Thursday, December 24, 2015

Steam Sale 2015 is on!

Title says it all, The Steam Sale started December 22nd and this year promises all the same goodies ( and crap) as last year.

Check it out while you can.  Sale is over January 4th, 2016 which from years past really means January 3rd...

Monday, December 14, 2015

Path of Exile - 6 reasons it's moved to the back burner

I won't even add the qualifier, "arguably."

Path of Exile is hands down the best RPG (free or otherwise) that I've played in years.  It's honest and isn't in your pocket just to advance a level.  What you put into it is what you get out of it and if you're a serious RPG player it's on your short list of games you play regularly.

So I'm not suggesting there's necessarily anything about the game that's all that horrible.   An avid RPG player will overlook any idiosyncrasies as being a normal part of playing an RPG.  A genre that demands more of a commitment than most others.   In short, one doesn't simply play a game like Path of Exile.  Rather you invest yourself in it like others invest in financial securities or a classic car.  You learn the ins and outs, make a few mistakes all the time hoping the effort will pay off.
Which brings me to why I'm backing away from Path of Exile.
In short, there's just not enough reward for the investment.
My reasons may rub some RPG devotees the wrong way but understand that I'm not new to all of this.  I've been gaming longer than most of my competition has been alive.  I've seen a lot of RPG's some better than others.  The best were not only immersive but fun to play.  

Fun is the operative word here.  To me fun is playing the game with little regard for the mechanics of it.
Which leads me to the first of my 6 reasons why Path of Exile isn't at the top of my list anymore.

1.  Character development  
Oh yeah, there's no end to the ways you can tweak and equip your character.  Which is part of the problem.  Want a witch that's a great archer?  You can do it.  Want a Marauder that casts a mean fireball?  You can do that too.  Just allocate the right points to the passive skill tree and you can make just about any combination you can imagine.  
It's that passive skill tree that's the biggest problem.  Allocating skill points can be a daunting task and even what looks like a great build can end up completely inadequate.  There's no end to community contributed "builds" all of which demand point allocations that are less than obvious.  Ignore them at your own risk when after 100's of hours you find yourself tossing out a character because you got the tree wrong.  Yes, you get a few "do-over's" in the form or re-allocation points but never enough to  fix a mature character's entire skill tree.

Which leads me to the next annoyance...

2. Updates
There's nothing wrong with a game developer keeping a game up to date.  Bug fixes, adding features and new content are all good things.  Except with Path of Exile update=upheaval.  If you thought Battlefield had way too many re balance tweaks and weapon nerfs just wait till a major update makes that cool spell that you built your witch around suddenly about as effective as a bad card trick.  New expansions to the game are even worse when your passive skill tree ( see a pattern here? )  is suddenly blank.  Now instead of playing the game you get to spend the next two hours trying to figure out where your points are supposed to go.  By the way if you put them back where you "think" they should be you may be in for a rude awakening.  Yes things change but having a long term character in Path of Exile is like having to go back to birth and start your life all over again every 6 months.  

Speaking of updates, they're huge!  Worse they're way too frequent and take forever to install as the game has to basically be recompiled to apply them.  It's a cumbersome and painful process that is unworthy of a game of this caliber.  

3.  LAG!
Good luck finding an online game that doesn't have problems with lag but Path of Exile's issues with it can be absolutely devastating.  Developers and players will refer to the most common symptom of lag as a "de-sync" issue where the player's game session is disconnected from the game's online servers.  A technical sounding term that only serves to cloud the obvious problem. That being, an online game that seems to have trouble staying ONLINE!

Random disconnects erasing all your hard won progress, characters appearing and disappearing seemingly at random and rubber banding are just some of the issues.  A game that requires tens of gigabytes of local storage space shouldn't be so sensitive to online issues especially when you're doing what most players do which is playing single player! 

 It's a perfect example of the ridiculousness of games demanding "always-on" Internet connections.  Grinding Gear's response to the problem has been to either blame the player's Internet connection (millions of them) or encourage the use of "deterministic lockstep" mode.  That's just a fancy, geeky name for "best guess" networking.  Instead of solving lag it makes it worse.  A game that requires such a huge investment in time shouldn't be plagued with an issue that wastes so much of it.


4. You need a PHD in RPG
Argue with me if you want but there's no way anyone is going to get very far in Path of Exile without getting intimately involved in all the mechanics of the game.  Nothing is set in stone aside from where the different character types start out in their stats and the passive skill tree.  I've had college classes that didn't require as much study as a good character build in this game.  It's not uncommon for players to go through half a dozen characters before they finally start to figure out how to build a decent one.  A glorious waste of time if like me you don't find it fun to do the same thing over and over again.
Even visiting a merchant in the game is an overly complex process as a myriad of "vendor recipes" (combinations of items) offer a dizzying array of possibilities if you happen to be clued in.  If you're not you can soon find yourself on the wrong end of a bad deal.  

Considering how precious and few useful items  can show up in the course of normal gameplay it seems like relying on all this secret sauce to get something of real value is a bit of a "dick" move.

5. Loot drops suck
Not much to say here.  90% of the loot drops in the game never rise above the level of an ingredient in a "vendor recipe."  Even boss battles can be less than satisfying when collecting the spoils of your victory.  Now it's true that higher levels and harder bosses drop better loot but not without significant risk.  Death comes frequently but ever more painfully as you progress into the cruel and merciless game modes where losing costs not only your pride but experience points.  

It's like fishing for a Morgan Silver Dollar in a garbage dump.  Valuable but you're going to sift through a lot of trash and probably still never find it.  Add in being chased around by a dozen T-rex's  while you sift through the dreck and you've got some idea of the challenge in finding decent loot in the harder game modes.

6. Cruel and Merciless
Normal mode is kind in Path of Exile.  Losing in battle cost nothing more than a little time and some pride.  The problem is you're not going to advance much further than level 50 or so  without moving into the harder game modes.   That means playing in Cruel and Merciless if you want to level up. 

And you DO want to level up...

Unlike Normal mode, losing in Cruel and Merciless costs you experience points which is far more punishing.  You have to realize that by the time you have a character that's progressed to the harder modes it's very difficult to gain experience on the sliding scale Path of Exile uses.   That means losing it hurts even more and it's far more likely to happen if you haven't quite figured out the passive skill tree.  

I've got no problem with harder boss battles and I'll fight them forever if it means I can progress but erasing hours of work (and at some point it does become work) seems unfair.  In fact it's this very attribute of Path of Exile that has had the most to do with my loss of interest in the game.    If a game requires grinding that's fine but I'm not going to stick around long if you're going to punish me for the effort.

So there you have it, the main reasons why I'm not playing Path of Exile much anymore.  Like the shallow breakup line goes, "It's not you, it's me" and it really is.  Some folks like to beat their head against the wall or make a video game a second career.  For me it's simple recreation.  I'm not quite hardcore but I'm not casual either.   I can get invested in a good game but there has to be a payoff somewhere.  If it starts becoming a hamster wheel I'm going to jump off.  

That's the big issue, there's  just not enough reward for all the time you risk.  The hardcore RPG gamer would say I miss the point and it's all about the journey and not the destination but my journeys need to eventually get somewhere worth going to.  

For me I haven't seen anything worth spending that much time trying to get to.    Yes there's Hardcore leagues and competitive events but now we're starting to drift into the whole competitive gaming thing again and you know how I feel about that.

Am I wrong?

Tell me on the Straw Poll  -----> Vote!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Grand Theft Auto 5 - What else do I need to say

Ok so I'm 8 months late but thanks to a STEAM sale and a generous friend ( Shotglass ) I've finally made my way into the mean streets of Los Santos.  Come along with me as I take my first tepid steps into the wild amusement park that is Los Santos.

Note that the video captures below are from a YouTube live streaming event which means it's real, raw and with a few uglies.  It's just like being there!