Fallout 76: Beaten with an ugly uranium rod

While my excitement over Fallout 76’s launch couldn’t have been any greater, the game’s timing was absolutely lousy. How was I to know, back in October, that LOTRO would abruptly throw progression servers our way and absolutely captivate me? A handful of days wasn’t enough to get LOTRO out of my system, so when Fallout 76 went live, I started to chew my hair off as my attention was pulled two ways.

So I decided to take it slow, especially considering all of the rumored Day One launch bugs and typical Bethesda wonkiness. Also, the client I had downloaded during beta didn’t work for launch, so I found out on the 14th that I would have to re-download everything.

Finally, I got in, and a brand-new Fallout adventure began — only this time, online and with other people. Other really, really ugly people. I presume this because Bethesda seems completely incapable of fashioning a character creator where players don’t end up looking like some sort of deformed nightmare beast. Someone needs to take the keys away to the studio’s sliders and make them take Remedial Character Creation all over again.

This is my roundabout way of saying that I got incredibly frustrated at my inability to make a character that didn’t freak me out to behold. If anything, the characters looked even worse than Fallout 4, which I didn’t think possible. I finally fashioned some sort of punk with purple hair who had her weird face slathered by radioactive dust. It would have to do.

The whole multiplayer aspect of Fallout 76 lends a strange feeling to this game. You know there is going to be a lot of other people, yet when you start out, you’re all alone in a vault after everyone left you (I guess I partied too hard and nobody bothered to wake me?). Still, I knew I had a mission. I had a purpose. I had…

…to ACTIVATE THAT TOILET. fluuuuuush

It was far less dark and gloomy than some other Fallout game intros that I could mention, and it only took a minute or two before I was outside in West Virginia without any weapons or clear guidance about the changes to character growth and building. But hey, it’s Fallout, I’ll kill everything, loot everything, and explore everything.

Gotta say, I do love the setting. An autumnal West Virginia is a strikingly strange yet attractive place for a Fallout game, although it doesn’t seem like the bombs have really dropped anywhere. Just a lot of deserted and rundown buildings (although not too much so, since it has only been 25 years) and robots running wild.

The lack of human NPCs and the presence of actual players changes up the feel of this quite a bit. I don’t quite agree with Bethesda that it was necessary to take NPCs out of the mix, but it is pretty interesting to look at the map and see actual people running around. I didn’t go out of my way to find any on the first day, but knowing that they were there made me both anxious and elated.

As an MMO player, probably my first complaint was that there was no apparent long-distance communication with others. No text chat and no radio chat. That would have made sense, right? Use your Pip-Boy to talk to others across the map and coordinate efforts? But maybe that’s something I’ll discover another time.

Instead of making a beeline for my first objective, I spent time exploring around, reading notes, and gearing up a little bit. I do miss the single-player VATS system for combat, although I may be able to work with the auto-assist of this game’s VATS. I’m just a poor twitch player these days when it comes to shooting moving targets, and I don’t want to waste ammo.

We’ll see how it goes from here! The whole UI and menu interface is weird (why do I have to hit M for menu and then Z for menu just to get out of the game?) and I wasn’t too pleased with the server hiccuped and lost the last 20 minutes of my questing, but the Fallout charm and gameplay loop is definitely there.

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LOTRO: Tempted by the fruit of another

At least I knew that I wasn’t the only one suffering from class indecision.

In LOTRO’s kinship chat, I noticed how several of us veterans were still agonizing over the choice of a main class for the progression server, even after having planned it and starting out. Maybe it’s the curse of actually knowing more about these other classes, or the allure of the familiar versus the unknown, or simply wishy-washy gaming. But it started to bite me, even after I had put 20 levels into my Minstrel.

It got so bad, in fact, that I blinked and there I was, playing a Captain and not quite knowing how I got there. I suppose it was the worry that the minnie wouldn’t prove to be that interesting come the higher levels — that there wasn’t anything fun to chase down in terms of new skills or traits. But I know how I am with something like this — if I let my indecision reign, then I’ll be where I was at RIFT, making new character after new character and getting nowhere.

So I got stern with myself (it involves a lot of pointing into a mirror) and deleted my Cappy so I wouldn’t be tempted. Minnie to Mordor or bust, that’s what I say!

I was absolutely delighted that SSG brought back the Bingo Boffin quest series following its strange omission from the start of the server. Maybe it was causing issues with the zone-hopping progression of the story, I don’t know. But it’s easily one of my most favorite experiences in the game and I’m glad to see it back.

Even better than the story are the rewards from this! My Hobbit now has a little pet bunny to accompany her, along with a couple of new housing decor items. Taking an evening off of Old Forest questing to do Bingo stuff was a welcome break.

While I feel like “everyone” has blasted past me to level 50, I know that’s not the case. I ended up joining back up with Lonely Mountain Band, which formed a new chapter on this server, and noticed that most all of us are in our teens or 20s. I think there are a few different types of players for this server, and while some are all about power-leveling and getting into level 50 dungeon runs, most of us are taking our time, doing all the quests, deeding it up, and enjoying the journey.

Even with the Eregion limits and level 50 cap, there’s still a heady amount of stuff ahead of me for these four months. Whenever I’m done with Bree-land — which seriously takes short of forever due to its size and quest density — then I’ve got Lone-lands, North Downs, Evendim, Trollshaws, Misty Mountains, Angmar, Forochel, and Eregion ahead of me. Whew! Probably helps not to think or blog about that too much.

I also know that the Volume 1 epic involves a serious amount of travel and backtracking. I’ve only once done it all of the way through, and I’d like to make this time number two if I can manage before March. I know that sounds like a long way away, but I can’t afford to spend 100% of gaming time on LOTRO these days. There’s SWTOR and Fallout 76 demanding that I not neglect them, so I have to be very intentional how I spend my LOTRO time. No dilly-dallying!

As a side note, I wonder how this every-four-months pace will work with upcoming content releases. Some regions are larger than others, and while I think that Moria is definitely worth four months, Mirkwood is not. We still haven’t heard from SSG how exactly it’s going to chunk these releases up, and I doubt that we’re going to get any sort of actual schedule, so it’s mostly conjecture among the community.

LOTRO: I am all that is Minstrel

Lord of the Rings Online’s progression server proved to be so captivating that I haven’t been playing much of anything else this past week. That’s fine by me. As much as I’m looking forward to the full journey, I know that there’s something special in these first few weeks that won’t quite endure for the long haul, and I don’t want to miss it.

And I am gearing up for the long haul. One of the biggest obstacles to rolling up new alts in LOTRO hasn’t been leveling (which has become much easier) but chewing through the epic mountains of content that this game has added over the years. From the first steps in Archet to the current cap in the Grey Mountains and Iron Hills is a journey that would make even Frodo quail. But another benefit of these progression servers is that we don’t have to do it all or think about it all in one massive chunk — we can take it in four-month slices instead.

That, for me, is quite doable.

I haven’t been racing, as that’s not my style. More like I’ve been doggedly tracking down all of the zone quests in a particular region and enjoying the stories and revisitation of old stomping grounds. Following a few-day stay in the Shire, I cleaned up some Ered Luin deeds and then started on Bree-land. I forgot how immense Bree-land is, as it does double duty as being both a starting area and the level 15-20 zone.

After some additional consideration, I bought one other thing on the store: the Fleet-footed Goat. You know me, I love my goats! And I’ve kind of always wanted this one, especially as it looks great and has top-notch mount stats (250 morale, 68% speed boost). It’ll serve me well into Moria and beyond, and I don’t have to worry about collecting any more mounts. I’m set.

I’ve been slowly coming into my own as a Minstrel, too. I had a day or two where I felt the pull of returning to an old familiar class, but I’m glad I’m persevering (and sinking actual money into this character makes me much less likely to give up on her). The turning point was when I traited for one skill that let me throw down a Moonbeam-like attack at range that contained AOE damage. Now I have all sorts of ranged light-based attacks, and I’m taking out Orcs and wolves alike by screaming at them and bringing down the power of the Almighty Flashlight. It’s kind of fun!

I’ve also been grouping as much as possible. There is lots of activity as the crowd swarms around the same quest objectives (something I expect will smooth out as we spread out in the mid- and high-levels). Multi-tapping helps, but it’s not a big pain to toss out invites and have some fun with others for a few minutes.

I also really embraced the role of a minstrel by downloading some of the ABC music files and strumming my lute at quest hubs. It got some attention and applause as I rocked Chrono Cross tunes, and I loved feeling like I was contributing to the atmosphere of the game world. It certainly helped me feel more like a minstrel, especially out of a pure combat context. I think I’d like to do this more.

The only sore point of this whole starting-over thing is that my cosmetic wardrobe is awfully skimpy right now. Low-level gear is… not kind to the eyes in LOTRO, and while I do check out the visuals of everything that drops, only very rarely does something make the cut and is added to the wardrobe. As such, I only have one outfit that I’m using regularly, and that one is mostly made up of starter gear.

If I’m able to, I’d like to start joining groups to run dungeons and see if I can’t snag some better-looking gear there. And I know that saving up marks is a good way to guaranteed cosmetics when the skirmish camps open up in the future. Patience, Syp, patience!

The WildStar farewell tour, part 2

I finally got some more time to go on my self-appointed WildStar Farewell Tour a little while back, mostly thanks to Massively OP’s MJ, who dragged me along for a Halloween livestream on November 1st. Hey, Halloween isn’t over until the devs say it’s over, OK?

I fully expected us to be running the Shade’s Eve instances, and so I scooted my hoverboard over to the festival area and put on my bandage/mummy outfit. My character looked back at me with eyes that asked, “Can you take me out of this game and with you? Please?” Would if I could. Would if I could.

We had a bit of a two-person fashion show and dance party, since pretty much nobody else was around. I think WildStar’s remaining population has up and left already. I was in serious danger of delving into a lot of self-pity for the character, costume, and goodies I was about to lose when MJ suggested that we go check out random housing plots. Great idea!

We visited all sorts of bizarre homesteads, starting with this color-vomited pillowscape. I think part of my brain rebooted when I saw this.

This one player had created five absolutely incredible areas connected by a community plot. I really liked this little cafe that used the various magazine posters as kooky wall decorations.

We saw at least two plots with working (!) ferris wheels. Nothing delighted me more that night than riding these over and over again. I kept thinking that the creators of these plots had no idea that we were there or enjoying their handiwork. I really wish they did. At least I took screenshots to immortalize them.

Christmasland! With a giant Protostar gingerbread man!

The sheer density of this bar’s environment left us breathless. I can’t imagine how long it took to make this.

We also had a good time touring around a genuinely creepy horror-themed plot. The basement of this one house contained a room full of (a) stabbed voodoo characters, (b) eyeball children run through with spears, and (c) an upside down man hanging in chains. Brr!

Anyway, if you want to watch our full adventures, here is the stream:

Battle Bards Episode 132: Steampunk

Steam-powered tech, airships, clockwork machines, and automata are the source of inspiration for this week’s episode of Battle Bards! The team scrounged the landscape of MMOs for music from and inspired by steampunk games. It’s a wild grab bag of themes, so fire up your phonographs and give it a listen!

Episode 132 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Operation Gnomeregan” from World of Warcraft, “The Refugee” from City of Steam, and “Main Theme” from Arcanum)
  • “Main Theme” from Black Gold Online
  • “Lands of Igsh” from Allods Online
  • “Through the Epoch” from City of Steam
  • “Login Theme” from Divine Soul
  • “Ganedine” from Neo Steam
  • “Town” from Guns of Icarus
  • “Adventure Awaits” from Deepworld
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener mail from Video Game Music Soundtrack OST and Katriana
  • Jukebox picks: “Dark Forest” from Rise of Nations, “Lakrum Beach” from Aion, and “CrossWorlds” from CrossCode
  • Outro (“Menace of the Underdark Character Creation” from Dungeons and Dragons Online)

Grim Fandango: Year Three

From lowly deck swab to steamer captain — Manny always seems to land on his feet between the years of his spiritual journey. He pulls into port and for a moment there, I assume that this is going to be yet another port-related locale just like Year Two was. That gets turned on its head really quickly as the ship is boarded by sinister customs agents…

The whole crew sans Manny and Glottis get sprouted, and the two of them are locked up in a room to conveniently concoct their escape. Said escape comes by sawing the ship in half and sailing out into the middle of the ocean to then sink to the bottom of the sea. Yay? I guess? At least Manny doesn’t have to breathe and Glottis can go without for a while.

Down in the ocean they witness a cranky octopus grabbing shipwrecked skeletons and taking them away for indentured slavery. Naturally, Manny comes along for the ride and discovers that his old arch-nemesis, Domino, is heading up the works at this factory at the literal edge of the world.

Instead of being killed, Manny is given an even worse fate: To work for Domino in this mining operation. There are a couple of skeleton angel kids here that you can torment, which I do, because it amused me. Also, it was funny.

The whole layout of the factory is a lot more easy to navigate than the previous year, so I was able to get through it at a fast clip. The goal? To escape and take along everyone with you!

It helps to have a means of escape, which in this case was another giant ship that was hanging off the side of the world. Glottis goes to town on it with the usual awesome results.

Unfortunately, Meche and Manny are not doing so well on the getting-along-together front. Manny is irked that she brained him with a champagne bottle and tries to turn him in to Domino for the escape attempt, and Meche is annoyed that Manny appears to have betrayed her. Eventually the two seem to come to some sort of understanding and there’s even an almost-kiss (how would that work with skull-heads? You just mash teeth together? What would you get out of that?).

The only truly annoying part of Year Three involves opening up a safe by rotating very finicky tumblers. Took me several tries to get the hang of it. Reunited, the two of them discover that all of the stolen double-nine tickets are actually counterfeits, for some strange reason.

The escape sequence is very satisfying, I won’t lie. Domino comes after the crew in his sub, and Manny — ever the dashing hero — leaps down and takes him on. This culminates in Domino getting chewed up to pieces in the giant crushers that Glottis fixed to the front of the ship. See you later, pal!

LOTRO: The first step into a legendary server

It has been a long, long time since I’ve been this absurdly excited about Lord of the Rings Online. I know that for some people, there’s no appeal or sense in the idea of a legendary server, but it’s something I’ve been wanting for years and a perfect excuse to roll up a new alt and experience the game all over with a whole bunch of people on a fresh shard.

I even (sort of) took the day off of work. Well, I moved my day off around. Don’t judge me.

The initial rush to get in was met with a horrendous queue that never counted down, requiring us to continually reload the launcher to see if we’d moved in line. About 30 minutes or so after the server went live, I got in and made my new Hobbit Minstrel, Syp, on Anor.

As fleeting as all this may be, it was a heady experience to see literal crowds of people flocking into the tutorial zone. I already knew that I wasn’t going to be one of those players who were trying to rush through all of this and get to level 50 as fast as possible — LOTRO is, in my eyes, a game that is more enjoyable when you take it at a relaxed pace.

So for probably the first ten minutes I arranged inventory, set up UI, and got my bearings. Then came the typical Archet experience that I’ve done dozens of times over the years.

But it wasn’t all exactly the same as it would be on, say, Landroval. For one thing, the experience modifier was set to reduce our XP gain by 40%. So far, it’s been a great adjustment, neither too slow nor as blindingly fast as it was before. They’ll probably reduce this in future updates to allow players to catch up to the crowd, but I think it’s well chosen.

For another thing, mobs were hitting harder and throwing bleeds at us like crazy. This became a point of contention and debate in the community, with some loving the added challenge and others resenting being killed by a level 3 boar. I’ll admit that I met my end a few times due to these, but they weren’t that overpowering.

And then SSG surprised all of us by restoring tiny bits of classic content in the tutorial, including a couple of quests. Once again, I was killing the Marsh-fly Queen and feeling mighty about my place in the world.

Past the tutorial was a Whole Lotta Questing in the Shire. I cranked up the sound and enjoyed the ambiance and music as I puttered around doing silly Hobbit things. I knew that there was a mountain of things to do for a new character on a new server, like get virtues, unlock stable masters, set up outfits, unlock deeds, save up money, buy a house, level up, grind out LP, and so on. But one thing at a time, and the Shire offered a good start to most all of this.

I did spend a few LP that I’d been saving on the store, getting my riding skill, a second milestone, 50 mithril coins for emergency travel, and the first milestone cooldown reduction. Right now I’m saving up LP for that second cooldown reduction so that I can use a milestone every five minutes if need be.

Of course I ran mail, bees, eggs, and — yes — pies. It’s a weird rite of passage in this game for every new character to do the pie run, and I spent an hour traversing the Shire on foot while delivering spoiled pies that could have just gone into the trash.

Even though I had carefully thought out the decision to roll a Minstrel, I’ll admit that I had panicked second thoughts by the weekend. I was worried I was pouring time and effort into a class I wouldn’t ultimately like, and I kept side-eyeing the Captain as a reliable backup. Should I jump over and restart now? Should I stick it out?

Ultimately, the fact that I had divested time and LP into the Minstrel kept me from going all alt crazy. It also helped that some kinmates encouraged me that the Minnie gets really good in her 20s. And hey, yelling people to death is kind of fun. Besides, I always have regretted never having a Hobbit main.

Yes, I did play as a chicken. Why do you ask?

It was also great fun listening to the community gush over this server and romp around like children at recess. It all does feel new and fresh, and there’s this energy that you get from being in lowbie zones with tons of people around that you can’t get on the other servers right now.

I am mentally steeling myself for future areas that I know I hate, but at least I know that no matter how fast the crowd moves, they all have to stop at level 50 before the four months are up. I’m hoping to get in some group content and even try my hand at healing, if time permits.