Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

Getting my virtues before LOTRO: Mordor launches

With LOTRO: Mordor (probably, maybe, possibly) launching today, I wanted to make sure that my Lore-master was fully ready for this lava-strewn expedition. And the only thing I really had left to do — other than perhaps whip up another amazing outfit — was to round out my virtues.

I know some people have told me that virtues aren’t worth doing, they don’t make as much a difference these days, but whether or not that’s true, it’s been bugging me that my LM didn’t have as many as my old Captain did. And beside, I ascribe to the notion that every little bit helps in some way.

I didn’t have that far to go, perhaps about 17 virtue deeds (out of 120 when Mordor launches), so I figured a few focused sessions would get it done. I drew up a list, cross-compared with what I did already, and figured out the easiest ones to do. “Path of least resistance” is my middle name.

It actually ended up being a little enjoyable, as it was yet another excuse to scoot across the world and experience it in a slightly different way. Sure, most of that experience came in the form of burning things to death before letting my lynx chew on the charred remains, but there were a few quest chains and exploration deeds to do too.

The dead garden of the Ents is always sobering to return to. Bet it would’ve been really pretty before everything turned all browny brown.

With a stack of slayer deed books and plenty of levels on my side, I was able to chew through packs of mobs quickly. Sometimes you just want to zone out while playing an MMO, grind while listening or watching something fun and enjoy the feeling of making progress or getting a task out of the way.

So how am I feeling about Mordor? Excited, perhaps not as much as I’m seeing from some quarters that live and breathe Middle-earth more than I do, but I am looking forward to it. An expansion is a huge amount of content, and five zones should keep me busy for months. I hope that the dreary landscape doesn’t get to me too much, but from the previews I know that there’s at least a lot of variety. Plus, I can always take breaks and mess around with a lowbie alt maybe.

If it does come out today, I’m not going to hold high hopes of actually getting to play it. When the Wastes opened up a few months ago, it was nearly unplayable for the first couple of days thanks to everyone crowding into one area and trying to do the same quests. Mordor literally has a chokepoint at the start, so I’m going to be flexible.

Still… I’ve gone from Shire to Mordor in 10 years! It’s quite a big step on our collective journey through LOTRO and a moment that I feel we’ll remember for quite some time.

Posted in General

MMOs have a “features hoarding” problem

Over the past few years, I’ve struggled with the question of why MMORPGs aren’t as easy to pick up and put down as other video games.

I know, I know, the answer seems obvious and lengthy and worthy of a #geekworldproblems hashtag, but stick with me. It probably also seems laughable coming from me, since I have this reputation of playing every MMO under the sun (which is not remotely true — it’s mostly appearances). But let me lay out what I’m feeling and see if I can’t drum up some sympathy.

So take your average video game — PC, console, mobile, what have you. One you’ve never played before. You have a few obstacles to really getting into it and enjoying it, namely price (if there is one), installation difficulties (if any), and an acclimation period in which you learn how the game functions and what it offers. Some games get you in and playing really quickly, some take a lot longer. But on the whole, there’s less mental stress and difficulty just grabbing some random title from Steam and giving it a whirl.

MMOs, to me, seem like there’s a lot of added barriers between you grabbing a game and getting into the fun. A lot of it has to do with the nature of the games — that they are much larger in terms of potential time investment, that they don’t “deliver the goods” right out of the gate, that they have the added complexity that comes in a multiplayer environment, and they come loaded with just about every feature under the planet.

In fact, MMOs seem to hoard features like the apocalypse is coming and they’ll never see a feature again. Bullet points out the wazoo. Simple concepts — armor, weapon, skills, stats — made infinitely more complex by intertwining them in systems that are dreamed up by a clever dev for this game alone. There is usually a level of commonality when you go into an MMO of control schemes and features that you recognize, but every game seems to revel in doing something really weird and different and unwieldy.

When you’re really into an MMO, its features hoarding isn’t that much of an issue. You’re used to it all; it’s all second nature. Adding another feature, why, it’s a delightful day. A present. It’s not going to overload you, because you’ve marinated in the game for a while and can see how it fits.

But take it from the perspective of a player who goes, “Hm, this looks interesting,” and then downloads an MMO to play. There is simply so much to absorb in those first few hours, while the player (me) has to mentally judge if this is a game worthy of continued play (because there is no game over and time investment is important), if the fun is coming quickly enough, if I’m playing it right, what all of these menu options do, where I should go, what I should be saving, what I should be selling, how do I find a guild, and so on. MMOs just aren’t casual fare. If you’re picking one to really get into, then you can acclimate and enjoy gradually. But if you’re flitting around, looking for a different experience one evening, then it can be mentally exhausting to get into a new (or one you haven’t played in a while) title.

Coming back? It can be even worse than a fresh start, as we’ve all mentioned many times before. You have to remember so, so much, and adapt to any changes and new features that the hoarding MMO has accumulated. The more time that passes between visits, the harder it is.

I’m often amazed that MOP’s MJ can play so many different MMOs, far more than I, during any given week. I try to figure out if YouTubers such as HiveLeader feel that mental drag from constantly picking up and putting down games. I just can’t log into an MMO and have a good time if I know that there’s little chance I’ll be sticking with it.

Thinking about all of this took me down a road where I mused over MMOs designed to be more pick-up-and-put-down casual. Your action-MMOs, like Marvel Heroes and Path of Exile. Trove, definitely. Probably anything Cryptic does. Wizard101. Maybe I should be playing more of those? There’s nothing wrong with any of them, although they’re not immune to feature creep.

I used to think of Guild Wars 2 as one of the most delightfully casual MMORPGs out there, a relaxing and not overbearing game. Just come and play and don’t worry too much about high-level stuff. But now it’s become this thing with difficult zones and jumping everywhere and raids and fractals and people freaking out about legendary weapons, and that pushes me away. I’m waiting to see if the expansion announcement will be a siren’s call of sorts to get me back, but right now I’m not feeling it.

Well, thanks for reading my wall of crazy anyway!

Posted in General

Playing tourist in World of Warcraft’s Dalaran

As I’ve been leveling up my Shaman through dungeons alone (at least for now), I’ve had a small chunk of free time between dungeon runs to keep myself amused. Some of that time’s been taken up with repairs and auctioning, but otherwise I’ve taken to exploring around. I asked a guildie to port me over to the Broken Isles Dalaran, as I much preferred that as a home base than Org. And while I was there, why not explore every crevasse and take many, many screenshots?

So here are a few of the pictures I’ve taken from around Dalaran that have amused me. For such a small town, there are so many nooks and crannies, and the attention to detail is pretty astounding.

For starters, the above room with the blue stained glass windows. I’d love to be reading books in a room like that.

The aquarium in the pet shop made me, once again, really wish for housing in this game. This sort of thing should be in my own living room. Also, is that a real Gnome scuba diving? I think it is!

While there’s the option to make one’s home at the factional inns, I liked the one right in the middle of the town instead. It had much more of a coffeeshop atmosphere, complete with chalkboard, espresso machine, and various characters lazing about.

This guy amused me, wearing 400 pounds of plate armor and sipping some coffee while eating snacks. You can change into something more comfortable if you’re just enjoying brunch, you know.

The toy shop really charms me. It’s got this childlike, old school feel to it, like something you’d see in the 1950s. Does Azeroth have a space program? Other than the space goats, that is.

The art gallery is probably my favorite locale. It doesn’t have a “purpose” per se, but I really dig these little bits of art, including some cubist Tauren thing. Again, why can’t I have a home of my own to hang stuff like this up in it? Reminds me so much of WildStar.

Some of the art looked at much more closely. It’s obvious that some designer had the presence of mind to pull together all of the little paintings that were created for various places in the game and hang them up in one room.

It’s worth slipping between buildings and exploring around the base of the wall. You find oddities like this weird little… shrine, I guess? It defies easy explanation. There’s this passed out critter here lying in a puddle of its own leavings (complete with flies), surrounded by alchemy stuff, a bong, a birthday cake, donuts, and a picture of some guy. Your guess is as good as mine.

A Goblin calendar in the barber shop. Weirdly, it’s the numbers and symbols here that fascinate me the most. Some look like actual numbers, some not. And what’s so important to have circled on that Sunday?

I liked the look of this undead guy in his apothecary with his beamused human assistant standing nearby. I’d like to read a book about their adventures and capers together, I think.

Posted in The Secret World

Secret World Legends: Racing through Egypt

I blame the issue on complacency.

You see, ever since Secret World Legends’ launch, I’ve had a goal to wrap up a zone — it’s main storyline and all other missions — at a rate of one per week. So far I’ve been doing well, knocking off Solomon Island over the course three weeks. I even finished up Blue Mountain two days earlier than the deadline, planting the seed of that complacency. I was the hare, beating the tortoise by a landslide, and so I got lazy and distracted.

Leveling up that new World of Warcraft Shaman was part of it, but the other was that I simply didn’t keep my eye on the clock. I was really laid-back the first few days, until around Thursday I realized that unless I got the lead out, there was no way I was going to get Scorched Desert done. Thus, I buckled down on Friday and Saturday and powered through a few dozen missions, a whirlwind of death and purpose with a shotgun. Just two hours before midnight on Saturday, I opened the door to the City of the Sun God and bolted through.

Now the timer has reset. Another week, another zone. It’s gotten a little bit more difficult to push myself through these areas as I’m getting closer to the content that I recently did. Solomon Island seemed like so long ago, and felt fresher because of it. But I just bloody did Egypt a few months ago, and it wasn’t my favorite even then. City of the Sun God is a nasty barrier to my fun, and I’m going to approach it at a full sprint with the hopes of getting through it before I lose momentum.

It still gives me chills to see a flash of Emma in this cutscene.

Going back to Scorched Earth, it was a pretty good ride all things considered. The new mission order with the overarching storyline is a little strange, but it worked out in the end. By my memory, there are a few missions that Funcom removed entirely, like the two that you get from eavesdropping on the local bad guy and one that had to do with earthquake readings from the Oxford people. Even so, there are so, so many quests in this zone. Fortunately none of them were that lengthy or problematic, save one.

The Roman time travel one posed a bit of an issue. Not from the stealthy part — I’ve done this mission so many times that I have the safe route memorized — but from a glitch that wouldn’t let me craft an item that I needed to finish the mission. A guildie helped me out by pointing me to a workaround (basically, log out and back in to redo the mission), which fortunately worked.

I’m missing my auxiliary weapons. There’s that one Egypt mission where you originally got the whip, but now it’s all walled off and it left me feeling a little sad.

Speaking of weapons, I’ve been experimenting around with some others, but I keep coming back to shotgun/hammer as my dependable staples. I have everything I need in this build, from cleansing to firepower to protection to healing, so this is probably what I’m going to be at for the rest of the game.

Not for four more weeks, John. I still have a mountain of zones ahead of me. Be patient.

Posted in Try It Tuesday

Try-It Tuesday: Kingdoms and Castles

Every so often, I break out of my gaming routine to try something new and different. These turn into my Try-It Tuesday sessions, and they are a mixed bag indeed!

While it seems like the Steam release that everyone is playing this week is Yonder, I went in another direction and picked up the interesting-looking Kingdoms and Castles. I am always a sucker for a good building sim, as they’re relaxing and gratifying on a different level than what I get in MMOs.

So what is this? Kingdoms and Castles is a streamlined — perhaps a wee too much — kingdom sim where you plant down a castle center and start building up a town to support your eventual Fortress of Doom. There’s absolutely no tutorial (why?), but it’s pretty straight-forward and after a couple of false starts, I found my groove.

Getting all of the production lines set up to harvest and bake food, cut down trees for wood, and hew rocks from the quarry is essential, as is creating a balanced village that has enough housing, amenities, and support structures to keep your peasants content. Seasons and years pass, everything grows, and I was always saving up the next round of resources for much-needed projects. It felt like I never had enough and had to prioritize what I wanted to build and how much I could support, which is actually good. Interesting choices and all of that.

Like the gameplay itself, the graphics are somewhat simple and functional. Everything looks like Legos and Fisher-Price, and I kept going back and forth on whether I liked it or if it could have used more detail. I think the latter. It’s colorful and does the job, but there comes a point when your minimalistic desires start to make everything too abstract instead of creating a visual reference for players to identify and bond with.

As your kingdom grows, threats emerge from inside and out. There are always plagues, fires, starvation, and discontent to deal with, but even if you have a fully happy and safe population, dragons, ogres, and vikings might show up to ruin the day. This is why it’s essential to have a decked-out castle with attack towers and troops and walls and moats, although making all of these takes a LOT of time and resources.

For $10, I felt like Kingdoms and Castles had good value as a casual building sim. I wouldn’t mind seeing the devs patch in more variety and even some better graphics, but it kept me entertained for a few hours and I’ll be leaving it on my desktop for future sessions. Oh! I’d love to see this on tablet. Man it would be sweet on tablet. Oh well…

Posted in General

The ’80s will never leave (and that makes me happy)

If there’s one thing that I got from a cursory inspection of the news and trailers from Comic Con this past weekend, it’s that the spirit of the ’80s is alive and kicking. Stranger Things, Thor Ragnarok, and Ready Player One are all channeling the Decade of Me in their own way. Then there’s last year’s resurrection of the NES (and this year’s SNES), the popularity of which left no doubt that people are pretty fond of the games from those times.

I don’t mind; in fact, I am all about hanging on to the ’80s as much as possible as years continue to distance ourselves from that era. There was just something gloriously unique about this period, from the style to the music to the colors to the pop culture. My office has Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, and Ghostbusters memorabilia decorated throughout, and I’m looking forward to when my kids are a little older and I can share Ferris Beuller and The Breakfast Club with them.

All of the reboots and period homages to the ’80s in pop culture lately has made me think about why the spirit of this decade is so strong right now. Practically, a lot of people who grew up or lived through the ’80s are in positions right now to create these TV shows, movies, and books. I think each generation holds tighter to their past when they feel it slipping away, and as we’re almost three full decades away from feathered hair and the height of MTV, it might have prompted some of these moves.

But that doesn’t account for the fondness that younger people seem to have with the ’80s, not as an era to look back and reflect on one’s childhood, but as an aesthetic that’s fun, different, and to be embraced. The cartoons and movies of the ’80s seemed a little crazier and more fun than a lot of what’s come since. There’s no “ownership” of an entire decade, after all, or any requirement that you actually had to live through it to adopt it today.

For me, I love these little bursts of nostalgia and representation. Since I was four through 14 during the ’80s, I can say that I grew up then but I wasn’t always in the river of pop culture. But when I see stuff like this, it takes me back for a moment to the things I do remember — the Atari 2600, seeing E.T. in the movie theater, garish Trapper Keepers, the sheer love we had of cartoons and their toys — and it warms my heart that it’s being remembered and honored and, yes, enjoyed today.

Posted in Picture of the Day

Screenshot Friday: WoW, LOTRO, SWL, SoT

I haven’t talked much about Sea of Thieves lately, but every week I’ve been drooling over the videos showing tantalizing glimpses of the game and discussing the various mechanics — most of which sound incredibly fun to me. Can’t wait for this game, and I think my kids might like it too!

Off doing an exploration deed in Southern Mirkwood, came across this pair of trees again. Always thought that this spot was deliciously ominous. The rain helps with the atmosphere.

When it’s snowing in Wildermore and the sun is out, it’s like you’re in a giant, vibrant snow ball. Magical!

What’s in the gift box in Secret World Legends? I’d like to think that it’s a 20% off coupon for Bed, Bath and Beyond. And I didn’t take it, more the fool me.

I was trying in vain to frame the setting sun right behind this walking golem, but he wouldn’t stop moving and I didn’t want to get close enough to aggro. Still, I think it looks rather pretty, don’t you?

Pictures don’t do World of Warcraft’s Lost Islands justice, really. It’s such a relaxing and beautiful setting, plus there’s that great music.

Parachuting into a better life. Those little rips in the parachute always worry me, like the whole thing is about to go.

Posted in World of Warcraft

WoW: The Goblin life calls to me!


So I’ve had a very strange week or so in World of Warcraft in terms of guilds and characters. Originally I was fiddling around with an Undead Warlock on the Dalaran server when I saw the notice about my old guild over on Ghostlands. I was only about level 18, so I figured why not just roll up a new character over there and hang out with them. This plan worked well for about four or five days when the guild announced that they were thinking about transferring the whole guild to a more populated server… like Dalaran.

You can see my face right now, can’t you?

Since my character there was still a lowbie, there was no strong impulse to pay a transfer fee like everyone else — I could just hop back to Dalaran on Horde side and wait for everyone to red rover, red rover, come on over. But the whole deliberation and moving process took several days, during which I was fiddling about with different characters. Did I want to keep on with my lowbie Lock, or skip ahead in levels with a new Death Knight? Someone suggested Demon Hunters and I snorted so hard that coffee came out of my nose because it will be a cold day in hell before I roll up a haughty blindfolded elf.

The time I had let me think through what I wanted to do with a theoretical new character, and I kept coming back to the idea of healing. I love to heal and I wouldn’t mind having a healing spec as my current main. It would be a change of pace and helpful to the guild. But which one?

Priest has never appealed to me (plus I do not like running around in robes). I tried Monk a few times, but the animations and hand-to-hand combat really turned me off to the class. I’ve done Druid before and I wanted a different experience. Paladin? No… plus I’m not doing Blood Elf. But then I took a closer look at Shaman, and I thought that maybe I could make this work.

It’s something I haven’t done much of over on Horde side, and the healing kit looks pretty solid. I’ll be a little bummed I can’t pull out pets or melee, but there are always alternative specs so it’s not that prohibitive.

And if I’m going to walk on the wild side, I thought, why not Goblin? I really have dismissed this race ever since trying it briefly in Cataclysm, but the more I thought about it this week, the more it felt like a solid fit. I love diminutive races, and the Gobbos are as close to Gnomes (my Alliance favorite) as one can get. Quirky, punkish, and definitely a bit different. Plus, how often have I ever gotten the chance to play a goblin in an MMO? Warhammer Online is the only one I can recall.

So I created Lilaca — lilac with an a — who has adorably styled blue hair and a face that isn’t completely repugnant to me. I’ve been taking her through the Goblin intro zones, which are so different than pretty much anywhere else in the game, entertaining as all get out, and still pretty slow leveling. My goal is to get to level 15 as fast as possible so that I can plant my butt in a city and start chain-healing dungeons for advancement, but until then I’m going to have to suck it up and do the whole quest thing.

As with many new characters, as with many alts, who knows if this one will survive the long culling process of MMOs to become something significant. I might have a brief eye on the long game, but more and more these days it’s just playing what’s fun right then and there and not stressing out too much about it.

And while I am no stranger to the WoW Shaman, I never have played one as a healer nor a Goblin to any great extent. Both are novel to me, and I’m curious if they’ll stick. I like that the armor models aren’t broken up on the Gobbo the way that it is on the Forsaken, and the totem design is suitably eclectic and zany.

Posted in The Secret World

Secret World Legends: Surviving zone transitions

As I recently moved on from Blue Mountain to Scorched Desert in Secret World Legends, it was like night and day — in more ways than one. The abrupt and significant shift in the zones, themes, and even horror genres is a lot to take, especially when you’ve spent so long getting used to the previous area.

Back when I was first following The Secret World, I was under the assumption that areas like Solomon Island would be about the size and length of a standard MMO zone and that we would be hopping all over the world to many, many such zones. I didn’t realize that at launch there was only going to be three areas divided into eight zones and that we’d be spending significant time in each of them. That investment of time and interest acclimates one pretty strongly to Solomon Island, Egypt, Transylvania, and Tokyo so that while we may be ready to move on, the actual move itself is slightly traumatic.

Here’s the basic flow of the game:

We start in Solomon Island, which is dark and murky, set in New England and sporting the most “American” aesthetics (holidays, architecture, etc.). The horror genre is a blend of overt Lovecraft and Stephen King as well as a hearty dose of the zombie apocalypse and ghosties.

Then we shift over to Egypt, where the sun is blazing and the architecture is old and couched heavily in the desert biome. There is some modernity, but more antiquity than what we had before. The horror genres du jour is more mummies, creepy cults, giant insects and a dash of Indiana Jones and Aladdin.

Once we’ve adjusted to two zones of sun-blasted heat, it’s over to the old world of Transylvania with its craggy countryside, Soviet architecture, and European style. The three zones embrace a lot more of folk tales and traditional horror staples, such as vampires, werewolves, cannibals, ghouls, and fairies (yes, fairies are horror staples, at least to me). It’s… more Brothers Grimm and Van Helsing.

The final shift, at least for now, takes players to the “ground zero” of Tokyo, which is a golden opportunity for the devs to capitalize on all of the Japanese horror tropes. The Filth is by far a greater threat here than in zones previous, but there is plenty of room for spectres, Japanese demons, and intensely clean places that are sullied with too much blood. Tokyo is also the most modern and urban of all of the adventure zones, so there isn’t much in the way of roaming a countryside.

I love the diversity, even if moving from one area to another can be a shock to the ol’ gamer system in me. Egypt only pleased me in the fact that there was more light, but I couldn’t wait to leave it before that long.

It makes me wonder a lot about what’s ahead for the next adventure area. I could see both the Congo and South America as featuring more primal horror in jungles and whatnot, but Antarctica could hold a few surprises with snow-shrouded scares (just watch The Thing for some inspiration).