KOTOR 2: Nar Shadda part 1

(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.)

First stop on our intergalactic Jedi roundup is Nar Shadda, the Hutta smuggling moon. From a SWTOR player’s perspective, it’s of particular interest because it’s one of the key locations in the MMO, and I have never progressed this far into KOTOR 2 to see what this early version looked like.

Meanwhile, a cutscene takes us away from the ship to a meeting of bounty hunters — including the HK-50s, some busty Twi’leks, and a very enraged Wookiee. The mob boss, a projected man named Goto, tells them that they’re to shadow me but not to apprehend me… because when there’s one Jedi, there’s often more, and he wants more.

Oh hey! It’s the spectre of Episode 1: The Phantom Menace! Thanks so much for making me think of that movie, devs.

First impressions of Nar Shadda? It’s pretty grungy and comes in all shades of grey and steel. This is a far cry from the neon landscape of the MMO, I’ll tell you that.

Pretty quickly, I’m introduced to one of the local situations, which is the oppression and abuse of refugees by the local crime boss.

I’m staring to wonder if the artists of this game were working strictly in greyscale. It’s like the third such sterile steel environment we’ve seen so far, and it does not endear me to this planet.

I quickly find out that bounty hunters are all over the place trying to bring me in, and my quest objective here is “engage them enough in the hopes that the people behind this make themselves known.” So I’m making myself bait. Great.

I do my usual routine of methodically exploring the map, talking to everyone, and hoovering up quests. I bump into this gentleman, who says that he used to own the Ebon Hawk. Well, finders keepers, buddy. Buzz off.

A random cutscene shows more of the Sith lords — hey, it’s in the title of the game! — making their way somewhere on a ramshackle star destroyer. In addition to Darth Craggy, who we met before, now we meet Darth Skullface and Darth Mask. They’re suitably evil and all of that, and I cannot deny that the look on Skullface is working for me.

It always struck me as a little weird how interspecies romance works in the Star Wars universe. I guess if the two look somewhat human, it’s OK, but when you get three eyed weirdo here coming on to a Twi’lek, can you really blame her for being repulsed? Why is he even interested to begin with, she’s only got two eyes!

A string of dialogue options ends up throwing me into a dancer’s outfit for a Hutt. Obvious shades of Return of the Jedi. I don’t even know why I’m doing this, although I assume that it’s for some sort of quest that I need, so I play along.

I do have to say that the character model of my hero is absolutely bizarre when she’s near-naked — her waist is way, way too small, especially when you look at her with clothes on. What happened here?

ESO: Welcome to elf hell, population me

It’s not an Elder Scrolls game if you don’t start out as some sort of soon-to-be-freed prisoner!

My search for summer entertainment continues, and I thought it was only fair to give Elder Scrolls Online a real shot, especially considering the whole Morrowind release. Morrowind is, to date, the only Elder Scrolls game I’ve played for any great length of time. It was so expansive and weird back in the day, and I wouldn’t mind a hit of that nostalgia.

So I bought the Morrowind expansion and rolled up a new Nord Warden, because if I’m going to play this game, I’m going to have pets, and that’s all there is to it. I rather enjoyed the tutorial, which features a breakout (of sorts) of slaves on a small island. One thing I noticed right off is that there are other players everywhere. Everywhere. I really thought it would have been more instanced, but nope, it’s like playing an MMO back in the day where they weren’t afraid to show you someone else’s face.

Some people learn the hard truth about how elves let you down from first-hand experience. Poor sucker. He should’ve known.

And yeah, I’m aware of the irony that I’m playing an expansion where it’s like Dark Elf Hell, with those pointy-eared jerks everywhere, but I guess that’s a theme. FFXIV: Heavensward was awash in snooty elves too. Why do I play fantasy again?

“Hey! That island? The one that looks like it’s 90% erupting volcano? Let’s swim toward it!”

It took me a little while to get my “game legs,” but all in all it wasn’t too bad. I started stealing like the klepto that the Elder Scrolls games condition us all to be and started down the path of animal mastery.

Nothing like waking up from a long sleep while wearing armor and a shield strapped to one’s back. That’s going to leave a few bruises.

Wow, that’s a very familiar sight indeed! Morrowind the expansion is apparently a prequel to Morrowind the game, so everything’s kind of stepped back in time a bit but not too much that ZeniMax couldn’t capitalize on the nostalgia factor. For me, I just took my time, slowly explored, and got used to the systems. I like that this starting village was a lot smaller than the one I got thrown into when I played the last time. I don’t want to be overwhelmed at the start.

How do you make elves even more attractive? Give them bloodshot eyes and a condescending attitude!

I actually enjoyed the dialogue and careful pacing of the story. At least there wasn’t ten quests off the bat to do, but just one that allowed me to focus on what’s going on and start to comprehend the lore of the land. We did a brief dungeon crawl — by “we” I mean “me and a dozen other players who were all scrambling all over the place which made it feel a lot less dangerous and more like a Black Friday sale at Walmart.”

The ghost effect was really cool. You don’t often see skeleton ghosts in MMOs, for some reason.

Hey! It’s the giant flea taxis! I remember those!

Sure, I didn’t make a huge amount of progress that first night, but the music, the story, and the experience was pretty involving and left me quite entertained. I’m not fully sold on the combat or armor design, but so far it’s going a lot better than expected.

LOTRO: 10 weeks, 10 years

I thought it was fitting that the final week of LOTRO’s anniversary scavenger hunt quests started out for me on a hillside above the Party Tree, watching fireworks erupt up to about eye level. Small thing, but it was cool to me and I enjoyed watching for a few minutes.

So! 10 weeks of doing the new anniversary scavenger hunt cards, and we’re finally at Year 10. There was a pub crawl — Gondor, this time — but I went with Bilbo’s scavenger hunt instead. It seemed more thematically appropriate, plus most of it was bunched up conveniently in Eriador.

I applaud the devs for wrangling enough targets for the Bilbo, considering how little he is actually in the game and trilogy. It all started with an envelope on the mantle at Bag End that once held the One Ring, and I couldn’t help but get a chill at the floating text description when I clicked on it.

Of course we were going to have to head back to Gollum’s cave (didn’t we do this one already on a different week?). I keep forgetting just how dang far this cave is in Goblin Town, but I shouldn’t complain seeing as how all of the mobs are too afraid of me to attack. Plus, I always enjoy checking out the wall art when I visit. My four-year-old saw the painting of Gollum up there and shuddered: “UGH! I don’t like him!”

Probably of greatest interest to me, personally, was that the hunt sent me into the Dale instance, which I think I had only ever visited once, during a press tour a long time ago. I wasn’t aware you could just scale this dungeon down to level 20, but that made it a nice cakewalk while I went around gathering up rememberances.

If nothing else, the scavenger hunts have reminded me that I really do need to dive into more dungeons, even if I’m in carebear “tourist” mode to see the sights instead of taking the real challenge on headfirst.

With the final week done, I received a flood of rewards. There were a couple of neat housing items (I really do like the cloak rack), but then apparently just doing one of the cards each week was enough to trigger a final batch of rewards that included a deer pet, a mount, and a full set of silver dragon armor. Hey, I’m not complaining! I am glad I didn’t kill myself trying to do each and every card, however.

Following all of that, there was one last surprise — a bonus mission of sorts that was uncovered by the community by piecing together the “scraps of paper” we’d been awarded over the weeks to figure out map coordinates. This led to a rarely visited lake in Bree-land where the new Standing Stone Games logo was made manifest. Well, most of it. I got a laugh out of the fact that the devs had said in an interview that they put floating stones around their main pillar to keep it from looking too phallic, but of course you can’t just have floating stones in this game. Doesn’t fit the world. So phallic pillar it is.

There was a brief quest to do a chain of five emotes, after which I got my own phallic pillar for my house. Now my bags are bursting and I need to go do some decorating before turning my attention back to Bingo Boffin!

Try-It Tuesday: The Sims 4

No, that’s not my house. My house looks like something you’d see on a “before” part of a home makeover show, where the audience gasps and says things like, “Who could even live in a place like that? Mercy me!”

OK, so I had a jonesing for some Sims action — it had been far, far too long since I played any sort of Sims game apart from my brief (and bugged) foray into the original Sims earlier this year. The Sims 4 had been on my “to play” list for a couple of years now, although I’ve held off because it didn’t get the most glowing of reviews. However, it was on sale for $20 last week and I figured it was high time to check out the latest incarnation of the Sims franchise before Sims 5 is announced.

I used to be such a Sims-head (or whatever they call addicts to this series). Both building houses and watching a life simulator take place are deeply gratifying types of gameplay for me. And, as I found out this weekend, the Sims games are perfect for audience participation.

When I loaded this game up, three of my children ended up congregating around my computer and giving me all sorts of advice about how I should make the characters, what I should put in the house, what I should make them do next, etc. This wasn’t annoying at all, but rather a really fun group activity for us. The kids had so many giggle fits over the different hairstyles, Sims emotes, and activities the Sims could do. And when I created little versions of them, they got even more invested. It was great to bond over video games in this way, I must say.

So what about the game? My first impressions were very positive. I love the look and aesthetic to Sims 4. It’s a little more cartoony than the last installment and has a “softer” feel, but is definitely Sims at its core. There doesn’t seem to be any meters for the characters’ moods, but rather just icons and mood states, which works out well.

Building a new home was mostly intuitive. There’s a lot I have to learn about doing this well, but I got the basics pretty quickly. I liked that there were options to plop down fully-made and -furnished rooms, but I always prefer to start from scratch. What I didn’t like is that you couldn’t start with a blank neighborhood map. It’s my tradition to demolish everything, evict all families, and make everything just mine. This game resisted me on doing that, and that was kind of annoying.

What we all ended up enjoying the best was to watch the characters without interfering. They were like little soap opera stars, all super-emotional and highly emotive, and that connected very strongly with my kids. Of course, they were incredibly meta by wanting to watch whatever the sims were watching on the TV, which made me a little cross-eyed to consider.

As I fiddled about with yet another house design, I found myself really wishing that there was an updated Sims Online that would allow for connections to a huge pool of players instead of just my own characters. I’m crossing my fingers that Maxis adds deeper multiplayer functionality to the next edition of the series, whenever that arrives.

DDO: Gnomes, noises, noses, and nostalgia

I won’t bore you too terribly with my own personal gaming crisis, because (a) it only applies to me, (b) will come off sounding like I’m a petulant man-boy who can never be entertained, and (c) further illustrates how wishy-washy I am on any given day toward various MMOs. To sum it up, I haven’t been able to really settle down with MMORPGs this summer. The burnout that started in WoW seems to be extending all over the place for me, and all I really want at this point is one game that will grab me, keep my interest, and give me plenty of goals.

I’ve been flicking through various titles just to get outside of my immediate roster, kind of like how you might do with other games or books or movies (for the record, I’ve been scaling back on games this month to do more writing and reading, so it’s not like I depend solely on MMOs to be my free time entertainment). Revisiting some older titles, trying out a few different ones, and thinking about ESO’s Morrowind now that it’s gotten some good reviews and word-of-mouth.

One of my old favorites I did return to was Dungeons and Dragons Online. It was like jacking into an overdose of nostalgia. Back in the day — around the beginning of Bio Break’s run, in fact — DDO was a heavy part of my gaming rotation. I loved this game so very much and enjoyed the group runs with friends immensely. I still think that the format, the multiple campaign worlds, the sheer variety of class and race builds, and the GM narration is brilliant. Of course, the visuals are dating even more so than LOTRO, but I suppose you have to get over that if you’re going to give the game a chance in 2017.

I rolled up a Gnome Bard. The Bard wasn’t new to me, but the Gnome was. Somewhat bigger nose, funkier hairdos, and a little leaner than the halfling race. I liked it, and I know that I always had a fondness for the Bard’s hybrid approach. I didn’t do any grouping that night, but I did run through the familiar tutorial quest and then the first dungeon solo, trusting in my fleet footing and ability to heal myself to save the day.

When going back to old favorite games, I find that sound design is a crucial key to unlocking memories and familiarity with a title. DDO has such distinct sounds, and it wasn’t long before they were triggering a flood of feels.

I have no idea how many people play DDO these days, but I think I might spend a little time finding that out and seeing if a brand-new character can find any company for some of these dungeon runs. There has been so much content and so many features added to the game since I last played in, oh, 2010 or so that I imagine that I’d be set for most of the summer if this was something I really wanted to do.

For now, I’m going to bash some skeletons, see if I can find my machine-gun crossbow again, and have a lighthearted fling with a former friend.

The weird world of RuneScape

I have to ask: Does RuneScape boggle anyone else? I mean, its very existence and popularity? Some MMOs seem to exist in an extremely sheltered bubble where its community is far removed from the rest of the genre, and this has to be one of them.

It’s one of those games that never gets a lot of press or mentions, save for the rare occasion. Yet it’s been running since 2001 and doing phenomenally well. It’s one of the only MMOs that I’ve seen pull off a “classic” server and seen that become even more popular than the main shard. It pumps out updates at a ridiculous pace, involves the community in all sorts of design decisions, has a yearly convention, contains the largest MMO soundtrack ever made, and just came out with a large summer expansion.

Yet no one ever talks about it! People don’t seem to want to read about it, because RuneScape stories don’t get great hits over at Massively OP. If I do ever hear someone mention it, it’s usually in the context of “I used to play this back when I was younger and couldn’t afford World of Warcraft” or “This game has some of the most involved quests ever.”

Maybe it really does come down to a separation of communities — the RuneScape community doesn’t care for the larger MMO community, and the larger MMO community sees RuneScape as a “kiddie” game that’s to archaic or grindy for everyone else.

Every so often I give the game a brief and half-hearted stab. It does seem like it would take a lot of time to really get into, and that’s not time I have to spare right now. But when I do get into it, it certainly feels and functions much more different than many MMOs I’m used to playing.

So here’s one rather annoying “feature” of RuneScape: You can only make one character per account… ever. And there’s no re-rolling. I found this out when I went back and saw that the last time I was in, I made some ridiculous-looking man as a character, and I wanted to start over as a female character and to go back through the tutorial. But no, there is no option for that. I did some scouting around, and it seems to be the policy of the game to stick you with a single character per account period, maybe unless you subscribe or something. But why can’t we restart?

It’s a boggling question made more aggravating by players who defend the setup with a “well, why would you NEED to?” Other than I might just want to, I might have been away for a while and would like to experience it fresh, and I might not like my character’s looks? It’s a ridiculous limitation that I don’t see elsewhere. And sure, I could create a new account (and might, some day), but that just annoyed me so much that I logged out feeling mildly disgusted, then sat there and mused about how “other” this game comes across to a non-RuneScape player.

I wonder if that’s how that community sees us?

Thought experiment: Becoming an MMO musketeer

Every so often when I enjoy a good fictional franchise of some sort I get a hankering to replicate that experience in an MMO. I can’t be the only one who creates thinly veiled mockups of book, TV, or movie heroes in a game (at least the concept; I don’t try to replicate looks or create a twisted version of the in-canon name). So this week I’ve been reading the fourth Greatcoats book, Tyrant’s Throne, and once again feeling a strong urge to play a Three Musketeer-type in an MMO.

This, upon deeper reflection, is not as easy as it sounds.

My thought experiment today is to try to find the best game and class that would hew to a finesse-oriented sword fighter who (ideally) wields at least one rapier and possibly a pistol as well. It would be a class or build that focused more on precision and rapid attacks than powerful swings.

Is there really a class like that out there? MMOs have no shortage of warriors with giant two-handed slabs of metal, paladins with their sword-n-board, and “blender” types with two swords and a penchant for swirling about. But not a lot of fencers and duelists come to mind. So I decided to investigate on the premise of making a character that was as close to the fictionalized ideal of a musketeer as possible.

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way: FFXIV’s Red Mage. It certainly has a look, with the flouncy hat, long single-handed sword, and quick attacks. It’s a strange hybrid of melee and magic, with half (more?) of its moves devoted to long-range spells, dashing in for some swordplay every so often.

Guild Wars 2’s Mesmer, oddly enough, has a candidate as a musketeer in the Mesmer. When she’s using a one-handed sword and pistol, she looks an awful lot like a fencer and can do some wicked moves. Again, some magic at play, particularly in the field of illusions.

If I want to hold out for Crowfall, there will be a Duelist in the group, and that seems as close to the pure concept as we’re going to get. Looks like it was definitely inspired by the musketeer fantasy too.





Blade Dancer in RIFT is a little along these lines, although it felt more rogue-ish with all of the waving around of the swords/daggers than precise.

Another game that has a Duelist is, why not, Path of Exile. Even looks the part, so I might have to give that a try.

An option would be Dungeons and Dragons Online. The class builds are pretty flexible and I know that there are rapiers in the game. Probably a bard build?

Tree of Savior has a fencer sub-class, as does Rose Online and Grenado Espada. Warhammer Online’s Witch Hunter was definitely in this vein, but that ship has sailed.

And of course, if I wanted to go to the scifi end of the spectrum, Star Wars might have a class or two that likes to duel with glowy swords.

Any other obvious fencer/musketeer-type classes I’m missing?