KOTOR 2: Nar Shaddaa part 2

(This is part of my journey going playing through Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

It’s obviously been a rough and extremely full summer, which is the excuse that I’m going to give for my two-month absence from this series. Let’s see if we can start making some headway on getting through KOTOR 2. Maybe one day I’ll even see its conclusion!

I honestly don’t remember where I was on this planet or what I was doing, and the quest log isn’t too helpful. My fallback strategy in these kinds of moments is to keep exploring parts of the map I haven’t seen yet, talk to everyone, and hope I hit upon mission objectives. Also, because I’m being a Jedi Jerk, I have to kill/betray/lie to everyone.

I begin by mapping out this huge alien bar, which ends up being a disappointment since there is no one to talk to and the whole place is basically a fog of poison. It’s totally enjoyable listening to my companions repeatedly informing me that they’re succumbing to the green gas. Yes, yes, we’ll go soon. Hold your breath for now.

Even though most everyone I bump into is a smuggler or scum, I still get docked dark side points if I don’t bend over backwards to be nice and try to take the peaceable solution. Naturally, I’m all “forget that, I have two blasters and itchy trigger fingers,” so I leave a trail of corpses behind me.

And now back to Awkward Moments in Video Game Writing. Well done, SWTOR 2. Well done.

My favorite semi-evil moment of this play session was extorting a droid questgiver SO HARD that he ends up ripping out parts of himself to give me as bonus rewards.

As a side note: Why can’t we extort MMO questgivers for better rewards? It’s called roleplaying, people!

If I can get into a fight, I will. Don’t matter much who with. They’re all bags of experience points to me, and this gal’s gotta level up to be able to overcome her no-lightsaber handicap.

I do end up clearing out all of the Exchange on Nar Shadda, which nets me a nice bounty of XP and gear. I don’t know if I actually finish up any quests, but really, who cares? Meanwhile, Atton displays that classic SWTOR hold-my-side injury pose. Made me laugh.

Meanwhile, my B-team of companions don’t think to actually, I don’t know, lock up the ship or anything, and it is subsequently boarded by no less than:

  1. A small army of gang members
  2. The previous owner of the ship who asserts his claim
  3. A blind Sith

WAY TO GO, B-TEAM. We’re going to have some serious airlockin’ when we get back to outer space.

After a protracted and pretty enjoyable battle, I go one-on-one with Visas here (or Visa, as I’m going to call her from now on). She’s actually the apprentice of my archnemesis who’s going to help me out for a while until I can meet-slash-confront him. Better the enemy that you see than the one you don’t, I suppose. The fight with her is a little tough because she keeps deflecting all of my fancy blaster bolts, so I just use my force power “kill” to strangle her in that friendly way that I have.

Finally, some movement forward in the plot! We might actually be getting off of this planet one of these days soon!

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Fallout Online: A great lament

Aside from Iron Marines, the mobile game that I’m sinking the most time into lately is Fallout Shelter. It just crossed 100M players across all platforms, and to celebrate that the team was giving out free lunchboxes, Mr. Handys, pets, and other goodies in the game. It kind of hits the sweet spot of being a casual pick-up-and-play base builder and post-apocalyptic quester, albeit simplified and two-dimensional.

As I’ve been playing it, I’ve been thinking (once again) how I wouldn’t mind playing a full-fledged Fallout game done in the same 2D style. And that chain of thought connected to the now-buried lament that I wish Fallout Online had been made.

I hadn’t thought about Fallout Online for years now, and I know it’s really after the fact to be lamenting that it didn’t come to fruition. But you know what? I truly wish that it had. I absolutely adore the Fallout universe and would be in a wasteland heaven if an MMO of it had been produced. The legal wrangling between Interplay and Bethesda that kept Fallout Online from happening — a game that was actually in development and hinting about testing — frustrates me to no end.

What’s doubly frustrating is that I still see a place for it in today’s game environment. Survival games are all the rage, and these certainly share some DNA with the “always scavenge in a hostile environment” structure of Fallout. And we don’t really have a good, solid post-apoc MMO right now. The closest there is to Fallout is Fallen Earth, a pretty interesting and decent MMORPG that nevertheless is largely unknown to most players and is being handled by a F2P company that doesn’t really care about the title. You could also point to, maybe, Defiance, Auto Assault, Xsyon, and a handful of other dead or tiny titles.

But a Fallout Online would have had the IP heft and name recognition to propel it into a different altitude. Whether Interplay or Bethesda had made it, its very existence would command players’ attention and swarm it in much the same way that we saw happen with Elder Scrolls Online.

What could a Fallen Online have offered us? An MMO with modern and retro-futuristic weapons, for starters, coupled with a vision of a destroyed earth in the process of rebuilding. A grim setting juxtaposed with a sense of humor and personality. Robots and mech suits. Mutants and deep vaults. A completely different feel and style of an MMO than your average fantasy game, that’s for sure.

We are certainly not in the glory days of IP-driven MMOs right now, and we have no idea what Bethesda has in store for the Fallout franchise. My outer hope is that the studio might be impressed with the ongoing success of ESO that it would start thinking of taking a stab with the same format in Fallout, especially now that it has more experience with running an MMO. I probably shouldn’t hold my breath there, huh?

It’s too bad. It would have been the game I’ve been dreaming of since I was playing Wasteland on floppy disks in the late 1980s.

Secret World: Of bridges and tolls

You know that feeling when you’re enjoying a really good book or TV series, thoroughly enjoying it, and it starts to come to an end and you want to draw it out as long as possible? That’s kind of how I felt wrapping up Shadowy Forest in Secret World Legends this week. Even though I had done it before, I was just reveling in this zone, its characters, and quests. I felt a reluctance to move on — not that Carpathian Fangs are bad, exactly, but they don’t have the warm, otherworldly charm that this zone does.

Out of all of the zones of this game, I feel that Shadowy Forest is the one that feels the most “fantasy” rather than contemporary, or horror, or sci-fi. It’s actually an exemplary fantasy zone that made me wistful more MMOs couldn’t embrace the weirdness and richness of the possibilities of this genre rather than fall back to tired and well-mined tropes.

There’s a man fishing here who used to be soil and rock in ages past. There’s a woman who talks to her wagon, which is apparently a “wikipedia made by fairies.” There is a camp of vampire-hunters who are holding the line against the darkness. There are disturbed farmers making sausages of cannibals. There’s a forest that’s alive, a city overrun by Deathless, a lady questgiver who does not speak at all, Dracula’s cemetery, and more.

It doesn’t mean that this zone is perfect. I do have two big gripes that I feel could be fixed if the developers gave some more attention to the region.

The first is that the investigation quests, what few of them there are here, are not that exciting. Sometimes you come off of investigation quests on a heady rush of accomplishment and appreciation for the ingenuity involved in the quest. Here they are a little too obscure, requiring jumps of logic and reasoning that aren’t always apparent (I’m looking at you, The Abandoned).

And while this zone brings out some great characters and sets up some interesting stories, it doesn’t always deliver satisfying conclusions to them. Secret World is forever doing this, giving us great beginnings and middles without much of an end, and the weirdness of this region and its characters requires more explanation than not.

All that’s left now is to go through the main story quest and move on to the mountains. I did note that the Nursery chain wasn’t available yet in Besieged Farmlands, so I was assuming that it might have been reworked into the main storyline. I’ll go back and check to see if it’s triggered before I go on to the Fangs, because I don’t want to miss it.

On Trolls

So my eight-year-old son went to school the other day and was talking to his friends about what he put on his Christmas list this year (we start early in the Syp household). One of the things he wanted were some Troll dolls from that animated movie, because it’s all the rage in our house.

One of his friends started teasing him that he liked those “girly” dolls, and the teasing extended to the fact that my son — in addition to snakes, dolphins, and pokemon — said that he thought princesses were cool too.

He came home crushed, asking his mom to take the trolls off his Christmas list. She refused and had a long talk with him about toys being OK for boys and girls, and that you liked what you liked.

My approach was a little different. I took him to my computer and loaded up a few MMOs. LOTRO. Neverwinter. WildStar. SWTOR. I asked him what I played, and he said, “Girls.”

Yes I do, I nodded. Because girls — like boys — are pretty awesome. And I don’t care if anyone laughs at me for it, because I’m having fun. And then we joked around about what we liked best in the troll movie and moved on with our lives.

Don’t listen to the trolls, kids. Just enjoy them if you wanna.

Steamy sorcery in Neverwinter

People do rash things when frustrated. They also take action when frustrated. It’s better than just sitting and wallowing.

I was getting a little steamed at the whole DDO scene last week, as I found it just about impossible to find a guild. I always had memories of DDO being a pretty solid community, maybe not LOTRO levels but active and friendly. That was, of course, a half-decade ago, and a lot can change, especially as a game slides down into obscurity and bleeds off all but the most faithful and devoted. Sometimes those smaller MMOs have just the best people, and sometimes they cultivate elitism that becomes daunting to newbies and returners.

I won’t go into the whole saga, but I kept putting out feelers to interesting-looking guilds and kept getting ignored or shut down because I wasn’t high level enough or hadn’t raided or what have you. Nobody was advertising in general chat. I applied to two guilds, never heard back from them. At that point frustration was brewing and I had to take a break… and Neverwinter popped into mind. Because a lateral jump to another Dungeons & Dragons game? Minds work in weird ways, but at the moment it felt right. Cryptic games are like popcorn experiences — mindless, enjoyable, soothing, and not necessarily the deepest.

For this 2017 experiment, I rolled up a new class to me: a Tiefling Scourge Warlock. I think I tried it for about two seconds a year ago but nothing past the tutorial. I’m glad I stuck with it this time, because I’m really grooving on it so far. I don’t have a firm grasp on its mechanics — there’s a lot to do with curses — but she gets glowy healing spheres, the occasional soul puppet pet, and some hard-hitting spells.

And wouldn’t you know, within the first ten minutes of hanging out in the opening area, I had at least three guilds reach out and talk with me. I ended up with the friendliest-seeming one of the bunch and felt mildly vindicated about the switch (I’m not writing off DDO, mind you, but I’m allowed my moments of being a little bit petty).

I’m very glad for some previous package bonuses that roll over to any new character, granting me some premium bonuses, like a giant spider mount, purple-quality panther pet, and other odds and ends. It helps to forestall the desire or need to spend money in the game store, that’s for sure. Plus, my wife won’t come within 20 feet of my computer when the spider mount is out, so now I can duck housework with a video game.

I like how this guy’s collection of art has not one, but two pictures of the same guy holding the same skull, just in different-colored clothes. In-game art always amuses and interests me, for some reason.

Anyway, no great tales of derring-do in Neverwinter quite yet, mostly because I’m going back through the opening zones that I’m quite familiar with. There has been a lot added to the game over the years, so I’m sure there’s plenty to see, but I’ll have to get up to level 50 before that starts to happen.

You know what’s one little thing about this game I like? All quests and NPCs are voiced — and you can keep listening to them even as you run away. Even if the voice acting isn’t always the best, it gets me to pay attention and gives me something to listen to as I dash off to the next objective.

Try It Tuesday: Iron Marines

Even though I’m trying to penny-pinch in anticipation of a vacation next month, I had to loosen my purse strings to buy this game. I’m totally owning that purse strings comment, too. Real men carry around velvet bags of gold doubloons with impunity.

Anyway. This week’s try-it game is Iron Marines, a mobile RTS from the makers of the incredibly awesome Kingdom Rush tower defense trilogy. This studio’s art style and accessible, addictive gameplay made Iron Marines a must-buy sight unseen, and I have no regrets over its purchase.

So instead of being strictly a TD title, Iron Marines is best likened to a slick mobile edition of Starcraft… with a hint of tower defense. It’s basically Terrans vs. Zerg, although obviously named differently. You can pretend it’s Starship Troopers if that helps you get through the day.

You play the part of the human forces landing on a hostile alien world and take part in a campaign to establish a stronghold and yadda yadda yadda. It’s just an excuse to blast bug-things en masse with all of the technology that the human race has to offer.

Even though the Starcraft comparisons are inevitable, it’s not exactly the same game. Everything’s more streamlined, so base-building is merely upgrading your main structure and deciding what defenses to build. You can only have a handful of squads out at a time, too, so no building up an overwhelming force and then getting into fights.

In fact, being outmanned (such as it is) is a big part of the game — the aliens have vastly more numbers on their side, and if you’re not careful you can get overrun quickly. But by being daring and smart, you might be able to push forward, take over their bases, and slowly expand your resource base.

On your side, you have the choice of different types of units, such as squads of snipers or big flamethrower mechs. You also get a tougher hero unit with a pair of useful skills, a mobile tower that can be dropped down for a limited-time assistance every 30 seconds, and whatever defenses you build up around your base. Making the best decisions for the situation is a key part to living or dying.

It’s just a fun game, period. The art is more cheery than Starcraft and keeps the Kingdom Rush-style alive and kicking (I like the little sound clips that the units have, especially the heroes). It’s just enough complexity for a mobile game, with touch-and-drag being a majority of what you end up doing during a game as you maneuver units around the map.

If I had any complaints, one might be that the map is too small and can only be enlarged a little bit — even on a tablet. I wish I could zoom in more to see what’s going on. Also, I’m worried that the 14 missions and 10 spec ops missions might not be that much content overall. I did replay the Kingdom Rush games like crazy, so I’m keeping an eye out for replayability here. Finally, I’m not crazy about the fact that this is a premium-priced game WITH in-app purchases (buffs and additional hero units past the three or four you are allocated).

Anyway, I have a feeling this is going on my regular mobile play rotation and will be there for a while to come. Perfect for vacation travel, even!

LOTRO: Prison break!

Talath Úrui continues to cement its status as one of my most-hated zones in the game. Its higher difficulty level and incredibly unfriendly map design makes me pound my head on my desk more often than not. But I’m marching forward, ever forward, and this week I broke into a prison and then broke myself out again.

Let’s start by talking about the zone design. Talath Úrui skirts around the bottom of the exploded Mt. Doom, becoming an incredibly large if linear crescent that takes a long, long, long time to traverse, even on war-horse. To make matters worse, the zone’s sole respawn point, vendor, and stable master is alllll the way in the top left, meaning that if you die — and you will die, make no mistake about that — you get to experience the joy of one of the longest corpse runs in the game.

There IS a second milestone, although I largely suspect that it is a cruel joke on the part of the developers, since it literally sits in the middle of a field of lava way off the road and is surrounded by fire spirits and dragons. I can’t even, it’s so stupid.

Initially I was a little excited to head into Naerband. It’s a cool idea, some large prison fortress deep inside Mordor, and I’ve got a thing for cool MMO prisons. Plus, LOTRO does that thing here where it gives you four quests that can all be completed in the same area, which feels efficient and satisfying.

But once I got into it, I realized that I was in for a very slow slog. Despite being level 115, I am not killing mobs at any fast rate. Not even a medium rate. I see Hunters zipping through the area like manic pixie archers, and I’m slowly tossing fireballs and watching my swamp-thing spit out bees while reminiscing about the good old days when we could actually tear through camps like death machines.

I really think that this is going to have to be another one of those areas that requires some grouping action. What’s this going to be like in the future when players spread out and there aren’t folks running in and out of these zones all of the time? I pity future players trying to solo these places.

One of my small and enduring MMO pet peeves is when there are glitches with terrain. Floating bits of hills, grass that hover two feet off the ground, and this weird sliver-thing above. It always shouts to me “YOU ARE IN A GAME!” and breaks my immersion.

I thought it was highly considerate of all of these dead men to perish in the same exact pose for the sake of aesthetics.

Oh look, I’m dead again and running back! Sure hope those mobs don’t pull me right off of this horse while I’m trying to get by the way they did the last four times!

So unfortunately, I am just not having fun in this zone. Here’s hoping that I can get through it and on to more verdant lands sooner rather than much, much later.