Picture of the Day: Tentacles

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I love it when MMOs occasionally make an enemy mob non-aggroing, because it means that I can get right up close to them and inspect their models and animations without worrying about combat and frantic movements.

This lovely lady was perched about the quarry in TSW’s Blue Mountain, looking down at the giant monstrosity below. You really have to see the tentacles in motion to get the full effect, but it was pretty grotesque and yet picturesque.

Shroud of the Avatar: Tabula rasa redux

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Now that Shroud of the Avatar has reached Release 32, the game’s moved into a persistent world state. This confusing bit of terminology means both “no more wipes” yet “it’s still in some sort of alpha.” For the life of me, I can’t imagine why you would want to step over this threshold with a game that’s not nearly ready for release unless you were concerned that players were going to leave or you wanted to make more money somehow.

Anyway, I thought it was time to at least roll up a character and poke around, since I’ve only played this game a couple of times in the past and that was a while ago. Hopefully the game would be in a much more finished state.

Every online game feels like it has to do something a little weird with its setup and controls so that there’s a period of learning adjustment. I acknowledge this and simply hope it won’t be too weird. SOTA isn’t terrible, but there are a few little “quirks” from the get-go, including a mouse-look control scheme. Took me a few minutes to figure out how to disable that (hint: tab) and to remap a few keys so that it handled more like a traditional MMO.

When you start up a new character, you only pick a male or female before being dumped into the character creation area. I actually like this zone, the Isle of Storms. Very atmospheric and it moves you through creating your character in somewhat of a reasonable progression.

A lady greets you when you phase in, and I guess this is supposed to be the wife of Lord British, which means that she’s standing in for Richard Garriott’s real wife? It’s a little odd, like you log into the game and the wife of the game’s creator is there to make sure you wipe your feet and mind your manners.

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Of course, there are little SauronBots roaming around, scanning things like they escaped a cyberpunk thriller and landed in this fantasy universe.

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This visual creation mirror kept crashing my game, to the point where I threw my hands up and walked away for a while. A Twitter helper mentioned that I needed to disable the cloth simulation (which is in the game menu). That did the trick and I was able to make up SOTA’s version of Yeti Yesterday.

I wasn’t terribly impressed with the visual choices. Sure, there were lots of facial sliders, but raise your hand if you like sliders in character creators and you’ll look around and see that you’re one of a few. I don’t want to fiddle with nose length and jaw positioning, I want preset options so that I can mix-and-match looks. There were a decent number of hairstyles but most looked more like plastic than not. SOTA’s visuals are a step up from many indie games but still have a ways to go to get into the same sphere of, say, Guild Wars 2.

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I might not have been impressed with the character visuals, but I did find world touches like this reading altar well-done and worth examining.

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The last part of making your character is to talk to this creepy robot head, AKA the Oracle. Is there a steampunk element to this game? I’m starting to think so. Seeing the Oracle jerk around as it “talked” to me (through the chat box) was a little unnerving. In a good way.

Like the Ultima games, SOTA gives you a handful of hypothetical situations and you choose which response your character would take. It’s a neat little bit of immersive roleplaying, although ultimately it just funnels you into one of three class archetypes (bow, sword, or magic user) and then lets you choose a different one if you aren’t happy with the pick.

The game strongly recommended that I went with bow, since that was the most finished area. Nothing like having a game shoo you away from its messy rooms to impress you with its accomplishments.

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I bucked the game and went with magic user anyway. After that, I walked up the hill and went into mini-Stonehenge to head down to the world proper. Nothing much to say about this other than it was quite pretty.

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OK, this got a laugh, and not in an intentional way. A literal “under construction” sign in a tutorial area? Are we visiting a GeoCities website in 1997?

It’s even funnier with the sign juxtaposed with all of the dead bodies scattered about. I can imagine some imp hobbling along with a pump, inflating the corpses so that they stand up and start waving.

Does anyone else find it funny…

…that Blizzard fled screaming from talent trees in World of Warcraft years ago, tossing them away in favor of the talent choices… and is now about to introduce artifact weapons, which are basically talent trees all over again?

I mean, you couldn’t get more talent tree like if you tried. Although I guess portraying the talent tree at an angle is a significant change.

World of Warcraft: Legion fires its starter pistol

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Featured: Demon High Class of ’16

For all of its sweeping changes to World of Warcraft, Patch 7.0 didn’t so much feel like the beginning of Legion as it did a nice content patch delivered to starving players. No, for the true start of the expansion, I think we can safely put our finger on yesterday’s update as the moment when the starter pistol fired, Warlords of Draenor ended, and everyone turned full tilt to Legion.

While I have zero interest in playing a Demon Hunter, I will gladly take something new to do in the game — such as the demonic invasions. I had just gotten my Death Knight to 700 with her archaeology skill, so it was a great time to drop Draenor like a sack of potatoes and head back to Stormwind for the start of the expansion.

When I got there, I was tempted by the announcement of an invasion up in Hillsbrad, but first I took the time to go through the first questline of the Broken Shores event. And I’m quite glad I did.

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Spoiler: The Light can be defeated by… more light, I guess? I’m fuzzy on how the Light works in this game.

So after (seriously) polishing my armor and eating a last meal, I boarded a ship bound for the Broken Shores and enjoyed the bit of foreboding that the cutscene provided. Once there, it was a lot of attacking demons and running in a mount parade with everyone else (showing their best and sparkliest of ponies) to the next destination. None of the fights were difficult in the least, probably because a bazillion people were raiding it, so I kind of got the feeling that if the game didn’t cheat, we could stop the invasion right then and there.

Instead, we got The Cutscene. And if you’ve played it, you know what I mean. The Cutscene is the one which spawned a thousand dropped jaws and a million spoilers all over Twitter, despite the fact that Blizzard had already spoiled The Cutscene weeks before. It wasn’t a big secret, is what I’m saying, but the execution of it was top notch. Well done. I don’t even know most of these characters and even I got pretty into it. It certainly did a great job showing the Burning Legion as the big bad and putting our heroes in a dark place from the get-go.

I was pretty upset to find out that the screen capture didn’t work on The Cutscene. I had so many good ones, too!

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Spoiler: A statue died and was laid to rest in state

To kick the heroes while they were down, the demons were even shown to be infiltrating Stormwind itself, which I guess was the justification for calling on the Demon Hunters to come saaaaavvve uuuuuuusss. Pardon me, but figs to that. I don’t need blindfolded elves coming to my rescue. I have a bloated zombie, a snarky skeleton, and a blade that unleashes an unstoppable plague. I think I’m good.

Story-wise, this was all good, but there weren’t any decent rewards to speak of when you got done with the quest line.

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Finally, off to the demon invasions! I flew up to Hillsbrad to join in the fun — and fun it was. Just a swarm of people running all willy-nilly across the zone, beating up paperweight demons, and rushing to the next quest objective. Nothing deep, but it was visually impressive with giant demons and lots of spell effects going off, as well as invasion ships and green holes in the sky.

I got a few chests in those first couple of hours, mostly with level 700 gear (and some nethershards). Good to get everyone up to i700 at least. I wouldn’t mind getting a few of the cosmetics, and I know that I’m going to want to run through this stuff on my Warlock and Hunter, so I’m going to pace myself during the coming week. I heard that there will be a new quest line every week, so that could keep the whole month interesting before Legion unlocks for good.

World of Warcraft: Following in Harrison Jones’ footsteps

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Nothing like feeling as though you’re on standby for exciting things to come in a game to kind of kill your interest in it.

I haven’t had a lot to share about World of Warcraft lately because I’ve been more or less twiddling my thumbs for days now. I’m ready for Legion. I have very little I want to accomplish in Draenor, now that my three characters have finished their professions (except my Warlock, who is faithfully logging on to use her herb garden, but I’m in no rush with her). My inventories are emptied, I have my subscription paid for through the beginning of December, my Grove Warden mount is on every character, and I’m parked in Stormwind.

I’m ready.

And that’s not a bad thing, it’s just that when I’m at this point, I’m not particularly compelled to log in. In fact, the only thing I’ve been doing is flying all around Azeroth on the moose to work on — for the first time ever — archaeology. I figured why not, and a half-hour here and a half-hour there has gotten me within striking distance of 700. I like the idea of working on some of these professions in Draenor, and I’m getting good at finding the buried bits.

I can’t say I’m that impressed with archaeology as a whole. So far out of all of my digs, I’ve only scored two toys and one item that sold for 100g. Everything else was pretty much just vendor trash, and if it wasn’t for the skill-ups, it would have been wasted time. Maybe I don’t understand something about it, but I get the feeling that archaeology is a grindy RNG activity. I’m only doing it because it’s something I could do in Legion on the side if I happened upon a dig site.

Today marks the beginning of the Burning Legion invasions, so here’s hoping that those will be enjoyable enough to while away the days until Broken Shores unlocks. And, ha ha, no I’m not rolling a Demon Hunter. Even if it wasn’t elves-only (spit), it seriously does not interest me in a class. Looks kind of basic and flashy and not quite fleshed out yet. I’ll stick with my Death Knight for a hero class, thank you.

SWTOR: Is regretting a decision a sign of a good story?

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Some spoilers ahead for SWTOR’s Chapter 10, but either you’re way more behind than I am or you’ve beaten this months ago, so I’m not terribly worried here.

Anyway, as part of my month’s goals, I went through the entirety of Fallen Empire’s Chapter 10 last night. It was another field trip to Zakuul to check out a possible ally, a mission that I found preposterous on two fronts. First, we had scads and scads of allies, thanks to the Chapter 9 interlude. And I wasn’t even trying hard to collect them!

And second, why in the BLUE BLAZES do we keep going back to Zakuul? The enemy planet? The planet filled with bad guys and uber-bad guys that all want to kill you? I mean, this chapter makes such a big deal out of how frustrated Arcann is that he can’t find me — to the extent that he ends up firebombing five worlds — and if he’d only pay attention to history, he’d know that I’d be coming right back to his planet within a week, probably in the exact same zones. It’s like playing hide-and-go-seek with someone who is deliberately trying to get herself found.

The real reason, of course, is that the devs spent a lot of effort making some pretty cityscapes and they wanted to reuse them as much as possible, even if logic and common sense had to fly out the window.

Anyway, once back on the planet I bumped into yet another old Agent companion — Kaliyo — which would have been a total surprise except that the splash screen for the mission spoiled it. She wasn’t too happy to see me, probably because she felt abandoned. Tough — I was a corpsicle for five years. She can deal.

Apart from the pathos-filled reunion (which I handled diplomatically), the mission itself was the height of tedium and backtracking. Seriously, it was way too much running all over the same zone maps, fighting the same waves of skytroopers, and clicking on the same glowies.

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Eventually we did get into a great set piece fight at the Overwatch’s HQ. Would’ve been nail-biting, too, if there was any chance of actually failing. I loved the gunships firing in through the window, especially when you got to blow it up. I’m the A-Team in one Chiss-sized package.

The interesting part of Chapter 10 came at the very end, when Kaliyo revealed that she had planted even more bombs around the city that would go beyond mere service disruption (our original intended goal) and detonate public areas, skyscrapers, etc. Lots of human collateral damage, but she reasoned that Zakuul as a planet was the enemy, so all was fair game.

The light side choice was to shy away from this, while the dark side leaned more toward the “revenge! REVENGE!” aspect. I was feeling all cranky and contrarian, so I figured that my character had had enough of this planet. Blow it all to smithereens — after all, wasn’t that what Arcann was doing anyway?

In reflection, it was a bad choice. Terrible one, even. I felt horrible as I saw all of those buildings come down, more so after I got back to the home base and the various allies chewed me out over it. Koth even stormed off, leaving me permanently (?), saying that this wasn’t what he signed on for. I won’t say that I’ll miss him — he’s a whiner, that one — but it was a shock even still. It’s the kind of heavy cause-and-effect consequence that BioWare often promises and only sporadically delivers, especially in an MMORPG.

I logged off actually wanting to rewind the clock and choose differently. I even had my character throw a snit fit and stomp out of the room saying that she was done with it all, much to the dismay of my companions. Emotionally, this all sent me plunging a bit (although not too much, this being a game and all).

Yet it got me thinking that this result was, in its own way, a sign of a good story. That eliciting an emotion, even a negative one, from the effects of a personal decision and seeing that play out, meant something to me. Getting a player to care can be a herculean task for devs, especially in games with reset buttons everywhere. So regret, if properly earned, can be as powerful as elation or surprise.

I’ll live with my regret. I’ll forge on. I don’t even know where my character’s morality lies, but I feel as though she should make up that one bad choice in any way she can.