SWTOR: Operative appraisal

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I feel as if I’m gradually getting my gaming house in order, and it is glorious. Having a computer that actually runs these titles is a plus, of course, but on top of that I’m loading up MMOs (as many as I want!) and organizing them according to interest and projects. The idea is that I generally want to focus on one character in each game and have him or her be on top of the content so that I can jump in and check out whatever is new.

This brings me back to SWTOR and my long-time Operative Yeti. According to my gaming records (this blog, which functions surprisingly well as a record of what I was up to and when I left and returned to games), Yeti had reached chapter 9 of Knights of the Fallen Empire around November 2015, after which I lost interest in the whole companion search party and never returned for the new chapters. Still, like my LOTRO Captain, Yeti has been with me on a very long journey so far and I want to see her through. I’m not super-interested in ops or raiding, but seeing the storyline progress? Sure, I’m on board with that.

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Plus I got this in my email, a note from BioWare welcoming me back and saying that I could come play five chapters for free. I’m not sure if this means I get chapters 10-14 for good from now on or just for August, but why not? I think my plan here was to wait for the ultimate chapter to come out and then sub up for a single month to snag it and all the previous chapters for a free-to-play account anyway.

If I don’t have to spend money right now on a game that I’m quite casually playing, sure. I’m in.

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I will say that I’ve missed my Operative. It’s such a joy to play her without a computer stuttering all of the time, and she just looks cool all around. It took me about 30 seconds to get reacquainted with her fight rotation (which I adore) and everything else kind of fell into place soon thereafter.

To help with the refamiliarization process (is that a word?), I did go on one of those companion gathering missions that was sitting in my log anyway. I really truly do not understand why SWTOR wants us to get all of these companions, since you can’t have more than one out anyway. To be honest, I was totally fine with my Agent companions.

So two slight bummers in this return gaming session. The first was that my guild seems more or less dead at the moment. Every time I’ve logged in during the past week, there’s been one or zero other people on. That’s not a terrific sign, at least for the guild, so I might have to go shopping again. The other bummer is that now the game has made my Agent’s spaceship completely empty of companions. Running through it, I felt their absence keenly. Maybe all of these other companions we’ve collected are clogging up a closet somewhere in the back?

It wasn’t all bad, of course. I maxed out my slicing skill while we puttered around on Zakuul, and I had a great time fighting. Chapter 9 is officially over and done, and that purple button inviting me to start Chapter 10 is waiting for my say-so.

Another night, perhaps.

6 interesting novels I’ve read recently

saintI haven’t done a book post in a while (a year in fact!), probably because my reading in 2016 has slowed waaaay down for various reasons (I blame late-night sitcoms). Still, I have managed to plow through a good half-dozen novels so far, so here are a few thoughts and recommendations.

(1) Saint’s Blood by De Castell

The third of the Greatcoats series, I was so excited to see it pop up. It’s simply one of my favorite fantasy series of all time now, a new take on the Three Musketeers. Saint’s Blood has Falcio and company doing what they always do — trying to hold a broken country together by fighting near-impossible odds. It was a good read, even great, although I would probably put it at number three if I had to rank the series to date. Some good twists and a running theme on dueling keeps it gripping reading.

(2) The Devil’s Detective by Unsworth

Here’s a neat premise: A noir detective story set in Hell, where a man must investigate a series of murders that are unusual even to the underworld. Great world-building and a main character that slowly awakens and comes into his own. Now onto the sequel!

(3) The Rain by Turkot

I use Bookbub to notify me of free or highly discounted enovels in the genres that I read, so many times I take chances on these novels if they look interesting. The Rain kind of hit that spot, being a post-apocalyptic novel set in an America that’s seen nonstop rain for years and years. The concept is good, but the sometimes shoddy writing and dull characters lost my interest after a while.

(4) Bitter Seeds by Tregillis

Nazi soldiers with superpowers vs. British warlocks in World War II is a slam-dunk premise, and some people have talked up Tregillis for a while now. I’ll put this out there: It’s a good read, sometimes very dark and depressing, but the alternate history take on WWII with a fantasy/superhero approach is worth exploring. That said, I don’t think I’ll move on to the other books in the series, since by the end it was a little more work than pleasure to finish.

(5) The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Dickinson

Man people raaaaaved about this novel. Maybe a little too much, since my expectations going into it were very high. It’s the tale of an island native who is absorbed into a conquering empire and decides to rebel (in some fashion) from within. The protagonist balances between smarts and terrible situations well, and I’ll say that while it’s not my best-of-2016 or anything, it’s definitely an above-average novel with a decidedly different approach to fantasy.

(6) Dawn of Wonder by Renshaw

Probably my favorite book of the year so far. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age fantasy tales, and this one is both well-done and very long. The main character is a village boy with baggage who — after a good chunk of the book — ends up being trained in a military academy for elite troubleshooters. Every chapter was fascinating and I simply cannot wait for the sequel.

The Secret World: Choose your own adventure

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Now that my new computer is up and running, I have no excuse not to play the newest mission from The Secret World’s Issue 15, Choose Your Own. Sure, it was disappointing that an entire issue was basically repackaging of previous sidestories plus only one investigation mission, but then again, it’s one more mission than we had before. So let’s get to it!

Our tale opens on a ravaged Tokyo, where my character walks up to a pachinko parlor and notices an old-fashioned floppy disc sticking out from behind a monitor. Said monitor blinks on and a woman with a wasp mask introduces herself as “The Swarm,” an Anonymous-like collective that has been watching me. It challenges me to a game in exchange for some information.

“We know what your masters have done. We know what the Hive is,” The Swarm says in a computerized voice. I am intrigued.

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Oh hey, they literally meant a game, like a computer game. The floppy has another classic-type text adventure game on it with the appealing title of “Sloshing in the Dark.” Like the other mission in TSW that had an adventure game in it, you have to beat this mission to proceed. And as the name of this quest implies, you’ll be making a LOT of choices.

The story is actually really well done. You wake up in a hotel room and have to scramble to get out of there as an unseen force is chasing you. Jumping from a window, you discover that this is the bed and breakfast in Kingsmouth, taking us to familiar grounds. Yet it’s also a place on the verge of a Lovecraftian apocalypse, with a horrible force pressing in on the world, cultists hopping like frogs everywhere, and kids trying to murder you with scissors. The ending — which isn’t so much happy as it is an end — has you retaining your sanity even as the world boils to an end.

Time to find the next uplifting disc of this series! I’m guessing that you use the story from the game as clues for the next location.

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Back to Kingsmouth, always back to Kingsmouth in this game. I get a little shiver of deja vu running past Wendy and Jack’s B&B, thinking about the game.

The next game is found at the Lobster Trap, and I pop it in the sheriff’s computer for a late-night text adventure session. I have to say that these games are really well-done writing, short stories from start to end that will brutally finish if you don’t make the right choice.

This one deals with a failed thespian who is given a book, a forbidden play, that consumes him and causes a whole lot of weird stuff to happen around him. It’s downright creepy, especially in its ending… and I have to go perform that very same play as a character. Thanks, Secret World, for making sure I won’t sleep tonight.

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It’s not too bad, actually. Once I got the stage set up, I do a bow and apparently that’s my entire “performance.” At least it prompted the Swarm Wasps to come out for a moment up on the balcony.

Another interesting (but not quite scary) story, this one about the Baba Yaga who stole away your brother. Reminds me of Quest for Glory, especially the part about her chicken house.

London eventually leads me to Translyvania, where I find a dark room with a single light shining down on a blindfold. Sure thing, I’ll trust my life to these insane wasps while the undead are prowling around outside!

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Life goes from great to even better, as I wake up in an abandoned mental asylum. At least, I very much hope it’s abandoned. There aren’t any enemy mobs at all in this mission, but the atmosphere and sound effects do a great job convincing you that at any moment, hands could reach out of the dark and pull you into a sticky embrace.

A phone rings. I pick up and the Swarm tells me to play one last game. A short one, but perhaps the most important one. It’s about escaping the very same asylum that I’m in, so I follow those directions and end up gassed in the face for my efforts.

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As I fall unconscious, I see a pack of the Swarm coming out of the shadows. Hope they don’t rifle through my gear.

I wake up in Seoul with the floppy disk that talks about the Swarm, and the collective sends me a text:

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Now this… this is fascinating. The theme of choice has been running strong this entire mission, leading up to one final actual choice: to turn in the evidence about the Swarm to the Templars or keep it to myself. After coming into this knowledge, I don’t think right turning them in, so I kept it. I love that this mission actually gives me one of the very rare choices in TSW.

I also hope that this quest and the Swarm have ramifications on the game going forward. It’s a great concept, that bee-kissed people who didn’t go with a faction are jailed by the secret world for their independent streak — and how that “swarm” is fighting back. If they’re recruiting, I am so in. A fourth faction that’s unlockable as you play on? How cool would that be?

WildStar and the Art of Movement

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Sorry WildStar fans, I don’t have a huge return-to-WildStar post for you today. I’m still sort of in the process of reloading all of my stable of MMOs and chortling with glee that they actually run right on this computer. But I do have plans to explore Arcterra with my Engineer, so stay tuned on that front.

What I did want to comment on today that even spending a few minutes with my character here reminded me of one of my hands-down favorite aspects of WildStar: Its freedom of movement. Character just handle so great in this game, from the double-jumps to the tight controls while you’re making course corrections in mid-air. Even the running animations are spot-on. Little things, but when you go from game to game, you do notice how one MMO handles like a truck and another like a sports car.

WildStar, you be the sports car.

World of Warcraft: What to do with August?

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That is one very dead undead Gnome. Don’t worry, she comes back in the sequel.

The other night I said in guild chat that the 7.0 patch was the best thing to happen to chronic altaholics looking to winnow down choices for Legion, because some of those changes have made the classes distasteful.

I’ve all but given up on my Shaman. I trotted her out for a couple of hours the other day and tried all three specs, finding enjoyment in none of them. I still mourn for what enhancement used to be, but oh well, that’s one class down. Druid healing, too, isn’t nearly as fun now. I miss sending out my healing trees to help out during difficult pulls.

On the flip-side, I’m warming up to my demo Warlock. It’s still a little cumbersome and awkward to play, but she gets the job done and I’ve crafted a really great outfit to fit her theme. Hunter is still in the middle — I suspect that I’m going to need to wait her out until she gets her artifact weapon before she feels complete again. Until then it’s a lot of stilted combat and a build that changes on the hour.

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Me swimming in lava! Ten seconds until I die, hope you enjoy seeing me suffer so.

At least my unholy DK continues to impress. She kicks butt all over the place and I love throwing out pets left and right as I do it. Being able to infect a whole crowd of mobs with one keystroke is so satisfying that I feel like all the rest of my abilities are icing on the cake. My only hesitation when it comes to playing her is that I’m a little disappointed that the Legion order hall is the rehashed Ebon Hold, but hey, it might be awesome. Just probably not pretty.

As I settle into acceptance with these new class builds, I — like many others — am trying to decide what to do with the time between now and Legion’s launch on August 31st. That’s one biiiig month.

There are options, many of them, but it’s hard to pick priorities. My hunter and DK have both finished up leveling professions to 700, although I could collect more engineering recipes and work on archaeology (my DK is in the low 200s with that right now with very little to show from it).

Transmog hunting is in my mind, but I’m kind of at a loss where to start, exactly. Not for the first time do I wish that the game would let you solo queue for lower level instances through the dungeon finder. Instead of hunting down particular pieces, I’m running timewalking dungeons as much as possible for unique looks and perhaps an upgrade her or there. I notice that Blizzard is running three solid weeks of timewalking through August 9th.

I could make good on my promise to go back and run through lower level campaigns for the fun and cosmetics. I still haven’t even set foot on the shores of Pandaria, if you can believe it.

I think a lot of folks are hoping that the coming demon invasions will be compelling enough content to tide us over, followed by the debut of the Broken Shores later in the month. That’s certainly where all the action will be.

One month left. What are your plans?

Try-It Tuesday: Atlas Reactor

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I accidentally typed “Atlast Reactor.” Then my brain started playing “At Last” with Etta James. That went on for the next four minutes. I don’t think my mind is functioning much like how it used to. Bear with me.

Anyway, continuing to dig through my pile of games that I want to at least sample, and I realized that I had gotten a code to try out Atlas Reactor a couple of weeks back. Honestly, I wasn’t even going to give this game a look — “PvP” is pretty much Syp-repellent, especially as the core of a title — if that hadn’t happened. And while I’m not going to be suddenly throwing up my hands and telling you that this is the game that’s going to win me over to the PvP side of the force, I will admit that it’s a really interesting take.

I don’t think that there’s anything quite like Atlas Reactor out there, and that’s probably a good thing for Trion Worlds. I mean, it probably won’t be a major hit, but if the studio can dig out a new niche, it could bear more of a future than most MOBA clones these days.

And at first look, you might be forgiven for thinking that Atlas Reactor is a MOBA. I mean, a traditional one, with lanes and minions and made-up words like “jungling.” It’s got colorful characters with skins and finishers that you can unlock. It has several modes and is primarily about PvP matches, although there are matches against bots if you feel so inclined.

Yet in truth, Atlas Reactor is more like Battlechess, if anything. Remember that game? I’m dating myself, but I loved it way back when. I loved that because while you got the pacing of a turn-by-turn strategy game, you also got to watch the pieces beat the crud out of each other.

This “plan a move, watch how it pans out” is the core of the game. Each character has five abilities that can be “programmed” during the planning part of turns, after which the turn will play out more-or-less simultaneously. Some actions occur before others, so there’s a lot of choices involved here. And considering that you have eight characters operating at a time, each making hidden decisions, each turn is part gamble, part anticipation, and part spray and pray.

After going through a few matches, I can say that this approach actually works. The pause between turns lets you engage your mind more than your reflexes, and that breather is a godsend to those of us who want to analyze and react without feeling pressured to do something that second. You can even act quickly and “bank” some of that extra time for the turns where you need a few more moments.

Because of the setup, I didn’t feel that crushing pressure of competitive PvP that I normally do. Teamwork is incredibly important (I loved our healers) and getting to sit back and watch while you thought of what to do next established a good flow to the game. I especially enjoyed the personalities and quotes from the characters, and the art style uses cel-shaded cartoons to great effect.

Is Atlas Reactor for me? Nope. Can’t see playing it much past this, but that’s more me than the game. But how will it treat Trion? I think the best that the studio can hope for here, with an unconventional gameplay style and a brand-new IP, is for a modest hit that establishes a good enough revenue flow to keep it running. It’s definitely worth checking out if you feel like you’ve seen all MOBAs have to offer.