Going mad (king) in Guild Wars 2

Right now, Guild Wars 2 is the “odd MMO out” of my roster of five games that I play in that it’s the only one that I’m logging into just to be with people and not to engage in any sort of progression — character, story, or otherwise. I have enough else that’s holding my interest that I probably wouldn’t be playing right now if it wasn’t for the fact that the guild I’m in is full of cheery and downright hilarious people. So I certainly don’t mind spending an hour or two with them once a week.

Our last outing was fully Halloween themed, and we broke out the appropriate minipets while talking on Discord about how downright creepy it is that the Guild Wars franchise has always featured small versions of people as “pets.” I mean, are they sentient? Are they clones? Do they scream in horror when you shove them back into a backpack? Does Queen Jenna protest that she’s actually a royal while you drag her along on a leash?

As we waited for the group to assemble, I amused myself by standing behind my pet ghost and giving it pink pigtails. I think it improves the look, don’t you?

We ran all of the expected content, starting with the Mad King fight. Lots of falling to our death and laughing about how horrible we are at jumping. Forget gliders, I wouldn’t mind a parachute in this game.

As you can tell, I’ve abandoned my newbie Mesmer and returned to my original character, my Engineer. I don’t care if it’s not optimal or if it’s out of fashion, I simply love the flamethrower as a weapon (and elixirs to empower it and give me speed boosts). We talked in chat a lot about our favorite classes and weapon styles, and I didn’t hear much that made me want to rush out and get the expansions for the Engineer’s elite specs.

Probably the most fun we had was running the Labyrinth, which is definitely something I remember from the first year that Guild Wars 2 launched. Wasn’t the Halloween event the game’s first event? In any case, it’s pretty much the same as it was back then: Follow the commander in a giant zerg, beat up bosses, and loots lots of loot hoping against hope that you’ll actually get something cool or useful.

Man, I am down on this game’s loot table. I’m sorry, but it really is quite pathetic. It’s like Vendor Trash: The MMO at times.

We did get a lot of giggles out of how unfair and mean the bosses were, especially when they resulted in our downings or death. It made me think about how even simple experiences, when shared, can be bonding. The Labyrinth isn’t anything complicated or difficult, but it is mindless fun that is done in the presence of a whole bunch of people, and that is a much different feeling than questing along.

GW2: Bouncy missions

“All right,” our guild coordinator said. “Tonight we’re going to be doing bouncy missions.”

“Excuse me, what?”

“Bouncy missions. You know, find those NPCs with a green icon over their heads and kill them.”

“…do you mean bounty missions?”

“I have a cold, don’t mock me!”

“I’m going to mock a little, sorry.”

I love our plucky little Guild Wars 2 guild, I really do. They’re a really funny bunch to run with and I don’t much mind what we’re doing as long as we’re doing it together. The “bouncy” mission was a quick bust, at least for me, as I was too slow in getting there. One of these days I’ll really need to pony up for the expansions so I can get my glider and mount. I’m still very much a land speed Asura.

Oh! Speaking of Asura, I changed things up and logged onto my original Engineer for the guild night. This was mostly because she’s the only character I have who has 100% map completion, which gave me every waypoint I needed.

The choice ended up being a good one. I got oohed and ahhed over as a cute little thing — I don’t see a lot of Asura, and most of our guild were tree elves — and soon enough I remembered how much fun this class was. Pistols? Shields? FLAMETHROWERS? How did I forget the flamethrower? Must have been a sharp blow to the head.

Following that, we embarked on a guild race. This is yet more game content I’d never done before. The mission turned us into skittering spiders who had to complete a race circuit without being killed (being squashed is easy, but at least you can try, try again until the timer runs out). We got classic spider abilities, like flinging webs, creating holographic decoys, and sonar. What we did not have is, you know, the ability to crawl up walls. That might have been useful in this mostly-vertical challenge.

Lots of death, laughter, and bad jokes ensued. One of our guild mates kept muttering, “skitter skitter skitter” on Discord, which for some reason cracked me up.

If you’re wondering, I died plenty enough to keep my ego at safe levels for the week to come. Eventually I used the strategy of “follow the crowd of spiders who know the way to the end and can also serve as a buffer between you and death should anything angry appear in our path.” And it worked, for I crossed the finish line with minutes to spare and received my just reward: a classic Guild Wars 2 chest with lots of nothing really special inside.

I swear, this game needs a good loot table.

SWTOR: Agent, uninterrupted

I think MOP’s Bree hit it on the head when she said that I was “highly suggestible” in my gaming choices. I’ll admit it. I totally am. When I see other people being enthusiastic about games, especially MMOs, it arrests my attention and serves as an attraction to a particular title. Of course, I do weigh that attraction against my actual desire to play it, my past history, and my current whims, but when the stars line up right, I find myself reinstalling games that I hadn’t thought about for months or years.

So when I was chatting with some SWTOR podcasters about this game that I had written off a while back and they were all manner of enthusiastic about next year and the coming expansion, I was like, “Hm. Perhaps I need to…”

[FAST FORWARD TWO HOURS]

“Woohoo! I’m level 10 already!”

This definitely feels like a good time and a good fit to return to SWTOR. I actually toyed with it a little while back but was pulled between the choice of resuming my old character, starting a new character from level 1, or starting in the more recent expansions. That’s too much choice, and I skittered away.

This time, however, I went back to basics and began all the way at the start. It’s been a long time since I had a new character in this game, and it’s been even longer — SWTOR’s launch day, as a matter of fact — that I started on a new Imperial Agent.

I decided on a few other things for this run. One, I was going to check out the Sniper (Engineering discipline) instead of my old Operative, just for a change up of the combat style. Two, I turned off alignment indicators on choices so that I’d make choices without those light/dark symbols influencing me. Three, I turned off subtitles so that I’d listen more to the cutscenes. And four, I would just be doing the class storyline and perhaps planetary stories if XP required.

Good to see the community is still on the cutting edge of fashion!

All of this combined to create a rather pleasant return experience. There wasn’t any side questing distractions, just a continuous main quest (and IA is the best class quest, of course). I picked dialogue and choices based on what seemed the most interesting response. And I began my long climb back up to the top, through the core game and four or whatever expansions come after.

I did jump into a guild on day one, one of those “trawling newbie zones for fresh meat” guilds that you find everywhere. I mostly did this for the 10% XP boost, thus I was surprised when the people were actually pretty friendly and interactive. There was even a Star Wars trivia contest that first night, and I mopped the floor and netted myself 150,000 credits. That was kind of helpful.

Hey, it’s Watcher! And Darth Jerkus! I missed those guys, although not the shoulderpads. What is it with Sith and really bad shoulder attire?

As with any return to an old favorite MMO, there was that mixture of familiar good and familiar bad hitting you all over the place. I was quickly rolling my eyes at the repeated hand gestures and the not-quite-tight combat, but the general atmosphere and questing was fun enough to make up for it. And Sniper is a wonderful change from the Operative lifestyle; mowing down groups of mobs with a machine gun at 35 meters is what I was born to do.

I hope that when I become a turncoat Sith lord someone will construct a giant tacky statue of me. Least they can do, really.

Ignoring side missions has the benefit of cutting down on the amount of time spent on any particular planet. In the first week, I cranked out a planet per two nights, and that felt wildly fast for me.

I did wrestle with some of the restrictions of my preferred account (no, I’m not going to sub — at least, not yet). No speeder travel until level 20 was a burden, but I stuck that out over paying money to unlock it earlier. I would like to get a “hide head slot” option on this character at the very least, because there’s nothing sillier than have to watch your character with doofy glasses or a dorky helmet go through cutscene upon cutscene.

Gotta say, getting this ship back was a thrill all over again. Agents really do have the best personal starship in the game, and boarding this girl felt like going home.

Fallout 76’s end of the world is right around the corner

Last week we received a bounty of new information for next month’s Fallout 76, thanks to a press preview event. With beta and launch coming in rapid succession here, it’s definitely high time that Bethesda sells the gaming public on this online-only multiplayer concept.

I’ve seen this sort of reaction before, but there’s definitely a lot of unwarranted fear from people that multiplayer is going to ruin everything. Single-player modes are like a sacred cow to the non-MMO populace, and I have to restrain myself from rolling my eyes too much when I see articles written about how it won’t be THAT bad and that it still feels solo-ish and whatnot. Even in 2018, there are people who think that soloing isn’t an option when you’re gaming online, and that is just plain ignorance.

In any case, I’m generally upbeat about this entire game. Generally. Let’s get some general worries and gripes out of the way, which include:

  • Bethesda always developing games and interfaces for consoles first and PCs after
  • Off-putting player character design
  • A reported lack of an overt story
  • Unwanted PvP and a lack of a PvE-only server
  • VATS unable to slow down time and reportedly not working that great in the preview test

However, none of these are dealbreakers to me. The core attraction of the Fallout series to me is one of exploration. I simply want to roam the countryside, check out new places, scavenge what I can, and gear up so I can survive another day. That seems to be the gameplay loop of Fallout 76 — including a need for eating and drinking — and I’m perfectly fine with that.

I’m especially ecstatic over the sheer size of the map and the beautiful rural setting, both of which call out to me to roam for hours and explore every last little thing. I like to do completionist exploration in Fallout games, which is probably why I never actually finish them. I hate to think I’ve overlooked something in these fascinating worlds.

The character building system looks like a definite improvement over the mess that was Fallout 4’s setup, and I love the idea of collecting and slotting perk cards as needed. The portable CAMP is a neat idea too, and one I’ve been advocating for years in MMOs (in short, I’d rather have a portable tent/player housing that I could set up for a short duration).

Fallout 76 is going to have to work hard to win a lot of people over, and you see a lot of outlets damning it with faint praise as “not a real Fallout game but nice anyway.” Me? I think it is high time this franchise went online, and I applaud the studio for trying a different tact instead of getting stuck making the same game over and over again.

WoW: Arathi Highlander

With all of the “new expansion smell” long since gone for Battle for Azeroth, the community has found itself in a strange place. Some, like me, are happily still questing and gearing and busying themselves with a hundred various activities at a casual pace. Others are highly frustrated with what they see as a recycled endgame and lackluster azerite armor. Then there are those who are waiting for Patch 8.1 to arrive and give meaning to their lives again.

I’d probably be a lot more frustrated if I had blown through all the content and was on my Nth alt, but truth be told, I still only have one level 120 and haven’t even finished all the zone questing yet on that single character. I’ve got plenty to go before I summit Mt. Warcraft again, so for now I’m mostly occupied with a mixture of questing, chasing world quests/emissaries for gear and rep, and very occasionally doing a heroic dungeon. Doing less of those lately because they do take too long and the chances of gear upgrades dropping are kind of rare.

These fungal guys are easily my most favorite foes of the expansion. Blizzard had way, way too much fun with these crazy mushroom dudes. My ghoul isn’t having any of it, however.

I am getting to a much better place, gear-wise. I have mostly blues and a few purples, and I think I’m sitting around 328 or so. The next step is to dip more into mythics and mythic+ dungeons, and there is a rumor that my guild might be setting up a regular night for that. I’d love that; I’m finding that these days, regularly scheduled guild events are the only way for me to get a social fix. I certainly don’t have time to trawl LFG or spam my need across channels.

I did get out to Arathi Highland for some rare questing the other day, and that was both fun and somewhat gear profitable. I was so excited to get a level 340 sword that I swapped it out, disenchanted my old mace, and then realized that it was a ONE-HANDED sword which meant I couldn’t use any of my abilities.

Cue running to the AH to get a 280-ish placeholder and then doing more Arathi until a two-hander dopped. Boy was my face… blue. I’m Draenei, that’s how it usually is, but more blue than usual because of embarrassment.

Nothing like bringing a giant spider train right into the home of an arachnaphobic NPC who is cowering in sheer terror from these beasts.

So I’d say that all in all, I’m in a good place for long-term survival. I do wish that there was more excitement and a personal drive to play, but when I do log in — which is at least for a half-hour every day — I have plenty to do and am enjoying the ride. Still ahead of me are allied races to unlock, other classes to level, and my Horde alt who has probably put my face on a milk carton by now because I’ve been missing so long.

How are you doing in BFA these days? Do you think that 8.1 is going to give the community what it wants and needs?

LOTRO: From night to day

I almost never feel *compelled* to log into Lord of the Rings Online, yet I am always glad I did when I spend an evening in this game. By now, this MMO is so old hat to me that it’s not exactly a strongly compelling fresh experience. However, there is still a deep satisfaction I get out of this game that I don’t elsewhere.

I think it’s the sense of world LOTRO provides. It’s a more relaxed, laid-back pace, this game, from questing to travel to combat, and while doing all of this I can simply enjoy the sights and sounds of Middle-earth without a lot of frantic distractions. Plus, at least the quest track isn’t confusing and it keeps me going forward.

This week, finally, for the last time, I wrapped up my adventures in Northern Mirkwood. Again, it’s a great area atmospherically, but it’s a very difficult area to quest in due to the low light, mob density, and difficult terrain. So it really didn’t help that SSG threw in a ton of quests here. You might recall that I ended up abandoning them just to leave this region and then had to return when I realized that by doing this, I had disabled many follow-up quest chains. So back I went to diligently hack out more quests involving spiders and trees and other things that went bump in the night.

At least this gave me a reprise of that wonderful feeling of escape when I left (yet again) for the well-lit sunny marshes of the river-elves. Naturally, they’re all slouching about doing no work — allegedly because there was none to be had, but I know better.

I spent a couple of very relaxed and relatively cheerful evenings in this area, questing while listening to music and catching up on a few podcasts. Apart from reading the massive blocks of text that come with every quest acceptance, the game doesn’t need my brain for more than basic navigation and screenshotting abilities.

Have I said how much I love the day/night cycle in this game? Night feels vastly different than day and the transition between the two takes so long that often I don’t witness anything more than a certain time period while questing. I actually am quite fond of night questing thanks to the starry skybox and the hushed landscape.

Plus, the lights of settlements really pop out so wonderfully against the dark. I did a few chores for these elves which culminated in a rather silly “catch the thief whoops you just missed him again” quest. I do wish that LOTRO offered quest choices — it’s something that Turbine oh-so-briefly flirted and then abandoned back in Riders of Rohan.

Before too long, I was back at Lake-town and feeling as if I had regained some nice forward momentum. That’s really needed, considering I’m an update and a half behind the times right now. I should be able to catch up so long as I make logging in more than a once-a-week habit.

DDO: We’ve danced with the devil in the pale moonlight

It’s been far longer than we all would have liked, but last weekend our DDO group finally managed to come together to party in a graveyard. The way we’re all carefully trying to stay at the same rate of progress as everyone else means that if one person can’t come to a night, we just don’t do it. Thus, we’ve had a lot of canceled nights over the past month or so.

While we had some ideas of dungeons to run, when we logged in we cast those plans aside in favor of running the Night Revels — DDO’s Halloween content. Hey, I’m down. I haven’t ever seen this, and I have yet to get my Halloween MMO fix yet.

One thing we all noticed the second we logged in were the new visible capes that came with the new update. DDO’s been out for a dozen or so years, and only now has it added cape graphics.

My general feeling on capes can be described as “ehh.” They’re not that appealing to me. For one, almost no MMO has done capes in a realistic, cool-looking way. They always look like your character is wearing a truncated triangle that clips through your stuff. If I have a choice, most often I disable these graphics. And, yes, you can do so here.

While we waited for the group to assemble, I went over to Delara’s Graveyard and attempted the standard instance. I say “attempted,” because it really is meant for groups and before I knew it, this happened:

About 40 or so screaming, moaning skeletons charge at me and laugh as my piddly sword hacked at their ribs.

The minotaur skeletons, with their pawing the ground and ridiculously oversized axes, were my favorites. In any case, I was eventually overrun and slaughtered. Taught me a lesson about poking my nose into places I shouldn’t.

Have to say, the skybox for the graveyard is magnificently pretty. Purples and pinks are an interesting choice for a Halloween adventure. It’s kind of like a good-looking sunset.

Delara’s statue here got a pumpkin makeover. Kind of juvenile, but I’ll allow it in the spirit of the season.

After taking our characters up to level 7 — hello area healing! — we jumped into one of the several Night Revels instances. I guess they’re modifications of regular dungeons with special flair. You know, moody smoke, pumpkins everywhere.

In fact, the devs kind of went way, way overboard with the pumpkins as the only Halloweeny decoration that they had on hand. Maybe there was a sale, maybe they got them wholesale, I don’t know, but there were dozens if not hundreds of pumpkins in this instance. I started speculating out loud that there’s some poor skeleton whose job it is to light all these pumpkins, including the ones in the near-bottomless shaft. Maybe he rappels.

Hey! I took a wrong turn! Is there a Tim Hortons around here, skeleton monstrosity?

Easily the worst part of the Resurrection Chamber instance was this shaft that went on and on forever. We had to climb it while dealing with horrible skeleton mages and archers tagging us every which way. You know it’s going to be bad when the game outright tells you this ahead of time via a whining NPC.

In the end we prevailed, of course, but the effort-to-reward ration didn’t make it worth it. At least there were more pumpkins at the end. Pie, anyone?

Not that impressed with World of Warcraft’s island expeditions

While the World of Warcraft community is all up in arms these days over azerite armor, my outrage is lagging behind and is still stuck at island expeditions. Remember these? Remember how Blizzard announced these last November at BlizzCon as one of the main features of Battle for Azeroth and the collective response was, “Huh. I hope they’re not as dull as they look.”?

If predictable disappointment could be summed up in an activity, it would be island expeditions. For over a week now, I’ve made it part of my routine when I logged in to queue up and run at least one of these, and I can now report with some degree of certainty that they’re just as blah as everyone knew they would be.

Island expeditions are pocket instances for three players of any random class/role mix to go through on a bloodthirsty hunt for AZERITE. I have to put AZERITE in all caps there, because this is another instance of nobody caring except for Blizzard, which has been trying to shove this down our throats for a year (and one gets the distinct impression that not even the developers care that much). So our main objective is getting power-ups for our gear that nobody really likes and everyone knows will be discarded in another year and a half. That’s not powerful motivation.

The main activity, as far as I can tell, is to blitz through an island and try to stay together as a group. There’s a lot of killing and a bit of mining azerite and… well, not much else, really. It’s not very interesting, not very deep, and not very satisfying. Add to that the stress of trying to beat the other side’s meter and it’s a “GO GO GO” experience without the excitement of anticipated rewards.

And there really aren’t any good rewards. Blizzard was crowing about how large the prize pool was for expeditions, with gear and mounts and pets and toys. But I’ve run about 10 of these things and received merely AZERITE each and every time. If the studio was smart, it would give players a guaranteed fun payout their first run to hook them, but nothing doing.

I’m of the mind to outright ditch this activity going forward. It all feels like such a waste of effort and resources to build a system that any focus group should have told Blizzard was not wanted. Can you imagine the excitement if Blizzard had announced, say, real housing instead of this? Island expeditions are the Secret World scenarios of World of Warcraft, and I shall file them away as such.

MapleStory 2 is not the tale I wish to read

“Anyone want a MapleStory 2 key?”

It’s one of the few perks, other than having aspersions cast upon your ethics and unfettered access to Bree’s rants, of writing for Massively OP to get free game keys now and then. However, very rarely are we tossed keys to games we really, really want to play. It’s more often smaller publishers desperate for press that get all liberal with keys.

But in this case, I was interested. MapleStory 2 had started to pique my interest — not as a game that I saw myself playing, but as a game that looked like it might be a solid addition to the genre and I was curious to see what it was about.

So I played it most of last week and wrote up a first impressions piece and you can check out what I thought about the game itself there.

And while at no point was MapleStory 2 in danger of winning me over and convincing me that I should be playing this going forward, I did appreciate several features in it. I genuinely like the graphical style. It looks very console-ish in an old-school SNES way (just with better fidelity). I could easily see this being a handheld or console title, so if Nexon is smart, there should be ports in the near future.

Plus, MS2 isn’t annoying in the way that free-to-play eastern MMOs often are. You know what I mean: A bazillion popups the second you log in. Obtuse daily reward calendars. Stats that are hard to decipher and gear that makes no sense except to the designer who made it and the wiki editor who wants to feel superior to everyone else. It’s more or less a very straight-forward, clean game that’s easy to grok and handle.

I hope it does well. I hope it finds its niche and injects some genuine fun and levity in this genre. But it will have to do this without me in its midst.

Battle Bards Episode 130: Oddballs 2

While every Battle Bards episode is a cavalcade of strangeness, this week the team is ratcheting it up with the return of “Oddball” MMORPG music tracks. If there’s a piece of music that made one of the hosts tilt their heads to the side and go “whaaat the what is this?” then rest assured, it’s on this show!

Episode 130 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Robo Factory” from The Sims Online, “Little Kitty’s Adventure” from Ragnarok Online, and “The Rube Song” from Glitch)
  • “Chompy Hunt” from RuneScape
  • “Flow Control” from Entropia Universe
  • “Welcome to Doram Town” from Ragnarok Online
  • “Valentine’s Theme” from FFXIV
  • “Venetian Eclipse” from NeoSteam
  • “Papaya” from FFXIV
  • “BEER!” from WildStar
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox Picks: “Alleycat Blues” from TMNT IV: Turtles in Time, “Crush” from Command and Conquer Red Alert, and “White All Around Us” from Xenoblade Chronicles 2
  • Outro (feat. “Kobold Still Hates You” from Dungeons and Dragons Online)