DDO: A raven at the door

I had a hunch that a setpiece as big as Castle Ravenloft wasn’t going to be used for a grand total of one mission in this expansion pack. Lo and behold, I’m back for another trip into this twisty-turny gothic castle as I answer the call to save the son of Ms. People Magazine Most Beautiful NPCs of 2018.

Oof. Some of these models do NOT look that good when you see them frozen like this. This is the sort of visuals I’d expect with EverQuest, but no matter.

Anyway, while the initial goal of this quest is to rescue some idiot who decided to kip inside the castle to try to steal some valuable from Strahd, the interesting twist is that you don’t actually have to rescue him at all. It’s an optional goal, and since the quest was long enough as it is, I decided to leave him rotting in the dungeon. Probably for the best. His mom doesn’t need the distraction.

I keep bumping into really weird people in this castle. Not hostile people, just weird. Like this guy, who’s lounging on a sofa all alone, just waiting for Strahd to notice him. This has been going on for presumably a long time, and yet again do I get the sense that all of these characters are used to the fickle nature of their vampire host and are just trying to wait him out.

Up one tower I had yet to explore was a bunch of black cats (bad) and a couple of witches (worse). Their labels said that they were Strahd’s sisters, so I guess that was an interesting Thanksgiving dinner every year. One vampire, two witch hags, and a dozen black cats. Their mom must be so proud.

It was a brutal fight with the witches, let me tell you. Small room, lots of summons, little space to kite. My fighting style needs a lot of kiting room, because if I get cornered, I go down. I’m starting to worry as I get up in levels that I don’t have the gear or build needed to survive as the game gets tougher. DDO isn’t always clear on that.

While the ending of the quest was pretty dull (I fought two iron golems and got Strahd’s old diary or somesuch), I found a couple of details interesting. A few things had changed in the castle since I had visited last. For example, the wedding cake that I had replaced the groom on top was now smashed on the floor with an invisible monster stomping about it.

And the lady I killed/saved from the blood pool was replaced by two hags bemoaning that fact.

Does this game react to my decisions? I’m not entirely sure, but it kind of seems so. And that’s neat! I wish more MMOs would remember choices and play out the consequences later down the line.

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LOTRO: In the halls of the Elven-king

Northern Mirkwood at last! Unlike Southern Mirkwood — and ESPECIALLY unlike Mordor — the sun is shining and there’s beauty everywhere. I am so  happy to be here you don’t even understand. When LOTRO wants to do pretty zones, it really, really can do them justice. And it’s these zones that made me fall in love with the game so long ago.

But instead of looking at the zone proper today, I took a shortcut and went straight to the Halls of the Elven-king.

Yes, I’m in the belly of the beast here, a whole underground complex populated by laughing, singing elves. These are the more jovial sort than you find elsewhere in the game, as befits their description in The Hobbit (this is where the Dwarves were taken when they got captured and Bilbo sneaked in while invisible).

The whole city — and yes, it is a city and suitably large for it — is another testament to the skill and artistry of the dev team. It doesn’t matter that this game has been out for 11 years, SSG did not skimp here. As I said, it’s huge, but it’s also creative and beautiful.

What’s interesting here is that this is a cave system, something that we’ve seen a lot of in LOTRO (especially Moria). But unlike the Dwarves’ conception of cave architecture, where it’s cold, angular, and the rock is carved into mighty buildings, the Elves here have more organically molded the cave and adapted to its flow.

There’s also a garden in the middle here. Don’t know how they got a garden inside a cave or why there are poor birds flitting about probably confused as heck about where the sky is. Also, I spent some time wondering how the Elves managed to hang up those lights from the 100-foot ceiling and how the lights just stay on. I’m guessing “magic.”

I spent over an hour traveling through the cave network here, taking pictures and generally losing myself in the atmosphere of it all. I like how warm and cozy it is, even though it’s, you know, a cave. In some places it’s hard to know where the wood stops and the rock begins because of the carvings and the vines that seem to run everywhere.

My favorite sight? This particular fireplace, which had giant spider heads mounted above it. I pity the poor taxidermist who got that order.

You can see how the cave and city intertwine without losing either. There’s a river that flows through most of this place, and I kind of want to take a boat ride down it. Wish LOTRO had rideable boats.

I stopped for a few to put together a new outfit because I realized I had a full mathom cosmetic set on me. It’s pretty passable, I think. Haven’t even dyed it yet.

Lots of little rooms tucked off to the sides here and there. I liked this one, even though it bordered on being too busy.

Closeup of one of the walls, with the Elves’ banner and the vine/tree branch design on the wall behind it. Plus, that border. Probably everyone runs past this stuff, too. Such a shame.

My kids were particularly interested in seeing some of the tourist spots from The Hobbit, since we finished reading that book last month. Here are some of the cells where the Dwarves were kept. I think that Thorin’s was the cell that was greatly isolated from the others.

And there’s Bilbo’s barrel! Or a monument to it. Even the cellars here are cozy.

My kids called this the Statue Room.

All in all, I’m so impressed that the devs aren’t phoning it in at this point in the game’s life cycle. Like so many places in LOTRO, these halls benefit from patient exploration and an adventurer who is into the atmosphere and details. Well done.

DDO: Order of Vengeance

Welcome Syp to Team Vampire Killers! I’ll be your stereotypical guide, Professor Von Muttonchops. You’ll need your own stakes, some extra garlic, and an extreme death wish.

Now that I’ve survived Strahd’s bouncy fun castle, I’m apparently good enough to be recruited for some more serious work by the local vampire killers. The first step on this path? Delivering a giant dragon skull to a bunch of ticked-off ghosts.

Seriously.

Off to another castle — well, a mansion, really, where the smuggest dragon statue in the world guards its front doors. It’s here that an order devoted to fighting Strahd and protecting the land has actually all been killed and then stuck around in perpetual misery. Apparently giving them back the skull of the dragon that was the mascot of their club is supposed to give them new hope.

You’d think they’d be more hospitable, since we are all on the same team fighting Strahd, but nope. Ghosts and revenants alike are out for my blood because I have the audacity to deliver their Amazon Prime package for them. I feel quite underappreciated.

As an aside, I feel that sleeping in the same room where there’s about three dozen swords is a good way to fillet yourself when you get up to pee in the middle of the night. Perhaps that’s really why they died.

There is one living soul in the mansion, some dinky elf who’s hiding out with a roll of toilet paper (reference: see above picture). I won’t lie: I really enjoyed seeing an elf assuming his proper station.

I had high hopes for this mission after the castle, but to be honest, the mansion is pretty lackluster in design and visuals. About the only interesting part is a graveyard and mausoleum in the back.

The whole mission is an exercise to send a beam of light through various mirrors up to the tower so that it can shine for freedom and also to warn passing ships of the rocky shoreline. It’s honestly not that complicated of a puzzle.

I was a little miffed that the lead revenant tried to kill me because I wanted to kill Strahd. You see, these ghosts don’t want to end his suffering but prolong it, and that’s hard if he’s morning dust.

Giant crystal on loan from the Final Fantasy series.

Star Trek Online: Another world bites the dust

One feature that I really like about Star Trek Online is its mission level scaling. I don’t know if it’s universal, but from what I’ve seen, any time there’s a featured episode or an event episode, pretty much anyone of any level can jump into it. Thus, even though this character was pretty low, I was able to enjoy the recent Renegade’s Regret episode and get the weekly reward from it.

Plus, it was kind of nice to get back in touch with this storyline, since it’s been a while. Going to be a while, too, until this character goes through it for real.

It wasn’t a hard mission but it was a good one from a storytelling perspective. You’re learning why this particular four-limbed cyber-reptile has decided to defect from his people. Basically, the answer is “planetary genocide.”

The twist here is that you, the player, actually takes the role of this alien in a series of events that led up to the defection. I was given an overpowered starship that ripped through civilian and defense craft alike and paved the way for the planetary bomb that would wipe out all life.

By the way, how terrifying would it be to live in this era? I don’t care about all of the progress and everything if there’s some xenophobic alien race that can drop a single bomb to wipe out any planet I may be inhabiting.

Even though it is really dark in theme, the visual effect of the planetary bomb is starkly beautiful. A very nice effect by the dev team.

Enough of that vacation, it’s time to get back to speed leveling! Star Trek Online has an imbalance in its campaigns, I’ve noticed. The first one, the Klingon one, has several episodes, whereas some of the later ones might only have a small handful. As such, it feels like it takes a really long time to get through that campaign when starting out.

It also meant revisiting all of these classic episodes that sometimes have pacing issues. For the record, I like an awful lot of them, especially the “Bonnie-Kin” mission. And I thought it was pretty funny to see a Reddit thread pop up for Delta Recruits that had a quick reference list to some of the more notorious quests and their very specific solutions (such as how to make that “nerve tonic” for Scotty’s friend.

Probably my only real complaint about the whole leveling process is that the ship progression feels really superfluous. I get quite tired of swapping out ships every four or six missions, and I never get attached to any of them because my eyes are on my future endgame ship. Maybe we should just start with that? Be able to upgrade it behind the scenes?

Battle Bards Episode 120: Short stuff

Look down — and it’ll be the last thing you’ll ever see! That’s because fury and death arrive in the form of short character races in MMORPGs. Even if they hit below the belt, their music is sweet to the ears! In this episode of Battle Bards, the crew take on themes from Gnomes, Halflings, Dwarves, and other short races in MMOs.

Episode 120 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Dwarf Tavern” from World of Warcraft, “The Gnomes” from Project Copernicus, and “Exploring the Shire” from Lord of the Rings Online)
  • “The Call of Stone” from Warhammer Online
  • “Gnomes” from EverQuest Online Adventures
  • “Asura Theme” from Guild Wars 2
  • “New Tinkertown” from World of Warcraft
  • “Gnome Village II” from RuneScape
  • “Thorin’s Hall” from Lord of the Rings Online
  • “Dwarven Village Theme” from Lineage II
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener Notes: Chestnut Bowl, Fair Mores
  • Jukebox Picks: “Nomads of the White Desert” from Assassin’s Creed Origins, “Deployment” from Hive Jump, and “First Steps” from Celeste
  • Outro (feat. “Dwarf Cave” from Forsaken World)

World of Warcraft: I am Syp, destroyer of worlds and quest logs

I’m about to do the most wicked HALO jump of all time! Also, when do we get our own private spaceships, Blizzard? I want a spaceship expansion in WoW, complete with dogfighting!

What a weird time this is to be playing World of Warcraft. Everyone’s more or less exhausted the current content, and apart from those leveling up one of the new allied races, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of movement in the live game. Yet there’s plenty of attention being given to the Battle for Azeroth beta — I was invited, but declined politely because I’d rather play a finished game — and lots of anticipation for everything to come.

We still have a wait, however. Assuming that the earliest that the pre-expansion patch will hit, there is two-and-a-half to three months before our characters take the next steps on their journey. Lots of time for various projects or to put the game on the backburner and look elsewhere.

I’m making slow but steady progress on clearing out my quest log — first on my Death Knight, then my Hunter. I don’t know what to do past that. I suppose I could chew through all of this content again on my Warlock, but I’m not as fired up about that class at the moment. Plus, I keep thinking about the future and what other class projects I might tackle, such as a Kul Tiran Druid and a Dark Iron Dwarf Shaman or Priest.

Did I mention I finally got that fox mount from Suramar? The one everyone else got about a year or so ago? That really made me happy, although I’m not using it so much right now because it doesn’t fly. I suppose that’ll change with Battle for Azeroth, since we’ll be grounded once more.

I finally was able to knock out the Lightforged Draenei, having finally maxed out the Army of the Light rep grind. The scenario was pretty interesting (and not overly long, thank goodness) with the type of immersive environments that I love best about this game.

So that makes three out of the four current allied races that I’ve unlocked. While I like Draenei, I don’t feel any sort of interest in rolling a Lightforged one. The aesthetic is so-so and the racials are actually worse (in my opinion) than the regular Draenei ones.

Probably the most entertaining part of this quest is just how many times we hear T’paartos mention his own name. I’ve always loved fictional characters who refer to themselves by their own name. Syp should do that. Syp needs the self-promotion.

So that’s how it’ll probably be for me in this game for a while — just casual progression toward goals (I still need the AWESOME Void Elves) and to see how much I can get done before the expansion. It’s also been sitting in the back of my mind that I should start hunting down more transmog, now that I’m obviously uber. I think I made that resolution too at the end of Draenor and never quite figured out a good way to do it.

Syp’s Gaming Goals for May 2018

April in review

  • I began the month very much on fire for RIFT Prime and ended it with a whimper. While I had a reasonable amount of fun, I disliked the pressure to keep up and stopped getting into as much group activities. With so much else on my plate and plenty of (free) fantasy MMOs to keep my interest, I decided to let my sub lapse and walk away.
  • World of Warcraft was mostly a month of gold making and gradual questing. I did unlock the Lightforged Draenei and got an impressive four WoW Tokens thanks to selling one item for a whole bunch of gold.
  • I finally got into the Mists of Ravenloft expansion in Dungeons and Dragons Online and worked my way through most of the new South Africa update in Secret World Legends, both of which filled my horror quotient for the year.
  • I made a tentative step back toward Lord of the Rings Online as I stepped out of Mordor and made my way to Mirkwood. I also put in a couple of Project Gorgon sessions, but I’m still not as heavily into that game as I want.
  • The big (re)addition to my gaming roster was Star Trek Online, which was prompted by both the upcoming expansion and the Delta Recruit event. Made a new character and got through the Klingon campaign.
  • Novel progress: 18 chapters and 60,000 words into the book.

May’s gaming goals

  • Right now I’m most on fire for Star Trek Online, so I will jot down a goal to reach level 50 by the end of the month. Level 60 would be better, but we shall see! It would be great to get into a Tier 6 ship again.
  • Finishing up the allied races by getting Void Elves (for completion’s sake) is my main goal for World of Warcraft. Maybe start some transmog hunting, my Death Knight needs cooler gear.
  • I’ll stay on top of Secret World Legends’ current content, and a mission or two a week in DDO’s Bavaria would be just fine. I’m really enjoying sitting down for a regular DDO night (although I’d like to be doing more group stuff too).
  • Pillars of Eternity 2 is coming out, and that has my attention — although I feel way too bad that I never finished the first one nor several other CRPGs that I own. Maybe I just need to schedule a weekly “offline” night and be happy with that. State of Decay 2 might be a possibility as well. And I need to sort out all of my mobile games and maybe pare those down to titles I actually want to and will play.