Overwatch: Tank hunters

The new meta in Overwatch is tanks in the backline. It’s a nightmare playing support now, so much so that it’s the meme-of-the-moment, because it’s near impossible to stay alive unless your team understands the threat. Which in quickplay is rare, for obvious reasons (everyone’s a solo hero).

The most common thing now is finding an Orisa hunting the healers, which is so peculiar. Orisa has gone from a shield building defender (ideal to partner with Bastion) to a rampaging spear-throwing damage dealer, despite still being categorised as a tank. New tank Junkerqueen is also a brutal support slayer, rounding out a trio of Australian archetypes that make me cringe with their gruesome finishers and naked bloodlust.

About the only tank who’s still a tank is dear old Reinhardt, thank goodness. Getting a game with him is a small relief as you can stick close and keep him alive – unless he’s also playing offensively in which case he’s charged away defenceless to the other side of the map.

The one-tank change seems to have also freed up other DPS to go support hunting. Sombra in particular is a one-shot Mercy killer now, even more so than Tracer ever was. Symmetra and Junkrat are equally lethal – being killed by Junkrat spam is still one of the most frustrating ways to die. Even Moira and new healer Kiriko, both support, seem to spend a lot of time now murdering their compatriots rather than healing their team.

I still feel like I can swing a match with Mercy, but only if I’m not being hunted by tanks. There’s always been barely any way to get away from a Winston, but now the other tanks are involved it feels like a losing battle. Maybe some kind of defensive buffs are required, but I suspect it will be the opposite – making Mercy et al into attacking machines too so there is no backline to dive into.

New World: No friends allowed

Other than OW2, New World is the other game that has leapt into the Dragonflight gap. Like everyone I was keen to jump into the Brimstone Sands patch and see what was new and apparently better. I enjoyed my short time in the game (especially the gathering) until it became a ghost town.

I have one friend who stuck with it through thick and thin (and now thick again). I asked him why and he has a great answer: it’s the first MMO where he was there at the start and feels comfortable that he ‘knows’ the game. That’s no small thing and I envy that feeling: being a master-crafter, knowing the world and players, part of a server strong guild, etc.

He’s playing Warcraft too, but only joined shortly before Shadowlands so it’s impossible to feel properly on top of the billion systems and weight of history. Even I feel that in Warcraft, the overwhelmingness of it, despite having played it for so long. It took a few deep breaths to knuckle down and start working out the new/old Talent Trees for example.

Compare that to New World where because my friend has stuck with it he can adapt to changes and new features quickly due to the deep – or at least experienced – understanding. It’s one reason I’m really looking forward to the Riot MMO – a chance to get in at the ground level with a bound-to-be-polished new game. Just like New World was meant to be, but with a team that perhaps understands the MMO genre better from day one.

So I am and was ready to dive in again, even if briefly. But I’d forgotten the fundamental flaw with New World: you can’t play with friends if the server is full (naturally Belghast has covered this topic well). I needed to reroll on his server, but it’s locked for new characters. It’s soooo frustrating. I launch the game once each day to see if I can create a character, before closing it and going back to Warcraft UI fiddling or alt levelling. Even when the ‘fresh start’ servers are launched there’s no guarantee the OG servers will be unlocked.

Oh well. Maybe it will be fixed in time for the new WoW expansion!

Overwatch: Two too little

Overwatch 2 has launched neatly into the post-Shadowlands pre-Dragonflight dwaal, filling the gap perfectly. But it’s really only a sequel in name – the gameplay is very similar, the heroes too – so the only really new things are a fine-but-not-amazing new game mode and the (admittedly rather consequential) removal of a tank from each team.

Despite being so familiar it’s still a riot to play once you settle in. And because it’s a refresh there are short queues for every role, even DPS, meaning it’s easy to squeeze plenty of games in. There’s enough of the joy still there to make it worth playing, although the new monetisation system and shooter over quirky focus means the game is walking a fine line.

Removing a tank has made the entire game far more offensively focused. Unfortunately that also means there seems to be even less teamwork (in Quickplay) than there was a week ago in OW1. This is exacerbated by the changes made to many tank skills and abilities to make them less tanky and more frontline wreckers – each match now feels like the dive compilations of yore are the only way to play. Orisa has gone from being a defensive shield bringer to being a hard-to-kill offensive juggernaut. OW2 puts a lot more pressure on the solo-tank, and because of the increased emphasis on offence most tanks aren’t bothering to tank: instead, they just get into the fight and wreak havoc – just like a DPS.

The game feels faster as a consequence, more chaotic, and getting a non-team team makes it almost impossible to win with any confidence. I cannot imagine what it would be like coming in as a new player – I find it more difficult now to predict what anyone is going to do and I’ve played since launch. No consolidating behind the tanks, far fewer safe zones, and a lot less structure. There seems to be more of an emphasis on solo heroics rather than team play, despite the fact that when you do play as a team the wins are far more achievable. I guess playing Competitive would solve some of that, but I don’t like the pressure that mode brings.

Blizzard also removed the scorecard commendations at the end of a match, which is a shame. Those felt like a fun way to reward good team players, and it was nice to be on the receiving end occasionally. Now it’s a personal rather than shared recognition. And I really miss the ability to give kudos to the enemy team – sometimes you want to congratulate the enemy for superior play. Perhaps the system was being gamed, or it felt too punishing?

I really don’t like the new unlock/xp Battlepass system, which keeps reminding you that you haven’t paid for a season pass. Levelling up and being ‘rewarded’ with a notification that you can’t use the reward without the pass is demoralising. Despite loot boxes being cursed, getting one each time you levelled up in OW1 was generally a fun thing. Blizzard have a right to earn ongoing fees for service, but it’s being pushed too hard. Let it be there, but don’t rub our faces in it.

I’ve played almost exclusively Mercy so far (my DPS and Tank skills having atrophied almost completely), and she plays just the same – reliable, not spectacular, but able to keep a team going in a bad situation. And quietly fun. Unlike showboat Moira whose ultimate still seems crazily overpowered, but maybe that’s just healer-jealousy!

It feels much more like a (significant) patch than a new game. The big unknown is how the promised PvE modes will play. Hopefully they won’t be dropped (it’s been very quiet on that front), and given the intensity of the PvP player base it’s hard to imagine PvE drawing in new players in large numbers. Then again it could turn out to be dipped in the same magic sauce OW1 was when it launched. Here’s hoping.

OW2 is still a fun game, still has some stellar moments of hero interaction (combo-ults or last second saves), but I still miss the OG version where stacked teams of Symmetra or all-tank madness meant each game was totally different, and would adapt majorly during the fight to counter the enemy team. Those days have gone (despite the arcade mode variant) and it really feels like balance is the be-all-and-end-all. Instead of heroes with incredibly diverse skills and crazy specials, it’s now a more traditional shooter where everyone is balanced to a competitive ideal.

And just like OW1, it’s still impossible (for me at least) to get a Play of the Game as Mercy. Reinforcing an under-threat point with a well-timed ultimate whilst downing two of the opposition team isn’t enough – a Bastion that plonked down and mowed down two people got Play instead. Sigh.

Warcraft: Ultimate Sepulcher

After a long and entertaining journey, our raid team has reached The Jailer in Sepulcher of the First Ones.

But for one boss, Sepulcher was far easier for us than both Sanctum and Nathria, a sign that the majority of our raiders (a fun mix of vanilla vets and Shadowlands sign-ups) have their raid-legs now.

That one boss was Anduin, of course. What an amazing fight!

After finishing most bosses in low double figures, with Anduin we hit our first ever triple figure kill: 111 to be precise. Early on at that fight we realised that once/week wouldn’t be enough, as it takes us an hour each week to get back in the groove of a tricky fight. So we ran a few weeks of two night raiding, which helped, though not as much as expected. There were so many things to learn and co-ordinate in the fight, but, like most fights, in the end it came down to muscle-memorying each phase well enough to get to the next with everyone alive.

The 111th run felt inevitable the longer it went, and reaching the final stage with 12/13 raiders up and knowing we had a chance was thrilling and intense. It was only the 3rd time we’d reached Phase Four, so dropping him was very satisfying. Thank goodness that last phase was almost simple when compared to the preceding.

It’s a great credit to our raiders that no-one dropped out or rage quit as the attempts mounted – everyone wanted this one. And we killed him before everyone started to get OP from the 9.2.5 patch, which was also very satisfying (for Sylvanas and Denathrius we were definitely OP – probably just as well!). Then again, this wasn’t a fight you could overpower with gear, it was mostly mechanics.

I’ve enjoyed most of the fights in Sepulcher, especially Anduin and Halondrus. Halondrus feels unique in the way it uses the environment and how the fight moves through the map. The sound design on that boss is also great, all booming robotic echoes and chaotic explosions. Sylvanas and Denathrius had movement too, but it was teleports and bampfs rather than progressing through a wholly visible zone. I hope Blizz create more fights like that, and less single room battles.

My appreciation for that fight in particular was largely due to following the Race for World First. The Mythic Halondrus attempts were mind-blowing: a single orb or dropped bomb wiped the raid, and there were so many sub 1% wipes. Echo took 361 attempts before finally defeating it.

After our first few runs, Jailer seems a simpler overall mechanic than Anduin, though there are a lot of ‘individual mistakes means wipe’ tests. It will be good to get the Jailer down and wrap up Shadowlands and it feels like that won’t take too long – or at least not another 111 attempts.

Somewhat hilariously, I solo tanked LFR Jailer during Fated Sepulcher week when the co-tank dropped out just as the fight started. Having five healers on one tank helped obviously, but LFR really is funny with how forgiving it is. It’s a good way to learn fights, though up until now I had resisted doing any until Jailer so as to be fresh with our guild runs.

(I’ll add my obligatory complaint about not earning gear upgrades in Raids but instead from world content, World Bosses, and Mythic+, a problem Nogamara at Battle Stance has also recently written about. Fated Raids help a little with upgraded drops, but if Mythic gear can scale up each season, why not let the raid rewards do the same? Knowing ahead of time that you’ll be vendoring 100% of raid drops is disappointing. While we’re in bah-humbug mode, a title or mount for completing Normal mode raids would be nice!)

In any case, we’re a very happy raid having had a lot of fun and working hard to get to the end. One boss to go and we’re ready for Dragonflight.

Warcraft: Penultimate Sanctum

Our once-a-week raid team is on the penultimate boss of Sanctum of Domination (Kel’Thuzad yet again!) having cleared Fatescribe Roh-Kalo on our 32nd attempt. We were on target to get through Sanctum before 9.2 launched but Fatescribe proved much harder than everything before. When we finally finished him off the celebration was one of relief more than exultation, though we were all very pleased with our strategic modifications that eventually got us over the line.

Posing around the remains

Sanctum has been interesting with some good fights and some less so. Flying around in the Eye was great and had some funny moments, as did Remnant of Ner’zhul with the platform knockbacks. We were stuck on Painsmith for a while (as I imagine everyone is until it starts to make sense), and most recently Guardian of the First Ones was a hard DPS wall until everyone found a few upgrades and took every possible consumable.

We run Normal mode, and one slightly disappointing thing we’ve all found is that the raid drops are generally worse than the maxxed out Korthia rep gear. It feels like any raid gear, even normal level, should be better than the best rep grind equipment. Some of the joy of downing a boss is reduced when we see the gear being a marginal improvement at best, and often worse. It’s a shame when gear drops are as disappointing as being rewarded 100 anima. At least there’s no chance of drama over who gets the drop!

Similarly to the gear, not being awarded a title (or mount, though I can see an argument for reserving that reward for heroic) for finishing a normal-level raid is disappointing. After finishing Nathria all we got was 2000 anima (sounds like a t-shirt)! Which is a terrible reward for months of effort. 32 runs at Fatescribe was about five hours of concerted work and that’s just one boss. I expect Normal raiders are the bulk or players (after LFR) and a title celebrating achieving a major content milestone would be appropriate.

Despite these minor gripes, working slowly but surely through a raid continues to be the best fun. Progressing from 87% ‘this is impossible’ to 0.1% ‘we got this’ (yep, 0.1%, not 1%!) wipes is immensely satisfying – albeit there was a lot of spicy language after missing that last 0.1%!

0.1% left on the boss
Nooooooooo

New World: Singularity

An interesting thing about New World after a few weeks of play is how suddenly empty the low level towns are. At first I wondered if this was due to the increased server capacity – perhaps they have implemented layer phasing – but I don’t think that’s right. My second thought was the game was shedding players, but that seems unlikely too – the active players per server seem to be holding pretty steady.

Eventually I came to the conclusion it’s due to the single-character-per-server rule. The impact of that rule is everyone levels out of earlier zones more-or-less as a bunch, and there are no alts backfilling the starter zones.

Even storage, normally a scrum of people, is empty

I assume the hordes that were in the starter towns are all now gathered in the 40+ zones, with no reason to return to lowbie-land other than PVP – which the lagging levellers can’t participate in so it does nothing to change the day-to-day emptiness.

Most MMOs that hook people are given extra longevity by alt-levelling, filling out rosters and creating specialist characters. Allowing one character to ‘do-it-all’ is great, but many would prefer to have different characters for different roles – especially those that invest more RPG into their game. I like having a Rogue, a Hunter, a Paladin, all with different personalities, trades, and looks. One character doing everything is less appealing, despite the obvious time and utility advantages.

It makes me wonder if the restriction is a strategic error by Amazon. The flow of new players will dry up which will really stymie the shared experience of the starter zones. It will be interesting to see if they have any plans to somehow bring those earlier zones back into play.

New World: Hot & Cold

New World confuses me greatly. And others too obviously. Bhagpuss is enjoying it, UltrViolet definitely isn’t, Kaylriene is surprised to be leaning toward yes, and Nogamara has resisted the temptation altogether.

There are things about it that are great (gathering/crafting), and things which are terrible (are there any enemies other than Withered??). After three days I was ready to call it quits, then decided that was unfair after conversations with the Warcraft team who were playing and enjoying it. A weekish later and I’m still on the fence, not fully committed but not fully against it either.

In honour of my confusion, and in lieu of coherent thoughts, here’s a listicle.

Hot

  • Gathering is a stupendous triumph. Seriously. The way you can see a node from miles away, be it an outcrop of iron or a shuddering sparking herb. So much more satisfying than a dot on a minimap. Then when you harvest there is a stub left which eventually respawns (which is a little strange for ores but we’ll put it down to ‘magic’).

  • The sound design is excellent. The cracking echoing ping as you strike an iron node makes me want to spend all day hefting a pickaxe. You can hear enemies before you see them, snuffling up from behind. And each herb has a different sound that reflects their visuals, from spewing poison to crackling light.

  • Crafting appears to be acres deep. The UI is easy to understand – with a few gotchas like cooking auto selecting too high components – and there are millions of recipes. Which require millions of things to be gathered in return: a perfect feedback loop.

  • Storage is immediately generous, though there is waaay too much stuff to collect. I instantly filled one town’s storage, having to use another as backup. Which encourages you to smelt and hammer and craft your resources to reduce the storage requirement – another good feedback loop.

  • I was pleased to stumble on a ‘rare’ boar early on, though I’ve only seen one other rare since.

And

  • Levelling is achingly slow. Which is good, but bad, but good. Feels bad being left behind, and there is no way to participate in the flagship PVP at low levels. But an honest-to-goodness grind to level is a new experience after Warcraft, SWtOR, GW2, etc. It feels even slower that Warcraft Classic.

  • Not quite convinced by the action combat. It’s quite fun creating a hatchet storm, but the dodging and parrying feels quite hit-or-miss and a little random. Though this is probably due to my woeful framerate (see below).

  • It’s weird seeing someone with a nice shield and not being able to source it or identify it. I suppose we’re meant to ask, but the chat is also quite badly handled.

  • It looks like PVP is delivering for those that enjoy it, but I’m not sure I have the stamina to get all the way to 60 in order to participate.

  • Going way against trend, I don’t love the look of the game. Most seem the opposite. Some of the vistas are nice, and the lighting can be quite atomspheric, but I don’t get the same sense of wonder I do from something like GW2 or Warcraft. It’s a bit too much like, well, our world, rather than a New World. The strange unexplained structures are the most interesting graphical flourish, but I fear there’s no rhyme or reason to them.

Cold

  • OMG I am so sick of Withered.

  • For the first 20 levels it’s been zombie Withered. Or ghostly Withered. Or half-buried Withered. And that’s it. The lack of imagination is a little perplexing – you have total freedom to create a world and you come up with one NPC? The hot theory of PVE shunted into a PVP engine rings most true here.

  • I watched some Level 60 streams and they still seemed to be attacking @#$@#$ Withered. Albeit much harder hitting, but still just slightly less-hunched crown-wearing ghost-humans.

  • Speaking of – everyone is human. No fantasy here. No variations. It gets a little boring seeing the same body type with the same armour on hundreds of people.

  • The quests are woeful. Go kill Withered. Go open crates (seven crates to be precise – always seven) guarded by Withered. Then do it all again. I’ve seen feedback that at level 40 it’s the same.

  • The story is barely there, or if it is it’s hidden in scraps of paper. Which is fine I guess, but it’s not very satisfying when the quests in each town are paper-thin excuses to kill more w*******. There seems to only be one ‘main story’ quest, and it’s pretty dire too.

  • The storage is great, but it’s very annoying transferring goods from one town to another if your faction doesn’t own both towns. A unified bank may not be realistic, but nor is fast travel.

  • Character movement is…odd. It feels very floaty, and given the huge amount of time spent jogging that’s a shame.

  • Loading the game at anything other than native resolution is a muddy mess – the scaling is terrible. For me that means having to run it at 4K, which also means 30fps. A little frustrating, especially when an ancient game like Warcraft can seamlessly handle scaling a 1080p resolution up to crisp 4k.


Writing all this, and reading back, maybe I’m not so confused after all.

It seems the one thing keeping me interested is the gathering. Which may one day lead to interest in crafting, but at the moment it’s just the gathering. That’s a surprise, though double-gathering in Warcraft is always my default. Perhaps I’m just a hoarder at heart.

Warcraft: Castle Nathria

A journey started with little more than goodwill and crossed fingers in April was concluded mid-September with the demise of Sire Denathrius. We weren’t sure we’d even be able to raid, and after it took 31 attempts to down Shriekwing the thought of progressing to – and beating – Denathrius seemed almost impossible. But we did it! From special extra nights to get bosses when we were that close, to #ActiBlizzWalkout solidarity sit-outs, to two-bosses-in-one-night triumphs, it was a fantastic experience.

Many congratulations and thanks to the team, ranging from grizzled veterans to bright-eyed rookies and everything in between. As our inimitable Rogue Deadbeard observed, it was the most fun he’d had in game since Vanilla (Kara notwithstanding for some!), and so say all of us.

Shriekwing

As documented, the big bat caused us a lot of trouble, but no-one will forget the moment he finally dropped.

Huntsman Altimor

Huntsman was a great lesson in movement and awareness, and learning phase-by-phase by wiping a lot – eventually the first two puppies were rote, and when the third one was we finished Altimor off.

Hungering Destroyer

A fight where suddenly everything clicked after a lot of attempts got us nowhere.

Lady Inerva Darkvein

Like Huntsman, at first this seemed impossible – there was so much going on. Like many fights, total chaos until it wasn’t.

Sun King’s Salvation

Chaos! Another where it felt out of control quickly, but we got it together and before we knew it it was over.

Artificer Xy’Mox

This was a fun one to learn, with portal-like bampfing and zones of mass destruction. I think we ended up with only two alive at the end when Xy’Mox fell.

Council of Blood

Ah, the Council. A real test – we struggled long and hard here. We followed the various guides to determine the order of bosses, but it just wasn’t working. So we swapped the order around, but still kept wiping. Eventually we went against all the advice and re-ordered things to suit our particular group, and they fell only two runs later. A great moment and great realisation that we could design our own strategies.

Sludgefist

We were of course overgeared, but knocking Sludgefist off on our second attempt, having finally finished the Council, was a special moment.

Stone Legion Generals

Now it was getting serious. The penultimate bosses, which only needed a few runs to learn the mechanics before they were finished.

Sire Denathrius

And finally, Denathrius. Three very different phases, plenty of concentration required, and a complex fight. The excitement and tension as he was getting lower and lower (and we were losing one player after another) was brilliant.

Bonus Fishing Boss

Thanks all!

Warcraft: Shrieks of Terror

In recent weeks our small guild ventured into a few Mythic dungeons for the first time. We’d been rolling through Heroics without too much difficulty (other than the deadly platform bosses in Theatre of Pain), so decided we should try a Mythic or two to see where we stood ability-wise.

Somewhat to our surprise (or mine at least) we succeeded! We tried Sanguine Depths, and after triumphantly not dying to the first trash pack we cleaned up all the bosses. We even somehow fudged our way through the nightmare gauntlet corridor boss, despite me not realising I could pop the magic-shield to save us – even though our healer was continually saying ‘there’s something we’re missing here’. Oops.

After that victory we completed Tirna Scithe and Theatre of Pain, raising our confidence and the dawning possibility that we might be ready for raiding?!

We ran the numbers and worked out we had 7 confirmed raiders. At first we intended to pug the final three, but after some thinking managed to recruit three more friends and family to the team. The magic number was reached, and we ran our first ever raid.

Castle Nathria

Tauren paladin in front of the Raid Entrance
So excite

I figured we should prepare for the first two bosses, Shriekwing and Huntsman, and researched them on Icy-Veins and Tanknotes. Our group is very much a learn-as-you-play team, but having some basic idea of what might happen is always a good idea.

Based on the guides, Shriekwing seemed doable once the mechanics were understood, whilst Huntsman looked super chaotic – three phases, many gotchas, and a lot going on. Fun! I felt vaguely confident we would get through Shriekwing, and have a few tries on Huntsman.

Spoiler: not even close.

Raid group facing Sire Denathrius
A warm welcome

We headed into Castle Nathria, nervous, and were pleased to find there was basically no trash before Shriekwing. One great thing was that because we were in a guild group, we all watched the mini cinematics rather than rushing past. It was fantastic seeing and hearing Sire Denathrius welcome us to his playhouse, and introduce us to his first pet.

Shriekwing is basically a movement and cooldown test. In Phase 1, Tanks have to keep the boss fairly immobile, DPS have to avoid his line-of-sight casts, Healers have to keep the tanks alive through a 100% heal debuff, and everyone has to drop blood pools away from the raid. In Phase 2 everyone has to run around dodging bad stuff whilst still avoiding the LOS casts. And Heals have to keep everyone alive whilst still doing all that.

Shriekwing, a massive vampire bat, awaits the raid group who are eating
Never raid on an empty stomach

It sounds and looks simple enough when you read and watch the guides, but holy cow is it more complicated when you’re trying to actually do it. There are so many things to keep track of, and it’s easy to lose sight of what is happening next. Especially because we were all instantly panicking for the first few pulls.

We slowly started to settle down and focus, but we were somewhat under-geared, and under-ripe. I made a lot of tanking mistakes, not least watching the wrong timers for the tank taunt swap, which meant we kept dying too easily and too early.

Our best pull got the big bat down to 60%. We only made it to Phase 2 once with everyone alive, and it kept falling apart after that because one tank or the other would go down.

After twelve pulls we called it a night. Huntsman would have to wait.

The raid almost all dead, pools of blood covering the floor
A familiar sight

Despite not getting past the first boss, it was great. Even improving by 2% per pull made us realise we were (very slowly) progressing. We had four members who had never raided, and five more that hadn’t raided beyond LFR for many years. And half of us had gear well lower than recommended.

For next week everyone will be more prepared, and better geared. And if we get to 50% we’ll be happy.

One of our first-timers even reported he woke three times overnight in WoW raiding dreams. Perfect.

Postscript

I wrote this a week ago and forgot to post it. Last night we went in for our second try, and it was much more successful, though we still didn’t get past Shriekwing. But we did indeed pass 50% (47%!), and we consistently got through Phase 1 with everyone alive and healthy. Unfortunately the bouncing rings of blood kept overwhelming us in Phase 2.

It was encouraging and fascinating how we did end up learning Phase 1 well enough that it became semi-automatic, which means Phase 2 should follow next week. It was a good demonstration how there is nothing better than doing to learn – week one gave us the information we needed to succeed in week two.

And given we improved, I think we can now say we’re progression raiders 😉