Posted in Wildermyth

Wildermyth: Striking at the core

As the fifth and final chapter of the campaign dawns, the tattered remnants of the Order of the Holey Sock age a decade. Erick feels more wild than ever, thanks to his wolf head. One day, Wyn passes away due to her illness and is no more. Another one of the founding members, gone, but her son Wynglin takes up her role as warrior.

Meanwhile, a mountain explodes and hostile Mothragi stream out, ready to devour the world. If there was ever a time for a band of heroes to turn back the tide, now is it. Erick, Jenshae, Keen, and the newer recruits head on a quest that might well be their last.

And because Keen is already half-bird, she’s able to command crows to fight enemies for the Order. You’ve come a long, weird way, baby.

Mysterious smells coming through an unnatural portal? Better dive in and find out what it’s all about! She’s actually OK — and comes back with magical bread and a vow to never reveal what was behind the portal. Fair enough.

As would be expected, the fights of this fifth chapter are a lot more intense and packed with mobs. A little tedious to slog through them, but not too bad. Probably my favorite thing is laying down traps and splashing poison all over mobs before they can get to me.

Thanks to her tireless efforts to protect the world, Jenshae is called to be a guardian — after her death. The precise form of her new incarnation is up for debate, apparently.

The Order of the Holey Sock finally arrives at the Mothragi Core and prepares to wipe out this bio-mechanical plague once and for all. As the company explores the tunnels of this fortress, Mithgus shows up with reinforcements — and a hail from Norloth, wherever he may be.

The final battle is surprisingly easy, all things considered. The Mothragi cores — which were driving some of these creatures mad — were destroyed, and the surviving good Mothragi went into hiding for a few hundred years. The Order split up and returned to life, with Jenshae passing away and becoming a fox guardian.

A very good campaign, all things considered, and I shall miss this cast (although they joined the game’s legacy feature, so they may appear in the future). Thanks for reading this series!

Posted in Music, Podcast

Battle Bards Episode 214: Thieves and rogues

Episode 219: Peace and quiet Battle Bards

If anyone's ever told you to "take a chill pill," then the Battle Bards have your full dosage in today's episode. Exploring peaceful and serene tracks from MMORPGs, Syl and Syp find their inner calm — before the inevitable slaughter. Episode 218 show notes Intro (feat. "A Farmer's Life" from WildStar, "Dream of Peace" from Lineage II, and "Silverfrost Mountain" from Blade and Soul) "Aro to the Sun" from Runes of Magic "Settler's Campsite" from Aion "Serenity" from TERA "Ammon Vale" from World of Warcraft "Shire Nights" from LOTRO "Aquarium" from RuneScape Which one did we like best? Jukebox Picks: "Be'elze Territory" from Valkyrie Elysium and "Closing Medley" from Space Quest III Outro (feat. "Fishing" from Lineage II) 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 219: Peace and quiet
  2. Episode 218: Dungeon Fighter Online
  3. Episode 217: Legend of Edda

You may never see them coming, but when the Battle Bards strike out of the shadows, you’ll either find your pocket picked, your fluffy best friend kidnapped, or your life’s blood stolen. After all, they learned from the best thieves and rogues in the world! And what kind of music would these robbers identify with? Find out on today’s show!

Episode 214 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Rogue” from Blackwater, “The Holy Land of Assassins” from Ragnarok Online, and “Rogues” from WildStar)
  • “The Call of Cyrodiil” from Elder Scrolls Online

  • “Thief Theme” from MapleStory 2

  • “Two Rogues, One Mark” from Hearthstone

  • “Golden Thief” from Ragnarok Online 2

  • “Thieves” from EverQuest

  • “Dark Brethren” from Sea of Thieves

  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox Picks: “Seashell Strut” from Monster Galaxy and “Honor and Thieves” from Ruined King
  • Outro (feat. “Band of Robbers” from Runes of Magic)
Posted in General

Is my best video game behind me?

Recently, my friend Syl was openly lamenting the downward trend in quality of recent video games and posed this question:

“I personally think my best games lie behind me and it’s rather a sad thought,” she continued. “But it’s how I feel about the industry right now — so much derivative stuff and quick cash grabs. Or then college art projects that look nice but play like hell.”

I guess I understand a bit of that feeling when I look at the field of MMORPGs. There aren’t nearly as many high-profile, high-budget titles in the works, although some of the smaller stuff could (and hopefully will) be solid hits with potential for growth. I would hate for me to say that, right now in 2022, I’ve already encountered every robust and enjoyable MMO that’ll ever be made in my lifetime. It’d be great to think that some of the best is yet to come.

And while I can’t prognosticate the future or deduce much based on the current field, I can draw some answers to this question from my personal gaming history. Hit me up at different points in my life, and the question of “What’s your favorite video game?” would be different. When I was a kid, maybe Star Wars Arcade or Super Mario Bros or Zelda. A teen, and you’ll hear Chrono Trigger, Master of Orion, Wing Commander 2, or Star Trek 25th Anniversary. Young adult? I dunno, Age of Empires II, The Longest Journey, Fallout 2, and KOTOR. Then came the MMOs and so many amazing games that became my favorites — WoW, LOTRO, RIFT, Secret World, SWTOR, DDO, and more.

Even in recent years, I’ve enjoyed games that quickly became my favorites. Some are bigger studio products, while others are smaller indie fare. I’ve become more and more impressed with the indie scene for being far more daring and creative than mega-studios with their $100M budget games that play it way too safe.

I’m not worried about the future, to be honest. Chances are that I even have titles in my backlog that might one day become my favorites if and when I play them. There’s so much stuff out there that there’s no way I’m going to get to all of it, so why worry that I’ll run out of favorite candidates?

Posted in General

In search of a new(ish) summer MMO to play

As July heads our way, I’m feeling the intensifying need to shake things up in my current rut of gaming. LOTRO remains a faithful staple, but I don’t want to place all of my time and focus on a single game. I’ve found that leads to burnout way faster than normal and then I’m left without any alternatives. So I’ve started an investigation to diversify this summer, to either take up a title I haven’t played or played much before, or I need to return to an old staple.

And you know what that means — it’s LIST-MAKING TIME of serious contenders! (hey i like my lists, shut up)

FFXIV

  • Pros: I always love the idea of getting sucked into this involved community. Game is very healthy. I still have all of Shadowbringers and Endwalker to experience. Tab-targeting combat and ability to shift jobs.
  • Cons: This game has proven notoriously un-sticky for me past a month or two at a time. Subscription cost. Never quite found a class I that fits me.

World of Warcraft

  • Pros: Ultra-comfy option that’s easy to slip back into. Haven’t touched retail since early 2021. Could pursue my own objectives and ignore the endgame. Like the idea of starting a brand-new character. Dungeon finder.
  • Cons: Supporting Blizzard still feels yucky. Shadowlands is a dud and Dragonflight doesn’t look that much better. Not sure about a “future” in this game.

WoW Classic

  • Pros: Wrath Classic is on the way this year. Have a chunk of Burning Crusade left to do on my Shaman. I like the old school feel. Great guilds.
  • Cons: See above about supporting Blizz. No dungeon finder with Wrath. No news about what’s after Wrath.

Guild Wars 2

  • Pros: Well, there was that new expansion that people liked for two weeks or so. Lots of individual features I like in this game.
  • Cons: I feel over the whole package of Guild Wars 2. Storytelling is so dull. Expansion aside, Anet’s development for GW2 has really slowed down.

Project Gorgon

  • Pros: Haven’t gotten that far into this title at all, so plenty of unexplored territory. Great skill system. Imaginative.
  • Cons: Still looks pretty crude. Hasn’t launched yet. Heard it’s pretty grindy.

Neverwinter

  • Pros: Slick gameplay. Have wanted to try out the Bard class. Easy pick-up-and-put-down play.
  • Cons: Some obtuse systems. Haven’t been able to push past the mid-game in all of my previous attempts. Don’t want to get caught up in horrible grinds.

Star Trek Online

  • Pros: Ship combat rules. Updated tutorial. Some new content. Scifi as an alternative to fantasy.
  • Cons: I’m still pretty disillusioned on Trek as a whole thanks to NuTrek. Not sure if I’m in the mood for space stuff right now.

No Man’s Sky

  • Pros: This game’s really built up a huge amount of content and features. Always feel bad for not having seen more. Flexibility of crafting, adventuring, and base-building.
  • Cons: Have to be in that survivalbox mindset. This title has overwhelmed me in the past regarding its learning curve.

New World

  • Pros: Really been meaning to get back into this for a second take. Lots of desirable MMO features here. New shotgun weapon.
  • Cons: Numbers and popularity has fallen dramatically. Worried about future of the game until it stabilizes.

RIFT

  • Pros: Miss the heck out of this game. Has a full package of MMO features for me. Curious if there’s a community still there.
  • Cons: It could be closed at any moment. No future for the game.

CONCLUSION

It felt helpful to write down this list and encouraging that there are several games that are of current interest to me. More than I thought at first, to tell the truth. I haven’t decided yet, but perhaps I should schedule a month to one or two of each of these for the remainder of the year, see what sticks after that month.

Posted in Arcane Waters

Arcane Waters: PvP now means ‘pirates vs. pixels’

I recently dined well on Steam Next Fest — my first ever participation in this demo event, by the way. I wish I had been more aware of this, because I loved sampling all sorts of indie titles for free. And I knew right away what the first one I’d be trying out: Arcane Waters, a pixel pirate MMO that I’ve had my eye on for a couple of years now.

Character creation was basic — cute, but basic — with a “perk” tab that caught my eye. I guess this is as close to classes as we get here? I like the idea, at least.

The demo’s tutorial isn’t the best — just a series of semi-hard-to-read info boxes (in the lower-right corner, no less), after which the game just dumps you out into this SNES-looking world to fend for yourself. It’s an adorable setting, and the chill music only adds to it. There were a few quest givers who are there to prompt you to fight, farm, and mine (the three primary activities, I’m guessing). I elected to grab a free pistol from a retired pirate and make my way through a skeleton-infested area and see what loot there was to be had.

Oh, and it took embarrassingly long to realize that I could actually jump with the spacebar. I just assumed that a top-down game like this wouldn’t have jump, but… it does. And there are even little trampolines on the map.

Maybe I limited myself with a revolver instead of a sword, but my combat options were extremely skimpy. Arcane Waters operates on a turn-based fight system like an old school JRPG, and it functions fine. It’s just that my options were shoot and… shoot. I could adopt a different stance (there’s defensive, balanced, and aggressive), but for the most part I was plugging away at skeletons until they fell over and gave me some silver.

I didn’t get incredibly far, just enough to get a taste of the game. It definitely is going for the Stardew Valley aesthetic, although I doubt that the farming system will be as deep. It’s a title that warrants further investigation when a much more robust version comes along, that’s for sure.

Posted in Nostalgia Lane

Nostalgia Lane: Console demo discs of the ’90s

Back in 2020, I mused about how much I loved the PC Gamer demo discs, including their thematic CGI menus. But those weren’t the only demo discs on the scene, and today I wanted to cast my memory back to the console equivalent.

The earlier disc-based consoles, especially the PlayStation 1 and 2, weren’t internet machines capable of downloading demos and games. I mean, technically the PS2 could be kitted out with a modem for like two games, but for all intents and purposes, it wasn’t online. So players had limited options when it came to accessing new titles: Pony up a full price based on reviews and/or word-of-mouth, try it over at a friend’s house, rent it, or snag a demo disc from somewhere.

This pre-internet period for consoles was a boom era for the demo disc. By stripping a title down to a single level or so, companies could squeeze several titles onto a single disc and distribute them all over the place. Studios saw it as shrewd marketing, but us players saw it as a whole lot of free gaming. In fact, I’m willing to bet that a majority of players who used these discs weren’t doing so to try-before-you-buy — they were engaging with these mini-games as if they were the full product.

I played several of these demo discs to death, especially in the period of my life where disposable income was a laughable concept. And I appreciate that it expanded my gaming adventures past titles I would actually pay for. I wouldn’t buy a Tony Hawk game, but I would certainly boot up a free demo to kill an hour or two.

Unlike PC Gamer’s demo discs, I never had a regular source of discs for consoles. Some I got from various magazines, or game stores, or even Pizza Hut. Once in a while, a studio might include demos as bonuses if you purchased a main product. I know Squaresoft did this, such as getting a few levels of Parasite Eve if, say, you bought Final Fantasy VIII.

I’m not super-nostalgic for demo discs, but back in the day they offered up dozens of hours of fun for the low cost of nothing. Sampling all sorts of different games and perhaps even finding a title to invest the price of a box was an adventure in and of itself.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Alts in LOTRO prove why I can’t casually play an MMO

If there’s been one overarching theme in my LOTRO adventures this spring, it’s been “experimentation with alts.” There’s this very real pressure to shore up my roster as the Treebeard server prepares to go into its second unlock phase, because the longer things stretch out, the harder it is to get a character up to where everyone else is.

Generally, I’ve come to the position that I’m going to stagger my characters so that I’m not doing the same content on all of them. That gets boring, quick.. My main, a Minstrel, is the one who will be leading the Vanguard into Mirkwood and staying on top of the level curve. My Beorning and Lore-master, both at around level 50, are in mothballs. My secondary, a Captain, is working her way up through the 30s with the eye of venturing into Moria by July.

But then there’s this desire to have a third regularly played character, one that is dedicated to really, really taking it slow — full zone and quest completion of everything. And in this, I haven’t settled on an alt, because I’ve reached the limit of the classes I typically play. I know I love the Cappy, Mini, and Lore-master, but outside of that is a lot of unexplored country for Syp.

And maybe that country should be explored for such an alt. Play something I haven’t a million times before. I hear you, and I agree. The problem is that figuring out what this might be is not as easy, because the solution is, “Well, just casually level up each remaining class to 20 and then pick the one you like the best.” Sample around while giving each class enough time to come into his or her own.

That’s all well and good, but it’s a tough thing to roll a character that you haven’t mentally committed yourself to playing for the long run. At least it is for me. If I have a character that I’m taking to 20 with only a chance of further progression, how invested am I going to be in those 20 levels? And how much will it bug me to think that no matter what I pick in the end, the others will represent wasted time and effort (albeit with some LOTRO points gain and maybe a blog post or two).

I think it’s something I’m going to have to get past in my head, but this experiment is a good example of why I have historically had a hard time casually alting in MMOs. Dozens of hours poured into a character never feels “casual” to me, especially when you can’t get a rebate back on that time.

So the remaining potential alts are Warden, Guardian, Hunter, Rune-keeper, Burglar, Champion, and Brawler. I’m leaning toward a ranged class — Rune-keeper, Hunter, or Warden would fit — but I’ll see.

Posted in General

The fickle fates and fortunes of MMORPGs

Recently I’ve been working on a column for MOP about MMORPG sunsets — especially ones that were more sudden and shocking. It’s kind of a macabre subject for a player like me who doesn’t want to think too much about MMO shutdowns. Yes, they happen, but nobody’s happiness is going to last if that’s all you think about.

Thinking, one day my game will shut down. This illusion of persistence and permanence is actually less permanent than video games from the 1970s that you can easily access a billion places.

But it isn’t the inevitable shutdown of MMOs that I wanted to talk about today, but rather the evaluation process that comes with returning to or checking out a MMO. Because one of the first questions everyone has, myself included, is “How stable is this game’s population? How active are the developers? Does this look like it has a future or is it circling the drain?”

Case in point, I’ve been thinking about heading back to RIFT for a stint — call me weird — but I love RIFT. I do. I miss it. And yes, it’s technically still operating. It might continue to exist in this limbo of maintenance mode for years to come. But ain’t nobody going to tell you that it has a future. Gamigo could easily shut it down tomorrow and I don’t think most people would blink an eye in surprise. That precarious factor makes it extremely difficult to return, because why would I want to risk getting re-attached to a game and community, only for the increased likelihood of it being taken away in the near future?

It’s also in part why I think players are a lot more skittish in sticking with new MMORPGs. There’s that day one success, sure, but if there’s a drop-off by week two or three (and there always is), people flock away, afraid of a shakier existence and thereby endangering the game’s future prospects. New World is a great example of this kind of Catch-22. Again, it’s not the ONLY reason why people bounce off of new MMOs, but I suspect that the FOTM factor is a major component.

It’s why we look for “healthy” live MMOs with much better odds of endurance and survival. And while the field of MMORPGs is literally in the hundreds, if not thousands, the “healthy” games — the ones with population, activity, development, and other positive signs — are maybe a dozen at best. More, if you expand your definition of MMOs, but not too many more.

In a way, that might drive us back to older MMORPGs that have weathered time and become more constant and dependable. I know it’s where I find a lot of my prospects when I’m fishing around, even though there are newer titles that I haven’t tried yet.

Posted in Wildermyth

Wildermyth: The boy who cried wolfhead

The fourth chapter of the saga dawns with the Mothragi on the march again. However, the Order receives a mysterious note telling it to come to a certain pass and gain an advantage over them. Brothers Norlon and Norloth suit up.

It’s certainly unique to be adventuring with a party that is half made up of members from a single family. The little story scenes they include sons and dads talking back and forth, which is really impressive. I do miss Norly, though. A lot. She was the backbone of the Order, and it’s sad to see Erick venturing on without her.

While some of Wildermyth’s interludes are reflective, moving, or weird, others can be quite hilarious and personable. It kind of brings the game down-to-earth in a good way.

At a stone outcropping that looks like a wolf, Erick encounters the god that’s been calling to him for his entire life. He elects — against his son’s advice — to take an oath and become wolfkind. Practically, this means that Erick gets a big ol’ wolfhead for the rest of the campaign and his retirement age is bumped back a few years. Meanwhile in another province, Jenshae recruits a new warrior for the group named Helen. She’s a bit greedy, but she’ll do in a pinch. They also pick up Scraff, a hunter who can replace Keen when she retires at the end of this chapter.

One cool thing about defending against huge incursions is that you can use ALL of your heroes for the fight instead of just the normal five. It’s a good way for the greenhorns to get in some practice.

Seems like everyone is adjusting to Mr. Wolfhead pretty well at this point.

Stricken by a neigh-incurable disease, the party splits to find a cure for Wyn. The cure is found, but it could also be used to help a local pilgrim restore his long-lost sister. It’s no choice, really — Wyn sacrifices her future for the girl. It’s why the Order is made of heroes. The saved girl, Lonbera, asks to join the Order and help as she was helped.

Meanwhile, Helen makes a little friend when she chases a critter who stole her lucky coin into a cave. Love at first nibble!

The Order finally arrives at Foxrun Ring, where they find an enclave of “good” Mothragi who have been persecuted by all of the bad ones. What follows is a tense escort mission through a stream of never-ending spawns. It’s a nasty fight, and Scraff gets killed when she’s grappled to a spot and then surrounded by the enemy. Then, if that isn’t enough, Norloth sacrifices himself to create three friendly Mothragi to aid in the rest of the battle. The team triumphs, but at what cost?