DDO: The Old Bonegrinder

Time for another happy-go-lucky adventure in the sparkly rainbow fields of Bavaria or Barovia or Bermuda or whatever this is. Today’s exciting adventure will take place in and around THE BONEGRINDER, a windmill with not-at-all ominous connotations.

Apparently two more kids went missing in this area, and one does start to wonder how any kids manage to reach adulthood in this country.

When I first arrive, nobody is helping me, but there is a line queuing up for “dream pies” made by hags in disguise and… yeah, it’s totally cannibalism. The pies are people! People!

Probably was a bit of a dead giveaway on the part of the developers that all of the peasants standing in line had weapons drawn, because I knew it was only a matter of time before they would be sent to attack me. Oh hey. It happened. Pew pew, I just slaughtered half a village of cannibals. Well, I’m going to sleep easy tonight.

I kick down the door of the windmill and wade in, firing all willy-nilly. I was kind of impressed that the devs kept this space small instead of pulling a TARDIS or something on us. It’s a rather cramped area for a battle against a pair of hags, which change forms midway through the fight. Lots of weird area effect spells with visual components that made it hard to see, but as my companions that day were an elf and a dog made of metal, I wasn’t too concerned about shooting blindly.

“Burn it,” said the ghost, and so I did. I do pretty much anything a polite ghost commands.

Off for a final fight against the last of the three hags. It wasn’t difficult in and of itself, although there were so many hold and stun effects that I felt like the encounter was cheating.

Anyway, dead kids avenged, aunt and uncle told, rewards grabbed.

And then I realized that the quest dumped me out half a zone away from the village I needed to get back to. And there was a vampire castle between me and it. And hundreds of enemy mobs, as I soon found out. Oh well, anyone up for a road trip?

Speaking of mobs, I was really impressed with the design and animation of these shadow mobs. When they move about, they flatten into actual shadows on the ground and then pop back up as 3-D models. Neat.

Even the gargoyles are against me. I’m going to have to murder this whole place in the face just to get a good night’s sleep.

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DDO: Death House

You know those horror movies where the good guys rush blindly into a place of certain death? That’s me. Seriously, it is me, especially in video games. I mean, here is a place that’s called “Death House,” and my first instinct is, “Yeah. Definitely. Let’s do that.”

Welcome back to DDO’s Barovia, which I am totally in love with. I spent about 10 minutes poking around the starting village and soaking up the excellent pseudo-Transylvanian atmosphere. Huge props to SSG for all of this. It’s so well done on the visuals and sounds.

Anyway, let’s rush after a couple of kids who allegedly went into this place! I’m sure nothing bad will come of it!

I get kind of punchy in instances where the developers are clearly trying to unnerve and scare us, so pretty much the whole time I was running through this place, I was cracking jokes and perforating any surface I could with my automatic crossbow. You just know that the monsters in here were kind of regretting putting out the welcome mat for adventurers the day I showed up, all trigger happy.

Again, great atmosphere going on here. Really creepy haunted house, and I admire the devs restraining their hand at any jump scares or throwing tons of mobs at me right away. Instead, they encourage me to explore and let the spookiness of this seemingly abandoned house soak in. The sounds in particular definitely put me on edge.

Anyone getting a Blair Witch vibe right about now?

So what happened to these kids? We kind of find out through letters scattered about that the house was full of cultists trying to impress the vampire Strahd, but those darn kids, well, they were being disruptive.

They had to be locked in the attic.

For a very long time.

Once again I had to laugh at the similarities between this expansion and The Secret World, because this is TOTALLY the Nursery. Dead kids? Blood splatters? Creeptastic dolls? Dollhouses? All that in spades, baby.

Oh yeah, the kids are dead. But they’ve been talking to you the whole time, so it’s probably  all good.

Descending into the basement, the quest starts to cut loose with some monster encounters — ghosts, crawling arms, giant spiders, that sort of thing. Pew pew, don’t you regret your life’s decisions now?

When the secret basement of your murder house has a secret shrine to your vampire overlord, perhaps it’s a sign that you’re not to be trusted with babysitting duties.

The lord of the manor! C’mon dude, give me a smile. A little one? Eh? Eh? Fine. Keep scowling like that and it’ll stay that way forever.

The big bad monster in the basement is this muppet-looking trash monster. Honestly, I was kind of let down. He’s cute enough that I was looking for the mission’s gift shop so I could buy a plushie to take home to my kids.

In the end, I laid the kids’ bones to rest in these adorable little side-by-side coffins and pondered why burying kids’ remains makes for a successful miss… oh hey! XP and loot!

DDO: Stepping into the Mists of Ravenloft

Enough talk and waiting to go into DDO’s latest expansion, let’s do it why not? Let’s go!

Piloting a very fresh level 11 Artificer, I stepped through the mists portal in House J to appear in a land that is quite unlike Stormreach…

Welcome to Mists of Ravenloft’s Barovia. The dark screenshots really don’t do these areas justice — they’re moody and creepy as all get out. It has just the right amount of foliage to get in the way of your eyeline so that you don’t always see enemies lying ahead as you’re moving through the woods. Right away, the music and setting made me feel alone and in trouble.

Then again, I had a clockwork dog and a machine gun crossbow at my side. THEY should be afraid of ME.

I did the very short introduction quest “Into the Mists.” Here, you get a taste for the expansion and its campaign setting. It’s Transylvania: The Game pretty much. The mists here aren’t just for decoration, either. I stepped inside one and instantly suffered a negative level debuff. Ouch. Going to avoid those for the foreseeable future.

The guy up there is a friendly revenant with some swords sticking through his chest. He’s one of the few good guys trying to fight the forces of the evil vampire Strahd, and he gives me some tips. Like don’t get bit.

I know it’s been said elsewhere, but I’m going to repeat it: Standing Stone Games really did not skimp on the visuals here. I find that this studio still does such a great job with its zones, and this one instantly nailed that old world horror vibe.

Of course, as a Secret World player, I had to laugh at the incredible similarities that that game’s Transylvania and this game’s Bavaria have, right down to the evil scarecrows. Sure, they’re working off the same source material and D&D predates TSW by quite a bit, but I found it a little hard to get that spooked by this area because I felt like I had been here many, many times before. Even gave the scarecrow a high-five.

Lots of other interesting mobs to fight: wisps, dire bears, werewolves, flying heads (?), and these oh-so-classic witches. I tip my hat to any fantasy game that breaks out the traditional halloween witch like this. She never gets that much play.

After the first mission, the game dumped me into the Land of Barovia wilderness zone. Dude, it is HUGE. That map up there, just look at all of those teeny tiny notations. It’s pretty sizable. I’m torn between exploring and just moving on with quests! Probably will do the latter for story purposes, but I do appreciate how much work went into all of this.

DDO: Haywire’s Foundry

Yet again I’m called into a foundry to save the roguish Haywire, who repeats his M.O. of last time by hiding in a safe room and barking orders at me while I do all of the dangerous work and clean up his mess.

It does not endear me to this gentleman, let me tell you.

The last quest (for now?) in House K, Haywire’s Foundry is an incredibly long, truly frustrating, and occasionally brilliant dungeon that kept me on the edge of my seat for a straight hour. Inside its doors, I find that this warforged factory has gone bad as all of the golems have been infected by some sort of little slimy slug-things. My mission? Shut it all down and blow it up.

Easier said than done.

This is a “very long” dungeon, so you know you’re in for a slog. In this case, I had to explore and conquer two separate wings before even getting to progress further. The first wing was more or less a straight-forward path with tons of mobs to slaughter. Fortunately, the golems of this quest weren’t too tough and didn’t hold any surprises. Often I was able to snipe them from across the room, leading me once again to ponder how frustrating this game would be with a melee character.

In heading to the second wing, the game genuinely surprised me by having the floor collapse on me and send me down to my death in a long shift with lava at the bottom. Only my boots of featherfall saved me, giving me ample time to react and drift over to a tunnel in the side. From there it was a platforming nightmare to get back up to the top and carry on.

I HATE platforming in MMOs. Have I said as such? DDO has its fair share.

And because the mimic event was going on, a couple of the chests that I looted turned out to be monsters. I enjoyed putting them down swiftly and seeing gold explode out of them.

This is the sort of sadistic mission that you keep finding yourself thinking, “It’s not FAIR” when you see multiple jets of gouting flame, spikes coming from all directions, and golems attacking from above and below simultaneously.

After activating both unlocks, the “fun” really begins. There’s a brutal puzzle in this room that requires you to manipulate six rune wheels to unlock the center cage (and access a key). The twist? As you spin the wheels, you keep triggering more oozes to come down and attack. So this was about 30% puzzle solving and 70% taking breaks to kill oozes and mutter, “It’s not FAIR.”

I don’t have any screenshots past this room because everything happened rather fast from here on out. First there was a boss fight with a giant golem and seven close buddies. That was the EASY part. Then I hit the self-destruct button and was told that I had five minutes to get out before the whole place went up.

Initially I thought I’d just backtrack, but no — you have to go a whole new route which begins with YET MORE PLATFORMING over LAVA and ARE YOU KIDDING ME DEVS. Then tons of mechanical dogs attack. And the floor collapses. And there’s more random traps of flame. So I’m running and fighting and saying words that would increase the movie rating of this particular adventure, all while hoping that I’d get to the end in time. Because this quest loves to tweak the player, about halfway through this madcap dash Haywire yells at me that he’s going to slam down a blast door and I’d better get out NOW.

Long (and quick) story short, I made it. Barely. As in, I had about two seconds to spare in finishing the quest.

The good news is that the XP was more than enough to send me to level 11 (Rank 51), which puts me in a good position to start Ravenloft next week!

DDO: Made to Order

This past week’s Dungeons and Dragons Online adventure was the House K quest “Made to Order.” If you like fighting giant robots and having your butt handed to you on a silver platter, it’s the perfect dungeon for you.

The quest involves an inventor named Haywire who whipped up a bunch of golems in his foundry that have since turned against him. He’s not too concerned, being protected in his panic room and all, but now I’ve got to go rescue him from his folly.

Easier said than done.

Check it out, we’re fighting Cylons in this quest!

If the above picture didn’t tip you off, this mission is pretty hardcore. I think I have to resign myself to the fact that I’m done with the era of doing hard-mode dungeons solo, because even on normal mode, this quest was just brutal. It’s a long, looping path through a foundry filled with giant golems (clay and iron), packs of hard-hitting Dwarves, electrified rails, and scads of these nasty little landmine traps.

The traps were of particular frustration, because I was not getting the normal heads-up on spotting them until I was standing right on top of them. This could have been because the mission was level 11 and I am still just 10, but still, I hit far too many of these traps. My poor dog suffered the most of it, spending a great portion of the dungeon dead, and if I hadn’t brought a Cleric hireling along, there would have been no chance of making it through.

As it was, plenty of sections had me backwheeling and firing frantically as packs of mobs descended on my head. I also had the joy of getting to the final locked door and finding out that I had only three of the four required crests — I had missed the very first one and had to backtrack all the way down and back to the start. Go Team Me!

On the plus side, the Foundry was incredibly cool-looking. I kept looping through this middle section with rails and lava, and every time it pleased me with the visuals. The path design is pretty clever, as you start low and gradually loop and ramp up to the top, which kept this dungeon feeling tight and purposeful.

Hey, at least I’m not fighting in those dull sewers any longer.

The final fight… ugh. It hated me.

It pitted me against “ARN-01D,” a giant golem who is a cheeky take on Schwarzenegger’s characters, especially with his final line riffing on the classic “I’ll be back.” But at the time of the fight, I wasn’t laughing, because it completely felt unfair. It was me, this hulking monstrosity, and four additional golems in a rather small room.

I was down to a single application of my machine gun bolts, so very shortly after the start of the fight, I was in survival mode, backpeddling, firing, and just trying to stay out of the range of these golems. The only thing I had on my side was the fact that none of them could attack at range, although ARN-01D could lock me down with a powerful stun and blind if I got too close.

Hooray for me, I won. Take a moment to pat myself on the back for this one.

Probably my favorite part of the quest is after the boss fight when I approached Haywire’s safe room. He’s behind probably 10 different types of locked doors, and the game keeps opening them one by one by one by one by one until it just gets ridiculous.

Guess the guy is turning himself into a construct, but as someone who has at least theoretically done so to my own character through an enhancement, I’m in no position to judge.

DDO: The Prisoner

This week’s Dungeons and Dragons Online adventure was The Prisoner, in which I saved one elf from another elf’s incompetence and validated my suspicions that this race is too dumb to live.

In this case, Mistress Orphne — or, as I called her, Little Orphne Annie — has had her mind hijacked by some of her countrymen. So it’s into the mind of an elf I go to free her, because that’s the sort of pop psychology I subscribe to!

So what will we find in the mind of an elf? Probably a pillow fort made of haughty arrogance.

Orphne’s mind is pretty messed up, although mostly in a way that feels like the developers wanted some freedom to get wacky with level design. Lots of stuff floating in midair unsupported, ladders that go on for three minutes at a stretch, and plenty of beholders popping in for pep talks. They went down so fast that they barely had time to get out their taunts.

I had to find four items within Orphne’s mind to shake her out of this stupor, and pretty much all of them were high up various platforms. While I had feather fall to assist me in a quick way back to the start, at once point I got hung up on the terrain and ended up suspended in midair with no way to get down. I used the /stuck command (after a stern warning from the system not to abuse it) and went on my merry way.

Ladder Diary, Minute 524. Still climbing. Have splinters in all fingers and toes. Cursing the birth day of each and every developer in this place. Why don’t I have rocket boots?

Probably the most interesting section, at least to me, was a maze stuffed with minotaurs and traps. Neither were particularly dangerous, and at one point a minotaur stumbled right into a trap and got skewered right before my eyes. I extended grace and pity by laughing mercilessly and saying, “You idiot cow.”

After a fight with a giant — wasn’t quite sure WHY there was a giant in her mind, but no matter — I fought shadow Link here and won the day. Of course, I tinkered around with her brain to make her think that she was a ferret for the rest of her life, but that’s standard operating procedure in an elf memory rescue.

DDO: Anniversary party hardy

So 12 years in to Dungeons and Dragons Online, and I’m only now playing the anniversary party. To be fair to myself, it’s only a few years old, but still, I feel a little ashamed that I’m literally late to the party. And it’s a good one, at that!

I joined back up with the crew from Onedawesome, the DDO guild that I helped found waaaaay back in the day (and to even more personal shame, I left our weekly sessions whilst they continued it for years and years now). We entered the party tent, where an odd and amusing celebration was underway…

My favorite bit from the central party was seeing classic D&D characters playing D&D and chatting about it. Very meta, but really, this whole quest is a seven-layer cake of meta.

Strahd showed up for the D&D session, but as one of those flat, moving Hogwarts paintings. Again, I could have probably sat there for a half-hour just watching them go through this banter.

But as for our group, we had a mission to perform, and that mission was to beat the living stuffing out of the developers. You see, in this quest, the first four bosses are all Turbine/SSG developers in weird forms. There is also a pit of skeletons with other dev handles, but we were fighting too fast to make a deep connection to each name.

“So Todd, it’s your eight-year anniversary here with the studio, and that means we grant you one wish. What shall it be? Cost of living increase? Dental plan? Four extra days PTO?”

“I’m going to go with ‘make my head into a giant bat boss’ instead. Always been a life dream.”

“…done.”

And if you’ve ever wanted to have a conversation with a door-that’s-not-a-door, welcome to DDO.

I did get a laugh out of the fact that Jeets, that cheeky rogue from the tutorial, returns as the big bad boss who’s trying to become a kobold overlord to impress Malicia. It’s… not the worst idea I’ve ever heard.

And making a guest appearance, the Dementors! Definitely a wicked awesome mob design.

All in all, a great quest — quick, funny, and full of details and conversations for those who want to take their time. I even got a couple of gear upgrades, so now I’m sporting a few more spell points and hit points to keep my sorry gnome butt alive.