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Get your credits for nothing and your ships for free!

Sorry, for some reason I came over all Dire Straits for a moment there. I’ve been playing a lot of World of Warships recently, suckered in by the Royal Navy line of cruisers and the event in progress that has a guaranteed reward of a free Graf Spee for completion.

Both the ship and the event itself are interesting from a design perspective. The Graf Spee is a German tier VI cruiser, and I’ve already got a fine collection of mid-tier cruisers in my collection- the US Cleveland, Pensacola and Atlanta, the Japanese Myoko and the Royal Navy Belfast. However, the Graf Spee was a pocket battleship and mounts battleship calibre 11 inch guns (albeit not that many of them) rather than the 6 or 8 guns of the other cruisers ( or the Atlanta’s massive array of 5 inch popguns) That should make for a decidedly different experience in play, with a wicked alpha strike and a chance to cause citadel hits on other cruisers or even battleships at medium to long range.

The event design encourages regular play – basically, it consists of 4 phases each of which is completed by earning a set amount of experience with any tier V or higher ships in your collection. The phases have been unlocking at about weekly intervals, but if you start late (as I did) the earlier phases are still available to be completed. In theory, you could hop in on 17th January and complete the entire event before it finishes on the 18th, although you would have to play a LOT of games that day. Completion is easier if you have a premium account (for bonus xp) and a large stable of tier V plus ships (for daily first win bonus xp on each) but neither are really required. I’m currently on track to complete by the 17th. This is at the expense of getting my daily World quests done in WoW for my three max level characters, but that’s all to the good… I want to avoid any game feeling more like a job that I have to do. It’s also delaying me playing through the SWTOR expansion story, but I’ll get to that soon enough. Once the event is done I can relax a bit, play around with the new toy and the RN cruisers and wait for the Royal Navy battleships to arrive…

So, I went to see Rogue One last week. Which is not exactly news – I think just about anyone who has, or reads, a blog on a topic as geeky as MMOs is going to see that film. I thought it was worth putting down a few thoughts about the film. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen it, they will be spoiler free thoughts unless you have an unbearably precious and sensitive definition of spoiler (e.g. I might refer to the presence of characters who were seen in trailers or events that can be logically deduced from prior knowledge)

I’m one of the generation that grew up with ‘real’ Star Wars. I was 8 when I saw the first film, 10 when the Empire struck back, and in my early teens and playing RPGs when the Jedi returned. One of those RPGs I played in my teen years was West End Games’ Star Wars RPG, and together with friends we built a deeper, richer Star Wars universe with its own set of heroes who had more than enough trouble from the likes of Inquisitor Tremayne while Darth Vader was busy with the heroes of Yavin 4. As we got older, and our world view matured, so did our Star Wars. I went off to university, where my gaming tended more towards Shadowrun and Call of Cthulhu, but one of my fellow players and co-GMs took our Star Wars campaign to his university and a new group of players (and from there into publication as Fragments From The Rim)

The 1990s brought us a tidal wave of Expanded Universe novels, of variable quality and at odds with our own expanded Star Wars universe,and then at the end of the decade came the start of the long awaited prequel trilogy, which turned out not to be at all what we’d hoped for. Those of us who saw the first film as little kids were looking for a Star Wars film made for us, now on the cusp of being thirty – a more mature, nuanced Star Wars. What George Lucas made was something closer to the Saturday morning serials that inspired the original films, and aimed at the next generation of eight year olds. We hated Jar Jar Binks, but kids loved him, and they were the ones the new films were made for. To a great extent The Force Awakens was in the same vein (and better executed) – a new spin on the classic Star Wars adventure for a third generation of fans.

Well, now Gareth Edwards has made a Star Wars film for the forgotten first generation of fans. More mature, more nuanced – definitely. It’s not all shades of grey – the Empire is still very clearly evil, but the Rebellion has a grubbier or at least more pragmatic side on show here as well. There are factions and fault lines in the Alliance, extremist splinter groups willing to use any means to fight the Empire and intelligence operatives making ruthless decisions that a true white hat would shy away from. It’s recognisably Star Wars, but Star Wars down in the dirt and struggling for freedom a million light years away from a bunch of emotionally repressed wizards in bathrobes pontificating about Light Sise this and Dark Side that. The shout outs to the Star Wars we’ve seen before are everywhere, from a jug of blue milk to sly cameos and a new riff on “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”, but the new movie shows what that universe is like for folks who aren’t called Skywalker and don’t have their veins pumped full of midichlorians and destiny.

In an odd way, it also reminds me of Disney’s other ridiculously profitable franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The MCU has done very well by doing different genres of film within their superhero setting – conspiracy thriller with Winter Soldier, heist movie with Ant-Man, and yes space opera with Guardians Of The Galaxy. Rogue One shows you can do a classic war movie in the style of The Dirty Dozen or The Guns Of Navarone in the Star Wars universe. If the other ‘Star Wars Stories’ movies riff on some different genres half as well as Rogue One does, while Episodes 8 and 9 deliver the classic hero’s journey of the central saga, I will be well pleased.

But not for the reason you might think.

So, I’ve been settling into Legion with the few alts I’ve got anywhere close to a level for the new content. Which includes the class halls, a separate themed space for each class to hang out and all be the one true saviour of Azeroth together. So my mage gets quite a nice space, sort of a cross between a library and the Wetherspoon’s pub in Harrogate, which was converted from the ornate Victorian bath house (and is actually a really nice pub, for a Wetherspoon’s). My monk gets to hang out in a temple of the panda starting island, also not too shabby. I have a Demon Hunter, the only one on the server whose name isn’t some retarded variation on “Illidan” and their class hall is a captured Legion citadel. Not too fond of that one – I think the whole “dark and jagged with green fire” motif is starting to get a bit tired. I have a rogue who isn’t at level 100 yet, but working on it – they get to  hang out in a hive of scum and villainy in the sewers, apparently. Not so much ornate Wetherspoon’s, more like some of the spit and sawdust locals close to where I used to live, such as the one that had to close after the landlord’s ex-girlfriend stopped by with a shotgun. Charming places, full of character.

Then I found out that Warriors get to go to freaking Valhalla.

I play a Nord in ESO. My all time MMORPG happy place is pretty much any Norn zone in Guild Wars 2. My biggest DAOC regret is that Midgard is the faction I didn’t play seriously. I have a DVD shelf in my study for films like the 13th Warrior, box sets of Vikings… you get the picture. Why in the name of the All-Father am I hanging out in a library-stroke-family-friendly-pub when I could be in Valhalla?!

BRB – levelling an alt.

As The Ancient Gaming Noob has it, today, we are Legion – except that actually, he isn’t because, as the linked post explains, he’s still waiting for his copy of the expansion. I, on the other hand, had pre-ordered a while back when I realised I was going to be sticking around in WoW for a while. That allowed me to boost my mage, Cassalle, up to 100 and (courtesy of the far too tolerant Wyld Hunt) demonstrate that I was a liability in raids, 2016-style. It also allowed me to dive into the expansion the moment the clock ticked over 23:00 UK time.

We weren’t expecting that. Everyone was braced for lag, server crashes, probable rollbacks and more bugs than Ahn’Qiraj. Instead, a little before the appointed hour people started noticing that they had an XP bar again, and those who had finished the prequel quest chains got to click on Khadgar (who had been standing there, channeling a spell for the last week, and presumably had a catheter under his robes)  resulting in a quick cinematic and a relocation to the Broken Isles. I had done the done the full chain on my monk (who dinged 100 a couple of weeks ago, having earned her levels honestly) but hadn’t done last week’s ones on the mage, so there was a brief delay while I took care of that before I could be accosted in the street by a random Forsaken and press-ganged into opening up the mage class hall, which segued into choosing which spec’s artifact weapon I wanted and being sent off on the appropriate quest chain for that.

I won’t spoil the two weapon quest sequences I’ve done with too much detail – arcane mage and mistweaver monk – although I will say that I enjoyed both, and while they weren’t crushingly difficult they were not faceroll easy either. The monk one required me to heal a group of NPCs through a boss fight. I had levelled the monk up as a damage dealer and only started playing around with the healing spec a few days ago, so that fight was on a learning curve and a couple of the NPCs might have some repair bills because of the terrible healer.

I do think that (apart from breaking the tradition of release-day downtime) Blizzard have very much been Blizzard again-they’ve taken features from their competitors, polished them and made them a part of their own game. The added dialogue and cutscenes are edging the main story quests closer to SWTOR’s experience, if not as full-on. The artifact weapons bear more than a passing resemblance to LotRO’s legendary weapons, or rather what they were supposed to be. The pre-Legion invasions harkened back to the early days of RIFT (before everyone started ignoring the, y’know, rifts) and the world quest system sounds like it owes something to GW2’s dynamic events. In each case, Blizzard have polished the basic concept, and like any polish it tends to remove some of the fine detail as well as the rough edges. The end result is a smooth experience, without all of the depth of the original – not always a bad thing, when for the legendary weapons example ‘depth’ could mean ‘unnecessary levels of complexity’.

The end result is fun. And it actually stayed up and available, which was a pleasant surprise to all concerned. Nice to see that at least one of the changes Blizzard are wont to bring in will be universally appreciated 🙂

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 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.