Great Game Tour Day 1: Diablo II Resurrected

Welcome to Bio Break’s Great Game Tour ’21! This is a personal challenge of a sort that I’m choosing to do to kick my butt out of a gaming rut that I’ve been in for the past couple of months. Like many of you, I’ve built up an extensive backlog of games in my various libraries that I’ve never touched — but now, they’re gonna get touched with a vengeance.

The idea of the Great Game Tour is that over the span of a month (30 days) I’m going to dip into a new game every day and spend at least an hour that day checking it out. It’s a total tourist approach, sampling various wares and taking notes of what titles I want to go back and play more in earnest later on. I’ll be pulling titles from my GOG, Steam, and Epic libraries that I’ve never played before and offering up my thoughts in a 30-part blog series. Probably also dip into a mobile backlog and some untouched MMOs as well.

However, I’m going to start with a Blizzard title, as I got into the Diablo II technical alpha and had some time to check out this renovated classic. It’s shiny and crisp and all that, and I’m sure it’ll really appeal to some people, but what I found was a return to a game that I hadn’t touched in well over a decade. It was visiting with an old friend once more and finding, as I often do with retro games, that delightful times can still be had.

What I really liked with Resurrected is that you can easily swap back and forth between the updated version and “legacy mode,” which is how Diablo II looked back in the day. I actually ended up liking the legacy mode better — I kid you not — because I felt like the pixel art had more color and personality than the bland-but-functional revamp. And either edition played pretty much identically, with that same fast-and-furious combat style that Diablo II perfected.

I wasn’t that thrilled with the skills or (unrespeccable) talent tree, as it made me miss Diablo III’s more vivacious options all the more. But it certainly would be very interesting to play through D2 from start to finish, as I never actually beat it back when I was in my 20s.

Sunday Serenade: SpaceCamp, Parry Gripp, and more!

Time for another Sunday morning dose of random songs that I’ve been listening to this past week! Welcome to Sunday Serenade — now let’s crank the jams up with… 

“SpaceCamp” from SpaceCamp — One of my favorite John Williams scores.

“Shiva” by Luke Bergs — TechnoSax is an acquired taste, I’ll admit.

“Good on You” by Alex Hobson and Talia Mar — A breezy summer song that sounds like it’s straight from the ’90s.

“No Time to Stress” By Embody — It’s a good chanty-type anthem with a silly core.

“Anxious” by Dennis Lloyd — Freaking out while listening to tropical house. It’s interesting.

“Dump Truck” by Parry Gripp — It should be illegal how catchy Parry Gripp’s songs are.

“Best of Me” by Efraim Leo — Great bouncy beat and a nice uplifting tone.

12 games that deliver the feeling of hiking through a world

As I said earlier this week, I’ve been slightly obsessed with this notion of hiking the Appalachian Trail. It’s always been one of those secret, quiet goals that I know I can’t do — at least not at this point in my life — but I love the idea of it. I like the thought of setting out to simply walk the land for a long way, seeing nature as it is, and achieving a very long-term goal.

So while books and YouTube videos on the subject help to sate this inner desire, I’ve also considered what games might fill that void. Most RPGs operate on hub-and-spoke questing systems where you’re never really that far away from “civilization,” nor do you go on massively long treks from point A to B through the wild. But are there games like this?

The very first that comes to mind is The Trail, a title that came out several years back that is simply a walking simulator that throws in some collection, questing, and crafting along the way. It’s got great music and a serene pace, although I’ve never been that much in love with how the fussy inventory works here.

Survival games are a good field from which to explore, although they don’t tend to emphasize a journey so much as just “roaming around until you get enough stuff not to die so you can go roam around in the next zone.” The Long Dark is probably the closest to an A to B journey through the wild that I’ve encountered. I did like it and would want to go back to it at some point for another shot.

Firewatch definitely gets a lot of the feel of being out in nature and being alone as you scuttle over and around the environment, although its journeys are almost always loops that lead right back to a starting place. But I loved the beginning when you hike into this remote outpost and then explore around it.

There’s a web-based Appalachian Trail game called Thru-Hiker’s Journey, but it’s more Oregon Trail than visuals and personal exploration and experience.

I posed this question to friends on Twitter and got a few additional responses, including Lord of the Rings Online, Valheim, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, Oregon Trail, Eidolon, Outward, Eastshade, and A Short Hike. What would you say?

Fallout 76: A new face, a new identity

Despite the general lack of time on my hands during this very busy month, I felt the urge to dip back into Fallout 76. It’s been on my to do list for a while, to start over and see how the level-scaling works from the ground up. It’s certainly been a while since I’ve been to Appalachia, but I miss it. Yeah, I know this game has problems up the wazoo, but I miss it.

And another part of the reason that I’ve been wanting to get back into it is that I’m jonesing for some nature crawling. Now that spring is in full bloom around here, we’ve been going out for hikes and bike rides and kayak trips, and I yearn for that exploratory feel in a game. Fallout 76 delivers that thanks to its wilder setting. And I’ve gotten a bit addicted to reading and watching stuff on the Appalachian Trail, which also ties in.

Anyway! Here’s my new character. I tried to give her a bit of a different look than the rest, kind of a sassy old school engineer, and I think it looks fine. She handles herself well, especially while punching Chinese bots.

But I’m in no hurry. I need to rebuild my stockpile, start in on questlines, get gear, build a base, and start checking off places on the map. Considering that they brought in a whole bunch of new content over the last half-year, I’ve got more to look forward to than before.

I’m thinking about maybe making her a melee fighter instead of my usual shooty style, just to try something new (and keep ammo weight down). I can always flip between options, of course.

It feels like Fallout 76 is finally filling out as the game it should’ve been in the first place — all except the much-needed social options like guilds and text chat that it still lacks. I might start looking around for a Discord guild or something to stave off the isolation.

Maniac Mansion: Art therapy

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1987’s Maniac Mansion. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

I have vague memories of early adventure games in my youth where the player would be given some strange house to explore. The allure was always in the “what will be behind the next door?” so you wanted to keep going. I get a lot of this feeling with Maniac Mansion’s rooms.

After all, this is a game where you’re given very little in the way of exposition or even — in contrast to most adventure games — descriptions. The characters can’t be told to look at things and give a better explanation, so the best you can hope for is that by bumping against stuff they might utter a short descriptive phrase. Or you can just take in the room and deduce your own explanation.

Such as it is with this bizarre art room… that also has a vat of purple slime in the corner? And some really bad drawings? I don’t know what’s going on here, but it looks like art class for kindergarteners.

Up on the third story, there’s a sentient green tentacle. Of course. And unlike the other inhabitants of this house, he doesn’t seem that hostile. Hungry, yes, but not hostile.

Up on the fourth floor, Dr. Fred’s room has this confusing wanted posted. Apparently a “slimy meteor” has been doing some hardcore violence around the place? Enough to warrant a poster from the authorities? This is so confusing…

Another cutscene, another bewildering interaction between the blue-skinned family. I guess this is what life is like when you live with a mad scientist.

I’ll say this: At least this isn’t your typical haunted house. Every room here is just so strange and funny and begs for an explanation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mummy pin-up before.

Fifth floor now? This is where green tentacle lives — or should I say, pouts. He’s all depressed because he’s having problems getting his band going, which you would think would be right up Razor’s alley, being a punk rocker and all.

In true adventure game fashion, I’m stealing everything not nailed down and trashing the place. Here, Razor plays a loud cassette tape to break a chandelier (and a window) in order to get a key. Hey, it’s their fault for putting keys up there in the first place!

Man, I’d love to be taking what looks like a jet-propelled car out for a test drive, but alas, it lacks wheels.

Elder Scrolls Online: On to Stonefalls

With Glenumbra 100% completed (at least what I wanted to do with it), I was free to move on and start working on a different zone. There was no clear direction where I had to go, so I just pulled on a dangling quest thread that I had and moved over to Stonefalls. It’s a semi-volcanic zone that is part of the Morrowind province, so it shares a lot with the famous island.

Weirdly enough, as much as I tend to dislike “lava zones” in video games, ESO has always made its very pretty. The glowing, slowly moving magma is hypnotic, and I’ve found that it’s rarely a serious impediment to travel.

It’s certainly a chunky zone with a whole lot to do, so I anticipate being here for a while. That’s OK; I’m starting to fill in my champion points and trying to grab as much level 50 stamina gear for my build. If I log in every night and accomplish a couple somethings — a quest chain, a delve, exploring more of the map — then I feel like I’m making good progress.

And there’s that cheeky ESO humor that pops up every now and then that I love. One of the city quests had a dubious figure challenge me to swipe a bottle of wine away from a bartender. To do that, I had to figure out from the bar’s patrons what really got under this guy’s skin and then select one of those methods to pull him away from the bottle.

(As an aside, I really love it when MMO quests give you multiple paths to the same objective — it’s something that games do far, far too little of, in my opinion.)

I elected to get this one guy really drunk so that he’d start crooning loudly. Which he did, and with the voice acting, it’s pretty funny. I almost didn’t grab the bottle, I was mesmerized by how bad this was.

Plans for Burning Crusade Classic’s prepatch

I really don’t have super-exciting adventures to share with you from WoW Classic these days. For the better part of a week, I’ve parked my Gnomey butt off the shores of the Hinterlands, hunting and skinning turtles as I ground my way to 49… 50… 51. Just nine more levels to go, and at this point I’m most likely to just grind my way there.

It’s working for me, to make Ironforge my base to store up rested XP, sell my goods, and repair before flying to wherever I’m grinding that week. Then I get into a mode and knock out a few more bars while I listen to an audio book or watch a movie on my phone.

I think all of us in WoW Classic have the pre-patch forefront in our minds these days. As I’ve heard it said, the TBC pre-patch is going to be a mini-expansion in its own right, at least if you look at the features it’s bringing: Two more races, four more zones, a talent tree revamp, and a leveling revamp.

My plans for the pre-patch are, I’m sure, a lot like many others’. As soon as it hits, I’m rolling up my Draenei Shaman and starting a new climb to 60 (or, at least, 58). I’ll look forward to the better starter zones and the faster overall leveling, not to mention the earlier mount acquisition. But all I can do for her right now is gather together some bags and get a whole lot of gold ready.

I have been thinking about her professions, too. I think I might actually try my hand at leatherworking, which will help gear up my Shaman. And skinning, of course, to make a self-sufficient package.

At the pace the beta’s currently going, I think an early-to-mid May pre-patch is likely. The question is past that, how long will it go on for? Everyone assumes one month minimum, but two months isn’t out of the question. I wouldn’t mind two, to be honest, because it’s going to be at least that long in getting my Shaman to Burning Crusade levels. But if it’s just a month, well, then the crowd will have moved on by the time I get there. That works too.

WoW Classic: The 40s leveling blues

When you get into the 40s in WoW Classic, it does all sorts of psychological seesawing in your head. On one hand, hey, I’m actually getting there. I’m level 47 and chugging along with the end goal in sight. I have most of my full range of skills and a pretty good build going on.

But on the other hand… man those levels come so… so slowly. Thanks to the exponential leveling curve design of most MMOs, especially in the older eras, it was like the game makes you crawl and scrabble for every inch of XP bar progress. You work, and sweat, and bleed to make it another level. And when you get that done? An even longer level lies waiting.

At least I can console myself with four facts:

  1. As simple and lengthy as it is, I’m still enjoying it. And I’m further now than I’ve ever been in WoW Classic, by a LONG shot.
  2. I’m using Joana’s leveling guide to be as efficient as possible (I used this back in the day too, and appreciate the streamlining that it offers today).
  3. I’m making a lot of money. Well, making some money. I’m up to 600 gold, so I can feasibly afford an epic mount once TBC’s prepatch drops. No, don’t start talking to me about buying a flying mount just yet. That’s a whole ‘nother story.
  4. I can get a lot of other stuff done — podcasts, audio books, movie watching — while I level.

And as I keep having to remind myself, at least once TBC’s prepatch arrives, leveling will be considerably faster, so my future Shaman won’t be quite so painful.

These days I’m rocking a full Demo build right down to soul link, and it’s working really well for me. The succubus makes the best pet, IMO, for this build in Classic because she has enough health to help with the soul link transfer, does a good amount of damage, and automatically crowd controls humanoid mobs if I aggro more than one.

So I continue to take pictures and make my way through zones like Azshara, Searing Gorge, and the Hinterlands on my quest for the elusive level 60 ding.

Nostalgia Lane: The Legend of Zelda

I’m not much of a Nintendo fanboy, nor am I deeply entrenched into the Zelda series. In fact, to this day, I’ve only really been sucked into just two of the titles, and it’s those two I wanted to reminisce about today.

The first of these was the original 1986 Legend of Zelda on the NES. Now, I didn’t have an NES, but believe you me, this game was so incredibly popular in our grade that I sought out every neighborhood friend who had a Nintendo, this game, and a willingness to let me hang out to play or at least watch. That was the original streaming, kids: Watching over a friend’s shoulder because it was the next best substitute to playing yourself.

Anyway, I was completely fascinated with Zelda because it was this action-packed game with a whole lot of RPG elements. I loved the idea of collecting and using all sorts of different items, not just for combat but also for exploration. It was an action-RPG before I even knew what that sort of thing was.

I did have get the amazing two-screen Zelda game and watch portable in 1989, which became one of my favorite handhelds ever. It was really clever how it offered sprawling dungeon crawling and even a bit of item collection and usage.

But for my money, the high point of my Zelda adventuring came in 1991 with A Link to the Past. By then, we had a SNES, and you best believe that this was one of the first games we bought for it. You got your money’s worth here, both in terms of quality and length, because you could pour dozens and dozens of hours into exploring this sprawling world (and an alternate dimension version). I don’t know how I beat this without walkthroughs — I think I did have some magazines that offered tips and hidden secrets — but I did a couple of times.

And that was it. I didn’t get a N64, so my interest in Zelda plummeted to nothing for the successive Nintendo consoles. I don’t know, nothing seemed to grab me as a “must play” the way those first two games did, and I’m content with that being the case for me.

Maniac Mansion: Ding-dong!

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1987’s Maniac Mansion. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

One of the reasons I love doing the Retro Gaming series here on Bio Break is that I get to correct some great oversights in my own past and visit games that I didn’t get to (or was unaware of) at that time. So one of these big oversights is LucasArts’ 1987 classic Maniac Mansion. All I really know of it is that (a) you can play through it with different characters and skills, (b) it was the sort-of prequel to Day of the Tentacle, and (c) it existed back in the text parser era. Other than that, I’m going in pretty fresh!

I do applaud the idea of creating different parties for the game to alter the playthrough experience. Considering that adventure games had very little in the way of replayability back then, this is a cool design. I went with the nerd Bernard and the punk rocker Razor as my picks (you have to use Dave as well, so he kind of doesn’t count for personal choice).

The intro is very barebones. We’re shown a meteor crashing down near a mansion “20 years ago,” a catchy theme song plays, and then we arrive at a group of young adults who are on a rescue mission. Apparently “Dr. Fred” has kidnapped “Sandy,” but nobody’s really giving me any overt context for this, so I’m assuming that we want Sandy back.

The sign in front of the mansion says, “WARNING: Trespassers will be horrible mutilated.” That’s a good sign, right?

The interface here took me a second to get it, but it’s actually pretty slick for 1987. Instead of typing everything out, you use the cursor to select verbs and then click on things in the environment to make full commands. I like that there’s a limit to how many verbs we’re talking about here. Plus, there’s the ability to swap between kids, which has a Lost Vikings puzzle-solving feel to it.

As Bernard starts poking around the mysterious mansion, a brief cutscene shows tube top Sandy in the clutches of blue-faced Dr. Fred. He’s doing the mad scientist thing of gloating about his evil plan — something involving sucking brains out — and he leaves Sandy to her doom.  This cannot stand!

One part of this game’s design I’m not too keen about is the fact that it uses a (semi?) real-time system, so that events start happening around the house in particular order. This puts pressure on to do things quickly or wait for certain other events to happen — such as Weird Ed here going for a snack — and that kind of raises the stress level for me.

Meanwhile, Razor gets captured in the kitchen by Nurse Edma and thrown into the dungeon. I think the characters here are like additional lives, in that you can lose one or two and possibly win, although you might be backing yourself up into an unwinnable scenario if you can’t have access to a character with a particular ability.

Yes, this looks like a totally normal door that anyone might have in their house, eh? At this point, I don’t know if this Sandy is worth all the trouble!