DDO: Halloween wrap-up

Halloween. Halloween never ends. Especially in DDO, where it feels as though it’s been running for the length of the current presidential term. I haven’t been chasing any of the gear or cosmetics from the event, although I did appreciate some extra chests here and there. In any case, our weekly group assembled last Friday to do one last hurrah for Night Revels before it all got shut down.

I think we did about four or five quick dungeons in a row. An unlimited supply of pumpkin decorations awaited us — far, far too many to be anything other than tacky — as we blitzed our way through the instances.

It was pointed out to me that not only were all of these repurposed instances but that one of them had us running it in the opposite direction (end to beginning) than we would encounter in the regular game. Intriguing!

Scary vampire guy, meet my dog Goober. Head butt that creature of the night, Goober!

There was very little challenge and (I think) no actual deaths for once. Only a few times was my healing really called into play, so it was more of a relaxed evening for yours truly.

I did feel that this was a little unsporting, that we would climb up on these bookshelves and rain down fire and acid on the heads of zombies that couldn’t reach us at all. Oh well, games are often unfair in the opposite direction, so why not work in our favor this one time?

We do have a slightly unorthodox team. I’m the healer as a Druid and we do have a straight-up Rogue who runs trap interference, but everyone else is either a Wizard or a Warlock and is slinging spells all over the place. Hey, it works!

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Retro Reprise Episode 14: Final Fantasy combat tunes

It’s been a year-and-a-half since Syl and Syp first dove into Final Fantasy music, but now the duo is back to discuss combat themes from four of the game’s 1990s installments! From One-Winged Angel to The Man with a Machine Gun, it’s all the classics you’ve been listening to — and adoring — for years, packaged with exclusive fan commentary!

Show notes (episode downloadepisode page)

  • Intro
  • FFV: “Clash on the Big Bridge”
  • FFVII: “Combat”
  • FFVII: “Jenova”
  • FFVII: “One-Winged Angel”
  • FFVIII: “The Man with a Machine Gun”
  • FFVIII: “The Extreme”
  • FFIX: “Combat”
  • Outro

LOTRO: There’s Dwarves in these thar hills

Over the past week I have felt a fun compulsion to log into Lord of the Rings Online more and more. Funny how that happens when I’m not bogged down in the game’s few horrible areas, eh?

Actually, as I’ve been playing, I’ve also been observing my own interaction with the game. I think it was said best that LOTRO is a slow and calming experience, and I agree with that (to a great degree). Unlike the density and proximity of, say, WoW’s quests, LOTRO’s structure is one that I end up spending a lot of time traveling and slowly progressing through an objective. And I don’t mind, because it is relaxing. I can absorb more of the world and listen to music while going back and forth. As long as I’m not in a hurry to progress or push through an area, it’s a perfect pace for me and it’s made for several enjoyable evenings.

After doing some busy work in Erebor (and catching up on a lengthy series of pre-update quests), I was given a choice to either branch off to the west in the Grey Mountains (Ered Mithrin) or to the east in the Iron Hills. I went west for starters and enjoyed hiking up into the new landscape.

One thing I really love about LOTRO is that while it features a diverse array of landscapes, they all feel as though they flow together and form a cohesive world. It’s all connected in a way that makes me think of distant lands when I’m in a particular area. So while my horse was trotting through the stony valley of Ered Mithrin, I was thinking of the Misty Mountains far away. Both have connections to the Dwarves, but here we’re getting treated to an exploration of two previously background races and their attempts at reclaiming lost cities.

So lots of Dwarf architecture, of which I’m not that keen. It’s mostly angles and giant impossible buildings. I actually liked the interior houses of Erebor more, as they showed how Dwarves actually lived versus the deserted structures of Moria and Ered Mithrin.

It was a different kind of mountainous area than we’ve seen before, although the difference was more subtle. It felt like the Lone-lands if they were bunched up and made mountainous. The conifer trees lend a great atmosphere of adventure and exploration, although they’re the type where most of the branches are bare save for the top third. So not as lush or Christmasy.

I was also kind of impressed with a glacier (at least, I think it was) that lay at the north side. It turned out to be a surprisingly difficult area full of elite mobs, and the half-dozen or so quests I had there were slow going. It took me most of a night to clear them out, but it’s doable and gave me plenty of opportunities for screenshots.

Fortunately, I had hit level 120 before even getting to Ered Mithrin, so at least I had that extra power boost going for me. Speaking of which, it was only NOW, at level 120, that I found out that Lore-masters can equip pins or somesuch in their ranged slots for more stat boosts! I shouldn’t be blamed too much for this, because I don’t recall ever seeing any of these drop or handed out from quests; the only reason I got one is because I was perusing the Lore-master section on the auction house.

Another adjustment is that I’m actually using food buffs. I’ve only sporadically used them in the past, mostly because the majority of food I could buy off of vendors was of extremely limited duration (5 min). I did load up on regen food back in Moria that lasted 30 minutes, but that’s offered diminishing returns as I’ve leveled up.

However, it’s an advantage that I’d be silly to pass up, and since I have all of this gold that I’m not using, might as well spend it! So I’ve been making a point of buying quality food at the auction house and running all three types of food buffs simultaneously. Kind of wish they persisted through death, but oh well. Don’t think my character’s ever been so well fed!

BlizzCon? More like ZzzCon.

Is it just me, or was this one of the most underwhelming BlizzCons in, well, ever?

I had a gut feeling from advance mentions and hints that we should be setting our expectations really low for BlizzCon this year, but it turns out that “low” wasn’t low enough. I could forgive the extremely annoying preshow announcers (who were calling the experience of eating breakfast cereal “AMAZING!”) and even the various low-key presenters who looked painfully uncomfortable in front of the crowd (I’m looking at you, J. Allen Brack), but this was obviously a year in which the studio had nothing great to say about its lineup.

World of Warcraft had no new expansion nor classic server announcement to spring on us, and so instead we got a lame tease of Patch 8.1 and a Summer 2019 launch date for WoW Classic. That’s pretty much it. I wasn’t expecting much, but c’mon… they could have at least hinted at 8.2 or beyond. They might have said something about Old Gods. I watched the keynote looking for some reason to be really enthusiastic about WoW, and they gave me nothing. I know they talked a bit more about future patches in the panel, but even after reading up on that, I’m not seeing anything that new, surprising, or engrossing.

Overwatch had a strong showing, although that isn’t at all interesting to me. Heroes got a new hero, Hearthstone got a new expansion, and StarCraft II got its corpse dragged in front of everyone so they could acknowledge that it still exists.

The Warcraft III remaster — which had been rumored — received some positive reception. I suppose it’s something if we’re not getting Warcraft IV, but again, I’m not that keen to play a game that I played way back when I was still in love with RTS titles. I’ve moved on.

Then there was Diablo. We all knew that this show was going to be Diablo’s moment, and with multiple projects in the works, perhaps we were going to get a lot of reveals. Instead, Blizzard talked up the Nintendo Switch launch and then announced Diablo Immortal, an MMO mobile version.

Now to be fair, this is kind of interesting to me. I’ve really wanted a good Diablo experience on my smartphone ever since I had my first iPhone back in 2009, and I am sure that I’ll be playing this a lot more than I did Diablo III. It does seem like a good toilet break — er, Bio Break — game, doesn’t it? As long as it loads quickly and plays smoothly, I’ll be there. I know it’s a huge disappointment to many, and I get why, but I’m a little more flexible on this because I’m not as passionately invested in the Diablo franchise.

Alas, with that one medium-sized bullet fired, Blizzard slunk off-stage and we weren’t left with much to be that excited about. I suppose that WoW Classic’s demo is supposed to bear the weight of that franchise at this moment, but in a way, that all feels like last year’s announcement leftovers reheated.

I guess it’s a good sign for me that my decision to push WoW to the gaming backburner is justified. There is a lot else to play and a busy month of gaming ahead, so I’ll stay the course and hope that next year’s BlizzCon will give us something to talk about once more.

LOTRO: Preparing for progression servers

I have to say, this whole progression server thing with Lord of the Rings Online didn’t give us a lot of time to prepare for it. Standing Stone Games announced it out of nowhere, delivered a very low-key dev livestream about it, and then told us that the server was going to go live two weeks after the reveal in November. That’s a little worrying and makes me think that (a) SSG isn’t going to test this server at all before turning on the switch, and (b) SSG didn’t really want to hear or react to any community feedback on the server’s particular ruleset.

I mean, I’m really excited about it. I think there’s a lot potential for a new type of community activity for this 11-year-old MMO, and I hope it goes off smoothly. But this is how SSG operates these days: Very little advance warning, little advance communication, and pretty much no reaction to community input. A “our way or the highway” approach. Zoom.

In any case, this all didn’t leave me with a lot of time to prepare, so I scrambled fast to figure out plans. Choosing a race and class turned out to be an agonizing experience, because this wasn’t merely picking some for-fun alt to dink around with. If I was going to be serious about leveling up a new character through the entire game on this server, it had to be a setup that I was going to enjoy and be invested in for the long haul.

I would play whatever class this guy is. He’s easily the most awesome bad guy LOTRO has whipped up to date.

I went back to the drawing board and paged through all of the classes, making lists of pros and cons and playstyles. I watched videos and read recommendation threads. I chatted with kinship people. There were a surprising number of possible candidates that I was considering, including a Captain, Minstrel, Champion, Hunter, Beorning, and Burglar. The Captain was my safety, since I knew I liked the class and had done it before, but that also was a huge negative in that I’d already sunk hundreds of hours into that class.

Beorning was interesting but ultimately not a strong contender. There’s a lot to like about the Burglar, but its lack of long-range DPS and those shrill knife sounds killed it for me. Champion and Hunter both offered high DPS (AOE vs. single-target) and rather simplistic playstyles. But in the end, the Minstrel idea prevailed.

While it does have a big negative with only being able to wear light armor, the Minstrel’s long-range attacks (which include AOEs to boot), self-healing, theme, stuns, and potential group desirability won out. Plus, I loved the idea of slinging a lute over my Hobbit’s back.

Aside from picking a class and making a list of virtues to do, the other big preparation task was to get my Lore-master through Update 23. This was a tall order, but by Friday of last week, I had finished up Dale and Update 22 and started to make headway on the new zones. Reaching level 120 helped a lot, and I simply blocked off larger gaming sessions to do LOTRO and nothing but. I really wanted to get to the end of this so that I could switch over to the progression server alt and not worry about finishing up content until the next update dropped.

By the way, really great story stuff and scenery in Dale and Erebor. I love the idea of returning to the Dwarves after so much Man (and Elf) stuff, and I actually laughed when I encountered my first and second female Dwarf in the game. There were certainly a lot of questlines thrown my way, but I doggedly untangled them and went through each one at a time. Seeing Bilbo’s old fellowship and visiting Thorin’s tomb were highlights, as was the seemingly timely narrative of Easterling refugees trying to come into Dale.

One thing that I’m resolved to do better on the progression server is actually follow up with reputation vendors. I tend to forget these even exist and have probably missed out on a ton of cosmetics, decor, and other items while my wallet got fat with lots of currency. I noticed this when I went to the Dale vendor and went on a post-zone spending spree. Got a few gear upgrades and some fun decor, and I was slapping myself on the head and thinking, “Why haven’t I been doing this regularly?” I might have to go back on that character and see what I have missed.

Other than all that, the only thing left for preparations is to find a kinship. I’m waiting to see if Lonely Mountain Band will be creating a chapter on that server. If not, I guess I’ll need to go shoppin’.

Grim Fandango: Year One

You voted, I listened. After putting out there three possible candidates for a Halloween season retro playthrough, my Twitter followers selected LucasArt’s cult classic adventure game Grim Fandango for a romp.

That’s perfectly fine with me. My dirty secret is that I never got to finish GF. I owned it back in the day but the game glitched out on me a quarter of the way through and I wasn’t able to continue and complete my adventures. Then I threw it on the pile of “I really should go back and replay the whole thing” and kind of forgot about it. But now that there’s a remastered version on GOG.com and I have some time to retro game again, the excuses end here!

Grim Fandango was a really hard sell back in 1998 when it first came out. The whole premise of an adventure game themed to Mexico’s Day of the Dead was really strange (and even Pixar seemed to have difficulty wooing the masses with its talking skeleton flick Coco). I thought it was a wonderfully original idea, and the fact that it was created by Psychonauts’ Tim Schafer bumped it up in my estimation. Anyway, does it still hold up today, especially with old school adventure game mechanics? Let’s see!

The opening minutes lays out the bizarre premise here. Manny is a faux Grim Reaper in the underworld who works as a “travel agent” for the Department of Death to sell packages to the recently deceased who are about to embark on a four-year journey to find their eternal rest. Manny, however, is stuck doing this dead-end (heh) job until he makes enough money to work off some sort of debt.

One of the cool features of the remastered version is an audio developer commentary that can be toggled on so that every once in a while you can hear the team discuss various aspects of the game.

Grim Fandango is a wonderful mash-up of unlikely bedfellows, including film noir, the Aztec believe in the afterlife, and art deco, and all three of these influences run through the entire game. It’s such a unique look that has one foot in some version of our reality and one in another one entirely.

Anyway! The game! So Manny is not doing that well in the DOD, unable to land any big clients or make much money at all. Over the course of the first couple of hours, he discovers that this is because there’s something sinister going on in the DOD, as the best clients are always given to his rival Domino. Manny’s not without resources, and so befriends a beefy demon driver named Glottis and uncovers an underground revolutionary movement devoted to rooting out the truth.

While this is one of those adventure games where you can’t die (unlike most of Sierra’s crop), the puzzles can often be very fiendish and require a lot of experimentation and backtracking to solve. What I appreciate about Grim Fandango is that the interface is really streamlined — absent, for the most part. Manny’s head will turn toward any objects of note and the enter key will interact with people, things, etc. He does have a simple inventory, but no more than a half-dozen objects are in it at any given time.

At one point, Manny does return to the land of the living to reap a soul, and there we’re treated to this hellish display. I thought it really showed the imagination of the game’s developers, that the real world is the abnormal one while the underworld is, well, more acceptable to us.

Another imaginative twist is that “killing” the undead skeletons here requires shooting them with a special gun loaded with sprouts. The resulting flowers puts the dead to a permanent rest.

This is also a deeply weird and funny game, which is what we’ve all come to expect from a Schafer production. Some of the quotes here are just gold.

Eventually Manny crosses paths with a noteworthy client — a lady named Meche — who was a living saint and deserves nothing less than the best afterlife. However, it’s then that Manny discovers that the DOD has been stealing these rewards from good people and reselling them for a mysterious figure. Meche takes off on her four-year spiritual journey, and Manny soon follows after.

The rest of Manny’s first year takes place in a petrified forest (which wasn’t anything special) and a rather run-down port town named Rubacava. It’s here that he stops his journey for a while, becomes a businessman, and upgrades the place to a bustling port of call.

Syp’s gaming goals for November

October 2018 in review

  • Generally, this was a pretty good month of gaming as my new schedule started to solidify and I settled into life here in western NY.
  • While I got my gear up to around 340 in World of Warcraft, I started to feel listless and bored with Battle for Azeroth. Thus, I decided to spin down a bit in that game.
  • Lord of the Rings Online got an increased amount of attention from me as I logged in nearly every day. I finally pushed through Northern Mirkwood and got through most of Dale with my Lore-master.
  • Our Dungeons and Dragons Online group had a few fun play sessions together — mostly doing Halloween stuff — and I had fun hanging with Guild Wars 2 peeps as we ran spider races and beat down the Mad King.
  • Almost out of the blue, I got back into Star Wars: The Old Republic. I made a new Sniper and started working her up through the class story, getting to around level 35.
  • Other gaming: Rimworld, Grim Fandango (for retro gaming), Clash Royale, and Bloons 6.

November goals

  • I’m truly excited about two major launches this month. The first is LOTRO’s new progression server, which I’ll be diving into enthusiastically. Probably with a Hobbit. Most likely a Minstrel. I’m actually in a really good place in my interest level for the game right now and am looking forward to experiencing it all over again.
  • The second is the release of Fallout 76 in the middle of the month. No specific plans with this other than to enjoy the ride and have fun exploring. I really hope this will scratch that post-apocalyptic MMO itch I’ve had for a while.
  • I keep mulling over FFXIV and Elder Scrolls Online, but I know I’ll be more than busy this month — and I don’t want to spend more money than I have to with the holidays coming up.
  • I’d be really happy with myself if I finished the core Imperial Agent story in SWTOR and started in on the expansions by the end of the month. It’s amazing how fast you can go when you’re not stopping to do every piddly sidequest and datacron.
  • I’m going to continue to work (half-heartedly) toward Dark Iron Dwarves in WoW, and I’m sure I’ll hook up with DDO and GW2 groups from time to time.
  • I also really need to get Stardew Valley on my iPad.