Wrapping your head around a mountain of MMO content

It seems to me that there’s a big difference when and how you come into an MMORPG. Do it at the beginning, then you’re among company that all shares the same common experience of feeling out a title from the get-go, writing up guides, and sharing advice. Do it later on, then you can feel a little behind but benefit from the experience and writings of others.

But what about when you come into the game many expansions into it, or return to it after a long break? It’s not as if the game waited around for you to join to start for real; it’s been growing and developing for months, the meta (or whatever you want to call it) has shaped and reformed numerous times, there are people who have theory-crafted it to death, and it can feel absolutely overwhelming when you try to get your head around the mountain of content that’s piling on more with every successive patch.

Several times, I’ve found myself in games like LOTRO and WoW, MMOs with a decade or more of growth behind it, and found myself flailing my psychological arms in frustration as I try to separate what I can do, what I should be doing, and what I don’t even know there is to be doing. It helps to listen to podcasts, find reputable sites with guides, and not be afraid to ask questions, but that only seems like it goes so far.

Generally, I try not to let this feeling bother me. I figure out what’s the most important things to be doing (and that I can do as a generally solo player) and focus on that. If a goal comes along that looks appealing and possible, I’m open to pursuing that. But I can’t lie and say that it doesn’t bother me to think that maybe there are things in the game that I would like to do (either for the experience or rewards) but am ignorant about because I’ve developed “tunnel” gameplay or just haven’t come across it yet. It’s a discouraging feeling to find out that there was Activity X you should have been doing for weeks now that could have benefited you, but you wasted that time because you didn’t know about it.

I don’t think there’s a silver bullet for absorbing and sorting through all of the content of games in their double digits. It’s a process that requires experience and the occasional bout of extracurricular research. I always wish that games had in-depth and clear catch-up guides available for players — new, returning, and experienced — that want to fill in holes in their knowledge. Maybe we call those “wikis” these days. Maybe that’s just too much to read at once.

Have you ever caught yourself in this situation? How do you deal with it?

City of Heroes returns! (totally not a clickbait headline)

“Hey guys and gals! Remember that awesome superhero MMO that ran for eight years? The one with that kick-butt character creator? All of the costume contests? The claw hands? Super-jumping? Badges and mission architect? The puking zombies and thinly disguised Nazis? The endless stream of pun-themed outfits? The mix-and-match powersets?

“Remember how wonderful it was? How it felt like home? How there was just no other MMORPG out there like it?


“Remember how it was still turning a profit, still doing decently, still bringing in the crowds? Remember how we stepped on it and killed it without a second thought? Remember all of the last-ditch vigils and letter-writing campaigns that we ignored? Remember how we laughed from across the ocean at any entreaties to cut the game and its studio loose?

“Remember how we kept that dead MMO and its IP as a trophy in our president’s cigar room as a conversation piece to show how powerful he was? Remember how we used to laugh at the buckets of tears that fans would FedEx us weekly? Remember how we launched Guild Wars 2 like a week later and expected all of those superhero players to migrate because one MMO is as good as another?

“Remember how we were making that MOBA that pulled from all of our properties and thought, hey, why not dig up the rotting corpse of that superhero game’s iconic character and shoehorn him into the new game? Oh man, that was good. It’ll go down as the Face Slap Heard ‘Round the World, and we’ll still make bank on these chumps.

“Good times. Good times.”

LOTRO: There’s a dead pig at the end of this post

Dang LOTRO, where do you get off looking so pretty a decade into your lifespan? I swear, Minas Tirith and it’s many interiors are the best-kept secret of MMO cities right now.

Anyway, before we get to the dead pig at the end of this post (steel yourself, mighty warrior), let me recount to you the crazy ride that I have been on this past weekend. Anticipating the drop of Update 20 this week — whether or not it actually happens — I bent my willpower to trying to finish up North Ithilien so that I could be fully ready to move on.

Of course, I find that whenever I’m focused on finishing up a zone or expansion or what have you (especially for the first time), the game seems to delight in unloading even more quests at me just when I thought I was all done. The good news is that I’m fully caught up in the epic book, but the bad news is that I kept discovering more and more and more quest chains as I scrambled to clear out my log.

And as pretty as North Ithilien is, getting around it is a major pain in the Hobbit butt. There are only two stable masters (three, if you’re being kind and include Osgiliath), it’s hard to ride directly to places when you go off-road (and there’s really just one main north-south road), and that milestone cooldown is still wildly too long. LOTRO devs, could you look at how short WoW’s hearthstone is and maybe consider bringing yours down a smidge?

Another drawback when you’re pressured for time and trying to get everything wrapped up is that there’s a good incentive to stop reading quest text just to get things done faster. I’m trying to absorb the information, but there are too many different chains and I missed a few of the boxes so that everything is jumbled up in my mind.

Hey you know what’s the best thing for you when you have a brain injury and migraines? To have a “nurse” play a shrill flute three feet from your ear. That’s what Middle-earth calls modern medicine.

I did get sucked into a lengthy quest line involving a healer who joins me for a road trip to get some bonus flowers and assemble the pages of a medical book. That was a scavenger hunt and a half, what with retracing steps all of the place and even being forced back into Osgiliath. Could’ve done without that.

Probably my favorite bit was from a quest that I had somehow overlooked early on that took me briefly into Mordor with Gandalf and Aragorn to destroy the bridge to Minas Morgul. It was such a terrific bit of staging, and seeing that city nearer than before gave me chills. Can’t wait to go there!

I love this girl. She might be a total bookworm — and even takes one with her into battle — but as a Lore-master, I approve. Plus, she’s pretty wicked with that sword!

Some of the mobs in the ruins and caves even approached kicking-my-butt levels of difficulty if I wasn’t paying attention. I got too used to my LM steamrolling over everything with my pet. Guess those days are gone?

I promised that there would be a dead pig at the end of this post, and I do not fail my promises. Actually, many dead pigs, here to remind you that LOTRO isn’t always scenic vistas of Rivendell and the Shire. It can be pretty gross too at times.

The Secret World: Follow that bird! (Besieged Farmlands #12)

(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!)

Mortal Sins (main story mission)

Now that all of Besieged Farmlands’ missions are behind us — including, thank God, Cost of Magic — all that remains is to scoot through the main story mission. For the life of me, I have no idea what’s going on. I would assume that the devs figured that most players would weave the main story with all of the other missions, using that overarching storyline as a kind of breadcrumb prompt. Maybe some would do it first up and some wait like me to do it at the end, but there’s no one set way. I think it’s a lot easier to do these main story missions at the end of the zone because you already are intimately familiar with the terrain and people.

It all begins with a directive to find an owl — which I already know is Cucuvea — and follow her from the village to her treehouse. She yammers on again about how “Lilith’s children are gathering,” which I try to tell her happens every year at Burning Man, but she ain’t listening. I deeply appreciate how she picks a path that boldly plows through all manner of bad guys.

In fact, I had something humorous happen, which was that the moment I got to the tree, it triggered a cutscene… but my character was still under attack. So as the cutscene is progressing, I’m seeing my character flinch from phantom blows, blood spurting everywhere, and Cucuvea just going on with her monologue. Of course, I died (in a freaking cutscene), which is the fifth cheesiest way to die in an MMORPG.

Anyway, since I died, I missed the rest of the cutscene and there was no way to replay it. So I simply followed the next direction, which was to go look for the girl with the spyglass and the WORST QUEST EVER.


Anyway, after she talks a little bit about Transylvania, she breadcrumbs me right to the Shadowy Forest, which means that after this extremely brief bit of the main story, we’re done with the zone. Huh. Thought there was more to it then that. Let’s go meet Dracula, shall we?

Dino hunting for fun and non-profit: Are World of Warcraft’s micro-holidays hitting the spot?

This past weekend in World of Warcraft was the latest “micro-holiday” that the game has sported since Patch 7.1.5 came out earlier this year. Players drifted over to Un’Goro for a little targeted monster hunting over a period of three days (which is actually on the longer side of these new events).

As I had missed the last two micro-holidays, I made it a point to get out to Un’Goro to join in the festivities. It was remarkably straight-forward: Look at the map for red Xs representing big level 113 elites, take them down with a group of players, and perhaps die a lot due to interesting mechanics. But as with most of the micro-holidays so far, there is little incentive behind such activities, just three-day buffs (called “adaptations”) that bestow interesting effects. No achievements, no pets, no permanent loot, nothing else.

And as we took down mega-fauna after mega-fauna, I contemplated on the mixture of opinions that were swirling about inside of me. Was this a wholly pointless exercise, some sort of elaborate ruse to keep players busy for the sake of keeping them busy (and perhaps keep them from their daily moan-sessions on the forums)? Or do micro-holidays require a shift of viewpoint that is alien to how World of Warcraft has trained us to date?

The thing is, in WoW and in other MMOs, most everything you do that’s designed by the devs offers progression, recognition, and rewards. There’s incentive to go outside of your daily routine to partake in these events, and while we say that we’re doing it for the fun and experience first, are we really? Or is the allure of prizes what truly gets us to show up, after which we find ourselves seduced into having fun as a bonus?

Micro-holidays are an interesting testbed for events that offer an experience without tangible reward. The activity is the reward, in other words. You do it to get a fun story (or in my case, an easy Monday morning blog post), to engage in a communal activity, and to bend your conception of MMOs as always needing to be feeding you rewards and backpats.

I’ll admit that, yeah, it’s kind of hard to do, especially when all you typically do with your limited gaming time is bent toward progressing your character in some fashion. I’ve bumped into this before when I’m invited to purely social events in-game, such as parties or concerts. Suddenly finding that my character is spending hours without anything tangible to show for it makes a part of my brain scream. It can be hard to downshift to enjoy these things.

But it’s good, too. Un’Goro Madness might have been without any big reward, but I’ll tell you that my kids all gathered around the computer as I told them about this zone and we went dino hunting (and dinosaurs are always big with the 4 through 7 demographic in our house). They shouted advice during combat (“Don’t die!” “Dad, why are you still dying, stop it!”). And we cheered when a dino went down. I also thought that it was a neat touch that the buff that you loot is used on both you and another player, which reinforces (in a small way) that you’re part of a social, communal experience. It’s not just you; it’s us.

And if nothing else, it’s something different, something new, and a welcome diversion when we get too tunnel vision in our gameplay.

10 things that rock about my WoW Warlock

It’s been a good long while since I played a Warlock in WoW with any regularity. Even in Draenor, where I had the splendid Terrorguard, my ‘lock was still number three behind the Death Knight and the Hunter. But now that my DK is in maintenance mode until 7.2 and I’ve lost all interest in my Hunter, it’s the Warlock’s time to shine.

As I’ve been taking her through the leveling areas, I’ve been compiling a list of things I’m starting to appreciate (or re-appreciate) about my Affliction lock:

1. Speed boost on demand: While my DK and Hunter both have an every-so-often speed boost, Burning Rush is always available to use on my Warlock to get around inside and out for as long as I want it (with no cooldown!). It’s a massive boon in places that I can’t mount, and when I have the huge regeneration going from eating a hearty bowl of fighter chow, I keep regaining any lost health from the skill.

2. DoT central: Apart from the pets, being able to throw down a host of instant-cast damage-over-time spells on enemies was always my favorite thing about this class. It’s so immensely satisfying to see an enemy flail about in vain, knowing that it’s going to give up the ghost in just a few more seconds.

3. Impossible to kill: I forgot how hearty Warlocks are, especially as a cloth-wearing class. Even when I’m not using a tank pet, I don’t have to worry too much, because I’ve got a high health pool, healthstones on demand, and even a soul stone as death insurance. So far I might have died two or three times total in Legion, and that’s mostly been from overpulling due to a sense of invincibility.

4. Fel-doggy: Yes, I miss my Felguard, my two-in-one tank and DPS machine. But it’s a good trade-off to go to Affliction, and it’s made me appreciate my demon doggy a lot more. It does decent damage, especially against DoTted targets, and I like how I can keep switching targets to DoT up while the doggy continues to chomp away at the first guy. It’s a good battle companion to have.

5. Bonus pets: I love how I have two more limited-time summons available. I use my grimoire of service to pull out a voidwalker every 90 seconds (for 25 seconds) when I want an instant tank or just a smidge of bonus DPS, and there’s the doomguard every 3 minutes for a nice burst of ranged damage. Three pets out at once, and I’m not feeling the loss from demonology much any longer.

6. Relaxed range: As much fun as the Death Knight is, I still have to close into melee range to realize my full DPS potential. With the ‘lock, I’m rediscovering how relaxing it can be to just attack stuff from range, especially in dungeon runs. As an added bonus, the range for my spells is absolutely huge — I’m always surprised how far away I can attack things now.

7. Special snowflake status: From observing and taking a peek at some class census charts, it appears that Warlocks are still (as they’ve usually been) among the lesser-played classes in the game. And while it might be silly to feel this way, I love connecting with a great class that isn’t overpopulated. Being set apart from most of the crowd is kind of cool.

8. Pet options: While I mostly run my doggy for a bulk of my adventures due to the designed synergy with Affliction, it’s nice to have the option of the other three pets if I need a tank, ranged DPS, or a melee charmer. Plus, there’s the infernal summons, which can be an AoE spot tank if needed.

9. Gnome sweet Gnome: For some reason, Gnomes and Warlocks have always gone together so well for me. Maybe it’s the overall package that looks small and odd and unthreatening… until it burns you from the inside-out while a demon chomps on your skull.

10. It feels subversive: Taking on the Legion, I’m in my element. I’m not only fighting fire with fire by throwing demons back at these guys, but I’ve got skills to handle demons better than anyone else. If I’m bored, I head off to a demon area and enslave myself a new pet for a while. Your adorable bear has nothing on my towering hell nightmare.

Secret Adventures: The owls are not what they seem (Besieged Farmlands #11)

(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!)

Sacred Protection (side mission)

There’s a figurative light at the end of the tunnel for this zone! I’m only a few handful of missions away from finishing up Besieged Farmlands, which has taken me about two months longer than I had originally hoped.

Anyway, there’s this vampire camp that is also populated by werewolves, although it seems like the wolves are the vamps’ slaves. It’s there that I stumble upon some sort of Christian relic, and in the name of scientific inquiry, I go sticking it in the faces of the different species of bad guys to see what happens. Actually, I don’t see much of anything that really happens, but I guess it must’ve been sufficiently holy because the final step is to jog over to the church and put it on the altar for additional protection. At least I’m leaving this area having made a couple of places safer than they were originally.

The Gathering (action mission)

Before I finally wrap up the zone with the main storyline, I only have some missions around Cucuvea. She’s an incredibly ancient woman who, among other things, has lived at least back in to the third age, can turn into an owl, and is pitting herself against the forces of Lilith and the Vampire Queen. She’s also an awesomely doddering old lady who keeps trying to figure out technology, like computers and cameras.

Make no mistake — this is one of the big generals for the forces of good in the Secret World, and so it’s nice to take orders from someone not 100% selfish. She notes that due to the circumstances, Lilith’s children (the vamps and werewolfs) have all gathered together in a fairly concentrated spot, making them a prime target for a preemptive strike. And strike I shall!

What follows is one of the more difficult action missions, slowly weaving up into a sprawling enemy camp on the ridge that has high mob density, sharpshooters, and a few leaders. The leader fights are really wicked, as several adds spawn in when you attack. I kept managing to kill the leader but then would die soon after to the spawns, then have to figure out how to run back in anima form (which is a headache because you can’t really see where you’re going).

It was only on the very last fight that I thought to open my inventory and check out what I had there. Lo and behold, I had a few apples and crystals from Cucuvea. The apples would heal me up and the crystals did powerful AoE damage, both of which would have been of immense use before. But at least they helped me now, because there was no way I was going to finish that final boss fight on my own.

In a mission post-script, Geary notes that she has some respect and awe for Cucuvea due to how little we know of her. That’s a recommendation right there for you.

Deathless (action mission)

There’s a new threat that needs to be contained, a group of spirit-cultists called the Deathless. I don’t recall doing this mission originally or ever seeing these mobs in the game before or since, so I’m wondering if they’re a weird one-shot foe. In any case, Cucuvea says that the whole explosion in Tokyo sent problems (and Filth) all over the world, and the Deathless are somehow connected. Enough of a reason to wipe them out, I guess.

I am really puzzled why they didn’t reuse these assets, because the Deathless are an intriguing group. They’re pretty wicked in the looks department, with cut and bloodied robes and messed-up hands underneath. My only qualm with them is that most of these mobs enjoy locking you out of your skills at least once a fight, which is exactly as fun as it sounds.

As this very long, very hard mission progresses, eventually you get transformed (for some reason) into a Deathless yourself. It’s not really an advantage at all, since this cuts you down to only three skills and fails to, say, make you much stronger as a trade-off. Lots of carefully orchestrated fights as I pushed further into the ruins of a monastery to eventually take down the leader.

No-Hope Chest (side mission)

In the ruins is a chest containing… nothing. But nearby is a camera showing a Filth-covered artifact and a Deathless hovering above it, suggesting a connection between the two. A wallet a little bit away tells me that this all belongs to the brother of the one French girl, which means that this is where he stole the artifact to try to sell it off before his untimely end. Was it worth it, mon frere?