Syp’s gaming goals for September 2020

August 2020 in review

  • It was a decent month for gaming, with some MMOs entering rotation and others leaving. I did take advantage of a GOG sale to snap up a couple of CRPGs I’ve had my eye on — Tyranny and Pillars of Eternity 2 — but felt bummed that my computer wasn’t good enough to play Microsoft Flight Simulator. Maybe in the future when I get a new graphics card.
  • Lord of the Rings Online was a mixed bag. On one hand, the new update brought us Rohan housing and Helm’s Deep for the progression server, giving me plenty to do. On the other hand, rampant server issues kept me away for a week. I did get a Rohan house for my Minstrel and plowed through several quest hubs, so I’m not completely behind.
  • Two returning MMOs kept me vastly entertained this month. The first was WoW Classic, which went from being an itch that I wanted to scratch to becoming a daily staple. I worked on a Forsaken Warlock, getting her up to near level 20 while also leveling up her Engineering skill.
  • The other was Star Wars: The Old Republic, which saw me step back into the boots of my level 30ish Imperial Agent from a couple of years ago to resume her story. It’s been a good time so far, nothing mindblowing, but then again, I’m retreading a lot of familiar ground.
  • I did stop playing Fallout 76 for the time being — the daily board game progression thing wasn’t utterly compelling, and right now I’m waiting for the One Wasteland update to arrive.
  • After a whole lot of internal debate, I started in on Eye of the Beholder 2 for my next retro playthrough. It has a hugely positive reputation as a D&D dungeon crawler and will make for an interesting blogging experience.

September 2020’s gaming goals

  • I don’t anticipate a lot of changes to the lineup of these three MMOs, so I’ll start with WoW Classic. My goal there is to get to level 30 and maybe get Engineering to 200.  I am so not in any sort of hurry when I play this, but I would love to get a mount and some keystone talents before I die of old age.
  • When the pre-patch arrives in World of Warcraft, I’ll certainly return there to do the events and maybe start working on leveling up a new character to see how that process goes. But really, I have my Druid ready for Shadowlands, and that’s going to be my main character, so I’m not scrambling.
  • It’d be really cool if I could finish both chapters 2 and 3 in SWTOR to get the class story done and move into the expansion, but that might be a little too ambitious for the time available.
  • If LOTRO can get more stable, I’ll try to see how much I can get done of Helm’s Deep. That’s another one that I do want to put in the “done” file so that I’m not worried about catching up if SSG decides to start releasing Gondor in a month or two.
  • I’m also going to be playing through Tyranny after hearing some positive word-of-mouth on it. Time to be a bad guy!

Sunday Serenade: Ghost’n’Ghost, Queen, 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 Plain and the Sky” from Suikoden Tierkreis — A very sweet map theme that made me want to bask in it for a long time.

“Looking at the Sunshine” by Raas Masters — WARNING: Do not look directly at the sunshine.

“Spanish Love” by DigitalTek and Danny Boyle — So much to love about this, but I keep zeroing in on the crooning as my favorite part. Perfect for top volume.

“Golden” by Antoine Cara — My 4YO son and I had fun dancing in a chair to this one.

“Crystal” by Pyro X — Happy trippy beats. Nothing revolutionary, but it’s still good stuff.

“Coconut Mystery” by Ghost’n’Ghost — It’s no mystery: This is a peppy little track full of joy.

“Then He Kissed Me” by Rachel Sweet — I can’t hear this and not think of the beginning of Adventures in Babysitting.

“Another One Bites the Dust (Live)” by Queen — Great audience participation on this classic!

“Interstellar” by Nora Van Elken — Man, I really like this one. Listened to it about six times in a row when I first heard it.

Shadowlands is ‘go’ for launch!

For a while now, Blizzard’s been very cagey about any sort of release date for Shadowlands, saying only that it was going to come out in the last quarter of the year. I’ve seen a lot of predictions on this, but I have to say that most of them put the expansion somewhere in the November-December range.

But now we know the truth: World of Warcraft’s next expansion is coming on October 27th, two months from now. That also means we’re going to be getting the pre-patch sometime in September. Things are going to start happening quickly now, which is good considering how long it’s been since WoW’s last content update (that would be back in January, or “The Before Times”).

The end of October sounds pretty good to me. That gives the beta more time to fully cook and hopefully smooth out the rough spots while letting all of us get used to the new structure of Patch 9.0. Right now, I’m fully in Classic, but when the pre-patch hits, I’ll definitely want to check out the new customization options and perhaps work on a new character and some Scourge invasion events.

However, I really don’t see a full-fledged return to retail until Shadowlands launches for real. I have plenty of other stuff to be doing that I don’t need to unnecessarily dither around in retail if there’s no greater purpose for it. And now I have a date to arrange my gaming schedule in the fall around.

I like it. We’ll have that, Fallout 76’s One Wasteland, and Torchlight III’s launch coming, and I’m all about enjoying the buzz of hype — especially after a rather long and event-less summer season.

Nostalgia Lane: F-15 Strike Eagle II

While I dearly loved getting a computer of my very own in high school, looking back I’m pretty sure I got ripped off by the sales guy who pushed a 386 on me when the 486s were hitting the market. I loved that computer and had a lot of fun gaming memories on it, but it never was able to handle some of the more graphically intensive games — especially flight sims, which were super-hot in the early 1990s.

Fortunately, I had a friend across the street who had a much beefier machine and pretty much any military sim that came out. They weren’t exactly the kinds of games I’d buy on my own, but I was happy to have fun with them for the sheer eye candy if nothing else.

F-15 Strike Eagle II was one of the more popular titles at the time, and for good reason. It struck a balance between the fiddly (but more accurate) pure flight simulators and straight-up arcade shooting. It was what we called “arcade sims,” where the focus was more on having fun than being accurate — but it had just enough flavor to it to believe that you were piloting one of these great birds of war.

The gameplay was pretty straight-forward: You picked a theater of war and took off to eliminate threats in the air and on sea and land. The F-15 had several different weapons, each with their own purpose, and a smart pilot would use the right tool for the right job.

Getting to shut off my brain and just go to town taking out targets and feeling like I was the master of this screaming fighter plane was a hoot. You’d get notices about enemy planes taking off or come into the radar range of enemy ground-based missiles, and suddenly everything got a whole lot more chaotic.

And you have to remember that this was 1992 or 1993 — fully 3-D gaming wasn’t quite realized, and anything that even approximated it was so novel and exciting. I think that’s one reason why flight sims (and soon, first-person shooters) ruled this period, because they offered that freedom of movement that other games didn’t. They looked like the future.

Anyway, it was another excellent Microprose product and a reason why this was one of my favorite studios back in the ’90s.

Space Quest V: A fly in the ointment, Hans

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1993’s Space Quest V: The Next Mutation. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Well, there’s nothing like freezing your future wife to keep her from mutating to put a sparkle in your day! Roger’s life is nothing if not complex, a state that is exacerbated by the Pukoid-crewed Goliath coming around to attack the Eureka.

It is kind of cool that you get the opportunity to order your crew about as if you were an actual starship captain. Those asteroids give me an idea… an idea to watch Empire Strikes Back and learn from Han Solo’s approach to star destroyer evasion. Into the asteroid field we go!

The ship is safe for the moment, but she’s taken damage. Cliffy heads out on an EVA to make repairs, but then kind of loses his grip and goes floating away. Well, I guess it’s that time of day, the time of day when we have to keep rescuing our chief engineer. Comes around every 11:00 am, it does.

Roger heads out in the Eureka’s pod to snag the engineer. As I found out, if you run out of fuel or oxygen during this EVA, the pod is sucked down into the atmosphere and burns up. In one of the funnier game over screens, aliens on the planet below make a wish on Roger’s “shooting star.”

With the ship and Cliffy safe, the next priority is to find a cure for Beatrice. This means a trip to Genetix, the laboratory that made the toxic sludge that caused the Pukazoids. Unfortunately — and “unfortunately” is a word you use a lot with Roger in these games — when he beams down, Roger and a fly get mixed up. The fly gets Roger’s body, and vice versa.

While Cliffy works on getting the transporter straightened out, Roger pokes around Genetix and discovers a computer with all sorts of info. The toxic sludge is actually a project to help terraform nasty worlds, but somewhere along the line it started turning healthy critters into mutants. Also, there’s clear evidence that Quirk was taking bribes to offload the sludge and hide it around the galaxy. This is my surprised face.

Eventually, Cliffy figures out how to reverse the fly/human situation and separate the two. Not-at-all funny bug puns abound.

But the transporter mishap might’ve been a blessing in disguise. Spike, of all crew members, figures out that Cliffy might be able to remove the mutated DNA from Beatrice with the same technique he just used on Roger. But if you ever play this, don’t do what I did, which is to take Beatrice out of the cryo chamber before defrosting her. She literally fell apart in my hands. Fun fact: You can also cook her in the cryo chamber. Not that I did. Because I’m totally not a monster.

Beatrice is saved, information is retrieved, and the Pukoids’ extreme aversion to cold is revealed. It’s time to head back to the Goliath and see if Quirk and crew can’t be brought to heel.

SWTOR: Free will and computer predestination

It’s been a long — a very long — time since I first went through the Imperial Agent’s story in SWTOR, and while I haven’t forgotten everything, enough has faded from memory that a lot of these beats are new to me. But if there is something I vividly remember from that first trip was how deeply upset the game got me when it brainwashed my character and took some of the control away from me.

I’m going through again right now in Chapter 2 of the story, and I have to say, the frustration and fury is no less real this time around. It’s a masterstroke of both writing and the video game format to make this happen, to cross the barrier between game and real life to make the player *feel* something.

Other than feeling constantly irked at Kaylio. Hey girl, you forgot to hold a gun there.

The Agent’s story works so well because no matter what angle you approach it from, sooner or later you really start to question your loyalties and those you can trust. Your team is fraught with characters with shifting or hidden motivations, such as Victor (is he more loyal to the nest than you?) or Doctor Loken (who has an Incredible Hulk complex). You can’t really trust anyone in the Sith echelon, because they’re all trying to use you as a pawn.

You can’t even trust Imperial Intelligence, as we discover, because they put brainwashing drugs in you to have a way to bring you under control if you go rogue. This all goes very badly when you’re sent in to be a double-agent with the Republic spies, only to have them use your conditioning against you. Who gave it to them? Who do you trust now? And what are you going to do if you manage to escape the conditioning?

As an aside, Taris is such a beautiful planet of destruction… and so incredibly annoying to navigate.

It’s just such a trippy chapter of the story, and I know that the first time I played it, my light side tendencies were sorely tested by all of this personal betrayal. When the game itself takes away your dialogue options or forces you to go on missions, you want to push back and rebel.

This time around? I’m all in on the dark side, so it’s going to be Revenge City on everyone. Little Chance was left to die bleeding out and trying to say the activation phrase. He seemed nice, but he was willing to use me like everyone else.

Oh, they all will burn. My sniper rifle’s fully loaded and it’s judgment day on the Republic and Empire alike.

Oh, and don’t try any of your sexist stuff on me, because I’ve got an armored fist and the will to use it. But I’m a really nice person if you try to get to know me — and don’t fiddle with my brain.

WoW Classic: Dead and loving it

Weirdly enough, this past week I found myself drifting right back into the open arms of WoW Classic. It’s just that playing regular World of Warcraft feels so pointless right now as we wait for the pre-patch, and this actually seemed inviting. Plus, I didn’t have any Classic characters on my new account and thought that it might be nice to have at least one sitting around.

So I made yet another Undead Warlock. I can’t really imagine playing many other classes in Classic than a lock. It’s got everything I want — survivability, pets, self-healing, self-resurrection, utility, and the ability to easily juggle mobs in combat.

Of course, starting out is kind of rough for the first 10 levels until you get your voidwalker and your full roster of three DoTs. I spent those slow, plodding levels soaking in the sounds and sights of Classic’s landscape.

There’s something deeply charming and nostalgic about Tirisfal Glades , even though I wasn’t a Horde-aligned player back in vanilla. I just made a ton of Forsaken characters because I loved the Halloween vibe of it all. Nothing here is warm or inviting; it’s a land perpetually soaked in decay and shadows, and that makes it thrilling and fun to explore.

I’m not in a rush to go over to the other continent, in other words.

I actually fell into a bit of happy fortune on my third day of play. I was heading over to Orgrimmar to train up staves — it’s so weird that Warlocks don’t start with the staff skill — and I bumped into a nice Mage who buffed me up. I asked her about her guild, and before I knew it, I had fallen into the presence of a really warm and bubbly company.

They got me outfitted with enough bags that inventory won’t be a problem, but I am more happy to have some folks to jaw about Classic with and share the details of my travels. Social chat seems more necessary than ever in this game because of its slow pacing.

But you know what? The pacing is a refreshing change of pace. It’s not rush-here, rush-there, do-a-million-dailies. It’s just… you know… set a goal. Work on a single quest. Farm some mobs for a while. Level up a tradeskill or two. Take some disturbing closeup pictures of the local mobs.

I’ve been in Tirisfal Glades for a week now and I have no immediate intention of leaving. There’s more to be done, and I’m trying to get my mining skill up to 75 before I go to help fuel my need for engineering materials.

So yeah. Right here, right now, this really hits the spot. I’m still juggling this game with LOTRO and SWTOR, but it’s easily the most laid-back experience I have any given night. I put on some music or a TV show and jog around the place like the spectre of death that I am.

The Farewell to Battle for Azeroth Tour

I kind of feel like I’m treading water in World of Warcraft right now. I actually do love to log in and quest with my Druid, because it’s fun in its own right, but the purpose of that questing largely eludes me. I don’t need the XP or gear, and with Shadowlands approaching, I certainly don’t need to worry about leveling up the Heart of Azeroth or grinding out reps.

Instead, I’ve been treating this as a farewell tour for Battle for Azeroth. I’m taking screenshots, enjoying the tour, and getting ready to move on for good.

Say what you will about BFA, it really did an amazing job with the visuals. If you slow down to check everything out, there’s usually a ton of stuff to notice. It was a good-looking expansion, is what I’m saying.

There’s something about a lamp post in the while that always intrigues me. I love taking pictures of them in the foreground with the wilderness behind it.

Since we don’t have housing in the game, I have to envy NPCs that do and imagine what it would be like if we did. This tiny little shack caught my attention. It’s small… but kinda cozy, too.

Ugh, this valley is still so ridiculously pretty. The Horde side never got anything this good, and I wouldn’t blame them for feeling resentful about it. Actually, I still hold that the Alliance had the three best-looking of the original six zones of the expansion.

Just hangin’ out on a wagon at the end of a work day. I think she’s a slave or something, but she doesn’t look too upset about it.

Which outhouse will you use for your bio break? And what’s that bucket for? WHAT IS IT FOR.

LOTRO: Rohan is bigger on the inside


One of the benefits that I’m discovering about Lord of the Rings Online’s progression server — 1.5 years later — is that it really forces us to deep-dive into individual expansions instead of breeze past them. And as we’re doing that, I’m getting a very clear picture of how the game developed and changed over time.

And call me crazy, because as much as I do love Eriador and the original zones, with each successive expansion I can see the game getting so much better. Better stories, better zone flow, better environmental details, and even better landscapes.

The two expansions of Rohan are magnificent in what they cover and offer. It’s very much a different land than Bree or Gondor, and you can see it in everything the devs did — the architecture, the culture, the music, and the obsession with horses.

Helm’s Deep opened on the progression server a week or two back, and it’s been great taking my Minstrel on journeys westward once more. There’s a whole lot of territory to cover — literally and quest-wise — but it doesn’t feel strictly linear. There are choices of which quest threads to follow to take the player to different areas, and I just have been focusing on one of those until they are done.

I do think Helm’s Deep is more screenshot-worthy than Riders of Rohan. I mean, check out this toilet! Beautiful! Oh, and there’s the Hornberg and Edoras and the rest, too.

I think we also get a better sense of events happening or about to happen in Rohan than we did in the older content. The whole country is on the verge of war, and you see it with advance sorties and dead people on the road and the like. I appreciate feeling like I’m in the middle of history rather than in a static locale.

I think the game’s being a little sarcastic to me. I approve of that.

So yeah, forward momentum and all that. I’m a little extra motivated to quest knowing that I don’t have to endure the horribleness of Epic Battles in my future, which would dampen my enthusiasm. Good on SSG for giving us ways around doing those now.

Space Quest V: The toxic avenger

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1993’s Space Quest V: The Next Mutation. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Well, here’s an interesting development. Following Roger’s bizarre rescue of Cliffy via space monkey sabotage on the Spacebar, Flo has taken a keen interest in the captain. As in, she’s offering him backrubs and innuendo with increasing frequency. Considering that Flo’s had like a dozen husbands and is angry at all of them, it’s probably best if Roger steers clear of getting entangled in her love life.

Here’s another interesting development on the Eureka: W-D40 has been rebuilt and reprogrammed to become a member of the crew. At this point, the ship is starting to look like a cozy family rather than an uncomfortable collection of work associates. Give us a cuddle, W-D40!

In any case, at the next trash pickup job, the crew discover that (a) there is no trash, and (b) the colony below isn’t answering any hails. This calls for an investigation. Upon beaming down, Drool and Roger find a deserted, trashed colony that’s absolutely creepy in its silence.

It’s not completely deserted, however. A mutant leaps out and tries to hawk green spit in Roger’s face to make him “pretty.”

I think it’s an improvement! Too bad you can’t play out the rest of the game looking like this. Anyway, if Roger dodges enough of these toxic loogies, Drool comes along to blast the mutant off of him. The mutant, uh, un-mutizes for some reason and gasps out “bad soup… secret path… over the ridge” before dying. Guess the entire colony got turned into these discount X-Men. The colony’s activity log says that the Goliath — Quirk’s ship — arrived a few weeks back, then attacks by mutants started happening, until finally the whole colony was converted and the rest of the mutants took off in a shuttle. After a short hike up the ridge, Roger confirms that there is a canister of some sort of genetic toxic waste, dumped there by a corporation. That ain’t not good.

Oh, and it gets even better. I mean, worse. The Eureka gets a mayday from the Goliath, saying that it is being infiltrated by the colony mutants. A brief cutscene shows that the mutation is spreading everywhere. Captain Quirk looks positively hungover in his new form. The crew decidedes to head over to Thrakus and investigate. There’s an escape pod from the Goliath that landed on the surface, which means another planetary EVA.

Of course, it’d help if Roger wore a breathing mask when he went down into a toxic atmosphere with a breathing mask.

It turns out that Beatrice was the sole non-mutated survivor of the Goliath, which Roger discovers when she ambushes him and rolls him off a cliff. About the point where she’s pulling his pants down to keep from falling, she realizes her mistake — and the real mutants show up. She says they’re “Pukoids,” because of the toxic puke, and who am I to argue? The pair escape in the nick of time by being beamed back up to the ship.

The good news is that Beatrice pulled the Goliath’s warp core distributor cap, keeping the ship from going to lite speed and endangering the rest of the galaxy. The bad news is that Beatrice got slimed and she’s going to mutate. The only thing that Roger can do for her at the moment is put her into cryosleep and hope to find a cure. That’s what we call a real “meet cute” in the biz.