Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Fate of Illidan Stormrage and the Final Boss of Legion

Well, now that Nighthold is out, I think we start talking about the spoilers for the end. If you didn't see it, a video of the cinematic that runs after beating Gul'dan was actually unearthed well before the release of the raid. Now that it's out, I think we can talk about it with only minimal spoiler warnings.

So spoiler alert.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Arcane in Bloodborne

Replaying Bloodborne on two new characters, I'm really struck by how great this game is. While not perfect (I hate having to slaughter all of Hemwick whenever I run low on Blood Vials or Quicksilver Bullets. Oh, and I hate that there's no freaking pause button - there's a reason that's a feature in pretty much every game) the game has an amazing sense of tone, ridiculously good level design, and combat that flows in a fantastic way.

I've been playing two characters (the original is chilling out in the Hunter's Dream at the start of his New Game Plus.) The first is a Skill-based character who uses the Blade of Mercy, whose transformed version is a whole lot of fun (and made Micolash way easier than it was my first time around, as I was able to close distance and stun-lock him on the last phase.)

While Skill weapons tend to be much faster and better for multi-attacks, the playstyle is not terribly different from a Strength character.

Arcane, on the other hand, is a very different beast. And one that is equal parts cool and frustrating.

I think every trick weapon has some kind of Arcane scaling, but this doesn't work the way you'd expect it to. Actually, it does on a couple of weapons - those that have inherent magic damage like the Blade of Mercy (which gets a little Arcane damage,) Logarius' Wheel, and Tonitrus, or of course the Flamesprayer or Rosmarinus.

For your standard issue trick weapons like the Saw Cleaver, the scaling only means anything if you have an elemental gem that turns the weapon's damage into magic damage rather than the standard physical/thrust/blunt.

What this means is that, unless you have a gem that adds some physical damage back into the mix, the weapon doesn't really scale with Strength or Skill anymore, and purely goes off Arcane. Which is great if you've got an Arcane character.

The trick is that until you have elemental gems, your main stat isn't going to be doing much.

Thankfully, you can start to get Fire gems relatively early, and until then you can rely on your base stats to get enough damage to make it through the first few bosses. Also, items like the Molotov Cocktail scale with Arcane, so if you make use of those you can get something out of your stat.

The current problem I'm running into is that I have all of one Bolt gem, and I don't know where to get more. Theoretically they can drop off the sideways-mouth werewolves in the Nightmare Frontier, but I've only gotten Crescent gems - a slot I filled a while ago. While I have a complement of Fire gems, it would be nice to get some Bolt options to use now that I'm on a pretty Kin-heavy part of the game (I've defeated every main boss you can do before Rom, except those in the DLC.)

Of course, Arcane also gets fun toys. While I used Augur of Ebrietas on my Strength character, he just had barely enough to use it. Given that it automatically has S-Scaling with Arcane, you can do some really nasty damage with it. Of course, the Hunter Tools tend to take bullets, so you don't get to use them all the time, but they do change up the gameplay in fun ways.

(PS: The fun you can have with the Hunter Tools can make some bosses significantly easier. Using the Tiny Tonitrus, which sends a wave of lightning forward, doing strong bolt damage to everything it hits, I was able to utterly trivialize the Celestial Emissary fight (the smaller kin running toward me all got one-shot by the tool while it took about a fifth of the health of the boss with each strike) and going in against Ebrietas with a bolt (and anti-kin)-empowered Ludwig's Holy Blade and Tiny Tonitrus and I was able to one-shot her as well with relative ease. Obviously, you need enemies that have a vulnerability, and I don't think there's a terribly good Fire Hunter Tool available.)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

7.2 Class Mounts Come in Multiple Colors

In 7.2, every class will get a class mount. They will all be flight-capable so that you can take to the skies once Broken Isles Pathfinder Part Two is completed (which might take a while, as you need exalted reputation with the new Legionfall faction.)

We got a little preview at Blizzcon, but for those Frost or Blood Death Knights who weren't all that keen on riding around on a fel-green drake or similar, here's some good news: the class mounts are coming in different colors. In effect, there are multiple mounts for each class that are all color variants on the mount.

At this time I don't know how one acquires the alternate colors of the mounts - it's possible you make a choice when you complete the quest at the end of the campaign chain, but I'd hope you can acquire all of the mounts for your class (for example, using the elementally-appropriate Mage disc for your current spec.) I'd imagine you might just have to pay gold for the other colors, but it remains to be seen.

MMO Champion has a page with the current models. As you can see, some classes have as many as four color variations while a couple, like Monks and Shamans, currently only have one. That being said, I'm almost totally certain that this is just a temporary PTR thing, and that they might still be deciding on the palettes of the alternate mounts for various classes.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Dark Souls III - The Ringed City DLC Announced

Dark Souls III is getting a second (and I believe final) DLC, and they have just announced it. The DLC is called The Ringed City, and while the trailer is typically vague, there's some clear inferences one can draw:

The transformation of the Darksign at the beginning of the trailer from the typical red flame into the white flame heavily suggests a connection with the "Usurp the Flame" ending of the main game. In the last part of the game, the sun has been eclipsed by something (capital D Darkness presumably) and looks just like a Darksign floating in the sky. If you do the Usurp the Flame ending, the (still-eclipsed) sun turns white, which seems to suggest that the First Flame really has transformed into something else.

Given that the Usurp the Flame ending is all about your character becoming the Lord of Hollows and will presumably mean the ascent of Londor, I really have to imagine that "The Ringed City" of the DLC will, in fact, be Londor.

I don't know exactly how the theories go regarding Londor. Frankly, I don't recall if Oolacile and New Londo were the same place, but I believe that New Londo might be where Londor exists - so often the locations in Dark Souls are kind of written over the last, like the Painted Worlds and the fact that Irithyl is (spoilers) Anor Londo.

If this is Londor, I wonder what's there. The Dark Souls lore is vague enough that even if it's filled with Sable Church-affiliated beings, it might still make sense for you to fight them even if you're on the path to becoming the Church's prophesied messiah.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Tier 20 is an Updated Tier 6

There are two totally understandable reactions you might have to the following: On one hand, the tier sets we're getting in the Tomb of Sargeras raid are rehashes - they're updates of existing tier sets, with the obvious exceptions for classes that didn't exist at the time - and one could be disappointed that we're not seeing totally new designs.

On the other hand, tier 6 has got to be one of the most popular series of armor sets they've ever made. While I find myself partial to tier 8 (Ulduar) for a lot of classes, Tier 6 is also a set of classics. For example, while I tend to go around in Tier 8 Aegis on my Paladin, I don't think you could argue that there's any set that embodies what it means to be a Paladin than Tier 6 Lightbringer (Yes, even Tier 2 Judgment.)

There's another benefit to this decision, which is that for those of us who like using these sets for Transmog, we've definitely come to a point where their age is showing. Tier 6 came out in 2007, which you'll note is ten years ago (holy crap I'm old.) And as much as I love my Lightbringer set, it just doesn't look like it fits in the same world as all the high-rez models you see now.

You can look at the sets at MMO-Champion.

In addition to bulking up the resolution and doing some minor redesign to be more in line with what we expect these days, there are also color variations for different raid difficulties (of course, at the time of Hyjal and Black Temple, there was only one raid difficulty.) It also looks like the Mythic raid models will be beefed up in the way they've been since Tier 17.

Now, obviously, Death Knights, Monks, and Demon Hunters didn't have tier sets for those raids, what with the fact that they didn't exist yet (in fact, Demon Hunters would have been fighting for the "bad guys" in Black Temple.) So these sets are going to be totally new.

Death Knights get an appropriately skull-covered set with a helmet that looks more like a traditional knight visor than you tend to see in WoW (it's kind of amazing to me that there hasn't ever been a plate set, even at low levels, that actually looks like a traditional suit of armor.)

Monks get a fairly White Tiger-themed set (though it comes in a bunch of different color variations.) It's got your standard giant beads and a strong Xuen theme.

Demon Hunters get a set that looks pretty similar to what you'd expect - lots of demonic horns and such with bright green accents over quasi-metallic pads.

Given that Nighthold literally just came out a couple days ago, we've got a very long time before any of this becomes available, but I'm actually pretty happy about this tier set idea. The question is how hard it will be to get the different color variations.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Nighthold Releases Tomorrow

While we've had the Emerald Nightmare since right after the launch of the expansion and the Trial of Valor for a good while now, tomorrow sees the release of the main piece of Legion's first true raid tier.

Nighthold will have ten bosses, and will be divided into four LFR wings, with the first wing launching a week from tomorrow.

Gear drops from LFR will be in the 855-865 range, meaning that even if you've been running Mythic dungeons or Normal Emerald Nightmare, there will be a decent motivation to run Nighthold on any difficulty, and that's before we consider that we'll be getting tier sets.

Tier sets this time around will actually include cloaks, giving players more flexibility if they want to get their 4-piece bonus (pretty important given legendaries.)

Nighthold's release is not really a patch (technically speaking this is 7.0 content) so I don't think we'll be seeing very much in the way of world content to come with it, but we got most of that through 7.1 with the Suramar quests.

With Nighthold, the first act of Legion will be complete - kind of crazy to think that this will happen several months after launch. But while I wouldn't expect to see any major content released before 7.2, the good news is that 7.2 will probably be going on the PTR not long after the release of the raid.

7.2 of course will be opening up a quest campaign on the Broken Shore, giving us a new faction, new class campaigns (that will give us class mounts, as well as branching artifact challenges to unlock new skins,) as well as a new dungeon and the tier 20 raid, Tomb of Sargeras, not to mention new world content like legion invasions in the Broken Isles, the ability to unlock flight on the Broken Isles, and heroic (in other words, queueable) versions of The Arcway, Court of Stars, and Return to Karazhan.

We also know that 7.3 will be taking us to Argus, though we don't have any details beyond that.

Thankfully, in huge contrast with Warlords of Draenor, not only do we have a ton of content already, but we've got a ton on the way.

Music, Horror, and Terror in Bloodborne

There are a number of ways that a FromSoft Soulsborne game lets you know what you're playing - there's the punishing difficulty, the brilliant level design, and one factor you might forget in the middle of playing - the lack of music.

When I saw the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men, I remember reaching the end, and as the credits rolled, I thought about how the music in the end credits felt very different from the sound of the movie prior to that. What I hadn't realized until I talked about the movie with a friend was that there was no non-diagetic music in the entire movie until the credits rolled. (For those of you unfamiliar with the term non-diagetic, what it means is music that doesn't exist in the world of the story. If a character is listening to music on a car stereo, that's diagetic. But if it's music that we hear but none of the characters do, like the Indiana Jones theme playing while Indie kills Nazis, that's considered non-diagetic.)

Most video games use music constantly. Just about anyone can hum the Mario Bros. theme that played on a loop through the first game's World 1-1 (and a fair number can also do the "Underground" theme from 1-2,) and games have typically had ambient music playing in most situations.

But in a game like Bloodborne, music has very specific meanings. There is a rather calm (if troublingly mournful, because you're never allowed to feel totally safe) theme that plays in the Hunter's Dream, but with one major exception, I don't think you ever hear music unless you're fighting a boss.

And a lot of the boss themes are really intense. The Cleric Beast/Vicar Amelia theme (and its reprise in the fight with Laurence, the First Vicar) is a pounding chant of overwhelming terror, with people singing about holy blood in latin.

A lot of the boss music is designed to really drive home that the time for suspense is over - we're moving past horror and into terror. (Stephen King and I use opposite definitions of the two terms - in my mind, horror is all about the suspense and uncertainty, where you honestly don't know what to do but feel that you really need to make up your mind quickly, while terror is that sudden jolt of fear where you've chosen fight or flight but you're now convinced you chose the wrong option.)

What makes this rule so interesting is that, late in the game, they break it. After you kill Rom, the Vacuous Spider, not only is the Paleblood Moon revealed, transitioning out of the black midnight (which you got to by beating Vicar Amelia) and into the otherworldly purple sky state in which all the Amygdalas on the buildings are now fully visible) but you also get transported to Yahar'gul, the Unseen Village.

Bloodborne is full of fairly disturbing images, but Yahar'gul is, in a game where you travel into literal nightmares, the most disturbing place you encounter. One of the major motifs of Bloodborne is that there are statues everywhere. Yharnam's crazy for them (and crazy by just about every other measure.) But while the absurd number of statues does raise some interesting questions about how obsessive and nuts the people of the city are, as far as I can tell these statues are really just that - hunks of rock carved into the shapes of people (and other things.)

But in Yahar'gul, the figures of people found throughout really, really do not seem to be mere statues. They are seemingly fleeing something, and some have fused into the sides of buildings and into each other. And when you encounter the various undead constructs, ultimately leading to your confrontation with The One Reborn, it becomes clear that the School of Mensis, who appears to be running the show at Yahar'gul, has been kidnapping people and subjecting them to this most horrific of transformations.

And it's here that there is music throughout the entire level.

If music in Bloodborne is supposed to transition you from horror into terror, then perhaps the use of music throughout Yahar'gul is the experience of prolonged terror. If horror is about suspense, it carries with it the possibility that things aren't actually so bad. Sure, you might be staring down a long, dark basement staircase, but if you flip the light on, it may be that it's just an empty basement where you keep bottles of wine or something. By revealing the Paleblood Moon, we've effectively turned the lights on throughout Yharnam. But instead of finding out that the world isn't so bad after all, we instead are confronted with the worst thing we've seen in an already very dark and disturbing game.

Music is typically reserved for the moments of high action, when we're confronting a terrifying beast and desperately trying to stay alive long enough to take the monster down. But here, the fight is not specifically one that involves a tough enemy (though we eventually get there with the One Reborn.) Instead, the music suggests that prolonged terror takes on the form of bleak disgust. You don't get the luxury of having a quick couple-minute fight where the bad guy goes away in a burst of white light. And you don't have the luxury of doubting that you're seeing the things you're seeing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

7.1.5 Live Today

Over here on the West Coast (of the US, to be precise) it's Tuesday, meaning that it is patch day.

7.1.5 is one of the promised "in-between" patches for Legion. We're not getting any grand new content* but we are getting some major class tuning, the adjustment and addition of many legendaries, and a few additions to existing features.

First off, the Brawler's Guild is coming back. Sadly, our old invitations are no longer valid, but it looks as if you'll be able to get them from multiple sources, like Emissary Caches, final bosses of dungeons, and some elite outdoor guys in Shield's Rest (the island in NE Stormheim.)

The patch will also add Mists of Pandaria timewalkers to the rotation, including all six of the original-to-Mists dungeons. There's a new mount and some other new collectables to go with the event, with a vendor at the Timeless Isle. Blizzard has said that we won't see Warlords timewalkers until at least the next expansion, with an expected pattern of having timewalkers only be for two expansions ago or earlier.

The patch will also bring with it micro-holidays. You can think of these kind of like Talk Like a Pirate Day and Day of the Dead - they won't have the extravagant stuff like bosses or meta-achievements. Instead, these holidays are meant to just liven up the world a little and give people an opportunity to do fun little things on occasion.

*While it's not technically part of the patch (in fact, it was added to the game files at launch,) the Nighthold raid is opening up the week following 7.1.5. The Nighthold is the official tier 19 raid, with sets and everything. As usual, Normal and Heroic will open up immediately, while Mythic and the first LFR wing will open up a week later, with new LFR wings opening up gradually over the course of the next month or two.

The Nighthold has ten bosses, including notable figures like Tichondrius, Grand Magistrix Elisande, and Gul'dan.

As of the most recent Blizzcon, we know a little about the patches going forward in Legion. 7.2 will add world content to the Broken Shore (right now it's just an island full of boss-level demons) and of course the Tomb of Sargeras raid. I would expect this patch to arrive some time in either late Spring (likely very late spring if then) or in the summer. We also know that we'll be going to the Eredar (which includes the Draenei) homeworld, Argus, in 7.3. We can probably infer that Legion's final raid will be coming in either 7.3 or 7.4, though the latter patch has not been announced (it really depends on whether 7.3 is going to be the final patch of the expansion or if it will set up Argus for a raid that comes later.)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Darkening of Tristram

So I went in and blasted through the Darkening of Tristram, Diablo III's 20th anniversary event. This essentially recreates the original Diablo in Diablo III's adventure mode, doing some fun things like pixelating the graphics, changing the UI, altering run animations and simplifying the sound effects to make it feel more like the game from the 90s.

You can access this by going to the ruins of Old Tristram in adventure mode, where you'll find a portal transporting you back.

It's then a linear (for Diablo) trip down through the depths of the cathedral.

There are four bosses, The Butcher, the Skeleton King, Archbishop Lazarus, and the Dark Lord himself. The first two bosses can be missed - I didn't actually see the Skeleton King on my run - but Lazarus is required to get into the final level where Diablo is.

I'll confess that I find Diablo III's endless hack-and-slash gets a little tiring after a while, and given that this is recreating a 20-year-old game of the same sort, you can imagine that there's not much in the way of... plot?

Actually, when you beat Diablo, the old cutscene from the end of the game plays (with 90s era CGI,) which involves the Warrior plucking the gem from Diablo's head and putting it in his own head. What I do not understand is who the human who had had the Red Soulstone prior to this was. We know that the Warrior was the prince (and became the Dark Wanderer/Leah's dad) but this guy can't be Lazarus or Leoric, as both are already accounted for as earlier bosses.

You can get two in-game pets. One you can get after a little quest that starts with you getting a Rotten Mushroom from level 9, after which you can go around the ruins of Tristram and basically trade items between various corpses (reviving them as ghosts) until you get a recipe to craft Wirt's Leg. Crafting and then immediately salvaging it will give you a guide regarding three cow corpses next to Adria's Hut (in the flashback) that will open a path to a farm where there is a cow pet in a chest (don't click the cows until you have the guide on which order to click them in.)

The other pet, which I didn't get as I took my best-in-slot level 70 Crusader through, requires you to go in at level 1 and complete the event, which yields a little Butcher pet.

A Dance with the Vicar and Scenic Hemwick Charnel Lane

Until you get into the really mind-bending stuff in Bloodborne, most of the game's areas are shockingly closely-packed. And in fact, some areas that feel huge (usually due to the large density of deadly enemies) actually wind up being pretty small if you actually look at them. I also find it pretty ironic that "Central Yharnam" isn't really the "hub" area - Cathedral Ward clearly is.

Anyway, after wiping a couple times (one after maybe twenty seconds) to Vicar Amelia, I had the notion to go to Hemwick. Hemwick and the Nightmare Frontier are both right off the path up to the Grand Cathedral, though the paths are rather tricky to spot if you're running from church giants.

Hemwick was an area I used to use a lot to farm Echoes on my first run, and it really isn't a very hard place to get through. In fact, I'd argue that it's probably the easiest stretch of the game.

There are enough Twin Bloodstone Shards in Hemwick you can find here to upgrade a weapon twice (I'm using the Threaded Cane at the moment, though I think I missed the Powderkeg badge, which I think is in Old Yharnam but I could be wrong.) This, coupled with the ability to use Caryl Runes after killing the Witch(es) of Hemwick (that can't be a Witches of Eastwick reference, can it?) really improves your chances on Amelia if you go here first.

Once again, I one-shot the Witches, though there was a scary moment in there when I started to get swarmed by the adds. At this point I think that I'll be embarrassed if I ever die on that fight. We'll have to see how things go with Shadows of Yharnam, Amygdala, and... well, Mergo's Wet Nurse, Gerhman and the Moon Presence, though I don't really count those as I was super-leveled up to take out the Orphan of Kos before I fought them.

Anyway, with +5 Threaded Cane in hand and a couple modest Caryl Runes imbuing my brain with some bonuses, I came back and fought Vicar Amelia again, and this time things were a lot easier. I managed to stagger her and do a couple of visceral attacks, including the killing blow, which felt pretty satisfying. Too bad I won't hear that awesome Cleric Beast/Vicar Amelia boss music until I get to Laurence (or start working on New Game + with my original character.)

Anyway, I think that any subsequent run will have me heading off to Hemwick as soon as I can, as it's a lot smoother of a difficulty curve than going straight from Bloodstarved Beast to Amelia.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Bloodborne - Like Riding a Bike! A Bloody, Eldritch Bike

I decided to go back and play some Bloodborne after a few months of hiatus - unlike WoW, it's not really a came that expects any regularity in play.

I have a second character, this one built much more around Skill (I'd like to get the Rakuyo eventually as her main weapon I think) than my previous Strength-based one.

When I first started playing on my first character, the march through Central Yharnam was a slapstick exercise in getting routinely slaughtered. I actually ran this portion, up through defeating the Cleric Beast on my second character with very little difficulty. In fact, I one-shot the Cleric Beast (I did manage to one-shot (one-attempt, to be precise) a few bosses on my first run-through.

Coming back after a very long period without playing, I expected to have more difficulty than I did. While I did not kill Gascoigne on my first attempt, I did on my second. My gun-parry skills are way more on point than they were when I first started, and if you get really good at that you can pretty much trivialize the Padre. I basically just had one visceral attack to do after he transformed and he went down easy.

So now I'm trying to remember what to do for each quest chain. I've met Alfred and Eileen, though I think I need to get a bit farther to get Eileen to the Cathedral Ward. I believe I need to do Old Yharnam next, and I just got to its lamppost.

Given that I spoiled myself with a lot of stuff online, I don't necessarily think that I'll be able to find any huge revelations about the lore - it's not obvious that that stuff hasn't all been uncovered. But one thing that coming back to this game has reminded me of is just how fun it is. The combat system is so responsive and fluid. And I also just love the aesthetic of the game.

I'd love to see From work more on the Bloodborne IP with sequels, but I'd also be ok with them taking the idea of Bloodborne - a Souls game that escapes from the traditional medievalism - and doing something radically different.

One thought I had was a futuristic sci-fi Souls game that could have players as AIs (rather than Undead or dream-linked Hunters) who are restored to new bodies upon death. There's tons of themes to explore with artificial intelligence and aliens (though Bloodborne does obviously deal with aliens) and it would be cool to see the people who build Lothric and Yharnam construct a massive derelict space station.


Apparently not satisfied with only getting one boss down, I've now also taken out the Blood Starved Beast. This one was not so quick and easy, taking about four or five attempts (I'm pretty sure it took significantly more the first time.) BSB has very clear telegraphing for its most common attack, and I found that if you stay right in its face and dodge (leaning into the punch, as it were) it's not too bad. You'll have to pop an antidote every now and then (especially when it gets a poison aura) but I found that I really didn't have to use many blood vials.

Granted, I'm now pretty close to Vicar Amelia (I figure I'll not fight her until I've done more exploration in the Cathedral Ward and perhaps done the Henryk step of Eileen's quests,) and I'm sure there will be some fights that are a bigger speed bump. I think just knowing that I have beaten every boss in the game (except in the Chalice dungeons, I suppose) makes it easier to be calm in these fights, which is of course a huge advantage in these games.