Neverwinter: Opening an old Door


According to my sometimes faulty blog records here on Bio Break, the last time I played Neverwinter to any degree of regularity was… January 2014. So, y’know, it’s been a while. And this isn’t even a post to say that I’m back full-bore into the game, just that I’m stopping back to say hi and see what’s up.

Neverwinter keeps adding more and more content to the point where I feel like there’s a mountain of soloable stuff out there that I’d like to see sooner or later. Just looking at the campaign pages (what’s a campaign? Have I ever done one?) was intimidating.

I flirted with the same-old idea of rolling up a new character and taking it through the whole game, but I need to stop doing that when returning to MMOs all of the time. After all, I have a perfectly serviceable level 57 Trickster Rogue on the character creation screen who not only has a lot of time invested in her but probably some money as well. The only downside here? I know nothing about her, Jon Snow.


Well, I remember very little at least. It’s been almost three years after all, and the game has changed a lot since then. The big disadvantage of picking up an old character that has a lot of hours under its belt is that you just feel silly and stupid and lost for the first hour or so playing it. Sure, some of it comes back naturally, but the rest requires some careful reading of tooltips, reallocating talent points, sorting through a bizarrely full inventory, and trying to suss out what you were doing when you last left the game.

While Neverwinter isn’t always very clear and concise when it comes to gear (and I have a rant coming on MMO gear complexity soon), at least the somewhat limited hotbar and talent build was easy to figure out. I mean, this is the kind of game where you just jam down on your left mouse button and your character goes to town while you admire the visuals. I started waking up those long-dormant memories of how much I liked seeing this TR dance about, throwing about decoys and slashing the enemy to ribbons.

And for all of the headache of figuring her back out, I was rewarded with a character who is already stocked with a healing artifact, two mounts, and five companions, including my ghost lady who possesses mobs and makes those mobs attack each other. I’d forgotten about her! Favorite companion ever. Should take her with me to other games.


After a while I had to close down the menus and just play the game for fun or else I might go a little mad and run from the computer. It’s in this that Neverwinter’s design perfectly aids the returning amnesiac, because you really don’t need to remember any quest details or objectives. Simply follow the yellow sparkly lights, son, and kill or click whoever is on the receiving end of it. Don’t question, just act. That’s the Neverwinter way.

As mindless as that is, it’s relaxing too. I am down in the middle of the magical chasm that severely damaged the city of Neverwinter back when, and there are all sorts of morose spellplague victims and apocalyptic visuals to encounter.

Small detail that I like: The NPC quest giver voice over persists even when you leave the screen. The voice acting is decent, but having it go on while you’re on the move does a great job delivering lore and setting without forcing you to stop and read paragraphs of text. Kind of like the fantasy equivalent of audiobooks or podcasts. Just listen while you’re on the go.

Some of the fights were a little tricky as I got used to my character again, but it was amazing how fast all of this came back once I got going. I did replace just one skill, however everything else is the same as it was back in early 2014.

Is Neverwinter the perfect pick-up-and-put-down MMO? I can see it as such, same with Star Trek Online. Not always polished but usually pretty enjoyable, and I’ll take the latter over the former any day if I had to choose.

Battle Bards Episode 84: Ultima


Need a podcast with a world sampler? Look no further than this episode, where co-hosts from the USA, Switzerland, and New Zealand join forces to discuss the Ultima Online games — and yes, there’s more than just one! Scott AKA Mylin subs in for Steff this week as the Battle Bards explore three Ultima titles and the fantastic music behind each.

Episode 84 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Stones” from Ultima Online and “The Hero’s Call” from Ultima Forever)
  • “Cove” from Ultima Online
  • “Hail, Lady of Britannia” from Ultima Forever
  • “Misty Forest” from Ultima X
  • “Buccanneer’s Den” from Ultima Online
  • “Despise the Light, Live in Shadows” from Ultima Forever
  • “Townlife” from Ultima X
  • “Rule City” from Ultima X
  • Which one did we like the most?
  • Jukebox Picks: “Explore (Day 2)” from Skyrim, “Cable Car” from No One Lives Forever, and “Cold Steel Coffin” from NieR
  • Outro (feat. “Victory” from Ultima Online)

Try-It Tuesday: Meridian 59


Try-It Tuesdays is a (semi) regular weekly feature in which I take a break from my current roster of games to play something else for an evening. You can check out past Try-It Tuesday adventures here or submit a suggestion for a future title in the comments!

Today we’re really going back, all the way back to the mid-90s and Meridian 59. I feel that as a guy who often writes about older MMOs, I should at least snack on them from time to time. The game’s been in maintenance mode for years now, a relic of the past that’s kept the lights on well beyond so many other games that have come and gone since its debut. That deserves a little bit of respect.

But can a player from 2016 even approach this game? I mean, I play retro games all of the time (and blog about them too), but older MMOs with alien, archaic systems are a little intimidating. Let’s see what we have here.


Check out THAT character creation screen! It’s so vintage Windows 95 that I couldn’t help but smile. Hey, at least its (a) functional and (b) more detailed than most modern MMO creators. Well, not more detailed visually, but you do get to build your character, choose spells, stats, and skills before heading into the game.

I rolled up a warrior-ish character, Goobie, who used his precious few skill points to buy a minor heal spell, the block skill, and the ability to fight with a short sword. I’m so epic it hurts.


My kids and I had some good fun with the character creator visuals. It turned out that we’d never see his face in the game anyway, since Meridian 59 puts you in forced first-person mode, but it’s nice to know that I’m stunning everyone else with my eye patch and balding red hair.


Meridian 59’s game engine, if nothing else, triggered so many memories of gaming in the 90s. It’s not 3D, but what we called 2.5D — sort-of three dimensional, but you lack a lot of vertical mobility and world objects are paper-thin cutouts that rotate to always face you so that the illusion is not dispelled. It’s kind of creepy to be standing there in an inn where the NPC is nothing more than an immobile picture that faces you no matter where you go. He’s coming for you. Soon.

The interface was functional and mostly intuitive, if still very ugly and old. I had to turn on mouselook mode to move just because sliding around felt so unnatural. What was really interesting is that you can right-click on objects, even mundane ones, to read surprisingly verbose descriptions.


Well… you have to admit that this is about seven words more than a bar stool typically deserves.


Naturally because of the graphics engine, everything in this game looks blocky, flat, and fake. Even outside, which is more colorful, still feels like you’re in a box with the sky making up most of the walls and ceiling.

I tried to broadcast a message to the entire server (world chat?) to see if anyone was there. If there was, they didn’t answer me. Am I… all alone? The only person in an entire MMO? That seriously gives me the creeps.


Starting out, I got a letter from my “guardian angel” giving me some practical advice and saying that I was being given limited protection. Good to know, Mr. Angel. Ms. Angel?


Tell me that this isn’t a face that you’d like to hit with a mace. And boy does that mace look painful, doesn’t it?

The NPCs seemed to emphasize how alone I was here. They didn’t do much of anything. Supposedly, you could talk to them, but only one lady ever answered my hello. Was I supposed to get quests from them? Buy from them? Marry them and have paper children? It was unclear.


At least the descriptions continued to amuse me. Way to pile on the deceased!


The tutorial area had a museum, which I found to be pretty interesting. Tapestries and objects to investigate, all speaking of past stories. It made me curious if this was a later addition, grown over time as relics were pulled from the game’s development, or pretty much made up on the spot.


Meridian 59’s biomes seamlessly transition between each other.

I jumped through a portal that took me to the world proper, but a combination of my general laziness, the feeling of being so very alone in a fantasy realm, and a cluelessness what to do. I guess if I had a lot more time, I could look up guides and investigate everything, but I was antsy and wanted to explore. Don’t think less of me.


After wandering down some forest paths, I came upon my first (and, as it turns out, only) enemy mob, a centipede. This is his thorax, because it was really hard to get a good screenshot (we’re talking maybe five jerky animated attack frames) and try to defend myself. I was jamming on the “E” key, because that was the only way I could swing my mace. Was I hitting? Where did he go? Ahh! The screen is red!

Aaaaaand I died. But you already assumed that.


I woke up in what I assumed to be hell, or a house occupied by someone with incredibly bad interior decorating skills. Is that lava? Shag carpet? I didn’t know, but I made a beeline for the purple portal over there and got spat out into another village. By this time, I had just no grasp on where I was or what I should be doing. I just knew that if there was a loss condition of the game, I was hitting that pretty solidly.


My Meridian 59 adventure ended in the rooms of what I assumed to be a palace or a badly designed Doom level. Mmm… suckling pig with demon eyes. My favorite! There were also a lot of identical guards, all looking at me with the obvious intent to devour my soul the second I turned my back and lowered my guard.

So what did I learn? Probably that I need to digest a guide to the game and take it a lot more seriously if I ever came back. I tried to imagine what it would be like to play this back in the mid-90s, and I assume that the novelty of it and contemporary visuals wouldn’t have been so much a problem. Still, without direction, companionship, or a fun combat system, I’m left with a tour through the husk of what used to be a living game. Was it worth it? I… guess?

5 YouTube channels I recommend for MMO fans

A couple of months ago, I flirted with the idea with starting up a proper Bio Break YouTube channel — mostly to show off retro gaming sessions, I guess. It seems that this and Twitch is where all of the hotness is right now (is printed word dead? Perish the thought!). But I don’t have the abundance of time and skill to record and edit videos, nor do I have the upload capacity for Twitch (although the latter is a possibility).

So instead of focusing on me, I thought I’d highlight six YouTube subscriptions that I’ve been enjoying when it comes to keeping tab on tons of different MMOs.

(1) TheLazyPeon

Good narration and editing take this channel a notch up from many others that I’ve seen, and the fact that he tackles a number of MMOs makes him a guy that could be a bosom buddy (or at least a likable chum) in my book. Lots of helpful first impressions and analysis of games that I write about daily, plus some interesting roundups of topics, such as indie MMOs and the best Steam games for a particular month.

(2) TheHiveLeader

I cherish content creators who know the value of “short, succinct, and sweet” when it comes to audio and video presentations. Anyone can ramble on for hours, but not all of us have time to consume that. This is one of the reasons that I love Hivey: Most of his videos are in the 4-6 minute range, and they are informative, funny, and entertaining. Plus, he loves Project Gorgon just as much as me, and so I have another

(3) Bog Otter

Richie is a former Massively colleague who always made well-polished and informative videos. A change of address hasn’t changed that; his stuff is still pretty worthwhile to watch. My only quibble is that he tends to get, er, bogged down in just one game for a long time, and currently it’s Guild Wars 2. Always wished I had a voice that was as good as his.

(4) WoodenPotatoes

I am a sucker for a well-done presentation, and WoodenPotatoes has that. While it’s mostly just Guild Wars 2 stuff (and when I’m not playing, I’m not that interested in reading/watching it), occasionally he diverges into other games and topics.

(5) Let’s All Game

When I do have time for longer-form videos, I’ll head to this channel because the hosts do line up a lot of MMORPGs to play and deliver first impressions. There’s a really, really nice selection of games that they cover, from Albion to AdventureQuest 3D to Ultima Online.

Star Control 2: Hyperspace and beyond!


(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Control 2. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

I know what you’re thinking at this point: “Dude’s been dragging his feet in the solar system for three sessions now! When is he ever going to leave? Is he scared of the universe or something?”

No, I’m not scared (well, a little… there IS that Ultimate Evil floating out there, after all). And the answer is, “today.” Today I’m going to leave. But first I need more fuel, which means more mining on Mercury. And this time, I am save-scumming like crazy!


With my Mercury haul, I get enough cash (sorry, “RUs”) to fuel up. Time to blow this joint and see the galaxy!


And here is the galaxy map. HOLY CARP that’s a big map. Every dot there? That’s a system that you can visit. I can’t wait to explore this puppy. I like how the Ilwrath and Spathi regions are outlined for me too. That’s helpful as a beginner.


Hyperspace is reasonably easy to figure out. You can use the starmap to punch in coordinates for the autopilot and/or navigate the ship as usual to get from one system to another. I wish you could save coordinates and blow up the star map so it wasn’t a dense field of tiny dots, but it’s not impossible to work with.


You thought the solar system was big? Welcome to Alpha Centauri, my friend, home to a bajillion planets. Where to first?


A silver ship floats by and we bump into it, encountering the Melnorme for the first time. These weird guys are information traders who won’t reveal anything without credits. And to get credits, you have to sell them very specific information. The alien looks like a cross-breed of Kirby and a muffin.


The Melnorme said that they have “thousands” of sources of information and that I was known to them. Of course I was. Everyone knows of Emperor Syp and his grand interstellar crusade!


Ominous what now?

There are a couple of very mineral-rich planets in this system, although they’re also on incredibly hostile worlds. I had to develop a technique in which I’d send my lander down, quickly try to grab just one node, and then instantly evac. If successful, I’d save and go on to the next dot and so on. More often than not, the electrical storms and fire gusts would get me. Took a while, but I got all of the goods.


No sooner than I leave Alpha Centauri than I get sucked into an “encounter in deep space.” I’m both excited and fearful.


I never found out who these guys were. This probe shows up and declares that it’s on a peaceful mission of exploration, and when I say the same, it then abruptly “overrides” its protocols and decides to dismantle my ship. Say what now?

Gotta admit, Star Control 2 keeps me on my toes with these aliens. Well, whoever they are, they’re tough: They blew away all three of my ships without a problem. Reload time!

The probe shows up every time I leave Alpha Centauri and kills me, no matter what I say. I do learn a bit more about it, however. This is a Slylandro probe that’s on a mission to explore the galaxy. It replicates itself by breaking down what it finds for materials (including my ships), and when it hits 10 replications, it returns home. That does not sound like a well-thought-out plan.


It takes me just so many reloads, but finally I’m able to eke out a victory against the probe. Of course, I’m down to a single crew member, so I’m thinking that a trip back to Earth might be necessary. WANTED: RED SHIRTS FOR FATAL SPACE MISSION. MUST PROVIDE OWN BODY BAG.

Happily, all of the exotic minerals I mined at Alpha Centauri paid off — I rake in about 9,000 RUs, which is more than enough to fully fuel my ship, restock all of the crew of all three ships, add two more guns, and refit my flagship with more engines. Oh, and I think I got another storage pod in there too.

Star Control 2: Behold the red planet!


(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Control 2. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Behold the Red Planet! Oooh.  Ahhh.

Since you can never have a space sim — online or off — without an unpaid internship in mining, that’s what I’m going to be doing a lot of in this game. Or so I assume. Next up on our solar system tour is Mars, which my son says that one day he and I will visit in a rocket ship of his own design. As he is seven years old, I think it is a safe assumption that the phrase “disintegrated upon reentry; all hands presumed lost” will be used to in association with me in the future.


I’m learning new science facts! Wait a minute, is this a teaching game? Is there a magic school bus around here somewhere? Shut up, Carlos!

From there it’s mining ventures to several gas giant moons, including Io, Europa, and Titan. While the planets don’t have the full compliment of moons, I’m nevertheless impressed that they included some at all. The big name ones, at least.

Kind of very disappointed that Saturn isn’t shown as having rings. Why, Star Control 2 devs? Why?

Mineral-hungry, I went back to Mercury to pick up the rest of those radioactive goodies — and I promptly got my lander fried into oblivion. Well crud, now I have no lander and I have a sads.


They don’t give this guy a name (that I caught), so I’m going to call him Commander Keen. Cmdr. Keen tells me that there’s a phone call coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE… er, a broadcast coming from inside the solar system. Could be a spy. Could be an episode of Friends bouncing off of Jupiter. Gotta go check it out — but before I do so, I equip my ship with two landers, some more thruster and turning jets, a fuel tank, a storage tank, and a whole lotta extra fuel. I’m broke, but at least I feel prepared.


Still grumpy that Pluto isn’t a planet any more? Well then, come on down to Star Control 2, where it is still the ninth recognized planet of the solar system!


Turns out the signal is that of Captain Fwiffo here. His ship cripples my brand-new lander (ARGH) and kills half of its crew. Fwiffo says that it was a mistake — he’s pretty defensive and thinks I’m out to kill and torture him. I got a laugh at how quickly he gave up the coordinates to his homeworld and super-secret device in an attempt to appease me.

Also, this is the Spathi’s theme music, which I totally dig. Such a great soundtrack!

Fwiffo is a hoot, all swagger and vulnerability. He does a great job filling in the rest of the backstory of what happened to Earth, which I’ll summarize as follows:

After the Alliance got demolished by the Ur-Quan and the humans locked behind the red shield, the Ur-Quan left behind the Earthguard — a squadron of ships from two battle thrall races (the Ilwrath and Spathi) — as another deterrent to the human race. After some years, the Ur-Quan left the area to fight some sort of “Ultimate Evil,” taking the Ilwrath with them. The Spathi, which are fearful buggers, started retreating farther and farther away from Earth, leaving the automated moon base so that the space station would still think they were there. Then most of the Spathi left to guard their homeworld and Fwiffo was all that remained.

All alone in his ship, Fwiffo is extremely interested in joining up with my crusade. I guess that’s a good trade for the deaths of five or six crew members (including, the game reminds me, triplets). So now I have two combat ships attached to my flagship. Huzzah!