Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online

DDO: A hazard to myself

With my time in Secret World Legends on hiatus until/unless new content arrives and a waning interest in pushing through the remainder of LOTRO’s Mordor, my MMO time is pretty much World of Warcraft and Dungeons and Dragons Online these days. That feels oddly limited for me, but I know more is on the way this spring, so I’m not concerned.

In the meanwhile, I’ll enjoy my near-daily forays into a different DDO dungeon. Am I the only one who is relieved when I see that the dungeon length of any particular instance is “medium” rather than “long” or “very long”? I get really nervous about the longer ones, because if I up and die in them, I’d hate to lose an hour or two and have to redo them all.

No absolutely terrific stories from this past week to share, I’m afraid. I’m slowly making my way through House K quests, since those seem to be fairly on-level, and I should hit level 10 before too long.

But what IS exciting is that I got a new skill that allows me to fire my repeating crossbow for 18 seconds WITHOUT RELOADING. My grand dream of a machine gun crossbow in this game is finally realized. I actually cackle whenever I activate this now, spraying a room with dozens and dozens of bolts and whittling down bosses in seconds.

Sometimes? A single fun skill can make all of the difference in how much you enjoy your game. Not that I wasn’t before, mind you.

Posted in Music, Podcast

Battle Bards Episode 114: Vroom vroom!

Yes officer, these Battle Bards were well above the speed limit and violated many noise complaints in the local neighborhoods. But it was for a good cause, sir! This music from vehicular MMOs is just way too good to keep quiet! What’s that? You’ll let them go with just a warning? You only know they’re going to peel out and look for another score to settle!

Episode 114 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Snowmobile Chase” from The Secret World, “Harmonic Vengeance” from Auto Assault, and “Racing 4 Pinks” from Motor City Online)
  • “Garage” from Crossout
  • “Smuggler Track S Two” from Grand Theft Auto Online
  • “Assault of Fort Harrison” from Auto Assault
  • “Kharkov” from World of Tanks
  • “A2B” from The Crew
  • “My Garage” from Drift City
  • “Redlining” from Motor City Online
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes: Scott Rankin and Chillos Smith Jr.
  • Jukebox picks: “Main Theme” from Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, “The Ballad of Doctor Death” from Outlaws, “Free Roaming” from Owlboy
  • Outro (feat. “Beyond the Precipice” from War Thunder)
Posted in World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft: Syp Unlimited

Never underestimate how powerful having a compelling goal is to changing your attitude toward an online game. It’s too easy to fall into routines and ruts in these games, to chase the limited goals that the developers set for you, and not to see a wider world beyond them. So it’s generally a good practice to change things up every once in a while, to step back, look at other options, and reevaluate goals.

In shifting my World of Warcraft goals to making gold — and earning WoW tokens — I’ve gotten to explore a new side of the game this month and had a lot of fun in the process. I haven’t hit on any super-easy magic bullets that result in millions of gold overnight, but I have figured out good ways for me to earn money without sinking too much time into doing just that every day.

Every morning I wake up and do a quick check in with the game, seeing what I sold overnight and tallying it up on a spreadsheet. Sort of silly and trite, sure, but it’s also satisfying to see those numbers rack up and to have a day where I beat my all-time best. So far this month, I’ve made well over a half-million gold and purchased three WoW tokens (two of which I used for subscription time and one that I’m putting toward a purchase of the upcoming expansion).

While doing world quests and invasions are all well and good for stable gold generation, what really interests me these days is playing the auction house. Buying vastly underpriced goods and then reselling them for market value is a thrilling way to make easy money, although the whole process can be a lot more uncertain. Gear and items don’t always sell, not right away, so there is stuff that I’ve ended up relisting several times before it gets snapped up. And before you comment on this, yes, I use mods that keep track of the market and put my stuff up for attractive prices (although not nearly as low as when I bought it).

Generally, by adding a dozen or so items to my virtual storefront every day and perhaps selling 6-8 of them, I’ve started accumulating an inventory that churns in and out of the auction house. Call it Syp Unlimited. It’s like any store, really. You never can expect to sell EVERYthing you have in stock, but by stocking a large inventory, you’ll make enough sales and profit to cover the rest.

Most of the time I keep my store purchases reasonable. I try not to spend more than 1,000 gold a day (just for an arbitrary number) and usually just buy goods that are 1-10% of the market value for maximum profit. But there have been a couple of instances where I broke that (loose) rule and gambled big.

The first time, I saw a piece of i910 gear that was going for 30k and was valued at 150k. I snatched it, flipped it, and sold it for about 145 when all was said and done. In one sale, I pretty much covered the full cost of a WoW token — and it made my day to boot.

Then a few days ago, I saw an even larger fish. It was an i950 piece of cloth gear priced at 120k and valued at somewhere between 750k and one million gold. Perhaps it was the dumbest thing I ever did in this game, but I grabbed it — shrinking my wallet down considerably — and then started reposting. I’ve been waiting and crossing my fingers that it will sell, because if it does, hot dog. I’ll be rolling in it. If not, I’m out 120k, and that will really stink. I’ll let you know.

Generating gold and playing the auction house aren’t the only activities I’m engaging with in this game; I’m actually making a lot of progress with my key characters. But it has been a huge theme for me this month, so I just wanted to share my excitement over having a different side of the game to play and a different goal to pursue.

Posted in RIFT

RIFT is making a critical mistake with its Prime server

Ever since the announcement of RIFT’s Prime server started to sink in, I found my excitement and enthusiasm rising over the idea of experiencing a progression server in one of my favorite MMOs — and one that I haven’t played for several months now, which may be ripe for a reunion. I’d even eat the subscription cost, at that.

And then Trion had to dump a cold bucket of water all over my hype by sharing some not-so-great details about this new server ruleset. Actually, most of the details I can get behind — the duration of about a year feels right, I guess, as does the steady rollout of content, the limited storefront, and the fresh start. But then we got confirmation on what will happen to our characters once the server ends, and it isn’t the good kind of confirmation:

There is no crossover of character or account-wide data between Prime and Live. Prime progression will not carry over to Live servers. What we’re discussing for Prime players who also play on Live is to provide a cosmetic trophy/participation reward for their accomplishments on Prime – such as a title, a cape, something like that.

The bongo-like sound you are hearing right now is that of me striking my head against the desk in a hypnotically rhythmic pattern. This is, in the parlance of a gradeschool kid, dumb. It’s just dumb. It’s raising hopes among the community in one breath and then dashing them to the ground in the next.

Why? Seriously, Trion, WHY. Why on God’s green earth wouldn’t you carry over characters? If your world isn’t going to be persistent, you can at least extend that courtesy to your characters! But no, they’re all gonna die, any accomplishments gone, and in exchange you might get a title.


Sorry, time for more bongo noises. Just tap your feet and go with it.

I swear, no other MMORPG progression server would do this. No other progression server DOES do this. Either they just keep the server running indefinitely (transitioning it to its own regular server) or they allow you to bring your characters over to another server at the conclusion.

This is what EverQuest does. And EverQuest II. And Diablo III. And Path of Exile. And even the brand-new Age of Conan “saga” server, for pete’s sake. But RIFT? Nah, there’s no hope for your characters.

Explain to me how this works to the advantage of such a server, because I can only see drawbacks. Persistence — at least in some form — is the hallmark of MMOs and is being destroyed here. Why would you be enthusiastic about playing a temporary character on a temporary server with the grand goal of a piddly title or cape? You get the experience of the play, sure, but, to be blunt, we kind of need more than that with MMORPGs.

It’s why I’m playing live games and not beta. There’s so little interest on my part to spend time in online games that doesn’t even have the appearance of persistence. If RIFT Prime goes ahead with this format, then I predict it really won’t have the crowd it could. Some won’t like the idea at all, while others may come for curiosity’s sake but not stick around because there will be little motivation and point of doing so.

There may be hope here. I was griping about this on Twitter last Thursday and received the following response from the studio: “Stay tuned, because the RIFT team is actively discussing this & other features as we develop the RIFT Prime service. We’re looking for more feedback from all quarters, so thank you for this!”

Course correction? Sooner better than later, I say.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online

When MMOs take away your eyes

The above screenshot is from Dungeons and Dragons Online, and shows me mid-combat when some magic-slinging undead threw some sort of blinding or fog spell on me. Very quickly, the screen went murky and I couldn’t navigate very well. Because combat in that game happens fast and in real-time, I nervously started shooting all willy-nilly into the fog, hoping to hit something while I was being wailed on and waiting for the spell to lift.

It was a nerve-wracking 20-or-so seconds in which the game — without apology — took away my eyes and told me to deal with it. I did survive, although barely.

This experience was somewhat repeated the next night in a different game. To cross off another quest from my log in World of Warcraft, I went into the Kil’jaeden raid for the first time and got to experience that fight from start to finish. At about the 3/4ths mark, the boss more or less blinds everyone in the raid, bringing visibility down to a bare minimum and causing everyone to run frantically about to look for specific targets before we all got creamed.

So a good recipe for heart-pounding encounters is to put players in immediate danger in MMOs and then take away their ability to see.

It’s a bold move and one that games don’t do very often, for obvious reasons. Used sparingly, it can be a surprising and effective challenge, but more than that it would become highly annoying and set off no end to nerdrage in the forums. We depend on our sight in MMOs to do, well, just about everything, and without it — or with that sight limited — we become crippled in a way that feels constricting and cruel. Again, short bursts of this done very sporadically is an interesting idea, and I’m not saying to nix it entirely. But devs really do have to be careful with this.

MMOs have blinded us in other ways, too. Blindness can be a different kind of challenge outside of combat. Secret World has several instances where players must navigate in near-pitch dark settings, perhaps aided by a very limited headlamp. The darkness there keeps players from getting good situational awareness and makes them feel vulnerable — which, of course, is a great thing for a horror game to do. It slows the player down, makes them more careful and cautious, and could take what would be a routine task and makes it a puzzle by the virtue of a lack of sight.

I’m sure there are other examples, and I’m trying to think of any MMO that experimented with echolocation as a way to navigate while blind, but nothing specific comes to mind. Would be interesting, however.

It also reminds me of the pen-and-paper GURPS roleplaying game, since you could pick blindness or partial blindless as one of your character’s disadvantages. The manual suggested some possible counters to help your character stay viable and not completely dependent on others to function, such as heightened senses, intuition, technology, and magic. I don’t think any of this would really port over to an MMO, although I could see Project Gorgon perhaps being sadistic and creative enough to blind people as a boss curse or something and then letting them deal with it.

Posted in World of Warcraft

Ranking the upcoming World of Warcraft allied races

With six new allied races incoming for World of Warcraft, I see a lot of players debating the whole rerolling/alt question. It’s a bit more tricky this time around, because while these races are *technically* new, they’re more or less reskins or variants of what we already have. You’ll basically be choosing them for the look, the exclusive cosmetic armor, the small extra visual customizations, and perhaps the racials. You also get a slight start on the whole leveling process, jumping ahead to level 20 (which is actually kind of nice, considering how slow and boring the first dozen levels are). And there might be a handful of interesting class/race combos.

I’m thinking about them, aye, but I can’t say that any of them are “must have, must play” for me right now. I’m pretty happy with what I have, but that’s not stopped me from at least thinking about possibilities for the future. I suspect that there will be a lot of bored players this summer who will have extra time to level up an alt, and if not that, then there’s always the included 110 level boost with the expansion that could be used on one of these new races.

So I’m going to quickly rank the six races we know from the least most interesting to the… most most interesting? I write professionally, folks. Here we go!

#6: Void Elves

You shouldn’t be surprised to see the Elves so far down here, because, hey, it’s me. Elves are the pits, and we really don’t need TWO more of these races. I have plenty of targets already for my scorn, thank you. That said, the Void Elves get the absolute bottom spot because their visuals make me want to smack them more than the Nightborne. It’s like Dracula got… wussy.

#5: Nightborne

Night Elves version 2.0? Probably a good idea to have an opposite visual shift from the WASPy Blood Elves, plus the Horde get another “pretty” race that brings their total up to two. Truly, great days are ahead and I look forward to seeing more skimpy Elf girls making me take the Horde seriously.

#4: Zandalari Trolls

You either are a troll person or you are not, and I am not. I appreciate the option and understand their inclusion, but they’re just not my style at all. The raptor druid form sounds pretty cool, though, but yeah, it’s not like trolls are that popular in the game already. We’ll see if this changes things in that department.

#3: Lightforged Draenei

Listen, I like the Draenei — I even main one as a Death Knight. They look cool and attractive while also distinctly not-human. But I do not see the appeal of the Lightforged. It’s like a slightly lighter-skinned Draenei with some glowy bits. Their racials are pretty bad too — I mean, one of them can only be used when you die. That’s not going to get me that excited.

#2: Dark Iron Dwarves

The more I think about it, the more I really like this racial inclusion. Dwarves are a bit of an underdog race and could use some love, and the Dark Iron variant definitely pop out, visually, with greyscale skin and bright hair and eyes.

#1: Highmountain Tauren

I see a lot of excitement for this race and I can totally understand it. The Legion Tauren models are simply fantastic — inspired from moose rather than cows — and getting them won’t be that hard. They have a great batch of racials (damage reduction! bull rush! more loot! faster mining!) and have a decent roundup of classes. I’m mulling over a Shaman or Druid, myself (the druid forms are sick-looking).

How would you rank them?

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Museum on free admission day

Yes, believe it or not, I actually clocked in some LOTRO time lately. While my interest in this game is on the “ebb” side of the dial, it hasn’t gone entirely.

I decided to focus on making sure that I was getting through the epic book, because that has absolute priority right now. No matter what, going forward, I need to have this done; but if I don’t get to all of the side quests? It’s not the end of Middle-earth.

And happily, the questline led me right out of Mordor, at least for a brief respite, and back to Minas Tirith. Here, I was instructed to do a little research into the plague lands of the Bloody Gore and its mistress, “Sweet Lara.” That meant a trip to the museum, AKA the House of Lore.

I hadn’t ever been to this particular building, but that’s not a shocker in this city. Once again, I feel compelled to point out that the developers really outdid themselves with Minas Tirith, because the sheer detail and number of enterable structures is staggering. Heck, I wasn’t expecting a full-on museum of sorts, but that’s what I got here.

The House of Lore is amazing. Every room has a theme of sorts, including a map room, a book room, and this Giant Skull room. It’s obvious that a lot of care and attention went in to making this place, and what impresses me most is while it’s busy, it’s not cluttered. That’s a hard act to pull off.

Take a break and listen to a bard perform a song or two? Why not!

I also love how cozy it is. It’s just a bright, clean, and well-organized space that speaks of Gondor’s wealth and intellectual scene. If only my house could look like this. In-game or out of it.

The hall of statues was interesting, especially with a few that were chipped or damaged. Sure, there’s a lot of reused assets here that you could probably spot in other places in the game, but I think they are arranged quite well in this place.

And there’s even an “evil” room dedicated to showcasing all things Mordory and Sauronesque. It’s a huge tonal shift from the rest of the floor, but it also reminded me a lot of museums I’ve been in that work hard to create themes that draw you in and contrast with the rooms next to them.

Posted in Try It Tuesday

Try-It Tuesday: Global Adventures

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!

Global Adventures is a deeply weird game. And deeply flawed. But I will give it this: It has one of the coolest character selection screens I’ve ever seen. You get this crew of characters endlessly running from this giant animated stone guardian, and as you pick the characters, they turn around to fire at it.

Anyway, so what is this game? Global Adventures is what could charitably be described as “Indiana Jones and Lara Croft meet Diablo meet Chinese game design.” That’s probably making it sound way cooler than it is, but it did get my interest when I came across it a few months ago. It’s a different setting, and the more I thought about it, the more a treasure hunting Diablo clone with a contemporary setting (albeit one with magic and some high tech stuff) is pretty cool. I thought I’d check it out for this month’s MMO experiment, even though it’s still in early access.

I went with a Bio-Tech, one of three playable classes right now. I swear, this is as grown up as I could make her look. The teddy bear doesn’t help my case. She’s a dual pistol fighter who can occasionally summon a giant robot to do stuff, so obviously that had to be my pick. Decent but not great customization options, and then we were off!

Right away, I couldn’t decide if I was going to love or hate Global Adventures. That feeling continued pretty much the entire time I was playing it. For every positive I found, there was a cruddy drawback that sprang out at me.

For example, the tutorial starts right out in a wonderfully detailed Aztec temple, and the game’s cel-shading and graphic design is flat-out gorgeous. There were cool little animations, like climbing up walls and swinging across with vines, that made the little pocket zones feel far more 3D than they had any right to be. And combat was fairly fun, if simple.

Yet the framerate was completely inconsistent and right from the get-go, this game suffered from the “neurotic over-controlling mom teaching a teenager how to drive” syndrome. Like, the game would let you play for a maximum of two seconds before wresting control away from you to explain something else or do one of the numerous little pointless cutscenes.

And oh, these cutscenes are bad. Horribly bad. It’s like they didn’t even try with the voice acting and lip syncing, but grabbed the nearest intern, shoved him or her in front of a mic, and made sure that the character mouth would open and close. And very little of what they said or did made sense. This is a game that should have a lot of story and instead has a pile of gibberish involving a fat leach called Slim Jim, random temple robbing, you have an arrowhead you’re trying to hawk, there’s a Global Adventures company, and a random guy in the street sends you to the corners of the globe. I gave up on trying to follow it.

The thing is, there’s a good game somewhere in here that needs a lot of love, attention, refinement, and western localization. It’s just not getting it from what I see.

Don’t get me started on what this game thinks is “humor.” It just made me hate any character attempting it.

Use disorientation tactics! By this the game means “move somewhat to the left and right.”

I guess the whole product is serviceable, and if it ran more smoothly, I’d even be up for enjoying it now and then. I did like how my character would take out a bike when auto-pathing between missions, and the bonus goal of fully clearing out and exploring each area (for extra loots). But it’s in too rough of a state right now, so I’m going to tuck it away and wait to revisit it when and if it actually releases.

Posted in Retro Gaming

KOTOR 2: Dantooine

(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.)

Before leaving Nar Shaddaa, I had to defeat Jedi Moustache up there, which was no easy task. The game is balanced around the idea that you’re using a lightsaber or some other melee weapon, so trying to pew-pew him with blasters is a rough go (especially with the whole blaster bolts-deflecting abilities that Jedi have). I had to save scum a lot and use my Kill power excessively, but in the end I conquered him and absorbed his force points into my own being. Didn’t get any loot, despite him using that lightsaber up there, though.

The good news is that with the completion of Nar Shaddaa and a few fights with HK units, I had enough spare parts to put together fan favorite HK-47! Man, I missed you, buddy. How’s it hanging? Still assassinating meatbags everywhere?

I also tried to pry into Atton’s mind with my Force powers, which he didn’t appreciate for some reason. Whatever. I’ve given up on the whining pup.

On to Dantooine! KOTOR 2 mixes it up between familiar locales (reusing maps) and new places, and this is definitely a regifting situation. Still, I now have a fully evil party as I took Hanharr and HK with me.

Truth be told, as much as I like HK-47, he wasn’t as good of a fighter as other characters. I’m debating whether or not to keep him for future planets. Oh geez, I probably will, just for the quips alone. Plus, he appreciates my villainous moves.

Dantooine is looking a bit different than in KOTOR 1, and none for the better. Between games, the Sith ended up razing the Jedi enclave here and the survivors ended up fleeing (which is why I’m chasing them down all over the galaxy). The locales aren’t too happy with the Jedi for abandoning them, although it does seem strange that there wasn’t a single bad word said about the Sith for, you know, the mass damage and all.

There’s a weird interlude on the Ebon Hawke where HK realizes that someone’s locked down the history settings for the navicomputer and then T3 zaps him. HK is completely fine, of course, and this is not spoken of again. What in Sam Hill was that about?

Dantooine is, essentially, two dungeons and a quest hub. There’s a small cave and the larger basement of the Jedi enclave, both crawling with oversized insects and other threats. It’s a great place to farm XP and get some loot. Plus, bonus, I killed a Jedi novice and took her lightsaber, my first in the game so far. Gave it to Visas, since she can do a lot more damage with it.

The planetary storyline convenes with a showdown between the settlers and the encroaching mercenaries. You can take either side, so naturally I’m all Team Mercs and got a talking to by the good guys. It was a fun battle, oh yes it was.

What wasn’t so fun was the showdown with the planet’s last remaining Jedi, Vrook. Baldy here is an absolute terror to fight, chopping right through shields and hit points while healing himself up any time he dips below half health. I didn’t have the best skills to defeat him, and the game makes you fight him one-on-one for some reason, so it took a long, long time to get past him — and only then on the sheerest of luck. I tell you, playing a bad guy in KOTOR 2 is actually harder than a good guy in some ways.

At least the planet is done and we are up by two lightsabers and a nice new armor set for myself!

Posted in RIFT

RIFT Prime is an interesting idea, but will it get me back?

I wasn’t anticipating thinking about or even playing RIFT right now (I always am in a process of drifting away or toward the game, and right now am probably somewhere in the middle of that), but yesterday’s announcement of a new RIFT Prime server for this spring kind of caught my attention.

If you didn’t see it, the idea is to create a new type of subscription-only server that won’t have most of the F2P elements (like lockboxes) but will feature special achievements and rewards, accelerated progression, monthly milestones, zones scaling to characters’ level, level-appropriate loot in all dungeons, a cap on professions, and a trip back through the game — with a server conclusion at some point.

It’s not quite a vanilla server, but it is a definite change from the current server status quo: “We plan to present RIFT at its roots as much as is possible to do, and look forward to sharing details over the coming weeks. The Prime server will progress at a faster pace than the original launch and will eventually come to an end in spectacular fashion.”

So as a former RIFT player, the question in front of me is, “Is this something that raises my interest and will it be compelling enough to call me back to the game?” I would say that “yes” and “maybe” are my answers.

I think we’re seeing a small but noticeable revolution among MMOs to present classic, legacy, progression, and other alternate ruleset servers. The EverQuest games have been doing this for years, of course, but now we’ve seen how popular Old School RuneScape is and are drooling for World of Warcraft Classic. It’s a good idea for RIFT to look into this, because the general perception of this MMO is that it was incredibly fun in vanilla, suffered over the rollout of expansions, and was dragged down by the overly aggressive F2P business model practices. Now Trion can offer two versions of the game to players and see which appeals more.

I have reservations. I have questions. We obviously need a lot more specific details here, and I am wondering the most about the pace of progression (will it be a stressful race?) and the decision to give the Prime server a definite conclusion. Even with rewards porting over (to characters I don’t play at the moment), having a looming end date does sap enthusiasm. And housing! Why would I engage in dimensions if it is all going to end, unless I can take that dimension with me? Housing is one of the best parts of RIFT and it would be a shame not to partake in that because I was afraid of assured demolition.

But will there be a restart of a second prime server? That was the idea with the challenge servers that Trion presented last year, and if the studio can come up with a format that encourages subscribing players to reroll while keeping the interim experience fun and enjoyable, it could go a long way to taking the stale feeling out of the endgame.

I’m going to think on it, especially as more info comes in. I could very well see myself subbing up for a month to see how this goes, especially if there is a groundswell of community excitement over it. There are so many things that I love about RIFT, and I do miss it a lot sometimes — especially how it used to be in those first couple of years. What about you? Did this announcement have you mulling over a return to the game? Is this a good move to offer a lockbox-free, sub-only solution?