Yeah, not quite there. But I am doing pretty well playing ESO for ~2 hours a few times a week. In theory, I should be able to slot in FF14 no problem. I just need to actually do that.

I’m trying to better divide my time among various hobbies so ramping up slowly is more sustainable in the long run. I picked ESO to get onto a schedule with first, because a friend plays. Not like my other friend who plays LoTRO (that I can never seem to meet up with or even see online; we have very different play times), this friend is on frequently, and we overlap schedules!

So I’m leveling up, following the zone guide, which is fantastic. Open it up holding X (I play ESO using a controller, even on Stadia/PC), peruse the various categories, and hit X to keep exploring. What this does is select the next item in an unfinished category and highlights the general vicinity.

For instance, here is my zone guide for Stonefalls. The top category is “Main Story Quests” and I’ve done 16/16. Under that is “Wayshrines” and I’ve found 14/14. Next is “Delves” and I’ve completed 6/6 – completing a Delve means exploring and defeating the boss somewhere inside (Delves are designed for solo play so this is very doable). Under that is “Points of Interest” and I’m only 16/18, and the next PoI I haven’t done is “Brothers of Strife”. So that’s next, it is highlighted in the map and I can make my way there.

Generally, a PoI is completed by doing 2 or 3 quests in that PoI. In typical fashion, the first quest unveils part of a story that the followup quests concludes. The quest chain in Brothers of Strife involved gathering materials for an investigation in a historical event, and then actually participating in that event.

I really like the quests in ESO, they are a cut above the usual fare of gathering items (flowers, bear skins, what have you) and returning. For example, one I did earlier was “King Aphren’s Sword“. It starts with an NPC needing help recovering a sword. Except it was split into 3 parts, so you need to fight your way to three areas in order to gather them up. Every time you recover a piece, a ghostly girl appears with short scene about the past.

After getting the 3 pieces, you venture into a tomb and confront the ghost of King Aphren. It turned out he spent all his time running the kingdom and ignored his daughter, but you can help him make amends by giving her the sword. What about that guy that started the quest in the first place? Well you can decide whether to help him or help the King. I decided to help the King out of sympathy, plus the original NPC needs a lesson in sub-contracting his work out without advanced payment. πŸ˜‰

I wrapped up enough of the zone guide to move on (finishing the PoIs, then finding the Striking Locales, Set Stations, and Mundus Stones. I’ll come back for the Skyshards and Library Books another time; the rest I view as optional – the Public Dungeons, World Bosses, World Events). Time to pick off a handful of quests in my journal, then move to Deshaan, the next zone, and continue the original story line!

I think this location is quite striking. We have a beautiful waterfall on the left, amidst a grassy hill and some trees. And in the distance on the right is a lava waterfall, flowing through a rocky volcanic mountain. Right now I have my non-combat pet dog out, photo-bombing (ok, not really since he’s tucked away in the corner) in the lower left corner. πŸ™‚

The game looks and plays amazing on Stadia, which still causes me to pause in wonder when I remember I’m playing in a browser tab and don’t have any of the ~100GB of files on my PC that ESO consists of. The PS4 version looks/plays well too, but I’ve mostly dropped those chars in favor of the PC version (shared with Steam, Stadia) due to my friend, plus the enormous convenience of being able to play when I’m visiting family.

I’m still logging into the PS4 version, at least this month, because the daily reward on the 21st is… 100K in gold!! I’m sure the multi-millionaires don’t care and likely prefer the collectable items (mounts, pets, housing stuff, wearables) but I’m still at the point where 100K comes in handy. IT takes around 45K in gold to fully train a horse, and while I’m really just playing one char, I’d like to have a nice buffer for possibly training up the horse on another. This is ideal, because it doesn’t take long to log into a char and quickly train for the day at 250 gold a pop. So while I’m leveling up my Templar I could easily be training the horse on an alt, Warden for instance, not that I’ve already made one and am parked at the horse trainer with spare cash from previous daily rewards. πŸ˜€

Over on the PS4, I finished my horse on my main and am nearly done with training on 2 other chars. This gives me a lot of options for future play and takes very little time. So every month I see the big reward is a pile of gold, I make a note to grab the daily rewards!

Cyberpunk 2077 – The Pickup

I’m not too good at action shooters, which is fine. I generally play console games on the easier difficulty settings – I’m mostly there for fun and story, not for honing my fast reflexes and aim.

So I got to a mission in Cyberpunk 2077 that I had some trouble with, called “The Pickup”. Not to spoil too much – but you go in to deal with a gang that captured a military robot, and partway through, the owners attack trying to recover it. Understandable. πŸ˜‰

I am determined to play Cyberpunk “non violent”, or I’ll settle for “low body count”. I try to avoid killing NPCs, and have been successful so far. Granted, this mission is only about 4 hours into the game, and I’m a slow player… in previous missions I was able to sneak up behind an enemy and render them unconscious, and kept going. I also hack items along the way, which so far has meant disabling cameras or distracting enemies (causing floodlights to blink).

Anyway, I had some trouble getting by this mission. First attempt or two, I tried to run through to the exit, but that proved unsuccessful. I don’t want to lay waste to a bunch of enemies, surely there was a better way?

Well, I found that there was – hang in the back, do the hacker thing (disable cameras, cause floodlights to distract) and let the friendly NPCs take almost every enemy out! Haha!

Once or twice it felt like there was a trigger – one regular shooter seemed invulnerable to my team, and I say team very loosely. So I crept up, and punched out a NPC wielding an assault rifle. That caused the action to continue to the next room. It happened again, so I did the same thing – running down the stairs in order to punch someone unconscious.

The final room featured 2 enemies wearing some kind of power armor, and 2 regular enemies. Fortunately, we had a friendly guy wearing even better robot power armor! So I just stayed outside and let the friendly guy cleanup everyone. When there was only one enemy left, I crept into the room, and so did my NPC partner, who appeared to be invulnerable.

I looted along the way, and scavenged everything in that last room, picking up “epic item components” off one of the enemy robot armors. Sounds like I can use those towards high quality items in the future!

The next mission involves a heist, in fact it is called “The Heist”, so I hope I can complete it the way I want – skulking around, hacking, and at worst rendering someone unconscious.

The game runs well for me, via Stadia. I’ve only hit one bug so far, while driving the car. Steering locked up and I crashed into a building. After a few seconds of nothing, I crashed to the desktop (which for me meant crashing back to the Stadia game launcher in a Chrome browser tab). Re-entering the game, I found myself as the target of a police shootout – evidently I had actually continued driving through a crowd, along the sidewalk. Fortunately on easy mode I just had to backup to the street, and floor it. They didn’t chase me, which is fair since crashing into a storefront/people wasn’t my fault. πŸ˜‰