Would I be playing Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes, Vanguard, and Warhammer Online if they were alive today?

The oncoming shutdown of WildStar isn’t the first time that I’ve heard some low-level snark slung against bloggers and players from various quarters to the effect of “You’re not playing it right now, so why are you mourning this? That’s some weird hypocrisy right there!”

To me, that ignores a few factors, such as:

  • You can’t always be playing all the MMOs all the time, even the ones you like
  • If you’ve spent significant time with a game in the past and have a connection to it, that doesn’t fade to nothing when you’ve taken a break or left it. Plus, I’ve done my time, so that gives me the right to pine over its loss. Tell me you haven’t felt sad over the death of some musician or celeb that you haven’t spent time enjoying in the past year. When things are taken away that we loved in the past, that can hurt us in the now.
  • You can love a game and not be playing it for understandable reasons, such as a broken state, an obvious impending shutdown, or a lack of developer involvement

Anyway, this all got me thinking about whether or not I’d be playing certain shutdown MMOs if, for whatever reason, they were legitimately started back up and running today. We’re talking fresh starts, new servers, the works. And while I would be ecstatic to see any MMO revived, I can’t say that I would play all of them past perhaps a night of curious tourism.

Star Wars Galaxies is a strange case. It never grabbed me when it was running, but the more I learn about it now, the more I think that I could have really warmed up to this game — or at least some aspects of it. It certainly would provide a nice alternative to SWTOR for those who want a Star Wars MMO fix but are done with BioWare’s business model and approach.

I can say that, in regards to City of Heroes, the answer there would be an emphatic “you betcha!” I’ve been absolutely craving a good superhero MMO the way that City of Heroes once provided, and that was the perfect game to return to. I’ve really regretted not having spent more time playing it past 2006 or so.

Vanguard is a different story. It’s a game that I sincerely admired for a lot of reasons, yet it kind of is lumped in the same pool of fantasy MMOs with solid feature sets yet don’t grab me all the time as EverQuest II or TERA. I guess it would really depend if there was a movement among the MMO community to be engaged in that game that would pull me along for the ride.

And as for Warhammer Online… the answer would be “no.” I put in my time there, got out of it as full of an experience as I wanted, and ultimately felt as though the game wasn’t quite all there and wasn’t the approach that appealed to me.

That’s just a few of the bigger ones, but I know that WildStar will soon join the list of games that I’ll feel occasional twinges of sorrow that I won’t be able to log into when I want to see that beautiful, vibrant world.

LOTRO: Back to Mirkwood (whyyy)

Hey wait, this isn’t Battle for Azeroth! What’s with the old timey dialogue and teeny-tiny icons and positively gloomy places that kick my patootey up and down the street?

It’s always a bit of culture shock to reenter an MMO after some time away, especially if you’ve gotten very used to a different control scheme and format. But I’ve been neglecting Lord of the Rings Online too long, and with a mini-expansion on the way in the near future and an uptick of personal interest in the game, I made time to come back last week.

It was one of those situations when you log in and then instantly groan when you realize where you’d left off. In my case, it was a return to the darkness of Northern Mirkwood after pushing out of it, enjoying the beautiful lands beyond, and then realizing that I had broken some quest chains that I needed to complete. And without knowing which ones that I needed, I had to do them all.

This led me to Caras Tilion, an elevated ruins that would have been pretty fun to explore except that it was crawling with pairs of signature mobs that required a lot of attention and fancy footwork to defeat. This turned it into another one of those fun LOTRO open world dungeon slogs that keep me screaming internally as I progress through them, inch by inch.

Elves are not afraid of heights. Or of unsafe building codes, apparently.

I wish I had a more exciting tale to tell, but truth be told that the full span of time that I allotted for this venture was taken up by trying to get through these quests. Yes, quests plural. It was as though the developers knew how aggravating this area was and kept sending me back to it right when I thought I was done for good. I mean, when I defeat a necromancer-in-training and save yet another foppish elf who got her leg stuck in a couple of brambles, you’d think that was it. But no, “Head back, Syp, and find me some more pottery shards whilst I eat grapes and laugh at the folly of humans. Ta ha!”

At least the experience gave me some time to think. And while LOTRO isn’t going to let me swap out a class at this late hour, I have been considering trying out the red or yellow line for Lore-master. Maybe as an experimental go. I don’t feel that urgent about it, because now for whatever reason, my pet seems to be doing more damage and holding up its tankiness much better than before. Could be a patch, could be my imagination, I don’t know, but I’m not complaining.

I am greatly looking forward to the next content update, if nothing else than the fact that it’ll give us five new levels. New levels mean more base power and survivability, and that should help finish up this zone. I almost don’t want to play now and “waste” that potential XP that I could be using soon toward those additional levels.

Battle Bards Episode 129: Elder Scrolls Online Morrowind

In today’s episode, the Battle Bards crew row their dinghy to the island of Vvardenfell, where there is a rumor of the legend of the return of Morrowind. Yes, it’s a tour through Elder Scrolls Online’s first expansion soundtrack. Will it be enough to reverse a few negative opinions of the base MMO’s score? (spoiler: yes indeedy!)

Episode 129 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Ascadian Idyll,” “Omens Prophecy,” and “Telvanni Towers”)
  • “Shadow of Baar Dau”
  • “A Land of War and Poetry”
  • “Grazelands Dawn”
  • “Currents of the Odai”
  • “Reverie of the Netchimen”
  • “Magnus Smiles on Suran”
  • “Azura’s Coast”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes: Deekay_zero
  • Jukebox Picks: “Main Theme” from Crash Bandicoot, “Darkness Rises” from The Banner Saga 3, “Traps” from Turrican II
  • Outro (feat. “Vvardenfell Vista”)

World of Warcraft: Breaking down that level 120 wall

So, I hit level 120, like, a month after the rest of you. And that was the easy part.

As has been well-documented before me and is now going to be further documented BY me, there’s a nasty wall that you hit at level 120 thanks to Blizzard’s scaling technology. Zones and mobs that used to be a breeze now hit like a Mack truck. Three-player mobs are all but impossible for my newly minted 120 Death Knight to beat, even with all sorts of cooldowns going off. Questing has slowed down because of this, and my enjoyment of progressing has diminished now that I (ironically) feel much weaker than I did at 119 (or at 110, for that matter).

The only way out of this quagmire is to gear up, as is the long-standing tradition of World of Warcraft. I know that if I can push my item level high enough, all this will go back to feeling normal and then, hopefully, rather easy.

But the question is, how? What’s the best path to take at 120?

My first thought was “world quests,” because I’ve been conditioned by Legion. However, with only one-and-a-half zones under my belt, I didn’t have the three friendly reps needed to unlock world quests. So I shifted course and moved over to Drustvar for the time being until I got that rep. Still working on that, but hopefully I’ll access it one of these nights.

The only other way that I see right now is through normal mode dungeons. Yes, I’m so pathetically weak that I don’t even have the item level needed for heroics. This is fine and normal, but it’s not my preferred route right now. For one thing, Battle for Azeroth’s dungeons are way, way too long. There’s so much in the way of trash mobs, and at least for those of us struggling to gear up, it’s kind of a slog to get through them. Even so, I’ve gamely queued up for them and crossed my fingers for some blue loot that will help to pull my item score closer to 305.

And while the dungeons are long at this point, at least they’re pretty interesting! I haven’t seen them all yet, but my favorite so far is Waycrest Manor, because I am a sucker for haunted houses. This one is quite well done, too. My only complaint is that everyone keeps pushing forward and there’s always combat to be had that I can’t stop and take all of the screenshots that I want to do.

My hope is that within a week or so, I’ll hit 305 on gear, access heroics (and better gear), get world quests going, and work my way up toward warfronts and LFR. I don’t need to be top-tier or anything, I just want to be good enough so that combat is breezy fun rather than annoyingly tough. Past that, I’ll start figuring out alternative goals, such as pursuing island expedition rewards and getting that rep for allied races. Plus, there’s always my poor level 116 Hordie who could use love and the whole same process.

Retro gaming is the new hotness

Probably my most-repeated inner lament is that I wish that I had all the gaming options I had today back in college and afterward when I was living those bachelor years, flush with spare time. Now it feels as though a massive practical joke is being pulled on me, what with more interesting gaming entertainment out there than I could ever sample, nevermind play to any degree of completion.

And it’s not just new games and MMORPGs that vie for my attention but also the rapidly growing market of retro gaming. It used to be that retro gaming was pretty much either emulators or hard/expensive-to-find old systems/cartridges/CD-ROMs. Now that companies have seen how we’ll throw money at the same games we’ve owned a half-dozen times over, they’re packaging them up again and making them incredibly easy to attain. PC players have virtual platforms like Steam and GOG that are full of old classics dusted off and booted up again. And console players can either partake of retro titles sold through virtual stores on modern machines or by purchasing one of the wave of retro all-in-one consoles that are being released.

We had the Genesis and Atari retro consoles going for a few years now, but the release of the NES Classic two years ago seems to have fired a starter’s pistol for a whole new wave of nostalgic monetization. Now we’ve seen yet another Genesis console, the SNES Classic, the Neo Geo Mini, and the newly announced PlayStation Classic. Plus whatever Nintendo will announce later this fall (either GameBoy or N64, most likely, although I’d love a SNES Classic 2).

I’m not going to go nuts snapping up all of these retro consoles. I’m very pleased with the SNES Classic, for sure, and it gets a lot of play in our household. But that was my favorite console of all time and hard to collect for. Do I really want or need a PlayStation One with 20 games for $100? I can get Final Fantasy VII on my tablet or through one of several other ways these days, and I’m not exactly champing at the bit to replay it right now.

GOG is a godsend for its continual expansion of its retro PC library. That, in my opinion, is a lot more difficult to establish, what with the work needed to make older games run on modern PCs. Will we ever see an IBM 486 retro desktop? For all I know, they’ve done it already. Or are doing it. Hey, they did it with the Commodore 64, right?

Whether or not I buy these games and systems doesn’t matter to me as much as knowing that work is being put into preserving these titles and bringing them over to systems and one-shot devices that can keep them operational for the next decade or so. That sparks in me the desire to see more, more, more in this field, even if it does sometimes smack like nostalgic double-dipping by studios.

World of Warcraft: Level 120 or bust

Blizzard is the wise shepherd, leading us to fertile fields of its new ideas, only to have us spit out those ideas and return to the more familiar fields of yesteryear.

Now that I’ve moved and am starting to approach something near a semblance of a return to routine, I’m able to game in blocks longer than ten minutes at a time. And while I made an effort to diversify my sessions, I also used last weekend to pour some serious time into World of Warcraft. The goal? To hit level 120 on a single character.

About one month in is pretty much my regular pace, at least when I look back to how long it took me to reach 110 in Legion. With alts and other games and my preference to actually read and absorb the stories, a month is about what I’m facing. But I decided that my dilly-dallying was growing a little too long in the tooth, and with a desire to jump into warfronts and get in on that easy loot, I pushed hard to get my Death Knight through her second zone (which I had already seen most of with my Hunter) and scoop up as much XP as possible.

I suppose another reason for hitting 120 is just to take away the psychological pressure of the task and free me up for other pursuits. World of Warcraft is always enjoyable to me in moderation but not when I’m pushing myself through a massive grind or marathon.

And while I did drop my Hunter to the road and haven’t looked back, I am still giving some time for my Horde alt as she plods through the content on that side. Yes, I said “plod.” I’m sure this is so incredibly subjective, but there’s so little that’s actually good over here on this side. As I said on Twitter, it’s like the Horde lost the biome lottery and ended up with the three worst types — jungle, swamp, and desert — then had to make the best of it.

Then we’ve got Trolls to the left, Trolls to the right, here we are stuck in the middle with bad accents. I’ll overlook the fact that Trolls are basically uglified elves according to lore, they’re just not a good race. They look so off-putting with the hunches and tusks and nose rings, and it doesn’t help that everything they say has to be written/said in a weird Jamaican dialect. I don’t know, I’ve never warmed up to Team Troll, even though that race was huge in the whole history of Azeroth.

Alternating between sides, I keep going from savage lands and mud huts to Pirates of the Caribbean. Some nights, I can’t wait to be done with the Horde side so that I can get back to Alliance. At least I’ve found a great groove with my Affliction spec and can take out whole packs of mobs without breaking much of a sweat. The only thing that worries me is when my voidwalker gets overwhelmed and I can’t keep him (it?) healed up fast enough. At least bringing out a new one takes only a second or so.

What’s next? Finishing all of the zone stories, war campaign, and gearing up, of course. Probably doing that at a much more leisurely pace. Hopefully getting in place for the first content patch of this expansion cycle. Weirdly enough, I don’t think I’m going to be pushing as hard for gold any more. I’ve been doing that most of this year, and now that I got the expansion for free and have a full year’s worth of free play time ahead of me, that feels like it’s enough.

The WildStar farewell tour, part 1

With WildStar on the way out, I wanted to say farewell in fashion. And if that mean putting myself through the torture of reinstalling the game and logging in, then so be it. There are screenshots to be taken and accomplishments to be preserved!

For this first excursion, I wanted to take pictures of my characters. In the end, I had two primary characters at level 50, both named Syppi: a Medic and an Engineer. But I also wanted to touch base with my lowbie Aurin, Jem Hologram:

She… she does not look happy about being consigned to the eternal void of doom. Poor girl. You deserved some actual play time from me.

At least she’ll be able to take her faithful party Rowsdower with her when it all goes down. Nice color matching, too!

Next up: Checking out all of my outfits for my Medic. The purple/aurora snow hat look was most definitely my favorite of the six, although that cowgirl one looks pretty tough…

My Medic’s housing plot. I didn’t do much with this after Carbine vastly expanded the available space on which to build, so this looks pretty empty. I really liked the little hedge maze plug over there.

I took lots of pictures of the insides of my houses, but for the most part, they aren’t that impressive (or finished).

I didn’t do a lot of actual play, but I quickly got refamiliarized with WildStar’s movement. And I have to say that it is still really fantastic. The animations, the feel, the double-jumping, the swooshy hoverboard — all slicker ‘n snot.

I didn’t regret buying this Halloween second house for my plot — but I did regret never actually finishing it as a fully-functional haunted house!

Making this tranquil little pond took me way, way too long. But I think it was worth it.

The WildStar nativity that I made for several Christmases ago. It’s adorbes!

My Engineer outfits. Top left was the coolest, top right was my everyday wear, and bottom middle was my funkiest.

Arcterra — a zone that I never got to explore. Looks winter-sharp though!

Nostalgia Lane: Dogz

Back in the mid-1990s, the internet was only really starting to take hold in homes, and on our college campus, it had finally arrived in the fall of 1995. We endured all kinds of long website loading times on very slow modems to see the glory of the world wide web, and it was both strange and glorious.

One of the effects of the internet invasion was that software was easier than ever to share and download, especially with all of the different trial programs out there. So when I went to work in the computer center help room on our college campus, I found out that everyone had been bowled over by this program called Dogz for Windows 95.

Dogz wasn’t a game, not really. It belonged to the virtual pet craze of the 1990s, but also to the “things doing unproductive stuff on your desktop” craze that was infecting a lot of Windows machines. We were kind of nuts for overloading our computers with all sorts of gimmicky programs that would slow everything down to a crawl. Today it seems like the opposite — we’re all about streamlining and simplifying our workspace. I guess it was the novelty of it all.

Anyway! Dogz! So the idea here is that you would adopt one of five highly animated dogs and then raise and train them. Each dog had a specific personality, so generally you’d pick the one that was suited to your own. Personally, I liked Jowls because he had a sweater, but your mileage may vary.

I thought it was a nice touch that the pet would then break out of the window and romp all over your desktop (if you had the window reduced in size instead of fullscreen). You could then train the dog with spritzes of water and snacks, feed and water them, pet them, and play with them using a variety of objects from the screen. Throwing the ball around to see the dog chase it or playing tug of war was pretty entertaining, at least for a while.

I guess the idea here was similar to vanity pets in MMOs — to give you that feeling of virtual companionship, even if you were so desperately alone. So alone. Why? Why wouldn’t anyone date me? Why was I destined to be alone each and every Friday evening? WHYYYYYY HUG ME DOG AND LICK AWAY MY TEARZ

Ahem.

Anyway, while we spent a good amount of time fiddling with Dogz at our job, it was mostly because it wasn’t seen as a game and playing games there was frowned upon. I never took Dogz with me on my laptop or fell in love with it — it was more of a temporary fascination that became dull once you’d seen all that it had to show you. I know that the series kept on going for a good long while on many platforms, but right there in 1995 was where Dogz and I crossed paths and then parted for good.

Neverwinter: Ironclad

So with the initial rush and excitement of Battle for Azeroth settling down — and my own efforts to settle into a new house and area — I felt that this was a great time to shake myself out of what had become a one-game routine for a good month there and diversify again once more. While I’ll continue my adventures in WoW and LOTRO (so much more to do in both) as well as group, I feel the need for new characters and horizons.

As such, I’m going to be rolling up brand-new characters in a few other MMOs this fall, starting with Neverwinter. Yes, Neverwinter, the popcorn game that might be as non-nutritious as it is weirdly flavorful. I keep getting reminded that there’s so very much content in this game that I’ve never seen. I blame MOP’s Larry for this recent foray, because he was talking up this game after spending time in the latest module at PAX.

I still can’t believe how few classes Cryptic has added to this MMO over the years, but I figured that I would try something different and go with a buff-happy Oathbound Paladin this time around. Race? Boring human this time (those racial bonuses are nice!), although I made her a little stocky on purpose to emphasize her power and muscles.

While I waited for the game to update, I amused myself by taking advantage of several free giveaways for in-game goodies. I mean, why not? Free is free if you’re using a disposable email address.

Between those and several promotional items that Cryptic winged (wung? wanged chun?) my way over the years, a new character is set up from the get-go with some nice items. I just really appreciate a purple companion and my ginormous spider mount, which might just be one of my all-time favorite MMO mounts.

High-five, zombie lich queen! Looking sharp and pointy there!

So while there is a ton of material that I’ve never encountered in this game to date, the problem is that I *have* gone through the opening 20 levels or so numerous times (and then keep drifting away and deleting characters so as to start over next time). I know I have to push through the ultra-familiar before I get to the new stuff and possibly arrive at a point where I can consume the fresh releases when they come off the line. Probably a pipe dream, but it’s a nice thought.

Anyway, after doing a little research on a capable soloing character, I went with the self-healing, self-buffing Paladin to give me the best prospect for adventuring in high levels without as much frustration as I was getting from my former squishy Rogue.

How does one put this much armor on a giant spider? Does it sit still for it every day? Feels a little redundant, since there’s an exoskeleton and all that, but oh well.

Over the course of a good night’s play session, I raced through the introduction quests and deep into the Blacklake District parts. Having the sparkle trail to follow, as I’ve said many times, is actually really relaxing, like following a GPS and not worrying about getting turned around. I can wander away as much as I like and not have to fret that I’ll get lost. That creates a pretty optimized and yet flexible play experience, which I appreciate.

Got to say that this guy’s pavilion was a little immersion breaking. And by “little” I mean “seriously, there’s the logo of the game right up there and everything, that’s not subtle, guys.” Kind of hard to peg the tone of Neverwinter, but I think that there is this underappreciated subversive humor that runs through the game. I’ll have to keep my eye out for that.

Fornite and the freedom of gaming silly

My relationship with the uber-popular, can’t-escape-it Fortnite has been one of an educated outsider. I’ve covered it for news and have listened to my teens talk about it endlessly, but it’s not a game experience that I’m eager to have myself. Kind of like how I feel about MOBAs. I can acknowledge that it’s hot, I can understand why it appeals, but it’s just not for me.

That said, in attempting to dissect the Fortnite phenomenon, there’s an element here that I think a lot of the battle royale copycats have overlooked, which is the spirit of humor in the game. DayZ, H1Z1, PUBG — all, by and large, skew more toward gritty and realistic (not entirely, but by and large). Fortnite, on the other hand, has been a goofball since the very beginning. And that definitely has played to its favor. There’s a particular joy that can be found in games that free themselves up to be silly.

I’m not talking about nonsensical lunacy but rather “Weird Al” and “Simpsons” kind of silly. The type of silliness that isn’t afraid to go for the cheap visual gag, the doofy outfits, or the bizarre juxtapositions of a fight-to-the-death arena and players wooshing around in golf carts and shopping carts. This whole approach gives Fortnite some key advantages in drawing in large crowds, including:

1. There’s that attractive, colorful art style and palette that softens the PvP nature and is visually inviting (see: League of Legends).

2. Humor takes the edge off of winning or losing — because as long as we’re entertained and having fun, winning and losing don’t matter as much as they did before.

3. Being silly opens a game up to creative approaches that aren’t always grounded in reality. Look at the old Duke Nukem 3D. There were tons of 3D shooters at that time, but DN3D distinguished itself with an “anything goes” tongue-in-cheek approach that wasn’t afraid to push aside realism to have goofy, pointless fun at times.

4. It also allows over-the-top combat without anyone complaining that it is “immersion breaking.” Those fights become the game standard and everyone is OK with that.

If you were to chart MMOs on the spectrum of silly to serious, you’d probably get a good range… but would also see more titles lean toward the latter. Get humor wrong, and you alienate players. Include too much silliness, and you might be communicating that your game is just a joke.

Titles like World of Warcraft, WildStar, Fallen Earth, and TERA, in varying degrees, embrace their silly side. You get a lot of this from eastern titles, too, that have that anime bizarre wackadoodle attitude to them, although that’s not always appealing. Usually I don’t mind a game having fun in this way, but it does have to be incorporated into the game’s base design and personality — and not just appear out of nowhere as a non-sequitur.

I definitely enjoy when a game can cut loose a bit and have fun. As kids, teens, or adults, sometimes we need that, especially in our relaxation. There’s a value to going goofy, and it doesn’t exclude adults by default when that happens. Some of the silliest people I know are as old or older than I, because they know that it’s important to laugh and play as well as the other parts of life.