WoW: Arathi Highlander

With all of the “new expansion smell” long since gone for Battle for Azeroth, the community has found itself in a strange place. Some, like me, are happily still questing and gearing and busying themselves with a hundred various activities at a casual pace. Others are highly frustrated with what they see as a recycled endgame and lackluster azerite armor. Then there are those who are waiting for Patch 8.1 to arrive and give meaning to their lives again.

I’d probably be a lot more frustrated if I had blown through all the content and was on my Nth alt, but truth be told, I still only have one level 120 and haven’t even finished all the zone questing yet on that single character. I’ve got plenty to go before I summit Mt. Warcraft again, so for now I’m mostly occupied with a mixture of questing, chasing world quests/emissaries for gear and rep, and very occasionally doing a heroic dungeon. Doing less of those lately because they do take too long and the chances of gear upgrades dropping are kind of rare.

These fungal guys are easily my most favorite foes of the expansion. Blizzard had way, way too much fun with these crazy mushroom dudes. My ghoul isn’t having any of it, however.

I am getting to a much better place, gear-wise. I have mostly blues and a few purples, and I think I’m sitting around 328 or so. The next step is to dip more into mythics and mythic+ dungeons, and there is a rumor that my guild might be setting up a regular night for that. I’d love that; I’m finding that these days, regularly scheduled guild events are the only way for me to get a social fix. I certainly don’t have time to trawl LFG or spam my need across channels.

I did get out to Arathi Highland for some rare questing the other day, and that was both fun and somewhat gear profitable. I was so excited to get a level 340 sword that I swapped it out, disenchanted my old mace, and then realized that it was a ONE-HANDED sword which meant I couldn’t use any of my abilities.

Cue running to the AH to get a 280-ish placeholder and then doing more Arathi until a two-hander dopped. Boy was my face… blue. I’m Draenei, that’s how it usually is, but more blue than usual because of embarrassment.

Nothing like bringing a giant spider train right into the home of an arachnaphobic NPC who is cowering in sheer terror from these beasts.

So I’d say that all in all, I’m in a good place for long-term survival. I do wish that there was more excitement and a personal drive to play, but when I do log in — which is at least for a half-hour every day — I have plenty to do and am enjoying the ride. Still ahead of me are allied races to unlock, other classes to level, and my Horde alt who has probably put my face on a milk carton by now because I’ve been missing so long.

How are you doing in BFA these days? Do you think that 8.1 is going to give the community what it wants and needs?

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LOTRO: From night to day

I almost never feel *compelled* to log into Lord of the Rings Online, yet I am always glad I did when I spend an evening in this game. By now, this MMO is so old hat to me that it’s not exactly a strongly compelling fresh experience. However, there is still a deep satisfaction I get out of this game that I don’t elsewhere.

I think it’s the sense of world LOTRO provides. It’s a more relaxed, laid-back pace, this game, from questing to travel to combat, and while doing all of this I can simply enjoy the sights and sounds of Middle-earth without a lot of frantic distractions. Plus, at least the quest track isn’t confusing and it keeps me going forward.

This week, finally, for the last time, I wrapped up my adventures in Northern Mirkwood. Again, it’s a great area atmospherically, but it’s a very difficult area to quest in due to the low light, mob density, and difficult terrain. So it really didn’t help that SSG threw in a ton of quests here. You might recall that I ended up abandoning them just to leave this region and then had to return when I realized that by doing this, I had disabled many follow-up quest chains. So back I went to diligently hack out more quests involving spiders and trees and other things that went bump in the night.

At least this gave me a reprise of that wonderful feeling of escape when I left (yet again) for the well-lit sunny marshes of the river-elves. Naturally, they’re all slouching about doing no work — allegedly because there was none to be had, but I know better.

I spent a couple of very relaxed and relatively cheerful evenings in this area, questing while listening to music and catching up on a few podcasts. Apart from reading the massive blocks of text that come with every quest acceptance, the game doesn’t need my brain for more than basic navigation and screenshotting abilities.

Have I said how much I love the day/night cycle in this game? Night feels vastly different than day and the transition between the two takes so long that often I don’t witness anything more than a certain time period while questing. I actually am quite fond of night questing thanks to the starry skybox and the hushed landscape.

Plus, the lights of settlements really pop out so wonderfully against the dark. I did a few chores for these elves which culminated in a rather silly “catch the thief whoops you just missed him again” quest. I do wish that LOTRO offered quest choices — it’s something that Turbine oh-so-briefly flirted and then abandoned back in Riders of Rohan.

Before too long, I was back at Lake-town and feeling as if I had regained some nice forward momentum. That’s really needed, considering I’m an update and a half behind the times right now. I should be able to catch up so long as I make logging in more than a once-a-week habit.

DDO: We’ve danced with the devil in the pale moonlight

It’s been far longer than we all would have liked, but last weekend our DDO group finally managed to come together to party in a graveyard. The way we’re all carefully trying to stay at the same rate of progress as everyone else means that if one person can’t come to a night, we just don’t do it. Thus, we’ve had a lot of canceled nights over the past month or so.

While we had some ideas of dungeons to run, when we logged in we cast those plans aside in favor of running the Night Revels — DDO’s Halloween content. Hey, I’m down. I haven’t ever seen this, and I have yet to get my Halloween MMO fix yet.

One thing we all noticed the second we logged in were the new visible capes that came with the new update. DDO’s been out for a dozen or so years, and only now has it added cape graphics.

My general feeling on capes can be described as “ehh.” They’re not that appealing to me. For one, almost no MMO has done capes in a realistic, cool-looking way. They always look like your character is wearing a truncated triangle that clips through your stuff. If I have a choice, most often I disable these graphics. And, yes, you can do so here.

While we waited for the group to assemble, I went over to Delara’s Graveyard and attempted the standard instance. I say “attempted,” because it really is meant for groups and before I knew it, this happened:

About 40 or so screaming, moaning skeletons charge at me and laugh as my piddly sword hacked at their ribs.

The minotaur skeletons, with their pawing the ground and ridiculously oversized axes, were my favorites. In any case, I was eventually overrun and slaughtered. Taught me a lesson about poking my nose into places I shouldn’t.

Have to say, the skybox for the graveyard is magnificently pretty. Purples and pinks are an interesting choice for a Halloween adventure. It’s kind of like a good-looking sunset.

Delara’s statue here got a pumpkin makeover. Kind of juvenile, but I’ll allow it in the spirit of the season.

After taking our characters up to level 7 — hello area healing! — we jumped into one of the several Night Revels instances. I guess they’re modifications of regular dungeons with special flair. You know, moody smoke, pumpkins everywhere.

In fact, the devs kind of went way, way overboard with the pumpkins as the only Halloweeny decoration that they had on hand. Maybe there was a sale, maybe they got them wholesale, I don’t know, but there were dozens if not hundreds of pumpkins in this instance. I started speculating out loud that there’s some poor skeleton whose job it is to light all these pumpkins, including the ones in the near-bottomless shaft. Maybe he rappels.

Hey! I took a wrong turn! Is there a Tim Hortons around here, skeleton monstrosity?

Easily the worst part of the Resurrection Chamber instance was this shaft that went on and on forever. We had to climb it while dealing with horrible skeleton mages and archers tagging us every which way. You know it’s going to be bad when the game outright tells you this ahead of time via a whining NPC.

In the end we prevailed, of course, but the effort-to-reward ration didn’t make it worth it. At least there were more pumpkins at the end. Pie, anyone?

Not that impressed with World of Warcraft’s island expeditions

While the World of Warcraft community is all up in arms these days over azerite armor, my outrage is lagging behind and is still stuck at island expeditions. Remember these? Remember how Blizzard announced these last November at BlizzCon as one of the main features of Battle for Azeroth and the collective response was, “Huh. I hope they’re not as dull as they look.”?

If predictable disappointment could be summed up in an activity, it would be island expeditions. For over a week now, I’ve made it part of my routine when I logged in to queue up and run at least one of these, and I can now report with some degree of certainty that they’re just as blah as everyone knew they would be.

Island expeditions are pocket instances for three players of any random class/role mix to go through on a bloodthirsty hunt for AZERITE. I have to put AZERITE in all caps there, because this is another instance of nobody caring except for Blizzard, which has been trying to shove this down our throats for a year (and one gets the distinct impression that not even the developers care that much). So our main objective is getting power-ups for our gear that nobody really likes and everyone knows will be discarded in another year and a half. That’s not powerful motivation.

The main activity, as far as I can tell, is to blitz through an island and try to stay together as a group. There’s a lot of killing and a bit of mining azerite and… well, not much else, really. It’s not very interesting, not very deep, and not very satisfying. Add to that the stress of trying to beat the other side’s meter and it’s a “GO GO GO” experience without the excitement of anticipated rewards.

And there really aren’t any good rewards. Blizzard was crowing about how large the prize pool was for expeditions, with gear and mounts and pets and toys. But I’ve run about 10 of these things and received merely AZERITE each and every time. If the studio was smart, it would give players a guaranteed fun payout their first run to hook them, but nothing doing.

I’m of the mind to outright ditch this activity going forward. It all feels like such a waste of effort and resources to build a system that any focus group should have told Blizzard was not wanted. Can you imagine the excitement if Blizzard had announced, say, real housing instead of this? Island expeditions are the Secret World scenarios of World of Warcraft, and I shall file them away as such.

MapleStory 2 is not the tale I wish to read

“Anyone want a MapleStory 2 key?”

It’s one of the few perks, other than having aspersions cast upon your ethics and unfettered access to Bree’s rants, of writing for Massively OP to get free game keys now and then. However, very rarely are we tossed keys to games we really, really want to play. It’s more often smaller publishers desperate for press that get all liberal with keys.

But in this case, I was interested. MapleStory 2 had started to pique my interest — not as a game that I saw myself playing, but as a game that looked like it might be a solid addition to the genre and I was curious to see what it was about.

So I played it most of last week and wrote up a first impressions piece and you can check out what I thought about the game itself there.

And while at no point was MapleStory 2 in danger of winning me over and convincing me that I should be playing this going forward, I did appreciate several features in it. I genuinely like the graphical style. It looks very console-ish in an old-school SNES way (just with better fidelity). I could easily see this being a handheld or console title, so if Nexon is smart, there should be ports in the near future.

Plus, MS2 isn’t annoying in the way that free-to-play eastern MMOs often are. You know what I mean: A bazillion popups the second you log in. Obtuse daily reward calendars. Stats that are hard to decipher and gear that makes no sense except to the designer who made it and the wiki editor who wants to feel superior to everyone else. It’s more or less a very straight-forward, clean game that’s easy to grok and handle.

I hope it does well. I hope it finds its niche and injects some genuine fun and levity in this genre. But it will have to do this without me in its midst.

Battle Bards Episode 130: Oddballs 2

While every Battle Bards episode is a cavalcade of strangeness, this week the team is ratcheting it up with the return of “Oddball” MMORPG music tracks. If there’s a piece of music that made one of the hosts tilt their heads to the side and go “whaaat the what is this?” then rest assured, it’s on this show!

Episode 130 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Robo Factory” from The Sims Online, “Little Kitty’s Adventure” from Ragnarok Online, and “The Rube Song” from Glitch)
  • “Chompy Hunt” from RuneScape
  • “Flow Control” from Entropia Universe
  • “Welcome to Doram Town” from Ragnarok Online
  • “Valentine’s Theme” from FFXIV
  • “Venetian Eclipse” from NeoSteam
  • “Papaya” from FFXIV
  • “BEER!” from WildStar
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox Picks: “Alleycat Blues” from TMNT IV: Turtles in Time, “Crush” from Command and Conquer Red Alert, and “White All Around Us” from Xenoblade Chronicles 2
  • Outro (feat. “Kobold Still Hates You” from Dungeons and Dragons Online)

What will we get out of the World of Warcraft Classic demo at BlizzCon?

Blizzard raised some eyebrows — and perhaps excitement — by announcing that it would be allowing both attendees and virtual ticket holders at BlizzCon the opportunity to play a demo of World of Warcraft Classic. Now, it’s obvious why the studio didn’t save this for a big stage announcement; got to sell them $50 tix, after all! But I can’t fault the studio for shrewd marketing and selling a $50 demo from 2004 to fans.

We’re suckers for nostalgia.

It’s not a particularly big draw for me. I’ll still peek at the game when it goes live, but I don’t need a demo to remind me what vanilla WoW was like. I suspect that for many people, this will be a quick way to satisfy curiosity in a few departments:

  1. Is playing vanilla WoW actually fun today or is it something we merely remember as fun but the times have changed?
  2. Can Blizzard pull this off and bring back classic-era WoW the way it was?
  3. Are there things about WoW vanilla that we forget?
  4. How different will WoW Classic be to the live MMO?

People will have about six days to figure this out as they explore two beginner zones. I’m sure it’s going to be a huge event for streamers and YouTubers, and that’s another way to satisfy that curiosity.

But the more meta question that I’m pondering is this: What will we get out of this demo in the long run? I could see this demo dampening enthusiasm or driving hype for the actual product, depending on the temperment and reception of the players. Will this be the start of Blizzard talking more about this legacy server? Is it an indication that it’s nearer to reality than we thought, or are we still in for a few years of development yet? Will players be talking about WoW Classic in December or feeling as though they got their fill from that one week the month previous?

This is what I’ll be watching for next month. My only worry here is that Blizzard has already spilled the big announcements for WoW between this and Patch 8.1 and won’t have much to discuss about the MMO come BlizzCon. Might just not be WoW’s year, if all the Diablo talk is any indication.