LOTRO: Wedding crashers

It’s time to put away the sword for a season in Lord of the Rings Online and break out the bouquets, because Update 27: A Great Wedding arrived last week. I’ve been starving for something other than deed-treading to do, so this will do nicely indeed.

I love that it’s a huge thematic change of pace from what we’ve been doing in the last few updates. Instead of a normal adventure zone with lots of fighting and dark mysteries, we got a redecorated Minas Tirith and a wedding storyline — as well as the new Midsummer Festival.

While it completely makes sense for the game to host the wedding and festival in the city, I think we all saw the problems that it was going to cause. Lag. Confusion. Bugs. The city just isn’t optimized to have a crowd descend on it at once, even if it is an instanced and slightly smaller version. If it was up to me, I would have restricted all of the activities to the top tier of the city and made a zillion instances of that for performance.

I’m also not a fan of going up and down and up and down in this city, but I also don’t feel like there’s a rush to get all this done super quickly. So it’s more of a laid-back experience, concentrating on one of the thousand of daily festival quests at a time and seeing where that takes me.

I really do love that every so often, LOTRO can put aside combat almost entirely and focus on quests and worldbuilding and an element of roleplay. I don’t resent these “mundane” quests because they make me feel much more involved in the life of Middle-earth than killing 300 hopped-up mosquitoes in a swamp.

I decided to do the festival on my main Lore-master rather than my Minstrel just because I wanted to do the new epic alongside of it. The cosmetics are nice, but nothing my Minnie *needs*, so I’ll be content to let her do it in a year or two when she gets here for real.

Power leveling my World of Warcraft Druid

While I waited for some of last week’s major content updates to happen, I spent the time pushing hard to power-level my (not so much anymore) baby Druid in World of Warcraft. In the span of two weeks, I went from a brand-new level 1 to level 83, mostly thanks to the double XP bonus and the ability to chain-heal dungeons.

In fact, after about level 30 or so, I did dungeons exclusively. It was simply more convenient and quicker, especially since I’d be outpacing old content pretty quickly anyway with the XP bonus. Each dungeon netted me a level or two, depending on if there were quests inside I hadn’t done yet, and I got enough gear from queuing up for randoms to stay up to date.

The plan for this character, therefore, is to keep dungeon crawling until she gets to about 100, at which point I’ll head on over and do Legion stuff for a while. I don’t have the Battle for Azeroth expansion pack on this account, and I’m loathe to spend money on it right now when it’s going to be rolled into the subscription package either with the pre-patch or Shadowlands (not really sure which). I figure that there are worse things than spending time in an expansion that I genuinely liked and getting some of the extra frills, like toys, pets, and mounts, that I currently lack.

Seriously, I’m level 83, and I don’t have a single mount on this account. Druid flight form rocks.

Every so often, I’ll team up with my wife on whatever character she’s leveling that day, and we’ll adventure together. Once she realized that she could ride my travel form, she demanded to be carried everywhere. I was fine with this until she started ringing a bell from the other room and shouting, “Driver! Driver come pick me up!”

So — and this is true — one of the times I had her on my back, I made for a beeline and jumped straight off a cliff to both of our deaths. Thelma and Louised it. I wish I had been recording the startled screech she made (and her subsequent “you are so CRAZY!” laugh) from the other room, because it’s become a fond memory.

I don’t want to pat my back, but I’m totally going to pat my back here and say that I’m not a half-bad healer. My favorite dungeon experience came from a Stratholme group that was quite death-prone, and I had to frantically playing the healing DoT keyboard to keep them from wiping. I got the above compliment as a result, which had to keep me warm for the times when PUGs yelled at me because Joe DPS charged into a boss mob and died in a fraction of a second.

Yeah, I think I’ve got my healing groove down pretty tight. I’ve probably spent more time in a non-combat resto form on this character than in any battles, so I’m sure to be rusty when I have to start fighting again. But I love the Druid healing options, and I’ve specced to have a few “oh crap!” options for when fights turn south. The big hulking tree form is pretty sweet to pull out on boss fights, in particular, but what really does it for me with this class is that it’s proactive rather than reactive healing. I find that I like that more in my MMO healers, to build up a stockpile of HoTs on the tank, than to have to play catch-up all the time.

Sunday Serenade: Outrun, Zombie Night Terror, and more!

Time for another Sunday morning dose of random songs that I’ve been listening to this past week! Welcome to Sunday Serenade — now let’s crank the jams up with… 

“Keep Yo Head Up” by Outrun — You know this one got your toes tapping. Sounds like a good video game racing theme to me.

“Chernobyl” from Rad Raygun — Hey kids, this one slaps hard!

“Dance the Way I Feel” by Ou Est Le Swimming Pool — Ain’t no one gonna tell me how to dance. I’m a dancing rebel!

“Intro” from Seaman 2 — Short. Weird. I identify with that.

“Celebration” from Diddy Kong Racing — Another peppy David Wise track. Has a Northern Exposure sound to it.

“Save Tonight” by ortoPilot — Don’t hate me, but I may actually like this better than the original.

“Drop” by Ortzy and Aspen — Took a while to win me over, but it did in the end with it’s unusual chorus/verse transitions.

“The Incredible Gertrude” from Zombie Night Terror — A catchy dark anthem with superb energy and a touch of eerie tones.

What makes RIFT’s housing an underappreciated joy

I’m still not going full-bore into RIFT, mostly due to time and other priorities, but I have enjoyed dinking around in this former MMO love of mine. The other day, I set apart some time just to set up a new home and start placing all of the dimension items that I’ve been getting through the minions system.

By the way, can we just point out how much RIFT loves to give a conveyor belt’s worth of free housing stuff to players? I’ve never been in an MMO that keeps feeding me so much housing stuff on a regular basis as I do with RIFT’s minions. There are plenty of other ways to get housing decor in the game, of course, but this is the method that I primarily use.

So I opened up one of my free dimensions, Faen’s Retreat, and went to work. I like Faen’s Retreat because it’s got a little of everything that I want in a housing space: a pre-built abode, enough space for other houses, a small snowy area, a beach, and a nice-sized pond for water decorations. But as I’m doing this, I was drafting up a list of why I feel that RIFT’s housing is such an underappreciated system in the MMORPG genre — one of the absolute best, I’d even say.

For starters, there’s the freedom to be as normal or creative or crazy as you like. RIFT doesn’t hem players in with strict pre-set housing that can only be decorated, but neither does it only present a blank slate, Sims-style, and make everyone work from the ground-up. There’s options for both. There are blank dimensions that offer the tabula rasa experience, and dimensions where the structure or land is re-built and ready for a personal touch.

Likewise, there are housing items that are actually structures — taverns, huts, and the like — that players can plop down if they like pre-built stuff. And there are building blocks that can be fashioned into just about anything you imagine. Some of the dimension efforts of the community are flat-out astounding and far outside of my ability. It’s why the game’s always had this dedicated housing sub-community running.

I also appreciate that there is the ability to alter the time of day and environment with placement tools. Personally, I like a nighttime vista to make lighting effects pop, so plopping down a 9:00 pm item to make it always night in my dimension is welcome.

RIFT’s placement tools are also a delight to work with. They aren’t perfect, and I would have appreciated pieces that could lock or click together, but they’re about as good as I’ve seen in an MMO. They’re better tools than WildStar had, and I adored WildStar’s housing. In RIFT, you can resize items, rotate them, and move them effortlessly to get the right look. Decking out a home is very stress-free, and the item allowance is usually pretty generous.

So yeah, it’s a fun system to return to in 2020, and I’m going to make a note to do some dimension-hopping and go on a tour in the future.

Taking an early look at Among Trees

I’m not usually one for early access, but every so often I’ll get suckered into shelling out for some pre-alpha or alpha title because of instant gratification and innate curiosity. This past week, I noticed that a game called Among Trees was making the rounds, and the more I read about it, the more intrigued I got. So I sprang for it as a little gift to myself and jumped in to see what it had to offer.

Like The Long Dark and many other survival-style games, Among Trees throws the user into the middle of a wilderness with very little on hand and tasks them with gathering and crafting in an effort to increase the chances of making it another day. What Among Trees seemed to have to offer that was slightly different was a more chillaxed attitude and visuals ripped straight out of Firewatch.

I mean, you legally cannot talk about this game and not mention Firewatch, because both titles use dreamlike nature visuals that make every vista a lovely desktop wallpaper. It’s pretty much why I wanted to play it, because I really loved Firewatch’s look and feel and would be up for camping out in a woods that looked much like that.

And yeah, the visuals are the best part of the game so far. I’m not disappointed in how things look when I’m wandering around, and the HUD stays deliberately minimal to keep from distracting from being present in the forest. Actually, the interface is pretty well-done in that it’s simple, clear, and attractive. I didn’t have to struggle to figure out how to fix up the cabin or eat mushrooms.

While the world looks great, it’s still seemingly empty of meaty content. There’s no story here nor a diverse array of discoverable locations — just a lot of broken towers with goodies around them, some bears patrolling that can swipe your head off, and rabbits freaking me out by jumping out of the undergrowth and making me think I’m going to die.

All that’s really left is the gameplay loop of gathering and crafting. You can expand your cabin, cook food, whip up maps and bigger backpacks, and go fishing. The team’s roadmap has features such as pets and more things to encounter further down the road, but my gut says that Among Trees probably has a good year or two to go before it’s fully ready for release.

Still, I’m glad I have it, and I’ll be checking back in on this one from time to time as it develops.

Chrono Trigger: Showdown with a space tick

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1995’s Chrono Trigger. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

So here’s the thing: At this point, I’ve pretty much beaten most of Chrono Trigger, including the side quests — all except the Black Omen. The Black Omen is the big final dungeon of the game, and because CT does things differently than most JRPGs, it’s completely optional. We can go right to the end boss without doing it, and since the Black Omen doesn’t have much to offer in terms of storytelling, I’m not that interested in it.

And so the Crono Crew assembles at the End of Time for the great showdown with the space tick. I’m going with Ayla, Crono, and Frog for my boss-fighting party, all equipped with the very best gear that I can get them. No status ailments for me!

It’s to the final era of the game that they go: 1999 AD, the Day of Lavos. The giant tick erupts from the ground and a boss fight to end all boss fights begins! With all the gear, it’s not tough, just tedious.

After two forms, the crew chops Lavos’ head off and… hey, we won! Woohoo! We are the champions… of the woooooorld! Or, you know, not so much because the REAL boss is right behind the curtain. Inside the shell.

Inside the shell is, naturally, a giant robot. This *is* a JRPG, after all. Japanese game developers can’t help but put giant robots in everywhere, even if they don’t make sense.

Also — and this is just common sense, really — Lavos-the-robot shoots laser beams from its nipples. C’mon, we learned all of this in elementary science class, do we really need a refresher course on basic space-born parasitic biology and defense mechanisms?

As if I even needed to expend the effort to explain, Lavos’ final form is… a dorky alien in a spacesuit. That was hiding in a giant robot. That was in a giant space tick. This is the thing that destroys the world? I feel I can destroy him with the power of shame alone.

Once Lavos falls for good, the screen fades to black.. and then fades back in on Crono doing what he does best — waking up in his comfy bed. Only this time, instead of his mother, it’s a soldier telling him that his stay of execution is over. It’s time to face the music. DUM DUM DUMMM.

Aha, it turns out to be a clever ruse by Lucca to throw Crono a “congrats for saving the world” party. She’s wrangled in some of the figures from each of the epochs to say thank you for the Crono Crew’s efforts. So it’s off to the fair for the very last night…

…and a moonlight parade! I can’t help it, I’m smiling. It’s so dang cheery and a great way to bookend the game, going right back to the start of it all.

Unfortunately, with the world saved and all, the time gates are growing weaker and everyone has to say goodbye before returning to their own eras. My favorite part is when Marle, the princess, finally kisses Frog. And I’m totally not sniffing back manly tears when Lucca has to part with Robo, her best friend.

It looks like the adventures are over… and then Crono’s cat runs into the time gate, chased by his mom. Guess they need to go on another rescue!

And with that, the end credits to Chrono Trigger scroll as the Epoch flies across the different eras. It’s seriously a beautiful ending.

…and just the first of several endings, thanks to Chrono Trigger’s New Game+ mode. By beating Lavos at different points in the game in this mode, you’ll trigger a variety of endings. I don’t have time to do this, obviously, but YouTube has them all and the combined run times of just the endings is something like an hour-and-a-half.

Anyway, that’s it for this playthrough! Thank you for going on a journey with me through my favorite RPG of all time. I hope you enjoyed it as I did.

Battle Bards Episode 172: Lost Ark

Although Lost Ark is still making its slow journey to the west, the music arrived ahead — on a songbird, of course! It’s a flat-out amazing soundtrack by a Hollywood composer, and the Battle Bards want to make sure that you aren’t missing out on its musical gifts. So settle back, put on some headphones, and prepare to be blown away.

Episode 172 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (“Ocean World,” “The Ark,” and “Sanctuary of Arcadia”)
  • “Into the Wider World”
  • “The Town of Leonhardt”
  • “Black Teeth”
  • “Silrian Theme”
  • “Mokoko Village”
  • “Club Avenue”
  • “Calm Village”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener note from Sym
  • Jukebox picks: “Main Theme” from Population Zero, “The Tavern” from Wargroove,
  • Outro (feat. )

Syp’s gaming goals for July 2020

June 2020 in review

  • I’m ending the month in a very different place than I had anticipated. I barely played Phantasy Star Online 2 at all — just wasn’t that appealing to me — but I did fall right back into World of Warcraft with a brand-new account and a new Druid to level. I got my Worgan to level 45 and started to map out a plan of how to catch up for Shadowlands.
  • Lord of the Rings Online was a big month of treading water by doing nothing else than deeds on my Minstrel. I got all of Eriador’s deeds done and started in on Moria and Lothlorien, but to be frank, I’m ready for some actual new questing content.
  • I also got into doing some RIFT for the first time in two years. Nothing hardcore — I just missed it and wanted to revisit an old favorite MMO.
  • I throttled back on Elder Scrolls Online a little, doing about one Greymoor quest a night along with some antiquities. One of my guildies helped deck me out with a great suit of stamina gear, and I switched my Warden over to being a bow-using ranger type. I haven’t finished Western Skyrim yet, nor have I stepped into the underworld.
  • Thanks to a week vacation at a cabin with no internet, I managed to wrap up my Knights of the Old Republic playthrough about a month earlier than anticipated! Right now I actually have retro gaming posts written and scheduled through the end of 2020.
  • I bought and tried out that indie survival game Among Trees, although it’s got a long way to go before being fully cooked.

July 2020’s goals

  • Speaking of early access, I picked up Torchlight III, mostly because I was encouraged by all of the content and fixes that are going into this week’s patch. No huge goal here, other than to try it out and see what there is to see.
  • My overarching goal of the month will be to level up my World of Warcraft Druid as much as I can. I don’t have Battle for Azeroth on that account yet, so I’m holding off on that until I can buy Shadowlands and get BFA for free. But still, getting to 90 or so would be a good sign of progress.
  • I’ll keep doing my one-quest-a-day in Elder Scrolls Online, see if I can’t get antiquities to the next level.
  • LOTRO is busting out its new wedding event/content update this week, so you better believe I’m going to be all over that with (wedding) bells on.
  • And Fallout 76’s first season starts this week as well, so I’m going to table all my quests until the One Wasteland patch comes out and just do seasonal stuff. See how far I can get on that game board.
  • For Retro Gaming, I’m going to tuck into Sam and Max Hit the Road. I never played it, so it’ll be a new experience for me.

Looking back at July 2015…

Looking back at July 2010…


Setting up shop as a baby Druid in World of Warcraft

As I told my wife the other day while we were playing World of Warcraft together, I just wasn’t feeling the same excitement of leveling and building up my Death Knight as I had expected. The more I contemplated a better fit, the word “Druid” kept coming to mind more and more. So I rerolled as she yelled from the other room “Are you KIDDING me? I sent you bags!”

Despite this deep wound in our marital relationship, it was a good move, because right from the get-go I was far more engaged in this character. I went with a Worgen (not my favorite race, but Druids have fairly limited options, and I wasn’t going Horde, rolling a Nelf, or grinding forever to get a Kul Tiran whatever. I figure I can always race switch in the future if I can’t stand it, but I’m not too worried.

Frankly, I think a Druid is a great choice for a brand-new account when you have no transmog or unlocks. Since I’d be mostly in a shapeshifted form, it didn’t really matter as much what my armor looked like, and I’d be getting a few movement advantages with the Moonglade teleport, instant travel form, and speed boosts. I won’t be worrying about chasing after mounts, either.

Compared to when I was playing a Druid on WoW Classic, this version is definitely more fun and energetic, with a bigger array of spells and more “pop” to them. I’m going Balance, so figuring out a good rotation was key to making combat encounters go more smooth. Probably the biggest nail-biting choice I had to make was the Tier 1 talents, which had two great choices that I wanted equally. One kept feeding me astral power both in and out of combat so that I could fire off the hard-hitting Starsurge at the start of the rotation, while the other was a three-treant summon. Considering that this was the only (as far as I can tell) pet or summon that the Balance Druid gets, I really wanted that summon, but after trying out the astral power-feeding talent, I couldn’t deny that I needed that more.

Of course, this all meant that I had to start all the way over at level 1 and do my best to charge forward to 120 while building up this account and what I needed for the character. I cheated just a wee bit by mailing all the gold I had from my other account, but that was just for 30-slot bags and a single WoW token. I took herbalism and skinning (skinning is so quick on Worgen!) and started gamely through zone quests.

It’s been both relaxing and enjoyable in a way that I look for in WoW. I have a goal, I have a class I like, and I have smaller milestones to keep me focused for the journey there. The double XP boost is a huge help, and within a few days, I was already in my mid-30s. I do love that the zones level-adjust alongside you so that I’m not over-leveling or quitting one zone to hit another. Once I get to 60, I’ll probably do Northrend from 60-80, then Pandaria, Draenor, Legion, and Battle for Azeroth. It’s a long, long road ahead, and that’s not even including any rep grinds. But I think at least getting to 120 and decking myself out in decent gear is pretty doable, and I’m excited to think of all of the toys and pets and other goodies I’ll be unlocking along the way.

One thing I haven’t been doing much of is dungeons. I will probably start weaving those in, just to get some better gear and have a change of pace, but that also means I’ll need to set up a Resto spec. Which is fine, I like to heal, but I’m not going to level a healer again. That’s an even longer road, and I like my Balance set too much.

Now that I feel like I’m definitely back into WoW, I need to do a lot of reading to catch up on the Shadowlands pre-patch changes that are coming and maneuver to be ready for the expansion. As much as is possible while juggling several other MMOs, of course.

Sunday Serenade: Splatterhouse, Super Mario 64, and more!

Time for another Sunday morning dose of random songs that I’ve been listening to this past week! Welcome to Sunday Serenade — now let’s crank the jams up with… 

“The Lay of Lyndelby” from LOTRO — This Hobbit town track had everyone raving about it when it debuted with Update 26.

“Beginning Theme 2” from One Way Heroics — A bouncy and fun track that caught my attention and kept it for the whole ride.

“Why I’m Here” by Oleander — The second this starts playing, it’s hard not to go, “Yup, that’s ’90s rock right there. And good rock, at that.”

“Eye to Eye” from A Goofy Movie — Kids movies these days wish they had soundtracks this good.

“Cold Ain’t For Me” by Oceans — A quasi-country song that rises or falls solely on its instrumental. It’s on this side of decent.

“Final Boss” from Splatterhouse — Most final boss themes are grand and tension-filled, but not really that fun to listen to as standalone music. This one is darkly catchy, and I like how it underplays rather than overplays.

“File Select” from Super Mario 64 — I never really played this game, so this track is pretty new to me. It’s very appealing and tranquil.

“Medical Center” from Lego Island — This one’s got a bit of an earworm quality to it. Kind of relaxing, too.

“Thinking About You” by Ocie Elliott — Sad. Sweet. Perfect.