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About time I posted again, if only to let both my loyal reads know that I’m not dead and have, in fact, been playing a fair amount of World of Warcraft on what I, at least, would call a casual basis.

Why WoW? Curiosity, initially. I’d been doing a nostalgia experiment with Dark Age of Camelot earlier in the year, and took a free re-up for a week in WoW because I felt it was worth taking a look for myself. While I’ve tracked WoW’s changes in the gaming news, I hadn’t actually PLAYED the game myself since mid Burning Crusade era. The game has changed a lot in over 8 years, more than most games change – Blizzard have an obsession with redesigning core features of the game with each expansion. And of course, I’ve changed too – When I last played I was still in my thirties, had one baby in the house, and was with a progression raiding Horde guild but getting increasingly pissed off with the increasingly elitist attitude of a number of guild members (who were, in fairness, probably equally pissed off with my mediocre score on the DPS meters). Now I’m not in my thirties, have two daughters at school age wanting attention (or at least the iPad charger and enough bandwidth for Minecraft) and just looking for entertainment on an irregular schedule rather than a second job.

And in fairness, I’m having a ball. I could write a long, LONG list of all the reasons why I shouldn’t be enjoying WoW, starting with streamlined-to-the-point-of-no-brainer class skills and lack of meaningful customisation… but it would have to be matched with a list of things that Blizzard do get right and are perhaps missed by some of their critics. Replayability, for example – there’s enough content to level several alts without repeating yourself, more if you leaven it with some dungeon runs and battlegrounds or pick up heirloom gear to accelerate the levelling. Polish, which was always Blizzard’s trademark. And undeniably, there’s a comfort factor. Logging into WoW is like putting on an old pair of slippers… I did mention I’m a middle-aged dad, right?

It probably helps that I left my old Horde characters mostly in mothballs and picked up with my Alliance alts on an RP server (EU Moonglade), where the pace is probably more relaxed than on some other servers and I’ve managed to join a friendly ‘guild that raids’ rather than a ‘raiding guild’. The Wyld Hunt is ostensibly an RP guild, but the RP is not mandatory and they’ve got a fairly decent raid team… and also organise runs for second-stringers like me, so I’ve fought my way through normal mode Hellfire Citadel with my insta-100 arcane mage. I wouldn’t want to be a progression raider again now, even if I could commit to the schedule, but it’s nice to do reasonably difficult content with a bunch of like-minded individuals who aren’t being asses about it. Of course, it’s even nicer to then switch to my new Outlaw Rogue alt, because pistols. And grappling hook. And even with a monk levelled up into the 90s and sundry other alts from 66 on downwards, I’ve got the majority of the Northrend, Cataclysm and Pandaria zones that I haven’t even touched yet, and a new expansion about to land. So I’m some way off any personal content drought, and the game has the added stickiness of a nice guild to annoy with my inane babblings in chat and (hopefully) endearing fumbling in dungeons. Casual Azeroth it will be for a while, it seems… although I really DO want to get caught up on SWTOR’s storyline too. Might need some vacation time without the kids. I’m sure they’ll understand.

I don’t normally do real-world politics here – this here’s my gaming blog. While I’m a news and politics junkie in real life, I prefer to keep that separate from my gaming persona. However, since Tobold already went there and the comment I wrote was long enough to be a post in it’s own right, I figured I’d repost it here with a little expansion. I’m also proud that I held off making a crack back at Tobold about Belgium being a failed state with two ethnic factions at loggerheads and unable to form a government.

OK, I’m not proud.🙂

Anyway, putting the ridiculous scare stories on both sides of the Brexit debate aside, there were three main things that moved the ‘Out’ vote:

1) immigration. Which, let’s face it, is not popular with a lot of people anywhere, so the British aren’t alone in having it be a worry, but there’s a perception that Britain is one of the more popular destinations for migrants and that the EU is an enabler. There’s a lot of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt on this topic and people tend to conflate free movement of labour in the EU (Polish plumbers) with refugees (Syrians trying to escape being bombed), economic migrants from outside the EU (guys from just about anywhere looking for a better life) and ‘benefit tourists'((possibly mythical bogeymen that want to come and sponge off our supposedly over-generous benefits system, which is supposed to be a privilege reserved for native-born chavs).
2) Control. There’s long been a perception that EU regulation is over-bearing and driven by career bureaucrats working towards a United States of Europe run along continental social democratic lines (i.e. somewhat to the left and more statist than the British political centre of balance). There’s also a sense that this isn’t what we signed up for – I’m old enough to remember the EEC as was being referred to as the ‘common market’ and was sold to the British public as a free trade area, not a grand political experiment. I think it’s telling that the ‘Out’ vote was especially high amongst those old enough to remember this.
3) Redistribution. Yes, Britain pays more in than it receives out (directly). While there was a rebate arrangement to reduce some of that imbalance, recent attempts to eliminate or reduce that rebate haven’t exactly warmed the hearts of the British public. Plus, there’s an argument that the reason the UK is one of the richer countries (currently) in Europe is because we have a more free-market economy than the sluggish, statist continental model so maybe they should try reforming their economies instead of expecting us to subsidise them?
Anyone who thinks that the ‘out’ vote was nothing but the spite of xenophobic idiots hasn’t looked carefully enough at the perceptions of the EU in the UK. Ill-advised interventions, such as Barack Obama’s attempt to put Britain on the naughty step by telling us we would ‘go to the back of the queue’ for a trade deal did more harm than good because people weren’t nearly bothered about the financial consequences as they were about the control issue. You might want to go and look at Richard Bartle’s blog, he had a couple of posts that suggest why an intelligent individual, looking a bit further ahead, would consider leaving the EU.
For what it’s worth, I personally voted to remain – but it was a close personal decision, and I was thinking it over at the point of casting my ballot. Immigration wasn’t an issue – I’m a son and a great-grandson of immigrants, and a free marketer to boot, so that issue simply doesn’t faze me. On the economic front, I felt both sides had overstated the costs and benefits, but my gut feel was that the impact in the long term wasn’t likely to be severe. Control… that’s the one. I could see the time coming when we would have to leave if we didn’t want to be permanently bound into a European superstate, but I don’t think that time when we HAD to jump was here yet.
One last thought – with age, I’ve come to the realisation that few things are as bad (or as good) as first reaction makes them. And there are almost 200 sovereign nations on this planet, which means about 170 of them are not part of the European Union. That includes nations like Canada, New Zealand, South Korea, the USA and China, all of which seem to be prospering somehow without being part of the European Union. I suspect we’ll muddle through.

One if Massively OP’s more clickbaity writers has been granted an extra-length editorial to explain why he thinks Warcraft is the worst movie EVAH!

Richard Bartle, on the other hand quite likes the film

As I’ve already stated, I found the film to be less than perfect but well worth the price of admission. I suspect watching the nerdosphere will continue to afford me even more entertainment…

First of all – holy moly, is it that long since I posted anything? Almost three months, and I usually try and post something at least once each calendar month. Fairly busy at work as always, and I’ve been playing a lot of (very casual) WoW after a break of 8 years, which has been fun but not something that generates a lot of brilliant, original insights I want to share as the WoW levelling experience has been pretty well chronicled on a few other blogs out there. The few big ideas I have been mulling over seem to deserve longer posts and more attention than I’ve been able to summon the energy for recently so I have to wait for an opportunity to do them justice.

In the meanwhile, the Warcraft movie opened here in the UK today. Without wanting to spoil anything as most readers won’t have seen it yet, here are my initial thoughts on the movie:

  • It’s nowhere near as bad as some of the early reviews would have you believe. I was entertained throughout the two hour running time, and I don’t consider myself a raving WoW fanboy. That’s not to say it’s a great movie, and I went in with a fair amount of Warcraft lore knowledge so I may not have the WTF reaction that the completely uninitiated might have, nonetheless some of the harsher reviews seem unfair. I’m convinced that there’s a “turkey conspiracy” effect where every so often the professional movie critics form a consensus to utterly slate a movie that doesn’t really deserve it, just to prove that they aren’t soft touches handing out high marks to everything that comes along. John Carter was another example – not a classic but entertaining enough, but savaged and left for dead by the press. It would be a shame if the movie flopped, not on its own merits, but because too many reviewers felt they had to burnish their “not a nerd” credentials at its expense.
  • This is definitely a ‘proper’ Warcraft movie, not a Uwe Boll style ‘Warcraft in name only’ cash-in like some videogame adaptations. There are lots of little shout-outs to the world of the games (spot the murloc!), as is to be expected when you see the Blizzard logo right up front and a number of familiar names in the credits. Lots of familiar locations, lots of familiar architecture, the orcs are spot on in appearance and the arcane magic looks suitably arcane
  • The look and feel of the world is very much in the Warcraft style whilst being adapted to the use of live action – if you look at the early WoW cinematic trailers (i.e. the ones for vanilla and Burning Crusade) you’ll get a good feel for how this looks. It makes a nice change from the grubby shades of mud style that pretty much every fantasy movie in the last few years has adopted in an attempt to hijack the Game of Thrones grimdark mystique.
  • Travis Fimmel needed to be taken aside and told that he’s not playing Ragnar Lothbrok, so he can drop the accent and the head-tilting that he brought with him from the set of Vikings. No real complaints about any of the other performances – nothing really stand-out either, although I will say some of the orc actors managed to deliver some pretty good characterisation even through the CGI.

On the whole, as I say, I was entertained. For me, it’s a three stars out of five movie and one I’d be happy to pick up on DVD or watch on Netflix. Since it is based on events from the original Warcraft game and doesn’t even touch on Warcraft 2 or 3, never mind World of Warcraft, it’s wide open for a sequel and should one be made I’d be happy to go and see that.

My gaming PC has served me well, but it’s old and well overdue for upgrades. It plays WoW well enough (well, my toaster can probably run WoW), has no problems with GW2, even Blade & Soul runs just fine – but it doesn’t meet the minimum specs for Black Desert Online (mostly down to the graphics card), for example.

It did play The Elder Scrolls Online just fine until yesterday. I’ve recently re-installed ESO as part of my ongoing reorganisation of hard disk storage, since I’ve found most MMOs will in fact work just fine off an external hard disk drive so the games which had been purged to free up internal drive space are making a comeback. Unfortunately, ESO’s latest update includes a move to requiring a DX11 graphics card. Having logged in for the first time in months over the weekend, I thought I’d spend a bit of time running around and having a look at some of the earlier DLC. Since the update, however, the game won’t even launch.

Sigh. It’s not that a new card is insurmountably expensive (I could have a perfectly suitable one of the price of a new game), nor is it exactly difficult for me to fit the card – I might be a manager and before that a software specialist, but sliding a card into a slot is within even my capabilities. It’s just a hassle. Still, on the upside a DX11 card will let me play the latest incarnation of Tropico as well and that’s definitely cheaper than a Caribbean holiday…

No, I’ve not succumbed to mad cow disease… just a touch of mad galactic emperor disease since Wargaming’s reboot of Master of Orion is now available in an Early Access form on both Steam and GOG.com which is where I got my copy with a small discount for having previously bought MOO1 and 2 from them (the previous incarnations of the game are all bundled in with the ‘collector’s edition’ which is the only one available for early access). I note that this game isn’t called MOO 4 – they seem to be pretending MOO 3 never happened, an impression reinforced by the developer videos on the website where they talk about all the lessons and features carried forward from the first two games and never even mention their disappointing younger sibling.

So what’s it like, and what do the dreaded words ‘early access’ mean in this case? Well, it’s almost feature complete, stable, and pretty. Only about half the races are in the game so far, the espionage system is missing – which means there are a few technologies and colony buildings available in-game that do nothing at the moment – and you can’t score a scientific or diplomatic victory yet. It’s got be dominance via a commanding vote on the galactic council, or bloody conquest. There’s no option to vary the difficulty level yet, but it seems to be in the right sort of zone for me as it stands (probably too easy for hardened players as high settings on these games usually hand me my head). AI needs a bit of a tweak, I would say. As it stands, AI players never invade and conquer planets, they always bomb them clean of life, and the logic they use in diplomatic negotiations is a bit bizarre. Specifically, if you want to offer peace terms, what they ask for is based on how much they hate you and not on the current balance of power. This makes the North Koreans look like the epitome of rational enlightened discourse at times…

ME: Alkari leader, you are on the verge of defeat! All of your colonies are lost, your fleets have been blasted to dust, and your homeworld is orbited by my Doom Star and half a dozen titans, each large and powerful enough to bombard your people to extinction by opening their garbage chutes, never mind actually using antimatter bombs. At this final hour, I offer you my hand in peace. Will you accept?

ALKARI: Featherless scum! We will have peace only if you cede to me eight of your most productive colonies, all of the money in your treasury, backbreaking ongoing tribute and a laundry list of really cool tech!

ME: Fleet commander… set the antimatter bombs to ‘extra crispy’ and fire at will.

Niggles aside though, it really is a fun game that plays well… it plays very much like the classic MOO 2 spruced up for the modern era. One major difference is that tactical ship battles run in real time (with a pause function) which takes a little getting used to but can look truly cool if you zoom into the action. Production standards are high, this is clearly a game that Wargaming have lavished some of their oodles of World of Tanks money on, and in my view it’s money well spent. The voice cast has a string of familiar names including Alan Tudyk, Michael Dorn and Mark Hamill… who has way more lines in Master of Orion than he had in the last Star Wars film.

Belghast has also had a play with this game and seems fairly impressed. I’ll be keeping an eye on it to see how it polishes up for release.

Over at Bio Break, Syp is asking if healers should be pressured into DPSing. At the risk of being monstrously unfair to Syp, I’m going to go with “well, duh!” because you aren’t there to heal, you’re there to help your group complete the dungeon. If you’re playing a specialised healing class then yeah, keeping people alive is the most important part of your contribution, but as long as you’ve got that covered you should always be on the lookout for ways to help out the team. That’s what teamwork is, everyone pulling together (gung ho as the US Marine Corps has it) rather than standing back and going “can’t do that squire. Not in my job description. Union rules, innit?”*

Yeah, I am being unfair to Syp. He doesn’t strike me as the sort of person who would say that, and I’m not a huge fan of the optimisation-mad crowd who harangue their teammates in an attempt to shave eight seconds off the instance run time either. I’m just gobsmacked that this is even a question, and I think it relates to the recent posts by Keen and Bhagpuss about how a lot of MMO gameplay has simplified and streamlined roles (and a lot of other things). Modern games tend to expect you to perform one role, and one role only. The tank tanks, the healer heals, the DPS roll ‘need’ on everything they can. Each is very good at their job and sucks at everybody else’s. Older games were less stratified in roles, had more hybrtidisation and things were more likely to go pear-shaped but be recoverable by prompt action from the group. In DAoC the friar could stop meleeing and throw out some heals long enough to save the group; the mercenary, normally a melee DPS, had the tools to tank for a bit even if it did put a strain on the healers keeping him alive, and the cleric could smite (if he wasn’t 100% focused on saving the bloody merc’s worthless ass). If everyone pulled those trucks out at the right time, you could turn a bad pull into glorious victory. That’s unlikely to happen in WoW because the characters as so good at, and optimised, for their normal roles that assuming they’re doing content tuned for them, that’s all they can do. An enhancement shaman doesn’t bring the healing needed to keep a tank up through more than a light trash pull, and a combat rogue doesn’t have the tools or survivability to cover for a dead tank.

We’ve become very good at what we do, at the price of that being all that we can do. We don’t have to think about what we’re doing so much as focus on performing our assigned task as perfectly as possible. I view that as a loss, personally, and see it as devaluing the game experience… but that’s a whole other blog post.

 

 

 

  • for those younger than I am or from other parts of the world, the above quote  is a caricature of the British work ethic c. 1975.

My local Tesco superstore has a range of Star Wars themed birthday cards for sale. This includes one addressed to “Dad”, with a picture of Kylo Ren on it.

Have they SEEN The Force Awakens?

I picked up the DVD of The Martian today. There’s an advertising flyer for potatoes inside the case…

Count me amongst the horde of bloggers who have downloaded Blade and Soul. Others, such as Bhagpuss, have given a much better overview of the game than I will attempt to here. Suffice to say that I found the game not without interest, but not with enough interest to become part of my regular repertoire. The high point was the combat, which felt like a fighting game and has a nice flow to it, with all sorts of interesting combos you can set up with your abilities (which the game does a decent job of teaching you via a series of ‘training room’ missions interwoven into the early part of the story) and quite a decent control system of contextual controls. Rather than having a shedload of abilities on a shedload of keybinds that you have to remember (a la SWTOR), or the limited set of abilities normal to an action MMO (such as ESO), B&S has a shedload of abilities on a handful of keys, with keys mapping to a different ability based on the situation. So, for example, the ‘F’ key allows you stomp enemies who are down, or comes up to activate an ‘on critical hit’ skill after landing a crit. Neat.

Downsides for me really came down to the art style, which veers between highly-realistic (apart from the OTT jiggling) human models to extremely cartoonish looking characters standing side by side, some frustration with the ‘wheel of fortune’ loot system and the fact that pretty much all loot items have to be unlocked before being used, lack of engagement with the story, and the fact that there’s no open world to speak of that I can explore – just a story on rails that moves from set location to set location (at least as of level 15, where I stopped). The story is the hackneyed staple of wuxia – you are a martial arts student, bad person turns up and kills your master, you set out to avenge master. Possibly my problem is I came straight from playing through the Sith Warrior storyline again in SWTOR, which boils down to you going on a quest to kill your master yourself, so I couldn’t take my rip-roaring rampage of revenge here seriously. Still, there’s a decent game in B&S if you like that genre… it’s just not really for me.

De-installing B&S freed up 20 GB or so of much-needed hard disk space on my pitiful PC,  a figure that sounded oddly familiar. Then I remembered someone mentioning that was approximately the disk footprint of WoW these days. Which set off some musing… I managed to remember my Battle.net password and check my account status. I last logged into WoW in 2009, and that was for a cursory session or two – I stopped playing WoW with any regularity in 2008. I have, in fact, not played WoW for two-thirds of the game’s lifespan. And sitting there, on the web page in front of me, was a button that would activate a 7 day trial of the current expansion for free…

So I’m playing around in Azeroth, doing low level content like the filthy casual I am these days. My highest level characters were level 70 when I stopped playing, and were both kitted out in awesome raid gear for their day – now of course they are mid-level characters who should be replacing all that stuff with Northrend green quality drops, or would be if I was playing them. I’m spending more time on my level 40 mage and level 60-something rogue, as well as creating new worgen and pandaren characters to see what their starting zones are like. Gameplay, and especially character customisation (hah! In so far as there is any!), evokes a feeling of “it’s WoW, but not as I know it”, and all the Cataclysm changes to the world are new to me. It’s strange, but not entirely unpleasant. Is it my ideal MMO? No, but it feels comfortable, like an old sweater. Being a middle-aged dad, I well understand the pleasure of sometimes just wearing that old sweater and relaxing with what is known rather than trying to scale the heights of fashion. Next week brings new and shiny SWTOR, of course, but this week maybe I’ll just try and remember my way around Orgrimmar.

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