Posted in Gaming Goals

Syp’s Gaming Goals for May 2018

April in review

  • I began the month very much on fire for RIFT Prime and ended it with a whimper. While I had a reasonable amount of fun, I disliked the pressure to keep up and stopped getting into as much group activities. With so much else on my plate and plenty of (free) fantasy MMOs to keep my interest, I decided to let my sub lapse and walk away.
  • World of Warcraft was mostly a month of gold making and gradual questing. I did unlock the Lightforged Draenei and got an impressive four WoW Tokens thanks to selling one item for a whole bunch of gold.
  • I finally got into the Mists of Ravenloft expansion in Dungeons and Dragons Online and worked my way through most of the new South Africa update in Secret World Legends, both of which filled my horror quotient for the year.
  • I made a tentative step back toward Lord of the Rings Online as I stepped out of Mordor and made my way to Mirkwood. I also put in a couple of Project Gorgon sessions, but I’m still not as heavily into that game as I want.
  • The big (re)addition to my gaming roster was Star Trek Online, which was prompted by both the upcoming expansion and the Delta Recruit event. Made a new character and got through the Klingon campaign.
  • Novel progress: 18 chapters and 60,000 words into the book.

May’s gaming goals

  • Right now I’m most on fire for Star Trek Online, so I will jot down a goal to reach level 50 by the end of the month. Level 60 would be better, but we shall see! It would be great to get into a Tier 6 ship again.
  • Finishing up the allied races by getting Void Elves (for completion’s sake) is my main goal for World of Warcraft. Maybe start some transmog hunting, my Death Knight needs cooler gear.
  • I’ll stay on top of Secret World Legends’ current content, and a mission or two a week in DDO’s Bavaria would be just fine. I’m really enjoying sitting down for a regular DDO night (although I’d like to be doing more group stuff too).
  • Pillars of Eternity 2 is coming out, and that has my attention — although I feel way too bad that I never finished the first one nor several other CRPGs that I own. Maybe I just need to schedule a weekly “offline” night and be happy with that. State of Decay 2 might be a possibility as well. And I need to sort out all of my mobile games and maybe pare those down to titles I actually want to and will play.
Posted in The Secret World

Secret World: Nobody likes Chad


That escalated quickly.

On the second night in the Morninglight compound, I took the rope that Che oh-so-helpfully lowered to let me gain access to the Favoured section. Right away, everything went awry — sirens blaring, giant hulking guys running at me with machine guns, I got a paper cut.

This place didn’t look quite like the other two sections in that it wasn’t lived-in, but rather it was made up of four giant warehouses. Out of them poured the Bloodied, these hulked-out soldiers who really reminded me of the Soviet Red Hand soldiers from Transylvania.

This mission cracked open some of the big parts of what’s going on here, especially that we landed back on the familiar Secret World territory of weaponizing science, body modification, and unethical experiments. I got a kick out of the models of the Bloodied, just way over the top to the points where their pecs probably needed a sports bra for support.

Turns out that the Morninglight was making these guys and the other two creatures I’d been encountering… for some reason. The Bloodied were made from three eye-less guys who were being kept for their blood. Since all of these three tried to kill me, I didn’t feel too bad for them.

So this is a video game horror staple that I actually hate: When devs go waaaaayyy overboard on the gore to the point where it’s downright comical how much there is. It’s just gore for the sake of gore, not frightening, not repelling, just background scenery that’s actually ludicrous when you think about it. I mean, this warehouse right here? I spent about five minutes trying to guess how many people had to die to fill those corpse piles. Maybe a couple of thousand? At least a thousand. There’s no way that the Morninglight could generate this many dead bodies without arousing a lot of suspicion both within and without the organization.

I mean, the reason here is that the Bloodied only eat human flesh, because of course they do. But I guess in this universe nobody’s thought of freezers and plastic wrap.

And I don’t think I’ve ever been beaten with a club made of human legs tied together. I’m kind of a little worried about whichever Funcom dev was in charge of this building.

Seriously, take away the gore piles. Nix the leg club. The guy without eyes is weird and creepy enough as it is, and you could just insinuate the rest. That would have worked way better here.

This action mission was pretty much a long, long string of boss fights. Nothing impossible to overcome, and I only died once when I didn’t realize that the One-Shot Probes had been activated.

There is this kind of funny running joke in the computers about how a guy named Chad got killed and was fed to these people, which was fine because nobody liked Chad. Everyone hated that guy.

Finally, at the end, I get to open up the gates to Marquard’s mansion… and that’s when everything gets REALLY weird.

His mansion is floating in that weird space tableau that we keep seeing in the game, the one in which the Dreamers exist. Probably not going to be able to walk up there any time soon.

And why not, a giant gore T-Rex starts attacking me while this announcement voice — who hasn’t always been the pillar of mental stability in this zone — starts going absolutely crazy. It’s here that the Filth is mentioned for the first time since I’ve arrived.

Giant dino down, and Richard Sonnac finally is able to call my phone. He’s not very happy with me at all, because I guess I’m still in the doghouse with the Templars. Honestly, they can stuff it. I’ve been doing nothing short of saving the world and putting myself through hell, and this organization can’t have the decency to have my back. Quitting to join the Hive sounds better and better every day. Man, I hope we get to do that.

In the meanwhile, I’m asked to go back to the Agartha portal and sit on a cheap plastic chair until my handler comes over. Commence a lot of eyerolling.

Posted in General

LOTRO: Escaping Mordor’s gravity well

As I tentatively dip my toes back into LOTRO to venture into Northern Mirkwood, I first had to push through the final vestiges of Mordor (for now… for now). It was all a crash course in reminding me how poorly designed these zones are, how travel unfriendly, and how annoying the back-and-forth fetch quests are over this region. Plus, it’s so. Dang. Ugly.

I have never been so serious in my life as when I say that I never want to go through Mordor again. And with all of that being refreshed in my mind, I found this recent interview with SSG chief Rob Ciccolini absolutely frustrating. Not only does he completely dodge the question of the ongoing (two-plus years) poor performance issues with the client, but he rallied a tired defense of Mordor’s difficulty and design and hedged whether or not it was too tough. Whatever. You’re not going to sucker me into running any alts through it, I can tell you that.

So after suffering through a few more quests, I was finally encouraged to leave Mordor and head back to Southern Mirkwood. Wait, southern? I thought this was all northern stuff, and… you know what? I’m just glad to be out of there. I don’t care where the game sends me at this point.

First up is a quest that should have been called Tying Up Loose Ends, because the whole point is to return to Mirkwood and witness Dol Guldur being destroyed once and for all. Before that happens, I get my first and last trip inside of its walls (I’ve never been).

In a really cool moment, I actually get to see Sauron’s old throne room, back when he was recovering from the loss of the ring and his defeat by the alliance. There are a couple of interesting little flashbacks to witness, and it was bizarre to just, you know, see Sauron as an actual guy sitting there. This might only be the second or third time I’ve ever witnessed him in the game, all in flashbacks.

This guy shows up to lay out his plan to stir up trouble between the Dwarves and Smaug, and all I can think of is WHERE DO I GET THAT ARMOR? So cool. I want to join the bad guys if they all get cool gear like that. The good guys keep giving me pajamas.

And in what is undoubtedly supposed to be a shocking surprise, this elf… girl? I think it’s a girl. Well, she pops out of the gloom and is all happy to see me because I guess we hung out five expansions ago? Did the devs honestly think we’d remember this? I’m doing good if I can name all four of my kids on any given day, nevermind trying to dredge up the name of some supposedly dead elf from 2010.

We — by which I mean “I” because elves are lazy — do a bit more killing and collecting before vacating the premises.

Then in a cool cutscene, Galadriel uses the Force to smash Dol Guldur from afar. She talks about having brought it down, and all I can think of is that there is an awful lot of that structure remaining. Maybe another Force push or two would help?

Afterward, Legolas’ dad gives me a bathrobe and we celebrate. Hey, I’ll party with elves if it gets me out of Mordor. That’s how desperate I became.

Posted in Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online: Flashback

I resisted as long as I could. Truly, I did. Hey, I don’t need another game on my plate right now, but Star Trek Online is going all out to grab my ears these days, so I guess that’s that. I’m back. Between the news of the upcoming expansion — which sounds way more interesting than the past two — and the return of the Delta Recruit event, I felt it was a sign that I should at least check in with the game on a weekly basis. And of course, I had to roll up a new character, since I do that pretty much every time I return to this game.

At least I have a good excuse here! I don’t remember the last Delta Recruit event, but it’s as good a reason as any to start from scratch. You get bonus rewards and some account-wide unlocks for pursuing alternative goals in missions and across the game, provided that it’s a brand-new character created in that time window.

So Crickety was reborn, this time as an Asian Trill. I even sprung for a Bajoran outfit, in honor of the Deep Space Nine expansion focus. The one big requirement for a Delta Recruit is that you have to go through the entire tutorial — something I haven’t done in years. And while it was cool from a story angle, especially with the added time-traveling stuff for the alternative objectives, man was it ever long.

I’ve never seen this version of the tutorial. Back in the day it was maybe 20 minutes, tops. This tutorial stretched on for two hours with multiple missions. Granted, it was well-done, had solid voice acting, and did a good job taking immersing you in both the game setting and the mechanics, but after a while I felt so antsy just to be done with it and get started with the proper missions.

Even with the exciting missions, it is beyond a stretch to take a wet-behind-the-ears graduate of Starfleet Academy and, within a DAY, see her promoted to a starship captain. I’m guessing that every graduate secretly hopes that their commanding officer will be killed so that they can assume the chair and stay there until the next graduate shows up.

My crew likes to drink. A lot. With the way I drive my ship, I guess that makes sense. By the way, it was a nice touch to have all of us start out in the academy uniforms, changing only to the customized uniform when captaincy was achieved.

In a night, I knocked out the tutorial and the first two missions while making headway on a third. For this run, I’m naming all of my ships after failed car models, so meet the U.S.S. Pinto. She’ll do 30 in a 50 m.p.h. zone and spew smoke the entire time.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online

DDO: An invitation to dinner

What do you do when you get an invitation to go to dinner with a vampire? You totally accept, of course!

Count/Baron/Mr. Strahd wants to rope me into whatever sick game he’s playing as master of this land. Sure, I’m game for a delicious feast with a guy who thinks that fine dining is eating blood.

It was probably a good sign that I was greeted at the door by a mysterious tarot card reader who talked a lot about death and necromancers and how the only hope I have of surviving is to find a treasure and an ally before the night is through. Maybe this is a theme dinner? I am so underdressed.

Baron Kissyface here fulfills his vampire union duties by greeting me while playing the organ, acting like an arrogant tool, and then vanishing while I’m left to survive with only my wits, a machine gun crossbow, a mechanical dog, a pocket healer, and a wiki guide to protect me.

The castle is — and I am not engaging in hyperbole here — absolutely huge. This is a “very long” mission, and it earns every minute of it. Probably took me an hour and a half to fully explore, although it was definitely an enjoyable hour and a half. I just loved this place. If you like classic gothic haunted houses, this is your dream vacation right here. Secret passages, dungeons, weird figures, an undead lady in a blood bath, the works.

There aren’t many NPCs hanging around, however. One of the very few is the Count’s accountant (cough), a poor guy who’s doing his job in chains because he got all asky one day. He seems rather fine with his situation and even hooks me up with a key to that treasure chest (hilariously, he then writes off its contents as I loot it) (seriously).

The castle is so dark and moody and full of odd environmental storytelling that doesn’t always deliver full explanations. Like this wedding cake… with the groom knocked off of it. I replaced him and the game told me I felt foreboding. WHAT DID I DOOOO.

Screenshots really do not do this place justice. Between the design of this castle and the really engrossing writing, I have to tip my hat to SSG for some incredibly well-done work on this module. I am absolutely hooked.

The toughest room in the castle was this one, where a portrait of Strahd comes to life and starts attacking you. He moves between them because he saw Harry Potter that one time and thought Hogwarts was the bomb. I was insta-killed a couple of times in this fight for reasons that are beyond me.

The coolest locale? The room of bones. Just a huge dining hall where everything is made out of bones. There are even bone paintings on the wall. Wonder if they eat bones?

Then there’s Cyrus, and we do not know what he is. Monkey-lizard-man cook? He tells a whole lot of puns involving skeletons, but if you humor him, he gladly gives you a key to a treasure chest. I wanted to adopt him.

While the castle really was a blast to explore and probably worthy of a repeat, it took soooo long because of the somewhat confusing layout. I finally found this vampire hunter who gave me some great career advice (“escape”) and I took it. I was sporting something like 7 negative levels thanks to wraiths, but I finally made my exit out of the top of the castle. Where, apparently, I rappelled down? The game wasn’t clear on that point.

Posted in Retro Gaming

Retro Gaming: Pharaoh

(Retro Gaming is a series in which I get some hands-on time with classic video games of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. Check out this game and others on the Retro Gaming page.)

I can never, ever type the word “pharaoh” correctly. It is my everlasting shame.

So it’s been a year since I started KOTOR 2, and obviously both the sheer busyness of life and declining interest in finishing it up has forced me to put it on hiatus. One of my personal guidelines for the Retro Gaming series is to play a title only as long as it is fun or captivating, and if I hit the end of that… to move on.

There are many bigger retro games to cover, but at least until this fall, my time is going to be quite limited and I don’t want to get sucked into a massive run. Instead, I’m going to be going through my 200-plus GOG library and selecting a few candidates that would make for shorter (1-3 session) playthroughs.

To start us off, I’m going back to a city builder game that I loved back in college, which is Pharoah. I would say that Caesar III was probably more popular among my friends, but I was partial to the ancient Egyptian focus of Pharoah (and its expansion, Cleopatra). Its twist, if you wanted to call it that, was that you had to factor in the Nile’s flooding and subsequent fertile planting seasons in your building plans.

So here is the basic view of the Pharaoh screen, minus a bit chopped off at the top and bottom. Back in the day, it was very common to have most of your action buttons and minimap taking up 1/4 to 1/3 of your screen’s real estate on the left or right side. Eventually that moved to the bottom, but this game came out in 1999, which was before that shift.

We have an isometric view with decent sprite graphics. Somewhat colorful, but there’s a lot of desert color schemes going on, so it’s not as bright and bold as the Caesar games. As for animations, there’s a few with production buildings and with characters walking about, but it’s pretty crude stuff by modern standards.

One thing I really did like, coming back to this game, was the hieroglyphic menu. It’s absolutely beautiful and so well done with the theme of ancient Egypt. Even the border has some color and “pop” to it, and it’s little touches like this that draw me into a title.

The gameplay loop here is basically a juggling act. Your main goal is to create a growing and thriving population, as evidenced by the type and complexity of their houses. To do this, you have to keep adding new supporting systems to provide comforts, necessities, entertainment, and so on. All of it has to be laid out just so, because each building has a radius of effectiveness, so if you get your houses too far away, they won’t be receiving water or food or whatever else they want.

It might sound silly if you’re not into these games, but there is a real satisfaction of seeing a well-designed and organized metropolis thrive and hum. Of course, if things get too complex or there are disasters, then it could bring your carefully constructed deck of cards down.

I rand through a couple of scenarios to re-familiarize myself with the game. It’s still enjoyable in a way and devilishly challenging once all of the building types are unlocked, but I might be ruined by some of the more modern city and base-building games that I play like Rimworld. And while Pharaoh was newer than Caesar III, I don’t feel that it managed to eclipse the Roman-themed game in its visuals or gameplay features. Just a different coat of paint for people who had already played the heck out of that game.

Posted in The Secret World

Secret World: Telemarketing and truth

My adventures in South Africa continue as I use a dead girl’s bracelet to fudge my way into the Anointed section of the Morninglight compound. I honestly thought that there would be a lot more grinding and more missions in the first section, but… nope. A couple of action missions and a half-dozen petty chore missions, that’s it.

Che meets me there and gives me the next task — to find out information on something called “Foulfeather and Gideon.”

The Anointed section is definitely a step up from the third-world country look of the first part, but it’s not that much nicer. I actually preferred the cozy little shacks of the first part to the more drab and larger dormitories of the second.

Going into the Morninglight compound, I kind of suspected that there would be a ton of sabotage/stealth missions. That it took this long for one to start surprised me.

I moseyed on over to the call center, where NPCs are trying to sell people on the Morninglight. Just saying that if Funcom really wanted to pull out all the stops and if it had our actual phone numbers, it would have been a trip to have gotten a real phone call at this point with an automated message from one of these people.

There was one lady who was talking to her mom about how this wasn’t a cult. Yeah. Sure. Keep telling yourself that. You can actually start to understand through these missions how people get suckered into these places and then are manipulated to stay, conform, and believe through and through.

Also, let us not kid ourselves: The Morninglight is a thinly veiled version of Scientology. Self-actualization and all.

So I’m looking around for a terminal to access the info Che wants, and I am embarrassed to say that it took me way too long to realize that there was a door behind this shelving unit. When you’re in this room, you look at those shelves head-on, so it’s not that apparent. Well done, devs.

Below the call center is one of those basement corridors lined with booby traps that Secret World loves so very much. This time we have the addition of patrolling drones that will kill you if you make any movements when you’re inside their spheres.

One little environmental detail is that a couple of the demon hyenas have busted through the vents and were killed. What’s up with the dogs in the vents?

I’m happy to report that the stealthing part of this mission wasn’t too bad — only died once, and that was on the way out. There is a lot of interesting info that unwraps more of the John/Tokyo/Ground Zero saga. Basically, the Morninglight was priming two different people to carry the bomb and the first flaked, which led to John being the one chosen. Che was called to be his “enabler” and prime him for the task. All of it was to help the evil Dreamers, so we already know who’s really behind the Morninglight and what this cult worships.

Less than a day into this mission, and I’m ready to move on up again. Che is ticked at the betrayal he sees in these files (the Morninglight was stringing him along) but happy that I got it, so he said he’ll sneak me into the Favored section during the night. Or I could just use my angel wings and techno-hoverboard to zip over there and blast everyone. That sounds like a lot less stress.

Posted in General

Craving a colorful space sim MMORPG

Space sims are getting a nice profile boost in the MMO market these days, thanks to titles like Elite: Dangerous, Star Citizen, Dual Universe, and the like. I think this is fantastic and shows that there’s a huge market for players who would be happy to trade in swords and staffs for spaceships and laser guns. I’m all for having alternatives to EVE Online’s particular style and focus.

But as much as I really would love to jump into an online space sim — and hope to do so, especially since I bought Elite in the winter Steam sale — I am not quite as enthused about this crop as I should be as a sci-fi and space sim fan. And I think it comes down to these games’ personalities — or lack thereof.

In the 1990s, I spent a lot of time diving into pretty much any sci-fi game I could find, from Star Trek 25th Anniversary to the Wing Commander series to the wacky Space Quest franchise. And thanks to the vibrant EVGA graphics and more light-hearted tone of the era, I kind of fell in love the idea that space could be “colorful.” That aliens could have really strange and memorable attributes and designs. That locales could be chock-full of branding and things to see and generally make me want to be there — or at least imagine that I was.

Even having gone through Star Control 2 for the first time last year, I was struck by just how… fun that game universe was. It could have been incredibly grim and dark with the themes, but the game designers put a premium on developing really bizarre and funny races with all sorts of personalities. I couldn’t wait to explore that galaxy and meet more of them as I grew my ship and fought the bad guys.

So if you were to ask me what pie-in-the-sky MMORPG idea I would love to see come to fruition, it’s the notion of a very colorful, very personality-rich space MMO with both ship and avatar components that carry this tradition forward. I’m tired of looking at the sleek and sterile designs of these Mass Effect-looking ships in 2018 and am feeling more and more nostalgic for the visuals and concepts of yesteryear.

This look and feel is what I chase in very stylized games like World of Warcraft and WildStar. Lately in WoW, I’ve been paying attention to all sorts of artistic details, and I continue to marvel at how much the devs were able to get out of rather simple shapes overlaid with exaggerated designs, lighting, and placement.

In other words, for me, it’s not the polygon count and high fidelity that matters, it’s the art and atmosphere. It’s the difference between going to Disney World and your average amusement park; both may have similar types of rides, but the former puts a lot more of a premium on the full sensory experience and whimsy of design.

I’m not necessarily advocating for a space MMO to be made with retro pixel art and 2-D sprites (although I would not complain), just that I would love to see a studio, somewhere, to see space as a platform for humanity, for humor, and for exaggerated imagination. We’re already getting our realistic games — maybe it’s time for a title that cuts loose a little, takes inspiration from the past, and injects some actual color (in all senses of that word) into its ships, its avatars, and its locations.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online

DDO: The Old Bonegrinder

Time for another happy-go-lucky adventure in the sparkly rainbow fields of Bavaria or Barovia or Bermuda or whatever this is. Today’s exciting adventure will take place in and around THE BONEGRINDER, a windmill with not-at-all ominous connotations.

Apparently two more kids went missing in this area, and one does start to wonder how any kids manage to reach adulthood in this country.

When I first arrive, nobody is helping me, but there is a line queuing up for “dream pies” made by hags in disguise and… yeah, it’s totally cannibalism. The pies are people! People!

Probably was a bit of a dead giveaway on the part of the developers that all of the peasants standing in line had weapons drawn, because I knew it was only a matter of time before they would be sent to attack me. Oh hey. It happened. Pew pew, I just slaughtered half a village of cannibals. Well, I’m going to sleep easy tonight.

I kick down the door of the windmill and wade in, firing all willy-nilly. I was kind of impressed that the devs kept this space small instead of pulling a TARDIS or something on us. It’s a rather cramped area for a battle against a pair of hags, which change forms midway through the fight. Lots of weird area effect spells with visual components that made it hard to see, but as my companions that day were an elf and a dog made of metal, I wasn’t too concerned about shooting blindly.

“Burn it,” said the ghost, and so I did. I do pretty much anything a polite ghost commands.

Off for a final fight against the last of the three hags. It wasn’t difficult in and of itself, although there were so many hold and stun effects that I felt like the encounter was cheating.

Anyway, dead kids avenged, aunt and uncle told, rewards grabbed.

And then I realized that the quest dumped me out half a zone away from the village I needed to get back to. And there was a vampire castle between me and it. And hundreds of enemy mobs, as I soon found out. Oh well, anyone up for a road trip?

Speaking of mobs, I was really impressed with the design and animation of these shadow mobs. When they move about, they flatten into actual shadows on the ground and then pop back up as 3-D models. Neat.

Even the gargoyles are against me. I’m going to have to murder this whole place in the face just to get a good night’s sleep.

Posted in Music, Podcast

Battle Bards Episode 119: Skyforge

Believe it or not, it’s the Battle Bards’ fifth anniversary! From its weirdly humble beginnings back in 2013 to our arrogant ramblings here in 2018, coverage of MMO music must continue! In today’s episode, we’ll be listening to a surprisingly good soundtrack: Skyforge. Yes, that Russian sci-fi MMO from the Allods team that lets you grow into your ego as a god. Groove on these tunes and see if there’s a new sleeper soundtrack waiting for you!

Episode 119 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Pioneers,” “Story Without End,” and “Wilderness”)
  • “Dreams of Aelion”
  • “Login Theme”
  • “Stronghold”
  • “Campaign Music”
  • “Aelinar”
  • “Forest Retreat”
  • “Battle”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener Notes: Rafael and Mark
  • Jukebox Picks: “Breathe the Black” from Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, “Skalitz 1403” from Kingdom Come Deliverance, and “A.C.I.D.” from Into the Breach
  • Outro (feat. “Illusion”)