World of Warcraft: Treading water

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Logging in to do my daily emissary quests feels a lot like treading water in World of Warcraft. I mean, I get wet, I cool off, and I can fool myself that I’ve gone swimming, but it’s not that impressive overall. I should suck it up and finish the last Suramar chain and then really focus on my Hunter for a bit, but I’m not feeling particularly motivated and I’m not going to push it. I also could be making some more money by picking up additional world quests (especially gathering ones), but again, not a lot of motivation.

I’m drowning in order hall resources right now, somewhere around 40,000 or so, because I only spend them on missions for gold now that my champions are all maxed out. Gold-making missions are very unpredictable; there might be days in a row without seeing any, then two or three on a given day. Trying for the right combination to get the 200% bonus is the only challenge there.

I did have a stroke of good fortune this past Thursday, as my emissary quest paid out my third legendary. Now, to my great dismay, I’m going to have to choose: my auto-bubble shield, my beefed-up magic shield, or this new one, which lets me shoot out an AOE fireball every 1:20. I decided to ditch the magic shield (auto > situational activation), since the fireball packs a huge punch and has a cooldown that’s low enough to use every other fight. It did require me to go hunting for a new cape, since the loss of that legendary left the slot open, but thanks to world quests, I got a replacement in minutes.

Getting more into mythics and raiding might be a possibility, at least for a sporadic activity, but for now I’m really hoping that 7.2 is nearer rather than further away.

Star Trek Online: Back to the Delta Quadrant

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I swear, getting to tour around ships and see what interesting room designs are around the corner is pretty much the only reason I put up with ground combat.

In terms of my slow-as-snails progression in Star Trek Online, I hit a bit of a snag. I wanted to jump into the Iconian War arc, but apparently it’s all grayed out until I complete the entirety of the Delta Rising expansion. You know, the expansion I left in the middle of for how boring and annoying it was. It kind of chafes that the devs don’t let you pick and choose your episode arcs, especially at max level. It’s not like I’m really gleaning a great story or need to know this for the test later.

What makes this worse is that my interest in the game is hovering around 20% of so these days. Enough to log in once in a while and do a post, but when I do, I want to be playing the content that interests me, not Neelix’s leftovers.

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So I’m in the middle of some long chain, the narrative thread lost to me a long time ago. There are the aliens that sound like a type of furniture, Vaadwuar or something? Yeah, those guys. And we’re friends with the Romulans and Klingons, which is all kinds of weird. Anyway, my first mission back was a boarding effort on a hijacked Romulan ship. This was interesting enough for the touring aspect and the alien bad guy who solves all of his problems with uppercuts.

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From there it’s a trip back to Kobali Prime, the planet of soul-sucking. It’s one of those places that you can’t understand what went so wrong in Cryptic’s meeting rooms.

INTERN: I just finished up with that player survey, and as expected, the least-popular activities in the game all have to do with ground combat.

LEAD DEV: So you’re saying… more ground combat?

INTERN: No sir, just the opposite.

LEAD DEV: A *huge zone* of nothing but ground combat?

INTERN: Uhhh…

LEAD DEV: And we’ll restrict each player to only two additional bridge crew!

INTERN: [headdesk]

Star Trek Online does a lot of things well, but usually those things are done in balanced moderation. Kobali Prime is an example of a dev falling too much in love with public quests and World War I battlefields.

At least during one of those long public battles, another player decided to spray the area with confetti and flopping Swedish fish. THIS IS SRS SCI-FI, PPL!

Duke Nukem 3D: Red Light District

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(This is part of my journey going checking out Duke Nukem 3D. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

When Duke Nukem 3D starts up, there’s a warning on the splash screen for “Adult Content.” This wasn’t an ESRB thing; it’s partially a butt-covering move for the cartoonish gore and scantily clad women and partially an advertisement to get more people to play. We didn’t really have the internet as we knew it back then, so this was pretty scandalous and cheeky stuff.

Anyway, today we’re going to go right into the Red Light District, and before you ask, no, I won’t be creating a softcore gallery on this post. The game may stoop to such levels but I will not.

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In my last Duke Nukem 3D post, I talked about how fun and satisfying the weapons are in this game. But the fun thing is that you didn’t just have weapons — the game also gives you all sorts of fun little gadgets to help out. There’s the jetpack, which opens up the vertical space to exploration (which was mindblowing back in this time), a decoy hologram, and even a device to shrink enemies so you can step on them. That was a good time in PvP.

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Inside a store, the mutant aliens are, I don’t know, perusing the magazines and working the retail counter. It amuses me to think of how they might be passing the time until Duke comes along to ruin their day.

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Holoduke. You must remember that for most players, Total Recall was still a recent movie and everyone loved the part with Arnold’s hologram.

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The 10-year-old in me deeply loves blowing up the toilets in this game.

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I know they want me to be offended, but I’m just tickled that they took the time and effort to make me a sign!

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Yes, you get to blow up a building with controlled explosives. This is one of my favorite things in video games when I was a teen. (I had a sad life.)

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Inside the bar is another one of my favorite silly-fun things: a pool table that you can actually play. Seriously, like play to the end.

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Nothing like a reference to OJ Simpson’s flight from justice in the white Bronco to make this game as timeless as it is.

After an epic shootout in a seizure-inducing strip club (and no, I’m not going to show it), the pigs end up capturing Duke in the attic thanks to prison bars slamming down (?). They’re gonna fry the Duke! Oh noes!

The Secret World: Take me to church (Besieged Farmlands #7)

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(Join Syp as he attempts to document a complete playthrough of The Secret World from start to finish. What will The Secret Adventures discover next? Find out in this exciting installment! WARNING: Spoilers and stories ahead!)

Foul Banquet (action mission)

Outside the village, past the vampire projects, is a little church (I’m going to say Greek Orthodox and feel free to correct me here) that somehow remains untouched by the carnage going on all around it. Inside are two figures, a priest and a vampire, who sit talking and might well be friends or at least fond acquaintances.

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You’re in God’s house, son. Pay some respect.

The priest tells me how the local ghoul population has started to dig up and feast upon the corpses, which (1) yuck and (2) must be stopped because see #1. For some reason, this mission is flagged as “nightmare” level for me, which I haven’t seen at all in this zone so far. Usually that’s linked to how strong your gear is in comparison, so maybe some of my gear is pretty weak. Oh well, I’m doing it anyway.

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The ghouls are pretty tough, I’ll give you that, but I still am able to take them out without dying once. It’s a slog through a combination graveyard and junkyard, interesting for the scenery if not the fights. As I’m killing the ghouls, I stumble upon some old reel-to-reel tapes and start collecting them up.

The more I find, the more excited I get. What could be on them? My curiosity rises to a fever pitch as I start to repair a machine on which to play them. There’s a heart-stopping moment when I’m caught up in the repairs and a boss suddenly attacks me from behind — kudos, TSW — but in the end I’m able to play them and…

…it’s the same disappointing photo of the Soviet supersoldier we saw in that Dr. Varias mission. No new info, nothing. What a letdown!

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In Cold blood (action mission)

The vampire in the church, Hasdatean, is an interesting character, even if he only has one mission. He was a Romanian general from the 1800s that got turned into a vampire yet didn’t join the current marauding horde stampeding all over Transylvania. He considers these vamps savages and brutes without honor, and it’s apparent that he’s come to some sort of truce with the local human populace over this — country before species and all that.

Anyway, he goes on about how hard and painful it is for a vampire to come back from a good old-fashioned staking and suggests that I give it a try. If you’ve ever wanted to play cat-and-mouse with ancient historical vampires, now’s your chance.

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The mission is less an action-packed romp than it is an extended trek all over the map to track down the three vamps in various locations (observatory, siege camp, werewolf camp for some reason) and fight them. Each flies away, leading me to their secret base: a run-down mill.

The final battle with all three had me stumped for a half minute there, because I wasn’t quite paying attention and couldn’t seem to finish them off. Then I remembered, oh yeah, staking. I used the stakes in my bag and poof, down they went. Enjoy the painful reanimation, boys!

LOTRO: Hobbit-forming

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Even as I blitz through high-level content in an imagined race to get my Lore-master ready for Mordor before Update 20 arrives, I’ve had the yearning for an alternate experience at times. The thought started to bubble up in my head about a “vacation” character, one that I could dip into on the side without an urgent agenda. And since I’m almost level 100 and should be done with Rohan story quests (for trait points) by the end of the week, I am giving myself permission to go ahead with it.

For years now I’ve had a bucket list item that I wanted to level up a Hobbit in LOTRO. I’ve always felt kind of bad that I haven’t had one (for the most part) due to my favorite classes — LM and Captain — not being compatible with the Hobbit race. So while I love Hobbits, the class selection has always felt rather blah to me. Hunter? Ha, no. Guardian? Not interested. Burglar? Tried it, didn’t like the sound effects and the constant stealthing. So really all that leaves is Minstrel, which fortunately has always sparked my interest. I’ve had a few minnies over the years, none that made it into the first expansion, but enough to tell me that I like the combination of the musical theme and the long range spell-like damage effects (plus healing!).

Thus, a couple of nights ago Syperia the Hobbit was born. Before I even entered the character creation screen, I wanted to set out a gameplan for what she would be and how I would play her. Here’s my five-point roadmap:

  1. This character exists only to be a slow, relaxed character that is going through the game’s story at a leisurely pace, one that I visit every now and then.
  2. She won’t be a main nor aspiring to be one. I’m not trying to rush to get her up to the level cap to do the new content this year. I won’t be using XP bonus items (not really worried about leveling if I’m going through all of the quests).
  3. I won’t be doing virtues with her or stressing out too much about most deeds apart from racials and class skills. Instead, my focus will be on exploration, screenshotting, and questing. I will be going through the full epic story (including Volume 1), the Bingo Boffin stories, and all of the zone quests apart from the other two starting zones (not going to backtrack to do Ered Luin or Combe/Staddle).
  4. I will fully read the quest text (where have we heard that before?) and make a deeper attempt to immerse myself in the zone, setting, and narrative. She will participate in some of the festivals, depending on what cosmetics and housing decor I want to get.
  5. She will be the character to get my house and build up a new home using what she finds and buys in her travels, as a way to show that she’s more of an inhabitant in the world.

I’ve gotten her through the tutorial (which always feels like it takes so long, especially the more you do it) and started to clean out her bags and set up a few outfits before starting to quest in earnest. The combat so far is pretty fun (so much yelling and music) and it’s always a nice homecoming to return to the Shire.

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My Minstrel isn’t starting out empty-handed, however. I sent her 30 gold for pocket money (and seed money for a house) and abandoned my house that was decorated by another character so the field is clear. Plus, there’s always the piles of starting gifts that I’ve accumulated from various promotions and pre-orders. Some of those are much nicer than others, of course. I especially am happy to have that new VIP pony, since its stats (+68% mount speed, 250 morale) are great and quite helpful for roaming around.

I have no idea how far any of this will go or how fast, and I’m not that worried about it. As I said, it’s a side character, a side experiment, and that’s just fine with me. I took her around Michel Delving to poke around buildings and take some pictures of Hobbit paintings, and said hi to Bingo Boffin for the first time. I think that listening to the new Tolkien Professor lecture series on the books and the field trips around the Shire were part of the inspiration for doing this.

It’s a huge game, after all, and at this point it’s a lot more freeing to just throw one’s hands up and not care about getting through it all quickly, catching up with the perceived pack, or stressing out about everything that needs to be done to make a well-rounded character. Vacations can be planned and can have boundaries, but they should also be enjoyed in a more care-free fashion. So I dub this a vacation character and will do my best to play her in that spirit.

World of Warcraft: Time’s up! (for cheap WoW Token prices)

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Those WoW Token prices, huh?

This week, Blizzard changed the functionality of the WoW Token so that it now can either exchanged for 30 days of World of Warcraft subscription or $15 of store credit for any of its games. This change has had a two-fold, good/bad effect:

  • Good: It’s allowed players to earn and spend these tokens on a variety of services, including realm transfers and chests in Overwatch.
  • Bad: With the surge of demand, the commanding price of a WoW Token has skyrocketed, doubling in value the first day alone with no immediate signs of slowing down.

If you were to ask me, I’m not overly thrilled that this is happening. Up until now, I was able to eke out a free sub every month with the gold that I brought in through world quests, the auction house, and order hall missions. Assuming that the prices stay north of 100K and gold income remains more or less the same, it won’t be doable. One every two months, maybe.

I get the flexibility thing and I know some people are overjoyed at being able to pay for name changes, realm transfers, and other Blizzard products with it. Honestly, if the prices hadn’t jumped up so much, I would be pretty pleased too. But it is what it is, so I have to make the best of it.

For me, the good news is that I had four WoW Tokens sitting in my bank, unused (and I had just bought that fourth one last week), with game time paid through the end of March from previous tokens. Normally, that would be four more months, but now that I can get $15 per token, I have the luxury of being able to shop for multi-month subscription discounts. I figure that if I can get one more token before March is up, I’ll be able to afford the half-year package, and that takes me through September. That won’t be too shabby.

Does this make me cheap? A little, I suppose, but then again, I’m playing WoW for maybe 30 minutes a day right now, and that’s close to my threshold of saying, “Nah, not worth paying a monthly sub.” But if I can earn it, it helps take the mental pressure off the situation.

Post-script: I wrote the above on Tuesday, and by Wednesday morning the prices in NA had dropped from 115K gold to a much more reasonable 61K gold (which puts it only a few thousand higher than it had been earlier this week). So obviously the market is volatile and we’re going to have to wait a bit to see how and where it settles — and if any promotions in other games or sales cause increased demand. But if it comes back to near where it was, that gives me much more hope for continuing to earn my sub through gameplay.

Why can’t I get into survival games?

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Over the past couple of years, we have witnessed the rise of a sub-genre of RPGs that collectively get called “survival sandboxes.” While the location and multiplayer functionality differ on these, most usually share the same template: You’re abandoned/deserted somewhere that’s foreign, hostile, and uncivilized and must craft and fight your way to a comfortable lifestyle. Since most of these roguelikes depend on making you go through this gameplay loop over and over, there are a lot of things that knock you down back to start (albeit perhaps with better stats or a stash somewhere), namely other players and very aggressive wildlife/sharks/zombies. The other key detail is that the environment is a strong factor and a challenge to overcome, whereas it’s a non-issue in most other RPGs.

From DayZ to ARK to H1Z1 to Conan Exiles, we’ve seen many developers try their hands at these lucrative and popular (and quite Twitch-worthy) games. They’re springing up just as fast as the MOBA craze of a few years back or the WoW clones of 2008ish, commanding top spots on Steam and creating bizarre stories like games that are eternally in early access somehow still selling full expansions.

(Oh yeah, they’re always in early access. I think if a survival sandbox ever comes out of early access, the developers are forced to drag it behind a barn and shoot it in the head because it’s not trendy enough and they’ll have to be responsible for the bugs.)

As we’ve established, I’m not exactly an early adaptor-type, but even after a couple of years of seeing the survival sandbox genre emerge, I still can’t get on board with it. I’ve tried a few of these games, found some things to my liking, some not, and always wandered away looking for entertainment elsewhere.

Is something wrong with me? Am I missing some sort of key revelation that would unlock the joyous fun that so many others seem to have found? Or is this some sort of mass delusion where a popular feedback loop is created, keeping mediocre titles more in the public consciousness than they should be because no one wants to be the first one to say that it’s all kind of a sham.

Probably subjective in the end, but I wanted to work through my thoughts.

Pulled apart for features, there’s a lot I can get behind for these types of games:

  • They’re kissing cousins to the MMO
  • They have a lot of RPG elements
  • I actually like factoring in the environment as a threat
  • The repeated fun of building yourself up from scratch (alts!)
  • The world feels dangerous
  • Lots of player housing
  • Crafting that matters
  • A nice compromise between hardcore permadeath and softcore corpse runs (rogue-lite)

Yet together, it still hasn’t gelled for me, and I have a suspicion that it might never. For starters, survival sandboxes seem married to the concept of throwing players at each other. To be sure, you can find PvE private servers, but that seems secondary to what everyone talks about and plays these games for. And I am seriously not a fan of PvP for many reasons I’ve gone into elsewhere.

Next, I have a certain tolerance for crafting that hits a limit and then gets me annoyed past that. Put another way, crafting is something I prefer to do on my own time on the side, not constantly as a central activity. Also, I feel completely silly making grass skirts and eating berries. I want the survival sandbox where I can pull into a McDonalds and pull away feeling accomplished.

I also have an aversion to player-run servers. In my gaming career, I’ve only rarely ever ventured on them, preferring official servers that aren’t the personal fiefdoms of capricious players. Plus, when there are hundreds on a server list, which one do you pick? And playing with only 30 or so other players feels downright constrained when one is used to an MMORPG.

But I think one of the biggest elements that these worlds feel generic and lifeless. I’m all for having players create their own structures and towns, but if there’s nothing much else out there other than random wilderness, it’s not very compelling to explore. I want the lore, the designed stories, and a world that has a history. In survival sandbox, I find myself missing those NPCs that we love to belittle.

Yes, it’s a different breed of game and maybe it’s unfair that I’m docking it for not being the type of game that I’m most used to and enjoy. I just feel a little bit puzzled and disappointed that what is obviously so captivating for many is shrug-worthy for me. Perhaps a game will come along one day to change my mind in this regard. Ain’t gonna be Conan Exiles, I can tell you that. The Secret Exiles? Keep talking…