Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Fine, Mordor, you win

Dear Future Syp,

No doubt you’re reading this because you’ve decided to come back to Lord of the Rings Online after another extended absence, perhaps because some shiny new content has released, and perhaps because LOTRO is like an old girlfriend you can’t quite get out of your head. It’s part of your MMO marrow, and I understand that.

You’re probably checking out this post because whenever you come back to an old MMO, you’re curious about your most recent adventures, where you left off, and why you took a break. I think I can answer most of that for you.

You just about got through the entirety of the base Mordor expansion, although your time, attention, and interest started to flag in the final zone. In fact, you never quite finished up the last zone, choosing instead to focus on the Black Book of Mordor epic storyline — and even that you left undone, with three or so chapters to go. It shouldn’t be too bad.

So why did you leave? Because LOTRO just wore you down. No, to be fair, it was Mordor in particular that wore you down. The slow progress. The omnipresent gloomy atmosphere. Those public dungeons that took just about forever to do. The lack of any exciting new carrots to chase. You couldn’t even be bothered with the new allegiance system, and the more aggressive lockboxes didn’t help any.

Mordor just wasn’t thrilling for you. It wasn’t eye candy, and in the absence of a welcoming and enjoyable environment, story is all that’s left. And while there were highlights, it wasn’t as memorable as it should have been.

Plus, there was that weird feeling like you were playing in the game’s extended epilogue now that the ring had been destroyed. Sure, you knew that there were things to be done, places to go, and fights to be had, but it all felt downhill. You understand that? Sure you do.

Best of luck with your quests, future Syp. I know you want to see this game through and that you might regret the time you took off that you could have put to use. But quite frankly, you needed the break or else you would have seriously started to resent the game. Mordor ended up being Moria Part II with its oppressiveness, and just like everyone needed to get out of Moria, you needed to get out of Mordor.

Say hi to your Lore-master for me and give your bog-guardian a pet on the head. He was a loyal fellow for having followed you so far.

Sincerely,

February 2018 Syp

Posted in EVE Online, Music, Podcast

Battle Bards Episode 115: EVE Online

Forgettable ambient noise or entrancing space sounds? This is the debate that’s at the core of today’s episode, as the Battle Bards take on EVE Online’s beloved and perhaps misunderstood soundtrack. It’s a journey that goes far beyond our galaxy to one full of intrigue, industry, and space discotheques!

Episode 115 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Below the Asteroids,” “Odyssey,” and  “I Saw Your Ship (symphony version”)
  • “Akat Mountains”
  • “Minmatar Rock”
  • “Hail to the Explorer”
  • “Theme from Jita”
  • “Red Glowing Dust”
  • “Merchants, Looters, and Ghosts”
  • “The Dealer”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes: Veon91, Zen Dadaist, KatsPurr
  • Jukebox picks: “Musik 2” from Hotline Miami, “Battlefield One” from Battlefield 1, and “Theories of an Eager Heart” from Planet Coaster
  • Outro (feat. “EVE Fanfest 2013 Theme”)
Posted in World of Warcraft

Trying to get organized in World of Warcraft

I just fell off the world… and onto a new one!

In some ways, I’m envying the crowd in World of Warcraft these days that have already pre-ordered the expansion and are spending the hours leveling up the new allied races. This isn’t something I want to do right now, mind you, but it’s just an envy of the leveling and questing process vs. the endgame economic loop that I’m in. There aren’t a lot of story arcs and zone progression for me right now, is what I’m saying.

In addition to refining how I’m trying to make gold in WoW, I’ve been working on sorting out just what my characters should be doing. Let me say that I’m frustrated with how the game’s structured its level 110 content, because it is confusing as all get out to know what to do and in what order. I’m not talking at all about the dungeon-raid grind — that’s something I’m avoiding altogether because I like my life. I’m talking about Argus and finishing up the order hall quests and getting class mounts and trying to push my champions to ilevel 950 and the multiple different quest arcs that are thrown at you. Some aren’t that important, some are. But so many are just not that easy to follow, and the game has lost me at several points.

It’s for this reason that I welcome the reset of a new expansion, even as I’m grumpy about losing the artifacts and legendaries that we spent so much time acquiring and building up. I’m just tired of the headache of trying to sort out the important stuff from the quest noise that builds up in my logs.

So right now if I have time after dailies and whatnot, I’ll try to work on one quest in each of my three character’s logs so that I’m not purely spinning my wheels here.

This also meant finally taking my Warlock Syperstar out of semi-retirement, where she’s been spending months in the Garrison making hexweave bags and wishing for a better life. As a rather fresh level 110, she has so much more to do in terms of quests and gearing up. I’m not going all-out on it, but she is at least doing her daily emissary rounds and helping to bring in a bit of extra cash via order hall missions. Three characters seem like a good number for a gold-making enterprise, and I’m making on average 12-18k gold every day (depending on sales, that could be a lot more).

This effort has paid out in spades. In addition to covering my monthly sub, I’ve generated enough gold for tokens that allowed me to pre-purchase Battle for Azeroth for free. Again, it’s more the principle of being able to earn your own way than actual affordability… but hey, that’s $50 I can spend elsewhere!

I’m also trying to be mindful of too much routine and the looming specter of burnout. As I said last week, there are a lot of games that I want to be trying out this spring, as well as the desire to hit up past MMOs like Elder Scrolls Online and FFXIV. I want to be in a place that if I only had 30 minutes or so to log into WoW, I could still do a lot in keeping my sales and gold generation going.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online

DDO: Spelunking in the Caverns of Korromar

Last week’s signature DDO adventure for me was hoofing it through the Caverns of Korromar as part of my efforts to get through House K quests. I know I’ve mentioned before that I have this negative reaction to seeing “long” or “very long” on the dungeon descriptions, because I know I’m in for a trek. This was a “long” quest, and sure enough, it ended up being about an hour of gameplay for my little solo team.

What initially frustrated me about Caverns of Korromar is that it is anything but a straight-forward dungeon romp. DDO works hard to break me out of established patterns with quests like this, and while I initially balked and grumbled at having to deal with a non-linear mission, in the end it felt satisfying and fair.

So the story here is that there was a Dwarven excavation deep in the jungle that had become overrun by undead. On top of that, something “evil” is lurking deep within it… and I’ve been drafted to go find out what it was.

It wasn’t an easy task. Just getting TO the excavation was tough enough, since the main gate was sealed and the only way in was through a sewer mini-dungeon. Then I had to find the entrance proper… at which point I was finally at the dig site. Which had five separate instances. And no mini-map within those instances. To make matters even worse, DDO Wiki — which is usually a fountain of useful information — was kind of a bust on this particular quest.

So the idea here is that all five excavation entrances are to the same underground map, just in different areas. By jumping in and out of each of them, I could gradually discover and solve the various clues that would lead to the unlocking of the magically shielded arena in the middle. It wasn’t too tough, just somewhat disorienting — especially at first. I think there was only one fight when things went south quickly and I found myself on the run with only a couple of dozen hit points.

But gradually, I solved all of the pieces (dull-witted that I am) and gained access to the arena.

At which point a Beholder started zapping me and I was like “HOLY MOLEY A BEHOLDER!” Trust me when I say I was fortunate to get the above screenshot. Fights in DDO happen very fast and you can get yourself wiped out if you’re lollygagging trying to take screenshots.

It was a surprising and cool end boss, and thanks to my machine gun crossbow and my pocket Cleric, we cleaned up just fine.

I even had time to take a selfie with the dead Beholder! So majestic in life, so disgusting in death.

Posted in General

Syp’s spring MMO dance card

As I mentioned last week in my gaming goals post, I’ve started to realize just how much is happening this spring with MMOs. It’s certainly caused me to change some previous plans I had for these months as I’m shuffling around games that I want to play — or at least try. As of right now, here are the online titles that are vying for a spot on my dance card this season in order of when they’re coming out:

Wild Buster, Antaria Online, Broke Protocol

All of these are early access titles that I picked up either for dirt cheap at a Steam sale or for free. Figured that I would give them a look sooner or later, so they’re occupying that “whenever I have time” spot.

Closers Online (launches February 6)

This is one of those action MMO imports with fixed characters that I usually ignore, but I miiiight want to give this a shot. I love the cel shaded graphics and the modern setting, so at least my curiosity is piqued.

Tale of Toast (early access February 23)

I have a soft spot for very indie MMOs, especially ones with an interesting look or style. Tale of Toast meets these standards, although its “hardcore” nature will probably keep it from being more than an idle look and a once-off blog post.

Villagers and Heroes mobile (releases on iOS February 26)

Still awaiting a good, dependable, and accessible mobile MMO, and I have high hopes for this one. I like what V&H does as a game, and as a mobile title it might just hit the spot for those off-hours.

Project Gorgon (early access in February or March)

I feel like I’ve been waiting to properly play this game for years now, and I’ve long said that once it hits early access (and lowers its chance for massive world changes), I’d start for good. Well, it should be happening fairly soon!

Sea of Thieves (launches March 20)

I do have some mild reservations about the PvP angle and the depth (or lack thereof) for this pirate title, but I am insanely excited about it even so. Can’t wait to join up with a crew and go treasure hunting on the open sea!

Shroud of the Avatar (launches March 27)

I once had hopes for this game, but right now it isn’t looking all that great for Garriott’s Ultima Online follow-up. Low population and a general dissatisfied word-of-mouth experience outside of the rabidly loyal. Still, I paid for it and promised that I would come back to see the launch version when it happened. We’ll see if it’s turned around enough!

RIFT Prime (spring 2018)

Depending on whether or not Trion will allow us to keep the characters from the new Prime server, I’ll be there with bells on day one. Really warming up to the idea of returning to this great MMO, especially with a new angle and challenge. Starting over is always fun.

Posted in Final Fantasy

Missing Final Fantasy

As I’ve talked about many times before, I have this weird love/hate thing going with the whole Final Fantasy franchise. It wasn’t a defining series for my childhood or anything; I only got into it with Final Fantasy VII back when I was in college and continued on until X. I lost interest in the console versions past that, and the MMOs have been a hit-and-miss affair with me.

Yet I will confess to some affection for the series. I recently fell into a playlist of Final Fantasy restrospective videos that I found fascinating, especially since they contained a detailed look at the earlier games that I never touched. The videos stirred in me a bit of nostalgia as they reminded me of some of the elements that I liked — the music, the atmosphere, the 400-pound swords — in addition to the weirdness and the more frustrating aspects of the series. FF7, in particular, made such an imprint on my gaming history that to this day it’s the title that I associate with the original PlayStation.

There really should be an accessible term for a person who is somewhat less than a “fan” of something but more than a very casual acquaintance. Or a fan in the past tense, maybe? That’s how I’ve been with Star Trek for decades now (although I think that fandom was just about quashed thanks to Discovery) and it’s what links me to Final Fantasy.

You know how it goes. Nostalgia and awareness is raised, and the next thing you know, you’re diving headfirst into games of the past. I finally got around to starting Final Fantasy IX on my iPad (which I purchased a long time ago for a promised second playthrough and never did it), and my SNES Classic keeps reminding me that I have a date with the sixth game, which I’ve never played but probably should just to shut up people whose eyes bug out when I tell them that. And there’s always the lurking through of Final Fantasy XIV, which should totally appeal to me on paper and only partially does in play.

To scratch at this itch, I’ve started to play the two Final Fantasies that I purchased for mobile way back when with the intention to enjoy. There’s FF6, which I’ve never played all of the way through, and FF9, which I adored on PlayStation but only did a single playthrough on that console. I’ll have deeper reports in weeks to come, hopefully, but so far both have been surprisingly enjoyable, hitting the spot.

It’s probably only a passing fad. Something to indulge for a little while, to scratch that itch, and then forget about once more. But it’s harmless fun, so why not? My college self would be giving me a thumbs up in approval, and at the very least, I can enjoy these soundtracks all over again as I listen to them on loop a billion times in a row.

Posted in General

Vowing to read MMO quest text

If I’ve heard it once over the course of my blogging career, I’ve heard it a thousand times: “This time around, I vow to read the quest text! I’m going to read it all and really soak up the lore and story of the game!”

It’s like some sort of new year’s resolution to lose weight that you just know the person is going to break within a few weeks. With MMO quest text, we have a hard time just reading it in most games. Have a hard time reading it, I should have said, without skipping past it and clicking “accept” on the quest button.

Is this on us or the games? I think there is blame in both courts.

MMO quest text has been around pretty much since the early days of the genre and was solidified when the World of Warcraft questing model took preeminence over the genre. It was a quick and easy way for a developer to initiate a quest, give us a briefing on the background and motivation, and send us on our merry way. We were mean to read and absorb these as part of our adventures, as evidenced in how WoW used to gradually reveal the quest text as if the NPC was speaking it. That quickly changed to showing the full box instantly and allowing us to accept as fast our our clicking finger could manage.

Why don’t we read quest text anymore? Or at least, why do we have difficulty sticking to resolutions to do so? Five big reasons come to mind, although there are probably more:

  1. So much of the quest text is irrelevant to knowing how to accomplish the mission. We know that the screen will now show us where to go and what simplified objectives to do. If it happens to be more complicated than that, sure, we can always go back and scan through the quest text or look up a walkthrough.
  2. Since we’ll only be interacting with this NPC a handful of times at most, we don’t have any vested interest in getting to know them, their struggles, and building a relationship with them. They’re disposable, and that’s how we treat the quests that they issue.
  3. While some writers honestly do put in great effort in giving us funny and interesting mini-stories, so many of these quest text boxes are a whole bunch of boring nonsense. It’s yet more justification of why we should go on a rampage against Group X, as if we need any reason other than “rewards.”
  4. If the quest text is small or awkward to read. LOTRO and EVE Online are two examples that come to mind.
  5. We get in the habit of wanting to progress as fast as possible and so have conditioned ourselves to stop absorbing the lore and details of the world in the interest of speed. To get back into the habit of reading quest text, we have to discipline ourselves to break that cycle.

I’ve made this vow many times to varying success. Some games I’m simply more interested in following along with the quest story. There are a few things that MMO devs can do to engage us deeper into the quest story, such as relying more on cutscene introductions (expensive but definitely more interesting), having us choose dialogue paths with the NPC (EQ2, DDO, Shroud of the Avatar), allow us to make choices at the onset of quests, and having the quests be part of an arc that counters the “disposable” aspect. But a lot of it is on us to actually see the quest text again instead of having it be invisible right in front of our eyes.

Generally, yes, I do enjoy reading quest text. I even screenshot a lot of it when it’s particularly interesting or humorous — and you’d be surprised how often this comes up now.  It’s something that I’m vowing to do more in my games this year, but old habits die hard.

Posted in Try It Tuesday

Try-It Tuesday: Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Welcome back to Arcadia Bay, where everything is the same and different at the same time.

When Life is Strange: Before the Storm was released, I was quite cool on the concept. It seemed to be pushing all the wrong buttons: a prequel with no time travel that focused on characters we already knew the fate of. And it was shorter (three episodes vs. five for the original). And it didn’t have any big supernatural mystery. And it focused on Chloe.

While I loved Life is Strange, I never got on board the Chloe bandwagon. She just rubbed me the wrong way and felt way too angry and bitter to be identifiable and likable. So a whole game about her? Um… no thanks. But then I got a $30 gift card from NewEgg and was browsing through the games section and saw this and thought, “Why not?” It wasn’t costing me anything, at least.

And after about 10 hours of a playthrough, I’m back to say that my initial fears… weren’t really put to rest. Despite some raves that I see out there for this game, it’s nowhere near as compelling or interesting as 2015’s adventure game. It’s a quieter character-driven piece that doesn’t have much in the way of a main narrative but does, to its credit, make Chloe a lot more personable and brought out Rachel Amber for us to meet.

Taking place about three years prior to Life is Strange, Before the Storm documents about three days during which Chloe connects with fellow classmate Rachel. Seemingly opposite, the two bond quickly and help/use each other to navigate the various struggles they’re going through. Chloe is feeling abandoned after Max left, her dad died, and David moved in on her mom; Rachel’s starting to crack under the pressure of being perfect and she’s found out something really disturbing about her father. They both talk about rebelling, about fleeing the town, about being besties forever… you know, hyper-emotional teen stuff.

But we know the end. Which is the problem here, as it is with a lot of prequels. When you know the end — especially a tragic end — then it robs a lot of tension of what’s going to happen before that point. We’re just learning more about who this Rachel is, why Chloe was so hung up on her that she spent months searching for her after her absence, and seeing all of the pieces move into place for the beginning of Life is Strange.

Everything seems so much smaller and less important with the prequel. There are fewer characters, no supernatural paradoxes to navigate, and no really fun mechanics. So many plot threads and decisions are offered up as potentially important only to fizzle out later (such as the big fire that Rachel started… which just kind of goes out in episode 3 like it ain’t no thing). And I couldn’t shake the knowledge that Rachel, as captivating as she is here, ends up as a user of people and of drugs. We know she’s not stable; she’s the Laura Palmer of this series. And to see Chloe kind of grovel at her feet and treat her like perfection felt wrong to me.

The budget and scope of Before the Storm feels smaller, too. There’s a lot of padding, such as several scenes where you try on clothing or just watch characters hang out while montage music plays. You spend way too much time fixing up a truck, just because Chloe needs a truck eventually for the sequel. And while Chloe and Rachel get excellent facial animations and voice acting, the rest of the cast has this wooden doll quality to their animations. It’s almost uncanny valley for some of them, like Rachel’s dad, and I found it pretty offputting.

I didn’t hate it. The story was fine and kept me somewhat interested as it went through the paces. There are two bits in particular — a D&D session with two other students and an interactive version of Shakespeare’s Tempest — that are brilliant ideas and well worth the praise that they’ve earned. And the body language, particularly of the principle characters, is nuanced and identifiable. When the characters just shut up and act, it can say so much.

But I can’t give Deck Nine, the studio brought in to create this prequel, a complete pass. There just are too few decisions of consequence, too many illogical plot points, and too much dithering around to make this as good as it could be. How many dream sequences do we need in which pretty much nothing is said? If the characters are going to end up as we know they are for the original game, what does anything they do or say matter? Why was David completely a jerk to me when I tried to rein in Chloe during the first episode?

And then there’s the ending, which the team completely botched. It’s really, really bad, because I got the feeling that the writers got themselves into a corner and then had to twist themselves into knots to create some sort of game-hinging choice. I don’t want to spoil it, but basically you’re going to have characters completely reverse their positions and motivations in the last hour just because, and the game is going to try to argue you into going a certain way that you know another character would hate.

As I said, it wasn’t bad. It was serviceable, which is probably the nicest thing that I can say about any prequel. But it wasn’t that necessary, didn’t add much to the world building, didn’t answer many questions that were left by the original, and didn’t have my mind all in a whirl when it was said and done. Here’s hoping for the real sequel, whenever it comes out.

Posted in World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth’s countdown begins

With Patch 7.3.5 and the launch of pre-orders for Battle For Azeroth, January turned into a pretty busy month for World of Warcraft. There was an insane flurry of activity when the pre-order was announced, so much so that queues shot up to a day or so before settling back down.

I was slightly tempted to get it right then and there, but I held off for the time being. My goal is to be able to pay for the expansion solely with WoW tokens, not because I’m that poor, but just to see if I can. Plus, hey, it’s $50 I could save for something else. With $23 saved up in the store already, I think I could knock this out easily this month, as long as the token prices settle down a bit (they had rapidly risen from 170k to 223k with all of the players returning, but we’ve seen signs of that abating).

There is no real incentive for me to pay $20 extra for the deluxe edition. I’m swimming in mounts, so why would I want two more? And all of the rest of the bonuses are for non-World of Warcraft games, which is an irritating trend that Blizzard has been perpetuating over the past couple of years. If I’m buying a special edition for a game I’m playing, I want all of the goodies to, you know, BE FOR THAT GAME.

But with the pre-order comes two notable events: the introduction of allied races and a release window for the expansion.

I know a lot of people were scrambling to get the pre-order because that meant they could roll up one of the four new allied races. And while we are really far out from the launch right now, it makes sense for Blizzard to give players something time-consuming to do (level a character from 20 to the cap, perhaps multiple times). Fill up those months.

Plus, as was pointed out, even if you don’t care about playing any of these races, simply unlocking them via the pre-order and requirements means that you get their mounts across your entire account. That’s a nice bonus.

I’m in no rush.  The thing that I’m worried about is going overboard on filling up my character roster, which is easier to do now more than ever before. Blizzard is giving us four more slots per server, and hey, now there are four new racial variants to roll. Additionally, the pre-order comes with a boost to 110, which is an option.

I don’t know what I would even want to pursue here. Keeping my Hunter and Death Knight for the expansion is pretty much my goal. Warlock, Shaman, and perhaps Druid are tier two. I’m mulling over a Highmountain Tauren Druid or Shammy but haven’t decided yet, so it’s probably good I don’t have to pick right now. I just don’t want to fill up the roster with tons of characters just because I can.

What was surprising with this pre-order is that Blizzard put the expansion release a lot sooner than many of us were anticipating. Considering that the beta hadn’t begun yet, I was seeing this as an easy November release, but no, the launch will be “on or before September 21st” to keep it in summer. It actually worries me a little bit that they’re going to have to rush the testing, but then again, it’s not like this expansion is breaking a whole lot of new ground in terms of features.

I guess I’m fine with it. That does mean we’re in for a half-year of no new content, despite Blizzard holding back a few quests and the new battleground so it can try to keep content drought accusations at bay. But I have plenty to do, and hey, there are always new characters to level if I get that bored and have that much time on my hands.

Posted in World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft: The Postman

Ever since I heard about the new “secret” postal quest chain that came in the latest World of Warcraft patch, I knew I had to do it. It sounded pretty neat, had some cool rewards, and I thought it’d make for a fun story.

The only problem was starting the quest. You see, to access the chain, you have to grab a piece of “lost mail” that spawns every few hours in front of one mailbox in Dalaran. I camped this location for about two days, often tabbing in and out of the game while working to see if it had appeared. On occasion, other players gathered about and even griefed the spawn spot by sitting on top of it with their big Tauren butts. Way to be mature there, future ground beef.

But bliss upon bliss, I saw that the letter appeared late one night. Grabbing it, I was off on a magical adventure into the underbelly of Azeroth’s postal delivery service. Apparently the post room is a completely new locale built for this quest, and let me tell you, it’s a real treat. Very detailed and colorful; it made me think of Harry Potter and all of those flying letters in the first book.

The Postmaster himself — formerly only known by the letters he sends to players — assigned me a few missions of various import.

Perhaps most galling was to loot the reigns of Invincible (the mount just about everyone wants) and then hand them over to that egotistic elf Johnny Awesome… who then just vendors them. It’s definitely a cruel move on the part of the developers to taunt players so.

As an aside, I noticed that this goblin is grilling up a fish head burger. Remind me never to eat at this resort.

I got a laugh when I was sent to erect a toy next to Johnny’s previous mount, one of those celestial steeds. Which, apparently, was only partially buried. Hooves up.

After all of the running around, the final part of this quest chain is to engage in a mail sorting minigame. You’re given the name of a town and zone and have to quickly click one of the tubes going to various continents. The ultimate goal is 30 letters in 60 seconds, with a wrong click costing you precious seconds in delay. I know it sounds easy? But it’s honestly incredibly nerve-wracking. I kept getting close, so very close, as that “29” up there mocked me. I’ll say that in the end, I had to play this game about 20 times before beating it.

And there’s even a more ADVANCED version where you only get a town name and no zone, and there is no way I have all of that memorized. No thank you. I have a life. Sort of.

Other than the novelty of this whole experience, there were a few nice rewards, such as a “mailemental” pet, a summonable mailbox on a three-hour timer, and an item to upgrade a piece of heirloom gear. Even better was an extra copy of the lost mail item to start the quest, which I promptly turned around and sold on the auction house for 72,000 gold. Hey, I camped for it, I benefit from it. Seems fair to me.