DDO: Flying cats and other monstrosities

Any MMO that lets me jump up, grab a ledge, and then hang there like I’m attempting a pull-up in gym class is an MMO that I can get behind.

As our DDO group neared level 8 — actually holding ourselves back from taking the level until everyone was ready — we infiltrated House K and did a trio of quick quests last Sunday evening. Not everyone in our group has all of the content, so we have to work around that and pick missions that all six of us have unlocked.

As we waited to form, I played around with the cosmetic pets in my inventory. While I’m usually a big pet person in MMOs, I haven’t fiddled with them muchly in DDO. Once you collect a pet, it sticks around on a character sheet tab, along with its various “tricks.” These are basically pet emotes, and DDO smartly decided to sell additional tricks to pet owners.

I don’t know where I got it, but the above flying cat is easily one of the freakiest things I’ve ever seen. I already am not much of a cat fan, but add big fleshy wings to it and you’ve got some Syp nightmare fuel.

After a false start that involved one of our numbers insta-dying to a champion mob, we made good progress through the dungeons. Lots and lots of traps in the first one, which is where our halfling Zens comes into play. We tease him that we’re going to tie a rope to his waist and toss him over the traps and then drag his corpse back if he’s unsuccessful.

Hey! There’s an innocent-looking chest in the middle of this room, surrounded by bones and a corpse! Totally fine to touch, right? Should run right up to it. What could go wrong?

While our group wisely avoided the chest, my dumb dog Goober decided to take a shortcut through the middle of the room and trigger bars and some nasty mobs. He ended up costing us the chest in the end, and you know how that blame gets shifted — from the pet to the pet owner. Sorry, guys!

Other than the samey-ness of these early DDO dungeon designs, there wasn’t much noteworthy about these runs. Very straight-forward, and I enjoyed one piece of gear upgrade to my kit.

It did make me think that I should be playing my Artificer again and resume her solo journeys through content yet unexplored. I think I’ll make that one of my December goals.

LOTRO: True friends fake die for me

Of course the Elf ignored me. I thought it was a reasonable request.

As my little Hobbit Minstrel crossed into her 30s, I began to focus on character development a bit more. Namely, I had my eye on a handful of trait points that came from doing class deeds. While those may not be a dealbreaker in the high levels, right now they’d go a long way to helping me out. I wanted them. And I had a skill book.

So one night I popped that 90-minute buff to double skill points without a limit and started ripping through hundreds of healing skills, stance changes, and cries. I had on a movie, so it wasn’t that big of a hardship, and before too long, I had all but one of the deeds I needed done.

The holdout was a tricksy one where I needed to resurrect a downed player to the tune of 125 or so times. Since I didn’t come across corpses too often, this proved problematic. So I begged my kinship to fake die for me, and not too surprisingly, was met with crickets.

Finally, my kin leader had mercy on me — perhaps to shut me up from going “DIE FOR MEEEE” in chat — and struck a bargain. If I’d come to heal a group in Great Barrows, she’d be the willing corpse. That was fine by me, although I did have to spend some time creating an actual healing build and figuring out the rotation.

The run was short as it was sweet. Group heals are lovely, and nobody died. Probably helped that I was 10 levels above the content, but let’s ignore that and shower me with praise about what a great healer I am. Afterward, my guild leader died (her first time ever on this character, she pointed out deadpan) and I got busy rezzing someone who wouldn’t accept those rezzes. Afterward, we took a snack break and called it a night.

My social adventures weren’t quite finished, as Moxie from Battle Priestess ended up bumping into me while I was adventuring in Lonelands. She relished sniping my mobs and crowing about it all the while. I think I handled it very maturely, as you can tell above. I tend to talk in all caps a lot in game. I think my Hobbit has a rage issue.

Gaming press’ condescension toward MMOs

One of my ongoing pet peeves in regards to MMORPGs is how the wider gaming press tends to demean, ignore, or hypocritically attack these games. Since about 2008 or so, it’s become pretty common to see gaming journalism make snide comments about or act condescending toward MMOs. Some of it is the console bias, some of it is personal burnout, and some of it is simply ignorance and an easy target.

Probably the most aggravating type of article is the one where a writer who has never played an MMO in his or her life reluctantly covers a story on one of our games. Nothing good tends to come from this. As one person wrote, “Why is it nearly impossible for people who don’t play MMOs to write any article without sounding like they’re an anthropologist recording lost tribesmen?”

The thing is that pretty much any criticism or snark levied against MMOs boomerangs right back at the author in regards to other games. MMOs are grindy? So are many console titles out there. MMOs breed devoted communities? So do plenty of single-player franchises. And so on. Broadly speaking, we’re all in the same boat, so why demean something you don’t personally play and understand?

We talked about this on a recent episode of the Massively OP Podcast, but if you’d like a good example of this bias in action, look no further than this November 20th article from Rock Paper Shotgun.

The author of this article took advantage of a paid press junket to attend Final Fantasy XIV’s fan festival in Las Vegas, despite seeming to have no first-hand knowledge or interest in the game itself. That’s fine, press often does cover games that it doesn’t play, but the article just goes off the rails on the gaming culture that he witnesses. From start to finish, the piece drips with sarcasm and head-patting condescension, such as:

  • “This is the kind of unsettling wonder you may witness”
  • “It’s the kind of audience so charged with unbridled fanaticism that it will erupt into cacophonous applause at some nice box art.”
  • “‘Haurchefant!’ she says again, as if I had not heard of Jesus Christ.”
  • “There’s more happening in the world of Eorzea than I could have imagined. The worship of dead NPCs, the housing problems, the strangers cyber-rutting in the corners of fantasy taverns.”

To add insult to injury, the author hijacked a developer Q&A session to try to get the team to address virtual bordellos, a topic that seems to have interested the author greatly but wasn’t any sort of relevant topic or pressing concern.

It’s obviously a piece written by someone who just doesn’t want to be there, who doesn’t understand geek culture, and who is happy to use big words to take pot shots at the game and its community. It didn’t cover much in the way of the big announcements or do anything to paint the community in a good light. It was simply a hit piece disguised as a convention report.

Predictably, the FFXIV was steamed over this article. The author used complaints to continue to needle fans, while players of this MMO felt as if they were unfairly slandered for having a good time at a convention that covered a game that they loved. After having read the article a couple of times, I think they have a right to feel upset.

Over at MOP, we have a term that we are always holding out in front of us: Don’t punch down. That is to say, we have to be mindful of the platform and power that we have to make statements, and so it’s generally not cool to mock or ruthlessly attack a smaller, weaker, or more innocent title or studio. We should always engage in fair criticism, but when we’re bringing out snark, it’s best reserved for bigger boys who can handle it. In this case, I would say that the game and studio itself are big enough for good-natured snark, but the fans aren’t. They’re just people devoted to a game and shouldn’t be teased because of it.

RPS has a much bigger microphone than we do, and it has proved on several occasions — including this one — that it doesn’t mind punching down at what it sees beneath it. And apparently that means MMOs and those who play them.

Battle Bards Episode 133: Star Citizen

The sparkling majesty of space beckons to the hearts of the Battle Bards — and up there they discover the Star Citizen soundtrack! In today’s episode, Syl establishes that she’s not a “scifi nerd,” Syp causes an international crisis, and the team comes together to hand out praise to this rich score.

Episode 133 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Main Theme,” “A Symphony in Motion,” and “First Light”)
  • “Scifi Homage”
  • “Bishop Speech”
  • “Majesty of Space”
  • “Hero March”
  • “My Home”
  • “Leir III”
  • “Main Theme Happy Variation 1”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener mail from Cyclone Jack, Scott, Ken, and Katriana
  • Jukebox picks: “Marble Gallery” from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, “Overture” from Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and “A Jaunty Tune” from Death’s Gambit
  • Outro (“The Ballad of Big Benny’s”)

Fallout 76: Death and life in the wasteland

I honestly don’t know how to take Fallout 76 these days. As I laid out in my extensive first impressions piece over at Massively OP, it’s this half-and-half effort that tries to do a lot of things but doesn’t do any of them especially well. It’s awkward as a soloing game, it’s awkward as a multiplayer game, and it’s sometimes frustrating as a survival or PvP game.

But where does that leave me? Should I just abandon it?

I’m not really willing to do that. Concerns and frustrations aside, there is the enjoyment of exploration, advancement, and looting to be had. Making my way in the wild is oddly satisfying, especially as I can craft my own food and fix my own gear. And when I’m not being overwhelmed by bouncy robots and dealing with broken guns, I can even make my peace with the janky, non-slowmo combat system.

Initially, I decided to put off the main storyline of the game after getting to the Overseer’s camp in favor of exploring in a radius around Vault 76 and crafting some useful stations in my CAMP. I’m not up to making any actual structures just yet, but that may come when Bethesda gets its act together and fixes the bugs and makes building less of a chore. I keep grinding my teeth at how none of this game is angled for PC players, especially when it comes to the interface. Oh, that interface could be so, so much more better, including the inventory.

I did have a good time clearing out a pharmacy and figuring out how to climb to the roof of a farmhouse that some dead people were using as a fort of some sort. Again, I think that there’s something very salvageable here, but I’m not going to race to put a lot of time in this game until it’s fixed up. Until then, I’ll probably be popping in and out for the occasional half-hour burst, but nothing more regular than that.

LOTRO: Sing me a song of leveling

Don’t underestimate music. It’ll break you down and send you fleeing, even if you happen to be a 10-foot, 700-pound stone troll. That’s how awful my music is. I’m a true battle bard.

As the rush of the initial week gave way to a more steady adventure, I’ve found that long daily sessions in Lord of the Rings Online continue to be compelling and fun. We even saw a queue last Sunday, over a week after the server launched, so I know that it’s drawing in the crowds. That’s a good sign, in my books. If it can establish some strong communities and a support network, then players are more likely to stick around.

Mostly, I’m just losing myself in the moment-to-moment of the journey, not thinking about what lies ahead or how much I have to do. Slowing down to fully read quest text and finding all of the quest givers is much preferred to racing around trying to gobble up XP. I’ve encountered quite a few places and stories that I either never visited, don’t remember, or weren’t in the game back when I was going through these low-level areas years ago.

Bree-land took short of forever to complete, but that shouldn’t have surprised me. I keep forgetting how absolutely enormous this zone is. Seriously, just look at this map. Even considering that Bree-land does double-duty as both a newbie area and a combined level 15-20 leveling zone, it has so much territory and quest density. Still, I think that the northeast area — Far Chetwood — is too far off the beaten path that few even come out there.

While I’m rediscovering all sorts of delightful things, there are a few bummers to absorb. I forgot how much I hated the Eriador maps until I had gotten used to the more modern zone maps in this game and had to go back to using these. They’re far too vague and unhelpful, especially around the fringes, and too many times I’m finding myself lost or going on extended detours because I can’t figure out how to get from A to B. Wish those maps would get updated, ASAP.

My Minstrel continues to grow in power and ability, and I never get tired with her firing off insta-shots even while moving. It makes for a much more fluid play experience than my Lore-master, who had to plant her feet before starting up her attack routine. Plus, I’ll never get tired of one-shotting mobs when those crits happen — it’s so satisfying.

I’ve also invested a lot into travel and transport with this character. In addition to her awesome go-anywhere goat, my minnie has milestones down to a five minute cooldown timer. That short cooldown, combined with three bindable milestones and one Hobbit recall to Michel Delving, means that I can jet across the landscape very, very quickly. I try to plan strategic ports so that I always have a quick recall to my questing hub and any good stable networks. It’s certainly cut down a lot on travel time!

Once out of Bree-land, I started to make good, fast progress, even with the XP debuff (and no, I’m not using those XP boosting items. I deleted them on Day One of the server to reduce the temptation.). Lone-lands is pretty linear and went quickly, and once I got to the eastern side and started to hit high-20s quests, I took a break and went to North Downs to get me to 30 before resuming.

My current priorities:

  1. Level to 50
  2. Complete Volume 1 of the epic story
  3. Do any class and racial deeds
  4. Get all of my five virtues from the available zones
  5. Finish zone questing in all available zones
  6. Then, time permitting, go back to work on reputation and deeds
  7. Dungeons? I’m not that drawn to these right now

DDO: Float like a feather fall, sting like a bee

Halloween is over — long live Halloween!

While we were finally done with all of the Night Revels action, some of us in our regular DDO group — I’m not naming names — had some pumpkin heads to toss around. That gave me this nifty giant skull head that I kind of wish I could keep forever. As I just finished playing Grim Fandango, it seemed fitting.

Instead, we got back to our regular dungeon running and looked at our adventure compendium to see that we hadn’t finished up the last two Waterworks quests. Back to the sewers it was!

As we were forming up, I had some time to look over my enhancement trees and try to figure out better ways to specialize as a healer. So I moved some points around and focused on the Season’s Herald tree. This actually netted me a few seasonal-themed buffs, one of which threw on perma-feather fall for my character! This is, hands-down, my favorite buff in the game, allowing me to leap and glide from any height with impunity. And now I didn’t have to worry about casting it or saving my one meager cloak charge for a critical juncture.

I was gonna be jumping off EVERYTHING.

Kobolds really do make for the best enemies at low level. They’re not frightening in the least, and you actually feel a bit bad crushing them. But at least they’re plucky and keep on coming for you! And they always, always have the best quotes.

Doing dungeons with a group means that whenever it comes time for a really nasty trap to be navigated — say an acid-spewing corridor — then we can all sit back and twiddle our thumbs while the rogue swears at us and gets his hair burned off.

Hey! A high jump! This calls for… FEATHER FALL!

*wheeeeeeeeeeeee*

The theme of the night was “inventory and treasure.” Several of us had packed bags that begged for relief, but before we could get back to town, we were throwing away stuff left and right to make room for all of the chests (and mimics) that we were looting.

Finishing up Waterworks meant a couple of very nice quest chain rewards. I ended up pulling out a +1 wisdom hat that will come in very useful for my cause. I also realized that the necklace that I had been wearing since Korthos restored spell points, a talent that I should’ve taken advantage of months ago. Oh well. Nobody ever claimed I was the smartest MMO player!

An MMO thanksgiving

Since it’s Thanksgiving today, I always find it appropriate to take time to assess the blessings in my life and give sincere thanks for them. In the interest of this blog, here are 10 things I’m thankful for when it comes to MMOs:

  1. I’m thankful that I’m still working with the excellent people over at Massively OP (and that the site is still alive and flying after all these years)!
  2. I’m thankful for the wonderful guildies that I have across my MMOs who keep me connected to the human element and entertained with good conversation and activities.
  3. I’m thankful that I’m this excited about and having fun with Lord of the Rings Online, thanks to a return to the game and the new progression servers.
  4. I’m thankful that there are upcoming MMOs, such as Torchlight Frontiers and Ashes of Creation, that have me hopeful about the future of the genre.
  5. I’m thankful for MMO bloggers who share their own perspectives and thoughts ever day and give me something new to think about.
  6. I’m thankful for a Fallout online game, imperfect as it may be. It’s still more than I could have hoped for after so long.
  7. I’m thankful for my Dungeons and Dragons Online weekly group that’s taken me on a whirlwind tour of this unique MMO’s instances.
  8. I’m thankful for awesome MMO music and the crew at Battle Bards that talks about it with me every other week.
  9. I’m thankful for player housing. I just really like player housing. Have I expressed that enough lately?
  10. I’m thankful for a diverse playing field that offers so many interesting choices and options that burnout is a thing of the past for me.

What are you thankful for today when it comes to MMOs?

Grim Fandango: Year Four

(This is part of my journey going playing through Grim Fandango. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Year Four — the final in Manny’s journey here — is an anomaly for the game. Instead of showing Manny making progress in the year between, he and his friends have barely survived a slog through snow and desert to arrive at the gatekeeper’s station. This is it, right here: The start of the next life. The only problem is that Manny can’t go through, and neither can Meche, without the Double-Nine tickets.

In a haunting nightmare sequence, the game shows us what happens to those using the counterfeit tix (like the lawyer) — their train turns into a horrible three-eyed demon and then plunges right into hell. Well. That’s going to feature prominently in my dreams tonight.

The only thing that can be done is to reverse the entire journey and go back to the beginning to get the REAL stolen tickets. And for that, Manny has to save Glottis, who is at the threshhold of demon death due to the fact that he hasn’t driven anything fast for a while. This gets remedied very quickly thanks to a souped-up cable car.

The reverse journey goes back to Rubacava, where the Bone Wagon is booby trapped (I love the visual of the dominoes here). Then it’s back to the start of the game, where evil Hector Lemans has taken over the town and turned it into a gambling empire of sorts.

The puzzles weren’t too bad this year around, save for one annoying one in the sewers. Long story short, Manny gets a gun and comes after Hector, big-time. It’s a showdown that involves a busted casino sign, a last-minute betrayal by Olivia, a noble sacrifice by Salvador, and a greenhouse that gets jury-rigged with sprouting solution:

Hector explodes. Gruesomely. Say what you will about Grim Fandango, but it kills off its bad guys in very memorable — and satisfying — ways.

With order restored to the afterlife and the tickets given back to their proper owners, it’s time for Manny and Meche to board the train and go on to whatever lays ahead for them. There’s a rather sad farewell with Glottis, who has to stay behind with his minions and machines.

But at least our heroes have each other — and hope — for now.

The end!

Overall, I’m really glad I finally played through the entirety of Grim Fandango. It’s a fantastically unique adventure game setting with plenty of bizarre moments, laugh-out-loud humor, and compelling characters. There were some rather bothersome puzzles and minorly unfriendly controls, but on the whole, it deserves the label of “masterpiece” that many have given it.

Fallout 76: Beaten with an ugly uranium rod

While my excitement over Fallout 76’s launch couldn’t have been any greater, the game’s timing was absolutely lousy. How was I to know, back in October, that LOTRO would abruptly throw progression servers our way and absolutely captivate me? A handful of days wasn’t enough to get LOTRO out of my system, so when Fallout 76 went live, I started to chew my hair off as my attention was pulled two ways.

So I decided to take it slow, especially considering all of the rumored Day One launch bugs and typical Bethesda wonkiness. Also, the client I had downloaded during beta didn’t work for launch, so I found out on the 14th that I would have to re-download everything.

Finally, I got in, and a brand-new Fallout adventure began — only this time, online and with other people. Other really, really ugly people. I presume this because Bethesda seems completely incapable of fashioning a character creator where players don’t end up looking like some sort of deformed nightmare beast. Someone needs to take the keys away to the studio’s sliders and make them take Remedial Character Creation all over again.

This is my roundabout way of saying that I got incredibly frustrated at my inability to make a character that didn’t freak me out to behold. If anything, the characters looked even worse than Fallout 4, which I didn’t think possible. I finally fashioned some sort of punk with purple hair who had her weird face slathered by radioactive dust. It would have to do.

The whole multiplayer aspect of Fallout 76 lends a strange feeling to this game. You know there is going to be a lot of other people, yet when you start out, you’re all alone in a vault after everyone left you (I guess I partied too hard and nobody bothered to wake me?). Still, I knew I had a mission. I had a purpose. I had…

…to ACTIVATE THAT TOILET. fluuuuuush

It was far less dark and gloomy than some other Fallout game intros that I could mention, and it only took a minute or two before I was outside in West Virginia without any weapons or clear guidance about the changes to character growth and building. But hey, it’s Fallout, I’ll kill everything, loot everything, and explore everything.

Gotta say, I do love the setting. An autumnal West Virginia is a strikingly strange yet attractive place for a Fallout game, although it doesn’t seem like the bombs have really dropped anywhere. Just a lot of deserted and rundown buildings (although not too much so, since it has only been 25 years) and robots running wild.

The lack of human NPCs and the presence of actual players changes up the feel of this quite a bit. I don’t quite agree with Bethesda that it was necessary to take NPCs out of the mix, but it is pretty interesting to look at the map and see actual people running around. I didn’t go out of my way to find any on the first day, but knowing that they were there made me both anxious and elated.

As an MMO player, probably my first complaint was that there was no apparent long-distance communication with others. No text chat and no radio chat. That would have made sense, right? Use your Pip-Boy to talk to others across the map and coordinate efforts? But maybe that’s something I’ll discover another time.

Instead of making a beeline for my first objective, I spent time exploring around, reading notes, and gearing up a little bit. I do miss the single-player VATS system for combat, although I may be able to work with the auto-assist of this game’s VATS. I’m just a poor twitch player these days when it comes to shooting moving targets, and I don’t want to waste ammo.

We’ll see how it goes from here! The whole UI and menu interface is weird (why do I have to hit M for menu and then Z for menu just to get out of the game?) and I wasn’t too pleased with the server hiccuped and lost the last 20 minutes of my questing, but the Fallout charm and gameplay loop is definitely there.