ESO: Shoving elves down wells

Really, whenever an MMO gives you the opportunity to shove an annoying elf — and, let’s be honest, they’re all annoying — down a well and then leave him to his doom, you take it. You don’t hesitate, you don’t mull over the moral ramifications, you just thank your lucky stars that you’ve been given such a golden opportunity and… shove.

Thank you, Elder Scrolls Online, for a truly cathartic moment.

In other ESO news, ZeniMax officially announced that the next expansion-slash-chapter will indeed be Elsweyr. I’m not up on Elder Scrolls history and lore, so you’ll excuse me if I don’t understand why that’s a Big Thing, but apparently it has a lot of folks excited.

And I’m excited too, although mostly for more content incoming. I mean, I’m pretty much still at the beginning of my feast on this game with the core game and two expansions piled on top of a table, but sure, add another chapter to the mix! Won’t bother me none.

The studio was far too excited for dragons and desert biomes, as if it invented them or something. Me? I just like the look of the expansion (of what we’ve seen), the name (which is so ’90s it hurts), and the fact that the Necromancer class is incoming. As much as I love my Warden, I have a famous soft spot for necros and know that I’ll have to play one. I applaud the decision by the team to have necros practice their dark arts on the down low, lest the long arm of justice reach out to deliver a blow. Man, that was a lyrical sentence.

Another part of the reveal stream that interested me is the shortly upcoming zone guide feature to help new or unfamiliar players (like myself) figure out where to go and what to do in any given place. I anticipate that being a very helpful feature indeed!

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Battle Bards Episode 136: Overlooked MMO soundtracks

Ever feel like the Battle Bards have covered every MMO soundtrack in existence? It’s actually far from true, and today’s episode is Exhibit A to prove it. The team looks at seven online RPGs that have never had a single track featured on a Battle Bards show — and it’s a fun discovery process! So settle back as we roll out 100% debuts!

Episode 136 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Terminus” from Pantheon and “Main Theme” from Otherland)
  • “A Harsh Winter Fell” from Camelot Unchained
  • “Intro Theme” from Rising Force Online
  • “Aman’s Theme” from Lost Ark
  • “Outdoors” from The 4th Coming
  • “Sea of Hakanas” from Riders of Icarus
  • “East Sea Plain (night)” from Dream of Mirror Online
  • “The Magic Shop” from PlaneShift
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener mail from Mika, Theldos, Myre_Test, Mike, and Raphael
  • Jukebox picks: “Sea Theme” from Heroes of Might and Magic IV, “Dog” from MineCraft, and “Cave” from Blue Dragon
  • Outro (“Lorencia” from Mu Online)

Try-It Tuesday: Unavowed

While perusing best-of lists for PC gaming last year, I saw someone strongly recommending the adventure game Avowed. It looked interesting and I’m always up for a good story, so why not? I won’t keep you in suspense — it made for a nice impulse purchase at around $10.

The premise of Unavowed is that there’s a team of supernatural investigators going around New York City to solve the wonky types of crime that local law enforcement is powerless to handle. Following a possession, the player character is drafted into this small group that includes a genie, a fire mage, and a few other assorted characters that are picked up over the course of the game.

While there is a narrative thread running from start to finish, the bulk of the game is very much episodic in nature. Every “episode” consists of a debriefing at headquarters and an investigation at a certain locale in NYC (each of which contains 4-10 scenes). In typical adventure game pattern, the story is only advanced by solving puzzles, navigating dialogue trees, and generally sleuthing it up.

What really impressed me right out of the gate is that Unavowed contains some rather surprising plot developments and fascinating storytelling. I was never quite sure *what* to expect going off to investigate each location, which made the emerging short stories even more compelling. It was like diving into the middle of a tale and then digging in both directions to get the full of it.

At times, Unavowed could be gory, disturbing, creepy, moving, and funny, although it wasn’t heavy in any of these. Most often, it was simply interesting, and that was enough for me. Unlike most adventure games, Unavowed sticks you with two other companions at any given time who offer up their own thoughts, talk to each other, and have special talents that can influence how a mission plays out. It’s a nice touch that might make the game more replayable, although I don’t see myself going through it more than once.

I won’t spoil any of the surprises or developments here other than to say that there are a few “wham” lines (“How long has she been out here?” really nailed a particular moment) and one ghost who ends up stealing the show from the moment she’s introduced forward. I also appreciated that there are some serious choices to be made from time to time that do have some small impact on the rest of the game.

It’s not a perfect game by any means. While the graphics are decent in a pixel art fashion, the animation is stiff and sometimes overcranked. And while each episode is pretty strong, the threading narrative is very flimsy and not that captivating to consider. It was almost like the developers had a bunch of campfire spooky tales to tell and then had to figure out some way to link them all. Finally, not all of the companions are equal in terms of personalities and backstories — in particular one hardboiled cop.

Overall, I was pretty happy to go through the entirety of Unavowed over the course of a couple of days during Christmas break. I think it might even deserve a sequel, if the team was ever up for it.

Quest for Glory IV: Edgy adventurers hang out in cemeteries

(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.)

Here’s a good pro-tip for any of you Quest for Glory IV players out there — don’t go wandering around at night! You get locked out of the town, for starters, and all sorts of evil mobs pop out around the place. As with the other games, the clock is always advancing forward and there are different events that happen depending on time and days, so time is a real factor here.

So with my first day over and done, I retire to the inn and chat up the suspicious and somewhat funny locals in the tavern. They mention some sort of jester gnome in town that I haven’t seen yet, so that intrigues me.

The local cemetery is full of Haunted Mansion-style tombstones with amusing epitaphs.

I do bump into a goofy forest… thing named Leshy. His color scheme is giving me headaches already, as is his propensity for riddles and annoying quests. Welcome to the 90s!

Erana has a garden here as well, and it’s a nice sanctuary from the rest of this rather pretty and welcoming country. I plant a tree, pluck some fruit, loot some coins, and even magic myself up a scroll that teaches me the protection spell. More areas like this, please!

Probably the weakest element of the Quest for Glory games is its combat system. A basic turn-based system would have been perfectly fine in these games, but instead the creators tried to make this arcade-style experience that results in a lot of frustrated mouse-clicking and hoping for the best. At least in this game there’s the option to let the computer fight for you, which I’ll gladly take.

Down at the lake, there’s a very, very naked woman frolicking about and asking you to join her in the water. Her portrait is so risque, in fact, that I really can’t post it here, but let’s just say that I spit out my tea because I wasn’t expecting it in this game. And then I laughed, because the game devs are really clever at putting in a trap for puberty-stricken boys here. If you take her up on the offer, she drowns you, because she’s the Rusalka (which I think was a monster in Secret World’s Transylvania but I’m not entirely sure).

LOTRO: Level 50 and lookin’ fine

Let me tell you, the view from level 50 is much better than that of level 120.

I can say this with absolute authority, having dinged 50 on LOTRO’s progression server roughly two months after all of the world firsts. This rate actually pleases me, as I made decent progression and have two months left with only two zones and four epic books to complete before the next server unlock. And that’s with throttling back in the game a bit.

I was thinking about this in the shower this morning, that I have learned to regulate my gaming pace somewhat depending on my interest level. The ultimate goal is always to avoid burnout and to sustain interest so that I’m enjoying what I’m playing rather than feeling obligated to play. So when I feel like I’ve been going full burn on a title for a while — which I have been in LOTRO ever since October — I’ll ease back somewhat. And now that I have some breathing room to get the rest of Shadows of Angmar done before Moria, I know I can put in about a half-hour a day and still make it with time to spare.

I think that the last time I talked about LOTRO, I had just started in on the hell that was Angmar, so let me catch you up on my adventures since then. I knew Angmar was going to be tough in terms of interest, and true enough, it was. Some of these higher-level SoA zones didn’t have the best flow or the most accessible content, and you can tell that with how they’re designed.

Therefore I gave myself permission to do what was only necessary to complete the zone and nothing further. That meant only doing regular quests until I had the quest deed done, and then only a handful of deeds and the epic story after that. I even ditched four or so Angmar virtue deeds because I determined that they’d be far too great of a headache to accomplish, and I don’t regret doing that.

With only Forochel and Eregion to go, I switched over to concentrating on the epic book until I had Volume 1 completely wrapped up. After all, it’s the most important bit of content right now, and I enjoy playing through the story without the narrative being interrupted with fetch quests. Plus, I’m enjoying being a Middle-earth tourist. Volume 1 has players bouncing all over the place — there’s a scad-ton of travel involved — and yet with all of my milestone skills and the 5 minute cooldown on them, I’m able to scoot without having to worry about taking long horse trips. I even bought my fifth milestone when it went on sale the other day.

After doing a good deal of Volume 1, I can say that it really helps to have milestones in Rivendell, Esteldin, and Evendim at the bare minimum. From those locations you can branch out to pretty much anywhere that’s needed, and the game keeps sending you back to Elf Country more times than I can count.

Other than that, I’ve been amusing myself by working on costumes now that I have enough pieces to experiment with mix-and-matching. Coming out of a half-hour fashion session with an outfit that I’ll gladly wear for months to come is a win for any night’s gaming in my book.

DDO: Say no to orbs!

When we formed up a start-from-scratch leveling group in Dungeons and Dragons Online, I was probably more enthusiastic about just jumping into it than was prudent. Namely, I didn’t give a lot of consideration and research into my build. I volunteered to be a healer, saw that Druids healed and summoned stuff, and that was that.

But now that we’ve had months of playing together, I’m coming to a deeper understanding of what this class is like. Even while it was a quick decision, I’m very satisfied with it. I get a huge spellbook and lots of handy healing spells at my disposal, and the perk of extra combat pets is a nice one. However, I only recently came to the realization that Druids come with a really crappy set of weapon proficiencies.

Again, it’s not something I would have considered, but in the months of playing and feeling a little annoyed that I’m hanging in the back with a melee weapon, I figured I’d start to do something about it. So the Druid has the same basic set of simple weapon proficiencies as everyone else (club, quarterstaff, darts, etc.) as well as the martial use of scimitars. To me, it’s a weird combo to have a Druid use a curved scimitar, but I suppose it’s a D&D thing. So I’ve been toting around a scimitar and a shield — or more recently, a scimitar and a dorky bowling ball-looking orb. It just doesn’t scream “healer” or “backup support” to me.

As an aside, our group ran a couple of defense missions and during this one, I noted that there was a mob that somehow got impaled all the way at the top of these spikes. We debated how he got up there to begin with and then determined that when the demonic portals opened, spikes flew out of the ground and skewered this poor soul.

Anyway, at the end of our most recent session, we had all reached the point where we were ready to take a level and move up to LEVEL 9. This came with a whole new tier of spells (yay) but more importantly for me, a feat that I used to gain a weapon proficiency that would make me happy with my back row action.

That’s right, baby: My heavy repeating crossbow is back! I can’t tell you how excited this makes me. Thank you, DDO, for giving me the option to build my character to allow a style of play that I enjoy, even if it’s not always the most optimal.

The 2019 Syp ESO Tour

With my interest in FFXIV quickly waning across the month of December, I knew that I wanted to find another MMO to fill the alternate slot come the new year. Instead of going back to old favorites, I returned to a title that I had merely flirted with in the past and felt compelled to give it a stronger chance.

And so it was that shortly after Christmas, Sypsonic was born in Elder Scrolls Online. Mother died at childbirth, considering that she delivered a 120-pound fully grown adult, but such are the sacrifices of parenthood.

But seriously, I did want to give ESO another try — and a much more serious, in-depth one than before. On paper it has so many of the features that I’m always seeking in MMOs, but I felt disheartened that it didn’t click with me in the week or so that I put into it a year or so back.

Since I didn’t get very far last time, starting completely over made a lot more sense than it usually does when I’m returning to titles. I did go with a Warden again (because pet bear), but past that, I became determined to learn the systems and get into the flow of the game.

Maybe it was just the time spent this past year, maybe I’m a little older and wiser, but almost immediately I was sucked into ESO in a way that I most certainly was not last time. While I’m no fan of the action combat, almost everything else is perfect for a more relaxed questing experience. With the auto-scaling, I don’t have to worry about progressing in a certain order, but rather I kept following quests and picked up any new ones that I saw along the way to go back to later.

And the questing and storytelling is good — really, really good. Coming off of FFXIV, where there’s gobs of story but it’s told in a stiff and personally unrelatable way, ESO feels more down-to-earth and interesting. I absolutely love that the quests are long and involve a lot of stages with story developments and dialogue along the way rather than a huge info dump at the beginning and a “thank you, take these, don’t come back” reward at the end.

I do want to give praise to ESO for another small detail. Even though I deleted my old character to make a new one, the game still remembered and kept my house, all of the (three) decorations, my mounts, and my pets. I really didn’t expect any of that to carry over, but huzzah that it did. Made me feel like the game was welcoming me back, in a way.

It’s an exhilarating and stressful experience to be diving into a rather new MMO to you. The process of discovery can be really fun, but any veteran of the genre knows that there’s always all these things we will learn about playing more efficiently in the future. Those knowledge gaps are only filled in by time, experience, reading guides, and asking guildies lots of questions (fortunately, most people in MMOs love to sound smart about their game and don’t mind dispensing advice).

Well that’s an image that’ll haunt my dreams tonight. Projecto-Elves. And oh yeah, if I had any illusions that ESO would be elf-free, they got completely erased by the end of the first night. It’s like flippin’ elf nation around here, including a community of powerful mage elves who don’t mind enslaving “lesser” races and being even more arrogant than elves normally are. Suffice to say, any opportunity to kill, betray, belittle, or steal from an elf, I took it.

Speaking of the whole elf/slaves thing, I got embroiled in a quest line that started really innocuously. There was a couple of Argonian slaves who wanted freedom and to be together, and I thought, aw, I should help ’em out. But what I thought was going to be a one-and-done quest turned into this massive epic storyline involving one slave rising into power (and engaging in dubious moral machinations) and the other slave plotting an escape plan. Just quest after quest of all of this, sending me every which way, and let me tell you, I was hooked. It was like being part of a fantasy novella where I wanted to see how it all turned out and was constantly surprised that there was still another quest and another and another to it all.

Finally, it did come to an end, after assassinations, tough choices, stealth missions, and plenty of dead elves. I was nodding in happy approval, feeling like I might have found a solid mainstay for this year after all.