Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

The cozy familiarity of LOTRO’s Haunted Burrow

On top of the craziness that was LOTRO’s Update 30.3 last week and the ensuing flood of Brawlers on every server, the patch also triggered the start of the Fall event. With a new character in dire need of some great cosmetics, I flocked to this really hard.

But there’s another reason I was glad to see the fall festival return, because it once again opened the doors of my favorite Halloween instance in an MMO, the Haunted Burrow. There’s something so special about this place that it feels comfortable and homey, even if it is kind of trying to be a spooky ooky place (from a Hobbit’s perspective).

Because it really does feel cozy, almost more than any MMO house I’ve made. I love the details, the decorations, the secret bookshelf doors, the now-familiar jump scares, the mystery wing, the attic… all of it. The sound design is second-to-none, also, and goes a long way to creating an atmospheric Halloween vibe.

And I can’t complain about the fact that if I’m not in the mood to run a bajillion fall festival quests, I still can come over to the burrow once an hour and grab a handful of free tokens and even some housing decorations. I’m not ashamed to admit that I log my character out in this room, set a timer while I’m doing daily tasks, and get into the habit of logging back in every 60 minutes for more freebies.

So here’s to the Haunted Burrow: One of the best additions to Lord of the Rings Online that the dev team ever fashioned.

Posted in Nostalgia Lane

Nostalgia Lane: SimCity 2000

A lot of my memories of high school were wrapped up in finding people with better computers than I had and playing games on them. I had a neighbor across the street that’d let me use his machine to play all of the flight sims, for example.

During my sophomore year, I’d heard that our chemistry teacher had a computer with Sim City 2000 on it. When I asked him if I could take a look, he gave me carte blanche to come in during my free period any time I wanted. Thus, I spent many short play sessions that year diving into Maxis’ latest metropolitan simulator. I think a whole lot of us were pretty wrapped up in it, and since it had marginal educational value, the school gave a blind eye to our obsession.

I never really did much in the way of engaging with the original Sim City, but 2000? That was a phenomenon. The colorful and detailed graphics — for the time — made this an irresistible bit of eye candy. And the opportunity to shape and fashion your own city was equally fascinating. Of course, we’d always end sessions by triggering disasters, but who didn’t?

While I love sims, I’ve always been horrible at the Sim City games. I go broke so quickly and end up being a slum lord. This happened so often I kind of assumed I’d be that in real life when I grew up, too. But for a “tinkering around” game, Sim City 2000 was a joy even if I was terrible at it.

Did you play? What are your memories of Sim City 2000?

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Rampaging through Lone-lands and North Downs

More and more these days, I find that the Treebeard server for Lord of the Rings Online is such a good fit for where I am, gaming-wise. The super-slow progression and languid unlock schedule removes that exterior pressure of rapid progress while giving me permission to simply explore, complete, and socialize.

And I have been socializing, believe it or not. I’ve fallen into the orbit of the Better Biscuit Bureau, which I think may be the largest (or one of the largest) kinships on the server. Normally I’m not about “huge guilds” due to being lost in the crowd, but it never feels like it here. Everyone is incredibly friendly to each other, and I’ve even had multiple people send me gear and consumables — unasked for! — out of the kindness of their hearts. That sort of thing makes you want to stick around, you know?

I’ve been approaching this server the way I did on Anor — namely, to complete a zone’s meta-deed, snarf up all of the LOTRO points and virtue XP, and move on to the next. I’m kind of doing the epic storyline if it goes with the zone, but at some point I’m going to just put it on the backburner until I get right up to Moria’s gates, then do it all in one fell swoop.

I estimate that if I do a zone a week, which isn’t too taxing a pace, I’ll be ready for the Moria unlock in December. But even if I’m a little behind, eh, Moria’s going to be here for six months. There’s seriously no rush.

It has taken some getting used to playing a Beorning. Certainly, it’s been a pleasant surprise how great the class is all-around. I feel like it has a very solid toolkit of skills that’s shaping up now that I’m in the 30s. And the survivability factor is incredible! I never get tired of wading into packs of bad guys, activating my self-heal, and then going to town with various attacks (including my favorite, which lets me maul a bunch of guys at once).

I witnessed first-hand how well this class functioned when I charged into that early area in North Downs that’s packed full of elites. I barely slowed down and was in almost no danger of being killed at any point. I did quests there that I’ve always skipped because I usually play more squishy classes (lore-master, minstrel), and it was so much fun. And I *cannot* wait until I upgrade my bees to do AOE damage.

That said, the one thing I do struggle with the Beorning is looks. 98% of the time, I’m in bear mode, so I’m stuck looking at this blobby bear butt that isn’t anywhere near as cool as humanoid characters that I can equip with cosmetics. And the man form of the Beorning… well, I did my best, but she still looks off-putting. Probably should’ve just chosen a guy to start with. Oh well.

For my cosmetics fix, I did roll up a Lore-master to play on the side. The idea of doing a new Lore-master came out of left field for me, but the more I thought about it, the more I loved the notion. I haven’t actually created a brand-new LM for… over a decade now? At least that. And so getting to level one up will feel fresh for a while, and I’ll get my pets and cosmetics and all of that. I did make her the above outfit, which I love, from my Beorning starting gear and some Rohan accessories.

Posted in New World

How fast should we be consuming New World?

As I write this, it’s been two weeks (three when you read it) since New World launched to reasonable acclaim and success. Personally, I’ve only been able to put in around four or five hours in a week on it due to other games and priorities, but honestly, I’m not crying over that. I haven’t even really left the first zone, taking my time to figure out the game systems and work on skills and experiment with weapons (I’m currently rapier/ice gauntlet, although that can always change).

What I’ve been observing, both inside and outside of the game, is the speed and intensity at which people are consuming the game. As this is one of the first big-budget MMO releases we’ve had in a long time, it has the air of a feast suddenly being rolled out to a pack of malnourished souls gnawing on the bones of yesteryear. Heads pop up, tummies growl, and suddenly it’s a pile-on as bits of food fly into the air and yells are heard to pass the butter.

[Syp pauses for a few minutes to enjoy this mental tableau. Nom nom nom.]

And far be it for me to tell you or shame you in how you play your game. Some people go hardcore — even no-life — when a highly anticipated game comes out. That’s how they’re wired, they enjoy the feast and don’t want it to end. Others are in a race to get to endgame or max out everything or reach lofty goals. Within two weeks, I’ve seen so many people at the level cap wandering around the cities, which kind of makes me want to put a sticker over my own level number. Don’t look down on me, a mere lowbie! You were once like meeee!

So while I’m cool with you playing a game hard and fast if that’s how you like it, I’m not really going to sit here and give you much consideration when you suddenly announce that you’re bored and the game is boring and there’s nothing left to do. Whenever I’ve heard people say this about New World, I get inescapable flashbacks to when my kids eat food too quickly and burp and go, “Is that it? I’m still hungry!” Son, if you’d eaten at a measured pace like a civilized creature, this would be a filling meal. As it is, your stomach is distended and you’re not satisfied.

The race and the rapid consumption of new games (or expansions) always seems counter-productive to staying interested in a game over a long haul, particularly if you’ve ignored aspects of the game in favor of getting progression tunnel vision. Again, you do you if this is your style, but I’m not going to let that become some sort of peer pressure (real or imagined) to push me along faster.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: The bear necessities

Despite an expansion coming out next month in Lord of the Rings Online, I am not having it when it comes to high-level content. I’m not burned out on the MMO so much as burned out on bashing my head against tough content that shouldn’t be this hard for regular landscape questing. But I also didn’t want to stop playing either, which led me back to my trusty Bear on the Treebeard server, who’d been patiently waiting in Lone-lands for me to return.

Again, in my head I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense to invest time into a character that can’t progress very fast and is already far behind the crowd. The Moria unlock is likely coming in December, and I’m only level 30 with four zones done. That’s a big gap unless I’m going to gun it and go for broke, which I don’t have time to do even if I felt the inclination, which I don’t.

Instead, I’m listening more to what I simply want here, which is a casual questing and completionist experience. The Beorning continues to be a great package and quite enjoyable to play, and I never tire of running into a big pack of mobs, spitting bees at them, putting on a self-heal, and then mauling everyone to death. That’s me. That’s the teddy bear I am.

My interest has also been piqued by the fact that my kinship is absolutely tremendous. Even in the middle of the day, there are lots of people on, and they’re super chatty and friendly. It’s amazing how much a great guild can boost your attachment and involvement in the game. The other day, everyone was glowing because we just got a premium kin house, which was decked out fairly well. We all went in for tours, oohing and ahhing appropriately.

So a lowbie bear in Eriador is where you’ll find me — if you’re looking at all.

Posted in Elder Scrolls Online

Elder Scrolls Online: Wrapping up Vvardenfell

Dark elves. Giant mushrooms. Two-tone colored gods. And the longest sidequestline ever.

That’s a wrap on Vvardenfell! After a couple of weeks, I’ve exhausted all of the region’s quests, skyshards, points of interests, and main storyline. Other than this last bit — which I always thought was kind of weak save for a moonlet crashing down on the city — it was a great revisit for me. Vvardenfell is so weird and atypical that it’s a blast to explore, and ZeniMax obviously put a lot more work into the expansion tales for its first outing.

So what did I learn this second time around? I’m still an absolutely horrible pickpocket. Sun-in-Shadow needs to learn a heavy dose of humility and empathy. Nothing good ever happens in mines (this applies to ESO as a whole, of course). Living next to an active volcano can’t be a good idea for any of these people. And Dark Elves relish in being cranky.

There were just a couple of small puzzles, but for the most part, the questing was linear and non-complicated. That’s not bad, but it’s also not as spicy as it could be. Looking back, I think there were only two or three times when I actually got to make a choice that affected the outcome of a quest.

The tease of the Clockwork City made me really, really want to get this DLC. According to my count, I have about eight or nine DLCs to buy (including Blackwood). But since I have far more accessible to me that I haven’t done yet, I don’t feel in a rush to spend money.

I am wondering where my character progression is going from here. Any gear I find is pretty much standardized at a certain stat level, so unless it’s the end of a long quest chain or in some sort of dungeon or raid, I’m probably not going to get better armor or weapons. And even though I keep snarfing up skill points, I don’t have any places left to spend them that are beneficial to me. So that kind of just leaves champion points, which is progress in the smallest increments possible.

Posted in CRPG, CRPGs

Wildermyth: A sublime storybook RPG experience

My monthly entertainment budget is just enough for me to buy a single game, expansion, or season of TV. So whenever the first of the month rolls around, I deliberate a whole lot on what my one purchase will be. However, come this past October 1st, I already knew what I wanted: Wildermyth. I’d simply heard too many great things about it and knew that it’d be a perfect “lunchtime game” for me. Easiest purchase I ever made.

The best way to describe Wildermyth is a game that seeks to replicate tabletop RPGs, down to the visual style (including cutouts on a grid), branching storytelling, and evolving characters. In fact, it’s this last part that’s the most exciting, because your party grows into veritable legends that have good and bad things happen to them, develop relationships, grow old, and establish themselves as legends that can affect future campaigns.

My first adventure began with a trio of friends: street urchin Courette (fighter), troubled Geeve (hunter), and cowardly Walshae (mystic). During the opening chapter, strange monsters started attacking settlements while Welshae discovered both a mysterious book and the ability to do magic. In Wildermyth, the magic system is pretty cool — it’s called “infusion,” which allows you to bond with an object on the playfield and then transform that into a magical attack of some sort. Fire becomes fireballs, cloth can constrict windpipes, chests can explode in wooden shards, and so on.

Anyway, after a good battle, the three decide to form a company of heroes called The Bringers of the Things We Lost to go and help other regions. Their battles take place on a visually striking grid system where you move your party around, take actions, and then see how the enemy responds. It’s slick and straight-forward, which I appreciated, while also taking advantage of the layout and landscape for battle decisions.

There are a lot of these little events, kind of choose-your-own-adventure decisions where you make choices that impact your party. For example, I sent greedy Geeve to pry out a gem that promptly stuck itself right into his eye socket. His girlfriend Walshae is not amused.

They also find a little monster, whom Courette (now sporting a shiny rapier) argues that they care for. The company spends the night tending it, but it dies anyway. Bummer, I would’ve loved a monster pet.

After liberating a couple more zones from pests, the company returns to town and recruits a new warrior, Fala, who leaves her fields to see where the open road will take her.

I like their mid-adventure chatter. Gives them personality and keeps me going for the story alone.

Getting gear upgrades after a fight is a heady thing, and I definitely did a manly squee when Courette stumbled upon an artifact shield from a previous adventuring company. Unfortunately, she promptly got kidnapped by some crazy villagers who tried to offer her up as a sacrifice to a “Great One,” whatever that is. I love that Courette mocks them as they try to do this.

Ah. That’s a Great One. Cute!

Anyway, the company finally gets to the center of the conflict in this area, which is a gorgon that’s turned a whole village worth of people to stone. The crew slays the gorgon, but not before it implants something in Courette’s ear and hints at a greater gorgon master out there.

With Chapter One over, the game goes into an intermission during which it tells you what happens during the subsequent 10 years of peace. Courette’s stony mark grows, Walshae and Geeve get married (yay), the crew crafts some better gear, and enough knowledge is learned to start hunting down the gorgon threat.

Posted in Music, Podcast

Battle Bards Episode 202: Silkroad Online

Battle Bards Episode 202: Silkroad Online Battle Bards

Piggybacking on a historical lifeline, Silkroad Online has enjoyed a long run in the MMORPG market. But how is its music? To find this out, the Battle Bards begin a long trek through desert and rainforest to discover the truth of Silkroad's soundtrack. Episode 202 show notes Intro (feat. "Karakorum," "Roc Battle," and "Donwhang Cave") "Jangan Town" "Togui Village" "Constantinople Town" "Samarkand" "Festival Event" "Alexandria/Egypt Field Delta" "Jupiter Temple" Which one did we like best? Listener notes from Katriana and Bullwraith Jukebox picks: "The Finest Scenery" from Behind the Frame, "Security Breach" from Angry Video Game Nerd II, and "Befriending Spirits" from Kena: Bridge of Spirits Outro (feat. "Hotan Kingdom") 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 202: Silkroad Online
  2. Battle Bards Episode 201: Don't stand in the fire!
  3. Battle Bards Episode 200: Battle Bards Bicentennial!

Piggybacking on a historical lifeline, Silkroad Online has enjoyed a long run in the MMORPG market. But how is its music? To find this out, the Battle Bards begin a long trek through desert and rainforest to discover the truth of Silkroad’s soundtrack.

Episode 202 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Karakorum,” “Roc Battle,” and “Donwhang Cave”)
  • “Jangan Town”

  • “Togui Village”

  • “Constantinople Town”

  • “Samarkand”

  • “Festival Event”

  • “Alexandria/Egypt Field Delta”

  • “Jupiter Temple”

  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes from Katriana and Bullwraith
  • Jukebox picks: “The Finest Scenery” from Behind the Frame, “Security Breach” from Angry Video Game Nerd II, and “Befriending Spirits” from Kena: Bridge of Spirits
  • Outro (feat. “Hotan Kingdom”)
Posted in Star Wars: The Old Republic

SWTOR: The new adventures of Paya Perki

Right now during the fall, I need new MMOs to play like I need additional holes in my oversized head. It’s been a long time since I’ve juggled more than two games at a time, and now I’m somewhere around five. Which is stupid, I know, but it’s hard to resist that call when you’ve got the hots for a game. I’ve learned a long time ago that it’s fine to give in to those bursts of interest and see where they lead — sometimes they peter out quickly, sometimes they persist and grow into something great.

So I did, for whatever reason, jump back into Star Wars: The Old Republic lately with a brand-new Scoundrel called Paya Perki. I realize that I have a WoW-sized hole in my MMO life, and this is one of my tried-and-true WoW clones that fits that tab-targeting spot.

So with the mindset that this might be a completely disposable character that there’s no way I’ll be able to get her to the new expansion by the time it comes out, I cast off all inhibitions and simply… played. And it was good. Very good.

There’s that period of time when you return to an old favorite MMORPG that you engage in a whole lot of nostalgic reminiscing. A lot of “oh yeah, remember when you used to be totally sucked into this?” Because that’s what was going through my mind in SWTOR as I piloted my sarcastic Scoundrel along through the main storyline. For a good period of time there, SWTOR was my main jam. I loved it for the story and the setting and the limited ability to roleplay within the developer-created boundaries of the plot.

It’s good to see that this is all still there. Not as good to see some of the more annoying F2P restrictions are still lingering about, but hey, whatever, I’m not going to cry about it. I can run around for 20 levels instead of paying for an earlier speeder bike unlock, thank you.

This definitely fits in the area of “comfort gaming” for me, because it’s not overly difficult or frustrating to engage with, nor is it that demanding on my time. If I want to pick it up for an hour here or there, great, it’ll be waiting. I guess I’m keeping my interest in low gear to see the reception to the new expansion and how much of a resurgence SWTOR receives from it. There’s always the option to kick into high gear in the new year!