LOTRO: Peculiar sight-seeing in Dale

Best decision I made in LOTRO lately was to abandon the rest of these piddly Mirkwood quests and simply follow the epic quest line right out of that cursed wood. Should have done this WEEKS ago, to be honest. Mirkwood’s just way too dark and bothersome to quest with any enjoyability. Plus, I start to miss the bright beauty of the game — just like I had with Mordor.

Fortunately, assistance was a short trek down the road. I can’t express the actual relief I felt watching the inky black of the wood dissolve into the gorgeous pastels of a sunrise above the Long Lake in the distance. Heck, I was even happy enough that I didn’t mind that the first town I came to was infested with elves.

I probably spent a good 20 minutes in that town — where The Hobbit’s elves help to manage navigating the barrels down to the Men — doing nothing more than sight-seeing and taking pictures. This world building team is still capable of pushing out some of the more gorgeous landscapes and settings, and right here is up with any of the best the game has done to date.

However, the more I was walking around, the more I felt that something was… missing. Took me a minute or two to realize it, but finally I noticed that in this sizable elf town, there were no side quests whatsoever. Not one. Perhaps it’s a result of abandoning some side missions back in Mirkwood, but that’s not how LOTRO usually handles these things. Side missions feature short chains that aren’t usually linked together. In any case, the whole town offered nothing but a single NPC for me to talk to as part of my epic. So I guess I was moving on?

I also saw something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in this game before: A boat (in this case, a raft) actually moving on the water. Usually LOTRO’s water vessels are always stationary, but not here in Dale. I saw rafts and boats going to and fro, and I thought that was keen. I did try to swim out and jump up on one, but I clipped right through. Guess they’re just for looks.

Even got fascinated watching this huge carp swimming around…

When I saw this, I called my kids over to show them Smaug’s bones, since we had finished The Hobbit earlier this year. They thought it looked pretty creepy, and I have to agree. I tried to get a closer look but got ambushed by a trio of mobs and I didn’t have a pet out to help me.

Next stop: Lake-town. Again, an absolutely magnificent addition to the game and a really fun place to explore. The detail and richness here is wonderful, with different tiers of piers letting you go under, around, and over homes and waterways. Although the weirdness of the “no side quests” thing persisted — Lake-town didn’t offer me any activities other than an instance that had me get into a bar brawl as part of my epic. This is so peculiar, because devs don’t put in this much time into new areas without creating a lot of quests to get you to stick around. Maybe I’ll be coming back? I have no idea at this point.

The sight of the Lonely Mountain towering over Dale gave me the good shivers. What a stirring sight!

Dale is pretty impressive itself, kind of an updated Bree with a mountain as a backdrop. I roamed around for a while here, too, but only found one questgiver — an NPC hunter who challenged me to kill 10 of this and 10 of that. What the heck, why not? I miss side quests!

I took a moment to mentally salute the statue of Bard. If I haven’t said so before, I’m so glad SSG decided to flesh out this region, because I’ve really wanted to go here for a while. And it is such a relief to be up here than down in the nastiness of Mordor.

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6 things I’m loving about Battle for Azeroth so far

While it’s far too early to draw any firm conclusions about World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth in these first few days, I will say that (a) I am having just a terrific time and (b) I can’t wait to log back in when I’m going about my normal daily schedule. That’s a good sign. So instead of any review, here are six things I’m loving about this expansion so far.

1. The intro is as smooth as butter

I was worried I’d be in for hours of intro quests before actually getting to the new zone but, nope, this expansion gets you there right quick. And the whole Alliance intro, with Jaina’s cutscenes, a prison break, and the encounter with the Harbormaster, had me absolutely hooked. Great voice acting, too!

2. It’s redonkulously pretty — and good-sounding

I seriously can’t stop taking screenshots. Draenor and the Broken Isles were both visually stunning, especially initially, but Blizzard’s art team still deserves a huge round of applause for these visuals (and the small details when you take the time!). Each building is worth exploring to me, and I love how this place thematically feels much different than anywhere else in the game world. Plus, that new soundtrack sweeps me off my feet (so it’s good I’m sitting).

3. Kul Tiras feels more like a grounded and consistent fantasy setting

It took me a bit to acknowledge this, but after Pandaria, Draenor, Broken Isles, and Argus, Kul Tiras feels more grounded than the game has been in a while. This is more like a classic fantasy setting than WoW’s had in a while, and I really, really love it. It doesn’t come across as wildly disconnected theme zones, but a country that is connected in its politics, culture, and setting.

4. It feels like a huge meal that I’m starting to eat with small, satisfied bites

I love the beginning of a good expansion. It’s like going into a great book knowing there’s a lot of enjoyment ahead, so you want to savor every bite!

5. The story is pretty engaging

I’m not picky. If a story makes sense, is told well, and keeps me interested in what’s going to happen next, that’s a win for an MMO. And Battle for Azeroth, from the prequels through last night, has me eagerly turning the pages.

6. And there’s a whole different faction to experience!

The first two nights I spent with my two Alliance characters. But now I know that on night three, I’m going to be experiencing an entirely different series of zones, capital city, and storyline. I’m definitely glad I decided to go with a Horde alt!

Battle Bards Episode 126: Out of this world

It’s time to boldly go where no podcast has gone before — by exploring MMO space themes! It’s perhaps the flat-out goofiest and silliest Battle Bards episode to date, so you’re going to have to excuse a whole lot of diversions, arguments, and giggles. Because that’s what space does to people? We do not know.

This episode is also notable for Syl’s all-time greatest quote, “Planets are usually in space.” Usually.

Episode 126 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “A New Frontier” from Destiny 2, “Morning Star” from Anarchy Online, and “Centaurus” from Elite: Dangerous)
  • “First Light” from Star Citizen
  • “The Cold Science of Supremacy” from WildStar
  • “Terran Wander 3” from Earth and Beyond
  • “Delta Rising Theme” from Star Trek Online
  • “Through a Lush Ravine” from Wurm Online
  • “Main Theme” from Black Prophecy
  • “Theme Version 2” from Star Sonata
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes: Rafael, Bryan, and Katriana
  • Jukebox Picks: “Main Theme” from Revenant, “This Way” from The Terminator Sega CD, and “She Came from Outer Space” from A Hat in Time
  • Outro (feat. “Surface Tension Conference” from Star Trek Online)

World of Warcraft: Battle for Directions

The Heart of Azeroth. It’s mine. All mine. And millions of others’ as well. Seriously, you can find these things in the dollar store discount bin at this point. But hey, it’s the planet’s first attempt at making gaudy jewelry, so give it a break, won’t you?

So last night was the official launch for Battle for Azeroth, and we are now well into this new phase of World of Warcraft’s existence. As much as I really did like Legion, I was beyond ready for this expansion pack. The only question was how I was going to approach it, what with three main characters and all. With Legion, I primarily focused on one character for a long time and gradually brought alts in, but I found that that left those alts feeling way behind the curve. So this time around, I’m going to rotate nights between characters and try to keep them more or less progressing at the same rate.

Ouch. That is going to sting in the morning…

I’m much more excited for the expansion’s story and zones than its new features. I haven’t seen much hype over the Heart of Azeroth, warfronts, or island adventures, to be honest. And getting the Heart felt like a vastly lesser experience than getting the artifact weapon (with all of the class stories!) in Legion. I now have this doohickey and a bizarre hat, both of which I promptly forgot about.

At least the story really WAS gripping right out of the gate. I went to Kul Tiras with Corset Elsa and found myself in the midst of politics and a nation divided. I think the theme of a seafaring nation is a great one for World of Warcraft, and right away you can tell that this culture feels and functions differently than ones we’ve seen already.

I loved how one of the first things that happens is getting tossed into an island prison. I decided to take a nap for a bit before some pirate dude named Flynn broke me out. Elder Scrolls is screaming “copycat” here, but I do like the idea of starting from the lowest of lows and climbing back up to victory.

The city of Boralus is truly unique in the game. It’s also HUGE. I’m not one for urban exploration and felt really lost after wandering through this weirdly shaped town, but there were plenty of interesting sights and details that I’m sure nobody noticed as they were racing to the next quest objective.

I want these glasses on my characters! Can I get these glasses on my characters? I must have them!

The new housing system is spectacular! Just look at what I was able to accomplish with just one evening’s work.

There’s an autumnal feel for Boralus, which plays well with both the sea and mountains around it. Definitely a city for pumpkin spice lattes, yoga pants, and unnecessary scarves.

In addition to flight paths, Kul Tiras also features a ferry service that goes around all three zones to the inner portion of the sound. They’re very speedy boats and I really dig the different perspective of zipping to your destination. As we’re now grounded again, we have to get used to traveling without flight. This will help.

Poor lady bore the brunt of a crab uprising. I tried to help, but alas, non-targetable crabs.

Being tired and taking it slow, I didn’t make a great deal of progress. I did a quest hub or two and was repeatedly distracted by treasure chests and herbalism nodes. At least my power level felt fine in fights, with none of them being overly long or difficult.

I won’t lie, it feels great having a lot ahead of me to do in this game once more. Yes, there’s some certain anxiety over wanting to get missions back up and running, wanting to hit the level cap, and so on, but really, one or two months until that happen aren’t going to break me. I recently bought another WoW token, which pays my sub all the way through June 2019, so I can afford to absorb some time without a steady income. And we have no idea how the inflation and economy is going to shift in these next few months.

I predict we’ll be hearing about the patch cycle for Battle for Azeroth at BlizzCon this November, so I don’t think we’ll have any significant updates before then. It’s plenty of time just to adventure through this expansion and get acquainted with these new lands (and hopefully make sense of this city!).

WoW: She slimed me

Well, this is it. The battle horns have sounded and, starting tonight in North America, Battle for Azeroth will go live. If this is anything like previous expansions and MMO launches that I’ve experienced, I’ll get really excited about it, try to get some time to play, and quickly be trampled by the stampede of players rushing as fast as possible to get to the new level cap and endgame.

I don’t anticipate getting there for a month, especially how chaotic life is getting. And that’s just fine — I want a new leveling experience, I look forward to the journey, and I genuinely enjoy getting set up again with new goals and champion missions and whatnot. I haven’t paid much attention at all to the beta and so I know only the broadest of strokes of the expansion — which means that I’ll probably have more fun in it than your average streamer or dataminer.

Before getting into it tonight, I should probably talk about last week’s Siege of Lordaeron scenario, since that wrapped up the prologue experience. I do miss the world invasions of Legion, I think those were more fun for the community and bonded us, but it definitely was cool to have a weekly episode to anticipate — especially ones with so many story beats and cutscenes.

I played both Alliance and Horde sides for this, and I have to say that the Alliance side made more sense and was more engaging. It was a full-on frontal assault of Lordaeron following the destruction of Teldrassil, and the scenario did a great job conveying the chaos and energy of warfare (although it wasn’t, at any point, actually challenging or dangerous).

So many great moments, too. Jaina’s return is the part everyone’s discussing, of course, but I was really partial to seeing the Forsaken coming out in gas masks to spread the Blight everywhere. Having to retreat by stages against the oncoming green Blight felt genuinely terrifying. And the showdown in the throne room was cool, I guess, but it was more posturing than anything else. Characters in this game like to show up, pose, and make grand pronouncements without actually doing anything.

What made less sense was this lady and her whole strategy. I don’t get what’s going on with Sylvanas, other than just accepting that she’s devolved into Big Bad Guy Mode which means that you kick your minions around, insult your inferiors, and be as homicidal as your schedule allows. She doesn’t show any great insight or plan here, nor does she explain why she went all tree-burny. She’s just angry and evil.

I probably felt the worst for the other Horde leaders, especially Blaine and Saurfang. Nobody stands up to Sylvanas even though they really should, yet they’re miserable because their dream of a noble, honorable Horde is dying all around them.

Then again, if you’re a Forsaken fan or player — which I am — this all is really gratifying to see the Blight in action. The Forsaken really should be their own faction at this point. Maybe that’s something that will happen in this expansion.

Other random thoughts: Anduin looks kind of silly in that lion mask. There, I’ve said it.

Jaina is like a more intense Elsa from Frozen and we all know that’s 100% deliberate on the part of Blizzard.

Lordaeron’s been nuked with Blight, so now we are down two capital cities? Can Forsaken not live among the Blight? I’m not really up to spec with this whole plague. I wouldn’t think the undead could get undeader, but that’s me.

The whole stalemate ending felt shoehorned and cheesy. Something significant needed to happen here, some balance of power should have changed, but nothing did other than Saurfang getting captured.

Biggest disappointment: No cool rewards. COME ON, BLIZZARD. Couldn’t I at least keep this awesome gas mask? I’d wear it all the time, promise!

WoW: My lucid nightmare

After hearing that a Twitter friend was pursuing an odd goal of unlocking a rather difficult-to-acquire World of Warcraft mount that was part of a long series of secret puzzle-based quests, I decided to kill some time this week by seeing if I could do it too. I kind of really dig these hidden quests in this and other games, particularly because (1) they put some real thought into them, (2) they take me to places I don’t normally go to in the game, and (3) they give me a sense of achievement when I finish them.

Before all that, of course, I had to put together a sleek black outfit as part of my BFA prep. And off we go!

So this whole series — which is known as the “Lucid Nightmare” chain — is kicked off by a really cryptic note in Dalaran that has fortunately been figured out by the community (as well as subsequent notes). I’m sure this was great community bonding fun as everyone got together to try to suss these out, but as it is, I’m glad to benefit from their detective work. There’s no way I know enough about this game to find a whole bunch of places based on vague clues.

Mostly, the clues led me into different raids and zones, where I’d find puzzles to solve. Some of these were minigames, like this Bejeweled thing above (which was admittedly cool)…

…and this “untangle this mess” puzzle (even cooler). I spent about one night getting through most of the quests, at least until the penultimate mission.

Which turned out to be pure hell.

So we have to talk Endless Halls here and why this quest line is a badge of honor for some people. Maybe more of a rite of passage, I don’t know. I just understand now why people commiserate over this quest line, all because of this one step.

Right before you finish up the series, you have to navigate the Endless Halls to find five orbs and put them on their respective colored platforms. It’s a maze, basically, of rooms with NSEW entrances, although some are blocked by rubble. And it’s almost, almost impossible.

The problem is that you can’t easily map it. The maze is kind of three dimensional, with different levels, rooms that skip past other rooms, and even a teleporting trap that’ll throw you into a random part of the maze. It’s very disorienting and doesn’t lend itself at all to mapping out on graph paper. There are a couple of techniques to try to run in a consistent pattern as to cover most of the maze, but even then, you have to change things up every now and then to find all 64 rooms.

To make matters even worse, the maze is randomized for you — AND it resets when you log out for a while. I found that out after three hours of running and finding four out of five of the orbs. Thought I could finish it up the next day, but nope, it reset.

My second attempt took place one night where I cleared my gaming schedule, put on a movie, and went to town on the maze. That run took two hours and 15 minutes before all was said and done.

And let me tell you, when you see this room at last, it’s the most glorious sight in the world.

From there it was a quick trip to the Forgotten Crypt behind Kara. Never been there, and after mousing over clickables and getting weird file names for them, I suspect that this was a half-finished building. But sure enough, my mount was waiting for me on the top of the biggest pile of bones in the universe.

So I got my dark unicorn mount. Probably was a lot more work than it was worth, to be honest, especially since it can’t fly. But you can bet I’ll be riding it around BFA like crazy! It does a really nifty rear-and-spin move if you’re not jumping, but other than that, I suppose it’s just a way to show other people that you had too much time on your hands and a lot of patience in your back pocket.

Site news: updated blogroll and anticipated games

Just a couple of blog upkeep notes, for those who might not visit the actual Bio Break site these days:

  • I’ve erased my old blogroll and started fresh, adding all of the Blaugust Reborn participants as well as anyone I see active on my daily RSS feed. Lots of great blogs to check out if you’re bored, so look to the right there and get reading!
  • I’ve also added a few titles to the “Games I’m keeping an eye on” section. Again, this list is mostly for me, so that I won’t forget about these smaller titles when I go to check up on them later on. But I figure I might as well share those with you guys, so there’s that.