KOTOR 2: Nar Shaddaa part 3

(This is part of my journey going playing through Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Things are coming to a head in Nar Shaddaa, which is both an exciting and dangerous time. Well, let’s go walk into a trap!

Atton rushes after me with a few medpacks and a completely unnecessary sentiment about being careful. I can’t take him very seriously, as his Dark Side corruption and side head-thingies make him look like an emo raver. Back to the ship with ye!

You know what’s one big difference between KOTOR 1 and 2? The sequel has a LOT more cutscenes and isn’t afraid to keep splitting up the party and having you control just one character (and not only your main). Hanharr approaches me and offers the terms of an alliance, and because I’ve always wanted a psychotic Wookiee at my side, I eagerly agree.

Meanwhile, Mr. Caution heads to a bar instead of back to the ship and promptly gets ambushed by the assassin Twi’leks. Let me say, this is the most brutally difficult fight in the game so far. I’d go so far as to say that it’s impossible with normal tactics. Atton’s single blaster can’t cope with two targets swinging swords at him, and it’s too crowded to throw grenades.

So basically, you have to cheat. There are two suggested solutions. The first is to scout out the bar before this scene and plant mines everywhere so that the sisters roll into them and die. I didn’t know about this and don’t have enough mines anyway, so that’s out. The second is to scoot around the bar and then fire away at an enemy too dumb to follow. Yeah, it’s an exploit, but I’ll take it.

Meanwhile, with Hanharr at my back, I boldly stroll into the trap and… get knocked out instantly by Mira the Good Bounty Hunter. She takes my place in the spacesuit for some stupid reason, which doesn’t help her cause because she soon gets captured afterward.

I, on the other hand, wake up in the apartment of the Jedi I was trying to find all along. He is super-duper-impressed that I found him, a sentiment that I share because I didn’t find him so much as “wake up from a drug-induced coma to see his droopy moustache hanging above me.

I won’t lie; Nar Shaddaa feels like it’s been going on a little too long and I have started to lose track of what I’m doing, who all of these bounty hunters/exchange mob bosses are, and why I should care. I guess the ultimate target is ol’ squid head here. My ace in the hole is standing just over his shoulder.

For the second time now, I make my way to this poison air bar. Not even gas masks help, but apparently now my magical bag of Jedi tricks spat out a new “Force breathing” ability that will make me a champion at free diving contests.

As I said before, this game isn’t afraid to send you solo to jack up the difficulty, and this bar is a stiff challenge because of that, the ever-present poison gas, and wave after wave of bad guys. I have to take it slow to make sure my force points replenish for heals, because I’m direly low on health packs. What’s on my side is the fact that all of these mobs are pretty weak and ineffectual in their attacks.

Once I make it through the bar and the ensuing maze (yes, that lovely RPG staple) in the underground tunnels, the story shifts over to Hanharr and Mira. Squid Head pits both of them in a battle to the death, out of which Hanharr emerges triumphant. I assume this is because he’s the dark side character and my character has definitely fallen on that side of the spectrum.

Here I get to control Hanharr as my character, and let me tell you, this guy is a BEAST. He’s melee, but he takes enemies apart so darn quickly that I can’t fault him. Wish I could play a Wookiee for the entire game.

This whole sequence is rather breathtaking in its pacing. It keeps switching back and forth between different playable characters: Hanharr, my Jedi, and Anton’s B-squad. You actually do get the feeling of urgency and movement from this, and isolating characters for parts brings out vulnerability and uncertainty in the player. Can I do this? What if I can’t heal through it? After all, if my one character dies, it’s game over. I don’t have a full team most of the time to balance combat situations out.

Egads, this Nar Shaddaa climax just keeps going on and on and on. There are so many cutscenes and character transitions that I think it would be wise to create a flow chart. The short version: Squid Head is betrayed by the mysterious Goto for betraying him, and I get knocked out for probably the 17th time in the last hour.

Meanwhile Kreia shows up to torture and force-blackmail Hanharr into being my helper — until she needs him, of course. Dun dun DUNNNN. You know what, I’m starting to think she’s evil. Pretty much most of my crew is evil, and not just “kind of bad” but “actively working for the bad guys I’m fighting against.” Why don’t I just cut these people loose and go my own way?

To meet Goto (which is a thing I want to do, supposedly), a convoluted plan is hatched to change the transponder codes on the Ebon Hawk to one of the Hutt’s freighters so that Goto captures it and then we infiltrate from the inside. Or we could just go get slushies? Anyone? Fine. Stupid plan anyway.

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The new Star Trek series that isn’t behind a paywall!

Hey kids! Are you jonesing for a new Star Trek series but you can’t swipe mommy’s credit card to pay for CBS All Access? Then we’ve got a free option for you!

Tune in to Star Trek: Joyride, a brand-new, multi-million dollar series here on Bio Break! Free with no commercial interruptions, we might add. It follows the adventures of Crickety, a snarky Starfleet ensign who — against all common sense — is given command of her very own trillion-credit starship right out of the academy. With no restraint holding her back and a bridge crew that is too afraid of her cutting intensity to challenge her authority, Crickety goes on an interstellar joyride to see what trouble she can get into this week!

Oh yeah, Crickety makes graduating look good. She’s no trust fund baby, but instead a tortured soul who ate the last four Mary Sues she came across. Her mother was a one-eyed vampire. Her father was a blue space cricket. Her best friend was Borg Spock from the mirror universe.

Cap’n Crickety does what she wants, when she wants, because she has the impulse control of a baboon. Check out episode two, “Fun and Games,” where she receives a distress call to help a freighter under attack. When her away team beams aboard, she challenges her crew to a game of lethal laser tag. The prize? Whatever loot they can grab from this rusty bucket before it explodes!

Oh, Star Trek: Joyride is certain to be canceled after six episodes, but Crickety is going to make those adventures count and leave a deep and oozing scar on the surface of the Federation. In episode three, “Forbidden Love,” she steals a sentient shuttlecraft and takes it on a series of romantic dates across the galaxy. Will she say “I do” before the authorities catch up with her? Tune in and find out!

6 MMO regrets I have

We all have regrets about many things in life, and for the most part, there’s nothing to be done about them (unless there is). What’s past is past, as they say, and it might seem silly to harbor any regrets whatsoever when it comes to video games.

But you know what? I have a few. Not a lot, but a few that I wish I could have gone back to correct, mostly so that I wouldn’t have missed out on a few things. When it comes to MMOs, here are six regrets that I still keep tucked inside.

1. Not really knowing about MMOs in the 1990s

Most of my (scant) gaming information in the 1990s came either from friends or the occasional issue of PC Gamer. And I honestly don’t recall if I ever saw anything mentioned about online gaming. It might have been there and I might have ignored it, since I didn’t really get my own internet connection until 1999. Still, it is regrettable that I was ignorant of things like text-based MUDs, Ultima Online, and other early pioneers of MMOs. I think I would’ve flipped at the novelty if I had known at the time.

2. Being too afraid to get into MMOs

There were two primary factors of why it took me a little longer than it should’ve to get into MMOs. The first was being on dial-up until the mid-2000s (what’s a cable modem?) and the second was allowing myself to be intimidated by the complexity and arcane interfaces of the few games that existed. I must have picked up EverQuest and Asheron’s Call boxes dozens of times to look them over and then put them back because I didn’t want to buy 6 expansions and try to figure out how to play without any sort of guide.

3. Skipping out on Star Wars Galaxies

In hindsight, I really should’ve been all over this game. I was primed for MMO gaming by 2003, I always loved the Star Wars franchise, and gradually this game grew to include a lot of features that I think I would’ve enjoyed (like housing and space combat). But reading the Prima guide prior to launch made SWG sound like the most boring, needlessly complex, and aimless game ever, and I wanted no part of it. Later on, it felt like it was too late to join the party, and eventually it closed down entirely. #regret

4. Not sticking with City of Heroes longer

Don’t get me wrong, I played the heck out of City of Heroes for the first couple of years, but that was back in the subscription-only era and I ended up choosing World of Warcraft later on. I have great memories from those early years but I do wish that I had maintained better contact with the MMO in its last half-decade or so. I miss that game.

5. Rerolling so often that I have a hard time getting characters through an MMO

Granted, this doesn’t happen all of the time, and there are plenty of occasions where I do level up a character to the cap (even multiple times), but when I think of all of the characters that I ditched and the time spent on them that could’ve been used to something a little more long-lasting, I wince.

6. Not being able to play all of the MMOs that I want to

This is a total pampered gamer whine and feel free to ignore it, but I’m constantly racked by mild self-doubt over the fact that I’m playing Game A when Game B is getting ignored while still moving forward without me. Some days, you just want to play All The Things.

Can MMOs ever insert roleplaying during quests?

As someone who never had enough friends into roleplaying games to be a part of a genuine D&D group, my childhood impressions of tabletop gaming pretty much begins and ends with the above scene in E.T. and whatever I could imagine from gaming manuals.

Wait… what WAS going on in this scene? They’re playing D&D… while drinking Tab and coffee… and smoking… and there is a can of Raid there? I think these kids have a death pact. That totally changes E.T. for me.

Anyway, my impressions of an average pen-and-paper roleplaying experience is that it’s not just wall-to-wall fighting. There is interaction between characters and NPCs, characters and each other, and characters and the world (as well as characters and “god,” AKA the game master). That outlines the four realms of potential conflict, by the way. Players reason through situations, act as their character would act, attempt creative and unorthodox solutions on occasion, and make choices that would result in greater ramifications.

Thinking of this leaves a hole in my average MMORPG experience, because there is almost never any choice, any deviation, any interaction aside from “click the glowies” and “kill the baddies” during a quest. There especially isn’t any actual mid-quest roleplay aside from a precious few MMOs that have gone out of their way, and even then, only on occasion (DDO, STO, and SWTOR come to mind). Maybe the quest systems aren’t flexible enough. Maybe the devs have metrics showing players get bored with such things. I don’t know. But I do miss seeing quests develop in interesting ways according to the choices, words, and actions we take.

Somewhat related to this topic is a recent Extra Credits video, which challenges games to give our characters moments where we take stock of what we’ve done and why we’ve done it — even and especially if we’ve been murder machines up to that point. I often employ this tack while blogging as a humorous way to comment on the kill-happy, excuse-lite nature of MMORPGs, but it really could make our questing experience more interesting.

I remember a long time ago, back in my Warhammer Online days, I was beating on a drum for the notion of a branching quest. This would be a repeatable quest that changed based on “choose my adventure” picks as you went along. There was incentive to repeat it to see how the story played out differently, and perhaps even extra rewards if you got all of the different endings. Still haven’t seen much along those lines. EverQuest Next’s Storybricks hinted at such flexible flowchart adventures, but that’s a “what if” that will never be.

There’s this Transylvania quest in Secret World Legends where the final step is to find another player and share a story with him or her. Even though this is actually just a clickable item that bestows some sort of buff on you both, I like the thought of the quest requiring some interaction with others — to show them something, not to group with them. It was a glimmer of a different social angle than we normally get.

Letting players craft their own stories and take on the roles of dungeon masters would be another way to weave more lore, choices, and interactions in quests. Some games have taken stabs at this, but we still aren’t living in an age where there is a highly popular and refined example of such a system.

If more quests had choices and interactions that were something other than killing-related, then it would open up a lot more opportunities for characters to grow and develop as more rounded individuals. We wouldn’t be merely trying to max out DPS, but could be concerned about our prowess when it came to adventuring obstacles, background characteristics, technological challenges, social interactions, and the like. And it should be integrated with quests, not segregated like WildStar’s path system.

I guess I don’t have a solid solution or even a reasonable conclusion here. I don’t want to abolish the quest system, I want to see it jump forward in what it offers and to take a cue from tabletop gaming to offer more of an actual “roleplay” experience than what we usually see.

Secret World: The Morninglight burns

Yeah you keep on talking to that teddy bear, you Orochi loon. Meanwhile, I’m going to actually be doing something productive.

So — and keep in mind it’s been a while for me since I’ve been in this part of Transylvania — but I don’t remember Carpathian Fangs being rather light on its content offerings. It definitely has fewer quest givers and overall missions than the previous two zones, although this might be due to the story going faster and being more guided at this point. It’s all good; it’s a pretty enough place, but I don’t feel a need to linger.

I’ve been blowing through quest after quest, again right now focusing on main missions rather than side ones. I think once I get to Tokyo I might do side missions if I run out of other things to do, but time’s a-ticking and I shouldn’t dally.

For the life of me, both times I’ve seen this cutscene, the vampire queen Mara here looks like some pop star on the way to a performance. Fangs and teeth, so very pale, and so very angry.

Of course, this zone is notable for being the place where we really start encountering and interacting with Emma. She’s a curious mixture of helpless girl, prophet, and superhero-in-disguise. There’s a lot of pain and loneliness and confusion in her too, which I guess fosters a sense of protection on the part of the player. Heaven knows that we’ve had our share of books and movies where a strong character has to watch over a kid. Maybe Logan will take her under his adamantium wing.

The insertion of a few Morninglight beats feels a tad out of place, but then, the whole Morninglight story doesn’t ever flow well until you get to Tokyo. It just pops up here and there, awkward and confusing.

I will tell you one thing. Out of all of the mysteries and secrets that Secret World has raised so far, the actual identity and look of Morninglight leader Philip Marquad is at the top of my list. He’s absolutely shrouded in secrecy and I think that there’s a huge reveal waiting for us.

This was an unexpected surprise. As a grand master, I get a free cache key every day, which to this date hasn’t really netted me anything much more than some currency, potions, and the occasional purple weapons upgrade bag. But this past week? I got both boots and a jacket from the cyberpunk set.

And that called for a new outfit! I have to say that I am totally head over heels for this jacket, so I mix-and-matched with some of my Gaia gear to make it all work. I am thrilled with the end result and might have to stick with this from now on.

I might have skipped over Cost of Magic, but I actually tackled The Castle the other night. And you know what? It wasn’t so bad this time. Maybe it got tweaked a little bit in the translation, but I only got caught once at the beginning and had no problem with navigating the rest of it — and even fighting the boss at the end. Capping that quest felt like a small victory in and of itself.

Seven (actually 14) MMOs that I confuse all the time

Writing news day in and day out about the MMORPG industry — and all of its loosely associated genres — means that you get a lot of weird and random information stuffed into your head. It’s not like you’re covering just a handful of games, but literally hundreds and hundreds of different ones. And one consequence of this, aside from me forgetting my kids’ names because I know several dozen MMO twitter handles by memory, is that there are some games that are very easy to confuse. Especially — and I want to stress this — if you are not playing them.

Here are seven pairs — 14 titles total — that I am forever mixing up like I do when I have to figure out if that girl is named Elana or Elaina.

1. Warframe and Warface

Obviously, some of the entries on this list are going to be name similarities, and these two evil candidates are out to get me. They’re both actiony-shooty MMOs with “warf___e” as a title, but that’s where the similarities end. One’s a sci-fi alien gonzo fest that’s insanely popular, and the other is a more grounded (though not entirely) military shooter that’s slightly less popular.

2. Saga of Lucimia and Legends of Aria/Shards Online

I don’t exactly know why I keep muddling these two titles. I think it’s in part the fact that they’re both these in-development indie MMOs that we don’t hear from a whole lot and share some DNA (more hardcore, more PvP). Lucimia is the one that makes a bigger deal out of darkness and grouping and Aria is a more attractive-looking, semi-isometric deal. But I’m sure I’ll continue to confuse the two.

3. Valiance Online and City of Titans

I don’t have a big dog in the whole “City of Heroes spiritual successor” fight. I think it’s a tad silly that there are all of these indie spin-offs that don’t just band together to make one awesome superhero MMO, but oh well. And for the life of me, Valiance and Titans feel completely interchangable in my memory. I have to pull them up to get a handle on the visual differences and design choices, but they’re both kind of City of Heroes-lite to me (for now).

4. Paladins and Paragon

You don’t have to tell me that these aren’t the same game, but by virtue that they’re both colorful PvP-centric titles that emerged on the scene near to each other aids in mixing them up. I actually am rooting for both and love the focus on personality and art styles, but I wish my head would keep them straight.

5. Age of Wushu and Age of Wulin

Both are the same MMO sandbox. Sort of. But they have different development tracks and ownership. Wushu is America and Wulin is Europe, I believe. Keeping track of the different versions gives me a headache.

6. Black Desert and Blade and Soul

To be honest, it isn’t as much of a problem these days with these games having been out for well over a year now, but before they were, I kept tripping over the “BL” names and would occasionally mix them up.

7. Alganon and Istaria

Smaller and less popular MMOs that we only occasionally cover can be confusing, as with these. Alganon is Derek Smart’s lackluster MMO and Istaria is the one that used to be Horizons and lets you play as a dragon.

Playing with power, SNES Classic power!

I was not in a happy place last Friday morning. I had just stayed up until 12:30 to see if I could snag one of the SNES Classics when (if?) they went on sale online. But no dice; everything was taken. By morning, it looked like the scalpers had moved in, and I wasn’t able to camp out at the store to get what I assumed were limited units.

So a bit bummed but hey, it’s just a game — a game system that meant an awful lot to me when I was a kid and I’d love to have in this format. I went to work, called Target an hour later, and was told that they were out. Again, I assumed everyone else would be too, at least until Aywren mentioned on Twitter that Best Buys and Toys R Uses had some nice stock. And lo and behold, when I called Best Buy they said they still had them in stock. Could it be that easy? Just drive down, walk in, and buy one like a civilized gamer? Turns out… yes, it could be.

It was a little surreal to finally have it after all of these months. And even though I have my Retro Pi set up, it’s still pretty nice to have this setup. The controls are perfect, the save states wonderful, and the little touches that they added to the software are great. Sure, I wish they had Turtles IV and Chrono Trigger and Zombies Ate Our Neighbors, but it’s a pretty great lineup. There are actually a few games on my “I’ve never played and would love to beat” list here — Super Metroid, Final Fantasy III, Secret of Mana, and Earthbound mostly — and I appreciate that they aren’t any weird reworked edition.

It’s pretty great to have it on the big TV, but about five minutes after I turned it on, the system had been hijacked by my children. That’s fine, part of the joy of this is sharing something that I’ve always loved with my kids and seeing these games through their eyes. Super Mario Kart, Super Mario World, and Street Fighter II were the initial favorites in the Syp household. Two-player Mario became pretty heated as they kept shouting instructions to each other. Helpful instructions. You know, “JUMP! JUMP NOW! GET THE SHEEEEEELLLL!”

Other than letting them have time to enjoy a couple of titles and take turns, I spent that first night flipping through several of the games — especially the ones I hadn’t played before — to see what’s what. I really do appreciate that the system just automatically saves wherever you left off, so I can jump back in and not have to start over again. I also appreciate that it’s very small and can be tucked away on top of our entertainment center without causing a fuss.

It’s probably not going to replace the Gamecube for the kids (especially with only two controllers), but I have no regrets about getting and owning it. I think it would’ve gnawed at me if I hadn’t, as weird as that is to say, and it could be a perfect portable system if we went anywhere as a family and needed to bring some quick entertainment along.