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Steam Sale Survival Guide, WildStar Premature Death Guide

As the Steam Summer Sale 2014 lurches to a start, I find myself bemused that I've already bought most of the games in the spotlight, and am too busy playing WildStar right now anyway.
 This is not my first Steam sale, and I've adopted a purchase strategy that goes something like this:
  • This is point number one: don't buy it if you're unsure you will ever make time to play it.  If it's not at least interesting tier, I probably won't make time to play it.  This is probably the hardest rule to follow, because how can you be really sure you'll never play the game?
  • If it's not cut by over 50%, it's not really on sale.  Steam regularly does better than that.  I might be able to settle for merely half-off if it's on the top of my wish list, but otherwise I can wait until a real sale happens.
  • Even if it's already significantly discounted, don't buy it if it's not featured as a timed sale.  Examples of timed sales include the "Daily Deal," "Flash Sale," and "Community Choice" features.  The reason why you should wait for these is because it's quite frequent for a game to already be on sale in Steam and then be discounted even further when it is featured as a timed sale.  Even if you missed the Daily Deal/Flash Sale window, the last day of the Steam sale often features an encore of the more popular timed sales, so you may still be able to snap it up at a better discount.
Following these hallowed rules will spread one's entertainment expenses as thin as possible outside of a pay-what-you-want Humble Bundle-like deal.  It's an effective strategy in what's ultimately a procrastinator's pursuit.
I'm thinking you don't want to go viral about "straining" in a fan base so sensitive about grinding, guys.

Now, for an example of an ineffective strategy in procrastination, lets talk about what I've done following the third major weekend following WildStar's head start.

Sunday night - lets play a Mechari Warrior Scientist already.  That seemed to be the conclusion from the last two times I did this, after all.  What a difference one night's sleep makes.  Monday morning - "I am declaring this the weekend of the Chua Engineer Settler." 

To these ends, I threw my existing level 15 Cassain Settler into the fires of the cryo incinerator.  The poor bastards cry when you threaten to delete them in WildStar, but I've long sense grown calloused to the pointless expense of digital personae lives.  At least I've taken to the habit of selling everything they have and mailing it to their replacements, so I accrue some progress out of my rampant disregard for my existing characters.

Yet, by Monday afternoon, I still had not really committed to the Engineer very well, and was already considering whether I'd be happier with a Warrior or Stalker as my tank class of choice.
The most famous repositional ability in modern gaming.

The main thing I was thinking of were "repositional" abilities that allow me to shift enemies around, which could be quite valuable in WildStar because there's a lot of area of effect attacks going off which could be further enhanced by dragging foes into them.  There's basically three big ones to keep in mind:
  • The Engineer's Diminisher Bot can be ranked up to Tier 8 to drag 5 foes within 10 range closer to it.  Upside is that's five whole foes you can drag in quite frequently.  The downside is that's a mere 10 range, barely more than melee, and it can be tricky to get the Diminisher Bot where you want it to go sometimes.  Also, Tier 8 is available at level 45, so Engineers get no repositional joy before the end game.
  • The Warrior's Grapple is perhaps the vanilla example of a repositional ability.  It grabs up to two foes 20 range, and can be specialized to get two utilizations per cooldown.  The major downside of this ability (besides its dumb tendency to drop the foes slightly behind the Warrior) is that it seems to effect all enemies in a line extending out from the Warrior, grabbing the first two... that's a problem because chances are you want the ones that are further from the warrior, not closer.  Warriors also get Tether Bolt, which should be handy for holding foes still for a few seconds.
  • The Stalker's Collapse ability seems even handier than the Warrior's Grapple, because it just yanks in the three furthest foes, automatically, fire and forget repositioning of the foes that will need it the most.  The downside is a mere 12 range.  Stalkers also get Tether Mine, which is virtually equivalent to Tether Bolt except that the enemy has to walk over it.
Currently, the dream of a repositional off-tank is dead, because I tried out the Warrior's Grapple and found 20 range to be sub-par for the job, so I suspect the 10-12 range on the Engineer and Stalker equivalent abilities will be next to useless.  At most, maybe a Warrior who extends the use of two consecutive Grapples to pull off a near-40-range repositoning might be an effective repositional off-tank... just barely.  Perhaps I'm spoiled by the City Of Heroes ability to round up enemies that I enjoyed in the past.
By Monday evening, I had decided I need to choose no more than two main characters and stick with them if I want to really enjoy WildStar.  Ideally, each main will be on opposite factions, thus allowing me to enjoy 100% of the content WildStar has to offer (path restrictions notwithstanding).  In time, this plan would grow to facilitate having a tank and a healer on both sides, depending on what I was in the mood for... before the plan was pretty much derailed entirely.

Anyway, I remembered that I had a plan back at release to play a Dominion Female Mechari Engineer Settler and an Exile Male Mordesh Medic Scientist, and was thinking that really wasn't such a bad idea.  I scrapped my new Chua Engineer and rolled him up as the Engineer I was planning to play at release, heartened in the knowledge I now knew I could always replace her bloomers with costumed pants if that irritated me.

Surprisingly, I managed to stick with this Engineer all the way up through Tuesday Evening, thanks in part to Urgent Withdrawal being a fun ability to use.  This ability essentially gives my Engineer an invisible jetpack to kick her upwards and backwards on a two charge system that also does some AOE damage and snares opponents.  The really fun part is that I can combine that with my normal double-jump to get even more air!

The moment of truth came when I was finally in the position to tank in a level 15 adventure map.  I did not expect to do great at it, considering it was my first major run and that I was in slightly below level 15 armor.  I died more than once, and the healer wasn't up to the task of dealing with my weak mitigation, but I did a pretty good job of keeping the enemies pointed away from the party while still dodging most of the telegraphs.

Unfortunately, the Engineer was very meh; I was not blown away with the experience, and feeling a tad disillusioned about my choice.  Perhaps I had learned some new things since WildStar's release.  I had seen the kind of gameplay offered by the likes of the Esper, it was far more challenging and flowing.  The Engineer's bag of tricks required very little finesse to pull off.  Little wonder Ungent Withrawal got my attention: it was one of the few Engineer abilities that were fun for me to use.

That night, I encountered on the WildStar forums, and I have to say that this Steamhawke guy really did a massively good writeup on what the classes in WildStar are really capable of doing.  Fertilized with this new knowledge, I was ready once again to abandon my progress and see if I could do better.  The Warrior was looking particularly good due to their excess of battle-swaying group damage mitigation, and their "Spiky" threat generation would be perfect for my offtanking idea.
If my subconscious was telling me that it wanted me to play an MMORPG starring Haruhi Suzimiya, I'm pretty sure all those were shut down.

Wednesday morning, I awoke with my head stuffed with a recollection of dreams that were mixing The Stanley Parable with Haruhi Suzimiya.  A bit of rudimentary dream interpretation told me that my subconscious was probably telling me that it wants to make decisions.  Living things like to make choices; whether or not free will is an illusion, we at least like to participate.  I had not played the Stanley Parable or watched Haruhi Suzimiya in quite some time, so I'm not entirely sure why I was thinking of them now... but could this be somehow leveraged in an understanding of what class I wanted to play in WildStar?

For whatever reason, I logged in my stalwart Mechari Warrior Scientist at last.  He's a pretty standup guy; I play him like he's a Paladin, firmly believing in the Dominion's ideals, and why shouldn't he?  He's been programmed to.  He is justice personified, and justice is blind.  He cuts a righteous swathe through everything, essentially immune to moral delemma.  As far as escapism goes, this Mechari Warrior is delightfully megalomaniacal in his unwavering conviction that what he's doing is right, and the Warrior's skillset is as unyielding as he is.

Warrior gameplay is rather ponderous compared to most WildStar classes - you can be a flowing, skilled Warrior, but the tempo will always be set a few scales down on the metronome of battle.   Nonetheless, I held my nose to the grindstone because I wanted to see what I felt about the "Grapple" ability.  Well, I discovered how disappointing that was at around noon, a full disclosure of why is in my talk of repositional abilities a few paragraphs ago.

While I was playing him, I realized that the importance of a good character concept is a thing, and I had come up with the idea of a Dominion Space Nazi who is a Cassain Spellslinger Soldier with Technologist/Relic Hunter as trade skills.  So he's not only into the occult (as Spellslingers are essentially wizards with pistols), but he's also a tad addicted to shooting up with Eldan omniplasm and a militant tyrant besides (he would play a high ranker on the Soldier path).  I think I was influenced by the occult nazis in the Indiana Jones and Hellboy movies.

I threw a lot of that away by rolling him Chua instead. Chuas had a couple of things going for them.  First off, they have this magnificent Chua mount that looks like sort of a hamster ball.  Other races can drive it, too, but the thematic fit is better if you're a Chua.  Another factor is that I wanted to have a Chua on my roster of characters, because sometimes it's just fun to cut loose and be a weirdo.  Also, I already had a character who was a stuffy Cassain, why would I need a second one? 

I decided to go Explorer instead of Scientist, mostly because I wanted a little chunk of additional content I had not already exhausted in my many Scientist/Settlers before me.  In doing so, it blew my freaking mind.

I had never taken an Explorer past the starting zones before, so I was wholly surprised to see that, in Deradune, my Explorer suddenly had a number of benefits.  Not the least of bit being their own dedicated hunting grounds in vast areas that are sealed off from the main lands and trailblazing waypoints that can be followed in order to stack their speed up to an additional 150%.  A primary reason I had even been playing Settlers so far was because of the run speed buff, and the Explorer had the potential to blow that away!  The path rewards don't seem like much (especially considering fall damage can be nullified by class abilities like Urgent Withdrawal anyway) but the geological features more than made up for it!

Oh crap!  Have I been rolling the wrong path choice all along?  If so, all my characters were now obsolete.

Adding insult to injury, I took my Chua Spellslinger Explorer from level 1 to level 10 inside of 2 1/2 hours.  That's stunning, normally I would pull about level 6-8 in that amount of time.  I owe this rapid attribution to levels to a few factors:
  • The aforementioned Explorer "trailblazing" speed buff allowed me to move rapidly to new content.
  • I ignored a number of the beginning quests while trailblazing about.  A lot of the drag on leveling speed in WildStar is because I am a competionist who wants to get all the quests done, even if they're below my level.
  • The Spellslinger class allowed me to eliminate a lot of foes from a long range, which meant less running up to engage them.  Overall speed of combat may have been a factor, too - perhaps it's a balance that less armored classes will naturally make up for it offensively.
Someone suggested that maybe I just synergized really well with the class.  I hope not, because frankly I don't think the Spellslinger was really complex enough to play for my liking.  I realize this might seem premature from a fellow who only played one to level 10, but it seems like nearly all of their abilities are just pewpewpew: line up your shots, take em' down.  The abilities that are not about the pewpewpew are mostly about mitigating threats in order to set up more pewpewpew.  I'm a thinking man gamer, I want more thinking, less pewpewpew.

By late Wednesday afternoon, I was so exhausted that I laid down and played Phoenix Wright on the iPad for the rest of the day.  Part of it might be that the rapid pace of my character was taxing, but I think I might have been suffering from mild caffeine intoxication, chagrin at what I had learned about Explorers, and a minor cold bug.  Still, I sure gave that Luke Atmey what for, all the way until about 1am.

The day is still young this Thursday.  I didn't really play any WildStar today, and frankly I wrote this blog entry today because I don't even know where to start.

Currently, my ranking of class methods, from hardest to easiest, is looking something like this:
  1. Esper - Many abilities involve rooting yourself on the spot, which is very dangerous in a game that is not at all shy to throw hostile telegraphs in need of immediate avoidance.  Of all the classes, the Esper combo mechanic is the least forgiving, as there's a big difference in potency between a "cash in" ability at 5 combo points versus 1.  Being lightly armored means Espers have a smaller margin of error, even if they do have a nice host of absorbs, heals, and distraction abilities to make up for it.
  2. Engineer - Okay, so the Engineer is heavily armored which means they've a lot of faceroll leverage... however, many of their abilities apply a self-snare, and babysitting their pet robots is a constant chore.  On the other hand, if you ditch the robots the greater bulk of their abilities are remarkably straightforward.
  3. Medic - I find the Medic and Engineer play quite similarly in that you're largely pointing yourself at the enemy and slamming hotkeys.  However, the Medic has no self-snares to worry about, doesn't need to worry about pets, and their fields have a greater overall flexibility to place. Still, you'll be chasing people down to heal them, and that's the roughest job if you want a dedicated healer.  The medium armor limitation is mitigated considerably by being able to self-heal.  Many players malign the Medic as being truly melee range, but I find this to be a rather narrow assessment.
  4. Warrior - As I mentioned before, the Warrior is a slow tempo class, meaning you'll have a little more time to plan out your activations, and having the best armor only helps to promote this relatively relaxed pace.  However, it's a much trickier operating in melee range, and those long windups lead to you being committed to those ability activations for a longer period of time.  I'm somewhat at a loss as to whether or not Warriors should be #2 on the list or not, because the counterbalance of durability and mobility versus being in true melee range is tough to gauge.
  5. Spellslinger - As I mentioned before, the Spellslinger basically just lines things up and pewpewpews their way to victory.  They put out enough damage and have enough mobility that their light armor is rarely an issue: most enemies will already be half-dead by the time they reach the Spellslinger, and even then the Spellslinger is not necessarily caught.  Expecting a tough battle?  Slam Runes Of Protection and pewpewpew some more.  Friends are hurting?  Pewpewpew your heal bullets instead.  PEWPEWPEW.  Some people figure their Spellsurge mechanic is the hardest to manage, but it just buffs a few choice ability activations, so the only difficulty is in deciding where you want to spend this trump card.
Honestly, the overall difficulty from 1 to 5 is not as pronounced as "thinking man to faceroll."  All the classes Iv'e played are roughly in the middle, but some edge further in one direction than the other.  On a scale of 1 to 5, it would probably go 4,3,3,3,2, with no class completely faceroll, but it's hard to remember that when you're just taking out trash mobs.

Where is Stalker on this list?  I don't know.  Maybe I'll make that omniplasm-addicted Cassain space nazi after all, but as a Stalker.  Sure, he won't be a wizard, but he'll be plenty weird regardless.  Anyway, the Stalker is the only class remaining that I haven't taken to at least level 10, and I suppose knowing where they sit on this list is important.
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