SWTOR, I don’t know you any more

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Change is to be expected in MMOs. But what happens when an online game changes so radically that it isn’t the same title you knew at all? Game devs know that playerbases will bend with some degree of change, but if you make those changes too drastic, the connection between a player an an MMO snaps and bonds are dissolved.

I feel that this is exactly what’s been happening in SWTOR over the past year. And after looking at what the next expansion is going to bring, I’ve simply lost any desire to ever come back.

It actually hurts a little bit to think back to SWTOR’s launch back in, what, 2010? And to think of all of the great adventures I had in that game, especially over the first year. The Imperial Agent story was tremendous, and the free-to-play switch meant that I could leave and come back at my convenience. I might have drifted away, but it’s always been one of those MMOs that would come back into my orbit sooner or later. I was anticipating this event with this fall’s expansion, Knights of the Eternal Throne, but the more I find out about it, the more I know that this is not to be.

It’s not one big thing or a thousand small things, it’s somewhere in the middle — a death of interest due to a hundred medium cuts. The sheer contempt that BioWare holds for its F2P community is one such cut, and the news that not only will you be unable to participate in the expansion at all if you don’t subscribe but you can’t even get any gear at level 70 makes the free-to-play label laughably obsolete. A free trial, perhaps, but this has to be one of the most unfriendly, unwelcoming F2P systems in the industry. As BioWare holds what it must see as freeloaders in contempt, so I too hold the studio in equal contempt for shunning its free crowd and all but strong-arming people into subscribing.

Hey guys? If you wanted just a subscriber option, you should’ve stuck with it. Remember how your numbers tanked and you went F2P to draw in the crowds? Can’t have it both ways. That’s going to bite you, hard.

Beyond the business model is the structure of the game itself. Up through Shadow of Revan, SWTOR stuck to its original formula, with the classes distinct from each other, with their own companions, stories, and so on. Planets were released as adventuring zones with overarching stories and all was good.

But then comes Fallen Empire, and the paradigm of the game shifted considerably. SWTOR split into two games — the old, 1.0 experience that took players from 1 to 60, and the new 2.0 experience (which BioWare encouraged people to jump right to via boosts) that started in Fallen Empire and is continuing through Eternal Throne. There was a greater emphasis on a cinematic story, which was pretty great for storytelling. Less sidequest deadweight. Some strong new characters. I can’t condemn it for being ambitious or trying to hew more to BioWare’s strength, which is its stories.

Still, the changes were so drastic that they went beyond trying to change things up a little to reinventing most everything. The timeline was shifted five years into the future. The companions and relationships that we’d spent years cultivating had been abandoned, and in some cases, still haven’t been able to be recovered. All classes were funneled down into the same story with the same selection of companions, with many of the missions forcing us to use a certain companion instead of letting us choose. We were relocated away from our ships to the Gravestone. It was a whole lot of change to swallow, and while I was initially on board with it, after a while it left me feeling more disconnected than ever from the character I’ve had since launch.

And to be honest, the whole Zakuul storyline was starting to leave me cold, too. As another blogger said, how many evil empires do we need in a Star Wars universe? Very little of the Fallen Empire felt fun, like a high-spirited Star Wars adventure should. It was perhaps a little too solo, with very little open world exploring with the chance encounter of other players.

I don’t know. Looking at SWTOR right now makes me a little bit angry, but even more sad and wistful. I miss what it was. I don’t like what it’s growing to be. And I have strong doubts that I’ll be coming back to this game world because of it. If BioWare’s mission was to make it as difficult as possible to come back and enjoy the ongoing story, then that is fairly accomplished in this case.

Maybe we should start hoping that someone else starts working on a new Star Wars MMO?

Star Control 2: I am the one percent!

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(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Control 2. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

I don’t know how far I am into Star Control 2 at this point, but my ship is already pretty decked out. I have tons of fuel, full engines, some weapons, the portal generator, and plenty of cargo space for my mining expeditions. The Bio Break feels responsive and zippy, and I’ve got a small fleet of bodyguards to protect me. So let’s crack open this galaxy and suck the wealth out of it! I am the one percent!

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The problem with this is, from a blogging perspective, that scouring through systems, scanning planets, and mining them doesn’t make for compelling narrative that I can share with you. I’m much more interested in interacting with the zany alien races, but we need to build up a base of wealth, and that means grunt work like this.

I do find some “rainbow worlds” like the one above. It’s too nasty to land on — Class 4 weather will eat my landers in seconds — but just scanning them is data that I can sell to the Melnorme later on.

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Along the way, I bump into yet another alien race, the Thraddash. They’re Ur’Quan battle thralls, sort of a mix between Klingons and warthogs. Always spoiling for a fight to prove dominance and worth, today is a good day to die, etc. I hated the Klingons. I don’t think I’ll like these guys much either, although he is rocking that cigar.

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At least the Thraddash have great war stories, and with some prodding, they’re very willing to talk your ear off. Before blowing you up, of course.

Also, did the game writer misspell “tattoo?”

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From talking to the space warthog, I find out that the Thraddash have had a long tradition of blowing up their civilization and starting over, calling it “Culture Fifteen,” “Culture Sixteen,” and so on. But the Ur’Quan came, gave them a thrashing (which they respected), and now they’re guarding the flanks of Ur’Quan space.

I actually convince this guy to prove his worth by fighting the Ur’Quan’s enemy, and he leaves me be for the time being. Yay chatty me!

Star Control 2: Ur’Quitters

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(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Control 2. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

I’m not back in normal space for more than a minute when I’m accosted by this elder god horror. The little inset creature reminds me of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s Krang, so I’m going to call them the Krangs until I learn different. It seems pretty put out that I’m a human roaming the stars. Racism is real, people.

Actually, the battle screen informs me that these are the dreaded Ur’Quan in the flesh. Ugly little twerps. I’m going to enjoy wiping the galaxy of their slimy presence. Buuuut probably not right now. They’re pretty tough and I don’t want to lose ships if I don’t have to.

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I head over to the Zog-Fot-Pik homeworld for some more laughs and discussion with these delightfully zany aliens. They suggest a mutual-assistance pact right from the start, so that’s a good sign. Little worried about me stealing their atmosphere, which I guess is something I’m known for in these parts. Where would I keep it?

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Anyway, I suggest an alliance and they latch onto it like a drowning sailor to a life preserver. Anything to keep from getting slaughtered — and they’ll even release details to their Stinger-class ships. The aliens talk more about this interesting war that’s apparently going on between the Ur’Quan and another faction called the Kohr-Ah. With free civilizations in the crossfire, this war is a danger to everyone.

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There’s a lot to be learned from these goofy aliens. The guy in the back doesn’t talk, apparently. Ever. Also, there’s a sport called Frungy that the alien on the right is crazy over and the alien on the left is completely sick about hearing. I want to know more about FRUNGY, right now.

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Speaking of the Kohr-Ah, one ambushes me the second I leave the good guys’ home world. It’s obviously related to the Ur’Quan, although even uglier and also sporting a trophy bone pit. That’s normal and not serial killer behavior at all. Why, I fondle trophies from MY bone pit every evening!

Fortunately, my portal generator allows me to instantly enter quasi-space on demand, which lets me evade any pursuing ships. I head home to offload cargo, repair, and find out what’s been going on.

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In addition to noting that my alliance is growing, Commander Keen says that there looks like there’s a large fleet on the move somewhere and that the probe plague is growing exponentially. I really should put a stop to them soon, eh.

Also, the Zog-Fot-Pik (I think) dropped off three free ships for me to use. My fleet — and power — grows! I am the master of the universe! Or at least this sector!

The Secret World: Death Toddler (City of the Sun God #5)

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(Join Syp as he attempts to document a complete playthrough of The Secret World from start to finish. What will The Secret Adventures discover next? Find out in this exciting installment! WARNING: Spoilers and stories ahead!)

Foundations (side mission)

You know, I’m not even exaggerating all of the dead Orochi in the game at this point. I kind of suspect that an ambitious-yet-lazy level designer went crazy on the cut-and-paste with one corpse and now the game is stuck with a thick carpeting of dead corporate suits. So what’s up with this schmuck? Looks like he got himself burned for a piece of the Ten Commandments or somesuch.

Maybe he’s just napping. Or tanning! Tanning, yeah.

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Um guys? WHAT did that skeleton used to be? I have never asked that before, probably because I’m used to giant skeletons in fantasy games, but this raises some disturbing questions.

Anyway, you know how I mentioned before that it is wise not to underestimate The Secret World’s side missions, because sometimes they turn out surprisingly complex? That’s just the case with Foundations. It’s kind of a mini-investigation quest in which you use the clues on each tablet to navigate the whole map and find the next one. Four tablets later, and I’m once again asked to kill myself (The Secret World might be the only game I’ve ever played that talks up suicide) in order to finish out the mission in the spirit world.

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Fashion show break! I used some of my bonus points to bulk buy those 80s bags, and scored a few nice cosmetics — including the sweet roller skates. I didn’t realize it before, but the skates also come with a unique travel animation. I am so using these for the rest of the game. Now to queue up a playlist of nothing but 80s hits. Kenny Loggins, take me to the DANGER ZONE.

I find the mouth-breathing Great Architect (he built the statues, I’m guessing?) and travel with him back to his skeleton, which I suppose is cathartic enough to end the mission. I’m a hero! I’m also wasting time!

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Buried in Sand (side mission)

A mysterious (aren’t they all?) crate in the desert lets out several spirit fragments that necessitate a round-up. Hey, I’m of the opinion that if you love something, set it free, but that’s not how MMOs work. You capture them and bind them to your iron will, making them pay in screams and XP.

This short quest is merely a breadcrumb leading to the nearest statue, Huoy. As his dad says, Huoy got to channel the spirit of Anubis, the lord of the underworld. So… you gave the powers of death to a toddler? Death Toddler, coming soon to a theater near you. I would watch that.

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A Farewell to Arms (action mission)

Huoy and some of his siblings are recalling another chapter of their sad, lonely life in which their father brought them a movie to watch — Lawrence of Arabia. It’s so pitiful how this was pretty much the highlight of their lives to date, being trapped in stone and in his hellish landscape for so long. Huoy uses the discussion to mention how the cultists are moving materiel into the city, which bodes well for no one. Well, other than the bad guys, of course.

It’s all a jolly good excuse to get out there and shoot up half the countryside. Sometimes that’s all you need from a mission, you know? So I head out and work my way through an extensive Atenist camp, slaying cultists and smashing their crates full of equipment. None of it gives me any trouble, including the end boss who is really committed to the dress code of the cult.

Geary says that the bad guys are running circles around the statues thanks to a better organization and overnight shipping. CURSE YOU AMAZON PRIME! YOU HAVE DOOMED ALL OF HUMANITY WITH YOUR FREE SHIPPING!

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The Binding (investigation mission)

If you have ever wondered, as I have, what the deal is with this zone, the dad, and the seven statue-kids that watch over it, this mission has a lot to help with clarification. It starts out with Huoy asking his siblings to recount their story from the beginning, which is told in a vague sort of way. There was a bad pharaoh way back when, and the high priest of the land had to choose between him and his gods. After a great war, the priest somehow found a way to protect the land and preserving his children’s lives, although at a cost. The priest has also, apparently, lived many lifetimes. Reincarnation? Goes with the Egyptian theme.

A nearby talking falcon — not the first time I’ve been instructed by a bird in this game, nor probably the last — tells me that the high priest is starting to despair and needs to be reminded why this is all worth it. He says that there are objects buried where the statues’ gazes intersect, which means that this ENTIRE MAP has been hiding the coordinates for a massive scavenger hunt right in front of our eyes the whole time. Also, this is going to be annoying as all get out. How do you do this? Copy the map and start drawing lines while you go investigate in-game? There aren’t a lot of easy tools for this.

Five pieces scattered all over the map, and it takes ages to find them. And this is only tier one of ten, people!

Once assembled, the Staff of Amun talks about being placed in the center of a chamber, so it’s time to go tomb diving.

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Once the staff is used in the super-duper special area, a cutscene kicks in, showing Ptahmose – the high priest — praying to his gods. This is interspersed with grainy black-and-white shots of him working over his dead kids, transferring their life essence to these statues. What I want to know, what I really need to know right now is, did he kill those kids? Or were they dead and he’s trying to save them the only way he knows how? Because that’s a huge difference in my book.

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The mission sends me over to the lioness statue, who promptly tries to blow me up with awesome eye lasers. I was so stunned, I didn’t even get a good screenshot of her going all Star Wars on me. But it was VERY awesome. Then comes another cutscene where three of the siblings bicker about fighting the enemy and the appropriate response for this new and strange threat.

Meanwhile, I stroll into the statue’s base and discover a scroll leading me to the Black Pyramid. Wish I had eye lasers. Oh well.

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Instead of going underneath the Pyramid — that comes later, sweetlings — this mission sends me up to the middle-topish, where rooms contain frescos showing the story of Amun confronting the Pharoah, sacrificing his family to 3,000 years of statueville, and his eventual victory.

Yet it’s intensely bittersweet, isn’t it? I don’t think I can forgive this guy for offing all of his kids just to win a war, even one with such high stakes. And the closing cutscene, in which the dad spends time with his statue-children, is acutely depressing. Some of the kids are just gleeful to see him, hear stories, play games, and get another postcard on the wall. But one of the older girls radiates impatience and anger, wanting to know how long they’ll have to keep this up.

“As long as it takes.”

RIFT: Khar! KHAAAAAAR!

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Adventures continue through RIFT’s Planetouched Wilds, even as we prepare for the expansion launch in a couple of weeks. It’s my goal to try to finish up the major storyline here, although I have no idea how long or involved that will be.

When last we talked, I was just meeting the local warlord, a guy named Khar. Khar is… interesting, to put it lightly. I don’t think many of his “subjects” like him, even though he is somewhat of an accomplished warrior. Khar’s personality is best summarized as “educated frat boy with a sheep.” I thought I was going to really dislike him, but he’s grown on me with his Duffman-like attitude and quotes.

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RIFT doesn’t have flying, but you are able to take an airship tour around the zone. It provides ample opportunities for photographs, not to mention the chance to complete no less than three quests. Yes, I will light fireworks under this blimp. That seems totally safe.

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My prize for winning the guild trivia contest the other week was a full set of cosmetic earthbound armor. It’s kind of neat and I gladly added it to my wardrobe selections.

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Despite its name, Planetouched Wilds is pretty mellow for a zone. Lots of plains, relaxing scenery, and an abundance of these giant Easter Island stone heads. I’m digging it.

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This thing looks like an angry muppet.

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Speaking of interesting characters, meet Usukhel. She’s a wildling who was empowered somehow by somebody in a holographic cutscene that went by when I wasn’t paying attention. All you need to know is that she is (a) savage and (b) the perfect counterpoint to Khar.

In fact, once you get these two together, the game suddenly diverges into sitcom territory, with the two spouting some of the most hilarious dialogue I’ve heard in quite some time. I was quoting it wholesale to my guild, just to share in the amusement. It’s just such a shame I wasn’t able to record it, as RIFT’s screenshot function automatically takes pictures without any UI, including on-screen dialogue text.

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For the most part, questing has been very pleasant in the zone. Mostly main story-stuff, straight-f0rward, lots of narrative. I haven’t felt bogged down so far, and that’s always a good sign.

On the downside, every once in a while you get a bizarrely high difficulty spike that makes soloing all but impossible. This one quest asked me to get two items, one from Mr. Upside-Down Sky Whale up there (awesome monster model, by the way) and one from a giant angry boar. Gotta have boars. I slammed myself against that brick wall for a couple of days before using a sleep spell to put the boar out of commission long enough to grab his egg. The sky whale got killed only with the help of another adventurer who also needed it.

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Loved coming up to the summit of this hill and looking out to see these incredible cloud/rain effects.

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And then RIFT took a detour right into a Godzilla film. I’m rooting for Mothra.

 

World of Warcraft has finally broken me of my altoholism

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Now that Patch 7.1 is out and we’re moving deeper into the Legion expansion, I think it’s time that I acknowledge the truth that’s been growing over the past two months. It’s not really feasible for me to play and support multiple characters in this game any more.

World of Warcraft has, to put it simply, broken me of my rampant altoholism.

This is neither a good nor a bad thing (more accurately, it’s enough of both to balance out); it’s just how it is right now. I’ve been a while coming to this conclusion as I’ve harbored hope that I would be able to dig out and play my alts once I got my Death Knight to a good place… but that’s just not going to happen. I’ve actually entered a phase in this game where the thought of playing more than one character is too much — and far too time-consuming, particularly when my attention is split between multiple MMOs.

So why is this? Why am I not fielding my small army of alts that flourished in Warlords of Draenor? Other than pressing time concerns from outside sources, a lot of the reasons come from the design of Legion itself.

First of all, there’s no fast path to getting a character to the level cap and gearing her up; every successive character will need to go through the questing zones and retread territory I’ve already done. It’s not as if Alt Number Two can choose to level up in dungeons instead. Even with the choices of leveling zone picks, the game still firmly guides you down a path of Blizzard’s choosing.

Second, even if I had the time to work on a second character and put in another two months to get that character to roughly where my DK is today, it would be too much on a daily basis. The world quest system pushes you to log in at least every three days to do emissary quests for the reputation and bonus rewards. Right now, a half-hour a day of doing these isn’t unreasonable. But tack on alts, and suddenly that’s going up to an hour, hour-and-a-half, two hours of emissary quests. No. Just no. I have other things to play and don’t need that monkey on my back.

And while alting in Draenor was lucrative, as garrisons were self-sustaining gold-making machines, Legion’s decision to put order resources out into the world means that you can’t keep doing missions forever if you’re not playing that character. Two or more characters doing daily emissary quests, trying to keep the inflow of order resources going, moving between characters to set missions… it overflows the small cup of my time and interest and energy.

One character feels enough right now. It feels right. I can keep pursuing all of the quests, the dailies, whatever I want to do, and I don’t feel pressured to play someone else in the game. I’m a little worried that somehow I will lose this character, but other than that, I’m very happy with the DK as a whole. The wraith walk is a wonderful tool, as is the ability to run on water. Fighting packs of mobs is a joy and I have pretty decent (845) gear for a non-mythic player.

I’m actually glad that WoW brought me to this point, because it also makes jumping between games that much easier. In every MMO I play, even the ones I dabble in, I’m down to just one character. I don’t need alts in individual MMOs; MMOs are my alts. And I feel like I get a lot more out of them when I have that broader experience.

Battle Bards Episode 85: Desert Calling

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The desert is calling the Battle Bards, but are they willing to make the trek across these vast wastelands to see if the music is worthwhile or not? Guess co-host Scott joins Syl and Syp for a listen through several desert tracks to see what can be sifted from the sand. Is there treasure below or sun-bleached boredom?

Episode 85 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Tatooine, the Desert Sands” from Star Wars: The Old Republic and “Desert Wind” from AIKA Online)
  • “Kheshatta” from Age of Conan
  • “Desert Scape” from Aura Kingdom
  • “Sands of the Alik’r” from Elder Scrolls Online
  • “Desert Fortress Theme” from Cabal 2
  • “Liath Desert B” from Vanguard
  • “Tanaris” from World of Warcraft
  • “Sunset Desert” from MapleStory
  • Which one did we like the most?
  • Jukebox Picks: “Countdown” from Dota 2, “Ryoshima Plains” from Okami, and “Sepiks Redux” from Destiny: Rise of Iron
  • Outro (“Desert Sun” from Ultima X Odyssey)