It’s a good day — three new soundtracks!

icostI was pretty psyched to discover not one, not two, but three new online game soundtracks are out this week in the Amazon MP3 store (and presumably elsewhere as well):

  • Elite: Dangerous: 86 tracks! This one doesn’t come out until tomorrow, however.
  • Infinite Crisis: This release was a complete surprise, but 28 tracks, I’m not knocking it.
  • Izanagi Online: Mobile MMO releasing this month, 20 tracks.

As always, these will be listed along with any other links to MMO music (free and paid) on the Bio Break MMO Music page.

LOTRO: A return to the Shire

musicYou know how it is with growing older — sometimes you want to go back and revisit your youth, to see if you can recapture some of what made the places you used to frequent so special. Of course, that’s a great way to be disillusioned as well, but it doesn’t stop us from doing it.

This week is the 7th anniversary of my LOTRO kinship, the Lonely Mountain Band. To cap off festivities, there was a concert and a special guest speaker at Ales & Tales last night. That was enough encouragement for me to return to the place of my character’s youth, the Shire.

outfitMan, I have not been back to the Shire in what feels like ages. After months in Rohan and Gondor, it feels like a completely different world to return to a place where pie-tasting, mail-running, and player concerts are the norm. It’s great to see that it’s still a place where players congregate in large numbers.

I took advantage of the moment to whip up a new outfit, as I had become a little bored with my current wardrobe.  I worked with a piece — eastenmet armor — that had frustrated me in the past, but I think I got a combination that came out looking good. I like the high collar and how it all goes with the campaign backpack. I think I might even be looking at the outfit I’ll be wearing through the end of the game.

Speaking of finishers, I am happy to report that I finally wrapped up Update 15, including the epic storyline, and can add LOTRO to the list of games where I have a capped character waiting for the next big update (which, for this game, will be sometime this month).

I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen in the coming year, but my heart and love for this game will always be way back in the beginning, back in the Shire. I doubt we’ll ever experience a place like that again in this game.

Battle Bards Episode 48: Back to the ’90s

Ultima_Online_coverDid you know that the Battle Bards have a time machine? Well they do, and this week they’re setting it all the way back to the 1990s! With the help of guest host Scott (Ramblings of a MMO Gamer Guy), the crew examines music from an oft-overlooked era of MMO gaming (and soundtracks). Just because it’s older doesn’t mean it’s ancient!

Episode 48 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Main Theme” from Neverwinter Nights AOL and “Excalibur” from Asheron’s Call)
  • “Bard Guild” from EverQuest
  • “Dungeon” from The Realm Online
  • “Minoc” from Ultima Online
  • “Main Theme” from Nexus
  • “Neriak” from EverQuest
  • “Main Theme” from Meridian 59
  • “Nebula” from Rubies of Eventide
  • What did we like the best?
  • Mail From Tadamichi (Quiet Life and In Memories)
  • Outro (featuring “Age of Heroes” from Dark Sun Online)

Listen to episode 48 now!

Quote of the Day: Basements

“Advice To Game Developers

Please perfect your basic artwork assets, models, and animations before releasing anything to the public. It’s a huge turn-off to see placeholder models and animations that make your game look like a high school project. It’s literally the first thing I evaluate to determine if your development effort is serious business or you’re just a bunch of kids messing around in somebody’s basement.”

~ Endgame Viable

Pillars of Eternity: My new obsession

pillarsI’d like to say that I spent my gaming time this past weekend on all manner of MMO adventures, but save for a couple brief stints in LOTRO (more on that later), I was completely and utterly enthralled with Pillars of Eternity. It’s got its hooks in me bad in a way that, say, Dragon Age: Inquisition failed to do.

I was a bit sick, so I sat on the couch under blankets with my laptop, going through this game with increasing fascination. It really is, in so many ways, a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate 2 (and many other Infinity Engine games). Instead of taking the full 3-D pseudo-cinematic route of Witcher and Dragon Age, Pillars opted to return to an isometric format where the backgrounds are mostly detailed 2D with the characters and some objects in 3D. But more than just the looks, Pillars is such a callback to the grand old days of CRPGs that its triggering waves of nostalgia and admiration in me.

What I like best, I think, is that it took the old format and updated it to make it much more user friendly and interesting. Character creation and growth, for example, is not a hodge-podge of complex statistics or overly simplistic choices (hello Mass Effect), but a clearly explained system that has many, many choices to allow you to develop the characters you want.

For example, I rerolled my main character after an hour into the game because I had a better idea for her. So now she’s a Moon Godlike (for the endurance boosting) that I’m making to be an expert fencer. She dances on the front line, striking quicky, all while doing chants and summons (and if you’re a Chanter, let me say that Phantasm *rocks*. I had one fight where my whole party was knocked out and the Phantasm helped to kill the last guy and save me from a complete wipe).

Combat is more interesting now, too, with the dual pools of health and endurance. Instead of just having one mass of hit points, you have endurance (which I think of as “fight hit points”) and health (which are “campaign hit points”). It’s easier to heal endurance than hit points, but both are important to keep up. I like how it allows for your party to be knocked down during a fight but not killed outright, making for less stressful encounters.

But probably my favorite aspect of Pillars of Eternity so far — about 8 hours in — is the story and worldbuilding going on. It’s just an interesting fantasy world with plenty of cool little stories (many of which told in descriptive text boxes) and nailbiting choices. I like how there are dialogue options that open up depending on all sorts of background choices — what your stats are in various areas, what your race is, where you’re from, etc. And some parts are simply rendered in “choose your own adventure” prose with sketches displaying the scene in question.

I also really like — and recommend — the option to turn on the voiced developer commentary. It’s slightly spoilery, but I appreciated the insights into making every zone and knowing some of these background details.

Right now I’ve managed to clear out and claim my stronghold, which definitely reminds me of Baldur’s Gate 2’s keeps. Oh, another detail I am warming up to: fights don’t give you XP. They do give you lots of loot, but not tying XP to combat frees players up to fight, stealth by, or talk past some groups. That’s cool.

Anyway, I’m highly recommending this game, especially if you have fond memories of Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, or Planescape: Torment. Here’s hoping the fun keeps going!

Pillars of Eternity: Character creation

chanterPillars of Eternity wasn’t high up on my “must play” list until lately — or even on my radar, to be honest. I saw pictures of it, it looked like an old-school isometric, but didn’t investigate much. But what a difference a week can make, especially when a lot of people are talking about something, and then you see a few positive reviews, and you take the time to really look into it. It was about yesterday that I realized I really had to play this, and so I picked it up today on GOG.com as a lunch break game.

I just finished installing it and rolled up a new character. Already I’m really impressed with the character creator. First of all, it’s easy to understand with a lot of explanations and tooltips so I don’t feel like I’m lost. Second, there are SCADS of options. I was really torn on a few of them, but listened to my gut when it got tough. I very much liked the several screens of options choosing a background — which had nominal stat boosts attached, but I always like picking the backstory to my characters.

So I created Syppi, a Hearth Orlan (the halfling-ish wildling race) Chanter (summoner/buffer) who hails from the White that Wends. I buffed up her primary stats, but invested a few extra in doing damage and making her a little more perceptive. I’m most happy that I have a spell to summon a phantasm to fight for me; one of my favorite things in the Baldur’s Gate games was to use monster summon spells in fights and overrun my enemies with tons of pets.

Back to the game!

The Secret Adventures: Souvenir shopping (Savage Coast #8)

(You can follow my playthrough of The Secret World on Bio Break’s projects page! WARNING: Spoilers and stories ahead!)

How to get ahead in Kingsmouth (side mission)

  • So the name of this mission has me wondering: In the Savage Coast, are we still in Kingsmouth (the town)? Is the entire island also considered Kingsmouth’s territory? Because there is a bit of geographical separation as well as the fact that the first zone is called Kingsmouth.
  • Anyway, heads on stakes. Gotta put an end to whoever’s doing that.
  • The tracks I follow to the culprit (a headhunter wendigo) are pretty faint and a good example of how TSW puts quest elements out in the open that nobody notices unless they’re on that particular mission.

Army of the Deep (side mission)

  • An insanely easy mission, this one has you standing in one place while a few waves of draug come by. Intercept, kill, then on to killing the big bossy. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Through the looking-glass (side mission)

  • Well there’s a body on a spit in the middle of the river, and as usual, it’s my job to go check it out. I think I will qualify for the world’s most experienced coroner before I finish this game.
  • The body is booby-trapped, as “The Collector” comes to… er, collect me? He and his minions are those sackcloth guys. Nothing tough, even after stepping on a mine or two.

Red’s Tackle (side mission)

  • Another breadcrumb quest, this one tasks me with returning a tacklebox to Red. This is perfect, as I was heading there anyway!

Ami Legend (action mission)

  • I am a sucker for a good quest name pun.
  • I’ve always liked Red’s Bait & Tackle. It’s a warm, friendly place that’s right in the middle of a whole lot of trouble, yet Red doesn’t look too concerned about that. Maybe it’s the protection of the Council of Venice guys right outside, I dunno. Red and his family are the main introduction to the Wabanaki tribe, who will feature much more prominently in the next zone.
  • No, Red’s Bait & Tackle does not sell dynamite. According to the sign.
  • Anyway, Red talks about how bad things are coming for Ami (the “bait”) — and that I am the finishing line. I love how my character looks behind her when he says this: who me?
  • I head out and start killing Ak’abs. Let me tell you, if you like dealing with Ak’abs — and who doesn’t? They’re so delightful — this is the mission for you. Lots and lots of Ak’abs.
  • Eventually I end up at a dark, dank cave, where Ami joins me on a stroll through its twisted innards. I actually like having her along, since she provides some companionship and exposition (mostly flavor text, but still). Also, she fights a bit!
  • Ami says that the Ak’ab slept “for generations” below the ground, but like cicadas, they’re back.
  • I’m really not a fan of this mission. It goes on way, way too long for one thing — the cave is very long, and you have to fight your way all the way into it, guard Ami while she destroys the nest, then fight your way right back out. Plus, all of this fighting is in cramped quarters against the always-dashing Ak’abs. So glad to have finished it.

Another bug hunt (side mission)

  • In the cave that we went into in Ami Legend, there’s a dead soldier lying there. It’s up to me to collect his and his buddies’ dog tags, for my scrapbook, I assume! I like being able to do a couple of missions at the same time.
  • It’s a little disturbing to me that all of these four soldiers are in their underwear. What… is the story with that?

The Light that Blinds (side mission)

  • Why Red and company have been able to survive while surrounded by Ak’abs and draug is given some explanation in a series of wards (now in dreamcatcher form!) placed around the store.
  • I assemble my own natural ward with the help of some feathers and sinew from a deep one. The final result not only completes the mission, but gives me a one-shot item that disables Ak’abs. Perfect now that I’m done fighting them!

Crustacean curse (side mission)

  • Hey, you know what would be a great activity to do while wandering around in a draug-infested bay? Check lobster traps! Boy this game is wonky some times.

The player, not the piece (action mission)

  • Red is playing chess with Ami’s daughter Kyra and having a conversation with her about winning. It’s laden with meta references to playing TSW as a whole — with mentions of the endgame, not fighting every battle, being the player instead of the piece. At least, I want to think that it’s meta.
  • With the double AP event going on, I’m gaining enough to buy my way into the second-tier skills. I’m trying to shore up my current build (which is already terrific). I swap out Thor’s Hammer for Electrical Manifestation (due to the latter’s purge ability. Unfortunately, it’s also on a long timer, keeping it from being in every fight). I also add Critical Control to jack up my crit rating even further when I’m attacking hindered targets. Ideally I want to work up to Ice Manifestation, since its hinder works well into several of my synergies.
  • Your enjoyment of this mission will largely be dependent on whether or not you like staking up corpses. If you do, you’re in for a treat and I really do not want you to be my friend. Essentially, I work my way up the draug chain of command by burning and staking the bodies of the underlings, then killing and staking the little boss that comes after me for doing that, then the same with a bigger boss, then a much bigger boss, and then C’thulu himself. It’s messy, weird work.

sq4Breakfast of Champignons (action mission)

  • Ami indicates that the Wabanaki are at a disadvantage in this supernatural takeover because of some division that happened several years back. Still, there might be a chance to harness the island’s strength and have it fight back.
  • To do this, of course, I’m going to have to run around and collect mushrooms from all over the zone. Why? I am not sure why. Sometimes — many times — The Secret World doesn’t really explain what’s going on in a mission. It trusts that you’re smart enough to figure it out from context and clues, or it’s just jerking you around. That’s the first rule of The Secret World: It loves to jerk you around.
  • The second rule is: This game hates you. It’s OK to hate it back sometimes.
  • So I do my dutiful chores and pick mushrooms, which is made joyful by the fact that all of the mushrooms poison me, damage me, or summon every Ak’ab within the tri-state area to pay me a house call. I actually die to a mushroom, believe it or not.
  • I did bump into one sackclocth creature that had a rather chilling name: His Daughter’s Keepers. Brrrrr…
  • Mushrooms acquired, I mix up a recipe, eat it, and get high on shrooms. This somehow warns me that there’s a large pod about to give birth and that I need to destroy it within five minutes. See rule number one of The Secret World (above). I will say that the color palette change is actually kind of cool for this part.

SWTOR: Judge, jury, and executioner

I’m still logging into SWTOR every few days to run a batch of dailies on Yavin-4 for rep and comms. I’ve almost got all of my gear up to item level 186, which is my primary goal before 3.2 comes out. Speaking of which, that looks like it’ll be a great update — a new planet plus the outfit designer! I’m still rocking one of the flight suits, but more looks would always be welcome.

I have to keep an eye on my credits, because every time I near 350K I know I have to go spend them on something or else face the dreaded untouchable escrow. At 348,000, I took a break from Yavin dailies (I’m getting really good at these!) and headed back to fleet for some shopping.

I saw a player in trade chat advertise that he was selling a complete set of adaptive Dark Seeker armor for what appeared to be an affordable price. I don’t know how much it’s really worth, but it looked pretty cool and I thought it would make a nice gift to my lowbie alt. Past that, I went to the GTN and started buying mod upgrades for HK-51. Since as a free-to-play player I can’t get the companion armor set reward from the Yavin weekly, this will have to do as a substitute.

I was kind of laughing about this in guild chat the other day when we were talking about the F2P restrictions in this game. For some, it either pushes them away from the game entirely or forces them to sub up. For me, it’s a powerful incentive to get stubborn and figure out ways around them or how to live with them.

With the armor sent off to my alt, I logged onto her to grab it and test drive her character a bit. Thursday is a thin, white-eyed Sith Warrior who is going so dark side and sarcastic that I’m sure she won’t get invited to any birthday parties from now on. I had already invested some credits in expanding her inventory during my free sub week, and apart from lacking the option to disable helmets and gaining access to artifact equipment, she’s pretty much set to go.

The Dark Seeker armor looks amazing, by the way. I’m not a fan of Jedi/Sith robes, so fortunately this is more of a comfy-looking tunic with a cool design and the most awesome face mask ever. It looks a little like General Grevious’ from Revenge of the Sith and adds a hint of voice modulation. It definitely helps to get into the mood of the character.

I only did a few quests at the start of Korriban, the most notable of which was to judge three prisoners who were being held for various crimes. Not only did I get to judge but also got to carry out the sentence. The light side options were to let them go, but dark side offered both a straight-forward execution and a trial by combat. I let the spy fight me, I killed the former Imperial officer outright, and I sent the last guy (who was definitely innocent) back to prison. Hey, I needed a dark side option and that was more merciful than torturing him until he confessed!

Don’t judge me.