Battle Bards Episode 32: The Secret World

It’s the show that Syl’s been dreading for almost eight episodes now: The Secret World!  Between conspiracies, zombies, ancient myths, and present-day cabals, is there actually music in this game — and is it any good?  The bards investigate in this creepy, kooky, mysterious, and ooky show!

Episode 32 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Main Theme”)
  • “March on Templars”
  • “Through the Hollow Earth”
  • “Factions”
  • “Sand Meets Sky”
  • “Combat part 6″
  • “Sleepless Lullaby” by Bright September
  • “The Zombie Stare” by Amy Sweet and Clyde Shorey
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Mail from Crim
  • Mail from Imakulata
  • Outro (featuring “Nassir’s Dance”)

Listen to episode 32 now!

The Secret World: We are the song that reminds demons to tremble

doraHey, Dora the Explorer is plenty smart.  I learn from her every morning, thanks to my kids!

Our weekly Secret World group assembled last night to run a couple of the new action missions from Tokyo.  One of the missions was borked and wouldn’t progress, so we left that to a future week, but we were able to do the ones from Gozen and Daimon.  Hey, any chance to get another Daimon cutscene is good enough reason for a quest in my book!  The guy is looneybins, but he’s entertaining looneybins… and he might be more Dragon than most Dragons.

clawThe quests themselves were adequate but nothing that blew up my skirt.  The first had us hopping from Tokyo to Hell and back in an effort to track down a demon, while the second was more complex, with a series of challenges to protect various folks in the region (including — yes! — an escort mission).  The latter did have a very interesting segment in a graveyard where we had to set up a shrine all while trying to handle these ghosts that couldn’t be permanently killed.  Instead, if you aggroed one you had to demolish its AEGIS shield and then slap on some item that put them back into a trance.  We had a couple bad moments when we got too many of the mobs on us in such a tight confined space.

Unfortunately, I think we’re coming to the end of the Tokyo missions, even having strung them out as long as we have.  I hope the next issue will come sooner rather than later, but I haven’t heard much on that front lately.

gearyKirsten Geary is what now?  I’m not sure how to interpret this.

I was thinking last night how much I wish that Funcom would have made rolling alts in this game more of a compelling factor.  I’d love to have a good reason to go back through much of this again (the writer says, conveniently forgetting the quests that made him tear his hair out), but as it stands, there would be scant new experiences with an alt.  You could create another build, true, but there’s no build I can’t create right now anyway — and doing quests on an alt would be robbing me of the AP I could be putting into my ever-hungry main.  Faction choice is pretty much only there for a slight change of flavor, and that’s the end of any alt argument.

I don’t know what Funcom could do to encourage alting.  Considering the slow roll-out of the new issues, it’s something that could be very useful in retaining players.  What if you could recycle your character in a DDO/Kingdom of Loathing-style reset?  You agree to start your character over in exchange for more powerful stats or some other exclusive perks.  That would be pretty cool.

Maybe if there was a new game+ system in place that would open up access to new weapon sets only for veterans going back through it.  Maybe quests with alternative challenges.  I dunno.  But it’s a sad to me how little I’m motivated to ever roll an alt in TSW, because the journey is why I play.

TSW: So someone at Funcom is a big origami nerd

loveThis is Gozen.  Gozen has been in love.  And Gozen thinks that her past love affair is a really good reason to send us players on a silly mission across a Filth-infested Tokyo to deliver some origami book to someone who stood up someone else in her restaurant.  Sorry Gozen, but as far as quest motivations go, I am really not buying this one.

Anyway, our weekly Secret World group was incredibly excited to do this new investigation quest, Love and Origami, because, y’know, origami!  I used to be huge into origami back in… uh… 2003 or so?  Like, I have a shelf full of origami books and those origami-of-the-day calendars.  It was fun and I regret getting out of the habit.  But any opportunity to do an MMO mission in which we had to make cute little paper critters in real life, that had to be worth something, yes?

So imagine our disappointment when the quest really boils down to a series of translation challenges.  I mean, there’s a loose theme of origami, but you never have to make one.  You just need to keep translating kanji, which we did via Google Translate’s neat tool that lets you doodle characters and create them for you.  So we hunkered down to do a mess of translating, and by “we” I mean “other people in the group because I was making origami because darn it, I’m not going to bed until I make a paper animal.”

origamiAww isn’t it beautiful?  It’s nice of TSW to give players an in-game guide to many origami folds, I just wish it had been a part of the mission instead of its motif.

The story also ended very anticlimacticaly, with us finding the final origami and getting some juicy rewards.  We did discover that the guy who stood the girl up at the bar was the crazy kid from the main storyline, the guy who is in the apartment with a tin foil hat and all that.  That’s interesting, but it really illustrates how TSW needs closing cutscenes to tie up these missions instead of just ending abruptly as they often do outside of the main storyline.  Stories need good endings, people!

The Secret World: The only thing to fear is fear nothing

It’s a little late, but here we go with this week’s adventures in The Secret World!  Our crew of four finished up Issue 9’s main storyline with the two missions The Pachinko Model and Spiral.

p1Pachinko Model starts with a visit to Daimon, who might well go down as my new favorite TSW NPC.  He’s a Japanese crime lord who is bat-poop insane (and a big believer in Dragon philosophy, apparently).  His very long cutscenes had me rolling with his eccentric use of vocabulary and the weird things that Funcom made his face do.

p2Of course, it wouldn’t be a TSW cutscene if there wasn’t some sort of clipping issue or — in this case — pieces of fish magically floating in the air far away from their intended fingers.

p3The quest sent us to investigate the headquarters of Fear Nothing, some cultish center that was brainwashing kids.  Here, Ten Tentacles, MMOGC, Rich and myself stumble through the gloom and individually think, “Man, I’m glad I don’t have to do this all by myself!  I’d be so freaked out right now, but I’m going to act brave for the group!”

z1Seriously, TSW, what is *UP* with you and those creepy dolls?  Was there a sale somewhere before the apocalypse?

z2The goal of the Pachinko Model is to get to the top floor of this building.  That’s not very easy to do: stairways are blocked off and even the hidden elevator that we found required keycards to go higher.  Who farted?  MMOGC, I’m looking in your direction.

z4Other than the occasional ghost and/or demon, the trip through the office was pretty sedate at first.  Most of the backstory of what happened here is delivered through journal pages.

I’m not as up on my TSW lore as some, but there are obvious connections to the Morninglight with Fear Nothing.  Creepy cults?  Sun worship?  That’s never a good thing in this game world.

z5Looking up, we saw what looked like flies on the skylight.  Well, that’s not a skylight, that’s a floor.  And those aren’t flies, they’re bodies.  Golly, we couldn’t wait to get up there!

z6The challenge ramped up when our investigations kept disturbing one very ticked-off ghost.  When she showed up, you had to hide or else she’d one-shot you.  Of course, you could choose what I called the “MMOGC and Rich” strategy of running right into the arms of death while yelling in confusion.  That worked too.

z7They drank the kool-aid, or whatever the local equivalent was.  We were kind of blitzing through the place so I didn’t pick up 100% of what happened here, but I get the gist.  At least some of the kids escaped before this.

z8Like Voltron, the ghosts combined to form this abomination.  ‘Twasn’t too hard to kill, however.

s1The following quest was a good palate clenser for the tense, disturbing experience we just had.  We had to navigate another building, this one an apartment complex, to find one of the escaped kids from Fear Nothing.  Hilariously, the kid had booby-trapped the entire place with rakes, marbles, and potato guns.  I can just imagine how the angry filth reacted when smacked in the face with a falling paint can.

a6Kid + sugar = this crazy girl.  At least she’s friendly and highly regards me.  Wait, you’re not drinking the kool-aid right now, are you?

So that’s it for Issue 9’s main storyline!  We got a “to be continued” notice in the quest log, so I guess next week we’ll move on to side missions and the like.

The Secret World: Little girl, don’t cry

yak1With the others AFK, sick, or otherwise unable to come, it was up to Ten Tentacles and I to carry on our Monday night Secret World adventures in Tokyo.  We began by picking up a trio of side missions to assassinate various bad folk around the area.

Two of these fights weren’t that bad, but the above guy was absolutely horrendous.  Remember how I said that I really hate the new AEGIS shield system?  You can add about twelve “reallys” into that sentence after last night.  So here’s how the above fight went:

  1. Start attacking and avoiding his constant barrage of AOEs.
  2. Whittle down his psychic shield to reveal his cybernetic shield.
  3. Whittle down the cybernetic shield, but after about 15 seconds the psychic shield would be fully restored.
  4. Whittle down the psychic shield only to see that the cybernetic shield was regenerating.
  5. Keep flipping between these two damage types in a futile hope to one day see the blessed green health bar underneath.

It was bad, and I think part of that was due to not interrupting his recharge, if that’s a thing.  Eventually we put out a SOS to general chat and had a group show up to help us beat this guy down.  “I hate that %@#$ so much,” one of them said.  I concurred.

yak2Following that was a return to the main storyline, which had Tentacles and I holding hands as we descended into another parking garage from hell.  For those not familiar with The Secret World, there’s an earlier mission that has you going through a parking garage that manages to scare 10 kinds of living crap out of you.  It was probably the first truly terrifying mission of the game.  Well, despite reusing those garage assets, this mission was even scarier.

For one thing, your head lamps and flashlights are rendered unusuable in this space, so you’re at the mercy of a foggy filter, flickering lights, and pools of shadows.  Then, as you descend, you keep seeing small shadows that disappear as soon as you notice them.  Plus, TT got stuck in this particular chamber and had half of his health sucked away by… something… as horrible red lights came on.

After finding out what we needed from the very bottom, the quest became about one thing: survival.  And there were these lovely creatures standing between us and sunlight:

yak3Yup, it’s the Japanese ghost girl(tm).  Man, for all of the overused horror trope that it is, Funcom really nailed it with making these girls creepy (yes, there are more than one).  They hide their face from you Weeping Angel-style while you look at them, but turn your back for a second and they’ll port to you, show their glowing green eyes, scream from a way-too-large mouth, and insta-kill you.  Making it past them took a very long time with many, many deaths.  It didn’t help that you kept hearing their awful noises and mutterings, nor when you got to certain levels and there were multiple girls lurking about.

yak4Anyway, we got through it like the two little scared kids we are, and were reunited with our questgiver: A giant demon with a translator mask who likes R&B and grinding up on mannequins (the demon, not the mask).  TSW is a genuinely weird game.

The Secret World: Flipping worlds

Yeti-2014-06-09-22-44-17The lesson here is that when you are going up a stairwell and you turn the corner to see a flaming boulder rolling down on you, you’ve got to both run away and frantically hit the screenshot key without peeing your pants in fear.

So last night our Secret World group started digging into Tokyo proper.  Man, it’s great to be in a new zone — urbanized and crawling with Filth even so.  I didn’t have time to really poke around, but I’ve seen enough to know that there’s been a good deal of attention paid to it much like the other regions.

Ten Tentacles and I teamed up to run a couple of side missions while we got the hang of the new AEGIS system.  Basically, all of the new mobs now have a second health bar in the form of a specific shield (demonic, psychic, or cybernetic) that you have to wear down by flipping through a new specific buff that allows you to target one of these three shield types.  Oh, and you have to level these buffs up by grinding mobs.

Truly, AEGIS sucks and is there to be nothing more than a time sink — busy work for those who blow through the Tokyo quests too fast.  The devs have made noise about how this adds another layer of complexity and challenge to fights, but it doesn’t.  It just makes fights longer and more annoying, not more strategic and interesting.  As much as I love TSW, I am concerned how Funcom seems to love bloating the combat system with useless systems (augments, anyone?).  I’d trade it all for a traditional MMO combat system/class setup in a heartbeat.

Fortunately, we play despite the combat system, not because of it.  After the side missions were done, we got into the main story mission that had us tracking down a many-toed demon through a sewer system that was apparently designed by Lucifer himself.  This was an interesting misson, balancing combat with platforming, trap evasion, and a cool mechanic that had us flipping between the regular world and a “red” world, kind of like Silent Hill or A Link to the Past.  The portal hopping was smooth and offered up a lot of memorable moments, such as the aforementioned flaming boulder run.

It was certainly a lot better to run it as a group than solo, just to keep the combat portion short.  I got to say that between WildStar, Guild Wars 2, and The Secret World, I am becoming the master of telegraphs.  I just wish TSW and WildStar had an auto-attack going on while I am doing all of the fancy footwork.

The Secret World: Savoring the sequel

h1Oh YES.  Bring it on.  Let’s go… to Tokyo!

Issue 9, aka the long-awaited Tokyo release, finally came out last Wednesday.  That kind of sucked for anyone who had just gotten into WildStar in a big way, but I’d rather have more good stuff to play than I can handle than not enough, yes?  Our group got together to start exploring, but in a cruel twist of the knife, Funcom only made Issue 9 available for subscribers — us lesser peasants had to wait an additional three days.  So I was only able to start the content last night.

The cost for the issue was 1200 points — $10 — which felt pretty fair, considering the sheer scope of what’s being delivered.  Issues 9-11 will make up an expansion’s worth of content, and $30 isn’t that bad for it at all, especially considering the buy-to-play nature of the game.

I only had time for the first quest, Venice Sinking, so I didn’t even get to Tokyo proper during my session.  It was a good prelude, however, with a closer look at the Council of Venice and the return of a certain purple-clad faction.

h2As great as it was to be running new missions, having the first be a sabotage-style mission was kind of a kick in my character’s non-existant nads.  You have to navigate a tricky series of platform obstacles throughout a canal interior in Venice.

TSW never fails to show me how it loves being frustrating right up to the point of making me want to dropkick the game across the room — but making the challenge fair enough so that you feel accomplished when you beat it.

Maybe I was a little groggy last night, but there was a certain section I just could not get past.  I kept throwing myself at it, dying again and again.  At one point I howled out an anguished “NOOOOO!”, startling my wife from across the room.  It’s okay honey.  It’s just my hobby driving me insane.

h3I really, really do not like you lady.  But at least I’m done with this mission and Tokyo bound!  Man, I hope they have some cool outfits over there amongst all of the suffering and horror…

The Secret World: Trials of the Dragon

rom1The monsters of The Secret World may be fearsome foes from our nightmares, but the Drăculești?  They’re the ones the monsters fear.  And in last night’s adventures through Trials of the Dragon, the final “sidestories” mission for our TSW group, we found out why this group of Romanian fighters are so hardcore.

The mission starts out with the two camp kids being trained to fight.  I both love and am creeped out by these kids; Funcom did a great job with their personalities and voice acting, but those models are so off that you have to wonder if the devs actually know what kids look like or if they created these characters based on vague descriptions.  The boy is hesitant to fight the girl, because girl, but as he’s reminded, “Monsters come in girl as well.”

It turns out that they got off rather easy.  The rest of us are tasked — for some reason — with going through the full trials of the Drăculești.  It’s an investigation mission, so there’s less hand-holding, but it’s actually more of a mish-mash of several mission types.  It also quickly landed on my list of “missions from this game that I never want to run again and will do my very best to purge from memory.”  Each of the five tiers was apparently in some sort of one-up contest with each other to be as frustrating as possible.  Oh, the inner rage was in full-force that night.

The first part is a boxing match with one of the Drăculești, reusing the boxing interface from Last Train to Cairo.  It wasn’t too hard, although it took me about three or four tries to get through.

rom2Then we moved on to, y’know, hell, because the Drăculești are not messing around.  You actually have to go into one of the hell dungeons (you don’t have to fight anything, so you can go in solo).  This glitched hard for us last week, but resetting the mission and going in separate helped.  In here, you have to slowly walk over a series of grates and coals, gradually burning alive as you unlock the path to the end.  There’s a very specific pattern you need to walk and since you can’t heal or use skills, it’s in your best interest to put on as much health gear as possible just to survive.  I loathed this puzzle.  Must’ve done it 20 times.

Then — why not — we got a stealth portion of the mission through the zone’s lair (which is super-elite content that will kick your butt).  This part just suuuuuucked.  It was so hard to see mobs and you had to avoid all of them to get to a glowing column.  Some of the mobs were dark shades that would just pop up out of the ground and tag you, which definitely did not feel fair.

rom3Finally, we were challenged to go on a scavenger hunt through the old Drăculești town, which is fully populated with bad guys.  So lots of fighting and running past mobs as you’re trying to find the next clue which is, of course, written in Romanian.  Some of the clues made sense but others were just… bizarre.  The last one that said some gibberish about the moon was downright impossible to figure out, especially as the game was currently in the day cycle.  I’ll admit that I broke down and used a walkthrough at that point just to finish things up.

Finishing this mission also finished up all four sidestories, which netted each of us a free mystery box (I got a lot of currency) and the Inspector’s Gadget, a really neat elite gadget that gives you a good heal/health boost on a two-minute timer.

Nice rewards, but there is just no way I’m ever doing this again.  Never ever ever.  Ever.

On the upside, it looks like Tokyo’s coming in May, probably toward the back end of the month!  My gear still has a few blues in it, but overall I’ve got a good set and a couple of good builds, so I’m ready to go.  Between Tokyo and WildStar’s launch, I’ll have my hands busy around my birthday (May 31st, get your shopping done early!).

The Secret World: The Abandoned

ab1Our Monday night Secret World group hit a snag as the third investigation mission from the Sidestories pack bugged out on us pretty severely.  We switched over to the fourth mission so as to reset the third, which we’ll attempt once again next week.

So we ended up doing The Abandoned in the Shadowy Forest last night.  This one starts with the good ol’ bridge troll Mosul, who is one of the many old world fairy tale-ish characters that exist in Transylvania.  I kind of like him: He speaks slow like an Ent yet never lost my attention.  With this quest, he’s worried that the stories of the fantastic creatures in the woods are in danger of slipping away and charges me with learning about them and passing that knowledge along.

ab2While I’m totally on board with learning all about fairy tales, the reality of this investigation mission wasn’t so much storytelling as it was translating.  Lots and lots and lots of translating.  We first had to translate the message on this coin, of which my only contribution was to identify it as Greek.  I didn’t take Greek in seminary, because no one told me that one day I’d need it for a video game mission.  Who knew?

We had to find apps and virtual Greek keyboards to type in all of this, which pointed us toward a crypt that had something to do with Iele.  You see, I just didn’t get much of the story of this mission because the translations were kind of cryptic and the mission itself never stopped to really tell you what was going on outside of little fragments.  I enjoyed the trappings of it, but honestly I could not tell you what all of this was about.  There’s a tomb and a book and three sisters and some eggshells and a Blanji (the gnome dudes with big buck teeth).

ab3Probably the most interesting part — to me, at least — was getting this picture book and having to track down where it happened in the zone.  It’s a simple story about this creepy lady who lures a guy down a river and then rips his heart out and eats it.  Good old-time family fun.

ab4When you see it recreated, it’s hard not to be simultaneously charmed and weirded out by her.  I like the details that the devs put into her, like her little clapping hands emotes and the fact that she’s dirty and wild and has this shredded dress on.

Later on in the quest we had to throw broken eggshells into a river and follow them down (no, I do not know why).  As we walked down the creek, watching our eggshells bob and weave with the current, we were secure in the knowledge that this is probably the only MMO that asked you to do such a thing.

We encountered another bug with the next step, as the Blanji bugged out, so I looked up where we were supposed to go.  It involved dying and having ghost Blanjis put the eggshell back together.  In a cool closing twist, the final step of the quest asks you to share the story (the egg, which has painted scenes from the quest) to another player.

It wasn’t a hugely challenging quest, past the annoyance of translating things from Greek and Romanian (MMOGC said that her ex-boyfriend was Romanian but she didn’t think he would respond nicely if we called him up asking him to translate stuff from a video game).  I really do wish that I grokked more of the story itself, so I may have to do a little research and see what I missed.

 

The Secret World: A fistful of bees

Our Monday night Secret World group reconvened to tackle the second of the four investigation missions: Immersion, AKA “The Game.”

game1The mission started out with one of the very few alive Orochi in the game, this one in the camp in Scorched Desert.  I didn’t really catch the purpose behind this mission, other than to grab an Orochi tablet and try to make contact with Tokyo.

game2
Once we connected with Orochi headquarters, the tablet started us playing “The Game v1.0″ — a bonified, electrified, genuine text adventure game. In an MMO. Yes, chalk this up to another thing you’ll never see in any MMO other than this one. It’s a pretty robust game despite having a rather weak text parser (sometimes you have to be very precise in what you’re asking). The weird thing is that the entire game mimics the world — what happens in the text game and the places it describe can be found outside of The Game. This is actually the point, as you need to play through each leg of The Game to find where the SD card with the next version is hidden. We ended up hopping all over the world, from London to New England to Korea.

game3
Despite the occasional frustration of “what do I do now?” The Game was pretty entertaining. It was fun to do while chatting in a group, because we were able to groupthink it and laugh about the funnier lines. And we died a lot — once on purpose because the quest demanded it.

game4
The encounter with the Hive Hum — the bees — in The Game gave me chills, especially as the bees themselves seemed to be very aware of the meta nature of this exercise.

game5
Best line ever? I agree.

game6
I can only imagine how long it took this developer to make The Game and how much of his or her sanity was sacrificed in doing so. It’s a pretty lengthy quest, with five versions of The Game needing to be found.

game7
The Game eventually led us to one of the Council of Venice “holodeck” rooms, which started up and displayed a few eerie messages before shutting down.

game8
And the last word displayed before the quest closed out was the name “John.” Who is John?

One other thing: Each stage of The Game gave you passwords to continue into the next stage, and these passwords seem to be telling us a lot about what’s to come:

  • FILTHYMAN
  • BLACKSIGNAL
  • THE COUNCILLIES
  • TOKYOAWAITS
  • THEENDGAME