Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: A pipe of Old Toby

A prepared hobbit is a well-dressed hobbit, and prior to Before the Shadow, I spent a little more time improving my winter outfit to something I was a lot happier with.

But before you knew it — even with a vacation and a one-week delay — the mini-expansion was upon us. And away I go!

I was pretty gratified to see that it was very easy to hop on a stable master and take my hobbit down to Mossward, the starter village of the Swanfleet zone. It was a step back for me in terms of questing levels, but considering that I was only 15, I knew that it would catch up with me before long.

Last week was particularly busy and stressful (especially when Buffalo got slammed with a winter storm), so I didn’t get nearly as much time to blitz through the opening part of the patch. Instead, I really took the time to poke around, taking screenshots, and actually reading quest text. There’s a lot of personality with these missions, too! I was smiling and chuckling during a few of them involving kids and some quirky residents.

It also helps that Swanfleet is a pretty place. Maybe not exotically so — few LOTRO locations are in that category — but it’s quite easy on the eyes. It’s like a Better Bree-land for You and Me. Lots of long-distance views, easy navigation, even some Stoor hobbits!

I am eager to explore the new storyline and see my Lore-master evolve. As usual with this class, I can’t wait until I get to 30 to get lynx, which I feel is the first really good leveling pet.

Posted in World of Warcraft

Gears of warcraft (or, how I learned to love the timer)

One of my pre-expansion goals for World of Warcraft was to dust off my old roster of characters and settle on what I wanted to play going into Dragonflight. While new alts are always a possibility, I am pretty content to hang out with my core three: Draenei Unholy Death Knight, Worgen Balance Druid, and Gnome Beastmaster Hunter. The last of these I got up to level 60 before I went on vacation, which checked off another to do item for me.

Most likely, I’ll be leading the charge with my DK, as she’s always been “first” in my mind since Legion. It’s a pretty hardy class with a lot of pets, AOE, and low-stress combat.

Next up was taking advantage of the primal storm invasion event to gear up as fast as possible. Two weeks should be more than enough time for three toons, but the need to get them all geared up and the time limit put a lot of pressure on those first few days until I got the sense of how long this should take. And since I spent a good chunk of this time in the Badlands, I also got in a bit of mining for if/when I go back and do classic engineering.

Fortunately, gearing up comes swiftly and without much sweat in this event. The first night, I got my DK up to 252 with plenty of currency left over. I appreciate that you always have a chance to get gear drops, but if you don’t, you can spend currency to fill out the rest of your slots.

And having the main event take place in the same location allowed me to take a much more laid-back approach for alts #1 and #2.. I’d log in, wait until the boss popped, help defeat it, then set timers for 20 minutes after it died. Then I’d tab out, get some other stuff done, and come back three times an hour for a quick boss fight, a handful of tokens, and a chance at a gear drop.

Additionally, I used the downtime to do some more guild shopping. I’ve been trying out a few different oufits, but none had that right mix of friendliness, chatter, and personality that I was seeking. I finally found it in <Socially Distorted>, which made a big deal out of “kindness” being its core virtue. The folks have been great, and I’m encouraged to spend an expansion with them.

Posted in Music, Podcast

Battle Bards Episode 219: Peace and quiet

Episode 219: Peace and quiet Battle Bards

If anyone's ever told you to "take a chill pill," then the Battle Bards have your full dosage in today's episode. Exploring peaceful and serene tracks from MMORPGs, Syl and Syp find their inner calm — before the inevitable slaughter. Episode 218 show notes Intro (feat. "A Farmer's Life" from WildStar, "Dream of Peace" from Lineage II, and "Silverfrost Mountain" from Blade and Soul) "Aro to the Sun" from Runes of Magic "Settler's Campsite" from Aion "Serenity" from TERA "Ammon Vale" from World of Warcraft "Shire Nights" from LOTRO "Aquarium" from RuneScape Which one did we like best? Jukebox Picks: "Be'elze Territory" from Valkyrie Elysium and "Closing Medley" from Space Quest III Outro (feat. "Fishing" from Lineage II) Talk to the Battle Bards on Twitter! Follow Battle Bards on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Google Play, iHeartRadio, and Pocket Casts! This podcast is produced using copyrighted material according to Fair Use practices as stated under Section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act.
  1. Episode 219: Peace and quiet
  2. Episode 218: Dungeon Fighter Online
  3. Episode 217: Legend of Edda

If anyone’s ever told you to “take a chill pill,” then the Battle Bards have your full dosage in today’s episode. Exploring peaceful and serene tracks from MMORPGs, Syl and Syp find their inner calm — before the inevitable slaughter.

Episode 218 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “A Farmer’s Life” from WildStar, “Dream of Peace” from Lineage II, and “Silverfrost Mountain” from Blade and Soul)
  • “Aro to the Sun” from Runes of Magic

  • “Settler’s Campsite” from Aion

  • “Serenity” from TERA

  • “Ammon Vale” from World of Warcraft

  • “Shire Nights” from LOTRO

  • “Aquarium” from RuneScape

  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox Picks: “Be’elze Territory” from Valkyrie Elysium and “Closing Medley” from Space Quest III
  • Outro (feat. “Fishing” from Lineage II)
Posted in Retro Gaming

Chrono Cross Part 7: Shopping in the past

(This is part of my journey going playing through Chrono Cross. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

The crew continue to penetrate deeper into the Dead Sea, where we get an increasing picture of a monumental disaster paused right at its peak. Massive waves are frozen as they crash through high-tech-looking buildings, and we’re just strolling on top of the surf like nobody’s business. We also fight “robo duckys” here, because why not?

On one of the monitors, we get yet another one of these infuriating sort-of (but not clearly explained) connections to Chrono Trigger, as Lavos is directly called out. There’s also an Enerton device (“but you’re still hungry…”) later in this level. But this isn’t a sequel, oh no!

At the center of the Dead Sea is the tower of Geddon — actually, several towers fused together somehow. Maybe the robo duckys have been busy over the past thousand years?

It is a really neat place — maybe one of my favorites in the game so far. It’s like a fusion of subway, shopping mall, and even dinner theater jammed together.

We keep encountering what looks like the shades of Chrono, Lucca, and Marle, but as kids.

They then encounter Nadia’s Bell (from 1000 A.D.) smashed on the courtyard floor. Argh, this game is so infuriating with these vague teases. Anyway, the shades accuse Serge of ruining the planet and messing up the victory from the previous game, which is explained in further detail by a friend of Serge’s father, Manuel. Manuel said that the aversion of future disaster by Lavos was somehow undone by Serge surviving a storm a decade ago, so now the planet is on track to be ruined again.

One of the fun little things about this game is that you can sometimes have the same characters from the two worlds encounter each other. There tends to be a lot of head-scratching and paradoxes afterward.

Before there was ever “Pray return to Waking Sands,” there was “We gotta go to Viper Mansion AGAIN?!?” Hey, Chrono Cross’ world is only so big, so the devs obviously liked getting the most out of every location. So yeah, we’re back in the mansion, this time trying to rescue Viper’s daughter Riddell and pick up a few more recruits.

The whole affair in the mansion this time ends in — naturally — a dinosaur stampede over the oppressing military. As these things often do.

Posted in World of Warcraft

Blizzard and NetEase end World of Warcraft in China

As the hoary saying goes, the only thing that could kill World of Warcraft was Blizzard itself. And as the events of this past week go to show, this is more or less true.

Last week we got the news that NetEase and Blizzard are by and large terminating their working relationship in China, which means that World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Hearthstone, and everything that isn’t Diablo Immortal is going dark in that country as of January 24, 2023. That is, of course, unless Blizzard can figure out another solution to this incredibly undesirable situation.

There are two facets to this tragedy here. The first is the business side, which is the latest and most serious breakdown of the relationship between these two game companies. This past year hasn’t been great for Blizzard-NetEase, with Diablo Immortal’s poor critical reception being blamed on NetEase’s design and the cancelation of a mobile Warcraft game. But now it’s gotten so bad that they couldn’t even hack out a publishing agreement for some of the largest online games in that region, and now both sides are going to lose a whole lot of money because of it.

I am deeply curious the conversations that are going on at Activision-Blizzard’s board level and what hell to pay will be caught from the investors. I also wonder what effect this may have on the upcoming Microsoft buyout.

Maybe it’s recoverable. Maybe another round of negotiations might find a solution, or Blizzard might find another local operator. But even if that’s the case, the fact that all of this degraded so badly shakes everyone’s confidence in both companies and the future of these titles in China.

The other side of the tragedy is the playerbase losing their online worlds. By some reports, China made up half of WoW’s global population, which is not inconsiderable. And all of those players are about to see the MMO go dark and their characters disappearing into the void — just weeks after Dragonflight’s release, no less. I can’t imagine what that does to the mindset of a player. If it happened in North America or Europe, the meltdown would be immense. And when it comes to China, I’m not even sure if there are ways with VPNs and whatnot to get around the government’s firewalls and play in other regions.

It stinks for those players caught in the crossfire of this deal gone wrong, and I do feel quite sorry for them. If I was there, I don’t know if I’d keep on playing WoW while hoping that a last-minute solution might be found or if I’d simply jump ship now.

Word is that a lot of this can be laid at the feet of one “jerk,” as NetEase’s boss put it, which most have taken to mean Bobby Kotick. Or Sylvanas. One or the other. If so, it goes to show that those in positions of power and authority have immense responsibility to consider and care for those under them rather than trample them down.

Posted in New World

A new fresh start in a New World

Knowing that I was going on vacation right at the time that New World would finally release its batch of fresh start servers, I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to get in on Day One, but Day Eight. Which probably makes no difference other than to that part of my brain that loves to be there right when stuff gets going.

After returning from our trip, I deleted my old characters — I’ll never be playing on those servers again, and they weren’t that high level anyway — and started up a new one on the Sentinel fresh start realm. I’m still somewhat surprised that even though it’s been a year since this game’s been out, Amazon hasn’t released new faces or facial options for its somewhat limited selection. There are just too many fugly mugs on those screens and no way to tweak them. I went with a character sporting a bit of a Princess Leia Hoth Era hairstyle and jumped into the overhauled newbie experience.

It’s a great feeling to get off to a strong start, so I spent my first night taking my time to adequately gather materials, fight tons of mobs, craft some helpful items, and follow the storyline around a shipwrecked shore. There’s a simple pleasure in simply grinding mobs for loot drops, so I did this for a good while to gather up weapons and armor upgrades.

Hehe my new coat has barnacles on it. AVAST YE LANDLUBBER!

My overarching goal for the starting area was to get both the rapier and blunderbuss, as I’m planning on that combination being my loadout for the foreseeable future. Happily, I did find both (the first through drops, the second as a quest reward). I already knew I was partial to the rapier’s lightning-quick attacks, but the blunderbuss was new to me. For all intents and purposes, it’s a shotgun/grenade launcher/grappling hook — and how can you not love that? It feels satisfying to use, and I had a lot of fun trying to get the hang out of the crazy bouncing grenades as fight openers.

It is a shame that you can’t join a guild until level 17 and joining a faction, though. I know that’ll come quickly, but you would think that the devs would want you to get into social circles even before that. Without a community, I feel more alone than I’d like.

Posted in Retro Gaming

Chrono Cross Part 6: Crossing the Dead Sea

(This is part of my journey going playing through Chrono Cross. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

It’s part of the quirky charm of this game that almost every character “speaks” in a written dialect, even though it makes no sense why such a small world would boast such a wide range of earth nationalities and languages. Hey, it gives the characters more personality, right? I’m down with it.

Anyway, a mermaid encourages the crew to head over to the pirate ship in this world for more answers, including why there’s an island full of ghosts walking around. Actually, in this world, the Zelbess is a cruise ship, so I guess it had a better life.

It turns out that this world’s Fargo took away the sage who would sing some sort of song to give peace to the spirits, hence why they’re all uppity now.

On the ship, Chrono Cross takes a stab at being an adventure game for a bit. The initial goal is to get to a fight club section in order to meet the sage. But to get there, the characters need the captain’s permission. To get the permission, they have to beat him at roulette in the casino (which is rigged). To unrig the table, they have to be turned into cats during a magic show and then roam through previously inaccessible areas. It’s kind of neat, and it doesn’t go on for too long.

Finally the team catches up with the Sage to find out how to get into the Dead Sea. He lectures us about how humans are bad and have oppressed the demi-humans, a plot thread that I think this game does a really poor job expanding. Besides, aren’t I — as Lynx — a demi-human? Lay off the guilt, dude. At least he gives us crabs in the end. Er, a fiddler crab, which apparently unlocks the way into the sea.

While we do that, however, rock star Nikki asks us, a mermaid, and his band to help save an island from all of the monsters/ghosts inhabiting it. Sounds like a profitable time to me! The plan is for the band to throw a concert with a special song learned from the sage while we… beat up monsters. I’d rather be playing the music, to be honest.

And it’s not a JRPG if you don’t have to acquire a super-spiffy sword with a proper name at some point — probably to defeat some other super-evil sword with a proper name. What is it with all the sword-love? Why not a spoon once in a while?

With the good sword beating the bad sword, the path opens up to the Dead Sea — a landscape frozen in time. It may just be my muddle memories, but “giant frozen seascape” seems like it’s a repeated Square motif.

What’s stranger is that the Dead Sea holds remnants of what is clearly a more advanced civilization with cars and highways.

And, naturally, we end up fighting a giant punk robot tank. You’d think he would be desperate for company and a good conversation, but no, it’s all attack-on-sight with him.

Posted in General

Marvel Snap makes its home on my phone

When time allows, I sample from the pool of mobile games that I download for that purpose, but it’s actually been a rather long time since any of them have actually stuck. That streak ended this month with Marvel Snap. I’m certainly not alone in getting sucked into this, as it seems to be quite the phenomenon.

I mean, who would’ve guessed that a well-made card game with a non-predatory business model by the guy who made Hearthstone would be a hit?

Marvel Snap hits all of my mobile game requirements. It loads quick, it doesn’t have a complex and crowded layout, it’s easy to understand, it can be played in bite-sized sessions, and it keeps me wanting to come back for more. I also deeply appreciate that it went a different way with card battlers. I fully expected cards-as-characters directly duking it out — and perhaps a business model based around growing those cards in power. Yet here it’s all about cards with fixed abilities (but evolving visuals) jockeying to take control of three zones over six turns.

The titular “snap” feature — effectively a poker-esque betting system — isn’t that much of a draw for me (I usually ignore it when an opponent tries to get me to back down with a snap). But I am a huge fan of the randomized zone rulesets. Game to game, you never know what three rules you’re going to get that match, and what they are changes your play strategy a whole lot. Some of the rules are absolutely nuts (like copying an opponent’s hand or extending the game to a seventh turn) while others are extremely tricky to deal with (such as “any card played here is destroyed”).

There are a couple of other facets that I adore here. I really like that you and your opponent play cards at the same time, so there’s some level of rock-paper-scissors guessing what and where they might be going. Card combos are a lot of fun when you can set them up, and the 12-card decks feel like the perfect size for some strategy but not too much clutter.

I’m still in Pool One and don’t claim to be that great, but I generally win more than I lose. Even when I think there’s no way I can pull off a victory, I do stick it out to the end, because so often things change right at the conclusion. I should be pushing myself to experiment with other decks, but I keep refining the one deck I have so that it can answer as many challenges and roll out as smoothly as possible as the energy curve increases.

So anyway, it’s nice to be surprised like this and have a fun little title that’s perfect for a five-minute break here and there.

Posted in General

This is how you do Disneyland in a day

So our family just returned from a week-long vacation to California to visit my wife’s family and celebrate her father’s 70th with a myriad of activities. The first of these was to spend a day — a single, solitary day — at Disneyland. Having only a single day to spend at a park this big and having to do it while moving along with 12 other human beings was a far cry from my previous trip, where I had three days to blitz through everything all on my own. I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to do or see much while we moved at a snail’s pace.

But it turned out to be a really great day, all in all. For starters, the weather was absolutely perfect (66 degrees) and the crowds not too bad due to it being off-season. We utilized the Genie app to schedule rides and worked our way around the park counter-clockwise. For all of the people we had to manage — including six children and associated bathroom breaks — we kind of made good time and hit almost every ride there that we wanted to. Big Thunder Mountain kept breaking down, so we never got to ride that, and we largely skipped over Fantasyland’s smaller rides in favor of the bigger E-ticket attractions like Pirates, Haunted Mansion, and Space Mountain.

I got to experience a number of firsts for me. I’ve never seen Haunted Mansion Holiday — the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay — and truly enjoyed it. I think I still prefer the original version, but this one was surprisingly involved and fitting.

Then we eventually made our way over to the new(ish) Star Wars land. Unlike most people, we weren’t gunning for it right away or willing to spend $25 a person to skip the lines, but even so we did the Smuggler’s Run and Rise of the Resistance. Smuggler’s Run was fine, although my youngest got so excited by the level of immersion that he spent the next half hour running all over the place pretending as if he was a Rebel.

And Rise of the Resistance was, as I’ve heard, one of the more amazing theme park rides I’ve ever experienced. Most of our group had no idea what we were in for, and the variety of experiences kept us gawking and laughing. Let me tell you, there’s nothing as jaw-dropping than when you come out of the shuttle to be standing in a huge Star Destroyer hanger bay surrounded by dozens of Stormtroopers. This ride took us about 45 minutes to wait through the queue, but it was definitely worth it (and I wish we had done it again).

After about 20 rides, most of my family pooped out around 6 pm. Ten hours is a lot of walking and standing on concrete! But while they went back, my 10-year-old and I stayed behind to indulge in a half-dozen more rides before we walked the mile-and-a-half back to our rented house. It was great to have that extra time with him, and ending the day with Space Mountain felt perfect.

So yeah, I would’ve loved a second or third day, especially considering how rarely we ever make it to any Disney park, but I’m not complaining. We grabbed that day and squeezed it for all of the entertainment we could get.