How serious is Amazon’s Lord of the Rings MMO?

To be honest, it’s hard to know how serious we should be taking the announcement that Amazon’s teaming up with Leyou Tech to make a Middle-earth MMO. I mean, back when it was just a sole announcement last year from a Chinese company, it was easy to dismiss. There weren’t any solid details or screenshots or what have you, so it was just an idea.

But now? Now the situation has changed significantly, because attaching Amazon Game Studio as a co-developer adds legitimacy and possibility. Not certainty, mind you; Amazon has yet to actually launch a title, although it has cancelled one or two already. And New World, Amazon’s other MMO, hasn’t really made a lot of waves with its test cycle and “back to the drawing board” move.

Then again, Amazon is spending gobs and gobs of money on that Lord of the Rings prequel TV series, and if that’s a hit, then having a Middle-earth MMO (related to the series or not) is going to reap Amazon some nice benefits. And there is a little nervous chatter that Amazon might well see LOTRO as a threat and look to edge it out of the market to pave the way, even though it wouldn’t be a direct competitor in a lot of regards.

The best scenario for Amazon and perhaps the nightmare one for LOTRO players is one in which the company flexes its muscles to get LOTRO’s license taken away prior to the MMO coming out, and then jumps onto the scene with a cross-platform, cross-media title that may well be more about flash than substance in an attempt to appeal to a more mainstream crowd (your Shadow of Middle-earth demographic).

Obviously, it’s far too early to predict or even rationally speculate, but I cannot ignore this the way I did with Leyou’s announcement in 2018. Maybe it’ll turn out to be nothing. Maybe it’ll peacefully coexist the way DDO and Neverwinter do, and we’ll have two Lord of the Rings MMOs on the market. Maybe it’s going to be a different game entirely than what we think. But Amazon has deeply vested interest in Lord of the Rings right now, and this move cannot be a coincidence.

That makes me wonder. Hm.

Blaugust wants your word-thoughts!

It’s that time of year again when we bloggers and writers pack up and head out to our version of summer camp, which we call Blaugust. Yesterday, Belghast announced the official start of this year’s month-long event, and I’ll let him introduce why this is both a fun and helpful way to get into or return to blogging:

We live in a time when blogs are going dark and the hope is to keep infusing the community with a fresh lease on life. Those of us who have been doing it for over a decade now can easily lose hope. It sometimes takes a fresh batch of whippersnappers to keep us engaged and interested in making sure that the community thrives. Blaugust lives on as the inheritance of so many other great initiatives that have come before like the Developer Appreciation Week or the Newbie Blogger Initiative. If you have a blog that is waning in frequency, or if you ever thought of creating one… this month is the perfect time to put those plans into action.

So head on over to his post to read the full details and start gearing up for what will no doubt be a terrific month of both writing AND reading!

WoW: Huh… wha… where am I?

What is this madness? World of Warcraft and a new patch and Syp playing again? Steel yourself, July, because it’s only going to get more crazy from here.

The last time I was seriously playing — and blogging — about regular WoW was all the way back in October 2018. Really? Huh. Thought it was a lot more recent than that, but now that I look back, it makes sense. After about two months into Battle for Azeroth (and two-and-a-half years of constant play prior) I was just not feeling it and drifted away. BFA was fine, but it wasn’t as gripping or spectacular as a lot of us were hoping, and there were other things vying for my attention.

So why back now? That’s probably due to a few factors: enough “fallow time” has gone by to rejuvenate interest, WoW Classic has me thinking about the game more, and the new patch seems to be somewhat well received. Plus I still had several more months of subscription time on my account, and I always hate the feeling of sub time going to waste. Felt like a good time to wade back in, in any case.

Getting back in didn’t prove to be that easy. With two major content patches and one in-betweener since the last time I played, a lot of the game had moved on while my character was frozen still. In fact, I hadn’t even fully finished up all of the regular zone quests, nevermind my war campaign and all of the newer stuff. I hadn’t been closely following the new systems and changes (heck, I had no idea what an essence was). And with a chock-full quest log and no clear direction, that first day back felt woozy and disorienting.

Right. I’m a pro. I know how to do this. The first step was to clear away the mess and concentrate on one goal while I got to relearn systems and figure out what was what. So I untracked every quest in my log save for one or two zone quests in an area and then started plugging away at those. After a while, I dusted off my memory of world quests and worked on the dailies and whatever ones looked like they had attractive loot or reputation. I know that I need tons and tons of reputation in all directions for flying and allied unlocks.

At least the pattern of questing felt familiar and gave me forward momentum. I was going to clear out my quest log before going to the new zones and get a handle on what I needed to do on a regular basis to make progress toward these meta-goals.

In a happy coincidence, on the third day back I bumped into my old guild (which I had been kicked out of due to inactivity). I was happily invited back in only to discover that three months ago the guild had suffered an exodus of a lot of players due to unspecified drama and was now in the rebuilding phase. That’s fine, I’m not picky. I just want some friends to chat with and occasionally join for dungeon runs.

All in all, this feels like a good move back for this month in gaming. A little out of left field, sure, but I see a parallel with LOTRO, DDO, and ESO — all four games offer a lot of recently released content to explore, and that’s more than enough to power me through the summer and beyond.

DDO: Shopping at the Night Market

Man, I should complain more about long quests in DDO, because as of late I’ve been on a streak of short-to-medium ones that have been a delight. Well, a delight to get done with minimal fuss, at least; most of them seem older and thus lacking in spectacle and story. For example, next up on my list was Dead Predators from House J, a fairly standard wipe-out-everything-in-a-crypt rampage.

The DM really tried to sell a sense of foreboding and terror, but I wasn’t having it with this wee cute dungeon that was brightly lit and contained nothing more than I’ve seen before. Some zombies, some skellies, some ghasts — the usual crew. Pew pew, you’re dead, where’s my reward?

I do want to say that the quest giver for Dead Predators has the most repellent expression on her face, even though I did her a huge favor:

“Ugh. Who farted. Did you fart? Was it me? Why does Game of Thrones have to be over? My Aunt Sally keeps sending me political ads on Facebook and I’ve had it. Also I’m pretty sure the art team copied my face from a turtle’s butt, so there’s that to complain about too.”

While I was in House J, I thought I’d stick around and work on some of the quests in the area. The Night Market was level 14, but hey, I’m 16 now and not afraid of a little normal mode adventure. Or so I hoped!

So DDO certainly has a lot of quests that are pretty much story-lite dungeon crawls, but every so often — especially with newer packs — you get more story-driven quests that involve a lot of unique settings and scripting. I would say that this is one of them, as I roamed around the eponymous market on the prowl for some sort of bad juju that was supposed to go down that night. There’s a lot of atmosphere and touring in this first section, and I really enjoyed the ambiance and lack of a dungeon roof.

Fred the Mind Flayer even makes an appearance, disguised as a regular bar patron. Fred’s kind of one of the unofficial mascots of DDO, a nice monster who’s trying to fit in with the normals. He’s awesome.

Long story short, an evil cult (is there any other kind?) unleashes monsters and a rage plague that turns normal people frothing mad. The whole Night Market erupts in pandemonium, and the remainder of the quest is a frantic run through packed streets trying to restore order and not die. I did die, true, but that’s what I pay my pocket Cleric to cure. Stupid one-shot deaths.

Anyway, it was a great quest that actually felt like going through a D&D encounter, and I really enjoyed it even though it was on the long side.

Once that quest was done, it apparently triggered like three or four new ones in House J that popped up all around me. Sure, I’m game to keep on going, especially if there’s a story arc to experience! Next up was… let’s see… Quarantine. Back into the dense city I went, this time to “subdue” (i.e. kill) citizens enraged by this anger plague while trying to find out a possible cure.

It felt a lot like the Culling of Strathome from World of Warcraft, what with killing innocent (if doomed) citizens in the name of saving the greater good. There were also rage bombs to be avoided, although for the most part this was a very straight-forward run through an urban landscape. I actually really liked the layout here and the tileset. I think I’ve spent far too much time underground in this game, it’s good to see the sky while questing.

In the end, I helped to retrieve some supplies and find out that scorpion venom might be a key in staving off the plague. Go me!

Vampire Bloodlines: Forget it, Syp, it’s Chinatown

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2004’s Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Finally I arrive in Chinatown, the last of the four major city hubs of Bloodlines. According to the backstory of this game’s development, Troika had to speed through the final act, which is why Chinatown has fewer locations and quests than the previous zones. And that’s a shame, because I actually like the layout and look of this place. It’s certainly far less sleazy then the other regions, and it introduces the Asian version of vampires, which is apparently different than normal Kindred for reasons that I don’t care to explain.

And, naturally, it houses a giant shark monster. This is totally out of left field but I loved it. It’s kind of why I appreciate this game despite its less savory aspects, because it does have a fun imagination and a wicked sense of humor at times.

Thanks, quest, for making me get these. At least they came from someone who (a) was already dead and (b) not by my hands. Still, I’m going to have to wash up afterward.

Seriously, if you played any character other than a Malkavian, you failed at Bloodlines. So, so many great lines like this one above. I always went as crazy as possible just to see what people would say. Usually they took it in stride.

After far too many shinnanigans to relate — including going through a series of deadly “tests” for a guy trying to fine-tune vampire killing — I managed to secure the much-desired sarcophagus and bring it back to the Prince. Kind of wonder how we got that on the elevator to a penthouse, but nevermind. The only problem left is that the sarcophagus requires a key, and that means more Syp questing because everyone else is too lazy to do this but this four-day-old vampire, apparently.

I do have a showdown with the vampire hunter in his training facility. I absolutely love these adorable vampire and werewolf cutouts for the target range, don’t you?

Next up on the key hunting scene is to take the fight to the Sabbat in a decrepit hotel (that’s not haunted, alas). After another very long bout of fighting — the rest of the game is like this, alas — I come to a room where a couple of bad guys kill Heather. No! Heather! I will avenge you and your poor taste in fashion!

I guess my bad mood started to get to me, because I stopped being friendly to Officer Chunk and let him down very hard. I think I had to kill him later on but I felt really bad about it.

All of the sudden Beckett starts warning me NOT to open the sarcophagus as I near endgame. Listen pal, I don’t even care about this thing, it’s just that everyone else in this city seems to be nuts over it. I’d move to Denver if the game would let me.

Betrayal! As I try to find the Anarchist Nines to piece together what is an increasingly convoluted political situation that really isn’t that interesting, a werewolf corners us in a secluded observatory. It’s the terminator of supernatural beasts, pretty much indestructible to my normal weapons. I cowered like the coward that I am and eventually slunk out of there to find an entire city arrayed against me.

Elder Scrolls Online: Dragons are just overdressed lizards

Elder Scrolls Online is one of those games, I’m finding, that never strongly compels me to log into it, yet when I do, I’m often satisfied with the experience that ensues. I have to kick myself a little to get into gear and play it, knowing that once I do, it’ll be worth my while.

There’s certainly plenty left for me to explore and do, since I’m still just in the early stages of Elsweyr. There are dragons and necromancy and more dragons and cat-people and necromancy. This expansion knows the beats that it wants to hit, and it hits them very often. I’m not that thrilled (or awed) at the dragons here, even though they are animated and voiced rather well. It’s just that I’ve seen them too many times in fantasy games, you know? I don’t even hate dragons the way I do elves; I’m just tired of how they’re all samey and uninteresting.

I feel as though my character concept is finally starting to gel after a lot of experimentation. I know that I’m going to be sticking with heavy armor and a weapon-and-shield set up, so it’s nice to start bending my skill points and gear collecting to that aim. I like the added protection and don’t feel as though I need a lot of magick after winging a few early spells in a fight. There’s something relaxing in the simple art of swinging away until something is dead. Thwack, thwack, thwack.

So if dragons don’t thrill me, what does about Elsweyr? As I’ve said before, the African-inspired landscape is really cool to explore and photograph. The warm, bright lighting helps from making this place seem desolate, which is a real danger when you get into craggy canyons and go for a while between seeing trees.

In one quest, I met a cursed NPC who had the most meta explanation for why he never moves. Maybe that’s why all NPCs are nailed to one spot? That’s some sort of horror I don’t want to contemplate, right there.

I’ll be happy to see this expansion through, I think, but I need to be diligent in keeping up a regular habit of logging in. My new gaming system certainly helps in this regard, as it doesn’t let me neglect any one game on my list for too long. And at least I can remind myself that, unlike some other MMOs I play, ESO is a title that I haven’t rehashed to death. Everything in front of me is brand-new to me, and there’s enough to keep me going for well over a year even if this was my only game.

Has the RTS genre died — or has it morphed into something completely different?

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, my absolute favorite game genre (second to RPGs only) was the real-time strategy game, or RTS. Titles like Caesar, Command & Conquer, Age of Empires II, Rise of Nations, Warcraft II, StarCraft, Majesty, Homeworld, and the underrated Kohan allowed me to grow a scaled-down empire that I could nurture and direct on its path to glory. Oh, and then send a bajillion units to clash with other armies and watch them fight in real time.

I played the heck out of these games and certainly got my money’s worth from their purchases. They were incredibly replayable, especially when you factor in customized maps on top of the established campaigns.

Yet I started to drift away from RTS games — and many other titles — when I got into MMORPGs, and before long they had drifted into my far past. The funny thing is that unlike, say, first-person shooters, I had not outgrown the RTS. Whenever I thought about those games, I still had the same passion and love for them. Yet other than mobile titles like Clash Royale that mimic the RTS style on a vastly stripped down scheme, I wasn’t playing them.

This has changed as of late with the purchase of Warcraft II from GOG.com. I installed that (expect a retro series to come!) as well as Majesty for a weeklong trip to an internet-free cabin. Even as old as these games were, they were still a lot of fun in replaying them, and it made me wonder why I just don’t see RTS games announced these days. Has the genre fallen out of favor? Or has it morphed into games like Dwarf Fortress and Rimworld, where the scale and focus is different than empire building?

After looking around to see what the last five years have produced, it’s pretty slim pickings for the traditional RTS. There is the Total War Warhammer series, 2013’s StarCraft II and its expansion, 2016’s Stellaris, 2016’s Offworld Trading Company, revamps of the Age of Empires series, city builders like Frostpunk, and a few others.

Following that, I did some Google searches on relevant articles and blogs and was relieved to see that it’s not just me feeling this way. There’s a pretty common perception out there that the classic RTS genre is dead — or at least very dormant right now. It’s not completely dead, and there’s a lot of excitement out there for Age of Empires IV (count me in!), but it’s no longer the hot slice of gaming that studios are all gunning to make. Even Blizzard, the former RTS king, doesn’t seem that interested in getting another Warcraft RTS or the next StarCraft expansion out there.

One person pointed to MOBAs as a direct cause of RTS stagnation, which… I guess? They’re RTS on a very small scale but not quite the same build-defend-attack format with armies at your disposal rather than a single character. Another article said that StarCraft single-handedly did the RTS in a similar fashion to World of Warcraft and MMOs.

In any case, at least we have older RTS games to enjoy, some remastered ones to bring them up to spec, and a few on the way to keep the torch burning. Musing about this has put me into a mood to dig up some past favorites and give them another go.