KOTOR 2: Korriban

(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.)

With appearances in KOTOR, KOTOR 2, and SWTOR, Korriban is one of the very few locations to be visited in all three Old Republic games to date. As I’ve never been this far in KOTOR 2 before, I’ve never seen this game’s version yet, but I assume it’s a lot of repurposed maps from the first title.

It is, indeed, a very familiar planet to my SWTOR eyes, and a very short one as well. The big bad on this planet is Darth Scion, the craggy scarred Sith who looks to be in dire need of moisturizer. After picking our way through the valley of the tombs (in KOTOR 2, these tombs are not explorable), I find my way to a dark side cave.

This is kind of interesting, actually. If you ever thought the dark caves in Empire or Last Jedi were a keen peek into how the Force works, at least you get a small taste of that here as well. I guess if you’re a light side player, you can view this as a test for your character, and if you’re a dark side player, this is… basically a vacation resort? I was never clear on that.

The cave is essentially these illusionary setpieces with notable figures. First there is pre-jaw-ripped-off Malak from the first game giving a pep talk to troops. Then Kreia shows up and everyone calls her out on how evil she is, which is what we call in the biz “foreshadowing.”

And there is a fight with Revan, which presents an existential crisis for players who were that character in the first game. He still looks hecka cool here.

After that is the Sith Academy, another reprise from the first game. Like Dantooine, it’s no longer a learning facility but just a dungeon crawl. A pretty enjoyable one, all things considered, but nothing more.

We do find Master Vash dead in a cell, so I guess I don’t get to kill my allotted planetary Jedi. I found it bizarrely humorous how Vash’s corpse has a lightsaber on her, which mean that she could have carved her way out of here and fought. Maybe she had a death wish.

After that, it’s a way-too-quick confrontation with Scion. It’s supposed to be this nerve-wracking confrontation, but you don’t get to kill him because Kreia telepathically yanks you out of there saying that he’s too dangerous. Speak for yourself, sister.

Back on the ship, we get a call urging us to come back to Onderon. Meanwhile, Kreia is shown stalking crew members while invisible. I’m sure the twist will be that she’s really a good guy in the end. Maybe the taller version of Yoda.

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World of Warcraft: A more immersive questing experience

Earlier this month I wrote up a post challenging myself to stop skimming or ignoring the quest text and just read it, already. It seems to be one of those MMO facets that a lot of us have struggled with, if the comments on that post were any indication. One reader did suggest an interesting strategy, at least for World of Warcraft, which was to install the Immersion mod to draw more attention to quest text.

Sounded like a good idea! So I gave it a try for a few days and found it… OK, I guess. Immersion replaces the standard text window with a few semi-transparent windows that puts the quest dialogue right next to an animated portrait of the NPC questgiver. It did make it a little more readable, but I found that I was always fumbling for what to click and where the different options were, as choices were often put on the right side of the screen.

Still, I didn’t want to give up on this concept, and so I took another suggestion — this one from a WoW YouTube host — to try out Catch the Wind. What this mod does is that any time you get into a quest dialogue situation, it grabs camera control and then puts a letterbox over your screen, with the quest text gradually appearing at a somewhat readable pace on the bottom to mimic subtitles.

I was instantly impressed with this. I found myself naturally reading the quest text without having to make myself do it, just by a few cinematic tricks. It also keeps the visuals on the character and the world without covering them up with giant boxes in the middle of the screen. Even the choices, like “accept” and “goodbye” are shown in a subtle, natural fashion on the bottom. I’m going to give it a few more days of evaluation, but so far, I think this might be the choice for me.

I can only imagine what a similar mod would do with the mountain of quest text that, say, LOTRO presents. Maybe an audiobook narration by Ian McKellen? I would pay for that upgrade.

FFXIV: Massaging an oily Hildibrand

Well, it had to happen sooner or later in Final Fantasy XIV: I met Hildibrand.

I didn’t go into this completely unwary and uninformed; I had heard of the legend of this bizarre character for a couple of years now and had made a mental note to do his quests if I ever came back to the game. Well, I’m back and am giving myself a break from the elves and dragons of Heavensward by running through some of his quest lines.

I wasn’t unwary. But I wasn’t fully prepared, either.

To those who haven’t played FFXIV, Hildibrand might charitably be described as a private detective who serves as comedic relief. More accurately, he might be described as some sort of LSD-injected Scooby Doo dream that will pretty much leave your jaw unhinged and your eyebrows permanently raised during any encounters. I mean, I thought I was inoculated against Japanese weirdness, but that country keeps on surprising me.

I ran through the first four quests (Patch 2.1) last week, meeting up with Hildibrand (or “Hildy,” as my guildies are wont to call him) as he begins the series dead in a grave but not really dead because he’s a zombie but not a normal zombie no he’s a GENTLEMAN zombie who is influencing all of the other zombies to dress and act well. Also, he’s not a zombie, he just thinks he is. He also has an ADD assistant who is, for some reason, obsessed with pumpkins and explosives.

During this introduction, I found myself absolutely flabbergasted and unable to fully process how I should feel about this. I mean, half of me felt like this was the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in an MMO. The other half was strangely amused and even laughed on occasion. It’s just so… so… cheesy and cartoonish as it breaks the fourth wall of the game and embraces slapstick comedy with wanton abandon. I was kind of impressed at all of the expressions and actions that the devs worked into these cutscenes.

The running joke is that Hildy is a buffoon and a completely ineffectual investigator even as he somehow stumbles into success time and again. It’s not new territory (see: Pink Panther, Inspector Gadget, etc.) but it does give a different approach to this fantasy world. And the player is allowed in on the joke by enjoying the comments of everyone around this character who keeps calling him out on his inanity.

Although I really, really, really could have done without the quest during which I had to keep rubbing oil onto Hildibrand’s semi-naked body so that he could go for a dip in a one-foot-deep pond. Could have done without his comments, too.

Probably the weirdest thing about him is that he keeps striking these two muscle flex poses that are used over and over again (if nothing else, this game does love reusing poses). I asked a friend why he does this, and I was told, “If you got it, flaunt it.” OK then.

The rewards aren’t great, at least not so far, but I’m willing to forgo monetary compensation if I’m given a good story. And so far, at least I’m not bored with this jackanape.

Try It Tuesday: Closers Online

The gunblade! The gunblade lives in Closers! I’m having crazy flashbacks of Final Fantasy VIII right now.

For this week’s MMO experiment, I took a dip in Closers Online, or as its western version is simply named, Closers. It’s an eastern import being run by the “action combat” kings, En Masse. I thought the cel shaded anime style looked pretty attractive and liked the idea of something that wasn’t outright fantasy. So why not? Free-to-play and all.

The (subtitled) story here is that aliens from another dimension are wreaking havoc all over the world, and a team of teenage “Closers” are brought in to put an end to it with their psychic powers. Why just teenagers? Because we have a demographic to appeal to, fool! I went with the pink haired, dual knives-using Sylvia as a shout-out to my friend Syl. Also, she had the least heaving bosom out of all of the female characters.

While “MMO” may be slapped somewhere on this product, Closers is really just a lobby game that has the option to both solo and join up with groups for very linear stages. There’s no exploration, no real variety here, just a whole lot of beat-em-up action with combos, light shows, and flashy numbers popping out every which way.

Although Closers is pretty to witness, especially in action, it’s not the most user friendly of games. For starters, the control scheme is fully keyboard and fully awkward. You use the arrow keys (not WASD) to move and a handful of keys at the bottom left to activate jump (which isn’t the spacebar), attacks, and specials. I had such a hard time trying to reprogram my finger memory to it that I ended up simply mashing things to make the bad guys die. When I could manage it, I did some pretty impressive chain attacks in the air, but that wasn’t often.

The other issue I had right off the bat was the method of tutorial delivery, which took place in the form of endless windows and on-screen diagrams that couldn’t be removed. When you’re in the middle of frantic combat, you don’t want pop ups distracting you. I think there was a story buried in the middle of this, but the game went overboard frontloading information and equipment and do this and learn this and master this and… pfft. I just started clicking through things until I got to a new stage to actually play the game.

I did get a costume and a pet, so there are a few elements in this game that have some appeal to me. Also, one of my skills allowed me to literally drop a bus on my enemies. The transit authority did not appreciate that, but that’s a small price to pay for one of the coolest moves ever.

OPPAN GANGNAM STYLE

Also, did this city just plaster a giant picture of my team on a skyscraper? That’s a nice gesture, but I’m just level 10 and haven’t really saved anyone outside of the tutorial. Nice thought, though.

I dutifully ran through a few more stages, but to be honest, there isn’t much going on here. It’s all flash and style but little substance, with attractive stages that go from Left to Right until you reach the boss and defeat it. I kind of got my fill with that back in my Mega Man and Super Mario Bros. days, so I feel like I’ve graduated past this sort of fluff.

KOTOR 2: Onderon and Dxun

(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.)

Next up on our galactic Jedi scavenger hunt, Onderon! Which might be a more difficult planet to get to considering that some local general has it out for me and is attacking my ship. For some reason. The solution? We duck down to the moon of Dxun instead.

Once again, Kreia goes Mob Boss crazy behind my back, threatening Atton to keep the Ebon Hawk (I keep wanting to type “the Ethan Hawke”) grounded until she says so. At this point, the game is completely telegraphing THIS GIRL IS EEEEVIL in all of her scenes. It’s not the fun kind of evil, either, which is what I’m going for.

Dxun is a jungle moon that is overgrown with graphical bugs. My characters kept disappearing — or parts of them at least — until I finally realized that it was the panes of grass that weren’t being transparent for some reason. I disabled foliage and went on with my day. Weird.

Dxun is home to the Mandalorians, the behind-the-scenes antagonists of the first game that are now licking their wounds and regrouping. I have to suck up to them to curry enough favor to get a shuttle ride over to Onderon, so cue lots of side quests.

At least I get to have some fun. One side quest saw a Mandalorian treed (well, “rocked”) by some local beasts, and I set off some explosives with him in the middle. You know that I’m accruing dark side points when HK is praising me.

Oh, and there’s a fight with about two dozen droids that’s all kinds of awesome. By this time I’m wrecking droids left and right with my force powers, so it’s not even a fair fight.

Hey Kreia’s back! She’s back everyone! Bullying like usual! Good show, Kreia!

So Mandalore decides to tag along, although he never takes off his helmet (HINT HINT says the game). We trek on over to Onderon, where the city is on lockdown as a tense standoff between the General and the Queen, which represent the dark side and light side… er, sides, I guess. It’s a powder keg waiting to go off and I’m a happy zippo lighter running through the place.

I go through great lengths to try to meet up with the next sucker, Jedi Master Kavar, which takes me through the local politics and a murder investigation. Also, I end up getting FORCE STORM which is the BEST POWER EVER and I’m using it on ANY RANDOM PASSERBY because I’m 40 HOURS INTO THIS GAME after a year of playing it and AM A LITTLE LOOPY.

The meeting with Kavar does not go as I had imagined. He does half-heartedly apologizing for the Jedi council going overboard in exiling me, but soon enough he runs back to the palace. The general then shows up and mentions something about some Sith Lord manipulating things behind the scenes. Whatever. I just want to be emperor of the galaxy or at least my own pleasure planet.

And that’s it for Onderon, at least for now. On to Korriban!

FFXIV: Back and looking fabulous

If nothing else, Final Fantasy sure loves its gigantic beasties of doom (GBOD). They usually get the right-of-way in an airship traffic situation.

So yeah, this weird Final Fantasy kick that I’ve been on this past week or two has led me sauntering back to XIV. It wasn’t that far away; I had eyed it as a possibility for a 2018 experience, although I originally thought it would be later this year. But I’ve found that when there’s interest, there’s no reason to wait with games. Figured it couldn’t hurt to sub up for a month, see if there’s some stickiness there, and if there are still oversized Moogle loveseats.

Oh good. I needn’t have worried.

Even though it’s been, oh, 10 months or so, it probably took me about 15 minutes before I slipped back into XIV’s controls like I never left. The mission I logged in to find myself staring in the face was a combat-escort deal, so I had to get reacquainted with my fighting skills quickly. It helped that there weren’t too, too many of them.

I treated the first night back like a mini-reunion tour, hitting up the buffet of FFXIV’s offerings. I ran a few quests. I quickly healed a hard mode dungeon (without a single casualty, thankyouverymuch). I teleported over to my Free Company’s new guild hall, which was quite cozy and decked out.

Yeah, I think I’ll be hanging out here for the duration of the game’s existence. Lots of books to read, you know. You all have fun putting yourself in mortal peril for a handful of gil.

I even went back to my personal room, which was… not as bad as I remembered, but definitely not up to Syp’s standards of personal housing coziness. I’ll have to work on that.

Probably the most of my time was spent trying to catch up with the updates to the glamour system since last I was in the game. I heard about this new dresser thing that let you make templates of cosmetic sets, and since I had about three vintage Final Fantasy wardrobe sets sent to me as veteran rewards, I wanted to start fresh with a makeover.

But that was much easier to conceptualize than to execute. The thing about Final Fantasy XIV is that while it’s very robust in its feature set, it doesn’t do anything the “normal” way that you might see in most other MMOs. Sometimes that’s fine, it’s just different, and you get used to it. But I’m not going to make that concession with the glamour system. It’s restricting, frustrating, and way too awkward to use.

I spent too much time (during which my anger spiked) as I tried to get this cosmetic set applied. I had to look up where to go for the glamour prisms now (Grand Company) and I bought 20 that I ultimately did not need. But my pieces wouldn’t show up in the dresser options, and Google searches didn’t help in that regard. Eventually, my guildies helped me out by telling me to try adding these pieces to the armoire (!?) and then the dresser would recognize them.

And because that makes no sense whatsoever, of course it worked.

Anyway, since I’m also playing through Final Fantasy IX right now, I went with the Tantalus outfit. I won’t lie — this set pleased me. No cat tail, at least on this character, but it’s spot on. And now I’m ready to dig back into the main storyline and see what dopey elves need help with this year.

LOTRO: Fine, Mordor, you win

Dear Future Syp,

No doubt you’re reading this because you’ve decided to come back to Lord of the Rings Online after another extended absence, perhaps because some shiny new content has released, and perhaps because LOTRO is like an old girlfriend you can’t quite get out of your head. It’s part of your MMO marrow, and I understand that.

You’re probably checking out this post because whenever you come back to an old MMO, you’re curious about your most recent adventures, where you left off, and why you took a break. I think I can answer most of that for you.

You just about got through the entirety of the base Mordor expansion, although your time, attention, and interest started to flag in the final zone. In fact, you never quite finished up the last zone, choosing instead to focus on the Black Book of Mordor epic storyline — and even that you left undone, with three or so chapters to go. It shouldn’t be too bad.

So why did you leave? Because LOTRO just wore you down. No, to be fair, it was Mordor in particular that wore you down. The slow progress. The omnipresent gloomy atmosphere. Those public dungeons that took just about forever to do. The lack of any exciting new carrots to chase. You couldn’t even be bothered with the new allegiance system, and the more aggressive lockboxes didn’t help any.

Mordor just wasn’t thrilling for you. It wasn’t eye candy, and in the absence of a welcoming and enjoyable environment, story is all that’s left. And while there were highlights, it wasn’t as memorable as it should have been.

Plus, there was that weird feeling like you were playing in the game’s extended epilogue now that the ring had been destroyed. Sure, you knew that there were things to be done, places to go, and fights to be had, but it all felt downhill. You understand that? Sure you do.

Best of luck with your quests, future Syp. I know you want to see this game through and that you might regret the time you took off that you could have put to use. But quite frankly, you needed the break or else you would have seriously started to resent the game. Mordor ended up being Moria Part II with its oppressiveness, and just like everyone needed to get out of Moria, you needed to get out of Mordor.

Say hi to your Lore-master for me and give your bog-guardian a pet on the head. He was a loyal fellow for having followed you so far.

Sincerely,

February 2018 Syp