Very worried about RIFT

Ever since last year’s sale of all of Trion Worlds’ games to Gamigo, I’ve grown increasingly concerned for RIFT. I didn’t care as much for Trion’s other games, for the most part, but RIFT was always really special to me. I’ve considered it one of the best so-called WoW clones to hit the scene and have enjoyed hundreds of hours in that MMO.

But since Gamigo took over, the new company hasn’t seemed that invested in doing anything with the game. It went ahead and canceled the (half-baked) progression server, which marks the last time I was playing, and has pushed out a seasonal pass and kept the events running. But for new content and hope of the future, there hasn’t been much of a sign.

At the very least, it doesn’t seem that Gamigo is rushing to cancel these games. It did close the doors on Atlas Reactor — to nobody’s surprise — but it has kept two versions of Defiance running, supported Trove, and thrown a lot of weight behind ArcheAge. RIFT kind of sits in the middle there, probably not as populated and profitable as AA and Trove, but not as forgotten as Defiance. Gamigo seems like the kind of company that’ll keep the lights on as long as there’s a trickle of income, which I guess is better than being cancel-happy like NCsoft.

Apart from deeply investing in developers and more content, I don’t see much that can be done for RIFT. There are some loyalists sticking with the game, but there’s probably a greater crowd that shied away the second it sold to Gamigo and haven’t returned because there hasn’t been a lot of reassurance that this title has a future. Players will give a lot of the benefit of the doubt when they are predisposed toward a game, but that goodwill only stretches so far. They need hope, and that’s not something that Gamigo is rushing out to give.

Personally, it’s disheartening. RIFT is one of those MMOs that I love returning to here and there, mostly because I love so many of its systems and its ease of use. The Chronicles, the minion system, the housing, the mix-and-match classes, the dynamic events, the cosmetics, the zone puzzles, the pets… it kind of checks a whole lot of boxes on my MMO wish list. Heck, even typing out this paragraph made me want to log back in — and maybe I will some day soon. But I’ll be nervous about it, at least until Gamigo makes up its mind one way or the other about what it is going to do with this game.

Shop Titans is the fantasy shopkeeping simulator I’ve been seeking

For a while now, I’ve been keeping my eye out for a good shopkeeping simulator — you know, a game where instead of being the heroes out in the wilderness, you’re the guy running the shop that supplies them. I’ve played a few titles here and there, but nothing has really filled this desire. Until now.

I have gotten in the habit of downloading interesting-looking free games onto my phone for that mythical moment when I’ll have free time to check them out. On a whim the other day, I booted this one up and — to my delight — found that it was exactly the fantasy shopkeeping sim that I’ve really wanted.

I’ll be up front on this: Shop Titans is a total freemium game. It’s got all the traps of this sort of free-to-play experience: lockboxes and energy timers and SPECIAL DEALS LIMITED TIME ONLY WOWZERS. Yet… yet it’s insanely relaxing and fun. I’m totally serious. I haven’t spent any money on this and have gotten a full week’s worth of satisfying play out of it.

The secret, I think, is that for all of its slightly annoying business model features, Shop Titans is a very well-done game. It has a bright and crisp art style, the UI is really responsive, the gameplay loop is oh so addicting, and the sounds pop. Even with timers, there’s almost always something to do or watch or plan, and it has become my go-to game when I have five minutes here or there.

At the start of Shop Titans, you get a small store and can use the ever-replenishing resources (ore, lumber, leather, herbs) to make goods. Those goods are displayed on racks, and random NPCs wander in and decide whether or not to purchase them. There’s a bit of strategy in this, as you can use energy (which replenishes with time or sales) to bargain customers down or buy items off of wandering vendors for cheap. You can even “small talk” customers as a way to gamble on more energy.

Part of the gameplay loop is equipping and sending out a small band of heroes on quests. They’ll progress through these automatically, and if successful, they’ll bring back rare crafting resources and other goodies to sell and use.

I’ve found that there’s a lot of planning ahead in Shop Titans, especially when you want to pursue more complicated recipes that will require stocking up on rare items and perhaps building intermediary items to use later. The more a good is crafted, it starts to accrue bonuses (more valuable, better chance at getting a quality upgrade, etc) until you max it out and it becomes a great staple to have around.

But really, for me, it’s just the satisfaction of watching customers trickle into my shop, check out my decorations, and pay me for stuff. Did I mention how the animations are pretty terrific too? It’s a small thing, but I’m impressed that when you sell a hero an item, he or she will then equip it right there. It feels less abstract that way. And did I mention that you get to decorate the place — and that decorations also have benefits (when they are admired by NPCs, you get a shot of energy)?

Anyway, I can understand why the freemium side of Shop Titans would earn it a lot of side eye, but I don’t feel that pressured into buying anything. I’m just playing for fun and figuring out what next steps I want to take in growing my store. I haven’t been this excited over an iPhone game in a while, and I thought I’d share.

Battle Bards Episode 157: Chronicles of Spellborn

An odd, offbeat, and short-lived MMO, Chronicles of Spellborn hardly registered on most of the gaming community’s consciousness. However, this fantasy title has not escaped the attention of the Battle Bards, especially with Assassin Creed’s Jesper Kyd composing most of the score. It’s a strange score, with plenty of otherworldly tunes, but just perfect for this team to tackle!

Episode 157 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Main Theme,” “Lullaby,” and “Palace at Night”)
  • “Armada Combat”
  • “Stonedeep”
  • “Aldenvault”
  • “Silent Child”
  • “Gleaming Cauldron Tavern”
  • “Fountain”
  • “Traitor’s Rest Tavern”
  • Which one did we like most?
  • Listener notes: Katriana
  • Jukebox Picks: “Afterimage” from Einhänder, “Main Theme” from Yonder, and “Colored Engine” from FAR: Lone Sails
  • Outro (feat. “Housing”)
  • Stinger: Battle Bards’ t-shirt store

LOTRO: The shocking story of Gandalf that you can’t handle!

So yeah, I’ve decided to use clickbait headlines for all of Bio Break’s posts from now on. Anything to drive up traffic, right? Ahem. Anyway.

Minas Morgul! I have spent most of my LOTRO time in the past couple of weeks charging through (well, plodding through, as I am wont to do) the latest expansion. I’ve already finished the Mordor Besieged map, which was fine if a little repetitive. Getting into Morgul Vale felt like the “real” expansion content — a new map (versus a repurposed one) dominated by the rather colorful multi-tiered city.

I guess I never really thought of Minas Morgul (the city) as the counterpoint to Minas Tirith, which probably illustrates how slow I am on the take. But it’s cool that there’s this dark version of the bright city, and I’m looking forward to exploring it. Probably will be littered with skeletons. That’s my bold prediction.

I’m happy to report that combat is still going fairly well. Not super-fast or anything, but between reworking my rotation and the jump in gear levels that the expansion epic quests provide, it’s more than enough to keep me moving through packs of mobs with little worry. At least I’m sweating less often than before.

However, when I switch over to my Minstrel, I’m much more content with that combat style. It feels way more satisfying and relaxing to yell at things and slam down a righteous beat, I guess.

The epic story moving through Mordor Besieged was, again, just okay. There were a few good moments but a lot more of those SSG-trademark “treading water” quests where you’re doing a lot of busy work but the narrative isn’t moving much.

Probably of most interest was the conclusion of that section, in which we did actually find out something surprising about Gandalf (I won’t spoil it, but it was a neat twist) and confront Sauron face-to-face. No misty apparition here; Sauron is in full lich mode, sporting a rather ugly face and a right arm that looks pent up with evil magic.

All in all, I’m really enjoying myself. I pass a lot of the time examining the details of the world, such as these fantastic doors in Grimbeorn’s home. Seriously, those are just amazing how it works in the trees and stain glass into the branches. And there are these little cute animals in the patterns behind it.

Flying high in Final Fantasy XIV

You know that scene in Fellowship of the Ring where Sam stops in a field and has that realization that if he takes one more step, he’ll be the furthest away from home that he’s ever been? I had my own Sam Moment in FFXIV last week as my character finally caught back up to where my original character was — and then pushed deeper into Heavensward than I ever have before.

It was actually a really good feeling. I’m not blazing on fire for FFXIV, but ever since my re-return a month or so ago, I’ve been wondering if I would be interested enough to catch up to where I used to be. It was a tiny bit of a grind getting Mechinist up to scrap — and then, hilariously, I switched back to Scholar anyway because I liked having a healing fairy at my side — but overall I didn’t experience much difficulty getting here.

I want to get through the entirety of Heavensward at least to give the much-vaunted story a real chance. Fans rave about this expansion as being the start of the “real good” stuff, and so far? Well, it’s not horrible, but it’s not page-turning excitement either. At least Alphanerd got a coat to cover his weird pants-tights he has going on. And any scene with Tataru is gold. And the ninja girl is more than tolerable.

Part of my middling feelings is that right here is the narrative nexus between dragons and elves, two things — you might recall — I am less than enthusiastic about. I’d be alright if Heavensward ends with the dragons eating the elves (one does, but it’s sort of a love thing? They kind of lost me with that.) and then the dragons dying of indigestion. Listening to people fawn all over majestic sky-lizards hurts my eyes from the rolling.

At least I’ve gotten to the point where my small party is on an actual journey instead of dithering around in zones and then returning to Ishgard for yet another pow-wow in the Count’s quarters. The forward momentum makes me want to log back in to see where I go next and what happens.

So here’s something cool: I finally got to fly in FFXIV! I took a few minutes to figure out the aether currents system, which fortunately proved to be a lot more straight-forward to navigate. Basically, you unlock flying zone by zone. There’s about 10 or so exploration points you have to find and five quests to do, and that’s it. Ding! It’s only slightly gated (with the quests appearing at a point in the MSQ), but I felt like I unlocked it at a good point without being strung along for too long.

Compared to World of Warcraft, flying itself in FFXIV feels slightly more clunky, but that’s true of a lot of this game’s controls. It works, but it’s not as… tight as I’m used to in WoW. I did have fun zipping around the zone, exploring the spots on the map that were hidden, and checking out things from a high vantage point. Good stuff.

Sunday Serenade:

Time for another Sunday morning dose of random songs that I’ve been listening to this past week! Welcome to Sunday Serenade — now let’s crank the jams up with…

“Stage 1” from Heiankyo Alien — I’ve never even heard of this Gameboy title before, but man, this tune got in my ear and refused to leave. Fine with me. I love the GB sound.

“Big Ape City” from Donkey Kong Land — Yup, I’m exploring Gameboy music this week. Just another catchy little ditty… starring Diddy Kong.

“What is Love (Live)” by Howard Jones — Kind of a nonsensical song, but it’s hard not to croon along to it even so. Loved hearing a live rendition of this from the ’80s.

“Collide” by Howie Day — The beat and guitar make this an ideal driving track… just mellow enough to keep going for over five minutes without a worry.

Nostalgia Lane: Dungeon!

Back when I was a kid, I’d say that a majority of the vacations our family took was to visit other members of our family. Every so often we’d make the long drive down from Indiana to Texas to see our aunt, uncle, and four cousins, which was just fine with us. Not only did we like having cousins to play with, they had great toys — an NES (which was amazing to us NES-deprived Olivetti kids) and a closet full of board games.

One Thanksgiving in particular (I forget which year), we all got hooked on playing a particular fantasy board game that was in my cousin’s room. It was a bit like D&D, just more simplistic and fast-paced. We raced around a dungeon, fought monsters, grabbed loot, and enjoyed the fantasy of it all. There weren’t a lot of board games that me and my brothers all liked to play together, but this one seemed to fit the bill.

Years passed and I forgot about this game as I did about so much from childhood. However, something this year triggered a faint memory of the board game, and out of curiosity I tried to track it down. I asked my brothers, but seeing as how they were younger than I when we played it, they have no recollection. Or as my brother Jared said, “You were always more into that fantasy roleplaying stuff than we were.” True that.

Many, many Google searches later, and I finally found the title of my mysterious dungeon-themed board game. It was… Dungeon! Probably should have started with that, but oh well. I found it! I know it’s silly, but reclaiming parts of my long-forgotten childhood is important to me, especially when I can pass it on to my own kids.

Anyway, Dungeon! is a very old game, dating back to 1975 in its original incarnation. It’s kind of like a gateway to D&D proper, containing the stripped-down mechanics of dungeon crawling and looting. It got reprinted a few times, and the pictures above are the ones that I saw when we played it.

In Dungeon!, you pick a starting hero (human fighter, elf wizard, dwarf cleric, halfling rogue), each with their own strengths and weaknesses. They then start to explore and conquer a sprawling dungeon made up of six levels. Earlier levels contain weaker monsters and lesser treasures, but it gets tougher when you move up in levels.

There’s a bit of dice rolling involved during combat encounters that offer something different than just whittling down hit points. For example, make some bad rolls, and you could lose treasure or even die and have to grab a new hero. There are some items and spells that can be used during adventures, and the whole aim is to gather a set amount of treasure (which varies depending on the class) before anyone else.

Nothing super deep, but it was fun — and I did ask for it on my Christmas wish list this year in the hopes that I can try it out on my fledgling household heroes.