LOTRO: Over the river and through the woods

s1

I have come face to face with Sauron himself… and found the final boss encounter of LOTRO somewhat anticlimactic. I think the devs got lazy on this bit.

I’ve been playing more than my fair share of LOTRO as of late. I think of it as a reunion of sorts, getting reacquainted with an old, familiar lover. Wait, friend. Friend sounds less creepy. FOR THE RECORD, I never dated LOTRO. I just want that said.

s2

Ripple break! I had fun staging this shot. Love those ripple effects.

Anyway, I’m kind of torn between two options going forward. Option one is powering forward with my Captain, finishing Issue 19, and doing whatever after. Option two is getting behind my Lore-master and trying to blitz through three expansions’ worth of epic story to get her caught up. All things being equal, I’d stick with my Captain, but having gone back to the LM for a couple of sessions, I’ve been reminded how much I like this pet class and find its combat a whole lot more enjoyable than swinging a big sword and shouting a lot.

The LM, for the record, is level 81 and somewhere in the midst of Rohan. I don’t think that there would be a huge problem with traversing the epic story (epic battles notwithstanding) so much as making sure that I keep my level within the range of the epic if I’m not doing all of the side quests. I’m a little worried about this — at level 81, I’m trying to get through level 85 epic quests. I’m not struggling yet, but if it outpaces me too much, then I could be in trouble.

s3

So maybe I can do it. Maybe I’ll throw up my hands and just go back to the Cappy, who had crossed over Osgiliath into North Ithilian and mooned Mordor.

I had something happen that never has happened to me since I’ve been playing LOTRO from launch — I got evicted from my house since I had last played. I usually pay rent forward as much as possible, but I’d been gone so long that this ran out and I was made destitute. Sighing heavily at how dumb this is, I bought a new home and redecorated, feeling irked at having to do so and in encountering the hook system after RIFT, WildStar, etc. Maybe I should look into a premium house? But the hobbit houses are so cozy!

s4

I will say this: I am bound and determined to stick with my goat mount all the way up to Mount Doom. No war-horses for me any more! (That’s another advantage of the LM; with her skills and the bog-guardian, I can kill mounted mobs from range quite easily.)

My kin clued me in to a few nice quality-of-life improvements that I had overlooked, such as cosmetic weapons (woo!) and being able to consolidate bags into one big inventory panel. Man, I love that last one so much. It makes looking through my junk way easier than before.

s5

 

THAT IS NOT A BABY! I almost shudder to think what is under that blanket… and am slightly curious if the LOTRO devs just didn’t want to create a model for a baby for a throwaway scene. “Let’s just cover it up!” they said, and a star was born.

Battle Bards Episode 89: Nightfall

night

When the sun goes down, the Battle Bards’ work has just begun! In this week’s episode, the crew explores nighttime music cues in MMOs, chasing the ever-elusive feel of what that period between dusk and dawn sounds like in game. Don’t fall asleep!

Episode 89 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat.“Shire Nights” from Lord of the Rings Online and “Moons of Evening Star” from Elder Scrolls Online)
  • “Painted Skies” from FFXIV
  • “Nacht” from Drakensang
  • “Starry Night” from Aura Kingdom
  • “Candlelight” from Dragon’s Prophet
  • “Nighttime Music” from Black Desert Online
  • “Palace at Night” from Chronicles of Spellborn
  • “Rogshire Night 2” from Runes of Magic
  • Which one did we like the most?
  • Jukebox Picks: “Heroic Assault” from Gears of War 2, “E3 2016 Trailer” from Cosmic Star Heroine, and “Main Theme” from Atlas Reactor
  • Outro (“Dusk of God” from MapleStory)

Try It Tuesday: Virginia

v1

In a nice little coincidence, I played another adventure game/walking simulator this weekend after last week’s Gone Home (thank the Steam winter sale for that): Virginia. Heard some good things and was in the mood for a juicy bit of video game storytelling, so for five bucks, why not?

I was thrown for a bit of a loop when Virginia ended up being far different than I had anticipated. It’s only marginally an adventure game and closer in truth to an interactive movie in which your character follows a very linear story while you trigger the next sequence by finding whatever clicky is in the room. That’s it for gameplay; there’s no puzzles, no freeform exploration, and strangest of all, no dialogue.

That’s right — in a creepy mystery adventure game involving the FBI, a cult conspiracy, and ghosts from the past, there’s absolutely no dialogue whatsoever. There’s not even mouseover descriptions or inner monlogue. Even the sounds are muted save for the rather excellent but blaring soundtrack.

Instead, you play the game forced to pick up story cues from the environments, body language, and the very occasional printed reports you’re handed. It’s like playing a silent movie, and in a way, it works. It feels weird and isolating, but also rewarding to pick up on details enough to figure out a piece of the overall story.

Virginia is about a rookie FBI agent who is partnered up with an ostracized member of the agency and told to find a missing kid in a nearby town of Kingdom. Your character is given a secondary objective, which is to investigate your new partner for… something to bring her down. You would think that there would be a lot of investigation and clue solving, but that’s mostly a red herring for the real stories, which have to do with your past and your partner’s past.

v2

As short and captivating as Virginia initially is, it also fails as both a game and a story. Abrupt cuts to new scenes are very common, constantly prompting you to reorient yourself to what’s going on (and to make things worse, half of them are dream sequences). It just keeps jumping all around the place, with the investigation taking more and more of a back seat to whatever baggage these characters are carrying.

There’s only so much story you can tell without dialogue, and one can’t help but think that this would have been a much deeper and much more interesting game if people spoke. Instead, Virginia is limited in what it can tell, and it decides to invest heavily into symbolism and esoteric sequences that can be interpreted just about any way you like.

Another issue I have with it is the rather abrupt shift in focus from the first two-thirds of the game, which mostly focus on very human issues, such as loss, racial prejudice, integrity/corruption, and friendship — and the last third, during which Virginia starts revving up the David Lynch weird-o-meter by throwing cults and UFOs and increasingly bizarre symbols at you. It’s frustrating that the game sort of hints that there is this big conspiracy in the town, yet it’s never explained, explored in any depth, or really impacts you. It’s just a garnish. And it’s actually not needed. I was far more interested in the backstories of these two women, their struggle as minorities in the ’90s FBI, their losses, and secret investigations. I wanted more of that, more of the partnership, more of the investigation, more character development. Ain’t nobody asking for ten solid minutes of dream sequences that deals with none of that (or does it? Dreams can be anyyyyything!).

The ending is a weird hodgepodge of nonsense, and I can say that with certainty because I’ve been reading up on interpretations of it, and just about nobody can agree on what this story is really about or what the finale is saying. You can all but imagine the game developers rocking back and forth in glee at how players will find themselves mystified and in awe at all of these red herrings and unanswered questions. “It’s such a great game!” this strawman gamer exclaims. “I have no idea what it means!”

It’s really, honestly, this:

Symbolism and mystery and some unanswered questions are fine in moderation, but when a storyteller figures out that if you just slather enough of this all over the place you don’t have to explain anything, then I get seriously annoyed. You can’t figure it out! It must be oh-so-deep and profound! Don’t be visibly confused or else you’ll look stupid when others talk to you about the game!

Like Gone Home, I don’t regret playing through this, but also like Gone Home, I was left majorly wanting. The part of the story I could grok was certainly fascinating enough that it could have been a great tale if told straight in the end. Instead we get murdered bison, UFOs, shattered masks, and roaring furnaces, all trying to outdo each other in inscrutability. Thanks but no thanks.

 

Star Trek Online: Holiday to the future

st1

More time traveling hijinks in Star Trek Online, shall we? We shall. Daniels, who doesn’t seem to want to leave me alone, has another task. The Vorgons in the future are chasing after some Macguffin Super Weapon, and we have to jump to the 27th century to help. Considering that it is, you know, the future, you think we could just leave a note for Future Starfleet to handle. Worked for Marty McFly.

So we’re off to the 27th century, and I’ll admit, I was pretty excited to see what vision of this far-flung era the developers had in store. Turns out that the 27th century looks an awful lot like the 23rd, 24th, and 25th when all you do is hang out in space. Yes, the mission never lets you see anything cool in the future, just a lot of space battles.

st2

Ooh, Star Trek Online, you so pretty. I often forget that.

st4

We then chase the Macguffin back to the Star Trek Enterprise era and its sixteen loyal viewers. Once again, no fan service satisfaction other than a brief shot of Archer’s ship. No cameo, no heading over for dinner, nothing but some more space battles. I have to admit, this all felt very lazy and half-assed, especially with the mission name-dropping Archer and Picard as if that was supposed to instill some sort of awe.

The most interesting part of the space battles was fighting some Tholians who decided to show up and attack both me and the Vorgons. The Tholian webs are pretty cool to see in action.

You know what would have been cool? A time travel mission in which you would be able to choose which era you’d visit and have to flit back and forth to solve a mystery. But that’s not what we get here.

st5

At least it all picked up when we were sent to Earth during the Dominion War, when the Breen were invading Starfleet Academy. I was considering how odd it was that I had a Breen crewmate, but no matter, friendly fire was not an issue.

st6

In the end, I stop the Vorgons from getting the device, but it’s a half-won victory. The Vorgons end up going all-in with the mysterious time traveling Envoy, and this decision gives the Envoy hair while Daniels’ own face gets warped even further. I’m calling it: Daniels and the Envoy are the same person. But I’ll have to find that out later, I guess!

Syp’s Gaming Goals: January 2017

pyre

December in review

Due to the holidays and the changes to my routine, I actually ended up with a lot less time to game than normal (turns out that when your wife AND kids are home all of the time, this happens). Still, it was kind of a good month and I leave it feeling optimistic about what I’m playing and where I’m going.

In The Secret World, I went through and documented the entire Nursery quest line as well as the Christmas mission. I did make some headway into Suramar City in World of Warcraft, but slowed way down in my progression through RIFT’s Gedlo Badlands (although I did have a lot of fun with my guild at the Christmas party). LOTRO started picking up more play time from me as I’ve been starting on the whole post-battle Update 19 content. I’ve become apathetic toward Guild Wars 2 once more, but I’m leaving that option open for the future.

Outside of MMOs, I’ve been playing a lot of Crazy Kings (tower defense game) and Knights of Pen and Paper 2 on mobile. I took a bit of a break from the Try It Tuesday series but came back for a late entry with Gone Home.

January goals

A new year always gets my imagination stirring for what I could be doing… new projects, returning to other games, etc. Finishing up Suramar City in time for 7.2 is important to me, so I’ll devote a night or two to doing nothing but that. I have a very interesting RIFT project in mind that I’m going to get started soon, I’ll be doing a night here and there in LOTRO, and I’ll be continuing with my adventures through Transylvania in The Secret World. I’m going to log in at least three Star Trek Online missions over the month as well.

I have some possibly-maybe ideas brewing, such as going through all of LOTRO’s Bingo Boffin quests in a row (yes, all 52 of them!), finishing up both SWTOR Knight expansions to see the story, and switching over to seriously level my World of Warcraft Hunter. I sort of have an itch to check back in with Final Fantasy XIV, particularly since I have never played it on this computer and there’s an expansion coming.

I would like to wrap up the Star Control 2 playthrough and then evaluate my options on a new retro game series. My list of Try It Tuesday games keeps growing, but I have a short list that I want to get around to sooner rather than later, including ARK, Virginia, and at least one MMO I’ve never played before.

Ongoing projects

  • The Secret World: Transylvania and Tokyo playthroughs
  • RIFT: Starfall Prophecy questing and puzzle project
  • LOTRO: Issue 19 and Bingo Boffin quests
  • Star Trek Online: Yesterday’s War, Iconian War, Future Proof, and New Frontiers episodes
  • World of Warcraft: Finish Suramar, get Broken Isles Pathfinder part 1
  • SWTOR: Fallen Empire and Eternal Throne solo chapters
  • Retro Gaming: Star Control 2

What do you want to do this month in your gaming?

MMO timeline of 2016

Seeing as how this is the last day of the year, I thought it was fitting to provide a quick overview of all of the major launches, expansions, adaptations, and closures of MMORPGs in 2016. This is, of course, from my constantly updated MMO Timline page.

  • January – Blade & Soul launches in the west
  • January – City of Steam closes
  • January – RuneScape classic reopens
  • March – The Division launches
  • March – Black Desert launches in the west
  • March – Path of Exile: Ascendancy
  • March – FFXI on consoles closes
  • April – EVE Online: Citadel
  • April – Trove: Mantle of Power
  • April – Ascent: The Space game launches
  • May – DUST 514 closes
  • May – Tree of Savior launches
  • June – Landmark launches
  • June – Lineage II: Helios
  • July – PlanetSide closes
  • July – Star Trek Online: Agents of Yesterday
  • July – Aion: Echoes of Eternity
  • July – Riders of Icarus soft launch
  • August – World of Warcraft: Legion
  • September – LEGO Minifigures Online closes
  • September – Star Trek Online launches on consoles
  • September – Otherland launches
  • September – Path of Exile: Atlas of Worlds
  • September – Destiny: Rise of Iron
  • November – EVE Online goes free-to-play
  • November – The Crew: Calling All Units
  • November – EverQuest: Empires of Kunark
  • November – EverQuest II: Kunark Ascending
  • November – RIFT: Starfall Prophecy
  • November – EVE Online: Ascension
  • December – Star Wars: The Old Republic: Knights of the Eternal Throne
  • December – ArcheAge: Revelation
  • December – Trove launches on consoles