Thursday, January 18, 2018

Argus and the Wound in the World

Well, I need to go back to fight Aggramar, but I took down Argus in LFR. The Argus fight is, I'm sure, a bit watered down from Normal, but I do like some of the mechanics they introduce. The final phase, which involves using character deaths as a limited resource, is a kind of super-mode of the RP-ending to the Lich King fight. I still wish that we'd had some more time to get to know Argus the Titan, or been able to fight Sargeras directly, but it's still a pretty epic way to end the expansion (ironically the final fight of Legion has no demons or even Fel magic it would seem.) Oh, and one quibble - I think Argus (and all Titans) ought to be classified as a Giant (or nothing) rather than a Humanoid, but oh well.

With 7.3.5 out this week, there's actually a fair amount of follow-up to the final raid. You can take a crystal from the post-Argus version of the Vindicaar left by Illidan, where has messages for Malfurion and Tyrande, and then one last one for you. You can also get a quest chain (that might require re-logging) that will send you to Silithus. Here, you'll see the extent of the devastation (it's basically the whole zone, other than some fringes on the edges) and also see just how freaking huge Sargeras' sword is (it has got to be the biggest single object other than the continents themselves that they've made in-game, though unfortunately the textures don't look great up close.)

Much of the quests here point to obvious things given the next expansion: the Alliance and Horde are racing to capitalize on the Azerite pouring out of the wound while Khadgar and Magni urge a continuation to cooperation so that they can heal Azeroth.

Two things of note, though:

At least on the Alliance side (though I'd suspect Horde as well) you are sent to gather samples of the Silithid, who seem to be bouncing back very quickly from the destruction of their hives. Also bouncing back are Twilight's Hammer (there's a rare mob in the Twilight Camp you're sent to that I highly, highly recommend killing to get his journal, which I detailed when it was datamined here.)

The fact that the quests go out of their way to show that both the Silithid and Twilight's Hammer are doing fine really seems to confirm the importance of the Old Gods in Battle for Azeroth. The Silithid are linked to the Qiraji and thus C'thun, and have tended to swarm when C'thun makes a push on Kalimdor. And of course, Twilight's Hammer is dedicated to the chaos of the Void, which puts them on team purple. They were dealt a serious blow in Cataclysm, but they're the exact kind of "leadership not required" cult that makes them very, very hard to extinguish. I suspect we're going to be seeing a lot more of these guys in BFA.

So, with this, we close the book on Legion.

I want to do a retrospective on the expansion some time during the wait for Battle, but I can definitely say that this is one of the best they've done - possibly even the best over all. Certainly not flawless, but then, Wrath and Mists, which have historically been the ones I hear most people touting as best (Wrath for me, personally, though again I might say Legion instead) also had their own big flaws. Battle for Azeroth has a tough act to follow, and perhaps it wouldn't even be fair to expect it to be better than Legion (just don't be as bad as Warlords, please!)

Monday, January 8, 2018

Plenty of Progress, Only One Boss

It's kind of amazing to me how far into the game Irithyll Dungeon felt at the time, when now I return to it feeling as if it's a much easier, earlier area (some of the guards go down in one hit now.)

After defeating (kind of cheesily, as I used a summon) the Dragonslayer Armor, I went through the Grand Archives and actually managed to keep the ember I had used before it (and Champion Gundyr) all the way to an area basically past the Archives with a three NPC gank squad waiting for me. I whittled down their numbers, dying after I took down the caster, then again with the katana-dude, and then the last guy was not too hard on his own. This group feels very similar to the gank squad in Yahar'gul in Bloodborne, and I think I'm in a similar phase of the main game.

Anyway, with easy access to the bridge back into Lothric Castle, I decided to explore a bit. I went into Ariandel a bit more, and I'm rather shocked at how much I've gone through without hitting a true boss. It's a pretty labyrinthine area, but I've managed to get through the Corvian Settlement and defeated Friede's knight lackey and met "Aria" as the fans have come to call her. The subsequent area is a very twisty outdoor area that reminds me a lot of Bloodborne's Forbidden Woods, as the enemies aren't terribly difficult, but you're running a constant battle of attrition.

After dying there without making much progress but having killed about a million Follower soldiers, I went to Archdragon Peak. This area definitely feels like the "not messing around" secret tough part of the game. The Untended Graves was really cool and atmospheric, but other than Gundyr himself, was not terribly difficult. But these snake/dragon dudes are not messing around. I did manage to kill the Ancient Wyvern, which was not nearly as trivial as I expected such a gimmick boss to be. The worst part was when I made it to the end of the gauntlet but did my plunge attack at the wrong time, missing the dragon and splattering myself on the stones below. The subsequent parts of Archdragon Peak do not seem terribly easy either, so I'm weighing my options on where I want to go next.

For now, these progress reports are kind of for my own reflection later on, though I'm eager to write a big comparison between Dark Souls III and Bloodborne at some point.

Embers, Gundyr, and Ornstein's Armor

Fighting my way up to Dragonslayer Armor, which guards the bridge between Lothric Castle and the Grand Archives (there's another you cross later to get back,) I decided that, with 42 Embers in my inventory, I might as well see if there were any hostile NPC invaders. Well, there weren't, but I did find a guy to summon and figured I might as well use that ember on my first attempt against the Dragonslayer Armor.

Holy crap did that make that fight easy. Given that I think a big part of it is that the armor has a massive shield, having someone distract it so that its back is exposed made the fight ridiculously easy. I don't know if I should count it alongside Deacons of the Deep and Yhorm the Giant as the 1-shot bosses (I did have help on Yhorm, but that was a reward for a quest chain.) Anyway, high on that victory, I looked for a summon sign in the Untended Graves.

It turns out there was an NPC invader there. Getting some nice hits in, she then fell off the cliff and I have no idea if there was loot she might have had because it all went bye-bye (I wonder if there's an in-game way to recover "lost" loot.) Anyway, I summoned the Sword Master to fight Gundyr (who had taken my like a dozen attempts) and I easily took him down (aside from one scary moment where he grabbed me and nearly flung me off the cliff.)

I got the Firekeeper's Eyes, but I'm going Lord of Hollows/Usurp the Flame ending on this character, so I'll be careful not to summon the Firekeeper at the end.

So now in the main game I just have Ancient Wyvern, the Nameless King (which I gather is very hard,) Lothric/Lorian, and the Soul of Cinder. However, I think I'm now in a good place to really push into Ariandel (I had one brief attempt when getting frustrated with Gundyr,) which I'll probably do either after getting Lothric down or perhaps getting whatever the closest shortcut to him is.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Giant, a Dancer, a King, and Working on a Familiar Champion

So either I've gotten good at Dark Souls or I've learned enough persistence that I manage not to get frustrated.

Having completed all of Siegward's quests, the Yhorm the Giant fight, which I suspect would be easy even solo (once you figure out how to use the Stormruler correctly,) was extremely silly as Siegward used his own Stormruler to blast the giant with its attacks, drawing Yhorm's attention while I was able to charge up my sword with impunity. I had one last toast with Siegward before I was drawn away to the entrance to Lothric Castle, but returned to find Siegward's Catarina armor and his sword (my understanding is that, duty fulfilled, he died.)

With three Lord of Cinder dead, I was able to fight the Dancer of the Boreal Valley, who I believe you can actually fight even before Vordt if you murder the old lady in that room (but that wouldn't be nice.) The Dancer is a really odd fight - at least at first she'll often seem to ignore you, and you might miss her not because she's dodging but because she's just walking away. But when she does attack, her swords come in at very unpredictable angles. Thankfully, I'd just gotten enough vitality to wear some decent armor and still be able to dodge, so I could dance with her, and after five or six attempts I got her down (I'm definitely hitting harder bosses, with Yhorm as an exception.)

From there, I went left into the Consumed King's Garden and faced down Oceiros. Ironically, the second phase of the fight is actually easier, as his attacks are easier to dodge (though he charges across the room so quickly that it's hard to keep up.) With him down, I was able to get into the Untended Graves area.

So now I'm working on Gundyr round 2 (or round 1, if your interpretation is that this is in the past. Alternatively, it might also be round 1 if this is an alternate universe.) I believe his moveset is an expansion of his phase 1 in the first fight. My best attempt (down to about 15%) involved using the Buckler to parry a lot, though it's hard to tell exactly which of his attacks can be parried.

With the Way of the Dragon gesture, I should be able to go to Archdragon Peak. I'm considering starting the Ashes of Ariandel DLC before I attempt the Nameless King, though.

I also decided to use my Titanite Slab on the Hollowslayer Greatsword, as it has worked very well for me over the course of the game. So with that fully upgraded, I'll look into what other weapons to upgrade. I'd love to use all boss weapons (the Dancer's twinswords are pretty appealing) but I don't know how many Titanite Scales I'll be able to find.

I've got the Black Eye Orb to fight Leonhard, but the couple times I've tried he's absolutely trounced me. I imagine this guy is kind of like the Bloody Crow of Cainhurst - the pinnacle of NPC duels. Oh well, it's not like I don't have a ton of stuff left even if the main game is getting into its final act.

Monday, January 1, 2018

2018 in Azeroth

Happy New Year!

As we enter a new, even-numbered year, we can now look forward to a new World of Warcraft expansion coming before the next time we do the whole champagne-and-fireworks routine (or in my case, driving around sick friends and siblings on a decidedly low-key New Year's.)

So what does 2018 have in store for WoW?

First off, while the Antorus raid is fully open and Argus the Unmaker has been defeated on Mythic, there's still some stuff still on the way. Tomorrow (Tuesday) the third Raid Finder wing will open, with Kin'garoth, the Coven of Shivarrah, Varimathras, and Aggramar available to fight, and in two weeks, the final wing, with Argus the Unmaker, will open up on LFR.

From that point, the big question is how long we have to wait for something else.

We are likely to start hearing about the Beta for Battle for Azeroth some time in late winter or early spring. It probably won't start until spring, unless Blizzard does truly succeed in accelerating their launch schedule (though I'm very much in favor of quality over speed.) If the pattern holds, we can then probably look forward to a fall release.

However, if you're worried about the prospect of many months without anything new to do in WoW, I think there's some reason to be optimistic: After the success of the pre-launch availability of Demon Hunters, particularly in that it allowed some players to take their Demon Hunters directly into the new expansion on launch day, I imagine that they might push for this kind of thing with all "new character incentives." And that, to me, along with the datamining that showed that more or less everything you need to allow Highmountain Tauren, Lightforged Draenei, Void Elves, and Nightborne are already in the game files for 7.3.5, suggests that they will probably allow players to create Allied Race characters well before Battle for Azeroth launches (except for Zandalari Trolls and Dark Iron Dwarves, who will probably not be unlocked before level 120.)

With the new level scaling in the old world, leveling up new characters should be a more compelling experience - you'll be able to finish out the story in certain zones without feeling you've got to move on in order to be more efficient. You'll also be able to pick and choose between certain pairs of expansions' content. I suspect that a lot of my new characters might go straight to Northrend after finishing up the 1-60 experience.

It might actually take longer to level, which I know some people will not be happy with. But I think the main intention is to make the leveling process itself feel more like an actual game than a prerequisite for getting into the "real" game. Releasing Allied Race characters during a relative lull in the main game would be a great way to incentivize more of a "stop and smell the roses" style of leveling.

One benefit of having a big lull before Battle comes out is that you'll have plenty of time to finish out certain things on alts (or mains.) I know that I'm going to try for the challenge artifact appearance on my Protection Paladin, and if I have the time and energy, I'll try for a few other specs as well (I really like the Frost Mage look too.)

Now, once Battle for Azeroth does come out (I really can't speculate that much on a release date, except that launching before September would be highly unusual,) we'll of course have tons of new stuff to explore. There are systems, stories, and environments that we've only seen brief glimpses of, and many are sure to undergo big changes. We're entering a brave new world without artifacts (not too difficult to imagine) nor tier sets (somewhat crazier.)

I'm eager to delve into the new lore of the expansion (which I feel I've been focusing on more lately on this blog,) from the shifting conflict between the factions (I'm kind of shocked/horrified that Undercity is going to be destroyed. I'm less upset about Darnassus) to the shadowy threat underneath it all (how crazy would it be if it weren't actually Old Gods?) I really want to see how the major conflicts of WoW play out in a world where we've managed to defeat even the Burning Legion. And, of course, I want to see new aspects of the lore explored.

Friday, December 29, 2017

No Wall Yet: Fingers Crossed in Dark Souls III

Well, here I am, back in Anor Londo. The place where I hit the wall that prevented me from beating Dark Souls. Only now, instead of being at the highest peak (give or take the Duke's Archives) and bathed in sunlight (which I understand to be an illusion you can dispel later on) it's a snowy ruin in the Boreal Valley.

After fighting my way through Irithyl - an interesting take on Dark Souls' urban environments in that it was clearly abandoned in some way but not in ruins - I made it to Pontiff Sulyvahn. I was pretty convinced that this would be the first really infuriatingly difficult boss, given that I could barely hit him the first four or five attempts. But then I discovered the wonders of the Buckler - I believe that in Dark Souls III (maybe the original as well,) small shields make up for their lack of 100% physical damage reduction by giving you a wider parry window. And with Sulyvahn going crazy with his massive flurry of attacks, it wasn't hard to get a parry in there and take a massive chunk out of his health.

Also useful was getting some lighter armor so I could dodge more effectively - he clones himself at 50% and you need to be able to dodge the clone's attacks before parrying the boss. Once I even attempted the parry method I think I beat him either in one or two attempts.

We're pretty well into the mid-game here, and I've done all I need for the Usurp the Flame ending (poor Anri... or... maybe she's fine? I don't know how it works for Hollows, but that's the most fucked up "wedding" I've ever seen... well, at least among those that went as planned, so not counting the Red Wedding.) One of the cool things in Dark Souls is that good and evil are pretty ambiguous. I mean, ok, Aldritch (and Sulyvahn, who kind of orchestrated Aldritch's actions) is very definitely evil. But is the Usurp the Flame ending the "evil" one? Given the endless cycle that seems to just be getting more and more miserable as it goes, the idea of doing something new with the fire seems like not such a bad idea. Does your character become some kind of dark emperor? Well,  yes, by definition, but again we're not exactly sure whether Dark and Evil are the same. (Are dark and the abyss even the same? And what is the Deep?)

Anyway, I was very happy that I helped out Siegward at the Cathedral of the Deep because he rescued Greirat in Irithyl. I'm led to understand that Patches can do this as well, but only if he has the Catarina armor still. Kind of cool to know that Patches can actually do something nice for once.

I've been thinking a lot about how to do another character. This guy was originally supposed to be Strength-based, but your options for weapons seem a lot broader with Dexterity. Still, I think the next character will probably be a caster (I'm thinking Faith-based.) I'm beginning to understand a little better why one might go for infusions that remove scaling - if your character is a caster, that means most of their weapons won't scale with their main output stat, and so having a weapon that just does a bunch of damage regardless of your stats seems powerful, especially early in the game. I could imagine focusing on survival stats in the early game even on a STR/DEX character using this method and only pumping stuff into the throughput stats (aside from what is needed to equip items) once the scaling would make it better.

While the core gameplay is very similar, I'm understanding how much simpler the stats and equipment in Bloodborne are. I wouldn't mind seeing a Bloodborne 2 (well, I could end the sentence there) that diversified things like Hunter Tools a bit more, but there's also something kind of nice about knowing that you can pour Blood Echoes into your main stats without fear.

Anyway, in the main game I think I basically have Aldritch (with the main doors to Anor Londo open, I assume that I can just run into O&S's old room) and then Irithyl Dungeon (I believe I know how to get there...) the Old Demon King and the rest of the Demon Ruins (which I've partially explored,) the Profaned Capital (which I believe is super-short, not unlike this game's Anor Londo) and then Lothric Castle and the end of the game.

However, I've also got both the DLCs. I talked to Gael when I first showed up in the Cleansing Palace at the Cathedral of the Deep, but after I got the first bonfire I left, intending to return when I was ready. I figure I'll try to get at least Dragonslayer Armor down before I do any of the DLC stuff, and then go Ariandel before Ringed City.

So I'm in no danger of running out of game anytime soon. Not to mention all the stuff I'm sure I've missed.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Dark Souls III: No Wall Yet, Fingers Crossed

When I played Dark Souls, I hit the Ornstein and Smough wall. I had heard that they were the hardest boss, and boy did they seem to be. But either because I've played through all of Bloodborne or because Dark Souls 3 isn't as hard, I've been going through bosses at a decent rate.

After the Curse-Rotted Greatwood I went down the Road of Sacrifices and found the Crystal Sage first. As with the other bosses, it's taking be 3-4 attempts per boss (with one exception,) and while it was pretty easy to get this guy to phase 2, I had to learn to patiently eliminate some of his clones before wailing on him in order to take him down.

From there, I went to the Cathedral of the Deep, which is a pretty large and complex part of the game. I eventually got through the Patches encounter - an NPC I actually seem to have missed in Dark Souls 1, perhaps because I did the Undead Tomb (or whatever that area was called) a little early (I also lost my Pinwheel boss souls, which was infuriating.) I did the next part of the Leonhard quest chain - I believe I have to get to the Profaned Capital for the next part. I also got Siegward his armor back (spending my Deacons boss souls on it.)

While the Cathedral itself was very tricky (and there are definitely a couple of it that I still need to explore,) its boss, the Deacons of the Deep, was the only boss so far that I've one-shot. I think it's basically the Witch of Hemwick of the game - a simple puzzle, but once you figure it out, it's quite easy. (It helped that rather than surrounding the "enflamed" member, they simply got between me and the one they were protecting, meaning that I could easily run around the crowd to the back and take out the target.)

Next I went into Farron Keep, which was actually not as terrible a poison swamp area as I expected (I expected Blighttown.) On to the Abyss Watchers, it took again, about three or four attempts before I made it. I realized that damage reduction was not worth it if you couldn't dodge, so I got a bit of a mix of armor sets, still using my 100% physical reduction shield (I think the Dragon Crest) to break up combos. The Watchers don't have much health - it's just that getting a hit in is tricky. Also, they probably have my favorite boss music in the game so far.

I then sojourned into the Catacombs of Carthus. I definitely need to explore this area further (I think the Demon Ruins are below it?) I met Anri for the next step of the Usurp the Fire questchain, though I think I need to get into the aforementioned Demon Ruins to continue.

I did go and defeat High Lord Wolnir, which I really hope hasn't screwed up that quest chain. The first two attempts, I thought I was going to win because I got two of his bracelets off, but then I got swallowed by the Abyss fog, so the next time I played a lot more conservatively (I also attacked the single bangle on his right wrist first, and oddly didn't see any skeletons spawn in the final, successful attempt. I suppose this is Dark Souls' take on a Lich, which is pretty cool.

Anyway, I think my post-boss ember for Wolnir was the shortest-lived yet, as I immediately died to the beast thing that pops up on the bridge as you enter Irithyl of the Boreal Valley.

So, I think what is left for me in the main game is the Old Demon King, Pontiff Sulyvahn, Aldritch, Yhorm, Dancer of the Boreal Valley, Oceiros, Champion Gundyr, Nameless King, Dragonslayer Armor, Lothric, and the Soul of Cinder. But I think that I'll treat Dragonslayer Armor as the "Micolash" of the game, as a boss that will lead me into the DLC, starting with Ariandel and then the Ringed City. Here I was worried I was plowing through the game too quickly, but I've still got a ton of bosses left.