Month of DDO: Weed whacker

u1For my final — yes, final — excursion for the Month of DDO, I wanted to get back to the roots of doing actual group content instead of just going through quests solo.  But even with the group finder going and myself flagged for LFG, I couldn’t find anything level-appropriate.  So instead I took on a quest to clear out the Uthe Lodge, a place that’s big on moody rays of light and overgrown flora.  Lots of weed whacking in the Forgotten Realms, I gather.

u2Have I mentioned that I love the descriptions in the game?  It helps that it’s not bound by the confines of a quest text box, but is free to pop in and out of quests as appropriate.  Would love to see this in other MMOs.

u3This whole lodge is full of murky green fog, so it’s not the best picture-taking environment.  Anyway, this Woad Troll is the first enemy that gives me any serious trouble, mostly being a meat shield that takes a long time to take down.

Actually, it got so dicey there that I had to give up my quarterstaff and revert back to my two knives after this fight, since my knives have a chance of healing me with every hit.  It actually feels overpowered to fight with them.

u4This instance is just about as straight-forward and mindless as it can get, at least on the solo normal level.  I’m not too fond of the lightning-spewing wisps, since they evade a lot of attacks.

Eventually, I start to spot this Bard darting ahead of me — I find out later that he’s a member of the Harpers, an organization that’s revered by fans of D&D and a shoulder shrug from me.

u5“My spidey-sense is telling me that there’s a hidden door around here somewhere.  Good thing that I have this large glowing patch of wall to light up the place for my search!”

u6Eventually me and Mr. Harper find the (ahem) root of the problems in this lodge: an underground passageway that connects to an evil tree and its evil druid caretaker.  Killing this tree is the best part of the quest, because how often are you charged with tree-slaughter in MMOs?  I’m not talking about those ambulatory Ent-like beings — just normal, sit-in-one-spot trees.  KILL IT!

And with that, the quest is over, as well as my month in DDO.

Overall, it was… nice to come back to DDO.  I had forgotten how the game felt, and it was good to be reminded of some of its better qualities.  The dungeon master narration and the inventiveness of the instances are easily the game’s strongest suits.  The boring combat (particularly for the Shardar-kai — click click click click click) and stat flood are its weakest.

While I appreciated being able to see the Forgotten Realms stuff with an iconic character, heck if I actually knew anything about my character’s stats, build, or equipment.  It’s one thing to grow into a character and learn the game as you go, but to be thrown into the deep end requires a lot of previous knowledge and experience.

My DDO sessions never grated, but they lacked the “just one more run” addiction they once held.  I don’t regret dabbling back in this title, but for now, I’m laying it to rest.

Month of DDO: There is a dungeon inside of this cart

An occasional problem that I run into with LOTRO is that the game will spend way, way too long loading my character into the game… and eventually quit to desktop as a result.  I’m finding even more problems with DDO.  Not only do I get the same load problem, but when my character does pop into the world, everything’s frozen for a good minute or three before finally allowing me to move and interact.  This time around I got both issues, which was followed by another one: I could turn and use my weapon, but moving in any direction?  Not so much, no.

Generally, if I have to keep logging in and out of a game to try to get it to work, I start asking myself, “Is this really worth the hassle?”  Hint: It almost never is.

Anyway, let’s get going with our adventure of the day!  Can you believe that there’s a dungeon inside of this innocent hand cart?

cart1There totes is.  The quest is “Thorn and Paw,” and we’re heading out into the forest to help some dumb Druid who got corrupted with, I dunno, poison ivy +1 or something.

cart2The cart drops me off at a photogenic if eerily terrifying part of the forest and then leaves without so much as a how-do-you-do.  I’m hearing a lot of “bear” talk on the loading screen, which bodes poorly for my 27% armored fleshy pre-carcass.  Hey, let’s head into that terrifying cave!

cart3No bars yet, although I do meet up with a pair of thorny horrors.  Good thing you have a “T” on the front of your name, man!

So a lot of you have been begging me for my patented fighting strategy in DDO, and so I’ll relent and tell you just to get some peace and quiet.  When I encounter a mob, I:

1. Click and hold down on the left mouse button.

2. Wait until monster dies.

3. Repeat with new monster.

If I really feel fancy, I’ll activate one of my long-cooldown special abilities, but I don’t feel fancy a lot.  Sometimes fighting in DDO is so simple in contrast to its enormously complex stats.

cart4Oh hey, there’s a bear, first name Dire.  I stand in the middle of his stomach and whip him to death, which is a completely normal thing for a 38-year-old man to be doing on a Tuesday evening.  Behind Dire Bear is the corrupted druid, who throws a lot of ice at me but dies nonetheless.  In the middle of this fight I get a blind guild invite, which I accept if just to get that prompt off of my screen.  HI NEW FRIENDS MEET MY DIRE BEAR.

I thought that he was the boss, but I guess he’s just the start — I need to kill a few more druids to unlock the chamber of the ultra-druid.  Woe is me.

I head down the side passages to defeat the additional druid mini-bosses and the large corrupted seeds, because nature is in imbalance and only by thrashing it with a big stick can order be restored.  Killing the seeds is a stupid move, as it removes all of the large roots that were blocking the bears from coming out to maul me.

cart5You know what would feel really great right now?  To be surrounded by thorns.  While on fire.  As a pack of wolves eat me.  Thank you, DDO, for fueling my nightmares.

cart6After fighting my way through a cavern of bears and druids, I am shocked beyond belief that the final boss is a bear and a druid.  As I’m fighting the bear, more bears surround me in a freaking country bear jamboree.  That’s when I break out my 20-second whip maneuver that I learned at cheer camp.

cart7This is DDO’s version of “Sorry, but your princess is in another castle.”  I love how this druid is deliberately screwing with me even as she dies.  “Be a whole zoo!  That’s how you win the game!  Also, smack yourself in the face with a pie!”

Thanks, druid.  Now don’t mind me as I step over your corpse to retrieve my treasure.  A bear will be by presently to gnaw on your bones.

Month of DDO: Sewer surfing

d1After capturing, losing, recapturing, and relosing this Shar priest, I’m about ready to throw my hands up in exasperation and let him go already.  The Wheloon prison storyline in Dungeons and Dragons Online isn’t as willing to do so, however.  There’s a conspiracy afoot!  There’s a prison break!  And now I’m informed that there are innocents trapped inside the walls of this Escape from New York-style city prison.  I guess that’s a potential problem when you dump people into a place and give them no possibility of parole.  Also, where’s the sympathy for any kids that the inmates might have?

So I jump the walls — enjoying my character’s always-on slowfall as I drift down — and make my way through the prison to find this supposed enclave of non-criminals.  The mission to do so is level 16 (one level higher than I am) and inside a sewer.  You ever notice how D&D games seem to feature more sewer explorations than dungeons?  Should be called Sewers & Slimes instead of Dungeons & Dragons, methinks.

d2For the most part, this isn’t a hard mission, but it isn’t particularly easy either.  There’s a lot of wandering down tunnels looking for these good people camps, surviving the inevitable onslaught of bad guys when you do find the camps, and then collecting two crests that unlocks the final door to the boss fight.

DDO does several things differently than we’ve become accustomed to in other MMOs, and I was reminded about them once again during this mission.  Not only is there no health regeneration (you either have to leave the quest, find a rest shrine, use a healing spell, or use a healing potion), but there’s no XP from killing mobs nor item drops outside of the occasional barrel.  It kind of strips the constant reward cycle away to focus you on the mission, and only once you’re done with it will you receive the XP and loot you crave.  I actually kind of like this setup more.  It makes completing an instance a major feat instead of just a boring milestone.

The only problem that I have in this quest is the end boss fight.  She stuns me over and over (and don’t look at me to know how I should ward myself against that) while about a dozen or so minions attack from all sides.  My AOE attacks help, but ultimately I’m overwhelmed and am killed.  Twice.

d3So I guess one of the newer cash shop additions to the game is “astral coins” or somesuch.  It’s pretty much like LOTRO’s mithril coins: a separate currency that you buy with real money/Turbine points and then spend it on various conveniences, like teleport.  Or, in my case, resurrecting on the spot.  I have some spare TP that was going to waste otherwise, so why not, but it still feels a little cheesy to do this.  I can see a danger of growing used to leaning on astral coins and blowing through way too much money, which is undoubtedly marketing’s intention.

Even though the sewer quest leads into the next one in the Wheloon series, I’m thinking that it might be better to back out of the prison (if possible) and return to Eveningstar for some more level-appropriate quests in that region.  DDO is nice in not forcing me down any particular path, but gives me options and replayable content.  I appreciate that.

Month of DDO: City on fire

v1We begin the next quest in the Wheloon prison chain.  I’m summoned to the city-prison to interrogate this prisoner who’s proven to be more bother than he’s worth.  He’s pretty open with me, saying that he used to be a farmer but with the help of Shar, he’s accessed great powers and was able to escape the prison by going through the shadows.

Oh, would I like to see it?

v2The world lurches and shifts into the Shadowfell, a somewhat black-and-white-and-purple realm where shadows come out to attack.  Shadows, meet quarterstaff!  You go down just as easy as any flesh-and-blood foe.

v3Outside, the docks of Wheloon are on fire.  I’m quite impressed that the prisoner revolt was able to torch so many buildings — in the rain, no less.  Must have had one heck of an organizer.

It’s a long, meandering journey through the city, attacking shadows and prisoners alike.  I am reminded of how DDO conditions players to bash any and all barrels on sight, even though they almost never hold anything of value.  SHADAR-KAI SMASH!

v4After a long while of that, I end up back in the magistrate’s office where I began, only this time the magistrate is dead and the Shar priest is gone (again).  We need to nail this guy to the floor, I swear.

I’m attacked by an assassin, and compared to the cakewalk of the fights up till now, she’s a beast.  She keeps stunning me and taking off huge chunks of my life, and it’s only through liberal potion-usage that I’m able to make it through.

Month of DDO: Taking prisoners and chewing bubble gum

d1Three posts into this series and I might actually be ready to start adventuring in DDO!  Amazing.

So here we are in the prison city of Wheloon, which is my first step outside of Eberron in DDO.  One does wonder if DDO would have been vastly more successful if it had used the familiar Forgotten Realms campaign setting from the get go, but at least Turbine had the opportunity to do so after several years of operation.

All of this slowly comes back to me: the interface, the sounds, the style of questing.  I find the mission lady who sends me into my first instance, which then brings up a much-improved dungeon selection screen.  Man, I remember when it used to look like pulldown menu crud; now it’s all shiny and sleek.  I go in on normal difficulty and see if I can’t take several of these cultists prisoner.  I only assume that there’s a cleanup crew behind me collecting them.

d2I’ll admit that I had a huge nostalgic grin on my face when I heard the familiar enthusiastic dungeon master narrate my adventures.  He was always one of the best parts of this game — perhaps immersion breaking for an MMO, but immersion drenching for a pen-and-paper fanatic.  I like it.  It helps me stay focused on the story and the way he does the voices for the NPCs cracks me up.

d3Both the mission and the combat is happily straight-forward (which I needed as I ease back into this game).  I have to prowl through a dull-looking cavern, beating up tough mobs, and gradually unlocking doors to reach the end.  Fighting is still mostly mouse clicking furiously while occasionally hitting one of my two or three special skills.  I love the whipping chain, which does great DPS as long as the mobs are stupid enough to stay within its radius.

Since my Shadar-kai is a rogue, I have pretty awesome spot and trap skills, so at least I’m not stumbling into traps.  I do find a hidden wall and collect some treasure, but like most everything in the game right now, I have no idea if this stuff is worth keeping or not.  My leg-up gear appears to be powerful, so I’m going to stick with that for the most part.

es1The next mission, Escape Plan, proves to be more interesting both mechanically and visually.  I’m asked to help guard the prisoners I just took as they’re transported down the river.  The narrator gruffly informs me that a bunch of lizardfolk are there to make off with the priest and prisoners, and thus a battle is joined on the riverbank.

es2It’s not a hard fight at all — my Shadar-kai is more than up to the task — but a sneaky shaman comes in and ports the priest away.  Woe!

Fortunately, I’m told that the port must have come somewhere local, and thus I plunge into the forest and wonder why all of the other guards are staying behind picking their noses.

es3For an older game, DDO holds up nicely in the visuals.  Maybe it’s the nicer color palette of the Forgotten Realms, but this nighttime forest is downright pretty.  I smack some wolves and lizardpeople as I follow a fairly linear path, dancing around traps and laughing gaily.

es4One of the rewards from the previous quest was this nifty quarterstaff, which I equipped without even comparing stats to my daggers.  I’m all about fighting with a big piece of wood, my friends, especially when said wood can electrocute the bad guys.  Combat may be simple and lacking sync between hits and the numbers flying around, but there’s a satisfaction to be derived from it.

es5The final fight against the shaman is laughably easy.  I take out his archer friends first and then charge in, wailing away with my staff until he goes down.  The Shadar-kai’s AOE attacks are nice when I get a group of bad guys ganging up on me, but for the most part I just mouse click my way to success.

Check out more of my Month of DDO adventures!

Month of DDO: Sypp the Shadar-kai

sh1Unfortunately I couldn’t get DDO to fully load on my laptop, so I had to wait until I got home from my trip to roll my character for the month.  For this month’s experiment, I’m going with one of the new-ish Iconic class/races, the Shadar-kai, since that’ll put me at 15 and right at the start of the new-ish Forgotten Realms content.

Even though DDO is a year older than LOTRO, I’ve always thought that the character models looked a bit better, especially in the face department.  I’m not quite as keen on the body proportions, but oh well.  So this is Sypp, and she’s got a strong punk vibe going on.  Love the mini-horns.

sh2The first order of business is to take this level 1 character and get her to level 15.  Elminster the Wizard is here to help me with that at the Ball and Chain Tavern.  DDO is not short on taverns, no sirree.

I have a few choices here: I can accept the default Rogue training and go straight to level 15, I can get out of here and find a different class trainer, and I can level up manually or automatically.  I choose to let the game level me up to 15 automatically, since I certainly don’t have the knowledge to fiddle with all of the character building — it’d be a shot in the dark and I’d probably end up with a toon who couldn’t fight but would have a 500 in swimming or something.

sh3The process takes a half minute as I watch my levels tick up.  Somehow this feels like cheating, even  though iconics are supposed to start at 15 instead of 1.

sh4With those 15 levels (well, 71 really) that I didn’t earn, I get a heap of action points to spend in these new fancy enhancement trees that weren’t there back when I played DDO regularly in, oh, 2009 or so.  Without overthinking it, I dump most of mine in the racial tree with some extras in quarterstaff fighting.  Because if I can fight with a quarterstaff in an MMO, I am SO THERE.

Finally, I equip all of the gear that I’ve been given and slot my four attack skills.  At least fighting won’t be that complicated!  AOE attack, AOE attack, de-taunt, emergency stealth.  Got it.  Let’s roll.

sh5Oh for the love of… I look like a minor Batman sidekick.  Pants!  I need pants!  Elminster, conjure me up a pair of capris, please.

sh6I’m dumped out into the prison town of Wheloon with vague instructions to find some girl and offer my help.  Maybe she has pants?  One thing that I had forgotten about DDO and was quickly reminded was how incredible the sound design is in this game.  Oh man, I missed that narrator!  And all of the very rich sound effects, too.

Getting my character prepped took up most of my time, and since the first quest instance was tagged as “long,” I decided to put a bookmark in my adventures and return later on for my first dungeon.  Ooh, I’m all a-quiver with excitement!

The Month of DDO: Roll d20 to install

dndWelcome to a new feature-slash-experiment here at Bio Break, the “Month of” series!  The idea for this came to me about a month ago, when I was wrestling with two thoughts:

1. I have more — more — than enough MMOs to play right now, but it’s been mostly about four titles (LOTRO, WildStar, Guild Wars 2, and TSW) for a good while both here on Bio Break and in my own gaming life.

2. I always yearn to be playing many other games, but don’t really have the time to do them.

So the notion came to me to devote a month to casually exploring an MMO that’s not part of my main roster.  Maybe it’s an old favorite, one I only briefly played, or a fresh game.  I would provide added incentive to doing this by blogging about my adventures over the span of a month.  However, I didn’t want to overcommit in terms of time, so it’s a “whenever I can make room” type of deal.  Maybe I’ll play a couple times a week or so, but hopefully by the end of the month I will have gotten more in than what I could’ve experienced in a dedicated night or two.

My first pick is Dungeons & Dragons Online, for a couple reasons.  First, it was an old favorite of mine and nostalgic memories have been trickling in about it as of late for no good reason.  Second, DDO’s pumped out two expansions since I last played, both of which had a lot to do with a new campaign setting, and I have access to both.  So why not roll up a new character to check out Forgotten Realms and see how DDO’s been doing since I last left?

I’ll admit that I’m a little nervous pulling the trigger on this experiment.  If it goes well, this could lead into many more “Month of” series.  But I’d hate to publicly start this and then wimp out midway through or find myself feeling obligated to play something I don’t like.  I think it’ll be OK, since I’m not going to pressure myself into hitting any sort of /played hours.  Just loading it back up and seeing where it takes me, with the escape hatch coming no matter what on August 31st.