Battle Bards Episode 103: Wurm Online

You think you’ve heard strange MMORPG soundtracks before, but Wurm Online is about to take you to the odd frontier. With two distinctive soundtracks that skew away from typical composition, Wurm baffles, amuses, and bewitches the Battle Bards in today’s show!

Episode 103 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Sunrise,” “Long Summer,” and “Traveling”)
  • “Waking Up”
  • “Why You Dive”
  • “Abandon the Hill”
  • “Flatland Stride”
  • “They Wait Back Home”
  • “Along the Broken Ridge”
  • “Village Work Song”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox Picks: “Stormblood Theme” from Final Fantasy XIV, “Shipwreck Creek” from Yooka Laylee, and “The Path” from The Last of Us
  • Outro (feat. “Disband Deed”)

Was Secret World Legends’ reboot worth it?

I think it’s fine to admit that I’m slowing down with the whole one-zone-per-week plan that I initially had with Secret World Legends. I feel more at peace with a less frantic pace now that I’m back to Transylvania, and so I log in most nights to do a handful of quests and feel accomplished for that.

I also did one of the Whispering Tide fights out of curiosity, but I’ve done this fight so many times back in TSW that it doesn’t hold any appeal — nor does the loot boxes. I’d rather be spending that time working on missions, so that’s what I do.

But as I’m boldly strutting through Transylvania, I’m also finding more time to reflect on the overall success or failure of this reboot project. Now that we have some distance from the launch and subsequent Steam release, it seems a good time for this.

So was it worth it? Was the reboot worth uprooting an entire game population, forcing them to restart and adapt to new mechanics and systems?

I suppose that question could be answered many ways from many perspectives, so let’s go through some of the more obvious ones.

Was it worth it for the added press and publicity? Well, it’s certainly given Funcom something else to promote other than Conan Exiles this summer, and it’s definitely gained more attention from MMORPG sites, bloggers, and more mainstream gaming sites. But unless Funcom can announce some big numbers or other boastful facts, it’s not going to have anything super-exciting to reveal until it gets its next zone (i.e. the first real new content that’s not just carried over from TSW).

Was it worth it for a financial boost? No idea. Again, unless Funcom announces something substantial, we won’t know until the next earnings report. This is what I’m holding my breath for. If it’s a big uptick, we can hope that the resulting fall-off will still be better than what TSW was doing.

Was it worth it for the “improved” combat and game systems? Here’s where opinion comes more into play, and I’m very divided over it. Generally, I’ve gotten used to how this version of Secret World functions, and it doesn’t feel any more or less enjoyable than it used to be. Combat is still sloggy and limited (especially as you work up in zones), the visuals look exactly the same, and what few quality-of-life improvements there are don’t seem worth the fuss of doing all of this. Probably my biggest complaint — which has grown as I’ve played — is how utterly boring most of the combat skills are. In TSW, it was actually pretty cool to fiddle about with builds. Here, I’ve settled into something that works early on, but there doesn’t seem to be anything that has that “wow” factor that you kind of want to see in classes and builds.

I’m not angry with the game or anything, but two months in now, I can’t say that Funcom has convinced me that this was the best way to go about turning the game around. The gear upgrade system is so grindy that I don’t bother with it most days, leaving it as a chore to be tackled when I can summon the energy.

But. It’s still The Secret World. It’s still the quests and stories that I love. And we game in hope and on the promises of the devs working on the next phase of the game. I want to see where all of this goes, but I have a while to go yet before I’m ready for it. I try hard not to think about the fact that I *was* ready with a very capable character not just three months ago. Now I’m leveling through it again and asking myself, “Was it worth it?”

Yes. No. I hope so.

LOTRO: Finishing up Udûn

Finding a table for three in this country is a real pain in the eye.

I might not be the fastest or even the wiliest adventurer in Middle-earth, but I am pleased to report that I’ve finished up all of the quests in Udûn — the first of the five new zones for LOTRO: Mordor. I wasn’t in that much of a rush, just logging in to enjoy the story, take my time methodically checking off task items, and exploring this dark and often surprising land.

I guess I expected much what most people were with Mordor: A lot of volcano, a lot of ash, and a lot of angry orcs. And to be fair, there is that, but there’s also a lot more. I think underestimating Mordor or oversimplifying it as a “bad guy endgame zone” is a mistake. As much of a mistake as some of the scavenger NPCs who are rushing into the country looking for spoils of war and assuming that now that Sauron is gone, all aggression and evil has folded up shop.

What we’re discovering is that the truth is anything but. The machinery of war and its supporting systems continue to tick, and a massive power vacuum opens itself to be filled by various nasties. Maybe they’re not Sauron, but they’re not exactly pansey pushovers either.

Udûn got a lot better the further in I got, thanks to gear that helped bring my Lore-master up to spec. On one memorable night, I joined up with a group of five other players to utterly destroy one of the forges from within and plunder all of the quests that it had to offer. We had an absolute blast steamrolling the bad guys and joking around. See? I can be social on occasion.

A few of the quests were a little too difficult due to being unrefined or bugged, but for the most part, I had little problems getting all of them done. I’ll tell you, by the time I was done, I knew that entire zone inside and out.

And while there is absolutely nothing attractive or beautiful about Udûn, it isn’t as oppressive or boring as I had first assumed. The three forges that serve as public dungeons of sorts are incredibly detailed and impressive, and I think a large part of my fascination is finally getting to look “behind the scenes” at Sauron’s operation, to see what an evil pit of a country looks like and how it functions.

It’s deeply satisfying to have no more quests in the zone and to be able to move on. My character is geared up decently now, at least for questing, and I’ve gotten four levels out of the area. I also appreciated that one of the main missions took me far out of Mordor for a bit of Middle-earth excursions. Granted, that excursion brought be back to Angmar, so it wasn’t like I was jumping for joy, but scenery change is appreciated when you are logging into the same place day in and day out.

My 6 favorite World of Warcraft pets

I have a particular fondness for vanity pets in MMORPGs. Sure, I know they’re silly fluff, but they’re an added bit of personal customization and expression, plus I enjoy how they trot faithfully along with me no matter what fire-blasted hellscape I visit. So I wanted to share my favorite pets in each MMO I play, starting with World of Warcraft!

1. Egbert

Egbert is a total doof. He can’t ever hatch out of his shell, so he’s running around like a madman, er, madbird with it still on. He’s ugly in a cute way with those bulging eyes, and every so often he gets hung up on a particular place while you go ahead, and then he all-out sprints to catch back up with you. At least I think that’s a feature instead of a bug!

2. Willy

Willy and Egbert seem to go together (I think they’re both Children’s Week pets, but I can’t be bothered to look it up right now). He’s a dorky beholder-like thing, with tiny tentacles, an oversized front tooth, and a bewildered expression. I’m not usually one to use flying pets (I don’t like the camera interference), but I like how Willy once in a while will zap a critter. He’s pretty awesome that way.

3. Macabre Marionette

I enjoy pets that actually do things and have fun animations, and this one is all about that. This skeleton continually rocks out as if he was at a metal concert (I think it’s also the Forsaken male dance emote). He’s fun for dungeon runs when I need a team cheerleader urging us on.

4. Perky Pug

I grew up with a pug and had another one as a young adult, so I’m really fond of these stupid dogs. This one gets all the pugisms just right, including the wagging curly tail and scooting his butt across the carpet.

5. Netherspawn, Son of Netherspawn

First of all, best name ever. Doesn’t make much sense unless it’s talking about slimes reproducing asexually, but still, great name. Second, I always wanted a slime pet back when they were extremely hard to get due to a low drop rate (I tried grinding for them but gave up). Third, the squealchy sounds it makes as it moves is both creepy and delightful.

6. Sinister Squashling

It’s an ambulatory Jack-O-Lantern! I have always adored this pet, with it’s wild animations, its unique look, and the fact that it occasionally “disguises” itself as a regular Jack-O-Lantern. It’s one of my most-used while adventuring, so you’ll probably see me with it more than the other pets.

Does WildStar have a chance?

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about WildStar. It’s been a while since I’ve THOUGHT about WildStar. That’s not willful ignorance; WildStar simply doesn’t come up much these days in the news or among MMO bloggers. I think the game got out two or three patches last year and keeps faithfully turning on and off events, but it’s relatively quiet for a relatively newer MMORPG.

If WildStar comes up in conversation, honestly, it’s because everyone is collectively amazed it’s still running. NCsoft is not known for its long patience with underperforming western MMOs, and yet it’s kept the lights on at Carbine far longer than we would have assumed. Free-to-play helped, but it wasn’t that much of a sustained bump to really send it rocketing up in the charts… and it’s been trailing downward ever since. Quarter after quarter, it was bringing less money, which no doubt meant fewer players, until NCsoft finally lumped WildStar in with their “other games” category and stopped reporting on it separately.

So what’s going on behind the scenes? Carbine had a lot of layoffs, and that coupled with the much slower patch cadence, I think it’s safe to assume that WildStar is operating with a skeletal crew at the helm. Maybe small enough operating costs that it keeps Carbine in the black, somewhat justifies the game’s existence. But why NCsoft doesn’t just kill it? I have a few theories, but nothing strong. Maybe the studio is waiting for a specific time, maybe there’s a license or agreement or timed something involved. Maybe NCsoft doesn’t want the PR black eye of shutting down a game right now. Maybe WildStar is actually doing better than what we assume. Maybe there are secret plans to bring the game to a new region or NCsoft is looking to sell it. All of that seems flimsy to me.

But the net result is there’s a real lack of gamer confidence in WildStar. If I’ve seen this conversation on Reddit once, I’ve seen it a hundred times — someone asking about the game, if it’s good, if it’s still worth playing, and others responding that it’s surprisingly solid and entertaining but has a diminished population and an irreperably tarnished reputation among the MMORPG community. F2P or no, it doesn’t seem like people are flocking back, and WildStar doesn’t have the luxury of a large pool of nostalgic veterans primed for a return one day.

It pains me to think of this. It pains me to write it. There are so many wonderful things about WildStar that it’s a shame that it ended up so disgraced and ignored. It’s brimming with personality, with an original setting, with great music, with some of the best player housing that this genre has ever seen, with some terrific alien races. But the failure in overall design and mismanagement from the studio during its development and first two years of operation pummeled any hope this game had.

I’d love to say that I was tempted to go back, but I’m not. I’m just too worried about WildStar’s continued existence to divest my time and effort into playing a character. If I think its likely that a game could get its plug pulled any day now, then it really hampers my interest.

I don’t know what could happen to bring WildStar back from the brink. If it has the luxury of time — and who really knows right now — then solid patches, positive word-of-mouth recommendations, and maybe a splashy event or expansion in the future might be the long-term path to survival and to flourish. But if Steam and F2P couldn’t really change the course, I don’t know what will. Only the fact that NCsoft hasn’t canned it yet makes me think that there’s a glimmer of a chance that there’s something in the works for its future.

I wish it hadn’t gone down this way. I had a great time in WildStar and if it ever went under, it will be a blow. I also wish it had been better managed from the start and that it erred to be more casual than hardcore, but here we are. And there it is.

Retro Reprise Episode 12: Offbeat NES music tracks

When it comes to talking about the music from the original NES, everyone seems to always reference the same games. But what about those “other” titles with interesting and memorable soundtracks that get ignored? In today’s show, Syp pulls out 10 offbeat NES music tracks that you might have never heard of — but definitely should! Buckle up, Retro Reprise is about to go off the beaten path and into the wild unknown!

Episode 12: Offbeat NES music tracks (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro
  • “Theme” from Rambo
  • “Theme” from Pictionary
  • “Coralcola Village” from StarTropics 2
  • “Duel” from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
  • “Towering Catastrophe” from Monsters in my Pocket
  • “Running Through the Blue Fields” from Strider
  • “House Theme 3” from A Nightmare on Elm Street
  • “Good Weather” from Mr. Gimmick!
  • “Salvage Chute” from Bucky O’Hare
  • “Strange Woman” from Uninvited
  • Outro (“Mini-Game” from Pictionary)

6 worst quests in Secret World Legends

As you well know, I adore The Secret World in any of its incarnations and the inventive, narrative-driven quests that it offers. But with all of the effort applied to making increasingly intricate missions with elements that we haven’t experienced before, sometimes the team went a little overboard in making a quest too hard, too frustrating, or too obtuse.

Today, let’s go through my personal list of the six worst quests I’ve experienced in the game to date!

1. Hell and Bach

This one hits players early as a Savage Coast quest at the Overlook Hotel, and it is supremely annoying. You have to interact with no less than four different diagrams across the game world, inputting a specific sequence of symbols for each to progress. Get one wrong, and you start over. And there’s some trial-and-error with these, so that is the pits too.

It just takes a long while and every time I’ve done it, I’ve sworn that this was the last that I was going to bother with it. No more, no thank you.

2. The Castle

I’ve not been shy about voicing my displeasure over the sabotage missions in this game. You can’t brute-force your way through them; you have to stealth and sneak and then enjoy getting caught and starting all over again. The Castle is a lengthy and challenging mission in this regard, although I’m sure repeating it a few dozen times would trivialize it somewhat. I loathed it and am not looking forward to doing it again in the near future. Exploring a vampire castle should be WAY more fun than this.

3. The Bank Heist

Another horrible, stupid sabotage mission that involves moonwalking over pressure plates and figuring out ways past robotic sentries and extremely limited time windows. Do it right, it can be a breeze, but I spent two of the worst hours I’ve ever had in this game banging my head against this mission. It’s incredibly unforgivable.

4. In The Dusty Dark

Sometimes a Secret World mission can be long. Very long. Like, “sit down and read a 500-page novel” long. In The Dusty Dark is one of these, a marathon trek through the interior of a pyramid. While some of the rooms are neat, all require puzzle solving, and the other rooms can take shy of forever to finish. And the big finale is a journey through a labyrinth infested with unkillable monsters and various traps. Words cannot express how much I loathe this mission. I skipped it in SWL, because I’m a grown-up and I can.

5. The Cost of Magic

Yeah, everyone’s favorite mission, right? Well, everyone’s favorite mission to gripe about. It’s like a badge of honor to have finished this quest and then get to whine about it to the internet at large, so consider this mine. For starters, it has multiple stages, each one with its own frustrating mechanic. There are knock-offs from high platforms, disappearing jumping platforms, a deadly toxic swamp, traps to be avoided, and so on. It’s like a perfect storm of terrible quest design that exists to give us all PTSD.

6. Wetware

There are a few challenging Tokyo quests, but this relatively new one is a real bear. It’s probably the longest investigation mission in the game (feel free to correct me on that) with lots of stealth, puzzle-solving, hunt-and-click fun, and robotic controls. The story behind it is great, as are some of the creepier parts, but it’s just way too long and at times too tricky for its own good to be enjoyable.