Batman vs. Jedi: The Dark Knight of the Force

Some days I feel like designing titles to blog posts that will result in the most hits.   Without direct references to pornography, of course.  How’d I do?

It’s referring to the fact that I spent a weekend mostly away from MMOs and into single-player games.  I wasn’t really planning for it, but as I’m spacing LOTRO out, I’m mostly done with Guild Wars, and I’m giving Fallen Earth a little break before diving back in, I figured I’d go where my heart led me.  And it led me to two games I bought in the past but never completed: Batman Arkham Asylum and KOTOR 2.

To my delight, they both proved quite engrossing.  I’m not anti-single player games these days, but most of them have lost their luster for me.  RPGs are difficult to play knowing that they’ll end and the world isn’t persistent, and other titles might boast more visual appeal but lack the depth I’m used to with MMO mechanics.

Batman has a terrific, almost Bioshock-like look to it, and I’m happily chewing through the story.  The game’s been widely praised for its controls, and oh my goodness, they’re just perfect.  Moving and fighting are easy and intuitive, and I like how it slowly ramps you up to more complicated techniques as the game continues.  Plus, getting to hear Mark Hamill as the Joker is always a treat.

I probably won’t be playing Arkham City for a while (it’s on my Christmas list), but it’ll be nice to finally wrap this one up without that nagging feeling that it’s on my “to play” list.  Don’t you hate that?

KOTOR 2 is a slightly different proposition.  I talked about it the other day, and most of that holds true: It is unfinished and not quite KOTOR 1, but there’s a nice darker bent to it that makes it worthy of playing through.  I actually think that the opening segment on Peragus station is incredibly creepy, and as I’ve felt in the past when I’ve played it, I couldn’t wait to get off of it and to places where people were less dead.

For the SWTOR fan looking to whittle away the month or so until launch, it does and doesn’t fill the void.  I mean, we’re dealing with 2004-era graphics, which looked pretty impressive back in the day but are noticeably lacking in color and lighting effects now.  The combat is “meh” although I’m having fun building a dual blaster-wielding Jedi — no lightsabers for me, no sirree Bob!  Pew pew!

While there’s pretty much no aspect of the gameplay that’s similar to what BioWare is prepping for SWTOR, there are two reasons I can see why it’s worth playing (at least for me).  The first is to just “live” in the KOTOR universe and get reacquainted with the places, major players, factions, technology, and whatnot.  The second is to get back into the spirit of KOTOR storytelling, especially with the morality choices and surprise twists.  It’s kind of cool to get to know an evil Wookiee, and I’m finding this a good refresher course for what happened with Revan and the state of the galaxy, 30 years or so prior to the events of SWTOR.

I know a lot of folks are excited to the point of pants-wetting over Skirim, but the Elder Scrolls series never had much of a hold on me, and based on my brief excursions into Morrowind and Oblivion, it’s probably best just to wait until the discounted “game of the year” edition comes in 12 months or so.

So what about you?  Enjoying any good non-MMO video games lately?

Is KOTOR 2 destined to be forgotten by Star Wars: The Old Republic?

Finding the wait for Star Wars: The Old Republic unbearable?  Can’t get into the beta?  Since we still have over a month to go until launch, there’s enough time to dip into the “prequels” (so to speak) of BioWare’s first MMO.  You know, Knights of the Old Republic, and, um, that other one.  I think it had a 2 in its name?  The one that nobody ever talks about?

In setting up my new laptop, I was sorting though all my software and came across my discs for Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords, AKA “The KOTOR game I’ve tried to play twice and never finished.”  It got me thinking about KOTOR 2’s weird place in this whole franchise, and if it’s being overlooked by both fans and BioWare when it comes to SWTOR.

Of course, KOTOR 2 has a few strikes against it.  It wasn’t properly finished, it was done by Obsedian rather than BioWare, it was buggy as crap, and it never got the rave reviews that KOTOR 1 did.  Then again, it didn’t force you to play alongside Carth Onassi, so there’s a plus there.

But for all of the discussion swirling around SWTOR’s connections to its predecessors, I’ve never heard anything about KOTOR 2 references.  Mostly it’s just “You’ll hear more about Revan and, oh yeah, there’s HK-47, huzzah meatbag!”  In fact, from my observations, I think the only element from KOTOR 2 that I’m seeing in SWTOR is the blind people race that looks suspiciously like KOTOR 2’s Kreia (what with the hood over the eyes and all).

I’m not the only one to wonder this.  There’s a 51-page thread on the SWTOR forums titled “KOTOR 2 being ignored” that struggles with this issue and notes that KOTOR 2 isn’t mentioned at all in the SWTOR’s in-depth timeline.  The OP quotes BioWare’s Rob Chestney who addresses the topic:

“Even though KotOR 2 was developed by another developer, lots of folks at BioWare played and enjoyed it, including myself. If you look closely within the game, you will find several references to events or characters from KotOR 2, and we absolutely treat it as canon. I will also say that there have been discussions about the final fate of the Exile, who was indeed a woman according to the canon.

When outlining the Timeline series, though, we skipped over the events of KotOR2 for a few reasons [he goes into a few spoilers].  Because the events of KotOR 2 didn’t really change the political landscape of the galaxy in any significant way, it’s really more of an historical footnote to the Jedi Civil War rather than a major event in its own right.

This is absolutely not to say the story of KotOR 2 wasn’t important. Taken in the context of the Timeline series, however, we decided it would be confusing and that the next note in the history of the galaxy should be the Jedi Civil War.”

Even with the confirmation that KOTOR 2 is being treated as canon and it’ll be referenced in SWTOR, I have to wonder if that’s a bit of smoke and mirrors for the fact that BioWare doesn’t really have incentive to link to this game which wasn’t made by their own company.

BioWare’s stance is that KOTOR 2’s events didn’t really impact the galaxy as much as SWTOR, although players are quick to differ on that, citing many wide-ranging effects that KOTOR 2’s story had.  Some players say that BioWare is attempting to quietly retcon KOTOR 2, or at least remove portions of the story that contradict what the studio wants to have for SWTOR.

KOTOR 2 certainly is not a hot topic on SWTOR fan sites and podcasts — I’ve never heard it mentioned — and I feel that the sequel will eventually become completely ignored to the point where people new to the series in SWTOR will never know it existed.  Is it too obscure and forgotten at this point to really give much attention to anyway?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.

Presenting our new podcast: Too Long Didn’t Listen!

Yup, that’s right — Syp now has a podcast!  I’ve teamed up with Merric AKA Dodge from A Casual Stroll to Mordor to do a weekly half-hour show called Too Long Didn’t Listen.  It’s going to be over on MMO Reporter as part of that network, but I’ll be sure to let you know when new episodes are up.

Like… this one!  Our first!

Basically, we wanted to do a tight, quick, fun show that takes two big topics from the past week and jaw about them for a little bit — hopefully with some humor and insight.  The first show was a blast to record, and I can’t wait to see where we go from here!

Head on over, give it a listen (or, y’know, don’t!), and let me know what you think!

Winter is breaking and spring is on the move!

A week ago Spinks wrote a thought-worthy post wondering if we’re currently in a “long dark winter of MMOs.”  In the article, she writes:

“And as Winter is coming in real life (in the UK at any rate), it feels as though MMOs are drawing into a long Winter too. SWTOR and GW2 may be the last ever AAA MMOs as we would know them, and now more than ever it seems to me that we could be remembering lessons from the past.”

Oddly enough, I feel the exact opposite.  I think we’ve been in a long “winter” season for MMOs and are currently making the transition into spring.  As a Michigander who’s intimately familiar with long winters, the imagery hit home.  Winter can be a dull affair where the world descends into whites-and-greys, where the weather is inhospitable, where the sun is seen less and less, and where depression, melancholy and boredom often sets in.

Looking at the past couple years, I think this adequately describes the MMO scene.  It’s not that we haven’t been playing MMOs (we have) or that there’s been no news or no discussion, it’s just that we’ve been more or less in a lengthy hibernation following the MMO glut  2008/09 (Warhammer Online, Wizard101, Age of Conan, Aion, Free Realms, Champions Online).  2010 was a sad affair for new titles, with piddly-to-middling MMOs such as Star Trek Online, Final Fantasy XIV and LEGO Universe sporadically making the scene and then fizzling out.

I had huge hopes that 2011 was going to be better, as I figured that many of the huge projects in the works would make their debut, but really we’ve only seen the debut of RIFT (an admitted success) and a handful of smaller, often F2P titles.  MMOs we’ve been following have been delayed, pushed back, or otherwise kept in the development cycle longer than we’d anticipated.  So there’s no wonder that some might feel like we’ve been slogging through a winter season, looking in vain for not just new MMOs but new paradigms as well.

I think this is about to change with 2012.  I think spring is almost upon us, and I’m a-tizzy with excitement.  We first have the launch of one of the most anticipated MMOs of all time, Star Wars: The Old Republic, on December 20th, which really makes this a 2012 title for all intents and purposes.  On top of that, there’s the April launches of TERA and The Secret World, Guild Wars’ beta and (hopefully) launch, WoW’s next expansion, and so on.

Those don’t tickle your fancy?  Even if you aren’t putting any stock in the big name efforts, there’s plenty of promising potentials waiting in the wings.  38 Studios’ MMO.  WildStar.  ArcheAge.  Turbine’s secret MMO.  Blizzard’s secret MMO.  Neverwinter.  PlanetSide 2.  EverQuest Next.  (Maybe) Fallout Online.  Marvel Universe.  Warhammer 40K.  World of Darkness (although, y’know, don’t hold your breath on that one now).  Dust 514.  Salem.  Wizardry Online.  Transformers Universe.  Defiance.  Otherland.  Shadowrun.

Just looking over that list of games, I’m gratified to see just how diverse they are.  Scifi and fantasy, big IPs and small ones, hardcore permadeath and carebear coddling, shooters and tactical thinkers, sandbox and themepark, sequels and original projects, console and PC.  SWTOR, GW2 and The Secret World could all go bust and I’d still have so much to be excited for it’s not even funny.

But just having new games in the making doesn’t necessarily mean that other aspects of an MMO “winter” will go away.  Perhaps there is a lot of burnout, jaded cynicism, and restless attitudes out there.  Maybe some of the most faithful have been burned too many times to want to become excited ever again.  Who knows, we may even need new lifeblood in the community — new bloggers, fansite owners, voices — that can replace those who have since retired.

With the new competition comes changes to older titles, which have to adapt to survive.  It’s no surprise that we’ve seen a heapload of F2P conversions of subscription games in the past two years, and even some of the most longest-running MMOs have reason to step up their game and try a few new tricks or face extinction.

But on the whole, I’m optimistic.  I feel like spring is about to dawn, and I’m ready to bust out the shorts and go jogging through it all.

League of (not so) Legends

Color me surprised as anyone else to say this, but for the past week I’ve been dipping into the cool waters of League of Legends and finding them delightful.

I really hadn’t planned on returning to LoL following last April’s brutal indoctrination, but several members of my Guild Wars guild was moonlighting in LoL on a daily basis, so I decided, “Why not?”  The best part is that we’re not doing the PvP stuff, just PvE matches against bots.

I know, it seems counter to the “spirit” of the game to do so, but for me it’s made all the difference.  I’ve never been shy in saying that, to me, PvP is stressful and it is rarely fun.  I’ve given it quite a few tries across many platforms, but it’s never stuck.  The combination of rude players, the much faster pace of combat, and the pressure put on your team to “win” makes me hunched over and nervous.  In real life, I rarely like competitive activities either, much preferring cooperative endeavors.

So it is certainly welcome that LoL has a PvE option, and spending a few nights experiencing it with my team has really warmed me to the game.  I’ve always liked League of Legends’ look, its sound, and its “attitude,” if you will.  It’s charming in a World of Warcraft-type of way and I can dig it.  Being part of a team that’s trying to back each other up and accomplish a great task is almost heady.

It’s also proven to be more relaxing as a learning environment.  I’m still figuring everything out, but it’s not so life-and-death as the PvP atmosphere cultivates.  I’m trying to master the newbie basics — don’t die, earn gold, help push, harass enemies, etc. — while researching how best to build and play characters.

I’ve purchased a few, but right now my favorite is Tristana.  She not only rocks in the cute/attitude department, but I like fighting at range, her abilities are straight-forward, and I’m actually starting to take down bots and stay alive more than I was doing with, say, Nunu or Annie.

It’s a good time to get into LoL as well, since Riot just gave out free 10-win IP boosters (IP is an in-game currency that you can use to purchase characters and stat-building runes) and has something planned for its two-year anniversary on Thursday.

Recently on Mutant Reviewers: Time Travel Week!

Our staff at MRFH did a superb job churning out reviews and articles covering time travel films of all sorts.  Check it out!

You can’t go back in MMOs (mostly)

While I do think that MMO nostalgists tend to wax a little too strongly on about how their game was SO great “back in the day” without acknowledging or remembering how crappy some of its features were and how some of the improvements that have come since were as a result of people being fed up with those elements, I can relate to the feeling at times.  There’s a keen sense of loss when you realize that you can’t go back to how things used to be, no matter how much you liked them or how great they were at the time.  Life and MMOs are all about changing, something that is often necessary, inevitable, and at times undesirable.

Over this past weekend a lot of players, both past and present, were evaluating the news of World of Warcraft’s fourth expansion with mixed feelings.  Some are excited, some cautious, some angry, and some perplexed.  I can’t see anything ever pulling me back into WoW no matter what they added or changed, so my opinion on whether or not this is a good move on Blizzard’s behalf is moot.  It may be the right direction, to angle it toward a younger set (it’s hard to argue that panda-people and pokemon are the result of marketing going after older demographics) and try something more whimsical than Cataclysm’s apocalyptic bent.  It may prove to be disastrous.

But for me, I’ve sent a couple moments here and there realizing that WoW is so far removed from the game I originally played as to not really be recognizable any longer.  And, for better or worse, that saddens me.  I’m sure a lot of the changes that have happened are for the better, and I’m certainly not saying that original vanilla WoW was far superior.  But it was a fun ride, especially in that first year or so when it was brand-new, when we put up with all of Blizzard’s stumblings because we were instantly addicted, and when it felt slicker than anything else we’d seen.  The “we” there is the royal We, by the way.  I speak just for myself.

The WoW of 2004 would simply not recognize the WoW of today, except for the character creation screen and its still stupidly limited visual choices.  The pace of leveling was much slower, the world (at least, to me) felt huge and often very dangerous, and hitting milestones like level 40 and 60 were major accomplishments instead of Hour Two speedbumps on your way to 90.  I know with games like EverQuest, there have been efforts to try to recreate the original feel and progression as much as possible, but even with that, it’s not really the same as having been there when it happened.  MMOs are more than just patch notes and expansions, they’re also about community and culture.  When I (slightly) mourn the loss of WoW circa 2004, I more mourn the loss of its culture than the actual version of the game itself.

You can’t go back.  It is just how it is.  You also can’t fight the moonlight.  Trust me, I’ve tried.

 

Finally, something for my lap!

Looking around me, I think I’ve become a complete techno-geek.  I try not to be a first adopter of everything and not to be “that guy” who has to go out and buy super-expensive gadgets all the time, but I’m certainly not lacking for them at this point.  My in-laws are forever buying new iPads, gadgets, computers and other doodads, and I know this drove my wife nuts when she lived with them, so I really try to hold back.  Plus, it’s about contentment — being happy with what you have, and not getting new things unless you really need (vs. want) them.

That said, last week I bought a new laptop after saving up for a few months.  It’s a purchase that’s been brewing for a while — my seminary netbook stopped working (it wouldn’t receive a charge) after two years of use, leaving me without a mobile computer.  This normally isn’t a problem (I have both a work and home computer), but I’ve started to realize that a laptop was going to become necessary for both my jobs.  I needed one for Massively when I’m on the go, and I’m already looking at a few lengthy trips coming up in that regard.  And for my church position, I’ve needed to use powerpoint a lot more for meetings and whatnot.

My budget was $600, and I started doing research on the best computer I could get for that.  I didn’t want another netbook — they’re nice, but extensive typing and trying to do big projects on a tiny screen became annoying.  Plus, power-wise they’re on the dinky side.  So a regular laptop it was, with priorities on word processing, some basic graphics work, and (yes) gaming.  The last part was the most difficult, because good cheap gaming laptops aren’t that common.  I was eyeing an Alienware Mx11 for a while, but while they were previously $600, they’re now in the $900-$1100 range, plus they are smallish and lack a DVD drive.

So instead I ended up with a Gateway NV75S02u, ordered fresh off Amazon on Thursday and received it on Friday.  Not too shabby!  For my purposes, it’s perfect.  It has a large screen, Windows 7 with a basic edition of Office, large hard drive, a nice chunk of RAM, and an integrated AMD Radeon chip to help with MMO gaming.  It’s not going to be the best gaming platform compared to a desktop, but it should do the trick.

It feels weird to have yet another computer, but I’m having some fun setting it up and even enjoying sitting on the couch with my wife while working instead of being huddled away at my desk.  Hopefully it’ll come in handy next month when I head off to California for a week!