Gaming Round-Up: ESO, Bless, Zeratul, and MMO Mobs

Once again I find myself with a number of gaming topics that are worth discussing, but not worth filling a full post on their own.

A story cinematic in Bless OnlineBless Online: Actually okay

With its launch as a full free to play title, I decided to give Bless Online a try. Given the incredibly negative buzz, I was surprised by how decent the game is.

Once again I feel the need to point out that the universal and hyperbolic negativity of the gaming community has made word of mouth entirely meaningless. I no longer know which games I should avoid, because basically everything is decried as a broken cash grab, regardless of reality.

That’s not to say Bless is a masterpiece. It’s not. I actually gave up on it fairly quickly. But this is much more symptomatic of how jaded I’ve become than the quality of the game itself. It’s got a lot going for it.

The graphics are gorgeous. The world is detailed and filled with personality. The story is surprisingly high effort and actually halfway interesting. The combat is very flashy and engaging, if once again much too easy. If I weren’t in a period of feeling somewhat burnt out on video games in general and traditional MMOs in particular, I’d probably have played a lot more.

In the end, that may be Bless’ one major sin: It launched too late into a market too crowded.

A flightpath in Bless OnlineESO: Home sweet villa

After months of hard work and with the assistance of an ESO Plus trial event, I’ve finally finished decorating my Grand Psijic Villa home in Elder Scrolls Online.

I am not sure why I did this. There is no gameplay reason to spend time in my own home, and I have no friends who play to show around the place. I suppose it’s a nice virtual environment to wander around and reflect on my life choices.

Ahem.

The place is so huge I had to wall off a few rooms because I didn’t have the resources or energy to furnish them properly. Even so, I did manage to include a feast hall, bedrooms for both my Aldmeri characters, a kitchen, and indoor gardens. Meanwhile the exterior is home to as much plant life as I could cram in, a campsite with a hammock, some lovely statuary, and a semi-submerged coral garden, among other attractions.

It is fun to express yourself through design like this. I’m beginning to catch a glimmer of why people are so passionate about player housing in games. I just wish it was a more fleshed out feature.

SC2: En aru’din Raszagal

Surprisingly soon after the release of Tychus, StarCraft II has gained another new co-op commander: Zeratul.

I preface my thoughts on him by saying that I think Zeratul is fun to play, and I don’t regret purchasing him. He has some cool abilities, a unique mechanic in the hunt for artifact fragments, and his unit skins are gorgeous.

That said, he does somewhat reinforce my perception that the co-op team is running out of ideas. Aside from the artifact mechanic, he could basically be described as “Nova, but Protoss and somehow even more overpowered.”

Zeratul is very powerful, and very easy. His macro is simplified to the point of being almost non-existent — even his upgrades are researched automatically — and he also has surprisingly low micro requirements.

Your only real strategic choices are what top bar abilities to pick (which is a neat mechanic, I grant), as his unit selection is limited, and you really don’t need anything other than Void Templars and Enforcers with the occasional Shieldguard for back-up. His only real micro in battle is casting blink and dropping his calldowns. Meanwhile his base runs itself.

Zeratul in StarCraft II co-opI mean, I hate economic management, and even I feel Zeratul may have gone too far in eliminating it.

Zeratul’s fun, but I can’t pretend there aren’t a lot of ways in which he’s simply a failure of good game design. If nothing else, I have to believe there are more interesting things they could have done.

New article:

In other news, I’ve published a new article on MMO Bro. This one seeks to rethink the design of open world mobs in MMOs.

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Odds and Ends: Venom, ESO, Hard in Hightown

I’ve had a few topics I’ve wanted to discuss but which didn’t seem meaty enough to fill a blog post on their own, so I’ve decided to cram them all into one Frankenstein monster post.

Venom mini-review:

A shot from the movie Venom, starring Tom HardyI wanted to do a full review of the Venom movie, but as I’ve said before, mediocrity is hard to review, and I just don’t have much to say on the matter.

It’s not a bad movie in general terms, but it may be a bad Venom movie. I’d expect Venom to be a very dark, gritty story, but instead it’s more of a light, campy romp. As light, campy romps go, it’s actually pretty fun, but it just doesn’t fit the character very well.

I wouldn’t advise against seeing it, but it’s definitely not a must-see, either.

Overall rating: 6.9/10

ESO’s bribery:

Despite my griping, I’ve been playing a fair bit of Elder Scrolls Online lately. This is in large part due to the fact Zenimax has been showering players with a number of incredibly generous giveaways as of late. It’s shameless bribery, and it’s working.

Probably the most notable giveaway is the palatial Grand Psijic Villa home. Given how over-priced housing in this game usually is, giving away a house of this scale is kind of incredible. My previous home in the Rift and its yard could comfortably fit in the Psijic Villa’s main hall.

One of many beautiful views from the Grand Psijic Villa home in Elder Scrolls OnlineMy focus lately has been furnishing the new dwelling, which given the high costs in gold and crafting resources of furniture is actually quite a challenge. Not even sure why I’m bothering given the total lack of practical functionality for housing in this game, but there is something satisfying about it. It’s a pale shadow of the creativity I got to display back in Landmark.

It has had the side effect of helping me learn to earn gold more efficiently. I’m trying to get in the habit of doing crafting writs every day. That’s easy money. Along the way I’ve been developing my crafting skills further. I had already maxed out woodworking, clothing, and blacksmithing a long time ago, and I’ve now maxed my provisioning skill, as well. Enchanting, alchemy, and jewelry crafting are lagging behind, but they’re a good source of writ income if nothing else.

While the story of Summerset may have disappointed me, it remains a beautiful zone, and Alinor is a very conveniently laid out city, so I’ve made Summerset my “home” for the time being. I spend most of my time there, doing dailies and farming.

I’ve also been playing my warden a little.

Oh, yeah, I have a warden.

Don’t think I’ve mentioned her before — probably because I haven’t played her much — but yes, I have a High Elf warden. When I pre-ordered Summerset, I got Morrowind for free, and while I haven’t explored its content yet, I did want to try out the new (to me) class.

My High Elf warden in Elder Scrolls OnlineThe warden marks my third attempt to play a pure caster, the previous being a Khajiit dragonknight and a Breton nightblade. It finally seems to be sticking this time. I think it may be because I’m building this one as a healer.

One interesting — if possibly unbalanced — quirk of healers in ESO is that they use largely the same stats and gear as magicka DPS, meaning there appears to be little penalty to doing both on the same character, which is exactly what I’m doing with my warden. One action bar uses a resto staff and is pure support, while the other uses a destro staff and is pure damage.

One thing I’ve learned from D&D is that a hybrid of support and damage may just be my ideal RPG playstyle, or at least as close as someone as indecisive as me is ever going to find.

A final interesting note about my warden is that although she’s now well into her 20s, I have yet to do any significant amount of questing with her. And honestly, I haven’t missed it. There may be a whole post to do about that…

Hard in Hightown thoughts:

Finally, I recently finished reading through the physical copy of Varric Tethras’ Hard in Hightown. Yes, the book you can find chapters of in Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s a real book in the real world now.

Cover art for Hard in Hightown by "Varric Tethras" (really Mary Kirby)Well, for a certain definition of “real book,” anyway. There wasn’t actually that much effort put in, sadly. The whole thing is only about seventy pages, and it’s barely been fleshed out any more than the chapters you could find in Inquisition. In the end it’s more of a gag collectible than a book that’s worth reading on its own merits.

It does have some cool illustrations, though.

Overall rating: 5.8/10