Another Year of Gaming and Blogging

It’s December 30, and it’s time to draw the line under 2021.

This year in my gaming was both sad and happy. Sad – because my major hobby, World of Warcraft, THE Game for more than a decade is basically on life support today, with the all-time lowest credit from players including myself, and with very sad perspectives. Happy – because its troubles and the biggest of all, content drought, made me try and love multiple other titles.

World of Warcraft‘s troubles of 2021 were discussed in this blog and elsewhere, from every possible angle, chewed and digested. The flame of scandals and general irritation has died out, and gamers, press and content makers alike are sitting quietly, waiting for the developers to make their move. There are three key factors to save the former MMO flagship, or at least keep it afloat, and the ball is totally on their side:

  • Obviously, fixing the scandal-related issues – both to keep developers on board and try to fix the almost irreparably stained reputation in the eyes of the community;
  • Releasing at least a gameplay-engaging 9.2. patch to keep players until the next expansion release – no one already hopes for any decent lore in Shadowlands, and by datamining we get none;
  • Releasing the next expansion that pleases the community – with new, better stories, characters and lore, set in Azeroth and its more down-to-earth troubles and villains, and a reworked gameplay approach that will align with modern requirements: less grind, less RNG, less demand in general for the time spent.

Personally, I do want to hope for the best, and yet I hold few hopes now for the future of the project. Lack of visionaries and creators, inability to adjust to covid-influenced schedule after almost 2 years, deafness and blindness towards player base, and the creeping plague of dragging IRL issues to the product (true for almost every media today) leave little place for optimism.

I was almost out of the game for April-June due to content drought, played patch 9.1. with a moderate interest, and since November I’m in a lull again, not being urged to login at all. All desired content consumed in my camp, and whatever small leftovers remain, like covenant sets, are not inspiring enough.

My subscription today is canceled, and the game is a dead weight, available for login until February. I am planning and will return for the big content releases, and if they’re engaging enough, of course I will play them continuously (like I said, I always hope for the best and I’m never happier when I have stuff in WoW to do). Yet in a course of a single year Blizzard managed an elephant-sized shell-hole in their juggernaut, with their own hands and no one to blame… if you think of it, it’s just fascinating. Wonder if they make it – if so, it will be a mythic heroic deed from company and developers.

Horizon Zero Dawn – was my first WoW-content drought game in April. It’s a stunningly beautiful adventure in a post-post-apocalyptic world, humanity reduced to bow-and-arrow tribes, fighting machine beasts which are now a natural part of wildlife.

I loved the game for its scenery, plot, setting, gameplay and main character, at the same time it’s quite a melancholic game with bleak, dummy side characters. It was a great experience, and yet it did not make me stay long – main story, period. I wish they made a movie, because the game has every potential for it, and it would have been an overwhelming blockbuster hit if done right.

Assassin’s Creed Series – dismissed Black Flag (Carribean pirates) too soon for gameplay issues, and enjoyed the “reboot” trio of Origins – Odyssey – Valhalla games. Odyssey is a model game, and I loved everything about it. I played through the whole story with both DLCs, did all the side quests, found every treasure and crawled into every nook and cranny – I vacuum-cleared the whole map, and I did not want to leave.

The secret was a simple but very engaging gameplay, customizing and tuning your character as you please, an excellent story, amazing side characters, stunning environment of a sunlit Ancient Greece, and most lovable player character (obviously, a canonical Cassandra). This is the game where you learn to value open world – this can never be underestimated.

Origins were almost the same by gameplay, and the setting was just as interesting and engaging – a Caesar/Cleopatra period of Ancient Egypt, but I liked it less due to its grimdark story which left me brooding. Valhalla – a stunningly beautiful and accurate take on a viking conquest era – is very cool and interesting by itself, but I did not advance too far due to my developed disgust towards viking culture and society as a whole, brutish and cruel to align with. So it was an uninstall after a couple of story chapters.

Star Wars Battlefront II – a shooter, for God’s sake. Ever since 90s, Doom, Duke Nukem and Quake II, I’ve always been the worst player in shooters: I’m too slow to react and aim, and I can never know when and how to dodge those shots aimed at you. Yet this game I was able to play, and enjoyed it to the bone.

The campaign is canonically accurate – it starts for a minor character during the destruction of Endor Death Star, and as a story is simply perfect. I played through the campaign with utmost pleasure, it moved me a lot, and I plan to replay it again sometime.

As a third person shooter, it’s quite forgiving for even the shooter newbies like myself, so I not only coped with ease, but also had my share of fun! You can have lightsaber encounters, gunfire showdowns and starship battles – both in the campaign and in custom match sessions.

I’m very demanding and sensitive to the Star Wars movie spirit and vibe in games, and as SW:TOR has none of that even if all pieces of puzzle are there (that’s why I quit it very soon in my time), Battlefront II delivers, as did Jedi Fallen Order. Highly recommended for any franchise fan!

Blade & Soul – the MMO that did not make me stay. I praised the very fast paced and flashy combat system, the environment and creature design, and the story was great. However, I dropped it due to a ridiculous, but vital reason: technical hiccups.

The game logins and plays smoothly, combat is flawless, yet I experienced endless unexplainable fraction-of-second freezes during simplest actions, like activating a fast run (a replacement for mounts here) or a double jump. Imagine how often you need to mount (or fast run), and you can’t tolerate this thorn for too long. So, definitely an interesting and fun game to try and story to play through, with a number of innovative gameplay mechanics… but did not fly with me.

Finally – the last, but not the least – Final Fantasy XIV, the MMO that finally made me stay. I had my trial account for 3 years or so, and never advanced more than 15-20 levels. This time – well, hype helped – I made myself sit through the initial experience, and never regretted it.

It is as good as advertised. The story, now with Endwalker expansion, is one of the best storytelling I’ve met in a while, and not just in games, but media as a whole. It makes you laugh, cry, delivers epic moments and resolutions, develops a family bond with story characters, is strong in logic and reveals – name it. The group content – which you do a lot, every dungeon/raid at least once by story and also through dungeon finder as a main source of alt class experience – is experimental, imaginative and most exciting. The community – while not without assholes of course – is generally positive and supporting, and caring for newbies and not-so-skilled players.

All I had to do is to play through the initial slog of slow combat with few abilities, underwhelming design of starter zones and endless, non-voiced dialogues, but it payed off 100% in the end, as the game weaves your initial experience and story even in the final (so far) chapters. I did not hate even the 1-50 (vanilla) experience too much, but it starts to shine since the first expansion Heavensward, and becomes even better with every next expansion, jumping over its head every time.

The gameplay is story-based, true (and it’s ok if you just play through the story and stop playing until next story content!), yet in the endgame you may devote yourself to standard MMO routines – like braving the harder versions of dungeons and raids, gearing up and what not.

Personally, after Endwalker lore done I’m now busy with leveling 7 alt classes/jobs that I picked (3 extra on main, and 4 on my alt character), and completing self-assigned “loremaster” – that is, seeing all side quests, raids and dungeons that I skipped during main story questline. Not for actual profit, mostly (XP is ridiculous), but to enhance my knowledge about the world and understand it better, while learning new stories too. There’s tons of content to explore, accumulated in a decade, and it’s a long journey to go.

***

Well… it’s fascinating that in course of just one year this blog stops being WoW-only. The reason I started writing in the first place was to express my gaming adventures, to discuss my experiences. WoW has always been the game to me, and now that it stops being this, there’s nothing I can do?

In 2021, the Gnomecore blog seems to drift from one game blog to everything I’m playing. And at least during this winter it’s Final Fantasy :)

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