Why I stopped playing my death knight

The other day in the middle of a trash pull in Hellfire Citadel, Rosalian asked me why I had stopped playing my blood DK. My short answer was "it's incredibly boring now," and I said I'd explain after raid. I never did. Oops. So I guess I'll get to that.

The short answer is absolutely correct: it's a very boring spec to play now. It sums up the problem entirely, in fact. The longer version is that the class that pioneered active mitigation as a playstyle has been left behind by the other classes as well as the game itself.

chains of sindragosa

The talent system was the beginning. Going into the last expansion, the talent system for death knights included a few choices, but most of them were relatively uninteresting. Going into this expansion, it got worse. Here's the death knight talent tree (it should be noted for those of you who don't play death knights that there are no per-spec talents at all):

talents

And if you're blood specced, here's what it actually looks like.

who needed choices, anyway

Due to a combination of mismanaged talent rows, poorly balanced talents in general, and a large nerf to a specific playstyle in 6.2 (by which I mean it was made entirely impossible due to the removal of a glyph), there is only one tier where blood DKs have any choice - and 99% of the time, you're going to pick Gorefiend's Grasp because it's the only unique utility a DK brings to the table.

Let's go over this tier by tier.

  • Level 56: Plaguebearer is useless to Blood because we already refresh our diseases via Blood Boil. Unholy Blight could in theory have been a good talent for newer death knights, but glyphed Outbreak and Plague Leech is just so infinitely better that unless you're using Necrotic Plague, which you're not because it's bad, it's a non-choice.
  • Level 57: Lichborne just screams PvP talent. In theory you can also pump Death Coils into yourself to heal yourself, like a shitty version of Death Pact. Anti-Magic Zone seems like it could be pretty useful on some fights, but compared to a get out of death free card it once again pales in comparison. Since our primary job is to survive, we take the talent that helps us survive. Simple as that.
  • Level 58: This tier contains a passive movement boost with a short-cooldown sprint, a slow, and a stun that replaces a silence. For a class that already has the worst mobility options out of all the tanks, it's a no-brainer. Again.
  • Level 60: The worst designed tier in the entire thing, the rune regeneration tier. There's some math to explain it, but the math basically boils down to use Blood Tap, or use Runic Corruption if you're really bad at using Blood Tap, and never use Rune Tetris. And since it's not hard to get good at Blood Tap, there is once again not really a choice here.
  • Level 75: Okay, I take it back, this one might be the worst. Death Pact no longer requires the pet that we don't have to be alive; instead we regain 50% of our max health, but take a healing absorb effect equal to 25% of our max health. This is so absurdly easy to heal through, combined with the fact that it requires no sources whatsoever, that it's a non-choice. Death Siphon uses up Death Runes that are better spent on Death Strike, and Conversion costs more RP for blood than any other spec. In summary: Death Pact or go home.
  • Level 90: Our only tier of any choice, you can pick between an AOE death grip that doesn't taunt, an AOE slow and stun that makes Capacitor Totem looke speedy, or a talent that is entirely worthless in PvE. Your choice. Given the sheer number of add fights this expansion, Gorefiend's Grasp is king for positioning.
  • Level 100: This one deserves its own paragraph but suffice to say Defile is now, thanks to Blizzard's changes in 6.2, the only choice worth taking.

Chains of Sindragosa was, for a time, our major choice. By giving up a large chunk of survivability and counting on your healers, you could pump out ludicrous damage on most any fight that had a cleave component to it. I used this in quite a few fights in BRF progression to ensure we kept up on enrage timers, or on farm bosses to keep myself entertained. With the removal of Glyph of Chains of Ice and the higher cost in 6.2, this playstyle was totally eliminated.

All of these non-choices combine to make the most cookie-cutter of cookie-cutter specs. The death knight, the inventors of active mitigation, are basically mindless Death Strike pumping machines. Oh, how the overpowered have fallen.

There's also the fact that there seems to be a disconnect between how the class is designed and how it actually plays. Every spec got an "attunement" passive in Warlords of Draenor, giving you 5% bonus to a stat which is supposed to be your best stat for your role, or at least close to it. Blood's is Runic Strikes, which gives us 5% more multistrike (and we actually have a second passive that also grants us multistrike, Veteran of the Third War). The problem is that multistrike is, defensively, a completely lousy stat. (Further pouring salt in the wound, multistrike was the stat that made Chains of Sindragosa work.) When Blizzard posted early in the 6.2 patch notes that they were going to work on tweaking classes so that their attuned stat would actually be their best stat, I was hopeful. But surprise: Blood received zero changes apart from the removal of CoS.

(Playing the cynic for a minute, I probably shouldn't be surprised by this. The spec I played for virtually all of Mists, enhancement shaman, was one of the ones singled out as most needing a good ability pruning because it had a lot of buttons to hit, none of which individually felt meaningful. In the end, the only change to the spec was that Earth Shock was replaced by Frost Shock.)

tl;dr

Blood DK no longer has any meaningful talent choices, any meaningful gearing choices, or any differing playstyles whatsoever. From my perspective you cannot choose to affect the balance between survival and DPS in an effective way because the DPS end of that tree was taken away. Rather than spend the next - presumably - 9-12 months playing a class that bored me stiff, I just switched classes entirely.

And that's why I stopped playing my Death Knight. Sorry, Zulfon. You haven't even gotten Khadgar out of your garrison HQ yet. At least you got to take down Blackhand.

at least I look good

Programming practice

They say practice makes perfect. This is practice but it sure ain't perfect. But it's pretty fun for what it is.

a shmup

I spent a while this morning getting acquainted with ImpactJS. It's a pretty solid HTML 5 game framework that handles some of the most annoying things in game development (like collision detection), and is capable of exporting to various app stores and the web as well as desktops via other tools. But this is just for practice, so I put it on the web.

Arrow keys to move, spacebar to shoot.

The runner's grip

The Runner's hand of cards in Netrunner is named, by the rulebook, their "grip."

Grip: This is the Runner's hand of cards. The Runner begins the game with a maximum hand size of five cards. Cards in the grip are inactive.

A discussion I heard today on Run Last Click about Beach Party left me ruminating a little on what exactly the Runner's grip, and more specifically their maximum hand size, is supposed to represent.

In some respects, your hand - and more specifically your maximum hand size - is your "hit points" in Netrunner. When you take brain, net, or meat damage in Netrunner, you lose cards from your hand; if you take more total than you have cards in your hand, you lose the game (called "flatlining"). Similarly, if your maximum hand size at the end of your turn is less than zero, you also flatline. Is this a type of brain damage? The few cards that can inflict max hand size reduction outside of brain damage are few and far between, but given their sources - Jinteki and Haas-Bioroid - it certainly seems like some kind of mental faculty disruption. Gyri Labyrinth claims that "once inside, the only way out is through your own mind." Ow.

get lost

But importantly, you lose cards in hand regardless if the type of damage - whether it's from overdosing on stims or the corp blowing up your apartment. So in this sense, the hand seems to represent a general sort of well-being - when you take damage, you lose some of your Nefarious Hacker Schemery, and perhaps your own life if you overdo it. Only brain damage, however, permanently reduces your hand size, lending credence to the hand-as-mind idea.

Whither, then, Beach Party?

beach party wooooo

The click loss is obvious - you're spending time unhooked from the net, out at a beach, having a good time with the beautiful people from UCBB - but how does that increase your maximum hand size? Is it a general sense of well-being from being an extrovert around people? Are you leaving things with randos so the corp can't find them? Are you - perhaps nefariously - hiding among them so that when Weyland's jackbooted thugs come to riddle you with bullets, they hit a bunch of innocents instead?

But wait, when it comes to max hand size, there's even weirder cards.

brain in a jar!

In this case, the correlation is very obvious - your hand is your mind. The Ekomind is an extension of it, a brain in a jar if you believe g00ru, that holds your programs for you. (Is it someone else's brain? Is it your brain? Where did you get that brain?) But if you're using Ekomind and Beach Party together, are you storing programs in other people's minds? Massively distributed parallel processing taken to its logical extreme.

Actually, the fact that Ekomind replaces your base memory capacity of 4 lends a lot of truly creepy credence to the idea that it's your brain in that jar. How's that for utility?

It's kind of a terrible console alone. (Well, it's kind of a terrible console altogether, if we're being honest.) Ekomind, when it's used at all, which is not often, is used alongside things like Origami.

fly like paper get high like cranes...wait

At this point the metaphor is totally muddled. On its own, Origami could be a holder for your programs; you take the files for your plans and your viral code and you fold it into a little paper crane, giving yourself room to work and think. But what if you're using it with Ekomind? Is your head now full of paper birds that are somehow also running programs?

Stepping away from the concept of folding digital paper for a second, what about this happy fellow?

we call him Teddy Bags for short

Theophilius immediately takes all of your money for hiring his services. As long as he's in play, your maximum hand size is equal to your credit pool. So essentially you pay Theo and immediately, your well-being, or brainpower, or what-have-you, plummets. But the more money you have, the more things you can hold. This begs the question of what the hell is going on here? I have to imagine Theo is running some kind of very pricy false identity and misdirection service, so that when NBN tries to make you have a traffic "accident," it's not really you in the car at all. But if you run out of money, Theo can't help you anymore.

Don't try to picture the interaction between Theophilius Bagbiter and Ekomind. Just don't. Your memory limit is equal to your max hand size which is equal to the number of credits you own. Theo Owns You.

Sometimes, though, you can increase your maximum hand size by ... making the public feel sorry for you.

d'aww

Which sort of makes the hand once again just look like it represents a general sense of well-being. Sure, you may have gotten brain damaged by those illicit activities of yours (or just doing drugs to hack harder), but the public feels sorry for you! Don't you feel better? Apparently you do!

Essentially, the grip is an oddity. Most things in Netrunner seem pretty straightforward, even the Corporation's HQ, their hand: it's things that have come out of R&D and are ready for the corp to use to advance their nefarious schemes, protect their servers, or just plain make them rich. But the grip seems to be this nebulous mind-body-spirit-happiness combo that just seems to represent an overall sense of well-being, and sometimes you put your well-being into a jar and host programs on it.

Welcome to the future!

Final Fantasy Record Keeper is a surprisingly fun game

After the shitshow that was Final Fantasy: All the Bravest and the slapdash nature of their mobile ports (the menus alone look like Baby's First Mobile App around an NES emulator) I expected nothing good out of Final Fantasy Record Keeper. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it does something neat: it boils down Final Fantasy games to their mechanical core - active time battles, level grinding, and gear/ability upgrading - while hammering hard on the nostalgia button.

Free-to-play done right?

I honestly have no idea how Square-Enix is making money off this thing, unless there are a lot of gamers who are a lot more impatient than me. Yes, this is a free-to-play game. Therefore there's several currencies:

  • Gems, which are strictly bought with cash money
  • Mithril, which is earned through gameplay and logging in frequently
  • Gil, earned entirely through gameplay
  • Stamina, used to actually run dungeons
  • Orbs, used to create and enhance abilities
  • Relics, which are weapons, armor, and accessories, and various relic upgrade materials

As far as I can tell, anything you can do with Mithril, you can also do with gems. Everything I've seen that uses Mithril - restoring a party to full in the middle of a dungeon (1 Mithril), restoring Stamina to full (1 Mithril), retrying after a total party kill (1 Mithril), or relic draws (5 Mithril) - also has the option to use gems. I haven't had to do so. Nor have I ever felt the need to use Mithril to restore Stamina - unlike many F2P games, your Stamina refill is generous and fast, and upgrades to your max Stamina come pretty frequently - every time you get 5 Stamina Shards (and many times you get several for finishing some dungeons, and oftentimes 5 shards for finishing a realm's story up to a certain point), your Stamina goes up by one and it refills to full.

So yes, in theory, you could throw money at FFRK and play infinitely. But there's honestly no need to do so! The game itself is pretty generous with
all its currencies - orbs are a little bit rare, but there are daily dungeons that drop them, and often they are available for playing time-limited events as well. Even their time-limited events are generous - their current event's big draw is being able to buy Aerith for 3000 Magicite Shards (a special currency earned only by participating in the event, which is just another set of dungeons) but after that you can buy orbs and relics for Magicite Shards, meaning it's probably worth working on even once you have the healer.

The amount of content you get at one time is amazing, too. When Square-Enix adds new content to FFRK, they add a lot of it. Recently the FFIV realm was updated with further dungeons - several of them - and completing those unlocks even more over in the FFVI realm. You end up bouncing from game to game quite a bit, and there's always more to do.

if you've ever wanted to see Wakka, Cloud, Kain, Young Rydia, and some nobody take on Reno of the Turks, here you go

But how does it actually play

As I alluded to in the intro, this is essentially like a lot of free-to-play games: you assemble your party, you equip them with relics and abilities, and
you send them into dungeons. Inside the dungeons you have a set number of stages to pass through, and your choices are to either finish all the stages or have your progress reset by running away. You also don't heal for the duration of it; you can spend a Mithril to heal your party to full using the Camp button, but unless you're tackling something way over your head, it's probably not necessary.

I still can't remember the name of the boss at the end of this stage

As you clear dungeons, and participate in event dungeons, you'll acquire party members. You start out with a very generic set of members - a Warrior, a Black Mage, a White Mage, and the apprentice Record Keeper, whose default name is Tyro. Their stats are underwhelming and they don't even get names, but they're serviceable, and it won't be long before you start adding familiar names to your roster - Cloud, Wakka, Kain, Rydia, and more. Tyro remains useful (he can equip basically any gear or ability and has pretty good stats, so he's kind of the Freelancer of FFRK) but you can even take him out of your party if you wish.

Each dungeon belongs to a specific game and in general progresses along the same path as the story itself - so the FFIV dungeon starts out in the Mist Cave, for instance, and ends with a fight against the Mist Dragon. FFV's North Mountain ends with a fight against... right, Magissa and Forza.

THAT'S what their names were.

There's a benefit to using characters in the world they come from - they get a very significant boost to their damage and health, as well as an experience bonus - as well as equipment from each game. Relics are tagged with the game they come from - for instance, "Kazekiri (V)" - and using weapons in the world they originate from yields a huge damage boost, while using armor in the world it comes from yields a large defensive boost. At the end of each stage of a dungeon you're ranked on how you did and given rewards accordingly; for most dungeons it's very easy to just power through the early stages, but the bosses often require a little bit of tactical thinking - and earning Champion rankings on these often requires either remembering how to beat the boss in the console game they originated from, or just brute forcing it and seeing the rankings afterwards (it's not a mystery, it'll tell you what to do to get a better score if you replay it).

Oh, and attaining the highest rank on each dungeon unlocks a much harder Elite version of the dungeon. I haven't even attempted the Elite dungeons yet.

This is why you often want a wide variety of abilities. For instance, getting a Champion rank against Cagnazzo in FFIV's Baron Castle dungeon requires both dissipating a tsunami with a Thunder spell, and taking advantage of his weakness to Ice by hitting him with a Blizzard spell. Luckily, I'd already recruited Young Rydia by then and build a Thundara spell.

As mentioned, abilities are crafted from, and improved by, orbs dropped in battles. These show up frequently. You'll also get relic drops fairly often, and duplicates can be combined to raise their level (thus raising their stats), and combined further to increase their star rankings (allowing even a lowly Rod to attain a better potential before you inevitably combine it into something like a Punisher (FFVI)). You can assign two abilities, one weapon, one armor, and one accessory to a character, and each character also comes with one Soul Break (basically a Limit Break) as well as the ability to equip a different one if you manage to draw the right relic for them and equip it to them - an Official Ball equipped to Wakka, for instance, turns his Soul Break from the area-effect water-damage Element Reels to the presumably-status-effect-inflicting Status Reels.

(Which is one bonus over the main line games: you can often inflict bosses with status effects, and it's often beneficial to do so.)

The graphics are all done in a pseudo-16-bit style that S-E's mobile ports would do well to emulate, instead of the weird overly anti-aliased sprites those games use, including characters who've never had 16-bit replicas before - seeing tiny versions of Wakka and Cloud is a treat. The music is also fantastic, being appropriate to the dungeon from which it came, whether dungeon theme, battle theme, or boss theme.

More to come

At the present time, there's still more content to be drip-fed to us. There are no worlds for FFIII, FFXII, FFVIII, or FFIX - yet. We know they're coming (Japan even has several of them). Equipment for them drops, but for now it's mostly just upgrade fodder. However, what this really means is just that this game has quite a bit of ways to grow, despite the wealth of content that's already in place. It's well worth your time to at least give Final Fantasy Record Keeper a try, if only to let a little Final Fantasy nostalgia wash over you.

Sound Fantasy

According to this article from Gamastura, someone purchased a rare physical copy of the unreleased SNES game Sound Fantasy (or Sound Factory) and dumped it to ROM, letting people see it for possibly the first time. Sound Fantasy was developed by Nintendo dev Toshio Iwai, perhaps most recently known for Electroplankton, and was originally planned to be the pack-in game with the SNES Mouse.

There's definitely some cool Electroplankton-y influences in here, check it out.

SMT x Fire Emblem not as dead as imagined

This was the biggest news of yesterday's Nintendo Direct for me: SMT x FE, now officially(?) titled Genei Ibunroku #FE ("Illusory Revelations #FE"), is still alive and happening. The trailer even has gameplay! It's dated for this winter in Japan, and while ordinarily I'd say "well, we still might never see it here," the trailer above is from Nintendo's US channel. So hope springs eternal.

Genei Ibunroku #FE

The trailer definitely has more of an SMT vibe to it in the gameplay segments. I'll be curious to see where the Fire Emblem part comes into play.

More information:

Some advice for newcomers to Final Fantasy XIV

Recently Final Fantasy XIV has picked up a ton of traction on my Twitter list. I like to think I'm part of the reason, but one way or another, it's happening. Now, I'm not exactly a veteran who's been around forever (although I did play in 1.0 and 2.0 at launch, he says, stroking his unnecessary neckbeard) but there are still a lot of things the game won't tell you that I wish someone had told me when I was new.

Quests: what to do and what not to do

Here's my advice on quests. One part of this is optional, two are mandatory.

  1. Don't immediately do every quest in sight.
  2. Do your story quests.
  3. Do your class quests.

Don't immediately do every quest in sight. If you're coming from another MMO this is going to sound like heresy, but hear me out. On those other MMOs, the amount of quests you have is designed for you to be able to level up a single character in a single class. In FF14, every character you have can be every class - you can cap 'em all, right up to 50. But if you use up all your quests the first time around... you're stuck using Hunting Logs, FATEs, Duty Roulette, and leves for anything else you want to level. It can get a bit grindy! Save the ordinary quests - the ones with this little bugger right here:

Sidequests

--for when you're leveling up something else. There are a few exceptions, and they fall into two categories: quests that unlock features like coloring your gear or melding materia, and class quests. Those you'll want to do.

Do your story quests. That's the quests with this fiery little icon right here:

Story Quests

Story quests, or main scenario quests, are where the majority of FFXIV's plot and story come from. They're also where you can expect to get a lot of your experience from the first time around. They're also how you unlock things like mounts. Now, every now and again you'll run into a case where you're not high enough level to do your next story quest. In that case, go level via Duty Roulette, FATEs, or levequests, or even a few regular quests if you absolutely must. But pursue the story quest ruthlessly. It's not over when you turn 50, either - completing the final quest on the main storyline of 2.0 unlocks more storyline that continues through 2.55, the latest patch as of this writing; also, basically every piece of level 50 content requires you to finish your story quests. So do your story quests.

A special shout-out to the Duty Finder

I want to address something that I have seen a lot of people being afraid of: the Duty Finder, or LFG, or LFD, or whatever you want to call it.

Yes, the story quests do require you to go into dungeons at certain points. You cannot advance in the main story without entering those dungeons. If you are coming from some other MMO you're probably used to the group finder being an anonymous cesspool of hate and slurs and people rage-quitting at the slightest provocation. FFXIV's Duty Finder, I sincerely promise you, is so much better. I could speculate at length as to why - I believe the lack of full cross-server functionality is probably a strong factor (it's cross-server but only within your server group, as far as I know), as well as the fact that there are rewards (even relevant at max level) for both running low-level content and running it with new people - but the fact of the matter is that it is a just plain nicer experience. Do not be afraid of the Duty Finder.

Do your class quests. These come every 5 levels from a questgiver in your class guild - at least up through 30. Past 30 you unlock an advanced job (so far, the entirety of which require you to have level 30 in one class and level 15 in another) and that usually changes where your quests come from - but then your job quests come every 5 levels after that. Class/job quests almost always reward you with one or two nice pieces of gear (your level 45 job quest rewards you with four pieces that you'll wear right up until 50 and beyond) as well as abilities for your class. You'll literally be missing out on things you can do if you're not diligent about doing your class quests.

Crafting

Sooner or later everyone asks about crafting. Crafting in FFXIV is such an amazingly deep system, owing to the in-depth process required to create each item, as well as (once you go down the rabbit hole) the mixing and matching of cross-class skills - crafters get access to more cross-class skills than any other, up to 10 at a time if I'm remembering correctly, and every profession has 3 unique cross-class skills at 15, 37, and 50.

"Should I work on crafting?" It is in no way necessary to reach max level. You can freely level back and forth between your Disciple of War or Magic class (that's the combat capable ones) and your Disciple of the Hand (crafting) or Land (gathering) classes. However, keep in mind that you're working off of a single pool of rested XP, and it may take you longer to level your combat class if you keep leveling low-level crafting jobs that chew through the rest.

However, if you do decide to craft, do yourself a favor and level all of them to 15 first before committing to anything. The cross-class skills at 15 remain relevant for a long time for many of the crafting classes, and will help you level up. (Plus then you don't have to keep a bunch of sets of low-level crafting gear around.) Leatherworking's "Waste Not" and Culinarian's "Hasty Touch" are definite favorites of mine.

Mounts

You get access to mounts at level 20. Remember that thing I said above about doing your story quests? They come from that, once you've joined a Grand Company, from a quest called My Little Chocobo. Keep an eye out for it.

Shameless plug

Cactaur is amazing and you should come play on our server. Unfortunately like most servers Cactaur is closed for creating new characters during prime time. Try early in the morning or very late at night!

The strange tale of a Cities: Skylines town with only one house

In Cities: Skylines, you can follow around the various NPCs who move into your city. However, when there's tens of thousands of citizens, and you're swamped with the tasks related to building and managing a metropolis, it can be hard to keep tabs on a single person's life for very long, and difficult to find them again later.

I thought I'd fix this problem by creating a city in which only a single home could be built. Then I'd see who moved in and keep track of their lives. Here's what happened.

Alone With You


To recap: you play as the sole remaining member of a doomed terraforming colony. Your planet will crumble and implode in less than a month, and you must use your remaining time to try to escape. There is only one escape pod left, and it isn’t functioning. Even worse, the only people who specialized in its systems are all dead as a result of the colony’s failure. But the colony’s AI is still with you, and together you plan to get yourselves off the planet — by recreating those key colony members and learning how to fix the ship, so you can both flee to safety.

We could've had a new Legacy of Kain game

Well, damn. As this NeoGaf thread describes, from 2009 to 2012 there was a new Legacy of Kain game in production at Climax Studios, with production assistance from Crystal Dynamics - until Square-Enix canceled it. It was to take a lot of inspiration from Soul Reaver - which it has a lot of callbacks to - and Zelda games (the exact quote in the post is “think if HBO had done Zelda”).

In development for PS3 and Xbox 360, it was also being considered as a launch title for the PS4. And then it got canceled.

I’m just going to go cry into my coffee, if anyone needs me.