Posted in December 2012

How To Murder Time 2.05

This week return with one of the microphones only slightly broken (please ignore that) to talk about the latest games we have been playing. How does a 6 player game of the obscure 4x board game Eclipse go? What’s all this about Asheron’s Call 2 and is Dust 514 actually any good?

I, Mesmer: Heal Slot

Moving along the Mesmer skill bar today, with a look at Slot #6, the Heal Slot.

In Guild Wars One, this wasn’t something I generally worried about, partly because although every class did get a self-heal of some description, Mesmers got just that; exactly one healing skill; Ether Feast. It wasn’t something we really concerned ourselves with, being very much a crowd control and DPS based profession. Mostly though, it was something that we left to the ever-present entourage to take care of; either the traditional Healing Prayers Dunkoro or a more quirky Restoration hybrid Ritualist/Necromancer or three.

In these modern times, where soloing means literally that, just you on your tod instead of meaning you +7 AI henchmen/heroes, things are much different. In a conscious design decision aimed at mixing things up and aggressively dismantling what little trinity even existed in GW1, the Monk, Ritualist and Paragon, the three classes which stood any chance of significantly healing a party, all no longer exist. The new Guardian class does share a few similarities to Monk, but doesn’t seem anything like a traditional group healer class either.

This all means that it’s every man for themselves, healwise, and not only are you given special heal skills for the job, but you are required to take one of them. So what options does the Mesmer get in the heal slot?

Any discussion of healing skills must concern itself with efficiency and a few back of an envelope calculations of negative DPS. A good heal is one that offers a high rate of HP replacement during combat. Over longer periods, out of combat, natural HP regen is usually more than adequate. Also to bear in mind are any odd conditional circumstances that come with the heal of choice.

Ether FeastEther Feast 2.0 is a good solid heal. Working out at about -265 dps, (Damage / (Activation + Cooldown)) if you hit it every time it lights up. It has a decent recharge, decent activation, no quirky mechanics necessary to get the heal, and will do extra if you have active illusion pips, which most Memsers will do in the heat of battle. At the full three pips, it goes up to -365 dps, so be sure to keep the Clones and Phantasms coming and try to work the timing of Shatters around this skill’s cooldown for best effect.

Power ReturnMantra of RecoveryMantra of Recovery is a bit more problematic. It is a Mantra skill so the first usage stores the heal indefinitely for when you need it. Then you hit the flip-skill, Power Return, two more times (three with traiting) for instant low-powered heals. These heals are quite a bit less powerful than Ether Feast but there are two charges of them, they’re uninterruptible and can be used when knockdown, etc. Total for the entire cycle is -368 dps, (-551 dps with the tripplecast Mantra trait), which seems respectable, but the problems come with the micromanagement of it all, and mashing the button only to discover you’ve had your two shots is always a fraught experience, as the initial charge up takes 4.25 long seconds during a hectic scrum. If you’re good at preparation, this might be a useful way to go, recharging it when breaks appear in the fighting.

MirrorOption three is Mirror, which does a paltry -240 dps, but also reflects incoming projectiles. It only does this for one second, so timing is critical here. I guess you’d have to weigh up whether the incoming projectile was going to cause you an additional 128 damage in that second to be effective. At any rate, it’s a lot of fiddly mucking about for a very substandard option. Remember, the moments you need healing the most are often the moments when there is a LOT else going on too, so a good heal should be a one-click fire-and-forget thing ideally.

And that’s it, if you’re a Charr, Norn or Asura. Hardly exhaustive, and not much of a choice either. I recommend Ether Feast as the most reliable and powerful of the three; as a Mesmer, Illusions are usually present in enough quantity to power it fully and it’s activation is quick and reliable, delivering decent healing even without pips.

Prayer to DwaynaIf you are Human, as most right-thinking Guild Wars 2ists are, there is an extra option; Prayer to Dwayna. This is a straight heal with no funny business; push button, receive hit points. The down side is a very lengthy cooldown, lower its rating to -210 dps over the full cycle, and also making it very unlikely that it’s lit up when you need it most. Also, for some reason, Dwayna can’t hear you if you are underwater, further reducing its flexibility. Clearly a heal slot option for roleplayers only!

Healing SeedIf you are Sylvari, you could also go with Healing Seed. I’m not, so have never used one, but it would appear to do something like -91 dps? It does so by minor healing and the Regeneration buff, lasting 30s on nearby allied, so the maths is a bit awkward. Unlike the other Mesmer heals, this one helps allies too making it a useful addition to everyone else’s regular heals, but probably not a replacement. Also, the enormously lengthy 45s cooldown also means it’s unlikely to be ready when you need it most. Healing Seeds like south-facing chalky soil with good drainage, so will not work underwater. As with all regeneration style healing, watch out for spike damage, which almost all of GW2’s damage tends to be.

To be honest, healing is useful, but being a stupidly over-specced DPS glass canon, I tend to get by with frantic kiting and dodging as often as I can! The heal slot skill I use the most though, is definitely Ether Feast. When you need hit points, you invariably need them fast!


On a more general note, the lack of options here is a bit disappointing. Guild Wars One had somewhere in the region of 100 healing skills, many of which worked for the entire party, taken from Ritualist Restoration, Paragon Motivation and of course Monk Healing Prayers, along with whatever self-heals the other classes got. So many options, and because of the dual classing, I could happily stack the skill bar with Resto Rit secondary skill and become a group healer without breaking my stride, even as a Mesmer. No alts required. And if everyone in your little gang hated being a healer, then it was eminently viable to just get an uncomplaining and constantly attentive Mhenlo or Dunkoro to do it. In GW2, pretty much everyone gets to chose from only three single-class skills, most of which are strictly self-heals. I get that the Trinity Is Old Fashioned, and that the easiest way for an MMO to declare itself Edgy and Modern is to abandon it in favour of everyone being their own godly Solo Tank-Mage, but the ferocity with which Arenanet seem to have rejected their own groundbreaking philosophies, is worrying and a shame.

Not giving up the ghost just yet though. More thoughts to come, with Mesmer Elite Skills!

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How To Murder Time 2.04

This week return with some more talk about games! Guildwars, playing Star Trek Online the hard way, Planetside 2, yet more complaining about Need For Speed and some rambling about the recent Marvel movies and some talk about the Malifaux plastic models.

We’re not all computer games you know.

My Christmas Job

I’ve got a part time job over the Christmas period! It’s just a short term placement, you understand, running for the 35 days up to and around the festive day. It’s quite light weight; I only have to put in half an hour a day and I can work from home which is always convenient. I do have to turn up every day, but I get ten days off, so I can spend the big day itself with my family, which is very considerate! Each day, I have to turn up and run around a highly unsafe and slippery race course, chased by some kind of space monster or another. No one has explained to me why this is necessary, but they’re paying me an entire spaceship for my temping contract, so I thought it best not to ask.

Yes, I’m doing the ridiculous Star Trek Online Winter Event Thing, and I’m finding it hard to explain why.

It’s a usual kind of MMO Xmas event, although I’d never been to the STO one before. That rascally Q, a being whose power is only matched by his petty ennui, has created some kind of Standard MMO Winter Event Instanced Environment in which many festive dailies are to be found! There’s special Duty Officer Missions which sometimes turf out rare baubles which act as yet another set of currencies, which can be traded for the usual earmuffs, snow boots, scarves and so on. There’s some kind of regular snowman invasion event thing which I keep missing; you need to use the piles of snowballs to take them out. There are little snowmen hand-to-hand combat dioramas about the place, complete with bat-leth’s made of twigs, which did make me chuckle. It’s all very familiar, what with Cryptic Studios having made it and the place is eerily reminiscent of the Pocket D Ski Chalet of City of Heroes.

Frolicry and good cheer abound, but the real reason most folks are there are the slippy racing missions. There’s a competitive one on a regular timer, “The Fast and the Flurrious”, which pays out tags which can be traded for Chistmassey versions of the new Epohh mini pets, added in Season 7, and of course, my new part-time job, “The Fastest Game On Ice”.

This one is conducted on a large flagged wiggly circuit which is highly slidey, against a randomly spawned NPC opponent. It’s a somewhat tricky affair at first glance. Going flat-out will almost certainly see you slide off the course on the first bend and fail the mission, or simply have so much backtracking to do that loss is inevitable. It took me a few goes to get the hang of the thing, and the winning technique seems to be to use the default speed of standard jogging where possible, and only to Shift+W sprint in short bursts on straight-ish sections, slowing to an almost full stop for any of the 90-degree turns. Double-tap combat rolling works to bring you to a complete stop if sliding out of control. Also worth noting is that the little lamp things are not the actual course edge. The flags on sticks seem to be that, so minor corner cutting works to gain distance.

So not too difficult and one to two goes will show you the basic technique and mastery follows in two or three more goes. I’m not sure what is gained by the subsequent twenty runs though, but to get the big prize out of it all needs 1000 signed glossy 10×8’s of Q, which are exchangeable for the Breen Chel Grett Warship. You get 80 glossies per successful run. I have no idea why 80 and 1000 – wouldn’t 1 and 25 work? At any rate the whole event only lasts until January 13th, meaning that as I write, only 35 days remain. (If you’re interested you should start soon!)

The whole thing is preposterous, but I find myself oddly compelled and am currently 1/5th the way there on two characters. Part of it is how grudgingly they hand out spaceships in that game.

You get one when you start, obviously, and a free token that can be exchanged for another when you reach Lvs 10, 20, 30 and 40. For L50, and if you just want more anyway, you have to work hard or buy. My Fed was lucky enough to be around when they had an anniversary event and managed to bag an Odyssey Cruiser, such a capable L50 workhorse tanky-healy cruiser that I’ve not felt the lack there. My KDF on the other hand has done a lot of hard work. I’d been pottering along refining dilithium from dailies and converting them to Zen points (PWE’s micro-currency) for the best part of a year on both characters and only recently managed to scrape together enough to get the Marauder Flight-Deck Cruiser, finally getting them out of the freebie Hegh’ta Heavy Bird of Prey.


This lengthy exercise was a kind of F2P experiment really, testing to see if it is actually possible to work in-game and earn the Precious Things without cash-shopping for them. The answer is, yes, but you have to be unfeasibly patient and dedicated and I could have just paid $20 for the ship and saved myself 11 months of patient grinding.

There are other ways to get ships; paying dilithium in-game without going through the Zen shop. My Fed is currently attempting this, having an eye on the Advanced Escort as a DPS based alternative to the Cruiser. This costs 120,000 refined dilithium, which if I worked as hard as possible, would still take 15 days of maxing out the daily dilithium refinement allowance. I typically work a lot less hard than that and often spend dilithium on other things; duty officer upgrades, etc, so 30-45 days might be more realistic. There is a fair selection of those sorts of ships available, but the really impressive ones are bought for Zen or found in lockboxes.

I’m not much of a gambler, so don’t go for lockbox keys myself, but those can be bought for Zen ($1.25 per key, slightly cheaper in bulk), and interestingly, can be sold in-game to other players for Energy Credits, the somewhat obsolete base currency, providing a way to just buy EC if desired. Keys go for about a million EC a go, and apparently, have a 2.5% chance of giving you a spaceship at all, and only 0.4% chance of coughing up the much broadcast Temporal Science Vessel. For every broadcast you see spammed across the screen, 249 other keys (Costing $311.25 in total) only turfed out junk consolation prizes. In other words, PWE earn $312.5 for each Temporal Science Vessel spawned. Sort of. I don’t even know if they’re any good!

Seems like a mug’s game to me, so I diligently grind instead, choosing to be a different sort of mug entirely!

So free spaceships are quite a big deal, and the limited timeframe of it all does tug at me a bit. Mostly though, I find a perverse sense of amusement in the sheer madness of the whole thing. It’s so silly I can’t help but give it a wry go. Also, there is a curious sense of satisfaction, in this age of paid-for shortcuts, to have gained a thing by the slow path, to have put the effort in and gotten something as a proper reward. Value is subjective, but I certainly appreciate my Marauder. It’s widely regarded as inferior to the Kar’Fi Battle Carrier in almost every way, and you don’t see many about, but this one is mine and I worked hard to get it. I expect to regard the Breen ship in a similar manner.

I haven’t entirely taken leave of my senses mind you; I happen to be going through a phase of STO interest anyway, exploring the Season 7 stuff, pottering with Duty Officers, pimping up the Marauder and so on. If I hadn’t been, I’m not sure this would have been enough to bring me back. The skinner box is pretty transparent, but knowing it is there and how it works, I’m still pushing the bar anyway, half bemused and half eager.

Whether I can stay the course and complete my Christmas job before losing interest and wandering off, remains to be seen. I’ll be fascinated to see how many of the Breen ships will be out and about after the 14th. 20 dailies to go!


I, Mesmer: Pistol & Torch

Cracking on with the hunt for quirky and exotic Mesmer skills, with the remaining two offhand slot items.

After 250 years, and a lot of technological progress which only the Asura and Charr seem capable of making, guns are a big thing in the modern-day boutiques of Tyria. It’s all a bit Fable II to be honest, and flintlocks abound. Most classes get to tool themselves up these days with pistols, rifles and spearguns. The Mesmer, in a typical fashion doesn’t really shoot people with their Pistol, instead opting to just wave it around and use it to cast spells with, which at least saves on ammo. It is quite a stylish option though; paired with a main hand Sword it all looks very highwayman buccaneer chic! But what does it actually do?

Phantasmal DuelistIt is an off-hand only item when used by the Mesmer, so let’s jump straight to #4, Phantasmal Duelist. This is the obligatory Phantasm, this time creating a duel-pistol wielding handsome devil that stands at the back and goes all John Woo on the chosen target. In a flamboyantly noisy display it will unload both guns, firing off eight shots every seven seconds or so for a highly respectable DPS. It doesn’t do a lot else, although the shots have a chance of being a Projectile Finisher for Combos. Mind you, it doesn’t really need do anything else, being a respectably solid Summon-and-Forget Illusion choice for basic damage work. As with most Phantasms, avoid shattering it, where possible.

Magic Bullet#5 is Magic Bullet, an extremely improbable trick-shot which can change targets during flight and moderately damages and debuffs the  things it hits. It works a lot like the Staff: Winds of Chaos and Greatsword: Mirror Blade by bouncing from target to target, applying different Conditions to each. Like Mirror Blade, it also Projectile Finishes combos. Note the somewhat shorter range though, 900 vs  a usual 1200 for such skills.

I don’t often use the Pistol but when I do, it seems to be a decent middle-of-the-road option, offering basic damage and debuffs, with a useful Phantasm thrown in. The problem comes with range; paired with a Sword, you end up with a mix of melee and ranged skills which work somewhat at odds with each other. Paired with a Sceptre it works better, (everything works at a 900 range), but you lack punch in a particular role – neither of them is a particularly focused on damage, debuffs or survivability.


The last option for the Mesmer weapon slots is the Torch. An odd choice, but very handy for mobbing the local mad professor’s castle on stormy nights, this is literally a flaming stick. It offers a very quirky pair of skills which I still don’t quite know what to make of. Torches can only be carried in the off-hand, presumably to leave the main hand free for a pitchfork.

The Prestige#4 is a joke, or at the very least an entire skill slot given over to an Easter Egg Shoutout. Called The Prestige, this skill does a number of things. First, it blinds nearby enemies. Then it makes you invisible for 3s. Then you reappear in a fiery explosion, burning nearby foes. If this sounds at all familiar, that’s because you’ve played Borderlands, and this is more or less exactly what the Lilith the Sirien’s “Phasewalking” class skill does. It’s quite baffling really, for Mesmer AND player. I’ve tried it out a fair bit, desperately wanting to like it, but I’ve found that it really does sound a lot cooler than it is. As with all Mesmer Stealth skills, the duration is not nearly long enough to get anything useful done and while the Conditions are nice and the damage reasonably high, placement is a problem; to get the most use out of this skill, you need to be in exactly the right places, for disappearance and reappearance. While invisible, you can’t be targeted, but you will still take AoE damage and most fights typically have a fair amount of that, and also a lot of bodies in the way of where you’re trying to get to. Unlike Lilith, you don’t pop in and out of view accompanied by an apocalyptic fireball of doom and sadistic peals of laughter, only a mild and annoying scorching. Also Lilith gets a speed-buff while invisible, WHICH WOULD BE NICE! Good position and timing can make powerful use of the Combo Finisher: Blast of this skill, causing Multi-Zorb-Bonus-Round, but again timing is against you here. All in all, I find this one quite fidley to use, and there are better Mesmer options for Stealth, Conditions or Damage. Useful for losing aggro in mad minute, but in general highly gimmicky.

Phantasmal Mage#5 is better, but still not hugely impressive. Phantasmal Mage summons a curiously attractive Phantasm which dishes out reasonably high damage and Confusion to enemies, and Retaliation to allies with a bounce effect as seen elsewhere. Phantasms are always welcome and this one puts out a reasonable DPS, but again, there are better Phantasms available, including Pistol #4, above, making it hard to justify Torch use for this skill alone.

I just don’t get on with the Torch, which truly does fit in Mesmer Comedy Build territory. Possibly one to come back to for a humorous quirky exhibition build, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for day-to-day levelling PvE – it’s awkward and doesn’t seem to offer an appropriate payout. Given the choice between Pistol or Torch, I’d go Pistol every time, but probably take Focus over both.

(If you want to see a Torch made awesome, give it to a Guardian. Their #5 makes them breathe plumes of blue fire in a spectacular breath attack, and their #4 makes them set themselves on holy fire which damages everything nearby, and which can also be thrown! So. Jealous.)


More to come: Heal Slot, Elite Slot and the Utility Skills!

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Only a Hobby

I read stuff like this:

Biobreak: Turbine, Shark-jumping, and $50 horses

…and just sigh. Well, first I check it isn’t April 1st, and then I sigh. This, again?

For the click-averse, the basic deal is that Turbine would quite like some specifically NON-NEGATIVE feedback on a little cash shop proposal they’re mulling over for Lord of the Rings Online. In a highly meta act of knowing self-parody, it turns out to be a stick. With a wooden horse’s head on. Which you pretend to ride while going ‘Giddy-up!’, which increases travel-speed by +68% and which costs $50 worth of Turbine points. I have no idea how ‘Morale’ can even function in this context! So yes, not content to make your pretend elf ride a pretend real horse to an imaginary war in a made up landscape, that elf can now own and ride a pretend pretend horse! What next? Orcs who are actually Hobbits in disguise? Unhandled Exception: Fatal Brain Recursion Error!

I’m all for player engagement, and focus group feedback is probably a quite useful tool in any business endeavour. Turbine seems to agree as long as the feedback is OVERWHELMINGLY POSITIVE! DO NOT tell them it sucks, for that is not what they wish to hear! Otherwise, presumably, you’ll get deleted.

Barely concealed passive-aggressive contempt for the player-base aside, this elicits a particularly deep sigh from me, as I am one of the few remaining fans of F2P Cash Shop payment models, and this sort of nonsense isn’t helping my rapidly dwindling case, which I now feel compelled to restate below!

Well, fan is a strong word really. It is hard to understand how someone can get more excited over billing models than actual gameplay, content and so on. Haha! I don’t mean that I look at the back of the box, skip down until I see “No monthly fee!” and click my fingers and go, “That’s the one for me!” That would be bonkers! My appreciation for the current F2P style of things is somewhat more considered than that.

You see, in Soviet Russia back in the day, when the mighty subscription gods of old strode uncaring through the freshly hewn and still-molten MMO landscape, you didn’t get a lot of choice in the matter. You paid your $15 a month, or you buggered off, generally to one of the other three MMOs, who each also charged $15 a month. It meant a kind of enforced loyalty to a product which seems ridiculous when applied to any other field of commerce. Playing more than one MMO got quite financially punitive quite quickly. Imagine only being able to buy groceries from one supermarket in a given month!

Probably a flawed analogy now I think about utilities service contracts, but my point is that if you liked some parts of a game and not others, you still only had one option for expressing your dislike, to bugger off, or to not bugger off. Very binary! It probably made life more difficult for developers too, to judge what customers liked and didn’t, how to improve the product and so on, although back then it was very easy to get the impression that MMO developers didn’t much care about what actual players thought. Oh sure, you can canvas for opinion on the Official Forum, but we all know how that goes; to hell in a hand-basket very quickly at the hands of high-pitched textual shrieking by a very vocal minority, many of whom will simply scream without pause at you until you give up and go away, trembling. Eventually, the devs probably come to disregard the whole forum as an unpleasant baboon cage, leave it to a Community Manager with a fire hose, and go back to just guessing, which is Not Scientific!

Maybe I’m just a naive old dreamer, but I thought F2P was going to change that. By dividing the content up into smaller opt-in pieces, the popularity of each piece can be more accurately assessed. Players buy the bits they like, and don’t buy the bits they don’t like, which all sends a very direct kind of feedback, free of forum lobbyists and unrepresentative pressure  groups. Personally speaking, I tend to put down cash for content; new zones, more story and missions, that sort of thing. Similarly, I tend not to buy consumables, cosmetics, power-ups and shortcuts. I spend my cash to make a game I enjoy longer, not shorter. That’s just my own preferences, but in an F2P world, my message is being sent, and received, along with everyone else’s. Whether these are then being listened to and acted on is another matter though.

I also thought that F2P might free us from the more egregious extremes of The Grind treadmill. A monthly game must keep players playing for as many months as it can, because month-end is the only payday it can expect. Obviously, this leads to design which requires players to work for a very long time to accomplish their goals. By removing that time-based requirement, I thought, perhaps the basic nature of MMO gameplay can now be designed to not be quite so wretched? I am less sure what priorities exist in a F2P game though. I suppose you still need to keep players interested and invested for a long enough time to want to buy things, only now there are more unlock-based hurdles? More front-loading?

Early LotRO and DDO did seem to get it right, which makes “Hobbygate” so surprising. The core business seemed to be content unlocks, with some fluff and a few power boosts thrown in to bulk out the shop a bit. Ultimately, it worked out as a kind of part-work lifetime subscription, which indeed cumulatively cost a lot more than just dropping £200  an actual lifetime sub, but it came in much more manageable chunks, and if you hated specific zones or dungeon packs, you could just opt out of those, which was nice. Under the old sub model, players who hated PvP or Raiding or whatever, still effectively had to buy those regardless, or not play at all.

Well, it seemed right for us anyway. Perhaps it wasn’t right for them, which is where F2P becomes an ongoing kind of debate. The MMO devs experiment with new goods and services, in order to survive and thrive (presumably some of them even enjoy creating this stuff, but I wouldn’t take that as a given), and then we decide which ones seem fair or are patently daft, and purchase accordingly. Like in every other industry or field of commerce, in fact. Internal marketplaces.

Regardless of the commercial priorities I always thought F2P was a good thing, because it put more of the decision-making in our hands. If they put a thing in the shop that you do not like, and this is the tricky bit, do not buy it. By not buying it, you’re sending a much more concrete message than a blog post like this one, which no-one will read, or a forum thread that devolves into anarchy and shrieking. Similarly, if you approve of a new thing in the shop, buy it! It’s not rocket surgery!

I suppose the big downside of F2P, and what angers so many, is that everyone else gets a say too, which is always inconvenient, since obviously everyone else is wrong and an idiot. Except you, dear reader, you’re great! Sparkleponies do get bought and the Hobbyhorse probably will sell a few too.

It’s up to us, all of us. Kicking up a fuss does help shift perceptions of course, perhaps swaying some potential customers, but paraphrasing that CCP bloke who came up with those Monocles; they’ll pay attention to what folks do, not say. They went on to only sell 68 monocles in the end (out of 100,000 or so potential customers) and gave up on the plan. I’m not sure all the in-game suicide bombings of Jita had much to add to that real life economic certainty. (I hear that that happens in Jita every day anyway?)

I tend to view all this sort of fuss as a kind of perverse kind of victory. I’ll see a hobby horse zoom past and think, “I was smart enough not to fall for that! High five, me!” and be a little bit smug knowing that for my 5000TP, I bought the entire Rohan and Isengard expansions in a sale instead, or more likely, that for my no TP at all, I quested my way to an Elfen Ambassador’s horse or whatever, which are just as good and don’t look make you look like you need an adult to help you with scissors. I really don’t mind so-called Whales subsidising my recreational time. Not one bit. And if the immersion-breaking gets too bad, well, I’ll just leave and find some MMO that takes itself just as seriously as I take it, which to be fair isn’t an awful lot! Thanks to F2P, I won’t even have to give a month’s notice when I quit!

The truth will be in the eating, as they say, and this is one of those interesting key social experiments where what people do and do not buy will matter a lot more than what they shriek about on this or any other blog. In a way, it’s Turbine’s job to come up with stuff like this. It’s our job to say yes or no, with our wallets. The hobby horse is plainly bonkers, to me, but luckily, I get to not buy one!

Tell you what though, we will all be here again, with a $75 ridable oliphant or something, and probably much sooner that we’d all like…


Anyway, it’s all academic, because I refuse to return to LotRO until I can buy my Hobbit a flying aircraft carrier, like out of the Avengers. For 495 TP, tops!

“Our shop-wizards would like to hear that this is a good idea.”


I, Mesmer: Sceptre & Focus

Some more Mesmer 2.0 musings here!

The last main-hand weapon option for the Mesmer is also the first; you’ll start life holding a Sceptre. It is spelled “sceptre”, by the way. I should know because I come from a country which still has an active monarch, and she uses one every day in her day job. This does mean that HRH Elizabeth II is technically a Guardian, Elementalist, Mesmer, or Necromancer. I’d be more certain if I could remember what off-hand item she uses on state occasions. A handbag is probably a focus? I’m pretty sure she can only wear Light Armour though, so she’s probably not Guardian!

Anyway! The Mesmer Sceptre is quite a mixed bag, and is further mixed by the choice of accompanying off-hand. While the other weapons seem to have more clearly defined purposes, the Sceptre is somewhat more vague, making it quite multi-purpose.

Ether CloneEther BlastEther Bolt#1 Ether Bolt/Ether Blast/Ether Clone is a three-skill attack chain, which shoots quite pacey purple bolts at the target which don’t do anything special, just damage. Each third bolt will also create a Clone, who will start shooting Ether Bolts too. This clone does not cause further clones to appear and being a clone means their Ether Bolt will do next to no damage, but being able to create clones from an auto-attack is unique among Mesmer weapons. 900 range isn’t as good as Staff or Greatsword, and the damage isn’t massive, but the cumulative activation times of the chain means you can replace Illusion pips at a rate of one every two seconds without doing anything more than pressing ‘1’ once. Augmenting this rate with Utility and Offhand Illusion generating skills makes the Sceptre the best main-hand choice for Shatter-heavy play styles, creating waves of disposable explosions-in-waiting. This can be further enhanced with a large variety of Shatter related traits. With this weapon the cooldown of the Shatter skills (F1-F4) themselves becomes the limiter.

CounterspellIllusionary Counter#2 is Illusionary Counter, a defensive block. This functions identically to the Offhand Sword #4 slot skill, Illusionary Riposte; for 2s the Mesmer will block the next incoming attack and create a clone when doing so. During that 2s, the flip-skill Counterpsell can be used, ending the block and shooting a bolt that does minor damage. This one blinds instead of dazes. Interestingly, this is a main-hand skill, while the Riposte is an offhand skill, meaning that you have both by doubling up, using a Sceptre/Sword pair, perhaps one of the most effective defensive pairings available.

Confusing ImagesConfusing Images is #3 and is a kind of mini-laser version of the Greatsword #1, Spatial Surge. It holds a sustained purple laser beam on the target lasting five seconds. During this time it will do a significant amount of damage and apply five doses of Confusion on the target, which will damage the target further if they use a skill. Confusion is the bread and butter of Mesmerwork, but usually you have to muck about with Combos to regularly apply it. This skill lets you just cause it without fuss. The cool down could be shorter, but a useful part of basic DPS all the same. Bear in mind that many monsters, particularly of Champion and Legendary grade, have a special Unshakable buff to protect them from ‘crowd control’ skills, of which happily, Confusion is not one, making this kind of thing invaluable in boss fights. Mesmers always were good at Bosses.


That covers the four Mesmer weapons, but to bulk up a short article, let’s look at the Focus offhand! Foci come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but are all basically just a magical whatnot you hold on to, to make bigger mojo.

Into the VoidTemporal Curtain#4 is Temporal Curtain, and my main reason for using Foci. It places a purple shimmery linear curtain wall template on the ground which serves two purposes:

1) Speed boosting. It is the only Mesmer run-buff (apart from the randomly dispensed effects), and when allies run through it, they get Swiftness; +33% speed for 10s. Handy all round, but even better, enemies running through it are Crippled;  -50% speed for 5s. This naturally lends itself to escaping pursuit, particularly as it can be cast on the run, although dropping the template in the right spot can take a little practice. It’s also useful for just getting about a little quicker, although the cooldown means it can’t be kept going continuously. I use mine to hurry Dolyaks along in WvWvW!

2) Yanking. Using the flip-skill, Into the Void, it becomes one of the few rare skills that can Pull. Used correctly, the Mesmer can collapse the Curtain, sucking nearby enemies towards and through it with some force. This takes quite a bit of practice to get right, particularly as the Curtain only lasts 5s, but can be hysterical fun, especially during WvWvW keep assaults. Place the curtain on the outer facing side of the wall, near the very top, just beneath where Smuggy McSmuggington, Ranger-Sniper Extraordinaire, is hamfistedly beating the Barrage button over and over while hooting lots (I hear Rangers only get one skill?) and then hit the flip-skill. Quirky battlements allowing, Smuggy (and if you’re lucky, several of his mates) will suddenly come sailing over the top of the wall, to land unexpectedly in the middle of your own team’s angry frontline. This will almost always be followed by a highly panicked limp toward their glowey keep entrance rectangle, which they won’t very often make. For best results, try to anticipate the direction of pull and aim them away from their keep door. Petty, but fun, although do watch out; to pull this off well, you’ll need to get fairly close to the wall base yourself to plant the Curtain – have it queued up as you make your run and get the hell out before detonating it to minimise exposure. For extra lolz, have a Mesmer buddy with Illusionary Wave waiting at the base of the wall to bat the freshly pitched Ranger out of the park! The yank is less spectacular used against PvE monsters, as they are immune to being knocked off things (It won’t pull Veteran Archers from WvWvW keep walls, merely knock them down), and also the collapse pulls monsters from both sides of the Curtain through it, often leaving you with just different monsters on your side of the Curtain. Too unpredictable for general-purpose positional crowd control – use Greatsword Illusionary Wave instead. Note that the pull is toward the centre point of the Curtain, not in a direction perpendicular to the Curtain, as you might think.

Phantasmal WardenAfter that, #5 is a bit of a letdown for me, although many Mesmers do swear by it. Phantasmal Warden creates a Phantasm which does a lot of whirling with axes and makes a projectile absorbing bubble. The problem is that the bubble is centred on the Phantasm and not you or your allies, and the Phantasm seems to have a habit of appearing in less than useful positions and then just standing there. To be protected by it, this means that either you or the thing shooting you need to be inside the iWarden’s bubble. The above #4 yanking can help with this, or you can just leg it to the right spot. To be really useful, it needs traiting; Phantasmal Haste to reduce its ability cooldown and Warden’s Feedback to make the whirl bubble reflect projectiles instead of absorb them. Very tricky to use well, I tend to go with Feedback and Phantasmal Defender from Utility instead, but it is capable of massive damage and trivialising a lot of fights via immunity to projectiles.


The Sceptre is a good choice for defensive work, and also for flexible ranged utility. The Focus is a good workhorse in the utility category, and together the pair offers a lot of options for interference and manipulation, more subtle than the big brash two-hander options. In particular, I’ve found the Focus Temporal Curtain to be an indispensable secondary offhand skill that I’m rarely without.

More to come; Pistol and Torch!

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RIP City of Heroes: 2004-2012

Me and Brian Blessed, taking a well-earned coffee break

Never a great post to write in any event, but especially in this case. While I was never a really dedicated fan of City of Heroes, I certainly spend a decent amount of time there and can honestly say I enjoyed it a lot. Never much of a comic-book superhero person, I came to the game from the perspective of an MMO aficionado and in that capacity, found a great many things that made the title stand out above the crowd and innovate the genre.

City of Heroes’ innovations seemed to me very philosophical in nature, rather than technological leaps. Cryptic Studios seemed to have a quite unusual outlook in the 2004 MMO landscape, an outlook that appeared to put fun above rules. The most clear example of this was their pioneering of Mentoring and Sidekicking. It seems such a simple thing, and code-wise, it probably is, but the revolutionary thing was having the conviction to say ‘Actually, no! Why shouldn’t friends with different available play times be allowed to play together?’ I’ve long since had the quite serious belief that any MMO without such a mentoring system in this day and age is fundamentally broken at a design level, and it is because of how well it worked in City of Heroes that I believe this.

This was just one example of how a more enlightened view could transform the early 2000s era MMO landscape from one of determined grim drudgery to something carefree and fun. Scaling missions, a casual disregard for The Trinity, a vast list of badge hunting exploration, awesome travel powers, a mind-boggling array of class/power combos and a ridiculously customisable character creator. I can honestly say I never saw two players that looked alike in my entire time there, something almost no other MMO can say, even today.

The game was not without its problems though, and early CoH was always a hard sell to the committed soloist. The repetitive nature of endless similar warehouse missions drove many away, as did the unremarkable nature of the very early super powers; punch, punch a bit harder with a longer cooldown, shoot a weak bolt. If you could make it to the 30s and stay in full-team groups of friends, the game was much more rewarding, and my best memories of the thing were the utter gleeful pandemonium of eight-player teams bellowing out graphics card melting explosions of noisy particle effects as literally dozens of evil minions piled in and were mown down. It all felt truly epic in ways few MMOs dared to convey then, or since.

I think extinction is the way of all MMOs in the end, and very few seem to gain many customers after launch. CoH had dwindled like any other MMO over the years, and eight years later, after a relatively brief dalliance with a F2P cash-shop model which apparently didn’t do it much good, NCSoft put the boot in. NCSoft seem to have a very poor tolerance for underperforming titles, and I wonder, if CoH had been a Sony Online Entertainment title, or Turbine, would it still be with us today?

#SaveCoH tags on Twitter abound, but I never thought that was an option. NCSoft just aren’t that kind of player, and if they can’t be bothered to support underperforming titles, they certainly aren’t in the business of selling their failures on to become a competitor’s success. They’ll bury it, and that’ll be the end of the matter. A shame.

On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of harsh commentary suggesting that CoH deserves the uncaring wrath of The Invisible Hand, and that if people like me had put my money where my mouth is, instead of writing hand-wringing after-the-fact posts like this one, it would still be going strong. I don’t know about that, but I refuse to feel guilt for disloyalty; at the end of the day, these are businesses, not charities. Even a great game (and CoH was a great game) is not enough to hold me forever. Perhaps one day, only World of Warcraft will be left. If so, I’ll probably just potter along in that, but I’ll always have fond memories of the departed, including and especially City of Heroes.

Those memories are many and precious:

As my Ice/Ice Tanker, Tundra Templar, performing colossal and outrageous acts of tanking unmatched in any other MMO, holding the aggro of tens of enemies, keeping my team safe with near-perfect invulnerability, confidence and style.

As my Mind/Psi Dominator, Professor Perplexity, practicing utter crowd-control and leadership buffing, dictating the flow of incredible combats.

As my Peacebringer, Heliobreeze, shape-shifting between attacks in a hectic blinding display of fluid near-martial art, squid to lobster to human…

As my Dark/Dark Stalker, Anna Philaxis, invisibly bypassing entire maps and conducting surgical insta-kills on mission bosses with a fearsome efficiency.

As various characters, throwing out disruptive and hilarious Comedy Powers; Ice Patch, Levitate, that Peacebringer one that turns the whole screen white. And watching the comedy powers of others in return; Gravity Summon, Intangibility, Fulcrum Shift, Speed Boost…too many to list…

As a super jumper, bounding through canyons of skyscrapers in a true and proper city the likes of which I’ve rarely seen in any other MMO, a true and busy metropolis.

As a panicky alpine skier flailing wildly on tight snowy bends, as a gleeful trick-or-treater banging on doors and running away, and as one of many heroes and villains wailing on ridiculously powerful world bosses.

As a member of a team with some sterling folks, including Dr Toerag, Teppo, Bevis, Zoso, Melmoth, Welshtroll, Rachy, Ed, Sente and more. I ‘met’ most of these folks for the first time in City of Heroes. My heart goes out to them at what must be a difficult time. Interestingly, it was during these full-team manic crime-fighting sessions that I first found the courage to try gaming with Voice Chat, which I’d previously seen as a terrifying thing. You can’t get me off of Mumble nowadays.


All these moments are not going to be lost like tears in the rain, because they’ll stay with me forever. I’m not too fussed about saving City of Heroes – that kind of thing is rarely in our hands at this stage, and I think I’d said my own goodbyes some months ago. Everything has its time, and I don’t regret a moment spent in Paragon City, a rare place that wasn’t afraid to let everyone be special and everyone be super…

Farewell City of Heroes, and thanks for everything.


I, Mesmer: Staff

For the more relaxed and traditional kind of arcane spellcasting Mesmer of the old school, the Staff is a solid choice. Nothing bellows “WIZZZARD!” quite like a big long stick with a knob on the end and Staff is available as a two-handed weapon option for the Mesmer class. Initially unimpressive compared to the high-octane, hanging-on-for-dear-life of the Greatsword or the sheer Errol Flynn of dual wield rapiers, in the hands of the Mesmer, the Staff is a surprisingly subtle and effective set of weapon skills.

Winds of ChaosOur Staff auto-attack #1 is Winds of Chaos. This fires a rather sluggish and unintimidating blob of purple sparkles which lazily drifts toward the target at not much more than running pace. It hits for a fairly low amount of damage, applies a randomly chosen Condition and then bounces to the closest other enemy or friend, debuffing or buffing them as appropriate. As with Greatsword: Mirror Blade, a further bounce can be added with traiting. Of note is the bolt, which seems to have a fixed duration of flight, meaning that the closer you are to a single lone target, the more time it has to get in extra bounces, as it needs to travel less distance to do so. Try standing at various distances from a destroyable item; barrel, weapon rack etc, while firing to see this in effect. The closer you are the better for this skill, which is a bit odd. Also, shorter travel time means that conditions can be stacked up and refreshed on the target more easily. The damage is disappointing, but the liberal condition application is the most useful thing here.

Phase RetreatSlot #2, Phase Retreat, is a useful utility skill. When used, it will teleport you about 300 units backwards, away from your current target. This has zero cast time, so can be done while knocked down, etc. When you teleport, it will leave behind a Clone who also uses #1 Winds of Chaos as their autoattack skill. As a Clone, it does almost no damage with this attack, but does do the conditions, suddenly making two of you stacking up Burn, Bleed and Vulnerability on the target. The skill has one of the fastest cooldowns in Mesmerdom, making it eminently spammable, adding further Winds of Change volleying Clones to the fray and further removing you from melee troubles. To cap it all, it is also a Combo Finsher: Leap – if you use it inside an Ethereal Field, you’ll get a bonus burst of Chaos Armor for free! A handy all-purpose skill, but watch what is behind you before hitting the button; you can easily reverse yourself into new monsters, and in rare cases, I’ve had this teleport me outside the world geometry, requring a relog! Harrowing!

Phantasmal WarlockAs seems to be the general case for Mesmer, the Phantasm seems to be the real key in this hotbar; #3 Phantasmal Warlock summons a Phantasm with a scepter that stands at the back and uses its own special and unique ability on the target. This nameless ability does respectable base damage, but for each unique condition on the enemy (a possible max of 11), the damage is increased by 10%. Pushing beyond four or five conditions starts to cause very high DPS indeed. This makes the iWarlock the lynchpin of any Staff build; everything else you do should cause one or more conditions to be applied to the enemy. A decent amount of these can be caused by simply auto-attacking with #1, and making sure to generate and replace #2 Clones frequently. There are many other ways for a Mesmer to add more conditions as well, and Utility slots should try to complement this. Then, just make sure to have the iWarlock up as consistently as possible to reap the most benefit. As with most Phantasms, avoid shattering it where possible – it’s more use alive.

Chaos Armor#4 Chaos Armor is a rare Mesmer defensive self-buff. It creates an aesthetically pleasing purple dome around you  for five seconds (which I tend to call ‘The Zorb’). It doesn’t do anything to directly protect you, but if hit will randomly buff you or debuff whatever hit you. Interestingly, the list of Conditions caused is different from the list dished out by #1 Winds of Chaos, helping to stack more unique conditions beyond a total of three for the #3 iWarlock to feast on. I often hum the Super Mario Star Theme  when using this skill, and I suggest you do the same. Trust me, it helps!

(Note: This Chaos Armor is basically the same thing as the one given out by successful Ethereal-to-Leap and Ethereal-to-Blast Combo pairs, so clever use of Combo Field: Ethereal type Utility skills with #4 Phase Retreat can give you several chained ‘goes’ at the Zorb, rather than just having to wait for this one skill to cooldown. I like to bring my friends zorbing too, so get Warriors to Blast Finish into them where possible for a fantastic Jean Michel Jarre style lightshow!)

Chaos StormSlot #5 is Chaos Storm, a highly spectacular Mesmer party-piece which uses a large AoE template and sets off a whacking great purple lightning dome on use. The dome lasts 10s and randomly buffs/debuffs occupants and moderately damages and briefly dazes enemies inside. It isn’t very devastating when used in isolation, looking a lot more scarey than it actually is, but can be very potent when used with other skills. The condition lists it picks from is different again to the #4 Chaos Armor and #1 Winds of Chaos lists, meaning that all three used in concert on the same target can cause nine or more +10% Damage boosts for the #3 iWarlock to melt faces with. The Storm is also a Combo Field: Ethereal of prodigious size, allowing large groups to open up with a satisfyingly huge number of Finishers, if they know it’s coming. Being the size it is, it is also very good at tagging during big PvE events or the densely packed kinds of open-air festival one so often sees being held outside a frontline Keep Door in WvWvW. If you’ve only got time to throw one skill over the parapet before having your little crime-fighting mask burned off, make it this one for maximum aggressor shock and awe. Downsides are a lengthy cooldown and the characteristically random nature of the effects, making planning a bit tricky.

(Note: With traiting, you can opt to have one of these go off whenever you take falling damage. It’ll also halve the damage taken. It goes without saying that this looks extremely cool indeed. Be sure to be wearing shades and a trenchcoat and/or catsuit as appropriate, and to perform a flawless three-point landing for maximum effect, as kindly demonstrated by Scarlett Johansson, here.)


The Staff is a pretty viable main weapon, and a much more subtle and intricate thing than the Greatsword. It’s greatest problem is that at first Wind of Chaos glance, it just looks and sounds a bit damp. Staves are for the long game, so be sure to stack for +Condition Damage if specialising in it, rather than +Precision, as the whole approach is practically akin to Necromancy, and good for killing things without them noticing they’re dying. It offers good survivability, healthy Illusion generation and a slow but steady and sometimes eye-widening damage potency. Most of all, the Staff’s continual rolling Condition-work very much reminds me of the bread and butter of traditional Guild Wars One Mesmer work, and is probably the closest available thing to the play-style of the first game.

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