DDO: Adventures are better with friends

Don’t look now, but Syp is creepin’ and peepin’ at you from the rushes in Dungeons and Dragons Online. It’s just where I hang out most days. Probably why the hair on the back of your neck sticks up more often than not.

Last week’s theme in the game was “actually being social,” which is somewhat of a novelty for me. Actually, it didn’t used to be, especially in DDO. Back in the early days of the game, you HAD to group up pretty much all of the time. The whole game was built for it, which had its pluses and minuses. I loved having that social component and exploring dungeons with friends, but it could be very frustrating to try to arrange runs for specific instances you need. I found myself having to be more loosey-goosey, go-with-the-flow instead of goal-oriented.

I got a good taste of the old life — the classic DDO experience — this past week with a couple of runs with friends. Matt from DDOCentral took some time on Monday night to give me a tour around some interesting spots in the game and then fight with me through a minotaur-laden arena. If you have a highly knowledgeable DDO friend, I recommend toting one along as kind of a running commentary of Things You Don’t Know But Should.

Run #2 was televised to a worldwide audience. Sort of. OK, it was streamed on Twitch, as Massively OP’s MJ, a friend, and I teamed up to go through a pair of missions. If you’re really bored, you can watch the whole thing on MOP TV. We started out with a pretty uneventful graverobbing mission, but it was fun to have a party in which we all took roles. As an Artificer, I took up the duties of a rogue, scouting ahead for traps and then backwheeling mightily when bad guys poured out of the woodwork.

As an aside, I truly enjoyed driving everyone nuts with the pfft-pfft-pfft of my repeating crossbow.

Our second mission was much more challenging, probably because its design documents simply included the words “FIRE. FIRE EVERYWHERE. ALSO, LAVA.”

It was like descending into a little pocket of hell and trying to figure out what we should be doing while enemies kept respawning left and right. At one point, both of my teammates bit the dust, so on the fly I picked up their soul stones and then courageously ran away. I do running away very, very good. The good news is that we did survive and beat the dungeon without a full wipe, and I was left with the increasing desire to do more group activities in the future.

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DDO: A whole new scene

I had it. I had had enough. The deafening silence of the Ghallandra server and the guild I found there finally got to me, and on the advice of DDOCentral, I used some of my points to transfer my character over to Cannith. I guess that’s the one that gets promoted the most right now for new players, so I hoped for a more involved and active population.

As an interesting aside, logging onto the Cannith server turned out to be fortuitous, since this was the server I used to play on back in 2008-10. I waved to my old Bard but forged forward with my Artificer. Sorry, Bardy, but your lack of a robot dog isn’t a compelling argument to get me to switch.

Within a half-hour, I already had a few leads on promising guilds. I joined up with [REDACTED], which initially looked like one of those guilds that invites anyone with a pulse (or grinding gears, in the case of the Warforged). And while that wasn’t untrue, the guild leader really impressed me by talking with me for a while before tossing me an invite — and then taking me and another new player on a tour of the guild’s airship afterward.

This was actually the first time I had ever been on a guild airship in the game. I vaguely remember their addition back in the day, but our Massively guild had only started to work on one when we all drifted apart.

I have to say, I was really impressed. This thing was HUGE, a flying fortress in the middle of the Instanced Ocean. It featured multiple floors and numerous amenities, including a teleporter, hireling vendors, a repair station, and a machine that spat out — and I am not exaggerating for comedic effect here — a string of 32 buffs for my character that lasted four-and-a-half hours. Almost felt like that was a cheat code I stumbled onto and made my current string of about six buffs look minuscule.

I’m going to try to be a little more social from here on out and see if guildies are up for runs, especially since there are several of us in the single-digits.

But for now, a few more House P quests, such as this one that had me blitzing through a crypt in the hopes of saving undead mummies from being filleted by Drow. Wait, *saving* the mummies? Yes indeed. An interesting twist, although I only learned afterward that I shouldn’t have brought along a hireling since they tend to target said mummies and actively work to fail the quest.

Let’s talk of hirelings for a few here. As I said previously, they’re nice to bring along — for the most part. It helps to have another fighting body in these dungeons, and if one is a healer? So much the better. But the hireling AI apparently works part-time, and apathetically part-time to boot. I never know if the hireling is going to actually participate in a fight or (as the picture above attests) just stand there in quiet amusement while I’m stabbed multiple times. You can use hirelings to remotely activate levers from across rooms, which is useful in missions designed for two or more players to work together, but it is very finnicky.

What’s probably most disappointing about hirelings is that they don’t seem to care about me at all. Not my feelings, I mean, but my physical health. If I die, the hireling AI doesn’t pick up my death stone and trot back to a shrine to rez me. That would be nice, but I guess it’s too much to ask.

This was another interesting quest in which trolls were being experimented upon and I had to free them just to kill them right afterward. I guess that makes me a mixed blessing from their perspective.

My kids REALLY liked this mission which featured Elf Scorpions. I have to admit, it isn’t something you see that often, even in fantasy MMOs, and I don’t want to think about the biological process that resulted in even one of these. I mean, if we wanted to make Elves any more loathsome and horrible, I guess it’s one way to go to give them a stinger, spider legs, and giant crab claws. Wonder how he combs his hair in the morning.

6 MMOs that shaped my gaming in 2017

2017 was an interesting year for my MMO gaming career. It wasn’t really marked by any super-huge new releases; in fact, the year was pretty anemic for new MMOs, period. We’re still seeing lots in development, but only a handful of big budget, big studio projects, and most of those are for the future. Instead, this year was mostly about returning to old favorites and continuing on in my adventures.

I am really glad that I’ve been doing a monthly “gaming goals” article, because it helps me track what I was playing over the course of the year. This was the first year where I fully did that, and it is neat to look back at my aspirations vs. realities while also following the threads of my gaming life. So with that in mind, here are the six MMOs that dominated my gaming time this year:

1. World of Warcraft

This past spring, I felt the need for a break following a nearly two-year run in the game. I was feeling listless and in need of variety and direction, and I am glad I took the time off. But sandwiched around that break were my continuing journeys in Legion, my endless experimentation with alts, my progress as an Undead Warlock (the highest I’ve ever leveled one to date!), and some excitement over Battle for Azeroth and Classic. I’m ending this year mostly focusing on bringing my Gnome Hunter up to speed while giving equal time to other titles.

2. Dungeons and Dragons Online

DDO was really the surprise experience this year for me. When I went back to dabble a little bit in it, little did I know that the DDO bug would bite me hard once more. I should have remembered how much I was in love with this game back in the day, and it’s only grown since then. I’ve had some amazing quests so far with my Gnome Artificer, although I still haven’t really found a guild that’s very active or involved. Hoping to change that in the new year, and also to see the game’s expansions as I start to get up into the double digits.

3. Lord of the Rings Online

This was pretty much a steadfast experience, taking my Lore-master through the remainder of Gondor and then finally into Mordor with the fall’s expansion. While I did try out some alts (Minstrel, Hunter), most all of my time was given to the LM. Mordor proved to be a tough slog with only a handful of interesting and engaging moments, and my enthusiasm for playing started to sap away by the end of the year. Still, I’m excited about Northern Mirkwood for 2018, so there’s hope left!

4. Secret World Legends

I had to say farewell to The Secret World and my character of five years this spring, and while that definitely was a hard blow, at least Legends injected some new life into this faltering title. Taking a new character through the game and getting her back up to where I had left off pretty much consumed my attention for the remainder of 2017, and hopefully by the time the new year clicks over, I’ll be ready for season two.

5. Star Trek Online

I think I had about a two- or three-month run back in STO, doing some of the newer content while dusting off my carrier and fleshing out missions I hadn’t run yet. It was… fine, I guess, but definitely not as memorable as I was hoping nor as long-lasting as trips back to the game in the past.

6. Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 edges out FFXIV on this list by virtue of time, if nothing else. I put in about two months in this game vs. one in FFXIV, but both ultimately conveyed to me that I just wasn’t in the mindset to come back to either. There are so many things that I enjoy about GW2 but also so many things that really drive me nuts about this game that I can’t settle back into what used to be an MMO gaming mainstay for me.

Honorable mention: Elder Scrolls Online

Tossing this into this list because I should mention ESO for a few reasons. I really did want to get more into this game than I did, at one point vowing to make this my main summer title (which worked out as well as my plans usually do). But the allure of housing and the new expansion did get me to put in a few sessions, and it remains very, very high on my list of games to come back to soon.

DDO: Gygax the Great

Here is an important Dungeons and Dragons Online lesson that I learned this past week: I really, really need to check the level of dungeons before I jump into them all willy-nilly. That sounds like common sense, and it is, but one of my other lifelong MMO habits tripped me up on this. The habit was assuming that if you were questing comfortably in a zone, that all quests in that zone would be level appropriate. But DDO doesn’t always operate that way, because sometimes quests were added in later to previous zones or the devs wanted to mess with me or whatever. In any case, I found myself getting absolutely thrashed in a quest only to find out (after two deaths) that it was about three full levels higher than I was. And in DDO, that’s pretty significant.

So on my current push to get to level 10, I took a break from the rest of House P (for now, for now) and went over to do the Delara’s Tomb chain. It’s an old favorite and a main staple of the game, plus it was totally level appropriate. What did I have to lose?

Before getting into the mission itself, I made a slight detour to visit Gary Gygax’s in-game memorial. It’s a little weird and goofy, sure, but it’s also pretty fitting for the guy who co-created the most well-known pen-and-paper RPG in the world. I like the little red 20-sided dice inset. Nice touch.

And I had forgotten that Gygax provided the DM narration for the Delera’s Tomb chain, so that theme continued. Of course — and this is D&D blasphemy to say — Gygax is a horrible voice artist, but that almost doesn’t matter. You get the father of D&D to be your own personal DM for a short time. That’s kind of cool.

I don’t know what Delera was thinking when she approved this tomb as a place to inter those who couldn’t afford a proper burial, but there’s no way you can build something like this and not have it turn evil. It’s just a given.

The quests themselves? Were okay. After a few really great ones in House P, I had higher expectations, but it was mostly catacombs and skeletons and ambushes as far as the eye could see. I’m really starting to feel lonely on these expeditions, too. My guild never talks or does anything, so I’m going to make a point of shopping around this next week and see if I can’t hunt down one group of players who actually like being together for runs (I’m on Ghallanda if anyone has recommendations).

Since I was in the area, I wanted to sort of recreate a picture and pose that I remember doing for this blog back in 2010. Seven years! Man, where does the time go?

Guest Post: DDO Mists of Ravenloft review (part 1)

Today’s guest post is from DDOCentral’s Matt, who wanted to give Bio Break’s readership a deeper look into Dungeons and Dragons Online’s newest expansion. Thanks Matt!

Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) released its third paid expansion on December 6th, 2017 titled Mists of Ravenloft. The two previous paid expansions for DDO are Shadowfell Conspiracy, released on August 19th, 2013, and Menace of the Underdark, released on June 25th, 2012. These earlier expansions are placed in tabletop Dungeons and Dragons’ most famous campaign setting, Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms.

Mists of Ravenloft explores the popular Gothic horror-themed Ravenloft D&D campaign world created by Tracy and Laura Hickman and the vampire Count Strahd von Zarovich’s domain Barovia on the Demiplane of Dread within that world.

This article is the first in a series of three articles on Mists of Ravenloft, the latest addition to DDO’s growing multiverse. The article will provide an overview of Ravenloft in the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game, the story and lore of Ravenloft, the expansion’s vast wilderness area of Barovia, the two new Aasimar player races, and the new Sentient Weapons system. The second article will look at the Mists of Ravenloft’s quests (twelve in all) and the third and final article will conclude the series with a review of Mists of Ravenloft’s two raids.

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DDO: The greatest show on Eberron

When I play MMOs — or most video games, really — one of the biggest things that I chase and desire is story. I want a good tale. I want to witness, or better yet be involved with, a great story. It’s why I’ve always gushed about Secret World and its storytelling chops, and it’s why a memorable gaming session can be made in an instant when a good story appears. It’s also why Dungeons and Dragons Online is just amazing me this year, because it’s a chain of stories that seem to keep getting better the more I progress.

This past week I moved into House Phiarlan to quest, and during the course of seven days, I recruited a giant into a theater troupe, infiltrated a high society club, chased a rascal across the rooftops, and visited a devil-infested circus.

Yeah. I’m swimming in story. Oh, and I got this:

I have never been so proud of myself.

Some of these quests have been incredibly long, but really, I didn’t mind as long as there was something interesting to look at and do. And there was almost always something interesting to look at and do. Like this hologram of the now-extinct Elf race.

Another thing I’ve been doing is using hireling contracts for missions. I haven’t felt a huge need for them before, but after failing the giant quest right at the end of 45 minutes of tasks, I briefly saw red for a moment and then acknowledged that I could use a little backup on these outings.

This cracked me up. This one house has bathrooms with actual toilets (weird toilets, them), and the toilet paper holders are mini shrines that are fully functional. Because where else would you rest than on the john?

Oh yeah, and I fought a magical monster made of crates, barrels, and a chest that I desperately wanted to loot. This rooftop mission was so much fun, start to finish. Really wanted to see this annoying NPC and his magical wand meet a bitter end, and I was not disappointed.

Oh HECK yes. I am totally there!

The circus was wonderfully plotted all the way through, with disguised tieflings taking on the roles of strongmen, magicians, and even doggie trainers. Lots of sight and verbal gags if you took your time and didn’t rush into battle.

Maybe I’m obsessed with bathrooms in MMOs? Maybe I am.

Nothing like fighting a mind-controlling succubus under the big top to keep life interesting. Felt a little bad for the good guys I had to kill while they were under her spell, but there was no way around it.

One detail in the circus that I thought was hilarious is that I came across these “magician’s barrels” with swords sticking through them. Turns out that the “assistants” inside are actually zombies that don’t really mind getting skewered by pointy things. Ta da!

DDO: Epic stories, vague loot

I’m starting to think that DDO is treating me like a very little child who is in constant danger of shooting myself in the foot and getting lost in a straight hallway.

Last week was absolutely tremendous for me in Dungeons and Dragons Online. I wasn’t merely logging on to do a single mission a night, but would often get sucked into doing multiple runs — especially when I got going with a few of the bigger story chains like the Sharn Syndicate, Shan-To-Kor, and my favorite, the Catacombs. I would often stick around to see how it all turned out, with that “just one more” voice urging me on.

This means that I’ve now gotten the Marketplace almost entirely wrapped up, with my Artificer sitting at level 7 for my efforts. My only complaint is that I have absolutely no idea how to pick loot rewards at the end of these quests. D&D has always had some sort of weird calculus expression for what gear does instead of the more streamlined and straightforward stats of modern MMOs, so I am often shrugging when I look at the gear and trying to decide if I should replace what I have or keep it. I look to loot quality and effects, mostly, crossing my fingers that I’m not borking myself in the long run.

Probably the best part of Shan-To-Kor was going down, down, down for a long time in the mission. I really got this sense that I was deeeeeep underground by the time I started exploring these hobgoblin towns. And let me say, I am pretty impressed with how well done — and practical — the hobgoblin architecture is. Looks like a very nice, neat, and orderly city. Shame I had to murder everyone in it.

Because what do I know, I ended up jumping into a group-mandatory dungeon (or a raid? Could’ve been a raid) all by myself. At least I got this screenshot before the first enemy used my face to wipe that dingy spot off the floor.

Another great thing about my adventures is that I’m finally getting past the very boring sewers-and-warehouse settings that were prevalent in the early levels. Lots of very creative designs and some neat sights. And what level isn’t improved by slathering it with spidey-sense?

One piece of gear I will never get rid of is my boots of feather fall. I just love floating down any time I have to jump from heights. It’s even better when I can rapidly fire at enemies down on the floor and kill them by the time I land.

Other than the constant backtracking, I have nothing but praise for Catacombs. So many great levels, some fiendish puzzles, and an exciting ending with a bit of a twist.

Ooh, a ritzy house that I have to go in and plunder? Don’t mind if I do! Again, so much better than sewers.

I really liked this art gallery. You get to play the thief here, disabling traps and using different stats to try to actually swipe the items. I do not regret investing tons of skill points into spot and disarm trap. They are literal lifesavers in this game.