Posted in A Week In..., Runes of Magic

A Week in Runes of Magic: Adventuring with Super Anime Girl

One of the reasons that I wanted to do this “A Week In…” series is to satisfy my curiosity about various MMORPGs. And I’ve certainly been curious about Runes of Magic, which might well be the poster child for the forgotten MMO. It was super-popular for about two weeks in 2008 when people latched on to this as the “free-to-play World of Warcraft,” before F2P was that widespread. Since then, it’s continued to be updated but has really faded into the background. Perfect for an expedition!

Sunday: The goal of this week is to simply make a new character and pilot her through the newbie experience. While Runes of Magic really lacks in the race (human, elf, dwarf) and generic class options (I went with Scout, which is a ranger/archer), I greatly amused myself with all of the sliders. You can make some really freaky looking alien characters, let me tell you. I made Super Anime Girl by blowing up her head, giving her saucer eyes, and slapping some blue paint all over her hair. And I kind of like the result!

Monday: Right off the bat, the game offered me a “handsome reward” if I would deign to run its tutorial. I never say no to a handsome reward, so I humbled myself to be taught how to move and click on things all over again. Did you know that WASD moves your character? Amazing! The actual tutorial is weirdly short, culminating in a seconds-long battle against a brightly colored Spider King.

Question: Since I defeated it, am I the new Spider King? Spider Queen?

Tuesday: Forget the mediocre graphics — Runes of Magic’s real artistry is in its lush soundtrack. Seriously great stuff. It’s one of those underrated MMO soundtracks because not many people think much of the game itself, but it’s really top-shelf material.

Anyway, today’s adventure took me into the starting village of Pioneers… something. Cove? Hamlet? I already forgot, that’s how memorable it was. PioTown! That’ll work. While the starting quests are extremely vanilla — talk to these dudes, kill some fungus — one weird thing is how much *stuff* Runes of Magic throws in your inventory from all of these starter missions. I swear, half of the quests were “You need to go talk to this guy, he’s got a welcome package for you. Now get a package from that other guy. And those next six guys.”

Wednesday: Two observations I want to share today. The first is that I discovered that by clicking on waypoints or quest givers on the map, you have the option to have the game automatically run you there. Some people don’t like auto-run, but I figure that if you’re OK with automatic transport elsewhere, it’s pretty much the same thing on a smaller scale. Gets you where you want to be.

Secondly, while the game may superficially look like early World of Warcraft, the combat is nowhere near as tight, interactive, or has that audible punch that I came to expect from WoW. It’s serviceable, but nothing better than that.

Thursday: I have two distinct memories of Runes of Magic from Back in the Day”. The first was the novelty of having a free-to-play MMORPG that was sorta (but not really) like World of Warcraft, which was perfect for those on a low budget. The second surrounded reports of how monetized the game was. The above quest is an example of this, as it’s a monetized quest. Haven’t seen those in MMOs lately, eh? Well, here you go. You can do the quest normally or pay to do it faster and get a better reward. And this is in the newbie zone, so they’re just buttering vulnerable players up for more milking later.

That makes my skin crawl.

Friday: By the end of the week in Runes of Magic, my heart really wasn’t in this. I can see why desperate players who couldn’t afford WoW would have flocked to this game back in the day, but it’s not an ideal substitute. The animations, combat, and visuals come off as stiff, and the cash shop-infused design leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I mean, it was functional? That’s something. And the music is, as I said, wonderful. But I can listen to the music and play something else entirely, which is what I’ll do.

Posted in New World

First thoughts on New World’s first night

Yesterday was a ball of launch day craziness. Nothing unexpected — lots of excitement, huge queues — and happily, nothing gamebreaking. After sitting in a queue for a couple of hours, I was able to get in yesterday evening to enjoy a few hours of New World adventuring. And it was good!

Jumping to my overall conclusions first, I have to say that New World has solid and engaging gameplay that I can see keeping me busy for a long time to come. If I had a complaint here, it’s that there almost seems to be TOO many choices at any given moment: Regular quests, faction quests, town quests, gathering mats to level up tradeskills, fishing, crafting, rare hunting, and so on. It kind of feels like a bit of a sandbox, where you pick a direction and focus on that for a while instead of trying to Do All The Things.

So I created my swashbuckling muskateer, Syppi, and started her on her journeys into this mysterious island. I felt that the tutorial was adequate and allowed me enough space to get used to these slightly unorthodox controls. While I generally like the UI, which is clean and attractive, it took me a while to figure out some settings. I’m also not a big fan of the chat feed, as it’s not quite as easy to read and can get to be overwhelming if you don’t shut off some of the channels.

My big goal of the night was to level up through quests to the point where I could pick my faction (Syndicate) and join Belghast’s casual Greysky Expedition company. That took a few hours, but it finally happened, and I felt at that point I could throttle back and enjoy myself instead of pushing hard. I do think it’s kind of silly to keep players out of guilds from the get-go, but I understand the setup here.

Despite being action combat without any sort of target locking (oh, how I wish this game had target locking), I generally enjoyed fights. You know, as long as I was pointed in the right direction and not slicing up air while a mob sidestepped me to attack my spleen. I eventually crafted a nice rapier and was able to start leveling up that skill line. I absolutely love the rapier — the quick animations and stances are fantastic — but the flurry skill was tricky to learn. It makes my character lunge forward and do a quick series of attacks while locked into that direction, and I lost track of how many times I’d overshoot a mob or have that mob move at the last minute to avoid it.

New World is definitely heavier on the crafting side of things, so I leaned into that and made sure to slow down and gather up all the stuff I could find. Making frequent trips back to town to drop off mats is vital to not overloading one’s inventory, I found. I like how friendly to use the crafting interface is, and I made some basic weapons and food items for my expeditions.

With all of the sheer amount of gathering nodes in the world and the number of them you need to do to level up your skills, I felt that this game was kind of like Fallen Earth in that I could take forever going from point A to B while constantly gathering. So I had to limit myself — do 15 minutes of gathering, then some questing, then back to town — so as to not get sucked into a neverending well of hoovering stuff up.

The starter town I got put next to, Windsward, is fantastic. I gawked around there like a total tourist and kind of fell in love with the inn (above), which looks so dang cozy. A starter house in the town looks to set me back by 7,500 coins, so I’ve got a ways to go before affording one. That’s definitely on my list of priorities.

I mean, there’s plenty of smaller things to criticize here. The jumping is pathetic (is gravity heavier on this island or something?), the nameplates are an unreadable abomination, and I got very frustrated having to compete with others for mobs in certain faction quest areas. But so far, the good vastly outweighs the drawbacks, and I’m excited to settle in and explore this island over the fall season.

Posted in Music, Podcast

Battle Bards Episode 201: Don’t stand in the fire!

Episode 222: World of Warcraft Dragonflight Battle Bards

Will our fascination with giant, skyfaring, flame-belching lizards subside? World of Warcraft bets not, as it's currently soaring through its Dragonflight expansion. Will the music also ascend to lofty realms or fall to the earth with a dud? You'll have to listen to the Battle Bards as they figure out the answer to that question! Episode 222 show notes  Intro (feat. "The Dragon's Hoard," "Riverbends," and "The Isles Awaken") "Take to the Skies" "Giants of the Span" "Windsong" "Tyrhold" "Ramparts of Valdrakken" "Gardens of Unity" Which one did we like best? Listener Notes: George and Bullwraith Jukebox Picks: "Encounter Elite" from Sea of Stars, "Jubilife Village Theme" from Pokemon Legends Arceus, and "Density" from Citizen Sleeper Outro (feat. "Life Pools") 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. Episode 222: World of Warcraft Dragonflight
  2. Episode 221: LOTRO Before the Shadow
  3. Episode 220: Guild Wars 2 End of Dragons

Have you stood in the fire? Did you start the fire? Are you on fire at this very moment? Then stop, drop, and roll your way to this episode of the Battle Bards, where the crew put out the flames of music tracks from fire zones, volcanoes, and the like!

Episode 201 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Firelight” from TERA, “Molten Core Battle” from World of Warcraft, and “Flow Like Fire” from Warframe)
  • “Desert of Fire” from Aion

  • “Burning Steppes” from World of Warcraft

  • “Sleeping Volcano” from Ragnarok Online

  • “Mt. Hotenow” from Neverwinter

  • “Flame Mountain” from Dragon Oath

  • “Navigating the Crevasses of Orodruin” from Lord of the Rings Online

  • “Taimi’s Game Part 1” from Guild Wars 2

  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes from Zinn, Lewenburg, and Psychae
  • Jukebox picks: “Hellwalker” from Doom 2016, “Non-Boss Battle” from Eastward, and “CAS and Build Complete 4” from The Sims 4: Cottage Living
  • Outro (feat. “Gather Around the” from Fallout 76)
Posted in New World

It’s a whole New World for MMOs

It’s always surreal when, after waiting and waiting for something, you wake up and it’s the Day Of. That’s exactly how I felt when I rolled out of bed on Tuesday morning and saw my Twitter feed lit up with lots and lots of chatter about New World. It finally clicked in my muzzly head that this is the actual launch day. I had to sit on the toilet for a long time to ponder the importance of that moment.

It’s just been such a long time since we had a brand-new, big-budget MMORPG launch that had the attention of a whole lot of people. That was a capital-E “Event.” And I was there for it, because it felt like the old days when we had two, three, sometimes four of these major MMOs launch in a year. When people would be watching the clock to the minute until it was time to log in and snap up your character name.

It was also weird because I personally was so unprepared. It felt like a lot of people were, too, because I wasn’t alone in last-minute scrambling to settle on a server and a company (guild). I thought I had one from a few days ago, but when I went into the guild’s Discord, it was a whole lot of crude immaturity that signaled that perhaps I should look elsewhere. Frantic late-night and early-morning tweeting later, and a group of us blog and Twitter people decided to join Belghast’s super-casual server on the Minda for the Greysky Expedition company. If you’re looking, here’s the info on it (you can look me up in game as Syppi for an invite):

  • Server: Minda NA East
  • Faction: Syndicate aka Team Purple
  • Company: Greysky Expedition

Another weird layer was the fact that I was both sick and wasn’t going to skip out on a work day just to sit in a queue (the queue would come later, of course). FOMO kicked in that morning as I tried to get work done and shove out of my mind the thought that others were getting in and getting their adventures underway. Patience is never my strong suit on launch days.

While I didn’t get my name of Syp, I was able to snatch Syppi for a character name and made up my Muskateer-in-training. While the character creation options aren’t endless, I felt there was enough of them to have fun making a nice character without having to fiddle with sliders. I may have compared this to my recent journeys in Elder Scrolls Online.

We also had fun in the MOP office watching the Steam charts track the rising concurrency numbers of players + players in the queue. It was insane, and a good sign that MMOs may not be as dead of a genre as some video games media outlets like to claim. All of the servers filled up and over by early morning, and so for a lot of people wanting to play, there wasn’t anything to do other than to join in the conversation outside of the game.

I think it’s a terrific idea to offer free character transfers over the next two weeks, because no doubt it’s going to be messy until everything settles down.

Anyway, that’s all for today — hopefully tomorrow I can report actual play and adventures and all that.

Posted in Try It Tuesday

Try It Tuesday: Tharsis

This week, I pulled out an Epic freebie that caught my eye: Tharsis. From the description, I thought this was going to be a sort of choose-your-own-adventure involving a spaceship to Mars. It sort of is, but not the way I assumed.

The entire game takes place during a multi-week mission to the Red Planet. At the start, the ship’s pantry module gets obliterated by a meteorite storm, several crew members are hurt, and food starts to run out. That’s the START of the game. The goal is to survive at any cost to make it to the end of the voyage.

Each turn, several nasty events hit the ship, and you have to allocate crew members to handle the problems. They do this by rolling six-sided dice to get enough numbers to meet the required number for the crisis. There are many rules involving the dice, including how to get more and how you can save some or use an “assist” to give you a boost or use a crew member’s innate ability to help out. But that’s the gist of it.

The problem is that there never seems to be enough dice — and enough food, which replenishes dice — to go around. Tharsis quickly, and almost gleefully, tells you that murder and cannibalism are an option. A gruesome detail is that any crew member who dines on the flesh of his or her crewmates ends up with blood-stained dice. That doesn’t affect anything that I could tell, other than to make the player feel guilty.

There’s a lot of strategy here, including research and food growth and other odds and ends, but I never felt that the rushed tutorial did a good job explaining them. It kind of felt like a board game that your friend whipped out, rattled off a lot of instructions that went over your head, and then said, “Eh, let’s just play, you’ll figure it out.”

Me figuring this out meant that my crew were all dead and the ship destroyed by turn four. So I’m an awesome captain, all right.

After a second round, I figured that Tharsis isn’t that enjoyable and isn’t for me. It’s too random and a little too hard to figure out the strategies. The concept is good, but it’s always in the execution, yeah?

Posted in Elder Scrolls Online

Finding fresh air in Elder Scrolls Online

Lately I feel like I’ve been banging my head against some of LOTRO’s more frustrating content — in particular, War of the Three Peaks — and I needed a break. I don’t like playing MMOs out of obligation, and I was nearing that danger point, so I put everything on hold and jumped into the next game in the queue: Elder Scrolls Online.

It’s been a while since I’ve played ESO regularly (May, I think) and it’s long past time I returned. And it was one of those situations that, once I was there, I couldn’t tell you why I left in the first place. It was that much fun. A breath of fresh air, you might say.

Quickly I slipped back into the scaly skin of my Argonian Warden and bent my will to the task of finishing up the current zone I left off doing — Stonefalls.

Filling out a map in ESO is deeply satisfying to me, especially since it prods me to pick up each and every quest line there is. While there were a few duds, I really enjoyed several of the small chains, including a time travel one, a mystery involving a body snatching demon, and a zombie siege. Good times, and at no point did I find myself hitting a wall or becoming so overwhelmed that I wanted to quit. So that was a nice change.

This is now how I introduce everything I say.

It took me three play sessions to finish the back half of the zone, including all of the delves, skyshards, vantage points, and main questline. I really couldn’t wait to log back in for the next session, and I’m torn over where to go next. I think I’ll head over to Vvardenfell and take on the Morrowind expansion, since I haven’t done it on this character. I would like to get Blackwood for the companions, but my bear tells me that I’m not in any rush at the moment.

Posted in General

How streamers have changed the face of MMO launches

While I am 99% giddy and thrilled that New World is launching next week — the first truly big new MMORPG launch in a long, long time — I can’t help but notice that there’s one significant difference to this release than, say, back in when Guild Wars 2 or WildStar first rolled out. And that’s the streamer phenomenon.

I’ve been watching with growing disquiet how the streaming culture has affected online games, especially new ones. By and large, I have no problem with individuals who like to livestream games and share those experiences with followers. It can be entertaining and informative, and there’s a lot of good eggs out there doing this. I don’t watch streams, but I do often pick up a YouTube video here or there from streamers, so I’m acquainted with the field.

But there’s a darker side to the streaming phenomenon that is hard to ignore. On the individual level, it’s what the constant pressure to perform and be popular can do to wreck a person’s psyche. I’ve lost count of how many streamers I’ve seen crumble from the pressure to stay relevant at all costs, especially when that’s tied to a revenue source. I also think that the relationship between streamers and fans gets unhealthy more often than not. There’s a lot of celebrity worship, toxic comments, objectification, and idol-making in the works here.

Without an agent or PR agency as a shield, a streamer has to handle his or her own mob. And as with any mob leadership, it doesn’t take much — an unguarded suggestion or careless word spoken in anger — to send a mob careening at people or studios.

And it’s these super-popular streamers and their associated mobs that have become the target of MMO studios. PR people will court and woo streamers to their games for all of the extra publicity, often giving these streamers preferential treatment and visibility and presents. I know how that goes, because it’s what PR people also do to the press, and in both cases, extreme caution and care is needed. But while the press (theoretically) is bound by ethics and guidelines, there are no such boundaries placed on streamers. It becomes an escalating scramble to get into games first, to get the affection of a studio, and to gladly lay one’s efforts at the foot of a studio for its service.

Then we get to the actual launches, where streamers and their mobs, again, are literally changing the game. People either are fleeing servers where popular streamers are or flocking to them, causing no end to imbalances and server performance and widespread trolling. We saw this with the launches of WoW Classic and Burning Crusade Classic, not to mention this past summer when many popular WoW streamers migrated to FFXIV virtually overnight.

So we shouldn’t be surprised to see that players are creating spreadsheets to track streamers’ intentions to roll on specific servers for New World so that everyone else can change their plans accordingly. And boy does that rankle me. I mean, good to know so that I can avoid the crowds, but I’m annoyed that I even have to do this in the first place.

So. Yeah. Streaming culture is both here to stay and problematic on many levels. And there’s no good answer for it yet.

Posted in Fallout

Fallout 76: Sheltering in place

Another newish feature that I was excited to explore with the current iteration of Fallout 76 is shelters. This is basically instanced housing for people who didn’t want to bother with constructing open world structures. Like me, for example. Or it’s for people who love the idea of a mini-vault of their own.

I love it. I really do. I got one for free and eagerly ran inside, bouncing off the walls and imagining what I can do with this space. It reminded me a whole lot of WildStar, especially when I’d buy shells of houses (or, my favorite, the spaceship house) to fill out.

There’s a little mudroom that’s perfect to set up all of my crafting tables, with a much larger room past that which I’ll use as living space. Other than plop up a power supply, some lights, and a bed, I haven’t done much with it yet, but the possibilities… oh the possibilities.

Hey, it’s another vault! Couldn’t figure out how to get into this one — yet — but I definitely want to see it. Fallout’s vaults are never boring to explore, as they usually contain an interesting story.

So in the meanwhile, I’ve continued to explore all of the areas of The Forest. I kind of don’t want to leave it, because I like the lush trees and colorful environment. It’s kind of a shame that a lot of the rest of the game’s map is considerably more ugly.

I haven’t been going hardcore at the season, but if there are some easy challenges to knock out that day, I’ll gladly do them for some extra freebies.

I’ve been gathering up a small armory and even kitted out my armor as a ghillie suit. Don’t recall where I got the plans for that, but it’s a fun option nevertheless.

Posted in New World

My New World launch plans

I’ve always done this thing where, when I’m really excited about an upcoming event but have a hard time waiting for it, put it out of my mind as much as possible. I think I’ve done admirably well with the months and weeks leading up to New World. I’ve busied myself with other projects and games. But in these last few days, it’s getting much harder to ignore it.

So I might as well give in? Just torture myself with the wanting while I can’t have it. That’s fine. When I can’t ignore the hype any longer, I go to my reliable Plan B, which is to start making plans for the first week in the game. What do I want to do? What goals would make me pleased to accomplish?

The first thing to do, and the one I’m doing right now, is hunting around for a good guild (company) to join. Since my faction will be impacted by that, I need to know this now versus later. I *really* don’t want to have to reroll just because I found a great group of folks that isn’t in my faction.

I’m not clearing out the day or anything like that — I kind of wish I could do that, but honestly, I know how launches go and would always counsel anyone to take a day off later in the week to play versus on Day One. But for me, it’ll be shoehorned into my regular gaming hours and that’ll be that.

As always, I do want to take my time and really get to know the game. Since crafting is such a big part of it, I want to get on top of that from the start and stay caught up with it, even if it means that I won’t progress in levels as fast as others. I’ll also be working toward saving up for a house, so that’s a long-term goal that requires frugality from the get-go.

I know my character will use the rapier as a main weapon, although I’m going back and forth between the idea of an ice gauntlet or a musket as a secondary. I feel I need a good ranged option, and both of those work for that. The gauntlet shares a nice stat with the rapier, but the musket fleshes out that “three musketeers” vibe. I’ll probably do the musket, but it’s a close call at this point.

In any case, I’m raring to go! It’s been a looooooong time since we had an MMORPG release of this caliber, and I’m glad it’s a game that personally interests me. I really hope it’ll go the distance, but that’s going to depend on factors far beyond my control. So I’ll enjoy it and see where it goes.