Posted in DC Universe Online, Try It Tuesday

Try-It Tuesday: DC Universe Online

It’s been a long, long while since I last tried out DCUO. The tutorial really was a turn-off to this game and didn’t make me want to stick around to push deeper into it, and I have all sorts of reservations these days about dealing with Daybreak. But as part of my effort to go on an MMO safari this month and also to expand my look into superhero MMOs for my column, I thought it was high past time to do that.

DCUO is the type of game where for every one good thing it does, it does another poorly. The character creator is a perfect example of this, with tons of options laid out in the most awkward and difficult-to-use format possible. There really should be a different version for PC users so we’re not saddled with the cruddy console-friendly UI that is on display here.

Unlike City of Heroes, DCUO goes a more modern route with being an action MMO with lots of clicking, combos, and movement. It’s very fast-paced in this approach, and I can see that as being both a pro and con. I definitely enjoyed getting into scraps (especially when I got the hang of the symbiosis between powers and melee attacks) but it always felt like my power selection and usage here took a backseat. Plus, those powersets were about as generic and unthrilling as possible, which is why I went with mental abilities and called it a day.

I made a robot staff-fighter who could do some fancy mental projections and fly around. It was fine for my purposes, and after a while I got into a groove of mindlessly knocking out missions and slapping bad guys around with my staff and the odd car wielded as a weapon. It was odd seeing my costume evolve with gear, but I like the idea of collecting pieces and using them cosmetically in the future.

Probably my most favorite part was the ability to fly right off the bat. Actually, my three-year-old wanted to hang out with me while trying this and he figured that the spacebar was the answer to everything. Bad guy? SPACEBAR. Quest objective? SPACEBAR! That naturally sent me shooting vertical about three hundred feet, but he felt involved and happy and I couldn’t take that away from him. Plus, DCUO has no fall damage, so I’d just un-toggle flight and we’d crash down on the ground with a statisfying thump.

There’s a lot I’ve yet to wrap my head around, how the systems work and just how pay-to-win (or paywalled) this game is, but for now, it’s a fun diversion for a half-hour here or there. I love to zoom around Gotham picking fights as a bad guy (yes, you can be a villain in this one!) and hearing some of the classic voice acting from the Batman series and elsewhere.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online

DDO: Three barrels full of kobolds

With the Necropolis series (mostly) finished, I’ve turned my attention back to completing any incomplete lower level quests. Looking through my adventure compendium, the lowest that sits unanswered is The Stones Run Red, a level 5 jaunt in Three Barrel Cove. Why not?

I had a full kid audience for this one, so I enjoyed running commentary from my boys (“Ohh man, don’t step in the lava, dad! That’ll burn you up!”) and endured a three-year-old on my lap whose sole function was to jam on that spacebar as often as possible to make me jump. At least it was a very easy, very straight-forward run through a “fire mountain” to kill some ogres and desecrate a few dragon shrines. I think this is the first part of a series, so I’ll probably need to follow it up with the sequels. Even on elite, at level 14 I roflstomped this one to dust.

There’s a follow-up to this quest, Brood of Flame, that takes place in the same cavern, only with more fire elementals this time. I got flashbacks of Tangleroot, but fortunately this repeat is only a one-time thing. And that’s good, because it’s not that interesting of an instance for one run, nevermind three.

And since I’m in Three Barrel Cove, I figured I might as well stick around and work on the quests here this week. A pirate kobold (objectively the best kind of kobold!) gave me a task to run a rival pirate gang’s obstacle course in Prove Your Worth. Why not? That actually sounds like fun!

And you know what? It really was a top-notch quest! The dungeon is a series of varied challenges, such as navigating through traps, solving a puzzle room, climbing up a series of broken ladders, and fighting through some ambushes. Plus, I got to choose whether or not to make a poor kobold captive walk the plank after going through a pirate-speak lesson, and that made my day.

For the record, I freed him. I’m a lawful good Gnome. And I do sign autographs to adoring fans.

The Scoundrel’s Run may not have featured Han Solo anywhere, but it still served as a diverting “treasure hunt” through a small but twisty mine. The objective was to find and assemble five pieces to a weird turtle statue, and while there was a bit of backtracking involved, all things considered, it went fairly well. About 20 minutes, just the perfect length for a quick dungeon run session.

Time for another mini quest chain! We all know that in RPGs, there are always secrets behind waterfalls, and in Three Barrel Cove, there’s an entire dungeon tucked back here. This is The Troglodytes’ Get, a romp through a cavern to smash their eggs and try not to think so much about how we’re stomping all over their babies. “PEW PEW,” I said, ignoring my conscience. “MUST COMPLETE QUEST OBJECTIVES NO MATTER HOW ODIOUS.”

Guard Duty shows that one of DDO’s greatest strengths is that it can whip up almost any interesting scenario and thrust players right in the middle of it — such as defending a ship from boarding pirates. Short, breezy, and full of nothing but combat on the open decks, this quest had me in and out in about six minutes.

Hunting down an urban legend sounded fun, so why not? In The Legend of Two-Toed Tobias, I discovered an underwater cavern that turned out to be the final resting place of a notorious pirate — and his level 5 treasure. Even with all of the swimming and skeleton fights, it wasn’t too difficult or convoluted. I even thought that triggering the fire traps to melt an underwater ice dam was pretty ingenious.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online

DDO’s world of mini-permadeath

There are many strange design differences between Dungeons and Dragons Online and most “regular” MMORPGs — so many, in fact, that it would make for a long article if I were to list them. It’s what makes it such a fascinating and underrated game, in my opinion.

But perhaps one of the most innocuous and most personally fascinating details is the way the game deals with your hit and spell points. DDO isn’t just old school with a much, much slower rate of regeneration — it’s absolutely archaic with a complete lack of regen while players are in instances. You lose hit points, they don’t come back (well, automatically at least). They’re a limited resource, as are spell points (which is especially worrisome for magic-based characters).

Now, there are plenty of exceptions to this format. There are healing spells and items, as well as items that grant back SP. Rest shrines in dungeons refill meters back to full — but once per shrine per instance run only (they’re also a limited resource). And SP does trickle back to about 12 or 13 points if you dip under them. That’s usually good enough for a medium-level spell every 20 or 30 seconds.

Then, on top of this, there’s the decision to institute what I like to think of as “instance permadeath.” It’s not, really, but the idea here is that if you die during a dungeon run, well, that’s it for this run — unless someone else rezzes you, or you can dash to a rez shrine within 10 seconds distance of your body, or you pay using premium currency for a rez. I don’t usually feel that it’s worth paying to rez (that really rankles on principle), so a death while solo usually means a do-over. It’s a bit different in a party, where you have options to run back from a tavern or be rezzed by a teammate.

All of these design choices, for better or for worse, create a much different atmosphere for an MMO. For starters, it adds a greater feeling of danger to dungeon runs, especially the more difficult they are and the longer that you’re in one. Nobody wants to have to repeat an hour’s worth of progress, especially if you die on the last boss. And DDO is notorious for tossing in some really nasty traps and hard-hitting encounters that can often result in near-one-shot deaths.

Another way that this alters the run is that hit point loss isn’t automatic upon attacks and traps. There are a lot of stats running under the hood here — a lot of dice being rolled — and so it’s entirely possible to be in a fight for a good amount of time and only lose a few hit points here and there due to avoidance and resistance and shields and dodge and the like. So losing health actually feels more significant here when it happens.

I won’t lie, I really dislike the crappy position that the game puts you in — especially as a solo player — when you die far into a dungeon. None of the choices feel fair, which is why I always make sure to run with a Cleric henchman (it’s my own portable death insurance machine). But I do appreciate how my own stats turn into limited resources that have more worth and weight. It makes for interesting moment-to-moment choices: How cautious should I be going down this hall? Do I spend SP to throw on a bunch of protection spells or save the SP and risk more HP loss? Do I use the rest shrine now or later? How should I pull this next group of bad guys? How much should I invest in trap detection and disarming?

Those aren’t questions or choices that I normally have to concern myself with in MMOs, and I enjoy having them here. DDO’s adventures may play out a whole heck of a lot faster than in a pen-and-paper setting, but it still retains a lot of the PnP feel because of these design decisions. It’s a good example of how the structure and limits of an IP helped to create a much more interesting MMO than it would be otherwise.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Turtle, turtle!

In the early days of the legendary server’s Moria era — you know, last month — I had a moment of inspiration where I was going to finally throw off the shackles of the cumbersome legendary item system and, you know, just not use it. Like, at all. No LIs, just normal gear much the same way we’d been playing in the first four months. It was a liberating thought, and one that I stuck to… for about a day.

While this had the great appeal of simply not having to mess with the LI grind and fiddly bits, all too quickly I realized that I’d be gimping myself terribly, starting with the absence of one entire gear slot that is only used by LIs (and later the mount one as well). And that’s not even to consider all of the skill modifiers that I’d sorely need now that my poor Minstrel has been nerfed of her “OP” status. So… crud, I guess I’m using LIs.

Since we’re wading about at level 60 these days, the endgame for this particular stage in our journey is of more importance than it would be if someone on a regular server was simply blowing through Moria and beyond. And that means that we’re all chasing First Age LIs, which will at least give us a good start on Mirkwood. I wouldn’t be even doing that except that obtaining one didn’t seem that far out of reach — just six days of running the quick Turtle raid. Which, oddly enough, I had never ever done in my LOTRO history. Since our kinship was doing this every night, that was perfect for my comfort level.

Aside from that and lazy Lothlorien questing (which doesn’t need to be done, but I have little else to do right now), I jumped back into the Yule Festival last week, which was enjoying an April encore. I was down for that, since there were a couple of cosmetics that I had missed, such as the owl mask (which is truly one of my favorites that the artists have designed).

And boy do I have the entire Winter-home run down flat. That’s probably what I like about this festival the most, that I can do a full run of 10 quests for the daily without having to hop zones or jump through any difficult hoops. Lots of quest stacking here and on a good day I can get it all done in about 20 minutes.

Next up? 12th anniversary, baby! We’ll see how difficult this’ll be for a character that can’t progress past Moria, but I anticipate plenty of scavenger hunt fun over the next month — and some much-needed cosmetics and other goodies for this character! Plus, I’ll get to log back on to my Lore-master to do the latest hunt and make sure she’s up to date on that.

Posted in Retro Gaming

LeChuck’s Revenge: Spittake

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1991’s Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

The quest to obtain the four pieces of the treasure map to Big Whoop is, as would be expected in such a game, a circuitous and meandering path through a whole lot of nonsense. Including a visit to a costume shop (with a Sam and Max outfit!) where another adventure game staple rears its weird head: making the protagonist cross dress. I don’t know WHY this was such a trope in the 80s and 90s, but it was, and Guybrush is about to strut his feminine self to get into a Mardi Gras party and snatch Elaine’s map piece.

In a funny bit, when told that he has to wear the costume to go to the mansion, Guybrush up and tries to change on the spot in front of a lady. I’ve been noticing that the team added a lot of custom animations and emotes for very specific circumstances, and those touches are what makes these pixel art toons come alive.

The party itself was a bit of a disappointment. Really expected more jokes and weirdness, but it ended up being a lot of sleazy, creepy people standing around muttering sleazy, creepy things. Basically, a YouTube comments section.

Finally, Elaine and Guybrush reunite, apparently after a falling out that happened between the first and second game. My daughter was playing this with me, and she fell into a fit of giggles when Guybrush starts using all of these pet names for Elaine. I might have laughed as well.

The quest for the four map pieces sees Guybrush going to crazy, roundabout lengths to succeed. At one point, he picks up a dog to use later, stuffing it inside of his coat. I thought that this was a particularly brilliant sendup to the “endless pockets” inventory systems of adventure games. Why not stuff a dog in there? He’ll be fine.

Following a failed attempt to climb a tree and grab a map piece fluttering about up there, Guybrush falls down, hits his head, and starts hallucinating… his parents? It’s so out of nowhere, they just show up and say they want to help him…

…and then turn into dancing skeletons singing the bone song while Guybrush writes this down because it’s important for some reason. It’s all very surreal and raises many questions about Guybrush’s family, all of which go unexplained when the game returns to normal. Okay then.

Guybrush’s streak of being an absolute jerk to fairly nice people in this game continues as he saws off the (peg) leg of one of the lazy pirates. My daughter thought that the pirate freaking out over his leg and calling for a doctor was the height of hilarity. “It’s just a WOODEN leg, you silly!” she yelled at the screen.

And hey, Stan’s back! Instead of selling used boats, in this game he’s selling used… coffins. Discount coffins. Guybrush tricks him into one of his floor models and then nails it shut on him. If you play this game, you have to stick around for a good minute or so to hear all of Stan’s freak-out quotes. Poor Stan, you deserved better.

Guybrush also cheats at a spitting contest (!), earning double disapproval from any moms or stern aunts evaluating this game’s moral character. Counting Largo’s loogie, this is the second time that spit has emerged as a major plot element in this game.

Guybrush’s famed ability to hold his breath for 10 minutes comes into play as he goes on a bit of a shipwreck diving expedition. I actually expected a lot more out of this part than we got, kind of felt rushed.

But by far the best part of this play session was reanimating the ashes of a corpse to get at the map fragment he was holding onto when he burned up. The guy is so weirdly chipper for a temporary zombie, even if my daughter thought he was incredibly creepy.

Posted in Music, Podcast

Battle Bards Episode 143: Rappelz

It may see itself as an “old school fantasy MMO,” but Rappelz’ soundtrack is a great mixture of old and new, traditional and experimental. In this episode, the daring and ever-courageous Battle Bards plumb the depth of this score and see what can be brought out of obscurity and into the light!

Episode 143 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “A New Epic,” “Breeze of Old Forest,” and “Resonance of the World”)
  • “Main Theme”
  • “The Deva”
  • “Crystal Mountain”
  • “The Temple of the Masters”
  • “A Horizon in the Sunset”
  • “A Lost and Secret Island”
  • “The Morning Breaks of Rondo”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener mail: Bullwraith, Katriana, Caroline, and Michael
  • Jukebox picks: “Cierzo” from Outward, “Green Village Baruchie” from Another Eden, and “La Pintarroja” from Tropico 6
  • Outro (feat. “The Ursa Caverns”)
Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online

Buried alive in Dungeons and Dragons Online

I’m still hacking away at the never-ending series of Necropolis quests — and the tombs that accompany each one. I started off with Tomb of the Forbidden, which actually turned into a terrific romp. Oh, I wasn’t too pleased at the difficulties of getting hirelings to cooperate to help open doors (it’s A Thing with this quest), but past that, it’s a well-designed instance that has a great theme (bones and ice), new types of ice skeleton mobs that I’ve never seen before, and a flow that’s low on the frustration level. I even got me a teal ring that seriously boosted my open locks skill. It really does pay to have a good lockpicking set in this game.

And even better, this mission pushed me over the edge to level 14! It was just a week or so ago that I hit 13, so I guess I’ve been raking in the XP without realizing it.

Despite being labeled as a long dungeon, Tomb of the Sanguine Heart proved to be a remarkably breezy run. Just a few hallways, killing random mobs, disarming a handful of traps, then fighting the end boss. Easy peasy. It’s nice to get one of these every so often, and now especially as I’m itching to move on from Necropolis.

Tomb of the Bloody Crypt is a big capstone to these Necropolis dungeons and one that I remember from waaaaay back when. It’s a “very long” quest, a note that always makes my stomach sink. But it’s also CR6, so I just took it on normal and absolutely blitzed my way through. I don’t think I stopped at any point or stopped shooting, just ran and pew-pewed my way through the four long paths, unlocked the center door, and took down a very bewildered priest who was shocked at a sprinting, shooting, spitting Gnome.

Am I seriously not done with these Necropolis quests yet? Guess not! Next up was Tomb of the Shadow Lord, and egads, this one took the better part of an evening because I missed a couple of torches and had to backtrack through endlessly respawning areas to find them. Thematically, this dungeon was well-done — all gothic and shadowy and whatnot — but the luster of that wore off about an hour into this slog and left me antsy to finish. Which I did, because I’m awesome like that.

The final Necropolis quest in my log, Tomb of the Tormented, was the one that ended up breaking me. I’m serious. It’s the kind of quest that makes you wonder if a developer was actively feeding his or her sadistic nature by designing.

To get to this tomb’s signature mummy (it’s always a mummy in the Necropolis), you have to clear three rooms out and then guide a rat underneath a grate from point to point to the exit. By stuffing rotten bits of zombie flesh down there, but let’s move past that part here. The first maze isn’t too hard, while the second one introduces moving doors and pressure plates. That was doable, if a little long. But the third… the third is horrid. It has traps for the rat and multiple doors and timing issues. I got so far into it when my rat got skewered, and I just flung my hands up and declared that Fun Was Not Being Had and recalled out of there. I haven’t been giving up on DDO quests, but this one is a real eyesore and far too annoying to complete. So I shall just live with that black mark on my quest log.

Posted in City of Heroes

Looking forward to playing City of Heroes again

Last week’s bizarre story involving a long-dead MMORPG, a super-secret server, and a community that found itself suddenly divided ended in a strange but uplifting win for City of Heroes fans. After discovering that there had been a gated emulator running underground for six or so years and being rather upset about it, the COH community suddenly found itself gifted with a treasure they never thought they’d see: the source code.

Long, long story short, this means that with a lot of work and knowhow, it’s now possible for anyone in the world with this code to create a City of Heroes emulator and start operating it. Short of NCsoft opening the game back up for fans, this is the best result that could’ve happened for fans. There’s now the very real — and previously unthinkable — possibility that they might get to go back to their game in the future.

I mean, who really knows. I have no idea how workable all of this is, but when the news of the code release happened on Thursday, you could almost visibly see hope coming back to fans who have been carrying a torch for this game since 2012.

It’s truly interesting and has me contemplating a notion that was previously only a thought experiment: What would it be like to go back to City of Heroes again?

I’m not the biggest emulator player, but I do support their efforts to preserve what I see as “abandonware” by studios. And I certainly want these games carried into the future for myself and future generations of players. City of Heroes was my first real MMO love, and I can only imagine what it’d be like to log into a proper running version of the game and not just Paragon Chat.

I suppose it would be surreal, almost as if no time had passed since the game’s closing. When you play something for that long, you get so familiar with its design that every sight, sound, control, and feature is immediately recalled from long-term storage and put right back into the forefront of the mind.

It would also be pretty exciting to see the community rush back to old stomping grounds. I’m sure there would be plenty of new and curious faces too, especially in the era of WoW Classic. It would certainly be An Event for the month it launched.

But me? What would I do? I don’t know. If the server looked stable and populated enough, I’d be more than a tourist — I’d settle in. Make up a fun new roster of heroes. Blog about it. Join up with some friends and check out content that I never got to see, as I primarily only played during the first three years.

It’s not a sure thing that this will happen, but with the sheer passion and drive that this community has shown — especially considering all of the City of Heroes spin-offs and spiritual successors in the making — then I bet it will. And if not, well, there’s always SEGS and Paragon Chat to hold on to the glory days while we hope that Ship of Heroes, City of Titans, or Valiance Online makes something of itself.

Update: Events were moving pretty quickly this past week, and this pre-written post became partially invalidated when, a day after the source code was released, players already had a fully functioning test server up and running. I didn’t really want to scrap this post — the core is still valid — but it’s fascinating to see how rapidly this all has developed. There’s been a real and strong hunger to get City of Heroes back, and the second the community saw its chance, it took it.

Am I playing on it? I’ll talk about that another day. I think we have a lot of moving parts that haven’t quite settled down into stability, and so I want to hold back on that discussion for now. Let’s just say that I’m very, very glad to see this game resurrected, even as a rogue server.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Questing under golden leaves

While I think that four months was a good span of time for the initial release of LOTRO’s progression servers — what with 50 levels, a whole volume of the epic, and over a dozen zones — I don’t think the same is true for this period of Moria. It’s definitely less content to consume (fewer zones, only 10 levels), and less than a month into it, I had already blasted through the underground kingdom and come out the other side as a newly minted level 60 Minstrel.

I’m not complaining too much, mind you. Unlike some of our kinship, who are loving every minute of being in Moria, I got my fill about a week and a half in and then was ready to egress. Even with the streamlining of quests and travel, the second half of Moria relies too much on confusing zones that are bothersome to navigate. So when I hit 60, I lost a lot of interest in doing regular questing in these areas, preferring to simply focus on the epic until I got out into Lothlorien, where I started back up with all types of quests.

That’s worked out fairly well. Despite uppity elves who try to shoot you on sight and then make you pick flowers for them ever after, it’s a visually beautiful zone that feels refreshingly open and colorful after the dark dreariness of Moria. About the only thing I really don’t like is the layout of the elf city, as trying to figure out how to get from flet to flet can occasionally be maddening. Plus, there’s a lot of returning to Moria for various tasks, and that doesn’t seem to endear itself to players like myself who would rather be done with it.

Still, it’s relaxing. I’ve spent several evenings doing nothing more or less than forging forward in the epic and doing the random side quests while trying not to engage in combat with the “protected” animals. Are elves protected? Can I collect a few of their ears for my hobbit hole walls?

I’ve given some thought as to what I’m going to do when the side quests and epic runs out, and I haven’t really settled on a firm plan yet. I do need to catch up on Bingo quests, and there are always — always — deeds to be done. I could go the raiding route and join my kin in Turtle and Watcher raids (which I’ve actually never done), or grind up my skirmish soldier (ick), or jump back onto my level 19 Cappy and work on her a bit. Another option is to greatly scale back on LOTRO until the next unlock and focus on some other MMO projects. I don’t want to disengage entirely, but I also don’t need to be grinding when it’s not fun or I don’t feel like it.

Most likely than not, I’ll be focusing on the anniversary festival content, especially considering that I haven’t done any of the scavenger hunts on the progression server.

It’ll be a good feeling to have my Minnie fully ready for Mirkwood. Despite what some people say, it’s still one of my favorite expansion areas, although I do hope that SSG opens up more than Mirkwood with the next unlock. Mirkwood plus Enedwaith, perhaps? Or Mirkwood plus the entire Isengard expansion? I wouldn’t mind that!

Posted in General

Cat people in MMOs

I am not a cat person. If you have to place me in a category, whatever is opposite of “cat person” is where you should assign my fate. Cats have never fascinated me or drawn drooling “awwws” from my lips or inspired me to write poems about them and claim that one is my spirit guide. And that’s fine, the world has room for diversity and I’m generally live-and-let-live with cats, even if I don’t understand their popularity.

And they are popular, especially in MMOs, where playable cat-people are far more likely to be an option than, say, a playable dog-person (oddly, World of Warcraft is one of the very rare games that has the latter without the former, Druid forms aside). And despite what you might think, not all cat-people are alike. Some are the basic “slap a cat head on a human body, add a tail, and call it a day” model (such as Star Trek Online’s Caitians and SWTOR’s Cathar). Other than giving your person a feline slant, you really aren’t going out on a limb with those kinds of picks.

FFXIVs Miqo’te are a textbook example of trying to make an animal-themed race that is as non-offensive to our eyes as possible. They’re… cute. They’re designed to be as cute and barely cat-like as possible, with slightly different hairlines, teeny tiny pointed canines, and widdle pointy ears. They’re the option for players who are tired of humans but also still want to be a human with only minor cosmetic differences.

Guild Wars 2, for better and for worse, went whole cat hog with its Charr. Technically it’s supposed to be more of a beast character, an amalgrim of various animals, but if we’re honest, that mix is about 90% cat and 10% “assorted.” The designers definitely tried for something different than a svelte human with fur, giving the Charr a larger frame with a distinctive hunch, backward knee joints, and long claws and snouts. When you play a Charr — probably to admire how well this race’s helmets fit — you have no illusions that you’re a hulking brute of a cat. You’re a tiger monster amid a sea of soft bellies.

I also have been contemplating Elder Scrolls Online’s Khajiit. Visually, there’s an astounding range of looks that capture many types of cats instead of just one basic template. I don’t often see “lion” cat-people in MMOs, but I do here — and not just lions, but tigers, pumas, and other predatory felines.

Maybe for some, cat-people are an expression of how much they love the look of their own pets, and maybe for others, these races harken to this fantasy of being a stealthy, quick, and ferocious apex predator. At least we’re not seeing the same-old, same-old boilerplate variants between games as we do, say, Elves.