Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Speak into my magic ball

Taking a break from hauling my Minstrel through Minas Tirith, I gave myself as much of a “fresh start” as one can with an already existing account in LOTRO. I wanted that feeling of newness, of building up something from scratch (or near enough to it), and of personal challenge and discovery.

So I rolled up a Hobbit Lore-master on Gladden, a server which I have no footprint. By doing this, I was stripping away a lot of my usual safety net — no pool of wealth to draw from, no house, no mithril coins, no friends, no wardrobe. Additionally, I will be challenging myself to earn any LP that I’m going to spend (on milestones/travel skills, most like), and I outright deleted most of the freebie items that came with any new characters, with the exception of mounts and pets.

My first evening came with a lot of initial goals: Find a kin, level up to 6, head to the Shire to get my VIP services, start building a wardrobe, get set up with the new free riding skill, import my UI settings, and start questing. All of this was accomplished, and then some. I asked for recommendations for a kin and was pointed to a long-lasting one on the server that was stocked with friendly folks who made me feel at home at once.

And since the spring festival’s going on, I ran through the sunflower quest series to earn 18 spring leaves so that I could buy a nice lore-mastery robe outfit to wear in my early adventures.

In a valiant attempt to be social — and benefit myself — I joined a kin outing that was focused on blitzing through deeds in order to farm LOTRO Points. I figured I might as well make friends and get an assist on some of these lowbie deeds that I have to do anyway. It was a good time, as we got through a bunch of the more boring Ered Luin slayers in record time.

One nice benefit of this excursion is that it finally put me over the threshold of 3000 LP — enough to finally buy the account-wide 78% mount speed increase that I’ve been eyeing for some time. I definitely feel like I’m zipping around a LOT faster now!

But soon enough, it was back onto my Minstrel to see if she can escape the gravity well of Minas Tirith. Perhaps looking into this Palantir will help? Can’t hurt, right?

Posted in CRPG, CRPGs

Pillars of Eternity II: No one knew where the druids came from…

After playing through and beating Pillars of Eternity a couple of times, I’ve been meaning to give Obsidian’s follow-up the same attention. I’ve started Deadfire a couple of times but haven’t dedicated myself to playing much more than the intro, so it’s been on my 2023 gaming list to see more (or perhaps all) of this seafaring RPG sequel.

I really like this opening part, where you’re a disembodied spirit called back from the afterlife to be pressed into service again. It’s entirely possible during this character creation process to argue strenuously enough against going back that the game just gives up and ends.

My character is Syperia, an Ancient Druid who’s a bit cocky and likes to use a pistol for some reason. I always liked Druid classes in the Baldur’s Gate series, so it feels right to continue on with that here. She wakes up on board a ship that’s being boarded by pirates, so it’s time to put that pistol to good use!

It feels like the game bug bit pretty hard right away, as I almost immediately got a lot further than I have in the past doing the opening island quests. It’s a lot of getting used to the lay of the land, making sure to scope out every location for named NPCs and free loot, building up a bank account, and getting (re)used to the combat system. Before long, I have a fighter (whom I’m training to be an unarmed MMA-style grappler) and a priest joining the cause of… vague wandering?

Hey, you know what you really shouldn’t do? Crowd all your party around a barrel full of gunpowder and then shoot it for fun. The above is what happens about two milliseconds after stupidity has free reign.

Posted in RIFT

Is there a scenario in which RIFT has a future?

Continuing with a recent spat of MMO tourism, I popped back into RIFT for a while to see if I could clear out Scarwood Reach — the zone that I bogged down in last year. And as the rule goes, whenever you come back to an MMO, the very first thing you do is whip up a new outfit. I have no idea what I’m going for with this one, other than a sort of breezy winter athletic tone.

RIFT’s continued existence defies the predictions of so many people who thought that Gamigo was going to shutter this years ago. Yet it’s still been trucking along, albeit with the bare, bare minimum of any development, PR, or events. CMs keep getting hired and then let go, and the company doesn’t talk about RIFT at all in any reports. It’s most likely that the best we can hope for — as things stand now — is for RIFT to continue on in maintenance mode for several years yet before the company does pull the plug. If that’s the case, then my time in the game now is a big final tour of an MMO that I’ve loved since its launch.

Yet some movement on the part of Gamigo last month — the anniversary celebration, a free Patron promotion, linking Steam and Glyph profiles together — raises a very outside possibility that the company may be trying to position RIFT to sell. This is really the only hope RIFT fans have of any other future than a prolonged death spiral. The scenario goes like this: Gamigo puts RIFT up for sale, an eager studio snaps it up, RIFT gets relaunched (with additional PR and fanfare and hopefully a better business model), and a small but dedicated team is tasked with developing and promoting it.

It’s a long shot, yes, but not unheard of in this industry. Broadsword took over development and publishing rights for UO and DAOC, even if that was just a small studio spinning off of EA. Gamigo sold ArcheAge over to Kakao, so there’s some precedent there. Fallen Earth and APB came under Little Orbit’s management. It’s not the most common, but for IP-independent MMOs, it’s far more common to see ones sold and shipped around the industry.

So why not RIFT? It’s never going to be the WoW challenger it wanted to be or even the hot game it was in the first few years, but there’s some genuine life in this MMO that could be coaxed to bloom once more. What’s keeping a lot of people away from it isn’t the nature of the game but its perceived lack of a future coupled with a disliked monetization scheme. People are attracted to titles that exude health and future potential, and they flee titles that look like they’re circling the drain.

I’d absolutely hate to see RIFT die completely. Like WildStar, this is a title that deserved a lot more love and care than it ended up getting, and with the right handling, it could have a much longer, healthier life than it’s getting.

Posted in Nostalgia Lane

Nostalgia Lane: Metal Gear Solid

When I look back at my time with the original PlayStation, what surprises me most is how short of a window I actually spent with it versus the wealth of experiences and memories that came from it. I purchased my PS1 in the summer of 1998, and by 2000 I had gotten a PS2 and was phasing out the original.

Yet there were so many amazing titles that I enjoyed during this time, including the legendary Metal Gear Solid. Like plenty of others, I first encountered with with a demo disc of the opening level. This I played extensively until I bought the whole thing and absolutely feasted on it during my last year of college.

There really wasn’t another game like this that I had ever played up to that point in my life. It was a seductive mixture of stealth elements, cinematic storytelling, action setpieces, a bit of Metroidvania exploration, meme quotes, and secrets.

Metal Gear Solid — the third in the series — put players in the role of Solid Snake, a special ops agent sent to a remote Alaskan island fortress where he’s got to infiltrate a base, put down tons of highly skilled bad people, and stop a nuclear missile-launching robot from activating. Along the way, the comms radio and various cutscenes kept the stakes high with a multitude of characters, secret agendas, and betrayals.

Unlike a lot of other action titles at that time, MGS rewarded brains, daring, and stealth rather than running and gunning. It rewarded you not to be noticed, since drawing too much attention would most likely get you killed in short order. So there was a lot of sneaking around, distracting guards, hiding in cardboard boxes (!), and using a wide variety of tools to accomplish your goals.

Even with the jagged polygons, MGS had a style that looked good (and still does, in a sense). And it played so smoothly, which was paramount to the think-on-your-feet gameplay. But what I liked the most was how inventive it was for the time. There are so many little secrets, multiple ways to accomplish tasks, fun gadgets, and bosses that sometimes had to require out-of-the-box thinking.

I mean, that first time when I had to fight Psycho Mantis and eventually realized that the only way to beat him was to switch controller ports? Genius.

Weirdly enough, it would be the last time I really liked a Metal Gear Solid game. I did get the second one on the PS2 and was — like everyone else — disappointed that you didn’t get to play as Snake for half the game. I also grew pretty weary of the twisty-turny overly philosophical storytelling by the end of MGS and was in no mood for even more of that nonsense in the second one.

Posted in General

Taking a life audit of geek hobbies

As I alluded to before, I’ve been struggling a bit with seasonal depression this year. Nothing super serious, just “feeling blah” more often than I normally do. And while stresses at work and the long winter have played into it, I started to suspect that part of it might be an imbalance in my life’s priorities. Sometimes I unduly lean on games and other geeky hobbies to provide the enthusiasm and passion for me to get through an otherwise drab day, which starts to elevate those hobbies into positions of increasing importance.

That’s not good when those hobbies are already a tempting alternative to other things that should be important, and so I’ve been taking an audit of my schedule lately and started to shake things up — and put certain activities in a more confined space. For example, it’s been so easy to come home from work and want to veg out in front of a computer game than spend time with my kids (all of whom are homeschooled). I’ve been very convicted lately that as much as I do spend time with them, I need to be investing more of myself in their lives. My wife and I have been working to carve out more time for each other instead of being frequent ships-crossing-in-the-night as well.

So I’m definitely cutting down on gaming time, pushing it firmly back into “only after everyone’s asleep” territory instead of how it’s been creeping into other hours. I’m looking for ways to be doing more with my kids, taking them along on chores, playing more card games, or going on walks with them. Just being more “present” than I’ve been is important to me, and I’m making that one of my big goals for 2023. Is it too late to set resolutions, in March? Oh well, I’m doing it anyway.

I think it’ll also help to introduce more variety in my week. For example, I’ve been reading a lot less in the past few months for no reason that I can identify. I need to get more “sun time” out of the house, weather permitting. And I’ve gotten back to my long-neglected novel, which needs another editing pass.

While I like gaming and can point to some positive outcomes of spending time in MMOs, it’s not the savior of my life or the purpose for my existence. I have to keep it in its place and focus a little more on the things that have an even greater impact on me and others.

Posted in CRPG, CRPGs

Disco Elysium: Just call me… Hobocop

Taking a break from JRPGs this week, I turned back to a recent favorite CRPG that I wanted to explore a second time. Disco Elysium was a wildly different RPG experience than I’ve had in the past, and with its “Final Cut” update, I knew I wanted to see it again with all of its improvements. Plus, I wanted to unleash my inner craziness and go as weird as this game will let me.

Spoiler: It’s a whole lot.

This unusual alternate-world murder mystery begins with a completely soused detective coming to in a trashed room. He’s about as unlikable and unattractive as any film noir P.I. might wish to be… and mostly naked, too. Also, his head is filled with different voices that keep talking to him, but that’s part of the game’s setup and one must go with it. The bender was so bad, apparently, that it’s practically wiped out his memory (letting the player fill it in with choices).

Disco Elysium is a weird game to try to explain. It’s nominally a detective RPG that’s more about dialogue and investigation than combat. It’s got a very unique character growth system where you fashion your character out of 16 skills and various “thoughts” that can take root and grow into definable traits. For example, a conversation planted the idea that I could be a Hobocop… so I decided to pursue this to become even more unstable than I already am.

There are a lot of useful things to do right away on the first day. There are some helpful items — crowbar, flashlight, gloves — to grab, a partner to meet, a street map to swipe, and, most important of all, a yellow bag that allows you to scrounge for cans like a homeless bum. HOBOCOP!

I keep making detours on this first day, most notably to a nearby bookstore that is purported to be under a “curse.” After investigating the whole building, I find out that not only did there used to be a company there that did wireless RPG adventuring (which sounds really neat) but also there’s a die-maker who’s been peacefully making roleplaying dice.

The main thrust of this game is to figure out who killed this man who’s been hanging behind the hostel for a week now. It’s like a Laura Palmer/Twin Peaks thing, where the murder is the catalyst to crack open a can of worms on the area. The crime scene investigation is a lengthy bit with a whole lot of analysis and even feats of shooting (I mean, how do you get a hanged guy down when you don’t have a ladder or crane?).

Once you realize just how much freedom this game’s developers are willing to give you to act on pretty much any impulse you have, the fun really begins. For example, the murder victim is left with a pair of custom-fitted high tech armor boots. Boots that I kind of wanted, even though that would be stealing. So I didn’t have the body taken away just yet — I waited until my partner went to sleep for the night, came back to grab the boots, then went to the hotel’s kitchen to use a pot to boil the boots clean of… leftoevers. And now I’m wearing them proudly while the game tells me that my partner is deliberately ignoring their presence on my weird body.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Bar crawling across Minas Tirith

This week’s main LOTRO project was a two-for-one deal. I was going to try to knock out all of the many Minas Tirith quests while also documenting some of the more interesting locales for a city tour article I was putting together for Massively OP. Both would make for a considerable affair, what with having to crawl all over every square inch of this town, but I felt up for it.

Methodically combing over this city has been on my Hobbit bucket list for a while, so I’m happy to slow down and do this thing properly. I’m seeing some familiar sights as well as several that are brand-new to me, due to being off the beaten path.

It was a fun if tiring project, and by the time I was done, I was ready to be finished with questing in this city. Of course, now I had to stick around to do the epic for a good while, which strained my patience. I’m just not a city guy; I need to be out in the wilds to relax.

The spring festival popped back around, but I’m not biting. It’s the one festival that I routinely ignore, as its activities are too annoying and its rewards not that tempting. I used some of the saved-up fall festival tokens I had from last year to buy a couple of cosmetic outfit pieces and put together a respectable hobbit-like adventurer’s garb.

But as of late, I’ve been itching for a bit of a change in routine. An alternate project. So to scratch this itch — and possibly see where it might go — I rolled up a new Hobbit Lore-master on a server I haven’t visited and started from scratch there. Building up a new wardrobe, new character, and making some new friends might be what I need to liven things up for a bit!

Posted in Elder Scrolls Online

Elder Scrolls Online: Does eating a giant make you a cannibal?

There’s always a giddy feeling when I get close to finishing up a map in Elder Scrolls Online. It’s the anticipation of that final task crossed off mixed with the worry that I have more to do than I thought. But I think I’m doing pretty well with Shadowfen. I even did the full public dungeon, which was (hilariously) a party that refused to quit and a poor guy who just wanted to escape.

And sure enough, I got done pretty quickly. In fact, this may be the first zone I’ve ever finished where I found all of the skyshards naturally without looking up a guide at the end for leftovers.

Our guild runs a regular “Price is Right” night where you can try to bid on different parcels. And lo and behold, I won a pack of about a dozen treasure maps. That sparked an idea — why not take an intermission before the next zone and go on a world-spanning treasure hunt to use these maps (and more I had in the bank besides)?

Instead, my plan fell apart after doing one (1) treasure because I so lost interest in flipping back and forth between web browsing and travel — and because when I got to Eastmarch, I went, “Hey, this is a pretty zone! I’d like to stay here and quest a while, don’t mind if I do!”

I might need to get a cabin in this zone. Wintry Alaskan wilderness does it for me.

So far I’ve been content to stay in skeleton form. There’s an inherent amusement value in watching my bare-bones character leap into action and perform amazing feats of magic.

Or I’ll change back in the next session. Nice to have options!

Leave it up to ESO to whip up gruesome quest chains. I was trying to help a village figure out why giants were rampaging against it. Turns out that some idiot was killing them — and then feasting on their flesh. I guess that’s bad? Does it count as cannibalism if you eat giants? So on one hand, I’m trying to stop this practice, but on the other hand, I have to kill about a dozen giants in the course of completing the quest.

The moral of this is: It’s OK to murder big humans, just don’t snack on them afterward.

Posted in AdventureQuest 3D

Small adventures in AdventureQuest 3D and Guild Wars 2

Feeling a bit in a routine funk as of late, I pulled on the emergency cord by my desk to activate a good old-fashioned MMO tour. I have a list of MMOs I either haven’t tried, haven’t played much, or haven’t visited in a while, so until the funk is over, I’ll be visiting one of these on a week-by-week basis. Worst case, I get some fun blog posts. Best case, I find something that’s surprisingly fun and sticks.

First up? AdventureQuest 3D. MJ over at MOP is a huge evangelist for this game and keeps saying how it’s incredibly underrated, so I must give it more than a passing time of day, I suppose.

If you’ve played any MMO, ever, then AQ3D is not going to trip you up. It’s a very straight-forward — and slick! — MMO with tab-target combat, loot, stats, etc. What seems to distinguish itself is the generally wacky humor (I am a fan of the drackens — the dragon-chicken hybrids) and the ability to collect and swap between classes. But for the first night, I worked on getting my game legs with combat, gearing up, and getting to know a questing system where there is no mini-map or bigger map. There is insta-travel between regions, though.

By the time I got to the main town, I felt in over my head. There were so many quest givers and things to do and places to see that I didn’t know what to do first. So I focused on popping my head into the first zone, doing a couple of Ranger quests to get tokens for that class, and hung out with the weird band at the inn. Oh! And I picked up my free Massively OP cloak that I had totally forgotten I unlocked several years back.

Mini-dungeons are something that I discovered about Guild Wars 2, thanks to dailies. They’re not much, usually a corridor that’s topped with a puzzle or a small boss. Interesting experiments, if nothing else.

Meanwhile, while there are plenty of things to be doing and appreciating in Guild Wars 2, I keep logging in to find my interest pulled in a dozen weak directions without any strong goal in sight. And then I just join whatever world boss squad is going around killing baddies mindlessly. It’s something to pass the time, but it’s not going to keep me here long.