So, what to do when, after quitting WoW, one realises that most single-player games are bug-ridden piles of dreck? Why, start playing a new MMO, of course!

Small because for some reason my connection's giving me hell with uploads. QQ.

Small because for some reason my connection’s giving me hell with uploads. QQ.

Weeelll… MMO might actually be stretching it a bit at this point. Face-to-face player interaction is pretty much limited to missions and clan halls.

The game is, at its core, a competent and rather pretty third-person shooter. It adds a few gimmicks like wallrunning and there’s a melee combat system that the devs promise will be getting some polish Any Day Now™. The main divergence is in the classes.

By now it’s pretty much no secret that I’m a raging altoholic. That means when I want to play a game, I want something where I can fire up a different character and have it play like nothing else in the game does. Warframe mixes up the shooter base with unique abilities based on the player’s titular Warframe – that being some sort of bizarre and usually slightly creepy bio-tech combat suit.

Each ‘frame has its own advantages and disadvantages. The starters are Excalibur, a sort of swordsman-type frame with a powerful AoE blind; Mag, a caster-type with magnetic abilities; and Loki, who really has little business being offered to new players, as he’s an advanced tactical stealth frame who really comes into his own once the player has acquired a few mods and knows their way around the game.

Mods? Mods. Mods are basically cards that slot into your frame and various weapons to give bonuses or abilities. All equipment levels up, from frame to melee weapon, but only the frame gains stats as it levels, and ten only at an incremental rate. The real strength unlocked by levelling is that it allows a larger budget for mods on an item. Mods also gain levels from fusing with other mods, and higher levels cost more points. This means that, while levelling, one can either equip a few levelled-up mods, or can diversify and equip several different bonuses.

There’s a polarity-matching system et cetera that’s a bit tedious to explain, but the net effect is that one has a surprising amount of leeway in build.

When starting out, one picks a starter from the three frames above. Other frames with different abilities can be crafted after gathering their parts from the relevant bosses and building them based on a blueprint from the Market. The player doesn’t have different characters for each class; instead everything is shared, and the player merely equips a different frame for the alt experience.

All of this is great. I’m glossing over a lot of depth here for the sake of an overview, but trust me, it’s there. But the frame collection system leads to the inevitable monkey under the rug: this game is free to play. Dun dun dunnn!

Penny Arcade approaches Warframe with their usual tact and nuance. Frames pictured: Excalibur and god alone knows what that other thing is.

Penny Arcade approaches Warframe with their usual tact and nuance. Frames pictured: Excalibur and god alone knows what that other thing is.

As with most F2P games, you can if you like buy most of the weapons and frames available, along with a host of cosmetic contrivances. The difference is that most F2P games don’t make absolutely everything that impacts gameplay available ingame. All platinum buys you is time… with one stark exception. Inventory space reserved for frames and weapons is severely limited, and extra slots can only be bought with plat.

One does get a starting allowance sufficient to buy a few slots, and the slots certainly aren’t expensive, and moreover there’s a thriving ingame economy based around trading Void mission keys and mods for plat, so a player determined not to spend a cent can quite conceivably attain everything in the game. My personal philosophy is that if I’m enjoying the fruits of the developers’ labour, and – importantly – it doesn’t feel mandatory, it’s fair and right to pay for the privilege.

That point about mandatory spending is crucial. I understand that developers produce these products as a business venture, and that at the end of the day it must make money. Too many games thrust this crass commercialism into one’s face, though, with gating of content and grinding for anything worthwhile. What makes Warframe for me is that I don’t feel any of that pressure to ‘donate’, and perhaps perversely, that ensures that I have already made a small purchase and will doubtless make more in the future.

This is more or less what you'll be looking at most of the time, barring maybe all the darkness. Not my screenshot, since apparently I suck at snapping pics while anything interesting is going on.

This is more or less what you’ll be looking at most of the time, barring maybe all the darkness. Not my screenshot, since apparently I suck at snapping pics while anything interesting is going on.

Well, that might be a bit strong. What really makes Warframe for me is the setting. It’s popularly described as being about ‘space ninjas’, which conjures up nineties-era cartoon images. Personally I feel the experience is more like playing a highly agile space commando slash superhero. Reawakening thousands of years after a war which the Warframes – or rather the Tenno – supposedly won, but which left the solar system largely uninhabitable, the player winds their way through the planets and moons now occupied by distinctly posthuman factions. Not a lot is known about the war or those who fought it, since the Tenno apparently can’t remember and those who created them are all dead.

There’s a fair bit of very suggestive backstory, but not a lot of definitive lore. Players can explore the infested derelict ships left behind by those who made the Tenno, and can travel to the Void using special keys to take on the better-preserved structures left behind. What exactly the Tenno are is still a mystery, except that they were cast into the selfsame void as a drastic measure and came back afflicted yet powerful, and were bound to the Warframes as living weapons.

Perhaps this sounds a bit cheesy, but to me it echoes the maxim “Endure. In enduring grow strong.” That’s a pretty good trope to use as a hook, and I’m very interested to see where the story team takes this game.

As far as gameplay goes, some of the early-game is a bit rough – Earth in particular is a massive jump in difficulty compared to the two preceding planets – but it’s being ironed out with some feedback from the community. Despite being a release title for the PS4, officially the game appears to still be in extended Beta, and changes come thick and fast. Some mechanics are a bit rough around the edges, and  there are balance issues between frames and weapons, but overall that doesn’t prevent the game from being fast-paced, frenetic fun in nice manageable segments of 5-20 minutes.

Expect to hear more about it here in coming weeks.

Earlier in the year I traded my subscription in for three-month game time cards. Current one runs out at the end of the month, and I’m not renewing it.

If you're doing something, do it properly.

If you’re doing something, do it properly.

Horribly enough, there’s no option to supply Blizzard with a “why I’m unsubbing” message if you’re on prepaid, which calls into question every single thing they’ve ever said about reasons why people unsub. They’re just not getting feedback from people who are using game cards, and in my experience, that’s most of the player base. Not to mention that I switched to prepaid partly because I wasn’t sure if I’d want to keep playing.

This has been a while coming. I submitted an ingame CS ticket explaining one of the issues – to whit, that Blizzard seems to think that grinding on alts is gameplay, and I tend to think that playing different characters with different abilities is gameplay. But there’s no room in 500 characters for all of the reasons, so in order of “hey I should remember to put this down”, here we go:

  • Alts. I’m an altoholic who has spent the entire expansion playing a single character. I dislike feeling that time spent on an alt means less effectiveness on my raiding toon. I dislike having to grind stuff on alts that I’ve already unlocked on my main – and yes, the commendations and timeless isle stuff is much better, but commendations were after a huge chunk of the base quit already, and timeless comes at the end of the expansion, when Blizzard admit that they relax the rules. That doesn’t bode well for alt-play in the future.
  • Melee DPS are second-class citizens, and I don’t see that going away. I like smacking things in the face, but Blizzard’s encounter designers don’t seem to believe in this as a valid playstyle, and their graphics team can’t seem to figure out how to make non-casters look and feel impressive.
  • Timeless Isle style content doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t want to run around looking for rares and arriving just too late, or grinding mobs to spawn a better mob that I don’t get to before someone kills it, or doing anything involving fucking Shaohao rep. But at the WoD announcement, TI-style content was trumpeted as the way of the future. Yeah, not my future, thanks. I’d rather they look back at Domination Point.
  • Artificial gating. The worst was requiring us to earn reputations in order to spend our valour, and that persisted right up to Shado-Pan Assault, aka the final tier of valour gear. Fantastic idea there, guys. Totally not still bitter about that shit. This feeds heavily into the alt issue, because climbing those gates the second or third time was just never worth it. But it’s also the little things, like putting major content hubs out in the middle of bloody nowhere with no quick way to get there. Sure, flight paths let you see the world… but it’s five minutes that the “player” is not actually playing the game.
  • A minor point: I went on holiday, and didn’t miss the game at all. I was relieved. That’s not something you want your players feeling – that not playing feels like a pressure draining from behind the eyes, that the distortion this pressure caused was robbing everything else of its delight.
  • Finally: boneheadedness, specifically on Blizzard’s part. The current Blizzard design team is very sensitive to criticism, and seems to respond to any well-considered argument with “well, that’s true, but another segment of our playerbase experiences [x hair-raising idiocy] differently” or the old favourite “players on the forums are not representative of the overall base”. As I pointed out earlier with regard to unsub reasons, Blizzard is not above using non-representative data when it supports their view. There’s a term for that, and it is confirmation bias.

    The current design team take months to fix issues that players feel very strongly about, apparently simply because they don’t want to admit that they came up with a poor design. They blame players for not testing for them, especially in PvP, even when issues are pointed out to them before the content goes live. They carry elements that are not fun forward – see again rep gating for valour gear, culminating in not even having a valour tier for the latest content. All in all, the design team come across as childish and stubborn.

That final point is something that’s been building up throughout the expansion, and something that is going to carry over to the next. The design team is unable to deal with the fact that they make poor decisions, and that they are dealing with a sophisticated customer base with intimate knowledge of a product that’s been running for a decade now, counting the beta. Their arrogance and stubbornness is as galling as any griefer in LFR.

So yeah. Not sure what’s next… maybe Deus Ex, maybe more shooting, maybe more coding, maybe BDSM or becoming a florist. What’s certain is that it isn’t going to happen in Azeroth.

One capturable pet left. Just one.

Oh seasonal pets, how I despise you

Oh seasonal pets, how I despise you

Upon starting the Zookeeper achievement, I set forth with high spirits to capture blue versions of every pet. That is, until discovering that one f the pets could only be caught during Summer. Around that point I more or less decided “eh, fsck it” and caught whatever specimen was the first to pop up in my beady sights.

Lately, with our raid schedule in flux and le wifelet less interested in playing, I’ve taken to hunting down rares again. Also been doing the Pandaria trainer dailies, which give an average return of 1-2 stones per day. That’s allowed the upgrade of most of my tradeable army as well, barring the beasts and flyers.

It seems sadly ironic that I complained about unusual types’ stones likely rarity via battling. As it turns out, there are far fewer exotic types which need upgrading, but a veritable army of more mundane family pets. If the stone drops for battling those mundane families were more common, that’d be great… but after countless battles, it seems that the drop rate is in fact exceedingly low, even from the highest level pets.

Of course, none of this is news to regular pet battlers. It turns out that some enterprising souls even offer to upgrade tradeable pets, and beast, critter, flying and mechanical stones command a premium above the other types. C’est la vie.

In other news, as a consequence of said schedule flux, I’ve spent a significant portion of the last week gearing my alliance paladin. She’s a little rough around the edges, but at least has some Timeless Isle gear and a coin-bought weapon. Oh, and a classic plate bikini from BC, but that’s neither here nor there.

Apparently I don't love her enough to take screenshots. Whoops!

Apparently I don’t love her enough to take ingame screenshots. Whoops!

Something shocking as a horde player was doing the Underhold and Downfall LFR instances, and finding that much of the more annoying trash – ie. the orc armies with their shredders and turrets et al – were simply skipped by the alliance. This happens in both instances, and was particularly headache-inducing in Downfall – the first two rooms have thus far been responsible for more wipes and group-drops than any of the bosses that I’ve seen, including Garrosh. Yet the alliance get to simply breeze through? I get that they wanted a moment of coolness, but… really? For the difference to be this stark?

That first trash pull sets the tone for the rest of the instance. Horde Downfall runs see players – especially tanks – leaving the instant anything goes wrong, or even looks as though it might. Entire groups will disband rather than face that trash, and this after an hour’s wait for DPS players. Even upon success, the players are taciturn and judgmental to an unusual degree. The overall experience is exceedingly negative.

By contrast alliance queue times are quicker, the players less likely to drop out, and overall are more relaxed. Sure, there are blowhards and elitists and even trolls, but it’s nothing like the horde experience. And the really sad thing is that alliance players probably don’t even know how good they have it.

I’ve maintained for some time now that, despite their continual whining about story focus, alliance players get it way easier in gameplay terms. Seeing that spill over into raids is infuriating to the point of actual sickening rage.

By your powers combined...

By your powers combined…

It’s sadly ironic that the achievement image for Celestial Family is the least interesting of the pets, and the one that I got last. Almost like they knew she’d be the unfavourite.

And now, dear friends, we can look back upon the celestial tournament with the benevolent glow that comes of having received the rewards, and we may in good cheer conclude…

No, bugger that. It was an RNG-ridden slogfest, with opponents specifically designed to ratchet up the RNG factor. Hell, miss chance in general seems to have gone for a ball of spit this past week or two. No, in the end I’m glad that I did it, but I’d recommend some serious self-examination before trying this, lest super-cheap virtual squirrels cost thee a 24-inch screen.

Peace out.

We’ve made solid progress over the past two weeks. Norushen and Pride last week, followed by a repeat this week and downing of Galakras, Juggernaut, Shaman, Nazgrim and Malkorok. Oh, and a couple of decent pulls at Spoils.

Norushen stomping all over the Amalgam

Norushen stomping all over the Amalgam

Vintage last week. Picked a pic with Norushen included, despite the fact that he doesn’t bother to take part in the encounter that’s named for him. Well, unless he’s the one spawning those golden spheres, but that sounds a bit proactive.

"Draw me like one of your French girls!"

“Draw me like one of your French girls!”

Pride’s been a pretty simple kill. Wish we’d had the option of choosing between Pride and Norushen. Thought SoO was meant to have branching options, but apparently that went out of the window sometime in development.

There was going to be a pic of our Galakras kill here, but I’m totes lame and awful, so just imagine it. Or flash back to the end of your most recent LFR Galakras, after half of the raid’s left because they only wanted loot off the first boss. Derp.

Juggernaut fall down, go boom.

Juggernaut fall down, go boom.

Biggest problem for Juggernaut was raid members assuming that they could soak bombs as though this were Flex. Kids, do not try this at home. Leave it to trained professionals, like tanks.

Only one of the pair. Like socks through the tumbledryer, so are the Days of our Shammies.

Only one of the pair. Like socks through the tumbledryer, so are the Days of our Shammies.

Our strategy for downing Dark Shaman actually involved three tanks tanking them separately – two at the top with Dottsy McTankSwap, one at the bottom with the DPS and Oozetastica the Poisonlicious. Works really well – you get deathwalls at the sparsely-populated top where they’re less likely to cause huge issues, and oozes and ashfalls at the bottom where there’s plenty of room to maneuver.

One poor decision too far.

One poor decision too far.

A lot of people seem to be attached to Nazgrim. I don’t get it. Since Cataclysm we’ve been following this tool who spouts off about how the Horde is all too magnificent, and who then tends to go right ahead and fuck already-bad situations up even worse. he tried hard, he was loyal, and he was way out of his goddamned depth. Maybe it’s because of that – the fact that he wasn’t some unstoppable Marty Stu – but his self-righteous jingoistic prattle got on my nerves.

I swiped his mace from the DK tank, purely on the basis that it’s a hefty base damage upgrade and mastery’s a pretty good stat for AoE-heavy encounters like around 80% of Siege. This also means that the warrior and I won’t be competing when something heavy on crit drops. We were both at the top of the SK list… I don’t know if Siege just has poor item placement for plate DPS, or if we’re just really unlucky.

The club can't handle us.

The club can’t handle us.

Malkorok really came out of nowhere. I get that he was important in the books, and he was some sort of kitten-stomping baby-eating Bad Guy in the backstory, but seriously… it would have been nice to have some insight into what his deal was within the game. Also, this encounter makes no bloody sense at all.

Downing the boss wasn’t the hard part – the hard part was getting everyone online at the same time to do so. At one point the raid leader’s machine crashed and completely lost all of his addon settings. Given that he was a healer, that was rather inconvenient. In the end we did manage the kill.

And now for some arbitrary nonsense.

Behold the holy bug-zapper!

Behold the holy bug-zapper!

Our main tank got his Tabard of the Lightbringer this week, something that he’s been working towards for quite some time now. Quite nifty.

If you recognise the room, yes it is indeed Garrosh’s secret underground no-cooties clubhouse. We were running it in Flex. If you recognise the second tank, I’ll be a little surprised. That’s Drythorn, making his return behind the board after a long period of smitey smiting. We didn’t get Garrosh down in the end… not enough DPS, and the tanks kept exploding violently due to adds and Warsong. Tips appreciated, since we don’t actually know how to prevent mobs getting the buff and stomping us obscenely.

Ended up tanking most of Flex and some of 10N with Dry this week. One of our tanks has come over all unreliable, so we’re making do with anything that can equip a shield, and in the case of a certain bear, the shield’s optional. Raid tanking beats the hell out of PuG tanking, at least.

"Hey, where do you think you're putting that thing?"

“Hey, where do you think you’re putting that thing?”

Ah, pet battles. Such light-hearted family fun.

It awaits you under your bed

It awaits you under your bed

And finally, in case you ever wondered why anyone would ever play an orc as a clothie: this. This is why.

That’s pretty much it for the week. Still no image editor, so the screenshots look a little like they came from the inside of a Soviet mining gulag, which I suppose is actually fairly accurate. Deepholm flashbacks ahoy.

Looking forward to getting a shot at further and better bosses this week. I’m pretty happy with the raid as a whole… particularly in the second half, it certainly feels more dynamic than Throne of Thunder, while moving far away from Throne’s tendency to determine encounters on the strength of random people executing cheap gimmicks.

Go Team Siege.

Yowza.

Yowza.

After a few weeks of running Galakras LFR exclusively, the Evil Eye is mine. Cackle, cackle, cauldrons and spackle, etc.

A couple of Public Service Announcements with regard to this trinket:

  • When mousing over your abilities to check the reduced cooldown, bear in mind that 1.43 minutes is not the same thing as 1 minute 43 seconds. This point may only apply if you’re prone to hot and cold running derp. No, the shiny new statblob did not just shave a whole 17 seconds off of Avenging Wrath.
  • I’m not convinced that the math on this thing is entirely straightforward. A 31% reduction on a 2 minute ability should math out at 2 – (0.31 * 2) = 1.38, but it’s somehow showing as 1.43.

On to the paladin-specific issues. Yes, you knew there were going to be issues, you’er reading my blog after all. Don’t act all innocent and wounded, we both knew where this relationship post was headed.

Okay, so this may be less paladin-specific than one would think – I wouldn’t be surprised if other classes have similar issues, but I don’t know the classes as well and, more importantly, I don’t have this trink on any of them.

The Eye messes with our talent choices. Not by reducing CDs on our active talents – that’d actually be pretty cool. No, the messing about is more subtle. With the advent of Mists, we received a tree that was supposed to give us some freedom in picking and choosing our abilities, with no real wrong choices. Unfortunately, if you want to choose anything other than Sanctified Wrath now, you’re wrong.

See, with a lower CD on wings, the benefit of SW is also active more often. Meanwhile, Holy Avenger is unaffected by the change, and Divine Purpose – being a passive effect – is just as static. But at least neither of those abilities actually breaks the CD reduction – unlike Clemency. See, Clemency gives us two charges on our Hand abilities. Unfortunately, a couple of those Hands are in the list of abilities modified by the Eye, but if you have Clemency, the CD reduction completely fails to apply. I can sort of see their point – we’d be able to throw more hands around than a squid in a rubber glove factory – but it still feels broken, since it means that we don’t get a benefit from 2 of our 6 reduced abilities.

So, what to take instead? Unbreakable Spirit, which modifies another ability covered by the Eye? Yeah, we’ve seen how that works out. How about Hand of Purity? See, despite being a good candidate for the most situational talent in the tree, HoP is actually the one and only talent to which the Eye grants its benevolent glance.

So much for “major abilities”, huh? This is a DoT-reduction talent, which states in the tooltip “less for some creature attacks”. That makes it a talent only useful for cheesing some boss mechanics, but which is nerfed not to actually be able to cheese said mechanics. And rather than give us a reduction on something genuinely good – like our 90 talents, for instance – they decided to try and buff what is, in the end, a lackluster also-ran. *sigh*

Regardless, as a CD-driven class I’m looking forward to letting rip with the Eye in my corner. Just wish that it felt a little less… limiting.

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