It’s been a great year for games, hasn’t it? A feast most exquisite by most accounts. Regardless of your particular poison there’s something for you. In the tail end of 2016 we had plenty wonderful games that likely overflowed into this year for many people. With Final Fantasy 15, Pokemon Sun & Moon, The Last Guardian, Titanfall 2, Dragon Quest Builders, Gears of War 4, the entire PSVR platform, Civilization 6, Battlefield 1… No one can really blame you for not being able to put a nice crisp bow on last year and walk clean into this one. Aside from the launch of Nintendo’s Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, we still had a flurry of critical or cult hits like Gravity Rush 2, Resident Evil 7, Yakuza 0, Horizon Zero Dawn, Nioh, Torment:Tides of Numenara, Nier: Automata, Persona 5, Mass Effect Andromeda, Yooka-Laylee, so on and so forth. Hopefully you’re catching my drift of there are simply too few of hours in the day, week, month, and year to keep up with all of this. Sure quality can be called into question with the likes of items like Mass Effect Andromeda or The Last Guardian. End of the day though they’re not bad games that clearly have their supporters… The larger part of us just lost them in the deluge of video game releases since then. So really where do you even begin if you’re wanting to pick something up to play? Some sort by game completion times to get the best bang for their buck. Others stick to their franchises or genres of choice. Maybe cruise down to Metacritic and start with the highest rated? Perhaps the road less traveled and grabbing whichever you’ve heard the least about?
I’m really not hear to talk about creating a priority list for tackling down all these games though. What’s been nagging on my brain lately is impact of a game on us as individuals. Why is it that something like Kingdom Hearts 0.2 ~ A fragmentary passage can create such an impact on me to the point of being one of my favorite experiences of the year. Compared to games like Destiny 2 which is a hotly anticipated reset, acting as a much needed reset to create a fresh jump point for new fans… KH 0.2 could be considered a glorified tech demo for Kingdom Hearts 3 with about 2 hours of content alongside an intro cinematic retelling the stories thus far in the erratically organized series. I’ve spent near 70 hours with Destiny 2 this point yet at the end of the day I rather have that snippet of KH in my life. It’s weird, isn’t it? Or is it?
EverQuest Remembered is a multi-part series in which I look back on a game that meant a great deal to me, partially due to a matter of timing and circumstance. When tasked with the idea of blogging about something that I spent the better part of five years of my life actively playing it was difficult to nail down what to write about. Putting thoughts to paper I’m left with topics ranging from it’s cultural impact to individual relationships, shaping a fledgling genre to bringing out the nature of who we are as players. There’s a lot to cover here in regards to my personal retrospective of this 18 year old game… but if you’ve got the time, I’ve got the stories – and maybe by the end you’ll have a deeper understanding of how lines of codes shaped my world as much as theirs.
We’ve made it. Just a review in case somehow this is the first article you’ve landed on the series…
- Pt 1, where I discover EverQuest and explore what initially hooked me.
- Pt 2, exploring the genre defining designs of EQ as they’re legacy influences design of MMOs, RPGs, and modern gaming still.
- Pt 3, outlining just how great the scope of the online community was both in and out of the game.
- Pt 4, we talk about how personal relationships within your community shaped your experience as much as the design.
- Pt 5, looking at the high end game, explaining your endless progression path, and how well social experience and game mechanics intertwined for the long play.
- Pt 6, I addressed the darker side of a game this good with my personal addiction, depression, and getting out.
There’s been a lot of ground to cover. EverQuest was a landmark of gaming. It essentially created the MMO market as we knew it through the past 18 years as it still fights for life itself. I’ve had a lot of personal stories tied to the game as well as I recollect frequently. Despite how hard things fell apart at the end I’ll always remember it fondly. Yet the whole point of this series was wanting to say goodbye to the game I loved and the memories of it. The influence it had over my life and how it’s shaped me today is something I can’t ignore, but I’m looking to bury it in the past and move on. I’ve always held onto hope of a return. The EQ that’s available to play now doesn’t, nor could it, capture the state that it was back in the early 2000’s for me. The internet isn’t what it was- janky, wild, and lawless. My social life has changed along with my values. Game design has changed. The idea of being able to hole up for 12 hours a day in a virtual world without interruption is both unfeasible and undesirable by most. Smartphones didn’t exist and nobody texted back then. The game was forced to full screen so you couldn’t research or use instant messenging programs. You were locked in distraction free and it was beautiful. Despite how obtuse that all sounds now it’s a world I can never return to, just a dream that became a nightmare that I once visited. It’s shackled to the past though as I knew it.
It seemed like forever, but it’s been just barely an hour since Zotti-12 and her Ghost went through the Vex portal buried beneath the European Dead Zone. Expecting to come out in the same tunnels in another time after hearing tales from the Guardians back at The Tower, that wasn’t the case for Zotti. An open night sky awaited her on the other side. Aside from the gate they came from all the horizon contained was flat lands of rock. Judging by the stars they were still on Earth, yet something was off.
“Well we’ve navigated through the stars before, humans have done it for centuries before the Traveler’s arrival. I’ve not done it myself yet it seems like there’s a definite change in the patterns.” Zotti nodded towards the Ghost in agreement. It confirmed her thoughts. Worse though was the matter that she knew why they were off.
“It’s not now anymore… We’ve skipped ahead in time. Why aren’t we in the tunnels that we left in though? This… all of this is wrong. I say we make towards the outpost to see if it’s still there. Maybe we can reach out to someone in this time to see where… and when we are. If there’s anyone else out here even.”
Zotti glanced down at her mechanical hands. Exos willingly transferred their life into a new body to enhance their abilities. Built to withstand more damage, stronger than flesh, exhaustion comes less, and the need for nourishment dwindles to a few ounces of consumables a week. Yet what if this was the end of humanity’s natural form? What if the end conclusion was just a step towards making themselves obsolete? She’d never been one for the company of others, but the barren world she left behind felt more alive than the plains she was crossing now. What if she was the last person on Earth in this time?
“Just breathe…” Zotti-12 repeated inside her head as she tried to regain her calm. Her mission lead her to roaming caves below the European Dead Zone. ‘Reconnaissance into the wild’ was an open objective often assigned to her. Seek out anything of note and report back to the tower. She’d been sent on these kinds of hunts a thousand times over it felt like. Nothing ever came of it. Nothing great ever came from her actions. This time felt different though. The darkness was thick here and whenever there seemed to finally be a dead end, another path would show itself. It was clear to her that panic was starting to creep in as the realization of the danger she might be in this time.
“You’re fine, don’t start doing that thing you do again” called out a voice from a few meters ahead. Her Ghost always managed to chime in when she began retreating inside. “It’ll be fine. We’ll just push forward a bit more and come out back into the wilds on the other side. You’ll see.” Zotti-12 hoped this was the case, but the sense of dread still loomed inside her mind.
“We’ve been at this for days. I wasn’t rebuilt for this level of endurance. The darkness presence here is beyond anything the tower’s documented on Earth before. Something isn’t right about this…” Continuing on by the light of her Ghost, they kept pushing forward with casual conversation directed by her Ghost. Zotti couldn’t shake the feeling that it knew something was wrong and it was just trying to keep it out of mind. Its times like this she missed working with other guardians. Sure they could be obnoxious or might constantly be second-guessing her methods… but the security from a fireteam was unbeatable. The light of her Ghost being the only illumination below the surface was a chilling reminder that it’s only them and her guns down here to keep her safe though.
To assist with first timers or anyone having trouble, here’s a run down of how my crew runs through King’s Fall. I’m sure this is reprinted elsewhere and probably is a mish-mash of different ways that people run it, but this seems to be the best method for a full team of 6, at 290+ light level.
Few pieces of advice for the raid:
- Even if you’re not one to normally use a sniper rifle, they are by far the best secondary you can have for the boss encounters. The DPS dealt combined with distance from enemies and their massive critical spots make sniper rifles the only solution really. In short, BRING A GOOD SNIPER RIFLE. High impact (low ammo count) machine guns prove to be useful against most bosses as well.
- Communicate what’s going on with your team. If you have a buff with a countdown timer that is relevant to the group’s survival, call out the timer as it counts down. If you’re moving a relic, call it out. This raid more so than the previous two requires a lot of coordination. On the same token, until your group is comfortable with each other and how to run the raid don’t clog the channel with non-essential information. Save chit-chat for post-encounter celebrations.
- DPS buffs should be used on bosses. Weapons of Light bubbles from Defender Titans and Nightstalker Hunter’s shadowshot help tremendously with the short windows to damage bosses. Make use of them if you got them.
- There are points during Warpriest and Golgoroth where Ultra acolytes spawn that are named “Adept” – Kill these last. Killing this causes an area effect buff for all nearby enemies making them extremely deadly.
A quick overview of the parts of the raid so you can have a mental checklist running through. With the exception of the Lanterns / Shipyard, every section either rewards you with a loot chest or contains a hidden loot chest during the activity (Golgoroth’s Maze / Piston Alley). During the guide, feel free to click the visual aid to EMBIGGEN it for clarity.
Opening the Portal
Shipyard Jump Puzzle
Piston Alley Trench Run
Daughters of Oryx
Update for Hard Mode:
I’m slowly adding in information particulars for the HM King’s Fall raid. In general enemies are level 42 now with a recommended Light Level of 305+ to start, and 311+ for Oryx.
Welcome back, Guardians! Glad you’ve decided to join us again in the fight against Oryx, the Taken King. If you quit playing Destiny after it’s initial launch or never gave it a try because of the super-grindy, clumsily designed progression system and horrible RNG mechanics not rewarding your time you’re in luck finally. With TTK they’ve revamped all of that so now you can just play naturally. It’s designed with traditional leveling/loot concepts, and a combination of reworked level path and much improved characterizations of it’s NPCs in The Taken King’s campaign really makes this feel like the game it was meant to be. Previously the storyline just ran you through a linear chain of levels that didn’t make a lot of sense at times. Now it’s been designed with branching quest lines, broken down into logical bite size collections of 4-6 missions each. On top of that the Light Level system has been reworked. In vanilla (original) Destiny once you hit level 20 you switched into an entirely new progression system where your level climbed with the gear you equipped instead of a traditional XP gain system. The gear required to advance was fixed to a select few pieces that could only be obtained from the hardest encounters. The random number generation (RNG) for loot meant leading up to that gave you no direct way to actively level. You were at the mercy of random drops that were scarce at best already. To really top of the ridiculousness of this they made it so the best gear that got you the final few levels required you to repeatedly run a six-player raid that didn’t support match-making.
ALL OF THAT HORRIBLENESS IS GONE. Level progression now up to 40 is purely from very reasonable XP gains. Pick up some daily bounties before you play each day and just keep advancing through whatever missions / quests you have and you’ll hit the cap of 40 in no time. Light level (LL) still exists, but it’s an average of all your gear’s damage/defense. So there is a difference in being level 40 with 180 LL and being level 40 with 280 LL. The higher the LL, the more damage you deal and hits you can take. What’s really nice about this change though is drops now scale based on whatever your LL is so you’ll constantly be progressing. Say if your helmet has a 180 armor rating when you kill something, it’s likely to drop gear that has an armor of 185 or 187. Equipping that and killing the same mobs (which are all level 40 now) are likely to drop a new helmet that is 190 or 193 armor now. It basically opens the door for constant improvement so you never hit a rut. All of this improves through natural play too. No need to worry about organizing with five of your friends a night you all have 1-3 hours blocked out to run a raid together. If you’re spending time in Destiny, you’re advancing your character. Continue reading
I am a completionist when it comes to video games. I’ll play an RPG that I’ve finished just to clear optional dungeons and bosses. I’ve replayed action games several times to get all the trophies or achievements. In Crackdown I tracked down every damn agility orb, and nearly every Assassin’s Creed has a save file where I’ve gotten all the stupid collectibles just so my mini-map would be empty. I’ve kept my memory cards since the first PlayStation that still have my clear files for every play through of a Final Fantasy title. So after spending endless hours with a game and not getting that final completion state leaves me with a weird feeling. I don’t get that sense of closure, of finality, preventing me from having what feels like a full experience. This compulsion that I have usually leads me to avoid current TV shows because I hate the lack of a structure. Too often they’ll lack that magic three act arc while the network just rides it out with a weekly drip feed until ratings force it to be shut down. Opposing that you’ll encounter the constant preparation to be cut off the air. Futurama suffered like Peter Jackson’s Return of the King; they both had TOO many endings, too many logical end points. With each cancellation Futurama tried to create that sense of closure for the tales of all the Planet Express crew. So what happens when games aren’t able to close your time with them properly? Two games that I actively play are holding me hostage as they continually recreate that discomfort. Animal Crossing New Leaf and Destiny couldn’t be any more different, but neither one is giving me that finalization I need to walk away fulfilled.
In a previous post I expressed some frustration with a few points against Destiny. From that I boiled it down to it’s seven worst offenses that I wished would be addressed. This was written back in May heading into it’s second expansion, House of Wolves. Now we’re knocking on the door of it’s third expansion dubbed The Taken King. I couldn’t think of a better time to check the score card on how Bungie has fared with tackling some of these issues within Destiny. Let’s dive in and see how things have or haven’t improved over the past five months.
1) Story (Fixed)
The launch of Destiny was surrounded with controversy regarding the game being heavily modified from what it was when it was first revealed. Stories swirled about marketing dictating the Traveler serve as an icon of the series as Halo’s rings did, and that the writer’s original plan of making it the villain of the story was squashed. The departure of key people played into that story quite well. So what was shipped was a Frankenstein’s monster style assembly of what was finished, then further butchering the content so they could have a constant flow of DLC expansions mapped out. We’ll never know the truth of that. All we do know is a lot of people were unhappy with the disjointed and seemingly unfinished end product they got on launch day. It was underwhelming given both the history of Bungie’s work and the expectations created by the hype train. Without being able to retcon the original game entirely they seemed to have made due by improving the quality of the story with each expansion. If they could manage to string in some of the established grimoire lore during play or even at loading screens it could go a long way to remedying the questions of who and why that bubble up during the game. Item descriptions drop proper nouns like they’re going out of style. Who are Osiris, Toland, or Saint-14? What are the Battle of Six Fronts, Twilight Gap, or The Vault of Glass? There’s so much story that can be pieced together that is written. Unfortunately Bungie doesn’t help the players realize this since the grimoire cards and their supplemental texts can’t even be accessed in the game itself. Throw the players a bone here, ya know?
I’ve always envisioned Destiny’s base game as a Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting, meant to serve as the backdrop for greater tales. With most D&D campaign books you get an intro module at the back of the book to help players get comfortable with the world. The expansions of The Dark Below and House of Wolves acted as new modules for your characters to run through. The dungeon crawler aspect of the game just solidifies this comparison. For those who aren’t big on tabletop games, imagine it bit like each episode being self-contained story versus a giant serialized epic. Sure enough TDB got the ball rolling with a far more concise and rewarding story. The missions carried a central storyline and villain through out, which lead into the strike. This naturally lead into the final assault on Crota with the raid, completing the self-contained story within the expansion. HoW, the second expansion, stayed true to this path with creating a new story that connected to the world of Destiny through a post-campaign adventure that again was self-contained. In this remote location of the world an event happened, a villain was established, allies were gained, and the content (mostly) felt like a natural progression of the story. The placement of Trials of Osiris and Prison of Elders were nice additions but didn’t necessarily feel like they were connected to the overall narrative told with Skolas in HoW’s story.
With talk of a restructured original story for the base game, a new recording and dialog for Ghost’s lines, and the new story of The Taken King referencing the events from the first expansion makes it seem like Bungie is starting to really focus on telling a cohesive tale of our Guardians tromping about space. I’d say this issue has been fixed as much as it can be and hopefully should be a non-issue for players who are picking up the game fresh this year.
Credentials? I’ve got three characters that are top end, over 350 hours logged in, dozens more spent trolling reddit. I continue to enjoy playing Destiny, but I’ve been thinking on what areas specifically need tweaking before either the rumored game-changer Comet DLC or inevitable sequel drops. Here are the seven things I’ve noticed that have put a hamper on Destiny’s long-term appeal to players that should be a priority to address.
- The big one that everyone has already mentioned, but really it can’t be mentioned enough. There was next to no focus on story during the campaign. All it did was serve as a roller coaster to show off the worlds and entry level tutorials. There’s absolutely no closure to the main story when you finish. You eradicated one piece of the darkness with many tendrils still grasping at the Traveler. (Hail Hydra). Except the big villain you close out the campaign against doesn’t even have a personified form for you to channel your anger into. It’s a big blob of darkness. So you stop a small portion of the evil that may or may not even have a lasting effect on the well-being of the last vestige of humanity. The final scenes of the game feel so open it’s not even apt to call it a cliffhanger. It’s just a dead stop during the second act of a story it feels like. Even with the addition of the first DLC pack, there was no further story progression. It served as a standalone module within the Destiny universe… Which was cool if for no other reason it had a traditional story arc that made sense and DID provide closure. Crota is awakening – Villain established. Crota’s primary general, Omnigul, is chased through a few story missions before you finally get to dispatch her during a strike. After that you are free to pursuit the ultimate big bad of this chapter of the game, Crota himself. It escalates appropriately mechanically as well. You go from solo story missions (chasing Omnigul), to a three player strike (slaying Omnigul), to a full on six person raid across several stages (slaying Crota). If all of the game had followed the pace and narrative build of The Dark Below DLC, I think a lot more people could have appreciated the core game.
- I mentioned the campaign serves primarily as the training routine for the player. The only problem with that is it really does only teach the essentials of Destiny. Point gun at angry monster, pull trigger. Pick up bounties in the Tower, level up your gear. It does an absolutely horrible job of teaching players how to do anything beyond what we know from FPS’s though. For example; I’ve been playing on and off with a regular group of friends since launch. We’re all topped out with at least one character. It wasn’t until February when listening in on a side conversation about elemental gun types that a friend learned that enemy shields have weaknesses… Red shields give way to fire, white shields to electric, purple shields to void damage. Hundreds of hours spent and nowhere in the game does it explain this. It’s just something you have to learn through playing with others… And Destiny does that a lot. They lean on the community to inform each other. These are the types of things that should come up if Bungie wants to educated the players during the campaign. The things that are unique to Destiny itself.
- Speaking of odd systems in play with little explanation… “Light Levels” – Once you hit the traditional level cap of 20, where XP gained from killing enemies ceases to impact your character progression. Suddenly to get from level 20 to 32 you need to acquire gear with high “light” ratings. The only information they give you is that increasing your light level makes your more effective defensively and offensively. There’s no suggestions on how to begin raising it, no reasoning behind what brackets get you to the next level. Originally getting 120 light got you to level 30 – Which meant each piece of your four pieces of armor had to have a light level of 30. So once The Dark Below DLC came out and increased the cap to level 32, now each piece of gear needs to be 36 light (for a total of 144 light). Why? Who knows. Random arbitrary numbers! The part that’s really confusing is the fact that I can unequip my armor and go from being level 32 down to a level 20. Doesn’t that seem odd that mechanically I can reduce my progression by removing or accidentally deleting my armor? It’s a poorly designed system that I really wouldn’t mind seeing disappear for Destiny 2.
- Another poorly designed system is the end game currencies. Once you hit level 20 you’re told that Motes of Light(MoL) will be your primary currency for advancing your character. The only thing I’ve been able to do with MoL though is purchase a cosmetic armor piece. Yay..? What they failed to tell you is that any really progression will be purchased with “Marks”, earned through the Crucible (PVP), or Vanguard (PVE Strikes). Then they don’t provide any means to directly exchange currency you have an overflow of into something you need. Here’s a list of game currencies that you acquire – Crucible Marks(1), Vanguard Marks(2), MoL(3), Strange Coins(4), Glimmer(5)… And then advancement materials such as Ascendant Mats(6), Radiant Mats(7), and Exotic Shards(8). So the end game you can look forward to begrudgingly acquiring an abundance of one of these 8 materials while wishing you could get any of the other 7… Because oh yeah, outside of Marks (which have a weekly limit to which you can earn) – All rewards are random. A simple currency exchange program would at least let you direct how to progress your character instead of hitting a wall for weeks. Once again – Look forward to learning about all this through word of mouth as none of this is properly explained once you hit level 20 and start progressing through your light levels.
One is Me, one isn’t me. This is how every Warlock at 32 looks.
Since you’ll be wanting to get to max level, the only way to do that is raid gear. I hope you like the look of it too, because you’ll be seeing it a lot. Every single Warlock, Hunter, or Titan will look identical to each other at level 32. The raid gear is (mostly) the only way to be top level so everyone is wearing the same boots, chest, and gloves that you are! Usually the helm varies between a few exotic options due to the scarcity of raid gear helmets, but even then usually each class only has one or two helmets worth using. The only touch of personality you really get to imbue is which of the color schemes (“shaders”) you want to equip to modify the look. It’s a shame too since Diablo 3 solved this problem perfectly by allowing your players to transmogrify their look. This allows you to alter the aesthetics of any gear you’re wearing to look like anything you’ve previously owned. I absolutely love a few of my Warlock’s robes coming up through the levels. Hell, even the level 12 armor sold by the starting merchant looks more appealing than the “best” chest piece available to me now. Some variety would go a long way with helping me “become legend”. Right now I feel like a cookie cutter solider in the Traveler’s army. I definitely don’t feel legend at this point.
- One of the last complaints is with how Bungie is more focused on “correcting” player behavior than improving the game. Yes, there are events in the game that can circumvent some if not all the challenge through some creativity. Hiding beneath platforms, using the kinetic force of exploding lamps to bypass a chunk of level, climbing to previously unknown reaches to achieve a wicked vantage point of the field. Why not let those players that want to do that play the way they want? It doesn’t negatively impact those players not participating. There’s no in-game economy to be crashed through flooding the market with easily acquired goods. The only purpose I can see in squashing exploits instead of implementing quality content on a regular basis is to try and bad out the length of play time with Destiny. It took them over five months to fix a bug in which the rarest ammo available would randomly disappear upon death… the same amount of time to analyze and realize that one of the three secondary weapon types was completely useless as it was designed. These are issues that should have been addressed long before fixing a mid-boss being stunlocked off the edge of a cliff or changing the encounter of the final boss in Vault of Glass so players can’t coordinate and play a strategy.
- The final complaint is just letting the game run it’s natural course. Developers are always trying to make a game the largest and only game you play. Bungie really pushed the boundaries with artificial currency caps, limiting progression marks, resetting limiting rewards to once per week… Which just resulted in players making alternate characters. There are so many arbitrary walls put in place to prevent you from playing until you’re done. Back in my EverQuest days we openly called these “timesinks”, because they exist solely as an insult to the player by expressing how little the developers value your free time. It’s okay for players to be “done” with Destiny for a time, Bungie. You’re planning an onslaught of DLC that we’ll be back for. If we quit for a few weeks, we shouldn’t feel like we’ve missed out or are behind the times. That’s just going to discourage people from jumping back in after a leave of absence. Also, it kind of turns it into a chore at that point. Getting a new piece of armor with a lower starting light level than your current piece but a higher cap makes you feel like you need to invest time to fix the problem, versus just playing and enjoying since it’s an upgrade.
Anyways, those are my thoughts as an invested player. I realize all games have flaws. I celebrate them usually. These seven sins though are just poorly done, rushed, or outright insulting as an experience to the players wanting to stick around. You can do better, Bungie. With the Dark Below DLC you improved the story, and allowed SOME currency transfer between high end materials. Please don’t stop there, as you really have a rock solid game going right now that has the potentially to be something special.
2014 was a heck of a year for me. Lot’s of life transitions and health issues to deal with. It was also a time of reflection and gaming. What gaming meant to me, what I value in games, why I play them… It’s basically the reason why I started keeping this blog. The way I felt about games over the past year have changed, or at least changed back. I’m approaching a lot more of what I want to play and a lot less of what I feel I guilted into playing. I put to death the idea of a backlog in lieu of a philosophy of just playing whatever I want to play, however long I want to play it. Two of the titles I’ve clocked in enough time to clear 10-15 other game campaigns. In previous years I would have gotten itchy about spending too much time on one game. In 2014 I learned just to keep playing until I didn’t feel like playing anymore. It’s definitely paid back in dividends for my fulfillment during game time.
But onto the reason we’re here today, a review of 2014 games that I enjoyed. I’m making no attempt to be objective in my analysis, but purely addressing the amount of fun these games brought me. As a small recap I’ve completed the campaigns of 36 different games this year (some multiple times), but these are my standouts. The only restriction I’ve enforced is limiting the games to a 2014 release on that platform I played them on. With the way things get ported or updated and given the availability on platforms I’ve always found it unfair to lock a game’s eligibility to the original release year. Sometimes the experience is altered entirely by the new platform, as Deus Ex: Human Revolution proved on the Wii U. Either way, here are my favorite titles of 2014.