Author Archives: Pete Davison

About Pete Davison

News Editor for Gamer Network's USgamer.net, #oneaday blogger, and a founder member of the Squadron of Shame. I am also English, and feel a brotherly bond towards Miles Edgeworth.

1652: A Grand Day Out

We took our visitors up to Oxford today, for several reasons — to have a look at some genuinely Old Stuff, to play a couple of Zero Escape-style “room escape” games, and to visit Oxford’s answer to Toronto’s board game cafe Snakes and Lattes, Thirsty Meeples.

It was a great day out, though the amount of walking reminded me that I don’t do nearly enough just walking around these days.

The early part of the day consisted of the aforementioned “room escape” games courtesy of Ex(c)iting Game, a modest operation that offers two different interactive experiences in which you’re given an hour to solve a particular task. In the first room, we were challenged to break into a computer to recover a piece of information about someone who was going to be assassinated; in the second, we were tasked with locating a USB stick containing sensitive information before it was auctioned off.

In both cases, the games were fairly low-rent, consisting of straightforward and simple props with a few fun gadgets. The two games were markedly distinct from one another, too; the Stop the Assassin game was much more gadget-heavy, seeing us cracking a safe, using a blacklight and eventually cracking the code that led us to the computer password; conversely, second game The Auction was much more focused on deducing the answers to various riddles in order to solve combination locks and get them open.

Both games also featured a number of red herrings that had little to do with the games themselves, and both were reasonably challenging, taking our group of four a decent amount of time to crack in both cases. We completed the first game with just six minutes to spare; the second game we solved a little more quickly, with around twenty minutes left on the clock.

The setup, although simple, was effective. The staffer — whom I felt rather sorry for, since she clearly spent an awful lot of time twiddling her thumbs between appointments — observed our efforts to solve each room via webcam, and subsequently offered real-time hints through the monitor that otherwise displayed our time limit. Rather than these hints being predefined, she was able to highlight particular things in the room or type messages to us to ensure we could normally be nudged back onto the right track. In the case of both games, we would have probably found the answers ourselves eventually, but the hints were timed nicely so it didn’t feel like our intelligence was being insulted.

All in all, the game experience was fun. It would be neat to see the idea implemented with a somewhat bigger budget — perhaps some more special effects, more high-quality props and a little more effort to make the games more strongly thematic — but for today, it made an enjoyable and memorable day out.

We then took a bus into the city centre of Oxford, where we had a wander around a couple of the colleges, which was a fairly humbling experience when I think back on the places I stayed and studied when I was at university in Southampton. The dining hall in one of the colleges in particular was a real Hogwarts-style affair that impressed me and Andie almost as much as it did our visitors.

Following some wandering around — and a break for a drink in an incredibly old pub — we made it to Thirsty Meeples, where we had coffee, snacks and some gaming. We played the cooperative game Robinson Crusoe, which I’ve been curious to try for a while, and Boss Monster, which I’ve likewise heard of previously and have been keen to give a shot.

Robinson Crusoe is a very cool and strongly thematic cooperative game, though for those who enjoy the more Euro end of the spectrum, there’s plenty of worker placement and resource management involving shifting little wooden discs and cubes around the place. There’s also a number of different scenarios that I can see would likely change the way you play significantly — it’d be a game you could get a decent amount of replay value out of, due to the randomised elements. It was initially a little difficult to grasp, but after a turn or two all becomes clear and highly enjoyable — likely a game I’ll try and score a copy of for myself in the near future.

Boss Monster, meanwhile, is a short and simple card game in which you play a 16-bit era video game boss and have to build a dungeon to fend off the never-ending hordes of incoming heroes. It’s a simple, easy-to-understand game that I think will be a lot of fun with various groups — I ended up picking up a copy of it along with Avalon before we left.

We also gave Concept a go, which is, along the lines of Dixit, more of a fun group activity than a “game” per se. Like Dixit, it involves a certain amount of creativity — meaning Andie wasn’t a huge fan of it, but she soldiered on regardless — but handles things very differently. Rather than attempting to describe pictures on cards, Concept challenges you to get, well, concepts across by placing markers on various icons. It’s kind of Charades-ish, only you don’t do any actions — you place markers to describe the main concept of the word, phrase, title, whatever it is, and its “subconcepts”. You can then use smaller markers to elaborate on these a bit, but the only thing you can say during this whole process — which is surprisingly frustrating if your tablemates just won’t grasp something that seems obvious to you — is “yes” if they get something along the right lines.

So all in all, then, we had a great day. I’m pretty tired now, though, so I have a feeling I’ll sleep rather well this evening!

1651: British Things

When British people have visitors from overseas — such as we have at the moment — it is seemingly obligatory to do at least a few things that are as British as possible, just to clarify the fact that yes, it is the United Kingdom of etc. etc. that they are visiting and not just, say, the next town over to where they normally live. And in doing so, it can often be quite eye-opening to contemplate the quirks of one’s own culture when seen through the eyes of those from elsewhere — even those with some cultural crossover with Britain, such as our present visitors, whose cultural background includes both Ontario, Canada and Texas, USA.

For part of today, we took a trip out to a local National Trust site that I’ve forgotten the name of. It was about eight miles away from where Andie and I live, and featured a modestly sized stately home — “modest” being a relative term here, obviously — as well as some nice grounds and gardens. It’s the sort of place that Andie and I would probably never go to by ourselves, but since Mark and Lynette wanted to activate the National Trust passes they had for the remainder of their visit and this site was the nearest place that would allow them to do so, we figured we may as well pay it a visit.

It was enjoyable and impressive to see the house, which had been kept in very good condition and had an interesting history. The grounds, too were pleasant to look at, with a nice walled garden area and part of the River Test running through the grounds. There wasn’t too much to take in there, either; no feeling that you needed to spend the whole day there to get your money’s worth.

We followed the visit up with a trip to the Forte Tearooms in Winchester, one of the most British eating and drinking establishments I could think of that wasn’t a chip shop (that’s on the agenda for tomorrow) or a pub. Unfortunately we weren’t quite in time to enjoy a cream tea as well as our rather late lunch, but the food we did have time to enjoy was tasty enough.

After that we grabbed some food from Sainsbury’s — meat pie, chips, Mr Kipling fruit pies — and came home to eat, accompanied by the deliciously British sounds of classic Radio 4 show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.

All in all it’s been a thoroughly British day, and surprisingly enjoyable. Tomorrow we’re going a little further afield to Oxford for a few different activities — two different “room escape” games a la Zero Escape, some authentic fish and chips and a visit to Oxford’s board game cafe The Thirsty Meeple. Should be a lot of fun, so expect a full (and likely exhausted!) report tomorrow.

1650: Ascension

You may recall a while back I talked a little about an indie game called Towerfalla game that was originally intended to be the poster child for the ill-conceived Android microconsole the Ouya, but which subsequently came to other platforms including PS4 and PC. When I originally talked about it, I’d only tried the Versus mode — the mode the game was originally built around — but today Mark and I gave the cooperative two-player Quest mode a shot.

It’s a hell of a lot of fun, maintaining much of the chaos of the competitive multiplayer mode while presenting its own challenges as you and a partner work together to fend off increasingly difficult waves of enemies.

As Mark pointed out while we were playing, the closest comparison is probably Bubble Bobble, but with Towerfall being a modern game, it does all manner of things that the technology of Bubble Bobble’s era simply wouldn’t have been able to manage. Things like lighting and distortion effects on the screen; slow-motion sections; complex enemy waves; physics effects; and all manner of other things.

The genius of Towerfall – and presumably the reason it’s so well regarded as a top-tier indie title — is because it doesn’t try to do too much. It’s a series of single-screen arenas — a la Bubble Bobble – in which all you have to do is defeat all the enemies in a series of waves in order to proceed. But it’s the design of these waves — and the enemies themselves — that makes the game so good.

Each individual enemy’s behaviour is relatively simple, and it’s straightforward to figure out how to deal with most of them without any prompting from the game whatsoever — this is a game that is well and truly of the old school, eschewing unnecessarily long and tedious tutorial sequences and instead throwing the player(s) straight into the action at the earliest possible opportunity. You learn through discovery rather than through being told — and in doing so, you can feel yourself getting better and better each time you play. And you’ll need to — because this game is hard.

Yes, the pixel-art aesthetic isn’t the only old-school thing about Towerfall; it also has the difficulty level of an old-school arcade machine. The first couple of levels are deceptively straightforward, then the difficulty starts to ramp up pretty quickly, culminating in some extremely challenging battles later in the game. Never do things become overly complicated, though; you’re always dealing with the same types of enemies, with the same attack patterns, just in varying combinations. And it’s the good design and pacing of each of these levels that makes the game so enjoyable and satisfying to play.

Well, that and the ability to fire an arrow at particularly troublesome enemies and pin them to the wall with it. Who hasn’t wanted to do that to an army of slimes and grim reapers?

1649: UUUUURGH

Been showing off the Wii U today, and as part of this process I decided to pick up a game I’ve been meaning to give a shot for a while — Ubisoft’s ZombiU. So far it seems to be an interesting game, for sure, albeit not one without a few glaring problems, not least of which is a game-breaking bug relatively early in to the whole experience.

For those who have never encountered this Wii U exclusive, the best means of describing it is probably to use that tired old analogy: saying it’s “the Dark Souls of [x]“, where [x], in this case, is survival horror.

For once, though, that statement isn’t altogether inaccurate, since so far as I can make out from what I’ve played so far, ZombiU simply is Dark Souls, albeit presented from a first-person perspective and set in modern-day London rather than From Software’s dark fantasy classic. It has all the trappings of Dark Souls’ basic gameplay — combat that’s rather more methodical and careful than your typical action game, in which it’s easy to become overwhelmed if you try and face off against too many enemies at once; online connectivity allowing you to write messages on the walls for other players to find; and the fact that death is an inconvenience that you can overcome to a certain extent if you can only get back to the point you died — and, in this case, defeat your former self, who has, naturally, become a zombie in the intervening period. (That is, unless you’re playing the rather brutal Survival mode, in which you only have a single life in which to get as far as you can.)

It’s an intriguing game, and an effective example of how the Wii U’s unique features can be used to enhance a game experience. While the majority of the action unfolds on the TV screen, things like looting bodies and searching containers is done on the GamePad screen, leaving you vulnerable to attack while you do so — just as you would be if you stopped to rifle through your own bag. Furthermore, you can use the GamePad as a means of scanning the area and marking points of interest, which subsequently show up on your main screen and map as markers.

It’s also a decent example of survival horror done well. By keeping the TV screen clutter to a minimum — there’s very little in the way of HUD, and you have to look down at the GamePad to check your ammo — it provides a nicely immersive experience, and allows for wonderful, authentic “horror” moments such as pointing your gun at an incoming zombie, pulling the trigger and hearing that awful sound: click. There are some nice touches with the various characters you play as, too, such as certain characters obviously being terrified of the situation in which they find themselves, while others appear to take it in their stride.

I’m not 100% sure on whether it’s quite my sort of game just yet, but I’m certainly willing to give it a go, and even if I end up not wanting to beat it I only paid £12.99 for it as a preowned copy, so I don’t mind too much. There’s also an intriguing-sounding multiplayer mode that I’d like to give a try.

So, game-breaking bugs aside — don’t die while escaping from the supermarket in the early stages of the game! — it appears to be a solid experience, and one of the more interesting Wii U exclusives available.

1648: Visiting Hours

Tomorrow, our friends Mark and Lynette — founding members of the Squadron of Shame — are paying us a visit from Canada. They’re not coming over just to see us (unlike the time we went to visit them a while back), but they are spending a few days with us. It has been a good excuse to get the last few bits of decorating done (except the dining room, which still needs repainting, but is fine for now) and to get the spare room into a state where people can actually, you know, stay in it.

It’s a pleasant novelty, having a house that can actually host guests without having to resort to couch cushions on the living room floor or sofa beds. It means we can do things like host international guests for a few days rather than — at best — allowing people to crash if they can’t quite make it home after a big night, and that’s kind of cool.

As for what we’ll be up to, I predict a mix of suitably nerdy things (video games, board games and quite possibly a one-shot roleplaying adventure) on the agenda, plus on Monday we’re going for a day out in Oxford for what sounds like an interesting experience — a couple of “escape the room” games, the concept of which several of us are very much into thanks to our enjoyment of the Zero Escape video games Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (or some combination of those three, better known as 999) and Virtue’s Last Reward, which you may recall me talking about a while back.

After that, we’ll be paying Oxford’s board game cafe The Thirsty Meeple a visit, as I’m certainly curious to see how it stacks up to Snakes and Lattes, the board game cafe Mark and Lynette took us to while we were visiting them in Toronto — and a type of establishment I’ve been wishing was more widespread ever since.

I’m looking forward to having visitors and having the opportunity to hang out with friends for a decent length of time. Having been working from home and subsequently unemployed for so long, there are many days when I’ve found myself feeling both somewhat stir-crazy and a bit lonesome. Mark and Lynette’s visit is well-timed; just as I get a new job and just as my divorce is finalised — yes, Andie and I have been living in sin for a while now — we get some visitors. It all adds up to a life that feels like it’s somewhat getting back on track. Normality? That remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

1647: Good News at Last

Those of you following my personal life will know that I’ve been out of work for a little while now after unceremoniously being made redundant from my position at USgamer a while back. As you may recall from previous posts, I’ve been looking outside the games press for new opportunities, since although I once considered writing for video game publications to be my dream job, the reality was, as it tends to go with dreams, rather different: there was no progression, no stability and on more than one occasion, I’d woken up expecting to just do a normal day at work only to discover that either the site I was working on had closed, the entire rest of the staff had walked out due to the new management being… difficult, or that I was simply considered surplus to requirements. That is, I’m sure you’ll appreciate, no way to live.

So I started trawling the job sites — always a soul-destroying experience, but this time around I felt like I was having a little more success and bit more of a clearer idea of what I might be able to do. I made use of a neat site called Indeed, which effectively acts as a sort of “Google for jobs” and began searching for things directly relevant to what I’ve been doing — writing and editing. This eventually led me to related fields like communications and digital content editing, and ultimately to the job that I today secured.

Yes, that’s right; I have a new job. Technically I don’t start until the end of August, but I’m counting today as the day I “won”. It was a hard-fought victory — primarily against my own lack of self-confidence when it comes to this sort of things since, as I’ve noted in previous posts, I’ve actually had relatively few formal job interviews over the years — but a satisfying one nonetheless. It’s also a huge weight off my mind; although I have another month or so to get through without any income, I have at least got a bit of “rainy day” money stashed away for just this sort of situation, so I won’t be broke.

It is, in short, a good feeling, not only for the relief of my immediate problems, but for future prospects, too. I’m not going to talk about specifics of the position here and now, but suffice to say that although it’s outside of the field where I’ve hung my hat for the last few years, it’s a lot more likely to be a stable position that presents opportunities to learn new things, develop my skills and — hopefully — let me build a bit more of a coherent “career” than I have had to date. I’m looking forward to getting started, but in the meantime I’m going to enjoy the month or so of summer quasi-holiday I have right now. (Although with the current heat and humidity, I predict I’ll be spending most of it indoors with the curtains shut at this rate.)

Anyway. Thanks to those who have offered words of support in the past; it seems that good things do eventually come, even when you’re not necessarily expecting them. Here’s hoping things continue on an upward trajectory from here onwards.

1646: Tongueface

I can’t remember if I’ve blogged about this before or just pondered it on Twitter — and, writing this on my phone from bed, I can’t easily check — but what the hell. Let’s do this!

I do not know what the tongueface smiley — a colon followed by a P — means. Or rather, I have the odd feeling that a significant number of other people in the world think it means something different to what I think it means.

To me, tongueface smiley represents someone sticking their tongue out, and that in turn is something that I’ve always considered to be a mild rude gesture — a childish, non-offensive and somewhat light-hearted alternative to flipping someone off. You’d perhaps use it as a response to someone gently mocking you, or revealing a piece of information that, while not earth-shattering or mortifyingly embarrassing, you’d still prefer wasn’t public knowledge.

Here’s an example of how I expect it to be used:

Phillipe: You’re putting a shelf up? Can you even do that? I thought Andie wore the pants when it came to DIY.

Pete: :p

Or possibly:

W’khebica: Hey, everyone, did you know Amarysse fell off Titan Extreme on the first Geocrush?

Amarysse: :p

You see? Both situations where, were the conversation happening face to face, you might want to actually stick your tongue out, assuming you are seven years old.

However, I’ve noticed an increasing use of tongueface smiley as a form of punctuation — a la the use of “lol”, which thankfully seems to be dying down a bit — and I honestly can’t get my head around it, much how I couldn’t get my head around how people could possibly be laughing out loud at the most seemingly mundane and stupid things.

I’m not against the use of smileys per se — I use them myself quite a lot as a means of making things like flippant comments abundantly obvious — but I remain confused by the current and widespread (arguable) overuse of tongueface smiley.

Perhaps I’m just too old to understand. :p

1645: Animus

17754480252836380672_screenshots_2014-07-22_00001A long road finally came to an end today — no, nothing important, it was just a lengthy quest in Final Fantasy XIV. Specifically, it was the quest to upgrade my weapon’s “Atma” incarnation into its more powerful “Animus” form, which means it’s now just one step away from being its (currently) ultimate “Novus” incarnation.

The quest to acquire and upgrade your “relic” weapon in Final Fantasy XIV is a pain in the arse, extremely time-consuming and, at times, very frustrating, but it’s also one of the most rewarding things to do at endgame. It gives your character a continual sense of gradual progression — particularly during the Atma-Animus phase that I’ve just completed — and it gives you a series of long-term goals to aim for, which is important to keep things interesting.

I really like it, in other words, partly for the fact that it’s everything what is effectively a “construct your own lightsaber” quest should be. Star Wars MMO The Old Republic featured a “construct your own lightsaber” quest that was not particularly big or epic, and the lightsaber you ended up constructing would often be replaced by something better along the line anyway. Final Fantasy XIV’s Relic questline, meanwhile, turns this process into a long journey, with each milestone proving to be a satisfying improvement in your weapon.

The process begins with a sidequest that sees you tracking down a once-legendary smith who now spends his days at the bottom of a bottle in the depths of the Black Shroud forest. Eventually, you track down a legendary weapon appropriate for your class, but it’s in a sorry state and can’t be used. Newly inspired — though he’d never admit that — the smith challenges you to find a suitable “host weapon” and infuse it with materia to act as a base for the reconstructed relic. You then need to challenge several of the toughest bosses in the realm — at least they used to be, anyway — in order to get various materials that Gerolt the smith requires to reconstruct the relic. Eventually, you’re left with a weapon that you’ve worked hard for — but it doesn’t end there.

After infusing your weapon with additional power through a strange concoction known as Thavnairian Mist, you can then begin scouring the realm for Atma crystals. These elusive little things have a very low drop rate from FATEs, the public quests that pop up around the realm, and you need to collect twelve of them: one each from a variety of different areas. This is the part that proves most frustrating for a lot of people — there’s not really any way that you can make the search for Atma crystals any easier other than just doing a lot of these FATEs, but from a game design perspective it’s actually quite clever: it keeps even the low-level FATEs relevant for even level-cap players, meaning that low-level players who might want to use FATEs to gain experience points will usually have at least a few people to help out, since most FATEs are designed around the assumption that multiple players will show up and participate.

Once you’ve gathered twelve Atmas, you upgrade your weapon into its Atma form. Initially, this offers no improvement whatsoever over its previous Zenith form, but by purchasing and then completing the various trials in a set of books chronicling the exploits of the Zodiac Braves (the ones from Final Fantasy Tactics? Who knows?) you gradually upgrade your Atma weapon, a tiny bit at a time, until it’s considerably more powerful than it once was. When you’ve completed all the books, your Atma weapon becomes an Animus, and it’s then that the road to Novus begins — the road down which I’ll soon be starting.

Upgrading your Animus to Novus is a similarly time-consuming process, but rather than simply grinding through tasks again, you instead make use of the game’s “materia” system to infuse a magical scroll with various stats you would like to apply to your finished weapon. In total, you have to apply 75 points of stats to the weapon, but how you distribute those is up to you — with the only restriction being the hard cap on certain stats. This means that, unlike any other weapon in the game, you can customise your Novus to be the weapon you want it to be. If you want to emphasise Accuracy — essential if you plan on venturing into the challenging endgame raids The Binding Coil of Bahamut and The Second Coil of Bahamut — then you can. If you’d rather emphasise Determination, a stat that improves your damage output, you can. If you’d rather make your spells cast just that little bit faster, you can do that too. In most cases, the combination of stat caps and the requirement to apply 75 points to the weapon means that you’ll end up doing a combination of things, but it’s still possible to specialise to a considerable degree.

I haven’t really considered what I’m going to do with my Novus yet, but work starts on it when I next start playing. In the meantime, I have my shiny, glowy new Animus to enjoy; it helps me kill things even faster than I already could as a Black Mage. I’m looking forward to trying it out soon.

1644: Contemplating My Now Not-So-New Phone

Avid readers (hah) will recall that a while back I jumped ship from iOS to Android when I upgraded my phone. My long-in-the-tooth (relatively speaking, anyway) iPhone 4S was replaced by an HTC One M8, a phone which had received some positive reviews from people I knew and trusted, so I decided to take a chance and give it a shot. It was a good time to do so, since I’d been becoming increasingly disillusioned with many of the apps available on smartphones generally, and as such I wasn’t feeling particularly “invested” in the iOS ecosystem — in other words, there weren’t very many apps that I felt particularly attached to.

So, a little down the line, how am I finding it now the inevitable “honeymoon period” is over?

Well, I’m still really liking it, and the one peeve I had with it — the fact it seemed somewhat prone to random restarts and reboots while I was in the middle of doing things — appears to have worked itself out, and hasn’t happened for a long time now. (Watch it start doing it again now I’ve written this.)

As I noted in my earlier posts, I’m not a hugely adventurous smartphone user these days. There are relatively few things I actually want to do with my phone, but most of them are beyond what a simple feature phone offers — or, in the case of facilities that feature phones do offer, smartphones inevitably do them all somewhat better.

Here’s the limit of what I use my phone for: Email. Texting. Phone calls (only when there is no other option). Calendar. Music and podcasts. Google Hangouts. Twitter. Web browsing. Very occasionally Facebook and Google+, though I don’t use either network very much any more. And, if there is nothing else to do during an extended visit to the toilet, playing a simple, toilet-friendly game like Threes.

That’s about it. There’s probably more I could do with it but I don’t really feel the need to right now, since the stock apps and the few additional ones I’ve installed cover most of the things that I want to do with it on a daily basis. I can communicate with it, I can browse the Web with it, I can take snapshots with the camera if necessary and I can read information on a screen that’s noticeably bigger than that offered by Apple’s iOS devices.

I’ve been particularly impressed by Google Play Music, which provides a number of helpful services, chief among which is something similar to Apple’s iTunes Match service, only it actually, you know, works. For those unfamiliar, iTunes Match (and Google Play Music) is a facility whereby you can upload tracks from your personal music library or “match” existing songs with iTunes/Google’s online libraries, then stream or download them to any compatible device. In effect, this allows you to take your entire music library with you wherever you go, rather than being limited by the storage space available on your phone — though the streaming side of things is, of course, dependent on you having a good wireless Internet connection either via the mobile phone networks or Wi-Fi.

Where Google Play Music differs from iTunes Match is that it’s a lot clearer in presenting its information. With iTunes Match, it was almost impossible to tell which songs you had downloaded to your phone — and consequently available when no Internet connection was around — and which would require streaming. Attempting to download songs often resulted in failure for no apparent reason — and with Apple’s phobia of error messages, there was no way of discovering what was causing the problem. Google Play Music, meanwhile, while having a somewhat clunky interface in a few places — it’d be great to have just a plain list of albums, playlists, songs and that sort of thing rather than the overly graphical, space-wasting interface it has — but at least presents this sort of information clearly. It’s obvious when you’ve downloaded something or if you’d be streaming it when you clicked Play, and, importantly, it’s easy to remove things from your phone once you’ve downloaded them — something which iTunes Match made seemingly impossible to do manually for some inexplicable reason.

So that’s been great, and the other apps I’ve been using regularly all seem to work pretty well, too. All in all I’m sure I’m using this phone to a fraction of its full potential, but it’s doing everything I want it to and it’s doing it well, with my only real criticism of the device as a whole being that the volume control buttons are in a stupid place and are much too easy to press accidentally while simply holding it normally.

1643: Twintania Down for the Count

It’s taken a lot of effort — including the effort to gather groups of people together for a common purpose — but this evening… morning… whatever it is now, I finally cleared Turn 5 of The Binding Coil of Bahamut in Final Fantasy XIV.

For those unfamiliar, The Binding Coil of Bahamut is a five-part dungeon for level-cap players. It was originally designed to be the absolute hardest challenge in the game, but has since been superseded by new content added in the three big patches there have been since launch. It’s also been “nerfed” considerably, with players going in now being the recipients of the “Echo” buff — a 20% increase to maximum hit points, damage dealt and healing received. The thinking behind this gradual easing of its difficulty is so that, in theory, everyone will eventually be able to make it through — and that they might want to do so, because it offers some intriguing story content along the way.

Even with the 20% Echo buff, however, Turn 5, the fifth and final part of the dungeon, is still a stiff challenge. It’s theoretically simple, consisting of nothing more than a boss fight between a party of eight people and a rather pissed-off dragon called Twintania, but it’s a very demanding confrontation, requiring detailed knowledge of the mechanics, what to expect from the fight at every stage and fast reactions. As such, it’s still a significant achievement to make it all the way through.

It’s taken a good few hours — and several different parties — over the course of the evening to get through, but we eventually made it by the skin of our teeth. Not before we had an agonising defeat with Twintania’s HP down to just 1%, of course, but we eventually made it nonetheless.

Turn 5 in particular is a good example of how high-level content in MMOs differs from more accessible challenges such as dungeons with lower player counts and open-world content. It demands either solid communication — which is why many players choose to make use of voice chat rather than the game’s text-based chat — or extensive knowledge of what to expect from the fight. Or, preferably, both, because even with an experienced group, sometimes people’s attention wanders, causing mistakes that can easily snowball out of control. Not only that, though, but as cheesy as it sounds, the amount of teamwork required for a successful clear is the sort of thing that really helps to build bonds between friends.

It’s the kind of challenge that I don’t think would be for everyone. Turn 5 in particular presents such a daunting challenge to many players that I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were plenty of dedicated endgame players who never cleared it. Which is a bit of a shame, as it’s a spectacular, genuinely thrilling fight — and the perfect antidote to those people who feel that other content in the game is a little on the easy side. (It definitely is if you overgear yourself, which is quite easy to do these days.) Not only that, but my God, did it feel good when we eventually beat it. There may have been an audible “Yes!” from everyone participating when that HP bar finally dropped to 0.

Anyway. Battling that fearsome foe has led me to the doorstep of 4am, and so I’m going to go and get a few hours of sleep now. Well-earned, I’d say.