Heroes of Might and Magic III: The do-over

(This is part of my journey playing through Heroes of Might and Magic III.  You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lanes page.)

wavy1Well after my embarrassing (and short-lived) foray into a main campaign, I was kindly informed by readers that I had jumped into a mid-level campaign instead of the kiddy wading pool where I belonged.  In my defense, the mid-level one was listed first.  So let’s try this again, shall we?

I jump into the Restoration of Erathia, which informs me that I’m a princess coming home after her father died to try to hold his kingdom together.  I feel guilty I wasn’t there for dad’s death, and then I remember that I’m not this person and it wasn’t my fault that she was off on a sunset cruise or something.  I’M SO SORRY DAAAAAD!

wavy2It’s always fun to play catch-up when your homeland has been invaded by the “Dungeon Overlords.”  Wow, great creative naming in this game, devs!

I’m playing as Christian, a level 1 Knight, who starts out with a town and a very modest army.  Time to get a-plundering!

It is a relaxing start, I’ll admit.  We horse up and go on a Sunday drive around the countryside, picking up goods, claiming sawmills for the greater glory of Whateveria, and scattering enemies before our mighty spears.  I stay in range of my town so that I can pick up the new batch of troops when they come online next week.

wavy3So far, so good.  Week two rolls around and I upgrade my posse.  My Knight is level 3 already and on his high horse (although that’s the default setting — I can’t get him to walk around like a normal Joe).

wavy4We spend the better part of the second week in a ship picking up the random goods that are lying about the ocean.  A shipwrecked sailor even gives me the Badge of Courage, but I throw it back to him because I got bored of that book after writing a report on it in the 7th grade.

I keep forgetting to pause during each turn to go back to my city and continue to build new structures.  I need to get in the habit of that.  I also recruit a witch hero because I think Captain Christian and his Mystery Boat will be sailing the seven seas for a while.

Letting go of my Rogue prejudice

Just about as long as I’ve played MMOs, I’ve harbored a serious grudge.  No, not against elves; that’s just common sense hatred against our oppressive know-it-all overlords.  I’m talking about Rogues.  Man, I’ve really disliked me a Rogue or two in my day, and not just because you can misspell their name to become a cosmetic product.  It’s because of this:

rogueThe World of Warcraft Rogue.

In my career playing WoW, no class ended up rubbing me the wrong way than Rogues.  It wasn’t just that they were pretty popular way back when, but that they were a griefer’s dream come true.  A stealth/stunlock class that would come out of nowhere, make you unable to do squat, and kill you.  And because such a class naturally attracted every tool in the world, the kill would then be teabagged and corpse camped.

When I played Alterac Valley or spent some time on an RP-PvP server, I came up against Rogues time and again, and it was never a complimentary experience.  I rejoiced if I could down one of the buggers, but you know what they say: They’d be back and in greater numbers.

So I developed and nurtured a hatred toward Rogues that extended to their kind in all MMOs.  I’d never roll a Rogue, a Thief, or any of their ilk.  I saw their mechanics as unimaginative and (in the case of stealth) slow and boring.  My eye would twitch if I saw a guildie roll a Rogue and I’d quietly scratch them off my Christmas card mailing list.  I’d groan in exasperation if I ended up pugging a group that had a Rogue or two boasting their super-awesome DPS.

The odd thing is that I think that somewhere along the line, I’ve gotten over this grudge.  No, I’ll never like WoW’s Rogues, but I’ve ended up trying other titles’ Rogue-likes and kind of liked them.  SWTOR’s Operative was a lot of fun (Rogues with a rifle, baby) and I like the twist that LOTRO put on the Rogue for the Burglar.

This realization hit me this week as I’ve come back to Neverwinter for another go and actually picked up the Trickster Rogue class.  It wasn’t even a class in consideration when I first started playing, because Rogues.  But the Guardian Fighter and Devoted Cleric ended up boring me, so I thought I’d give something a little different a try.

And strangely enough, I’m really, really enjoying it.  I don’t use stealth that much, but I’m digging how the TR flings daggers lightning-fast and is a blur of pain in the midst of an enemy group.  It’s not a complex hybrid class like I usually prefer, but right now Neverwinter doesn’t have anything like that.

If nothing else, it’s nice to make things die quickly  instead of slow-and-steady like I’m used to.  And it’s nice to bury a grudge.

Guild Wars 2 should get out of the storytelling business

For all that I do like Guild Wars 2, I am still unchanged from my position that the story is seriously lacking (to put it nicely).  And I’m not just talking about the personal story, which has been roundly criticized although I think it does have its moments, but the attempt to tell compelling tales with the living world updates.

I’m going to put this out there right now: I think Guild Wars 2 should get out of the storytelling business and focus on its strengths.  Every two weeks we’re getting a bunch of stuff to do with a vestigial tail of a tale attached.  It’s really forgettable and has ceased to be a compelling reason to log in.

I’ve struggled with putting into words what exactly is *off* with the story here.  I know it is, because it’s not resonating with me in the least, and I just find that weird.  I’m more than willing to meet a game halfway in paying attention and not skipping past the quest text.  When I talk with friends in other games, this general disapproval (or at least complete apathy) regarding GW2’s storytelling comes up a lot.  For a game that gets a lot right — visuals, dynamic combat, a strong achievement system, a fun world to explore — it’s just got one of the most lackluster methods of telling stories.

I think the problem here is multi-fold:

  1. Guild Wars 2 does not have a traditional quest system in place to tell cohesive stories.  Instead, because ArenaNet was trying so hard to distance itself from its contemporaries, it’s handed developers a mess of disjointed tools to try to achieve the same result.  So the in-game mail system, achievement system, instances, and cutscenes are cobbled together to fill the gap, but we lose story cohesiveness in the process.  Let me say this clearly: Achievements are good for optional tasks and rewards.  Achievements are bad as a storytelling mechanism or a framing device.
  2. The writing just hasn’t gotten better.  I’m sorry, but it hasn’t.  I know some people live and breathe the lore of this game, but I don’t care about the history of Tyria until the game tells me a story that makes me want to care.  The recent Halloween update was really embarrassing with its new story addition that ended up being “summon a new bad guy out of a coffin, fight him with candy corn, go do a bunch of achievements to get a living candy corn elemental, put him back in his coffin.”  That’s not a story.  That’s a shopping list that puts me in danger of Type 2 Diabetes.
  3. Guild Wars 2 keeps wanting to go big, with epic world-changing or world-threatening events.  Yet the most interesting stories that I’ve encountered in the game are all smaller character pieces.  It’s like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and how the Scooby Gang got so used to the apocalypse happening every week that it just became routine.  A bigger dragon isn’t going to make for a better story, but perhaps the tale of a family torn apart by a previous dragon attack would.
  4. As I’ve said before, I know pretty much every Secret World NPC by name and heart.  I would be very hard-pressed to name more than a couple of the stable of NPC characters that ArenaNet is using for its living story, and I think it’d be impossible for me to tell you much about them.  There’s the big-eyed Charr and that Ellen lady who won the election and some Scarlet chick who appeared out of nowhere.  Plus others.  They may be deeply written in the devs’ bible somewhere, but they come across as cardboard cutouts in the game.  Maybe this is just my perspective, but that’s not a good sign when your characters are so forgettable — AND when you’re putting the storytelling emphasis on them instead of, I don’t know, my character.
  5. One of the most-requested features I’ve seen is some sort of summary page or ways to re-live past story content so people can catch up on what’s going on.  This is telling.

Short of just plugging in a traditional quest system (which would set off riots because GW2 fans love their drama) or completely replacing the writers, I don’t see this game’s storytelling efforts as getting better.  And I say without malice that the team should perhaps ditch it entirely to create more world, more small events, and more content that can grow and shape the game.  GW2 has so many strengths that it seems a shame to ignore those in favor of trying to conquer this “living world” mountain instead of giving players what works.

Quote of the Day #2: Cantha

I’m going to quote myself here from a conversation we just had at the Massively office:

“Cantha is how you tell normal people apart from frothing-at-the-mouth Guild Wars addicts.

 

Normal Person: Okay, so, whatever new areas you want to make is fine by me.

Cantha Person: IF CANTHA ISN’T IN THERE I WILL KILL MYSELF AND THEN SET FIRE TO THE WOOOOORLD.”

Bio Break’s 27 most anticipated games

wasteland-2-ranger-closeupJust for kicks, I’ve been working on a list of all of the games — MMO and otherwise — that I’ve been looking forward to playing in the upcoming year.  Here they are, ranked from most anticipated to lukewarm anticipated.

1. WildStar

I don’t know if it’s cool or uncool to be rabidly excited about WildStar, but I am.  The look, the housing, the sci-fi bent, the paths, the races, and the world all have me giddy thinking about it.  It definitely is speaking to the part of me that used to love WoW, although I know in my head that it won’t be quite the same experience.  Is it too much to hope it’ll be better?

2. EverQuest Next

Yeah, SOE’s got me on board for their next big MMO.  I like the ideas that are being put forth, although execution of those ideas are going to be the big deciding factor.  But being free-to-play and visually stunning are two big pluses in its favor, and I am tantalized by the notion of mix-and-matching collected classes.

3. Wasteland 2

Wasteland was one of the seminal RPGs from my childhood, and that coupled with my love of post-apocalyptic settings has me really on fire for this title.  Time for the Desert Rangers to ride again!

4. The Walking Dead Season 2

The first season of the Walking Dead absolutely captivated me this year from start to end.  It’s at times scary, horrific, exciting, touching, and nail-bitingly ambiguous.  In fact, I liked it better than the show, and I can’t wait to continue Clementine’s journey (maybe?) in season 2.

5. Dreamfall Chapters

Where Ragnar Tornquist goes, I will follow.  The Longest Journey and its sequel are among my all-time favorite adventure games, and I simply need more.

6. The Sims 4

Every new Sims game gets me so excited for house-building and people-watching, and even though I quickly drifted away from Sims 2 and 3, I will rekindle my hope that 4 has what it takes to bring back the addiction of the original.

7. EverQuest Next Landmark

More of a sandbox title than EQN and sort of a weird game overall to understand, I’m nevertheless on board for a little Landmark action.  I’m certainly not getting my housing fix in my current MMOs, and I’d love to see the EQN engine in action.

8. Shroud of the Avatar

Richard Garriott’s spiritual successor to the Ultima franchise looks more and more promising with each post I read.  I’m on board for whatever comes out, although I am a little hesitant at the sort-of generic look of it in the previews.

9. Star Citizen

I kind of feel like Star Citizen is a cult these days, what with the rabid fans surrounding it, but that’s fine as long as I get a good space sim.  Let’s just hope it’s EVE without the jerks and extreme learning curve.

10. Starbound

This combination of SNES graphics, FTL, and Terraria has me really intrigued.  It’s a procedurally generated scifi adventure game where you spend a lot of time hopping between planets, exploring them, and engaging in a variety of sandboxy activities.

11. The Long Dark

This minimalistic-looking apocalyptic survival sim has caught a lot of gamers’ attention, mine included.  I like the focus on surviving in the northern wilderness with the focus on providing a sandbox experience.  This could turn heads if they do it right.

12. Cube World

This odd mash-up of Minecraft, WoW, Diablo, and Zelda has gathered enough admirers for me to start thinking that it has the potential to be an indie cult hit.  It’s still in development and a lot of its features remain to be seen, but I could definitely see myself jouncing through this world.

13. Out There

Another title in the FTL category — you pilot a ship that explores a hostile universe, landing on planets, and looking for any way to survive.  I really like the comic book style of it and I’m obviously a sucker for FTL-like games.

14. Wasteland

With Wasteland 2 on the way, the team’s also re-releasing Wasteland 1 on GOG and elsewhere.  This is a slightly enhanced version, too, that incorporates the paragraphs into the game itself.

15. The Repopulation

I’ve been pretty dismissive of this indie MMO so far, but I’m starting to come around — enough, at least, to give it a shot when it releases.  It’s reminding me a little of Fallen Earth with even more sandbox elements, and that’s cool.

16. Wizards & Warp Drives

D&D in space with arcade shooting.  Yeah.  I think this deserves a look.

17. Firefly Online

I think that complainers need to realize that Firefly was never going to be a huge AAA MMO and that getting a mobile MMO is a serious win.  We know little about it, but I love the series and will hope it’ll be an at least halfway-good game.

18. Spacebase DF-9

Doublefine is a great developer, and I will be right there on day one to play their space station sim.  By the way, Costume Quest is hilarious — thanks to CSTM for that recommendation!

19. Broken Age

Speaking of Doublefine, here’s an adventure game where a girl  on a fantasy world and a boy on a spaceship have some sort of parallel journey.

20. City of Titans

OK, there’s no big hopes for me on this one.  It’s as indie as they come and probably coded with the wishes and shattered dreams of City of Heroes fans.  But if they can pull it off, that would be a game worth seeing, methinks.

21. DayZ Standalone

I haven’t played DayZ yet, as I’ve been waiting for the updated standalone version to come out.  Post-apoc zombie survival is a great genre, and people did rave about the hardcore nature of it.

22. TUG

It’s a cute sandbox MMO that’s got cute graphics and some interesting social ideas.  OK, make me love you, TUG.

23. Elite: Dangerous

I look at Elite as the backup to Star Citizen.  If one sucks, hopefully the other will be that space sim MMO that I’ve been craving.

24.The Elder Scrolls Online

I’m including this on the list because while I’m not yet on board, I’d be foolish to make up my mind at this point.  TESO has a huge fanbase, a big budget, and a couple of ideas that have started to make me look at it as something other than a very generic MMO.

25. Tablet versions of FTL and Hearthstone

Even though I have both of these on the PC, man I can’t wait until they arrive on tablets.  They both seem just made for that platform.

Update!  I totally forgot these:

26. Project Eternity

27. Torment: Tides of Numenera

Battle Bards Episode 14: World of Warcraft

bardssquaresmallSometimes the Battle Bards have to give attention to the “little MMOs” out there.  Maybe you’ve never heard of World of Warcraft, but you probably have played Warcraft: Orcs & Humans back in the day.  Well, this is the MMO that’s set in the same universe, and believe it or not, it’s got some great tunes.  Let’s give it a listen, why not?

Episode 14 show notes

  • Introduction (including “Main Theme” from World of Warcraft and “Howling Fjord” from Wrath of the Lich King)
  • “A Call to Arms” from World of Warcraft
  • “Elwynn Forest” from World of Warcraft
  • “The Shaping of the World” from World of Warcraft
  • “The Sin’dorei” from The Burning Crusade
  • “Castaways” from Cataclysm
  • “Mountains of Thunder” from Wrath of the Lich King
  • “Stormstout Brew” from Mists of Pandaria
  • Mailbag: Ian
  • Outro (“Salty Sailor” from Taverns of Azeroth)

Special thanks to Tesh for the Battle Bards logo!

Listen to episode 14 now!

Heroes of Might and Magic III: New Beginning

new1(This is part of my journey playing through Heroes of Might and Magic III.  You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lanes page.)

It’s time to dig into the meat of Heroes of Might and Magic III, and to do that I’m going to skip right past the single scenarios (of which there are just dozens) and go right to the campaign.  The game has four campaigns, with multiple sections in each.  Did I mention how much content is in here?  I select the first part of the first campaign, New Beginning.

new2So I’m stepping into the role of Gem, a battle-hardened — yet oh-so-fetching — veteran who’s come to a land under attack.  With her recent acquisition of a first aid tent (yup), she’s going to fight off the necromancer army.  Good luck with that!

I start out with a hero, a very small army, and two tiny cities.  I’m kind of learning as I go here, so I spend a few minutes figuring out how to build structures — I guess I can only make one a day.  I also recruit a second hero, a ranger, and give her a few centaurs as a welcoming present.  They fight like men and they poop like horses.

new3So here’s the starting area.  You can see various landmarks that need to be explored and/or conquered.  I already found an evil hourglass that negates all luck in battle, which I guess is useful for nothing since I don’t want to cancel out my own luck.

I see a Dwarven treasury and swoop in.  The game informs me that it’s defended, so to my first battle I go.  It’s just 20 or so Dwarves versus my 51 centaurs and 10 dwarves, so naturally

new4Yup.  Total faceplant in my first fight.  Can’t get too mad at dwarves, they always rock.  Well, back to the hero drawing board!

Meanwhile, Gem spies what looks like a portal, but she’s turned away by a guard who informs me that I need to find a keymaker’s tent.  Or you could just let me by, Mr. Guard.  I guess that’d be TOO EASY.

Gem turns back north and investigates that fire elemental guarding what looks like some tasty gems.  However, the second I get into combat I see that the enemy is probably going to wipe my nose and ask for another blow of boogers, so I learn from my lesson with the dwarves and retreat right away.

Which, naturally, fails the campaign.

new5As I said, I’m kind of learning this game from scratch here.  I guess that there was a fail condition that Gem couldn’t be defeated, and since I retreated that counted as a defeat.  And we all know that defeats are followed by gimp suit-wearing gentlemen who haul out a guillotine into the middle of a field, set up three braziers, and chop heads off.

Oh well.  There’s always another try tomorrow.

The Secret World: Spooky ooky stories

pumpkinsThis past Friday, Funcom did the second-best thing to dropping Issue #8 on us by releasing the Halloween content.  This is made up of three things: random “kitty” mobs and roaming bosses on Solomon Island; the return of the Cat God quest chain; and the brand-new “Spooky Stories” sidequests.

I pretty much dived right into all of this and didn’t come up for air until I was done.  I hadn’t completed the Cat God last year, so it was great to do it all the way through this time around and get the filth-kitty and the outfit.  Finding a group for the Cat God instance was easy as just about everyone was doing it.

With that out of the way, I turned my attention to the Spooky Stories quests.  Stephen King’s semi-recent Wind through the Keyhole novel impressed me by nestling three stories within each other, the first being a framing device for the second two, and the second being a framing device for the third.  This is what the Spooky Stories felt like to me — stories within stories within the game’s complete story.

They’re also a little different than other quests, mostly in that they’re made up of side missions that are chained to a master side mission that you get in the League of Monster Slayers’ clubhouse.  Danny — the only member of the league currently alive, unless you count Carter — apparently thinks that the middle of a zombie/old god/sea monster outbreak is a terrific time to go around the town, ask the survivors for ghost stories, and then ask you to go collect them.  The twist is that each of the ten stories isn’t just a scary tale, but a mission.  You see, these are stories of the island.  And unlike your typical ghost tales, they’re probably true.  So why not go verify them?

Personally, I think it’s a brilliant way to tell a story and then suddenly insert you into it for the epilogue to each.  Sure, most of them end up being “go to location X and kill the spook that suddenly appears,” but it feels a little more significant than that.  There’s one that takes an urban legend, dumps it on its head, and then has you go into a small instance to get a little vengeance.

The stories themselves are all fairly well-done, ranging from semi-interesting to slightly unnerving.  I can’t say that any of them are really going to keep me up at night — I have conquered Solomon Island, after all — but there’s imagination at work here.  Even better, some of them shed some additional backstory on characters we met, such as Ellis and Sam Krieg.

The centerpiece of the story collection is a showdown with good ol’ Jack the pumpkinhead, which is also unfortunately where the game broke.  The problem is that this is a group fight that requires all members to have a lit pumpkin in their inventory — but if the fight glitches or some of the members drop pumpkins but not all, then the fight fails and there’s no way to get a new pumpkin short of (I guess) ditching the quest and starting it all over.  I ended up in a glitched fight and had to hang out at Jack’s tree for a half-hour while we waited for another group to show up and start the fight.

The rewards here are two-fold.  I consider the stories themselves to be the bigger reward, especially at the end when you take them all and bind them together in a novel that you can read whenever (and don’t forget to read that Sam Krieg short story — you can’t during the quest itself!).  Then there are various bag drops (I got a bloody baseball cap!), a hideous yellow t-shirt that Danny wears, and some nice XP/PAX.

I seriously love the League of Monster Slayers in this game and really hope that Funcom revisits this group in the future.  Helping to collect these stories felt like being an honorary member, and it was a great way to get reacquainted with the island itself.

Especially because in TSW, everything is true.  Even ghost stories.  Especially ghost stories.