Posted in Music

Sunday Serenade: Guild Wars 2, Cassetter, 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… 

“Introspection” by Cassetter — Awesome retro synth like this makes me so very satisfied.

“Eagle Flight” from Guild Wars 2 — Catching up on some Guild Wars 2 tunes this week, and this one just floored me with how great it is.

“Loco in Acapulco” by The Four Tops — Just the right mix of summer and cheese.

“Wellerman” by Nathan Evans — I’ll never say no to a sea shanty!

“Dioma” by Jnathyn — This driving synth track slaps pretty hard. Great beat.

“Mind Over Matter” by EG Daily — Kinda dorky but a total earworm even so.

“Make Noize” by Kid n Play — Old school rap, it was almost wholesome.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Turbo boosting through Mordor

Spoilers: Gollum dies!

It still feels so weird that the very start of the Mordor expansion is the end of the main storyline of Return of the King. Like, it should be over… but in LOTRO, it’s not. It’s just moving into a new phase.

After treading water and building up to level 112 in the Wastes, I finally pushed into Mordor proper. Initially, I had the best of intentions of getting all of the quests done — especially since I was over-leveled enough to steamroll mobs — but after a few days, I felt the drab landscape get to me. Mordor simply isn’t exciting or stimulating in a way that sparks my imagination, so just like last time, it became this bog trying to suck me down.

I think even the developers knew this, which is why the main storyline keeps pulling you out of Mordor to run across Middle-earth for various chores. It’s a visual and tonal reprieve before you have to plunge back into the Mother of All Volcano Zones.

By Day Four of Mordor, I said, “Forget this!” and decided that my level advantage meant that I could simply ignore everything other than the epics. I’m not going to miss out on any significant rewards from all of the side quests, and this way I can just stick to a main storyline that should get me through Mordor as (relatively) quickly as possible.

Hey, it’s a refugee from Dungeons and Dragons Online! Man, the artists did not give you a lot of love, did they sweetie?

As I write this, I’m level 113, and the maximum level of content in Mordor is 115, so I think I’ll be just fine if I take this track. I’ll start re-engaging with regular questing in Northern Mirkwood and Dale-lands and push to get to level 130.

It also helps that I have two fully imbued first age LIs, so my power level is in a good place. Just 16 more zones to go, and I’ll be caught up with the latest content!

Posted in General

The weirdness of shoulder armor

It was always a joke in World of Warcraft and even more so in SWTOR, but the truth is that shoulder armor has sat in this weird place in RPGs for a while now — and particularly for MMOs.

For any game that allows players to equip different pieces of gear, shoulder armor turns up. After all, there’s only so many different visible spots on a humanoid’s body, and some of them are too small to notice (belts and wristbands, I’m looking at you). So developers did this weird thing that, to compensate, they kept enlarging shoulders far beyond the point of practicality. Shoulder gear wasn’t there to suggest functionality; shoulder gear was a giant cosmetic flag.

And it’s one that I think looks flat-out ridiculous.

Along with cloaks and helms, I’m often disabling shoulder armor in games that have it because I don’t like looking like a reject from a 1980s workplace.

I guess if you’re a tank, you like to look as “armored up” as possible, so big fat shoulders make more sense in that regard. Kind of like you’re a medieval football player or something. But I don’t make tanks nor need to express power in business fashion.

As I said before, World of Warcraft’s tendency to exaggerate graphics went overboard with shoulders. Some of those pieces were so big and clunky that they probably weighed more than the character. Many of them looked downright impractical. I have a fun shoulder piece for my Druid that is pretty much a pair of giant glass orbs filled with blood. Don’t know how that’s going to protect me in a fight, but give me some straws, and I’ll keep hydrated with cheery kool-aid!

I also think it’s really silly to see shoulder pieces so big and tall that any wearer of them would have zero peripheral vision. Some of shoulder gear is so spiky that it would lobotomize adventurers if they shrugged, which feels terrifying to me.

Anyway, this isn’t to say games should stop with the shoulder silliness, it’s just something that’s been catching my attention as of late.

Posted in Retro Gaming

Rimworld: Playing with dead things

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2016’s Rimworld. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

The morning after the Great Elk Massacre, as it’s now being called, Wallis and Lozano somehow make it back to their base. They’re not in great shape, but they’re not bleeding to death, either.

Visitors arrive to trade, but they don’t have anything really useful — parkas or submachine guns would be great — so instead I send my guys to go sleep it off and try to get back into working condition. They’re both at extreme risk for breaking, which is another thing Rimworld has you worry about. Colonists have a mental state, and if they experience too many things they don’t like and don’t have enough good things to balance that out, they can break and go wandering or start fires or even start attacking each other.

My two survivors are right on the threshold of disaster, again, but there’s little I can do other than just wait it out and hope the situation improves. After burying Gallagher and heading out to watch a sunrise, Lozano snaps and starts wandering around in a daze. The only good thing that comes from mental breaks is that there’s a positive period of catharsis afterward, but I’m worried that Lozano’s health might not last until then.

Then Wallis breaks, and he decides to go play with some dead bodies. I’ll admit it, that’s a new one that I’ve never seen before in this game. Sometimes Rimworld can get really dark and twisted, you have no idea.

Hey, it’s Hoffman! Hoffman’s back, everyone! Wallis starts toting around the remains of his former shipmate, maybe planning on doing some Weekend at Bernie’s activities with her.

What he actually does is haul her body back to the base, plop her on the dining room table, and then eat a meal on top of her corpse. Let’s just hope Lozano doesn’t choose this exact moment to come back from his wanderings — it would probably set him off again.

Huh, actually he’s pretty OK with it, being in catharsis finally. Meanwhile, Hoffman turns into a dessicated corpse and why am I writing about this? This is the most macabre thing ever, but it’s also weirdly hilarious.

I think this is why you HAVE to play Rimworld on commitment mode. If I could reload past saves, I know I would have by now — but I would have missed out on the ongoing struggle of the colony in order to play it safe and perfect. This is how stories emerge, without a safety net of saved games.

During a dark and stormy night, a mad elk breaks into the base like a horror movie villain and starts going to town on poor, poor Lozano. At least this time, Wallis and the dog (Connor) are able to down the creature relatively quickly. That’s the first time that dog’s ever done anything useful in this game.

Finally, some semblance of normal life returns. Wallis is fully healed and starts harvesting potatoes. I’m deeply worried that the colony is going to starve over the winter at this rate. I should have a lot more food stored up, and I’m not sure how feasible hunting is going to be after the elk incident. Right now, at least, I’m focusing on the fields and seeing if I can get another crop in. I doubt it — the days are already turning cooler at the end of the summer.

Much, MUCH too cool for my tastes. A cold snap arrives, which sends the temperature plummeting. Not only is this going to kill off any crop I haven’t harvested, not only is this going to prevent new crops from growing, but it’s going to pose a health risk to my two colonists in their unheated dorm room. Quickly, I tell Wallis to build a heater and get a power cable into that room.

And the hits just keep on coming! Another raid is launched against Bio Break colony, and while the pair are able to kill the slasher who comes at them, both Wallis and Lozano are hurt. Again.

I don’t know how much more everyone here can take. But at least there’s one more corpse in the ground to play with.

Posted in Elder Scrolls Online

Elder Scrolls Online: Just a scrub in Daggerfall

And lo, Syp went into an Elder Scrolls Online dungeon. Forsooth, he survived.

Actually, I had been avoiding dungeons at the start there. I usually do when getting into an MMO, because I’ve always got this mild fear that comes with not knowing how dungeon runs go in a specific game. You just don’t want to look foolish and get yelled at on your first run, you know?

But it was a silly fear, because at least while leveling, these dungeons are nothing but relatively stress-free grouping fun. It’s four people zerging really cool set pieces. I guess there’s a tank and a healer, but I haven’t really noticed anyone stepping up into those roles. I know that for me, I’m happy to lay down heals when I see people’s health bars sliding, and I’m also not too shy about jumping into a pack of mobs with my trusty shield and axe.

And by doing the daily random dungeon, I’m getting extra goodies, including at least one purple piece of gear. I like that.

As of late, I’ve been adventuring through Glenumbra and its main city of Daggerfall. It’s a very nice region — I’ve yet to meet a truly ugly ESO zone, although I’m sure there must be some — but the sheer scope of it and all of the quests, skyshards, and points of interest are keeping me occupied.

I do like starting a quest chain and staying focused on just that until I come to a conclusion. There have been some dull ones, like helping druids fight anti-druids so that they can keep their big ol’ tree. And there have been some fascinating ones that culminate with choices and strong narrative beats.

I also joined up with the Undaunted guild/faction (along with the fighter and mage guilds), which is I think a dungeon-focused group. All I know is that they had a hilarious initiation ceremony that culminated with a dorky song and that I got a really great skill from that guild’s line that helps with my AOE damage.

I certainly feel like I’m rocketing up in levels a lot faster than I did on my previous character. I’m careful to always have an experience and food buff going at all times (it helps that they’re like two-hour buffs that you get for free from the daily rewards), and just running a single dungeon usually gets me one or two levels just from that. I should hit 50 by some time in March, and I guess after that it’s progressing through champion points and figuring out that system.

But there’s never any feeling of rush. This is the kind of game experience that I like best in MMOs, when I can leisurely explore and complete a zone without feeling pressured to move on or hit some sort of milestone to be with others. And there’s a whole lot of content ahead that I own, with DLC that I’ll get around to buying sooner or later when I’ve exhausted the rest.

I probably will buy Blackwood when it launches, though, and not just to be with everyone else. I love the idea of having a companion character in addition to my bear pet, so that’ll become a priority this June.

Posted in World of Warcraft

A wild Burning Crusade appears!

Well, the world’s worst-kept secret is finally out of the bag, and now we have confirmation that Burning Crusade Classic is coming this year. Sometime this year. Leave it to Blizzard not to give us any firm dates or even a more narrow window, but that’s how that studio rolls.

Since we all anticipated it, there’s little surprise here, but it is pleasant to hear even so. We do know that all of the current servers will be converted to Burning Crusade while those who want to stay in Vanilla can transfer to special shards just for that purpose. Not me; I’m ready to move on, and I’m only level 25 as I write this. It’s been a lot of fun adventuring through old Azeroth, but I have zero desire to stay here.

So now I have extra motivation to get my character up to 60, although if Blizz isn’t giving a launch window, I have to assume that I have plenty of time even if I’m just leveling during lunch breaks.

The biggest wrinkle that Burning Crusade threw at me back in 2007 — and the same one that it does today — is the issue of rolling up an alt to take advantage of the new races (and the new race/class combo). When TBC launched, I nearly split myself in half taking my Warlock into Outland while also trying to power-level a Draenei Shaman, and I feel that I might just do the same again in 2021. There’s a big appeal to both prospects, although I do wish there’d be a way to instantly create a level 58 Shaman instead of going all the way back to the start again.

BlizzCon certainly showed me how little I’m interested in Shadowlands, even with the announcement of Patch 9.1. I simply don’t feel that excited about what they’re offering. But I don’t feel like I’m missing out, because I’m still getting my ‘Craft fix from the classic servers.

Posted in Music

Sunday Serenade:

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… 

“Ginger Island” from Stardew Valley — Love this new(ish) update OST for the game. Always a relaxing good time.

“Dance Dance Dance” by Astrid S — Dancing solves EVERYTHING!

“Jealous of My Friends” by Lova — It’s like reading a really honest diary entry that’s weighing singlehood vs. being in a relationship.

“Main Theme” from Chopping Mall — This is such an ’80s synth score and it’s amazing for it.

“Some Type of Love” by Charlie Puth — It’s a sweet song with a nice rich sound.

“Jesus is King” by Bradley Bridges — I’m trying to catch up on Christian music, and this one melded a nice chorus and a strong testimony.

Posted in World of Warcraft

WoW Classic: Finding purpose in the slog

I’ve found that once I’ve gotten past the initial 10 or 15 levels of WoW Classic, there’s a definite drop-off in that “fresh start feel” that drives a lot of the initial engagement and enthusiasm. After all, this isn’t a new game to me, nor is it right at the beginning of the WoW Classic craze. If anything, the atmosphere feels dormant and in semi-hibernation, waiting to be woken if the Outlands emerges through the Dark Portal this spring.

So to continue my journey, I’ve had to find something to replace that fresh start feel in order to keep my engagement up. Once you’re just going through the motions, it’s just a matter of time before you quit. Or I quit.

I’ve grasped several things that keep me logging in over my lunch break every day to continue my crawl up in the levels (now level 20 and counting!). In no particular order, they are:

1. Being an observant tourist of old Azeroth. WoW Classic continues to unlock those little nostalgia-loaded memories at the most surprising moments, and so I do enjoy just puttering around the landscape and trying to remember what it was like to see all of this the first time around.

2. The slower, more deliberate pace is very relaxing and familiar, and whether I’m questing or grinding, I feel like I’m “farming” an MMO rather than trying to rush to the next objective or get dailies done or whatnot. I’m on a long journey (with guide in hand), and I’m cool with that.

3. I celebrate over small milestones and acquisitions. A new green item that gives me +2 more spirit than I had before? A new level with its precious talent point? A questline that gives me an additional pet? Something drops I can sell on the auction house? These things matter all the more because of how slow and stingy the game can be with them.

4. I’ve gotten plugged into a very vocal and supportive guild. Everyone is quick to help each other out or share loot that they don’t want but someone else might need. I’ve never been in want for bags, for example, because I’ve had 12- and 14-slotters tossed my way with no expectation of recompensation.

Of course, it’s still a long road from 20 to 60, and unless Burning Crusade Classic offers an easy onboard to level 58, for example, I still have a ways to go. I kind of hope that TBC won’t come too soon because it’ll really ramp up the pressure to get to 60.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Powering up in the Wastes

Using a level 105 Gift of the Valar in LOTRO doesn’t mean that I am instantly on easy street. In fact, dumping me right at the threshold of Mordor has raised a lot of trepidation in me, because I had such a rough time going through it a few years ago. So my overarching goal has become to level up as much as possible in the Wastes to get an advantage over Mordor mobs before I head in.

Thus, I’ve been taking my time to do every quest in the area and work on deeds all while popping every experience booster and rested XP boost I have. And I’ve accumulated a whole lot of those, since I never really needed them on my max level character. As a result, I’ve shot from level 105 to 110 in under a week, and I’m feeling much more confident about the task ahead.

I probably need to head in anyway, because Mordor is the gauntlet that needs to be run before the zones get all pretty and peaceful again. I’ve got a good toolkit with the Minstrel, including shields, heals, first age LIs, a couple of flops (never discount the usefulness of a good Hobbit flop, I say), and even a stealth ability. I’m able to mow down packs of mobs provided that they don’t put too many diseases and bleeds on me all at once.

Of course the big question mark in my future plans is the fact that LOTRO is currently testing Update 29 and the new Wildwood region of Bree-land. I know that I’m going to want to — and need to, for writing purposes — go through that area when it comes out, which is looking to be within the month. SSG never tests things for very long. I might do a back-and-forth thing where I spend a bit of time every day doing Wildwood while continuing to press through Mordor.

If I can make some good progress through Mordor, at least get the first zone done by the end of the month, I’ll feel like I’m staying on track. Finish up Mordor by the end of March, do Mirkwood/Dale/Iron Hills in April and May, then the Vales and Minas Morgul this summer. That’ll put me in a good spot to play Gundabad this fall.

Posted in Retro Gaming

Rimworld: The Great Elk Massacre of 2021

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2016’s Rimworld. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

So let’s talk about my colony as it stands in mid-summer of the first year. Starting from the top down, I have five fields growing food and one growing cotton in rich soil, hopefully coming to harvest before the cold sets in. For power, I’ve got a wind turbine and a second one in the making, but no batteries or solar panels yet. There’s a large store room for misc. supplies, and a freezer for food. Then under that is the single common room/bedroom with beds, a table, and the research bench, and finally at the bottom is a jail cell.

I’ve got a lot of goals that I want to accomplish by the end of the first year, such as getting batteries to even out power demands (don’t want heaters turning off in the winter!), making cold weather clothing, and hunting all the animals I can find before they migrate away. I’m also hoping to carve out the interior of the hill here to put in different bedrooms.

One cool Rimworld trick I learned a while back is that the nutrient hopper is one of the best additions to your colony for food. It takes any food source and makes meals for people without needing a cook, which frees up a person and cooking space. Yes, there’s a small hit to morale (people don’t like eating nutrient slime all the time), but it’s worth it for the convenience and additional colonist.

Weirdly enough, I discovered in this playthrough that I can’t recruit the “wild man” I arrested — but I can try to tame him. Like an animal. DON’T LOOK AT ME THAT WAY.

Alas, Hoffman isn’t doing that well after being savaged by a rabbit. The infection is burning hot, and while Lozano tries to tend to her, his doctor skill is only 1 and her immunity isn’t rising fast enough to help out. I’m really worried that she’s going to end up in an early grave, which will be a huge setback to my small colony.

And sure enough, on Jugust 7th, Hoffman perishes. If I had a medical facility and a proper doctor, I could’ve tried to amputate the foot as well. As it stands, we’ll just need to make do with two colonists for now. The only upshot of that is less food needed.

Lozano buries her a distance away and then has a light snack. Weird guy, that Lozano.

To kick me while I’m down, immediately after Hoffman dies the colony gets raided. Normally, this isn’t a huge deal in the early game, especially since it’s just one chubby guy with a club versus my expert brawler and another guy with a rifle. But no, the raider absolutely thrashes both of my guys — and, to top it all, the wild man escapes his jail cell.

So is this the end of my very short colony? Well, there is hope:

This is an interesting event that sometimes happens when all your colonists are downed. The game’ll send you a bonus free colonist to come in, help defend, and hopefully help get your colonists to safety. My man in black is Gallagher, a kind guy who rushes in from the west.

At the same time, the raider attempts to kidnap an unconscious Lozano. I tell Gallagher to attack the raider, but he’s too far away and the raider is clearly going to win this race. At least, until the raider collapses from blood loss and drops Lozano to the ground before finally dying. Hooray!

As Gallagher tries to rescue both colonists and get them to their beds, the game decides I need another challenge. Oh hey, now my corn crop has the blight, which spoils the food and spreads quickly if I don’t cut down the harvest right now. You know, with my zero free people.

Long story short, we squeak through this crisis. Lozano and Wallis are patched up, Gallagher cuts all the infected crops, and the colony starts functioning once more. A day later, my first rice crop comes in, and that’s great news — it’ll feed people for a while and won’t spoil if power to the freezer cuts out.

Hunting many types of animals, especially in the northern climes of Rimworld, is a risky proposition. I really need the fur and meat, but there’s always a chance that the hunted animals will try to get revenge. Gallagher finds this out firsthand as a herd of elk team up on him after he plugs a few of their own.

The angry elk herd doesn’t stop there, but starts gunning for the other colonists. Poor Lozano, who’s already had a hard week with the death of his friend, getting pummeled by a raider, and then kidnapped, finds himself on the receiving end of a whole lot of unforgiving hooves.

Wallis then finds herself under siege in the base by elk. At least they can’t get in the door, so she’s safe… but the other two are dying unless she can get to them.

Gallagher dies from blood loss, but Lozano — bless his heart — wakes up and staggers to his new friend’s corpse. He grabs some food and tries to make it home. The elk… the elk have other plans. Lozano gets ambushed feet away from the door — but maybe that’s close enough for Willis to grab him. We’ve got to try!

Oh no! Now the elk are in the base! Repeat, the elk are in the base! Oh the humanity!

The elk take down Wallis — not a death-threatening move, but definitely inconvenient — and then get trapped in the freezer with them. Finally, after a lot of braying, the elk batter down a door and escape, leaving my guys writhing in the ground in agony.