Battle Bards Episode 178: The Division 2

Washington D.C. has fallen to the plague, curiously well-armed agents are everywhere, and intriguing music floats. The Division 2 features a tense and action-packed synth score that distinguishes itself among online games — and is worth an investigation by the Battle Bards. Suit up, because today we’re going to the musical dark zone!

Episode 178 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “The Beginning is the End,” “Rocket Science,” and “Ballroom”)
  • “Prologue 2”
  • “Steps”
  • “Saint”
  • “Dock Wrecks”
  • “Keates”
  • “Hyena Hunt”
  • “Rooftops”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes from Zinn
  • Jukebox picks: “Sanctuary 3” from Borderlands 3, “Ronda’s Diner” from Unforeseen Incidents, and “Bushroot” from Darkwing Duck NES
  • Outro (feat. “Junior”)

7 things I do actually hate about WoW Classic

Playing WoW Classic is an exercise in sorting out the good nostalgia from the “oh man I totally forgot how much this sucked.” While I’m enjoying my simplistic adventures over there, I can freely admit that there are 10 things I’ve (re)discovered that I definitely hate about this version of the MMO:

1. Travel in general

Getting anywhere in this game is soooo slow. You have a one-hour cooldown on a single Hearthstone. Flights are far more pokey than the modern versions. You have to wait until level 40 to get a mount. There’s often only a single flight path PER ZONE. So this all translates into a whole lot of time jogging across huge areas trying to get to where you want to be. No thank you.

2. Respec costs

Oh yeah, totally forgot how much gold I’d have to dump into respeccing a talent tree if I mis-clicked a point or wanted to respec. It ramps up in cost — and you really need that gold for somewhere else.

3. No transmog

How did we live without transmog for this long? There are some attractive costume pieces in Classic, but you don’t get to wear them because it’s always stats > looks here. That’s not fun.

4. Really lame quest rewards

It’s very typical for Classic to spend a whole lot of time and effort on a single quest… only to be given a pittance of money and some XP. Or just the XP. Getting gear upgrades and useful rewards is extremely rare, making most quests not worth doing.

5. Dull music

There are some very iconic WoW Classic tracks, to be sure, but let’s be honest: most of vanilla had a painfully generic, ambient, synth score. It’s not really this masterpiece you think you remember.

6. No LFG

No LFG system means I’m not running dungeons. Period. Waaaaay too much time to set up dungeon runs for any sort of payoff.

7. Inflexible group roles

And if I needed another reason to eschew dungeon diving or raiding, it’s that Classic’s class setup means that you are pigeon-holed in a single role from the moment you click on that character create button. There are no options in a group; you do whatever the devs decided you should do. I didn’t like that in FFXIV, I don’t like it here.

TMNT: Mutant Madness and the weird appeal of gacha games

I wouldn’t call myself overly fond of or a big supporter of shady or aggressive business models in mobile games. These games are riddled with them, especially the free ones, and your enjoyment of a title is usually tempered by how bad the practices are and how much you can ignore or work around them.

One in particular that I’m bumping into a lot these days are games with gacha structures. Gacha is a format where your characters aren’t acquired or leveled up through fighting or questing, but rather opening up an obscene number of random-item packs for tokens inside.

Yet I do keep coming back to these because they do present a very attractive front. The latest mobile diversion that I’ve been enjoying is TMNT: Mutant Madness — an auto-battler with the whole TMNT franchise that is riddled with gacha silliness. You keep throwing your guys into battles, and if they can’t numerically or strategically overcome the opposition, then you sit at that wall until your “lair” in the game generates enough character-growing ooze or you manage to buy more hero packs to tip the odds in your favor.

I always feel that the meta of these games is not my little characters against other little characters, but me against the game developers and their marketing team. I want to beat them literally at their own game by enjoying it without spending any money. And usually there is a path to do that — as there is here — but it’s slower and requires a lot more in the way of delayed gratification and patience. I do appreciate that it’s not as in-your-face annoying with the gacha as these games sometimes are.

Until or unless Mutant Madness gets too frustrating, I can see myself opening it up for a minute here and there. It’s fun. The presentation is slick, and it definitely captures a lot of nostalgia I still harbor for the old ’80s TMNT cartoon. I like shaping a team and picking members that have complementary skills, and since the battles are so quick, it’s no problem to me if they lose. Can’t advance? I’ll just let the game generate free currency while I’m offline, then I’ll spend it later and see if I can clear that next hurdle.

I do see the TMNT franchise as being perfect for this. I forgot how large the cast of characters it has, so it’s already stacked with possibilities. And there’s just a smidge of base building and story to go with it, so it’s not a completely brain-dead experience.

Cowabunga!

Sunday Serenade: TMNT, Odd Chap, 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… 

“Main Theme” from Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — Still think the 80s theme was a bit better, but this is pretty righteous.

“Downtown Swing” by Odd Chap — Electro swing? That’s a thing? I guess it is!

“Life is a Rock” by Reunion — I’m a sucker for any song where someone rattles off a huge list of rhymes and then follows it up with a cool chorus.

“Young Again” by Erlandsson — Short, snappy, and slappy. Makes you want to get up and move, this one does.

“Wild” by Raylee — There’s a great build up and dance release pattern here… and that beat is killer.

“Who We Are” by Rebrnd and Eeshii The Free — I kind of needed a relaxing tropical trip, and this filled the bill.

“EPCOT Test Track Queue” from Disney — This ride has some of my absolute favorite queue music from the Disney theme parks. I could listen to this for hours.

Why I don’t want to hop into your Discord guild chat

Is it just me, or does every single MMO guild out there have a Discord and put that right out to its members as the first thing they see when they join? I’m not saying that as some old fuddy-duddy who is astounded at technology — I know Discord’s been around for years now and I’ve used it on several occasions — I’m just observing that it seems like this is the de facto standard for guilds these days. You have a guild, you must have a Discord.

Which is fine, but here’s the thing: I don’t usually want to join your Discord channel, and I always feel like there’s some (positive) peer pressure that’s always pushing me in this direction.

So why haven’t I embraced Discord with all the man hugs that I am able to bring to bear? For starters, I intentionally keep my social media interactions to a small, reasonable amount. I do Twitter, I do Facebook, and that’s about all I want or need in my hobbies or jobs. It’s adequate for the task, and anything above that will end up sucking away time that I would rather spend doing something productive.

Because staying on top of social media can be exhausting if you let it take over. It can be a part-time job. And when I have dipped into Discord on varying occasions, I see how quickly all the channels fill up with chatter. I know it would require me to regularly rotate through them to see whatever everyone’s talking about. It’s not usually information that I need, so I don’t pursue it.

Another reason is that as a game-hopper and a member of several guilds, that ends up being a lot of Discord channels. It’s useful for the guilds in many respects, but not useful for me. If I want to talk with people in that guild, I’ll do so while I’m in the game world itself. That’s kind of why I joined that guild in the first place.

My final reason is that I always feel that the pressure to head over to Discord — usually “suggested” to me by officers in the game chat — is to engage in voice chat. I’m…. no. That’s just not something I want to do. Unless I’m in a dedicated gaming group or running something fiendishly complex with a party, there’s no need to be piping in other voices into my ear. Some people talk too much, some people are too annoying, and all of them take away from me listening to music or TV or a podcast, which is what I usually do during gaming.

Again, I don’t hate Discord. It has its purpose and it’s really well-designed for that. But for me as a gaming individual, I very rarely engage with it or feel any sort of pressing need to do so.

My pre-Shadowlands mission: Allied race acquisition

If you’ll recall, for the past few months I’ve been playing on a brand-new World of Warcraft account, which has been both liberating and somewhat annoying. It’s been fun to “start over” and build up a new account, but here and there I realize that I really miss certain acquisitions that I spent a lot of time working on — like my Lucid Nightmare or Grove Warden mounts, for example.

Now that Shadowlands is barreling toward us, I asked myself the question, “Do you have everything you need or want going into this expansion?” For the most part, the answer was “yes.” I have two level 120s (soon to be level 50s) with decent gear, a few nice mounts, and a song in my heart. But the fact that I have zero allied race unlocks on my character creation screen bugged me, and I decided to do something about that.

Initially, I jumped back onto my Druid with the full intent of taking advantage of Blizzard’s double reputation gains all September and try to grind out these factions. But then as someone reminded me, with the pre-patch, the studio is removing all of the rep requirements! I had completely forgotten that announcement.

So that simplified things immensely. Now all I needed to do for each allied race that I wanted — specifically, Mechagnomes, Kul Tiran Humans, and Dark Iron Dwarves — I just needed to go through certain questlines. That’s doable. That’s easy to chunk up and handle over the next month. So that became my mission.

I’ve also been writing down a list of other objectives that I’d like to get around to doing sooner or later. I probably will roll an alt in the post-pre-patch era to do a full run through Legion and pick up the allied races there. I definitely am going to be switching over my Druid or my Death Knight to become an Engineer, seeing as how much I’m enjoying that in WoW Classic.

In any case, I’m never so content in gaming as when I have clearly defined goals set out that are of my own design rather than foisted upon me by the studio.

Space Quest 6: The one with Tango and Cash

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1995’s Space Quest 6: The Spinal Frontier. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Fresh off of Stellar’s funeral, Roger is a bit stunned to get a call from her saying something about her death being faked. I want to take a minute to talk about the voice acting in this game, because it’s really not good. It’s not Space Quest IV levels of bad, but it’s obvious that they didn’t look that hard to find quality actors beyond the narrator. That’s a shame, because many of the deliveries here fail to land what would have been great jokes. Anyway, there’s a conspiracy to unmask!

I might be one of six individuals in the universe who deeply loves Hudson Hawk (Bruce Willis is a really funny guy), but I do need to note that this is about the third time the game’s dropped a Tango & Cash reference. It wasn’t THAT popular of a film, guys. Did the game’s writer marathon it on HBO or something?

Anyway, the captain of the DeepShip isn’t going to go off on a rescue mission, so it’s up to Roger’s own ingenuousness to figure out a solution. Down in the dumps, Roger has a heart-to-heart with his good (and, previous to this, unknown by the player) friend Sydney. Sydney is a Data counterpart, so he’s an android with stilted speech and weird skin. Also, he literally gives Roger a hand — and an arm. And an eye.

I can’t help but laugh at how absurdly dark it is that Roger is totally OK with asking his friend to dismember himself. Well, whatever helps us beat the game!

Roger attempts to strong-arm his way into the shuttle bay with a good ol’ fashioned Vulgar neck pinch, but the other guard catches him and tosses Roger in the brig.

To bust out, Roger creates a life-sized version of himself from a mound of food. It’s actually one of the more creative solutions I’ve seen in adventure games. Thank goodness the guard is really nearsided!

Getting sent to the brig was the only way to get a donut to load up with drugs for the other guard to eat. When he munches on it, the guard does this extended cartoon sequence where he transforms into a bunch of different things, including a statue, a cow, and… Elton John? Sure, why not. Sydney’s arm helps to hit two switches at the same time, so thanks again, Syd!

Finally, Roger’s able to get into the shuttlebay and get on with the rescue! There are several shuttles here from various scifi franchises. My favorite is the Aliens drop ship in the lower right.

There’s no going back now! The shuttle lifts off as Storm Poopers arrive on the scene, shooting each other up in their enthusiasm. Roger dumps StarCon like a hot potato and heads out into an anti-anomaly in his search for Stellar.

WoW Classic: One mob at a time

So far, my current approach to WoW Classic has served me very well indeed. Yes, it’s a streamlined, basic experience where all I’m doing is farming mobs and ore in a particular location and then heading back to Thunder Bluff at the end of the day to sell, repair, and craft. Rise and repeat, perhaps in a different locale the next time around.

As dull as that may sound, it’s been very restful and even enjoyable. “Satisfying” is the word I want here. I get the nostalgic flavor of Classic, don’t have to spend half my time running to and from quest objectives, and can zen out on the repetition of kill-loot-repeat while enjoying music, podcasts, and TV shows. It’s low-energy gaming with a combat system that requires very little in the way of frantic maneuvering while I’m in the middle of it.

It may well not keep my attention for the long term. I can see this getting scaled back to very sporadic gaming sessions, especially after Shadowlands releases. There’s certainly no immediate incentive to hitting the level cap, as I don’t care to do the raiding thing.

Instead, as I’ve said before, my personal goal is to max out engineering, create all of the devices that I want from that, and do a dozen or so quests that reward me with gear that has useful effects. This kind of farming actually helps with engineering, since I always pick areas that have a lot of mining nodes. Two grinding birds with one stone! I’m flush on materials, and I like coming back to town to see what I can build next.

The only problem that I can see here is that I keep running out of inventory. I’m going to need to invest in some serious bank space, but I also have to be saving up for my level 40 mount. Even if auction house sales, I’m only 25 gold at level 20, and I don’t want to fritter that away on a few more bank bag slots. So I have to make a lot of tough choices what to keep and what to sell, electing to keep just enough stacks of various mats that I can make what I might need in the future.

No dogs in the console contest

It’s always a very weird feeling to not be riding a certain hype train as it comes rumbling past with many of your friends on board going “Choo-choo!” And this fall we’re seeing the mother of all trains — two trains, in fact — belching smoke and roaring toward November, when both the latest Xbox and PlayStation are being released.

And from my vantage point on the side of the tracks, people are really psyched. Maybe they need something to celebrate this year, and this is a pretty Big Deal. I get it, and I’m not here to rain on anyone’s parade. If that’s your thing, then I hope it’ll be a very exciting November indeed.

However, as I’m watching this, I’m ruminating on why I simply stopped being excited and/or interested in console gaming. After all, that was most of my gaming childhood — the Atari 2600 and NES and SNES in particular. The PlayStation and PlayStation 2 got me through college and my early bachelor years. But after that, I couldn’t get into gaming from the couch any more. Computers were more interesting and offered the types of games like RTS, CRPGs, and MMOs that consoles generally eschewed. I didn’t want to be splurging tons of money on expensive consoles and games on top of getting new PCs and titles for that, so at some point, I declared my allegiance for the PC and didn’t look back.

I have bought consoles over the years since, namely the Wii and the Switch. I expected to get some good fun out of the Switch, but in our house, all it serves is to keep my four kids occupied playing Super Smash Bros or Minecraft Dungeons. I got a game for my birthday that I haven’t even opened for it yet.

Buying the SNES Classic was probably the last time I was as excited about a console as I’m seeing people are for the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 right now. But I think that if I’m going to drop money on hardware this year, it’s probably going to be for a new graphics card.

WoW Classic’s best capital city is Thunderbluff. Fight me.

While on the regular WoW servers, I’m all-in on Alliance, in Classic I’ve been walking the Horde path initially for a change of pace and now because of a great guild. And I’ve been finding many things to appreciate about this faction, not the least of which is what I now consider to be the best capital city of the Classic’s six: Thunderbluff.

I think Thunderbluff really gets overlooked, even on the Horde side. Orgrimmar is far more popular, to be sure, and has the absolute fullest of services — plus a dungeon to boot. Undercity gets a lot of visitation as the only Horde city in the Eastern Kingdoms. But good ol’ TB kind of comes off as redundant, a nice place to visit for starting Tauren but not really needed afterward. It also has an unwelcome reputation of being a place where you can die if you step off the many, many high ledges, so there’s that.

Yet in my experience, Thunderbluff is one of the best-designed cities in terms of both aesthetics and services. For starters, we have the Native American/summer camp theming, which I absolutely love. It’s a visually warm and welcoming place that I’m always glad to come back to at the end of my day’s adventures.

Even better than that, the bottom tier is cram-packed full of useful services that don’t require a lot of running to find. In one tight circle, you have an inn, a bank, the auction house, a forge, an anvil, repair vendors, a stable master, and a few other trainers/vendors. The flight path is up a short stairway, and the other tiers are nearby with additional services.

The only real drawbacks to TB is that it doesn’t have some of the expert services — say, Engineering, which I’m currently training. But I don’t mind making the occasional trip to Org for that and keeping TB my mainstay, because it’s worth it to me to have a quick-and-easy setup for the start and end of my sessions. It’s also why I’m pretty much sticking to Kalimdor as I’m grinding my Hunter to 60.