Try-It Tuesday: Tacoma

Every so often, I break out of my gaming routine to try something new and different. These turn into my Try-It Tuesday sessions, and they are a mixed bag indeed!

After devouring What Remains of Edith Finch the other week, I needed another injection of interactive “walking simulator” storytelling… which led me to Tacoma. Created by the Gone Home team, Tacoma doesn’t stray far from the template from the aforementioned games. You’re a female arriving in a deserted location who investigates her surroundings and pieces together a narrative of what happened prior to her arrival.

In this case, it’s a space station instead of a family house, but the concept doesn’t stray too far from the path. Something Has Happened to the station Tacoma and its six occupants (who are no longer aboard), and it’s up to you to find out what while recovering as much of the recorded data as possible.

The twist here is that in certain areas you can recover all or part of audio and video recordings of the crew in the past — sometimes hours, sometimes weeks, sometimes even months ago — and then play them back as they move about. You can’t see their actual bodies and faces, but rather color-coded humanoid blobs, but you can peek into their HUD computer displays and follow them as they go about various tasks and discussions. The only real choice you actually have in the game, in fact, is who to follow when, which only determines what order you get all of the story beats.

Between the crew logs, their computer messages (emails, texts, letters), and some minor environmental observation, the narrative gradually comes together. The game starts promisingly pretty much at the point of the crisis, and then delivers logs that go back and forward from that point to give you ever-widening context. And even though the people are blobs, you get to know them a bit and find out a few details about their backstories and relationships.

While I ended up not liking Gone Home very much, Tacoma was better — but only a little bit more. I loved the setting and the mechanics, but it is way, way too short of a game. It’s like a short story instead of a novella, and I ended up feeling robbed that we didn’t get more sections with more conversations and details. The characters don’t get as much time to be fleshed out, the mystery, so to speak, gets rushed in the end, and the sparse environmental details didn’t live up to Gone Home or Edith Finch.

It’s what I would consider a $5 game, max, for what you get. Definitely worth a quick two-hour playthrough, but once you’re done, there’s no reason to ever revisit it.

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It’s time we heard about the next phase of Secret World Legends already

Last fall, I found myself pushing hard through Transylvania and Tokyo because I was worried that I wouldn’t be “done” and caught up in time for the wave of promised new content that was due to start arriving in late 2017. Well, I fulfilled my end of the bargain; I’m finally caught up at the end of the main storyline and have a halfway-decent character who is ready to go on.

Funcom? It’s a whole heap of quiet over there. And no new content yet, I might add.

I think I’m disappointed in two things. On a small level, that the new stuff hasn’t happened yet. We know we’re due for three things: a “Dark Agartha” scenario, an agent system, and the start of season two in a new zone. At least some of this was supposed to happen last month and didn’t.

But the greater disappointment isn’t any delay, it’s that Funcom just isn’t talking with us. Aside from running the winter event last month, the studio’s been really quiet concerning SWL. It seems to be dealing with this game in spurts, giving it some attention before wandering away, and that’s a sign of a poor community management team (or a poor CM, period).

There just isn’t any info or talk coming out of the studio for fans. There aren’t any official forums, so Funcom primarily uses Reddit and Discord. I don’t hang out in Discord these days, but you’d think that a CM who has repeatedly promised WEEKLY communication updates and has delivered maybe three of them would pop over to the Reddit once in a while. About the only hope we have right now is the fact that some of the in-character NPCs are now talking once again on Twitter after a long silence.

Anyway, I’m sure there’s a delay and I’m sure we’re still due for more good stuff, but I’m tired of treading water in Tokyo. I can’t really bring myself to run the same Tokyo missions I’ve already done for no new story or better rewards, so other than logging in once a day to get my free key, I’m just not going to play until or unless Funcom pops out some new content. I am shaking my head here, because Secret World Legends had some good momentum last summer, but it feels like the studio has squandered that and once again turned its back on this game.

Let’s sincerely hope not.

For more thoughts on this, check out GRM Adrian’s video on the subject where he voices many of the same frustrations that I’m feeling.

Revisiting Champions Online

So here we go with one of my 2018 resolutions, which is to “revisit and review” one old MMO and one new one (to me) each month. I’m kicking off this series with a brief look at Champions Online, because a Massively OP Podcast listener brought it up last month and got me thinking about this game — and why we City of Heroes vets aren’t necessarily shoo-ins to play it.

Oh, I’m sure some are. But the superhero diaspora didn’t result in everyone going to the same MMO, even if the logical choice was another comic book MMO developed by Cryptic. Champions Online always struggled in the shadow of City of Heroes, and while it did develop its own identity, the core gameplay and neglected development worked against it in the long run. Champs failed to gather and sustain a healthy playerbase, instead settling somewhere on the fringe for years now.

I’ve always felt that one of the biggest mistakes that Champs made was not fully embracing free-to-play. It tried for a halfway measure, taking away one of its core strengths — allowing players to mix-and-match powers to make their own unique build, instead giving free users prebuilt templates that weren’t as personal. As such, trial players didn’t feel like they had such a strong personal investment in the game and didn’t stick around for long. Just my perspective.

That isn’t to say that the game is a wasteland. I found many wonderfully weird superheroes wandering around when I logged in with my new character, Goober. Since I had a single freeform character slot (the $50 alternative to a subscription if you wanted to make your own unique build), I spent 45 minutes or so creating a bizarre tragedy of a hero. Goober is some sort of lizard-fish thing, with fins everywhere, too-long arms, and green skin. Yet I found myself warming up to the weirdness before long, especially since I typically create as attractive and cool-looking of characters that I can in games like these.

It should be said that Champions Online’s character builder is still as robust and addicting to use as ever. Probably more so, with all of the options that have been tossed in since last I played. I’ve always been partial to Champions’ visuals over City of Heroes, and the cel-shaded style still holds up. It does look a little artificial in the faces, but the bold colors distract from that detail. I was also impressed by how many powers there are from which to choose. Travel powers alone number into the dozens, although many are locked behind store purchases and who knows what. I wouldn’t mind trying “inky ooze tunneling,” though.

In the end, Goober became a boomerang-using, chain-flinging vigilante for justice. Nothing fancy, but fun even so. I don’t often get boomerangs in MMOs or other video games.

Pretty!

As a Detroit resident, I always get a kick out of this futuristic revamp of the city. And the mountains in the background across the Detroit River, because I guess Canada has a landfill problem or something.

Going back to Champions for a night was worth it for superjump alone. There is no travel power that ever pleased me more in any superhero game than this. Flight might offer more freedom, but there’s something thrilling about literally jumping over buildings and slamming down to make craters in the sidewalk. It’s a plus if you’re doing this as some sort of mutant fish monster.

As much as I liked the travel and the visuals, Champions fell short in other areas that I am only all-to-familiar with from previous sessions. The controls and combat continues to feel… off. A little sluggish. It’s just not as tight as it should be, and that held me back from really getting into the quests. While I did appreciate the auto-attack for the basic builder, the whole builder/spender mechanic was just as much of a dud as it ever was. City of Heroes’ time-recharging powers were much more enjoyable to use, in comparison.

I ran through a half-dozen missions and a story instance, and it was generally pretty basic and straight-forward. I appreciated the effort of using cutscenes, but the voice acting, lip synching, and animation were all lacking. And the whole deal was just kill, kill, kill. At least the screen gave me a handy navigation arrow that always pointed to the next objective.

Oddly enough, the most fun I had was the ability to pick up and throw environmental objects, like chairs, cars, and parking meters. Kind of feel like the city would frown on me tearing up public property for an attack that didn’t do much damage, but sometimes you just have to do something simply for its own sake.

I do want to say that in this series where I look at other MMOs, I’m leaving it very open-ended as to how long I want to play and if further sessions are warranted. Revisiting Champions brought back a lot of memories but didn’t really reel me in or introduce any new fun surprises since last I played, so I think this’ll be it. At least for now.

4 strategies to easy goldmaking in World of Warcraft

One of my informal resolutions regarding World of Warcraft was to get my house in order and really start looking at making more gold. It’s not an area that I’ve thought about much this past year, but once I started viewing the game as an economic simulator of sorts, I felt the fires of my enthusiasm blaze up. It was a different objective and an interesting goal: To make enough gold to (at the very least) pay my sub each month.

The last time I was buying WoW Tokens was back at the end of Draenor, back when everyone was getting all their gold from garrison missions and the price was a lot cheaper. Remember the days of 35K tokens? Pepperidge Farm remembers. It’s something I stopped thinking about after Legion came along and token prices shot way up. I’d been paying for a subscription ever since then while I was in the game.

But turning my attention to revving up a gold making machine, I knew that I had to keep it reasonable. I have other games to play and limited time. I had to maximize my current resources and keep any daily efforts to a reasonable duration. So I did a lot of poking around, mostly regarding lazy gold generation, and I started to develop a strategy that would pull together several low-effort, low-stress methods to bringing in that gold.

Once I got these into place, I started to focus on getting my three level 110s up to spec — gear, through Argus, etc. — and coming up with a daily rotation. It’s been going well, with a daily haul netting me between 10,000 and 20,000 gold without too much trouble, and with token prices hovering around 170K, covering my sub should be no problem.

World quests

Right now I don’t have the time to really learn TSM and settle into the whole auction house flipping scene, so I decided to latch on to an activity I was doing every day anyway: world quests. Besides gunning for emissary chests (which can hold a chunk of gold), I’ve been doing a sweep of the Broken Isles for any WQ that pays out in purple gear, rare herbs, bacon (which is surprisingly lucrative), and gold payouts north of 150g.

The focus here is on chaos crystals. The more purples I can disenchant, the more crystals I get, and the more I can sell them on the auction house. At around 250 gold per, four shards is a cool 1,000. A sweep with all three characters can get me quite a few of these, which I turn around and sell right away.

I also am trying to equip each character with one follower who has that ability that adds a free 50 gold per world quest completed when tagging along. 50 might not sound like much, but every bit adds up!

Invasions

After the initial flurry of invasions passed, I stopped paying attention to them. Now I’ve changed my mind — invasions are awesome! An invasion zone gets packed with world quests that are usually very easy to complete and pay out double in rewards, with the second part of that reward being nethershards. I take those nethershards, go to the Broken Shore, buy some purple gear from the vendor, DE, and boom. More chaos crystals. Plus, invasions have a higher number of gold reward missions too.

Garrisons

This one surprised me, because I think a lot of people — myself included — wrote garrisons off back when they switched off the gold missions prior to Legion. But no, there’s still money to be made here, just in a slightly more roundabout way.

Basically, I farm Gorgrond Flytraps from the herb garden every day and use my garrison resources to purchase Sumptuous Furs when the price is down to 16 at the trader. Then I trot over to the tailoring shack and start working on hexweave cloth and hexweave bags. It’s slow, but it’s a guaranteed chunk of gold every so often. Right now I have two of my three characters tailoring through this (I want to leave herbalism on my DK).

Order hall missions

Finally, I wised up about order hall missions, especially since I wasn’t seeing as many gold missions. I didn’t realize that these were tied to the level of your champions, so it became imperative to level up those champions ASAP and then be more diligent about keeping an eye on the mission board through my phone app. Doing world quests and invasions took care of any order hall resource shortages I might have had, so I am good there.

I’m still perusing the woweconomy subreddit and am keeping my eyes open for any more simple but effective techniques to gold making. Ideally once I get everything into place I don’t want to be spending more than a half-hour a day on this. But as for right now, it’s a blast playing the game from an economic angle. Sometimes all it takes is a new goal to refresh your interest and perspective.

8 more PC games I want to play in 2018

The other day I listed six games that I was looking forward to playing in 2018, but since then I realized that I had been overlooking quite a few promising titles. So why not another list? Here are some more PC games that I’m hoping to dig into this year:

1. Age of Empires IV

Oh HECK YES. The Age of Empires series is one of my hands-down favorite RTS series, and I seriously cannot wait to see what they come up with for the fourth installment. Release! Release NOW.

2. Sunless Skies

I absolutely love the Fallen London/Sunless Seas universe and agree that it’s one of the best-written worlds in the industry. So yes, I do want to play this airship-themed spin-off, as long as I get more tales.

3. Surviving Mars

The Tropico team is bringing a colony builder to Mars. Love them sim builders! I’m not fully sold on the graphics of this one, but Mars is an interesting locale.

4. Vampyr

The Life is Strange team has been working on this vampire-themed title. Don’t really care for vamps, but I love LiS and will try it based on the strength of this studio alone. Speaking of, Life is Strange 2 is also in development.

5. Railway Empire

I have a particular fondness for train sims, especially ones that let you build up your own company and lines, and this title might just satisfy my dark, steam-billowing urges.

6. We Happy Few

I don’t even know what this is clearly about, but it looks like it’s parts alternative history and BioShock and dystopian civilization. Sure, sign me up!

7. Dauntless

Giant monster slaying in co-op isn’t normally my thing, but I do like the aesthetics of this title and the ex-MMO developers behind it.

8. State of Decay 2

I always felt like I should have spent more time in the first game, because I really did like that blend of survival horror. Making it more co-op and larger seems like a good move.

Try-It Tuesday: What Remains of Edith Finch

Every so often, I break out of my gaming routine to try something new and different. These turn into my Try-It Tuesday sessions, and they are a mixed bag indeed!

Another one of my Steam winter sale pickups, What Remains of Edith Finch became a must-buy due to the incessant praise that I kept hearing about it from friends and media. It was also one of those “don’t read anything about it, just buy it and play it” titles, so I tried to stay relatively ignorant of what it contained before diving through it over the course of two short gaming sessions. And while short, Edith Finch is an absolutely spectacular experience and became one of my favorite games in the waning hours of 2017.

No big spoilers here. This really has to be a game that you just go through without any expectations, perhaps other than my personal recommendation. But I will paint some broad strokes here and give my reaction if you want more.

More of a “walking simulator” or interactive novel, What Remains of Edith Finch is out to tell you a story — several stories, actually — by making you an involved participant in it. The premise is that you’re a 17-year-old girl (!) who also happens to be the very last of her family, and she’s coming back to her family’s house. And it’s not a normal house, but is this overgrown mansion on an island filled with secrets and tales, a history of the lives of generations of Finches. All of whom died prematurely and in weird ways.

Edith feels like her mother kept so much of the family’s accounts away from her, so this is her chance to finally explore the backstories of her kin. By accessing each of their rooms (which have been sealed up with little peepholes drilled into them), she’s able to learn more about them, often with unreliable narrator flashbacks to each individual’s final day or moments.

I thought at the start that it was going to be a little more maudlin or disturbing, and while the giant house creaking in the wind was unsettling in parts, after a while I felt a lot more comfortable than while going through the mansion in Gone Home. The Finch abode is like a dream palace for creative people, with colorfully painted rooms, books everywhere (sooo many books), and a warm atmosphere. It’s a place that, if I was a kid, I would find to be the coolest place ever to explore. As an adult, I wasn’t too far off in thinking that, either.

I probably spent most of the time playing just slowly looking around, checking out details, and enjoying the environmental storytelling that’s often going parallel or even contrary to what the narrator (Edith) is saying or the death stories show. You learn so much about each one of these family members, and while there’s quite the diversity here, most all of them are imaginative and unfortunate.

For a game that’s so saturated in the theme of death, very little about Edith Finch is gory or morbid. On the contrary, almost every death is a celebration of sorts, given a silver lining and inspirational music. There are some stories that I think would hit home more with some people than others, but pretty much all of them will stick with me well into the weeks ahead.

I think there’s a lot of very clever storytelling going on here on multiple levels, some of which might not be easily apparent on a casual playthrough. While some of the story is clearly laid out for you, much has to be pieced together from different quotes, what you notice, and a doubt as to the reliability of what’s being portrayed.

I’m going to digest this game for a while and will probably come back to it again sometime in the future. I think it deserves a second playthrough, if just because some details will probably make more sense this time around. It’s not a perfect game and I think that the ending comes a little too rushed, but it really does this genre of interactive storytelling justice and is a great example if you’re looking to win people over to how involving these games can be.

6 of my favorite LOTRO pets

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so let us return to the beautiful world of minipets and completely loyal followers as I look at six of my favorite Lord of the Rings Online pets. Pets are a relatively new addition to the game (which is a shame, I would have loved them back in the day), and function much like vanity pets in other MMOs. Because they’re newer and I haven’t been killing myself to acquire them, I probably have fewer pets in LOTRO than I do in other MMOs. Still, here are my current faves!

1. Farmer Maggot’s Dog

While this mutt isn’t much to look at, it’s still pretty cool to have one of the dogs that struck such deep fear into Frodo. Since they weren’t afraid to go up against Black Riders (presumably), I figure this would be a good companion to have along the way.

2. Faroth

However, for my money, Faroth is a far better dog model. Too few MMOs give us good-looking dogs, but this hound is just spectacular. Got him in the Wastes and use him more often than not. Who’s a good boy! Who’s a good boy! It’s you. You’re a good boy.

3. Bill the Pony

The anniversary quests were boons to pet collectors, and no reward gave me as much pleasure as getting perhaps the most iconic of all Lord of the Rings pets, Bill the Pony. Good to know he made it back to the Shire OK!

4. Quiet Cow

Another pet type that you don’t see a lot of in MMOs? Cows. And this one’s a biggun’. I’d use her more, but she keeps getting in my face and in the way. The bell is a nice touch.

5. Puffy Sheep

IT’S SO PUFFYYYYYYY!

6. Distant Cousin

Run through the Bingo Boffin quest line, and you’ll end up… with your own Hobbit slave? I don’t know how else to explain the presence of this ragamuffin Hobbit who follows you around with the most dejected expression. Well, no matter. Just try to jog and keep up when I’m riding on my horse, do you hear? And watch out for the lava in Mordor. Lots of lava there.