Syp’s gaming goals for June

May in review

  • Semi-retired from World of Warcraft (I think? Probably?) due to burnout and a lack of compelling endgame content
  • Played through most of Dreamfall Chapters, an adventure game from ex-Funcom devs
  • In LOTRO, I continued the Bingo Boffin quest line from Trollshaws through Lothlorien. I also kept up with doing at least one weekly scavenger hunt card.
  • I did a whopping ONE new chapter in SWTOR. It was fun, but I have a hard time compelling myself to sit down and just play for some reason.
  • Weirdly, I spent more time playing KOTOR 2 than SWTOR. Having a lot of fun with the retro series there being a total dark side ex-Jedi.
  • Spent a bunch of time in Guild Wars 2, finished the personal story on my Engineer and made good progress in Season 2 of the living story.
  • On mobile, I tooled around with Love You To Bits, Dungeon Boss, and Battleheart Legacy

June’s gaming goals

  • Going to dip back into FFXIV and see if I can get into the story and have some fun healing. It’s going to have to earn my subscription past that, but it can’t hurt, especially with the excitement over the expansion.
  • Log into The Secret World to spend my Funcom points and say goodbye to my characters
  • Will be there on day one of Secret World Legends to roll up Yeti once more and hopefully start a long and satisfying journey
  • Finish the Bingo Boffin quest line in Lord of the Rings Online. Also will do the weekly anniversary scavenger hunt quest throughout the month.
  • Finish Season 2 of Guild Wars 2’s living story with my Engineer and start in on Heart of Thorns
  • Finish Dreamfall Chapters and write a review on it
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Battle Bards Episode 99: Tropical resort

The Battle Bards are on vacation at a tropical beach paradise! In the team’s 99th episode, they examine beach, resort, and island music cues from MMORPGs. Can it still be a resort when everything around you is out for murder? As long as the music is this good, who cares?

Episode 99 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Maple Island 1” from MapleStory 2 and “Castawaysfrom World of Warcraft)
  • “Starter Beach” from Wonderland Online
  • “Dolphin Island” from Rose Online
  • “Costa del Sol” from FFXIV
  • “Caribbean Port” from Pirates of the Burning Sea
  • “Oceania Town” from Uncharted Waters Online
  • “Port BGM” from Lime Odyssey
  • “A Tropical Getaway” from WildStar
  • Which one did we like the best?
  • Jukebox Picks: “Run Program” from Tron Run_r, “Theme” from The Tenth Line, and “Oakvale” from Fable
  • Anniversary note
  • Outro (feat. “Palmgil Oasis” from Aura Kingdom)
  • Stinger

Could RIFT’s challenge servers draw me back?

With only three expansions so far, it’s probably too early for RIFT to consider the notion of progression servers, a la EQ/EQ2. But the SOE-derived team seems open to the idea of alternate-ruleset shards, which is why the producer’s letter back in March teased a slightly different idea: challenge servers.

Between this letter and a recent survey sent out to RIFT players on the notion, we have an inkling of what Trion Worlds is thinking with these servers. The details, nebulous as they may be so far, include:

  • Fresh-start servers
  • Level cap set at 50 (vanilla RIFT limit)
  • Challenge servers could host crazy rulesets, such as super-hard difficulty
  • Or rulesets that overcharge your character, making them super powerful
  • Such servers would have a limited duration set in advance
  • If you achieve a certain goal(s) during this time period, then you would be rewarded with something on your main server
  • Possible rewards include “amazing new armor, weapons, new *cough* race *cough*”
  • It’s a major project for the team and might or might not happen
  • It’s all subject to change (of course)

The survey shows that challenge servers might be more than just an idea right now, but could be in full-scale production. And after letting it swish around my brainpan for a while, I have to say that my gut feeling is that this is actually a pretty great idea.

That seems weird to say. I mean, MMORPGs are about persistence, and time-limited characters and servers seems to go against that. It’s why permadeath is only a conversational centerpiece for us gaming geeks rather than a standard staple. We don’t want hard work to go up in smoke.

Yet the way they’re talking about doing this kind of works. The team is right to note that special server rulesets get a lot of publicity and popularity at the start, but both of those factors nosedive soon thereafter. Creating a server that gives that sweet hit of nostalgia and novelty and then putting a cap on it before it gets old might be for the best.

And even with the server’s end, creating a reward that is persistent — armor, weapons, race, etc. — on a regular server provides a goal that goes beyond “experience for the sake of experience.”

I also like that the limited runs of these servers allow for much more extreme and creative rulesets than we’d normally see. It might well take the sting out of a challenge server’s finale if the community is immediately looking ahead going, “I wonder what’s next!”

In many ways, it reminds me of Diablo’s seasons or Path of Exile challenge leagues, which have proved to be popular among those communities. It’s not a perfect parallel, but the appeal of rerolling for a reason — for rewards, for new rules, for a different challenge — without stringing players on forever is a smart format.

There’s one more angle that appeals to me here, and that’s the repurposing of older content in a funky new way. MMOs have so much land and content that gets “used up” in most theme park leveling schemes that it seems a shame they grow desolate save for the odd player doing catch-up. Reuse that content!

Other MMOs have had some fun fiddling about with official rulesets. TERA had a bizarre server experiment a little while back, and I know that Allods just launched a bonus experience that awards three times the XP per mob kill than normal servers. For older games like RIFT, going gonzo might be a survival strategy rather than an odd distraction. RIFT needs the players, needs the income, and needs the attention. Challenge servers could do all three.

But to answer the titular question, would challenge servers prove a personal temptation to return? It depends on the challenge in question, but I think they very well could, depending on how “grindy” the goal is for these. It’s a solid game that was much more interesting pre-expansions, and I’d love to see that again, if only for a short time.

Craving that good old-time MMO dungeon healing experience

As I continue to evaluate my summer gaming plans and figure out just what I’m looking for in MMOs these days, I think I’ve put my finger on one missing part of my diet: I miss dungeon runs. Specifically, I miss being a healer in dungeon runs.

I’ve been an off and on again healer in my MMO career, and when I am paired up with a fun class that works well and a game that has interesting dungeons, then I’m all over it. It’s just deeply satisfying to be part of a team and keep them alive for the run, feeling as though I’m fulfilling a unique role in the group. But I haven’t had this for a long while now, and I’m starting to feel the absence of this.

But where can I get this? Guild Wars 2 is not an MMO with your typical dungeon crawl and trinity, even with the last expansion. Plus, I don’t have a healing spec at the moment. So after drawing up a list of potential MMO candidates that would offer the healing class + dungeon crawling combo to my liking, here’s what I’ve come up with (along with my thoughts on each’s potential).

Lord of the Rings Online

  • Never really thought about turning my Lore-master into a healing spec. Could do it with multiple spec options, though.
  • Does anyone use the group finder for dungeons? Is it too late to get in on the dungeon scene?
  • Would be cool to see this side of the game after having neglected it for so long.
  • Better loot? Different cosmetics?

World of Warcraft

  • I loved healing dungeons as a Druid and have the option of that class, a level 100 Shammy, or starting over (Monk, perhaps?)
  • Great dungeons. Solid healing mechanics. LFG works wonderfully and healers get in quickly.
  • Feeling more than a little burned out on this game at the moment, but maybe just concentrating on a healer would be a nice break.
  • Don’t know if I have the energy to go through all of the Legion content again and the grinds.

Neverwinter

  • Have absolutely no idea what the dungeon scene is like in this game, although it is a D&D title, so I assume there is one beyond solo instances
  • There’s, like, one healing class in the whole game, so I’m guessing they’re in high demand
  • Perfectly suited to a pick-up-and-put-down mindless gameplay approach
  • Still popular, still has a healthy population

Dungeons and Dragons Online

  • Was reminded recently that dungeons here are pretty dang awesome and varied… and I miss that
  • Never did healing in this game, though. Would have to really research a healing build.
  • Worried about the low game population and fading presence. Feels like it might be “too late” to return.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

  • Now that I think about it, I did do a spot of healing as an Operative. Could do that again, I suppose?
  • Or maybe roll up a new class?
  • Dungeons were kind of on the long side and not terribly interesting, which is why I stopped running them.

Final Fantasy XIV

  • Would need to subscribe. Been thinking about coming back, with the new expansion and all.
  • Group content in this game is fantastic and I had an absolute blast being a healer.
  • Lots of dungeons. Probably rusty running them as a healer, but hopefully it would come back to me.
  • Fairy healing pet! Love having a pocket healer
  • People seem to run dungeons at all levels, not just at endgame, probably thanks to the game design.

Elder Scrolls Online

  • Big unknown in terms of potential interest and quality, but that could work in its favor as a “new” experience
  • People do talk about running dungeons — and often favorably
  • The new Warden class has a healing spec, sounds a little Druidish

RIFT

  • I kind of miss RIFT! Always nice to return to it.
  • Surprisingly awesome dungeon scene in this game and I really did enjoy healing… until I got in over my head with the newer expansion-level stuff
  • Hated how there’s like one optimal Cleric build that everyone has to use or else get out.
  • Also, healing fairy pets.
  • Wouldn’t be the worst thing to finish up the newer expansion and reconnect with my guild.
  • But could I really get a fun healing spec going again?
  • Might need some more time away before returning, else I could hit that burnout wall again fairly quickly

Healing by numbers

Seeing as how this is my birthday week and all (May 31st, get your presents now before store shelves empty!), I’m feeling a little puckish and in the mood for an experiment. I’m going to spend at least one night working up a healing spec in LOTRO and seeing if I can find any groups to accept my sorry butt in an instance. If group content in this game is dead, so be it, but if not and I can heal every now and then, I’d actually be all for that.

I’m also probably going to resub to FFXIV, at least for a month, to get the lay of the land and see if I remember to heal and all that. Might be the time to reconnect, although I’m kicking myself that I never wrote down the name of the guild I was a part of right before I quit. They were insanely friendly, if I recall. Oh well, if anyone has any guild recommendations on Cactuar, let me know!

KOTOR 2: Telos surface

(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

As my party leaves Telos Station to travel down to the surface of the planet in a quest to find the Ebon Hawk and finally get out of this system, several things occur. The first is that the Republic finally shows up, but in a broadcast to station security, makes it known that they’re not here to apprehend me and that I should just be left well enough alone. Fine with me.

The second is that our shuttle is shot down by unknown forces, sealing off our route back to the station. It’s Ebon Hawk or bust, now!

As an aside, the devs obviously got REAL lazy with the interior of this shuttle for the brief shots during the cutscene. It looks so spartan and unsafe, with only one chair (!), sparks, and a fire blazing out of control. Kreia, helpful as always, stands with a giant sword out pointed in my direction while we’re being jostled about.

The third is that literally the second we crash land, I bump into an old war buddy/associate who served under me. Bao-Dur is a Zabrak (the non-red variety) who has a weird electrical left arm. My only complaint is that his voice actor is absolutely terrible. The guy sounds like he’s operating under the influence of heavy sedation, or else is trying to hypnotize me with a low and unassuming voice. At least I can swap Kreia out and not have to listen to her grumping all of the time.

Plus, it also means that I now have a party of 100% ranged fighters. PEW PEW PEW. Forget lightsabers; this is how I want to experience Star Wars.

Now after a few hours of being in nothing but space station environments, I’m definitely relieved to get some planetary action. So what is Telos like? To best honest, it’s a blatant reuse — not even a reskin — of Dantooine from KOTOR 1. Grasslands bordered by inexplicably sheer (but not too, too high) cliff walls that keep you from roaming on anything but a preset path.

You got that right, Anton. Unlike Telos Station, Telos the planet is pretty much quest-free. It’s just a lot of fighting groups of mercs, some of which prove to be particularly troublesome thanks to Bao-Dur’s general uselessness and no dedicated healer in the party. I’m still working on developing my character, but I don’t yet have the best gear nor the two party members that I want to be in my group.

We discover that there’s a small area near the polar ice cap that’s being used as a secret landing zone, which is probably where little miss albino took the Ebon Hawk. To get there, we have to assault an old military installation and procure a drop shuttle that’s parked there. If it was only that easy. Lots of poison gas, droids, and turrets block our way, and it becomes a downright slog.

Finally, all that stands between me and the shuttle is a tank droid. Yippee. According to various forums, this fight is either a pushover or a brutal slugfest, depending on if you have ion grenades (I do not), ion weapons (nope), or take the time to place mines in front of this door before the droid’s cutscene happens (nuh-uh). Ranged weapons are totally useless against it, so I’m out of luck.

After some trial and error, I realize that there are two things I can do. Bao-Dur can use his special shield breaker ability to punch through the droid’s shields and do significant damage, and I can use my stun droid ability for a few points now and then. Between the two, we are triumphant at last.

ESO and FFXIV: The siren call of summer expansions

Does anyone else hear it?

Can anyone else feel it?

Summer… it’s here. And carried on the wind is the smell of sunshine, pool parties, and MMORPG expansions.

June is shaping up to be an especially busy month for the MMO industry. Elder Scrolls Online is releasing its first expansion, Morrowind; FFXIV is coming out with its second expansion, Stormblood; Black Desert Online is launching on Steam; Elite Dangerous is coming out on PS4; RuneScape’s got an expansion; and Secret World Legends is happening. Oh, and there’s also E3 and any possible announcements contained therein.

Of course, standard disclaimer, I’ve got plenty to do in my games as it stands, but I cannot deny that I am weak-willed when it comes to an expansion launch — even if I’m not playing the game. And I am feeling tugged toward both ESO and FFXIV, a situation that I did not predict but could very well be fueled by all of the coverage and hype going on.

Morrowind is especially appealing because that was the only Elder Scrolls game to date that I actually liked and played for any length of time. Plus, it’s a perfect start point for new characters, there’s that housing system to check out, and a pet-based class? It’s like they’re checking off my wish list. ESO also remains one of the big MMOs that I still have yet to give a fair shakedown, as I’m just not sure I can get past the combat, console-esque UI, and generally blah armor models.

FFXIV? I’ve been mulling over a return for a couple of months now. My character was on the cusp of Heavensward, and that’s when everyone said the story gets good. I genuinely miss the community and the dungeon runs (especially as a healer). Red Mage looks pretty sweet too, even though it lacks bears. BEARS. On the minus side, there’s the general hodge-podge of FFXIV annoyances I’d have to overlook and a subscription fee to contend with.

So what’s the plan? Do neither? Do both? Pick one? It’s a big summer ahead, and I wouldn’t mind a change-up of my MMO stable, especially since my other anticipated releases — Project Gorgon, Sea of Thieves, LOTRO’s Mordor expansion, GW2’s second expansion — are coming no earlier than fall at best. It seems like a perfect time to try on ESO for real or to give FFXIV another go.

I’m at a loss, really. I could see myself enjoying either of these, but I could also just be jealous with that time and keep investing it into LOTRO, GW2, and to a lesser extent, SWTOR. Anyone else hearing this siren’s call, or have you already made up your mind?

Guild Wars 2’s loot problem

As you might be able to tell from these screenshots, I recently wrapped up the personal storyline on my Guild Wars 2 Engineer, paving the way for progress in the living world and expansion. If we assume a fall expansion, it’s going to take some dedicated work to getting through all of these episodes. Maybe I’m slow, but some of them feel pretty long.

I kind of want to push hard to get through Season 2, because once I do that, I’ll finally get to some new stuff… and I wouldn’t mind having S2 in my rearview mirror. It’s a step up from the personal story, but I’ve been there and done that, and plant dragon and pale tree speeches and so on.

Right now I have two main methods of growing my character: getting more hero points for my Scrapper spec and unlocking/working on masteries. I’m not getting either of these just doing S2, but it’s something for the future. At least my character hasn’t arrived at a plateau on which there is no advancement.

So let’s talk about the other reason that I am not the biggest fan of S2, which is loot. Actually, it’s a problem systematic to Guild Wars 2 as a whole from what I’ve seen and experienced (which I admit has yet to cross over into the expansion and season 3). This is an MMO that throws loot at you left and right… and so very little of it is actually useful or interesting. I’ll finish up an episode and get a little bit excited at the loot explosion that happens, but then I realize it’s some currencies, some random crafting mats, and some bags and boxes of gear that is of no use to me other than breaking down into crafting mats to sell.

Don’t get me wrong, I like selling on the trading post and building up a nest egg, but an MMO player needs more than just money. Guild Wars 2 build a foundation on the idea that there wouldn’t be much of a gear treadmill, so once you have exotic gear you’re generally fine at all level 80 stuff unless you want to bend over backwards to get ascended gear for slightly better stats or contort yourself into knots for months to get legendary gear for slightly better stats and ostentatious armor.

What else is there? There’s no housing, so no housing items are going to be in loot tables. Pets and truly desirable items are going to be locked away in the gem store. Maybe if you’re a crafter, all of this lootapalooza is exciting, but what is there for everyone else? About the best thing I can hope for is that a piece of gear drops that has a skin I haven’t collected yet, but I’m pretty much beyond that with the common stuff.

Story, experience, sights, character progression… all of these are fine and useful motivators to pushing forward in a game, but I won’t lie and say that loot is unimportant. I’ve had similar complaints about the general unexciting loot tables of LOTRO — my longstanding main MMO, lest anyone think I’m just picking on GW2 here — because when there’s never any surprises, never any desirable or useful gear, never anything that’s going to make my night. It’s busy work, filling up my inventory so that later on I’ll have to salvage and sell it.

Loot should be useful.

Loot should be exciting.

And my point is that this is a darn shame. It’s not an immediate deal-breaker to playing the game, but it does make for a lesser experience in comparison with other MMOs on my rotation (again, in this one regard). Maybe I’m not looking in the right places. Maybe I need to be doing more guild missions, or fractals, or (shudder) raiding, or whatever. Maybe I should turn to crafting. I’m open to advise. But I agree with one forum poster that Guild Wars 2’s loot is “excessive and unenjoyable,” which makes it an area that could use some attention as we do barrel down into a new expansion.

What do you think?