6 dark horse MMOs that could surprise me

Following yesterday’s list, today I wanted to continue to look ahead at upcoming MMOs that have piqued my interest. The six that I’m going to list here are anything but sure bets (even in this industry). They have weird concepts, unproven dev teams, or might not end up being my type of game when I actually do play them. But here we go with 6 dark horse MMO candidates!

1. Identity

I’m probably one of the few people in the world that follow this project regularly, but that’s because I really do appreciate the ambition of bringing an MMO “life simulator” to bear. Might just be bland PvP in a modern setting, but I think there’s a lot of potential for a contemporary MMO that allows you to live out different virtual lives.

2. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite

This may well be the closest we’ll ever come to an actual Harry Potter MMORPG, and the whole mobile ARG angle seems like it could work. But I wasn’t that bowled over by Pokemon Go, and I don’t know if I’ll have the time or interest to putter around the town waving my phone at other people. Plus, we haven’t heard a peep out of this project since last November.

3. Pantheon

In my opinion, too many of these upcoming MMOs are leaning hard on the crutch of PvP to fill content gaps, so any title that makes PvE a priority has my attention. I haven’t held the greatest respect for this project over the last few years, but the team has stuck with it and is starting to produce an actual playable MMO. Maybe it’ll be worth checking out? It’s gone from a no-prospect to a possibility in my view.

4. Legends of Aria

Aria gets points in my book for making the move MORE toward an MMO over the course of its development and for a charming stylized look. Plus I’m kind of cheering on this small and scrappy team. On the minus side, lots of PvP and no huge word-of-mouth recommendations as of yet.

5. Amazon’s New World

Is New World still a thing? Will this be so PvP that I might as well bury my carebear nose back in World of Warcraft? We’re hearing rumblings that Amazon might be talking about this game soon, and the combination of an alternative history setting and Amazon’s deep pockets and desire to prove itself could result in something worth playing. I’m very uncertain on it right now, however.

6. Chronicles of Elyria

I cannot tell you how torn I am on this project. Almost daily I go from being absolutely convinced that we’re seeing a trainwreck in the making to nursing a grudging respect for the sheer vision that’s at work here. In short, I like a lot of the ideas that this studio has put forth, and I also hate a lot of its ideas and think that they’ll really work against the game’s favor (especially selling nobility packages and putting a huge emphasis on PvP). But we haven’t ever seen a development process quite like this, including creating a visual MUD to test out the core gameplay systems before the graphics are created and instituted. I don’t know. I really don’t know. But I’m following it.

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6 upcoming MMOs that have my full attention

I tend to group online games that have my interest into three categories: MMOs I’m currently playing, MMOs I kind of want to play but have no time at the moment, and MMOs I want to play but aren’t out or finished yet. Today I want to talk about that last category as I’ve been revising my list of my top most wanted games right now in May 2018. Which have my full interest?

1. Ashes of Creation

I still hold some reservations about this title and how it’ll be able to strike a balance between the PvE and PvP halves of the game, but man, does it ever hit on so many must-have features for me including housing, a changing world, and flexible class systems. The team’s been really quiet over the past half-year or so, which I attribute to running the Alpha Zero and actually making the game. I kind of wish they’d be more regular with developer diaries and videos, however.

2. Project Gorgon

You may have noticed that after a couple of sessions following the early access release, I haven’t been talking about Gorgon much. That’s because the framerate performance was abysmal in Serbule and I realized that as much as I like this game, it’s still not quite fully baked yet. Might just be worth waiting for the full launch later this year. Plus, where are my knife-wielding faeries?

3. Peria Chronicles

Here’s a title we haven’t heard much about AT ALL, but what we do know is downright intriguing. It’s a beautiful-looking sandbox in the vein of what EverQuest Next was supposed to be, and I really want to hear more about it and get it over to the west already.

4. Cryptic’s Magic: The Gathering MMO

Speaking of titles that we know little about, apart from the initial announcement last year, we haven’t heard a peep out of Cryptic’s next MMO. But I know I’ll be playing it, because I have a soft spot for Cryptic’s games and the Magic setting seems like an untapped (har har) field for MMOs.

5. Dual Universe/Worlds Adrift

I can’t really separate these two games in my head, as they’re both competing for the same area of my attention. Make your own ships, explore worlds/islands, have a blast. Worlds Adrift just came out on early access and Dual Universe is coming along nicely. Both might be a nice change of pace from my normal MMO, and I’m rooting for both to succeed.

6. City of Titans/Valiance Online/Ship of Heroes

We need a hero. A superhero. Scratch that, a superhero MMORPG — and thank goodness that there are three of them in the making. I’m always concerned about smaller indie projects, because without deep pockets and resources, they seem at a disadvantage to really making it. But three of them? Chances are that one will be decent (fingers crossed), and I’m really jonesing for City of Heroes-style gameplay as of late.

Tune in tomorrow, when I continue this list with six dark horse MMOs that could surprise us all!

LOTRO: I was a teenage Elf janitor

Because this is the only good thing I have for this past weekend’s LOTRO adventures, let me put it up front: Northern Mirkwood, from what I have seen so far, is flat-out amazing. It’s just a huge forest that makes me feel small and like an actual explorer. The devs really struck on a great environment here, and I can’t wait to scout around more of it.

With my computer repaired, I spent an entire evening reloading programs and MMORPGs. Did you know that MMOs are big? They’re big. I kind of forget that when I’m not loading up new ones every day, but just try doing about six in a row. They’re huuuuuge. And LOTRO is no slouch here. Even after I had it fully patched up, the game kept crashing on me because I had DirectX 12 and not 9. Because of COURSE you need 9, since this is 2009 or something. Had to install the whole ancient DirectX suite on my computer just to get this MMO running again. Ah well. At least I got LOTRO on my SSD, which is a first for me. Having it load quicker is worth it.

But while I wanted to spend the evening romping around Mirkwood, I had a few quests left in the Halls of the Elven-king that needed finishing. Seriously, it would bug me to no end to leave them unfinished. Plus, I’m not in a rush, so let’s try to be as completionist as possible here.

Oh hey, Legolas has moved back in with his dad. You’d think he’d be a king in his own right after helping to save the world, but nope, he’s a college student coming home to bum off of his parents for a while.

By the way, SSG? You think you could afford an afternoon or two with your artists to upgrade the visuals on your major characters? The whole painted-on faces is embarrassing when it comes to the members of the Fellowship.

It was here in the underground caves that I met this dolt and was reminded all over again why Elves are a bottomless well of pain and suffering. I’m outright convinced that this whole quest chain was devised by a developer who knew that one day I might play this zone and wanted to see what fresh hell he or she could make for me.

So. There’s a harpist who is TOO BUSY with his “music” to go about throwing a party for all of the Elves just hanging around. Guess who he gets to do it? Why, it’s Mr. Gullible Traveler! And so the next hour of my life unfolds as I go around doing his busy work.

Said busy work involved flower picking (because it’s Elves and of COURSE there is flower picking, it’s 2018 and we’ve cast the One Ring into Mt. Doom and WE ARE STILL PICKING FLOWERS FOR ELVES IN THIS GAME). I assure you, I am the type of person who is actually screaming out loud when I type in all caps.

But are flowers enough for a grand party? No! I must get wine and then personally run around handing it out to Elves, getting them good and sauced. Listen, they’re Elves in a cave. They don’t have that much to do, and there’s a huge cellar not two minutes’ walk down the hallway with all of the wine in the world. But they’re too lazy — this should be unsaid, as they’re Elves — and it’s up to me to fulfill this important mission.

As I’m curled up on the ground, mewing for this quest to be over… nope. Now I must DANCE WITH THE ELVES. I want “Dances With Elves” on my gravestone. Yet again, I wish LOTRO had a sort of quest choice system or branching dialogue or any way other than outright refusing a quest to lodge a complaint against what’s being done. If I could have stuffed those flowers up the harpist’s nose, poured the wine over the heads of seven elves, and kicked the rest in the shins, that would have been the best quest ever. And I wouldn’t even care if my reputation took a hit.

At this point, I want to stress that I’m not making up the particulars of this long, pointless quest. It gets better:

I…

I…

I am at a loss.

So that harpist’s actual day job is that of an Elf janitor. But he is TOO LAZY to actually do his job after that exhausting hour of making me set up a party and he falls asleep. Then the game’s quest text says, with as straight of a face as it could muster, that it would be really peachy keen if I went around mopping up Elf puke for my new “friend.”

You think I’m joking? That I’m exaggerating? I HAVE ACTUAL PHOTOGRAPHIC PROOF:

This? This right here is why I loathe Elves to the very bottom of my being. Just haughty little rich snobs drunk on their love for trees and vomiting without a care in the world. Because they know that their groupies will come along sooner or later to clean up their sick.

If you wanted to know, the end to all of this was pretty much nothing. Just some XP and tokens and that’s it. What, no follow-up quest where I go around presenting my backside in case an Elf wanted to wipe off the dirt from his otherwise-immaculate boot? Wasted opportunity, that.

World of Warcraft on a five-year-old laptop

I did not have the best of weeks last week.

It all started Sunday, when I came home from work and my wife told me that she was having a hard time accessing World of Warcraft, as it would just hang a lot. I noticed that my hard drive kept spinning up to 100% and staying there, especially when programs were open, and so began a multi-day investigation into the situation.

I tried out a few things, but nothing seemed to help. Meanwhile, the situation got worse, as various programs stopped working and I got a message from the system kindly informing me that a hard drive failure was imminent. That sent me to the local computer store, where they confirmed that my HD was shot. While they were able to recover my data and transfer it to a new hard drive, it put me out of operation for a few days and racked up a healthy bill.

This all meant that my gaming time last week was quite low and infrequent, obviously. Whenever my main computer goes out of operation, I have to resort to my five-year-old laptop. Now, let me sing praises for this laptop — it really has been one of the best machines I’ve ever owned. I spent no more than $600 on it back before my third child was born, and it’s functioned as my travel and work computer ever since. I chose it because it had a nice big 17″ screen and an AMD chip for gaming. Nothing super fancy, but you’d be amazed how many games I’ve gotten to work on this over the years.

But as it has been aging and my spare gaming time shrinking, I really haven’t used it for gaming much at all. At least, until last week. I booted up World of Warcraft on it for the first time in many years, and even though these specs are far below the current recommended, it worked fine. Worked even better, in fact, when I lowered all the settings. Had something like a decent 30 FPS going on, more than enough to do my dailies and mess around with the auction house.

Now that I’ve gotten both of my class mounts (DK and Hunter) and am on the verge of finishing up the last rep grind for the Void Elves, I’m really starting to turn my attention over to my Warlock. She’s got more than enough to do to fill two months between now and the pre-expansion patch, but the question is how much is really necessary. Probably not much. Technically, I could take her into BFA right now if it launched and not have to worry about progression, as long as there was a way to leapfrog the rest of the Legion storyline and start into the next expansion.

But I’d like to spend some time with her, get reacquainted, and maybe do a final tour of the Broken Isles before it becomes truly obsolete.

I find that on slower and older computers, ranged and pet classes are a godsend. You don’t have to fret so much with positioning and precise timing of attacks, just send your meatshield out and jam on a few keys. Warlock lifestyle was always somewhat relaxed to me.

And even though it was a bummer about my computer, I try to take such breaks with good cheer. Always a good excuse to get in some more reading and writing, not to mention family time. And better than the hard drive break now than in a couple of months when I’ll really need it.

Probably the best part of this mess is that I’m upgrading to a SDD for my OS and gaming, and relying on the 3TB mechanical hard drive for media storage and other programs.

Novel: But is it GOOD?

The day that I write this, I have crossed the 75,000 word mark on my fantasy novel. I’ve been writing it since early March, springing out of an idea that became the first couple of chapters that became part of my daily routine. Rain or shine, cruddy day or happy one, busy or laid back, I make it an ironclad goal to get in 1,000 new words.

Some days that means just fitting it in during my lunch break. Other days, I’m writing feverishly before I fall asleep or lugging my little Chromebook around while hauling the kids here and there. I’ve written two paragraphs while standing at the checkout counter waiting for a hairstylist to ring me out. I’ve endured a few questioning looks at my kid’s swim class when people saw “CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE” pop up on my screen.

It’s been a bizarre, breathtaking, and incredible experience so far. I never really thought, outside of NaNoWriMo, that I would actually write a book… but here I am. I have never, ever written a single piece of fiction this long. I’m on the edge of my seat, worried and wondering if I’ll be able to land the whole story in the next month as I aim for 100,000 words.

I haven’t shown anyone it yet. My wife has been remarkably patient considering how much curiosity she’s had over this novel, but perhaps she’s just glad I’m writing. After all, she’s been encouraging me to write books for years now. My daughter, the reader, is the most interested and keeps trying to sneak peeks at my screen. Not yet, I say. Wait until it’s done.

I’m having a great time doing it. I’m proud, in the good-kind-of-proud way, of what’s come out of me. Compared to my previous attempts at fiction, this one actually has more structure, flows better, and isn’t a mad-dash scramble to come up with crazy scenarios. Every day when I sit down to write, I honestly don’t know where the story is going to go. Oh, I have a general idea, but so very often the tale takes a turn away from me because it’s what needs to happen. It’s what the characters would do. I don’t fight it or force it, I just go with it and continue to ride the wave while guiding it in a loose way. I’ve been surprised countless times at what has happened — how a throwaway character became one of my main cast, how this fictional world has taken shape, how loose plot threads were resolved.

But while the experience of writing it is quite ducky, I’m gnawing off my fingernails because I can’t stop asking the question, “Is it good?” I think so? But I’m both too close to the material and too hard on myself. I hope it’s good. It’s not Tolkien or Martin or anywhere near the level of popular fiction writers today. There are many rough spots that need smoothing and reworking. I’m going to plan for at least two rounds of revisions before I even think about showing it to others.

I hope it’s good. I would love to entertain others as much as this has entertained me. But it might not be a book for everyone. There’s practically no fighting, for starters. I don’t think I’ve written a single fight scene in those 75,000 words. Not much in the way of romance or evil empires or children of prophecy, either. It’s a fantasy world, yes, but a much more grounded one than I had originally envisioned.

There’s no part of me secretly hoping that this will be a best-seller, but published? Maybe. Again, I have to see when it’s done. I have to do drafts and evaluate and have others read it to give me feedback. I already have ideas for a sequel, but that’s really getting ahead of myself.

I don’t want it to be good because the praise would boost my ego. I want it to be good because I want it to be good. I want someone to pick up this novel and be drawn into it, wanting to find out what happens next all the way through the final chapter. So I’m going to ride that bucking bronco of a story to the end, and hopefully then I’ll be able to look back and see a good thing standing behind me.

World of Warcraft: Wolfhawk ahoy!

Disapproving eagle looks on while I practice my yodeling skills. Hey, when it’s the end of an expansion era, decorum goes to dirt and we’re free to follow our passions.

The happy news is that I finally, after a lot of stalling and meandering, got my first class mount from Legion. The quest chain was full of pointless busywork, but I did find the payoff agreeable. Similar to how Legion has whipped up smaller solo instances for the artifact weapons and (more recently) the allied races, so too are there ones for the class mount.

For the Hunter, it involved going to a late-night party in the woods with Odin and then hunting down various spirits of the animals. I loved the atmospherics in this one — the woods were darker than World of Warcraft usually is at night, and I really dug it. I need to get that potion that turns the nights dark in this game. Remember reading about it somewhere.

Anyway, the instance wasn’t too long or uninteresting, and by the end I had procured a wolfhawk to call my very own.

Wolfhawk: When World of Warcraft’s dev team is just picking random animal names out of the hat and slamming them together to make new mounts. Better than Beetleslug and Shrewsparrow.

The kids (and I) enjoyed the small cinematics for this. That’s something I’ve quite enjoyed this expansion, all these little in-engine cinematics that Blizzard is using for key storytelling moments. Just makes me want more of them.

Actually, as ridiculous as this combo sounds, they actually pulled it off. This mount is wonderfully detailed and looks great both running and flying. Going to be using it on this character for a while now, because there’s that spirit of pride and ownership at play.

I’m really starting to pare down on my final goals for both my Hunter and Death Knight, which means that it’s about time to just switch over to my Warlock and see what I can do before the summer is through.

Star Trek Online: The search for better music

Last week when I was griping about a few of Star Trek Online’s worst features, my sour opinion on the game’s music seemed to hit a chord with at least a few readers. I know my Battle Bards co-host Steff disagrees with me — she seems to like this OST, although I suspect it’s mostly for a couple signature tracks — but honestly I’m surprised how irritating and non-Star Trek most of these pieces are.

While I hate to turn off the soundtrack in an MMO, preferring to let the game present itself to me in its fully intended glory, I haven’t been able to listen to STO’s music for years now. Any time I come back, the music is always deactivated, and I provide my own score for the stars.

What I’ve been doing as of late is substituting the music from the Star Trek series and movies, and I have to say that it works remarkably well. In particular, Ron Jones’ TNG soundtracks transform this game with their very unique and memorable qualities. Berman reportedly disliked how much attention Jones’ music was getting, and Jones was let go after TNG season 4. That’s a shame, because most of the rest of the music from that show was pretty generic and forgettable. His stuff? Still well worth listening to today, even if it is totally synth 80s, through and through.

I took this approach with Star Wars: The Old Republic, too. SWTOR’s soundtrack isn’t bad (and I quite like the newer stuff, to tell the truth), but when it got a little dour, repetitive, or lengthy, I would switch over to a playlist that used the movie music as a perfect substitute.

Star Trek simply deserves great music. The franchise has seen some masterpieces (Star Trek’s I, II, III, VI, Ron Jones’ work, the theme songs), but it’s not as consistently great as it should be. Likewise, the game needs killer audio to go with its gorgeous visuals. I’ve put three screenshots from recent adventures in this post, and you can tell that this game is not lacking in those cinematic vistas. Bad music or no music at all detracts from it, while stirring symphonies transform these adventures into unforgettable experiences.

It’s probably just a pipe dream to hope that Cryptic will bring on board a composer(s) who would do this game justice at this point. Kevin Manthei has his strengths, but he is not suited for MMORPG composition at all. Maybe one day, STO will sound as good as it looks. Until then, my substitutions will have to suffice.