Steamy sorcery in Neverwinter

People do rash things when frustrated. They also take action when frustrated. It’s better than just sitting and wallowing.

I was getting a little steamed at the whole DDO scene last week, as I found it just about impossible to find a guild. I always had memories of DDO being a pretty solid community, maybe not LOTRO levels but active and friendly. That was, of course, a half-decade ago, and a lot can change, especially as a game slides down into obscurity and bleeds off all but the most faithful and devoted. Sometimes those smaller MMOs have just the best people, and sometimes they cultivate elitism that becomes daunting to newbies and returners.

I won’t go into the whole saga, but I kept putting out feelers to interesting-looking guilds and kept getting ignored or shut down because I wasn’t high level enough or hadn’t raided or what have you. Nobody was advertising in general chat. I applied to two guilds, never heard back from them. At that point frustration was brewing and I had to take a break… and Neverwinter popped into mind. Because a lateral jump to another Dungeons & Dragons game? Minds work in weird ways, but at the moment it felt right. Cryptic games are like popcorn experiences — mindless, enjoyable, soothing, and not necessarily the deepest.

For this 2017 experiment, I rolled up a new class to me: a Tiefling Scourge Warlock. I think I tried it for about two seconds a year ago but nothing past the tutorial. I’m glad I stuck with it this time, because I’m really grooving on it so far. I don’t have a firm grasp on its mechanics — there’s a lot to do with curses — but she gets glowy healing spheres, the occasional soul puppet pet, and some hard-hitting spells.

And wouldn’t you know, within the first ten minutes of hanging out in the opening area, I had at least three guilds reach out and talk with me. I ended up with the friendliest-seeming one of the bunch and felt mildly vindicated about the switch (I’m not writing off DDO, mind you, but I’m allowed my moments of being a little bit petty).

I’m very glad for some previous package bonuses that roll over to any new character, granting me some premium bonuses, like a giant spider mount, purple-quality panther pet, and other odds and ends. It helps to forestall the desire or need to spend money in the game store, that’s for sure. Plus, my wife won’t come within 20 feet of my computer when the spider mount is out, so now I can duck housework with a video game.

I like how this guy’s collection of art has not one, but two pictures of the same guy holding the same skull, just in different-colored clothes. In-game art always amuses and interests me, for some reason.

Anyway, no great tales of derring-do in Neverwinter quite yet, mostly because I’m going back through the opening zones that I’m quite familiar with. There has been a lot added to the game over the years, so I’m sure there’s plenty to see, but I’ll have to get up to level 50 before that starts to happen.

You know what’s one little thing about this game I like? All quests and NPCs are voiced — and you can keep listening to them even as you run away. Even if the voice acting isn’t always the best, it gets me to pay attention and gives me something to listen to as I dash off to the next objective.

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7 MMO cosmetic wardrobe systems, ranked

Here’s a little thought exercise I’ve been going through lately after having a discussion about cosmetic systems on the MOP podcast. We had been asked which was the best MMO wardrobe system, which I initially thought was an easy answer… and then, long after the podcast was done, started to revise my response. Ultimately, I asked myself how I would rank the systems present in the MMOs I’ve played the most in the last, oh, five years or so, and this is what I came up with going from best to worst.

WildStar

There’s a lot of factors that go into a truly great cosmetic wardrobe system, and believe it or not, WildStar checks off most of those boxes. It’s got great armor design, plenty of cosmetic pieces, a system that remembers loot you’ve collected, multiple outfit slots, two dye channels, fun dyes, and an accessible system (which is a change from launch, which required you to talk to a specific NPC). I adored being able to create and wear different outfits based on my mood, and I was often torn on which one I liked the best because they were all pretty awesome. WildStar usually get a lot of props for its housing, but I think its wardrobe deserves praise too.

Guild Wars 2

Initially I had put Guild Wars 2 at the top, but upon further reflection, I had to acknowledge that there are two big flaws with its wardrobe system: It makes you pay to change individual slots (via transmutation charges) and it doesn’t allow for multiple saved outfits. Apart from that, it’s pretty brilliant, with several dye channels, loads of colors, expressive pieces, and all the buttflaps you can stomach. Finding and obtaining skins is an enjoyable metagame for GW2, that’s for sure.

RIFT

On paper, RIFT has almost the full package. It remembers skins, has multiple outfit slots, is ridiculously easy to use, involves weird cosmetics, and so on. Other than the dye cash shop and the smaller color range, I’d say it was almost perfect… except that I just don’t like about 90% of RIFT’s armor designs. They’re not bad, per se, just not what I want to be trouncing around in, and there are strangely few store outfits that even slightly tempt me to purchase. Probably shouldn’t complain; better armor art and I might have gone broke.

The Secret World

TSW’s strength in cosmetics is that it’s a rare MMO that uses modern outfits rather than fantasy/sci-fi ones (for the most part) and is thus a fashion that is more identifiable to players. People in TSW just adore dressing up their characters, sometimes the more outrageous, the better. Wonderful array of choices are offset only by a lack of dyeable outfits (although some pieces come in multiple colors) and no multiple outfit saves. It’s nice that there is a convoluted fashion to even equip cosmetic weapons, but it really should’ve been more like the regular outfits in accessibility.

Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO sits squat in the middle of this list with plenty of strengths but plenty of weaknesses as well. On the plus side, it’s another MMO with a community that does a lot of dressing up, and the game has done a lot to make this as robust as possible. Dyes, multiple outfits, varied designs, cosmetic weapons, etc. But on the minus side, the wardrobe itself is a little creaky and unfriendly, especially when compared to how many MMOs these days are saving EVERY new design whereas LOTRO has a hard limit. And you have to manage it by hand. Plus, the dyes aren’t that great, with only one color channel for (most) pieces and the dyeable area often being small.

World of Warcraft

For a major MMORPG, World of Warcraft suffers from a kind of lackluster system. Admittedly, the fact that it has one and it’s gradually improved is far better than launch, but seriously, transmog is pretty sad when you compare it to the field. No dyes, no multiple outfits (I’m not really that keen on just changing gear’s appearance rather than having a separate and toggleable cosmetic outfit), no way to do it on the fly, new gear overriding older transmog looks and requiring more money for new transmogs, and no quick check boxes to turn off helms and capes is all in dire need of addressing. To its credit, WoW has fabulous and fun armor design, which goes a long way to smoothing over the issues presented here.

Star Trek Online

Let’s throw in a couple of Cryptic efforts to be well-rounded. STO never really impressed me with its outfits. Sure, you could mix-and-match uniform elements, there were some (but not many) colors, and you had a small handful of outfit slots. But generally you aren’t collecting new looks while you play (most uniforms are simply bought through the store), and the interface is a little unwieldy. Sometimes it’s just more interesting to let your gear do the visuals for you, since they can be more detailed and futuristic.

Neverwinter

At the bottom of the barrel, Neverwinter does the absolute bare minimum to qualify as an MMO with a cosmetic system while making it as unfun as possible. Two cosmetic-only slots for specific items, no thank you. It’s a system that you learn about in the tutorial and then promptly forget going forward.

Now I know that there are plenty of other MMOs out there with great wardrobe systems, like EverQuest II, but I wanted to rank ones from games that I was most familiar.

6 major MMORPG launch days revisited

wildstar plans

One of the neat things about having a long-running blog is that it inadvertently turns into a historical document chronicling major events. In this case, Bio Break has been around since 2008, and I’ve gone through several major MMO launches since then. I thought it might be fun to look up the day one (or day two) posts talking about those experiences to reshare them with you.

Guild Wars 2 (August 2012)

“Guild Wars 2.  Is incredible.

“Playing it live feels so much different than beta, and I’m so glad I have a character to actually invest in.  But even more than that, this is just a game that exists to wow you left and right.  I’m sure that there are those who have become immune to in-game beauty and details, and only see the numbers and min-maxing, but that’s missing the point here.  It’s a game where I felt fully justified to spend the first hour just gawking around like a tourist instead of killing things, and I’m forever going off the beaten track to explore.”

WildStar (June 2014)

“As you may have heard/experienced, it was anything but a smooth beginning.  Due to a purported DDoS attack and a kajillion people trying to cram through the login servers at the same time, we simply could not log into the game.  We got to know the little running hamster, the theme music, and our account passwords very well, however.  It was 4:15 before I could log in, and by then going back to sleep wasn’t much of an option.”

RIFT (February 2011)

“All in all, I’m pretty impressed with the game performance.  No crashes for me, and everything flowed just smoothly.  I did roll a Dwarf Bard, and I’m pretty pleased with the choice.  I’m a Medieval Guitar Hero and proud of it, baby!  I splashed in a bit of Riftstalker for the teleportation spell — being able to jump ahead 25 feet every so often is a ton of fun, as well as a helpful escape button if I got over my head.”

Star Wars: The Old Republic (December 2011)

“On a lark I tried to see if I could log in at 6:30, and lo and behold I could.  Servers were up about ten minutes after that, and I began the process of reserving the eight character names I picked out.  When I finally logged in, it was to a ghost town — not a single soul in the zone, not a single voice on the chat screen, nothing.  I’m not saying I was the first in game, but it almost felt like it.”

Champions Online (September 2009)

“Framerate issues notwithstanding, I had a great time last night.  It was fun to see a lot of friends in the game (and the @name system is growing on me, for sure).  I even spent a bit of time learning the ropes of the crafting system, which is pretty useful — you can make your own inventory bags, which is certainly useful.”

Neverwinter (April 2013)

“While the character creator is really skimpy and the Foundry reportedly in shambles, the core game itself looks fantastic and is pretty fun to play.  It’s more action/arcade-like than a traditional MMO, but for some reason it works here.”

Neverwinter: Opening an old Door

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According to my sometimes faulty blog records here on Bio Break, the last time I played Neverwinter to any degree of regularity was… January 2014. So, y’know, it’s been a while. And this isn’t even a post to say that I’m back full-bore into the game, just that I’m stopping back to say hi and see what’s up.

Neverwinter keeps adding more and more content to the point where I feel like there’s a mountain of soloable stuff out there that I’d like to see sooner or later. Just looking at the campaign pages (what’s a campaign? Have I ever done one?) was intimidating.

I flirted with the same-old idea of rolling up a new character and taking it through the whole game, but I need to stop doing that when returning to MMOs all of the time. After all, I have a perfectly serviceable level 57 Trickster Rogue on the character creation screen who not only has a lot of time invested in her but probably some money as well. The only downside here? I know nothing about her, Jon Snow.

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Well, I remember very little at least. It’s been almost three years after all, and the game has changed a lot since then. The big disadvantage of picking up an old character that has a lot of hours under its belt is that you just feel silly and stupid and lost for the first hour or so playing it. Sure, some of it comes back naturally, but the rest requires some careful reading of tooltips, reallocating talent points, sorting through a bizarrely full inventory, and trying to suss out what you were doing when you last left the game.

While Neverwinter isn’t always very clear and concise when it comes to gear (and I have a rant coming on MMO gear complexity soon), at least the somewhat limited hotbar and talent build was easy to figure out. I mean, this is the kind of game where you just jam down on your left mouse button and your character goes to town while you admire the visuals. I started waking up those long-dormant memories of how much I liked seeing this TR dance about, throwing about decoys and slashing the enemy to ribbons.

And for all of the headache of figuring her back out, I was rewarded with a character who is already stocked with a healing artifact, two mounts, and five companions, including my ghost lady who possesses mobs and makes those mobs attack each other. I’d forgotten about her! Favorite companion ever. Should take her with me to other games.

door3

After a while I had to close down the menus and just play the game for fun or else I might go a little mad and run from the computer. It’s in this that Neverwinter’s design perfectly aids the returning amnesiac, because you really don’t need to remember any quest details or objectives. Simply follow the yellow sparkly lights, son, and kill or click whoever is on the receiving end of it. Don’t question, just act. That’s the Neverwinter way.

As mindless as that is, it’s relaxing too. I am down in the middle of the magical chasm that severely damaged the city of Neverwinter back when, and there are all sorts of morose spellplague victims and apocalyptic visuals to encounter.

Small detail that I like: The NPC quest giver voice over persists even when you leave the screen. The voice acting is decent, but having it go on while you’re on the move does a great job delivering lore and setting without forcing you to stop and read paragraphs of text. Kind of like the fantasy equivalent of audiobooks or podcasts. Just listen while you’re on the go.

Some of the fights were a little tricky as I got used to my character again, but it was amazing how fast all of this came back once I got going. I did replace just one skill, however everything else is the same as it was back in early 2014.

Is Neverwinter the perfect pick-up-and-put-down MMO? I can see it as such, same with Star Trek Online. Not always polished but usually pretty enjoyable, and I’ll take the latter over the former any day if I had to choose.

Six MMOs I’m considering playing this fall

We’re now deep into September, which means many things for my life. It’s the start of the school year for my job, what I always see as the MMO expansion season, and the onset of the fall and preparation for winter. As I settle comfortably into both World of Warcraft and RIFT right now, I’ve been considering what I might add to my roster for the remainder of 2016. I have several options in front of me, and if things calm down a bit more, I might be playing one or more in the near future. So what’s being considered?

1. Project Gorgon

It’s not a question of whether or not to play Project Gorgon, it’s just a matter of when. I hate this whole early access nonsense, because you never really know when to leap on board, even when the games go into quasi-persistence. There’s three thoughts here: Just play it already and roll with the changes that are sure to come, wait for the Steam early access release that should come by the end of the year, or really hold out for the official launch in late 2017.

I have to weigh waiting for more features and less chance of partial wipes with the fact that it’s more-or-less persistent now and there’s already lots to do. My thinking is to hold out for the Steam release and then take it casual from there.

2. Master X Master

Not technically an MMO — yet people keep calling it more of an MMO than almost any MOBA that came before it. I took a look at some previews and really found myself warming up to its PvE side, various characters, and fun gameplay. I’ll definitely take a look when it releases, but how long I’ll stay is a huge question mark.

3. Neverwinter

Yeah, I might go back to Neverwinter. I always have a soft spot for Cryptic games, and Neverwinter is actually doing huge right now. Loads of players, lots of content added, several platforms — and the assurance that this is a game that has a long future ahead of it. Would like to try a new character and perhaps make it further than I did in the past.

4. AdventureQuest 3D

Currently this title is eyeing an October release, and while it’s most assuredly going to be very content light when that happens, I’ll be putting it on my phone as my go-to mobile MMO. I want a pocket MMORPG and this one, given enough time and care and affection, could blossom into one worth playing. The enthusiasm of its devs and community is downright infectious — and there is no cure.

5. Elder Scrolls Online

I picked up a very cheap copy of this a while back and it’s been sitting on my shelf like, “Play meeeee!” And I’ve been ignoring it because I’m a jerk to video games like that. It’s a case of a game that I really haven’t spent a lot of time in, has shored up its weaknesses with a lot of content, has a promising future, and could be a potential if I want to give it a go.

6. The Unknown Dark Horse Underdog

And then there’s always the possibility that moods and whims might lead me somewhere else entirely. Oh, at times I’ve looked at RuneScape, Trove, WildStar, Marvel Heroes, and even Guild Wars 2 as possible fall entries, but most of those might be best left alone… for now.

I have a separate list for 2017, although that’s much more in flux at the moment. Fingers crossed for a better year for new and upcoming MMOs!

6 things that bug me about MMOs that I like

bugmeI think we’re always loathe to outright criticize MMOs that we really like in fear that it will push players away from games that are otherwise terrific. But if you are too scared to do so, then you gain blinders and lose perspective.

Thus, this is my small Monday morning measure of attaining balance by admitting to six things that kind of really bug me about MMOs that I like.

WildStar: For a game that has made such a big, big deal about customization (and excels in this in many areas), the fact that classes can wield one and only one type of weapon (set) vastly annoys me. In most MMOs you can choose from different weapon types and experience different visual flair and animations, but here? What you got at level 1 is the same at level 50.

The Secret World: This game’s wonderful storytelling and nuanced body language is sometimes undercut by faces that are ugly and border on the uncanny valley. The facial art style doesn’t gel for me the way that it should and serves as an irritant when I’m trying to get into the tale.

Marvel Heroes: This game’s social tools are really lacking, I’ve found. There needs to be support to join multiple supergroups, better supergroup tools, and a proper LFG tool. Fast track these, Gazillion!

Star Wars: The Old Republic: I do love that the game has housing, but coming from other MMOs like RIFT and WildStar, it can’t help but fail to live up to the industry standard. I am not a fan of the clumsy hooks and placement interface that makes sorting through one’s decor far more tedious than it should be.

RIFT: Such ugly armor. Such ugly. It makes the awesome wardrobe system weep in frustration. What is up with the armor artists in this game? Why must we all look like first drafts of a ninth grader’s fantasy portfolio?

Neverwinter: Cryptic not only failed to live up to the insanely high standard it set for character creation in City of Heroes, but failed to live up to the industry medium in this respect. I am stunned how hard it is to make good or interesting-looking characters in this game with the sub-par customization options on display. Do they even know how hair looks?

Neverwinter: A ravenous frosty treasure chest to call my own

astoriaYesterday marked the final day of my Neverwinter holding pattern.  Ever since the winter festival began, I effectively hit the pause button on the game, first to get the fawn companion for my cleric, and then to just have my two characters stay in the zone so that I could log in once a day and get may daily star of fortune.  18 days and 18 stars later, and I was able to buy the frosty mimic pet for each of my characters.  With that, I’m able to say goodbye to the festival and continue with my adventures.

I named the mimic Astoria (I’ve decided to start reusing City of Heroes zone names for pet names, just because) and it is quite welcome to join my Rogue on her journeys.  I really need a tanky pet to run defense from time to time, and from the skill descriptions I’m seeing, the mimic is quite tanky and taunty indeed.  Of course, it’s just a baby pet right now, barely level 4, and I’m dragging it through level 52 areas, so every fight is him gamely going up to a bad guy, taunting it with a lid slam, and then getting whacked to death in one blow.  But he’s learning and he’s leveling, and I have high hopes that one day he’ll be more useful than a mascot.

Currently I’m going through the Chasm zone, which is one of the more visually stunning areas I’ve seen in an MMO.  Parts of it reminded me of Inception, with the world rolled up partially.  It’s a place I dearly wish I could fly around and explore properly.

It’s also causing me to be really on my toes.  Oh Mylanta, I can die super-duper-quick these days.  I have my tricks and I know how to use them well, but in the wrong spot or against too many enemies, I will find myself losing the DPS vs. my health race.  At least it’s a flashy and fun death.

And so Neverwinter remains a strange anomaly for me in my gameplay.  I have pretty much no emotional investment in it.  I’m not connected to a good guild or any friends that play.  I don’t really crave it.  Yet it’s kind of a comfort food, an easy choice on any given night to log in and go a little further.  I’m already level 57 and will probably hit 60 without trying before the month is out.  When I get to the end of the zone chain, I don’t really know what I’ll do, because I’m not going to go on the dungeon gear treadmill.  I might just stop, as with Star Trek Online, and consider that an effective “game over.”

Knowing that, it doesn’t deter me from playing like I would elsewhere.  It’s a good filler for now, a substitute for the time and action-RPG feel that I used to have with Guild Wars 2.