Hearthstone: Hangin’ with kobolds

Can we acknowledge up front that out of all of the game teams over at Blizzard, it’s the Hearthstone folks that seem to have the most fun? I mean, they had the best BlizzCon presentation, all of these weird and funny songs, and commercials like the Lich King ice cream and this hilarious D&D parody. There simply seems to be a sense of humor and enjoyment swirling about that group, and if I worked there, that’s the team I’d want to join. Not that I’m a great card player or anything.

Anyway, last week Hearthstone released its Kobolds and Catacombs expansion, which is… I guess the first time I’ve been playing during an expansion release? I think so. It’s been an odd year for me, I’m rolling with it. It’s a great expansion to jump on board as a solo-happy person, since it adds a new single-player mode called dungeon run to the mix (on top of new cards, card types, legendary weapons, etc.).

Let’s talk about dungeon run, because it’s a bizarre duck. Up front, there seems to be no reason to play it. There’s no reward for beating a dungeon in and of itself, unless you beat all eight bosses nine times with the nine classes, and even that’s just a card back. But now we’re seeing a lot of daily quests come into the game to promote the dungeon run, and since these have been paying out in card packs, well, now there’s a reason beyond the experience itself to do it.

Dungeon run takes players though a series of eight boss fights, going from ridiculously easy to ridiculously overpowered. Kind of like that old Nintendo chestnut, Punch-Out!! The twist here is that normal rules and balance is sort of thrown out the window; players build decks with batches of cards, but they also get to choose “treasures” that are huge advantages that change the rules. For example, I love getting an extra mana crystal with all of my games, since that lets me play a two-crystal card on turn one consistently. I also got “The Candle” card once that would fry a bunch of low-health mobs and then be shuffled back into the deck to be used over and over again.

A run turns into seeing how far you can go. The best I’ve gotten is through five bosses, dying on the sixth. Enemies also have a disregard for the normal rules, so seeing seven pyroblasts coming at me wasn’t too unusual in this mode. It’s just kind of crazy and different, and I find it a nice change of pace from the normal 1v1 matches against opponents. Plus, it’s a great way for me to level up classes that I haven’t even gotten to 10 yet without putting myself through PvP grinds.

As for the cards themselves, I’m still exploring it. I don’t even have a favorite deck yet; I keep building new decks to meet specific daily challenges (like casting 40 spells), but sooner or later I’ll use all of my gold to buy up a bunch of packs and see what I get.

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Secret World Legends: Knock knock

Knock knock!

You never know what can be behind a door in Secret World. Could be a sugar-crazed hacker who is more than willing to fight on your side, could be a group of ambushing filth monsters. Doesn’t stop me from knocking and opening, though.

The whirlwind tour through Tokyo’s main storyline continues. I don’t remember it being this long, but then again, last time I only encountered it in segments as it was released. This time I’m being treated to the whole saga of Orochi, Fear Nothing, Gozen, and Killer Bunnies in sequence. It continues to be both fascinating, disturbing, and infuriating.

Infuriating because I had to go through that apartment of booby traps again. That’s a whole lot of work to keep some bunnies out, man.

I think every Secret World player has his or her favorite NPCs, but we also have those that get discarded as not being truly worth our attention. Jake Hama is that for me. Never connected with his character or what he was about, possibly because he is drunk and speaks in Japanese the whole time, but that’s how it goes. A weird costume does not a captivating character make.

Soon after the underground garage and the Fear Nothing Foundation headquarters, I’m sent into the next part of this horror trifecta: the Clubhouse.

This is one of the longer missions and a truly momentous setpiece. It begins in a youth clubhouse where everyone’s been slaughtered (or, like the picture above suggests, committed suicide with doll promptings). It was supposed to be a bunker of sorts against outside incursion, but the Filth got in and turned the place into a charnel house.

The “cocoon room” never ceases to give me the willies. You really have to hear all of the sound effects of these gestating eggs to get the full effect. Just never go in the water — trust me.

Then after the youth clubhouse part is this massive temple room that just so happens to play host to a grumpy Filth creature. Oh, and there’s a kitchen with ghosts and really sad journal entries all around spelling out the final moments of these poor kids — cast-offs of the Virgula Divina program.

Just when you think that mission is going on forever, there’s a final part of the Clubhouse in the basement office that’s somehow more disturbing than everything else that came before it. Could be the supernaturally quick killer bunny, or perhaps the emergency lighting.

Listening to the drunken speech of this Morninglight scum gave me chills this time, especially as I was thinking about season two. The Dark Days are coming, but they aren’t quite here yet. The world is ending, but hasn’t quite gotten as bad as it could. All I keep asking myself is… what is Exodus? And does it mean that there is some possibility of saving this world or at least some of its people?

6 best fiction books I read this year

Feeling like I should be getting to my end-of-2017 lists, and since I haven’t talked much about what fiction books I’ve read this year (because it’s been a pretty light year for me and reading, alas), here are the six standouts that I both enjoyed and would heartily recommend to anyone.

1. Tyrant’s Throne by Sebastien De Castell

The epic conclusion to this Three Muskateers reenvisioning (is that a word?) was spot-on perfect. It brought us to a nail-biting conclusion as the ragged Greatcoats faced off against a mirror foe, with plenty of surprises, fist-pumping lines, memorable characters, and amazing moments abounding. With this book, the Greatcoats series has become one of my all-time favorite fantasy series, and the second I finished it I wanted to start reading it all over again.

2. and 3. Senlin Ascends / Arm of the Sphynx by Josiah Bancroft

Right now for $10 you can get two of the most incredibly imaginative and surprising works that I’ve encountered in quite some time. A blend of fantasy, steampunk, and sci-fi, The Books of Babel take us into the titular city where a seemingly milquetoast schoolteacher plumbs hidden depths of personality while ascending the tower to find his wife (who vanished for some reason on the first day of their honeymoon). I kept thinking that these books were going to be about one thing and then they would suddenly juke hard and be something completely different.

4. Blackwing by Ed McDonald

I deeply respect fantasy authors that use their God-given imaginations and come up with something much different than the standard tropes. McDonald drafts up a “weird fiction” world that’s straddling the apocalypse with Deep Kings fighting against Unnamed, all with squishy humans in the middle. There’s a grizzled mercenary who is compelled to seek out and protect his old fianceé, but the actual plot turns out to be much more than expected. It’s gritty and grim, but not gruesome and grimdark, if that makes sense, and I had a blast going through this tale. Packs six books’ worth of plot into one, and well worth it.

5. Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

Another thing I respect? A sense of humor and a willingness to tweak mythology. Despite a somewhat-childish name, Kings of the Wyld brings us into a world where fame-seeking bands of adventurers have grown soft in gladiator pits, but one of the most famous bands of yesteryear has reassembled for a last-ditch rescue mission against a horde of monsters. Loads of great characters, classic fantasy monsters, an ogre with two heads and the most heartbreaking tale ever, and a geeky charm that pervades the whole ordeal. It never took itself too seriously but simply focused on the pleasure of a pulp fiction tale, and that made for a great read.

6. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

There were a few titles vying for the sixth spot here, but I like having a straight-up scifi tale on this list and the tale went down very smoothly. It’s all about a wormhole-creating starship that gets a contract to head out to a planet populated by very alien xenophobics. I wasn’t completely sold on the plot; there isn’t a strong narrative or conclusion so much as a series of somewhat connected accounts as the ship makes the journey. But I did find the look at humanity in a sea of alien cultures very gripping, especially with the well-thought-out races that populate the ship. I haven’t jumped on board with the sequel yet, since it doesn’t seem to involve the original cast, but I suppose I’d be amiable with it sooner or later.

Battle Bards Episode 111: Cabal Online 1 and 2

The Battle Bards are always up for a musical bargain, and on today’s episode, they’ll deliver two MMORPGs for the price of one (sitting)! It’s a look at two rather obscure eastern MMOs, Cabal Online and Cabal 2, both of which have some surprisingly good music tucked away. So expand your video game musical horizons with this show!

Episode 111 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Frozen Tower of the Undead” from Cabal 1, “Freii Hills” from Cabal 2, and “Altar of Siena” from Cabal 1)
  • “Green Despair” from Cabal 1
  • “Desert Scream” from Cabal 1
  • “Mission Battle” from Cabal 1
  • “Illusion Castle” from Cabal 1
  • “Forest of Troglo” from Cabal 2
  • “Another Truth” from Cabal 1
  • “Login Screen” from Cabal 2
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes: @JinxedThought, @Katriana_games, Minimalistway, and George Wilson III
  • Jukebox picks: “Fertile Highlands” from Conan Exiles, Super Marcato Bros., and “Welcome to Amnoon” from Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire
  • Outro (“Luper’s Excavation Site” from Cabal 2)

World of Warcraft: Argus and bust

I felt moderately responsible to take some time with my World of Warcraft main and actually go into Argus. Really, it was all a misguided procrastination tactic, because I was working on that Chromie time traveling scenario stuff and found myself feeling a little frustrated with that grind. So might as well… go into a different grind?

Now that we’re in the post-expansion announcement period, I’m finding it very hard to care about jumping through the endgame hoops like Argus. On one hand, the game continues to cram literally billions of points of artifact power down my throat and expand the artifact system while on the other hand Blizzard is preparing us all for the upcoming loss of said artifact weapons. There’s a sliiiiiiight loss of motivation and a general desire to see the reset button hit if there has to be that reset button. Like, now that we know we are going to move on, I’d rather just get on with it already instead of carrying on this charade.

The best thing I can say about Argus so far is that the skybox is really breathtaking. Seeing Azeroth loom over the horizon makes me think about how big that world is and also how these two planets are probably going to collide and break up in their mutual gravity wells.

Otherwise, the story so far is “eh,” lots of Illidan moping and some giddy Elf and a way-too-serious prophet. For world questing, we’ve traded the lush and inviting landscape of the broken isles with that jagged fel hellscape that Blizzard is alone in being fond of seeing everywhere. Kind of tired of the whole fel-demon-Legion thing as it is, which is probably why I keep going back to my lower level characters.

In fact, I’d probably be giving my level 60 Undead Warlock all of my attention right now except that I’ve put her on hold until Patch 7.3.5 comes out. I’m hoping soon on that, because I love the idea of level scaling zones. My plan is to take her over to Northrend the day that patch comes out and revisit the Wrath of the Lich King zones in their entirety on my journey from 60 to 80. Then Pandaria, Draenor, and Broken Isles. That should keep me busy.

I suppose there is another bright spot in this whole Argus thing, which is that it’s helping me refamiliarize with my DK. I don’t get tired of seeing her summoning hordes of skeletons and running around with an extremely obese zombie. She’s still so comfortable to play in a way that I haven’t found with many of the other classes, no matter how I rotate through them.

I’ll keep pecking away at Argus and Chromie, but I’m curious for those playing: what is the purpose? Are there some desirable rewards for all of this? Does the story get incredible at any point? Or is it all just busy work for the time being?

DDO: The greatest show on Eberron

When I play MMOs — or most video games, really — one of the biggest things that I chase and desire is story. I want a good tale. I want to witness, or better yet be involved with, a great story. It’s why I’ve always gushed about Secret World and its storytelling chops, and it’s why a memorable gaming session can be made in an instant when a good story appears. It’s also why Dungeons and Dragons Online is just amazing me this year, because it’s a chain of stories that seem to keep getting better the more I progress.

This past week I moved into House Phiarlan to quest, and during the course of seven days, I recruited a giant into a theater troupe, infiltrated a high society club, chased a rascal across the rooftops, and visited a devil-infested circus.

Yeah. I’m swimming in story. Oh, and I got this:

I have never been so proud of myself.

Some of these quests have been incredibly long, but really, I didn’t mind as long as there was something interesting to look at and do. And there was almost always something interesting to look at and do. Like this hologram of the now-extinct Elf race.

Another thing I’ve been doing is using hireling contracts for missions. I haven’t felt a huge need for them before, but after failing the giant quest right at the end of 45 minutes of tasks, I briefly saw red for a moment and then acknowledged that I could use a little backup on these outings.

This cracked me up. This one house has bathrooms with actual toilets (weird toilets, them), and the toilet paper holders are mini shrines that are fully functional. Because where else would you rest than on the john?

Oh yeah, and I fought a magical monster made of crates, barrels, and a chest that I desperately wanted to loot. This rooftop mission was so much fun, start to finish. Really wanted to see this annoying NPC and his magical wand meet a bitter end, and I was not disappointed.

Oh HECK yes. I am totally there!

The circus was wonderfully plotted all the way through, with disguised tieflings taking on the roles of strongmen, magicians, and even doggie trainers. Lots of sight and verbal gags if you took your time and didn’t rush into battle.

Maybe I’m obsessed with bathrooms in MMOs? Maybe I am.

Nothing like fighting a mind-controlling succubus under the big top to keep life interesting. Felt a little bad for the good guys I had to kill while they were under her spell, but there was no way around it.

One detail in the circus that I thought was hilarious is that I came across these “magician’s barrels” with swords sticking through them. Turns out that the “assistants” inside are actually zombies that don’t really mind getting skewered by pointy things. Ta da!

Secret World Legends: The only thing we have to fear is Fear Nothing Foundation

Every Secret World player has his or her opinion on which zone of the game is the most creepy, and while I would put Savage Coast right up there at number two, Tokyo has to take the cake for me. It’s full of ghosts and creepy girl-things and midnight slaughters and evil cults and the apocalypse to boot. I was forcefully reminded of what this area is capable of when I hit the one-two main storyline punch of Contract Killers and The Pachinko Model.

Seriously, in a row are two of the most creeptastic quests this game has ever produced, and even having done them before, I was incredibly reluctant to man up and do them again. But as main quests, I had no choice. Time to roll up my sleeves, grit my teeth, and wait until it was broad daylight at home and my wife was sitting in the room 10 feet from me.

As I said on Twitter, any time that Secret World asks you to go into an underground parking garage, you slap that game right across its face and say “No THANK you, sir!” and storm out of the room. Nothing good ever happens in underground parking garages here.

At least I knew what was going to happen, and so to help take the edge off my fright, I made it a mission to try to screenshot some of the more intense moments. You know, like the “red room” section with the ghost girl on the ceiling who is draining your life force. Fun times.

And then there was this. It’s just such a terrifying mission where you go down, down into the dark and only when you get to the bottom does the real horror begin. Can you make it back out? The trick here is to think of the little girls as the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who — never turn your back on one. Never blink.

Then right after that I’m sent right into the headquarters of the Fear Nothing Foundation (AKA Japanese Morninglight). It seems that there’s a helpful kid ghost in this one, although I don’t know what’s their story. Could have done with a friendly wave or a Casper-esque appearance rather than being a black shape from across the room staring at me. I get enough of that in real life.

I have a weird weakness for always taking my character’s picture whenever there’s an in-game mirror. At least you all know that I washed my hands after I looted.

Tried to get a good shot of this bloody white ghost girl, but the camera wasn’t always on my side. Plus, there’s that whole “get near her and she one-shots you” thing, so I had to keep my distance.

I was pretty proud that after doing FNF three times previous, I was able to zip through this one in record time.

“Stay with us.”

Um, thanks but no thanks. I’ve had enough with the apocalypse cults. They never make good on their promise of happiness and power.

Making headway on Tokyo… but still not to the end just yet. It’s going to feel so great when I finally reach the point where I left off with my old TSW character. Some days I really can’t believe that I did all of this all over again.