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?

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DDO: Plundering Crystal Cove

Last week we had a nice change of pace by eschewing our normal dungeon runs in DDO and spending time romping around the Treasure of the Crystal Cove event. As I’ve never, to my knowledge, done this before, it was pretty cool to see a different part of the game in action for a limited time.

Plus, pirates. Pirates always make things better, especially if they’re PIRATE KOBOLDS. Maybe I’m prejudiced, but DDO has the best video game kobolds of all the kobolds.

I was in for a surprise when I showed up to the event instance, because this incredibly nostalgic sight greeted me — the initial tutorial zone for DDO! I know this is old hat to experienced players, but I never knew that the devs repurposed this area after creating Korthos Island. I had unexpected flashbacks of going through those houses on the harbor there, learning about the game and generally feeling lost. Still feel lost, but that’s just how I roll.

I noted that out of all of the MMOs I play, DDO’s NPCs seem to talk the most outside of quest chatter. I actually love this. I love seeing random mobs, both good and bad, chatter and throw out flavor text. It’s amusing and makes me see them as something more than loot buckets.

Speaking of loot, we spent a good deal of time running around and killing things in the hopes of getting both treasure chest maps and compasses. The latter were needed to access an instance that I’ll talk about in a bit, but I greatly preferred the former, because I like my loot to be as accessible and strings-free as possible.

I gave my Druid an upgrade by purchasing the new Falconry enhancement tree! I haven’t looked into it too much, but it’s nice to have a snowy white falcon pet in addition to my wolf, and I appreciated how there’s some healing buffs in the tree.

After a while, we dove into the crystal cave to run this peculiar instance. Basically, you need to enlist the help of very enthusiastic kobolds to mine a bunch of crystals — and the more crystals you get, the more currency you’re awarded when the instance ends after 15 minutes. But you’ve got to clear out the cave of mobs, protect the kobolds from new mobs (and bosses) that arise, and guide the kobolds to the crystals using torches and teleporters. It’s a lot of running around, basically.

And a bit of fighting, too. We almost had a full party wipe on our third try thanks to a powerful boss, a flame trap, and four out of five of us hitting the dirt. His flame trap managed to kill every kobold in the place, but fortunately we staged a comeback and could rez all of the kobolds for another shot at life and endentured slavery.

Want to say that, hands-down, the best part of this instance is listening to the kobolds. There is a TON of voice acting here, and all of it is hilarious. They’re quipping, they’re joking, they’re humming little tunes, and they’re all doing them constantly, so it’s like you’re in the middle of a group of hyper toddlers. I was laughing a lot.

DDO: Life of a downtrodden kobold

Can I say that the group DDO nights have become one of the gaming highlights of the week for me? It’s something I genuinely look forward to each and every Tuesday, knowing that I’ll get to hang out with a group of fairly funny and knowledgeable gamers while we progress through this fascinating MMO. 12 years old, and DDO is still so unique for so many reasons in this space.

It was a little challenging for me to stay awake this past week, however. We’re in the throes of house cleaning and packing, and I slightly broke my body power-washing for an entire afternoon one day. By last Tuesday, I was plum exhausted and in need of a straight 12 or so hours of sleep. So that became a problem by about 10:00 p.m. during our gaming night, as my eyelids kept shutting and then jerking back up as I would frantically heal whoever was dying and try to stay with the group.

I only fell off of a platform once. Just once.

When you’re going through familiar low-level dungeons, the chatter tends to be less on strategy and more on weird observations. Like, who actually placed all of these rest shrines? Some ambitious deity? Who made the sewers of this city so big? And what is the life of a kobold like?

Speaking of kobolds, we did run Kobold Assault on Reaper 1. This proved to be one of the tougher healing challenges I’ve had to date. Everyone kept taking damage and there was no rest shrine as the waves kept coming. I did what I could, but I died at least twice and others did as well. Fortunately, we had a teammate help out with some spot-healing thanks to her wand. Victory was, in the final count, ours.

Nothing like running upstream against the current! Just don’t think about what you’re splashing through and you’ll be fine!

Our main goal last week was to get the whole group up to level 6. Since we’re trying to stay more or less exactly together in levels, this is important to catch stragglers up and not to take a level until we are all ready. By the end of the night we were, and I look forward to seeing my new spells. Group heal, please? Please?

I was hoping for some new gear, but other than a +healing trinket, I didn’t get any upgrades. I’ve been deeply hoping to get a pair of featherfall boots, because there is no piece of gear more useful in DDO than that to me. So far, no luck.

Running dungeons on Reaper can prove deadly in a heartbeat, with traps taking you out in a second and overpowered mobs suddenly springing out of nowhere. In this area, we had to retreat after losing one member to a couple of boss mobs and then whittle them down with attacks from above.

Nights above Eberron are still beautiful!

This was both bizarre and funny. We killed this boss ghost spider, and it left behind the above weird set of organs floating in mid-air. I don’t even know what those are supposed to be, but I felt like it was important to document them for posterity.

As a healer, I am very much not a fan of being crowd controlled during important fights. There was one mission where I was put to sleep (above) and blinded in short order. I generally try to hang back, but I’m not a coward either. At the very least I can swing a sword and let my pets get in and scrap things up a bit.

DDO: Warlocks are OP

It’s halfling Paul Revere! “The nerds are coming! The nerds are coming!”

The nerds are coming indeed, Paul. It’s time for another weekly DDO group, and this time, we’re going to wreck Waterworks and tag the place with Kool-Aid Man graffiti.

Ever since my early days of playing DDO around launch, I had it burned into my brain that Waterworks = awesome loot for the full run. I’m all for that, especially as I’m trying to cobble together as strong of a healing kit as I can.

After our group combed through the non-private instance portion of Waterworks for possible rares (finding only two), we dove into the first two quests on Reaper 1. I think the current plan is to try to be at least two levels above the quests we’re doing so that we can run them on Reaper, so we didn’t do the third or fourth in the chain. Yet.

I understand the challenge and loot appeal of Reaper difficulty, but it doesn’t make me happy as a healer. My heals are significantly nerfed in that mode, especially when applied to myself. I have a nice heal-over-time spell that does one round of strong healing and then a longer round of weaker healing. With the nerf, that second long round does absolutely no healing whatsoever, making the spell all but pointless.

“Great, we’ve armed the giant spider with fire. Way to go, guys.”

One of our three regular lizardmen is a Warlock, one of the many DDO classes I’ve yet to play. It finally struck me this night that he was chain-casting his green balls of death without any worry for his mana, and after inquiring into this, I found out that because Warlocks are OP, they don’t have to worry that much about running out of spell points. That seems like the way to go, honestly. I feel I have to watch every spell point in my bank and continually do mental calculations as to how many spells I have left and how hurt people have to be to use them.

I do have a cape with a single feather fall charge on it, so I’m going to take the quick and easy way down while others run. Of course, probably not the best idea to do this when at the bottom are death traps, a reaper, and very agitated spiders.

Probably the toughest part of my self-designated role as chronicler of our adventures is trying to get interesting screenshots while everything is going nuts and people are moving or killing too fast. So sometimes I activate full-screen mode, hope that nobody dies for the next few seconds, and then dart right into a fight or at a mob in first-person perspective to try to get a good cap. I think that this attack pose from Redfang proved to be the best of the night for me.

DDO: Serene Cerulean Hills

For this past week’s DDO group outing, we decided to change up our normal routine of non-stop dungeon runs with a romp through an early wilderness area — Cerulean Hills. This place continues to be one of my favorite zones in the game, moreso for its nighttime atmosphere. How can a game that came out in 2006 still be this pretty? I guess skyboxes are an easy way to impress me.

As the group took off at a sprint toward various explorer objectives, I found myself distracted by nighttime butterflies. Pretty! But sinister too. What are they up to? Why are they fluttering about at night?

One of the benefits of running with a very experienced group of players is that they know exactly where to go and the most efficient way to get there. It’s kind of nice to slightly shut off that part of my brain that worries about pathfinding and simply enjoy the sights, engage in action, and heal when needed.

The joke was that I was a good luck charm that week, as we bumped into six out of the seven rares that had a possibility of popping up in this wilderness zone. Mostly we were dashing between points, swinging our weapons wildly and hoping that they’d connect. Combat in DDO can go so fast and feel so loose sometimes. It would be a much different game if it was tab-targeted, that’s for sure.

I’d like to think that this gargoyle went on to live a good life full of public service and charity.

Obligatory Group Is Awesome shot. I told them that if I was tipped enough, I would prominently feature that person and give him or her a heroic account. Nobody did this week, so they’re all chumps that stumbled over their own shoes and rolled ones on everything.

We did take time to do the two quests that branched off of Cerulean Hills. First up was Nash’s farm, which we attempted at Reaper 3. That wasn’t impossible, but it did cause a few deaths and very cautious advancement. It’s pretty interesting how jiggering with the difficulty slider can turn lightning-fast runs into slow dungeon crawls. I like the slower pace, actually.

We also had to make strategic use of our shrines, as you can only use each once during an adventure. Since last time, we had all leveled up to 5, which meant that I got a new tier of spells. This meant that I finally got a second healing spell (a HoT) and became slightly more useful. I did have to ration my spell points carefully during these runs, since Reaper difficulties reduce healing power. Sometimes I just had to let people hang with some injuries that I judged weren’t life-threatening because I didn’t want to blow through all of my spell points and be left dry without a shrine.

DDO: Don’t fear the Reaper 3

“Hey guys we should split up!”

“That’s the beginning of every bad horror movie, you know?”

And thus began another exciting group outing in Dungeons and Dragons Online, in which a group of slightly overleveled characters try — and succeed — in figuring out how to kill themselves doing low-level quests. We have a very special skillset that becomes a nightmare for people like us.

Before we get into all of that, night rainbows! Brought to you by Turbine and NBC’s The More You Know.

Also, I try to turn into an ursine transport for one of my dragon chums, but alas, mounts are not to be in this game. Wait, DDO doesn’t have mounts? I knew that. I just haven’t really thought about that in a while. That’s so weird.

Anyway, back to questing in the Harbor and Marketplace! With loads of buffs weighing us down and not a small amount of overconfidence, we kept jacking up the difficulty level of our dungeon runs. Reaper One? No sweat. Reaper Two? Well… I can’t really heal myself any more, but we survive. Three? Three smacked us up and down the place.

On one run, someone — don’t look at me — accidentally set the difficulty level to Reaper Ten. A dog was blamed for this. I think we got through two kobolds before the third one nearly wiped us all.

And speaking of wipes, here’s a horrid death trap room on Reaper Three in the process of killing everyone who dared come this way. It was one of those tragedy-upon-tragedy scenarios, where one person would die and another would dash in to grab his or her soulstone, only to die themselves, and then a third person would try to rescue them both, only to… yeah, we were very predictable here.

I think I found a new profession much better suited to my abilities. I’m kind of impressed she’s carrying eight goblets like it ain’t no thing.

All in all, it wasn’t the most productive night, although I did get a couple of slight upgrades in healing gear. I told the group that seeing a +28 heal crit pop over someone’s head was the highlight of the night for me. 28 points! I’m LEGENDARY.

Also, we had a ladder backup and ended up becoming way too intimate with each other as we waited for a pokey puppy to catch up with us.

DDO: The Wizard of Wines

With our regular Dungeons and Dragons Online group out of commission the other week, I turned back to my Artificer’s journey through Mists of VampireLoft. On this week’s episode, a bunch of sober monks are angry at the lack of a wine shipment from the “Wizard of Wines,” and I’m the only one sober AND driven enough to go see why.

Short answer: Druids. Long answer: See everything that follows.

For once, part of this quest involves a trip through the actual outdoors. I come across a Frankenstein stand-in who’s being accosted by a very timid mob with actual torches. And pitchforks. But I’m asked to do the killing, which I do gladly. I’m genial that way!

This quest is basically Die Hard — if you replace “terrorists” with “tree-hugging druids” and “Nakatomi Tower” with “a winery.” So the druids have taken over and they’re even going so far to poison the wine! In a country where it’s so depressing that the only way the populace can survive is by getting drunk, this

WILL

NOT

STAND.

Enter one trigger happy Artificer, always delighted to lend a hand!

The druidic forces have some interesting-looking models, including Thorny here. He does not look that happy at the hand that life has dealt him. Can you imagine trying to get comfortable enough to sleep at night?

It was also the mimic event, which I forgot about up until a chest started trying to eat me.

Druids aren’t just content to come in and take over your pad, they have to mess it up with their vines and shrubs everywhere. This is what you get when hippies go too far.

RAWR I AM PLANT MONSTA RAWR

In addition to stealing the three sacred crystals that helped to make the magical wine (seriously), the druids are also working on poisoning the last vat. That will not stand, either. The whole quest, which is actually pretty short, involves coming up with an antidote and also figuring out some way to mask the flavor of the antidote.

One of the druids does some interpretive dance for me. Much appreciated, pal.

This all leads me up to the epic climax of the quest, which is scraping brown mold off of a cavern floor. You have heroes like Captain America and Batman, and then you have me, Mold-Man.

The final boss fight comes predictably enough against the chief druidess, and I die. It’s not that it was a particularly hard fight, but two things happened that tilted fate against me:

  1. I had totally forgotten to activate a healing henchman at the start of the quest
  2. I was trying too hard to get the above screenshot, which meant that I, yes, stepped into the fire

Even though I saved the quest, the winery still can’t make the really good stuff, nor is the owner going to ship out any of the remaining good stuff to the people. So why’d I do all of that? That seems like a letdown. Maybe I should bring the druids back, if that’s how you’re going to “appreciate” me.