Watching Fires

Having been defeated by The Witcher’s timesink boss, I was browsing through my game library for something a little snappier and came across Firewatch. And happily a link to an article of ‘great short games’ confirmed it might be an appropriate palette cleanser.

After a little backstory setup, the game plonks you in Shoshone National Park in the US, where you are going to settle into a ‘firewatch’ tower – as a park ranger and lookout for forest fires.

It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous game to look at and listen to. The colour palettes are stunning, ranging from lush greenery to orange-drenched sunsets, and they change and adapt in parallel with your progression through the story. The use of light is spot on, creating a wonderful and enveloping environment that begs for idle wandering and exploration1. I found myself drifting along forest paths and grassy meadows or staring out over a stunning valley, not really paying attention to the story, just enjoying being there.

Firewatch valley
That view…

It’s perhaps not surprising when you learn that the super talented Olly Moss (he of the best Star Wars posters ever) was responsible for the 2D art. The UI and general aesthetic benefit from the involvement of Panic, who develop impeccably designed Mac and iOS apps.

The sound too is beautifully crafted. There’s a real sense of wilderness and peace – or otherwise – as you wander the fields, valleys, and streams. I turned the music right down to let the environmental ambience wash over, though Firewatch is one of those rare games where I found the music to be appropriately used. There are times where a quiet musical score will be introduced at just the right moment, enhancing rather than distracting from the journey.

Firewatch forest

In amongst all this beauty, the storyline could almost be inconsequential, but that too is well delivered and for the most part works – especially if you make sure to dive into the conversation options. There are a few jarring moments, mainly to do with the interruption to the idyll established early on, but the fundamental tale of people dealing with life changing events is built nicely and becomes quite emotionally affecting.

And only 5 hours: recommended.


  1. The beauty of the game world cries out for a free-roaming mode, and apparently such a thing is on the cards

DeWitched

During my inexplicable WoW hiatus1 I’ve been trying The Witcher for the 3rd time. I’ve installed and uninstalled it twice in the past, being frustrated each time by the amount of courier quests which take you from one end of the map to the other and back. That plus badly signposted irreversible decisions led to furious HDD wipes before even getting through the first chapter.

This time I decided to fully cheat and have a thorough walkthrough open while playing, as well as a recommended talent build ready to go as I played. Armed with this knowledge, and being better prepared for what I was getting into, I rerolled Geralt and plunged into the thick of it.

And it was better. Knowing most of the map already mean I could more easily adjust to the constant back and forthing, and the walkthroughs helped when it came to some decision point where I wasn’t sure what was going on (or worried about what was).

I rumbled through Chapter I, completing it this time, and actually enjoying the complexity of the questing and characters. The European heritage of the game shines through, both in the depth of the world building (based as it is on Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels) and the adult nature of the NPCs. There’s plenty of swearing, politics, racial tension, and sex on offer. Bad, women-as-reward ‘achievement’ sex, but at least it acknowledges that sex is a thing. There’s all sorts of sub plots, hints at a rich back story, and complicated cross threaded storytelling. It’s very different to standard Dungeons and Dragons based fantasy gaming, and all the better for it.

Feeling confident, I ventured heartily into Chapter II, which takes you into a city for the first time. The story changes to a murder-mystery of sorts, as you try and eliminate suspects whilst investigating the denizens of Vizima. Again there are plenty of complicated stories and characters, and the distances to be traversed are thankfully shorter (though still with plenty of back and forth).

The super annoying ‘drunk’ mechanic is, well, super annoying (you basically can barely see or move for what feels like 30 real-time minutes – though you can force the game to sleep it off by meditating). And the clever idea of using day/night phases to show/hide different NPCs is fun for a while, but eventually a bit tiresome. Having to meditate until dawn to generate an NPC, then immediately meditate again ’til midnight isn’t particularly thrilling gameplay.

Notwithstanding these tics, I slowly pieced together what was going on, and felt that the game was nearing it’s first story climax. I’d solved the mystery, had a suspect in my targets, and was ready to spring the trap…

… only to find that there was what looks like another 10 hours of gameplay before that was going to happen. 10 hours of trudging through a swamp, more courier quests, more sloowwww collecting of objectives. Slightly incredulously I mentioned this to a friend who recently finished (and is working on Witcher 2) who laughed and confirmed that the accursed swamp sub-chapter is indeed frustrating and time consuming.

Even with all the positives of the story, I couldn’t face committing more time into what was already 15+ hours of play to only be half way through Chapter I. It must be a 70+ hour game at this rate, which is beyond my capacity to complete I fear.

Which is kind of an odd position when I think of my /totalplayed in WoW: months, if not years. But an MMO somehow offers something different, the persistence of your characters, the evolving storylines, and the relationships with other players. The timesinks in The Witcher are pretty obvious and pretty weird, given there’s no financial reward for the developer in making us take longer to do something. MMOs on the other hand have got the timesink hiding down to a fine art. Catch 1000 fish but get a great hat? Why not.

The feeling that I’m wasting time playing single-player games is hard to ignore, even though it doesn’t really make sense – it’s ‘wasting’ far less time than an MMO. That feeling is something I guess I was trying to overcome with this latest endeavour, but while I haven’t deleted it off my HDD yet, I can feel the moment fast approaching.


  1. The irony and horror of posting this on the first night of Legion raiding is not lost on me. 

Stalled

After all the anticipation for Legion, and two weeks after release, I’ve managed to get to level… 100.

Yup, not a single level in two weeks. I’ve hardly logged on, and when I do it’s more to potter around Dalaran fishing and avoid making decisions. Thinking back, this seems to have happened to me for every expansion since WotLK: the xpac drops and I get totally paralysed and barely play. And each time I wish I knew why.

This time around the BM weapon being a gun really threw me. Which is patently ridiculous given transmog. Nevertheless, wanting a bow, I spent time testing a MM spec, but don’t find it that compelling and don’t like the proc-based rotation.

Next I thought maybe I should change class altogether, so I tried my Warrior in Fury spec. That was pretty fun, and the animations are top notch. Nothing like a plate-wearing huge-weapon-wielding Tauren to get the blood boiling. But melee? Healers have enough to worry about without more melee. And he’s always been a tank.

Meanwhile I lost interest in my Paladin and Druid once they boosted to 100. That’s a strange phenomenon too, though I guess it’s explained by the fact max level means you have to start grinding, unlike the constant gratification of levelling. Plus dungeon tanking at max level means a sudden escalation in expectations and low-patience from LFD queuers. I feel like the only way to play a tank is to take it from 1-100 so you know the class backwards. Bampfing to 100 has made me lose touch with the rotation and playstyle. Whoops.

A couple of friends who left back in the WotLK days have also (almost) returned, throwing more confusion into the mix. I’d like to be able to level and group with them, but they play far less frequently so there’s a waiting game there.

One other issue, which I’ve seen others express too, is not wanting to rush through the new content. I’d like to see it all, rather than sprint to 110 and start gearing. But if I want to raid then that’s pretty much the expectation, and fair enough. I guess the solution is to have a raiding main that focuses on just that (rather than on exploring the content), and a stable of alts who can meander their way to the top.

So. We finally get new stuff, and reportedly great new stuff, and instead of playing I’ve been actively avoiding it: experimenting with Project Gorgon, installing and trying The Witcher for the 4th time, playing Overwatch, speculating about Crowfall. Guild chat is alive with links to epic gear and flavour items galore, and I’m standing paralysed in Dalaran clutching my Mastercraft Kalu’ak Fishing Pole.

Totally stalled.

There’s no way I’ll be ready for raiding when it opens in a week. Which is ridiculous given my stated goal of being there at the start for once. I guess I’ll just have to wait for this malaise to pass, and join in if and when I can.

Vaguely prepared

‘Vaguely’ is probably the best descriptor for my Legion readiness. Bags are half empty (could do better), gear is good (though soon to be very dated), pre-patch achievements are complete. No real plan about how to level, but I’m keen to start in Highmountain due to the strong Tauren connection. And I can’t wait to get cracking on the Underlight Angler fishing Artifact!

One major decision is whether to stick with BM, or go over to Marksmanship. By all accounts Marks is going to be well ahead in the early Artifact days due to its rapid power accumulation. I think I’ll put my faith in Blizzard to balance that out though.

I much prefer the idea of a bow over a gun, which is a vote for Marks. As just about everyone has commented the models seem the wrong way around, despite the archetype of the Vanilla-cinematic BM Dwarf with his gun. The ‘hidden’ bow model for BM is a pretty ordinary mechanical looking Goblin creation unfortunately, so transmog is the only route to a handsome bow, which is a shame given the changing Artifact appearances.

Marks sounds quite RNG dependent for Marking Targets procs, which might become frustrating. And having to abandon pets also seems a bridge too far.

Strangely BM is getting very mixed reviews – many hate it or find it unplayable, others love it and are switching mains to BM. I’m finding it tolerable, if a bit limited in terms of opportunities to do things. I miss having Kill Shot as a finisher (my thumb still instinctively reaches for it), and there is often an autoshot zone where you’re just waiting for an ability to become available. Stampede also seems a bit borked in the way it won’t adapt to boss positioning, as very few bosses will stand in one spot long enough for the full impact to be felt.

Garwulf’s biting criticism that BM has become almost a caster class is pretty insightful too – your ability to do physical DPS is far outweighed by summoning Crows, Dire Beasts, and Stampedes. Add a lightning-powered Artifact and summoned wolf and BM has become very Shamanistic.

Still, if I was going to swap the invasions would have been the perfect time to test out the new model, but I’ve left that too late now. So BM it is. I think.

Other than spec, the biggest decision left is whether to abandon Tailoring for Mining, to better match Engineering. It seems a bit of a waste having burnt through all that cloth to level Tailoring, but Legion seems to heavily favour matching gathering and crafting professions. I fear that without mining there will be a shortage of Blood of Sargeras drops, which would be super annoying.

20 hours to go. Better make some decisions!

Moosed

Thanks to the generosity of my guild, Frostwolves, tonight I mounted Ghostcrawler’s long promised Moose.

A moose
A moose

In a pleasant surprise, it’s also a flying moose.

As Navi said, that’s that for HFC and Draenor: Legion awaits. Really looking forward to being able to start raiding at the start, rather than at the finish.

It’s already incredibly refreshing to be camped in Orgrimmar instead of isolated in a garrison. New Dalaran should be even better!

Hunting demons

I finally played through the Demon Hunter intro zone this weekend – and it’s a winner.

Like the Death Knight class before it, Illidan’s converts are given a self contained zone to explore, learning the class one or two skills at a time as it progresses. I found the DH to be instantly fun – I accidentally discovered the Double Jump and Glide combo, which was a nice surprise, and then spent the rest of the time triple tapping my space bar to zoom around the zone. It changes your perspective on the game world, as I found myself seeking out higher ground so I could glide around on my demonic wings. Combine that with Fel Rush and it’s a super mobile class – like having a flying Warrior Charge.

As others have observed, the class plays like a Rogue/Warrior cross with wings and glowing tattoos. Despite a propensity for tanks, I chose the Havoc spec, which the intro tends to lean toward. It would be interesting to know the breakdown of choice here – I’d guess 95% would be going DPS, but I suppose that’s typical of any hybrid choice.

The intro zone is well paced and atmospheric, as is the storyline that unfolds. There’s even a first person cut scene which seems like a new thing (?), and some interesting story telling options between followers loyal to Illidan and those that think he’s gone too far. It was also great to watch the Harbingers: Illidan animation again, neatly inserted into the DH experience.

I don’t think she’ll unseat my Hunter main, but I found the class more fun than a Rogue due to that amazing mobility – incorporating that into ‘real’ gameplay should be a lot of fun.

Demonic training wheels

One of unexpectedly nice things about the Legion invasions is they give your characters – particularly alts – a great way of trying different builds and rotations in a low stress environment.

Legion invasion of Tanaris
Low stress

My boosted Paladin and Druid tanks, and neglected Rogue, can all venture out into the thick of battle and start getting a feel for the New Ways without the self inflicted fear of letting down a dungeon group or raid. And as a bonus the less geared alts pick up a full set of iLvl 700 gear, ready for the Legion levelling.

If this was part of Blizzard’s plan they deserve a round of applause.

In related news, 7.0 also introduced a new level 100 boost tutorial, making my recent post about the now antiquated level 90 boost, well, antiquated. The new method of a scenario that introduces your key abilities sounds much better, as does the new Class Trial feature that lets you play around with a class before committing.

I’m guessing Blizzard would have liked to have all this stuff in place to be ready when the movie launched, but given it wasn’t the mega success hoped for it probably didn’t matter too much that it’s being delivered late. At least the existing players get the benefits.

Legion-aires

The Legion has (finally) arrived1, and it’s great. Logging in and feeling overwhelmed with options – Invasions? Broken Isles? Demon Hunter? – is a nice change from the late Warlords routine.

I hopped straight in to an invasion. Well not quite straight, as first I mistook the new Dark Moon Faire icon for an invasion icon. Embarrassing arriving in Mulgore to find…nothing except a purple tent.

Luckily there was an actual invasion not too far away in Azshara. It’s fantastically epic joining a fight with 80+ other players to take down giant demons as they wreak havoc, and Blizzard have done a great job making that somehow work with little lag and excellent phasing. It seems that whenever you arrive in the ~3 hour window, the invasion is just starting for you (and everyone else).

After turning back the tide there, I – and 1000 others – hopped a zeppelin to travel to the next event in Westfall, Alliance territory.

wow-legion-invasion-force
I’m on a boat

Unfortunately 7.x seems to have introduced a bug with v-e-r-y slow or even disconnect zone transitions, which meant by the time the zone loaded I was somehow back in Orgrimmar, having taken a round trip.

Instead I joined a raid searching for the elusive Pocket Fel Spreader in Org. Kind of painful, spamming the Doomsayers for the Demon spawn, hopefully they increase the rate as the invasion continues – guild leader Navi got lucky though, yay!

Next I tried the Broken Shores scenario, and once I’d fought the loading screen boss found that again Blizzard had outdone themselves. Terrific storytelling via gameplay and cutscenes, and a real sense of the scale of the invasion. The moment you realise you’re face to face with an actual Alliance raid with other players on the opposite shore is excellent2. And the denouement for both Horde and Alliance is shocking.

Gee I hope we get to finish Gul’dan off this expansion.

All this and still a Demon Hunter to create. Plus the promise of a return to Karazan next week. Legion is shaping up very nicely indeed.


  1. And I’m finally back from an unexpectedly long game break 
  2. Imagine if Blizz designed (some) raids like this – a Horde/Alliance joint raid, where you fight through different paths to meet at the end boss and fight together for the glory of the kill. Or the better spoils went to the side that contributed the most to the fight. Kind of PvPvE Raiding. 

Legion World PVP: Wacky Races vs Formula 1

The world PVP areas coming in Legion sound pretty entertaining – Blizz are tagging it as Wacky Races compared to the Formula 1 of Arena. A dark last-toon-standing gladitorial pit, jousting on the back of mountain goats, and best of all: “You get to turn into a Murloc, you go onto the Murloc faction, you can blow up players as a Murloc.”

You’re going to turn into a freaking Murloc. How do you balance Murlocs? That doesn’t even make sense. You don’t. You make it overpowered. Go and have fun.

Murloc PVP! Time to find out why Murloc’s have been so good at wrecking low level characters for so long1.


  1. I love that the WoW Iron Man forums have a special warning for Murlocs due to their ability to swarm and kill even the most careful player. 

Gear equalised dungeons

The always thoughtful Rohan at Blessing of Kings has a great proposal: equalising gear in levelling dungeons the same way it is (as of 7.03) in PVP:

The problem is that leveling dungeons need to be balanced such that a group of new players in quest gear can complete them. But if one or more heirloom characters are present, that balance goes out the window.

I think stat templates for leveling dungeons would be a great idea. Everyone would be reduced down to an even playing field. Dungeons would be a proper group experience once more. I rather doubt anyone will sheep anything, but maybe it could happen.

Despite the fun of tanking in heirlooms, this is a very worthy idea. I especially like the idea of cc returning! I remember using Distract to sneak past mobs in dungeons once upon a time, and trying not to hit the sheep with AoE.

Another idea for the mooted ‘Pristine’ servers, perhaps, though given they’ve done it in PVP why not implement it into PvE too – the tech is there with the Timewalking gear scaling. This would just be scaling as you level, rather than scaling down from max.