Posted in Retro Gaming

Fallout New Vegas: The Mr. House always wins

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2010’s Fallout New Vegas. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

As we come to the final post in this playthrough, I found that it was a stunning coincidence that this past week, Star Trek actor René Auberjonois passed away. Only when that happened did I read his obit and discover that he was the voice of Mr. House in Fallout New Vegas, a fact that everyone seemed to know but me. It certainly makes playing the game that much more poignant, and I am even more glad I’m siding with Mr. House now.

Let’s move into endgame, shall we? The goal here is to put Mr. House and his army of Securitrons in a position where they’re sure to win the final battle, and part of this means to remove the Brotherhood of Steel from the equation. They hang out in a very confusing bunker full of high-tech gear and gizmos. Veronica, my companion, has a funny moment when she uses an intercom as if she was ordering drive-thru.

I’m always about the more elegant solution to quests than simply shooting up the place, so in this case, it requires stealing some keycards and then activating the bunker’s self-destruct sequence. I mean, would you be able to pass up the chance to activate self-destruct just to see what happens? Definitely not.

Veronica is somewhat less than pleased that I entombed her whole faction, but those eyes and the slight smile tells me that she’s not going to hold it against me. She takes off, and I head back to Novac to grab Boone as my travel companion.

There’s one other quest that Mr. House wants me to do, which is to protect the NCR’s president. He shows up to make the world’s loooooooongest speech, and if I was a better secret service agent, I probably would have found and eliminated the sniper that took off his head. But I didn’t. And that’s OK. The game continued anyway.

Thus we come to the final mission of the game, and boy is it a showstopper. A massive battle breaks out all over Hoover Dam between the NCR, Legion, and Securitrons. I dive into the midst of this, attempting to power up the dam for Mr. House (who needs the juice), while the Boomers send in giant bombers to help out. Going through this shortly after beating The Outer Worlds, you can definitely see similarities in how Obsidian did both of those games’ final missions (complete with friendly factions coming in to help out).

With Boone, Rex, and a securitron of my own, I had a private army to help me navigate the battlefield. Wasn’t tough at all, I just let them do most of the fighting.

Eventually I took the fight right to the big head honcho of the Legion, who shows up in this intimidating mask and begs for a fight. Again, I’m not about fighting if there’s a better way… and there was. My speech skill was 93, but I had a couple of “Meeting People” magazines that gave me a +10 speech bump. Therefore I was able to talk him into taking his dirty Legion and performing a full-on retreat without having to shed any more blood. Then, with the same speech skill, I told the commander of the NCR army that Mr. House was now in control of the Dam and he needed to bow out. Everyone left, I didn’t have to fight, and I felt awesome.

Thanks for a great time, Mr. House. I don’t regret fighting for you at all. Robots are the future!

With that, the game came to an end, and a series of narrated slides told me the fates of various characters, cities, and factions. For the most part, it was pretty upbeat — I helped more people than hurt, although it was sad to see Rex die at the age of 200 because I didn’t spare time to get him fixed.

And that’s Fallout New Vegas, folks! Obviously, I didn’t explore every locale or finish every side quest, but I feel that this was a good run even so.

So what did I think? First of all, I definitely agree with those who say that this is more of a true sequel to Fallout 1 & 2 than Bethesda’s games were. It has that classic wasteland feel, gritty humor, and tons and tons of choices. Obsidian did a pretty good job letting me play the character I wanted and working my way through quests in a variety of ways. The combat was decent (I used That Gun from the moment I bought it on, as it was that amazing), the perks fun, and there’s some legitimately funny moments.

I also appreciated that even though New Vegas was the key location, the game didn’t get as much into urban exploration as I feared. Most of it was out in the wasteland, even toward the end of the game, and I enjoyed that a lot more.

Criticisms? Probably the look: The graphics are a little rough and I got so sick of tan-and-brown-and-gray by the end. I know that there are some mods out there that make the landscape look more interesting and attractive, and I can understand why people did it. Also, I wish that there could have been an on-screen minimap instead of having to pull up the Pip-Boy each and every time I wanted to look at where I was and where I was going. That got old, fast.

That’s it! Join me in the new year for a new retro gaming series. I hope you’ve enjoyed this one as much as I did writing and playing it.

Posted in General

Marie’s Room delivers a small but tantalizing tale

With most of my December gaming projects finished and some days off ahead, I wanted to poke at some smaller games to fill out the days. First up was Marie’s Room, a free walking simulator that contains no save games, as it’s designed to be played start to finish in one short (~30 minutes) session.

I came because I’ve really missed a good walking simulator tale this year, and despite its short length, Marie’s Room had good reviews. I’ll take short and sweet. Even short and bittersweet.

A woman returns to the room of her childhood friend after something happened to damage their relationship in the past. Filling out the story — literally, on the pages of a journal — means carefully combing through the room, uncovering a very small handful of clues, and learning about these two girls.

It’s not a super deep game, which wasn’t really possible for this game’s length, but I’d say that if you’re in the mood for a thoughtful short story experience, it’s perfect. I learned a lot about these two characters in that time, at least the details that mattered, and gradually came to understand some of the key events and decisions that they made in their high school years.

I wouldn’t say that there’s a shocking twist, but at the start I thought that the narrative was going to go one way when it ended up juking in a different direction. The soft, sad voice of the unseen narrator made me think of Edith Finch and wishing that I got to go on a longer journey with her.

But hey, a free 30 minute game that made an impact is a sort of rare treasure these days. I’m not here to spoil it, because I think it deserves a recommendation and a playthrough if you like this sort of game.

Posted in Final Fantasy

FFXIV is the homeowners association of MMORPGs

In this latest bout of FFXIV play, I’ve spend a lot of mental time sorting out the pros and cons of this MMO. Despite what white or black knights might purport, there’s more than enough to fill two solid columns’ worth of features, almost to the point where (for me) it’s a 1:1 ratio.

I don’t really care to go into this list, save to discuss the one feature that could be seen as either a pro or a con, depending on what your preferences are and how you like to play. And that’s for Final Fantasy XIV’s tendency to be, for lack of a better analogy, a homeowners association.

An HOA dictates the laws of the neighborhood it governs, requiring home owners to comply in how they handle their property and house. It limits free expression in order to gain a theoretical higher standard of community beauty and cleanliness. HOA neighborhood cultivate a copy-and-paste look among its members’ lots. And if you enjoy everything looking that specific brand of nice, like having access to certain amenities, and like having someone else take care of these rules for you, then I suppose HOAs are enjoyable places to live.

Of course, if you’re all about free expression and using your home and property as you see fit, an HOA is a constricting beast indeed. Your choice is either removed or pared down.

That’s FFXIV in a nutshell. Looks great, and if you’re into its specific brand of progression and play, it can be a lot of fun. You don’t have to worry about gimping your character, because the game handles your leveling and balance. You go into a dungeon, you don’t have to worry that other classes will be missing essential skills or talents they need, because they’ve been given the same boilerplate build as everyone else.

But if you prize choice and freedom, especially in your character’s progression, then FFXIV starts to feel very restricting. There is some manner of choice: You can choose gear (although you can’t progress past certain points in the storyline if you can’t pass an ilevel check). You can swap jobs to play whatever class suits you that day. You can customize your appearance, house, and fling out whatever pets and mounts you collected.

Yet compared to most other MMOs, FFXIV is a barren wasteland of character choice. There’s nothing in the way of stat distribution or skill selection (although there used to be). No talent trees. No alternate specs. Once you pick a job, you’re playing the same exact job as anyone else that picks it. You may be more or less skilled as others playing that job, but you won’t have a different toolbox than they will.

I guess that when I don’t think about it too much, I can avoid having this HOA feel bother me. Of course, I do think about it. I am not nearly as attached to my character in FFXIV because of this design. I don’t really look forward to leveling as much because my path has been fully predestined by the developers.

I do miss how the game used to be, back when I first played. At least then you could collect cross-class skills to mix-and-match as a sort of secondary system. That wasn’t perfect and was already on its way to being outdated, but I thought it was a good idea. A combination of collection and choice.

Oh well. It is what it is. I’m sure a lot of folks have made their peace with this design, such as my FC when I asked them what they thought of it. In a way, it makes FFXIV a lot more like some single-player action or adventure games rather than one with RPG flexibility.

Posted in Music

Sunday Serenade: Zelda, Mario Kart, Parry Gripp, 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…

“Moo Moo Meadows” from Mario Kart Wii — Not only is this track’s name fun to say, but it’s a gee-willikers good time to hear as well! Mario Kart doesn’t pretend to be high class; it’s dorky music that’s catchy once you get over your pretensions.

“Lorule Castle” from The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds — This is a good companion piece. Another famous Nintendo franchise, another “just having fun” tune. This time, it’s more of a swashbuckling adventure piece.

“Crazy” by FDVM — Lots of songs out there about guys falling for “crazy” girls. Guess it’s not as exciting to sing about sane, balanced, and smart women?

“Don’t I Know Enough” by I am Oak — Poppy track that fuses an old folk sound with a more modern beat. Makes for great driving music, I’d wager.

“Get Shaky” by The Ian Carey Project — To my ears this sounds like something straight from the ’80s, but I guess it was a popular dance track back in 2008. Must have missed it.

“Ice Cream Tiger” by Parry Gripp — This man is a national treasure and should be treasured for his contributions to musickind.

Posted in Retro Gaming

Fallout New Vegas: Bombers and mafia fantasies

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2010’s Fallout New Vegas. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

After having done dozens of these retro gaming series — seriously, check it out — I have noted that there usually comes a certain moment in which this desire of wanting to complete a game wells up inside of me. Usually it happens when I’ve been immersed in a particular title for a while, can sense that the ending is coming, and want to move on to a new game. I’m not dissatisfied with the game itself, mind you, just eager to see a project completed.

That’s where I’m at with Fallout New Vegas right now. I can smell the end credits… but I can’t see them. And I am hungry to wrap up another one of my major December 2019 goals. So let’s get to it!

One of the things I really like about New Vegas — other than the fact that it feels more like a Fallout game than the last three Bethesda entries have been — is that you really have a LOT in the way of choice. Choices in how you complete missions and choices how you shape the story. By the endgame, which I am entering here, I can support either Mr. House, the NCR, or the Legion and help them win the day. I’m throwing my hat — and chips — with Mr. House, because I’m pretty sure he’s an A.I. that looks like Robert Downey Jr. Tell me what to do, O Iron Man!

Even though I’m secretly working for Mr. House, I’m still able to infiltrate the Legion and help them out with some quests (all with the goal of getting that platinum chip back, of course). The Caesar gives me a “gift” of disposing of Benny any way I see fit. I chose combat in the arena, because there’s nothing like mashing a mafia movie and a Roman epic together. Bye-bye, Benny. This is what you get when you shoot people in the head.

Mr. House tells me the story of the chip, which was manufactured right before the bombs fell and started the whole post-apocalyptic scene. He’s been trying to get it back ever since, as his capabilities were only partially activated without it.

Now that he’s got the chip, his robot army is upgraded from cops to soldiers and have access to missile launchers. Seriously, why *wouldn’t* you side with the faction that has the robot army?

I’m probably not as high in levels as I would be if I had done a lot more side quests, but I feel that level 16 is pretty good. I’m downright deadly with a pistol and can go into VATS for nearly forever.

The war is brewing between the three sides, but Mr. House wants me to help him (it?) stack the deck. Next up is venturing out to the well-armed and paranoid Boomers, a collection of military nuts who have holed themselves up in an Air Force base and never come out. Getting their aid required a whole lot of quests, including raising a bomber from the bottom of Lake Mead.

Lotta fish-men in that lake. Nasty ones, too, that spit magic or something at me. While I got access to a rebreather to stay underwater forever, New Vegas doesn’t let you use weapons down there — even if you’re being attacked. That seems rather unfair.

Look at that, one bomber resurrected for robots to cut up and cart away for reassembly. This is such a strange game at times.

From there I dove right into a mafia movie, thanks to another quest that had me taking down mob bosses inside of their own skeezy pleasure palace. Let me give you some free advice: Getting holdout weapons in this game is one of the best things you can do — especially if you’re a pistol expert.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO and the overdose of the questing system

If you ever look at the sales page for a LOTRO expansion or a loading screen advertisement for a zone or expansion, inevitably the very first thing that will be mentioned on the feature point list is the sheer number of quests that this pack unlocks. Two, five, six hundred new quests — this sort of thing is not uncommon to see.

Born in the World of Warcraft era, Lord of the Rings Online grabbed on to the former’s questing system and used it — as most MMOs have since — as the backbone of its narrative and gameplay operations. Quests drove nearly everything: progress, loot acquisition, story, movement.

And out of all of those quest-happy games, those WoW clones, LOTRO seems to have gorged more than most on quests. Apart from its lauded and generally more involving epic story questlines, regular quests have served as filler rather than flavor. I think they were more flavor back in the early years of the expansion — just go play through the Shire’s quests if you want to see a wide variety of tales told and activities performed via quests. These days, quests seem there to give us something to do. To pad out the time. To make that feature list tally seem all that more impressive.

So has LOTRO overdosed on quests? I can’t even fathom how many total quests there are in the game to date, but it has to be over 10,000. Your enjoyment of the game is relative to how much you like — or can tolerate — a barrage of quests. Conversely, the number of alts that one makes seems to go down the more quests you do on your main character (and subsequently realize that you will have to do with the next one).

The developers have created an interesting pattern in the last several zones and expansions. Really, this goes way way back, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, especially going through Minas Morgul. The pattern goes somewhat like this:

  • You’ll arrive at a new zone or quest hub and hoover up four to eight quests waiting for you there.
  • Sometimes, one of those quests will be “complete 6 quests for Sir Questsalot,” which then triggers a whole bunch more rings (quest icons) over NPCs.
  • You’ll start working on the quests, most of which overlap in territory, while accepting a handful of new quests out on the landscape.
  • Turning in these quests, you’ll get even more quests that will, more often than not, have you go back to the *same* area you were just in. A third batch of quests will repeat this, often culminating with a mini-boss fight.
  • You’ll rinse-and-repeat at a quest hub until you finally exhaust all of the missions and are led — via a quest or two — to the next hub.

LOTRO’s developers obviously love the areas and cities they’ve created, and you know this because of how long they’ll keep you puttering about in a particular area. I’ve been slowly working my way up the terraces of Minas Morgul over several nights now, and I can tell you that it’s almost a joke how many quests keep sending me back to the same spots, just for different objectives.

It’s how the game is. It’s not a horrible thing, understand. Filler can be satisfying, in a way. Sometimes those quests prove individually interesting or tell a cool story. There’s a sense of advancement and progression. You can do a lot of things when you’re getting rewarded for it. And it is a great feeling to come back to a hub and unload a half dozen or more quest turn-ins in one go.

But sometimes… sometimes I get weary of the sheer volume of quests, which is why I wrote that post on streamlining the game for alts a few weeks ago. MMOs like The Secret World have instilled in me a much deeper appreciation for multi-stage quests that are fewer in number but boast more narrative and greater involvement. They feel like the name that these are given — quests.

After all, in Lord of the Rings, the Quest was given a capital letter to signify its magnitude, its journey, and its effort. Grabbing a handful of flowers in three minutes to shove into the hand of a bored elf doesn’t seem to merit the same name.

Posted in Music, Podcast

Battle Bards Episode 158: Winter returns

Do you feel a little… frozen this winter season? Winter is something amazing to behold, especially when video game composers attempt to capture its unique magic in their songs. Today, let the Battle Bards warm up your bones and your ears with tunes from the snowy vales and icy wastes of MMORPGs!

Episode 158 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Another World (Winter Journey)” from Aion, “The Long Winter” from Asheron’s Call 2, and “Sorceress of Melted Snow” from Allods Online)
  • “Sea of Snow” from Runes of Magic
  • “Violet’s First Adventure” from RuneScape
  • “The Snow Falls” from Pantheon
  • “Winter Night Crystal” from Black Desert
  • “Ice Cave (Day)” from Trickster Online
  • “A Perfect Snowball” from Spiral Knights
  • “Dazzling Snow” from Ragnarok Online
  • Which one did we like most?
  • Listener notes: Liraven and Spookydonkey24
  • Jukebox Picks: “Floor 2-2” from Streets of Rogue, “Main Theme” from The Invisible Hours, and “Holders of Power” from Ys 1 & 2
  • Outro (feat. “Winter Wonderland” from Ashes of Creation)
Posted in General

What do MMORPGs need to do in 2020?

It’s really starting to sink in that we are not only in the final days of this year, but of this decade as well. For me, the concept of decade identity got lost when we moved out of the 1990s, but still, the passage of 10 years is significant. We were in a different place in 2010 as a world and culture, and I certainly would not have anticipated being where I am at today.

But instead of looking back, today I want to look ahead. When we turn the calendar page to January 1st, 2020, a full new year of gaming developments will lie ahead. 2019 was so-so when it came to MMORPGs — we had some great expansions and the return of City of Heroes, but we also didn’t see much in the way of new launches. We need new blood to mix in with the old, because these aging titles are being asked to bear more and more of the responsibility for carrying the genre while the next generation is in development.

So here’s what I want to see happen with MMOs in 2020 — and what I think needs to happen:

New games need to get out there and launch

I’m not advocating launching titles half-baked and before they are ready, but seriously, we have had some games in development for five, six, seven years now. We’ve paid into Kickstarters back in 2012, 2013, 2014 that still haven’t seen the light of day. And the community is HUNGRY for a major launch (heck, just look at how exciting WoW Classic’s launch proved to be). I’m willing to be patient and wait, but out of all of the crop of upcoming titles, we have to be close to a few big-name ones ready to pull the trigger.

Older titles have to come up with reasons to keep us engaged

I think a lot of players are more than willing to come back to games provided that there is something genuinely exciting to see and do. Whether that’s a revolutionary expansion, a new type of server, player created content, new systems, better business models, or what have you, these studios can’t sit idle and ride out that long tail. A new year means a chance to set a vision for that year and stir up the playerbase for a great journey ahead.

Dead games should be revived

If City of Heroes and various emulators showed us anything last year, it’s that there is a big community out there that is more than eager to jump back into deceased MMOs if someone revives them. Emulators are more than glad to try to keep things alive, but companies would be smart to do that officially and help preserve these titles while making some easy revenue.

Also, Fallen Earth needs to come back in its upgraded form.

Developers should be more communicative

Some studios overdo this, sure, but the ones that are too silent and sporadic with communication — SSG and ArenaNet are two that immediately leap to mind — there needs to be more consistent and frequent talk from the devs to the playerbase. Bad things happen when players are kept in the dark too long.

Posted in CRPG, CRPGs

The Outer Worlds completed! …and final thoughts

By December 2nd, one of the four major gaming goals that I set for the month had already been finished. I wrapped up The Outer Worlds after playing it for the majority of November, sitting back in a bittersweet satisfaction as the end credits told me of the fallout from my adventures.

Perfect game? Nah, but I didn’t expect it to be. Most fun new game I played this year? Definitely. The Outer Worlds was everything I hoped to gain from a Fallout/Futurama/Firefly hybrid, delivering a compact and satisfying experience in a narratively rich setting. I’ll agree with some viewpoints that I’ve heard — namely, that the runtime is short, the normal difficulty setting is rather easy (especially after the first planet or so), and some of the mechanics aren’t as explored as others.

I consider the virtues of The Outer Worlds to be much greater than their flaws, however. There was so much detail in these small areas that I enjoyed combing through every inch of the game. The crew I picked up was entertaining and extremely memorable, especially after going through their own side stories. And I felt as though I usually had enough options to roleplay and game the way I wanted to.

Sometimes I would make a save and then try out different choices to see what would happen, and more often than not, the devs had clever responses to those choices. You can be downright scandalous in this game while still being a nominal hero, but I would imagine that most players went through as I did — largely choosing the more virtuous options and trying to make everyone happy.

The final act of the game contained two huge storytelling beats that had great potential to be explored in future DLC or expansions or sequels, and I truly hope that Obsidian is hard at work on more of this game universe. I definitely want to adventure more in Halcyon and perhaps get the gang back together for one more ride.

Great game. Very satisfied with my purchase and will probably be doing another playthrough in a year or so when I’ve forgotten some of the details. I hope that this title gets its fair share of end-of-the-year awards from press outlets and fans, because I strongly feel it deserves it.

Posted in Music

Sunday Serenade: FFVIII, Ape Escape 3, Timesplitters 2, 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…

“The Extreme” from FFVIII — True story, this came up on my playlist right when I was fighting a rather epic boss battle in FFXIV. Worked pretty well for that setting, too. It’s one of the better Final Fantasy boss themes.

“Theme” from Moorhuhn 2 — Because what techno really needs is a lot of chicken clucks. Superb.

“Biotope” from Zero Escape — Mello synth trance… really relaxing while giving just enough energy and beat to make me want to get up and get moving.

“Wild West” from TimeSplitters 2 — This one starts with a tense high noon standoff… and eventually transforms into a powerful action riff that’s steeped in all of the best western musical tropes. Shockingly good stuff.

“Village” from Monster Girl Quest — Upbeat village tune plus natural-sounding acoustic guitar equals a win in my book.

“Western Village” from Ape Escape 3 — Goofy, light-hearted track hits a lot of those western musical tropes. It’s also a total earworm, so beware before you listen to it!

“Rome” from Asterix (Gameboy) — This tune represents exactly why the Gameboy sound is so beloved. It’s unique and… gutteral. It’s just terrific.