LOTRO: Progression server fashion show!

It’s my birthday and I can do what I want, so I’m going to indulge in a little fashion show today to share with you some of the outfits that I’ve cobbled together on the LOTRO progression server so far. Why not?

The first outfit here is my Christmasy one, obviously obtained from the winter festival. I really love the burgundy shield and slim sword I found for it, and it’s a great pick for any winter/snow zone I visit.

Next up is my “Adventurer’s Outfit” (or what I weirdly think of as my Indiana Jones getup, probably because of the machete sword there). It’s a good all-purpose outfit that looks sharp but not flashy.

When I got that mining helmet (with a wee candle!) I knew I had to make an outfit around it in honor of Moria. I wanted to go more semi-steampunk but had a hard time finding a lot of pieces that fit this vision. Instead, I kind of cobbled together a workable underground outfit with a nice backpack that all feels dorky but doable.

The winter festival had a ton of great outfits and I was excited about this owl-themed one. I love the whole look (and that style of jacket/pants) — except for the weird and oddly animated feathery back. Hence, the cloak. I threw in the shield that I got from the Turtle raid, since the dark green seemed to go with the outfit.

For my money, this is the best “Minstrel” outfit I have right now. It simply looks the part and I am a big fan of the white/blue color scheme. Kind of reminds me of a musketeer look too.

I know this outfit doesn’t really match, but I really loved this floppy sun hat and wanted to get a more casual, feminine look to go with it. The sword choice there is a good one for her look — slim, delicate, and decidedly lethal.

Vampire Bloodlines: Boom goes the dynamite

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2004’s Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Part of the reason that so many people have come to appreciate Bloodlines over the years is probably because this game actually does put the “roleplay” back in RPG. It’s a remarkably adaptive game in terms of choices, dialogue, and approaches, and I love getting into the mad humor of a Malkavian.

Still trying to appease Theresa after pulling off the hotel exorcism, I run over to the local art gallery and slash up paintings of the original vampire (the biblical Caine, if you wanted to know) before fighting off a blood-thing that comes out of it. By now I’m slashing so hard and fast with a knife that battles rarely last more than a few seconds. I’m a terror.

I do take a detour to off an Asian vampire that’s been harassing Knox, although I quickly learn that Knox is very manipulative and is trying to get me to play assassin for his master’s purposes. I guess I should’ve listened to the oracle on the beach who told me that I could pretty much trust no one.

As Theresa and Jeanette’s “relationship” continues to deteriorate, I’m given one final mission by them to go to a diner and basically be jumped by a swarm of thugs. Unfortunately, fighting them off summons the police, which introduced me to Bloodlines’ primitive GTA-like threat system. If you do something that earns a police presence, then you’ll start getting hunted by cops for a while until you find a place to hole up until the heat dies down. I… didn’t wait, and I paid the penalty for it.

Back at the Asylum, Jeanette and Theresa go into a full-fledged dual personality breakdown, showing off the half-and-half natures at play here. I didn’t have the stats needed to make them both happy, so this playthrough I ended up appeasing Theresa, which meant that Jeanette got killed by her sister. Somehow. Don’t ask me, the game wasn’t very clear on that part.

The final mission of Santa Monica is to blow up a Sabbat warehouse. By now, I’ve accrued so many character points that I was able to buy the Vision of Death skill. This is, as the name implies, an “I win” button. It kills any human with a single use and hurts supernatural critters something fierce. I had a lot of fun running into a pack of bad guys and alternating between slashing and visioning them to death.

At the end of the mission — warehouse successfully ka-blooeyed — a werewolf bumps into me and we have a chat. This is Beckett, supposedly some big figure in this game universe, but to me he’s just a guy with a penchant for history and some 90s-looking sunglasses.

With that, it’s off to the downtown area! There’s an unfortunate intermission in which I’m ambushed by a gang of Sabbat and nearly killed. Nines, an Anarch vampire, comes along to save me and start moving the game into a tri-faction direction. Three factions plus numerous vampire clans makes for a confusing narrative foundation.

As an aside, this fourth wall breaking line is pretty funny, although the Sabbat here might just be a little crazy.

The Prince summons me upon arrival and tasks me with another big mission — to investigate an abandoned ship that’s apparently carrying a very important sarcophagus that’s freaking everyone out for some reason. Guess it’s time to explore my new setting!

SWTOR: Returning to the Fallen Empire

You know what gets me to come back to an MMO? When I see a game (and its dev team/studio) working hard to get me to come back. And while I’ve been dismissive of Star Wars: The Old Republic in the year to date, it’s been getting increasingly hard to push it out of mind with the new content updates and the announcement of this fall’s expansion. So the thought started to bubble up in my brain that, yes, I think I might actually like to continue my old Operative’s story and actually see the rest of the content that I’ve been missing to date.

Of course, when the last time I played this character was May of 2017, it stands to reason that I’ve forgotten pretty much everything about the story and what she’d been doing. Thank goodness for my blog and this page, which neatly lays out the order of solo content progression.

Seeing as how I’m still in chapter 13 of the Fallen Empire expansion, I’ve got quite a ways to go to catch up! There’s the rest of the expansion, then the Eternal Throne expansion, then Iokath, then Ossus, then Dantooine (and all of the in-between patches). If it holds my attention — and here’s hoping — then that’s a good summer’s worth of content.

IN THIS WEEK’S EXCITING EPISODE… Gault (a Bounty Hunter companion) shows up to take me on a treasure hunt for a mysterious ship laden with money. Sounds legit, especially coming from a one-horned devil. But since I’ve always had a soft spot for Gault, I’m totally on board for whatever whackadoodle scheme he’s running.

About which time I started having some *fierce* deja vu, so I looked up my previous SWTOR posts, and sure enough, I recorded back in 2017 that I had already fully beaten this chapter. But it wasn’t that much of a bother to rerun it, seeing as how I needed to brush up on this character and both Gault and Vette were delights to be around.

After that I jumped into Chapter XIV: The Mandalore’s Revenge. I got the feeling by the middle of this expansion that SWTOR decided to feature which ever companion characters whose voice actors could be rounded up. Apparently it’s Very Important that we go find this GEMINI droid on Darvannis, as it can be used to access and enslave all of the droid captains of the Eternal Fleet.

That drops us in with the Mandalorians, which are a faction that I never really took a shine to in Star Wars. I’m kind of lukewarm on any warriors-are-the-best culture in fantasy and sci-fi, because that kind of posturing gets tiresome and the actual logistics of a functioning society of brawlers doesn’t make sense when you think about it. Klingons, I’m looking at you.

This chapter was…. fine, for all intents and purposes. I liked Darvannis, which was an oasis-themed desert world, but everything here felt like going through the motions. The little floaty round droids would summon skytroopers at the least provocation, and I have to agree with the Mandalorians that there’s little honor — or excitement — in battling robots. Honestly, it makes me feel that the bad guys are pretty much Arcann, his sister, about a dozen pseudo-Jedi knights, and then a bunch of bots. Fighting robots in the Terminator was one thing, this is far less.

What really got my attention is the growing unease that SCORPIO presents. As an Imperial Agent, I’ve had her around for a good long while and haven’t forgotten that she started out as my foe for the better part of an entire planet. Her design is very creepy and that voice… that voice gives me chills with the monotone malice that it presents.

It’s kind of clear that she’s not on the up-and-up with us, but no matter how many “I don’t trust you, you slinky robot!” dialogue options I make, she’s still allowed to come along for the next mission. But I don’t trust you, you slinky robot. Not at all. Of course, I romanced a bug-man at one point, so who am I to talk?

Battle Bards Episode 145: Dark Age of Camelot

It’s Bard vs. Bard vs. Bard in this show, as the trio of MMO video game music lovers take sides in the Dark Age of Camelot debate! This tri-realm PvP game is rather unique for having published an “inspired by” album featuring music not in the game at all in addition to the actual soundtrack. So why not review both? Syp, Syl, and Steff are more than up for the task!

Episode 145 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Albion Town 1,” “Vinum Bonum,” “The Wizard,” and “Albion Campacorentin Forest”)
  • “Call to Arms (Frontiers)”
  • “Combat Music”
  • “Star of the County Down”
  • “Breton Melody”
  • “Moving”
  • “Hibernia Town”
  • “Albion Sailbury Plains”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox picks: “Ceta” from Rimworld, “Across the Stars” from Star Wars: The Old Republic, and “Main Theme” from Trine 3
  • Outro (feat. “Howth”)

Finding the roleplay in MMORPGs

The other day I was watching a retro YouTube games channel in which the host made the claim that JRPGs — Japanese roleplaying games — weren’t actually roleplaying games at all. They were fine games, she said, but they were their own format that had very little to do with actual roleplaying. The gist here is that these games present a story on rails that offers little to no directional input from the player and thus doesn’t offer a role to inhabit and play.

So, yeah, we’re going to get nitpicky and messy with terminology here today, and we’ll probably not come to any great conclusion, but that video really got me thinking about where the “roleplay” is in MMORPGs. In pen-and-paper games, it’s the meat of the game, with the rules and stat sheets and dice being the skeleton. That’s almost a given. There’s a large emphasis on roleplaying a character’s actions and decisions in a live gaming environment.

Of course, video games have taken this broader format and “gamified” it to a large degree — with a huge emphasis on combat. The term “RPG” has been watered down to the point where it’s now shorthand for any fantasy-ish game with hit points and leveling and loot. But again, that’s just the combat mechanics and not any actual roleplaying.

So where do we find, if anywhere, actual role play in MMOs? To me, roleplay is when we make the transition from seeing the avatar on the screen as a disconnected character to an extension of ourselves in some way. We’re inhabiting a role and exerting our will in this virtual setting. So to roleplay is to define and change the game world with our characters versus having the world shape and define us.

Again, where do we find that? There are a few answers here:

  • Our lengthy attachment to characters lends itself to a flexible “head canon” that layers in our imagination into the events of the game, even if any changes or developments only happen in our mind
  • Engaging in roleplaying activities and sessions with other player characters, whom  we can influence and be influenced
  • Having the game offer narrative choices that pay out in observable effects
  • Having the game offer adventuring choices that let us tackle problems in a variety of ways according to our own or our character’s preferences and abilities
  • Establishing morality meters that track our choices and show an overview of our character’s inner arc
  • Having NPCs “remember” your character and develop a virtual relationship with you that changes over time
  • Providing ways for players to interact and modify the game world (housing, mission creation, book creation) that can be observed and enjoyed by others

We’ve seen how different MMOs have taken stabs at injecting more roleplay elements into their game design to various levels of success. Guild Wars 2 offered an intriguing start that let players make choices as to their characters’ backgrounds that would have an impact on the early levels of gameplay. SWTOR put a lot of effort into branching dialogue and choices with (sometimes lasting) consequences. DDO and ESO both offer in-quest choices and options.

It should be noted that while some MMOs are better about giving roleplay tools and spaces to its players, they’re almost all severely lacking. These sorts of things are afterthoughts, if at all.

But I’m left wondering how much more roleplay could be designed into games if developers put a premium on it. We’re still lightyears behind a good old-fashioned tabletop D&D session in that regard, and perhaps we’ve been too conditioned to see our character as nothing but a moving pile of stats to relearn — or learn for the first time — how to roleplay.

Coming around on WoW Classic

When World of Warcraft Classic was announced back in 2017, I was quite excited for it. Those feelings subsequently cooled off in 2018, leaving me feeling as neutral as could be toward this project. But now that there’s a date set and testing going on for this vanilla version of WoW, I have to admit that my interest is kindling once more.

Maybe it is that crowd syndrome, where it’s easy to contract excitement when everyone around you is excited. I’m sure that’s part of it. But all of this coverage and talk has gotten me thinking about what I did like about the original game and curious to experience it once more — especially in light of going through LOTRO’s progression server and jumping back into City of Heroes as of late.

As I’ve been giving it serious thought, the appeal of playing this for me is largely based on two factors:

  1. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with how large and bloated MMOs grow over the years and yearn to go back to a simpler time where there was less — and less was more.
  2. I have a lot of strong memories of playing vanilla World of Warcraft and would love to return to those old stomping grounds that were forever changed by Cataclysm.

Sure, I still have some concerns, such as the uninteresting endgame and lack of something to do in the long run, but what I’m sensing is that the real meat of Classic is in the leveling process. I do wish that Blizzard would give us indication of whether or not it’d consider ever doing anything else with this server, other “era” servers, or a progression server, but I’m guessing that at least for the first year of its operation, WoW Classic will be *the* World of Warcraft that people are talking and playing (at least until the next expansion arrives).

It’s a ways off in any case — a good three months, and at the tail end of summer to boot. That’s kind of a shame, because if there’s a time of the year where I’ll have more spare time than normal, it’s probably the summer, but oh well. Can’t see a lot else coming around in August to give it serious competition, so WoW Classic is probably going to benefit from even more publicity due to a lack of other noise at the time.

Listening, watching, and reading other people talk about it has spurred my thinking about what I’d actually play. I know we’ll be able to grab names and server spots in mid-August, which is kind of nice, but the big choice is the character one. Again, I have a few thoughts vying for supremacy there:

  • Do I go with my very first World of Warcraft setting by making a Dwarf or Gnome and going through Dun Morogh? I really did love this area, although I’m less enthused about subsequent regions. A Gnome Warlock or Dwarf Hunter would take me back to my two main class/race pairings in vanilla, but there are other options to consider.
  • I’m sure a TON of people a going to Elwynn Forest, and there’s a temptation there — I love the progression of the first four or so zones there and I wouldn’t be hurting for class choice.
  • If I went Horde-side, it’d probably be a Tauren Shammy. That’s actually getting the most excitement from me, because I really do miss the totem life and old school enhancement fighting. The early zones hold a lot of nostalgia as well, and I’m keen on the Tauren racials too.

I’m even mulling over the idea of crafting, since it’ll actually be more useful here when you have fewer options for character development and progression past a certain point. Making bags would help with money, investing into leatherworking would be good for gear, but if I did anything, it’d probably be engineering for toys. I’m a sucker for toys.

Have any WoW Classic plans in the works? How are you feeling about this announcement date? I’d love to hear about it!

Fallout 76: Medics bring the pain

Probably one of my favorite things about Fallout 76 is finding outfits in the game to wear. I’m not even going to glance at the overpriced cash shop for these because I pick up plenty as I’m going about my adventures. Today’s nifty find was a paramedic outfit. Wee-ohh, wee-ohh, I’m commin’ to rescue you!

It’s hard to explain the appeal of this game, as there’s just as much I don’t like about it as I do. I guess that at the core of it is a semi-relaxing exploration experience of this not-too-drab post-apocalyptic setting, and I enjoy gradually uncovering locations and seeing what’s what in them. Environmental storytelling is pretty interesting to me, even if I leave an area not quite knowing what happened there.

Fallout 76 might be best subtitled as “Clubbing Robots to Death.” That’s what I seem to spend a lot of my time doing, and even though these are voiceless machines of death, I kind of feel bad slamming them around. Also, when did West Virginia get so many robots? It’s like a sci-fi amusement park out here!

I spent an evening’s play session actually spending time building up my base and crafting. I took a cue from one of the loading screens to make this accessible half-building that contains everything I need: a bed to rest, stash, workbenches, vending machine, and several turrets to protect me from invaders. The vending machine’s even drawn in other players, one of whom was nice enough to gift me a set of crafting plans free of charge.

I was really intrigued by the latest patch’s introduction of the Pioneer Scouts, so I made a very long journey to the Scout camp to join up. While I did get a uniform and several quest prompts, I quickly realized that I was too low-level to complete most of it. I guess my backpack’s going to need to wait until another day!

Without any NPCs or cutscenes, environmental storytelling has to carry the heavy burden of narrative in Fallout 76 — for better and for worse. One cemetery contained what looked like the remnants of a death/wicker cult, with tons of corpses having drank rat poison and these weird statues everywhere. Yet there was no explanation, quest, or resolution, which left me unsatisfied.

WE WILL NEVER FORGET YOU MR. PEBBLES

While I love exploring smaller and more intimate locales, I’m less crazy about huge industrial spaces, like this nuclear power plant. To make matters worse, this place was mined all over the entrance, and I blew myself up no less than three times trying to get in there. I hate mines.