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Warlords of Draenor Day November 13, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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The date has finally arrived.  Warlords of Draenor, the long awaited 5th expansion for World of Warcraft has landed.  And if, like me, you were somewhat underwhelmed by the attention the game got inside of BlizzCon, rest assured that outside Blizzard was spending a lot of time drawing attention to the game.

WoD ad in Times Square

WoD ad in Times Square

The expansion launched in the US at midnight my local time, and midnight CET in Europe.  Blizz had a mini FAQ about the launch and how to access it, assuming you’re not already deep into the expansion.  I did not stay up for the launch (despite my daughter’s pleas) or play hooky for day one fun.  I will get online to see it tonight.  Everything should have settled down a bit by then, as there were reports of servers going down, denial of service attacks, and the usual set of “too many players in one location” problems.

I am looking for the announcement that somebody in Europe hit level 100 about the time I went to bed last night and some larger count of players who arrived at the level cap before I awoke. (Yeah, this.)

I spent the evening running up to the launch getting my rogue, mentioned in yesterday’s post, up to level 85 and into Pandaria.  I would say that there is something unique about getting into one expansion just hours before the next one launches, but there were a bunch of people also in the process of leveling up one last character before WoD.  I do not know if I am just on an especially active server or if that whole cross-server zones is tricking me, but I was never alone in a zone pretty much all the way up the ladder.  There was always somebody on the same quest, or running through the same quest hub.

Of course, the joined servers and cross-server zones might not seem like the best idea today, with people pouring back into the game.  This is where SOE’s ability to spawn multiple versions of zones pays off, awkward though it can sometimes be when you and your friends aren’t all in the same zone.

Many versions of the Frostfang Sea

Many versions of the Frostfang Sea

Piled with heirloom gear, going from level 83 into Pandaria did not take much time, so I looked into getting in on a Garrosh run.  If I had been an ilevel 550 or above healer, I could have gone on a mythic level run, but as an ilevel 515 retribution pally I couldn’t even find a normal mode group.

Earl was on as well, and he defended the honor of the guild, finishing up the epic quest line… which earns both a personal and a guild achievement… with just 7 hours to go before the expansion, at which point her turned around and got in on a Garrosh run and walked away with an ilevel 550 1h heirloom sword that will grow with him to level 100.  He will be a mighty DPS tank in our group… not that he hasn’t been up until now.

Ula had also found some time to get online and hit 600 in tailoring, finishing off the last tradeskill we needed for another guild achievement.  That also unlocked the heirloom pants at the guild vendor.  Trianis made it to Pandaria without heirloom pants!  Are they going to boost heirlooms to work until level 90 at some point, the way they boosted them from 80 to 85 previously?

Anyway, the dark portal looms, Draenor awaits, the focus of the game for probably the next two years will be on this map.

The Draenor you have

The Draenor you have

I also logged into EVE Online for a little while last night to participate in an operation.  I had not logged in for nearly a week (good thing that we are still deployed at the same location, or I would be a little lost lamb in the middle of Omist) and I suspect that I won’t be logging in this weekend unless there are serious problems with Warlords of Draenor.

Addendum: I noticed that when Mists of Pandaria came out I put up a list of the expansions and the gap of time between each, so I figured I should carry that forward.

  • WoW Launch to The Burning Crusade – 784 days
  • The Burning Crusade to Wrath of the Lich King – 667 days
  • Wrath of the Lich King to Cataclysm – 754 days
  • Cataclysm to Mists of Pandaria – 658 days
  • Mists of Pandaria to Warlords of Draenor – 778 days

Average time between expansions: 728 days, up 8 days from the previous launch.

Final Decisions Before Warlords of Draenor November 12, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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I have a seemingly simple decision to make about Warlords of Draenor, which is, to put it bluntly, “Who goes first?”

Who will I push through the dark portal into Draenor, which character of mine will be the first to see what is to be seen in the new expansion?

In the past, there has not been much in the way of a decisions.  I had a level cap character that was part of the instance group and a level cap character for solo play.  The instance group character would wait for the group while the solo character would head off on his own.  That worked through vanilla, The Burning Crusade, and Wrath of the Lich King.  My paladin, Vikund was part of the group and my hunter, Tistann, was my solo character.

And then came Cataclysm, which screwed up so many things.  The group tried new characters, quickly grew bored at the fast pace of the revamped old-world content, where epic dungeons like Sunken Temple were carved down to fit the “30 minute or less” run time that the Dungeon Finder seemed to demand.  We ran off to play other games after not too long, though if we had gone back to our old group and picked up where we left off at the end of WotLK, things might have gone better.

In the mean time, I ran my instance group character to level cap in Cata along with my solo character and then stopped playing.

Until I returned about a year after Mists of Pandaria, where I again ran my instance group character, Vikund, to the level cap along with Tistann.  And then the instance group returned to Azeroth and I had to get in there and level up one of my druids so I would have somebody to play in the group.  That druid, Alioto, is now level 90, as is my insta-90 character, a Death Knight named Tokarev.

So I have four level cap characters from which to choose, and potentially one more character on the way.  My rogue, Trianis, is level 83 already.  He won’t make it to 90 by Thursday (though weighed down in heirloom gear, he’ll be 85 tonight given 90 minutes of play time), but he could be an option for the instance group give our bad attendance of late.  He could be level 90 by the time all five of us are online at the same time.

This is basically the first time I have had this wide of a choice.

The Draenor Contestants

The Draenor Contestants

Who should I send off to do what?

Vikund

My oldest character in the game and the one I tend to think of a “me” in Azeroth and beyond, the character I most identify with.  He was a pain to level back in the day when Paladins had no ranged attack except versus undead and no sort of “charge” substitute like warriors.  I still remember being out in the crowded fields of Westfall having to run up to melee range of each mob only to have some mage or hunter tag the mob just before I got there.  Vikund represents both identity and ~effort~ of a sort.  So it is somewhat of a big deal to me where he goes.

My gut response is to use this moment when the whole group is back to the same level to trade him back in as a regular member.  His glory days… my glory days… were from when he got swapped into the group at level 40 to replace the rogue I rolled up.  The rogue was not working for me.  So Vikund stepped in and went through the back half of vanilla as well as all of The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King in the instance group.  There was a point when I was almost actually good at playing him.  And he is in a lot of those memory screen shots.

Through the years in Azeroth

Through the years in Azeroth

The flip side of this is that the instance group has been moving slowly of late.  Despite a blitz by four of us, the full group hasn’t finished Pandaria yet… and WoD is tomorrow.  I am not sure if I want to I want to leave him loitering while the group gets its act together for the expansion.  Furthermore, since the end of Wrath of the Lich King, Vikund has been my “do all the things” character.  He is the one who has the most exalted reps, who ground out Argent Tournament, who got the explorer achievement, and has basically become my “achiever” in Azeroth, as limited as my achievements might be.

So despite my desire to have him rejoin the group for old time’s sake, I think he will remain my trail blazer.  He will be the first one into Draenor, the first with a Garrison, the first to complete it, the one to do all the faction rep, the one who runs down every quest line, and so on.

Besides which, with him in the group we end up with two plate and three cloth wearers.  It would be nice to have somebody there to big on leather or mail.

Tistann

Tistann was my second character on the Eldre’Thalas server, and is second in my heart only to Vikund.  He was a hunter back when the class was complicated, awkward, and didn’t quite fit into the whole tank/healer/DPS scheme of things.  For quite a while, hunters were the odd class out.  But if there was a class that was completely unlike playing a paladin, the hunter was it.  Plus both classes were generally reviled for group play back in 2005.

But a hunter could solo like no other.  You lacked bag space because you had to devote a slot to a quiver or ammo pouch and you had to keep track of ammo as well as keeping food not just for yourself but also your pet.  I have a level 40 orc hunter sitting around that I will never delete because he is still equipped from circa 2006, with a quiver full of arrows and stacks of food for his pet.  However, your flexibility with a pet to cover for you made up for that.

So through the years Vikund has blazed the trail, worked his way up to level cap first, and then Tistann comes bouncing up to the cap right behind him, generally taking about half the effort.  Even at level cap in Pandaria, Vikund still has to work at soloing elites on Timeless Isle while Tistann and the right pet can blow through them non-stop without breaking a sweat, with a lower gear score to boot.  Part of that is me being bad at the game, but I am universally bad, so it also says something about hunters.

With that in mind, I think Tistann will continue on in his role of second to the summit solo.  I could bring him into the instance group.  That would give us a mail wearer.  But then we would end up as all ranged DPS.  Not that I am in love with melee DPS, despite the fact that is pretty much every other character on this list, but sometimes it is good to have somebody else on the boss even though running around and positioning yourself can be a pain.

Alioto

The real reason to make a druid is to get flight form, which may be the single best argument for having flight in World of Warcraft.  I used to think my default go to class was the hunter… until I counted characters and realized I had more druids than anything.  I have two druids on the alliance side of Eldre’Thalas.  If you are a true fan of druids, you have to have two because it is the only class that has four specs.  And there isn’t even a spec that really sucks.  Well, I’ve never warmed to Boomkin, but it gets play in the game.

Alioto is spec’d feral as his primary for DPS and whatever the tank spec is as a backup for evenings when Earl can’t make it and we want to go do something silly.  My other druid is spec’d healing and boomkin… I know these specs have actual names, but I never remember them… and is level 82, so could in theory make it to group level with some effort.  But DPS and backup tank actually fits well with the group, and actually being able to jump into bear form while in feral spec has saved us a couple of times.

So Alioto staying with the group is the default choice.  The easy choice.

That said, I am not exactly thrilled with feral DPS as a class/role, and doubly so after having played a real rogue up to level 83 already.  Feral spec has its moments, but it pales in comparison to a rogue.  But it is the spec that works with the group at the moment.

Tokarev

This is my insta-90 character.  Death Knights have always been somewhat interesting to be, but not enough to devote the effort to leveling one up to cap.  Tokarev has been around for a while, at least since WotLK, but has remained down the list when it comes to what to play.  So I decided to boost him.  So I went from having a level 68 that I played now and again to having a level 90 that I played now and again.  I also got a level 600 jewel crafter.  I ran him around a bit.  He is mostly equipped with Timeless Isle gear that he earned on his own.  He does a lot of damage.  So he might make a decent character to swap into the group.  A melee DPS who can take a punch and hold a boss for that last few seconds until he dies has some value.

Trianis

I am not sure where his name came from.  I think it was a name generator pick.  It certainly wasn’t from my collection of often re-used names.

But he was going to be a throw-away character in any case.  I rolled him up specifically as part of the summer Loremaster project.  He isn’t even on Eldre’Thalas, but on Korialstrasz, which might be the one server name more difficult to say that Eldre’Thalas.  The two servers are now joined, so he effectively plays in the same world as my other characters on Eldre’Thalas, but I have to change servers to log him in.  But he was just a temp, so no big deal.

And then, as I ran him through the 1-60 game and into The Burning Crusade, I really started to enjoy playing him.  I think was due to the fact that I did not go with the subtlety spec, which is what I have always picked in the past because rogues mean maximum stealth in my book.  This time I went with the combat spec, which ended up being a better play style for me.

And so, when I finally gave up on the Loremaster project at the end of Summer, I kept playing him.  I went slowly at first, getting him into WotLK.  Then I sped up some, using the Dungeon Finder to level him up through Northrend, which was both easy and showed that the combat spec worked well in a dungeon group.  I let him sit at 80 for a bit while I farmed materials for his tailoring and enchanting trade skills, which also made Vikund a tidy sum of gold.  The gray drops alone from WotLK and Cata heroics add up.  Then I piled on any herilooms I could buy/find on him and sent him into Cataclysm, where he has been good for a level a night with just about an hour invested.

The heirloom gravy train will be over soon, and which point I’ll send all that gear to my monk, but even leveling through Pandaria wasn’t a huge chore in past runs.  That is the blessing/curse of the five level expansions.  You can grind through them pretty quickly, but they also don’t provide as much substance.

So the question will be, can I level Trianis up in time to swap him in for Alioto in the instance group?  And should I?  I found the combat rogue more fun to play, even in groups, than the feral druid.

Other Last Minute Items

Who ends up doing what will be one of those things that will only be truly decided at the moment it is required.  I suspect Vikund will be first into Draenor.

But there are other things to think about, as in what to do with this last evening before the expansion.

I have been tempted, for example, to pay the 5K gold (saw it as low as 3.5K over the weekend) to go on a “Garry Carry” raid, where a guild sells you a spot on a normal mode Downfall run so you can defeat Garrosh and get that guaranteed bind on account heirloom items.  That will go away as soon as the expansion drops, and there is a minor compulsive feeling within me to “get it” before the opportunity is lost.

I also haven’t bothered to queue up and finish that special, pre-launch UBRS run, for which there is an achievement as I recall.  I did get in one group a while back, but it was a very bad group running all over the place.  So the second time we wiped on trash because the tank ran ahead while the healer was AFK, I left for other tasks.

Is there anything else I should do on the eve of the expansion?  By the time I get home from work tomorrow, Draenor will be open, people will be flooding through the Dark Portal in a reverse invasion, and there will be long lines for all the rides in the fun new section of the amusement park.  I will have to go in, just to see.  But after the first look, it might be worthwhile to go back to Trianis and get him a little closer to 90.  The only thing that has been slowing him down up to this point is that all of the Cataclysm zones seems to be quite active, full of players also driving to level up before the expansion.  Maybe they’ll all go away and I’ll have a bit of peace to move ahead.

What will you be doing on the eve of the expansion?

The Darkened Sea Brings EverQuest to Level 105 November 11, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest.
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Leaving aside the whole “launching two days before Warlords of Draenor” aspect of things, who at SOE decided to launch both Norrathian expansions on the same day?  Have you no pity for your IT people?

So we have the Altar of Malice expansion on the EverQuest II front, which I mentioned in the previous post, and for EverQuest there is The Darkened Sea.

Firiona Vie wet armor contest!

Firiona Vie wet armor contest!

This, the 21st EverQuest expansion and officially launches today.  It was actually available to All Access subscribers two weeks back, but now it has been unleashed for even the unwashed masses… who still have to pay $40 for the content, so I am not sure why the head start.  Are there a lot of people who buy EQ expansions but who are not signed up for the All Access subscription?

Anyway, it contains the usual ration of content, taking stuff that worked in the past and adding more.

  • Level Cap Increase — You can now level up your characters to an unprecedented 105!
  • 8 New Zones — Brand new zones such as Thuliasaur Island and Combine Dredge offer immersive and captivating adventures.
  • Mount Key Ring — Easily access your entire mount collection in one easy location!
  • New Tradeskills, Spells, AAs and Items
  • New Quests, Missions and Raids

I am not sure how “unprecedented” going up to level 105 really is.  I am sure we can find some Korean grinder MMO that has 250 levels or the like.  But I guess for more mainstream western MMORPGs, going past level 100 is at least uncommon.  Now it will stand out from EverQuest II and World of Warcraft, which both get a boost to level 100 this week.

Anyway, the expansion should be live at some point soon.  Until then you can watch the trailer for the expansion over at YouTube.  Watching that video is interesting both to see how far the game has come as well as what still lingers from the old days.  At one point you can hear the sound of a spell that takes me right back to 1999.

A Decade in Post-Cataclysm Norrath November 11, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest II.
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We are in the midst of a few different EverQuest II moments, and I am going to mash them together into one post as they are all mildly related.

The first is that today EverQuest II is launching a new expansion, the Altar of Malice.

A surprisingly well clad dark elf female

A surprisingly well clad dark elf female

The expansion is only launching for All Access subscribers.  You can literally buy the expansion but be unable to play it until November 25th while subscribers can play today.  This seems at best a transparent “subscribe dammit!” move and at worst just dumb, another round of SOE being SOE.  But what are you going to do?  I suspect that there is considerable overlap between people invested enough in the game to buy the expansion and subscribers, so this will probably just annoy a few corner cases.

The expansion is either the 10th or the 14th… or maybe the 11th… EverQuest II expansion.  At this point I am not sure how to count the three adventure packs… Bloodline Chronicles felt tiny, the Splitpaw Saga was huge, while Fallen Dynasty was just strange… and then there was the expansion (but not really an expansion) that was the so-called Age of Discovery.

Anyway, over the years SOE has kept EQII alive and expanding, and the Altar of Malice expansion builds on all of that with its feature list (and patch notes), including a boost in the level cap to 100.  It is landing at that number as a level cap just two days before World of Warcraft hits the same number.  Say what you will about SOE and its game, but they have kept it evolving over the years.  Not always in directions in which I have approved, but not everything has to be about me.

So congrats to SOE and the EverQuest II team for keeping it going for however many expansions we’re talking about.

Ignore those smug bastards on the EverQuest team (who also pushed an expansion today) when they start in on however many expansions they have shipped.

The second is the 10 year anniversary of the launch of EverQuest II.  That was either November 4th or November 9th, depending on which source I look at.  Did SOE do a head start or something?  Anyway, it has been a decade at this point.

A decade in and launching a new expansion!  That is getting along in gaming years.  There have been a lot of games that have come and gone while things have been cranking along in Norrath, both new and old.

The third item, which rambles on, is after the cut.

(more…)

A Vaguely Dissatisfying BlizzCon… For Me November 10, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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18 comments

If I were to take at random a set of video game genres and stack rank them from those that interest me most to those that interest me least, it might look a little something like this:

  • MMORPG
  • Action RPG
  • RTS
  • Online CCG
  • MOBA
  • FPS

That sort of defines what I am looking for from one particular company.  I realize that is just me, but that is the perspective I have.

So when one particular company runs their big convention and their priority list is pretty much that list turned upside down, well… what are you going to do?

And such was BlizzCon.

Before it hit, I wrote up my dreams and desires about what might be said.  This was the way it played out viewed through the lens of my own expectations and perceptions.

World of Warcraft

They keynote opened up talking about WoW.  Here we were, 10 years down the road from the launch of Blizzard’s biggest game, and 20 years gone from the launch of the Warcraft franchise with the first of the RTS titles, Warcraft: Orcs vs Humans.

A decade of this

10 Years of Azeroth as MMO

There was lots of cheering and some nostalgia and then they packed that all away in a box and ignored Azeroth for the rest of BlizzCon.

Yes, there were two WoW panels.  One was pretty much an “in case you missed it” refresher course in things already widely discussed about the upcoming expansion and 6.0 patch.  I mean, we’d been playing with 6.0 for a couple weeks at this point, so this was more by way of “yes, you discovered what we changed, and this is why we did it” sort of thing.  And then there was the Q&A panel, which I haven’t watched yet, and I am not sure that I will.  I tend to find audience Q&A painful to watch, though I have to admit that WoW nerds have been some of the more polite, literate, and to the point in their questioners in past years, so I should probably give it a shot, or at least read the transcription.

There was also a panel about the Warcraft movie, which I enjoyed.  There was a lot of enthusiasm for how the story was being presented, 50% human and 50% orc perspective.  In fact, there was a lot of enthusiasm about most things, including the fact that key members of the production team are World of Warcraft fans.  But, being something of a plug for the movie, nobody had any business being anything but enthusiastic on that stage.  And, like so many things Blizzard does, they were talking at BlizzCon about something more than a year out.  Coming to theaters in March of 2016.

There was also the premiere of the Looking for Group documentary about WoW, which I haven’t gotten to yet, but it is up on YouTube when I have the time.

So I guess I got the answer to the big question, which was, “What will Blizzard talk about when it comes to WoW, what with the next expansion less than a week off?”  The answer was that Blizzard decided to talk about WoW as little as possible.  Which, I have to say, if you’re all about WoW relative to their other titles, was a bit of a pill.  There was nothing forward looking about WoW.  There was no vague plan to reassure player that they wouldn’t be treated to another 13 month content drought, nothing to indicate that expansions wouldn’t continue to drop at the current rate of one every couple of years, and certainly no mention whatsoever of what the next expansion might be.  Nothing was said that might distract from this week’s Warlords of Draenor launch, which mostly meant saying nothing at all. I think I WoW got more screen time outside of BlizzCon than in it, as commercials were running on TV and at the movies.  My wife and I saw Interstellar on Saturday and there was a Warlords of Draenor ad in with the trailers.

But fuck it, we get the expansion in a couple days, that ought to be enough, right?  I’ll be happy.  Hell, I was happy still pottering around and cleaning stuff up in preparation for the expansion.

I did get one reminder of the state of things during the keynote.  During the talk about the origins of Warcraft and how it got to where it is today, there was a clear statement about how World of Warcraft was the evolution of the franchise.  Bascially, WoW is Warcraft IV, and we are unlikely to ever see Azeroth done as an RTS again.

Diablo III

On the Diablo franchise front, things were about the same as World of Warcraft, only without a movie or a significant anniversary to talk about, and there had already been an expansion this year.  So basically some “Hey, isn’t Diablo III doing well!” and then off to other topics.  There was nothing new.  So I guess it is a good thing I am more of a WoW fan or I might be feeling really left out.

StarCraft

The one and only remaining RTS franchise at Blizzard finally got some news about the Legacy of the Void expansion.  The whole thing has been held up in an effort to really try to capture the Protoss point of view or some such.  And, honestly, they didn’t give a release date or anything, so we are probably looking at November/December of 2015 at the earliest.

But they said “My life for Aiur!” a lot on stage.

And they mentioned that StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void would be a stand-alone expansion, so you wouldn’t have to purchase StarCraft II and the Heart of the Swarm expansion in order to play it.  They also announced a new cooperative play mode, where two players control the same base.  A friend of mine was excited about this feature, as he and his wife like to play StarCraft II.  However, I do wonder if attempting to control the same set of units and resources will bring them closer or become one of those things, like trying to assemble Ikea furniture together, than can really test a relationship.  We shall see, whenever it ships.

Hearthstone

Blizzard’s collectible card game got plenty of attention.  It will be coming to the Android platform in early 2015 and its first expansion, Gnomes vs. Goblins is also headed our way in December, dropping 120 new cards into the mix and no doubt really kicking off a Magic: The Gathering-like arms race when it comes to cards.  Only buying in will keep you competitive.  Since I have played exactly enough Hearthstone to get the Hearthsteed in WoW, this all sort of washed over me.

Heroes of the Storm

I have to admit that Heroes of the Storm looked good.  My first thought, as they were showing demos, was that you could make a really good Warcraft IV on that engine, forgetting already what I mentioned above on that topic.  Since we’re getting down to the lowest rungs of my hierarchy, it is pretty safe to say that MOBAs are not my thing, for the same reason that battlegrounds aren’t my thing in WoW.  I do not particularly enjoy fighting the same battle over and over again.  I had a League of Legends account, but I found the game tedious after a couple of matches and my user name has long since been recycled and returned to the pool, though I am sure they are still counting me on the roll of total registered users.

Heroes of the Storm, in addition to looking good, has the advantage of pulling heroes I know from Blizzard lore.  But is that enough to make me play it?  Anyway, there is a semi-solid date for closed beta (December) and some hand waving about dates beyond that.  Stay tuned I guess.

Overwatch

This was the new hotness for Blizzard, their first new IP since… StarCraft?  It is a first person shooter.  Everybody stared in amazement for a moment at Overwatch

Look, a new thing!

Look, a new thing!

…and then collectively said, “Team Fortress 2.”

Well, everybody but me.  I was stuck thinking, “Wait, wasn’t “Overwatch” from Half-Life 2?

They run Earth, right?

They run Earth, right?

Still, reductio ad valvium or some such.

And, yes, I think the art style and the fact that Blizzard was piling into the FPS arena in a big way made most people jump straight to the idea that Blizzard is ripping off Valve to flesh out its game lineup.  It was certainly an easy jump to make on the surface.

However, I think Blizzard is going for something a bit different here, at least as far as I could read.  Granted, I am long beyond my FPS days and if you check my Steam profile you will see that I have downloaded Team Fortress 2 but have played less than an hour of it.  Shooters and the quick reactions required to be anything more than a target are in my past.  But TF2 feels like a classic FPS game with its modes and classes.  The whole thing is streamlined, but we’ve seen the types before.

With Overwatch, Blizzard seems to be going less for the classic FPS and more for something like a First Person Shooter MOBA.  FPSMOBA?  With what I heard… six players per team, specific scenarios, more potential heroes to play than slots on a team… it sounds more like a mix-and-match special teams game.  And, as such, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up financing itself in the MOBA style by being free to play but then selling the latest overpowered heroes, so that anybody wishing to stay competitive feels they have to buy in.

Or maybe I mis-read the whole thing.  I have to admit that between the big new game being a shooter and everybody and their brother saying, “TF2 clone!” my eyes began to glaze over and I went back to actually playing video games rather than watching people talk about them.

Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday

That is a saying from the old days of NASCAR, back when they drove cars that at least started their lives on the same factory floor as the ones sold at the dealer showroom.  Back then, a marquee that won races could look forward to a boost in sales and the various car companies would produce special models just to help them dominate on the track. (See: Galaxie 500, Torino Talladega, or Superbird)

I bring this up because I was a bit taken aback at how much of the BlizzCon coverage was devoted esports.  Three of the BlizzCon video streams were pretty much devoted to nothing else,  and the other two spent some time there as well, to the point that panels felt few and far between relative to watching other people play video games.  That is not my thing at all.  Like real world sports, I can watch for a while, but I tend to want to go and do something else… like actually play video games.  But there are plenty of people who seem to enjoy it and who are selling… or in many cases overselling… how popular it is.

So I started to ask myself if games like League of Legends are popular and thus become esports, or if games become popular because they get pushed as esports.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I think at this point we can divine what Blizzard thinks.  Just about every game they have now has some esports aspect, from the WoW arena to Heroes of the Storm, with Overwatch looking to be focused on the esports thing as well.  Diablo III, with only a seasonal ladder, seems to be the odd man out, so I suppose an early prediction for next BlizzCon is a change to that.  Blizzard seems to be convinced that being an esport, or at least a popular esport, drives sales.  Sell on Monday.

Which I suppose is fine, so long as they don’t leave their WoW players high and dry for another long stretch.  We shall see.

Anyway, BlizzCon has passed, leaving not much of a ripple for me.  I will have to console myself with a brand new expansion come Thursday, and all the last minute tasks I am suddenly feeling compelled to finish before then.  I played little else aside from WoW all weekend, a situation unlikely to change during the near future.

The Paint on Phoebe is Barely Dry and CCP is Already Talking About Rhea… and Clones November 7, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online.
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The Phoebe expansion just went live on Tuesday and CCP is still closing loopholes in the system… I think they fixed the bit where you could erase jump fatigue via clone jumping, and the doomsday timer on titans being reset via gate jumps is probably gone now too… but they still found the time to run another episode of the o7 The EVE Online Show on Twitch where they dropped another bombshell on New Eden.

Theo7Show

For those unfamiliar with chat in EVE Online, oh-seven is a little guy saluting.  Sometimes he is just waving, done as oh-forward slash.  Or it might be a she.  It is hard to tell with a little circle.

o7 - saluting
o/ - waving
o7m8 - being annoying

Not that this has anything to do with the news, but sometimes it is nice to re-state things as not everybody who reads this plays EVE.

Anyway, yesterday on the show, CCP announced that with the Rhea expansion there would be a major change to clones.  Clones would no longer have various grades based on the amount of your skill points, so there will be no need to upgrade your clone after you get podded, which means that there will be no more loss of skill points.

I am not sure that was as bit of an announcement as the unshackling of the training queue that came with Phoebe, but it got a lot of cheers.

This is one of those day one game mechanics that has just become one of those things we do because it is one of those things we do.  Losing skills because you forgot to upgrade your clone is a heartbreaker, as it hits your highest cost skills.  Ask Dabigredboat how many times he has lost Fleet Command V, a skill which could take you 60 days to train up.

And the ongoing rising price of clones is just an annoying tax on skill points.  CCP realized this a while back and actually reduced the cost of clone upgrades, so I went from a 40 million ISK tax on being podded to just 30 million.  But now they have decided to jump in with both feet and just remove the whole game mechanic.

There will be some complaints about this change.  As I have always said, no matter what feature we are talking about or how bad it is, it is somebody’s favorite feature.  I think CSM member Sion Kumitomo has a reasonable discussion up about the change over at TMC.  I think it is a good thing, as I always feel odd losing a clone that costs more than the ship I am flying, implants aside.  And, since there will be no change to implants, there will still be the joy of podding somebody with a full slave set.

CCP has posted the show up on YouTube and you can find that announcement at the thirteen minute mark.

Then there was the announcement that there would be some new space in Rhea.  A collection of new systems will be coming to wormhole space with unique features.  Covered on the show was a new wormhole system that will have a name, Thera.  It will have NPC stations in it with the idea that people will live there and use the static wormholes to known space to find adventure.  It will also have Sleeper sites, no local, and be null sec rated just like the rest of wormhole space today.  It will not allow capital ships of POSes however.  CCP Fozzie called it the fifth type of space, alongside high sec, low sec, null, and wormhole.

This strikes me as CCP rolling the dice by mixing up some of the current mechanics to see what players will make of it.  Which isn’t a bad thing.  Golden Age or not, it will be interesting to see how this turns out.

On the YouTube video, the discussion of this starts at the 27 minute mark.

And then, on top of that, there is a new Dev Blog up about revamping the UI.

Certainly the EVE Online UI has many problems.  It is one of those things that you simply have to adjust to over time, because trying to find a method in the madness is a fools errand.

But now they are talking about changing it up, which scares me a bit.  In part, that is because after 8 years, I am somewhat used to the idiosyncrasies of the UI.  But the other aspect is that, in life, I have found that people often confuse “new” or “different” with “better.”  I don’t want something that is just bad in different ways.  You might as well stick with the devil you know then.  But CCP is asking for feedback, so there is time to see and comment on their plan.

All of which, plus the Tech III destroyers announced at EVE Vegas, is starting to make the Rhea release in December look like a big deal.

At this point I am less worried about jump fatigue… I haven’t accrued any yet, despite traveling across New Eden post-Phoebe… and more worried about feature fatigue with changes like this coming at us about every six weeks.  Can CCP keep it up?  Can we keep up?

Meanwhile, Somewhere in Omist… November 7, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, Null Sec.
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A Nyx supercarrier cried out and died.

 

Collecting Frostweave and Achievements November 6, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, World of Warcraft.
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It was just Potshot and I again on Saturday night.  We were both on early and, as the appointed hour approached, it became clear that it would just be the two of us.

As it happened, we were both tooling about in Northrend doing the ground work for a couple of guild achievements.

He was on as Skronk and working on Tushui Pandaren faction, as nobody in the guild had managed to get to exalted as yet.  Mobs in heroic instances in Wrath of the Lich are still green, giving experience and faction when killed, so that looked like an easy way to advance his standing; just put on the Tushui tabard and go nuts.

Meanwhile I was trying to shore up another guild achievement related to crafting.  We were short a max level tailor and archaeologist.  I knocked out the archaeology earlier in the day with Vikund.

Zen Master in boring

Zen Master in boring

I had long ignored archaeology as a profession, but decided to run with it a bit over the summer.  Leveling up isn’t too hard, there are some decent rewards, and a long list of related achievements.  However, the basic mechanic of the profession, exploring dig sites, becomes so tedious after a while that I could only hold out until my skill level hit 600.  I am just not that desperate for something to do.

The guild was also missing a tailor at max level, so I had started working on that with my summer project alt, Trianis the rogue.  He is now sitting just shy of level 80, having sprinted through Northrend fairly quickly.  However, in that sprint he did not pick up nearly enough frostweave cloth to get into the Cataclysm skill range.  A guide I read said that you needed 12 pieces of cloth, which reduce down to bolts of frostweave at a rate of 5 to 1, in order to get to the next tier.

So I had Vikund out in Northrend to gather frostweave and bind on equip gear, the latter because Trianis is also an enchanter.  Tailoring and enchanting seem to go together.  Neither requires resource harvesting and you can disenchant all the useless tailoring items you have to make in order to skill up and use those to help skill up enchanting.

In pursuit of these twin goals I was headed towards Naxxramas.

It seems bigger on the inside...

It seems bigger on the inside…

I had read… at the very same crafting site that said I needed 1200 frostweave… that Naxx was the place for frostweave.  However, there was a trick that involved setting it for 25 player, going into the Plague Quarter, killing up to but not including the second boss, the running back out to reset the instance and then set it for 10 players and you would be in frostweave farming heaven or something.  Just kill the mobs in the bat section, reset, repeat.  Only I seemed to have messed it up as no bats were available on the reset.

And why do bats has frostweave?

And why do bats has frostweave?

At that point Skonk was in the neighborhood and decided to join me.  We got on Skype and wandered through Naxx together, slaying all who opposed us and collecting frostweave and equipment drops.  We were on the lookout for interesting items for transmog, though I am pretty picky on that front.  I have my troll shoulders and my sword (Claymore of the Prophet, which I have held onto since Argent Tournament was a thing), both of which I love, but other equipment tends to be less interesting.  I tend to hide my helm and I am seriously considering hiding my cloak if I don’t find a nice one, and everything else sort of fades into the background if you’re wearing a tabard.

Anyway, much frostweave was collected, though not as much as I needed.  It is a long ride to 1200.  I also picked up some BOE gear to send to Trianis.  This wasn’t helping Skronk with his faction quest… raid mobs don’t seem to give faction, though I am not sure why… but we were having fun.  We stumbled through and survived, managing to figure out each of the fights pretty much by patience and dumb luck.  And we picked up a pile of achievements. (Note to Skronk: Go back and kill that first boss you missed at 10 player level and you’ll get three or four more achievements.)

A good enough time was had that we decided to do it again.  We decided on Ulduar, never having been there.  We flew up to Storm Peaks and then had a bit of trouble actually finding the way in.  There are a couple of instances in the neighborhood, the Halls of Stone and Lightning, but the big raid swirly seemed to be eluding us.  Then I looked at the map and decided that maybe we needed to check out the great big building.

Here be Ulduar

Here be Ulduar

That wasn’t so subtle and soon we were in what looked to be a vehicle park.  There were gnomes all over and siege engines and other vehicles in various states of repair and whatnot.  However, since we couldn’t immediately get into any of the vehicles, we walked on past them and looked out on the sea of foes opposing us.

That is a lot of guys

That is a lot of guys

And, in seeing the might of our enemy said, “Meh, whatever” and advanced to face them on foot.

It was an epic battle.  They came on in seemingly endless numbers… which was in fact the case, since you have to destroy those towers to keep them from pouring out at you… and at various point we stood and slaughter them by the dozens and then ran ahead.

And here’s the thing; it worked.

We actually made it through the morass of hostiles to the first boss, the Flame Leviathan.  And that is where our effort fell apart.  He was hitting us for big numbers, big enough that eventually we succumbed.

The Fault in our Cars

The Fault in our Cars

We came back into the instance to find all the vehicles had been moved up to a start line just before the first boss, but we still couldn’t figure out how to use them or what to do.  Something was amiss.

I saw my friend Pia online and asked her what we needed to do to use the vehicles, and she said it was the same old big green arrow interface to mount up and drive as always.  While this didn’t tell us how, it was a clear indication that we had missed something.  So we went back out of the instance, reset it… which was successful this time since we hadn’t killed a boss yet… and went back in to more closely examine the starting area.  There we found noted adventurer and general troublemaker Brann Bronzebeard.

Brann Consults

Brann Consults

Since he was the party of interest in the local 5 player dungeons, we decided to speak with him.  And, sure enough, that conversation unlocked the vehicles.  So we took a siege engine, with me driving and Skronk in the turret, and headed on out.  I didn’t take a screen shot of it… I seemed to take very few over the course of the evening, but it was the one like I used to drive in Wintergrasp back in the day.

Shooting things, I understand that part

Shooting things and ramming things

And from that point forward things went swimmingly.  We knocked down all the towers one by one, slaughtered the hostiles in huge numbers without much effort, and went and taught the Flame Leviathan a thing or two about driving.  We were The Stig in a field of Captain Slow clones.

And then we were done with the vehicles.  They only seem to be for the first stage of the raid, and after that it is back on foot and tracking down bosses the old fashioned way.  So off we went, slaying all that we could find.  I am not sure we found everybody.  We went up and down every side path, but there were several towers with portals that we could not enter.  After we ran out of stuff there it was about time to call it a night.

All in all, an enjoyable time.  I collected a pile of frostweave and went on to get even more the next day.  Skronk went on to finish up the Tushui Pandaren faction the next day, as did I.  He also finished up all of the Northrend heroic dungeon achievements, which inspired me to do the same.  The Occulus was a bit of a pain, but I managed.

And, as everything in Northrend raids and heroics was green to us, I also managed to finish up the test of strength quest for Darkmoon Faire, the first time I had done that in ages on Vikund.  I also noticed, when I went to turn that quest in, that Goldshire appeared to still be on fire even though Hallow’s End had been done for a week.

That's not supposed to be on fire normally

That’s not supposed to be on fire normally

Anyway, it was a weekend of many Northrend achievements.  I think I piled up more than 30 if Raptr is to be believed, though it has been known to double count.  And I still some more frostweave for Trianis in order for him to get to the next tier.  I guess I will just put on a new tabard… maybe Wildhammer Clan this time… and start in on that.

What Will BlizzCon 2014 Bring? November 5, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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6 comments

BlizzCon is just a couple days away at this point and my mind is starting to wander onto what might be on display for the big event.

BlizzCon2014

Blizzard is at a pretty high point right now.  The Activision-Blizzard report for the 3rd quarter of 2014 is just out and there were record profits, the boost in WoW subscribers, and portents of future success.  The good times just keep going.  Laissez le bon temps rouler!

Blizzard Q3 2014 Slide

Blizzard Q3 2014 Slide

Meanwhile, third party analysts at SuperData are claiming that Hearthstone, Blizzard’s “dumbed down” collectible card game, has already brought in more revenue this year than MMO competitors such as Lord of the Rings Online or EVE Online made in all of 2013. (For specific definitions of MMO.)  It launched when?  April?

SuperData 2014 YTD Numbers

SuperData 2014 YTD Numbers

But while that is all great for the folks down in Anaheim, it also steals at least a bit of potential thunder for BlizzCon.  The subscription number for Q3 has been out for a while now , we know there is an expansion coming, and Titan has been out of the picture for a while now.  What will the BlizzCon keynote be about?  You can’t just have Mike Morhaime up on stage rolling around in a giant pile of money.  As I have said before, BlizzCon doesn’t have to have any big announcements.  It can just be a big party for the attendees.  But if you’re selling virtual tickets to the live stream for $40, you do have to have something for the folks at home besides an in-game pet and some empty talk about how great things are going.

So I am going to, as I tend to do, take a stab at what they might talk about.  Not because I feel I have any special or deep insight into Blizzard, but because it is a chance to collect my thoughts about what Blizzard looks like from the outside.  Plus a few wild ass guesses to laugh about later are always fun.  Naturally there are a few potential BlizzCon topics to cover.

World of Warcraft

This BlizzCon is happening on what might be literally the worst of all possible dates for WoW.  Big subscription and financial news is out of the bag.  The new expansion, Warlords of Draenor, will go live in less than a week after BlizzCon ends.  The World of Warcraft 10 year anniversary is a just a couple weeks down the road.

A decade of this

A decade of this

What do you talk about on the Azeroth front that we aren’t already being inundated with?  This is the big money maker, the foundation that funds every new thing that the company does.  They dare not ignore it or give it short shrift.

The one thing they cannot talk about is the next expansion.  As was pointed out on the Cat Context podcast a while back, it would be pretty dumb to try to direct excitement towards the next big thing when you’re still banking on more people buying the big thing you’re about to release.  Scott Adams has re-used the joke about the company killing current revenue by telling customers that they have something even better in development.  If you have a strong message, do not derail it by confusing the issue.

So my guess is that we will be treated to a lot of nostalgia.  Blizzard, with WoW subscriptions well past their peak, is starting to cultivate nostalgia.  Not to the degree that SOE does.  Blizzard could steal some more ideas from SOE on that front.  But they are starting to acknowledge that the installed base, people who have played WoW, are the easiest people to get to subscribe.  There will likely also be something special for people who are subscribed and who log in during the 10 year anniversary, something they have not yet announced.  The pet is fine, but I suspect there will be more, something to drive people to opt-in just to get it.

As for looking forward, which they will have to do at some point, I suspect that we will get a vague framework around WoW content going forward in an attempt to make us feel that the company won’t again leave players hanging for more than a year without any new content.  Group content for Warlords of Draenor looks a bit light at launch, which is no doubt because they have held some back to dole out at later dates when the user base has again clumped up at the level cap.  But it will be pretty loose in terms of commitment, Blizz no doubt still smarting from the comments at last BlizzCon where Tom Chilton said they were further along with WoD than they had been with Mists of Panderia when it was announced, leading a great many players hopeful of a launch before the summer.  Some people were certainly saying, “No way!” when I broached the idea of a November release back in January, the expectations having been inadvertently set.

Another thing they will not talk about is any change to the subscription model.  The game is still making money by the truckload, there is no incentive at all to messing with that.  The game may no longer be at its peak when it comes to subscribers, but it is still the game that distorts perspective when it comes to counting paid subscribers.

Diablo

The Diablo franchise, for all the problems it has had since the launch of Diablo III, is still a solid money maker.  It is doing well on consoles.  It would be the star of many studio lineups, but in the house of Blizzard it has to live in the shadow of WoW.

I expect that Blizzard will have realized not only the error of its ways when it came to the auction house, but also how they handled Diablo II.  Blizzard let Diablo II whither on the vine after one expansion.  They could have easily rolled a couple more expansion, a mod development kit, special play styles and any number of other things if they had focused on the game.  So I think we will hear about medium and long term plans for Diablo III.

In the medium term, by mid-2015, there will be some content updates to keep the hardcore players active and sweet on the game, while for the long term there will be another expansion announced.

Hearthstone

Hearthstone should be easy.  It is the new kid.  There is much still to be exploited.  I imagine there will be a new expansion announced and plans for new play modes and details around new platforms to be supported and just a general celebration of how well it is doing.  Hearthstone is still too young to be looking for something big.

StarCraft

If there isn’t a StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void ship date announced, I say StarCraft II players should just riot.  Just burn the place down.

Seriously though, if Blizzard can’t get off the dime for a StarCraft II expansion, I don’t know what to say.

On the flip side, I guess I shouldn’t expect it to take less time than the last expansion, Heart of the Swarm, which hit the shelves nearly three years after StarCraft II.  And, frankly, I do not know how well StarCraft II is doing in the grand scheme of things.  The original was the be all, end all of esports back in its day, the national obsession of Korea.  StarCraft II has to live in a world where League of Legends and DOTA 2 are things, where the old school RTS model feels a bit tired, under the shadow of its illustrious predecessor, and in a company that is largely financed by an MMORPG which is trying to jump on the MOBA train as well.

In that contexts, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t hear anything at all about StarCraft II.

Heroes of the Storm

Heroes of the Storm is, to my mind, the other easy/predictable one.  It will, I suspect, echo how they played Hearthstone last year at BlizzCon.  Lots of talk.  A vague timeline to launch.  A harder date for a wider beta.  Maybe something special to entice WoW players to give it a try.

That last one will probably wait for launch.  Again, from the Hearthstone launch playbook, give WoW players something shiny for trying the game and making it through some basic level of play.  I’d do that for another mount.  It was the only reason I downloaded and played Hearthstone.  And while the game did not stick with me, I am sure it was worth putting out a mount for those that did convert and spend money.

And, in the grand Blizzard scheme of things, they will announce this as if they were alone in the MOBA market.

Warcraft

This is where I go out on a limb.  A limb attached to a tree of crazy.

We are at the 10 year anniversary of World of Warcraft, but we are also at the 20 year anniversary for the Warcraft franchise.  What were you doing in 1994 when Warcraft: Orcs and Humans came out?  I wasn’t big on the game, but I had a lot of friends that were, and by the time Warcraft II came out I had to buy a copy because that was what we were playing at the office on Friday nights.  It was somewhat eclipsed by StarCraft as an RTS, but Warcraft is at the root of Blizzard’s success.  And while WoW has carried the franchise torch for a decade now, there is still some calling for the past iterations, before it was an MMO.  It has been a long time since Warcraft III.

Arthas and Jaina and dead murlocs

Arthas and Jaina before WoW

So my radical prediction is an announcement that Warcraft IV is under development as a story driven RTS RPG that will attempt to evolve (steal) in a new direction.  This will, of course, be in a symbiotic relationship with World of Warcraft, with lore details from one feeding into the other.

Wildcards?

Will there be something new from Blizzard?  Everything above, even my nutty Warcraft IV prediction, is playing to past strengths, working with the three franchises that essentially make up the three pillars of Blizzard.  Could they have something new in the wings?  With the demise of Titan, I suspect not.  But that is also the complete outsiders view.

What do you think Blizzard will announce at BlizzCon?

And what do you want them to announce, even if it is unlikely?

 

Phoebe Arrives in New Eden November 4, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, Null Sec.
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It has been more than a month since CCP Greyscale first announced, via a Dev Blog, the changes to long distance travel coming with Phoebe.  Now the expansion is here, and I hear it took longer to deploy than past expansions because it had to take gates.

As I predicted back then, despite the uproar this announcement caused in some quarters, the changes were pretty much set in stone. There were only a few tweaks to the plan, as noted in the appendices on the Dev Blog.  Industrial ships got a bit of a reprieve so that commerce can continue to flow between high and null sec.  Otherwise, jump fatigue and capital ships using gates are now a thing.

Traffic control for all the caps

Traffic control for all the caps

Now what will the change mean?  As CCP Greyscale said:

We expect the impact of these changes to be emergent, and as a consequence are unpredictable and will take a while to develop on TQ [Tranquility, the EVE Online live server]. This plays into our longer-term plans…

The sov holders in null sec each have a plan of their own, and hunkering down into a more defensible territory seems to be a common thread.  The CFC withdrew from Delve, Querious, and Period Basis in the southwest.  Pandemic Legion sold off much of their rental holdings in the northeast.  Northern Coalition set up shop in the southwest leaving what looks to be a power vacuum in the east, as that will be too far away to defend if push comes to shove.  Here is what has changed (maps from the usual source):

Oct. 1 vs. Nov. 4 map

Oct. 1 vs. Nov. 4 map

We’ll call that the first round of changes to the map of null sec, though it appears to still be in progress, with Perrigen Falls region going to a new alliance. (Though Circle of Two grabbed a system that linked to CFC space.)  I suspect that once things settle down that we will see some additional names on the sovereignty map, though I wouldn’t bet on them being names new to those positions.  And with sovereignty structures taking a hit to hit points we may get an idea of exactly how far away from its central base of operations a coalition can reliably defend sovereignty in a few weeks.  The structure changes ended up being:

  • Station Services: (-66% EHP)
    • -83% Shield HP
    • +50% shield resists
  • IHUBs and Stations: (-50% EHP)
    • -60% Shield and Armor HP
    • -50% Hull HP
    • +20% Shield and Armor Resists
  • SBUs: (-50% EHP)
    • -50% Shield, Armor and Hull HP

It will be interesting to see what the sovereignty map looks like by the time Rhea, the next expansion, arrives in mid-December.

Anyway, that has probably been the most talked about aspect of Phoebe.  As usual though there is more to the package, including a number of quality of life improvements.

First there is the unlimited skill queue. (Though I think I read that it is, in fact, limited to 10 years or some huge number of skills… 300 maybe? [50 says Jester] But effectively unlimited for any sane definition I guess.)  I remember five years back when getting any sort of skill queue at all seemed like a major boon, and now I will be able to queue things up for years at a stretch.

Training queue to infinity...

Training queue to whenever…

The updated sensor overlay looks good as well.

Compass around the capacitor ring

Compass around the capacitor ring

I know I had one minor nit to pick with the old one, which was that it was a pain to target anomalies in some systems as they tended to cluster together in a bunch, so clicking the right one could be a chore.  Of course, I haven’t run anomalies in a while, but this update also includes a keyboard shortcut for making bookmarks in space (Control-B by default), which will help with my new found need to make safe spots in hostile space.

The Phoebe expansion also includes:

You can find the full list of updates on the Phoebe release page and the gritty details in the Phoebe patch notes.

Now to go fill up my skill queue.

What will you be doing now that Phoebe has arrived?