LOTRO: A fond farewell to Forochel

To stay on track for finishing up all of Shadows of Angmar content by the time early March rolls around with the Moria/Lothlorien unlock, I pressed through with my goal to finish up Forochel by the end of last week. I actually finished a few days ahead of schedule, having finished up the 100+ quests here, plus the epic book, plus the sole virtue deed that I needed.

Aside from the excessive back-and-forth travel required (one of the unfortunate trademarks of Eriador content), it was a relaxing and enjoyable experience all around. I got a few neat skins from various drops and reputation vendors, never found myself frustrated by a quest, and took scads of screenshots as I enjoyed the virtual pristine air of Ice Bay.

I’ll miss the land and culture that is fairly unique to Forochel as I move on, but revisiting this zone is exactly the sort of thing I signed up for when I came back to this server. I don’t think I would have had the discipline and motivation to fully quest through and explore all of these old zones on a regular shard, but here the pressure to zip through it is lessened by the level cap and the company.

I really wouldn’t mind getting one of these igloos as player housing, but SSG doesn’t seem that concerned with creating new types of houses for us to buy these days.

Thus, it’s time to move on. There isn’t too much left on my plate to do, so I’ve settled on the following as my schedule for the next month:

  • Jan 27-Feb 9: Quest through the entirety of Eregion, including the epic book in that region
  • Feb 10-16: Finish up any virtue deeds I need in Eriador and the class quests that I have
  • Feb 17-28: Mop up any other remainders, such as Bingo Boffin, and work on some outfits

That’s pretty relaxed and very doable. Moria is no doubt going to be challenging with its scope and atmosphere, but I’ve been through it enough to know that four months is way more than enough time in which to do it, so it won’t be nearly as great a task as Shadows of Angmar was.

Battle Bards Episode 137: League of Legends’ hero themes

What’s your hero’s theme? If you play League of Legends, you know the answer to that already, because every hero in that game has his, her, or its own musical motif, from the dour to the delightful. In this episode of Battle Bards, the crew turns to this popular MOBA to see what heroic themes are pure ear candy.

Episode 137 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Elementalist Lux,” “Odyssey Login,” and “Snowdown 2018”)
  • “Irelia”
  • “Arcade Ahri”
  • “Dragon Trainer Tristana”
  • “Kindred”
  • “Lulu”
  • “Tahm Kench”
  • “Braum”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener mail from Mika, Thomas, and Katriana
  • Jukebox picks: “Warsongs: Silver Scrapes (ProtoShredanoid Remix)” from League of Legends, “Can’t Wait Until Night” from Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and “Stars at Our Backs” from Monster Hunter World
  • Outro (“Jinx, the Loose Cannon”)

ESO: Steamy elves, secret avengers, and inventory management

This has been a really weird month for me, especially in regards to gaming and blogging, and my output here on Bio Break hasn’t accurately conveyed how much I’ve been playing certain titles. In specific, I’ve been dumping in loads of time into Elder Scrolls Online, but I think this is only my third or fourth post on the subject. Rest assured, it’s quickly become a Mainstay MMO for me, and every day I’m logging in and learning more about this quirky (and beautiful) title.

What continues to delight is the richness of the storytelling that goes on here. I never know when I take a quest if it’ll be a one-shot thing or if it’s going to kick off this monster 15-parter that involves assassins, betrayal, house politics, and Game of Thrones-style showdowns. In regards to the latter, there were at least two times that my eyebrows shot up when then game pulled no punches and left me wondering how it was all going to turn out. With pretty much everyone dead, naturally.

Morrowind is, if I haven’t mentioned it, Dark Elf Country. Pretty much 95% of the NPCs I encounter are these dusky skinned, red eyed people. It’s not an attractive look, that’s for sure, but the weird thing is that these elves have actually ended up being far less annoying than your average brand of snobby, arrogant elf. I guess that’s mostly because they’re portrayed as just people rather than Mary Sues.

So many gorgeous vistas in Morrowind, even though it can be a really strange island that shifts biomes in a heartbeat.

Of course, it wasn’t until I was about three weeks into the game that I finally broke down and asked for help regarding my inventory. I kept filling up my bags way too quickly and wasn’t really sure how to get more spots. With some advice and research I realized that I could actually purchase bank/inventory space — and that the stable master would allow me to add on a new slot every 20 hours for a minimal price (up to 60 extra slots). So I should’ve been doing that WEEKS ago, but oh well. At least now I know.

I do like how some quest chains end up rewarding me with special stances and facial markings. I liked these punk goth eyes, so I’m going with that as I try to figure out how best to build up my Warden. The above there might be my new Facebook profile picture, by the way.

I may not be the biggest fan of ESO’s combat and some of its more limiting systems (I’m going to talk about housing some other time), but the world exploration keeps amazing me and makes up for a lot of that. It’s just a pretty game in a more natural way than FFXIV was, and it does give my LOTRO side some envy that these aren’t the sort of visuals SSG can deliver.

Oh yeah, I liked this quest with the magically frozen Nord who wasn’t wearing shirt nor pants. He has no hope of getting service in any major restaurant in the world. There’s a great variety of tone in these quests, and I always like the ones that have a sense of humor or are telling an interesting story. This one resolves in a way that made me snort loudly for a few seconds, so I guess that’s an official LOL from Syp.

The above marked the first time I ventured into a public dungeon. Wasn’t really sure how soloable these were — some guildies said that they were quite doable as a single person, but considering that they were raid geared and I wiped on the first pull here, I think that this might be a perspective issue.

In any case, the next night my guild got together to run about six or so public dungeons together to down all the bosses and get more loot than our bags could ever hold. It was a pretty fun time, in a slightly chaotic way, and it made me look forward to other social activities in the game. Plus, I got to see Braxwolf and Chaos Constant in the virtual flesh, and let me tell you, they were every inch as heroic as you might imagine.

Too many screenshots to share, so I’m going to call it quits with this one today — another favorite quest chain, this one featuring a fantasy version of a superhero who calls himself The Scarlet Judge. And yes, he has a secret lair. It’s stunning.

Quest for Glory IV: Jaunty hats on grinning skulls

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1993’s Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

So when you’ve accidentally sent a hapless old man off to his death as he looks for his long-lost wife, what do you do with the hat that he leaves behind? You toss it on the head of a talking skull so that he feels fancy and tells his laser-shooting skull friends not to fry your butt, of course!

Welcome to adventure game logic. It’s so silly at times, I love it.

Three games later, and here I am yet again with another confrontation with Baba Yaga. I actually really admire (if I haven’t said this enough) the effort that the creators took to create continuity and recurring characters. Not that Baba Yaga was ever my favorite, mind you, but the familiarity makes this feel like an ongoing saga with a richer cast.

Here I am sprinkling corn for her chicken hut to eat. Naturally.

Inside her hut, the Baba freezes me in ice as she talks about how she’s going to make me into both dinner and dessert. I think she still harbors a grudge for when I turned her into a toad that one time.

And indeed, I was not quick on my feet enough to get out of that fate. I don’t mind dying — the death notices are pretty amusing — but I had forgotten to save for awhile and had to repeat 15 minutes of gameplay, which was less amusing.

After baking Baba Yaga a pie (which, of course, was far more complicated than it needed to be), she gave me a funny bone to take back to the gnome so he/she/it could get back his/hers/its sense of humor. To be perfectly honest, the “jokes” were about the same quality before and after this moment, but at least I got a boss-killing ultimate joke out of it.

Next on my list was to track down the innkeeper’s daughter. This was far more tricky than I had anticipated, as the only creature who knew what happened was the family’s weird fireplace hobo that only shows up in the dead of the night. So he points me in the direction of the castle and I’m off to visit it — via a detour through a crypt in the graveyard, naturally. I’m really glad I rescued Igor!

Awesome. The little girl is now a vampire with a massive beast for a pet named Toby. She’s somewhat happy in the castle but does sort of miss her parents — and she’s not too fond of this “Dark Man” who makes the occasional appearance. I’ll bet that getting her un-vamped is going to be a trial.

DDO: We’re kind of a big deal

“Hey guys,” I said, “better take a screenshot, because you’ll never see giant spiders in an MMO ever again!”

I am so full of it.

This past week’s DDO adventures took us to a relatively brand-new module for many of us — last year’s White Plume Mountain pack. We figured that it’d be a nice change of pace from doing ages-old content, especially since a lot of it was at level 6 or so. So we jacked up the difficulty levels and off we went.

Our first quest, Kind of a Big Deal, took us through a rather ugly looking canyon (seriously, it was as chunky and ill-designed as an old-school EverQuest zone) and into a cave where many enemies were oversized. The word of the day was “gargantuan,” which the narrator used a couple times before the writers found a thesaurus and added some variety.

Traps were pretty ornery in this cave, with some rooms filled to the brim with dart-spitting traps that couldn’t be turned off. So for the most part we swam under them. Felt like a cheese move, but hey, it worked.

In a hilarious twist, toward the end of the quest we were turned into GARGANTUAN versions of ourselves, which sent the kobolds into a skittering panic. Suddenly the level design of the cave made a lot more sense, especially with the extra large corridors and oversized doors.

Next up was Memory Lapse, where we went into the Memory Library of a wizard in order to help him prepare a speech. It’s the sort of bizarre weird activity that infects a lot of DDO, because D&D has a lot of oddball quests like this. If only the RPG industry that drew off of it had half this much fun.

One room was chock-full of math-related puns, as evidenced above. A dad must’ve designed it.

My favorite part was getting to ride an oversized book like an amusement park ride across a room. Then, the problems began. About 10 seconds after I took this picture, some weird critters two-shotted me with lightning bolts. Once I, the healer, was down, we were in trouble — more so because we didn’t know this dungeon very well and weren’t sure where the rez shrine was.

Before you knew it, members were dropping left and right, thanks to the high difficulty level of the instance and a lack of heals. We dead people did try to run for the rez shrine — and actually managed to get there with about one or two seconds on our “out of bounds” clock remaining. Unfortunately, the room was full of bad guys, and one or two people resurrecting with minimal health are destined for a bad end in that situation.

At least being dead gives you an opportunity to roam about taking pictures in mostly black-and-white. This manticore is one of the freakier creatures to inhabit DDO’s bestiary.

With a full wipe underway and no time left on the real-world clock, we had to call it at that point. Hopefully next week we’ll clear out all of the tales from this pack!

LOTRO: Selling ice to Forochel natives

I just realized that I hadn’t been blogging about LOTRO in a while, but I can put some blame there on a couple of hectic work travel weeks. Rest assured, I’ve been gamely adventuring onward through the remainder of Shadows of Angmar: I’m somewhere in Book 12 of Volume 1, with only Forochel and Eregion to go (plus deeds in those regions).

In fact, I’m about midway through Forochel as I type this. I donned my winter festival outfit, since that seemed most appropriate to the zone, and went into it with gusto. After the hell that was Angmar, Forochel is a delightful change of pace.

When I was talking about this zone on Twitter, Ocho told me that it was too tedious and desolate for his tastes. “Overall, though, in any game, desolate zones are hard to get right,” he said.

And obviously this is a subjective call, because I feel that Forochel is neither desolate nor tedious. Remote, yes, but for me there’s a joy of space and genuine wilderness here. While LOTRO does have other winter zones, Forochel is the only one that takes us to the arctic circle and does a great job of presenting that. There are ice sheets and glaciers, yes, but it’s more than just white, white everywhere.

There is the brilliant aurora borealis that shimmers over the crisp night sky. The southern half of the zone is still in the tree line, and it’s actually kind of cool to see where that ends and the true north begins. And there are plenty of (frozen) ruins, caves, and igloo-dotted settlements about, not to mention some unique wildlife (the mammoths) and natives ice skating and sledding about the place.

The weather also lends itself to a strong environment. Sometimes Forochel is very peaceful, with cold and clear skies, and sometimes a gentle snow falls. Once in a while there’s a genuine blizzard that is like very little else I’ve encountered in the game, but that’s far more rare.

There’s also a nice (but not necessary) debuff/buff situation that involves the cold and warmth. At one point I got a reusable flask of ale that fights off this cold, but other than the emote, I’ll probably never need it. One thing that you really don’t want to do, however, is go dipping into the central ice bay — or any body of water past the tree line, for that matter. A nasty 1,000 DPS dot starts ticking to represent the frigid cold of the water, turning this lake into a deadly trap.

I suppose another reason that I appreciate the zone is that it’s fairly easy to navigate while zipping along doing the dozens of quests. It’s pretty simple to see where you’re going and get there, in contrast to some of LOTRO’s more labyrinthian zones, and that makes for a relaxing experience. I don’t really have to do any of these quests for XP or rewards, but I feel like I want to do them anyway. I know that this will most likely be the final time I’m going through LOTRO from start to finish, and I don’t want to skip interesting content if I can help it.

ESO: Short stories, big experiences

As I may have mentioned before, short stories that present a cohesive, powerful narrative can hold more worth to me than long, meandering, so-called “epic” storylines in MMOs and other games. I suppose that’s because it’s how video games present themselves. RPGs and their offshoots rarely go through a single huge story in one go like a novel would but instead break it up with side quests and other various activities. It diverts attention from the overarching narrative and eventually weakens my interest in it.

In other words, if a main storyline takes me the better part of a month to get through and during that time I’m doing all of these side quests and taking breaks to play other games, I’m probably not going to track that storyline as well or care about it when it resolves.

Whereas short stories — shorter quest arcs — have a much better shot at being consumable in one or two sessions and retaining my interest. Plus, I think that developers and writers engage in far too much padding out of these “epics” in order to get as much content and time wasting as possible.

Anyway, this is just to say that I’ve been increasingly drawn to games that place a stronger emphasis on fewer quests that are told with more detail and involve more twists and turns. Secret World had that, and Elder Scrolls Online does in its own way. Some of these quests I’ve gone through in Morrowind have pulled off the accomplishment of being memorable and involving.

One example that I encountered the other day was when my kids were all hovering around the computer as I played on a Saturday afternoon. This seemingly normal fetch quest had me going around to retrieve memory stones in the area. That sounded boring until we saw that all of the stones triggered little scripted scenes showing a back story of this family that was currently isolated and fractured. Finding out how this came about to be and that the father was not a disinterested figure but was in fact making a significant sacrifice for his children was a pretty strong revelation.

My kids were just as swept up in this as we went along, and they were crushed when he died before getting to talk to his kids (they kept urging me to hurry up in case he died before the end and so I got blamed for going too slow). I suppose the fact that there is some resolution with the memory stones helped, but it definitely elicited a very emotional reaction in them and in me.

One Bio Break reader pointed out that often in ESO there’s little flavor post-scripts to these quests if you go back and get near or talk to the NPC. You can find out what happened next or what their thoughts were, and we experienced this as we chatted with the man’s children. That’s not something a lot of MMOs would do, especially in our era of “gather up and go go go” questing.

Try-It Tuesday: CrossCode

Despite fantastic reviews and strong word-of-mouth, CrossCode went virtually unrecognized in the “Best Games of 2018” lists. Yet this game had been on my radar for most of last fall as it transitioned from early access to a full launch, and when it went on sale during GOG’s winter bonanza, I picked it up without a second thought.

Perhaps it was the “Cross” part of the title and the retro pixel art that drew favorable comparisons to Chrono Cross (intentional or not by the developers, it’s where my mind went). In any case, it wasn’t a wasted purchase; this is a pretty fun action-RPG that plays like an incredibly polished SNES title with a few modern sensibilities thrown in.

Plus, there’s an added bonus for MMO players: While single-player, CrossCode takes place in an MMORPG — just one where players remotely pilot robotic avatars on a far-away planet. I stared the game as a blue-haired avatar (who, as the game reminded me, could really be anyone behind her) who had no idea who she was or what she was doing in the game. Amnesia intro! That’s pretty classic. But there is something sinister and serious going on underneath the MMO trappings, and Lea the avatar goes on a quest to find out just what.

 When it comes to RPGs, story and combat are two elements that devs have to get absolutely right or it’s not worth playing for me. CrossCode uses an action-RPG system similar to Diablo’s clickfest, which is generally fine with me, although sometimes it got way too precise with fight mechanics to be as fun as it should’ve. The story was far better, using cute and funny dialogue moments and colorful areas to bring this unusual tale to light.

If I had to point at one element of CrossCode that didn’t work for me, it would be its heavy reliance on puzzles. Some areas require navigating landscape puzzles to proceed, and these got tedious as I had to do bank shots and figure out what secret angle had to be accessed. Maybe I’m growing more impatient for time-wasting puzzles in my middle age than I was in my youth, or maybe I’m just seeing them for what they really are.

Aside from that, everything in the game is really top-notch. Menus are snappy and clear, the world is a visual treat, and the music is serene and engaging. About the only thing I really wanted from the get-go was an on-screen mini-map and/or quest direction markers, as constantly pulling up the map to see locations was a bit annoying. Sometimes it wasn’t fully clear where I should be going, and I was surprised that an MMO-themed game in this day and age didn’t have these standard features.

For MMO fans, there’s the additional treat of encountering all sorts of mechanics, tropes, and in-jokes related to our genre. For example, a friend early on won’t party up with me because he was too high-level and would make our content trivial. I passed by another person who was fretting that raid members hadn’t shown up yet, and so on.

Quest for Glory IV: Werewolves love hunchbacks

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1993’s Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

You know what you get when you drink from strange baby fountains in the middle of the night in this cursed land? Elves. You get preachy elves that dream-lecture you about your potential. I swear these things have a union or something.

Actually, so much keeps happening to me in my dreams in this game. In another, I’m floating around in magic and then dying somehow. And in yet another, two voices spy on me from afar and talk about manipulating me, about wanting me to do something specific for them. I’m going out on a limb to say that these are the Bad Guys.

On Day Four, I walk out of the inn and find that the weird trio of farmers are all abuzz because Igor the gravedigger has gone missing. Naturally, they blame a wandering gypsy, but nobody’s really out there looking for him, either. Some friends. All I know is that apparently it has something to do with a werewolf? I guess?

Werewolf? Not quite. Igor apparently got careless while digging a grave and a tombstone fell on top of him, trapping him. I use the open spell to get him out, and I am once again a HERO.

One evening, the inn has a strange new guest — a gnome comedian. And not just any gnome comedian, but one who tells the most unfunny of jokes because, as he tells me, the Baba Yaga cursed him. Yes, THAT Baba Yaga — the one from the very first game. Looks like it’s chicken house hunting time.

ACK! A killer bunny! Okay, I’ll admit that I chuckled a bit. And I’m sure this whole joke was funnier more two decades ago than in the meme-riddled now.

Speaking of callbacks to the first game, Bonehead shows up around Baba Yaga’s hut and chats a bit with me. He’s still got a sense of humor and is far more humorous than the gnome.

The Quest for Glory games’ hybridization is both a blessing and a curse. I love a lot about the mish-mash of genres, and if I wasn’t trying to actually finish the game but was playing it back when I was a kid and trying to get my money’s worth, I wouldn’t mind all of the random exploration and grinding. But as I’m going through this game, I’m finding it really frustrating at times. It’s like there are a whole bunch of quests that need to be done but there’s no journal system and many depend on various triggers and days to happen.

For example, there’s this old man who’s looking for his wife Anna. I can only find her at night in one patch of the woods, and it takes numerous conversations to get her to realize she’s a ghost. Then I have to fast-forward time to day to get back in town, tell the old man, and send him off to his death to join her. You know, because I’m a hero. Then I rest some more to advance time, get back to night, find that the pair have reunited in the afterlife (aww) and then get a hat from the dead guy. Which turns out to be a vital quest object that I need for something else, and I’m tearing my hair out here.

At least the gypsies love me now that I saved one of their own, who actually did turn out to be a werewolf of sorts. They throw me a really disturbing party and I think my character makes out with a girl wolf at one point, although that was hard to tell.

DDO: When the pirates upped their game

Guys, I know we all love loot at the end of a good D&D campaign, but even I have to admit that this might be ridiculous. Oh, I’m going to loot it all anyway, but still…

So there’s this thing that happens in DDO around level 10 or so when the game stops lobbing softballs at you and starts getting mean and tough. Long gone are the days of one-shotting kobolds in sewers and being lightly tickled by dungeon traps.

No, now the game makes even seasoned teams pay attention, because mobs get a whole degree more dangerous and traps can one-shot YOU. Our DDO group’s been working its way through the House D questlines — a first for me — and I’m pretty amazed at how resilient and deadly these pirates are compared to Yarryarr’s crew.

Since all of these quests are in instances, the devs have the luxury of crafting specific set pieces that are more about delivering an experience and a story than letting you free-roam all over the place. In one mission, we had a pirate fortress (of a sort) to assault. It would’ve been really dangerous to hit dead-on, but the astute adventurer might deduce that there’s a secret path behind this waterfall that leads up and down and behind the bad guys.

This demon looks ridiculously happy to see us. Aww, he’s so cute.

In another quest, we explored some steampunk-ish pipe rooms and had, ahem, “fun” with platforming. I mean, who wouldn’t find it fun to be creeping along a pipe, trying not to fall all the way back to the start, when a blast of steam knocks you off anyway?

Seriously, at this exact moment our Rogue says with a straight-face, “Guys, hold up, there might be some traps ahead.” Good to know.

The higher difficulty level has made for a few harrowing healing moments. More than once our entire team got hit by attacks that took everyone’s health down to 1/3 or less, and I’m trying to triage on the fly while I wait for spells to come off cooldown.

Between that, I’m having the time of my life letting my wolf and bear rip up bad guys (my bear seems VERY enthusiastic in this task) while I ping away at the enemy with my heavy repeater. I got a quiver for all of the bolts I’m now collecting, which is an item that I sorely wish I knew existed back with my Artificer.