Trying to figure out my 2021 MMORPG dance card

Having been primarily focused on just a very small handful of games this year — WoW Classic, LOTRO, and FFXIV — I don’t think I realized how insanely crazy 2021 was shaping up to be for releases and events. It’s started to dawn on my just how much is coming and how it’ll be impossible to experience it all. At least I feel that I have some time to get a battle plan put together, to sort out what I want to do from what I probably won’t.

So consider this more far-reaching than my typical gaming goals — and more prone to change and modification.

Currently in July: I see no reason right now not to keep on trucking through Burning Crusade Classic and FFXIV expansions. It’s serving me well and there’s nothing that needs my immediate attention. I’m resisting a very slight urge to roll on one of the new LOTRO progression servers, because I know I need to let interest in that game recharge.

August: This is when things start to get wacky. In early August is Book of Travels’ “Chapter Zero” release, which I’m treating like an early access that might be worth a few days’ discovery and to evaluate how much time I’d want to be spending in this before it actually launches. And then later that month is New World, which I’ll definitely be playing. I’m curious to see if it has legs (for me, at least) and any hook that’ll keep me engaged, as it is currently occupying the same mental space as Elder Scrolls Online.

Fall: LOTRO’s Gundabad will be a big call to come back… but will I? I’d like to think that, yes, I would, considering that I’ve never missed an expansion yet, but right now I’m pretty toasted on LOTRO, so there’s a chance that I continue to keep that on a backburner. If I’m still going strong in FFXIV and have, due to some miracle, finished all three expansions, then I could see getting into Endwalker. Again, that’s largely dependent on continuing interest.

Winter: SWTOR’s news of a new expansion added another strong possibility to my dance card. I’ve got some territory to catch up with there, and Legacy of the Sith will pump some community interest into the MMO that’ll be fun to join. Plus, I always like SWTOR when I go back to it.

Wild Cards: On top of all of the above, there’s always Elder Scrolls Online and DDO floating around as good pitch-hitters if my interest peaks there. I ride those waves of interest when they’re high and jump off when they dip back down. I can’t see any announcement about Guild Wars 2’s expansion (assuming it’s coming out this year) getting me back, so that’s one I can cross off. But if Corepunk launches, I’m so there with fingers crossed hoping for a solid product. Oh! And let’s not forget Palia alpha testing, if that becomes a possibility, because I really want to check that out.

It’s a lot, especially if I don’t ditch my current staples while adding on other games. As always, I take it week by week, but it’s seeming like 2021 is becoming a busier year than most.

FFXIV: Smack you with a book, I will

When I try to mentally organize what I want to accomplish in FFXIV, it seems as though some of the biggest items are so very far off — catching up on the MSQ to be with the current releases, getting a job to max level, saving up enough to buy a house — and so I can’t hang my day-to-day expectations on them.

Fortunately, there are plenty of immediate-to-mid-range goals that function better as a carrot, and one of those was hitting level 30 and switching over from an Arcanist to a Scholar. I wanted my faerie pet and the ability to heal dungeons! So along the way to this goal, I hit another, which was to get my first mount. It’s certainly made traversing the world more enjoyable.

There’s been a lot of comparison between WoW and FFXIV lately, but one thing I haven’t heard people talk about is how FFXIV possibly tops WoW in the sheer avalanche of quest titles with bad puns. Like, it’s pretty much all of them, each more groan-worthy than the last. Whether or not this is an enjoyable factor is up to you, but let’s not let FFXIV off the hook here whenever WoW gets accused of making too many pop culture jokes.

While the community as a whole is generally really nice, I’ve had problems connecting with a good free company. Either they end up not talking at all, or have too low of an active population, or they allow a few jerks to run off their mouths to my annoyance. So I’ve been shopping around.

I will say that my patience started to wear very thin on going back through the Realm Reborn storyline, streamlined as though it may be. It’s just as plodding and uneventful as it used to be, and while I could ignore that early on, by my 40s, I was ready for it to be over and done.

The Curse of Monkey Island: Cheese for the cheese god

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1997’s The Curse of Monkey Island. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Blood Island shenanigans continue as Guybrush “returns from the dead” and fails to astonish anyone. Ahem. Tough crowd.

He heads off toward the volcano, where he meets a suspiciously familiar group of cannibals. In fact, it’s the cannibal tribe from the first game which has now relocated here. Lemonhead here tells Guybrush that not only have they all gone vegetarian, but the volcano god itself can’t abide flesh or cheese of any kind. Just veggies.

So Guybrush — in a tofu mask disguise — tosses in a huge hunk of nacho cheese to make the volcano erupt. This is all part of a plan to get lotion, by the way: By erupting the volcano, the lava now heats up a cooking pot at the hotel, which Guybrush can use to melt more cheese, which he can give to the pirates to patch up their ship and be rewarded with creamy, sweet-smelling lotion.

Ah, adventure games. Never change.

Back at the hotel, Guybrush gets his fortune read… and the tarot cards spit out five DEATH cards in a row. This kind of freaks the fortune teller out, rightfully so.

Guess this is some of that trendy death! Welcome to Hotel California, you can check in but you can never leave…

More death! Another day, another crypt — and in this one, our good friend Murray drops in for a bit of spontaneous terror!

By “dying,” Guybrush is able to buy a life insurance policy and then cashing in on it using his own death certificate. Stan isn’t that pleased, but at least he coughs up a pile of gold. I’m rich!

I cannot imagine that Elaine is that pleased with this situation. Guybrush is going to get the punching of his life when she stops being a solid gold statue.

It’s time to get off of Blood Island and head over to (gulp) Skull Island! For that, Guybrush puts his puzzle-solving abilities to work to make a compass for the Lost Welshman here. That effort earns him ferry passage between the islands. Neat!

WoW Classic: Zangardreams

If there’s one positive thing to say about Hellfire Peninsula — other than its improved questing and questing rewards — it’s that as fugly as the zone is, it has the most breathtaking skybox of all of Burning Crusade’s zones. I always get a chill out of looking up and seeing those planets and swirling space strings.

And with a couple of annoying group quests done without the benefit of a group finder (me in guild chat: “Pleeeeeeease help me plz plz plz”), I was finally done with Hellfire. Having putzed around in here for a good long while along with a few dungeon runs, I was 63 when I left.

I don’t know if Zangarmash is my favorite BC zone, but it’s definitely one of my most favorite MMO “swamp” regions. This is thanks to the mysteriously inviting blue hues and the unusual choice of going with giant mushrooms in place of trees. It’s certainly easy on the eyes!

And of course I’m going to kill every one of these little buggers for the vain hope of that little firefly pet. That never happened for me back when I farmed hard for one in the original Burning Crusade, and while I’m not going to put myself through that again, I will snag all I see as I quest with the offhand chance of getting one.

But as much as I loved being in Zangermarsh (and Burning Crusade in general), I knew I wasn’t playing the class I wanted to be — which was my poor, underleveled Shaman. After stocking up several days’ rested XP, I got back to leveling her in earnest, trying to bridge that gap between 52 and 58. Some long grinding sessions are ahead of me, as well as some desperate searches for quests I can actually do.

Looking back at 10 years of Tiny Tower

I suspect that most of us have a game or two on our phones that fill the purpose of “pick up and play” for a short period of time. Toilet time, or elevator time, or I-have-two-minutes-until-the-kids-get-out-of-school time. They’re our comfort games, trading depth and intricacy for immediate satisfaction and enjoyment.

For about a decade now, one of these pick up and play iPhone games for me has been NimbleBit’s Tiny Tower. I remember getting it a decade ago the week I went on a mission trip. At night, as I was trying to sleep on a very uncomfortable cot, I was enthralled with this tiny pixelated world and its money-generating inhabitants.

Tiny Tower’s simple gameplay loop — expand a tower and stock floors with workers to generate coins for more floors — was such a hit that it spawned countless knock-offs (and even several NimbleBit developed titles like LEGO Tower and Vegas Tower). But none had the simple charm of the first with all of its gorgeous pixelart and dorky “bitzens” who would chat to you on “Bitbook.”

It’s been a while since I last played, but I recently re-downloaded the game and have fallen for it all over again. Part of this is thanks to the massive 10th anniversary update, which added several great features like a little dude who parachutes in with gifts and actual player housing. I’ve been diligently saving up the enormous amount of currency needed for a house while stocking my floors with dream job bitzens.

I think the personality is the big appeal here. Each floor is covered in so much detail even though it’s, well, tiny, and I like outfitting my bitzens and giving them pets and helping them find their dream jobs. A while back I paid for the one-time VIP purchase, which gave a lot of quality-of-life improvements, such as an auto-delivering elevator, and I’m still reaping the benefits of that today.

I hear that NimbleBit is working on a big update to Pocket Planes, which is another favorite, and I hope that comes true. The Tinyverse that this studio created with its several titles is awesome, but none has been so addicting as this simple tower that I can play in portrait mode while pretending to be checking stocks or something.

FFXIV: The Lalafell life

While restarting in an MMORPG that you’re coming back to after a long absence has its detractors (namely, having to re-do a whole bunch of old content), I think that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. For a game like FFXIV, it very much helps me re-learn all of these systems and maybe pick up on a few tricks I missed the previous time around.

It’s also letting me experiment a lot with the type of character I want Yeti Yesterday to be, even as I adventure through the main story quest and level her. Initially, I spent a few levels doing the Archer thing, but that wasn’t hitting the right spot for me. I swapped over to Conjurer for a while with dreams of being a White Mage, but… that didn’t have the angle I liked.

So I gravitated right back into a budding Scholar, because I love me some pets and some healing and some utility. It’s a safe harbor at which to dock, I’ll grant you that, but it’s a good pick for a class to spend a whole lot of time questing and leveling before I branch out into other jobs.

Probably the hardest thing at the start is the slow-as-syrup combat. It is so dull that you have to look for anything to keep it interesting. For me, it’s checking out enemy animations, like this weird puppet slime here.

FFXIV has great night skies. Reminds me a lot of LOTRO in this respect. It’s always weird to log in and adventure at night here, for some reason. I feel like I should be sleeping somewhere and that I might wake the neighbors with my noise.

While I genuinely did like my Hyur look — which was kind of a cross between a smouldering Charisma Carpenter and Blade Runner’s Pris — it didn’t really feel like me. The more I played over that initial week, the more I felt that great calling of using a veteran reward phantasia and claiming my destiny as a Lalafell.

So here she is, Yeti Yesterday 2.0, and I love her so much. Always been a fan of small races in games, and I think I kept her from crossing over that line of being TOO twee, if you understand. She’s cute, she’s capable, and she’s going to kick a whole lot of shins along her way.

Syp’s gaming goals for July 2021

June 2021 in review

  • This is not going to be the year of an adventurous Syp, I can tell already. It’s going to be the year of a Syp who finds a very comfortable lane and sticks to it as long as it remains comfortable. So I’m not coming to you with a monthly report about all of the many MMOs and games I played, because there wasn’t much variety, nor even as much gaming time due to a vacation and other factors.
  • As I anticipated, June became all about Burning Crusade Classic as I split my attention between my old world Shaman and my Outland-bound Warlock. I got my Draenei up into the 50s and enjoyed her combat toolkit while lamenting her slow leveling pace, and only managed to get a few levels in on my Warlock as she finished off Hellfire.
  • The big personal surprise was a return to Final Fantasy XIV toward the end of the month. I wasn’t really thinking of it too much before it just popped into my head as a good idea for a summer project. And so I created a Lalafel Scholar on a new server and took to checking out the streamlined 2.0 leveling experience.

July’s gaming goals

  • My main goal in WoW Classic is get my Shaman to level 58 and push her into Outland. These last few levels are an absolute bear! I also need to get her Leatherworking up to 300 (she’s 268 as of this writing).
  • For FFXIV, I am shooting to get through the 2.0 MSQ at a minimum, and all of the 2.X series if I can manage it. I think I can, as this already feels much quicker than before. It definitely would be terrific if I could be getting into Heavensward by August.
  • LOTRO and ESO remain on the backburner, ready to come out to play at a moment’s notice should the inspiration strike me.
  • My daughter’s also bugging me big-time to buy Sims 4’s Cottage Living expansion, which comes out this month. But $40 is a big ask, so I don’t know…

Torchlight III and Magic Legends shows how early access can bite you in the butt

If you didn’t catch the news last week, Cryptic announced that Magic Legends — which hasn’t even officially launched yet — is shutting down on Halloween, of all days. For the unfamiliar, this was the studio’s newest title which drew upon the popular Magic the Gathering franchise and adapted it into a Diablo-style online RPG.

It’s the second blow to parent company Perfect World, which is still wiping copious amounts of egg off its face from Torchlight III, another online ARPG that debuted to a lackluster response, meandered about, and eventually jettisoned its entire developer.

It’s also shocking for Cryptic, which has been riding high on Neverwinter and Star Trek Online for years. We’ve never seen Cryptic fail this quickly this badly. The thing was, having played Magic Legends and speaking to many who also did, it wasn’t a terrible game. There was a lot of potential here and even the groundwork for a cult following. But it was messy, buggy, and devoid of meaningful content when it came out in early access, and not even the Magic IP could rope in the crowds it needed for long-term success.

Magic Legends (and Torchlight III) are the latest examples of how badly early access can go for a game. Sure, it gets a whole lot of excitement and press on Day One, but by Day Two, the playerbase realizes that they’re engaging with a half-baked game that needs a whole lot more work — and they’re not going to stick around to see it get finished. There’s too many other options, both current and upcoming, that is beckoning for attention.

The only early access games that I see really making it are the ones that come out already pretty much ready to go. They have the essentials down and they’re fun and not frustrating from the get-go. Games like RimWorld, Stardew Valley, and Valheim all land in this far more rare category.

“Early access” is not a magical talisman that guarantees a second chance down the road. As always, you only get one first impression, and now more than ever, it’s vital that it’s a great one — or you might as well pack it in. It feels like such a waste that Magic Legends and Torchlight III and other “had potential but failed to deliver” early access games are tossed out too soon to be chewed up and abandoned.