Vampire Bloodlines: You can always go downtown

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2004’s Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Bloodlines is roughly divided into four acts, with each one taking place in a different L.A. setting. As I moved into the second one, Downtown, I traded the more run-down streets of Santa Monica for a more posh — but no less seedy — upscale district.

As you can see, Downtown is roughly laid out on a single street that winds its way from east to west. I like it less than Santa Monica, mostly because of the amount of back-and-forth running that takes place. Oh! It’s also a place where I’m able to trade up my clothes, and here I breathed a sigh of relief to finally get rid of the somewhat embarrassing faux-cheerleader outfit that my Malkavian was wearing. The heavy clothes, I discovered, ended up being a leather outfit with chaps that I can’t actually show you because I have some decency standards here on this blog. At least the game lets me play in first-person mode and I can ignore what my character looks like for the most part.

Roaming around the streets, I kept on seeing these CDC hazmat people standing all about. You’d think that would disturb people, but no, everyone else is like “business as usual!” and ignores them. Me, on the other hand, gets another jolt of Secret World vibe from this game and gets intrigued at the notion that there’s this supernatural plague that’s ripping through the area.

Turns out that some vamp is doing all of this intentionally, and my new contacts make it very clear that it’d be a good thing if I put an end to it for everyone’s sake.

Bloodlines really does have a great design in terms of plunging players into this (probably) unfamiliar setting that’s brimming with all sorts of lore. Santa Monica was mostly about getting used to being a vampire and what that means, while Downtown then transitions into explaining (and showing) the different vampire clans and factions. By the way, clan is like a “race” that confers different approaches and styles, while the three factions (the rule-following Camilla, the anarchist Anarchs, and the savage Sabbat) take in any who share their viewpoint.

The above picture was from a Tremene mansion that had a cool effect — you could only get to the heart of the mansion if you took right turns at every intersection. Otherwise, you’d just end up at the start over and over again.

Me? I just started chewing into the various side quests and worked on establishing myself in this region while gathering up all of those precious, precious experience points. Plus, I keep getting a kick out of choosing the (red) Malkavian crazy dialogue option when I want to convince an NPC by way of madness. It’s very unique for RPGs.

Eventually I do find — and kill — the plaguebearer who’s been infecting everyone, but the bad news is that she’s only one of at least two (maybe more?) that are doing this for some unknown reason.

The Camilla Prince sends me on his own quest, which is to sneak onto a container ship and investigate a sarcophagus that has the entire supernatural community in an uproar. I only confirm that it’s there, which feels like a letdown after spending a lot of effort trying to get through this level without hurting any cops or being seen.

Oh hey, it’s Heather! You know, Heather, the girl from the clinic that I turned into a ghoul in order to save her life. She’s now completely in my thrall without understanding why and following me around like a puppy dog. There are a lot of moral options to pick when dealing with her, from shooing her away to taking advantage of her to using her as a spare blood pack. Personally, I found it quite creepy how entranced she was with me, because it kind of reminded me of Overly Attached Girlfriend.

At least all of my sneaking and kow-towing to the various leaders paid off handsomely in an upgraded apartment! I love the huge aquarium. Kind of wish there was more to do in this place, but it’s still nice to have a “home” in an RPG like this.

Fallout 76: A sharp-dressed woman

I swear, every time I log into Fallout 76, I mystify myself as to why I’m playing. I mean, if you were to criticize this game — and heaven knows that there are plenty out there willing to do just that — I would be on your side. There’s so much WRONG with this game’s design… and yet I still want to play it.

Does that make me sick in the head? Perhaps it’s radiation poisoning.

Or perhaps it’s the fact that when you push past all of the problems, there’s still a satisfying exploration experience here that keeps me poking around. I don’t have to have an agenda during any given session other than “Let’s go see what’s in that place over there” if I don’t want to. And the gradual accumulation of supplies, building up my pathetic base, and finding outfits — such as my new dirty suit, above — is enough for me.

I will defend the game’s character growth system, because I think it’s one of the best of the series, and far, far better than the mess that was Fallout 4’s. Every level you get a new stat point for your SPECIAL which pretty much just gives you a card slot to use. Then you can swap in and out cards as you will to create the best build for your character. It’s very intuitive and flexible — and it makes me look forward to leveling.

I have been starting to lean in the direction of actually doing quests from time to time, just to feed the ravenous hunger I have for narrative in F76. It grates that because of the “no human NPC” rule that Bethesda put into this title, almost all of the quests that I’ve encountered to date are from robots. Is it just me, or are there far too many robots in this game? It’s like I’m in some sort of bizarro scifi wasteland at times where there were never people, just robots living in a robotic world.

I’m still not as keen about exploring some of the more urban areas, but that’s hardly new to Fallout 76. They’re just hard to methodically comb through and usually not very attractive on the eyes. This is why I like the Appalacian setting, since most points of interest are surrounded by nature and kept from being overly large.

My arsenal has been steadily growing. My hunting rifle is really powerful but very slow to fire (which is a distinct minus with this game’s version of VATS), so I almost always gravitate toward my 10mm pistol (weak but rapid firing) or my new automatic pipe rifle, which can spit out 12 bullets very quickly and chew through ammo that I don’t need otherwise. I save my shotgun for truly sticky encounters, such as a pack of super mutants, and if I’m in tight spots or against weaker foes, I still sling my fire axe with impunity.

I kind of wish I would find more in the way of armor, which seems very scarce around the wasteland. I probably should craft some more, but I have to actually force myself to spend time crafting, and that doesn’t happen too often here.

DDO: A ghost of a chance

Adventures in Three Barrel Cove continue apace with Ghost of a Chance, granted to me by the titular ghost who is worried about his trapped brother back in a pirate cave. The cave itself was a normal, if short, little excursion, but it’s in the final room that the meat of this quest happens.

Now DDO has a lot of puzzles — far more than you’d suspect — and some of the puzzle mechanics are reused. One of the developers’ favorite types is what I call the “pathing puzzle,” in which you have to rotate tiles around to create a path for a beam of light to go from the start to the finish (or anywhere else in particular). Ghost of a Chance has one of the largest pathing puzzles I’ve seen in this game, as there are four giant cubes plasted with these tiles in each corner of the room and a prisoner in the middle. Shine the light through the wrong paths, and electricity starts zapping everyone. So the trick here is to use spot to find and avoid the trapped runes first, and then start figuring out the very long, very meandering path.

It took me around 20 minutes, but all things considered, it was just the *right* amount of difficulty for this sort of thing. I don’t like it when puzzles are too frustrating, but one that’s actually fun to watch progress, as these are, can be satisfying. So yes, I finally popped open that cage, and one ghost’s brother was delivered to freedom.

That pretty much wrapped up Three Barrel Cove for me, so it was back to completing missed quests in my adventure compendium. And, hey look — I didn’t finish up the Delara’s Tomb questline for some reason. So off I went to do Thrall of the Necromancer and kill a bajillion skeletons in order to get my Voice of the Master. Yay for bonus XP!

Over in House J, Redwillow’s Ruins proved to be a challenging — and invigorating! — endeavor. A group of misled treasure hunters ended up ambushed and stranded in the deep jungle, and off I was to the rescue.

In an open map like this, I find it best to explore the edges of it first to get an idea of its size before filling in the gaps in the middle. It wasn’t as bad as I initially feared, and the fun of sprinting through relatively wide-open spaces was a nice change of pace from the usual cramped dungeons. There were a couple of pocket instances to conquer, including one with very nasty one-hit-kill traps that took me down (thank goodness for my Cleric!). The ending of this quest surprised me, as I was tossed right into the middle of a herd of rampaging giants and forced to kite for my life.

Going into The Price of Freedom, I knew I was in for a long mission as we had previously done this with our leveling group. It’s not a bad quest; on the contrary, this prison break has a lot of clever design and mechanics behind it. As long as you’re not in a hurry to blast through it, it’s quite fun.

I got a wand early on that let me create these anti-gravity discs that would propel me far up into the air. At the start of the quest, this wand is needed to get up and into the floating prison — and that can be both a fun and frustrating affair. Then it’s a long journey through the innards of a magical prison, freeing the jailed (I got a big kick out of having a crowd of inmates following me — see above), finding secret passages, and ultimately defeating the warden. I love the small details that the designers put into this location, such as the visiting room, the bathroom (with toilet paper!), and a really weird cook who likes ham.

Syp’s gaming goals for June 2019

May 2019 in review

  • My main goal this month was “gaming diversity,” and I think I very much accomplished that as I ranged across a whole host of titles.
  • This was probably helped by less time spent in both LOTRO and DDO. The former was due to a lack of content to be done (still on hold for a new patch or expansion unlock) and the latter because I’ve just needed a bit of a break from dungeoneering.
  • I spent a few days trying — once again! — to get into Final Fantasy XIV, eventually declaring (once again) that I’m simply done with this game for good. It’s just not for me. I need to let it go.
  • I actually had a lot of success pushing deeper into Fallout 76 than I ever had before. Explored a wide chunk of land, built up a serviceable base, and had a few fun adventures. Still doesn’t feel like anything approaching a social online game, but it’s better than it used to be.
  • Of course, getting back into City of Heroes was a wonderful treat that I hadn’t expected to have, and I had a good time experimenting with some classes and jumping into group sewer runs.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic intrigued me with its content additions and suckered me back in for a few play sessions. I got a couple more chapters done and resolved to try to catch up. Try.
  • I didn’t do so much in experimenting with new Try It Tuesday games (the backlog, she sits there), but I did progress further into Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, beating Santa Monica and making it downtown.

June 2019 goals

  • I feel like there are a lot of solid possibilities for this upcoming month but no certainties.
  • For example, Elder Scrolls Online’s newest expansion is here, and with it the Necromancer. Assuming that I’m okay with dropping the cost and starting over, that might be a great game to get back into.
  • If LOTRO gets Update 24 online or unlocks the next legendary server content chunk ahead of schedule, it’ll give me something to do in that game. Otherwise, I’ll be doing little more than waiting.
  • I want to get in more DDO dungeons than I did last month. I’d also like to keep in touch with Fallout 76, even if it’s only once in a while and to keep hacking away at SWTOR’s last couple of expansions to see if I can catch up.
  • I probably won’t be done with Bloodlines for a few more months — perhaps not until the end of summer! — but if I can wrap up Downtown and push into the next area, I’d be happy with June.
  • Probably my main daily focus will be on City of Heroes, as I take my Mastermind through the story content (something I don’t recall ever doing before).
  • Here’s a good Try It Tuesday candidate: Dawn of Isles. This actually looks like a good mobile MMO, but we shall see! Also I’m definitely buying The Outer Wilds, which looks really amazing.

LOTRO: Progression server fashion show!

It’s my birthday and I can do what I want, so I’m going to indulge in a little fashion show today to share with you some of the outfits that I’ve cobbled together on the LOTRO progression server so far. Why not?

The first outfit here is my Christmasy one, obviously obtained from the winter festival. I really love the burgundy shield and slim sword I found for it, and it’s a great pick for any winter/snow zone I visit.

Next up is my “Adventurer’s Outfit” (or what I weirdly think of as my Indiana Jones getup, probably because of the machete sword there). It’s a good all-purpose outfit that looks sharp but not flashy.

When I got that mining helmet (with a wee candle!) I knew I had to make an outfit around it in honor of Moria. I wanted to go more semi-steampunk but had a hard time finding a lot of pieces that fit this vision. Instead, I kind of cobbled together a workable underground outfit with a nice backpack that all feels dorky but doable.

The winter festival had a ton of great outfits and I was excited about this owl-themed one. I love the whole look (and that style of jacket/pants) — except for the weird and oddly animated feathery back. Hence, the cloak. I threw in the shield that I got from the Turtle raid, since the dark green seemed to go with the outfit.

For my money, this is the best “Minstrel” outfit I have right now. It simply looks the part and I am a big fan of the white/blue color scheme. Kind of reminds me of a musketeer look too.

I know this outfit doesn’t really match, but I really loved this floppy sun hat and wanted to get a more casual, feminine look to go with it. The sword choice there is a good one for her look — slim, delicate, and decidedly lethal.

Vampire Bloodlines: Boom goes the dynamite

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2004’s Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Part of the reason that so many people have come to appreciate Bloodlines over the years is probably because this game actually does put the “roleplay” back in RPG. It’s a remarkably adaptive game in terms of choices, dialogue, and approaches, and I love getting into the mad humor of a Malkavian.

Still trying to appease Theresa after pulling off the hotel exorcism, I run over to the local art gallery and slash up paintings of the original vampire (the biblical Caine, if you wanted to know) before fighting off a blood-thing that comes out of it. By now I’m slashing so hard and fast with a knife that battles rarely last more than a few seconds. I’m a terror.

I do take a detour to off an Asian vampire that’s been harassing Knox, although I quickly learn that Knox is very manipulative and is trying to get me to play assassin for his master’s purposes. I guess I should’ve listened to the oracle on the beach who told me that I could pretty much trust no one.

As Theresa and Jeanette’s “relationship” continues to deteriorate, I’m given one final mission by them to go to a diner and basically be jumped by a swarm of thugs. Unfortunately, fighting them off summons the police, which introduced me to Bloodlines’ primitive GTA-like threat system. If you do something that earns a police presence, then you’ll start getting hunted by cops for a while until you find a place to hole up until the heat dies down. I… didn’t wait, and I paid the penalty for it.

Back at the Asylum, Jeanette and Theresa go into a full-fledged dual personality breakdown, showing off the half-and-half natures at play here. I didn’t have the stats needed to make them both happy, so this playthrough I ended up appeasing Theresa, which meant that Jeanette got killed by her sister. Somehow. Don’t ask me, the game wasn’t very clear on that part.

The final mission of Santa Monica is to blow up a Sabbat warehouse. By now, I’ve accrued so many character points that I was able to buy the Vision of Death skill. This is, as the name implies, an “I win” button. It kills any human with a single use and hurts supernatural critters something fierce. I had a lot of fun running into a pack of bad guys and alternating between slashing and visioning them to death.

At the end of the mission — warehouse successfully ka-blooeyed — a werewolf bumps into me and we have a chat. This is Beckett, supposedly some big figure in this game universe, but to me he’s just a guy with a penchant for history and some 90s-looking sunglasses.

With that, it’s off to the downtown area! There’s an unfortunate intermission in which I’m ambushed by a gang of Sabbat and nearly killed. Nines, an Anarch vampire, comes along to save me and start moving the game into a tri-faction direction. Three factions plus numerous vampire clans makes for a confusing narrative foundation.

As an aside, this fourth wall breaking line is pretty funny, although the Sabbat here might just be a little crazy.

The Prince summons me upon arrival and tasks me with another big mission — to investigate an abandoned ship that’s apparently carrying a very important sarcophagus that’s freaking everyone out for some reason. Guess it’s time to explore my new setting!

SWTOR: Returning to the Fallen Empire

You know what gets me to come back to an MMO? When I see a game (and its dev team/studio) working hard to get me to come back. And while I’ve been dismissive of Star Wars: The Old Republic in the year to date, it’s been getting increasingly hard to push it out of mind with the new content updates and the announcement of this fall’s expansion. So the thought started to bubble up in my brain that, yes, I think I might actually like to continue my old Operative’s story and actually see the rest of the content that I’ve been missing to date.

Of course, when the last time I played this character was May of 2017, it stands to reason that I’ve forgotten pretty much everything about the story and what she’d been doing. Thank goodness for my blog and this page, which neatly lays out the order of solo content progression.

Seeing as how I’m still in chapter 13 of the Fallen Empire expansion, I’ve got quite a ways to go to catch up! There’s the rest of the expansion, then the Eternal Throne expansion, then Iokath, then Ossus, then Dantooine (and all of the in-between patches). If it holds my attention — and here’s hoping — then that’s a good summer’s worth of content.

IN THIS WEEK’S EXCITING EPISODE… Gault (a Bounty Hunter companion) shows up to take me on a treasure hunt for a mysterious ship laden with money. Sounds legit, especially coming from a one-horned devil. But since I’ve always had a soft spot for Gault, I’m totally on board for whatever whackadoodle scheme he’s running.

About which time I started having some *fierce* deja vu, so I looked up my previous SWTOR posts, and sure enough, I recorded back in 2017 that I had already fully beaten this chapter. But it wasn’t that much of a bother to rerun it, seeing as how I needed to brush up on this character and both Gault and Vette were delights to be around.

After that I jumped into Chapter XIV: The Mandalore’s Revenge. I got the feeling by the middle of this expansion that SWTOR decided to feature which ever companion characters whose voice actors could be rounded up. Apparently it’s Very Important that we go find this GEMINI droid on Darvannis, as it can be used to access and enslave all of the droid captains of the Eternal Fleet.

That drops us in with the Mandalorians, which are a faction that I never really took a shine to in Star Wars. I’m kind of lukewarm on any warriors-are-the-best culture in fantasy and sci-fi, because that kind of posturing gets tiresome and the actual logistics of a functioning society of brawlers doesn’t make sense when you think about it. Klingons, I’m looking at you.

This chapter was…. fine, for all intents and purposes. I liked Darvannis, which was an oasis-themed desert world, but everything here felt like going through the motions. The little floaty round droids would summon skytroopers at the least provocation, and I have to agree with the Mandalorians that there’s little honor — or excitement — in battling robots. Honestly, it makes me feel that the bad guys are pretty much Arcann, his sister, about a dozen pseudo-Jedi knights, and then a bunch of bots. Fighting robots in the Terminator was one thing, this is far less.

What really got my attention is the growing unease that SCORPIO presents. As an Imperial Agent, I’ve had her around for a good long while and haven’t forgotten that she started out as my foe for the better part of an entire planet. Her design is very creepy and that voice… that voice gives me chills with the monotone malice that it presents.

It’s kind of clear that she’s not on the up-and-up with us, but no matter how many “I don’t trust you, you slinky robot!” dialogue options I make, she’s still allowed to come along for the next mission. But I don’t trust you, you slinky robot. Not at all. Of course, I romanced a bug-man at one point, so who am I to talk?