Torchlight III and Magic Legends shows how early access can bite you in the butt

If you didn’t catch the news last week, Cryptic announced that Magic Legends — which hasn’t even officially launched yet — is shutting down on Halloween, of all days. For the unfamiliar, this was the studio’s newest title which drew upon the popular Magic the Gathering franchise and adapted it into a Diablo-style online RPG.

It’s the second blow to parent company Perfect World, which is still wiping copious amounts of egg off its face from Torchlight III, another online ARPG that debuted to a lackluster response, meandered about, and eventually jettisoned its entire developer.

It’s also shocking for Cryptic, which has been riding high on Neverwinter and Star Trek Online for years. We’ve never seen Cryptic fail this quickly this badly. The thing was, having played Magic Legends and speaking to many who also did, it wasn’t a terrible game. There was a lot of potential here and even the groundwork for a cult following. But it was messy, buggy, and devoid of meaningful content when it came out in early access, and not even the Magic IP could rope in the crowds it needed for long-term success.

Magic Legends (and Torchlight III) are the latest examples of how badly early access can go for a game. Sure, it gets a whole lot of excitement and press on Day One, but by Day Two, the playerbase realizes that they’re engaging with a half-baked game that needs a whole lot more work — and they’re not going to stick around to see it get finished. There’s too many other options, both current and upcoming, that is beckoning for attention.

The only early access games that I see really making it are the ones that come out already pretty much ready to go. They have the essentials down and they’re fun and not frustrating from the get-go. Games like RimWorld, Stardew Valley, and Valheim all land in this far more rare category.

“Early access” is not a magical talisman that guarantees a second chance down the road. As always, you only get one first impression, and now more than ever, it’s vital that it’s a great one — or you might as well pack it in. It feels like such a waste that Magic Legends and Torchlight III and other “had potential but failed to deliver” early access games are tossed out too soon to be chewed up and abandoned.

Battle Bards Episode 196: Project Gorgon

Battle Bards Episode 200: Battle Bards Bicentennial! Battle Bards

Can you believe it? The Battle Bards have hit 200 amazing episodes! Join Steff, Syl, and Syp as they take a victory lap around the field of MMO music, sharing their personal soundtrack discoveries and listeners' favorite tracks. It's a Battle Bards Bicentennial! Episode 200 show notes  Intro Reminiscing about the history of Battle Bards (feat. "Fields of the Shire from LOTRO and "Tempest Bay" from RIFT) Our favorite MMORPG soundtrack discoveries over the past 100 episodes Syp: Club Penguin Steff: The Division 2 Syl: Lost Ark Syp: Myst Online Steff: Lost Oasis Syl: Star Stable Syp: MapleStory 2 Steff: Tree of Savior Syl: Lineage Listeners' favorite tracks "Mystery of Wistmead" from LOTRO (Katriana) "Title Screen" from DCUO (Friendly Necromancer) I Am the Sea" from FFXIV (Lewenburg) "Twilight Over Thanalan from FFXIV (Drelkag) "Undead Tavern in Brill" from WoW (JinxedThoughts) "The Length and the Measure" from Warhammer Online (Thomas) "The Rebuilding of Lion's Arch" from Guild Wars 2 (Tishtoshtesh) "Knowledge Never Sleeps" from FFXIV (Psychae) "First Light" from Star Citizen (IpaMu71) Our favorite non-AAA MMO scores Fallen Earth (Syp) Star Citizen (Steff) Dragon's Prophet (Syl) Dungeon Runners (Syp) ArcheAge (Steff) Runes of Magic (Syl) Wizard101 (Syp) RuneScape Orchestral (Steff) Ultima X Odyssey (Syl) Outro (feat. "From Protostar!" from WildStar) Talk to the Battle Bards on Twitter! Follow Battle Bards on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Google Play, iHeartRadio, and Pocket Casts! This podcast is produced using copyrighted material according to Fair Use practices as stated under Section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act.
  1. Battle Bards Episode 200: Battle Bards Bicentennial!
  2. Battle Bards Episode 199: World of Warcraft tavern tunes
  3. Battle Bards Episode 198: Final Fantasy XI expansions

This time around, the Battle Bards cruise into the indie MMO known as “Project Gorgon” to see what musical landscape is being concocted in this usual realm. From dark dungeon crawls to dusty deserts, it’s a trip around a world of fantasy, mystery, and deliberate old school musical cues!

Episode 196 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Fae Forest,” “SunVale,” and “The Spider Crypt”)
  • “Overture Theme”
  • “Quiet Countryside”
  • “Eltibule”
  • “Delving for Forgotten Secrets”
  • “Rakshasa City”
  • “Anagoge Magical Island”
  • “The Deep Desert” 
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes from Katriana and Mark
  • Jukebox picks: “Galaxy Map” from Mass Effect, “Main Theme” from Ratchet and Clank, and “Lich is Unbreakable” from Loop Hero
  • Outro (feat. “Bard Music”)

WoW Classic: From dirt to poop

When I turned the corner of level 50 with my WoW Classic Shaman, I felt like I was on a glorious home stretch to Outland. Oh, simple Syp, you keep dreaming those dreams, because these last few levels have been a nightmare. There just aren’t enough quests to really propel up through eight expanded levels of XP, and I got super tired, super fast of running all around the world trying to find ones that were doable.

So I settled her down in the Blasted Lands to grind and skin and grind and skin. It’s productive, but it’s not fast. By level 53, I had pretty much had enough of that and decided that she needed to build up a whole bunch of rested XP while I actually had fun in Outland.

And so after largely neglecting my Warlock for a couple of weeks now, she’s back to adventuring in… Hellfire Peninsula. Oh yes, I’m so behind the crowd that I think they lapped me a couple of times. That’s fine, it’s still a whole lot of fun to log in and check off quests while I methodically make my way from east to west through the zone.

Can’t wait to get to Zangarmarsh and a change of scenery, though. I never really put this together before, how Blasted Lands and Hellfire Peninsula have the same landscape (since I never did spend much time in the former before now), but it’s a little too hellish and blasted to enjoy for long periods of time. And it should go without saying that there’s 100% too many poop quests (at one).

I think my number one wish for this expansion is that Blizzard would get even that half-functional LFG tool online. I do hop on the occasional dungeon run that’s broadcast through a zone, and it’s something I want to do more of.

World of Warcraft and Blizzard are getting *pummeled* by a fed-up community

Even though World of Warcraft is pumping out Patch 9.1 this week, it’s hard to ignore the tone surrounding the MMO right now. What should be an easy victory lap for Blizzard here is almost a self-condemnation, a finger that the studio is pointing to itself saying, “Look how obscenely, terribly, comically late we’ve been with our first post-expansion content update!”

And that is, of course, not all. Blizz has been absorbing some hard body blows as of late as notable World of Warcraft YouTubers (no, you guys don’t “create” “content,” so you’re YouTubers now and forever) have publicly defected to FFXIV. Then there was this emotion-drenched video:

which tapped into a whole lot of what people are feeling about a game that they used to love a whole bunch and have seen decline in both quality and population. And let’s not overlook this somewhat amusing survey question that Blizzard sent out asking players if, y’know, they’re also going to be defecting to FFXIV.

This isn’t really a piece about how one game is better than the other; FFXIV is pulled up a lot because it and WoW have been jockeying for first place in the MMO sphere and now FFXIV seems to be winning. The latter’s ascent is contrasted sharply against the former’s descent.

I have no idea what’s going on over at Blizzard these days — other than incompetent leadership and a brain drain of notable developers — but if giant klaxons aren’t going off in the hallways, I’d be surprised. The game that’s stood up to so many “WoW killers” is now… getting killed.

Of course, that’s a metaphor to an extent. WoW has a huge population even so and can absorb a whole bunch of body blows (not an infinite amount, mind you) before it ever fades completely. WoW Classic is doing just fine for itself and serving as another refugee harbor for retail players (myself included).

But one thing is clearly obvious: Things can’t go on as they have been if Blizzard wants World of Warcraft to retain its numbers and position. There needs to be a change of leadership, of direction, and of focus. Ideas like borrowed power systems need to be ejected into the sun. Content needs to be delivered more quickly. And Blizz needs to wake up and actually start paying attention to its competition and MMO players at large.

The mighty quest to lose weight

I could blame it on a year of stress and COVID and all that, but 2020 wasn’t a great year for my own constant battle with weight loss. Even as some of my friends saw great success with this, my own scale started creeping upward, month after month. After the better part of a decade of plateauing at a weight that — while it wasn’t ideal — I was comfortable with, now it’s coming back on. The shirts are getting tighter, pictures of me are embarrassing, and it’s been affecting my mental state somewhat.

This past month I had my checkup and the doctor noted I had put on 11 pounds since the year previous. I don’t know if this sounds big or small to you, but for me it’s pretty significant. At my heaviest, I topped 252 pounds and lost 55 of that in the span of two years after my third child was born. I thought at the time it was the wonder of low-carb diets — maybe that was part of it — but subsequent attempts at a keto diet haven’t worked for me at all.

The doc said my blood report was good and showed signs that I was exercising even more than usual, but still, I was gaining weight. We talked options, but ultimately he said it was down to my nutrition and diet.

So I evaluated what has worked for me well in the past — things like keeping a log of what I eat, practicing intermittent fasting between 4pm and 8am, and cutting out a lot of processed foods. I don’t have a lot of money to blow on Weight Watchers or Noom, so I booted up the free LoseIt app and started to count calories and plan out better meals.

The real key for me is to cut out snacking later in the night, especially before bed when it’s been seven hours since my last meal. I got in a real bad habit of diving into the fridge at 11pm, so I’m not surprised where those pounds came from. After starting this diet, every night during this time has become a battle. I’ve been countering it with taking a 20-minute walk with the dog instead, a kind of physical reminder of why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Anyway, I know that this is a gaming blog, but it does help to share this openly — if only to encourage myself to keep going. I have had good results the first couple of weeks, although that’s usually the case on an initial weight loss program, and so the trick is to keep going, be consistent, and keep my eyes on the goal. My first objective is to lose 20 pounds by the end of summer, so I’m gunning hard for that, with a hopeful 30-35 pounds after that. I’ll let you know how it goes.

LOTRO and I are taking a break — but for how long?

Following up on the topic of gaming backlogs and guilt is the subject of MMORPGs that you used to play and will probably play again. It’s unfortunate that due to the design of these games you can’t just “pause” the community and development from going forward in your absence, and so the longer you’re away, the more you’re aware that you’re missing out on relationships, events, and progression.

That’s fine to a point, but if you’re away for TOO long, interest in returning might snap entirely because you’ll think, “Eh, it’ll be too hard to catch up and I’m so out of the loop at this point.” Not a true statement at its core, but it’s how we think.

This is all to say that I’ve had a bookmark in LOTRO for months now. I tooled around with some side projects earlier this year, but I’ve been needing a break from Middle-earth. My interest meter has been pretty low and there’s only so many different things you can do to make stuff exciting when that’s the case. It’s not you, it’s me, but I need a break.

But I can’t put all of this on pause, which is problematic considering how busy a year that it’s shaping up to be in LOTRO. I’m keenly aware that I’m already two patches behind — and there’s an expansion heading this way in the fall. The responsible, I-write-about-this-for-Massively-OP part of my brain sternly tells me that it’s my sacred duty (it really isn’t) to catch up and stay at the edge of the content cliff until new lands are built.

On top of that, there are a couple of new progression servers — no thanks, did that already — and the new Brawler class calling out for re-rolling, not to mention my own side project Captain and Minstrel characters.

Be that as it may, I simply need to step away and recharge. LOTRO is always a game that I’m excited to come back to when I’m ready for it, but I also know I can’t rush that feeling. So maybe it’ll be this fall. Maybe later.

The Curse of Monkey Island: The end! (or is it?)

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1997’s The Curse of Monkey Island. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

With the map to Blood Island stolen, this whole section of the game becomes focused on getting it back from Captain Rottingham. It’s definitely a section of filler that jettisons the usual puzzle-solving adventure game mechanics for a combination of ship combat and insult sword fighting.

If you don’t recall from the first game, insult sword fighting trades actual swordplay for back-and-forth insults. You say an insult, and your opponent either has the correct comeback or loses some footing. If he has the comback, then it’s his turn to insult. The trick is that at the start of this, Guybrush doesn’t have all of the comebacks — he only collects the insults and comebacks when he hears a pirate say them. So it’s a whole series of fights to get all of the right phrases.

Then, to make matters more tricky, the Rottingham boss fight (as it were) has him saying completely DIFFERENT insults but you use the same collecting of comebacks to win.

With the map in tow, Guybrush and his valiant crew sail for Blood Island. And, thanks to a storm, get shipwrecked right up on it. To make matters worse, Elaine’s statue flew off into the woods and the crew decided to mutiny and return back home to barber once more. Truly, this is the darkest timeline.

Never stop breaking the fourth wall, Guybrush!

Guybrush starts exploring Blood Island and its many interesting locales, including a hotel cemetery. So many screenshots in this game could be framed, they’re so nice to look at.

After imbibing a spiked drink, Guybrush, erm, dies? At least that’s what the game wants you to think, as the side characters comment on how they didn’t THINK anyone could die in a LucasArts adventure game these days.

It’s a fun fake-out as Guybrush’s body is dragged to a crypt and the game continues to act like it’s over and done with — awarding “0 out of 800 points” and starting the credit scroll. Guybrush wakes up and he’s not having any of it.

But this all works out rather well, because also in the crypt is Stan, the sleazy salesman who Guybrush tricked into a coffin in the previous game. He’s not that put out about it, fortunately.

FFXIV: Interest… revived

I don’t exactly when FFXIV — or the idea of playing it — started worming its way back into my head, but I guess it might be one of those things where the time is ripe. Looking back at my records, I haven’t played this MMO since December 2019, which means that I haven’t touched it since COVID was a thing. That’s weird to think about.

But watching a few videos last night from FFXIV enthusiasts evangelizing the game helped tip me over the “eh why not?” crest and into subscribing for a month and starting up a new character on the Jenova world. This time around I’m going to start with an Archer, mostly because I don’t want to fall into the well of Scholar that I usually do, and the Bard job is appealing for this first stretch of gameplay. I thought briefly about the White Mage, but those outfits are… not for me.

It was a blast of nice, refreshing nostalgia to boot into this world and hear the Gridania theme playing. Always my favorite zone, elves aside.

STOP CALLING ME OUT LIKE THAT, GAME

Perhaps it’s beyond silly to start over — I have at least two higher level characters who were left in the expansions — but this is kind of what I do when I come back to games. Get to know the game, get to know and bond with the character. Plus, I’m curious how the story streamlining plays out, now that there aren’t a million quests in the main storyline.

The first night was promising. Yes, there was the nostalgia and all that, but it was also pretty easy to get the UI set up just right and settle back into the game. My main priority wasn’t so much doing the MSQ or class quests — although I did some of those — but to get plugged into the community. I got invited into the novice network and chatted a bit with some folks until I found a free company that I feel might be a good fit. Everyone there, as expected, was chatty and extremely friendly.

I guess what I’m looking for, as with WoW Classic, is an MMO experience where I’m not rushing or feeling pressured to get anywhere quickly. I want an experience that’s laid-back, comfortable, and full of potential. There’s always the chance that this might stick longer or better than it did last time(s). Of course, it might not. But as always, I’ll get some blog posts out of it and some fun nights, so it’s not a loss either way.

WoW Classic: The final push to Outland

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen my WoW Classic plans shift from wanting to alternate between my two classes to pretty much only playing my enhancement Shaman. I’m far too invested in her, even if she’s coming from a level disadvantage. No matter — I’m gamely plugging away at quests, using Questie to look up good batches of missions for my level and trying to climb to 58.

What I’ve really enjoyed about this leveling journey is the Shaman’s huge leaps in raw ability at certain points. For the most part it’s gradual progression, but at level 40, I got mail armor and dual wielding (and, at 41, stormstrike). That was a BIG jump. And at level 50, which I hit last week, I got Shamanistic Rage, which helps shore up my mana generation issues. I finally feel like her toolkit is coming together, and I really enjoy playing her — even if I’m far behind the Burning Crusade crowd.

Happily, I’m not the only one! My guild is pretty large and we’ve got a contingent of people who are still in old Azeroth for various reasons. The other day a group formed up to go run Sunken Temple, which ended up being a huge hoot — and a boon to my leatherworking, as I really needed those dragon scales for a quest.

I’m still getting a feel for how my enhance functions in a group dungeon setting, but I contented myself with pumping out DPS while throwing down windfury totems and spot healing as needed. It all went very well with no wipes and only a couple of snags.

I really do hope that they’ll get Burning Crusade’s half-formed LFG tool online sooner rather than later, because I really would like to run more stuff without having to spam the LFG channel in vain. Or, hey, just launch Wrath already and I’ll be content with that!

Of course, here’s what awaits me as a prize for all of my hard work: poo quests.