LOTRO: Finishing up Minas Morgul

Out of the four major game projects that I wanted to accomplish this month, wrapping up Lord of the Rings Online’s latest expansion ended up taking the longest. It wasn’t a bad thing, just a long journey, as it took quite some time to slowly ascend the tiers of Minas Morgul and do the approximately billion quests that were on each one.

But slow and steady Syp wins the race, and eventually I was not only level 130, but I had moved all the way to the epilogue of the Black Book of Mordor and finished pretty much all of the non-daily, non-fellowship quests in the expansion zones.

Honestly? It was probably the most satisfying LOTRO expansion I’ve done since maybe Rohan. I wouldn’t say that any of it was OH WOWZERS GUYS THIS IS INCREDIBLE, but it hit all the sweet spots of being interesting, keeping me moving forward, being accessible, and not being frustrating. I thought that going into Morgul Vale would be a nonstop haunted house, but in truth it was more like a sad and corrupted place where you could still see the outlines of what used to be beautiful about it.

The city itself was eerily reminiscent of Minas Tirith (for obvious reasons), although a little smaller and obviously far more evil. Right about the time I had finished going up and down and up and down the place, SSG added an interior stablemaster of sorts to let you ascend and descend quicker. Nice for those who come after me, I guess, but a little late in my case.

The stories? Some were pretty gripping and some lost me completely. I think LOTRO has saturated my mind with long-named characters to the point where I forget who most of these people are unless it is explicitly stated to me, and even then, I am often asking “why should I care about this one?”

I think the biggest disappointment was the Black Book of Mordor itself — the new epic quest line that wraps up in this expansion. The studio was really trying to tell a different kind of tale here, a sort of extended flashback and a mystery, but boy did it lose me constantly. I got the main gist — that there was a king of Gondor that got goaded into trying to assault Minas Morgul, got trapped there, and was slowly corrupted while his friends tried to help him get home — but so much of the epic was “dead people talking to other dead people” and I’m thinking, why does this matter to my character now? Why is this mystery important to the matter at hand? I guess it has to be because Gandalf said it was, but I never understood the urgency.

What were far better, usually, were the smaller stories. There was a really creepy quest that you’re getting decaying things for this small family living in a shack, only to be treated to an unnerving twist at the end. Minas Morgul is a sad place, but the saddest tale of all was the discovery of a bathhouse where the residents of that tier were drowned one by one in its waters.

There were heroes — Faramir and Eowyn return, huzzah — and comedic characters to help break the tension. I love the weird goblin Vaznik or whatever his name is and how he thinks he’s a king but he really functions as the Rangers’ sidekick. I could be up for more of him in the future.

In any case, I’m done. At least, until SSG adds more content to this expansion, which will obviously happen because there’s a big section down southeast that hasn’t been filled in with missions yet. For the time being, it’s a good feeling to have this expansion conquered so that I can turn my attention elsewhere in the new year.

FFXIV: Heavensward finished, as is my tale… for now

After a two-month stint back in Final Fantasy XIV, I’m stepping away from the game for other worlds. It isn’t an acrimonious split, but one that I feel needs to happen to make some time to explore other titles. I got my fill on FFXIV for now, so it’s time to let it rest and let interest in it recharge.

I actually feel really good about stopping now, as I just finished up Heavensward. Not all of the patch content, mind you, but the core expansion itself. Back when I restarted in late October, I hadn’t even finished ARR, and in the intervening two months, I got through all of 3.0. That feels like a good accomplishment. I’d really wanted to see what the Heavensward fuss was about and to give FFXIV another chance to impress.

So did it? Impress? Well, yes and no. I’ll start with the negatives, because it’s not as if this MMO really changed from the last several times I played it. There’s still too much trope-worthy head nodding and fists-under-chins and other overused emotes. The combat is plodding and dull. Every guild I find seems to talk a lot the first night and then never thereafter (was it something I said?). And the vaunted Main Story Quests themselves are an exercise in walking places, watching wayyyy too many cutscenes of non-importance, and sometimes fighting a carefully groomed coterie of three bad guys. Then a dungeon every dozen missions or so.

But I was able to see more positive this time around, and I want to be fair. There are some *great* story moments. The story as a whole is like a 3.5-star fantasy book, too many dragons and self-pity for my liking. But every once in a while, FFXIV managed to surprise me, or make me laugh, or give me some really excellent eye candy. I did want to know what happened both to the story and its ever-expanding cast of characters, but my patience started to wear thin on how long it took for anything to happen at all.

What else did I like? Let’s see. It’s pretty. Heavensward is really good-looking and wasn’t a non-stop snow zone as I had originally assumed. There are some terrific fantasy locales that the artists did a bang-up job on. I got my healing fix over the past two months and made peace with the terrible things that they did to the Scholar. I rather enjoyed the Mechinist class tales. And flying was a hoot.

The end credit sequence of Heavensward was about 15 minutes or so, delivering a whole mixture of interesting beats. There was exaltation, sadness, and not just a few cliffhangers and new threats to keep the story ball rolling. Maybe in a few months I’ll come back just to find out what happens next. At least I’ll be in a good spot to pick up on the Dragonsong War series and then into Stormblood.

But for now, yes, I need a break. I had to push myself through the last 20 or so quests, trying to get across that finish line before apathy overtook me. I’m glad I did, but I’m also glad I’m able to look to a different challenge come January.

So farewell, FFXIV. I don’t regret coming back, even after my snit fit last spring. Heavensward might not have been this life-changing amazing experience, but you know what? It was pretty good even so.

Bio Break 2019 Wrap-up: Massively Overpowered

For my final post of this “look back at gaming, blogging, and podcasting in 2019” week here at Bio Break, I wanted to share what I’ve been up to over at Massively Overpowered. Counting both the old and new sites, I’ve been writing for Massively for a full decade now. This was the first full year where I scaled back on news writing due to my main job taking up more time, although I was still pretty active in special projects elsewhere.

I did write the occasional news post as well as the weekly MOP Up column, which gathered up smaller news stories that we either didn’t have time to write or weren’t worth a full post on their own.

I also clocked another full year of doing the Massively OP Podcast with my co-host and editor Bree, which means that I’ve done something like 500 to 600 of these shows to date. Which is so very weird if I think about it for too long. Probably the highlight of the podcasting year was when we did a special City of Heroes secret server exposé show that helped get the game revived for real. In a very small way, I played a part in reviving an MMORPG, and that does make me happy.

So let’s talk columns now. I traded duties on two columns with MOP’s Eliot: Perfect Ten (a top 10 list) and Into the Super-verse (a superhero MMO column). On my own I handled Jukebox Heroes (MMO music reviewed), One Shots (community game screenshots), LOTRO Legendarium (the Lord of the Rings Online column), and Global Chat (curated MMO blogger quotes).

Pieces I’m particularly satisfied with from 2019 include the following:

Special shout-out to my excellent colleagues at Massively OP, who genuinely care about these games and the effort to get our readers the best and most entertaining information. Our staff got a lot bigger this year and I’m proud to be a part of this team.

Bio Break 2019 Wrap-up: Battle Bards

Battle Bards — the world’s first, only, and best MMO music podcast — had another tremendous year in 2019. Steff, Syl, and I produced 23 brand-new episodes for our listeners to enjoy, along with a handful of new Retro Reprise shows as well. If you missed any, now’s your chance to catch up!

As for Retro Reprise:

 

Bio Break 2019 Wrap-up: Solo gaming

Merry Christmas everyone! And since I’m posting this on the one day of the year that virtually no one is going to be reading it, I could just cut and paste entire paragraphs from Jane Austen here. I won’t, but I could.

Instead, I wanted to share the 10 solo (non-MMO) games that I genuinely enjoyed this year. Looking back at 2019, I think I played more solo titles than I have in a very long time. I’m finding a nice balance between MMOs and these, and it’s great to have a change in the gameplay type when I’m in the mood for it.

Here’s what I liked the best out of what I played:

The Outer Worlds — Easily my “game of the year” pick for 2019, if I had awards and they carried weight with anyone. I loved this Firefly-Fallout homage, from its corporatism-run-amok-in-the-stars to its black humor to its diverse ways of solving each quest. Really looking forward to any DLC or expansions Obsidian wants to make for it.

Pillars of Eternity — Speaking of Obsidian, I finished up a long playthrough of this title back in January and was generally happy with it. I was planning on doing the expansion or the sequel, but somehow that still hasn’t materialized.

Return of the Obra Dinn — This got so many awards in 2018 that I had to play it last January, and I am truly glad I did. There’s nothing quite like this detective story at sea, even if it used graphics straight out of the 1980s.

The Avowed — I got this based on some strong word of mouth and was generally happy with it. The Avowed is a retro-styled adventure game that came out not too long ago about demon hunters in NYC. There are some choices, some good tales, and a few tricky puzzles.

The Long Dark — I absolutely loved the setting for this quiet, snowy post-apocalyptic game. Its survival aspects felt a little too brutal for me, but I’ve been told that there’s an easier mode I should go check out and play.

Subnautica — Along the lines of survival games, I didn’t expect Subnautica to win me over, but win me it did. And not just me, but my kids as well. My eldest son in particular loves exploring the sea and creating different vehicles and structures. It’s so pretty and definitely a nice change of pace than the usuals in this genre.

The Last Door — A modern horror adventure game with REALLY retro graphics that manages to actually be scary? It does just that, even though I ultimately was unsatisfied with the story.

Outer Wilds — Not to be confused with The Outer Worlds, this is a very odd Groundhog Day-in-space story of a doomed solar system and an intrepid band of alien explorers. I’d love to actually finish this game if it wasn’t for the wonky controls.

A Plague Tale — Took me a while to finish, but I really did like this alternate history take on the Black Plague. I think it lost its punch about midway through and was a little more gory than I would have liked, but there’s some great imagination with this one.

Shop Titans — As bashful as it was to admit it, this freemium game grabbed me and hasn’t let go since. Its simple premise of operating a fantasy store for heroes is one that appeals strongly, and I’ve found it’s a relaxing game for a minute or two here and there.

Bio Break 2019 Wrap-up: MMO gaming

One of the nice things about doing the gaming goals post at the start of each month is that it makes it easy to look back over an entire year and see the journey I’ve taken in various games. MMORPGs remained a constant in my gaming diet — and looking over 2019, I played quite a few of them! Some got only a session or two, while others remained constant for many months.

I feel like I got a lot accomplished in them as well. I had fun, for starters, and had great experiences with other people. But I also chewed through some big updates and expansions, leveled up characters, and hit satisfying milestones.

So let’s look at the games, going from most played to least. The one MMO I played from January through December was Lord of the Rings Online, which makes sense because (a) I really like the game and (b) I cover it in my column. Leveling through the progression server and bringing my main through the Vales of Anduin and Minas Morgul gave me a lot to do.

Second to LOTRO in frequency was Dungeons and Dragons Online, although I may have played this less if we look at total time in-game. Most of this was group runs with some side solo adventures. I ended up taking a break from DDO this fall as I wasn’t feeling it as strong and didn’t want to make playing a chore rather than a joy.

Elder Scrolls Online popped up a couple of times this year: first at the start, when I finished up Morrowind, and then in June, when I went through part of Elsweyr. Final Fantasy XIV was even more spotty than that, but I am surprised to see that I logged four months in that game during the last 12. I’m taking another break from it, but at least I beat the core of Heavensward.

City of Heroes is another game I should talk about, seeing as how it came back from the dead and all. This was a summer renaissance for me, giving me several sessions of grouping fun and nostalgia-fueled memories. I also wrapped up Fallen Empire in SWTOR but couldn’t make much headway in Eternal Throne before losing interest.

World of Warcraft was mostly absent from my gaming calendar until this past summer, when I returned mostly thanks to the excitement around WoW Classic. Classic only proved engrossing for a month or so, but I got four months in the regular game before the whole #BoycottBlizzard convinced me that I didn’t want to be supporting this title for now.

Those were the big ones, but I had a lot of smaller experiences and sessions. Fallout 76 was engrossing for a couple of months, Torchlight Frontiers’ alpha this past spring made me anticipate the release more than ever, and Chronicles of Spellborn’s emulator gave me a weird chance to go back and experience this title. I dipped into the MUD Starborn, very niche fantasy title Eldevin, DC Universe Online, the pre-alpha Fractured, and a few sessions in ArcheAge Unchained.

Finally, I made sure to log back in to Fallen Earth to say farewell to one of my most favorite MMORPGs before it went offline in October.

I’d say, all in all, it was a really good year of gaming. There are a few of my “old faithful” titles that I didn’t see this year, namely Star Trek Online, Neverwinter, and Guild Wars 2, so those might be due for a personal revival.

Bio Break 2019 Wrap-up: Retro gaming

We’re just over a week away from the end of 2019 — and this decade — and I thought I’d devote an entire week of Bio Break to looking back at the year and what I’ve done in gaming, podcasting, and writing.

For the first day, I want to share my retro gaming adventures., of which I had quite a few this year. To date, I’ve examined somewhere around 58 titles for this series, some of which were just one-shot looks while most others were extensive playthroughs. This year I explored nine games, which seems pretty respectable, especially considering that two of them were large CRPGs.

My retro gaming series is one that I squeeze into my lunch breaks (the days that I have them). I’ve been trying to go through my GOG (and, to a much lesser extent, Steam) library and justify all of the titles I’ve purchased over the years. 58 games might seem like a lot, but it’s just a fraction of the 257 titles that are residing there. I should pick up the pace!

I wrote up a trio of posts on RTS favorites of past years that I wanted to revisit, which was both delightful and disturbing. Warcraft II, Age of Empires II, and Majesty all got a one-post treatment from me here. I meant to get to Rise of Nations but didn’t find the time.

Other than those, I did three straight-up adventure games (Monkey Island 1 and 2 as well as The Dagger of Amon Ra), two CRPGs (Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines and Fallout New Vegas) and one adventure/RPG hybrid (Quest for Glory IV). Monkey Island was a hoot to play, especially as both games had a ton of humor and offered the option to flip between the original and remake versions. Vampire held up surprisingly well over the years since my last playthrough, although I do agree with critics that say that the latter part of the game feels rushed (and don’t get me started on that sewer level!).

But I was most excited to play Fallout New Vegas for the very first time, especially considering how it’s developed this cult status over the past nine years. It was strange to be playing it while also playing Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds, which is kind of considered to be the spiritual successor to New Vegas.

In any case, I put a lot of effort in these playthroughs, and I hope you enjoyed the write-ups on them. You can read or revisit them by clicking on these links:

Fallout New Vegas

The Dagger of Amon Ra

Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines

LeChuck’s Revenge

The Secret of Monkey Island

Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness

Sunday Serenade: A Hat in Time, Ane Brun, Alan Walker, and more!

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…

“Rush Hour” from A Hat in Time — A Hat in Time is an amazing soundtrack that continues to impress, such as this Japanese-infused action track. I must have played it six times in a row when I first heard it.

“Alone” by Alan Walker — Am I alone? This song assures me that I am not. That could be vaguely threatening.

“Looking for the Summer” by Chris Rea — So mellow that I felt myself unwind just listening to this, yet memorable enough that I wanted to hear it again.

“All My Tears” by Ane Brun — Well, I think I just found the song I want played at my funeral.

Cryptic springs forth with Magic Legends

For a couple of years now, Cryptic has tantalized us with the knowledge that it was working on some sort of Magic MMORPG, but other than a vague initial announcement, it clammed up for a good while there. That silence was broken last week with the official reveal of Magic Legends and a cinematic teaser.

So what do we actually know about this upcoming title? Not very much, unfortunately. Other than its name, the only useful info I’ve gleaned is:

  • Cryptic’s standing behind this as an “MMO action RPG”
  • The studio’s been working on it since 2017
  • It’s set in the Magic Planeswalker universe, across its “iconic planes”
  • Players will get to pick one of five classes (presumably one for each classic Magic color) but can swap between them as they play
  • It’s coming out for PC, PS4, and Xbox One
  • Former Star Trek Online producer Stephen Ricossa is helming this project
  • Beta signups are live, with more details will be revealed in January 2020

Me? I’m pumped about this. I love me some Cryptic MMOs, and between this and Torchlight Frontiers, the studio is expanding its library offerings for a strong future. I used to dabble in Magic the Gathering for a while and was always intrigued by the card art, so I’m intrigued what exploring such a game universe would be like.

I am curious what it’s going to be like, since in my mind there are two big differences here between this and other fantasy MMOs. The first is that since there are many different planes (settings) in Magic, then Legends might offer players the ability to jump between them instead of mostly adventuring in the same game world. Maybe one zone per plane?

The second is about the class structure. Assuming that it is one class per color (red, black, white, blue, and green) and you can swap between them, then it sounds like there’s potential for a lot of flexibility in playstyles. I’d love to see a skill collection system as a way to give homage to the card game, but I guess I’ll have to wait to find out more next month.

The teaser trailer is a bit dorky — I’m not a fan of the visuals here — but I’m so happy that this is actually happening that I won’t quibble about slow-mo angry people casting spells. Next year will be very interesting indeed!

Yes, Your Grace demo impressions

Next up on my whimsical journey through my Steam backlog was a demo for the upcoming Yes, Your Grace. I’ve been hearing interesting things about this pixel art kingship sim, and I was more than eager to try it out.

In YYG, you’re King Eryk, the monarch of a small but bird-filled kingdom that’s dealing with a lot of issues both internal and external. Every week, petitioners line up to be heard, and as king, you have to make decisions how to deal with each person. This is trickier than you might think, as you only have limited resources (such as gold or generals) to apply to situations, and you never quite know if getting involved is a smart thing.

What was far more interesting to me is that this isn’t more of a blank slate; the king, his family, and his kingdom all have personalities and backstories, which are discovered in little scenes and dialogue that Eryk encounters after he’s done with throne duties. He’s got three daughters, some of whom are fighting and some of whom are snail-obsessed. There’s a curse upon his family, alliances to be forged, and the specter of a crushing defeat by enemy armies right from the very beginning of the game.

I am not exaggerating here: I was raptly captivated by the unfolding tale of this game as I played it, as were all of my children who came in to read and laugh at the various discussions. I agonized over my choices, traded a daughter for an army, and found myself groaning when I hit a cliffhanger that marked the end of the demo.

That was cruel. I wanted to see how my choices bore out and how flexible this game’s narration would ultimately be. I suppose I’m just going to have to wait until next year, when it’s due to release.