DDO: Tomb raider

Lara Croft doesn’t have anything on this Gnome with a repeating crossbow, an energy cannon arm, and a robotic dog who jumps headfirst into danger. Although she does have two guns, so I guess there’s that.

Anyway, lots more Necropolis questing this week — I think there are about 22 in total, with four boasting epic versions. It’s going to keep me busy for the better part of a month, so I’m trying not to waste any time. Next up was Tomb of the Immortal Heart, a library-themed dungeon with lots of hidden alcoves and ridiculously easy to slay bad guys.

The CR level keeps jumping up and down on me depending on the quest, and I’m not always the best in figuring out if I should select epic difficulty level or keep it at normal. I didn’t see that this was was just level 5, so of course I blitzed through it. Still, that’s one more that’s down and buried, pardon the pun.

Tomb of the Shadow Guard is another one of those DDO quests that I’ll be more than happy to never repeat. Basically, it’s Swimming: The Quest. What we have here is a very, very long dungeon in which large parts are entirely underwater and require traversing. The twisty passages, Z axis, and murky water all contribute to a disorienting effect, and it’s only the largely linear nature of the dungeon and the advice to “follow the light plants” that kept me from being lost there forever. Just felt like a lot of pointless swimming, and I’m not a big fan of swimming in MMOs.

I was initially frustrated by Tomb of the Blighted, as all of its water is filled with this horrible blight rot debuff that continually lowers stats until you’re powerless and dead. But then I figured out the chief mechanic at play here, which was to use vials of blessed water to de-corrupt strengthened roots, cleanse myself, and cleanse a series of urns around this large square hallway. It was slow going, especially with the zombies who die and spew out an even nastier skeleton to fight, but once I got the pace down, it went very smoothly. And I give the quest designers props for a clever mechanic, so all in all, it’s one of the better dungeons that I’ve run in the Necropolis.

If we were to grade dungeons on atmosphere, Tomb of the Crimson Heart would get high marks. The hazy red miasma lends a gooshy Halloween feel to this fairly straight-forward instance. The goal here is to find three runes (embedded into random decorative skulls), open a final door, defeat a mummy boss. I probably took this dungeon at too low a level, because everything was dying if I just glared at them hard enough. At least now I have a month’s supply of toilet paper on hand.

Tomb of the Shadow Lord clearly discriminates against solo players, because it’s one of those instances where a party member or two needs to stay behind to activate certain levers. The workaround for soloing is using pets and hirelings as stand-ins — you have to drag them over to a spot, command them in a firm tone to “STAY!”, run to the door, and then click their “use” buttons at the same time and hope you got it right.

Fun fact: It is ENTIRELY possible to lock yourself in a room in this instance from which there is no escape. Not that I did this and had to exit out and restart the dungeon. Nope. Not at all.

DDO: Enter the Necropolis

After being beaten up and bruised by The Pit, I was eager to put a cap on House D quests and move onward — but there was one little teensy quest left, and I figured I should do it before heading back to the marketplace to take a level. Unfortunately for me, the quest turned out to be an (ahem) EXTREME CHALLENGE DUNGEON called Spies in the House.

Every time I see “extreme challenge dungeon” mentioned in this game, I get nasty Mountain Dew commercial flashbacks from the ’90s. DO THE DEW! CRUSH THAT DUNGEON! WOO!

Anyway. I wasn’t too keen on taking this on, but I figured that if I survived the Pit and lived to tell the tale, I could do anything — including this. Onward I went! And boy, let me tell you, if you have a healthy appetite for both traps and platforming, this is the dungeon for you. That isn’t me, by the way. At least not the “platforming” part.

After dropping down the world’s longest sewer access ladder, I started my quest back up again. This quest takes place in a large vertical space where the object is to go from the bottom to the top. While there are fewer enemies than you might expect, the traps, falls, and perilous jumps make up for the danger quotient. At some points, the entire floor is electrified, which had me frantically reapplying my elemental armor (which is one of the most useful spells that I’ve found in the game so far) to keep me shielded while I dashed across it. My dumb metal dog wasn’t so forward-thinking.

I have to say that while I was anticipating a lot worse of an experience, this one wasn’t too bad. Long, yes, but not terrible. I didn’t even have to consult a walkthrough to get through it — and I even found all of the prisoners. Go me!

Toward the end are a pair of arguing gargoyles, and I enjoyed the brief respite of humor that they provided. Naturally, they’re there to distract you from all of the traps on both sides, but still, I love it when quests throw in this sort of thing.

The quest and House D done, I returned to the Marketplace and finally grabbed that 13th level. The big reward this time around was a transformation spell that would let me hulk out with increased stats if I needed a fighting power boost. I also leveled up my dog, who had been lacking enhancements so far. Whoops.

With House D done, I checked my adventure compendium for the next quest up in level, and it turned out that I had a rash of them to do in the Necropolis. This is actually an area that I can’t ever recall visiting, and from the name alone, I figured it would be a run-of-the-mill graveyard. So imagine my surprise when it turns out that it’s this gorgeous landscape full of pretty trees, still ponds, and ornate structures.

There are just a TON of quests here, so I figure I’ll be working on these for a while. First up was Tomb of the Shadow Knight, starring the Mummy up there. I thought I could do it on hard, and while I managed to make it through, I think I learned my lesson about artificially jacking up the difficulty level when I don’t need to. It was a long, long slog through countless mobs who would phase in and out of reality (thanks, ghosts), really nasty traps, and at least two deaths and resurrections (thanks, cleric).

Difficulty level aside, I like this quest thematically. It was a really gloomy crypt full of mobs I hadn’t seen before (including my new nemesis, the Phase Spider) and a couple of secret passages.

I also dashed through Tomb of the Burning Heart, which was horrible for picture taking due to the whole place being in a sort of hazy infrared, so I’ll spare you that. The only big trick here was trying to figure out how a solo player could stand on four pressure plates at once to open a gate (the solution? Me, a dead corpse, a cleric hireling, and my pet).

Tomb of the Unhallowed was a much longer trip, although fairly straightforward in terms of progress (I like not being confused as to where to go next). While it was fight after fight after fight in this one, I didn’t mind so much for two reasons: first, the designers brought out pretty much every spooky creature type to play, so it felt like a Halloween party, and second, the place was a new tileset to me. I enjoyed the semi-castle look of it and carefully made my way through four minibosses and one nail-biting final showdown with a very ticked-off mummy.

DDO: As Muck is my witness, I will never again do The Pit

I sat down, sipped my hot tea, and prepared to blast through the remainder of House D quests. “No problemo!” I said to myself in ’90s style. “Just a few left to go. And what is this one… oh… oh my… OH NO…. NOOOOO!”

You see, I had forgotten The Pit.

Back in the hazy memories of an earlier era of playing DDO — perhaps pre-F2P, even — I joined a couple friends in running this quest. All I remember is a lot of muffled swear words on the mic, falling, falling, and plenty of death for all. We never finished it, and I swore that I wouldn’t return.

But now I was in a quandry, because I had made it my quixotic mission to complete all of the quests in DDO. I couldn’t have The Pit sit there as a black mark on my otherwise pristine list! And so, with a heavy heart, I armed myself with a guide and went into this nightmare.

Every MMO has at least one (and usually many more) of those nefarious quests that are a complete pain to complete and carry with them a reputation that wards off newbies and veterans alike. The Pit has always had that label in DDO, although there are some masochists who seem to like it. God knows why, because it was the worst night of gaming I had all week.

The Pit takes place in a largely vertical space where you have to keep traversing a confusing array of ramps to find specific rooms and either complete puzzles or platforming elements. Most all of these are very difficult, especially if you’re coming in fresh, and they are complicated by infinitely respawning mobs and so many traps that you cannot turn off.

Start to finish, The Pit took me two hours. And that was with a walkthrough, mind you. I died at least twice, fell off more ledges than I care to recount, and took a ten minute break to regain my sanity and check a video for a particularly tricky jumping section. There was nothing fun nor enjoyable about any of this, just loads of backtracking and clicking and jumping and building stress.

But the end did come, finally, and with it a sense of relief. Not the relief of a job well done, but the relief of “I never, ever have to do this again. And I never will.” Perhaps with an experienced group, The Pit is a breeze, but solo it was agony.

I did try my hand at the optional end boss (a giant slime), and no, I didn’t get Muck’s Bane. The silver lining to all of this is that I reaped a large chunk of XP and gained a new level. Goodbye level 12, hello level 13 at last!

But seriously, never again. Never.

DDO: Elves are toast

With the long Blood Tide chain complete, I figured that I could mop up the remainder of the House D quests without much difficulty. And then all of the lords of Stormreach laughed, because there were more than I had expected — and the first one, Stormcleave Outpost, was a “very long” mission.

For this one, I enlisted my kids to be morale support while I battled my way through a giant’s stornhold. Mostly this came in the form of “Oh Dad, you’re going to die here! You’re dead for sure!” and then some mild disappointment when I did not, in fact, die.

SSG/Turbine takes a different approach with its giants than most fantasy MMOs. Actually, have you noticed that most fantasy MMOs don’t really do giants? I mean, they’ll do giant bosses, but not giants as a race. The size makes it prohibitive, especially if you’re dealing with architecture. SSG’s approach for both DDO and LOTRO is to make giants de facto cavemen who create settlements out of giant blocks of stone. It’s ugly in LOTRO and it’s ugly in DDO, but I’d rather deal with a giant than a beholder any day.

This mission was quite long, but I left it at normal difficulty and had no problem breezing through it at level 12. Sometimes it’s perfectly acceptable to trade XP and loot gain for the feeling that you’re some super-powered Gnomish nightmare here to bring justice to the evils of the world.

Next up was The Bounty Hunter, which had me assault a cave full of bandits. Nothing too exciting save for a hidden passage and the above room, which had me sprinting and leaping from platform to platform while traps kept activating behind me.

Also, I got a crossbow with this on it:

THIS IS THE GREATEST DAY OF MY LIFE.

Then I got drop-kicked into Stromvauld’s Mine, and my newfound cockiness got a strong reality check. Up front, it wasn’t that difficult of a mission — just long, not difficult. Had to dive down into a steamy mine to locate some engineers, kill a few dozen Drow, the usual. And because feather falling is the most awesome thing in this game, I even had a good time floating my way down mine shafts.

It was all well and good until I got to the end and rescued the head engineer — and the quest didn’t finish. I looked at the unfinished objective: locate the missing engineers. Well, I got the one I saw… and then I realized my mistake. These weren’t necessarily *alive* engineers. Nope! It turns out that all of the corpses I’d been passing, the ones tucked into the scenery, were the main objective. I had to be clicking them all along.

So for the next half-hour, I retraced my steps at least twice combing this entire instance for 10 corpses. And let me tell you, the way that the rust-brown visuals are set up in this mine, it’s incredibly easy for your eyes to skip over non-glowing corpses. I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to see a corpse as when I found the last one. “Yay!” I said to a sleeping house. “The last corpse is mine!”

This is why I have no social life.

Die Hard, DDO-style

Bargain of Blood — or “Bob” as I like to call it — is another one of those House D quests that my DDO leveling group did not too long ago. Thus, it’s fairly fresh in my mind, although I certainly didn’t have any problems running it again. It’s a fun setting, that of a bazaar where pirates are reselling stolen goods back to people. It’s a dungeon where the setting is an outside mall. Kind of like fighting your way through IKEA.

There are plenty of places for me to snipe down and afar at enemies, so I was in my natural habitat. Nothing like the feeling of gunning hobgoblins or whatevers down as they try in vain to close the distance and hit me. There was a lot of ranged fire as well, although in DDO you can actually dodge it if you see arrows and spears coming and move out of the way.

I’ve been working hard to make my Artificer as self-sufficient as possible (although I always have a Cleric hireling on hand because it never hurts to have healing and a free rez nearby for those one-shot-kill moments), and she’s shaping up nicely. I can self-heal for large amounts, shoot with the best of them, and even run and jump much better than on my Druid. Plus, I’ve got really great spot, search, and trap disarm skills (the Gnomish bonuses help there), so the occasional trap gets foiled. As long as I don’t get in over my head with the difficulty level, I’m usually pretty good.

Call it the Goonies Syndrome, but any time a dev team tries to do a pirate-themed mission in an MMO, chances are that they’ll end up putting a pirate ship inside a cavern. I’ve seen it in at least four MMOs so far, and I haven’t been looking that hard. It’s too oddly specific of a trope to blend in, so stuff like this really calls attention to itself.

That said, The Black Loch is a pretty enjoyable adventure. I mean, pirates are good, but pirate zombies are even better.

I mean the captain might have lose some of his color, skin, and an eye, but he’s still sporting that bushy and luxurious muttonchop pairing. Not to mention very rich fashion indeed.

Annoying platforming elements aside, The Tide Turns is an expertly crafted quest from both a narrative and design view. Continuing with the struggle against the Blood Tide pirates, this mission takes place in House D’s tower where the pirates have taken it over — and only one Gnome can single-handedly wipe them all out.

That’s right. It’s Die Hard, DDO-style.

It’s really a blast to fight your way upwards in the tower, finding ways around the pirates’ obstacles and cutting them down until you blow up their ship (not shown) and kill the leader. Who, in a fun twist, turns out to be a gigantic Ogre mage in disguise for some reason. I had a great time start to finish with this one, as it’s just the right length and difficulty while throwing plenty of little scripted moments to keep the story flowing.

DDO: House D-lightful

This week’s DDO goal was to chew through as many of the House D quests as possible, as this was one house that my solo Artificer had yet to touch. Plenty of quests here, starting with The Depths of Despair, a standard sewer crawler with a kind of snarky intro. If you skip by bestowment quest text in DDO, you’re often missing some pretty interesting and even hilarious stuff.

The second of the fourth “Depths” quests, Depths of Darkness, also looked like a standard sewer affair — but it had a few surprises waiting to spring on me. Not only was there an acid trap that melted my face right the heck off (I was on elite mode), there were a couple of mega-slimes that exploded into dozens of smaller enemies when hit. I was backpedaling through the entire sewer trying to kill about 30 or so mobs before they swarmed me. It was honestly crazy — and I loved it. A very memorable battle and one that had me laughing by the time it was all through.

Then there was Depths of Discord, which at first I assumed would send me into some of the shadier chat channels. But no — more sewer surfing on behalf of a lazy NPC adventurer who would rather drink in a tavern than do her darn job. At least I got to experience momentary terror as a 700 pound minotaur dual wielding battle axes charged right at me.

The last one in the series, Depths of Doom, was pretty much the same as the first three. Honestly, this whole series felt like a large cut-n-paste, which rubs me the wrong way after the annoying repetitiveness that I went through with Tangleroot Gorge.

For a change of pace, I finished out the night with Storm the Beaches, which is an assault upon a pirate stronghold. From having run this with my group a month or so ago, I knew that a secret waterfall path would take me up behind the bad guys and allow me to attack from the top-down instead of the bottom-up. Lots easier that way, and plenty of opportunities to snipe unsportingly from afar.

Coping with LOTRO and DDO’s blackout

“The game is old! SSG is a small outfit! Not everyone can be like Blizzard! Go work for SSG if you think you can do better! Stop complaining! Its only a few days, suck it up! Data center stuff is complex! Lots of things can go wrong! They are working hard to fix it! They should let us pre-order Sharn while waiting!”

~ Someone summing up all of the white knight responses to the outage

I like to pride myself on having a diverse game library, especially in the MMO space. That way I can limit my losses, especially with content droughts and downtime and even cancellations. So what are the odds that the two main games I’m playing these days would be taken offline for an unexpected multi-day stretch of data center work?

Turns out that those odds are pretty high.

As you probably saw, last week both LOTRO and DDO went from a lengthy 22-hour downtime to an astounding stretch of multiple days. The accounts kept tweeting out extensions to the downtime, always pushing the end time to four, six, or twelve hours ahead. At first, it was annoying. Then it became a joke. Then it became genuinely worrisome.

For the most part, it was of mild annoyance to me personally. I am still waiting for LOTRO to unlock Moria and give us the next update, so I didn’t have a lot I had to do there, and DDO was mostly becoming a nice nighttime routine for a half-hour or so as I got through another mission. I actually didn’t game much at all last week, feeling uninspired to dig into other titles and generally being very tired. Lots of early nights.

But you know how it is when someone takes away something that you were used to — after a while you begin to crave it. It’s one thing for me to not to play a game on a given night because it’s my choice, it’s another when I’m denied it by an outside party. By Friday evening, I was really jonesing for a session in either game.

I know that SSG is a small outfit, but for whatever virtues they have in handling these games and producing good content, their lack of communication and general incompetence in handling the actual operation of these games is a sore spot with me. I wasn’t among the crowd pleading for patience and throwing love at SSG last week. I was among those shaking their heads as I remembered the great 2015 downtime and the horrible data center move in 2016. It’s kind of par for the course for this company and while I’m not going to be mean and call them names, I’m not going to excuse how badly it handled this. At the very least, we should’ve gotten more communication than the cut-and-paste Twitter extensions — the first time the studio really talked was Friday evening, two days after this whole mess began.

And while the community was divided in its attitude toward SSG, it was pretty united in the shared misery of being ejected from a regular gaming schedule. Players had fun on Twitter, Reddit, and Discord sharing memes and suggesting other games and mentioning how much they got done in other areas of their life. It always helps to know others are going through what you are — makes the waiting more bearable.

In the end, it would end, and we would all play again. Maybe this will be a momentary reminder not to take our favorite worlds for granted. Maybe it shakes our faith in SSG’s capability to handle these titles a little more. As long as I can log in and play, I don’t care.