KOTOR 2: Telos surface

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

As my party leaves Telos Station to travel down to the surface of the planet in a quest to find the Ebon Hawk and finally get out of this system, several things occur. The first is that the Republic finally shows up, but in a broadcast to station security, makes it known that they’re not here to apprehend me and that I should just be left well enough alone. Fine with me.

The second is that our shuttle is shot down by unknown forces, sealing off our route back to the station. It’s Ebon Hawk or bust, now!

As an aside, the devs obviously got REAL lazy with the interior of this shuttle for the brief shots during the cutscene. It looks so spartan and unsafe, with only one chair (!), sparks, and a fire blazing out of control. Kreia, helpful as always, stands with a giant sword out pointed in my direction while we’re being jostled about.

The third is that literally the second we crash land, I bump into an old war buddy/associate who served under me. Bao-Dur is a Zabrak (the non-red variety) who has a weird electrical left arm. My only complaint is that his voice actor is absolutely terrible. The guy sounds like he’s operating under the influence of heavy sedation, or else is trying to hypnotize me with a low and unassuming voice. At least I can swap Kreia out and not have to listen to her grumping all of the time.

Plus, it also means that I now have a party of 100% ranged fighters. PEW PEW PEW. Forget lightsabers; this is how I want to experience Star Wars.

Now after a few hours of being in nothing but space station environments, I’m definitely relieved to get some planetary action. So what is Telos like? To best honest, it’s a blatant reuse — not even a reskin — of Dantooine from KOTOR 1. Grasslands bordered by inexplicably sheer (but not too, too high) cliff walls that keep you from roaming on anything but a preset path.

You got that right, Anton. Unlike Telos Station, Telos the planet is pretty much quest-free. It’s just a lot of fighting groups of mercs, some of which prove to be particularly troublesome thanks to Bao-Dur’s general uselessness and no dedicated healer in the party. I’m still working on developing my character, but I don’t yet have the best gear nor the two party members that I want to be in my group.

We discover that there’s a small area near the polar ice cap that’s being used as a secret landing zone, which is probably where little miss albino took the Ebon Hawk. To get there, we have to assault an old military installation and procure a drop shuttle that’s parked there. If it was only that easy. Lots of poison gas, droids, and turrets block our way, and it becomes a downright slog.

Finally, all that stands between me and the shuttle is a tank droid. Yippee. According to various forums, this fight is either a pushover or a brutal slugfest, depending on if you have ion grenades (I do not), ion weapons (nope), or take the time to place mines in front of this door before the droid’s cutscene happens (nuh-uh). Ranged weapons are totally useless against it, so I’m out of luck.

After some trial and error, I realize that there are two things I can do. Bao-Dur can use his special shield breaker ability to punch through the droid’s shields and do significant damage, and I can use my stun droid ability for a few points now and then. Between the two, we are triumphant at last.

ESO and FFXIV: The siren call of summer expansions

Does anyone else hear it?

Can anyone else feel it?

Summer… it’s here. And carried on the wind is the smell of sunshine, pool parties, and MMORPG expansions.

June is shaping up to be an especially busy month for the MMO industry. Elder Scrolls Online is releasing its first expansion, Morrowind; FFXIV is coming out with its second expansion, Stormblood; Black Desert Online is launching on Steam; Elite Dangerous is coming out on PS4; RuneScape’s got an expansion; and Secret World Legends is happening. Oh, and there’s also E3 and any possible announcements contained therein.

Of course, standard disclaimer, I’ve got plenty to do in my games as it stands, but I cannot deny that I am weak-willed when it comes to an expansion launch — even if I’m not playing the game. And I am feeling tugged toward both ESO and FFXIV, a situation that I did not predict but could very well be fueled by all of the coverage and hype going on.

Morrowind is especially appealing because that was the only Elder Scrolls game to date that I actually liked and played for any length of time. Plus, it’s a perfect start point for new characters, there’s that housing system to check out, and a pet-based class? It’s like they’re checking off my wish list. ESO also remains one of the big MMOs that I still have yet to give a fair shakedown, as I’m just not sure I can get past the combat, console-esque UI, and generally blah armor models.

FFXIV? I’ve been mulling over a return for a couple of months now. My character was on the cusp of Heavensward, and that’s when everyone said the story gets good. I genuinely miss the community and the dungeon runs (especially as a healer). Red Mage looks pretty sweet too, even though it lacks bears. BEARS. On the minus side, there’s the general hodge-podge of FFXIV annoyances I’d have to overlook and a subscription fee to contend with.

So what’s the plan? Do neither? Do both? Pick one? It’s a big summer ahead, and I wouldn’t mind a change-up of my MMO stable, especially since my other anticipated releases — Project Gorgon, Sea of Thieves, LOTRO’s Mordor expansion, GW2’s second expansion — are coming no earlier than fall at best. It seems like a perfect time to try on ESO for real or to give FFXIV another go.

I’m at a loss, really. I could see myself enjoying either of these, but I could also just be jealous with that time and keep investing it into LOTRO, GW2, and to a lesser extent, SWTOR. Anyone else hearing this siren’s call, or have you already made up your mind?

Guild Wars 2’s loot problem

As you might be able to tell from these screenshots, I recently wrapped up the personal storyline on my Guild Wars 2 Engineer, paving the way for progress in the living world and expansion. If we assume a fall expansion, it’s going to take some dedicated work to getting through all of these episodes. Maybe I’m slow, but some of them feel pretty long.

I kind of want to push hard to get through Season 2, because once I do that, I’ll finally get to some new stuff… and I wouldn’t mind having S2 in my rearview mirror. It’s a step up from the personal story, but I’ve been there and done that, and plant dragon and pale tree speeches and so on.

Right now I have two main methods of growing my character: getting more hero points for my Scrapper spec and unlocking/working on masteries. I’m not getting either of these just doing S2, but it’s something for the future. At least my character hasn’t arrived at a plateau on which there is no advancement.

So let’s talk about the other reason that I am not the biggest fan of S2, which is loot. Actually, it’s a problem systematic to Guild Wars 2 as a whole from what I’ve seen and experienced (which I admit has yet to cross over into the expansion and season 3). This is an MMO that throws loot at you left and right… and so very little of it is actually useful or interesting. I’ll finish up an episode and get a little bit excited at the loot explosion that happens, but then I realize it’s some currencies, some random crafting mats, and some bags and boxes of gear that is of no use to me other than breaking down into crafting mats to sell.

Don’t get me wrong, I like selling on the trading post and building up a nest egg, but an MMO player needs more than just money. Guild Wars 2 build a foundation on the idea that there wouldn’t be much of a gear treadmill, so once you have exotic gear you’re generally fine at all level 80 stuff unless you want to bend over backwards to get ascended gear for slightly better stats or contort yourself into knots for months to get legendary gear for slightly better stats and ostentatious armor.

What else is there? There’s no housing, so no housing items are going to be in loot tables. Pets and truly desirable items are going to be locked away in the gem store. Maybe if you’re a crafter, all of this lootapalooza is exciting, but what is there for everyone else? About the best thing I can hope for is that a piece of gear drops that has a skin I haven’t collected yet, but I’m pretty much beyond that with the common stuff.

Story, experience, sights, character progression… all of these are fine and useful motivators to pushing forward in a game, but I won’t lie and say that loot is unimportant. I’ve had similar complaints about the general unexciting loot tables of LOTRO — my longstanding main MMO, lest anyone think I’m just picking on GW2 here — because when there’s never any surprises, never any desirable or useful gear, never anything that’s going to make my night. It’s busy work, filling up my inventory so that later on I’ll have to salvage and sell it.

Loot should be useful.

Loot should be exciting.

And my point is that this is a darn shame. It’s not an immediate deal-breaker to playing the game, but it does make for a lesser experience in comparison with other MMOs on my rotation (again, in this one regard). Maybe I’m not looking in the right places. Maybe I need to be doing more guild missions, or fractals, or (shudder) raiding, or whatever. Maybe I should turn to crafting. I’m open to advise. But I agree with one forum poster that Guild Wars 2’s loot is “excessive and unenjoyable,” which makes it an area that could use some attention as we do barrel down into a new expansion.

What do you think?

Dreamfall Chapters brings home that classic Secret World feel

With Secret World effectively DIA and Secret World Legends a month out from launch, how do I get that Funcom fix? By going to Dreamfall Chapters, that’s how. Much of the TSW team had formed a new studio (Funcom subsidiary? I’m not quite clear on that) to work on the Longest Journey franchise, resulting in a pretty successful Kickstarter and a five-chapter adventure game.

While The Longest Journey is easily my most favorite adventure game of all time (and Dreamfall a decent follow-up), I was a little slow in playing this game. I’d bought it when the first chapter was released, then just sat on it because I’m allergic to playing episodic adventure games that aren’t yet fully released. Getting a “to be continued…” and then waiting a month or two for the next installment is frustrating and annoying; I’d rather play the whole thing in one go. So now that the game is complete (although they’re working on a final cut with a little bit more content and better graphics) and I’m jonesing for TSW, I figured it would be a good time.

As I mentioned, the DNA between Dreamfall Chapters and The Secret World is so close as to render the two games siblings. Using the same game engine (I assume), playing Simon Poole’s music, and having a semi-contemporary setting was making all of this feel like it was another level or something in TSW. And that’s a good thing! About the worst thing I can say about DC is that the graphics aren’t always the best, particularly on some of the talking heads, but most of the rest of it is as absorbing as Secret World at its best. Really good writing, setting, and characters so far (and some laugh-out-loud moments to boot). Plus, DC is taking a cue from Telltale and Life is Strange by featuring choices that come back to impact you later on, which is a good move.

I actually had to give myself a recap of what the heck happened in Dreamfall, because at this point it’s been about a decade since I played that. As DC opens, April Ryan’s corpse is being floated out into a river, Kian is in prison awaiting execution, and Zoe is in a coma, trapped in Storytime. The twin worlds of Arcadia and Stark are also in dire straits, with the fantasy realm of Arcadia under assault by anti-magic forces and Stark falling into totalitarian dystopia. This cliffhanger led to my dissatisfaction with Dreamfall, so I was hoping for better resolution here.

Oh, also DC has wardrobe tentacle monsters. How can you look at the above picture and not think of the Filth from TSW? Is there a crossover going on here that I’m not totally getting?

Over the weekend, I played through the first chapter and into the second. As with Dreamfall, I was initially put off by the lack of April Ryan as a protagonist. I loved her snark and happy inner commentary, and while Zoe is adequate, she’s no April. Plus, there’s a lot of weirdness going on with Zoe that makes her feel like she’s not all there after waking up from her coma. She’s seeing people that she thinks she recognizes, she talks a little like she’s on drugs, and she’s still with a boyfriend that her coma self instantly recognized as an “imposter.” Suffice to say, I am taking every opportunity to be as rude as possible to the boyfriend.

Definitely enjoying it so far, even though I have a hard time making the mental jump between lead characters. I dislike that in books, too, when there are multiple protagonists and I’m getting into one of their stories and then a new chapter starts and I’m with someone else instead. Zoe and Stark is more interesting to me than Kian and Arcadia, although I’ll give it the benefit of some patience.

So far there have been several very noteworthy moments. The game actually lets you choose to refuse to join up with the rebellion, leading to a second and more final decision that can result in (what I assume is) one of the game’s very rare instant game overs. There’s a crudely named floating robot that spouts some of the most hilarious lines (especially when it realizes how much it loves welding). And these mysterious towers all over the city in Europe have me very much wondering what’s going to happen with them later on. Oh! And we get to return to the House of All Worlds for the first time since The Longest Journey (as a baby, even).

I’ve been needing a good adventure game like this, so I’m savoring it for the duration. I’m worried it won’t be long enough, but if it tells a great story, then I’ll be happy in the end. We’ll see how it goes. At the very least, it should help fill that TSW void for a week or two!

SWTOR: Profit and Plunder (Fallen Empire XIII)

Back in action

It’s been long, very long since I sat in the SWTOR saddle. Excluding two nights of doing chapter 12 back in February, I haven’t played my Imperial Agent for well over a year. So there was a readjustment period back at fleet where I was doing the typical welcome-back stuff: checking my mail, making sure I had trained up skills, reallocating points due to some prior reset, glancing over my inventory, and getting reacquainted with my rotation.

While I was doing that, I kept checking out the scrolling chatter on fleet and ended up picking out a guild recruit message that sounded pretty promising. Dark Initiative, or somesuch. Joined up, made small talk, and felt a little more connected.

Good old fashioned bank heist

With some of my crew off to try to cripple Arcann’s communication array, Lena and Theron are putting their time to good use by being fleeced at another returning character. As an aside, I really like the above photo. The two characters’ body language says so much — Theorn is forward, cautious, guarded, while Lena is laid back, confident, cocky, even arrogant.

So yes, it’s Gault. I get the sense that he’s a love-him-or-hate-him character, but when I was doing the Bounty Hunter story, I really warmed up to him. His quips and surefire attitude reminded me a lot of people on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even looks like some of the demons on there.

Gault’s got a plan to pull off a good old fashioned bank heist. The Eternal Empire, for whatever reason, keeps a lot of its material wealth on a ship called the Gilded Star, and Gault proposes stealing all of it. Sounds like we’ve moved from Buffy to Firefly, but we’re still in the Whedonverse of the Old Republic. It’s of course needlessly difficult and complex, although my job mostly seems to be “show up and shoot things,” which I seem to do best. Also, I get snarky.

My favorite moment? Pretending to be a Wookiee for a little bit.

“Your last partner was crushed to death.”

“And never once complained about it!”

Gault assembles his Ocean’s 11 crew for the heist, which includes another fan favorite character: Vette. I’ve always heard awesome things about this character, and her introduction here — pretending to be the voice of a missile hellbent on exploding in your face — had me in stitches.

Start to finish, the episode was entertaining and filled with personalities and quips, but I felt like the actual heist itself came off as a little lacking. There was no challenge in it, no sneakiness, and (oddly enough for this game) no choices. It would’ve been nice to have had some say in how the heist went down, but oh well, it was nice to feel like we ripped off the Eternal Empire in the end. SWTOR: Profit and Plunder (Fallen Empire XIII)

LOTRO: Pub crawls and wayward Hobbitses

Rohan pub crawl

For Year Six of the LOTRO anniversary scavenger hunt, I elected to go with the Rhovanion tavern crawl. It seemed to be the most straight-forward of the three options (no, I am not going to hunt down animals across this entire continent to pet), and besides, I always loved the taverns in Rohan the most out of all of the regional inns.

I mean, look at that picture above! So much more detail and atmosphere in these later additions than you’d find back in the Shire or Bree (although those have charm). Maybe I just like the “log cabin” design and decor. Makes me think of summer camps and woodland lodges.

There’s also something amusing about racing my character around Middle-earth for the sole purpose of getting tanked on hearty ale. I don’t usually drink in-game, so I’d forgotten about the screen effects and — for a minute — thought the game was glitching out on me.

It was probably one of the fastest scavenger hunt cards I’ve done to date, thanks to most of the towns being close enough to offer direct horse rides. The only problem I had was in trying to find the taverns in specific towns, since there are no markers on the city maps to indicate where they are (and I don’t have that great of a memory for this region.

Puffy sheep

I’ll tell you what, between the anniversary gifts, the scavenger hunt rewards, the Bingo Boffin barter items, and the Wastes quest lines, I’m swimming in pets. I’ve gone from having one or two to trying to choose which four of a dozen or so in my collection will get a coveted space on my hotbar (I went with puffy sheep, Faroth the dog, Bill the pony, and Ithilien fox).

I kind of wish that LOTRO would add a “pull out random pet” button. I like that a lot when I see it in other MMOs. Saves space, gives me a surprise every time.

Where is Bingo Boffin?

After swimming lessons, treasure hunting, and lynx befriending, I thought I was ready for anything in Bingo Boffin’s storyline. Then the little fool of a Hobbit went and got himself kidnapped by Dwarves, and when I finally came to his rescue, I found that he had escaped and promptly fallen into a crack in the Misty Mountains themselves.

When you’re lacking GPS and a competent search-and-rescue squad, how do you rescue someone who was literally swallowed up by the earth? You start moseying your way toward Moria, that’s how.

I felt like this stretch of the quest line in Eregion largely felt like a pointless intermission. It’s really obvious that I’m going to have to head back into Moria and there’s nothing productive to be done in this zone. Yet the game wants me to romp around with secondary characters in this quest line to kill time. I really don’t like that feeling when a game is obviously treading water and making me do pointless busy work until the real narrative can continue.

Plus, as weird as it is to say, Bingo’s presence was growing on me, and not having him around feels like a TV show that just removed its lead character for several episodes.

KOTOR 2: Telos Station

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

It’s weird when you come back to a game that you never beat but have played several times before. You know that there’s a lot of brand-new content coming once you hit a certain point, but up until then it’s well-trod territory. It’s like that for me and KOTOR 2. Everything through Telos is pretty familiar to me, and I know that I harbor a dislike for this bland station that followed another bland station from the beginning. Oh well, let’s get this worked out.

As we settle into an apartment — because KOTOR 2 does love shamelessly appropriating from KOTOR 1 — restlessness settles in and our attention is gripped, GRIPPED by the ringing of a phone.

I love how the game actually gets annoyed that I’m taking too long to answer it. You are not the boss of me, Atton. We’re going to watch Deal or No Deal and then play some Magic for a while.

As we twiddle our thumbs, we get two calls — one from the Ithorians and one from Czerka Corp, both asking me to take sides in a land contract dispute on the planet below. Also, station security frees me but says that I’m still impounded until the Republic arrives. That sounds ominous. Time to skedaddle!

We start doing the normal RPG routine when you arrive in a new area: methodically explore it, loot everything that’s not nailed down, interact with locals to see if there are any quests to be had, and get into trouble. In one of the apartments a man gets all riled up that I’m looting through his things (most CRPGs seem to include at least one such character to give you pause about doing this), and I flip out at him and initiate combat. One dead guy later, and I’ve started to walk down the Dark Side. Oh noes!

Oddly enough, Keira is more upset than Atton. She chastises me while Atton sputters about how he got caught up in the moment and it was over so fast. Strap yourselves in, kiddies, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

I’m kind of super-cheesed that the game took away all of our weapons and other equipment except for the body armor we were wearing, so until I get replacements or get them back, we’re going to have to melee for now. I go ahead and beat up an Exchange thug in the hallway just because I can, and also for those sweet dark side points. By the time I leave Telos, I want to be a full Sith Lord. Or at least as un-Jedi as I can possibly be.

Even though the original KOTOR games are much more crude, graphically, than SWTOR, you can see the inspiration that the MMO devs took from this series. There’s a certain shuttle waiting area in KOTOR 2 here that was definitely replicated in some of the stations in SWTOR, and the cantina is a familiar sight indeed.

Telos Station is, essentially, a long twisty hallway. There’s the apartment area, the cantina/shop area, and the loading docks. It’s really a shame that this far into the game, I’m still stuck inside grey metal walls of a controlled environment; feels like the opening flow didn’t go quite right. I hoover all of the quests I can find and make sure to be as gruff as possible.

Good news: I got all of my gear back from the security center. Bad news: Mr. Droid here tells me that someone’s stolen my starship, so even if I could get clearance to leave, I don’t have the means. They parked it down on the planet, so I guess we’re going to get that road trip we wanted sooner or later.

I do start working aggressively for Czerka, even though the company is laughably evil. The KOTOR series has not always had the best record for presenting options that weren’t either lily white or black as sin, although arguably the games do have their moments of tough choices. The Ithorians who oversee the planet keep telling me how much pain I’m in and how if I help the planet, the planet will help me, but I’m not going for that Captain Planet Final Fantasy VII Gaia nonsense. I’ve got a doohickey on my head and I’m OK.

Let’s just say that over the course of an hour and a half, I become a rather despicable human being, murdering and thieving and enslaving my way across the station. For someone who most always plays a very goody-goody character, it’s really fascinating to see what’s programmed into the game for those who walk a much darker path.

Postcards from Syp’s vacation! I do raise an eyebrow at the fact that at one point, I slaughter an entire squad of TSF security agents… and there is no consequence for that. I even talk to the head security guy and he seems blissfully unaware of the whole exchange.

All paths lead to the Exchange — the criminal mobster empire that’s been trying to kidnap me from before the start of the game. It’s with deep satisfaction, then, that I march straight into their headquarters and blast the living crap out of everyone there. Teach them to mess with a grumpy ex-Jedi.

As an aside, how awesome do I look in this picture? That mask was worth every bit of the 6,000 credits I paid for it.

While the game does present you with options at the conclusion of the Exchange “dungeon,” it doesn’t really matter what you pick. You’re going to have to kill both bosses to proceed. And so I do, and Czerka is really quite pleased with my assistance. The company agrees to give me a shuttle ride down to the planet to help me find my ship.