Try-It Tuesday: West of Loathing

For about a decade now, there’s been this under-the-radar browser MMO operating called Kingdom of Loathing. I’ve played and wrote about it several times, but basically it’s a multiplayer fantasy world filled with stick figures, hand-drawn items, and 80% of the world’s stockpile of puns. KoL developed a reputation as a really funny and often surprisingly clever RPG that walks on the surreal side and utilizes a “reincarnation” system to encourage players to start over numerous times.

This month, the small team behind Kingdom of Loathing finally rolled out a spin-off single-player RPG called West of Loathing, and I can say that from about a week of playing it, it might be the best entertainment you’ll consume all summer. The setting and premise is couched in western tropes — you’re an antsy adventurer who is looking to make his or her fame and fortune in the wild west. Except that this west is not so much historically accurate as it is bizarre, gonzo, and as goofy as it wants to be.

West of Loathing obviously exists in the same universe as KoL, with the same stats, currency (meat), art style, and so on. But there are differences, solo play notwithstanding. You move around in areas with WASD (versus KoL’s menu system) and the combat is more tactical and interesting. It’s also more of an open world RPG like what you’d find with Fallout or Skyrim, so exploring different locations and gradually opening up the landscape is a major part of your progress.

I referred to Kingdom of Loathing as “clever” and “funny,” and both of these attributes are in full effect in this spin-off. If I’m not laughing at some hideously bad pun, activating “stupid walking,” or rolling my eyes as I’m reading plaque after plaque in the “Shaggy Dog Cavern,” I’m finding myself stymied by various puzzles and secrets that are sprinkled everywhere. Trying to subdue one gang in a hat factory, I had to figure out how to spot each of the five members’ hiding tells without getting any wrong. I don’t know when the last time a game made me play hide and go seek, but there we are.

The game is not afraid to break the fourth wall repeatedly, especially to chide you or question your decisions. There’s a running gag about the spittoons in this game and how I (and most other players, I’d reckon) keep digging around in their muck like the trained RPG players we are without really considering how disgusting this is. Well, the game certainly goes to great lengths to call the player out on this. I loved it.

The combat took a little bit to get used to, but it’s actually pretty engaging. WoL uses a simple turn-based system between your team and enemies, but your characters can employ actions that don’t immediately end your turn (like downing a health flask) and ones that do. Getting the most out of every turn and downing enemies fast is key. My character is a Snake Oiler, so I toss out venomous snakes and drink the medicine I make from them while firing away with my toilet scum-encrusted six-shooter to give the enemies “stench” damage and poison them.

Once I got going in this game, it started to suck up the hours. It really is those “one more turn” (or “one more location”) types of experiences that end up making you blink at the clock and wonder if it really is 2:00 a.m. already. And I should probably give the soundtrack, a cheeky Western tribute, some praise as well for giving the game a great audio atmosphere.

For just $11, this was a purchase that was well worth it… and now it’s making me want to play Kingdom of Loathing all over again.

10 little things I wish they’d change in LOTRO

Ten years in, and I’m still finding this game as lovely and photogenic as ever!

But of course, there are always those “little” things we’d change about the game if we could. I’m sure the team has its hands full, usually in creating and testing new content, but I always hope that sooner or later some old issues would be addressed. In talking with my kin lately, we were going back and forth on little things we wish that would get changed or fixed or added. Here’s a list of my personal wishes:

  1. I wish there was a way to resize the quest box text to be larger (without resizing the whole UI). There’s always so much of it, and on larger monitors and resolutions, it’s more difficult to read now than it used to be. Of course, I could be getting older too…
  2. Daily login rewards have gotten stale — could we get some new ones? Housing items perhaps?
  3. A better way to track and organize your deeds, especially if you’re pursuing particular virtues.
  4. Token exchange — we get SO many tokens in this game, it’d be nice to trade the ones we don’t want for the ones we do. Maybe at a 2:1 ratio?
  5. If I’m wearing headphones and they’re plugged in and I load up the game, LOTRO — unlike every other MMO I play — stubbornly defaults to the speaker instead. Then I have to manually change that. It’s annoying and I wish the game would auto-detect and use my headphones if plugged in.
  6. Get rid of those really screechy ambient sounds in Angmar. Seriously.
  7. Give individual characters the option to own their own house (outside of premium housing).
  8. More than five quests/deeds on the quest tracker? It’s 2017, I think it’s possible to make this happen.
  9. More hairstyles. Better hairstyles. I’m glad for the avatar upgrades and all, but the hair is mostly too chunky and weird to use.
  10. A random mount/random pet button. Love this other games, would adore it in LOTRO.

The Secret World is a fashion disaster

For fashionistas, The Secret World/Secret World Legends is both a godsend and a nightmare. It’s actually great to have an MMO with contemporary clothes for once, so instead of plate armor and robes, you’ve got jeans, sweatshirts, and jackets. There’s an amazing number of outfit possibilities as you mix-and-match between collected pieces. And while there is no dye system (for shame), at least Secret World often provides multiple color options for pieces.

My only major complaint with the system is the fact that you still can’t save multiple outfits, an omission that I hope will be rectified in the future. I’m forever tweaking my outfits and seeing what cool look I can come up with.

But let’s also be honest here: Secret World is a fashion disaster. I’d estimate about half of the clothing items are normal, everyday items, and the other half are from a bizarre Halloween costume party that has never ended. And players being players, people gravitate toward making themselves as weird as possible to stand out from the crowd.

Just take a trip to Agartha on any random day, and you’re sure to be treated to the sight of mostly naked men with horse heads dancing for your delight, or a butcher with the head of a pig wielding a giant sledgehammer. I’ve always gotten the impression that we are not so much heroes as an asylum’s worth of deranged serial killers coming together for a convention.

And I largely suspect that this is what Funcom wanted. The game keeps giving you all of these weird cosmetics like pumpkin heads and leatherface masks as rewards, and there is not one normal hat option available. This game and hats, I tell you. I’ve almost never been able to incorporate a hat into any of my outfits.

I guess this is part of the charm of the community, which has little recourse for personal expression apart from what they wear. Maybe the weird outfits help us stave off the trauma of everything we encounter. But let’s not pretend that this is anything but a fashion disaster!

7 of my favorite tower defense games

I’ve gotten the impression that tower defense games aren’t that respected in either games media or among more “serious” gamers, but for me, I’ve always loved them. They’re a favorite of mine, in fact, especially on mobile devices. Tower defense is a relaxing puzzle of sorts that combines warfare, mazes, and defensive strategy with that satisfying bubble wrap “popping” of enemy units. I often play a round or two at the end of the day, as these games help lull me into sleep (I know that sounds bad, but it more speaks to its relaxing qualities).

Today, I wanted to share my six favorite tower defense titles to date:

1. Desktop Tower Defense

This might have been one of the first tower defense games I ever played, and to date, it’s one of my wife’s most-played video games ever. There are a lot of different types of tower defense titles, and this one falls into the “use towers to make your own maze” category — with hand-drawn towers and units. I eventually fell out of like with this because it ascribed to the “keep giving mobs more and more health until they’re raid bosses” design, but it was a lot of fun for a good long time.

2. Bloons

The Bloons series worked so well because balloons are great fun to pop, and moreso if you’re using silly monkey towers to do it. It’s fast, there are tons of types of “bloons” that zip by, and the popping of each one releases endorphins in my system.

3. Kingdom and Frontier Rush

Absolutely wonderful titles with great art, a huge variety of towers and upgrade paths, and enemy types. Plus the voices ascribed to units gave them a lot of personality, and this was the first tower defense game that I played with hero units. I probably played Frontier Rush through at least a dozen times.

4. Dungeon Warfare

Nobody seems to talk about this gritty title, which is an incredible shame. It’s like Dungeon Keeper meets tower defense, and there’s a massive array of towers, traps, enemies, maps, and upgrades. So so so much replayability here.

5. Creeps

Creeps might not have been the most original tower defense game of all time, but it gets a nod on this list for its imaginative art and premise — that you’re trying to stop nightmares from getting to a kid in bed.

6. Crazy Kings

Yes, this has energy timers and other F2P elements, but I’m really keen on this game because it’s got so much to do, has fun art, has all sorts of gameplay modes, and there is never a lack of things to do. I probably play this now more than any other.

7. Plants vs. Zombies

This is more lane defense than a strict tower defense game, but there’s so much overlap that who cares. I liked the first game way more than the sequel, and had a blast with all of the hilarious plants and zombies on the field. Ramping up each map got old after a while, as did some of the restrictions on later levels, but it was a huge amount of fun while it lasted.

LOTRO: Tipsy self-hating Hobbits

So back in February I had a notion to create a new character in Lord of the Rings Online that would be a change of pace of how I normally play. A fresh start toon that would slow down, complete all quests, read the text, and generally get more immersed into the zone without being concerned about blazing through the content and “catching up” with the current level cap stories. I had fun the few sessions that I did it, but other games and my drive to get my character ready for the expansion edged it out.

The idea stuck around in the back of my mind, however, leading me to give it another try this summer. LOTRO is really hitting the sweet spot of MMO gameplay for me this summer, and while Mordor is great and all, I wouldn’t mind having some non-volcanic questing on the side.

This time around, I wanted to have a character with no safety net and no help from my main, so that meant hopping to a different server. This would also mean that this character could own her own house, collect her own cosmetics, and make her way from scratch without any shared goods or money.

I did agonize for a few days over which type of character to create. I must have run the opening zone four or five times in succession, creating and deleting characters as I waffled between them. I tried a Hobbit Burglar, then a Man Captain, then a Hobbit Burglar (yes, again), then a Hobbit Minstrel, and then, out of desperation, a Hobbit Hunter. This last one finally stuck, giving me a different play experience while allowing me to enjoy being a Hobbit for once. And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of a mobile ranged fighter with a whole ton of ports at her command. It should make going through the game again a much smoother experience.

The thing with starting over again in LOTRO is that there is just SO MUCH to do for a new character. I try not to think about the virtual Mt. Everest (Mt. Doom?) of content ahead, such as all of the zones, all of the quests, the whole epic story, the hundreds of deeds, home-making, doing Bingo Boffin all over again, and so on. The idea here is just to take one day at a time and be as completionist as I want to be. I haven’t decided how in-depth that entails — every quest in a zone? Every quest and deed? All four starting areas or just one? Rep grinds? — so I’m letting my first week or two of play sort this out for me. Figure it out as I go.

As the summer festival just began, I thought that I’d make it one of my early goals to see if I could get to kindred with the Ale Association and grab that goat mount before the event ends. It might be a very close thing, as I can’t do all of the delivery quests on my lowbie Hobbit, but I do have a set of dailies to run for a while and I feel that it’s worth it. I love me some goats.

Plus, it’s darkly amusing to play a semi-bad guy for once, going about the intro zones and being a total jerk to the Inn League. Double-plus, the Ale Association seems to really hate Hobbits, so I guess that makes me a self-hating Hobbit. I’m OK with that, as long as it gets me my goat.

Past that, the Shire is first on my massive to-do list, and there is enough here to keep me occupied for weeks. I’m anticipating grossly outleveling content quite soon, but again, that’s OK; sometimes you do things other than for the XP.

Oh hey, a Secret World TV show. Wait, what?

One of the reasons that I’ve loved writing MMORPG news over the past seven years is that you never quite know what surprises lay around the corner. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, well, Johnny Depp comes along to bring The Secret World to the television.

You can’t make this up, folks. Well, you CAN, but it’s so patently weird and ridiculous and unlikely that no one would believe you . And yet this is the reality we’re facing this week, as Depp’s production company is partnering with Funcom to make a Secret World TV show:

“The TV series is based on the universe of the Secret World IP and centers on a team of undercover agents and the shadowy war between secret societies, the Illuminati, Dragon and the Templar. Central to the plot is the battle against the supernatural in an adventure that spans across our world, multiple dimensions, and incorporates the realms of ancient myths and legends as well as today’s conspiracy theories and headline news.”

The media rights were optioned out in 2012, but apparently the strange conspiracy angle only recently caught the attention of this company, who has already written a pilot. And with that bomb of incredulity dropped, Funcom skipped away without further elaboration.

So.

Really.

I don’t know what to say. I have a lot of thoughts, but they’re really disorganized, because this is so unexpected and exciting for many reasons. I think the second thought most people had — other than “wow, awesome!” from the Secret World faithful — is surprise that this MMO, out of all of them, got picked up for a shot at a TV show. Defiance was developed from the beginning to be both a show and a game, but here we have a very niche (if beloved) cult MMORPG that’s been out for five years and has just relaunched in an attempt to save it. Nobody could’ve made this call.

OK, I want to put it out there that we Secret World fans shouldn’t get our hopes TOO high here. I mean, it’s so great that this was considered at all, but it’s a long road from “this IP got picked up for a TV pilot” to “this pilot got picked up to be a full-fledged series.” It might never happen — never be broadcast, that is. And even if it is, we all know how iffy adaptations of video games can be. Be cautiously excited, that’s my advice.

I think it’s a great shot in the arm for Secret World Legends and has made a lot of people outside of the gaming market done a bit of a whiplash today in seeing Johnny Depp’s name connected with an online video game that features secret societies, a Boogieman, and a thousand-year-old mummy. It’s going to put SWL on the map for some people who might not even know it exists, and hopefully Funcom will leverage what media attention it can get to direct more people to the game itself.

Further thoughts, in no particular order:

  • I would venture that the show would be a prologue to the game from the description and the timeline issues. Free it up to explore stories that aren’t explicitly covered in the MMO.
  • If Said and Nassir aren’t the two starring characters, I’m out. Well, not really, but they would be the best leads ever.
  • Also, Montag should be involved. And about a good dozen other great characters from the game. But how great would it be to see occult-wrangling Montag before he was the headmaster of Innsmouth Academy?
  • Does this mean some sort of additional cash infusion for Funcom out of this deal?
  • It’s going to have to be a mature-rated show.
  • Another possibility is to follow the half-dozen or so main Illuminati, Dragon, and Templar characters that were starring in the pre-launch cinematics and opening tutorial.
  • If at all possible, it’d be awesome if the game would feature connections and content related to the show.
  • It’d be less awesome if the show completely distances itself or disconnects from the game entirely (i.e., a reboot of the reboot).
  • Funcom has shown a lot of willingness to expand the Secret World IP to other properties — ARGs, The Park, and Hide and Shriek in particular. I guess it’s not completely out of left field.

I think this is a strong contender for “strangest MMO news of 2017.” But as a strong fan of The Secret World, I am excited that this is a thing, period.