Syp’s gaming goals for November

October 2018 in review

  • Generally, this was a pretty good month of gaming as my new schedule started to solidify and I settled into life here in western NY.
  • While I got my gear up to around 340 in World of Warcraft, I started to feel listless and bored with Battle for Azeroth. Thus, I decided to spin down a bit in that game.
  • Lord of the Rings Online got an increased amount of attention from me as I logged in nearly every day. I finally pushed through Northern Mirkwood and got through most of Dale with my Lore-master.
  • Our Dungeons and Dragons Online group had a few fun play sessions together — mostly doing Halloween stuff — and I had fun hanging with Guild Wars 2 peeps as we ran spider races and beat down the Mad King.
  • Almost out of the blue, I got back into Star Wars: The Old Republic. I made a new Sniper and started working her up through the class story, getting to around level 35.
  • Other gaming: Rimworld, Grim Fandango (for retro gaming), Clash Royale, and Bloons 6.

November goals

  • I’m truly excited about two major launches this month. The first is LOTRO’s new progression server, which I’ll be diving into enthusiastically. Probably with a Hobbit. Most likely a Minstrel. I’m actually in a really good place in my interest level for the game right now and am looking forward to experiencing it all over again.
  • The second is the release of Fallout 76 in the middle of the month. No specific plans with this other than to enjoy the ride and have fun exploring. I really hope this will scratch that post-apocalyptic MMO itch I’ve had for a while.
  • I keep mulling over FFXIV and Elder Scrolls Online, but I know I’ll be more than busy this month — and I don’t want to spend more money than I have to with the holidays coming up.
  • I’d be really happy with myself if I finished the core Imperial Agent story in SWTOR and started in on the expansions by the end of the month. It’s amazing how fast you can go when you’re not stopping to do every piddly sidequest and datacron.
  • I’m going to continue to work (half-heartedly) toward Dark Iron Dwarves in WoW, and I’m sure I’ll hook up with DDO and GW2 groups from time to time.
  • I also really need to get Stardew Valley on my iPad.
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Guild Wars 2: What future does this MMO hold?

Is Guild Wars 2 starting to wrap up and wind down?

Honestly, I would never have thought so. I still don’t, not really. Guild Wars 2 continues to be a popular and populated game that makes a decent amount of cash for ArenaNet and NCsoft (although not as much as some of NCsoft’s eastern titles). It’s been getting a content update every few months and an expansion every other year. If you were to rank the top 10 healthiest and actively discussed MMOs right now, I’m pretty sure that GW2 would be in the top 5. To me, it seems that this MMO is firmly in its middle years where it’s found its groove and pattern, and we should be in for that for a while barring any unforeseen circumstances.

Yet. Yet I’ve heard rumblings. Massively OP’s Tina, who knows this game better than anyone else I’ve met, mentioned on the podcast a growing concern among the community — a perception — that GW2 may be preparing to end. The issue here, she explained, is one of story: The game has already done pretty much all it can with its 2,487 named dragons of lore that it can. It may be done with major threats and story beats.

Personally, I found this kind of ridiculous. There are always more villains, because writers can make them up. Same thing with story. Virtual history goes on, and so it could conceivably indefinitely for Guild Wars 2.

But Tina’s concern isn’t the only time I’ve heard this as of late. Some players are actively speculating that the tight-lipped ArenaNet is working on other projects — other titles or a Guild Wars 3 — instead of pushing hard for a continued future for GW2. It could be that GW2 is simply not making enough money for NCsoft, and we all know how that tends to fare for this company (then again, look how long they kept the underperforming WildStar running).

Some players seem absolutely calm about the prospect of GW2 going into maintenance mode as a so-far-unannounced Guild Wars 3 ramps up.  It’s no secret that ArenaNet banked hard on PvP (and WvW) becoming a Major Thing, including an esports franchise, and the cold, hard fact that it didn’t had to hurt future prospects. The lack of communication by the studio as of late and the slow pace of content rollout has a lot of people thinking… and talking.

Personally, I think it’s far too early to proclaim the death of Guild Wars 2 — or even its semi-retirement in the vein of Guild Wars 1. ArenaNet is still making bank on it, still enjoying a healthy dose of popularity, and still has a core game around which it can stick on new expansions. That has to be a much more easy way to make money than, you know, building an entirely new MMO from scratch.

I wouldn’t even blame ArenaNet if it decided to keep milking GW2 while it branched out into other franchises. The entire history of that studio has been that of a single franchise, and that must be getting a little stale for creative types.

What do you think? Any validity to these community predictions, or is it some wishful thinking and doomsaying?

Nostalgia Lane: Castlevania Symphony of the Night

One of my favorite game series back on retro consoles is Castlevania. From the first game, with its pulse-pounding soundtrack and lethargic whip action to Super Castlevania IV on the SNES, I adored the tone and fun of these hunted house games. Things seemed to go off the rails with the N64 game, but the PlayStation brought it back in style for the surprisingly amazing 1997 game Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Poorly translated and pretentious as all get out, SOTN was nevertheless an astounding action-RPG. This time around, players jumped into the shoes of Dracula’s son who had to explore his dad’s castle and put an end to evil, etc. While the game started players out with high stats and powerful equipment, after the first boss battle we were all knocked back to a weakened state with minimal gear and had to scrounge and explore and grind to get good again.

I’m not lying when I said that this game came out of nowhere. I don’t think anyone was anticipating it when it arrived in the US, but I happened to pick it up and then spent dozens of gleeful hours jumping around this castle, experimenting with different weapons, and digging the amazing soundtrack (which is highly worth checking out even today). The RPG elements in the gear and level added a nice additional layer of complexity past the platforming elements, as did the fact that when you beat the game… the castle flipped over and you had to navigate an upside-down realm. Take that, Stranger Things.

There were pets. There were magic attacks. There were meme quotes and shapeshifting. There were boomerang razer discs that became my go-to weapon. There were also atrocious loading times that happened at every single death, which was highly unfortunate. There were even multiple endings.

While it was still Castlevania, it felt like more, you know? I got far more playtime out of this game than other titles in the franchise and fed that inner yearning to explore. I also appreciated that the series went back to lush 2-D sprites instead of the muddled, ugly 3-D graphics that consoles of the late 1990s were spitting out. It made the game more attractive and timeless.

Was it perfect? No, but it looked and sounded so top-notch that I was willing to forgive it for its sometimes flawed level design and haphazard creature placing. Thinking about this game right now makes me want to play it — and unless I go the ROM route, I have no easy way of making that happen.

LOTRO: Frisky fall follies

As the urgency of logging in and progressing in World of Warcraft wanes, my driving interest in playing Lord of the Rings Online waxes strongly. I’ve been playing this old favorite more and more as of late, enjoying the brand-new storylines (at least to me!) as I continue through the lands of Dale.

My adventures last week took me back to Lake-town, where I was embroiled in a murder mystery plot. I really love it when this game produces smaller story arcs that are tied together more by narrative than usual. Having to comb through the city for clues about a killer and then bust my way into an enemy hideout was actually pretty fun. More so that Lake-town is sensibly laid-out so that it’s not too difficult to navigate, even with the constant ups and downs and bridges.

Hold on a second, everyone. It’s time to take (pause) a BIO BREAK.

Yeahhhhhhh!

It was also weirdly compelling to be leveling up again. I think that other than sheer power and a couple more talent points, there’s nothing much to be had here, but still I liked seeing that experience bar crawl forward. Made me feel like I had “wasted” a lot of quest XP over the past few months while I was chewing through missions at the level cap.

At the very least, getting to 120 will help me beat down Dale content all the faster!

The Harvestmath festival dropped midway through the week, and so I put a bookmark in Dale questing and jogged all the way back to the Shire to see what was on tap for 2018. To my surprise, SSG had added a TON of new content, including costumes, housing decor, a wicked-looking mount, a new Bingo Boffin storyline — and oh yeah, a whole new special festival area! I knew I was going to be spending some considerable time racking up the tokens and scoping out these fresh features.

Of course, I was also going to spend a lot of time running around the Haunted Burrow, because that’s my hands-down favorite MMO haunted house. Even after all these years, I still love it.

Right away, I knew I had to snag the incredible new outfit that came with this year’s festival. This robe is just amazing in its style and detail, and I can’t recall seeing anything in the game that looks quite like it. Lots of straps and leather ties. Good stuff. I also grabbed the creepy mask on the first day, then promised myself I’d save up my tokens to get the mount next.

DDO: More Night Revels

Once more, our Dungeons and Dragons Online group returned to the many quest offerings of the Halloween content. It’s actually pretty impressive to see just how many special missions — nine, in fact — have been added to the crypt. I don’t get why the studio has locked them behind this unnecessary and largely un-fun key gathering mechanic, but oh well, we had enough for four or five runs apiece, and so we went in.

The first one, Eternity Unleashed, had us running around some dragon crypt trying to get to the middle. This involved less combat and more puzzle-solving and stealth. These spinning purple skull heads showed up midway through and kept us on our toes (and looking over our shoulders!) as they whizzed up and down the halls. A couple of hits with those, and we’d be toast.

Grave Work took us the longest, since it was a “kill everything that moves but you’ve got to find them in this giant maze first” type of affair. Someone in our group said that this was a recent addition, since it incorporated some scarecrow enemies and art assets that the Ravenholt expansion introduced. It did look more modern, especially when I was running through a field of long grass/wheat that parted around my character as I passed through.

The minotaur fortress here was pretty disorienting and slightly annoying to comb through, since enemies could be hiding in any nook or cranny. If you were a ranged DPS, you were at a severe advantage.

Then there was the two-room affair of Haverdashed, which was a quick-and-dirty boss fight followed by two lootable chests. We ran this twice. I don’t think I got any good upgrades during this entire night, but I won’t complain about the number of chests that we got in total. Must have been a dozen when all was said and done.

The Snitch and the Lich has my nomination for “Best Quest Name Ever.” By this point of the night I was almost falling asleep — not from boredom, just from an exceedingly long day. So I was blindly following people around, trying to stay awake enough to heal when needed, and generally soaking up the atmosphere.

LOTRO just made my day with progression servers

The news about Trion’s sale and mass layoffs on Monday left me with a sad, numb feeling. I genuinely liked that studio and loved how it championed MMOs through and through. While there’s always the possibility that it will be business as usual for RIFT and the rest, there are no guarantees but there is plenty of worry to be had.

That’s why yesterday’s surprise news of LOTRO’s progression servers was very welcome indeed. Sometimes you need good news to counter the bad, even if they aren’t related, you know? Skipping quickly past the shaky wisdom of calling these servers “Legendary Worlds” — why in the world LOTRO would want to draw comparisons to the maligned legendary item system is beyond me — the gist of this is that a fresh start server is coming this fall that will initially cap at the end of Shadows of Angmar content and then expand at a rate of every four months. It’s very much like what Daybreak does with EQ and EQ2, which is undoubtedly where LOTRO got this idea.

I am really thrilled at this news. I’ll look at the larger picture this weekend in my LOTRO column at Massively OP, but today I want to just look at me. Man, I am dashing! In all seriousness, I really have been championing the idea of a progression server for this game for years now. I think there’s so much content here that it was a perfect candidate for this, and considering how popular recent classic and progression servers have been, I would say it’s a good move.

Not everyone’s happy with it, but I am. The main appeal here is to level up through the game from start to finish with the whole community. That’s something you can’t get on the live servers, as everyone is strung out across their long leveling journey or bunched up at the level cap. If you start over, you tend to start alone unless you can find a “Slowtro” leveling group to be with. It’s as good of an excuse as any to roll up an alt, which is something I actually did Monday night with the intent of finally getting a Hobbit up to the cap.

A fresh start server has other appeal. It’s a clean slate where progression can be measured in more than just levels, but outfits, houses, toys, mounts, deeds, and so on. It’s a massive mountain of content, but one that everyone will climb together and at roughly the same pace.

I’m keeping in mind the initial excitement of the RIFT Prime server experiment and my eventual drifting away from that, and I can’t deny that possibility. Life is busy and there are always other games vying for attention. But LOTRO has a few advantages over RIFT with me, such as a more cohesive world, a more dedicated history, a main personal story, and shrews.

As we wait for more concrete details about the server, including an actual start date, I will be formulating my plan. For starters, I have a few ideas as to a class and race, but I’m not 100% committed just yet. Human Captain and Hobbit Hunter are duking it out in my psyche, but we’ll see. Then there is some investigation into seeing if my guild will form a progression server chapter, and if not, what I’ll do for an immediate community.

In any case, this announcement has ratcheted up my already blooming excitement for LOTRO as I’ve been playing more lately. We’ll see what SSG has to say and go forward from there.