On Sword Oath

I’m already forgetting the lessons of Blaugust. I might be a bit busier than I was then, but I should keep in mind that I don’t need to write an entire book every time I hit post. With that in mind, here are a few things that came up this past week in FFXIV. While the game balance at 50 is generally somewhere between “good” and “excellent”, there are a few periods where skill order makes no sense whatsoever. Lancers, for example, do the most DPS between the levels of 12-25 by spamming Impulse Drive, and ignoring the 2-step combo that they have. The Black mage rotation doesn’t really make sense until you have both Fire III and Blizzard III, which isn’t until 38. But the worst case of this in my opinion is the Paladin.

Skill Order

When you get your Job Stone as a warrior, the skill you get at Level 30 is Defiance. It improves your survivability, helps you hold threat, and allows you to build stacks that you can’t spend for five more levels. Paladins instead get Sword Oath, which increases the auto-attack damage you do (admittedly by a decent amount). The skill they get that increases their threat and survivability (Shield Oath) is withheld until level 40. The level 35 skill is Cover, which does not assist in threat or survivability. This wouldn’t be such a big problem, except that dungeons at this point start getting quite a bit more challenging (Brayflox’s Longstop and The Sunken Temple of Qarn are a giant wake-up call) and all DPS jobs get a massive stat boost from their job stones (and some of them also get important damage skills at 30). Unfortunately, this means that Paladins are at a rather large disadvantage, and I know from enough times healing and tanking Brayflox that it isn’t just player perception.

Sword Oath

Problem Resolution

All is not lost: Paladins are perfectly capable of doing the content in this level range, it just takes a bit more work. It comes down to two things, really: Cooldowns and Target Switching.

Paladins are blessed with an entire suite of damage reduction cooldowns, and they can even steal the Warrior’s best one at that level range. In addition, the pace of combat in FFXIV is such that you can use something with a cooldown of 90 seconds about every other fight if you want. My first instinct when I was playing was to save cooldowns for emergencies, but you will get some more suited to this purpose later. Things like Convalescence, Foresight, and Rampart are nice to use whenever they make the healer’s life easier. Making their life easier then makes your life easier.

This one was a bit unintuitive to me at first too, but it’s useful and nearly required in the 30s. The only Paladin Combo that matters 95% of the time (Fast Blade->Savage Blade->Rage of Halone) has a threat modifier on the second hit, and a larger threat modifier on the third hit. It can be extremely helpful when tanking multiple things to land the second or third hit on something that isn’t your primary target, because Flash starts to not be enough in some cases. (These cases are named Summoner and Black Mage) On the other hand, if you have a strong single-target DPS in the party (Monk, Dragoon, Ninja) you might lose aggro on the primary target if you switch, so know when not to. If your party contains a Summoner and a Dragoon, mark targets and hope.

I'm not proud.
I’m not proud.

At the end of the tunnel

At level 40, you finally get Shield Oath (and will forget to use it roughly once a day for the rest of your time playing this class). At 38, you get Sentinel, a cooldown actually worth saving for emergencies (which is why it’s not in my macro). The dark days of the 30s don’t last forever, and once you get through them you’ll (hopefully) know how to be a better tank with lessons that once again apply once you have to deal with the class that can cast Flare. Have fun!

On Pink Mohawks

So as the D&D game is winding down (possibly involving both dungeons and actual dragons), I’m looking to the next thing that I’m likely to take part in, which is Shadowrun. For those who are unaware, Shadowrun is a cyberpunk setting that also happens to include magic and some “traditional fantasy races” although not in traditional roles, in some cases. For more info, play one of the recent Shadowrun Returns games.

The Shadowrun setting is a bit of a relic of the 80s, and has some weird things in it associated with that. Some of those have been touched on in later editions (4e and 5e decided that “everything is wireless”), but some have not. The New Age movement influenced the political landscape in Shadowrun, including a nation of hippie elves and Native Americans taking over most of the US. Megacorps are a product of the time the game was written (and the term itself is borrowed from William Gibson)*. Virtual reality did not quite take off like the writers expected**. The fall of the Soviet Union was unexpected, but the only effect in the setting is that the name is changed from USSR to “Russian Federation”***. In 2015, some of it is quite anachronistic for what’s supposed to be the future. On the other hand, they were prescient about a few things. The Internet wasn’t really a thing in the 80s, but it is in Shadowrun, and it absolutely is now. Everything having wireless capability can’t really be credited to the 80s (it was introduced in 4e, written in 2005). Drones that were part of Science Fiction in the 80s are a very real part of military technology now. Other things aren’t quite a reality, but we’re getting there, like cybernetics and brain interfaces.

*We can talk about Wal-Mart and GE and Google and Japan in general, but they aren’t quite there yet.

**We can talk about the current VR wave if you want, but I’m not yet convinced it’s going to go differently than the last few.

***This one I’m not going to talk about, sorry.


Black Trenchcoats

A major part of the way the game is assumed to go is that you are part of a team doing somewhat illegal things for a mysterious benefactor (called Mr. Johnson regardless of their actual name). Some players view this whole conceit more seriously than others, and the terms that have arisen to describe this are “Black Trenchcoat” and “Pink Mohawk”. The names play off of sterotypes: In a Black Trenchcoat game, everyone is wearing a black trenchcoat and trying not to attract attention and complete the mission, and so on. In a Pink Mohawk game, someone shows up with a Pink Mohawk, and everyone else is okay with that.

Personally I don’t see the distinction as quite so black and white, but that might be because I’m predisposed to the latter style anyway. Even if the tone of a game is entirely serious, I think things are more interesting with a bit of personality. Shadowrun mechanically encourages this somewhat with the addition of positive and negative qualities available during character creation. (For the curious, a pink mohawk would almost certainly fall under “Distinctive Style”, a negative quality worth 5 Karma.) Being serious, and competent and yes, even optimized doesn’t necessarily exclude having a bit of fun.


Interesting times

One of the best things to me in tabletop RPGs are what I’d like to call “Interesting Bad Ideas”. If everything goes as planned things can get boring (although a good GM won’t let this happen), and these provide nice hooks for things that are likely to be fun. While Kodra is usually a nice source of these in games we end up playing together, I’ve been known to make my fair share. Our previous D&D campaign was largely defined by a deal I attempted to make with a red dragon in the first session (It seemed like a good idea at the time). This is how we end up doing things like starting (and sometimes ending) wars and uncovering very odd artifacts and sometimes destroying large sections of the countryside and/or planets.

This Shadowrun campaign might be interesting, as there are two groups (one local to the GM and one through Roll20) running for similar goals. It’s yet to be seen if we’ll come into conflict, although I’m guessing we will, indirectly. My planned Shadowrun character is a bad idea personified (as well as the very incarnation of a running joke about a previous character of mine). Details of this aren’t exactly available to the rest of the party (the GM knows, of course), although a few of them would be able to quickly figure it out if they knew what to look for. From what I know so far of the other characters, I might not be the only one playing a disaster waiting to happen. It should be fun to see whose number comes up first.


On Fine Particulate

Unlike most of the things I write about, which are either MMOs or fairly recent games, I’d like to take a moment to talk about one that is actually a few years old now. Dust: An Elysian Tail released on Xbox Live Arcade in 2012, and as these things tend to do, released for the PC the following year. It released on the PS4 last year, and was free as part of PS+ or Games With Gold at various points in the year depending on your choice of platform.

Dust is a Metroidvania with a bit of a surprising development history. The developer is Humble Hearts, but the vast majority of the work is credited to Dean Dodrill (Noogy), who is responsible for all of the design, art, programming, and most of the story. I did discover when looking things up for this post that he was also an artist on Jazz Jackrabbit 2, and one of the composers for Dust (Alexander Brandon) was also involved in the creation of that game.

Title Screen

Let’s just get this out of the way

Dust: An Elysian tail is a game where all of the characters are anthropomorphic animals, and the art style resembles 90s cartoons in a lot of ways. I’ve seen a number of people mention they won’t play the game because of the characters or animation. (This is usually accompanied by a statement making fun of furries, DeviantArt, or both.) As someone who actually enjoyed the era of 90s platformers, I actually like the art style quite a bit. The experience with Jazz Jackrabbit shows, and Dust himself has a lot of nice animations for both movement and attacks. Things that aren’t Dust tend to not animate quite as well, however. The big versions of characters used for cutscenes are not quite as refined as the spritework.

Fidget, panicked

A Winning Combination

You play primarily as Dust, an amnesiac (ok, maybe a bit cliché) cat who is accompanied by a talking sword (the Blade of Ahrah) and the sword’s flying nimbat guardian (named Fidget). There is a usual progression of abilities for a metroidvania, increasing your mobility to open up more areas, and the platforming is solid. Combat involves rather fanciful use of the sword, and Fidget can cast magic to support you (which by itself is very ineffective). One of the major elements of the game is that Dust can spin his sword to create a vacuum effect (called the Dust Storm), and this has uses in both combat and puzzles. The primary combat use is to amplify Fidget’s magic, which will become homing, or explosive, or possibly other things during this effect. Puzzles tend to make more use of the ability to pull things in. It’s also an attack by itself, capable of dealing lots of small hits at short-range, but it will damage you if you hold it for too long.

Using this combat system, the game rewards racking up large chains of hits, and even lets you get a few extra hits on enemies that have been killed before they fade in order to keep up a combo. This easily gets into the hundreds in the start of the game, and there are achievements for values up to a thousand. Getting hit drops the chain, but Dust has a very effective parry that can keep you (and your chain) alive when big hits are coming. There’s also an invincible dodge that can be performed in either direction, but your enemies can also do this in most cases, and will use it to flank you.


Eternally Retold

The story is a bit short on reliable narrators, but mostly involves intersecting tales of revenge, with Dust caught in the middle. It’s hard to say more without spoilers. I enjoyed the main story, but that might be a personality thing. I always want to know more about things, and this game plays some of its more important background elements very close to the vest. I find this compelling, but I’m aware that others find it annoying. Your most reliable source most of the time is the sword, and it seems to have incomplete knowledge.

There are also a lot of side quests, which are not all created equal. Some are interesting, and some are boring, and the rewards tend to be not great either way. Some of the NPCs are still interesting, like the old couple you meet near the start of the game, and the shopkeeper who somehow manages to be in places that he shouldn’t. The incidental writing (journals, item descriptions) is sometimes more entertaining than expected. One of the immediate examples here is “Mysterious Wall Chicken”, which is a reference to how Castlevania games tend to inexplicably put food inside of breakable walls. It’s not quite to a Final Fantasy 14 or a Divinity 2 level, but it’s certainly something that wasn’t ignored. (As an aside, the game that clearly put the most effort into its item descriptions that I’ve played is Sequence. No word yet on if There Came an Echo continues this tradition.)


Ashes to Ashes

In the end, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a game I highly recommend. It’s a solid metroidvania with an enjoyable combat system, great music, and an interesting story. I also have a few spare Steam copies, which I’m willing to give out to three people who show me an amusing item description. I’ll take submissions via twitter or in the comments section until 12:00 EDT (16:00 GMT) on March 13, and I’ll choose the winners randomly from among these. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.