Dreamfall Chapters brings home that classic Secret World feel

With Secret World effectively DIA and Secret World Legends a month out from launch, how do I get that Funcom fix? By going to Dreamfall Chapters, that’s how. Much of the TSW team had formed a new studio (Funcom subsidiary? I’m not quite clear on that) to work on the Longest Journey franchise, resulting in a pretty successful Kickstarter and a five-chapter adventure game.

While The Longest Journey is easily my most favorite adventure game of all time (and Dreamfall a decent follow-up), I was a little slow in playing this game. I’d bought it when the first chapter was released, then just sat on it because I’m allergic to playing episodic adventure games that aren’t yet fully released. Getting a “to be continued…” and then waiting a month or two for the next installment is frustrating and annoying; I’d rather play the whole thing in one go. So now that the game is complete (although they’re working on a final cut with a little bit more content and better graphics) and I’m jonesing for TSW, I figured it would be a good time.

As I mentioned, the DNA between Dreamfall Chapters and The Secret World is so close as to render the two games siblings. Using the same game engine (I assume), playing Simon Poole’s music, and having a semi-contemporary setting was making all of this feel like it was another level or something in TSW. And that’s a good thing! About the worst thing I can say about DC is that the graphics aren’t always the best, particularly on some of the talking heads, but most of the rest of it is as absorbing as Secret World at its best. Really good writing, setting, and characters so far (and some laugh-out-loud moments to boot). Plus, DC is taking a cue from Telltale and Life is Strange by featuring choices that come back to impact you later on, which is a good move.

I actually had to give myself a recap of what the heck happened in Dreamfall, because at this point it’s been about a decade since I played that. As DC opens, April Ryan’s corpse is being floated out into a river, Kian is in prison awaiting execution, and Zoe is in a coma, trapped in Storytime. The twin worlds of Arcadia and Stark are also in dire straits, with the fantasy realm of Arcadia under assault by anti-magic forces and Stark falling into totalitarian dystopia. This cliffhanger led to my dissatisfaction with Dreamfall, so I was hoping for better resolution here.

Oh, also DC has wardrobe tentacle monsters. How can you look at the above picture and not think of the Filth from TSW? Is there a crossover going on here that I’m not totally getting?

Over the weekend, I played through the first chapter and into the second. As with Dreamfall, I was initially put off by the lack of April Ryan as a protagonist. I loved her snark and happy inner commentary, and while Zoe is adequate, she’s no April. Plus, there’s a lot of weirdness going on with Zoe that makes her feel like she’s not all there after waking up from her coma. She’s seeing people that she thinks she recognizes, she talks a little like she’s on drugs, and she’s still with a boyfriend that her coma self instantly recognized as an “imposter.” Suffice to say, I am taking every opportunity to be as rude as possible to the boyfriend.

Definitely enjoying it so far, even though I have a hard time making the mental jump between lead characters. I dislike that in books, too, when there are multiple protagonists and I’m getting into one of their stories and then a new chapter starts and I’m with someone else instead. Zoe and Stark is more interesting to me than Kian and Arcadia, although I’ll give it the benefit of some patience.

So far there have been several very noteworthy moments. The game actually lets you choose to refuse to join up with the rebellion, leading to a second and more final decision that can result in (what I assume is) one of the game’s very rare instant game overs. There’s a crudely named floating robot that spouts some of the most hilarious lines (especially when it realizes how much it loves welding). And these mysterious towers all over the city in Europe have me very much wondering what’s going to happen with them later on. Oh! And we get to return to the House of All Worlds for the first time since The Longest Journey (as a baby, even).

I’ve been needing a good adventure game like this, so I’m savoring it for the duration. I’m worried it won’t be long enough, but if it tells a great story, then I’ll be happy in the end. We’ll see how it goes. At the very least, it should help fill that TSW void for a week or two!

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SWTOR: Profit and Plunder (Fallen Empire XIII)

Back in action

It’s been long, very long since I sat in the SWTOR saddle. Excluding two nights of doing chapter 12 back in February, I haven’t played my Imperial Agent for well over a year. So there was a readjustment period back at fleet where I was doing the typical welcome-back stuff: checking my mail, making sure I had trained up skills, reallocating points due to some prior reset, glancing over my inventory, and getting reacquainted with my rotation.

While I was doing that, I kept checking out the scrolling chatter on fleet and ended up picking out a guild recruit message that sounded pretty promising. Dark Initiative, or somesuch. Joined up, made small talk, and felt a little more connected.

Good old fashioned bank heist

With some of my crew off to try to cripple Arcann’s communication array, Lena and Theron are putting their time to good use by being fleeced at another returning character. As an aside, I really like the above photo. The two characters’ body language says so much — Theorn is forward, cautious, guarded, while Lena is laid back, confident, cocky, even arrogant.

So yes, it’s Gault. I get the sense that he’s a love-him-or-hate-him character, but when I was doing the Bounty Hunter story, I really warmed up to him. His quips and surefire attitude reminded me a lot of people on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even looks like some of the demons on there.

Gault’s got a plan to pull off a good old fashioned bank heist. The Eternal Empire, for whatever reason, keeps a lot of its material wealth on a ship called the Gilded Star, and Gault proposes stealing all of it. Sounds like we’ve moved from Buffy to Firefly, but we’re still in the Whedonverse of the Old Republic. It’s of course needlessly difficult and complex, although my job mostly seems to be “show up and shoot things,” which I seem to do best. Also, I get snarky.

My favorite moment? Pretending to be a Wookiee for a little bit.

“Your last partner was crushed to death.”

“And never once complained about it!”

Gault assembles his Ocean’s 11 crew for the heist, which includes another fan favorite character: Vette. I’ve always heard awesome things about this character, and her introduction here — pretending to be the voice of a missile hellbent on exploding in your face — had me in stitches.

Start to finish, the episode was entertaining and filled with personalities and quips, but I felt like the actual heist itself came off as a little lacking. There was no challenge in it, no sneakiness, and (oddly enough for this game) no choices. It would’ve been nice to have had some say in how the heist went down, but oh well, it was nice to feel like we ripped off the Eternal Empire in the end. SWTOR: Profit and Plunder (Fallen Empire XIII)

LOTRO: Pub crawls and wayward Hobbitses

Rohan pub crawl

For Year Six of the LOTRO anniversary scavenger hunt, I elected to go with the Rhovanion tavern crawl. It seemed to be the most straight-forward of the three options (no, I am not going to hunt down animals across this entire continent to pet), and besides, I always loved the taverns in Rohan the most out of all of the regional inns.

I mean, look at that picture above! So much more detail and atmosphere in these later additions than you’d find back in the Shire or Bree (although those have charm). Maybe I just like the “log cabin” design and decor. Makes me think of summer camps and woodland lodges.

There’s also something amusing about racing my character around Middle-earth for the sole purpose of getting tanked on hearty ale. I don’t usually drink in-game, so I’d forgotten about the screen effects and — for a minute — thought the game was glitching out on me.

It was probably one of the fastest scavenger hunt cards I’ve done to date, thanks to most of the towns being close enough to offer direct horse rides. The only problem I had was in trying to find the taverns in specific towns, since there are no markers on the city maps to indicate where they are (and I don’t have that great of a memory for this region.

Puffy sheep

I’ll tell you what, between the anniversary gifts, the scavenger hunt rewards, the Bingo Boffin barter items, and the Wastes quest lines, I’m swimming in pets. I’ve gone from having one or two to trying to choose which four of a dozen or so in my collection will get a coveted space on my hotbar (I went with puffy sheep, Faroth the dog, Bill the pony, and Ithilien fox).

I kind of wish that LOTRO would add a “pull out random pet” button. I like that a lot when I see it in other MMOs. Saves space, gives me a surprise every time.

Where is Bingo Boffin?

After swimming lessons, treasure hunting, and lynx befriending, I thought I was ready for anything in Bingo Boffin’s storyline. Then the little fool of a Hobbit went and got himself kidnapped by Dwarves, and when I finally came to his rescue, I found that he had escaped and promptly fallen into a crack in the Misty Mountains themselves.

When you’re lacking GPS and a competent search-and-rescue squad, how do you rescue someone who was literally swallowed up by the earth? You start moseying your way toward Moria, that’s how.

I felt like this stretch of the quest line in Eregion largely felt like a pointless intermission. It’s really obvious that I’m going to have to head back into Moria and there’s nothing productive to be done in this zone. Yet the game wants me to romp around with secondary characters in this quest line to kill time. I really don’t like that feeling when a game is obviously treading water and making me do pointless busy work until the real narrative can continue.

Plus, as weird as it is to say, Bingo’s presence was growing on me, and not having him around feels like a TV show that just removed its lead character for several episodes.

KOTOR 2: Telos Station

(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.)

It’s weird when you come back to a game that you never beat but have played several times before. You know that there’s a lot of brand-new content coming once you hit a certain point, but up until then it’s well-trod territory. It’s like that for me and KOTOR 2. Everything through Telos is pretty familiar to me, and I know that I harbor a dislike for this bland station that followed another bland station from the beginning. Oh well, let’s get this worked out.

As we settle into an apartment — because KOTOR 2 does love shamelessly appropriating from KOTOR 1 — restlessness settles in and our attention is gripped, GRIPPED by the ringing of a phone.

I love how the game actually gets annoyed that I’m taking too long to answer it. You are not the boss of me, Atton. We’re going to watch Deal or No Deal and then play some Magic for a while.

As we twiddle our thumbs, we get two calls — one from the Ithorians and one from Czerka Corp, both asking me to take sides in a land contract dispute on the planet below. Also, station security frees me but says that I’m still impounded until the Republic arrives. That sounds ominous. Time to skedaddle!

We start doing the normal RPG routine when you arrive in a new area: methodically explore it, loot everything that’s not nailed down, interact with locals to see if there are any quests to be had, and get into trouble. In one of the apartments a man gets all riled up that I’m looting through his things (most CRPGs seem to include at least one such character to give you pause about doing this), and I flip out at him and initiate combat. One dead guy later, and I’ve started to walk down the Dark Side. Oh noes!

Oddly enough, Keira is more upset than Atton. She chastises me while Atton sputters about how he got caught up in the moment and it was over so fast. Strap yourselves in, kiddies, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

I’m kind of super-cheesed that the game took away all of our weapons and other equipment except for the body armor we were wearing, so until I get replacements or get them back, we’re going to have to melee for now. I go ahead and beat up an Exchange thug in the hallway just because I can, and also for those sweet dark side points. By the time I leave Telos, I want to be a full Sith Lord. Or at least as un-Jedi as I can possibly be.

Even though the original KOTOR games are much more crude, graphically, than SWTOR, you can see the inspiration that the MMO devs took from this series. There’s a certain shuttle waiting area in KOTOR 2 here that was definitely replicated in some of the stations in SWTOR, and the cantina is a familiar sight indeed.

Telos Station is, essentially, a long twisty hallway. There’s the apartment area, the cantina/shop area, and the loading docks. It’s really a shame that this far into the game, I’m still stuck inside grey metal walls of a controlled environment; feels like the opening flow didn’t go quite right. I hoover all of the quests I can find and make sure to be as gruff as possible.

Good news: I got all of my gear back from the security center. Bad news: Mr. Droid here tells me that someone’s stolen my starship, so even if I could get clearance to leave, I don’t have the means. They parked it down on the planet, so I guess we’re going to get that road trip we wanted sooner or later.

I do start working aggressively for Czerka, even though the company is laughably evil. The KOTOR series has not always had the best record for presenting options that weren’t either lily white or black as sin, although arguably the games do have their moments of tough choices. The Ithorians who oversee the planet keep telling me how much pain I’m in and how if I help the planet, the planet will help me, but I’m not going for that Captain Planet Final Fantasy VII Gaia nonsense. I’ve got a doohickey on my head and I’m OK.

Let’s just say that over the course of an hour and a half, I become a rather despicable human being, murdering and thieving and enslaving my way across the station. For someone who most always plays a very goody-goody character, it’s really fascinating to see what’s programmed into the game for those who walk a much darker path.

Postcards from Syp’s vacation! I do raise an eyebrow at the fact that at one point, I slaughter an entire squad of TSF security agents… and there is no consequence for that. I even talk to the head security guy and he seems blissfully unaware of the whole exchange.

All paths lead to the Exchange — the criminal mobster empire that’s been trying to kidnap me from before the start of the game. It’s with deep satisfaction, then, that I march straight into their headquarters and blast the living crap out of everyone there. Teach them to mess with a grumpy ex-Jedi.

As an aside, how awesome do I look in this picture? That mask was worth every bit of the 6,000 credits I paid for it.

While the game does present you with options at the conclusion of the Exchange “dungeon,” it doesn’t really matter what you pick. You’re going to have to kill both bosses to proceed. And so I do, and Czerka is really quite pleased with my assistance. The company agrees to give me a shuttle ride down to the planet to help me find my ship.

THEN JUST LEAVE, KREIA. GAH!

Nostalgia Lane: GCE Game Time Wrist Watch

Today I want to talk about watches.

No, I don’t wear a watch. Haven’t since, oh, freshman year of college? 1994? I got sick of the tan line and started using cell phones and other devices to keep time. But before that, I had a long string of neat watches, especially in the ’80s.

Don’t know what it was about the era, but the ’80s had incredibly cool watches, especially if you were a kid. I had watches that transformed into robots (I actually still have the robot part of one sans strap), several of the almighty calculator watches, a watch that had a radio (that’s something that played music before MP3 players, kids), one super awesome watch that did so much that I’m going to have to write a separate article on it, and one or two game watches.

I actually lusted over game watches. Video games that you always had on you? Tiny? Cool? Yeah, sign me up. The Tetris, Zelda, and Pac-Man watches in particular looked incredibly cool, and I had limited amounts of fun with the Batman watch when a friend let me try it.

But in sixth grade I briefly owned perhaps one of the greatest game watches — the GCE Game Time Watch. There’s a story that goes with this as well.

So the GCE is a really novel little piece of hardware. By using a field of LCD dots and top-and-bottom parentheses, the designers were able to fit four fun and challenging games on it:

  • A dodging game where you had to scoot around oncoming walls
  • A skeet shooting game where you shot at an angle at a disc
  • Mini-Space Invaders
  • Mini-Breakout

The variety and sheer difference between these game modes really set it apart from a lot of other watches at the time — and it was made in 1982, which was pretty early for watch game technology to be pulling this stuff off.

So the story goes that one of my friends had the GCE in sixth grade (which puts it around 1986-7) and offered to sell it to me for $10. I agreed, went home and got the money, but when I came back to school the next day, he had balked. However, his mom heard about this and forced him to sell it, saying that he had to honor his word. To this day, I kind of feel bad that I went ahead with the purchase knowing that he wanted out of it, but I guess I got mine shortly thereafter.

The kicker to this tale is that after a few days of enjoying my nifty game watch, I ruined it. What happened was that I was falling asleep one night and my fingers found a little nub in my bed, like an eraser. I didn’t think about it at all, I just popped it in my mouth and chewed it up. I think I was doing stuff like that back then, but man, I kicked myself so hard the next day because this ended up being one of the control buttons for the watch… a watch which was now useless. Maybe I threw it out? I don’t remember.

I’ve thought of trying to track one of these down for the glow of nostalgia ownership, but let’s be real — I wouldn’t wear it, I’d play it for about two minutes, and then I’d give it to my kid. And he’s already got a watch that plays better games than my computer did in 1994, so that would be a waste.

Changing up my nightly gaming routine

Lately I’ve been going through somewhat of a gaming malaise. Nothing terrible, nothing that makes me want to quit MMOs or anything, but simply I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and unsatisfied with how I’m playing and what I’m doing with my time. And when that happens in my life, I try to take a step back, look at the situation objectively, and try a different approach.

What I’ve been doing is trying to juggle multiple MMOs on a given evening, doing my WoW dailies and logging into LOTRO, SWTOR, and Guild Wars 2 to do a bit in each. It’s the format that I came up with years ago to handle my diverse interests, yet I just don’t think it’s working for me any more. Fracturing my game time during an evening is starting to cause distance and disinterest in my progress, and I’ve noticed that when I just stick with a game for an hour or two, I find myself far more engrossed.

Plus, I’m logging out earlier than I used to in favor of getting in some more reading time before bed. This means that my gaming hours are now 8:30 to 10:30, and that’s too short to be divvying up between three or four titles.

So. Two major changes going forward for me, at least for the time being.

Change the first: One game per evening. No set schedule, just pick a game that day and play it. Make some progress. Get a good blog post out of it. Could be an MMO or a single-player game, whatever. Maybe a new title, to try things out.

Change the secibd: One character per game. I’ve been getting bad at this lately, creating alts here and there instead of focusing on my main character, and I just know that I won’t actually see any of these alts through. My roster that I’m going to stick with is:

  • Guild Wars 2: Engineer
  • SWTOR: Imperial Agent
  • LOTRO: Lore-master
  • Secret World Legends: Templar shotgun-something

I think that when you stop having as much time for things, it actually becomes more important to give what you’re doing your full attention when you’re doing them. Thinking about multiple characters or what else I have to do in other games that evening is too distracting for me, and making this change has already had the effect of taking some stress off of what should just be a relaxing time.

I started this last night, just giving an evening over to Guild Wars 2, and it turned into a highly productive session. I wrapped up the personal story on my Engineer — no crashes in the instance, hooray! — and now can move on to the living world and expansion content. I also spent some time guild shopping, which I’m approaching in an unusual way by joining up with multiple guilds and then lurking in their chat channels to get a feel for them.