World of Warcraft: I’m not giving up on Beast Mastery

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Where can I tame a flower to attack on command?

Ever since 7.0 — Classocalypse — came out, there has been a dire sorting. Players have been lumping classes into the naughty and nice piles, mourning over some that have been ruined, RUINED for life and rejoicing over others that are now shining brighter than the noonday sun.

One spec that seems to be widely derided since 7.0 is the Beast Mastery Hunter, a spec that has been my go-to since I first created this character in Lich King. I love me some strong pets, and the Hunter’s ability to tame and choose pets adds to that bond. Plus, while there are other pet classes in the game, this one is paired with a ranged weapon-using class, which has always made me feel powerful and mobile.

But I’ll admit it: 7.0 was not kind to BM Hunters. I felt like the spec was in a great place in Warlords and had a terrific flow to it. Now, post-7.0, it’s like something’s been amputated. It’s still pumping out damage and presumably enough to stay competitive, but it’s clumsy. The rotation isn’t smooth, but instead awkward, like dancing with two left feet. There’s been much moaning about waiting for cooldowns to finish, and really, that’s the truth of the situation.

I know a lot of people are saying, “Just wait until Legion. Wait until the artifacts. Right now you’re not playing the full, completed class as it’s been (re)designed.”

And I get that… but that also doesn’t strike me as true.

For one thing, does this mean that from now on all of the classes of the game aren’t supposed to feel “complete” until players hit 100 and gain access to artifact weapons? What about the 1-100 experience? Is it OK if a level 99 class comes across as only half-baked?

For another, from my experience, some of these new specs do work quite well as they are, even before Legion. My Unholy Death Knight is an absolute treat as is and I can’t wait to flesh her out a little more. It’s a good thing that’s going to get better.

The best I can be hoping for my Beast Master, on the other hand, is that a somewhat broken, incomplete spec might be made whole through Legion. And this irritates me, as if the devs stabbed my character in the belly and then crowed, “Just wait until the expansion when we give you the bandages that will finally make you whole!” All I can think is, I was doing pretty well for myself before your interference.

This might make me sound like I’m giving up on the BM. Trust me, there have been moments. I’ve even looked at the other specs, but Marks seems so blah and I am NOT going melee with a Hunter. And even though I’m not quite buying this call for patience, that all will be made well come September, I am sticking it out.

Even as is, I love the look of my Hunter charging in with her rifle, firing off a barrage and attacking creatures half a football field away. I am quite attached to Oz, my ghost wolf, and have a devotion to seeing this character continue her journey that she started so long ago. I’m excited that she can explore Engineering and maybe build herself a little robot companion come Legion.

And yes, I’ve looked at Titanstrike and seen a few things that might make an uneven situation a little more smooth. Getting a second pet is darn fine compensation to yanking out some of the gears that made my BM work in the past, so I guess we truly will see. I just don’t want to get so disheartened now that I shy away from playing her at all.

What I think of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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By now I think that most people know and recognize what an oddity Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is. It’s the eighth official story in the series… that’s actually written by Jack Thorne and not Rowling (who limited herself to coming up with the story). It’s a published book… that’s actually a rehearsal script for a two-part play instead of being a novel. And it’s much less about Harry Potter than it is about his son.

It’s weird and has proven to be pretty divisive among Potter fans. I’m not exactly sure where I stand on it.

I blitzed through the book in about two nights. Since it’s a play, other than some stage directions and descriptions, pretty much all you’re reading is dialogue. That makes for a fast read right there — and not necessarily a bad one. I found it pretty easy to lose myself in the story and come up with the descriptive details from my prior experience with the franchise.

The tale concerns Albus Potter, a not-so-great wizard who is struggling with the legacy of his father, and his Hogwarts best friend Scorpio, a pretty-awesome-guy who is struggling with the rumors that he’s the spawn of Voldemort. Both are outcasts and find themselves at odds with their respective fathers (father-child relationships is at the core of the play’s theme).

Instead of being a story of what happens at Hogwarts in the vein of a standard HP story, Cursed Child goes a different route by establishing how crappy Albus and Scorpio’s lives are and then giving them a purpose: To, somehow, save Cedric Diggory from being killed back in the ’90s by Voldemort in Goblet of Fire. Enter a whole mess of time travel, paradoxes, alternate worlds, and a desperate search by parents across the world and eras to find their kids again.

I’ve read that Cursed Child is more or less fanfiction — and not a great at even that. I don’t know if I agree with that. It’s definitely more of an extended coda to the series than its own fully fleshed-out tale (and oh do I wish it was just one of Rowling’s monster novels instead of a play). Most of the play keeps pointing to past events and figures, from time-turners to Cedric to Harry’s parents to Dumbledore, instead of giving us a new dimension of Hogwarts or the Wizarding World to explore. I think the limitations of a play’s running time meant for more leaning on an established world than coming up with a lot of new ideas, but I’ve certainly read fanfic that was far, far worse than this.

At least it’s entertaining and a new Potter story — and one that doesn’t really mess up the series that came before it or end on a dumb cliffhanger. I can see why they felt pressured to release the script (other than money), since fans would’ve felt cheated that they wouldn’t be able to experience the next official story other than a fixed location play that will probably be sold out from here to 2050. I thought that some of the descriptions of the magic and effects going on would be intensely difficult to replicate on a stage, and so this might well make for a better movie (and one that is hopefully more fleshed out).

It could have been a great novel. Instead it’s an OK play that doesn’t quite hit the spot that Potter fans, starved for another book, have been hoping for.

Battle Bards Episode 80: Aura Kingdom

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Never heard of Aura Kingdom? The Battle Bards hope that after an hour of attention, you might add a new title to your video game music library. This fantasy MMO has an exuberant score that nonetheless inspires vicious bickering and passionate speeches by the co-hosts. It’s the 80th episode, and the Battle Bards are still going strong!

Episode 80 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Step by Step” and “Wise Tale”)
  • “Welcome to the New World”
  • “Reflection”
  • “Archmage’s Holy Land/Echoes of the Past”
  • “Grand City”
  • “Witcher Waltz”
  • “Hustle and Bustle”
  • “Fate of the Forest”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox picks: “The Last of Us” from The Last of Us, “Two Dots” from Two Dots, and “Summer (Tropicala)” from Stardew Valley
  • Outro (feat. “Hero”)

Tales from the Borderlands is officially my favorite Telltale game to date

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Let me tell you, Telltale Games keeps impressing me with each new title that it pumps out. OK, so some aren’t as good as others (Walking Dead Season 2 definitely fell short of the perfection of Season 1), but I have thoroughly enjoyed devouring titles like The Wolf Among Us and the three Walking Dead entries (including 400 days).

What these games lack in actual challenging mechanics (very little puzzle solving, overdependence on quicktime events) are more than made up for with agonizing decisions, great characters, high production values, and storytelling that sucks me in to a degree that I thought only books could do.

So when I say that Tales from the Borderlands is officially my favorite of the Telltale library to date, I want to impress upon you that this is a game that’s gone above and beyond the already high standards that have been set by its predecessors. I promised myself that I would fully complete all five episodes on my phone before talking about it, and now that I have, I’m here to spread the word and make a few more converts.

Seriously. Play this game. You shan’t regret it.

What I like about the Telltale team is a willingness to take unorthodox IPs and whip them into an adventure game series. Wolf Among Us was a surprise in taking us into the comic book universe of the Fables, and now with TFTB, we have an adventure game that’s spawned from a rather madcap scifi shooter series. And the thing is, it may be the best Borderlands product out there.

So what do we have here? Tales from the Borderlands is the story of two characters on the planet Pandora: Rhys, a company man who is trying to jump ahead in the ranks, and Fiona, a con artist who’s attempting to score big. Their paths cross early, thanks to an unfolding plot device of a key that can open up one of the planet’s mythical treasure vaults. Soon, crazy adventures are happening left and right as the two assemble a wide entourage that includes Rhys’ best friend, a child-like robot, a shield-using assassin, gangsters, and more.

As with the other Telltale games (from Walking Dead on), the bulk of the interactive story is selecting action and dialogue choices — on a limited time frame — as they come up, not knowing how these decisions will impact the future of the game. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but sometimes the smallest action can have strong ramifications down the road. I thought it was quite brilliant that what you assumed to be a disposable combat robot turned out to be a creature that had feelings — and grudges based on how you treated it in the past.

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Above and beyond the usual Telltale format, Tales from the Borderlands experiments with a few new features (Rhys has a cybernetic eye and Fiona can swipe cash to spend on odds and ends) and crafts a surprisingly deep and involved story that can be, in turns, funny, touching, sad, and action-packed. The opening credits for each episode are little masterpieces of the medium, turning an Indiana Jones-like tale into something larger than life.

This game is weird. Really weird. I didn’t know much about the Borderlands universe, but I certainly learned a lot from this game — and I like it. It’s part Firefly, part western, part Mass Effect, part Dune, part a lot of things and also a bit of its own creation. You almost don’t blink twice after a while at some of the crazy crap that goes down, including finding a guy’s face (!) to use for a con, talking to a holographic entity that has taken up residence in Rhys’ head, or suddenly becoming a death race celebrity.

It’s also one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever encountered. I really didn’t want the game to end because I was often laughing way too hard at all of the quips and funny little moments. There are great running gags (Rhys’ horrible tie and everyone’s reaction to it is one) and snarky asides that make you feel like you’re watching a well-crafted movie. Being able to direct what some of the characters say helps you delude yourself that you’re just as funny as the game’s writers.

Funny and weird, weird and funny. You fire off a pistol in an office-slash-corporate museum to hit the flank of a giant unicorn statue… and it bleeds. And your character is really taken aback at the fact that this is a bleeding statue and wondering why it’s a bleeding statue and it’s funnier the more nobody answers the question of WHY IT IS A BLEEDING STATUE. It’s just part and parcel of the greatness of this game.

I also want to give props to the title’s best action sequence (spoiler here but I can’t help but comment on it) — a huge Matrix-like shootout… in which all of the participants use imaginary finger guns. You just won’t see this in any other game, ever.

Finally, for all of its weird humor, TFTB left me feeling deeply affectionate for its cast of characters. Unlike Wolf Among Us or Walking Dead, this isn’t a dour game where everyone ends up dying (although there are a few unscheduled demises). It’s an upbeat adventure starring a crazy bunch of lovable misfits who might have just found their best friends — and that includes the love between two robots.

If you’ve played it, you know how awesome this game is. And if you haven’t, I just hope that I’ve convinced you to give it a try. Trust me — you need the laughs.

Quest for Glory II: The end

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(This is part of my journey going checking out Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Ready to finish this game up? I totally am pumped to see it through the end today. Let’s do it!

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My pocket genie ports me back to Shapeir, right in time for the revolution to rise up and overthrow the evil ruler and the even more evil sorcerer. The Katta Sharaf gives me a heads-up that the freedom fighters will be able to provide a distraction, so hopefully I can win as they throw their corpses at the bad guys.

And it’s a small, petty thing, but that capital G in the middle of “UnderGround” really bugs me.

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Five against one? Ha! I almost feel sorry for them. Almost.

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But before I can get into a battle, the screen shakes and a gigantic genie erupts over the city and levels it with his finger lightning bolts. Game over, man. Game over!

On a side note, I love how happy this genie looks. He truly enjoys doing what he loves.

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I think my mistake at the gate was being too passive and waiting for something to happen. The next time, I charged in and initiated a fight. With my stats, it’s almost too easy to slice through the guards and rip the doors off their hinges. CALL ME HE-MAN, MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE!

My pocket genie guides me through the palace to where Khaveen is guarding the room with the magician and the mega-genie. I like how this big bad guy has been demoted to mere guard duty.

A fight ensues, and all looks lost when Khaveen knocks my “sword” (actually still a dagger, since I was under the illusion that I was a thief and never got a sword in this game). I pick it up and continue to slash away.

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OHHH yeah. I won’t lie. This felt great, right here. But I have an even bigger score to settle with Ad Avis.

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I dash into the summoning room, knock over a candle (disrupting the ceremony), run through a pillar of fire, and then casually nudge Ad Avis over the edge. He falls to his death, perhaps forgetting that magicians can levitate. And just like that — I won! My pocket genie takes the mega-genie back to the cave for another thousand years.

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The revolution is successful. The Emir is found and convinced to lead again, and I use my water elemental to not only refill the fountain but magically transform Shapeir into a beautiful city once more.

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After that, I am summoned before the Sultan to… well, to be flattered quite nicely. Turns out that the Sultan is also Omar the poet, who we’ve seen several times in the game so far. He doesn’t merely give me a medal or something as crass as gold — no, the Sultan adopts me and makes me the prince of the land on the spot. AWESOME. One wonders why I would ever leave after that.

This whole cutscene involves various characters from the entire game coming up and saying a nice word about what you’ve done for them and why that made you a hero. I really like how this sums up the multi-dimensions of what it is to be a hero, including having compassion and showing mercy.

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Oh, and my saurus — the one who has been french-kissing me this entire game? — is revealed to be the Emir of Raseir who was transformed by the sorcerer. No hard feelings about carrying me on your back those 200 miles?

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And that is that for Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire! There’s a brief coda where the game teases Quest for Glory III, but it calls that installment Shadows of Darkness, which actually ended up being Quest for Glory IV. No matter! I save my character file and prepare to import it into the next game.

Final report card for Quest for Glory II:

Pros

  • Multiple paths through the game depending on your decisions, class, and equipment
  • Lots of groan-worthy humor
  • A surprisingly strong plot
  • Well-written women characters
  • Saurus travel
  • Lots of friendly characters helping you

Cons

  • Combat was dull and not needed that often
  • The desert and Arabian Nights theme did not do it for me
  • Shapeir was a blatant reskin of Raseir
  • A lot of repetition for skilling up and living out days
  • Most of the game takes place in a city — and a dull one at that
  • Confusing city layout

Quest for Glory II: A wanted man

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(This is part of my journey going checking out Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

The pretense of laying low and hoping the bad guys don’t notice me is long over — I’m a wanted man in Shapeir, freshly escaped from Khaveen’s dungeons, and I don’t have a clue where to go or what to do. But I do have a mirror from an ex-brothel worker, so there’s that.

Without anything specific to do, I wander the streets for a while until my luck takes a turn for the worse. Worser. I am frozen in place and an incredibly creepy guy approaches me.

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This is Ad Avis, and he is definitely up to no good. In a very long cutscene, he gradually hypnotizes my character into believing that he’s my friend and that I should help him recover this spell-shattering idol that’s somewhere out in the desert.

Taking control away from the player can be a frustrating event, and as such developers should only do this sparingly. But on rare occasion, it can be used to great effect, especially if you’re trying to drive home the feeling of helplessness. It’s maddening for the player to recognize the danger but have his or her character be oblivious to it.

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I don’t know how, yet. I don’t know when, yet. But Avis — you are going to die. My wrath is mighty and boy have you stirred it.

Ad Avis takes me out to the ruins of the Forbidden City (I am SO lost in the plot right now) and gets increasingly frustrated that he can’t goosestep me through a portal to get the idol. He’s sure he has the prophecy right, but I guess he forgot to cross his Is or dot his Ts or something.

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It is I, not Avis, who gets into the cave, thanks to a clever bit of work with the mirror. It’s dark in here, so good thing that I GOT LAMP earlier on in the game.

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Anyone else have “Sweet Emotions” running through their head right now?

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The cave definitely has an elemental theme going on. First there’s the obstacle of crossing a river, then you have to stop up a gust of wind blowing through, and now a room full of awesome deadly fire (lava). It definitely helps to pour water over yourself repeatedly here.

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Treasure room at last! And if I know my Aladdin — and I do — I best not touch any of it. So I’m totally going to.

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Lots and lots of fun ways to die here! Well, two, but still, I was entertained.

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Getting to the end rewards me with failure — Ad Avis shows up and snatches the idol away while I am frozen. Forget Khaveen; it’s this sorcerer who is the game’s true villain. He’s been waiting 70 years to fulfill this prophecy and gain control over Iblis — whatever or whoever that is.

Ad Avis then causes a cave-in and leaves me to die in the dark. Did I mention how incredibly dead you’re about to be?

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The prophecy works in my favor too, as a ring containing a wish-granting genie has been left behind all these centuries for my eventual discovery. It’s kind of a weak genie, as he can only grant three very specific wishes: to heal me, to make me strong, and to teleport me. The strength bit is great — I find my stat boosted to 155.

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I’m starting to think that I got a first year of community college genie. He’s way too surprised when his spells work properly.