Try-It Tuesday: Atlas Reactor

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I accidentally typed “Atlast Reactor.” Then my brain started playing “At Last” with Etta James. That went on for the next four minutes. I don’t think my mind is functioning much like how it used to. Bear with me.

Anyway, continuing to dig through my pile of games that I want to at least sample, and I realized that I had gotten a code to try out Atlas Reactor a couple of weeks back. Honestly, I wasn’t even going to give this game a look — “PvP” is pretty much Syp-repellent, especially as the core of a title — if that hadn’t happened. And while I’m not going to be suddenly throwing up my hands and telling you that this is the game that’s going to win me over to the PvP side of the force, I will admit that it’s a really interesting take.

I don’t think that there’s anything quite like Atlas Reactor out there, and that’s probably a good thing for Trion Worlds. I mean, it probably won’t be a major hit, but if the studio can dig out a new niche, it could bear more of a future than most MOBA clones these days.

And at first look, you might be forgiven for thinking that Atlas Reactor is a MOBA. I mean, a traditional one, with lanes and minions and made-up words like “jungling.” It’s got colorful characters with skins and finishers that you can unlock. It has several modes and is primarily about PvP matches, although there are matches against bots if you feel so inclined.

Yet in truth, Atlas Reactor is more like Battlechess, if anything. Remember that game? I’m dating myself, but I loved it way back when. I loved that because while you got the pacing of a turn-by-turn strategy game, you also got to watch the pieces beat the crud out of each other.

This “plan a move, watch how it pans out” is the core of the game. Each character has five abilities that can be “programmed” during the planning part of turns, after which the turn will play out more-or-less simultaneously. Some actions occur before others, so there’s a lot of choices involved here. And considering that you have eight characters operating at a time, each making hidden decisions, each turn is part gamble, part anticipation, and part spray and pray.

After going through a few matches, I can say that this approach actually works. The pause between turns lets you engage your mind more than your reflexes, and that breather is a godsend to those of us who want to analyze and react without feeling pressured to do something that second. You can even act quickly and “bank” some of that extra time for the turns where you need a few more moments.

Because of the setup, I didn’t feel that crushing pressure of competitive PvP that I normally do. Teamwork is incredibly important (I loved our healers) and getting to sit back and watch while you thought of what to do next established a good flow to the game. I especially enjoyed the personalities and quotes from the characters, and the art style uses cel-shaded cartoons to great effect.

Is Atlas Reactor for me? Nope. Can’t see playing it much past this, but that’s more me than the game. But how will it treat Trion? I think the best that the studio can hope for here, with an unconventional gameplay style and a brand-new IP, is for a modest hit that establishes a good enough revenue flow to keep it running. It’s definitely worth checking out if you feel like you’ve seen all MOBAs have to offer.

Star Trek times three

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Star Trek Online

Let’s bundle together a few Star Trek thoughts today, starting with the continued adventures of the U.S.S. Whatever Ship I’m Flying Today. I think I’m back to the Atrox Carrier, but that doesn’t matter.

After a promising start, the Delta Rising expansion seems to be bogging down into a series of missions that are either glorified cameos of various Voyager races or some ground stuff that doesn’t feel like it matters. Listen, if you watched Voyger, then I’m sure this is all quite thrilling, but so far I’m not seeing some great story here. Or even stories.

Currently I’ve been sent down to the surface of a war-torn planet to wage a three-woman war against the Vaadwuar, which sounds more like a piece of furniture a rich person would have than a terrifying alien species. I guess they’ve gotten some advanced tech and we’re curious about that, but who knows?

I don’t mind Star Trek Online’s ground game, but I will say that mission pacing falters if you are asked to spend long stretches of time in it. I also don’t quite understand why I’m going into a known combat zone with a truncated team instead of a full five-character party.

Here’s hoping either the narrative will perk up or we’ll shoot through the rest of this expansion and get to the next episode series.

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Star Trek Discovery

OK, we really need to talk about the reveal of the new Star Trek series, Discovery, from SDCC. It was certainly a good time to do so, with the 50th anniversary and the new movie and all, but I have a gut feeling that they had to rush to get this out and what emerged was weirdly half-cooked and not nearly as exciting as the announcement of a new Star Trek series should be.

I will say that I like the title (and logo) very much. Discovery is at the core of Trek and the word certainly ties into the franchise perfectly. Great name for a ship and a tip of the hat to the space shuttle too. It’s also heartening that out of the little the showrunners revealed here, they did confirm that it will take place in the “prime” (original) universe and not the JJ-Trek timeline. The movies are fine and all, but it feels right that the TV show stays where it all began.

Then we get to the teaser trailer, which is nothing more than some music and the launching of the U.S.S. Discovery from an asteroid hanger. I can’t be diplomatic here: This is one insanely ugly ship design, and to make matters worse, the CGI for the trailer looks positively awful. Like mid-90s cutscene bad. This is why I feel like it was rushed out the door in time for an event, because this is just shoddy. About halfway through the teaser I thought I might have accidentally clicked on some fan-made video instead, it was that bad.

I’m OK with change and all, but I’m sorry, if a ship is going to be the icon for your series and the vehicle to take you through it, this is like shooting yourself in the foot with the starting pistol for a race. Yeah, I don’t care if it’s an intentional homage to the design of the (rightly) unused design for the Enterprise for Planet of the Titans/Phase II, it’s a woofer. Gold plating? Big triangle base? Angles every which way from Sunday?

It’s been kind of sad watching Trekkies twist themselves into knots to try to convince themselves that this is fine, this is a good-looking ship, it’s all going to be OK, don’t cry, etc. Maybe you actually do like it, but I’m not going to white knight this atrocity.

Sure, we don’t know much past all this. Maybe it’s a hint at a cross-faction venture with the Federation and Klingons. Maybe it’s another prequel show. Another theory is that this is a ship cobbled together from older ships in a far-flung dystopic future. Maybe this is one of many ships to bear the name “Discovery” that will be seen. We simply don’t know. But here’s what I’m hoping: That if this will be on-screen next year, it better start looking better than a 1970s reject.

Star Trek Beyond

I did want to end on a positive note — I was able to get out and see Star Trek Beyond this past weekend and was pretty happy with it. Lots better than Into Darkness, with fewer forehead-slapping moments in which key aspects of Star Trek were disposed of or desecrated. Space felt a little bigger, and exploring it felt a little more interesting.

It was definitely more of an action film and it still had ridiculous tech designs (the Yorktown is just waaaaay too big of a station and impractically designed… I spent half of the movie wondering how it could’ve even been built), but for the most part it started to pull out some of that classic Star Trek feel.

I think what redeems this entry is that all of the core characters really do get more time to talk and interact. McCoy and Spock have an adventure together, Chekov gets some one-on-one with Kirk, Sulu takes more of a command role, Uhura sticks up for the crew, and Scotty gets a surprising amount of scenes (which I’m sure was influenced by Simon Pegg writing the script). Lots of great references to the series (giant green hand, heh). Good stuff, all.

And (slight spoiler if you haven’t seen the trailer) they finally trash that weird Enterprise design and deliver a much better connie in the 1701-A.

World of Warcraft’s Transmog 2.0 is a great step forward — but it has a ways to go

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It seems as though the World of Warcraft community was far more excited about all of the changes to transmog with the 7.0 update that the class overhauls — and I can understand that. Transmog is one of the few areas in the game where players can exercise any measure of creativity and visual agency. Plus, we just wanted to free up all of that bank space.

I actually did not do a lick of transmogging before this week. I knew that the update was coming, so I was patient and waited for the new system before trying it out. Plus, I figured that hunting down new pieces would give me something to do in August before the expansion (I’m sure I’m not alone in that).

First things first: Transmog 2.0 is well-done in general. It’s certainly nice to be able to save all of your visual options and especially do so across your entire account. I think it was a master-stroke for Blizzard to tell you where you can find each piece in case you want to hunt it down. And the addition of illusions to add more flair to your weapons is a wonderful touch as well. Oh! And saving multiple outfits, great move.

It’s certainly made getting loot more exciting, since now you’ll see notices that such-and-such has been added to your transmog library. Cosmetics are insanely compelling as rewards and I hope that the studio continues to pursue this.

But for those endlessly gushing over how Transmog 2.0 has brought in the Age of Aquarius and such, I have to say that while it’s a great step forward for World of Warcraft, it still is a sub-par cosmetic system compared to the industry standard.

For starters, I cannot believe you have to visit a specific vendor just to work on your outfits. We hated this in WildStar in the beginning and that was quickly changed so that you could do wardrobe stuff anywhere — which is how most MMO systems operate. But in WoW? I have to cram myself into a house with a few hundred other people to try to talk to a specific NPC every.. single… time that I want to work on or change an outfit. That’s just silly, especially now that the collections screen shows you your transmog stuff. Just let us do it wherever, Blizzard, or at the very least let us call up saved outfits so that we can switch between them.

Another quibble I have is with the lack of dyes, although I think this isn’t really a possibility for WoW considering how the armor was designed. Still, it’s a shame, especially when you have to pieces that would go well together if it wasn’t for clashing colors.

Finally, I’m not overly fond of the armor restrictions on transmog. Different MMOs handle this in different ways, but generally I am of the opinion that if you have a wardrobe in a game, you should let your players dress up their characters the way they want. Why not? Why can’t my mail-wearing Shaman put on a cowboy hat? And do not pull out the immersion argument, because this game has ridiculous visuals all over the place.

Hopefully the current system won’t be seen as the end of transmog development, but part of an effort to continually make it better.

Quest for Glory II: Road trip!

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(This is part of my journey going checking out Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Day 13. When I go to the fighter’s guild (which I guess is my guild now) to return the flame sword, Uhura hands me a mysterious note. I have NO idea what it’s talking about, other than it sounds like someone is trying to threaten me. And what orders? There are no orders to follow here. Weird.

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Even though I regularly eat at the inn, the game tells me that I’ve just chewed through my last food ration. Well, can’t have that, can we? It takes some looking around, but I find a food merchant who helps me resupply with new rations. In a funny moment, the husband and wife end up bargaining between each other for my final price.

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I was also told that the devish at the oasis wants to see me. I don’t need much of an excuse for a road trip out of the city, so why not? My trusty and lusty saurus takes me south, right by a dead body that dissolves (?!?) as we approach it. Mirage perhaps?

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The dervish cryptically informs me of a capital-P Puzzle that must be solved — and soon, if ever.

I do try taking more of his beard, but he informs me that the beard wrapped around the tree is what’s keeping him from floating away. Fair enough.

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The directions that the dervish gives me leads to a strange cage with an even stranger beast in it… sitting in the middle of the desert. My character kind of pees himself a little when the beasts leaps at him. I do cautiously approach and toss it some food and water. Look at me, making friends!

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Back in the city, Exposition Girl — er, Aziza — says that the beast is probably an illusion hiding its true nature. I need to get a dispel potion to see what lies underneath. Crossing fingers for available princess!

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The potion is going to require all manner of ingredients, including fruit from a compassion tree. Aziza sits me down for another story (a kind of sad, dark one) about a girl who became a healer, got accosted by bandits, escaped, and was transformed into a tree by a djinn to save her. Now I have to help her out, and there’s a three-step process to that.

Nothing is ever simple, is it?

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In a really interesting twist, you aren’t able to turn the girl back into a human — only true love can do that. But you can help return her spirit to her, and so I do by performing small tasks: watering her, giving her dirt, telling her about my adventures, mentioning her name.

Oh, and by giving her a hug. Yes, you literally hug a tree in this game. Syp, tree-hugger. I like how she kind of wiggles when I lay into that hug.

As I do all of these things, the tree-girl starts to show some life. She turns around, leaves grow, and finally a fruit of compassion blooms. Score!

Quest for Glory II: Being a hero is a thankful job

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(This is part of my journey going checking out Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Let me say that if you’ve ever felt taken for granted in RPGs for all of the acts of benevolence that you perform for the population only to be practically ignored afterward, play this game. From minute one, the NPCs are tripping over themselves in their eagerness to praise you. Every elemental I eliminate gets me a chorus of ego-boosting encouragement. I AM HERO.

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And if you need even more validation, there’s always your way-too-loyal saurus who keeps charging through the city just to tackle you with wet slobbery kisses. Cracks me up every time, it does. Pesky saurus.

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I am really not exaggerating the praise that this game gives to you. Nights later, Omar the poet is performing a piece that’s all about how awesome I am (and name-dropping the title of the game) while his associate gives me a purse of money from the sultan as a thank-you.

I might be humming “We Are the Champions” while I play this game. A little bit.

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Enough basking in my glory — there’s two more elementals about, with the earth one threatening the city on day 12. Apparently the Liontaur Rakeesh COULD have fought him but he got a leg boo-boo and so it’s up to me. Hey, I wasn’t even aware that there was anyone else in this place fighting for the city, so it’s not a major let-down.

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OK, so here’s the part of this playthrough where Syp confesses what an idiot he is. Ready? Oh, you’re always ready for that. Good, I guess.

So you might recall that this character was imported from Quest for Glory I. When I did that, I went back to the playthrough I wrote in 2013 and saw that I had rerolled as a thief, so I’ve been assuming ever since that I am a thief (the character sheet doesn’t tell you what you are). But some weird things have been happening, such as the money-changer not offering me a job even though I made the sign of the thief, and now that Rakeesh loans me his fire sword — which he only does for fighters — I guess I have been a fighter all along. A fighter pretending to be a thief.

Give the game credit, though — it’s let me play as a thief for the most part. But man do I feel dumb.

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After wandering the alleys of the city for a very, very long time, the earth elemental shows up for a rumble. I love that his name is “Rocky,” although I’m a little peeved that the game just puts me as a generic “Hero.” I *did* enter in a name at character creation, you know.

Instead of winning or losing, after about two blows Rocky disappears. Sigh. More wandering!

Actually, it turns out that I’m being a doofus again. Because I practiced with Uhura, my stamina is rock-bottom and I’m unable to fight. So I ask Rocky for a raincheck, go take a nap, then come back and kick his butt. It takes about three swings of the fire-sword to do it. Man, I wish I could keep this thing!

Recharging the MMO interest meter

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Hey guys, meet Yeetii, my new Imperial Agent in SWTOR. With my new computer, I’ve been (re)installing several MMOs, mostly just to have them there in case I want to branch out on a given night. Some are old favorites while a few are on my list of games to try.

I’m on the fence as to whether or not I should go back to SWTOR right now. You see, with MMOs it isn’t always a question of available time (which there never is enough of, but which you can make time for if you want to). Sometimes it matters how full or empty my interest meter is.

This is totally nerdy and probably a product of my years spent playing RPGs and MMOs, but I see my interest in any given game as a bar that goes from empty to full. On the empty end, that represents complete burnout and disinterest after a long time playing. On the full end, it usually signifies excitement to return to a game and plenty of interest to sink into it for a good long while.

When to return to an MMO is tricky sometimes. If I haven’t “refilled” the bar by letting enough time go by (and enough changes come to the game), then by jumping in I’m just going to re-deplete it faster than before. I don’t want to be mildly interested in playing a game, I want to be downright enthusiastic about it. But if I wait tooooo long, well, then I could forget about a game entirely or feel as though too much time has gone by for me to really reenter the scene.

One other way of refilling that imaginary meter for me isn’t just by taking long sabbaticals from the game, but by playing it in short, occasional bursts. Right now this is me and The Secret World. I’ll pick it up about once a week, so that’s about six days of gradual recharging and one of depletion. That keeps the game almost always interesting to me, although it’s not going to re-top that meter any time soon.

So when I return to a game I’ll be cautious about feeling it out. Maybe a new expansion or big news (such as in the case of SWTOR) helps with an interest boost, but I’ll usually spend the first couple of days just puttering around and seeing if the game triggers any “ugh, been there, killed that” negative emotions or if it’s sparking genuine interest in me.

For SWTOR? Too soon to tell. I have an idea of replaying the entire Agent storyline, only this time completely dark side with a sniper — two big changes from my light side operative.