Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Going Fishing


I've been so hyped for the third Guild Wars 2 expansion, End of Dragons, I completely forgot ArenaNet were doing a Livestream about it today. I only happened to catch the big reveal by sheer chance.

I'd been playing New World all afternoon and having a very good time, not least because the player hordes have dispersed across the wilderness, taking most (although not all) of my technical issues with them. I only stopped because I dinged Level 12 and then almost immediately got trained by some skeleton so far above my paygrade all it had for a level indicator was a leering skull.

It seemed like an appropriate time to take a break and get a coffee. I closed the game down and flipped through Feedly, as you do, where I saw a post from MassivelyOP that mentioned the Livestream in the title. With my memory jogged I was quite excited to take a look at the bullet point list of features. I've been keeping my fingers crossed for housing although I know it's not going to happen. 

And I wasn't disappointed. Wait, let me re-phrase that. I was disappointed. Very disappointed. In general, that is. I just wasn't wrong. There is no housing. Guild Hall decorating does not count, any more than the dismal Personal Instances ever did.

MOP were live-blogging the highlights. When I arrived they'd got as far as Seige Turtles. I read through the line items and my shoulders sagged. Oh dear...

Because I have this blog, because I have a history of writing about GW2 here and because I could see the Livestream was still going on, I felt honor-bound to watch the rest of it. It wasn't terrible as these things go. 



The pre-recorded parts were professional enough and the live parts were unembarrassing, which is quite a high bar. Everyone seemed calm. No-one shrieked or capered. They didn't even laugh at their own jokes. Or, indeed, make any jokes. I thank them for that.

For once, the problem wasn't in the ineptitude of the presentation. It was in the mediocrity of the content. I could summarize the main features in a nice, neat list but what would be the point? If anyone's really that interested I suggest they go read the MassivelyOP report. They do that there.

I can sum up the entire expansion in a sentence. No, not even a sentence, a phrase: more of the same. That's literally what we're getting. A new continent (Cantha, as we all know), a story to take us through it, a full set of new Legendary Weapons, a full set of new Elite Specifications, a new Guild Hall, new Strike Missions... 

Which is fine. I have no problem with an expansion that adds more of all the things people already know and like. That's very reasonable.

My problem is this: they aren't the things I like. It's a list of the things I either don't much bother with in the existing game or, worse, things I actively avoid. 

Cantha, as a concept, does nothing for me. Never has. It's fine. I don't mind that we're going there. I just also don't care that we're going there.

Elite specs, something that  would probably be called new classes in other games, are mostly a nuisance. If they're too good everyone piles on and they end up being nerfed anyway. Conversely, if they're not wildly better than the old ones, people treat them as a novelty then ignore them. Also, with another round of Elite Specs the game will effectively have three dozen "classes". Good luck balancing that, ANet.

Legendaries I find pointless. Some, although not many, of the skins are quite nice but the grind needed to get them, in all the variations so far tried, is my literal definition of a waste of time. I was grimly amused to hear this referred to in the livestream as "replayability". Words, as Humpty Dumpty liked to say, mean what we choose them to mean.

Strike missions are an interesting focus point. I came in about a third of the way through the stream but I didn't hear anyone mention raids, although someone did refer to Challenge versions of Strike missions (also coming with EoD) as something for the raiders to do. I'm guessing GW2 is done with raiding now and this is what we have instead.

On that theme, we appear to be done not only with dungeons (We've been done with those for the longest time...) but also with fractals. Again, they don't get a mention. Suits me. Never saw the point of them, either.


 

I won't go on picking the thing apart line by line. It's too depressing. The expansion is going to double down on some of the things I least like about the game, although in its favor it's also going to double down on ignoring a few others I can't stand, so there's that.

Turning negatives into positives, I was very pleased to hear almost nothing about new mounts, other than the ominous Siege Turtle. No mounts is good mounts... er news. (There are no good mounts.) 

The Siege Turtle is the death knell for any last pretense of gravitas for a game whose credibility as any sort of virtual world has been going belly up for a while now (something I fervently hope the turtles will do if you hit them with a cannon.) That said, this seems to be another piece of fan service, calling back to the original Guild Wars, so I guess that battle was already lost long ago.

The turtle is a multiplayer mount, something that brings to mind the worst excesses of World of Warcraft, although unless I misheard, "multi" in this case means just two people. They'll be useable everywhere the other mounts are, as far as I could gather, so that's going to be fun.

One possible sliver of light: the access quest for the new Guild Hall is supposedly scaled to suit smaller groups. I don't imagine it's going to scale far enough to allow tiny guilds with two or three players to complete it but we can hope. It does at least suggest someone finally realised there's a problem there.


 

I've left the one genuinely intriguing, potentially exciting announcement to the end. We're getting fishing! And not just fishing but fishing boats! 

This was the part I wanted to hear a lot about so naturally they'd already finished talking about it by the time I got there. Fishing is a mastery, which is fine. I like masteries, as a rule. The boats are called skiffs, which suggests something very flimsy, but the skin they briefly showed looked to be a decent size, something like the longboat in Valheim.

Fishing will be possible all over Tyria, not just in Cantha, and therefore I hope it's safe to assume the skiffs will be too. There's a lot of water in Tyria and this might begin to explain why ANet put all that effort into updating underwater skills a while ago. 

There are going to be various betas for the Elite specs before launch. Anyone can join in with those, even free to play accounts. Ther first of the already-announced betas for the upcoming World vs World revamp, Alliances, now rolled in with the EoD feature set, starts in just three weeks. 

Finally, we have a release date. Okay, not a date. That would be asking too much. A release month. End of Dragons drops in February 2022. Pre-orders begin today.

I can't wait. Oh, hang on... yes I can.

The Art Of Starting Over


Tipa
has a couple of extremely detailed and immensely valuable posts up on the increasingly over-the-radar DCUO. The first is a preview of the game's upcoming soft reboot House of Legends. The official press release is incorporated in this Development Update but Tipa's post breaks everything down without the (rather hilarious) !! Warning: Game Content Changing !! tone of the original.

One of the big reveals from the EG7 acquisition of Daybreak's portfolio of games was just how strong and successful DCUO has been and continues to be. Anyone who's played the game over the past few years can't but have noticed how very busy it feels, all the time. I play on the US servers and I logged in half an hour ago, at somewhere between midnight and three a.m. stateside, to a server flagged "High" population.

This is a successful game but in many ways I feel that's a success achieved despite rather than because of some of its core features. I've been playing largely in the most casual way possible since beta and yet I barely understand anything about how even something as basic as character progression works. 

Vast tracts of the game can seem opaque and confusing. As with all mmorpgs, DCUO suffers from a surfeit of jargon but it's always been its huge strength that a casual player can just muddle along and have fun, even while not understanding pretty much of anything. In its way it's far more pick-up-and-play than most other mmorpgs I can think of. 

You can make a character then right away go patrol the city streets, running up skyscrapers or flying high above them, looking for villains to punch. That's the super-hero fantasy, right there. In some ways the game doesn't need much more. 

But it has more. it has deep drifts of content, surprises and stories, crises and call-outs, bosses and battles and epic adventures, most of which have been locked away behind arcane access requirements, the majority of which will be going away with the upcoming update. I'm not going to detail what all those changes are: go read Tipa's post if you want the full deets but you can think of it as DCUO's "One Tamriel" if you like.

The key takeaway here is that there's never been a better time to try the game, or to return if you've drifted away. Timing could be better, of course, with New World coming and half a dozen other mmorpg releases either fresh off the assembly line or just about to hit the racks. DCUO is a quick win, though. It's free to play, available on a wide range of platforms and very easy to pick up for short, satisfying sessions.

I plan on fitting it into my increasingly overloaded schedule, somehow. Frankly, exactly how I can't quite figure just yet but I'll get there. I'm motivated to return as much by Tipa's second great post as by the revamp itself. The post focuses on starting a new character and in it Tipa clarifies more about how the character progression mechanics work than I've been able to glean from years of playing and wiki-reading.


 

This is incredibly useful information. I’ve been playing DCUO since beta but even though I sometimes stop and read the wiki for clarification there are vast tracts of the game I simply don’t understand, even at the very lowest levels.

For example, I gave up even trying to understand how the currencies work many years ago. I spent so long just trying to find vendors in the cavernous mazes of the main hubs that even if I found them I would be too exhausted to make sense of what they were selling. The news that there will be simplified, compact versions of these in the future is one of the most welcome aspects of House of Legends as far as I'm concerned.

I have always had similar issues with the progression system. I didn’t know until I read Tipa's post that there even were things called “Feat Points”. I can’t recall ever seeing them although it’s entirely possible I’ve been getting and spending them without knowing what they are. I have bags filled with stuff I don't understand, after all and I understand even less when I read the tool-tips.

Even the simple stuff phases me. I have only recently learned to use the teleport system reliably and that, I think, is because they changed something to make it easier for idiots. I can never keep straight what the various missions mean (solo and duo are clear but the others I mix up all the time). I have never really been clear on what the difference is between regular and Episode content. Tipa's post makes more sense of all of that than anything else I’ve read.


 

The thing is, ever since housing was added to the game in the form of Lairs, I have really just treated DCUO as a construction kit, not a game, let alone a super-hero game. I check the updates to see what new housing items I can get for free, then if they look tasty I log in and do the minimum to get them. Once I've placed them in my Lair I'm done until the next time.

That's really wasting a great game. A game I've never really played with any kind of intensity or focus. 

I’ve only ever leveled one character to thirty. She dinged a few weeks after the game launched. Back then the thirty levels did constitute some kind of regular gameplay, perhaps as much so as Guild Wars 2's eighty. It took about the same time to get them, anyway. 

These days levels are barely even an afterthought. They're not the tip of the iceberg. More like the thin layer of snow on top. And yet I still haven't got there with the character I made several years ago on the account I now use to play the game.

I have a couple of free, Level 30 boosted characters that I never play. My "main" is still in the 20s (27 in fact) several years after I created her. There doesn’t seem to be a /played function so I’m not sure how many hours I’ve put into her but it has to be more than enough to have leveled her several times over, had she actually spent that time doing things that give xp.

Using the information in Tipa's post I'm going to get those last three levels and then wait for House of Legends to drop, when I plan on starting a brand-new character, possibly a villain. I tried a villain years ago but didn't like it much. Maybe now the streams have crossed I'll like it better.

Tipa's post will be invaluable then. I hope she finds the time and inclination to write a few more.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Your Cover's Blown


I have a super-busy weekend from Friday through Monday for one reason or another but I didn't want to let four days go by without posting at all. My go-to for quick posts these days is music but I already did one of those on Thursday. I absolutely could do another but I have a ton of music stuff planned for Blaugust (Oh, yes! Be afraid!) so let's see if I can think of anything else to write about...

Hmm. How about this

There's already been some great personal testimony and commentary on the topic of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing vs Activision-Blizzard from the likes of Belghast, Stargrace , Hannah, Nathan, Syp, Gnomecore, Wilhelm, Ace Asunder and no doubt more that I've forgotten. It would be tempting to describe the whole thing as Blitzchung 2.0 but really the only similarities are that it involves Blizzard once again doing something that makes a lot of people feel disgusted, outraged, let down or betrayed. They do seem to be making a habit of it.

The differences are vast. Blitzchung was (arguably) a heat of the moment decision with uncomfortable political and ethical ramifications. It involved three people (Blitzchung and the two streamers) and pointed up anomalies between the company's stated position on certain issues and how they acted.

A lot of people found Blizzard's response either unfair or inconsistent, while others saw it as part of an ongoing, existential battle. Positions were taken, subscriptions were cancelled. Bloggers I followed struggled with loyalty to their characters and the games in which they'd invested so much time versus their need to make a point and send Blizzard a message.

A lot of people did cancel. Some stopped playing immediately, some carried on until their subs ran out. 

Unusually, I was subbed to World of Warcraft at the time. I was playing Classic. I didn't make any grand gestures. I understood and respected the arguments of those who did but the whole thing felt a little dry to me. Distant, even.

The whole farago did take the wind out of my sails as far as Classic was concerned, though. I'd been posting about it non-stop and playing every day but suddenly doing either just felt uncomfortable. I played less, then not at at all. I didn't write about the game any more and when my monthly sub expired I didn't renew. 

All the pictures in this post are from games that look like WoW.

 

This feels different. This is different. This isn't someone making one dumb choice and then someone else trying to spin it as not what it was. This isn't a plain and obvious clash between corporate greed and doing the right thing. 

This is lifting a rock and watching stuff crawl out. Stuff that's been there a long time. Stuff that lives there, feels comfortable there, feels safe there. Stuff that really would like it if you put the rock back, please, so everything can carry on just like before. This is a company not just shrugging off accusations but turning on their accusers and calling them out as though they were the ones at fault.

I have no personal experience of life inside a major video game company. Anything I say about it is based entirely on what I may have seen and read as a player over the last forty years. From that perspective, the basic facts of gender discrimination and a "boys club" attitude at Activision-Blizzard don't surprise me in the least. A lot of companies, in and out of the video game industry, have a hell of a lot of work to do on both those fronts, that's for sure.

What does take me aback about the detail, repulsive and gross as it is, is the sheer scale of it. It seems to have been not just endemic but almost universal. 

Then there's the frankly puerile nature of some of the abuse. We don't really have "frat houses" where I come from but this sounds more like the behavior you'd expect from unsupervised schoolboys rather than someone taking a university degree. It makes me wonder how anything worthwhile ever got into the games at all, if this was the sort of thing the people working on it felt was a good way to spend the day.

Nathan asks "What will it take?" as he ponders whether to cancel his subsciption. I could ask myself the same question. The Blitzchung affair wasn't enough to make me cancel, just not to renew. This lawsuit and the revelations therein would be... if I had anything to cancel.

Or play like WoW.

 

I don't, though. I have no subscriptions to anything Activision-Blizzard offer at present and no plans to buy anything they're proposing to offer in the future. I was briefly subbed to WoW while I was writing about the level squish, Exiles' Reach and Chromie Time but I'm not now.  I didn't buy Shadowlands and I never planned to. I've never played any other Blizzard game than WoW and chances are I never will.

I do, however, have characters in WoW that I have affection for. And I can still play some of them if I want to, without subscribing. 

WoW has a half-assed Free-to-Play offer that's really a glorified free trial but it pretty much gives me everything I want from the game. I can log in any time and run my characters around or make new ones and so long as I don't level up too far I'm golden.

In doing so I don't give Act-Blizz a cent. All I do is use some of their server bandwidth. And since I only solo, never talk to anyone, mostly never even see anyone, I'm not even doing that thing we sometimes talk about - being the content for other people.

If I do this, am I tacitly supporting Blizzard? Does the very act of logging in mean I'm condoning the appalling behavior of the people who made the game I'm playing? Or am I really committing an act of social disobedience? Taking for free the very thing they rely on me to pay for to keep the whole shebang rolling?

I don't know. It seems to me that to stop playing a game for which you don't pay and which no-one else knows you are playing is a bit of a weak statement but I suppose it's stronger than just carrying on as if none of it has anything to do with you at all. 

As a blogger who has, quite often, written about playing WoW for free, usually quite positively, how would it be if I carried on playing but stopped writing about it? Would that be striking more of a blow than just not playing it at all?

And I didn't even mention FFXIV.

 

It's a moot point, anyway, because I'm not playing WoW right now. But I was thinking about playing again and if I had it would have been the free version. Well, I'm not going to do that any more. Suck on that, Blizz!

I guess that does answer my own question to myself, though. Regardless of how pointless it might be to declare you're no longer going to play a game you weren't playing anyway, far less paying for, that, apparently, is what I'm going to do. And even if I change my mind and play you won't be reading about it here. Not that I'm going to change my mind. But if I did, you wouldn't know. Just sayin'.

Unless, I guess, something changes in Blizzard's favor. Hard to see what that would be. I suppose they could win the lawsuit in a convincing fashion that exonerates everyone concerned. That could happen. Or they could clean house so thoroughly and convincingly that we'd all believe they'd changed for good. That could happen.

Or, I guess, as happened with Blitzchung, we could all gradually forget about it, or forget about how angry we were about it, and drift back. Almost everyone (not everyone) I can think of did. Except this time there's going to be that lawsuit and a trial and a constant, daily reminder of what this is all about. So it's going to be a lot harder to just give Blizz a slap with a few months cancelled subs then climb back on the sparkle pony again.

Oh, it's easy for me, though, isn't it? WoW doesn't have the meaning in my life other mmorpgs do. I wouldn't be so sanguine if this was Daybreak (or EG7, I guess I should say) or ArenaNet we were talking about. But then, both of those (and SOE before Daybreak) have had their share of terrible news stories and awful behavior. But nothing like this.

So I guess either they're doing a better job than Blizzard of holding that rock down or the appalling behavior we're reading about really isn't par for the course in video game companies after all. 

I bloody well hope not, anyway. If it is, we'd all better find another hobby.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Happy Place


I have absolutely no reason to post this other than someone whose blog I read posted it and I saw it there and it made me extremely happy so I wanted to pay it forward. If this doesn't cheer you up after a difficult day I have absolutely no idea what might.

It's called Chaise Longue and it's by Wet Leg. It's one of the best songs I've heard this year and it probably has the best video. I could get out the bullet points and explain exactly why that is, but no-one needs me to do that, right?

Oh, for heaven's sake... the bit where Hester looks up and says "What?" All the times Hester says "What?" and doesn't look up. The spot of sunlight on the tip of Rhian's nose. "Would you like us to assign someone to worry your mother?" The rocking horse. The dancing. The dancing on the rocking horse. The way it goes out of focus at the end. Just those for now and you're not getting bullet points.


This is who told me about it. Everything you most likely need to know is in the last paragraph but I'll summarise for you:

  • It's reminiscent of Ze Records house style, although more the much-missed Cristina than James White, to my way of thinking.
  • They're from the Isle of Wight (with all that implies, I'm sure)
  • This is their first and only video.

So much for the no bullet point rule.

There's not much else to know. They have a web site with almost nothing on it. There's a page on their record company's web site, that has scarcely any more, although I did learn from there that, yes, they are a duo (the few live clips on YouTube show a band of four) and their names are Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers.

The band's local paper, the Isle of Wight County Press, printed an article about them that has more information. It links them to another band I've never heard of, Plastic Mermaids, who would appear to be some kind of Isle of Wight supergroup of a quarter of a century's standing, at least. It explains why several tracks by a band of that name appeared in the YouTube suggestions when I was watching the video. I was wondering.

The article also claims that "Chaise Longue is the first of a string of releases planned by the band this year", something I fervently hope to be true but fear, from bitter past experience, will not be.

Then, if you'd been responsible for something this perfect, wouldn't you feel you'd done enough?

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Hanging Around


When ArenaNet brought back the Marionette event from Scarlet's War, it came in two flavors: Public and Private. The Private version, which can be triggered by anyone capable of finding a full squad of fifty people willing to do it, is a permanent addition to the game but the Public event was only slotted into the calendar for a single week, something that always seemed strange.

While I was cutting the strings I heard quite a few people express a wish and a hope that the Public version might be allowed to hang around a week or two longer, maybe even be added to the roster of regularly returning events. Some (and I was one of them) even suggested it would make a good addition to the World Boss circuit, making it available several times a day in perpetuity.

When Tuesday rolled around, though, the Marionette was locked up in her private playground as promised. I checked after the update to be sure and not only had the notification of the public version disappeared from the corner of the screen but when the hour rolled around there was only one option at the Scrying Pool: go private or go home.

It was with considerable surprise, then, that I read this news item on MassivelyOP a few minutes ago. The very good news is that there will, after all, be a permanent place in the world for the eighty-player public event. 

There will be some "tweaks", the gist of which seems to be that you'll need a critical mass of players before the event will start. That should prevent situations like the hilarious one I enjoyed a few days ago, when I logged my character back in after having logged her out after the public event the day before, only to find myself the only person in the lane.

Figuring I'd fluked an appearance just as the rest of them had gone inside, I sprinted through the barrier, which happened to be green. I found myself on a platform with... Taimi

I'd forgotten that little wrinkle from the original run seven years ago, when the event ran in the genuine, non-instanced version of Lornar's Pass and it was entirely possible to find yourself one of a handful of people who'd turned up. The NPCs, Braham, Rox, Taimi and I foget who else, would try to fill in for the missing players. It was always a token gesture at best.

Taimi, sadly, wasn't much help. She mostly shouted encouragement. She was in Scruffy, her golem, so she could have tanked the boss for me. It was the one that has to be hit from behind so that would have worked out nicely, what with me being pure DPS.


 

Unfortunately, since she didn't, the boss was permanently aggroed on me, making it tough to get behind him. I did manage to stay alive for the full two and a half minutes and I got him to about 75% health, which I count as a moral victory.

Of course, it wouldn't have mattered if I'd been able to one-shot the creature because there were four other platforms with no-one on them at all. I'm still not sure how the barrier turned green in the first place. 

That, I'm guessing, is exactly the sort of thing ANet would rather avoid if at all possible. Their reasons given for bringing the public event back are interesting. Apparently attendance at the event has increased steadily, with more people doing it at the end than when it began. That's a rare thing with special events in GW2

Success rates have also been climbing, which doesn't surprise me. For all ANet's laboring the point about this being "a demanding fight" in which "individual players have a huge impact on the outcome of the event" and it requiring "significant coordination and collaboration – much more so than most of the other world events" it honestly is not Asuran Rocket Science. It takes a couple of runs and a quick read through some brief notes to get the hang of it. Compared to Triple Trouble it's a doddle.

If they were concerned the difficulty might put people off, it never made any sense to can the Public event, anyway. It's the Squad version that's genuinely challenging. 

I did the Public version half a dozen times during the week it was here and every time was a success. I did it twice in the squad version and both times it failed. That's not much of a sample, I admit, but plenty of people commented in map chat about how much easier the public version was. It's because you can bring eighty people. Those extra thirty make all the difference.

Whether it will be easy to get eighty people to do it when it's here all the time is another matter. If you can get the fifty to do the squad, though, you really might as well just flag it on LFG and try for the rest. I'm pretty sure you'd get them. Everyone will expect a full map to succeed.

However it works out, I'm happy there'll at least be the possibility of a permanent public Marionette show. The squad version seems too purposeful and serious for what was always a loud, brash, frequently chaotic party.

Now can we look at getting the final fight with Scarlet in her airship over Lion's Arch back, please? That was an instance for a set number of players. It would be perfectly suited for a re-run or, better yet, another permanent slot in the schedule.

Try The New World, Play The Game

I'm only writing this now because the New World beta servers are down. The in-game message says Amazon are investigating "server instability", which made me wonder if someone was trying to wreak vengeance on the game for supposed past misdemeanors but the forum gives chapter and verse on some bug fixes so it's probably nothing sinister. 

They'd already extended the downtime by thirty minutes when I went to log in or I wouldn't even have known. Mrs. Bhagpuss and I had been for a long walk through wheatfields and woodland before the sun got too hot and I'd just sat myself down with a cold drink to decide whether to play New World or blog about it. I'd settled on playing, mostly so I'd have more to write about, and then I found I couldn't which is always annoying. I had to change tack.

Of course, just typing this has taken me to within a few minutes of the servers coming back up, so now I have to choose whether to carry on or go back to the original plan. I think it's going to be the latter. (It wasn't. Ed.)

It's not that I'm desperate to play, although I was having fun last night, mostly. The main reason I'd be well-advised to get on as soon as the servers come up is that it'll be the middle of the night in the USA.

Now with added freckles!

 

Last night was astonishingly busy on Roruva, the North American East Coast server I chose almost at random. I imagine it was busy on every server. At one point there were nearly two hundred thousand people logged in via Steam, according to reports. The 24-hour peak stands at 190,811 as I write.

The sheer volume of people, all trying to talk to the same NPCs and do the same quests, led to the usual bottlenecks, as well as the traditional opening day cavalcade of repetitive questions. Every third person seemed to want to know where the sheep were. Or, as one persistent if ungrammatical quester kept asking, "Where are sheeps?" There were, of course, no sheeps. Not live ones, anyway.

Despite the excessive crowding, I didn't run into any real problems in my first hour. The game begins with what I'm fairly sure is the exact same cinematic, the one that leads quite cleverly into character creation set in a ship's cabin. It's a nice introduction to the general theme and setting of the game.

I made the same character I've been making since the first alpha. I have screenshots from back then and she looks pretty much identical. Character options, still surprisingly limited, don't appear to have moved forward all that much over the last couple of years. There are still no sliders. You don't get to change your jawline or the length of your eyelashes although you can, at least, choose your eye-color, something I complained about not being able to do last time.

A year ago I also mentioned that you got a choice of two genders. You don't any more. Now you get a choice of two body types with no gender stated. You also get a choice of pronouns, although you have to dig into the settings to find that out. The default pronoun is They/Them, which makes sense. 

There are also multiple statements and explanations addressing the locale, setting and theme of the game. Amazon have taken some of the criticisms over cultural insensitivity to heart, it appears. I'm not wholly convinced that standing behind consultations with "experts" and their own "diverse workforce" is quite the get out of jail free card they seem to imagine but at least they're acknowledging the issues.

When it comes to player characters, there is a deal of diversity on show. There are twenty-one presets for the head and face, not all of which are young and good-looking. A couple of dozen or so hairstyles add more variety, although in my experience whatever hairstyle you choose pretty soon vanishes under some helmet or other. There are flesh tones, facial hair, scars and tattoos as well. It's plenty, although if you're used to something like Swords of Legend Online it might still feel like it's not all that much.

With your character made, before you can play you still need to choose a region. Europe, East Coast or West Coast USA, South America, Australasia, somewhere near you is hosting this game. Then it's on to servers, of which there are many. 

So far so familiar but here's a new one on me. You also have to choose a "World Set". There's no real explanation of what that means but there is a stern warning:

I imagine a "World Set" is what we usually refer to as a "server cluster". Why you can only have one character per "Set", though, I have no idea. Even with the dire warnings, I heard several players complaining they weren't able to join friends in other World Sets. People don't read signage, it's a fact.

Since I wasn't planning on meeting up with anyone and anyway it's beta, I just picked a name I liked the look of. There were a lot to choose from and most of them had no extrinsic meaning. I imagine they relate to places in the gameworld but that's a guess. They could be the names of the developers' pets for all I know.

Once in, everything seemed extremely familiar. If anything's changed in the tutorial since last summer's Preview, I didn't spot it. I wrote about it then and all of that still applies so I'm not going to go over it again. 

I had exactly the same issues with "lag" as last year, too. For about an hour the game played smoothly even with countless players bouncing around the screen. The game defaulted to "Low" for all my graphics settings which is interesting. My PC is unchanged since last year's Preview, when I noted that all but one of my settings defaulted to "High". I thought the point of optimization was to increase accessibility, not reduce it.

I changed everything to "High" to see what would happen and not much did. I played without any obvious problems for about an hour, going through all the quests on the beach without any noticeable frame rate issues. 

Curious definition of Medium Load there, Amazon.

 

When I got to the first town, though, I ran into exactly the same trouble as last year. Frame rates dropped, everything began to judder and eventually my whole machine ground to a halt. I couldn't play. I couldn't even close the game. I had to tab out, which itself took a couple of minutes, and close the game from the Task Manager.

Before that happened I did manage to do some of the quests in town. Last year I noted that none of the NPCs were voiced, which seemed odd. They all do now. Every character I spoke to had full voice acting although it was often hard to hear what they were saying even when I turned the sound right up. 

When I could hear them, most of the voice acting seemed... okay. The guy on the beach, the first questgiver you meet, speaks in a peculiar, arch tone that makes him sound like he's being sarcastic even when he's not but the folks in town mostly seemed matter-of-fact even when the lines they were delivering appeared to be intentionally humorous.  I can almost hear the director murmuring "Undersell it."

The game has housing now, something I think must have been added in the last year. It's hard not to be aware of it because you'll keep trying to go through open doors only to be stopped by an invisible barrier. I'm guessing it works somewhat like Black Desert, a smart mix of instanced and open world access, but since every house I looked at cost several thousand gold I don't imagine I'm going to find out for sure before beta ends.

One other change I noticed in the two or three hours I was on (I got to level nine) was the fashion. For a PvP game, the utilitarian look of the alpha made sense but once the game transitioned to a PvE model and invited in a whole new audience it was plain that plain wouldn't pass. PvE players like to strut. 

I hope that's been properly cured...
In just the opening few levels I had half a dozen different looks. Quested and dropped gear was abundant and most of it looked good. I was very impressed by the tunic made from a whole dead fox with its front paws bound together. The leather greatcoat was impressive too. The whole gender/body type discussion becomes moot when you're wrapped up in something like that.

After I was forced out of the game by frame rate issues I was in two minds whether to go back and try again but I've always found New World moreish. The addition of quests and achievements and all the paraphenalia of the theme park only make the draw stronger. 

When I logged back in, something odd happened. At first it was as unplayable as it had been before but then, as I struggled on, after maybe twenty minutes the stutter and grind just...went away. I was, by then, back on Low graphics to see if that would help but I'd changed those settings before I logged in and it hadn't appeared to make any difference at all, so unless it takes twenty minutes for the game to notice, that can't have been it. 

I played for quite a while, half an hour perhaps, with no difficulties whatsoever. There were, if anything, even more people than before and yet I could move, fight, talk to NPCs, open inventory, all with smooth fluidity. And then the lag came back, not quite as bad as before but bad enough to make me stop.

I went and checked the Minimum Specs. My PC meets them. Just barely, it's true. The GPU and the RAM are the lowest admissable, the CPU a couple of notches above that. I wouldn't expect to get great performance and I probably need to keep the graphics settings at Low, but it ought to run acceptably. Minimum spec does, after all, mean "This will work". 

Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. I'd like to know why.

It does confirm what I already knew, namely that I need to upgrade. With the current worldwide shortage of  components and the crazy price of graphics cards, though, it's probably not going to happen this year.

I'm hoping, once New World settles down and the crowds disperse across the landscape, most of the pressure will subside. I'm probably going to wait until launch before pushing much beyond the starting area, anyway. There doesn't seem too much point committing a whole load of time to a character that will be wiped in a couple of weeks, nor in working through content I'm going to be repeating so soon. 

And, honestly, there doesn't feel any need to explore much further. It all feels very familiar still from last year. I knew I liked the game then and nothing bad seems to have happened to it while it was off the road with the hood up.

It does feel as though Amazon might have got this one right. I guess we'll know for sure come September.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

You'll Find Me In A New World

I guess that covers it. 

Oh, what, not enough for a post? Okay, then. I suppose I can elaborate a little.

I pre-ordered New World a year and a half ago, just before Christmas 2019. By then the game had already been in development for more than three years. It's been the traditional five years in the making. Yes, really. I didn't believe it either, until I cycled back through my posting history to check.

I have twenty-two posts tagged "New World" and the first, entitled "Revelation of a New World", was in October 2016. I included a link to the forty-nine second video that told us everything we would know about the game for the next couple of years.

 

The major selling points seemed to be these:

  • A huge, open-ended sandbox game.
  • Set in 17th century America.
  • In this version of the world, the supernatural is real.
  • "The players are our content"
  • "Carve your own destiny"
  • Whatever players do to one another is up to them.

With what now sounds disturbingly like prescience, I wrote "Or that's the plan as it stands right now. The game itself is who knows how far out? Two years? Three? Five? We all know the MMO you get is very rarely the MMO you were promised. Sometimes it's barely even similar."

 A couple of years later, in August 2018, we got to hear some more about the game in the form of an interview the developers gave to a website called TechAdvisor. In this we learned that New World was in pre-alpha testing in a build that included full-loot, free-for-all PvP. It was also confirmed that the game would be highly social, would have an end-game predicated on territorial control and that the pre-alpha, in the words of the journalist who'd been given access, played "...like a survival game in the vein of Rust, Conan Exiles or Ark".

Once again, I was skeptical and once again, reading my words back, I have to wonder whether I have the gift. On the topic of full-loot PvP I wrote "This is a game in pre-alpha. Unless Amazon come out and state that full loot is a core game feature, I'd bet it won't make it out of beta. If it even gets that far". It didn't.

I wasn't even prepared to go so far as to assume New World would end up being a free-for-all PvP game at all. I could see a lot of wiggle-room being prepared, even then. As for the territorial end-game, I dismissed that as well: "As a prospective peasant... I strongly expect to be able to wander around largely oblivious to the machinations of my rulers. I will be beneath their notice and they will be above mine".

Even so, I wasn't all that impressed or excited. I didn't expect the survival mechanics to change and the game was still going to use some form of action combat. I concluded "It still doesn't look like my kind of game but who knows?" And then I signed up for the alpha anyway, because why not?

And I got in. Right at the start. I have a suspicion now that not many people can have signed up at all. Although there was a very tough NDA, quite a lot of bloggers managed to let slip that they were in and yet whenever I played the servers seemed almost empty.  

Which was a good thing. There was free for all pvp in theory but in practice I rarely saw anyone. On the occasions when I did, we gave each other a very wide berth indeed. There was one single occasion when someone tried to kill me inside a fort, something the game wouldn't allow, and I think I might once have had a fight with someone in the woods but if I did I don't remember anyone dying.

Mostly what I did was explore. The world was stunningly beautiful. I looted abandoned farmhouses and fought zombies and wolves. I gathered and crafted and generally had some very good times. When I came to play Valheim it reminded me very much of the New World alpha. New World looked far better although Valheim had the edge in gameplay. 

The NDA was tight so I didn't post much. When I did I tried to be oblique. Openly, I tried to mention as often as I could what great potential the game had and how very much different it was from the wildly inaccurate things people who had never played were saying about it.

I played on and off throughout the long alpha and when it ended I was sorry to be locked out. Thingshad been getting better and better and I wanted to play it for real. I signed up for the closed beta (and never got in) and I pre-ordered at the earliest opportunity.

Then, at the beginning of last year, Amazon dropped a bombshell. New World was no longer going to
be a PvP game. Oh, it still had PvP in it - plenty. But now it would be entirely consensual. You'd have to flag if you wanted to fight or be fought. The focus of the game was now the environment. New World had morphed into a PvE mmorpg.

That went down about as well as you might expect with a certain demographic. I imagine we'll see some pushback from the usual suspects when the servers come up later today. I suspect DDOSing Amazon will prove a little more challenging than some other targets but we'll see.

Even with the bootlegger turn I don't think many expected the game to do quite the one-eighty it has. Last summer there was a brief open preview, which I attended. I saw gameplay so changed it was barely recognizeable. There were quest hubs and storylines and all the things you'd expect from a theme park mmo. So much for the sandbox.

I was not displeased. I titled my First Impressions piece "You'll Love The New World" and I summed up my initial experience thus: "I like New World a lot... It doesn't do anything you won't have seen before but everything it does, it does well. It's solid, entertaining, accessible and polished.

That was a year ago so they've had plenty of time to polish it some more. I'm very curious to see how much more things might have changed. It's been a long, strange trip but we're almost at the end. What we see now is, finally, what we're going to get. And there's no more NDA so everything will be revealed. We'll not only find out if the change of direction has worked but whether it's been accepted.

The signs are already promising. Access to the short beta is by pre-order (guaranteed) or sign-up (random chance). Given that Amazon must perforce know how many people have pre-ordered, the startling number of servers they announced yesterday suggests this is going to be a big one.

I always said I had confidence in Amazon's ability to produce and operate a polished, professional mmorpg. Let's hope my predictive powers prove true one more time.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Footprints


Mmorpgs are so big, aren't they? Not the worlds, all that travel, vast distances across plains, over oceans, all those hours on horseback, in hot air balloons. Not the trail of footprints in the snow, the desert sand, glazing into the shimmering distance. 

Not those. The other footprints. The ones on your hard drive.

I have most, if by no means all, of my mmorpgs stashed on my third internal drive, the E: Drive. They're in a folder cannily called "MMOs". It's a 2TB mechanical drive and that one folder takes up almost half of it: 982GB of data, which breaks down as follows:

Auteria - 643Mb

Black Desert Online - 39.3GB

Blade & Soul - 58.8GB

City of Heroes - 4.45GB

Crowns of Power - 1.65GB

Dino Storm - 194MB

Dragon Nest 2019 - 18.2GB

Dragon Nest EU - 434MB

Dragon Nest Oracle - 224MB

Dragon Nest Origins - 9.74GB

EverQuest - 15.5GB

Fallen Earth - 6.67GB

Fortnite - 34.2GB

Genshin Impact - 25.0GB

Glyph (for ArcheAge) - 27.0GB

Guild Wars - 3.86GB

GW2 - 50.0GB

Icarus Online - 44.4GB

Kingsisle Entertainment (for Wizard 101 and Pirate 101) - 9,44GB

NCSoft (for Aion) - 28.2GB

Neverwinter - 26.3GB

Portalarium (for Shroud of the Avatar) - 8.14GB

Vanguard - 38.8GB

Secret World Legends - 50.5GB

Square Enix (for FFXIV and FFXIV:ARR, separately) - 47.1GB

Star Citizen -  51.0GB

Star Trek Online - 13.7GB

Star Wars - The Old Republic - 40.9GB

Test EverQuest - 15.8GB

The Hammers End - 1.05GB

The Lord of the Rings Online - 30.6GB

Villagers and Heroes - 4.72GB

Warhammer Redux - 20GB

Wildstar - 12.6GB

World of Warcraft - 101GB

Saving the biggest for last, there. Also, it doesn't add up to what I said, if anyone was nuts enough to check, because inevitably I have let things get in there that I shouldn't have. I didn't list those.


 

Other things that might ought to be there... aren't. Anything I originally installed via Steam is going to be in one of my three Steam directories, for a start. I have no idea what's in which. That's why I have Steam in the first place, to take care of the boring details. I just made three to spread the load.

Some notable exceptions you'll have spotted, no doubt, include EverQuest II, currently sitting on the C: Drive for no particularly good reason and weighing in at 42.6GB. Elder Scrolls Online, on my D: Drive, that's another 71.9GB. 

DCUO is in its default folder, the path being an abstruse C:/Users/Public/Daybreak Game Company/Installed Games, where it is in fact the only game installed. Never let mmorpgs put themselves where they want to go is my advice. Not if you ever want to find them again.

There's another installation of WoW on the D: Drive, too. Must be an old one. It's half the size at 52.GB. Oh, wait, I bet one has Classic in and the other doesn't. I don't suppose I need two versions of Retail. I should probably do something about that. But I probably won't.

The thing is, when I clean house, uninstall the mmorpgs I haven't played for years, delete the ones that have gone out of business and will never be playable again, next thing I know there's some free offer or comeback deal or someone's made an emulator that requires an original installation and off I go again. It's easier to buy new storage, frankly.

I was prompted to make this tedious list for several reasons:

  1. I promised myself I was going to do more List posts. There should be more List posts. Everyone should do list posts. List posts are great! I have a plan to do more that I'm mulling over but I thought doing this one would help me get back in practice.
  2. I'm patching Riders of Icarus as I type. I have a good cable connection and the download is flying along but I've still had time to write all this and there's about twenty minutes to go. I am, naturally, patching up because I heard there was free stuff for returnees. Given the sheer amount of free stuff RoI gives away as standard I felt I had to see what extra bribes they'd come up with this time.
  3. It's too hot to write a post where I have to think much. Yes, I know other people have it this hot and hotter for months at a stretch but you have air conditioning and houses that are designed for temperatures in the 30s. We don't.
  4. I think there was another reason but I forget what it was. See reason #3.

Oh yes, I remember the last reason. Tomorrow, all being well, I should get an invite to the New World closed beta. I've had a pre-order since last December. I'm working tomorrow but I have the following two days free so I ought to be able to give it a run, see how much has changed. I suspect it's going to be everything.

But first I'll have to download the thing. I did at least remember to uninstall last year's alpha, on the grounds that it might screw something up if I didn't. I wonder how big the finished thing is going to be. Bloody huge, I bet. 

I might have to delete that spare copy of World of Warcraft after all.


Saturday, July 17, 2021

The First Day In August


It's that time of year again. The time when every second post in your RSS feed (if that's still a thing people use) looks almost exactly the same. Yes, it's the run-up to Blaugust!

We all do it, don't we? Write up a post saying exactly what everyone else is saying, with all the same links and all the same logos. It wouldn't be Blaugust without the run-up.

I confess I didn't think we were going to have a Blaugust this year. I mean, it's only a couple of weeks until August and in recent years the whole thing has tended to kick off a week or so before the calendar flips. I thought we'd already missed our window. 

Mostly, though, Belghast, the amazing motive force and organizing principle behind the annual event has, by has own account, been having such a hard time of things lately I figured the very last thing he'd need would be more responsibility. 

But you know what they say. If you want something done, ask a busy man. Actually, I believe the saying is "ask a busy woman". Probably going to need some work, that saying, if it's going to survive much longer.


True, though. It's those that can that do. There, I made that one up myself! Feel free to pass it on. It doesn't make any sense but when has that ever stopped a meme? (We're calling sayings and catchphrases memes now, right? Or is that over, now?)

Three enormous cheers for Bel for stepping up, yet again, to get this blogging ball rolling. It wouldn't be summer without Blaugust.


Belghast has everything you could possibly want to know about what Blaugust is, why we do it, how it works and why you should join in, all explained with a clarity and brevity I couldn't hope to match in this post here.

I've signed up and so can you. Here's the link. 

And here's the link to the Blaugust Discord. I'm signed up to that, too, although the more I use Discord the more uncomfortable I get so I probably won't be on much.

I imagine I'm down as a Mentor again which is fine by me. Feel free to ask me any questions about blogging you think I might be able to answer. A small field, I know. I'll almost certainly be handing out advice right and left, whether anyone asks for it or not. Why break the habit of a lifetime?

The thing about Blaugust is this: it works. I'm not sure how many totally new names we'll see this year. I suspect the glory days of the Newbie Blogger Initiative (another great event now subsumed within Blaugust itself) are long gone. I can't see me having to add forty or so new blogs to my blog roll this go round, which is probably just as well, since I never take any of the old ones off. 


Here in this corner of the blogosphere, it's not so much fresh blood we need as a transfusion from those of us still plugging away into the writing arms of those who've dropped behind. My god, that was a labored metaphor. Here's my first piece of blogging advice for the year: don't start a metaphor if you don't know how to finish it.

What I'm saying is, there are a lot of silent blogs in my blog roll that I consider to be dormant, not dead. At least I hope they are. That's why I don't cull the list to a manageable level. You never know when one of them will spark and sputter and spring back to life.


Blaugust is a set of jumper cables for bloggers whose batteries have gone flat. (Look, didn't I just talk to you about metaphors?) A lot of people who used to post and don't any more still read. When they see all these Yay! Blaugust! posts and everyone getting all excited it starts their juices flowing again. At least I imagine that's what happens. I never stop blogging so I'm guessing how it might feel...

Two bloggers, whose words of wit and wisdom I would very much like to see pop up in my Feedly or on my blog roll at least on a semi-regular basis, have already expressed a wish, even an intent, to dust off the keyboard and make a comeback. I would urge any other lapsed bloggers reading this to give some consideration to joining them. I'm pretty sure Bel has some fatted calves laid in for just such an eventuality. 

And if there's anyone reading this who still hasn't given the whole blogging malarkey a try yet - what are you waiting for? If we can all do it, surely you can. There'll never be a better time than now!

I think that just about covers it. Meet back here on the first of August and we'll see how it goes.

It'll be great! It always is!

Thursday, July 15, 2021

How To Do Now: An Overview Of Guild Wars 2's Marionette


She's back! For one week only, Scarlet Briar and her amazing Marionette. Performances every two hours, only at The Eye of The North. Get in line now!

Yes, the promised return of Guild Wars 2's best ever structured event began on Tuesday after the update. The public event runs for just one week, ending when next week's patch lands but there's also a private version that should be available indefinitely.

Here's how it works:

Both versions are accessed via the Scrying Pool in current content hub, Eye of the North. You used to have to own the Path of Fire expansion to go there (or have legacy rights from the pre-launch events a decade ago, I guess) but that requirement has been dropped. Now you just need to be Level 80. If you've never been there before, no worries; there's a one-time portal scroll in the mail that will take you there and open the waypoint for you permanently.

The 50-person private Squad instance is always available. If you want to start one, use the Scrying Pool. More likely, if you want to join one, use the LFG function and search under Tyria - Squads. Right now there are lots of people doing it but as folks get the rewards and the achievements they want it will calm down. Based on other, similar content, though, there will most likely be Commanders and guilds looking to form up fairly regularly, especially at weekends. GW2 is very good at keeping older content in play.

When you've found your squad, join up and follow instructions. Do not zone into the instance via the Scrying Pool yourself. Wait for the pop-up invitation and accept that. Then just listen, pay attention and do what everyone else does is my advice.

If you're there for the Public version, check the Event Timer for the next one, arrive around the top of the hour, go to the Scrying pool, click on the Public button when it appears and zone in. Then you can either run around like a lone wolf and tick everyone off or you can join a lane, follow a tag and behave like a socially responsible person. Your call.

The mechanics are virtually unchanged from seven years ago but if you can remember much of the detail you have a better memory than I do. Of course, that may well be the case. Almost anyone does.

Luckily, there are some excellent guides available. This is the best I've seen. I would strongly advising reading through it before embarassing yourself. I didn't but I think I got away with it. No, I definitely got away with it. I didn't do anything dumb. Still, I would have been a good deal more comfortable if I'd known what I was doing, so the point stands.

I was lucky my first run in that the Commander had a squad message up that detailed the basic mechanics for each boss. Plus I got the easy one first time, even though I was in Lane Two, because the people in Lane One couldn't even manage to kill theirs, even though it was the easiest boss. It passed to us and we killed it for them! Go us!

The next two lanes also killed theirs but after that it was fail time for everyone, and we wiped. Second time around we did even worse and then I had to go to bed. It was a great introduction all the same.

This evening I did the public version which is in some ways easier (you can have more people - the limit is 75 rather than 50, I believe) and in some ways harder (you can't vet who comes and you get quite a few lollygaggers and layabouts). We did brilliantly.

The first four lanes cut the chains. I was in Lane Two and my platform was last to get our kill, mostly because the guy I was with took a while to learn we needed to kite the boss over the mines. He got the hang of it after I yelled at him, though.

Lane five failed, which wasn't a shock because the fifth boss is the hardest. Lane One, on their reprise, took him down. Not a single lane let too many mobs through and we finished with the aethercannon still only 25% charged from that single failure. Even back in the day that would have been counted a very solid run. 



Although the exact details of what to do are quite complex, the basics are simple:

Get organized. If no-one else is stepping up then maybe think about doing it yourself.

Have 10-15 people per lane, depending on whether you have 50 or 75 in total.

When your lane is up, kill all the mobs as fast as possible to get the portal open.

Run in fast. It's really embarassing to get locked outside and watch your team fail because you were late.

Kill the boss on your platform using the correct tactics as outlined in the guide linked above or as explained by your Commander, assuming they know what they're doing.

If the idiot on your platform is doing it wrong do yell at them but also tell them how to do it properly!

All the times it's not your turn, concentrate on holding the line. Use all the available tools (barricades, golems, repair hammers) plus all your snares, roots, stuns, knockbacks and so on to make absolutely certain none of the giant twisted clockworks get to the portal. If even a few make it your lane will fail and the aethercannon will charge up some more. You do not want that gun to fire. It will kill everyone. Literally everyone.

If a lane calls out for help (usually when their turn comes around again after a fail and they realize half of their people already left) do not go charging over to help until you are asked! It's really embarassing when the whole thing fails because everyone in one lane went to help another lane and left one poor guy trying to stop a hundred twisted clockworks on his own.

If you win, jump up and down and cheer like crazy. Or just grab your loot and leave. You do you.


 

I cheered. Then I grabbed my loot. Most of it was the usual nonsense but there's two gold for the first time you do it that day (Maybe. Or maybe it's just the first time ever. Honestly, I didn't check. I'm not doing it for the money.) 

There's a fairly nice set of weapon skins to collect if you're into that sort of thing. Mostly, though, it's about the fun. Marionette is a really well-designed event and I'll tell you why: it's because it keeps everyone engaged from start to finish and makes everyone feel invested in everyone else's success. It's a true mmorpg experience that could not be replicated in a single-player game.

All five lanes have to be held. All five bosses have to die. All five chains have to be severed. Every success is everyone's success. Every failure is everyone's failure. It's a true team effort.

I loved it. I'm just writing this up in the time between the last public run and the next. The private squad version is good but the public one is the real thing. 

I just wish it was staying for longer than a week.

You'll Be My Mirror


In the spirit of shorter posts, here's one that probably ought to be a tweet, if only I was on Twitter. Which, technically, I am, not that I ever log in.

I was amused yesterday to see the following announcement on Pitchfork:

Kurt Vile, Michael Stipe, Iggy Pop, St. Vincent, and More Cover Velvet Underground & Nico for Tribute Album

Sounds kind of familiar...

I suspect the upcoming version is going to be a tad more commercial than mine would have been. Here's the line-up:

01 Michael Stipe: “Sunday Morning
02 Matt Berninger: “I’m Waiting for the Man
03 Sharon Van Etten with Angel Olsen: “Femme Fatale
04 Andrew Bird / Lucius: “Venus in Furs
05 Kurt Vile & The Violators: “Run Run Run
06 St. Vincent / Thomas Bartlett: “All Tomorrow’s Parties
07 Thurston Moore: “Heroin” [ft. Bobby Gillespie]
08 King Princess: “There She Goes Again
09 Courtney Barnett: “I’ll Be Your Mirror
10 Fontaines D.C.: “The Black Angel’s Song of Death
(Sic)
11 Iggy Pop / Matt Sweeney: “European Son

Positively an all-star affair compared to what I went with:

01 Petite Meller: “Sunday Morning
02 Dan Lyons: “I’m Waiting for the Man
03 Sasha Belyava: “Femme Fatale
04 Ängie: “Venus in Furs
05 Emily Loizeau: “Run Run Run
06 A.B.B.A feat. Elfin Bow: “All Tomorrow’s Parties
07 Opal feat. Hope Sandoval: “Heroin
08 Hatsune Miku: “There She Goes Again
09 Emma Elisabeth: “I’ll Be Your Mirror
10 You Can't Win, Charlie Brown.: “The Black Angel’s Death Song
11 Matt Berninger: “European Son

Matt Berninger is the only one to make both lists. And he picked what are, in my opinion, and for very different reasons, the two hardest tracks to cover. Good on you, Matt!

I look forward to hearing the results. Those are some very talented people. 

So far all we have to judge by is Kurt Vile's take on "Run Run Run". He's been a big favorite of Mrs Bhagpuss since she saw him do a televised Glastonbury set a couple of years back. I like him too, although not as much as she does. He sets a high bar for the rest of them, I'd say.

The full version clocks in at a mesmeric seven minutes. I recommend listening to it in full. There's no video for long version, though, so we're going to have to have to settle for the four-minute radio edit instead.

Now I need to think of another album I can wreck. Not that I want to give anyone ideas.

The Choices We Make

I'm playing Blade & Soul again. I didn't go back for the free Level 60 boost. That was mere serendipity. It happened much more randomly than that.

I was looking for screenshots to illustrate one of my recent non-game-specific posts and I chanced on a folder of shots from B&S. I opened it to see if anything in there might work. I'd forgotten just how good-looking a game Blade & Soul can be.

I'd also forgotten just how much I like my character there. I only have one, a Lyn Summoner, because of course it's a Lyn Summoner. I'm nothing if not predictable. 

The races in B&S are not particularly inspiring. There are only four. A big human, the Gon, a regular
human, the Jin, a race that probably kind of stands in as the elf race, the Yun, who can only be female, and the Lyn. The Lyn is the only obviously non-human race and also the smallest. Two boxes ticked already. They also have huge, fox-like tails and ears, so you can see where this is going.

Classes come with a lot more variety. There are thirteen, although some of them (all of them?) break down into specialist sub-classes at higher levels. They come handily graded for difficulty, both on the website and at character creation. It's a five star grading system and Summoner, the pet class, is rated 2* for Easy. 

The pet you get is a cat. There are five cat personalities to choose from, something that happens in game as part of an introductory quest. You can dress your cat in various costumes and change their appearance by visiting a Groomer. 

Seriously, was there ever a chance I'd play anything else?

And I did play her, too. I didn't just futz around in character creation and do the tutorial then walk away. When I logged back in a few days ago, after a five gigabyte patch and some searching through notes for login details (it had been a while) I found I'd left off last time at Level 34. As of this writing I'm Level 37.

Blade & Soul occupies an odd position in the current hierarchy of mmorpgs I hear about. It hardly gets a mention anywhere. What's more, it never did get much attention even when it was new. If anyone else in this part of the blogosphere plays it or has played I couldn't tell you who that might be. 

It's strange. B&S is a bona fide AAA game from a well-known publisher, NCSoft. The same publisher, in fact, as Guild Wars 2 and Aion, both of which get far more press here. Also, it was already a familiar franchise from a Japanese TV show even before the mmorpg arrived.

It's not what you think!


The game has been around for five years now. It gets regular content updates and by most accounts has been commercially successful. A mobile version of the same game, called Blade & Soul Revolution, was released in 2020 and a Blade & Soul 2 is in development with a launch date possibly as soon as this year.

It's fully voiced and translated in good, clear English and it also benefits from a hybrid combat system, meaning it can be played comfortably in either action or classic tab target and hot key mode, making it available to the widest of audiences. There seems no obvious reason it shouldn't be as well-known or as widely reported as, say, Black Desert Online, ArcheAge or it's own stable-mate, Aion, but it just isn't.

I like it, anyway. I keep dipping back into it and I always have a good time when I do. In typically inconsistent fashion, given my recent pontification on the inadvisablity of grafting linear storylines onto open-world mmorpgs, almost all of my time there has been spent slavishly following the main questline. I'm on chapter forty-something now.

It's quite hard to follow a story when you leave gaps of many months between visits but it's the usual tale of possession, displacement, fate and destiny. I kind of know who some of the main characters are, or at least they come back to me when I play ecah time. They all have Anglicized Korean names that don't easily stick in my memory but they also have very distinctive visual signifiers that do, so I can just about keep my scorecard marked.

Charlie's Angels - the re-re-reboot.

 

That's a polite way of saying the game is highly sexualized, by the way, or at least the female characters are. It would be tough not to remember some of these women. I'd have a lot more difficulty with the look of the thing if it wasn't so outrageously, ludicrously, cartoonishly over the top. It's like Russ Meyer made an mmo.

I guess you could also make a case for the powerfulness of the women involved. I mean, I don't think I'd want to stand behind it but it's possible, at least. There are a lot of female leads and they are all badass. They definitely don't need any males to come along and save them, although they quite often turn up and save each other. Or the opposite.

I thought the character I'd been chasing for thirty levels, an arrogant pretty boy, was the main villain until my character and her three female allies roundly thrashed him last night. Then his boss turned up to gave him a highly negative performance review. She's a very scary woman. 

She also casually murdered the other greasy, odious, devious, cheating male who'd been making life difficult for my Summoner for many levels, something I chose to interpret as some kind of broad gesture of solidarity. She's probably just a sociopath but I like to try and see the good in everyone.

Well, my character does. Thankfully, she's positively demure, at least by comparison to everyone else. And she looks great. The attention to detail is fabulous. She's one of my favorite characters in any game as far as looks go although I wouldn't say she's developed much of a personality as yet.

She does get dialog but it's very easy not to notice. The player character isn't one of those silent protagonists some people love and others complain about. There's just no voice acting for the PC and their text dialog appears off to the right, whereas all the rest of the conversation takes place center-screen and in voiceover. Sometimes I don't even notice she's spoken at all.

Of course, the real reason she hasn't made her character known to me is precisely because I've been nailed to the storyline from day one. She won't become a character in her own right without agency and that's something a pre-written storyline never offers, particularly when it doesn't include what we like to call "meaningful choices".

And yet I am sufficiently attached and invested not to want to use that Level 60 boost on her. She's made it to the high 30s on her own and I'm confident she can go all the way. Might take a while but she'll get there. 

Which leaves the question of who I should use it on. As a free player I have three character slots and two of them are still empty. I read through all the classes and races last night but I'm still not sure which way to jump. 

I'm currently favoring the Gunslinger, a ranged class rated Easy. Blade & Soul is almost certainly never going to be a game I play fervently, frequently and seriously. It's going to be one of the extensive roster of mmorpgs I keep coming back to, chipping away at, drifting away from. It makes no sense to play anything that's going to require more than the minimum effort if I'm going to have to keep re-learning everything every time I return.

I know you have a thing for wool but try to keep in check just this once.

 

That's how it's going to be, and yet I also know Blade & Soul is a game I could be playing more. It has the potential to be a focus game. Quite a few mmorpgs do. 

Why we end up playing one rather than another is a question I'd like to have answered but I suspect the motivations, if revealed, might not be all that flattering to my ego. I have a feeling that, collectively, we end up playing mostly the games we see and hear about other people playing. We are, after all, social animals, much though many of us like to deny it.

Add Blade & Soul to the big summer of mmorpgs, then. A free Level 60 and an upcoming major graphical revamp definitely count as a significant promotional move. I can't help wishing these companies would co-ordinate their schedules a bit more sensitively. It might be to their benefit as well as ours.

Much as I'd like to press on and take my Summoner all the way to sixty this summer, I imagine in a week or so there'll be virtual dust on my B&S desktop icon. The New World beta begins next week and Bless Unleashed arrives not too long after. This is Blade & Soul's moment but it won't last.

I guess I'd better get on with it, then. Choose who to use that Level 60 boost on before it goes back into the cupboard for next time. Whenever that might be.

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