Posted in Gaming Goals

Syp’s gaming goals for October

September in review

  • I finished up a full playthrough of West of Loathing, a rather funny western open-world RPG.
  • In Lord of the Rings Online, I blazed through Lhingris and then stuttered to a near-halt in Talath Úrui. Spiders, pit fighting, and jailbreaks were the normal for my activities here.
  • Shadowy Forest complete in Secret World Legends’ Transylvania, and a good chunk of Carpathian Fangs to boot!
  • I fiddled about a bit in both Dungeons and Dragons Online and Neverwinter. Haven’t fully committed to either game, but they’re nice distractions.
  • I finally returned to my KOTOR 2 retro gaming series with more adventures on Nar Shaddaa.
  • As for mobile, I spent most of my time playing both Fallout Shelter or Iron Marines.

October goals

  • At the bare minimum in LOTRO, I want to finish up Mordor’s Talath Úrui. Beyond that, if I can make progress into the next zone and spend some time doing Bilbo’s Haunted Burrow for cosmetics and housing decor, that would be just ducky.
  • I definitely want to get to Tokyo in Secret World Legends at some point this month. I don’t have to beat it, but I am keeping my eyes on the new content that should start coming out at the end of the year.
  • I might be up for a return to WildStar, however so brief, to see how it’s been doing in my absence. I’ve also been feeling the pull to head back to World of Warcraft, but I may hold off for one more month with this. I’m sure BlizzCon’s going to kick that back in when November arrives. Another possibility is Star Trek Online, because watching Discovery got me thinking about that game and a new character.
  • Or I could just focus down on SWL and LOTRO for now and maybe try out a few unexplored MMOs for Try It Tuesday. I need to get beyond my “comfort MMOs” once in a while.
  • I am planning on picking up Thimbleweed Park for mobile, since I’ve heard so many great things about this adventure game.
  • Can I get a SNES Classic? It’s certainly one of my side goals this month!
  • I have been keeping my eyes on the acclaimed Divinity: Original Sin 2. I really would like to play it, but I need to save my money right now. Maybe later in the month?
  • A few more KOTRO 2 gaming sessions would be dandy. Wrapping up this game sometime in the fall would make way for another title (I have my eyes on Day of the Tentacle).
Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO is pure torture

Well THIS is another fine mess you got me into, Puddleglum! Thanks to you and Mr. Squirrel here for sitting idly by while I was captured and am now being tortured. Fun times. Can’t wait to write it all down in my diary. If I have opposable thumbs left at the end of the day, that is.

FLASHBACK: Two hours earlier.

I log into Lord of the Rings Online, feeling a little under pressure (internal pressure) to keep moving in this hellhole of a zone. I’ve arrived at the very doorstep of Naerband, the supermax prison that towers over the landscape, but for the past few nights, I haven’t seen any groups coming or going. I wait for an uneventful half-hour to see if I can find a partner to blitz through this place, but no such luck.

Time to do it the hard way.

I summon Puddleglum, who has become my go-to pet in Mordor as of late. The Bog-guardian actually tanks well while putting out some respectable ranged damage, and that translates into personal survival. After a light snack, we head inside to see what there is to see.

Lots of internal fire damage. I’m guessing that stone isn’t flammable and that this is in part the result of Mt. Doom blowing its top. Still, lots of creatures hanging around in a half-burning jail. Might be time to evacuate, is all I’m saying.

Naerband is big, one of the public dungeons that Mordor seems to prefer, and without any companions I play it safe with pulls. Fortunately, for all of its ominous presence, it’s not as hard as I first thought. I’m able to carefully take down guards and progress at a slow and steady pace, working my way through the pocket full of quests that I picked up earlier on.

I do that trusty dungeon strategy of always hugging the left (or right) wall and seeing where that takes me, and lo and behold, I end up mapping the full place and finishing up all of my quests. Two hours of blood, sweat, and tears, but it’s a satisfying experience. Plus, I always like checking out prisons in MMOs. Devs get creative in these spaces.

That’s when some kid gets captured and I rush to his rescue, only to be captured myself. Looks like I’m doomed for some rack action while my faithful pets look on while I scream at them to disembowel this Orc, but nothing doing. I anticipate coming out of this a few inches taller than when I started.

But then the Human Torch shows up and nudges the warden to find more fuel for her fire, so I’m let off the hook. Seriously, at this point I need a well-organized chat to keep track of all of these post-Sauron villains. I’m guessing “always on fire yet still walking around” means this one is a pretty serious threat, but I’m not able to take her on. Not yet.

Instead, I am given the opportunity for a jail break, which is at least the second large-scale one I’ve participated in in this game (thinking back to Isengard). At least I’m not mopping up Orc puke and backtracking constantly this time around. And at least getting out of here means that my sentence at Naerband has been commuted — time to continue on with my journeys!

Posted in Music, Podcast

Battle Bards Episode 106: Early access themes

Instead of looking back at MMORPGs this week, the crew of Battle Bards launches forward into early access! What would a show about music from MMOs that aren’t even officially out yet be like? We’re going to find out in this wild and woolly episode!

Episode 106 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Pre-Alpha Music” from Shroud of the Avatar, “Main Theme” from H1Z1, and “Rhyldan” from The Repopulation)
  • “Main Theme” from Star Citizen
  • “Main Theme” from Kritika Online
  • “Main Theme” from Osiris: New Dawn
  • “Another Story Begins” from Gloria Victis
  • “Main Theme” from Sea of Thieves
  • “Bay Theme” from Cloud Pirates
  • “Winter is Here” from Crowfall
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener feedback
  • Jukebox picks: “The Wild White Yonder” from West of Loathing, “Main Theme” from Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire, and “A Threatin’ Zeppelin” from Cuphead
  • Outro (“True Pirate” from Sea of Thieves)
Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

My six favorite LOTRO zones

Quick list today! Out of the roughly 30 or so regions that make up Middle-earth in LOTRO (so far), here are the six that I enjoy the most — aesthetically, design-wise, and for questing.

1. The Shire

Sure, everyone says the Shire, but that doesn’t make it any less of a personal favorite. The pastoral landscape, kooky inhabitants, low-consequence quests, and strong ties to the books all work together to make a zone that’s still a wonderful journey even today. Probably all of the testing and polish as a beginner zone helped too, eh?

2. Bree-land

The Shire gets a lot of the publicity, but I am also nearly equally fond of Bree-land. It packs so much into one zone, including marshes, the Old Forest, the Barrow-downs, farm country, ancient ruins, a shrine to Standing Stone, and oh yeah, a major city and the hub of Eriador. I love the little secrets found about here, like the graveyard and freeze tag.

3. Forochel

I love me some winter zones and neeeeearly put Wildermore here. That seems to make sense, since it’s a lot more Christmasy (if that’s a term), but I have an abiding fondness for Forochel that secured the spot. It’s just so different than the rest of the landscape, a frozen wasteland with water that will literally kill you, mammoths, and stark winter beauty everywhere. Oh, and the northern lights!

4. Southern Mirkwood

This is probably the most “evil” zone on this list, but I am so fond of it even so. Mirkwood has great atmosphere, a nice variety of locations, isn’t too difficult to traverse, and even has a haunted inn to boot. Perfect when you’re in the Halloween mood.

5. Western Rohan

I almost want to put “all of Rohan” here but that’s probably cheating. I’m so darned impressed by how much attention and artistry was given to this country, and there are areas that take my breath away with how beautiful they are. Plus, the architecture looks amazing — I want a Rohan house darn it!

6. North Ithilien

Gondor has an interesting variety and some nice stretches of wilderness. But for my money, North Ithilien is the best of it all, a “garden” of beauty that stretches from the mountains of Mordor down to the river below. I couldn’t stop taking screenshots here, and I was glad to get such eye candy before heading into the ugly Wastes.

What are your favorite LOTRO zones?

Posted in General

Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery’s premiere

Like the good relapsed Star Trek geek that I am, I found myself grudgingly signing up to CBS’ All Access streaming service for the week trial just to watch the first two episodes of the new Star Trek: Discovery. I don’t know if I’m so tempted as to actually pay for the service (I did get an extra month free when I went to quit the sub), but I certainly was pretty enthused about this show after watching both premiere episodes back-to-back last night.

Really, we had so little advance information about Discovery, which wasn’t necessarily a good sign. No advance previews, no plot, just scant sketches of info and character points. I thought that the series had pretty much bombed out after Voyager and Enterprise and that it was a good idea to let it lie for a while until someone had a better idea of what to do with it. But another prequel series? That wasn’t as episodic? And had very lackluster trailers? I wasn’t on board.

Maybe I’ve changed my mind. We’ll see. The weird thing is that the first two episodes are a prelude to the rest of the first season, an extended setup of what’s to come afterward. It’s a very interesting move that allows the writers time to set up the story and some lead characters without feeling like they need to shove in a ship tour and a “lets get the crew together” mission right from the get-go.

Some things I liked:

  • Love the main character of Michael Burnham. She’s flawed, she has an interesting background (tragedy + Vulcan training), and you get to know a bit more about her as the episodes go on.
  • Incredible special effects and alien designs (esp. the teaser’s scene).
  • The ongoing nature of the story, which allows for death, downfall, change, and progression.
  • Conflict in Star Trek. A captain who is really level and has a lot of nuance and balance. Would’ve loved to have had a whole show with Michelle Yeoh. She’s really tremendous and does a lot in the little time she is afforded.
  • A main character trying to do the right thing but also doing the wrong thing — and I agree that it was wrong. Michael is not a Mary Sue and that is refreshing.
  • Sarek — the first Vulcan since Spock that I actually like? You can see the ambassador in him and some deeply buried emotions.
  • It kicks off with a confrontation and battle and a whole lot of upheaval, which makes an audience wonder where it’s going to go from here.
  • The initial ship is so sterile and lacking personality.
  • Using an actual telescope when sensors failed, genius.
  • The bit with radiation poisoning and the sickbay was also a neat touch.
  • A couple of scenes where the bridge crew reacted in subtle but understandable ways without saying anything.

Some things I disliked:

  • The first five minutes were Awkward Exposition City, with the two lead characters telling each other things that they each should know already. It was really, really wince-inducing.
  • Boy I am not sold on the Klingons. They look even worse than before and I have never warmed to their battle-hungry, honor-obsessed culture. If this is going to be Klingons 100% of the time… I dunno.
  • Those uniforms are kind of tacky. There, I said it. Enterprise and TOS had much better outfits.
  • The battle was kind of underwhelming. Like “pew pew pew” from afar. A few moments helped to redeem it, like the one ship crashing into the other, or the force fields holding together a damaged ship, but it wasn’t as dynamic as it should’ve been.
  • Feels a bit — a bit — like it’s taking cues from the recent Star Trek movie series in some of its set dressings and special effects. Not a big fan of that.
Posted in The Secret World

Octavian, you’re my Secret World hero

It’s time to both finish up Secret World’s Shadowy Forest and meet back up with Octavian. Despite only being a small part of the story in this zone, he still manages to make up a large footprint. He’s the “eagle,” one of three key figures destined to stand against the vampiress Mara and her boss Lilith. But he ain’t doing so hot…

There are many reasons to admire Octavian, but let’s start with his character model. MAN, I love this model. It drives me so crazy that Secret World doesn’t let you craft characters that look like this — heavyset, old, bearded, scarred — because if I could make this type of guy, I would play him to the end of days. That right there is my ideal male avatar. But it is sadly not to be.

I do think that Funcom stumbled a little bit with Octavian, mostly because the story abruptly throws him into the proceedings and then yanks him out of it almost as quickly. He would have been a great guy to get to know over the course of this entire zone, but no, his whole character arc here has to be squished into two cutscenes. You don’t even do any missions for him, for Pete’s sake!

Still, it’s not a waste. We meet Octavian lying on his couch like a psyche patient, snapping for us to go away. He’s a Roman centurian who was blessed/cursed with immortality by Lilith and has now lived for 2,000 years. As a 70-year-old man who limps around the place. He’s haunted by his failures, by the perceived uselessness of fighting and struggling. He just wants it to be all over.

So how do you get him to change his mind?

Why, that’s simple, my dears. You literally bait his sort-of girlfriend so that wolves try to eat her, prompting him to shake off his apathy and realize that there is something worth fighting for. And if there is one something, then perhaps there are a lot of somethings.

I want it on the record that this whole baiting segment is a complete jerk move and I kind of resent the devs making me do it without any other option. Geez, Secret World, take a cue from modern adventure games and allow us different solutions for the same problem! You don’t have to call in the wolves every time something isn’t going your way, just saying.

Always liked this moment. It’s soft and tender, a contrast between young and old, beautiful and aged, optimistic and defeatist. The decision to frame the hands in this shot shows — not tells — us of their relationship. That it’s something more than casual friendship but not necessarily romantic love. There’s a bond here, a deep one, and it’s what ultimately drives Octavian to doing the right thing. Not for me or what I stand for, he says, but for her.

And that’s it for Shadowy Forest! On to the final stretch of Transylvania, the Carpathian Fangs. I took a few moments to look at the map and marvel once again at the sheer detail that the artists put into these maps. Have you ever noticed that each region has its own map style? And each dungeon as well? It’s the only MMO I know that does this.

One thing I’m doing with this playthrough is giving my character a new outfit every time she enters a new zone. So it’s out with the hotpants and leather jacket, and in with something a little more appropriate for the snowy weather! Nothing original, but it looks warmer and cozy.

Posted in Retro Gaming

KOTOR 2: Nar Shaddaa part 2

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

It’s obviously been a rough and extremely full summer, which is the excuse that I’m going to give for my two-month absence from this series. Let’s see if we can start making some headway on getting through KOTOR 2. Maybe one day I’ll even see its conclusion!

I honestly don’t remember where I was on this planet or what I was doing, and the quest log isn’t too helpful. My fallback strategy in these kinds of moments is to keep exploring parts of the map I haven’t seen yet, talk to everyone, and hope I hit upon mission objectives. Also, because I’m being a Jedi Jerk, I have to kill/betray/lie to everyone.

I begin by mapping out this huge alien bar, which ends up being a disappointment since there is no one to talk to and the whole place is basically a fog of poison. It’s totally enjoyable listening to my companions repeatedly informing me that they’re succumbing to the green gas. Yes, yes, we’ll go soon. Hold your breath for now.

Even though most everyone I bump into is a smuggler or scum, I still get docked dark side points if I don’t bend over backwards to be nice and try to take the peaceable solution. Naturally, I’m all “forget that, I have two blasters and itchy trigger fingers,” so I leave a trail of corpses behind me.

And now back to Awkward Moments in Video Game Writing. Well done, SWTOR 2. Well done.

My favorite semi-evil moment of this play session was extorting a droid questgiver SO HARD that he ends up ripping out parts of himself to give me as bonus rewards.

As a side note: Why can’t we extort MMO questgivers for better rewards? It’s called roleplaying, people!

If I can get into a fight, I will. Don’t matter much who with. They’re all bags of experience points to me, and this gal’s gotta level up to be able to overcome her no-lightsaber handicap.

I do end up clearing out all of the Exchange on Nar Shadda, which nets me a nice bounty of XP and gear. I don’t know if I actually finish up any quests, but really, who cares? Meanwhile, Atton displays that classic SWTOR hold-my-side injury pose. Made me laugh.

Meanwhile, my B-team of companions don’t think to actually, I don’t know, lock up the ship or anything, and it is subsequently boarded by no less than:

  1. A small army of gang members
  2. The previous owner of the ship who asserts his claim
  3. A blind Sith

WAY TO GO, B-TEAM. We’re going to have some serious airlockin’ when we get back to outer space.

After a protracted and pretty enjoyable battle, I go one-on-one with Visas here (or Visa, as I’m going to call her from now on). She’s actually the apprentice of my archnemesis who’s going to help me out for a while until I can meet-slash-confront him. Better the enemy that you see than the one you don’t, I suppose. The fight with her is a little tough because she keeps deflecting all of my fancy blaster bolts, so I just use my force power “kill” to strangle her in that friendly way that I have.

Finally, some movement forward in the plot! We might actually be getting off of this planet one of these days soon!

Posted in General

Fallout Online: A great lament

Aside from Iron Marines, the mobile game that I’m sinking the most time into lately is Fallout Shelter. It just crossed 100M players across all platforms, and to celebrate that the team was giving out free lunchboxes, Mr. Handys, pets, and other goodies in the game. It kind of hits the sweet spot of being a casual pick-up-and-play base builder and post-apocalyptic quester, albeit simplified and two-dimensional.

As I’ve been playing it, I’ve been thinking (once again) how I wouldn’t mind playing a full-fledged Fallout game done in the same 2D style. And that chain of thought connected to the now-buried lament that I wish Fallout Online had been made.

I hadn’t thought about Fallout Online for years now, and I know it’s really after the fact to be lamenting that it didn’t come to fruition. But you know what? I truly wish that it had. I absolutely adore the Fallout universe and would be in a wasteland heaven if an MMO of it had been produced. The legal wrangling between Interplay and Bethesda that kept Fallout Online from happening — a game that was actually in development and hinting about testing — frustrates me to no end.

What’s doubly frustrating is that I still see a place for it in today’s game environment. Survival games are all the rage, and these certainly share some DNA with the “always scavenge in a hostile environment” structure of Fallout. And we don’t really have a good, solid post-apoc MMO right now. The closest there is to Fallout is Fallen Earth, a pretty interesting and decent MMORPG that nevertheless is largely unknown to most players and is being handled by a F2P company that doesn’t really care about the title. You could also point to, maybe, Defiance, Auto Assault, Xsyon, and a handful of other dead or tiny titles.

But a Fallout Online would have had the IP heft and name recognition to propel it into a different altitude. Whether Interplay or Bethesda had made it, its very existence would command players’ attention and swarm it in much the same way that we saw happen with Elder Scrolls Online.

What could a Fallen Online have offered us? An MMO with modern and retro-futuristic weapons, for starters, coupled with a vision of a destroyed earth in the process of rebuilding. A grim setting juxtaposed with a sense of humor and personality. Robots and mech suits. Mutants and deep vaults. A completely different feel and style of an MMO than your average fantasy game, that’s for sure.

We are certainly not in the glory days of IP-driven MMOs right now, and we have no idea what Bethesda has in store for the Fallout franchise. My outer hope is that the studio might be impressed with the ongoing success of ESO that it would start thinking of taking a stab with the same format in Fallout, especially now that it has more experience with running an MMO. I probably shouldn’t hold my breath there, huh?

It’s too bad. It would have been the game I’ve been dreaming of since I was playing Wasteland on floppy disks in the late 1980s.

Posted in The Secret World

Secret World: Of bridges and tolls

You know that feeling when you’re enjoying a really good book or TV series, thoroughly enjoying it, and it starts to come to an end and you want to draw it out as long as possible? That’s kind of how I felt wrapping up Shadowy Forest in Secret World Legends this week. Even though I had done it before, I was just reveling in this zone, its characters, and quests. I felt a reluctance to move on — not that Carpathian Fangs are bad, exactly, but they don’t have the warm, otherworldly charm that this zone does.

Out of all of the zones of this game, I feel that Shadowy Forest is the one that feels the most “fantasy” rather than contemporary, or horror, or sci-fi. It’s actually an exemplary fantasy zone that made me wistful more MMOs couldn’t embrace the weirdness and richness of the possibilities of this genre rather than fall back to tired and well-mined tropes.

There’s a man fishing here who used to be soil and rock in ages past. There’s a woman who talks to her wagon, which is apparently a “wikipedia made by fairies.” There is a camp of vampire-hunters who are holding the line against the darkness. There are disturbed farmers making sausages of cannibals. There’s a forest that’s alive, a city overrun by Deathless, a lady questgiver who does not speak at all, Dracula’s cemetery, and more.

It doesn’t mean that this zone is perfect. I do have two big gripes that I feel could be fixed if the developers gave some more attention to the region.

The first is that the investigation quests, what few of them there are here, are not that exciting. Sometimes you come off of investigation quests on a heady rush of accomplishment and appreciation for the ingenuity involved in the quest. Here they are a little too obscure, requiring jumps of logic and reasoning that aren’t always apparent (I’m looking at you, The Abandoned).

And while this zone brings out some great characters and sets up some interesting stories, it doesn’t always deliver satisfying conclusions to them. Secret World is forever doing this, giving us great beginnings and middles without much of an end, and the weirdness of this region and its characters requires more explanation than not.

All that’s left now is to go through the main story quest and move on to the mountains. I did note that the Nursery chain wasn’t available yet in Besieged Farmlands, so I was assuming that it might have been reworked into the main storyline. I’ll go back and check to see if it’s triggered before I go on to the Fangs, because I don’t want to miss it.

Posted in General

On Trolls

So my eight-year-old son went to school the other day and was talking to his friends about what he put on his Christmas list this year (we start early in the Syp household). One of the things he wanted were some Troll dolls from that animated movie, because it’s all the rage in our house.

One of his friends started teasing him that he liked those “girly” dolls, and the teasing extended to the fact that my son — in addition to snakes, dolphins, and pokemon — said that he thought princesses were cool too.

He came home crushed, asking his mom to take the trolls off his Christmas list. She refused and had a long talk with him about toys being OK for boys and girls, and that you liked what you liked.

My approach was a little different. I took him to my computer and loaded up a few MMOs. LOTRO. Neverwinter. WildStar. SWTOR. I asked him what I played, and he said, “Girls.”

Yes I do, I nodded. Because girls — like boys — are pretty awesome. And I don’t care if anyone laughs at me for it, because I’m having fun. And then we joked around about what we liked best in the troll movie and moved on with our lives.

Don’t listen to the trolls, kids. Just enjoy them if you wanna.