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.

Guild Wars 2: Intermission (let’s all go to the lobby)

Yesterday Guild Wars 2 came out with its fourth episode of season two of the living story (ugh, there has to be a quicker way of typing that), but also made a couple of announcements.  The first is that after two months and four episodes, the living world was being put on hold as we count down to a September feature pack.  I guess the “every two week release cadence” has a big asterisk with fine print below saying, “only when we want it to and it sounds good on press releases.”

Ooh, feature pack?  Yeah, but for those of us that are strictly into the PvE side of the game, it doesn’t look like there’s much to get excited about.  The feature pack and the other announcement about some esports tournament all are about WvW and competitive PvP.  That’s fine — not every update has to be for me.  Doesn’t mean that I’m too thrilled.  You mention “esports” and my eyes develop a very thick glaze normally reserved for Krispy Kreme donuts.

So that means that the fourth episode will be the current episode for the next month or two.  For me, I’m cool with it.  I haven’t done most of the achievements with the previous three episodes anyway and have a lot of the game world map yet to do on my Necro.

I logged in last night fully intending to do the first mission in season four, which had something to do with court intrigue because Guild Wars 2 really knows how to push my buttons.  What is this, Sophia the First?  But then my guild mentioned that they were doing some dungeon runs, so I figured why not.  I haven’t done any dungeons with my Necro and was interested in seeing how she fared.

They went pretty well, actually.  The staff is great for doing DPS and conditions at range, and having death shroud available was a decent “oh crap” button in case I started going down too fast.  Kind of like having a second health bar in reserve.  Kind of?  Exactly like that.

I can’t believe that Guild Wars 2 is going to be two years old this month.  It really wasn’t that long ago that I was getting my first glimpse and hands-on with it at PAX.

WildStar: The challenge challenge

s1Last weekend I temporarily (?) retired my medic to pick back up my newbie Engineer in WildStar.  Now that I know the game better and feel more comfortable in it, playing this class has become easier, especially in regard to skill choices and battle rotation.

Since I’m so far behind the bulk of the day one rat pack, I’m actually free to do pretty much whatever I want at my own pace.  So instead of leveling like crazy, screaming “Wait up guys!” I’m choosing to be more completionist than usual.  This means doing all of the Scientist path quests and also every single challenge in each of the zones.

This last one represents a switch in my original estimation of WildStar’s challenges.  I wasn’t that wild about them (no pun intended) at the start, since they’re timed and often asked  you to accomplish a task while fighting over the same resources that everyone else was.  Now that the population is not so much in my hair, I can do these and at least get bronze on them without worrying too much.  There was only one challenge in Algaroc that gave me problems, the one that asked me to kill the super-intelligent apes in the Eldar area, mostly because I couldn’t find enough of a concentration of apes before running out of time.  It took me about seven tries to figure out a good loop between all of the nests (because apes nest in holes in the ground, don’tcha know) before squeaking through with a bronze award.  I scoff at gold on that.

Past the mindless “kill 10 rats” challenges, there is a surprising variety of fun activities going on with these.  They’re kind of like a mix between quests and achievements with an on-the-spot randomized reward.  I do think they should let you flat-out pick the reward instead of rolling on it, since if you don’t get your desired choice you have to wait a while before the cooldown is up.

Probably my favorite in Algaroc is the one where you have to jump to the top of a hill around all of those loftite crystals that give you the super-jump ability.  It’s a little difficult controlling your direction in mid-air, but once you get the hang of it it’s a blast.

s2As I moved on from Algaroc, so I did from my guild to a new one.  I had nothing really against my old guild, but they weren’t the most social people and that’s something I prize in a guild.  So I’m still looking for a good fit and am trying out this group for the time being to see how it goes.

I do wish I could just pack up and move over all of my housing items and even structures from my other characters, however.  So much toast that is now going to waste.  Oh well, we shall rebuild!

Shadow Realms? Yes please.

shadow2Just a couple of weeks ago on Massively Speaking, Bree and I were kicking around ideas from tabletop RPGs that we’d like to see brought into MMOs.  I expressed a desire that I’ve long had, which is to allow players to fully assume the role of an active dungeon master, leading players through an adventure and modifying it on the fly for the situation at hand.  We have a lot of “fire and forget” mission creators in MMOs now (well, a few at least), but none quite like that.  Basically, I wanted to see a melding between virtual tabletop programs and MMOs.

It looks like I’m going to get my wish, sort of!  BioWare just announced Shadow Realms, which isn’t an MMO by most standards, but will be online, will be co-op, will have persistent character development, and will have an ongoing story.  The best part is that players can choose to be a “Shadowlord” to DM adventures against groups of four hero players.

Seriously?  This sounds amazing, moreso from BioWare.  It seems a bit like Neverwinter Nights 2.0, and good for BioWare in creating a new IP instead of becoming so risk-adverse that it simply milks Dragon Age and Mass Effect until the end of time.

I also like the dual-world setting with a mishmash of technology and magic.  Looks superficially like The Secret World (c’mon, that concept art up there could be on Funcom’s site), which isn’t a strike against it for me.  I love me some contemporary action-adventure fantasy science-fiction horror.  And it sounds perfect for small groups of players who want to do D&D-like gameplay without the heavy rulebooks.

Now… we settle into the long wait.  I hope it’s far enough along that it’ll be out sooner rather than later.

Six things about the Atari 2600 that I forgot until now

marioI was watching a retro review of an Atari 2600 game the other day that unlocked several memories I had of that quirky first console.  In no particular order, here they are:

1. The games were very colorful and bold — sometimes moreso than the NES — but had horribly large pixels.  That made rendering text or recognizable human figures problematic unless they made them very big, which is why so many of the games used non-human avatars (spaceships, frogs, etc.).

2. Almost all of the games never had a win condition.  They were super-short and leaned heavily on repition, usually by resetting the stage and making it faster or tougher somehow.  Again, another limitation of the console’s memory.  So one lesson we learned early on is that no matter what, you would lose.  It was only a question of when.

3. Another way that the devs eked out content was to make dozens if not hundreds (and that is not hyperbole) rule variations for the games.  Combat, that packed-in staple, had large plane versions, invisible walls, invisible planes, bank shot tanks, fast moving, slow moving, and so on.  Playing with invisibility in any format seems really weird today, but it was kind of a fun challenge back then.

4. By holding down the reset switch and turning on Space Invaders, you could start a game where your guy could shoot TWICE in a row instead of just once.  That was the first easter egg that I ever encountered in a video game.

5. Later games really chafed under the limited controller (the one-button joystick).  Some required the use of two controllers (such as Defender II) to allow access to more player options, while others used that horrible keypad (Star Raiders) for input.

6. Development on Atari 2600 games went on long after the video game crash of 1983 and even the rise of the NES.  We often bought stripped-down versions of NES games in the late 80s, like California Games, Ikari Warriors, and even 1990’s Xenophobe.  1992 saw the last official Atari 2600 game released (EU’s Acid Drop).