Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Playing alt-hopscotch

Last week’s roadmap for LOTRO didn’t change up things too greatly for me, although it certainly put to mind that we’ll be doing more high level adventures this year than lowbie stuff. Maybe — maybe — it prompted me to take my level 130 Lore-master out of storage to see how viable she is. I remember getting frustrated with how weak she and her pet felt.

We’re still waiting on that LM revamp, but in the meanwhile, she’s got the new Murder of Crows attack and a bunch of virtues brought up to snuff. I have a pile of LOTRO Points saved up, so I might even buy a race change and make her a Hobbit as a compromise. Or I should just keep saving up and buy that account-wide 78% mount speed increase that I’ve been eyeing for over a year now.

After that, I focused on playing my Minstrel on Treebeard as she went through Enedwaith. My current plan is to get her through all of Rise of Isengard’s content, maxing out the zone deeds as she goes, and then loop back and finish up deeds in past zones as I wait for the next expansion unlock. Kind of a completionist approach, but in reverse.

As my Minstrel is 68 and pretty much has her skills, build, and virtues locked in, I’ve turned my attention to working on her outfits. I have a much smaller wardrobe selection on Treebeard than I do on Landroval, and as a result, I only have maybe three outfits that I actually like wearing. So I’m definitely on the prowl for better pieces.

I really don’t get why some people dump on LOTRO’s visuals. For the sheer scope of this game world, it is often incredibly beautiful and believable as a place.

My desire to start up a new character to leisurely explore the game resulted in a mixture of the brand-new and comfortingly familiar. I rolled up a Stout-Axe Captain to mess around with — a new combination, even though it’s a class I’ve played quite extensively. But it’s been a very long time since I actually leveled up a Captain rather than continued one, and there’s something aesthetically pleasing about a burly dwarf charging into a camp with a loyal follower and a two-handed axe.

Hanging out with the bees at night under a full moon. What’s the worst that could happen?

Posted in Nostalgia Lane

Nostalgia Lane: Jumping from CGA to VGA

The other day I was watching a video that was showcasing a lot of MS-DOS games from the ’80s and ’90s — some I played, a lot I didn’t. But when I spied a rather obscure old favorite of mine, Snipes (above), in the bunch, I felt that tidal wave of nostalgia hit me. However, this time it wasn’t for a specific game — Snipes was fine, but I haven’t been holding a torch for it — but rather the unique transition in computer gaming between two distinct graphical eras.

You see, I grew up playing titles on an early ’80s IBM PC and continued to do so until 1992. It’s all we had, so I made the most of it. But this machine that was marvelous in 1982 was starting to get creaking by 1985 and was a dinosaur by the time the new decade came. I scrounged for any games at stores that’d actually work on it, often resorting to jumbled collections of freeware rather than the latest hottest titles.

And all of these old PC games either were done in ASCII (like Snipes) or CGA. ASCII had its advantages, such as a full array of 16 (!) colors and relatively fast gameplay, but it could never not be basic-looking. So most of the bigger stuff I played was CGA. And let me tell you kids, if you’re of a younger generation, you have no idea how much we suffered with CGA. Every game had four colors, and two of them were *weird.* There was black, white, bright magenta, and bright cyan.

It all looked like this:

Why magenta and cyan? It’s something technical about how PC graphics used to work and how the companies who made these computers weren’t really thinking about gaming. No matter what the explanation, every single non-ASCII title I played was decked out in these unnatural garish colors. King’s Quest? Silpheed? Sudoken? Magenta, black, white, and cyan. Even the NES had a better color palette.

(Yes, there were other four-color palette sets, but it was very very rare that I saw games that used them.)

So I spent a decade struggling to get games to run on this machine, and when they did, I had to endure that color scheme (and pretty bad gameplay speeds and controls).

But then something wonderful happened. Something marvelous.

We entered the ’90s, and computers seemed like they lurched forward in power and features. The 386s and 486s that were flooding the market were truly “next gen” in the games department. That’s around the time when we graduated to EGA and (especially) VGA, and the difference was like night and day from how things used to look:

Colors. COLORS. Shades! Beautiful, beautiful pixel art. Higher resolutions. Smoother animations.

I might be slightly fond for the old MS-DOS games I cut my teeth on, but I am powerfully nostalgic for the ’90s VGA revolution. There was something about how cool and advanced all of it looked, and I found it a joy to watch game developers come up with different ways to take advantage fewer artistic restrictions. And when you coupled the vastly improved visuals with SoundBlaster and AdLib sound cards (which took the PC out of the bleep and bloop speaker era), these games became so rad.

Even shareware games of a lesser quality than the AAA games still had a huge appeal because of their look and style. A simple pinball game, platformer, or shmup was a whole lot more entertaining when your eyes weren’t bleeding from the visuals.

And it just kept getting better.

Posted in Guild Wars

Guild Wars 2: The ballad of Eerie Emily

I may be weird in this, but January always feels like a month that calls for brand-new characters — with the potential of a full year of adventuring in front of them. And since I already have regular characters I’m doing in LOTRO and ESO, I’ve been fishing about in my oldie MMO bin for another possibility. So for this week, at least, I found myself back in Guild Wars 2.

The last time I played GW2 more regularly than a brief flirtation was a stint in 2020 as I was all fired up to do Path of Fire and make this a main MMO again. And that only lasted April to May, so it’s not like it was one of my hotter streaks with this game. Like most MMOs, a longer return is rather dependent on three factors:

  1. Can I connect with a great community?
  2. Can I identify enticing goals to pursue?
  3. Is the gameplay loop clicking with me?

It’s too early to say here, of course, but I’ll be keeping those in mind.

In the meanwhile, I started over with a new Necromancer named Eerie Emily. If nothing else, mapping the world and doing the storylines will give me a long runway to figuring out what I really want to be doing in this game — and if I’m meant to be here right now.

Setting E.E. up took a good chunk of time spread over two days. There was equipment to be transferred, level boosts to get to 80, gear to be purchased from laurel vendors and the trading post, outfits to be colored, and other stuff to be sold to pay for it all. She’s not top-of-the-line, but she’s got a solid build and a decent beginner set of gear for an 80. Good enough to map, that’s for sure.

One of the perks of re-mapping this entire game is getting to play tourist and poke around the nooks and crannies. Here’s a little library in Divinity’s Reach that I always liked. MAN I wish this game had real housing.

Posted in Elder Scrolls Online

Elder Scrolls Online: Lapping up the plague like there’s no tomorrow

And just like that, I’m back in Elder Scrolls Online for the first time since last spring. It truly did feel like coming home in a way, with my virtual house, character, and cranky bear waiting for me to visit. Since I had finished up Blackwood last time I played, I started down the path of a new zone — Deshaan — with my Warden.

Right away, I was plunged into a plague-ridden zone. And no masks, can you believe it? Ah well, that’s how you get zombies. And it turns out that the nominally altruistic people claiming to help cure the plague were the ones actually spreading it. Least surprising twist ever.

Even though it was basic, it was perfect to get my feet wet with the game again. I enjoyed a time of soaking up the story, getting used to my faceroll combat rotation again, and romped around a mini-tomb for some time.

I’ve long come to realize that if you aren’t willing to immerse yourself into the story and worldbuilding of ESO, you might as well get out of there. This title emphasizes the experience more than some other MMOs, and so I do try to slow down and soak it all in.

To push back against the Maulborn and their use of the plague to decimate the region, I smash up some wards protecting them of said plague and then help archers ambush a plague-carrying convoy to unleash the stuff on the bad guys. Pro: This works wonderfully. Con: This works terribly, and the plague starts to get out of control. Bio warfare is trickier than it looks!

Happily, we quickly corner the creator of the plague and take him down — netting the formula notes to the plague itself. Hopefully this gives the good guys a helpful boost in ending this threat in the region.

For a break from plague clean-up, I conned an invitation to Elder Scrolls Hogwarts — a semi-exclusive magic school waiting for the likes of me. I’m just counting down the minutes until it’s revealed that this place is a cannibal den or a Pinocchio slave dealer. Or, as I found out, some sort of mysterious threat that I’ve got to root out to keep the students safe.

I take my snark back — this actually turned out to be one of the finer quest chains I’ve encountered in ESO. I first am tasked with helping out three somewhat hapless students succeed in their studies. Then, when the school is taken over Die Hard-style, I’m conked out by the bad guy, thrown in jail, busted out of jail, and then have to reunite with these three kids — the only ones left unaffected by a mind-controlling spell — to use the same skills from earlier to overthrow the baddies.

The end of the quest where the students — my newfound virtual friends — say goodbye was genuinely bittersweet. I wouldn’t have minded staying there longer.

ESO is pretty. That is all.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Returning to Treebeard

In under two weeks of doing a regular set of missions, my LOTRO Lore-master climbed from level 32 to 45 without much of a problem. Now it was time to break from straight-up missions to get back on the epic story track — after a few preparatory tasks. First, I needed to backtrack and kill a whole ton of lowbie goblins and spiders to fill out race deeds. Namely, I wanted the +2 hope skill, the emergency flop ability, and the extra Shire map travel. I’ve also been diligently looking at the auction hall every day to see if anyone’s listed the Tundra skin for the bog-guardian pet. I’d rather spend gold than mithril coins on that.

But I’m looking forward to Volume 2 questing without any distractions. For one thing, I need the gear. My hobbit’s still rocking level 32 stuff, since she wasn’t getting many new pieces from missions. I could shop on the auction hall, but why do that when a few quests will give it to you for free? And I am keenly interested to see how the quest flow goes when you’re only doing the epic.

The only piece of gear that I’m keeping on her for the extended future is the Stone of the Dwarf-Deeps. Yes, I’ll be sacrificing a pocket item slot to keep this equipped, but it’s worth it for that amazing 30-minute 8% run speed buff. Lore-masters don’t have any speed boosts, so this helps so much to get around on foot.

Even though the intro quests to Moria make me antsy because I want my legendaries now, darn it, I still really like the whole lead-up and story. There’s some great atmosphere between the eager dwarves and the ominous pool, and every time I see those silver doors, I get a bit of a shiver.

My bog-guardian’s face will never not make me laugh. He’s so weirdly cute and happy to be out and about killing things with bees.

Maybe it was the routine of doing one too many missions or a flight of fancy, but my attention gradually drifted back toward my Minstrel on the slow Treebeard server. Even though I haven’t logged into her for about four or five months, due to the rate of the server’s progression, I was only a mere 10 levels behind the curve. So I picked her back up on the tail of Mirkwood and started making my way toward Dunland and level 75.

And who doesn’t love the spidey quest in the Mirkwood epic? Other than arachnophobes, that is?

But after a string of those never-ending skirmishes, I wrapped up Mirkwood and started walking my way toward Enedwaith — and Dunland beyond.

It was good to arrive here, that’s for sure. Enedwaith’s always been one of my favorite zones of the game, even though it lacks a major setpiece. I guess I like the diversity and layout. Feels like a great wilderness realm.

Posted in CRPG, CRPGs

The Outer Worlds: Migrating to Monarch

After a few side quests — and 15 levels — in my back pocket, the crew of the Unreliable finally heads to Monarch to see if we can’t track down some much-needed chemicals to revive the Hope’s crew. Monarch is a pretty large planet (for this game) that’s situated right off of a gas giant.

Down at the settlement of Stellar Bay, we seek out Nyoka — a local guide who’s as drunk as she is fierce. And a future member of the crew, if I recall. But before I sober her up to go on adventures, I help resolve a worker dispute and obtain a tossball poster for a very whiny and needy fan.

And when you need a break from killing space pirates and giant apes, you can always dive into a bit of romantic fanfiction that’s tucked away on individuals’ data terminals.

Why yes, that IS a nice hat. It’s actually its name, “A Nice Hat.” Because if you’re going to go out, you might as well do so in style. Meanwhile, I’m rocking an auto-pistol that’s been tricked out a bit for some nice DPS.

Sooner or later, every fantasy, scifi, or post-apoc RPG is going to have you do a quest where you stumble into a house populated by cannibals. So this is Outer Worlds’. The only good thing about cannibals is that you can go on a shooting spree and not feel guilty about it.

Another session, I infiltrated a boarstwurst factory — you know, where they feed cystpigs so that people can just pick a chunk off their back and snarf it down. This universe has a lot of disgusting food options, I’ve noticed. I *am* able to feed them a toxic amount of food, for some reason. And so I do.

Posted in General

Going on character expeditions in MMOs

Even more nail-biting of a decision to pick a new/different MMO to play is the choice of what character to pursue in a given game. There are two factors that play into this. First is the fact that time is limited for me and I don’t have gobs of hours to pursue multiple characters (hey, I have a tough enough time juggling a small handful of games!). Second is “the grass is greener” phenomena, where I get this suspicion that what I’m *not* playing might actually be better than what I am.

Maybe that other alt would be a better use of my time. Maybe it would be more fun. Maybe I should start from scratch. Maybe I should stick with a high-end toon to complete the journey and see content that’s fresh to me. Maybe perhaps I don’t know.

Instead of making on-the-spot decisions to abruptly change course in character journeys, what I’ve been doing is to give myself permission to go on what I call “character expeditions.” Usually this is just a single day, maybe two at the most, where I tell myself that I’m going to check out this character and see if it’s what I really want to pursue versus my current one. But — here’s the important thing — I won’t commit to the change right then and there. I’ll splurge on a long gaming session to really get a feel for that toon and help inform the decision that I want to make.

What often happens more times than not is that I’ll get that rash impulse out of my system and return to the character I was playing all along. I’ll satisfy my curiosity and get a hands-on feel for comparison. And while in one sense I’ve wasted a night of progression, I don’t feel that I’ve wasted the time.

It’s kind of like taking a car out for a test drive to see if that’s what I really want, or if it just looked good on the lot when I drove by. And by doing this, I have saved myself a whole lot of future wasted time in which I might invest into a character or course that’s ultimately unsatisfying.

Posted in Books

The Justice of Kings is an involving fantasy detective slow burn

I haven’t been doing many posts lately on books because I decided that the only reviews I wanted to do were books that I genuinely enjoyed. And it’s been a bit of a bad streak in that regard. What few books I’ve listened to or read have been middling-to-Did-Not-Finish.

But I may have broken that streak thanks to an Audible sale, which landed me about 15 new titles for my library. Chief among these was an interesting-sounding fantasy novel called The Justice of Kings which came highly recommended by my friend Steff.

This first book in an ongoing series follows a roving judge for a sprawling empire as he investigates a murder that gradually unfolds into a rather large conspiracy. While there are a lot of forces arrayed against him finding out the truth and dealing with it, the judge has a small band of helpers, skill with the blade, and two magical powers at his disposal (the Emperor’s Voice to compel people to take action or speak and the ability to speak with the recently deceased).

Even though it’s a bit of a slow burn, I wasn’t ever bored of this well-told story. It’s lifted up due to two factors. The first is that it’s told from the perspective of Helena, a 19-year-old clerk of the judge — but this account comes to us via an elderly Helena recording her life’s early adventures. I rather liked that, even if teen Helena is a bit moody at times. The second is that the world-building is uniformly excellent, with every chapter featuring an interesting development or explanation for something in that world.

There’s also a nice balance between the investigative side of the story and more adventurous/battle elements. It never stays too long in either camp, so there’s a nice always-changing variety.

While it can be grim at times, Justice of Kings isn’t exactly grimdark. It’s a strong tale of justice that gradually gets warped into revenge — and an empire threatened from within. I’ll add my recommendation to this as well.