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.

LOTRO: Tempted by the fruit of another

At least I knew that I wasn’t the only one suffering from class indecision.

In LOTRO’s kinship chat, I noticed how several of us veterans were still agonizing over the choice of a main class for the progression server, even after having planned it and starting out. Maybe it’s the curse of actually knowing more about these other classes, or the allure of the familiar versus the unknown, or simply wishy-washy gaming. But it started to bite me, even after I had put 20 levels into my Minstrel.

It got so bad, in fact, that I blinked and there I was, playing a Captain and not quite knowing how I got there. I suppose it was the worry that the minnie wouldn’t prove to be that interesting come the higher levels — that there wasn’t anything fun to chase down in terms of new skills or traits. But I know how I am with something like this — if I let my indecision reign, then I’ll be where I was at RIFT, making new character after new character and getting nowhere.

So I got stern with myself (it involves a lot of pointing into a mirror) and deleted my Cappy so I wouldn’t be tempted. Minnie to Mordor or bust, that’s what I say!

I was absolutely delighted that SSG brought back the Bingo Boffin quest series following its strange omission from the start of the server. Maybe it was causing issues with the zone-hopping progression of the story, I don’t know. But it’s easily one of my most favorite experiences in the game and I’m glad to see it back.

Even better than the story are the rewards from this! My Hobbit now has a little pet bunny to accompany her, along with a couple of new housing decor items. Taking an evening off of Old Forest questing to do Bingo stuff was a welcome break.

While I feel like “everyone” has blasted past me to level 50, I know that’s not the case. I ended up joining back up with Lonely Mountain Band, which formed a new chapter on this server, and noticed that most all of us are in our teens or 20s. I think there are a few different types of players for this server, and while some are all about power-leveling and getting into level 50 dungeon runs, most of us are taking our time, doing all the quests, deeding it up, and enjoying the journey.

Even with the Eregion limits and level 50 cap, there’s still a heady amount of stuff ahead of me for these four months. Whenever I’m done with Bree-land — which seriously takes short of forever due to its size and quest density — then I’ve got Lone-lands, North Downs, Evendim, Trollshaws, Misty Mountains, Angmar, Forochel, and Eregion ahead of me. Whew! Probably helps not to think or blog about that too much.

I also know that the Volume 1 epic involves a serious amount of travel and backtracking. I’ve only once done it all of the way through, and I’d like to make this time number two if I can manage before March. I know that sounds like a long way away, but I can’t afford to spend 100% of gaming time on LOTRO these days. There’s SWTOR and Fallout 76 demanding that I not neglect them, so I have to be very intentional how I spend my LOTRO time. No dilly-dallying!

As a side note, I wonder how this every-four-months pace will work with upcoming content releases. Some regions are larger than others, and while I think that Moria is definitely worth four months, Mirkwood is not. We still haven’t heard from SSG how exactly it’s going to chunk these releases up, and I doubt that we’re going to get any sort of actual schedule, so it’s mostly conjecture among the community.

LOTRO: I am all that is Minstrel

Lord of the Rings Online’s progression server proved to be so captivating that I haven’t been playing much of anything else this past week. That’s fine by me. As much as I’m looking forward to the full journey, I know that there’s something special in these first few weeks that won’t quite endure for the long haul, and I don’t want to miss it.

And I am gearing up for the long haul. One of the biggest obstacles to rolling up new alts in LOTRO hasn’t been leveling (which has become much easier) but chewing through the epic mountains of content that this game has added over the years. From the first steps in Archet to the current cap in the Grey Mountains and Iron Hills is a journey that would make even Frodo quail. But another benefit of these progression servers is that we don’t have to do it all or think about it all in one massive chunk — we can take it in four-month slices instead.

That, for me, is quite doable.

I haven’t been racing, as that’s not my style. More like I’ve been doggedly tracking down all of the zone quests in a particular region and enjoying the stories and revisitation of old stomping grounds. Following a few-day stay in the Shire, I cleaned up some Ered Luin deeds and then started on Bree-land. I forgot how immense Bree-land is, as it does double duty as being both a starting area and the level 15-20 zone.

After some additional consideration, I bought one other thing on the store: the Fleet-footed Goat. You know me, I love my goats! And I’ve kind of always wanted this one, especially as it looks great and has top-notch mount stats (250 morale, 68% speed boost). It’ll serve me well into Moria and beyond, and I don’t have to worry about collecting any more mounts. I’m set.

I’ve been slowly coming into my own as a Minstrel, too. I had a day or two where I felt the pull of returning to an old familiar class, but I’m glad I’m persevering (and sinking actual money into this character makes me much less likely to give up on her). The turning point was when I traited for one skill that let me throw down a Moonbeam-like attack at range that contained AOE damage. Now I have all sorts of ranged light-based attacks, and I’m taking out Orcs and wolves alike by screaming at them and bringing down the power of the Almighty Flashlight. It’s kind of fun!

I’ve also been grouping as much as possible. There is lots of activity as the crowd swarms around the same quest objectives (something I expect will smooth out as we spread out in the mid- and high-levels). Multi-tapping helps, but it’s not a big pain to toss out invites and have some fun with others for a few minutes.

I also really embraced the role of a minstrel by downloading some of the ABC music files and strumming my lute at quest hubs. It got some attention and applause as I rocked Chrono Cross tunes, and I loved feeling like I was contributing to the atmosphere of the game world. It certainly helped me feel more like a minstrel, especially out of a pure combat context. I think I’d like to do this more.

The only sore point of this whole starting-over thing is that my cosmetic wardrobe is awfully skimpy right now. Low-level gear is… not kind to the eyes in LOTRO, and while I do check out the visuals of everything that drops, only very rarely does something make the cut and is added to the wardrobe. As such, I only have one outfit that I’m using regularly, and that one is mostly made up of starter gear.

If I’m able to, I’d like to start joining groups to run dungeons and see if I can’t snag some better-looking gear there. And I know that saving up marks is a good way to guaranteed cosmetics when the skirmish camps open up in the future. Patience, Syp, patience!

The WildStar farewell tour, part 2

I finally got some more time to go on my self-appointed WildStar Farewell Tour a little while back, mostly thanks to Massively OP’s MJ, who dragged me along for a Halloween livestream on November 1st. Hey, Halloween isn’t over until the devs say it’s over, OK?

I fully expected us to be running the Shade’s Eve instances, and so I scooted my hoverboard over to the festival area and put on my bandage/mummy outfit. My character looked back at me with eyes that asked, “Can you take me out of this game and with you? Please?” Would if I could. Would if I could.

We had a bit of a two-person fashion show and dance party, since pretty much nobody else was around. I think WildStar’s remaining population has up and left already. I was in serious danger of delving into a lot of self-pity for the character, costume, and goodies I was about to lose when MJ suggested that we go check out random housing plots. Great idea!

We visited all sorts of bizarre homesteads, starting with this color-vomited pillowscape. I think part of my brain rebooted when I saw this.

This one player had created five absolutely incredible areas connected by a community plot. I really liked this little cafe that used the various magazine posters as kooky wall decorations.

We saw at least two plots with working (!) ferris wheels. Nothing delighted me more that night than riding these over and over again. I kept thinking that the creators of these plots had no idea that we were there or enjoying their handiwork. I really wish they did. At least I took screenshots to immortalize them.

Christmasland! With a giant Protostar gingerbread man!

The sheer density of this bar’s environment left us breathless. I can’t imagine how long it took to make this.

We also had a good time touring around a genuinely creepy horror-themed plot. The basement of this one house contained a room full of (a) stabbed voodoo characters, (b) eyeball children run through with spears, and (c) an upside down man hanging in chains. Brr!

Anyway, if you want to watch our full adventures, here is the stream:

Battle Bards Episode 132: Steampunk

Steam-powered tech, airships, clockwork machines, and automata are the source of inspiration for this week’s episode of Battle Bards! The team scrounged the landscape of MMOs for music from and inspired by steampunk games. It’s a wild grab bag of themes, so fire up your phonographs and give it a listen!

Episode 132 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Operation Gnomeregan” from World of Warcraft, “The Refugee” from City of Steam, and “Main Theme” from Arcanum)
  • “Main Theme” from Black Gold Online
  • “Lands of Igsh” from Allods Online
  • “Through the Epoch” from City of Steam
  • “Login Theme” from Divine Soul
  • “Ganedine” from Neo Steam
  • “Town” from Guns of Icarus
  • “Adventure Awaits” from Deepworld
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener mail from Video Game Music Soundtrack OST and Katriana
  • Jukebox picks: “Dark Forest” from Rise of Nations, “Lakrum Beach” from Aion, and “CrossWorlds” from CrossCode
  • Outro (“Menace of the Underdark Character Creation” from Dungeons and Dragons Online)