Can MMO desert zones ever be cool?

desert

Hope you like sand, because you’re in for a lot of it!

The other day an unnamed party and I were recording an unnamed podcast in while we were discussing the music that played in MMORPG desert zones. I can neither confirm nor deny that you will hear this conversation in the future, but boy did it trigger a few nasty memories. In Syp’s hierarchy of most-disliked video game biomes, the list goes:

  1. Volcano & lava zones
  2. Desert zones
  3. Jungle zones

There are different aspects I hate about each, but what sets desert areas apart is simply how boring most of them are. There’s only so much you can do with a desert, since its very definition means “lacking anything cool.” Developers probably can’t be blamed for dumping the desert area design on the interns, because the their toolbag is pretty limited here. Cacti? Sand? Scorpions jumping up out at you from the ground? A tan rock? A brown rock? Spiders? The one token oasis? TAN. BROWN. BROWN. TAN.

Yawn.

I guess I can’t blame MMO devs for working deserts in — after all, it’s easiest to draw upon actual earth biomes for inspiration, and deserts are pretty prevalent on our planet. But can they ever do anything neat with them? I doubt it. At least, I can’t say that I recall any that have made me go, “Ooh, that’s cool, I want to spend a whole bunch of time questing here!” No, usually I feel like I’m being punished for some unknown crime that dogs me from game to game.

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Now of course, I’m mostly speaking of a classical desert that seems to be the go-to type for video games. When devs aren’t being totally lazy by creating zones with a whole lot of nothing in them, they attempt to emulate two popular desert concepts.

There’s the Egyptian motif, with pyramids, more green (thanks, Nile!), large statues, and all of that ancient world feel. It’s not a terrible theme, and it’s probably the one desert type that I will gladly tolerate. I kind of regret that I never got to see Warhammer Online’s Land of the Dead, which was (from what I understood) old Egypt meets undead horror. Often this gets paired with the Indiana Jones/archaeology flavor.

Then there’s the Arabian Nights collection, the enjoyment of which depends on how much you like that source material. Me? Not really. I don’t like the architecture, the over-reliance on camels, and genies who have never really granted me the wishes I wanted in video games.

My preferred desert, although it is rarely labeled as such, is the western Utah badlands design. Lots of picturesque rocks, a wild west feel, deep canyons, and the like. Maybe it’s the addition of a wider color palette — especially those dusky reds — that helps make it a more enjoyable desert.

Still, if given a choice between a desert zone and anywhere else (save Volcano Land), I won’t give my exit from the desert a second thought. Luke Skywalker couldn’t wait to leave Tatooine, after all, and I don’t blame him.

Can MMO desert zones ever be cool? Can’t see it happening. Include it so that you have the whole earth collection if you must, but you’ve got a massive uphill climb to ever getting me to gush about such an area.

Retro Gaming note on Quest for Glory III

So just putting out there a note that I’ll be ending my run through Quest for Glory III as of yesterday’s post. I wanted to briefly explain why so that the series didn’t end with a big question mark hanging over it.

Essentially, the game isn’t letting me progress any further. It’s a problem that I’ve had before with this finicky title, but after an hour of trying all sorts of different approaches and looking up guides and solutions, I’m at my wit’s end. I cannot get to the point where I marry the prisoner and I don’t see a way forward at all.

And to be honest, I’m ready to be done with this particular game. Quest for Glory 3 has been pretty underwhelming, even with the graphical upgrade, and I’ve been doing the Quest for Glory games in my retro gaming playthroughs for months now. I need a change, and I have my sight set on a much different title for next weekend.

Quest for Glory 4 (if not 5) will still be open for future play, as I’ve heard that the fourth installment is one of the best. But it’s time to move on and I hope you understand. Thanks for reading!

Quest for Glory III: Warriors, come out and play!

marriage

(This is part of my journey going checking out Quest for Glory III: Wages of War. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

To recap the recent events in Quest for Glory 3: The Simbani captured a Leopardman, which I doused with a potion and revealed it to be an attractive girl, which — for some reason — I must marry now. She’s still in the cage and seemingly gets little say in the matter. Also, I’m a hero.

init

So the chief has set the “bride price” of the prisoner pretty high to keep his son from marrying an enemy. He’s totally cool with me doing it, provided that I can unload a lift pallet full of Costco goods and go through an initiation ritual to become an official warrior of the tribe. Nevermind that I’m a genuine prince that’s fought Baba Yagas and genies and elementals, I gotta go do his obstacle course before I’m considered a warrior. Where’s the option to initiate combat with this doofus?

dino

Fine. I’ll go kill a dinosaur for its horn. Some might call that poaching, but this game sees it as a part of proving what a stud I am. And in the end, isn’t that more important than conservation?

girl

I bring the horn back to the village, but the game won’t let me give it to the chief, so I’m in another one of these weird sequential stalemates. Dejected, I go to the prisoner, who gets surprisingly chatty after her long silence. Good for her for sticking up to this whole “forced marriage” thing.

Also, “magic-less cow person” will be used in my vocabulary today.

horn

In all seriousness, I was about ten seconds away from rage quitting and uninstalling this game at this point. I couldn’t seem to get past where you had to give the chief the horn, as the game wouldn’t let me progress. I tried talking to him with and without the horn, I went back and killed a second dino, slept a night, put the horn in a chest, took the horn out… and then finally, right when all hope was about gone, something triggered the next stage of the story.

rite

This means that I get to go through the initiation rite to become a warrior, finally. Also, hooray. That’s a deadpan “hooray,” dripping with sarcasm and reluctance. You people have no idea what being a hero entails. It’s so many tests.

ring

The initiation rite is quite lengthy and consists of several bouts of running (automatic), two minigames (wrestling and spear-throwing), and two adventure game sequences that prize brains over twitch gaming. I rule at the last category and categorically stink in all of the others compared to Yesufu.

fall

Good sportsmanship is seen, as I help Yesufu get up after he falls into a hole. Then he beats me in a foot race, because I can’t even win against a guy who is hobbling. The nice thing — and I’ll give the game this — is that I become a warrior whether I win or lose against Yesufu. I guess if I win I get more points, but who has ever cared about points in a Sierra adventure game? I just want to move on with the tale.

drum

At least with all of that nonsense over and done with, the tribe sees me as a fellow warrior and Yesufu peddles his influence to get me the Leopardmen’s drum o’ magic for the peace accords. I guess that was worth throwing a spear or two, right?

Book recommendation: The Palace Job

First of all, if you love reading ebooks and you’re not already hooked into Bookbub, please rectify that as soon as possible. Basically, Bookbub asks you to create a profile in which you select your favorite book genres, and then every day it combs through Amazon’s Kindle library looking for good deals on (usually) popular or high-rated novels.

I really love this service, because every day I get that email and scan through the three or four books it has found. I’d say at least once a week I end up picking up a cheap (or free!) book through this service, and I’ve discovered several new series through it. Great stuff.

I mention this because a few weeks ago I was informed that there was this fantasy trilogy, Rogues of the Republic, that had gone on sale. I think I got all three novels for $12 or so, although the first was just two bucks. They looked like lighthearted fantasy fare, which I welcome after too many of the recent wave of ultra-gritty, grim epics.

It turns out that this was a good buy. An extremely good buy, as evidenced by the fact that I’m excited enough to write a blog post about it. The first novel, The Palace Job, had me hooked from the first chapter on. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before — it’s basically Ocean’s Eleven in a fantasy realm, with a ragtag assembly of thieves trying to pull off a master heist. Yet as it often is with novels, it’s in the presentation.

And The Palace Job’s presentation is superb. The worldbuilding is fascinating, kind of a high fantasy meets magicpunk, with ogres and spells and the like. The characters are individually interesting, with definable characteristics and funny quips. The best thing is that this book meets my standard of having every chapter be interesting and important. It moves along at a fair clip, with the thieves outwitting the bad guys while doing and saying lots of pretty hilarious things. There’s a shape-shifting unicorn (can’t say I’ve read a lot of fantasy with a unicorn as a main character), a death priestess with a talking warhammer, an expelled magician, a couple of escaped prisoners, a nerdy lockpicker, a Spock-like contortionist, and Dairy, a 16-year-old virgin doof who is as sincere as he is prone to messing up the plan.

Anyway, I’m really glad that there are three books, and after being so impressed with the first one, I read up on the author, Patrick Weekes. Turns out that he’s a writer for BioWare, having done a lot of stuff for the Mass Effect series. The guy wrote Tali, my favorite character from that series. Now the quality of the writing makes sense, eh?

World of Warcraft: Ninja class first impressions

ninja

I am no longer playing a Death Knight in WoW; I am Ninja, now and forevermore! See her slash! Dash! Spin! Jump! And then vanish into the night!

I’ve gone against the grain of DK’s sporting these giant two-handed slabs of metal called “swords,” electing instead to transmog Apocalypse into a stylish and slim katana. It’s amazing what one little change does, because now I see my character as lithe and precise instead of clumsy and huge. I keep wearing a red bandana to help with the illusion, which is the best I can do considering that plate wearers don’t have a lot of ninja hoods on hand.

So what is Ninja Syp up to? I’ve been plowing through several Suramar quests and generally found myself agreeable to this endgame zone, which is fortunate considering how much future time I’ll probably be spending in it. I also ran a dungeon last night that was a little too long thanks to a poky tank and a couple of unfortunate wipes. Yet it did pay off, as I was rewarded a pair of titanforged 820 pants. Hey, for me, anything over 800 is very much appreciated these days.

elf

Let’s talk about Suramar’s Nightfallen for a minute, because I feel this should be addressed. I’ve actually seen some calls from the community to make the Nightfallen a playable race, which elicits such a deep, groaning sigh from me that it shakes the very foundations of my house.

Really, people? You want to play not only another Elf, but an emaciated heroin junkie Elf that kind of looks like the offspring of Voldemort and Dracula? Yeah, nothing like pronounced rib cages and hip bones to shout “sexy!” and “heroic!”

And here we are, being asked repeatedly to spoon-feed them mana for their addicitons when the craving gets too bad and they stop being functional. Are we enablers? I feel like we’re enabling. We should ship ’em all to a detox clinic — preferably run by Gnomes — and get some hearty broth in them. Nurture them back to real health. Show them a bright future. And then teleport them all to the planet’s core, because they’re Elves and all.

deathstar

Hey, I found a Death Star pipe in Suramar! I think I can see Emperor Palpatine down there. How’s it going, man? Still falling?

parachute

Once I hit friendly with the Nightfallen (oh, this is just a sham of a friendship), I put a bookmark in Suramar activities and started in on Stormheim to get the last friendly rep that I needed for the world quest unlock thing.

There was a nasty bug that I encountered early on that is apparently quite common. The whole battle in the skies quest kept shutting down on me until I logged out, logged back in, and dismissed my pets. Oh, the quest itself was pretty cool and a great way to be introduced to this final leveling zone.

I even enjoyed being paradropped into the action, although I have to wonder why the army, which has spent gobs of gold on building these flying fortresses, can’t afford parachutes without obvious rips and holes in them. Also, why are we using parachutes? Isn’t this a world where mages can zap you with slow fall and that’s that? Shouldn’t there be an intern in the jump bay whose entire job is to cast a spell so that you can float like a feather down to the ground?

My progress continues to be slow, mostly due to the fact that I am so tired these days. There gets to be a point in the evening where I have the time to game but my body just goes, “Nope! To bed with you, mister!” and I must obey.

RIFT: Magic 101 and Opie-um

l1

It’s been 50 days since I preordered Starfall Prophecy (already?), which means that I finally was able to buy the highly desired Opie squirrel mount. He’s definitely adorable — it’s a squirrel, how could it not be? — and the Christmas lights all over him give him a seasonal flair (oh I know they’re artifacts, but they totally look Christmasy).

Yet my joy quickly turned sour as I realized some of the drawbacks:

  1. The mount shrinks you when you get on, which isn’t always desired.
  2. It’s not treated as a normal mount, so you can’t use your abilities and hop off or use the same dismount key. This is highly inconvenient if you’re trying to use Opie as a regular steed.
  3. Opie’s famed artifact hunting abilities require pellets to activate, which I don’t even have, so you can’t use them all of the time.
  4. It’s bind to character, not to account, so you can only get one. Whaaat.

Sigh. Buyer’s regret. Wish I could’ve spent those 50 tokens on something else.

l2

Feeling like I’m hitting a roadblock with my Cleric, as I’m not finding a reliable avenue for gearing up enough for Planetouched Wilds, I threw caution to the wind and rolled up a new mage so that I might enjoy some questing and leveling instead of just sitting in Sanctum and sulking over not being able to go where I want to go.

Plus, more and more I’ve been wanting to go back to this archetype and resurrect — pun intended — my necromancer build. It’s like playing an old-school World of Warcraft Warlock, and I mean that in the best of ways. DoTs, pets, maniacal laughter, etc.

It took me about a half-hour to get her fully set up with the UI, mail items, and wardrobe, during which I participated once more in our guild’s trivia night. The theme was “serial killers,” and for better or worse, I cleaned house. Think I only got two questions wrong, because I might not be able to reliably shout my kids’ names, but I can pull out dumb trivia like nobody’s business. My grand reward was a spooky skeleton ghost pet, which I thought would compliment my necro theme.

l3

No, I am not going to throw a beach party here. First rule of beach parties, host them away from the giant water tentacles. We lost an entire branch of the family tree last year.

I gave my mage a Victorian steampunk look, complete with bowler hat, and then was off to the races. I have no particular leveling plan in mind, just to quest like old times and then maybe get back into the IA/dungeon track. Seriously, I’m in no rush, because that whole PTW wall took the wind out of my sails in regard to the endgame — and the expansion is coming. When that happens, I can just use my boost to bring her up to 65 and start fresh in a new land.

In the meantime, why not have fun and hunt down some costume pieces? RIFT’s early questing might not be edge-of-your-seat thrilling, but it is relaxing and rewarding. I hit level 12 before logging off, and I’m excited to see how her build develops over time. Plus, new dimension to decorate!

l4

New goal in MMOs: to try to take more close-up pictures of enemy mobs. Sometimes the detail, expression, and animation on these faces can be pretty enthralling — and yet I almost never see them with the camera pulled back.

World of Warcraft: Dark tidings and glad news

s1

I’m the third prettiest thing in this picture!

Whew. I think I can breathe easier. After having some panic over hitting 110 and not really knowing what to do, where to go, and what to prioritize, a little reading and research helped clear that up nicely. If I have a list, a plan of attack and can tackle things one at a time, I can overcome nearly anything. It’s the “DO ALL AT ONCE!” assault that sends me into paralysis.

I think the quests would have led me to where I needed to go in the end, it’s just that I hate wasting time that should’ve been spent more wisely. I’ve had so many experiences in MMOs when I finally discover that there’s some activity that I should have done every day for months now, and I was simply too ignorant to do it. Time lost can never be recovered.

So here is my to do list as it stands:

  • Work on Suramar quests and unlock friendly with Nightfallen
  • Complete Stormheim
  • Get dailies going
  • Finish class hall campaign
  • Consider starting up my Druid in Legion
  • Gear up (dungeons, class set)
  • Professions to cap: Engineering, Cooking, Archaeology
  • Work on flying achievement
  • Artifact research, order hall advancement, artifact leveling, etc.
  • Make money! (My sub is paid through the end of the year, so hopefully by Christmas I’ll be able to figure out some way to rake in enough to pay for WoW tokens in the new year.)

That seems doable. I hate feeling the pull between wanting to just slowly experience all of the zone quests for the first time and wanting to get to a point where I’ve unlocked the world quests and have a character that could actually do group content that isn’t just standard dungeons.

s2

Val’sharah is over, at least. Wasn’t a bad zone at all, and I loved how there was a bit of Gilneas content at the end. It was a pity that this part was really truncated, but still… great to see the people and buildings even for a short while.

Taking the advice of many others, I’m not going to rush into my final leveling zone (Stormheim) for now, but rather have moved onto Suramar to do a little rep work and unlocking of things that need to be unlocked. It’ll all be there, so I’m not stressing it (or at least putting on a brave face). It certainly helps that, for an endgame zone, Suramar is pretty darn beautiful. No annoying jungles, lava fields, or blackened skies of death here. Sure, there are Elf junkies everywhere, but I get to kill a lot of them and that pleases me greatly.

Also, I have an agent on the ground:

s3

Yessss… kill them all, my friend. Make them pay for their arrogance and illogical ears.

I’m really hoping to start clawing my way up to respectable item levels soon. Level 110 isn’t a cake walk; I’ve had a few fights where I died horribly, and that as a Death Knight. I do have an 810 helm from the order hall quest and just received an RNG upgrade on a cloak that turned it into an 825. Good start, at least.

Hey, remember when 720 was all hot stuff? Good times, man. Good times.

My only complaint so far is that dungeons — at least from the few I’ve run — have been overly long and not that lucrative. I do need to make the rounds to all of them, but often they end up being 45 minute slogs that only cough up a handful of pocket change for an awful lot of work.