World of Warcraft: Frequent flyer perks

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One of the things that the current World of Warcraft invasion events communicate very well is an almost cinematic sense of scope. It may be pretty choreographed, but it’s well-done even so. Just flying into a region and seeing the skies darken, the Legion spaceships firing down, and then approaching an invasion area — dropping down into it from flight to see the onrush of demons and the clash of noise is pretty intense stuff.

I also love the sight of dozens of players simultaneously taking off and heading in the same direction for battle. Reminds me of some of the movies of D-Day where you see all of those planes heading to the fight. That may not be scripted (just directed), but it’s pretty incredible to witness.

I really could do without the cheesy boss one-shot kills, though. Especially since you lose your chance for XP on that boss if you’re dead when he or she dies.

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Other than losing out on boss XP, Blizzard finally seemed to get the XP tuning right with a series of hotfixes this past week. Once you were properly getting experience for tagging mobs, then it made fighting once again a lot more compelling (at least for us pre-100s). I started actively participating as much as I could, chasing down bosses as much as I could for their sweet, sweet XP bounty.

I didn’t even fight, but rather healed my way through most of this. AoE healing enabled me to “tag” most of the mobs in the area that others were fighting — and I got to help people out as a bonus. I guess the helping thing should’ve been primary, but here we are.

I also got really good at zipping around the world to these six invasions. Four were right off flight paths while two required a bit of zone traversal. I was never so happy to be a Druid, since I could teleport across the world with the Moonglade port. No waiting for boats for me!

As a result, my levels started skyrocketing. I think when invasions first started, I was around 59 or so. When Blizzard finally got the XP adjustment right, I had risen to 82 (and a bulk of that doing AFK). The last 18 levels or so came over the weekend, since I made a game out of seeing if I could ding 100 by Sunday night. As it is written, so it was done. Now I have five 100s on Dalaran, although my Shammy is definitely in mothballs and I’m probably going to stuff the Druid to the back of the Legion queue. At least she’s there for healing, which is what I wanted with her in the first place.

On top of leveling a character to 100, the invasions were lucrative in other areas. I got a full set of armor and weapons for my Druid, with any leftover pieces sold for a good chunk of gold. A couple of thousand Nethershards later, and I was able to buy anything I desired from the event vendor.

So now what? Now we have a week or so to go before Legion and I’m plumb out of immediate goals for the game. I could farm more gold, especially now that WoW token prices are dropping (they’ve gone down on our server from 44K to 36K since the garrison nerf). Or push a little harder to get my Warlock’s herbalism skill maxed out if I want to speed up the garrison-farming process. But I think it might be best if I backed off for a week, played some other games, and recharged for the Legion release.

Quest for Glory III: Thief! Thief!

(This is part of my journey going checking out Quest for Glory III: Wages of War. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is to go from a text-based Sierra title to a mouse-controlled one. Maybe it’s laziness talking, but I love being able to control my character and his interactions with just the mouse.

Now that I’ve arrived in Tarna, it’s time to start feeling out the area and seeing where I’m needed. Gonna be a lot of liontaur talk, I can already tell.

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“And you’d BETTER appreciate that beauty, because all of us can attack and devour you at a moment’s notice.”

Rakeesh mentions the war that I’m presumably here to stop, between two groups called the Simbani and the (ahem) Leopardmen. The Liontaur have typically been reclusive, but now they’re starting to establish relationships with humans — although some in the community are spoiling for a fight anyway. Rakeesh and Kreesha mention that their daughter was part of a delegation sent to talk to the Leopardmen, a delegation that was ambushed and only one human survived. That really stinks for them.

Kreesha tells me that I’m free to explore the city and that they’ve reserved a room in the inn for me. I’m also welcome back in their house anytime…

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Liontaur sex! Yeahhhh I don’t need to talk in on that. I will knock, believe you me. (Sierra gets a point for making me laugh here.)

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I wander outside through the bazaar and almost immediately stumble upon a thief making away with… money, I guess? I want to point out that the guy back there is selling giraffe fur. Do not alert CyberPETA, or there will be protests back in 1991.

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The thief is caught and he and I (as a witness) are brought to the Hall of Judgement to hear the ruling. He is guilty, of course, and his sentence is to, y’know, leave — but leave without honor! Oh noes, not his honor! He says, “Big deal,” and I got a snort out of that.

I understand what the game is doing here — it’s introducing the culture of the liontaurs, which is more or less like Star Trek’s Klingons. Lots of powerful and proud warriors who are unduly concerned with the concept of honor. They’re going to be a hoot to mess with.

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The king wants to meet with us after the judgment, and Rakeesh and I amble up there to talk to his majesty. The king, not to mince words, is an incredible jerk. Very proud, very stuffy, very pro-war, and very anti-Rakeesh. Practically everything I say he twists as an example of how Rakeesh is weak and needs a human to defend him. For his part, Rakeesh keeps his cool:

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But revenge can be fun sometimes, right? Right Rakeesh? Don’t tell me that paladins have taken a vow of revenge celibacy, because I am going to lose it right here if that’s the case. Half of what I do as a character comes from revenge!

Now that we’re free from politics, it’s time to do our Quest for Glory tradition, which is to exchange money and buy a ton of stuff. Looking at my inventory, I have a few items from the previous game (such as that Katta sapphire pin) as well as a new suit of armor, a sword, and a magic shield.

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And as you might expect, Sanford and Son have taken up residence in Tarna as a couple of junk dealers. Nothing like a sitcom reference from 1972 to liven up a game made in the ’90s and played in 2016! (If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s about a snarky father and son who run a junkyard together.)

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The theme music for the sitcom plays too. I don’t think that you can even classify this as a parody or satire — it’s just out-and-out Sanford and Son. Maybe copyright laws worked differently back in 1991.

Quest for Glory III: Jumping eras

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(This is part of my journey going checking out Quest for Glory III: Wages of War. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

“Quest for Glory III takes a stand against prejudice and racial stereotyping. That makes it a bit ironic, in that we received some complaints about the black people in the game having accents. We were one of the first to include diverse characters including strong female and non-White role models in the game, so we were pretty shocked by that reaction.”

~ Lead Designer Corey Cole

I don’t think there was even a question in my mind that I would want to continue the Quest for Glory retro gaming series after the conclusion of Trial by Fire. The puns, the world-building, and the deliciously different hybrid approach to adventure and RPG gaming made me want to see more — to see what happened to the Hero next.

And so we jump to Quest for Glory III: Wages of War. Coming out in 1992, Wages of War took the series to VGA for the first time (Quest for Glory I had a 1991 VGA remake). Better sound, better graphics, and the replacement of the text parser with a mouse-driven interface — I am totally on board with all of these!

As you might recall, the Quest for Glory series is noteworthy for several aspects: Its lead developers were a husband-and-wife team, the games blended adventure and RPG elements together, it allowed you to import a character from game 1 through to game 5, and each installment explored a different region. In the first game, it was a Germanic countryside. In Trial by Fire, it was Arabia. And now we come to Wages of War, which embraces an East Africa setting.

With my character saved at the end of Trial by Fire, I am ready to import into the third game and see where it takes me!

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Once I got the file moved to the right directory, importing my QfG2 character into 3 was a snap. Have I said how much I love this feature?

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This threw me for a loop. I know that *I* was operating under the delusion that my character was a thief, but midway through Quest for Glory II, the game itself made it quite clear that I was a fighter. Heck, I even got into the Eternal Order of Fighters, so I’m sure it’s not my delusion. So I don’t know why Quest for Glory III thinks that I’m a thief, unless my stats and gear reflects that.

Eh, I’ll change into a Paladin then. Might as well try this new class, especially since I got robbed of it by one piddly choice at the end of the second game (I killed Khaveen too quickly).

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Even if you import a character, you still get 50 points to play with. My parry skill is shockingly low, but other than that,, I spread out the points to create a well-rounded character.

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The game begins with a recap of the end of Trial by Fire, where Aziza talks about how I was totally awesome and stopped the spell to summon a mega-genie. She does reveal some new information: That the body of Ad Avis was never found (dun dun DUNNN). Who took it? Is he actually dead?

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Magic FaceTime interrupts this LAST TIME ON QUEST FOR GLORY segment to inform us that the country of Tarna needs Rakeesh’s help (Rakeesh being the liontaur paladin that occasionally babysat in the second game). I don’t know how I got roped into going along, but trust me when I say that the game doesn’t give you the option of selecting, “No thanks, I’m good hanging out here and being a pampered prince.”

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My adopted dad, eager to get his freeloading son out of the palace, wings a magical shield my way. He also — and I thought this touching — gives my character a hug. This is the second time in as many games where my character hugs or gets hugged. It’s such a weird thing to see in an adventure game, but I’m cool with it.

So off to Tarna we go — let’s prevent that war!

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As we can see from this interlude title, Tarna definitely has a strong case of the Egypts going on, with a bit of savannah thrown in for good measure. At least the VGA makes it look a lot more attractive than the desert of Shapeir.

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So Team Tarna appears through the portal: Rakeesh, Uhura, her baby Simba, and Syp-the-easily-led-by-his-nose-into-horrible-danger. We either arrive in the office of the resident magician or the country’s gift shop.

The Long Dark: 24 hours of terrible survival

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I finally had time the other night to dig into one of my Steam summer sale purchases: The Long Dark. Out of the widening field of survival-type games, this one’s kept my attention over the years for its more natural setting and its kind of attractive art design. No zombies, no cannibals (that I know of), just a lot of snow, ice, hints of the apocalypse, and hungry wolves.

Loading up, I elected to play a standard sandbox game of Mystery Lake. Without any instruction or futher ado, the game dumped me right into the middle of the Canadian north, with snow, pine trees, and rocks to all sides. I had a backpack full of gear, but it was quickly apparent that the environment was the true monster here. Without food, I’d die. Without water, I’d die. Without heat, I’d become a Sypsicle. And without sleep, I’d start to fall apart. It’s the basics of survival in a very inhospitable place, and that’s kind of appealing.

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Without any signs or hints where to go, I struck out in a random direction and was eventually rewarded with the sight of my first cabin. It was a shell of a structure with only a wood stove inside. I failed at making a fire in it to warm up — and lost my only tinder (a firemaking essential) in the process.

Happily, I spied a much better cabin not too far away and stumbled gratefully up to it.

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It was a great find: A cabin that had most all of the essentials (save water), a ton of items to loot, a bed in which to sleep, and a stove. I raised all my levels as best I could and prepared for some small forays into the surrounding areas.

I’ll say this about The Long Dark, it’s got a great design. I didn’t need much explanation to figure out the controls, start crafting, place items, or interact with the world. The HUD is incredibly minimalistic, disappearing entirely unless something happens or you hit the tab key to get stats.

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I took a step outside in the night, but quickly retreated when I saw that there was a full-fledged blizzard. It also doesn’t help that the night is pretty dang dark.

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Some of the vistas reminded me a lot of Firewatch’s visuals — just with a lot more snow. The next morning dawned and I was still alive. A miracle! But I couldn’t stay much longer; I had to continue to look for more supplies, not to mention some water. Is that the goal of the sandbox? To continually journey or to eventually set up a base camp?

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From what little I know of the backstory here, The Long Dark takes place after a massive geothermal storm has thrown civilization out of whack. It’s probably good I wasn’t thrown into the many parts of Canada where there is no remnant of humanity at all. There are plenty of cabins if you keep looking, some of which come with mysteriously frozen corpses.

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Mid-morning, I got my first glimpse of a wolf, mostly as it charged right at me and tried to take me down. I went into a panic, trying to figure out how you use weapons and fight, and I guess it was here that the game failed me, because I had no idea other than to furiously click. The wolf hurt me nicely and shredded some of my clothing. I think I got him back, because he ran away whimpering and trailing blood.

The attack and its aftermath felt very disorienting, and other than being miffed that I couldn’t fight well, I thought it did a great job communicating this experience.

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A logging road led to train tracks, and those train tracks led — to my surprise — to a dam. Against my better judgment (and my dwindling light sources), I went inside and looted a bit while getting completely turned around in its large halls.

There were also some wolves prowling around, although a funny moment happened when I saw one, expected an attack as it ran toward me, and then laughed as it sped right on by, whimpering in fear at my flare. KEEP RUNNING WOLF.

It was here that my life came to a quick and nasty end, as I slipped on a bit of ice and plummeted over the far side of the dam and down onto the frozen lake.

I think this might be an interesting game to pull out now and then to explore, although I would be more interested in a story mode with some sense of purpose.

How Blizzard convinced me to live the AFK life

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What I would like right now is a time machine to go back a week or so and explain to myself what was really important with invasions. Oh, I thought at the start that it was all about getting that free gear and some nethershards, and after a while I got bored of it all and drifted away.

Then, over the weekend, I only started to hear that invasions were absolutely fantastic for leveling alts, something that surprised me because I was only vaguely aware that lower levels could participate (I had only been doing them with 100s). So naturally by the time I got my Druid in gear to invasion-TO-THE-MAAAAX, Blizzard called in the fun police and nerfed invasion XP.

A remarkably tone-deaf CM snarked at players how this nerf was meant to (in my words) get those dirty AFKers but good and that invasions weren’t supposed to be about getting alts to level 100. Um… why not? Seriously, WHY NOT. Can’t they be fun and useful? Y’all got an expansion coming out in less than two weeks, why wouldn’t you want more players to get those 100s ready… unless you want to sell more of those store boosts (conspiracy!).

Anyway, after the community got good and rankled about this change, Blizzard did buff mob XP, which is a good move in general save that you lose most of the XP from that kill if someone else tags in. Slow clap for putting the hurt on encouraging teamwork there.

So here’s the slightly ironic thing: I was playing invasions all normal-like for the first week, and it took all of this hooplah and nerfing to convince me that the way forward was to AFK with absolutely no shame whatsoever.

Sportsmanlike it might not be, but if there’s an avenue for relatively easy and painless advancement, it’s hard to turn that down (especially for an alt). My Druid had been slowly, oh so slowly climbing up the levels via dungeon crawling, but that’s getting ridiculously slow now that I’m in the 70s and it’s only going to get worse from here. Word is Blizzard nerfed dungeon XP a while back, so if that’s true, thanks for that one.

Instead, I’m going to use the invasions to boost my character — perhaps not as quickly as before, but steady and faster than dungeoneering. The thing is, I can log in, park my Druid in an invasion zone, and then AFK out to get some work done, make dinner, roll among the daisies, etc. I don’t have to be at the computer to reap the XP and chests. Sure, I’d get more if I participated (and I still do, particularly in phase 3 when I’ve got gaming time), but this is working great to have running almost constantly in the background.

And it’s working. Day one of the new AFK regimen, I went from 73 to 76. Every two hours I’d move my Druid around to the three invasion zones, soak up the easy XP, and then log out until the next wave began. As a bonus, the chests are getting me a suit of armor that is leveling up with me, so when I hit 100, I shouldn’t be too badly off.

As I said, I can still participate and even run dungeons between invasions. But going AFK feels, in a small way, like I’m making some small statement about how Blizzard needs to always err on the side of fun instead of cracking down on people who aren’t playing the way that they want (that week).

Star Trek Online: Gullibility, thy name is Starfleet

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“Remember when this game used to be about our adventures and exploits? Now we’re literally background characters to a couple of aged actors.”

So there’s this frustrating trope that Star Trek does, mainly in Voyager, which is that when the ship or crew comes under attack, everyone just sits back and lets themselves get beat up for a while before actually fighting back. It’s as if Starfleet has some sort of “turn the other cheek seventeen times” mandate, and it is really frustrating to watch in episodes.

Well, now I can say that it’s even more frustrating to experience in a game, because we’re moving on to All That Glitters (surprisingly, not a LOTRO crossover). And this mission is rife with this trope.

It starts out with the Doctor asking for assistance to help probe a ship. Well, that turns out to be a trap from the Vadwaar, naturally, so ensue a little prologue combat. After that the Vadwaar commander shows up and says, oopsie, those guys were fighting without permission and can’t we all be friends? This is where the mission starts being frustrating, because there is no sane, rational choice to tell Gual (the commander) to cram it, that we do not negotiate with people who just tried to kill us. No, the choice is, “Sure, let’s sit down for peace talks! Would you like to come back to one of our defenseless space stations?”

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That brings us (sigh) back to Neelix and the Talaxian base. Gotta reuse those set pieces, after all! There’s an amusing bit as Neelix and the Doctor have a catch-up montage while my crew is fiddling around in the background, wondering if they can defect to a different Federation where people don’t walk around asking for muggings.

Well, as expected, Gual isn’t there for any peace talks. Instead, he basically starts goading us into a fight. And when that doesn’t work — because the game doesn’t let me Han Solo his butt and fire first — he just up and shoots a random Talaxian cook who comes into the room.

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This was actually really funny because, thanks to Cryptic’s always buggy engine, Gual’s shot clearly missed this guy by about three feet. I have screenshot evidence because I was slamming on the print screen key during this cutscene. I guess death by proximity?

With the cook dead, you’d expect our crew to fire back… but no, we’re still stuck in wonky cutscene land, where Starfleet is as meek as kittens and the bad guys can commit murder and then lazily beam away. But not before ordering a massacre of the base.

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At this point my eyes hurt so dang much from rolling, but at least I am freed from cutscene paralysis and can just start attacking. It’s what I do best. There’s a part of the mission where you are supposed to have a Sophie’s Choice moment where you can only save one room of Talaxians, but this fails to be compelling because:

  1. They’re Talaxians
  2. They’re nameless, faceless NPCs that you never met before

Lots of firefighting ensues, and a friendly Deus Ex Alien group beams in to help (not that we needed it). In the end, Gaul gets away, Neelix is oh so sad, and as the commanding Admiral on the scene, I order total war against the Vadwaar. Also the Talaxians, just because I can.

6 things I love about my World of Warcraft Druid

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With little else to do in this pre-Legion period other than run a nauseating amount of invasions, my attention has drifted over to giving some love to my Druid. As usual, I’ve been primarily playing her as a dungeon-only healer, crawling up through the Burning Crusade instances and now breaching the Wrath of the Lich King era. It’s weirdly relaxing, healing all of these dungeon runs, and as I’ve been doing it, I’ve compiled a short list of things that I have always — and still do — love about this class.

1. Moonfire

Yeah it’s a basic spell, but I think it’s one of the best in the game in terms of animation. I love seeing that silver-white beam shoot down and then erupt into a fat column. I love more how it’s instant cast and tosses a nice DoT on the bad guy.

2. Instant travel form

Taking away the relatively quick mount cast and making it instant for Druids (at least for their travel forms) is so immensely freeing and fun that I feel confined when I have to switch back to other classes. It’s just so cool when you’re running and then slam on the key for your bird form and take off on the go. Even more cool when you fly up, shift to your humanoid form, plummet, and then shift back into bird before you hit the ground.

3. HoTs and DoTs

As you well know, I love both heal-over-time and damage-over-time spells and skills — and the Druid has a ton of these. Tossing a blanket of HoTs onto the tank and watching enemy blows bounce back is a joy in and of itself.

4. Every role in one

No other class in World of Warcraft has four viable specs like the Druid: tank, melee DPS, ranged DPS, and healing. You can literally fill any role you want or feel like playing that night.

5. Moonkin

It still cracks me up how Blizzard took something as bizarre as an owlbear and made this fat, feathery creature pretty cool. I used to rock a Moonkin hard back in the day, and nothing could beat the spell pain they brought to the battlefield — nothing except their sexy dance, that is.

6. Leather armor

If I had to pick one category of armor that I generally like in MMOs, it’s leather. It just looks cooler, and here is no exception. We don’t have to share it too much with other classes — just Rogues and now the plague of Demon Hunters. Oh well.