Pillars of Eternity: The Elf isn’t worth it

Maybe this is the summer of the CRPG for me. I’m progressing in two right now, Fallout 4 and Pillars of Eternity, and in both games I’ve made it further than I did in previous attempts. They both offer very different RPG experiences, not to mention perspectives.

I like Pillars of Eternity because it’s one of the smoothest RPGs in terms of design that I’ve handled over the past few years. I can get my head around these systems and am very familiar with it due to the heavy attempt to make this game a lot like the old Infinity titles. It’s not too difficult to figure out where to go or what to do, there are tons of sidequests, companions talk to each other, and there’s a ton of party combat. It’s a great pick-up-and-put-down experience for when I’m in the mood.

I’ve only had two quibbles with the game so far. The first is that the snooty noble Elf companion you pick up early on is the worst. Seriously, the worst. Sure, he’s a mage and has all sorts of powerful magic, but he dies when a fly smacks into his nose and the enemies seem to make a beeline right for him. By far, he’s died more than any other member of the party. The only reason I kept him around for as long as I did was that he was one of those voiced characters with a backstory and sidequests, but eventually I had enough and booted him so that I could bring in a Druid to help out. She’s doing great so far, by the way.

The other quibble is that several hours into the game, you arrive at a big city, and that always bogs me down. I just can’t warm up to urban exploration and questing in MMOs or CRPGs, and it’s the same here. I feel like it’s this wall I have to bash through, and it’s only by setting smaller goals (explore two sections of this larger area) that I’ve been able to make progress.

That said, everything else has been fantastic. Great stories, surprisingly engrossing lore, challenging but not impossible combat, and I get to design a character with two rapiers who is lightning fast and hard to hit.

Part of the appeal of this is that there’s a lot of content ahead: Pillars of Eternity has expansions, and when those are done, there’s always the sequel. I’d love to be able to import my character and continue her journeys in this world.

Anyone else carrying a torch for Pillars of Eternity or even playing it right now?

DDO: The Wizard of Wines

With our regular Dungeons and Dragons Online group out of commission the other week, I turned back to my Artificer’s journey through Mists of VampireLoft. On this week’s episode, a bunch of sober monks are angry at the lack of a wine shipment from the “Wizard of Wines,” and I’m the only one sober AND driven enough to go see why.

Short answer: Druids. Long answer: See everything that follows.

For once, part of this quest involves a trip through the actual outdoors. I come across a Frankenstein stand-in who’s being accosted by a very timid mob with actual torches. And pitchforks. But I’m asked to do the killing, which I do gladly. I’m genial that way!

This quest is basically Die Hard — if you replace “terrorists” with “tree-hugging druids” and “Nakatomi Tower” with “a winery.” So the druids have taken over and they’re even going so far to poison the wine! In a country where it’s so depressing that the only way the populace can survive is by getting drunk, this

WILL

NOT

STAND.

Enter one trigger happy Artificer, always delighted to lend a hand!

The druidic forces have some interesting-looking models, including Thorny here. He does not look that happy at the hand that life has dealt him. Can you imagine trying to get comfortable enough to sleep at night?

It was also the mimic event, which I forgot about up until a chest started trying to eat me.

Druids aren’t just content to come in and take over your pad, they have to mess it up with their vines and shrubs everywhere. This is what you get when hippies go too far.

RAWR I AM PLANT MONSTA RAWR

In addition to stealing the three sacred crystals that helped to make the magical wine (seriously), the druids are also working on poisoning the last vat. That will not stand, either. The whole quest, which is actually pretty short, involves coming up with an antidote and also figuring out some way to mask the flavor of the antidote.

One of the druids does some interpretive dance for me. Much appreciated, pal.

This all leads me up to the epic climax of the quest, which is scraping brown mold off of a cavern floor. You have heroes like Captain America and Batman, and then you have me, Mold-Man.

The final boss fight comes predictably enough against the chief druidess, and I die. It’s not that it was a particularly hard fight, but two things happened that tilted fate against me:

  1. I had totally forgotten to activate a healing henchman at the start of the quest
  2. I was trying too hard to get the above screenshot, which meant that I, yes, stepped into the fire

Even though I saved the quest, the winery still can’t make the really good stuff, nor is the owner going to ship out any of the remaining good stuff to the people. So why’d I do all of that? That seems like a letdown. Maybe I should bring the druids back, if that’s how you’re going to “appreciate” me.

My recent GOG and Steam sale purchases

Believe it or not, I really haven’t spent a lot of money this year on games (or in games) at all. So I took some of my birthday money and splurged on a few titles in the recent GOG and Steam sales. And as Blogger Law dictates, I must now publicly brag about what I bought and why.

GOG.com

  • Dark Sun D&D 2-pack – These were pretty cheap and I had them on my wish list, mostly because I thought they’d make an interesting retro series one of these days. Plus, two for one!
  • Silent Service/Silent Service 2 – Only bought this for the second game, which was one of my absolute favorite sims when I was in high school.
  • Privateer 2 – The next time I touch a Wing Commander game for a retro series, it’s going to be one of the Privateer titles. I really wish I had owned these back in the day.
  • The 7th Guest – Spooky horror adventure game!
  • Ziggurat – The freebie that GOG threw our way

Steam

  • Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture – Wasn’t on sale but I’ve wanted to play this for a while, so I picked it up while I was buying. I’d rather spend more to get a game that I do want and will play versus buying cheap stuff that I won’t ever touch.
  • Telltale Games’ Guardians of the Galaxy – I’m really behind on all of my Telltale Games, but I think I’d like to do a marathon. Plus, I heard good things about this title!
  • Staxel – Bree and I got a little seduced by this charming multiplayer sandbox. Looks like it was potential, so why not?

Battle Bards Episode 123: Guild Wars 2’s Path of Fire

With eagerness in their hearts, the Battle Bards rush toward another Guild Wars 2 soundtrack, ready to bask in the aural glory of this MMO that’s known for its incredible music. But hark! What is this Path of Fire? Join us for a listen through a soundtrack that one unnamed soundtrack reviewer has termed “bland and generic.” If that isn’t a back-of-the-box quote, we don’t know what is!

Episode 123 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “On the Banks of the Elon,” “Highland Hares,” and “Undead of Elona”)
  • “Main Theme”
  • “Sands of the Djinn”
  • “The Bounty Hunter”
  • “Legendary Ascent”
  • “Pricklepath Hollow”
  • “Welcome to Amnoon”
  • “Sands of Chaos (Percussion Version)”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener Notes: Minimalistway
  • Jukebox Picks: “Main Theme” from Pharaoh, “Great Bustle” from Lost Sphear, and “Green Hill Zone Act 1” from Sonic Mania
  • Outro (“Veins of the Dragon”)

I’m cooling on the idea of World of Warcraft Classic

Blizzard’s been really quiet about World of Warcraft: Classic since last November’s BlizzCon — at least until recently, when the studio posted a dev blog to talk about where it’s at with the project. The big news is that the team has decided on Patch 1.12 to be the foundation for Classic, which was a major question among the community. It went on to discuss the challenges and decisions to make the game work and bring its backend up to spec.

I read it, interested for the news but also finding myself feeling rather cool toward the whole project. I mean, I’m glad it’s being done. I think there’s definitely an audience for a classic server, and it will no doubt bolster the game’s population and create an interesting sub-community of WoW players. But I’m pretty sure it’s not for me at all.

Oh, I’ll try it. It’ll make for an interesting diversion and a blog post or two. That will put me in the crowd of tourists curious how the game used to function but not really in it for the long haul. But will I stick around? It’s doubtful.

First of all, while vanilla World of Warcraft gave me so many wonderful memories, it’s not an era that I was ever eager to return to. I don’t idolize that experience, because so much of it was poorly designed and not as user friendly as I think a lot of modern players imagine it being. I don’t want to run around for 40 levels. I don’t want vanilla’s endgame to be the only endgame with very few options for non-raiders. I can’t imagine playing without features like transmog, or flight paths that don’t stop at every point, or linked auction houses, or what have you. World of Warcraft’s additions and changes haven’t always been to my taste, but it’s hard to debate the fact that the game’s gotten a LOT more user friendly and accessible over the years.

My limited gaming time is getting more precious to me the older I get, and all of those hours I could pour into the game back in 2004 when I wasn’t even married yet are hours that I would rather put into other experiences.

And I just genuinely enjoy most of where World of Warcraft is at now. I’d rather be playing modern WoW than a classic WoW on any given night, and I know I’ll be making faster progress with the former.

Probably the only thing that would draw me to WoW Classic is if Blizzard promised or even indicated that characters on that server would be able, at some point, to progress through expansions. I’d love to see progression servers or the ability to transfer between dedicated expansion servers that are set in time, but right now there is not hint of that.

Fallout 4: Wasteland Justice

Always thought that Red Rocket was one of the most iconic and evocative location designs in the game — and they use it almost immediately.

Anyway, adventures are continuing apace in Fallout 4 as I press further into this CRPG than I ever have before. Mostly I’ve been sweeping through the early locations, clearing out areas of bad guys, looting, leveling up, and enjoying the environmental storytelling. I do need to get back to doing regular quests, but I wanted to get established first.

“Been waiting here long? HAHA”

My favorite instances in this game are ones where the devs put in a lot of extra effort to make the locations themselves a lot of fun to explore and see. The museum of the Revolution here is one such place, complete with cheesy themed rooms and narration.

In Fallout’s timeline, America’s astronauts went to the moon ARMED. (‘murica!)

The pregnant girl who ran away from her home and died in this cabin continues to be one of the sadder stories of the game, especially since we’re left a voice recording of her plight.

I love getting high up in this game because it offers a much-needed perspective shift on the surrounding countryside.

I’m sure I’ve whined about this before, but one of my pet peeves about RPGs is whenever a game makes me spend a lot of time in a city. I don’t like exploring them, fighting in them, or trying to map them out. And Fallout 4’s in-game map is really basic (and, for some reason, there’s no mapping of interior spaces).

While I’m complaining, I absolutely, unreservedly hate Bethesda’s approach to inventory in the Fallout/Elder Scrolls games. I hate that it’s dumbed down to this extremely messy version just for console users. So yeah, I really need to get an inventory mod going here.

How does she know that I’m married, huh? Anyway, the Covenant storyline was new to me this time around, and while I don’t regret how it went down, I wasn’t exactly happy at the sheer bloodshed that followed. The best thing out of all of this is that I splurged on a named shotgun, Justice, from Penny here. Let me tell you, it was worth every cap I spent. I love that shotgun so very, very much, especially because it has a high chance of knocking enemies back. Seeing super mutants stagger as I pump round after round into them is all I live for now.

Justice was the last thing that Boomer ever saw.

Also, I’ve been getting into mix-and-matching armor pieces lately, especially now that I’m getting star-rated drops from legendary mobs. I look ugly as sin, but at least I’m surviving firefights much better now.

You know what’s fun? Basking in the radioactive heat of disposed uranium.

Speaking of radioactive, I thought that this cabin in the midst of some waste looked so pretty it seemed like concept art.

Alone in the Dark: Dance of death

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1992’s Alone in the Dark. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Naturally, escape from the mansion is not easily achieved by waltzing back through the front door. An interdimensional worm now lives there and will suck me into its maw if I am audacious enough to try to leave.

Everything in this house wants to kill me, but it keeps doing so in such inventive ways that I can’t help but be impressed with the effort. One room has a haunted cigar that will suffocate me with smoke unless I douse it with water. This painting of a frontiersman starts chucking tomahawks at me. His mortal weakness? An old Indian blanket, of course.

Across the hall, his Native American counterpart painting starts firing arrows at me. This is where naughty Hogwarts pictures come to live!

As I talked about before, the monsters in this game are extremely limited in polygons. While this can make them more frightening at times with their movements and whatnot, most often they just come off as ridiculous. I missed out on taking a picture of the ghost in the library, but honestly, it looked like the purple Grimace. Don’t really know what they were going for there.

And why not, one of the rooms has a pirate waiting to slash me in two! Feel bad for this guy, spending years cooped up in a room without any company or his old parrot. Probably dreams of the sea. Oh well. Now you must die. A sword fight between us ensues, and it’s easily the most fun I’ve had in the game so far. Wasn’t too tough, either.

Other than the attic, the ballroom is the one place that I always remembered from playing this back when I was a kid. You can only get the item from behind the ghosts if you put on the right record — Danse Macabre, of course — and then make your way through them to grab it. I’ve always associated that piece of music with this game ever since. Stupid games, teaching me about classical music!

With all of that done, I think I’m finished with the main house! I descend down into the basement, which is substantially larger than I would have thought. I guess if you’re going to build a house, might as well situate it over a font of unspeakable evil? Lovecraft is applauding your decision.

BEHOLD MY CHILDREN: THE WORM THAT WILL END THE WORLD. HIS NAME IS HAROLD.

Once the game hits this underground cavern section, I’m much less interested in what it has to offer. There’s little in the way of story or things to explore; mostly it’s just some weird platforming and action sequences while you try very hard not to die. I never did like it when developers ran out of time toward the end of their game and felt like they had to stretch it out with bland and tedious elements.

You know what would be a great idea to include in a game where your character functions like a drunk, scared baby? Platforming! Yes, let’s jump with a character that can barely walk. This will end well for all involved. I am not joking here when I say that I had to save after every single jump in this room, because falling is way, way too easy.

The books in Alone in the Dark are the primary vehicle to deliver the backstory, but honestly, I’ve been avoiding most of them due to the really atrocious voice acting. All you need know is that a pirate named Ezechiel got involved with Cthulu and stuff and now he’s merged with a tree underground and is perpetuating horrors while trying to possess people who come into the house.

This, by the way, is the worst room in the game. It’s a maze that’s pitch black, and even with your lamp, you can only see a very small part of it. Oh, and if you’ve run out of oil or matches, well then, you might as well start the game over again. Good luck! Fortunately, I had plenty of oil left, so I used the tried-and-true right-hand rule to keep following the right wall of the maze until I found the door out.

So here’s the final tree-boss in all his terrifying glory. I feel a bit bad for him, being stuck in a tree for hundreds of years with only a single monster nearby and the ability to shoot fireballs. Has to be boring. Welp, time to light him on fire!

With the pirate-tree turned into a flaming mini-volcano (?), all that’s left is to make my way out of the house. That takes a bit of time, but at least all of the enemies are now gone. Fresh daylight! Good has triumphed!

And this is where the game really got me all those years ago, because it was such a relief to know that I beat the game and got out of the house. Sunshine is beaming down, the music changes to this cheery little tune, and I flag down a car…

…only to have this cackling skeleton-zombie-thing turn around and FREAK ME THE HECK OUT. I freely admit it: I screamed so loud that my parents upstairs called down, sure that I hurt myself. The skeleton doesn’t do anything other than laugh and then drive you away, but still, that was totally unfair, game. Unfair.

And that’s it, Alone in the Dark finished in two relatively short play sessions! It’s a really quick game if you know what you’re doing, and while the polygons are pretty laughable today, there’s still an effectively creepy vibe that the house and its sounds delivers.

Secret World: Marquard’s mansion

I can’t believe that I got all the way up to the last mission of this big South African content drop in Secret World Legends and then didn’t actually finish it. It’s been a few weeks since I last logged in, and I felt this unfinished business nagging me. So let’s do it. Let’s tunnel our way into Marquard’s mansion and see what this Morninglight lunatic has been up to.

Our adventures start in a sort of mineshaft underground, which actually makes for an interesting level. It’s very straightforward, but there are plenty of booby traps, a handful of critters, and some roving probes. I felt that the insta-death rebar spikes were a tad unfair.

Oh, and there were a couple of giant spiders. Actually worked against them, since I excel in a narrow environment where the enemy has no room to escape.

The tunnel leads into Marquard’s basement, which turns out to be some sort of horror torture chamber with cells stocked with both humans (mostly Secret Worlders, including one “unknown faction”) and beasts. There’s also a dollhouse and dolls for no good reason. I suspect someone at Funcom keeps slipping these in as Easter eggs.

Notes on the computer mention “living fossils” — dinos? — found deep in the Congo.

I’ll tell you, I was all bees and needles coming up into the mansion proper. I mean, I was finally at the very heart of the Morninglight empire… who knew what I would find? Turns out, a very nice living room with a giant robot standing inexplicably in the middle.

I will say that I felt cheated that I wasn’t allowed to explore the rest of the mansion or really get that much more in the way of story lore here. In short, this is all a delaying tactic.

Marquard isn’t there — but his family is. And let me say that this lady is one of the freakier things that I’ve encountered in the game. The way she talks and the camera keeps pulling up to her, I was actually scooting back in my seat.

The family is the toughest fight. The two kids will kill you instantly if they get too close, so I had to keep them both in sight while attacking her. After a while, they join together to become… THE NUCLEAR FAMILY!

Now this just feels like a farce. Like Funcom had an interesting notion but couldn’t really follow through in a way that would put you in awe of the thing. Instead, it’s a goofy purple dude strutting around the place.

At the end of this fight, Berihun (fedora dude) steals my bee powers for about two seconds before Che shows up and gives them right back. Cue another boss fight which, of course, I win.

Che hands me the phone — and it’s John. Thought that he was dead for some reason? But he’s helping Che to help me, and he tells me that Marquard has indeed gone where every fan of this game has been guessing for ages now: the Congo.

In a pleasant surprise, the Templars actually show up in force to take over the mansion (after I’ve defeated the boss, of course) and Richard pardons me. I still don’t have the option to quit, but he can take that pardon and swallow it along with his posh British accent. I’m in this for the honey now.

LOTRO: Beware the bear butts

One of the things that I hate in MMOs or other games is that feeling of getting bogged down or stuck in an undesirable location or section. You know that feeling? You’ve had this good momentum and then, bam, you’re struggling through a part that isn’t too interesting and you’re not making any traction. You log out in frustration and then find yourself not wanting to log back in for days or weeks after.

LOTRO does this to me every so often. It can have a good flow, but when confusing quest objectives, inhospitable terrain, or frustrating mobs conspire together, they can swamp me. This is where I found myself in Northern Mirkwood.

At first it was great, all pretty trees and peaceful forest, but what I didn’t realize was that there’s this whole region around Elf City that’s in a perpetual night, has a ton of mobs, has a river you can’t cross (at least not through the water), has quest objectives that are scattered all over the place, and the environment has some cliffs and a ton of nighttime fog. It’s not at all enjoyable or engaging to stumble around nearly blind in a forest not even knowing where you’re going, which is why I didn’t want to log in for a while.

But the poisoned foxes needed me, and so I came back. Actually, the best remedy for getting bogged down is to power through it. Log in, devote X amount of time, and just get things one one objective at a time. So that’s what I did recently. One small, silly step at a time, and gradually I started to gain traction once more. Quests started getting finished.

And I was absolutely delighted to find that once I got outside of the Dark Zone, everything got 100% more enjoyable and easier to do. Funny that happening when you can actually see.

Angry tree guys? Evil forest spirits? Not really sure what the Taurogrim are and I’m not going to Google it. I think they look pretty cool though. I don’t even mind this guy trying to rip off my skull, because at least we’re out in the sunlight and I know where I’m going.

The main goal of the night was to run a solo instance in which I was helping a Beorning shapeshifter find one of her traveling companions who had been lost deep in the wood.

Oh! So I should back up to the start of this night and say that I died three times in a row, very quickly. At first I thought I wasn’t paying attention, but no, I was getting *creamed.* Then I noticed I was missing skills. And then my brain — honed by years of actually covering MMO news — remembered that this game had a class balance update and my talent points got reset. So I had that to do as well.

I don’t feel like my blue line Lore-master got better, but rather that she is less effective than before. I certainly struggled hard during this solo instance as the mobs hit me like a truck and I had a hard time keeping them off of me if there was more than one or two.

Puddleglum photobombed this nature shot. Go back and gel your hair a bit more, you weirdo.

Anyway, I died in the middle of the instance (which, again, has just rarely ever happened to me in this game and I’m now taking a long, hard look at my spec to see if it’s to blame), and I didn’t have my free rez available. So I had to be sent back. All the way back. Like halfway across the zone. I think my brain started screaming right then, which was followed by my mouth ten seconds later.

It was a long, stupid ride back.

Fortunately, I did get the instance done, saved the traveler, and was rewarded with… about eight new quests to do more stuff for them. I know the devs love to rack up the quantity of quests, but could there also be good rewards for them too? It’s not as though XP and LI XP is that useful to me right now.

Novel: The end. Also, the beginning.

There came a point in my novel writing last week when not only I knew that I was getting near the end of the book, but it clicked in my head how everything was going to wrap up. Once that happened, I was full steam ahead, surpassing my daily quota of 1,000 words for much more. I wanted to see it done. I wanted to cross that finish line with my arms held high in triumph. Maybe that’s what happens in a marathon when you see the end come in sight — you get that extra burst of speed and power.

Last Wednesday night, my wife shooed me out the door for some peace and quiet to do it justice. So I got dinner, drove to a quiet place near some trees, rolled down the windows, and just wrote. After two hours, I got to write those magical words — “The End” — and took the above picture to mark the occasion.

I won’t lie. I really thought I’d have more of a strong emotional reaction, but instead there was just… deep satisfaction. I wasn’t writing this to get it over and done with, I was writing it because I had a story to tell and it was FUN to write it. Every day over four months (only missing two days in the process), I came to that screen and wondered what would happen next. Sometimes I knew. Sometimes I thought I knew, but the characters went a different way. Sometimes it was silly or sad or clever or dumb. In a way, it was like I was slowly reading this book as I was also writing it.

Compared to my previous novellas, this novel feels more mature. Not in its subject matter, but in the style of its writing. It’s just more complete, more competent, and more something that I would actually like to read if someone else wrote it. I recently went back to re-read one of my NaNoWriMo novellas, and I couldn’t get past the first chapter, it was such a mess.

So what’s this book? What am I ready to share about it?

I wanted to stay quiet about the specifics while I wrote it because I didn’t want any feedback or comments. It was mine and it was fragile and in development. But now I think I can open up to share this much.

The novel is called The Wonderlust Journal, and it takes place in a fantasy world where the land has started to knit itself back together after a previous apocalypse of some sort. The title refers to a widespread quarterly newspaper that serves to connect the people of this world and their stories together. It’s now the most popular publication in the world, and the lead character is a low-level roving reporter who is secretly hunting down a big story in order to make a name for himself (among other things). He’s a bit of a dork but he’s clever and determined, and that makes for a good mix.

There’s very, very little fighting in it. No assassins. One dead dragon. A most unusual marriage. What ended up surprising me is how… normal this fantasy world ended up being. “Normal” in the sense that it wasn’t as high fantasy as I had originally intended, nor as gritty and grimdark as the genre is going these days. It’s got likable people, some weird twists, a rivalry, and a coming-of-age tale of sorts. No matter what, I tried to put at least one new and interesting development or insight into each chapter to keep the filler down.

Since announcing the end of this first draft, I’ve had some people on Twitter and Facebook ask me what I’m doing next. Originally I wrote this to see what it would be. I had no idea if it would just be for me or if I’d try to get it out there. Now that it’s done, I think it might be good enough to share with a wider audience.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done, so my immediate plan was to take a week off from working on this, and then to start the second draft. I really need to go back through this whole book and smooth it out, improve the language and flow, add more dialogue, and most importantly, retcon some characters and other things so that they’d match what I ended up writing. I have about four main characters and I need to work on bringing out each of their personality traits and unique characteristics more.

My goal now is to revise one chapter a day for 35 days (since there are 35 chapters).

Then? I’m going to try to find beta readers. I don’t know what the process is there, but I need some eyes on this to give me feedback, find obvious flaws, and to let me know what they think without trying to butter me up. Once I get that feedback, I’ll go back for a third draft.

That will probably take me to the end of summer or beyond. It’s not a quick thing. If I get it really polished and decent and people tell me if it’s good enough to print, then I’ll start looking for an agent or into self-publishing options. This is all very new to me, obviously, and I want to do it right.

After that… another book. I have a sequel to The Wonderlust Journal in mind, but there’s also a different idea that I’d like to hack out one of these days, so I’m deliberating between those.

Anyway, thank you to everyone for encouragement for a project that you can neither see nor read right now. Worst comes to worst, I’ll just post this sucker somewhere if nobody wants to publish it, and anyone who’s interested can read it.