Guest post: Faeldray’s Eclectic Game Music Mix

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While Syp is away on vacation this week, enjoy this guest post from Faeldray of Lair of the Wolf Dragon. After you’re done, check out his blog. Don’t worry, he won’t bite!

Greetings folks! This is Faeldray from Lair of the Wolf Dragon and I’m here subbing for Syp while he adventures in the strange place known as The Outdoors. I hope he doesn’t get eaten by a bear or something.

Since Syp loves video game music, particularly from MMOs, I thought it would be great to share some of my favorite tracks from my soundtrack collection. I don’t have nearly as many MMOs on my list but I hope you’ll enjoy the music nonetheless.

Let’s start with a game that I’m pretty sure Syp has a soft spot for, considering that he has over 400 posts tagged as Lord of the Rings Online.

The time I spent in LOTRO wasn’t very long so I never made it far enough to see Rohan. But I remember it from the movies and from the first time I heard the uillean pipes, I was in love. Combined with violins, Theme for Rohan is a beautiful melody that makes me think of fire-lit castle walls and racing across rolling hills and plains that never seem to end.

The soundtrack for Dying Light is both unusual and interesting, and Passage is a great example of it. I feel like the composer took at least some of his inspiration from the Resident Evil movies theme. It takes classical instruments and mixes them with electronic music, even distorting them so that they sometimes sound a little off. It’s a game that’s filled with action and a lot of unease (there are zombies everywhere after all). And the violin solos—those are for the heart-breaking moments when you see the suffering that the people of Harran have been through.

More violins! Sensing a pattern here? Dune from Runescape is far, far too short in my opinion. I wish I could hear more of the instruments playing off one another because I think it could have gotten even more intricate and breathtaking.

A Story About My Uncle might be a 3D platformer/puzzle game but that doesn’t mean that there’s no time to stand around and take in the beauty of the world. Without giving away too much, A Sign of Life is what you hear when you come across a sleepy and very unusual little village where you certainly weren’t expecting one. This track does an excellent job of conveying the sense of wonder that you feel as you explore all its nooks and crannies.

Starbound is one of those games that I really need to play more. At this point, the time I’ve spent listening to the awesome soundtrack is likely many times more than I’ve actually spent in game. I have quite a few tracks that I enjoy from this game but my very favorite is I was the Sun (Before it was Cool). The Chinese music combined with the country western twang reminds me a lot of Firefly/Serenity, and it’s just an upbeat tune overall.

Aveline, the protagonist in Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, walks between worlds in more ways than one. Not only is she both a lady and a skilled assassin, but she also has a mixed heritage: French and African. Main Theme does an amazing job of weaving the two together: a operatic female singer contrasted with deep male chanting, and classical instruments combined with fast-paced drumming. This really is her song.

Planet Explorers is still in early access so it doesn’t have an official OST yet. It already has the beginnings of one though. To the New World has been using in some of their trailers and captures so many of the aspects of the game: exploration, survival, creating, and fighting. If you’d like to hear more of this music from the game, I’ve created a playlist on Youtube.

It’s been so long since I played Siege of Avalon that I don’t have a clue where in the game that I heard The Alchemist. But as soon as I did, I remembered exploring the vast Avalon citadel and its environs. It’s not a terribly happy place when you’re there and the melancholy is apparently in this track. There are no chosen hero here; it is a story about just trying to survive and do what you can to turn the tide of a war.

If you’ve made it to the end of the Summer in Stardew Valley, you’ve experienced the Dance of the Moonlight Jellies. I never thought pixelated jellyfish would be so awe-inspiring but this track adds so much to the sense of beauty and wonder. I look forward to this festival every in-game summer.

And for the finale, I have a small tribute to Lionhead Studio, the developers who gave us the Fable series and now is sadly no more. The first Fable game I played was Fable 2 actually and one of the first locations I was sent to was Bowerlake. The track for it is so soulful and haunting that I would come back in-game time and time again just to hear it. If there was ever a song that exemplified nostalgia for me, this would be it.

Battle Bards Episode 75: Dance Party!

Get out on the dance floor and boogie down with the Battle Bards! Today the bards look for — believe it or not — electronic dance music in MMO soundtracks. Yes, it exists, and yes, it’s all over the map. So strap in for a tub-thumping, rave-inducing episode that does skew to the goofy and surreal at times.

Episode 75 show notes

  • Intro (feat. “Club Tracks” from Anarchy Online and “Club 47” from Star Trek Online)
  • “Free to Dance” from WildStar
  • “Lords of Verminion Theme” from FFXIV
  • “Sunset Tracer” from Tree of Savior
  • “Pocket D Themes” from City of Heroes
  • “Involute” from Granada Espada
  • “Robo Factory Theme” from The Sims Online
  • “Stratus” from The Matrix Online
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox picks: “Floating Sky” from Trove, “Peaceful Hills” from Portal Knights, and “Wet Hands” from Minecraft
  • Outro (“Mission Complete” from Spiral Knights)

Listen to episode 75 now!

Guest post: Bio break, Murf-style

Syp is AFK on vacation this week and put out a call for substitute writers! Today’s guest post is brought to you by Murf of Murf Versus. Check out his blog for more great word-stuff!

As ardent MMO enthusiasts, I imagine we all have our fair share of bio break related stories. When Syp asked for guest posts, I very tongue-in-cheek said only if I get to talk about bio breaks. He called my bluff and here I am.

Going to the bathroom is rarely an adventure. Going to the bathroom while having an online adventure often can be. I remember my younger days, the days of EverQuest and Ultima Online, when I was carefree and able to stay up all night long. My father hated that I did that. He’d get on to me anytime he caught me, and he often did. I would be finishing up my epic adventures around five in the morning when he would first be getting up. He always thought I was wasting my summer days while I slept in until near dinner time.

I will not gross you out with details, but it is amazing how creative the young can be when avoiding the ire of their parents.

Flash forward a few years to the height of The Burning Crusade, and my days of holding in for epic loot were in even fuller swing. Instead of avoiding judgement by my father, I was avoiding judgement by my peers. And by epic loot, I meant it, as this was the era in which I was one of those hardcore, server-first, elitist raider types.

I doubt every dedicated raiding group is blessed with one, but my guild had a tank that everyone loved. He was our guild leader and raid leader as well. On the rare nights when he was not present, we went from a guild doing server firsts to a guild ranked server last. He was our glue and a real charming bastard to boot. We had the healers and the damage dealers to back him up, but without him, we were completely lost.

It turned out the scheduling was rough on him. We were only doing three nights a week, but he was there for raids early and stayed on past our cutoff. He also had a full-time job and he regularly logged in on off nights to help farm for the guild bank. I imagine he also spent a lot of time reading or researching raid strategies as well.

Table setting done, our story takes place one raiding eve during a particularly busy period for our guild. We had taken over as the server’s top guild only recently and we were pushing hard to finish Kael’Thas first in Tempest Keep. We had even added a few extra progression nights to keep up our pace.

We were having an off night. Instead of breezing through the bosses of Tempest Keep, we were wiping on Void Reaver, the raid’s second boss. As you can imagine, there was a lot of cursing and arguing about people taking too many balls to the face. It was a frustrating evening as they sometimes are, but there was a noticeable lag with our fateful leader. Rather than his chipper, optimistic self, he sounded tired and worn down. He was still both chipper and optimistic, just less so than usual.

After a particularly gruesome wipe, he declared bio break in officer chat. He also mentioned changing his laundry. It turns out, with all the extra raiding, his regular chores were lagging behind too. The other officers all call a break since we cannot proceed without our leader.

Five minutes pass and he doesn’t come back, then fifteen and he still hasn’t returned. Worry starts to set in. Several officers were personal friends of his, so they start calling him. We play a game where we all yell into our mics on Vent hoping to get his attention. A defeated night suddenly turns somber when no one receives any answer.

Utterly confused and wrought with worry, we’re forced to call the night early. We weren’t making any progress and no one had the heart to keep trying.

The next day in the early evening, almost twenty four hours later, our raid leader’s bio break ends. Some of us were running some random heroics when he suddenly popped into Vent and logged into game. We were overwhelmed with relief that he was okay.

He apologized profusely. He felt so bad that things had ended because of him and that the entire guild was left hanging.

Turns out, after taking a bio and starting his laundry, his dirty clothes looked so comfortable that he laid down for a moment. That moment turned into a night and then a day and then more of the following night.

We never let him hear the end of it. To this day, when someone says they are taking a bio break, I worry they will go to asleep doing their laundry instead. No one is around who gets that thought, but it still makes me smile.

Guest post: Succeeding in Overwatch as a New Player

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Syp is AFK on vacation this week and put out a call for substitute writers! Today’s guest post is brought to you by Justin Lowe, formerly of Darth Hater.

You’ve probably seen it by now. All of the advertisements, Tacobell giveaways, Coca Cola sponsored events, fantastic cinematic shorts, and a bunch of posters of Tracer looking cool on the sides of buses. By now, I don’t need to tell you that MMO fan favorite Blizzard is taking a stab at making a groundbreaking First Person Shooter called Overwatch…the launcher has probably annoyed you enough with that over the last couple weeks if you play any of their games. But maybe, just maybe, you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “I’d like to play this game!” We’ll I’ve got good news for you. I’m here to help your first few hours in the game not seem like an aggressive form of waterboarding!

I hate listicles. I really do. In this case though, this article would be a chore to follow without employing the method. You can’t see me now but I’m scratching my face caving to this. You’ll have to forgive me. After playing more than three thousand matches, I’ve compiled a list of common mistakes that players make when starting out. Here are the few things you need to do as a new player to make your experience more enjoyable and fruitful.

Learn a hero of each role early on

This might seem like a common piece of advice but you should be learning just a few heroes at first and then branching out. Not every game you get placed into by the matchmaking system will have a free slot available to play the DPS. I realize that in these games everyone loves to play the assassin or DPS roles but it’s better to win and compromise while you’re still learning the game. When you jump into Overwatch the first couple times, it will be daunting. There are just so many heroes with different abilities that separate them from their traditional roles. Like MMOs, there are some that cross-pollinate and are easy to grasp but in most cases, the heroes themselves play vastly unlike one another, even other heroes of the same role type.

There are ways though that you can make this transition easier on yourself. First, you can try the practice range. In the practice range there are bots that you can shoot and are harmless. Your ultimate also charges faster in here so not only can you practice your abilities and aim, but you can also see how to properly setup your ultimate for maximum effectiveness. Next are custom games. As a new player, you can setup AI to play against you in whichever map you want without fear of the AI yelling at you over the mic for being “not gud.” The AI even has its own difficulty setting that you can change to make it harder or easier on yourself as you try out new heroes. And lastly, play public games while choosing the role that is needed the most for your makeup. The right side of the screen on when you select your hero will give you a rough guide of what role is needed at the time.

Listen for ultimate audio queues

Character Ultimates are the strongest weapon a player has to upset the balance of the game. Each ultimate has a distinctive audio que to let you know as the ability is used. This audio denotation of an incoming ultimate also changes based on it being used by the friendly or enemy team. For example, when a Pharra uses her Rocket Barrage ultimate she will yell, “Justice rains from above” to the enemy team. On the friendly team, she will yell, “Rocket Barrage Incoming.” At first it may take some time getting uses to each any every character’s que but once you do, you can employ interesting tactics along with them. You can use your own in concert with your team to help setup a big push even better, or deny an enemy’s ultimate by using a counter like Lucio’s or Zenyatta’s own Ultimates. However, a general rule of thumb is to try to shut the enemy down while they are using it by quickly firing at them when you hear the audio or if you’re the only one around, evade.

Don’t be afraid to double or triple up on heroes

It’s a common misconception that new players have early on that you have to have the “perfect default mix of heroes”, i.e. – two Tanks, two DPS, two Supports. In fact, you may have noticed me kind of contradict myself with one of my statements above. Well, consider this part a more advanced course in the article. To explain this, the default comp usually is something like what I stated above. It’s a comp or mix of heroes that works well together more times than not. But let’s say you want to play more aggressive on a map that traditionally has a first point that, once their team has a lot of time to setup on, becomes extremely hard to take. In those cases, you may want to go classes that are a little more agile and harassy like for instance, two Winstons, a Lucio, a Pharra, two tracers or a tracer and another DPS. What this would do on a map like Hollywood is disrupt the team on the point making it hard to defend. The Winstons drop their bubbles negating a lot of the damage to the DPS, they rush the Supports and back line and typically, the team falls apart.

Ideally this would work for an initially push and help you out on maps that are defensive geared for certain points. If that doesn’t work though, you need to quickly adapt to the situation and find a setup that will work for you, either by going back to your default or change parts of it depending on the heroes  that are presenting problems for your team’s push. Overwatch is a game all about switching at the right time to capitalize on the weaknesses of certain characters against others. This point however is one that will take time to learn and you may need to watch a few competitive games or listen to your teammates.

Don’t group up with anyone for the first 20 levels or so

I know, you want to play with your friends. It’s part of what makes games fun. The social aspect is what got me into MMOs and likely did you as well when you started. However, Blizzard games ever since Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone function a little differently than MMOs but I think I can relay it a bit without being too technical. As you play and build up experience, your profile builds what is called MMR or an ELO rank that is used to place you with other players of similar skill levels so you don’t just get stomped 24/7. When you group with a friend who may have played more than you, it is very likely he/she will bring you into a game of skill of their caliber or higher. It’s kind of like gear score in MMOs. Yes, it sometimes doesn’t matter all that much in the right circumstances but in the wrong ones, it mean a very, very, very, bad time for you or vice versa if the one with more experience happens to be you.

I say this one from experience after playing the closed beta for so long and wanted to bring a friend of mine with me to play…he basically quit the game almost immediately. We kept getting matched up against people like Carnage, Seagull, Joshy, and other very well-known pros. So…just don’t. You’ll thank me for it later.

Wait for your team before launching your Leroy attack of devastation

I get it, we all have that friend of ours that thinks he’s amazing and can kill the team all by himself and more so because he has his ultimate up “RIGHT NOW!” This is what in Overwatch we like to call, “The Fool.” This game, unlike other FPSs, is purely a team game. It requires coordination and constant communication to best your opponents. No matter how good you think you are, you will not consistently 1v6. I don’t care if you’ve don’t it that one time and you think you can do it all the time, just wait for your team to group up before you push. You’ll save everyone, including yourself, a lot of grief and as a bonus, you’ll win more.

The only exception to this is as you’re pushing into the point and you see on the kill feed (an option that displays who was killed by who in the top right) that your team picked (killed) one or two of the enemies, then at that moment, your DPS role players can branch out and flank to collapse on them with the team.

Optimize your display/mouse for low latency/sim rate

This is a hard one to explain, especially with the game not currently out but if I can have you grasp it early on, it will make a huge difference in your performance. Go into a practice range session and press the key combination CTRL+SHIFT+N. This will bring up a chart very similar to one seen back in the old Quake days that will display a lot of numbers and graphs. For the purpose of this explanation we’ll be focusing on one key stat, the SIM rate. The SIM ping or rate controls the amount of time it takes for an action to be displayed on your monitor from either a keyboard press or mouse movement. It may not seem like a lot but the difference can be massive with just a 6-9ms change in the SIM rate. If you’ve ever wondered why your mouse feels delayed with the action presented on the screen, this is what controls it.

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Unfortunately many things control this but I’ll go over each and every one. The monitor’s refresh rate, if you have a 120-144hz monitor, your SIM ping will be lower. That’s not to say that you have to go out and buy one to experience any benefits from the other changes but it’s one of the biggest factors in making your mouse feel more reactive to your movements. Next, one we all love for our easily motion sick players, Vsync. Because the monitor has to delay a frame or two to constantly sync, it creates a 1-2ms delay on its own (usually), even Gsync. Next up, an item that makes the game feel more “smooth”, triple buffering. For the same reasons as Vsync, you can often free up 2ms by disabling it. Particle effects and post processing, these often add a little bit to it as well, not as much as the items mentioned above but are worth turning off.

And the biggie, the game’s render scale/resolution. If you want your game to be as 1:1 with your movement, you’re going to have to either lower your resolution and render scale or have a graphics card beefy enough to power through it. Some of the top snipers in the game currently run 1280×720 with 50% render scale for example. It makes the game look like you’re trying to watch an HD movie over a 56k modem but it’s hard to argue with the results. Try it for yourself sometime. If you get used to it, who knows, maybe you’ll be the next best sniper.

Speaking on other games, generally the golden SIM rate you want is under 8ms as the delay at that point is unnoticeable no matter how much you claim you can…unless you’re a robot, guess there’s that. The first number in the chart next to SIM is your lowest possible rate based on your monitor before post processing, next is after post processing, and the last is your total after Vsync and the rest of the effects you have enabled in the settings. I could write a whole article on the rest but my word count on this article is already pretty big that Syp might strangle me so instead I would refer you to the two YouTube videos I made on the subject if you want to learn more.

My plugs

I have no plugs. If you enjoyed this article and it helped make Overwatch a little less intimidating for one person, that’s thanks enough. If you have any comments or questions about the piece, I would be happy to answer them up until the release of the game on the 24th of May, but after that I will be in the middle of a busy launch tournament schedule with my competitive team so I might be slow to respond after that point for a little.

Thanks and good luck out there!

King’s Quest V part 5: Hanging with my gnomies

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(This is part of my journey going checking out King’s Quest V. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Ever wonder what Gnomes did before MMORPGs came along and they were all enlisted into the war effort against dragons? According to King’s Quest V, they sat around small huts and played with dolls. Makes you feel bad for ganking them in PvP now, doesn’t it?

Graham returns the spinning wheel he found in the witch’s house to the older gnome, who then reveals that this contraption turns straw into gold. WAY TO GO GRAHAM. Could’ve started your own kingdom with that right there. Graham, ever the shrewd bargainer, demands the kid’s puppet toy in exchange for this delivery of unlimited wealth. This done, the gnomes leave and presumably the younger one learns a harsh lesson about how adults like to take your toys away to use in “adventures.”

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Continuing with this theme of not actually solving puzzles but merely returning people’s property to them, Graham unloads the golden needle — and demands a fancy cloak in return. I’m not entirely sure if the shopkeeper is supposed to be a guy or girl, since the voice is done high-pitched by a guy.

And… um… what is that in the store?

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HE IS ALWAYS WATCHING YOU. WATCHING AND WAITING. SOON.

Thank you, Sierra, for getting the crotch bulge right.

Graham continues his generous bartering spree by exchanging the puppet for a sled, and the shoes for a hammer. At this point I think he’s either jerking me around or getting ready to open a pawn shop. At least giving the old couple the dead guy’s shoes lets them retire in peace, which is Graham’s good deed of the day.

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Having had a very long day, Graham heads to an inn where, as you might expect, the innkeeper and his henchman clubs Graham unconscious and ties him up in the cellar. For some reason. Hey, it’s not the kind of service model that I would promote, but maybe there’s some sort of hidden logic in this.

Anyway, the talking rat that Graham saved earlier comes out, chews on the ropes, and lets him free. Graham sneaks out of the inn, but not before robbing the kitchen of a juicy leg of lamb. Kids, it’s OK to steal if you’ve been abducted against your will!

5 things I’m looking forward to in World of Warcraft: Legion

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It’s going to be a long summer wait until World of Warcraft’s next expansion, Legion, gets here. We’re already being inundated by tons of spoilers and information thanks to a very vocal alpha and beta community. I’m not super-following it, because I don’t want to be completely bored with the game on day one, but hey, if that’s your goal, then go for it.

Still, I can say that there are five things I’m definitely anticipating when Legion drops:

(1) Getting to start an expansion with everyone else

The last time I got to jump into a WoW expansion on day one was Wrath of the Lich King. Since then, any time I’ve come back I’ve been behind the crowd. This is especially true right now, as I’m two years behind the pack.

Yet because I know that there’s an expansion reset coming on August 31st, I don’t feel incredibly pressured to gear up and do whatever everyone else is doing. When that day arrives, we’ll all be heading into the Broken Isles together, and while I’m sure there will be those who will shoot ahead, at least I’ll be there with the bulk of the playerbase instead of lagging behind like a little kid whose legs aren’t as long as his older brother’s.

(2) The world quest system

Taking a cue from Guild Wars 2’s shifting dynamic events system seems like a very smart move on Blizzard’s part. World of Warcraft needs to create a sustainable endgame that isn’t just the same dailies and dungeon runs, and I think this idea at least merits trying. It definitely looks flexible (quest in whichever zone you like — it’ll level to you!) and changing (every day delivers different missions!).

Another nice quality-of-life feature that WoW’s borrowing from other MMOs? Letting you tag in on a mob after someone else has attacked it. Let’s share these kills instead of greedily grabbing for them!

(3) The beauty

Again, I haven’t done a ton of looking into this, but from everything I’ve seen and heard, Legion is surprisingly beautiful. I wouldn’t have thought so from the whole “GREEN EVERYWHAR” initial artwork of demon hunters and legions invading. Having pretty zones to go around in is so much more engaging than ugly and oppressive ones. Plus, WoW’s art team keeps doing pretty amazing things with this older engine.

(4) Transmog 2.0

To be honest, I haven’t ever used transmog in the game yet. Coming from other MMOs where cosmetic systems are implemented in a much more natural and effortless way, WoW’s system seems like a hassle to me. So I’ve been collecting pieces but haven’t really fiddled with changing my look… yet.

The new transmog system is a great step in the right direction, with a better interface that keeps track of all of the looks you’ve unlocked. Plus, you don’t have to keep that gear around for future transmogs! Very much looking forward to fiddling with it.

(5) Artifact weapons

I originally wasn’t that keen on this. Oh, weapons you can level up sounds all awesome and whatnot, but LOTRO showed us how dull, grindy, and underwhelming legendary items could be. Even now, after that system’s been adjusted a few times, it’s just not that engaging.

But the more I hear about artifact weapons, the more my excitement is overcoming my caution. I like the focus on customization and choice, both in visual appearance and function. And kudos to Blizzard for letting us transmog the weapons in case we don’t like any of the artifact looks.

Oh, I’m not fully sold on it yet. If you don’t like a particular style of weapon but are locked into that artifact weapon because of your build, then tough luck. Suck it up. This definitely robbed me of my interest in my enhancement shammy thanks to the build getting a hammer instead of elementals’ awesome fist weapons. But it does look intriguing.

The more pets, the merrier

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We’ve well established here on Bio Break that I’m somewhat of a pet nut when it comes to MMO classes. If I have the opportunity to whip out a combat pet to help me in my adventures, then rest assured I’m going to do it.

Yet there’s something I love even more than that. If one pet is great, then a GROUP of pets approaches nirvana. Now, this isn’t something you see in many games. I imagine it’s a bit of a headache for developers, some of which decide not to do it at all. So while there are plenty of MMOs that give you an option to wield a pet (and one game, SWTOR, that delivers this to everyone), only a handful of titles deliver classes with multiple pets.

City of Villain’s Mastermind? Oh yes, I still mourn the loss of this class in its many incarnations, including Thug Life and Robo-Madness. Cackling while I send a fleet of bots against bad guys is something I deeply miss. Guild Wars 2’s Necromancer in full minion master mode was a blast too. And every landing party in Star Trek Online consists of me and four of my closest virtual friends.

There’s a marked difference between running a single pet and being part of an entire pack. It’s like roaming around with a full party, wrecking havoc and conjuring the illusion of unstoppability. While being part of a group of players can create the same visual effect, I find that an NPC pet party is less stressful to lead. Everyone defers to your whims, is out to protect and help you, and sticks with you instead of heading in five different directions (unless, of course, the pet pathing gets messed up).

Oh, call it anti-social if you must, but for me it’s plain fun. It makes me think back to all of my favorite CRPGs that involved full parties and how I would get into the lives of each of my companions over the course of our adventures, at the end of which I saw them as “real” in a sense.

Of course, MMOs don’t quite go as far as those games did. You rarely get to hand-customize the builds and classes of your gang of NPCs, and with the exception of SWTOR, they don’t have the individual personality and backstory. I’ve always thought that one of SWTOR’s biggest missteps is that it didn’t let you take out more than one companion at a time — I loved how BioWare’s other games would have the companions talking back and forth as you traveled.

Anyway, playing Star Trek Online these past two weeks has reminded me how much I love the virtual party feel in a game. Hey guys? The Klingons killed me again. A little help here?