Played the latest Mass Effect (Keeping Spoilers to a minimum)

Posted April 24, 2017 by Ophelie
Categories: Mass Effect

Tags: , , , , ,

Took me a few tries to remember my password.

Once upon a time, I was a student who needed to write a lot of papers. My finished products weren’t bad, but what seemed to take everyone else 3-4 hours always took me at least 10. Sometimes 20. So I started a blog about World of Warcraft, wrote in it twice a week and after awhile words came out of me faster. As an added bonus, I made friends, found myself at conventions all over North America and really got a deeper, more intense experience out of my games. Then I quit it all to live out of a backpack for two years. I tried to keep up the writing but I was always too tired, too busy, too impatient. It didn’t take long for the words to dry up. Now I’m a grown up who has to write letters, memos and reports. While my letters, memos and reports are never short of excellent (IMHO), what takes my colleagues 5 minutes to write during shifts takes me over an hour, off the clock. Plus, I miss my favorite people but am scared that if I email anyone, the only response I’ll get is “I’m sorry, I don’t think I know you. You must have the wrong email.” If my emails don’t go right to spam. It has been that long.

In hopes of finding some good ol’ days glory, I promised myself that I would make a post once I finished Mass Effect: Andromeda.

…Ok, I promised myself I would make a post once I was done with Skyrim. Then after the first time I finished Dragon Age: Inquisition. What can I say? I’m just a big disappointment to myself.

Speaking of disappointments…

Actually, no, I wasn’t really disappointed by the latest Mass Effect. I had a lot of fun playing the game. Yes, the flaws are glaring. (And would you even call them flaws? I feel that sloppynesses is more descriptive.) But since I was so attached to Shepard, I half expected to spend the entire game thinking #notmymasseffect. Which I didn’t do. I easily lost myself in the game and clocked in at 153 hours (estimate 120 if you cut out idling).

I had just finished another Dragon Age: Inquisition run when MEA came out (not that I expect anyone to read this, but just in case someone who doesn’t follow the gaming industry ends up here by accident – Dragon Age and Mass Effect are made by the same company but different teams- and this time around in different studios- and share a lot of features), so it was interesting to me that it seems MEA shines in the places DAI was lacking and the things DAI did well crashed and burned in MEA.

Let’s talk about Ryder

I feel like talking about the story first would be more logical, but Shepard was so important to me that it only makes sense to start with Ryder.

You can’t see it here but, by total accident, I made her scarf match her eyes.

The history between Shepard and I is that I stumbled across Mass Effect at a time where I needed a storybook hero in my life. I’m not a “power through this” kind of person. “I’ll have meltdown now and feel better later” is more like me. The latter serves me well, but every now and then mastering the former is what gets the job done. Shepard was my shining example of powering through everything.

Unlike Shepard, a 30ish year old born leader with an established and successful military career who is applying her exemplary skills, Ryder is 20ish (22 I think) and discovering herself as she takes on the unexpected job of frontlining exploration in a new galaxy. She’s awkward at first and grows in skill and confidence throughout the game. I love it. To younger players, I feel like she would be very relateable, and if at the frontline of further Mass Effect games, could really endear herself to that audience. For me, on the other hand, Ryder made me feel old. So she was more like a little sister that I cheered on and was proud of. She was so deliciously distinct from Shepard that I was able to let go and allow her to grow on me.

In the comparison with DAI, MEA stands out. Both Ryder and the Inquisitor are inexperienced people ending up at the forefront of a massive, high stakes organization through unfortunate circumstance. But the Inquisitor’s journey is too smooth to be engaging. Two of the biggest badasses in Thedas (Cassandra and Liliana) are bearing their fears and dreams to her within hours of meeting. She takes on each mission with a smile and emerges non worse for wear. The events in Haven are the closest she gets to a setback, everything else just works outs. Ryder also does abnormally well for herself (after all, the game is long enough, adding setbacks would stretch it out ridiculously) but she is forced to prove herself. She also occasionally and appropriately loses her shit and at times needs to count on her squadmates. The writers could have gone further with Ryder, but that’s just me being greedy.

Like the Inquisitor, Ryder does suffer from somewhat of a narrow personality range. Emotional/Logical and Casual/Professional replies structure seems good in theory, but in practice (possibly due to the weak dialogue writing) they really didn’t feel all that different from each other. Back in the Paragon/Renegade days, I would play Paragon with some “I’ve had enough of your shit” Renegade moments (I’m so bad at being an asshole that when I did my Renegade ME1 playthrough, I had to use a guide.). I don’t mind trying something different, but I liked that Shepard chose to be compassionate (or not). With Ryder (and the Inquisitor), it felt like she responds the same way and does the same thing no matter what, she just words it a little differently.

Ok, now for the story

Yeah, so DAI. The story starts off great and promising, you’re excited to grow your Inquisition, your camp gets attacked, you do badass heroic stuff- then the story comes to a screeching halt and you collect flowers for 100 hours until you decide to take out the bad guy. There are some story bits thrown in and I loved the story bits, but they’re so rare that you tend to forget about them as you do other stuff.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised that MEA starts off strong, continues strong and ends strong. In my 120 hours of playtime, I had a few nights before the final battle where the story stagnated as I drove around to do all the “collect shit that might appear in some places if you’re lucky and the quest isn’t bugged”. The rest of the time I felt engaged and enjoyed how even the most insignificant sidequests felt somehow connected to the story, a very different experience from DAI.

There is a lot of repetitiveness in planet exploration – most planets follow the same pattern, but, to my surprise, I didn’t mind. By the end of the game, everything felt like “drive around the mountains”, but discovering each for the first time was exciting to me. Every political situation, every Remnant vault, every environment was just different enough to feel fresh. I might not feel the same way in future playthroughs, but for now, I’m satisfied.

I’ll note, though, that while the story is highly entertaining and well-paced, it seriously lacks creativity. I mean, it’s fine: entertainment is the most you can ask for from a video game. It just surprised me since Bioware is supposed to be the storytelling leader in the industry, you would think they had hordes of brilliant writers fighting tooth and nail for an opportunity to pitch their awesome ideas. Instead, most of the twists are predictable and kinda cliché (and worsened by the clumsy foreshadowing), as if there was one person responsible for the whole thing who was told to go home, watch some Star Trek and come back the next day with a full story. There are some interesting chunks of story near the end, you know, once it’s too late in the game to actually develop and explore them. It’s not bad by any means, it’s just, well, after the original trilogy missed the mark for legendary status by 20 minutes of “WTF were they thinking”, as a loving fan, I hoped they would redeam themselves. And MEA is good but isn’t inspired enough to go down in history. With all the love in my heart, I hope MEA2 uses the established groundwork to give us something exceptional.

I guess this is where we can segment into the writing

To me, this was the most massive disappointment. Some of the dialogue and the random bits of writing you find in game were great, maybe even most of it. But there was enough unnatural, tedious, confusing or downright cringy material to distract me from all the good. So much made me wonder who on earth they hired to write this stuff, and what happened to their editors?

There’s a lot of telling instead of showing. One of your companions, one who hides her insecurities behind playfulness, wants to be slow to open to you. But instead of in-character dodging of questions and teasing, she seriously tells you (I am paraphrasing but only slightly) “I am slow to open up, please leave me alone until you have earned my trust” Like, who says that? It would work with a bookish, formal character, but it DID NOT FIT her AT ALL. Oh, and in case you do miss what little your companions show you instead of spelling out to you, you can count on your ship’s doctor to explain it to you. I get that the target audience for Mass Effect is young and possibly socially inept, but comon, they can’t be that clueless.

Another telling-not-showing that really got on my nerves was, well, everything about the new galactic species you befriend. “Oh the Angara! They have electromagnetic bodies and are so open about their emotions!” Your Angaran squadmate reinforces this at every opportunity “I think you are a good friend. I say it because I am Angaran and we are open about our feelings, unlike you Milky Way folk who are embarrassed about your feelings.” There is also this late game gem: Angara: “I am excited about this thing we discovered” Ryder: “Oh, how I love how open and vulnerable you are with me! (You open-Angara-you)” Yet I didn’t notice a single occasion of an Angara being unusually emotional. If anything, they’re kinda flat and talk like zenny yoga instructors. I also never noticed any Angara using their electromagnetic abilities (outside, perhaps, of your companion in combat).

As for the other companions, I found that they started out strong “I am your new crewmate and this is what’s cool about me”…then didn’t really say anything new to you for the rest of the game. One even regresses and becomes insufferable. To make matters worse, when your companions (and some other NPCs) have something to add in their non-cutscene dialogue, there’s no notification. All their options stay greyed out. If you want to find out whether they have more to say, you have to replay all their dialogue in hopes that some of it might be different. So you miss new content (and sometimes even new quests) until you realize this, then you end up playing old stuff over and over again. It would have been easy to make new dialogue content white, like those dialogue options you haven’t selected yet.

When compared to DAI…well you can’t even compare to DAI. Despite pacing issues with the story, nothing is accidental about character dialogue. If a characters says something that seems off, you find out down the road they were hiding something. You discover character personalities little by little as you play the game, very little is told to you. In fact, with every playthrough, I feel that I get to know and understand the DAI characters better. I don’t expect the same to happen in subsequent MEA playthroughs.

The Gameplay, however, was really fun

I love currencies so I was served. Three types of research data, skill points, credits, APEX teams, gear levels, cryo pods, viability points, profile levels. So fun! I suspect my large number of played hours was due to sitting in my ship micromanaging all my stuff.

The combat is tough for me to comment on because as long as it’s not terrible, I’m happy. I’m no TPS expert, but, um, I enjoyed the combat. There’s a huge variety in weapons and defensive gear (a little overwhelming at first, to be honest) and you can experiment and modify your stuff to you heart’s content. Fighting is smooth and natural, your squadmates take care of themselves, everything works as expected (as far as I could tell) and early in the game, the difficulty scaling seems right. As an average gamer, I played on normal difficulty and the challenge felt…normal. I had to think about what I was doing, but was never frustrated. Later on in the game, the combat does become trivial, but I guess you’re just not expected to be level 70 on your first playthrough. You can also up the difficulty whenever you want.

The profile system, where you can customize and level up different profiles, felt quite brilliant to me as well. I didn’t realize you could switch profiles on the fly until late in the game (the one time the game shows you something instead of telling you and I missed it: in the tutorial mission, you see Daddy Ryder switching profiles. Maybe I am as clueless as the game treats me.)

I have to criticize the crafting a little. You can research blueprints and craft from the same station, but if you want to equip/unequip weapons, you have to run pretty far to a load out station. And heaven forbid you want to try a weapon. You have to equip it, land somewhere, drive around until you find enemies then fight. A target dummy in your ship’s loadout room would have been infinitely more convenient.

Overall, though, given how frustrated I was with DAI’s combat (mostly with the camera, I could never freaking see anything while fighting) and crafting system (I had to make detailed tables to keep track of everybody’s gear, then I’d use up all my resources to craft something cool, only to find an upgrade 30 minutes later), MEA was absolutely glorious to play.

The Details

Animations, lack of facial expression and, well, lack of faces period are probably the most common complaints I see about the game. I mostly play old games with terrible graphics and I’m face-blind anyway, I didn’t notice until it was pointed out to me. As for the facial expressions, I didn’t mind too much, however, I felt like it was a missed opportunity, especially when playing right after DAI, where I found myself really speculating what characters are secretly thinking based on their body language. I did feel like main character animation was improved in MEA, though. I hated, hated, hated seeing my graceful, beautiful Inquisitors move like gorillas. Sara, thankfully, did not move like a gorilla.

While I wasn’t overly bothered by the graphics and animations, I do question what they did with their resources. They had 5 years and a good budget. I don’t buy the “new team and Frostbite” excuse. The Dragon Age team didn’t have experience with Frostbite either and other than the gorilla Inquisitor, the animations were fantastic. Plus, Montreal has a huge animation scene (Quebec produces a lot of media, almost all of it coming out of Montreal), there are other big name gaming studios in the city and every credible CEGEP has some kind of game development and/or animation program. There’s no way they couldn’t find proper talent. Besides, even if the game is made by a different studio and team, couldn’t the new studio receive coaching and training from Dragon Age veteran animators?

What did bother me, though, where the bugs. More bugs than a beehive, it felt at times. I haven’t been able to get new gear or mods for the past 8 levels. The APEX menu freezes the game more often than not. I have two completed quests stuck in my quest-log (ok, minor detail, but it bothers me). My AI tells me I have new email all the time when I don’t. Sometimes my character and her subtitles have totally different lines.

If you look at the credits, there’s a long list of game testers. I could see them missing little, specific things, but some bugs are pretty major and some occur for most players. Seriously, what are those game testers doing with their time?

Let’s wrap it up

Almost 3000 words and I didn’t even write everything I had in my head. Feels just like old times!

To me, Mass Effect: Andromeda was fun. Definitely worth that money and time I put into the game. (I just kind of wonder what the development team did with their time and money.) I’m not sure whether I will want to play it again, but I do want to explore multiplayer (and coming from me that’s saying a lot!) and I’ll be first in line to buy DLC. I know MEA2 isn’t a sure thing, but I do hope for it because I want to see my Mass Effect buddies and colonies grow. I want to see what comes of the loose ends still hanging. And I still have hope for a legendary space story.

WoW Insider… /salute

Posted January 31, 2015 by Ophelie
Categories: Blogging

Tags: , , , , , ,

I don’t play or read about WoW these days, but I was saddened when I heard the news about WoW Insider reaching the end of the line. I felt compelled to write something over here.

WoW Insider (intimate readers may call them WI, I decided) has been around since as long as it matters and I think that, over the years, they’ve played a phenomenal role in the WoW community, especially, as one would expect, in the WoW blogging circle that I’ve held so dear. They’ve been through so many staff and editor changes throughout their existence and somehow managed to uphold their standards of good writing (a celebrated rarity in for-profit online content sites!), of accessibility and of sunny relationships with their readers (and, from what I hear, their staff).

Oh, and Blizzcon attendees can testify – they sure as hell know how to throw a party!

On a personal level, in my early days, they were an inspiration to me. I remember that era when I was making the transition from “a few hours a week of relaxing leveling” to “I want to raid well”. I swear I read every article posted on WI, every day. When I started generating WoW content myself, I looked to those names on my screen in awe, wondering how they got to where they were.

Later on, as I became braver with my writing, I was sometimes given the honour of a nod in The Daily Quest, their (last seen in 2012) community link love column. If you’ve ever been a WoW blogger and linked to by WI, you know what it’s like. Your page views spike overnight and your stomach does flips as you hover between giddiness and terror, bracing for the dreaded troll comments. But soon you learn that trolls rarely bother with quiet spaces and that you can enjoy a WoW Insider-fueled page views spike worry-free.

Then I’m not sure exactly when I discovered the WoW Insider Show, but for several months (if not more?) Mike Schramm and Turpster were like household names to me. Even after my interests in the game grew past what WoW Insider could provide, I still eagerly awaited each new episode. I think I cried real tears, really wet ones, when the two hosts moved on to new projects. I’ve refused to listen to the show ever since.

Also sorely missed is Guildwatch, a column dedicated to guild achievements, recruitment and, most popcornably, drama (taken straight from the official forums). Was a short lived column. Shame. If it were still around, I’d probably still be reading it.

More serious favourites were Drama Mamas who has thoughtful and considerate advice for any situation and Officer’s Quarters which always made me feel good about the guilds I was in.

Though, like I mentioned earlier, what WI did best was throw freaking awesome asskicking Blizzcon parties.

WoW Insider Blizzcon parties are where memories are made! I remember spending hours shopping for and putting together cute outfits (I swear, I never put that much effort into outfits. You guys are just SPECIAL.) I remember showing up for the first time and being dizzy with nerves, only to be put at ease within seconds by the nicest 343948573498 people I’ve ever met. I remember sneaking around to get a view of Ghostcrawler because I was too shy to say hi the normal way. I remember spotting familiar faces from The Guild and being all “OMIGOD”. I remember getting cornered into a really awkward conversation with a lady gamer I didn’t know who was trying to convert me to some kind of angry social justice movement (I think it started along the lines of “Hi, I’m *didn’t catch name*. Don’t you ever feel oppressed?” It was so weird.) I remember watching friends meet for the first time with encounters ranging from timid nods to full on lift-hugs. And with awesome and/or hilarious memories like that, I quickly forgot about all the bar line ups!

Looking back, I feel like WoW Insider was so much more than a WoW news site. And while I was never very involved with them (I never applied to write for them – professional writing just isn’t something I aspire to – and I rarely commented), they’ve certainly added a lot of flavour to my WoW and blogging life.

I’ve been away from anything WoW for so long that it would be silly to say I’ll miss WoW Insider, but I can’t deny that the announcement of the end of era makes me nostalgic. I’ll certainly cherish the memories, those I’ve shared here and those I’ve kept to myself. I wish the best for all of WI’s staff (including those who left the site after the last budget cuts) and I sincerely hope they all find new positions worthy of their talent. (Not that I’m too worried – I’m sure they’ll all do just fine!)

/tar WoW Insider
/salute

Almost a Decade: Reminiscing and Reflecting

Posted July 5, 2014 by Ophelie
Categories: Guild thoughts

Tags: , ,

For the Quest is achieved, and now all is over. I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.”
– Frodo (JRR Tolkien, The Return of the King)

Obviously, it’s not the end of all things. It’s not even really the end of WoW or raiding for me yet. But since the second my last raid ends, I’ll be unplugging my computer, putting it into a box and putting the box in my car to be driven to my storage unit, I’m getting my cheesy writing (or emotional exhibitionism, if you look at it like that) out of the way.

I do think of myself as mainly retired from raiding. I got my Herroic Garrosh kill. Even though it’s only on 10s (not that there’s anything wrong with 10s – I’m just a 25s raider), asking for anything more would just be greedy. Cadenza has resumed 25s raiding and there is a small chance we might get the 25s kill before I leave, but I try not to get my hopes up. Right now I’m just concentrating on enjoying my last month of modern conveniences and, as you’d have it, the last few weeks with the guild (and with Ben, Arielle and Ed – our incomplete yet still wonderful Challenge Mode team) have been some of the happiest in my WoW life.

On Twitter every now and again, you get the haters who whine about long winded people leaving the game. “Just shut and leave already!” They tweet and retweet over and over.

But you know what? This has been almost 10 years of my life. This has been almost one third of my life. And it’s my blog and I can do what I want on my blog. So I’m going to write and write about my last days of WoW and THERES NOTHING THE HATERS CAN DO ABOUT IT.

Where I was when I got sorta serious about WoW

I don’t remember that I’ve ever really written about it before, because it’s something that I don’t really like to write about (I’m goofy, happy writer not a sad, sad, sad one) but just before I got serious about WoW, I was struggling with an unexpected and totally disproportionate case of Reverse Culture Shock (or Return/Re-Entry/Own-Culture Shock – I don’t think it’s an official condition so it doesn’t have an official name or definition).

I had done a semester abroad at Humboldt State University, which is a hippy-ish school in the middle of California’s redwood forest. You wouldn’t think that California would be a huge culture shift for a French Canadian, but because the school was so isolated, some very tight knit communities formed within it and, for the first time of my life, I was part of one. There were about 30 of us who became family for a few months. We spent all our free time together, supported each other and became a very communal group of people. For someone who’s generally happiest alone, in a small room, with the door closed, discovering the joys of communal living and discovering that I actually liked it, were a huge revelation.

When I got back home to my small room, alone with the door closed, I couldn’t readjust. I hate self pity so I’ll spare you most of the gory details (most of them are pretty humiliating anyway) and insist on the parts that tie into WoW. The first was that the grief from losing my foreign student family made the reverse culture shock all that much harder. I usually handle loss pretty well (I am, after all, the girl who moves across the continent every few years) but that one, I couldn’t accept. The second was that for about two years, I fumbled around blindly, trying to find that feeling of community again.

I found scraps of it at the autism camp I started working at (just saying – when you’re lost and scared, there’s no better therapy than working at an autism camp), I found scraps of it with the new friends I made at my new university, I found scraps of it when I got accepted to pharmacy school. But I found a huge, freaking chunk of it with my first committed WoW guild, Whitefalcons.

The Whitefalcons/Red Tear Years

It’s funny how what you’re looking for tends to be found in the most unexpected places.

I was desperately trying to find that communal feeling at school since the first place I had experienced it was in a school setting. I was frustrated and discouraged that my forceful “WE ALL NEED TO BE FAMILY RIGHT NOW” wasn’t working. During my failures, however, I did meet a guy that I dated for a few months and I convinced him to start playing WoW.

Since that guy was far more outgoing than me, he found a guild that seemed like a happy place. I was mainly guildless (I did go through a few levelling guilds that I had zero attachments to – I can’t even remember their names) so I asked if I could join. They said yes and, to my greatest surprise, I really liked them.

I didn’t make the connection to my searching for community at the time, in fact, I didn’t even make the connection until I was writing this post in my head yesterday. Back then, I was dead set on finding a physical community, but in retrospect, my WoW guilds filled that gaping hole in my life, which kinda explains the extreme attachment I’ve had to certain guilds as well as my embarrassingly explosive reactions when things didn’t go the way I wanted.

Anyway, Whitefalcons was composed of a handful of guys (Vector, Scout, Webby, Amar, Bone, Noldor, Stony where those who were around most), most of whom were considerably older than me. Whitefalcons raided with another, larger guild, Red Tear, with whom they eventually merged. Since most of Red Tear was also about 15 years older than me and I was pretty young at the time, I cheerfully gained a lot of uncles. (And the few members who were close to me in age became dear friends.)

My very first raid was Gruuls and I’ve been hooked ever since. I was absolutely awful when I started. You know that healer in heroic 5s who shows up with mismatched healing and dps gear, some of which isn’t even intended for their class? That was me. I didn’t know anything about addons, stats (better gear just has more armor, right?) or rotations. I cringe so bad when I think of it.

They were patient with me. Jojo, the other holy pally, gently nudged me in the right direction. Scar-my-favorite-priesty-forever, whom I swear was a living WoW encyclopedia, patiently explained WoW truth after WoW truth to me. It was also Scar who educated me when I decided to explore tanking (exploration that did not lead to a very fruitful discovery). The rest of the guild humoured me as a I went from clueless n00b to super annoying know-it-all (“I READ IT ON A BLOG SO IT MUST BE TRUE AND ITS THE ONLY WAY TO DO THINGS OF COURSE” Yep. My shame haunts me to this day.)

Eventually I outgrew Red Tear’s patient raiding ways. I became so annoying that I started getting excluded from non-official raid activities (Me! The most dedicated and obsessive of all players! Why would they do such a thing, I don’t even!) and I realized that it was time to move on.

And here is the juicy story I’ve only ever hinted at on the blog (at least to my memory). The night I left, my supposed-to-be last official raid, I lost it. I mean, I really, really lost it.

I was hoping we’d do a fun 25s run, but a lot of people didn’t want to raid so we ended up downsizing to 10s. Now I know I can be dramatic. I was especially dramatic back then. But what happened shocked even me.

I just totally lost my shit. Freaked out. Panicked. Whispered people, begging them to… dammit, I don’t even remember what I was begging for. I /gquit and spent the rest of the night in some sobbing hazy mess.

It took like 6 years for me to make the connection, but my guess was that it triggered those Reverse Culture Shock and that huge grief feelings. I had found that communal feeling I had been aching for, and now that I had finally become more stable in my non-WoW life, I was putting myself through it all over again.

I’ve had very little contact with Red Tear since. There are a few people I’m still occasionally in touch with (I talked to Lala for a bit awhile ago, I participated in a set of group emails with a few people, I’m friends with some on Facebook, I had lunch with Vector last time I was in his city, Nunu stopped by the blog once to say hi and I’ve hung out with Scar a few times <33333 Scar.), but mostly I'm still too embarrassed about my meltdown to even consider having an alt in the guild. Even if, you know, I had time to have alts in guilds.

The Conquest Brohood (Where girls can be bros too)

After Red Tear, I moved to Conquest. They were a few steps up in terms of raiding seriousness and I was overjoyed at finally getting put in my place. I was learning all over again and, to my greatest joy (or maybe it was just relief), found that communal feeling again.

I feel that I don’t need to write too much about my time in Conquest since I’ve already pretty much written a collection of short stories on the topic. It’s called The Bossy Pally blog.

But like with Red Tear, I eventually moved in a different direction than the guild. Like with Red Tear, I tried to cling to the ripping seams holding me in. I got annoying again. Some of the more vocal guildies were, um, you know, vocal about my annoyness.

Because I was happy with the progression, I didn’t want to leave. But I was frustrated with the weakening leadership at the time. Not a slight against Matt, of course. I’ve been totally unfair to Matt over the years, for which I’m sincerely sorry. There were a lot of changes and a lot of sorting things out within the guild and I craved a tighter leash. I expressed it in all the wrong ways (again, embarrassing details which I will spare myself of telling).

So again, I left my communal family (which, by then, was not my communal family anymore), with slightly more dignity than I left Red Tear. And while I wasn’t as noisy as when leaving Red Tear, it was just as rough, if not more. With Red Tear, I lost my uncles, with Conquest, I lost my brothers. For months, when I’d think about my last few weeks in Conquest, rage would bubble up. It took every strand of my self control to not write explicit blog posts about it. (And if you’re wondering, I’m very happy now that I left most of it off the blog. When I eventually made peace, I was glad those bridges were still cross-able.)

The Team Sport Year

Around the time I left Conquest, I was at a pretty intense part of pharmacy school. I couldn’t handle the 2 am bedtimes 3 times a week so I figured I’d tone down the raiding. Thespius, who was a friend of Matt’s, heard about this and asked if I wanted to raid with his 10s guild.

The funny thing about Team Sport was that they were exactly the community I’d been looking for, but their raiding style was so different from mine that I never really got that attached. They were excellent people and really, really good friends with each other (with the exception of one guy who was super weird…his heart was in the right place, I think, but he was impossible to raid with), but they were mainly friends who also raided instead of raiders who had bonded over raiding. They did want to make the transition, but I don’t think they were in the right place in their lives (with families and other commitments) for it to work.

I learned two things about myself in Team Sport:

1- I’m a 25s raider through and through. Being as shy as I am, 10s are a huge treat for me. But that’s what they are – a treat. My main course has to be 25s, or I’m still hungry.
2- I can’t stand to “raid casually”. I tried it and it didn’t work. I need more pressure and more mental stimulation. And that’s why I can’t see myself really coming back to WoW after the Epic Journey. I might level and explore the game a bit, but there are other things I want to do with my life (like, you know, have kids or take evening lessons) and casual raiding just ain’t gonna happen.

Either because I wasn’t fully recovered from leaving Conquest or because I didn’t bond as deeply with my Team Sport guildies (although I still think they’re awesome people and I have 100% respect for them), leaving them for Occasional Excellence was, you know, pretty smooth by my standards.

The Occasional Excellence… 9 months?

Occasional Excellence crashed and burned, which is a shame because I had a lot of fun with them. I finally got the tight leash I wanted, I had lots of opportunities to get involved and the progression was fantastic.

It’s hard to say if I would have gotten in the same place of despair I was in when leaving Red Tear or Conquest. The guild fell apart as I was just starting to bond with my guildies. By then, though, I was in a way different place in my life. I’d accumulated a lot more losses, which had hardened me up. I had (finally) readjusted to being on my own all the time and didn’t feel a huge need for an internet family.

The rest I’ve written plenty about recently. I went to Conquest for a little bit. Planned on being a non-raider but hated non-raiding. Didn’t like the healing lead (and again, was a little frustrated with the leadership as whole. I’m far too masochistic for Conquest, I think.) so I looked elsewhere and found Cadenza.

The Last Year and Half

I always kinda write the same thing about Cadenza: that the progression is great, that the guild structure is completely different from anything I’ve ever experienced (or even heard about), that I didn’t form overly deep bonds with anyone (other than Ed, of course) and that the lack of emotional roller coasters was relaxing.

I’ve honestly tried to write more in depth (as can be seen by the huge pile of half written posts in my draft box), but I keep feeling like it’s not my story to tell. So I try to write as an observer (after all, if you’re unusually fascinated by small group dynamics or the study of microcultures like I am, Cadenza is a super interesting topic) but then I worry that I’ll say something disrespectful (Conquest was pretty much fair game since Matt was super public about a lot of things, including guild stuff. Kith, on the other hand, is probably the most private person I’ve ever met.) or that I’ll interpret an element totally wrong (I’m more worried about being ridiculous than offending anyone, but I’m nonetheless worried). And, you know, I still want to play with these people for a few more weeks!

I don’t know how I’ll react when I finally pull the plug. I mean, I know I won’t have a meltdown because I’ve learned to savor the present instead of aiming for stupid symbolic one-time moments. I know there I won’t be feeling any deep rooted resentment because, well, I’m not angry about anything and anger takes me a lot longer than 3 weeks to cultivate. I know I won’t be lost because I have really exciting things coming up (Epic Journey, yay!!).

I will be sad, for sure. I’ve come to really enjoy the company of a number of my guildies and I feel those slow grown friendships have a lot of potential. I’ll be hopeful that some of them will keep in touch. Then I’ll be thoughtful about how far I’ve come in 10 years from that clueless little girl who lost her exchange student friends.

And then I’ll probably be distracted (and stressed) by the mountains and mountains of work I’ll still have to do before tackling the Trans-Canada Highway.

On Solo Healing HGarrosh 10 as a Paladin

Posted June 13, 2014 by Ophelie
Categories: Boss Fight: Pandaria, Paladinning Info, Teh paladin

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Trust me, it sounds more impressive than it is!

Especially in my case, where I got to skip all the learning and strat adjusting attempts, coming in after the guild had already killed Heroic Garrosh twice. So I don’t deserve any credit at all, I just wanted to share how we did it and what it was like, in case other guilds getting ready to wrap up their Siege of Orgrimmar heroic progression are looking for inspiration.

leftovers

I don’t think our logs are confidential so you can go to town with them. You’ll notice that on my kill we had a paladin tank (who did almost as much healing as me /shame – I guess healers really are a crutch), 3 shaman (2 elemental and one enhancement), one hunter (yay Logan!), one mage, one warlock, one ret pally and one rogue. That should add up to 10 people if you include me.

The one tank, one healer strat lets you skip a lot of annoying parts (What? No Terrace phase? That’s just tooooo bad!) lowering your screw up potential. Dunno about the rest of you, but I like when my screw up potential is lowered.

I unfortunately don’t know the minor details of our strat (the Cadenza way is to show up and do as you’re told), but here is a general idea of what a typical attempt looks like. (You’ll just have to fill in the blanks with your imagination. The Bossy Pally blog supports creativity!)

General Fight Overview when 1-tanking-1-healing

Pull
– Garrosh gets pulled to a spot between the throne and the center of the room. We all stack. A weapon is desecrated and promptly killed. Adds engage us and die pretty quickly (I’m not sure of the exact way we kill them – we seemed to have more success when we didn’t neglect Garrosh during the adds killing, but I don’t think they were killed by cleave damage alone either). Sometime around then Garrosh gets moved to the middle of the room. Our mage, with the help of our hunter, kills one of the Ironstar guys. A Wolfrider shows up around then with, I think, heals that need to be interrupted. If our dps is awake, Garrosh will transition with 10-20 seconds left until the next phase. If our dps is asleep, we get another wave of adds. You can survive the wave but it’s super annoying.

Jade Serpent – We split up to kill/interrupt the different groups of adds. The people killing the adds near Garrosh do some damage to the adds in the middle as they run past. Me, I’d run up and hit Blinding Light a second or two after I reached them. Adds should die super super fast. (As you can probably guess, this is the phase that was hardest for us.) Everyone tries to get the protection buff, then we dance around Garrosh while he casts annihilate.

Dancing Around The Room – Starting in the back of the room, melee stack on the boss, ranged stack further back. When Garrosh tosses a desecrated weapon, ranged runs in for mind control. After mind control, ranged stay put and Garrosh is moved away. A whirl happens, then rinse and repeat. Or maybe whirl happens before desecrated weapon. (I suck, I’m sorry.) The tank takes pretty big hits from Garrosh during this phase.

Big, Purple Garrosh phase – After about 3 (4?) moves, Garrosh gets empowered. From what I remember, we handle the weapon, mind control and whirl the same way, only with more CDs. Adds spawn out of people, people kill those adds (this phase is kinda intense so I have trouble seeing what’s going on beyond the health bars – I know that if I were to get an add, our tank picks it up and kills it for me). I think this is around where we hero…

Garrosh’s Fantasy – I stood a little bit out for Malice….beyond that I don’t know much of what happens here since I’ve only seen this phase 2-3 times. There are bombs on the floor which are pretty easy to avoid. I got chased by a big wheel one attempt. Anyway, Garrosh gets dpsed, he dies, Azeroth is saved, we rejoice.

The Paladin Set Up

I went with this build, using Dysmorphic Samophlange of Discontinuity (yes, normal version – stupid trinket that never drops on heroic) and Prismatic Prison of Pride as my trinkets. The Divinity glyph probably wasn’t necessary since mana wasn’t an issue with the Selfless Healer build, but it’s kinda my staple glyph. The fight only lasts about 8 minutes anyway so it’s not like adding a longer CD on Lay on Hands is going to hurt anything.

Selfless Healer worked really well. To where it’s almost like they designed the fight with Selfless Healer in mind. The times I stumbled were more due to me not being proficient with the style (what’s my judgement keybind again?) than to the build itself. Someone who’s fast with Selfless Healer would probably rock the fight. As for the lack of control, I’d say the only time I really missed my direct Eternal Flames was during the adds in the Empowered (big, purple Garrosh) phase.

Someone asked me about my stat weights. I just went with my regular Eternal Flame gear and I guess it was ok. I don’t min-max these days so I’m not sure of the PERFECT IDEAL BUILD, especially for Selfless Healer, but this worked out just fine:

Mastery > Int > Haste = Spirit > Crit

I suppose I could have wrung out more healing if I’d traded in some Spirit (which is way more useful for Eternal Flame) for extra Mastery (or Haste) and maybe buffed my heals with more Intellect, but, really, if you’re working on Heroic Garrosh this time of expansion, your gear should be more than good enough. You don’t have to stress too much over stats.

Just as a point of interest, though, absorbs covered almost 50% of my healing on my kill.

The Cooldown Layout

Surviving Heroic Garrosh is all about the cooldowns.

As a paladin healer, this is just like any other challenging fight (it actually confused me when I was learning the fight. I was all “why are you reminding me so much about cooldowns, OF COURSE I’m using my cooldowns!”) where you want to have your cooldowns pretty much mapped out beforehand. The difference with other fights, though, is that you’ll want to coordinate your cooldowns with everyone else‘s damage reduction and offhealing cooldowns.

When I did the fight, the team already had a system going and were, obviously, far more aware of the damage patterns than I was, so our raid leader did most of my cooldown planning for me (Cadenza way and all) in a briefing session before the raid (I guess other teams could use their forums, but we don’t have an active website). Teams newly engaging the fight would have to go about it a little differently, but I still think it’s helpful for everybody if one person leads the cooldown coordination.

Anyway, for inspiration’s sake, here is how my CDs were mapped:

Light’s Hammer
– Shortly before the first desecrated weapon (right after the pull), at the beginning of the Annihilate dance, then pretty much when it comes off CD (if I remember right, 2ndish whirl, empowered mind control and final burn).

Avenging Wrath, Divine Favor, Guardian of Ancient Kings – Staggered through the Annihilate dance, then during (or rather, right before) Empowered Whirl.

Holy Avenger – First whirl, then Empowered Whirl. (And again if it came off CD before the kill, I can’t remember.)

Devo Aura – First whirl, then right before shifting into Garrosh’s Fantasy (note that we had 3 paladins, so the other two were using their Devos at different times. I’m sure of their exact timings but I believe Annihilate dance, other whirls, the Empowered mind control/whirl, the final burn were among the situations that called for a Devo).

Hand of Sacrifice – As an emergency backup. Our ret pally was using Hand of Purity when our tank called for it. I’d use Hand of Sac either when I was called to use it, when a Hand of Purity didn’t go off or when I felt like I needed it to prevent a tank death. This always happened during the Dancing Around The Room phase.

Lay on Hands – Can only use it once, I kept it as an emergency heal for whoever needed it. Instant big big heals are good.

Bubble – Annihilate dance, Empowered Whirl (the Annihilate bubble wasn’t overly necessary as I’d move anyway out fear of my bubble wearing off before I’d notice, but it is good backup for that phase and lets it come off CD for Empowered Whirl where standing still and healing one’s heart out is good.) and maybe the final burn if it was available again.

Divine Protection
– I didn’t plan that one and it was too automatic for me to remember exactly where I used it, but I would suggest during the first desecrate weapon/adds wave, then pretty much whenever there was damage and it was off CD.

I may have used Int or Mana potions somewhere in there but I honestly don’t remember…

Final Touches

That pretty much covers the translation of my messy notes into WoW blogging language.

If you’re curious about mana, Selfless Healer ensured that I didn’t really run out. I’d hit Divine Plea as a I was getting sucked into the Jade Serpent phase then pretty much when it came off CD, but with the exception of some attempts where I’d overindulge during Dancing Around the Room, my mana bar wasn’t a huge concern.

As for doing sad Holy Pally dps, I did use Denounce to help a little when the first, Jade Serpent (minus Annihilate dance) and final phases were going smoothly. Doubt it made a huge difference, but if I was to be waiting for the raid to take damage, might as well make myself useful!

A Last Unexpected Step

Posted June 5, 2014 by Ophelie
Categories: Guild actions, Teh paladin

Tags: , , , ,

Exactly 3 weeks after I wrote my last post, this happened:

garroshkill

It was the guild’s 3rd kill. I didn’t participate in the 200ish learning wipes. It was a 10s raid…

I didn’t expect much of an impact at the end, but, because the game (or is it life?) never ceases to surprise me, I was hit in the face by a huge wave of feels when those achievements made my screen shiny.

As I happily watched the achievements fade, my guildies asked if I was going to write a blog post about it.

I said yes.

So here is a blog post.

Pandaria and the Road to Heroic Garrosh

Looking back, the way to Heroic Garrosh felt like…like a journey. (I think I may have journeys on the brain these days.) The first tier of the expansion was annoying. My first guild, Occasional Excellence, fell apart (or was blown up by it’s leaders – however you want to look at it) and I ran back to my on-again-off-again love, Conquest. I didn’t click with the healing lead they had at the time (understatement of the century) so I was both elated and terrified when I got a chance to trial for Cadenza.

I was lucky that holy pallies looked pretty good on logs at the time. I died a lot. I mean, a lot. Heart of Fear was full of those twitchy movement fights that make me panic and run into no-nos. But, to my greatest relief, they let me stay. So I played with Cadenza for the rest of the expansion – almost a year and a half.

A year and a half! I’ve spent more time in Cadenza now then I have in any guild, save for Red Tear (my very, very first raiding guild). Where did the time go?

You Want Stories?

My time in Cadenza was relatively uneventful too, when you compare it to my past experiences. But…

If you want funny stories, I had a little bit of drama with a resto druid who went out of her way to top meters. And I mean out of her way. From chasing me around to murder me on Ji-Kun and, to a lesser extend, Twin Consorts (to this day, I get this icky sick feeling in my stomach when I get close to Ji-Kun), to flirting with the guild leader to get loot/LFR runs/other privileges (I didn’t pay enough attention to see how well that worked out for her), to making us wait while she hearthed out to gem/reforge EVERY piece of gear she won, to life gripping melee who bothered her away from bosses. After the Ji-Kun thing, I got my revenge by dispelling her on Primordius when she’d steal puddles from the DPS. I got in trouble for it (because she was deranged enough to complain even though she was breaking the rules) and was super embarrassed at how I’d sunk to such childish levels. In retrospect, and now that I’m more comfortable in the guild, I find the whole thing pretty amusing and love telling the story.

If you want sappy stories, my copally and I started talking about pally stuff one night. Which led to conversations about Final Fantasy, Dragon Age, Mass Effect and other games. Which led to us to attempting challenge modes together with some other guildies. Which led to him inviting me to group on one of his PvE-server alts to phase me whenever I logged in (Tichondrius is a horrible, horrible place when you can’t defend yourself). Which eventually led to us thinking “where have you been all my life?” We’ve been officially together for almost a year now and still going strong. He’s even coming with me for the South East Asia portion of the Epic Journey. Past experiences had made me think that I couldn’t handle long distance relationships, but it’s been surprisingly easy. I guess what they say is true- it’s all about meeting the right person.

If you want meeting-guildies IRL stories – I did meet quite a few of my Cadenza guildies. I’d already met Logan, of course, from our Conquest days. But at Blizzcon, I got to hang out with him, Kith, Theck, Arg, Finwe, Kerrine (and ALL of them AT THE SAME TIME). Given how quiet and not friendly I am in guild, I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun I had with them. They all felt like people I’d be friends with if I were around them IRL, even if we didn’t all play the same video game. In April, the boy (we can call him Ed now) and I made another trip to California to meet Loriey and Twilightfang, then Cup and Chuggy, two other guild couples. Just like us, both couples had one American partner and one international partner so it was fun to share meeting stories and getting stuck at customs stories (poor Cup). (For a guild that rarely has girls – I was the only raiding girl in the guild for a big portion of my time there – we sure have a lot of couples.) We also got to hang out with Arg, Finwe and Corv throughout the week and, again, I felt like we’d been offline friends all our lives. When Ed and I went back to New Jersey, we hung out with Kith and Sang (though not both of them at the same), and again, super good times that ended way too soon. (Sang, however, probably had little idea who I was, having quit the game a few weeks after I joined but I’d heard so much about him that I begged Ed to introduce me.)

Back to Heroic Garrosh

When a lot of our team gave up and we resized to 10s, I figured my time was over. (My raid leader would probably scold me for having “no faith”.) But eventually, the main team killed it and I was offered a chance at my title.

I hadn’t played my pally in weeks. My keybinding were so far in my mind that during our re-clear, I once Bopped our tank instead of Saccing him (you know, old skool Rykga style). That whole re-clear was painful and scary. We spend hours trying to kill Spoils. I felt like it was all my fault since they did fine in past weeks when I wasn’t there. Some wipes were obviously my fault, like when I didn’t notice Seal of Insight wasn’t up, or when my power went out mid-fight, or when I made a wrong turn and ran right into bombs. I attributed the other wipes to my bad luck aura.

Eventually, late into our second night, we reached Heroic Garrosh. I think the last time I was that nervous before a fight was early in my Cadenza trial. My raid leader had gone over the strat (we use a 1 healer, 1 tank strat) and my cooldown timing with me earlier. I chose a Selfless Healer style (which, by the way, worked out really good for most of the fight), which I’m less comfortable with (WTF is judgement?) but that I eased into as the night went on.

Then it was classic Cadenza “push until your brain shuts down and then just keep going until your hands know the fight”. (It’s embarrassing to explain sometimes – at one point around 1 am, my raid leader called for a Devo Aura in a couple of seconds. As soon as I heard “Rykga” and “Devo Aura”, my finger just landed on the button. When I got scolded afterward, I was thinking “how do I explain the accident happened due to a post-brainshutdown response?)

I’d had a pretty long day (a pretty long week, actually), didn’t have a chance to eat between work and raid, and, unlike the rest of the guild, I didn’t have 200+ wipes under my belt. So I made mistakes. Most of the mistakes were execution (the actual healing and cooldown use was easier than you’d expect) although not having Selfless Healer quite mastered caused a few not-so-fun moments. The raid seemed to play good-cop-bad-cop with me – I’d get scolded by the raid leader and the rest of the raid would whisper me encouragements (this is how awesome my guildies are – my eyes get all prickly when think about it). And because I’m always a big nervewreck, and my level of nervewreckness skyrockets when I’m tired and hungry, my self talk was along the lines of “all these people are here to help you get this kill and you’re letting them down. If we don’t kill Garrosh, it’s ALL YOUR FAULT AND THEY WILL ALL HATE YOU FOREVER

When I finally crawled into bed after raid, I bawled like a baby for hours.

The Final Go

We were back again the next day. I pulled our healing lead aside for some pointers and pep talk before raid (he’d healed all the previous kills, so he knows.)

This time I was slightly better rested and slightly less hungry (I never seem to have time to eat and sleep these days. My clothes are getting baggy – there’s nothing like the “being worked to death” diet for one’s figure.) All the brainless wipes had also reinforced muscle memory. (Actually, one thing I discovered while raiding with Cadenza is that if you keep going when you’re exhausted and can’t handle it anymore, you might not perform well, but you learn. You learn very, very well.)

I was ready.

It still took awhile to get the kill, but most of the wipes had little, if anything, to do with me. I was determined and confident.

We started off the night wiping in the first phase. Then we wiped in Jade Temple. Then we wiped during the Whirl phase. Then we wiped during Empowered phase. Then, FINALLY, we made it to the last phase.

And then Heroic Garrosh died and I had one of those moments.

I spent the rest of the night celebrating with the guild in Vent. It was one the best evenings I’d spend with them. Usually raid ends late and I have to work the next day so I can’t stay and socialize. With the exception of those who I’ve met IRL, I barely knew my guildies at all. It was such a good time – they seemed genuinely happy for me and I was riding the high from the kill.

It felt more like a beginning than an end. Which is heartbreaking since the Epic Journey starts in August. I’m also not sure how much raiding I’ll get to do with them in July (we ARE started 25s again on June 27. I’m not sure if there are spots open but anyone who’s still reading and are thinking they might be interested in joining Cadenza, check with Agwyne, our guild and raid leader, on Tichondrius) since I work during a portion of raid time. But, for an ending, it’s certainly a happy one and I’ll think back on the past year and a half (and the last, what, 8? years of raiding) whenever I need some positive thoughts.

My mom and my non-gaming friends always ask me if I think I’d ever regret all the hours I spent on WoW.

The answer is “never“.

Rykga, Hellscream's Downfall says hi

Rykga, Hellscream’s Downfall says hi

This is how a WoW Raiding Career Ends

Posted May 10, 2014 by Ophelie
Categories: Teh paladin

Since the Epic Journey became official, I pictured my WoW raiding career ending with a euphoric heroic expansion-end boss kill. My imagination conjured cheering, a few tears and massive mental hugs given to those guildies I get along best with.

Nothing goes as planned, though, and it seems my WoW raiding career ended a few weeks ago. It was the most anticlimactic moment ever, with a half-full 25 man group and a lot of sitting around.

Since then, I’ve been doing LFR on my mage to gear up for challenge modes.

Attendance had been too much of a problem lately. You’d think everyone would be pushing everyone else to get their heroic 25 Garrosh kill, but I guess the slow progression through Siegecrafter and Paragons burned out a lot of our team. The raid was fed up before the Garrosh wipes even started.

I may have contributed to the attendance problem a bit myself, with my late-late work hours and my constantly being on the road.

The decision was made to get the kill on 10 for everyone who wants it. So our A team has been in there, night after night, wiping for a good cause. I’ve been tracking their progress and I suspect whatever bitter taste I have in my mouth is from habit only. There was a time where I’d rage till I turned blue about being left out.

These days, I feel almost….relieved

Paladins have been so frustratingly weak in 25s this tier, at least compared to the disc priests and the shaman I play with, that my confidence has been squished to nothing. Plus, more importantly, I think, with my work days often extending from 9 am until 11pm/midnight and my days off consumed with either travel or housework, and the very ends of my evenings dedicated to a boyfriend who likes to not be neglected, I find that during raid time, I’m more inclined to pass out on my keyboard than participate actively.

The past few months, I’ve been in tears, ranting about how much I miss being able to enjoy raid. How much I miss looking forward to raid all week, how much I miss blogging about it every second day. Now here I am, in the kind of guild I’ve been aiming for since getting hooked on raiding and all I want to do is sleep.

So that’s how this WoW raiding career ended: with a beloved class getting destroyed, a burned out raid team, and most significantly, an offline life that slowly consumed what few hours I had to myself to play video games.

It'll be dark for awhile.

It’ll be dark for awhile.

If you’re looking for me, you’ll find me on the couch, under a blanket, savoring my limited minutes of self-indulgence.