Syp’s Gaming Goals for November 2020

October 2020 in review

  • Easily the biggest gaming event for me this month was World of Warcraft’s 9.0 pre-patch. In addition to keeping my transmog selling business alive (which resulted in one free token for me!), I rolled up a new Gnome Hunter and took her from 1 to 50 in the streamlined leveling experience. Worked a lot of building up her garrison and even decorating it with Halloween stuff.
  • I puttered a bit around in Lord of the Rings Online, working on pressing my Minstrel through Helm’s Deep, but didn’t quite make it to the finish line.
  • Torchlight III came out and I played it for a week, but it really wasn’t that exciting or even blogworthy in the end.
  • For retro gaming, I’ve been going through Maniac Mansion, an early LucasArts adventure title.
  • But yeah, that’s about it for gaming this month — about 90% of my time was spent in World of Warcraft, and most of that before the patch, which meant I was pretty much only farming dungeons. This all sounds lame to put down in a post, but I had a good time and wasn’t bored at all.

November 2020’s goals

  • While there’s the temptation to roll more World of Warcraft characters, I have a lot to do on the ones I already have to forestall this decision as we head toward the November 23rd release date.
  • On my Druid, I’m going to work on unlocking flying in Battle for Azeroth (why not), build up a good battle pet team, and switch her professions over to enchanting.
  • On my Hunter, I’m going to finish all of the regular Warlords of Draenor quests, build up the garrison, and level up her engineering.
  • Despite downshifting in LOTRO, I don’t want to leave entirely. If I can make more progress or even finish Helm’s Deep on my Minnie, that would be smashing.
  • There are some other MMOs on deck as possibilities this month, such as SWTOR and ESO, but I’m just going to keep them there until or unless I get restless that I feel the need to pop into one.
  • I bought Octopath Traveler on sale this past week, which got me really excited to play through it. Heard LOTS of good things about it, so that’s next on my list once I finish up Maniac Mansion.

Downshifting in Lord of the Rings Online

I’m hitting a really strange stretch with Lord of the Rings Online lately. I’ve felt my interest flagging for a couple of months now, which is understandable when you consider that I’ve been playing it fairly constantly for years now. No matter how much I like a game and am invested in it, sooner or later comes a need to take a break.

I’m not quite sure if I’m at the point of needing to step away entirely, but I’m certainly not on fire to play it. And as I wrote over at Massively OP, I’m kind of upset with SSG over how it is handling the new update. But honestly? Even if they gave it away for free, it doesn’t seem all that compelling, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out at all.

I don’t think I’m going to make a hard break away from the game, but rather give myself permission to downshift and just play when the feeling rises rather than on a daily basis. I still haven’t finished Helm’s Deep on the legendary server, since that’s like plowing through a wall hundreds and hundreds of quests, and no matter how much momentum you have going into it, eventually it’s going to slow you down. It would be nice to wrap it up before Gondor arrives, but you know what? Not the end of the world if I don’t.

What’s very strange to consider that if I drop LOTRO from my daily gaming diet, then all I’m left in the MMORPG space at the present is World of Warcraft. That isn’t intentional, but it is the spot on the journey that this year has taken me to. I do have a list that I maintain of other MMOs that I would like to get to if I’m starving for a different play experience, but at the present I’m having more than enough fun and occupied with plenty of goals in WoW that others aren’t as sorely needed.

Hopefully stepping back — but not away — from LOTRO will start refilling that interest meter, especially as the REAL expansion is slated for next spring. I’d love to have some genuine excitement for that, for sure.

KOTOR: Digging into Taris’ smelly underbelly

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

The lower city of Taris is far more rough-and-tumble than up in the fresh air. In quick succession, Syppi bumps into a (helmetless?) Mandalorian named Canderous and a bounty hunter collecting on a couple of poor Rodians. With a gang war brewing in the background, it’s time to stir the pot and try to come out ahead.

And if that’s not intimidating enough, down here there are teenagers! Actually, it’s just one teen, but she comes with a Wookiee attached. Her name is Mission, and while people love to hate on her, I find her one of the more endearing characters in the game. Having a giant Wookiee bodyguard (named Zaalbar) is a plus to the interest factor.

Well I’m feeling more than a bit foolish. For all the times I’ve played this game, I never really used the transit feature on the map for quick transport to and from the hideout. That’s so convenient for free heals, and I can’t believe I never noticed it before. Sigh. At least now I can easily zip back to upgrade my armor and weapons. KOTOR has a simple and efficient upgrade system that I wish most games would copy. Just a few slots for each upgradable gear type that can be equipped with whatever mods you find. That’s how I like it.

So good news/bad news on the Bastila hunt. The good news is that Hidden Bek leader says that he knows where the Jedi is. The bad news is that she was captured by a rival gang, and the only way to rescue her is (for some reason) to win a swoop bike race. And to do that, Syppi has to go to the most dangerous part of the city to get a part for the bike. It’s an RPG, just go with it.

Just as the team is getting ready to go on a mission to get the part, Carth spills his guts about his trust issues. Captain Exposition there says that he was disillusioned when two leading Jedi — Malak and Revan — turned against the Republic after the Mandalorian War and dragged a whole bunch of former troops into their sway. That boy’s going to have even more trust issues when he recalls this conversation later on in the game, let me tell you.

Now it’s time to explore the third layer of Taris, the Undercity. It’s basically the planet’s surface where trash and scavengers and rhakghouls (zombies) roam.

Down here, Mission runs up to Syppi all frantic about the fact that Big Z got kidnapped by slave traders. She agrees to help sneak Syppi into the base in exchange for a Wookiee rescue. I’m down with that — and with getting a third party member who is good at traps and locks — so let’s head on out!

Said Wookiee is rescued ridiculously easily in a sewer crawl — and Big Z decides to pledge a lifedebt to Syppi in return. So now, yes, I have my own pet fluffy murder machine. Even better, this means that I can boot Carth from the party! Consider your lifedebt repaid just for that, Big Z.

Down in the sewers is a rancor, perhaps confused how he could even fit down here. Maybe he grew up in the sewers from a small age and this place is the only world he knows. In any case, Syppi tricks it into eating a grenade, which gives him terminal heartburn. Literally, it burned his heart.

A few more levels of pew-pew through the Black Vulkars’ base, and Syppi grabs the swoop accelerator for the big race tomorrow. Can’t wait! Anything has to be better than pod racing.

Giving Warlords of Draenor a second chance

I have to say that I think Blizzard is hitting the sweet spot with World of Warcraft’s leveling in the 9.0 era. It took me about a week, week-and-a-half to get my gal Gwenders here from level 1 to 50, and that felt like a good pace. It did slow down considerably in the 40s, but she certainly wasn’t hurting for sources of questing XP by the end.

About 20 levels into playing her, I got inspired by a post I read somewhere about how fun playing a Survival Hunter was, and so I decided to try it out for myself. Survival isn’t a spec that I ever really thought of much — after all, wasn’t the point of a Hunter big guns and lots of pets? But it’s such an underdog of a spec that it has that semi-unique angle to it, and I found that irresistible.

It’s definitely a mess of a spec with no cohesive look or feel. You’re flinging bombs, shooting poison crossbow bolts, calling down birds, and whapping bad guys with a staff — all while using a harpoon between fights to pull you to the next bad guy. Yet it’s weirdly fun, once you get into the groove of it. It does put down single-target mobs pretty quickly, and I like the mobility of the harpoon.

So I’ve been going back and forth between Beast Master and Survival depending on my mood. BM is more of a laid-back approach that I’ve done a million times before, while Survival is great for when I have more energy and want to look like I’m a staff-fighting legend.

The expansion of my choice for Gwenders was Warlords of Draenor, and let me tell you, it’s been a GREAT pick. I never have been as down on Draenor as most WoW players, because the leveling experience, zones, and Garrison system are all a treat. I love having a base from which to start and end my adventures, and I sorely miss that elsewhere in the game (and no, class order halls aren’t the same at all).

In fact, over this Halloween season, I’ve been busting my butt trying to get the garrison decorated. That meant getting as many resources as I could, paying a chunk of gold, and then quickly doing five days of dailies. But that’s worth it, because it’s an overlay that I will leave on year-round.

Now that I’m 50, I still want to finish up Draenor’s storylines on the Hunter and work on my garrison some more. I need to gear her up, but that’s probably going to have to wait for a few weeks until the next Timewalking dungeon event. I’m in no rush — I want to get my Draenor engineering capped, then maybe take her to Legion for that realm’s questing/engineering/class mount. I might also start a fourth character, but I’m kind of waiting to see what Blizzard is thinking in terms of Shadowlands’ schedule. Honestly, if the studio delays it until 2021, I’d be totally OK with it. I’ve got more than enough fun stuff to keep me occupied for the time being!

Nostalgia Lane: MP3 players of the past

Lately I’ve been enraptured with the idea of getting back into the practice of using a dedicated DAP — digital audio player — despite having my music on my phone, computer, and even a flash drive in my car. I haven’t really thought about DAPs or MP3 players in a long time, other than having a sports one for biking, but ever since I’ve been reading up on the modern player scene, it’s been making me totally nostalgic for the gadgets I’ve had in the past.

My very, very first MP3 player was a Creative Jukebox Zen, which I got in the early 2000s back when iPods weren’t playing nice with Windows. This was a very bulky and heavy unit, but I fell in love with the ability to take all my music with me on the go, especially when I took plane trips. The device and interface wasn’t the most user friendly, which was typical of the era, but it definitely tided me over until I was able to afford an Apple product that would interface with my computer.

And that happened in 2004, when I sprung for an iPod Photo. This was part of the 4th generation of the devices, and it was an absolute beauty to behold. To this day, I think the click wheel is one of the best interfaces I’ve ever experienced on a gadget, and I’m really bummed that Apple doesn’t make iPods with these any more.

In any case, I cherished the heck out of this device, loading it up with all my music and even a few pictures. I liked that it had some simple games, too. Remember, this was before smartphones were everywhere, so the iPod was kind of *it* for my on-the-go entertainment. I could listen to music, look at a few pictures, or play solitaire or breakout. That was surprisingly enough!

I had one other iPod purchase after that, which was the 5th generation iPod video. I’m a little fuzzy on when I bought it, I think maybe 2007 or 2008, but I do know that it had a massive amount of storage for the time (over 100 GB). I loved the idea of being able to watch movies on the go, and I had loaded up a few to view in my car between classes at seminary when I had some free time.

It was an improvement as a device in every way over my previous iPod, but you know what? I’m still more nostalgic for the older curvy white model. I think once other functions started to invade my MP3 player — videos for the next iPod, apps for the iPhone — then I found myself getting distracted away from listening to just music. It’s exactly the same deal with Kindle on the phone versus the Paperwhite. It’s nice to have everything-in-one gadgets, but sometimes it’s better to have single-function devices that lets you focus on just one thing.

Sunday Serenade: Bakermat, Blackpink, 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… 

“Pretty Little Jaguar” by Bakermat — Oh how I drink up the punctuated tempo with this one. Just a terrific song that I listened to a half-dozen times right away.

“Walk” by Saint Chaos — Amazingly excellent song with such a hard bounce to it. Instantly one of my favorites from this year.

“Old” by Axero — Just a happy-go-lucky tune.

“Cigarette” by Miles Away and XYSM — I like songs that tell a good story with a catchy beat, and this does both.

“Welcome Guests” from The Haunting of Magnolia Manor — Another amazing piece from Big Giant Circles. A pulse-pounding Halloween track? Indeed!

“Face Up to the Sun” by Mike Williams and Justin Mylo — Love the hard-hitting bass with this one. Voice is a little annoying, but I’ll live with it.

“Lovesick Girls” by Blackpink — Finally, a song that speaks to me where I’m at.

“Crush” by LarryKoek — This one charmed the pants off of me. Fortunately, I had more pants.

“Goodbye” by Le Shuuk — A happy-go-lucky track about running away from evil? I’m digging it.

Is Chromie the face of World of Warcraft?

A half-decade ago, if you had asked me who or what was the face of World of Warcraft, I might have said “murlocs” or “Chris Metzen.” But that answer has changed in recent years,  and it’s not doughy J. Allen Brack. No, weirdly enough, Blizzard’s really latched onto Chromie as its key figure.

Like a lot of Blizzard things, it started as a bit of a joke — a giant time traveling dragon who just so happened to choose a cute-as-a-button gnome for its disguise — and then made it more and more canon. Chromie kept popping up in the game anywhere time shenanigans happened, and soon enough, she was appearing elsewhere.

When Blizzard made the stunning announcement of World of Warcraft Classic a couple of years ago, it was Chromie’s face that players saw at the start of the announcement trailer. And now with Patch 9.0, the cheeky gnome is up in everyone’s face as they go to her to beseech “Chromie Time” for their leveling journey.

What amuses me is that it’s always seemed like Blizzard really hated gnomes. They had them in WoW, sure, but always as the butt of a abuse or a joke. Chromie — despite not being a real gnome — seems to signal a change in this. Huge hulking kings, growling orcs, wishy-washy banshees all took a step back to let Chromie come to the forefront.

And I’m totally fine with that, because I like it when a game shows that it doesn’t have to be super-duper serious all the time. I like the idea of mighty power being compacted down into a small and unassuming form. And I like it because gnomes are amazing and should be the only race in the game.

Maybe it’s time to make Chromie the new warchief? She couldn’t do worse than anyone else that has sat on that throne.

Is Blizzard smart with its dual-launch approach to WoW expansions?

For a good while now, Blizzard has been rolling out its World of Warcraft expansions in a much different fashion than the rest of the MMORPG field. It always comes in two parts — or more, if you consider the studio’s tendency to hold back content to “unlock” later. But the two basic parts are the pre-patch and the actual expansion launch.

The pre-patch debuts core system changes and class reworks. It officially puts to bed the old expansion, as the studio did last week to Battle for Azeroth, and ushers in the new expansion cycle. Often it contains some sort of event or quest chain to keep players occupied as they wait for the real event — the actual expansion launch with the new zones, quests, features, classes, races, etc.

I used to be quite put out by this approach, because I felt like Blizzard was milking it too much and even spoiling the new expansion a bit. I felt it was somewhat akin to opening a third of your Christmas presents before the actual day. But now I’ve come to appreciate this approach (although I don’t quite endorse it).

Obviously, one great advantage to this is that Blizzard can indeed maximize its publicity. The studio releases significant patches and expansions so slowly that it makes sense to draw them out so as to make it feel as large and momentous to the playerbase as possible. The pre-patch got as much coverage as any actual MMO expansion would, and we’re not even AT the expansion yet!

Beyond that, it’s helpful to get the pre-patch going for both players and developers to evaluate all of the class changes. As long as Blizzard’s going to keep doing this thing where it feels like it needs to reinvent the class wheel with every expansion, it can’t leave these changes until the day of the expansion. Players need time to adjust and acclimate, and the studio needs time to put its full attention on how they’re working out instead of being scattered all over the place.

For Shadowlands in particular, the pre-patch is useful in that it installs the new leveling paradigm to allow players to create alts and maybe get an extra character or two ready for the expansion. I remember when Burning Crusade launched and pretty much all of us felt torn between taking our established characters into Outland and rolling a Blood Elf or Draenei. In 2020, we don’t have to choose; we can do one and then the other.

KOTOR: Sexist worms off to the rescue!

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Fresh off the now-exploded Endar Spire, Syppi and angsty Carth are hiding out in the apartments on the upper levels of Taris. It’s actually a pretty good setting for the initial stage of the game, as the planet is under Sith control (meaning lots of enemies around and no leaving) and rich in that Star Wars feel. Also, the music! The soundtrack is amazing as it settles into the background and helps you get into the mood of the setting.

So one big pet peeve I have with KOTOR is that none of the characters ever holster their weapons. I really wish they would, because it’s so awkward to have them constantly holding pistols and swords while talking and running around.

Why do I hate Carth so much? Well, you’ve obviously never played KOTOR if you have to ask that, but the short answer is that he is trying way too hard to be a Han Solo type, if Han Solo was much more insecure and needy. To make myself feel better, I steal and equip Carth’s custom blaster while calling him a sexist worm and a sexless marsh toad. He’s a romance option, but that’ll happen only when Hell freezes over. And even then, probably not.

Without any clear direction other than to try to find Bastila’s escape pod, it’s time for that RPG tradition of “barge into every domicile in the area and steal everything that’s not nailed down.” And even then, we have a hammer to pry things up.

Naturally, as this is Star Wars, there’s a cantina nearby. It’s got an assembly of assorted toughs and brats, although you can play some cards or fight in an arena if you’re feeling lucky.

KOTOR wasn’t the first game to include some sort of morality meter, but it definitely was the first to really catch my attention. Although it’s kind of a trite and stilted feature these days, the light-side/dark-side paths in KOTOR aided in both roleplaying and replayability. You could go down the light side by being nice and helpful, down the dark side by being Hitler reborn, or just hang out in the middle by doing a bit of both. Since there isn’t much of a benefit from going “grey,” you might as well go all-out one way or the other for bonuses, exclusive force powers, and visual flair. As I said last time, I’m doing light side because I never really saw much fun in being unnecessarily cruel.

One of the first LS/DS choices on Taris is whether or not to turn in a doctor who is hiding hurt Republic troops. I kind of wish I could be floating in a jar in my underwear some days. Looks comfy.

The only real drawback to light side is that you don’t end up with as much stuff. Like, you give away more credits to be nice than extorting them, that sort of thing. Then again, you get that artificial feeling of being a good person in a virtual world where NPCs praise your name and then dash off, never to be seen again.

One nice touch is that KOTOR does make a bit of an effort to portray the Sith as something other than evil killing dudes. You get to know how they’re still people who work 9 to 5 jobs and party afterward. They’re still on Team Evil and deserve to be killed, of course, but it’s a little humanization that helps to round them out.

Also, Syppi totally steals one of the Sith uniforms to disguise herself and gain entrance to the lower city. It’s time to leave this life of upper crust luxury and descend into the belly of the city beast.

Welcome to lower Taris, where criminal gangs struggle for turf and swoop-bike races break all the speed limits. It’s more grungy but far more Star Warsian, if that makes any sense. I’m just glad there are tons of mobs to gun down, since I need the XP to get as many Scoundrel levels as possible on this planet. The only real combat gripe I have at this point is that there’s no natural hit point regen nor any force healing, so it’s either buying/scavenging a lot of med packs or keep making trips back to certain rest spots to heal up. Carth keeps falling down in battle if someone sneezes in his direction.