DDO: The Prisoner

This week’s Dungeons and Dragons Online adventure was The Prisoner, in which I saved one elf from another elf’s incompetence and validated my suspicions that this race is too dumb to live.

In this case, Mistress Orphne — or, as I called her, Little Orphne Annie — has had her mind hijacked by some of her countrymen. So it’s into the mind of an elf I go to free her, because that’s the sort of pop psychology I subscribe to!

So what will we find in the mind of an elf? Probably a pillow fort made of haughty arrogance.

Orphne’s mind is pretty messed up, although mostly in a way that feels like the developers wanted some freedom to get wacky with level design. Lots of stuff floating in midair unsupported, ladders that go on for three minutes at a stretch, and plenty of beholders popping in for pep talks. They went down so fast that they barely had time to get out their taunts.

I had to find four items within Orphne’s mind to shake her out of this stupor, and pretty much all of them were high up various platforms. While I had feather fall to assist me in a quick way back to the start, at once point I got hung up on the terrain and ended up suspended in midair with no way to get down. I used the /stuck command (after a stern warning from the system not to abuse it) and went on my merry way.

Ladder Diary, Minute 524. Still climbing. Have splinters in all fingers and toes. Cursing the birth day of each and every developer in this place. Why don’t I have rocket boots?

Probably the most interesting section, at least to me, was a maze stuffed with minotaurs and traps. Neither were particularly dangerous, and at one point a minotaur stumbled right into a trap and got skewered right before my eyes. I extended grace and pity by laughing mercilessly and saying, “You idiot cow.”

After a fight with a giant — wasn’t quite sure WHY there was a giant in her mind, but no matter — I fought shadow Link here and won the day. Of course, I tinkered around with her brain to make her think that she was a ferret for the rest of her life, but that’s standard operating procedure in an elf memory rescue.

RIFT Prime: I can see my dimension from here!

It’s not a return to RIFT if I’m not making my traditional pilgrimage to the top of the highest peak in Silvermoon Forest for the achievement — and the view. I’ve been doing this with each new Guardian character since 2011 that it’s unthinkable not to keep the tradition alive.

Besides, I’m not in a rush. Even with the XP bump on the servers, it’s still a slow go with slow fights, and so Prime for me has become more of a sightseeing and screenshotting tour as I make small, incremental progress toward my goals. Or, you know, the completion of the very first zone. As usual, I was probably behind most of the pack after Minute Ten of this server. Such is life.

At least I crossed one minor milestone, which was scraping together enough money to buy a basic mount. On one hand, this is easily the slowest horse I’ve ever owned in any MMO. I think it’s only a 60% speed boost, and the horse’s running animation is slowed such that it looks like it’s running through quicksand. On the other hand, that’s 60% faster than I’ve been running, and I’ll take any speed boost I can get at this point. Having a mount makes me feel less vulnerable and noobish.

Air rifts at night are gorgeous. Like funky nightlights with mini-tornadoes.

With the increase of XP for rifts and other dynamic events, there is increased incentive to seek out and run these. And frankly, with a large enough public group, I don’t mind. Rifts are dull work solo or with only one or two others, but they’re a breeze with a mob at your back. And even though the planarite rewards are meager in this zone, there are some gear drops and it’s kind of enjoyable to do for its own sake. My kids were still oohing and ahhing over the rift exit animations, so there’s still some visual magic left here.

And then, because I’m apparently allergic to making progress, I rerolled my character. Again.

So what happened is that as I was nearing level 20, I just wasn’t feeling it with my Cleric. I was running Realm of the Fae with some friends and one was going on and on about the Bard, and that just flipped a switch in me. I became mad for the idea of maining a Bard, something I don’t think — to my knowledge — I’ve ever done in RIFT. I’ve used the Bard as a secondary or support profession, but not as a leveling character.

I always love the *idea* of Bards but rarely stick one out. So why not now?

While the notion of rerolling and falling further “behind” stuck in my craw a bit, about an hour into this character and I knew I had made the right decision. It just clicked a lot more than the previous two characters had. The plan with her is to dump most of my points into Bard, with some into Ranger to keep a combat pet in the mix. I also splashed Marksman in there for the zero-point sprint, which is handy while questing.

I also really like what I came up with for her looks. I went back to a Dwarf — sue me — and contrasted a light tattoo on dark skin.

At least now I’m pretty used to these opening quests and can blitz through them quickly. I am also picking up as many rifts as I can, now that XP is better. I hope to stay with the XP curve this time around.

One wonderful part about questing in Silvermoon, other than the general beauty of the zone, is that the regional quest has to do with confronting and killing Elves. It’s a terrible sacrifice on my part, but I will do my honest best to step up and wipe out these freaks with a vengeance.

Battle Bards Episode 117: Destiny

Two Destinies for the price of one! For this episode, the Battle Bards are gearing up in their favorite space armor to take on highlights from both of the Destiny soundtracks. From buyer’s regret to confusing the gender of a key character, there is all sorts of on-air therapy happening with this kooky trio!

Episode 116 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Sepiks Prime,” “The Wilds,” and “Ikora”)
  • “Inner Light” from Destiny 2
  • “The Traveler” from Destiny 1
  • “The Ecstasy (Jupiter)” from Destiny 1
  • “Lost Light” from Destiny 2
  • “The Last City” from Destiny 2
  • “Holliday” from Destiny 2
  • “The Farm” from Destiny 2
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener Notes: rafael12104, Katriana, Veon91
  • Jukebox Picks: “Becalmed” from Sea of Thieves, “Track One” from Loong Online, and “Riverside Bogie” from Railway Empire)
  • Outro (feat. “The Union (Mercury)”)

World of Warcraft: A song of Uuna

One of the side activities that I wanted to accomplish sooner rather than later was to unlock the little Uuna vanity pet. She came out a couple of patches ago and was notable for being a vanity pet with a whole involved storyline. It’s pretty dang neat, so I recommend trying it out.

Uuna is a dead Draenei girl who begins all of this being a disassembled skeleton.

Yeah, this is a happy place to be. Little dead girl, check. Thanks for the positive feels there, Blizzard.

Anyway, it took a couple of days to gather together the various bones found in Argus and then summon some sort of multifaced demon dog to fight. He didn’t drop her soul on the first day, but I was in luck on the next. Uuna was mine!

She’s not quite all there when you first summon her. She’s pretty freaked out as a spirit of a little girl, and I had to use emotes to win her over to become my friend. Next up? A world tour in which she would interact with various locales and then start gathering new accessories.

See that tiny floating island out there? I had to jump there. Thank you, goblin gliders!

I thought it was a really cool idea to have a vanity pet that kept upgrading its appearance. Uuna ends up getting her little stuffed animal pet, a flower crown, and a wand that shoots stars. But just when she finishes getting all of this…

She gets sucked down into the underworld. Well, good knowing you there, kid.

Fine. I’ll bust into the afterlife and drag you kicking and screaming back into reality. This isn’t worth the $2.50 an hour I’m getting for babysitting.

This, by far, was one of the coolest parts of any quest in the game. I was taken to this shadowy purple forest that genuinely looked and felt unsettling. And then the shadow-monsters started crawling toward Uuna at all sides — and I couldn’t attack them. I could sort of knock them back and try to keep them at bay. Then I gave her a hug and she exploded in sunlight, blasting the shadows away.

Aw. Excuse me. Something in me eye.

And with that, Uuna’s back and able to be summoned. Since my Death Knight is a Draenei, it seems oddly appropriate to have a little sister along for the journeys ahead.

RIFT: Jumping with both feet into Prime

With the launch of RIFT’s Prime progression server last week, you better believe that I was there with bells and whistles on.

Actually, there were no bells or whistles, because I didn’t get any starting advantages whatsoever. Considering that I have literally hundreds of items, gear, cosmetics, pets, mounts, buffs, etc. that are bound to account and arrive on any new character I make on the live servers, it was a shock to the system to have a character that started out with the basic inventory bag and that’s it. Everything else would have to be earned.

It was a pretty wild experience. I can’t remember the last time I was rushing through my work day in eager anticipation that I would get to play RIFT. But I miss that core classic leveling experience, those lowbie zones, and the idea of progressing through it with a crowd of likeminded gamers held incredible appeal. Plus, I’ve never gotten to do an MMO progression server, so finally here was one for a game that I liked. And at a good time of year too, as I don’t have terribly much to do in WoW.

Even after seven years, RIFT is still pretty beautiful and wonderfully detailed in places. After fighting through a queue (when is the last time RIFT ever had one of those?), I whipped up a brand-new Mage and went to town for a night.

It was slow going. I was really tired last week due to having the flu, and so my body was ready to call it a night by about 10. It was hard to push fast through this anyway, as everyone was fighting over quest objectives and the XP rate for quests seemed to have been nerfed really low to the point where everyone was running out of quests to run at level. So… grind? That didn’t seem too appealing.

When I woke up the next morning, I felt pretty dissatisfied with my choice of Mage, too. The Mage has about one soul that I like and that’s it, and if I’m going to be sticking with this server, it’s got to be with a class that I love. So I went back to the drawing board and fashioned up a Cleric instead.

This ended up being a terrific idea for me, personally. I just love many of the Cleric classes and there’s a lot of flexibility for different playstyles. Plus, I got my healing faerie back (who is named Figmentia, I’m totally proud of that) and changed from a Dwarf to a human. How come? For a visual change, mostly, but also because the humans have a racial sprint that’s very handy on a server that doesn’t give you a mount right away.

This game is still so pretty. Dang.

I fell into a nice guild early on and we all compared gaming backgrounds and current experiences. There was a much wider mix of folks than I would have guessed, with many coming to the game as complete newbies. The recruitment spam in the channels was relentless, so I switched over to guild chat only for a while to give me some peace while I quested.

It was still slow going, even with a build that I liked more. Originally I thought that it was because I didn’t have a mount and there were people everywhere hogging quest objectives, but by the end of the second night, it became very apparent that the quest XP wasn’t up where it needed to be. I was doing every quest I could find, plus lots of extra kills, plus any nearby rift, and I still ended up two to three levels under the requirements for the next batch. Something is hinky with the XP payouts, and I’m hoping Trion is going to adjust this soon.

There was a lot of mutual amazement over all of the players running around everywhere, reminding us vets of how RIFT used to feel. This game can be terrific fun with a critical mass for zone events, and I’m looking forward to doing more of these in the future.

For me, I’m taking my time. I don’t have much of a choice in that regard, but I’m treating this whole experience as an ultimate tourist tour. I’m reading quest text, taking tons of screenshots, and poking my nose around areas.

I’m also starting to formulate a lot of long-term goals, because everything on this server is going to take some time. Getting enough money for a mount is of primary importance, and right now I’m about halfway there. Without minions, I’m going to need more money to beef up my dimension with decor, but better bags and planar items are definitely more vital right now.

I hope that we’ll see some events and holidays pop up, because my wardrobe and pet tab is incredibly bare right now. I’m going to have to look into ways to secure a little buddy or two to keep me and Figmentia company.

Not that impressed with Secret World Legends’ agent system

Well. Here we are. The first truly “new” piece of content for Secret World Legends that it didn’t import over from the old game (if we’re not counting the new tutorial)… and honestly, it’s pretty underwhelming. I’m not even evaluating it based on expectations of new story missions but as compared to timer-based assignment mission systems that are found in many other MMOs (SWTOR, WoW, RIFT, STO, among others).

Let me say that I actually really like these systems. They contain a modicum of strategy, there are some nice rewards, and psychologically, it’s enjoyable to know that I’m making some sort of progress in the game even if I’m offline (which I am more often than not). Logging back in to get a bevy of goods is a great way to start out a session. Bonus points if these systems come with a mobile app, which is something I greatly like about WoW’s Legion order hall missions.

My initial impressions of what Secret World Legends is doing here is not kind. The interface is simply way too cluttered, non-intuitive, and filled with a very unfortunate choice in fonts. This sort of system shouldn’t be that complicated, really, but Funcom is obviously trying to inject it with some gravitas and at least the appearance of depth. Unfortunately, none of it really makes sense other than the big percentage sign of anticipated success.

A couple other immediate negatives. First is that I was baffled trying to find my way back to the agent screen. There was no icon on the screen that I could see and the system didn’t show up in the master menu. Eventually I googled it and found out that it was “P,” but seriously, I shouldn’t have had to do that.

Second is that while we’re given one generic agent at the start, that’s it. And then we’re not really told where to get more. Again, googling shows me that these agents are (very low) random drops on missions or I could try to buy a pack with some premium currency, but that’s it. As a Tokyo-completed character, I really anticipated being grandfathered into more agents than just one. To be honest, there’s no way I’m going to go back and grind missions. So that means I’m probably not going to use this system much unless I get into season 2 (whenever that is) and hopefully start seeing agent drops.

Maybe I’m missing out here, but I’m very underwhelmed so far. I’m not going to subject myself to RNG just to get the tools to participate. I would have thought that some missions would contain a 100% chance to drop certain characters, but that’s not what I’m seeing. So I guess I’m going to chalk this up to another “nice idea, poor execution” example of Funcom in the vein of the museum.

World of Warcraft: Moose with blue paint

As we begin the multi-month countdown to Battle for Azeroth (or continue it, to be more accurate), I’m applying myself more diligently to pursuing goals that I want to see wrapped up by the time the expansion comes around. One of these is to unlock all of the four allied races that have been included in the most recent patch. This isn’t necessarily that I am dying to play them, but I do take a shine to the collection aspect that these races represent — and besides, every race comes with a free mount, so why not?

I kind of find it funny how some outlets were making it sound as if meeting the unlock requirements for these races ‘Tweren’t No Big Thing. “If you’ve been playing the game and doing all of your dailies and being as awesome as we are,” they say, “then you’ll already be there.”

Of course, we don’t all play MMOs the same way or for the same amount of time, and I think some people best keep that in mind. For me, I’ve been no complete slouch in this expansion, but my extended break a while back (especially in the post-Argus era) lagged me behind the pack, and when I turned to this goal, I found out that I only met one out of four of the requirements. While I had the Highmountain Tauren ready to go, I guess I still have a lot of the Suramar campaign (which was a surprise to me — I thought I was done there) and the two Argus factions. It’s nothing that I’m going to kill myself in pursuing, but a bit at a time and I should be there.

First up was to formally unlock the Highmountain Tauren. I really thought that this was going to be a lot quicker than it turned out to be. To its credit, Blizzard created fairly lengthy scenarios here, and my adventure in getting one of these Moose-men took the better part of an hour of cutscenes, travel, and questing.

It was definitely a joy to return to Mulgore and Thunderbluff. This area was always among my most favorite zones in the game for that western, wide-open feel. I have come to realize just how much I enjoy zones that are wide-open and favor unrestricted travel and lengthy line-of-sight versus the more cluttered and dense regions. And WoW does “dense” a lot, so places like Mulgore are more of a rarity.

Another thing that struck me with this quest was, as with the Silithus storyline going on right now, all of this is firmly Battle for Azeroth prelude versus Legion content. Lots of talk and fighting with old gods, which I’m totally fine with. Anything to change it up from fel green and demons at this point.

In the end, I finally got my Highmountain Tauren and rolled up a Shaman to see how it handled. The character creation options were a lot more interesting, which I assume is going to be an appeal of these races, and I enjoyed the moose antlers and blue paint as cow alternatives. It was kind of neat to be able to start at level 20 with a few perks — like bags, one talent point, the ability to use mounts, a halfway decent rotation — and yet be low enough that it didn’t feel like really skipping ahead. I don’t think I’ll really be playing much of this character, but it is satisfying to have it in the bank. One down, three to go.

DDO: Anniversary party hardy

So 12 years in to Dungeons and Dragons Online, and I’m only now playing the anniversary party. To be fair to myself, it’s only a few years old, but still, I feel a little ashamed that I’m literally late to the party. And it’s a good one, at that!

I joined back up with the crew from Onedawesome, the DDO guild that I helped found waaaaay back in the day (and to even more personal shame, I left our weekly sessions whilst they continued it for years and years now). We entered the party tent, where an odd and amusing celebration was underway…

My favorite bit from the central party was seeing classic D&D characters playing D&D and chatting about it. Very meta, but really, this whole quest is a seven-layer cake of meta.

Strahd showed up for the D&D session, but as one of those flat, moving Hogwarts paintings. Again, I could have probably sat there for a half-hour just watching them go through this banter.

But as for our group, we had a mission to perform, and that mission was to beat the living stuffing out of the developers. You see, in this quest, the first four bosses are all Turbine/SSG developers in weird forms. There is also a pit of skeletons with other dev handles, but we were fighting too fast to make a deep connection to each name.

“So Todd, it’s your eight-year anniversary here with the studio, and that means we grant you one wish. What shall it be? Cost of living increase? Dental plan? Four extra days PTO?”

“I’m going to go with ‘make my head into a giant bat boss’ instead. Always been a life dream.”

“…done.”

And if you’ve ever wanted to have a conversation with a door-that’s-not-a-door, welcome to DDO.

I did get a laugh out of the fact that Jeets, that cheeky rogue from the tutorial, returns as the big bad boss who’s trying to become a kobold overlord to impress Malicia. It’s… not the worst idea I’ve ever heard.

And making a guest appearance, the Dementors! Definitely a wicked awesome mob design.

All in all, a great quest — quick, funny, and full of details and conversations for those who want to take their time. I even got a couple of gear upgrades, so now I’m sporting a few more spell points and hit points to keep my sorry gnome butt alive.

Try It Tuesdays: Rimworld

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!

My doctor was a hard worker, but she was subject to fits of depression — and then she got dumped by her boyfriend, Wolf, which sent her into a downward spiral. A timberwolf trailed one of my miners home and ambushed him, leaving him bleeding out on the country side. The blight started running rampant through my crops… and then the tornado came.

This is Rimworld. This is pretty awesome.

I had long been meaning to pick up this colony simulator, but I was also cheap and waiting for it to go on sale. Finally, I said what the hay, and I got it at full price. Considering just how many hours I’ve dumped into the game so far, I feel like I got a good deal here.

A more visually pleasing (if only just) Dwarf Fortress with a dash of The Sims tossed in, Rimworld starts you out by handling a crash-landed crew of three on an alien world. From there, you give orders and try to corral your “pawns” (as the community calls them) into creating a sustainable colony. It’s not easy, as dangers can come from the group itself, the difficulty of trying to provide all of the necessities, and from various natural and manmade threats. One bad fire, one small infection, one psychopath biding his time in your midst… and it can all go to pot real quick. Shockingly quick.

And yet Rimworld isn’t frustrating or mean so much as it is engrossing. Every game is a layered story where group survival unveils in a myriad of ways. There is a deep level of strategy going on, and during my first few attempts, I kept starting over once I realized that I had been doing something wrong (or sub-optimally) for a while now.

While you don’t get to outright tell each pawn what to do, you are the overseer who makes priority lists, sets up tasks, and can even draft characters into a shooting war if necessary. I had to keep track of so many variables, from terrain to temperature to moods to the best materials to use for what — and yet when it all comes together to make a colony work, it’s pretty satisfying. I have not stopped being amazed at all of the factors that my characters take in during their day-to-day lives. They can get freaked out by seeing a corpse, scared if they sleep in a room in the dark, and spontaneously throw a party just for fun. Having one get shot and then desperately trying to save her before she bleeds out can be a nail-biting venture, especially if one disables the ability to load previous saves.

I find a deep satisfaction in setting up everything Just So and then watching a colony tick, from the food production cycle to having the power come on to training animals to assist you. There’s a lot of research into more items that can help, but the threats start to ramp up and choices have to be made on the fly.

Probably my only complaint is how slow everything goes at the start. It feels like there are all of these mood debuffs that I’m powerless to address because I haven’t enough research or building supplies to make the items needed. I also kind of wish I could see or hear my colonists talk to each other or see moodlets above their head instead of having to constantly evaluate their character screens, but that’s pretty small potatoes.

There’s so much in terms of options, here. You can choose different biomes, different levels of difficulty (just try surviving on an ice sheet), and there’s a massive modding community that I haven’t even begun to research. I’m hoping to get my colony (Hill Valley) to its second year at some point without starting over, but I keep learning something that I feel will help me more if I just had another shot.

Anyway. Rimworld amazing. A must play.

Sea of Thieves thinks you are too delicate to handle character customization

Guys, I’m starting to become a bit concerned about Sea of Thieves.

Last week, I listed it as one of the games that I’m definitely looking forward to playing when it comes out on the 20th, but I’ll have to admit that a lot of enthusiasm for this multiplayer pirate game is bleeding off. My three biggest concerns right now are thusly:

  1. That there isn’t enough content to provide a deep and long-lasting experience, especially without many typical forms of progression. The team is putting a LOT of weight on rep grinding for cosmetics as the key carrot here, as there will not be any stats, usable loot, levels, character talents, and the like. We know that Rare held back on showing all of its content in the open beta, so I think it is prudent to reserve judgment on this.
  2. That this title is ripe for off-the-hook griefing that goes above and beyond the PvP encounters that the dev team envisioned. Wolfy lays out a good argument here from his personal experience.
  3. That the devs don’t even trust players to make their own pirates but have inexplicably turned the character creator into a random pirate generator from which you will choose your toon.

This last one might be the most inconsequential when compared to the first two, but it’s also the point that gets me the angriest. I watched this recent dev video in which the team kept patting themselves on the back for this system, defending its inclusion because sliders are hard and they’d been working on it for four years.

Yeah… so?

Do you think we are too delicate to handle sliders? Are there solid metrics out there showing gamers who get to a character creation screen and get so frustrated at picking their own looks that they run from the computer screaming? And do you not see the hypocrisy in advertising this as a game where players can be the pirate of their choosing when you don’t trust the player to be the pirate that they perhaps really want to be?

Actual quote from the devs on this:

“We wanted a way to get cool characters in the game without making a million sliders and toggles and a way for everyone to have a cool character that represents themselves even if they have no artistic skill.”

Yes, because there is NO OTHER GOOD WAY for players to create a personalized character unless you thrust mandatory RNG into our faces. Which, by the way, pretty much all MMOs offer anyway if you want to randomize your look. It’s not a new thing. It shouldn’t take you four years to do. And it’s stupid that this is the only path to picking your character, because now we are all going to have to repeatedly reroll the looks until the game somehow guesses what would best represent us.

The studio also seems to think that this will speed up the entry into the actual game, which ignores that (a) some of us really do enjoy character creation and (b) we’re only going to be sitting there hitting refresh on the generator for the same amount of time that it would take to pick and choose our looks.

Or as one commenter said, “How can I be the pirate I want to be with an RNG system? With that type of system I’ll be the pirate I pick after giving up looking for the pirate I want to be.”

It’s so insulting and condescending that it boggles the mind. And here Rare is just grinning as if this is the best thing ever, because it knows that we gamers would hurt ourselves if we got real scissors instead of the rounded ones that can’t cut butter.