Secret World Legends first impressions

There’s a metaphor for how Funcom treats its players in this picture here. I can’t quite articulate it, but it’s there.

All right. Here goes. The Big Reset. Starting over from scratch. Secret World 2.0, AKA Secret World Legends. It was probably best I missed the messy head start weekend, but even so I feel a little behind.

Before I dive into all of this, let me just share that I remain intensely conflicted over all of this. I deeply love The Secret World as a game, but Funcom can eat doggy doo for making all of us start over and forcing these changes on us. There is no good reason why a better combat system, a new business model, and some of these other changes couldn’t have been worked into the existing game. It’s a weird case of there not being ENOUGH change to warrant a “nuclear” hard reset of an entire playerbase’s progress. Some change, sure, but at the core SWL is still TSW. It hasn’t magically transformed into some exciting new beast, and I really can’t help but think that all of this is a cheap ploy at new reviews, at grabbing a different audience, and at Funcom’s lack of ability to think of a more elegant solution.

Anyway. Rant over, let’s look at the game itself.

To start things on a good note, the legacy transfer went off for me without a hitch, and my newly created Yeti (Yeti 2.0, even more Leet than before) had most of her cosmetics, pets, mounts, and her grandmaster status brought over.

I did my best to make her look as close as possible to my old character, choosing as 80s as a look as possible. The roller skates please me to no end. I wasn’t entirely pleased that you couldn’t just mix-and-match your weapons at character creation; you had to choose a fixed pair. I went with shotgun/hammer, although I’m angling at doing shotgun/chaos as soon as I can find myself a chaos weapon to equip.

The NEW and IMPROVED tutorial ended up being LONG and ANNOYING and VERY LONG and IS THIS THING STILL GOING? It’s a weird mish-mash of the old intro cutscene, the old tutorial, a new four-stage tutorial quest, and the faction transition bits. It took far too long from character creation to getting into Kingsmouth, which I feel is far more of a detractor.

Oh! New Agartha, let’s talk about that. This is one of the big changes I’m actually really pleased about. Agartha got its own social/vendor hub that’s large and impressive, and — even better — now has jump pads that take you right to zone hub portals. No more weird whizzing about forever on paths trying to get to the third area of Transylvania.

I probably spent a good half-hour at the start trying to sort out the new user interface and control scheme. I won’t lie, it’s a shock to go from The Secret World’s setup (which wasn’t bad at all) to this. I got the most annoyed at not being able to zoom in with my mouse wheel to see finer details and take first-person shots (you now have to hit V to go to the vanity camera and then do that sort of thing). It’s a little like Neverwinter, and bit by bit, I was able to ease into it. I do think there needs to be more gameplay options in the settings.

Probably the most off-putting thing of the first night was some weird bug or glitch or something that made every NPC talk as if they were horribly dubbed and their jaws were (as Aywren put it on Twitter) a Nutcracker’s mouth. The lady who came to do the Templar invitation talked so badly and was animated so poorly that it was like a deleted scene from The Room (anyone see that movie?). This did get better following a hotfix on Wednesday… but I still stand by my character’s dubious expression up here.

I really want to know how this zombie got all of the way up to the top of this gas station sign. The birdies flew him up? Got thrown? Parachute? There’s a story here, darn it!

OK, so I’m just going through combat clicking like crazy and kind of enjoying feeling like my shotgun is actually doing damage (I do like the shell-changing mechanic). Everything having levels is weird. The combat animations don’t seem that radically different, however. Again, why was this so radical that it required a reset?

The quest flow is an interesting change. The whole zone isn’t open for business when you first get there; quests open up slowly as you venture through and unlock them, so you can’t just go willy-nilly everywhere. Probably better for a coherent story flow. I do like that the map turns icons from color to grey when you do a quest, so it’s easier to figure out what you have left to do if you’re a completionist.

Another positive map change is that rares are labeled when you’re in the vicinity of one, and since they have loot bags — and you really do need those now that loot isn’t dropping that often — they’re definitely worth taking down.

One rare I fought was Susie of Susie’s Diner. Can’t recall ever seeing or fighting her before, but she was something else. Multiple rows of teeth, one bloodshot eye, claws, and way too powerful for me. While the mobs of zombies have been pushovers so far, Susie at level 8 took my level 4 character to school. I gave it a couple tries but couldn’t take her down right then. Maybe later.

Always makes me wonder about Andy when he casually throws in “human sacrifice” as one of the darker sides of town life. Guilt eating you up there, man?

Over the course of two nights, I made good progress into Kingsmouth and leveled up to 10. And I also started to feel my impressions change from irritation — at the UI, the combat, the changes — start to shift to enjoyment. Not ecstatic delight, but I started to see some definite positives to this revamp.

For starters, combat is no longer a soul-sucking slug-fest. Encounters are, for the most part, fast and fun, and instead of avoiding mobs during travel, I found myself getting into fights just for the XP and fun of it all. And I started to hunt down rares, take on the new random missions (just local tasks that pop up to kill X whatevers or do X things), and even ran Polaris (which was a success). Once I started to get a feel for this new format, it started to click. I think I could live with this, yes indeed. I just need to get a good build going.

Speaking of which, instead of chaos as a secondary, I went with assault rifle. Guess I just like my range, plus I couldn’t find a chaos weapon for the life of me no matter how many loot bags I opened. Mapping a single-target DPS ability to the left mouse button and an AOE to the right gave me quick options on the fly, with the other four skills on the bar dedicated to more specialized situations. I’m also kind of excited about gadgets, which are new to Legends. I have a healing one and a stun one, both of which are useful in a pinch.

We will see how it goes. I’m not 100% happy or satisfied, but I’m not running away screaming and declaring the end of Secret World. Slight changes to the world itself keep throwing me (where’s that ice cream truck?!?) and the combat/UI takes some getting used to, but if TSW taught me anything, it’s that it is important to adapt to new challenges.

Is Super NES Classic a dream come true?

Coming back to town after a four-day trip, I was excited to see that Nintendo finally announced the much-expected Super NES Classic console for this fall. After the runaway success of the NES Classic (we won’t go into grousing about the shortages and why I still do not have one), it made total sense.

So here’s the rundown: $80, 21 games, longer controller cords, coming September 29. It’s $20 more than the NES Classic and has five fewer titles, but it’s SNES, so it kind of balances out a bit. Naturally, I’m insanely pleased and excited, as the SNES is my all-time favorite console (one that I own in many formats, including a handheld version). And the big surprise announcement of StarFox 2 as a pack-in, a game that had never been released, is definitely thrilling.

Let’s look at the lineup:

  • Contra III: The Alien Wars
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • EarthBound
  • Final Fantasy III
  • F-ZERO
  • Kirby Super Star
  • Kirby’s Dream Course
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Mega Man X
  • Secret of Mana
  • Star Fox
  • Star Fox 2
  • Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Castlevania IV
  • Super Ghouls ’n Ghosts
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Metroid
  • Super Punch-Out!!
  • Yoshi’s Island

OK, so let me put this out there: This is a great selection. They definitely chose well for the most part, getting in a lot of classics and genres. Street Fighter 2 is one of the best fighting games on the system, Contra 3 is always a crowd pleaser, Mario Kart is a classic, Super Castlevania is one of my all-time favorites, and so on. The only ones I’m a little iffy on are EarthBound (I know it’s a cult hit but I have never been truly into it) and the two Kirby games. Think we could have taken those down to one Kirby game and something else.

My only gipe is that this list is missing two of the absolute best games for the system: Chrono Trigger and Zombies Ate My Neighbors. (There’s also no sports games other than Punch-Out, which is weird.) Squaresoft is well-represented, as are RPGs, but no Chrono Trigger? That’s such a glaring omission that it boggles the mind. I’d rather have substituted it for Earthbound or Secret of Mana. Or heck, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. That’s kind of a dud too.

Still, I’m thrilled that Super Mario RPG, Super Metroid, Star Fox, and the rest are here. My only hope is that, unlike last year, I’ll actually be able to get my hands on one of these consoles. A pre-order system would be ideal, I think.

The SNES had so many incredible games that I could easily see a follow-up console with just as many great titles. I hope Nintendo will do that in 2018 instead of, say, N64 Classic.

Nostalgia Lane: Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim

We all have those beloved video games that, no matter how old they get, we still take out for a spin every year or two because it’s simply our favorite. Chrono Trigger is one of those games for me, but another one is a 2000 real-time strategy game that, to this day, entertains me.

On the surface, Majesty (the fantasy kingdom sim) sounds like a very generic RTS: You build up a fantasy kingdom, earn money, pump out troops, conquer foes, win levels. Yet the game contained a big twist that hadn’t really been done before. You see, you can’t control your units, you can only influence them.

While players get control over their buildings and the options they contain, once a particular hero is created, it operates independently of the player’s direction. Rangers tend to go out and explore the map, Rogues will look for easy gold to plunder, Gnomes will help build structures, and so on. They’ll fight if they think they can win or have other helpful troops around, they’ll buy their own armor (which you supply via shops) and gear, and they’ll bring back money for you to tax for further expansion. It’s like creating your own little MMORPG world and seeing how it unfolds.

It’s strange, but this twist took the tired genre and made it special. It becomes easy to see units as having their own personalities (which is further helped by memorable and sometimes-hilarious voice acting and a huge roster of names). I never failed to cheer on units that leveled up high, got decked out in gear, and finally worked up the courage to take out an enemy castle.

Majesty really paid special attention to every element of the game. Between stages, a Sean Connery-sounding adviser briefs you on the next level. Each building has its own animations, and there’s a certain pride in seeing a kingdom come into its own with tax collectors, guard towers, and even cemeteries (which keep track of all of your deceased heroes).

So if you can’t control units, does the game get boring? Not at all! You kind of serve as a “quest giver” for your heroes, plopping down flags at certain locations to encourage them to explore or plunder (of course, you have to add gold as a reward, and the more gold you put, the more heroes are going to be attracted by it). Judicious use of flags is essential in overcoming levels.

Plus, there is a strategy to building placement and upgrades. Some buildings, when constructed, mean that you can’t create another type (for instance, Dwarves and Elves hate each other, so you can only go with one or the other). Sometimes buildings offer you a choice of two different heroes, and you can only have four or five heroes per building.

The end result of all of this is a relaxing, charming, and engaging game with a lot of personality. Sure, the maps weren’t much to speak of (just flat fields in various colors), but it did the job. Oh! And the music was fan-freaking-tastic. Loved it.

There was one expansion that added a number of quests in the far north, and unfortunately, that’s all we got. There are 33 quests/maps in total, and a few years ago the game was repackaged with higher resolutions as Majesty Gold (which is also available on GOG.com). I was really excited when Majesty 2 was announced, but it turned out to be a dud with zero personality and fun — the opposite of what made the first game so great. I highly recommend the first to anyone who would like a RTS with a little free will mixed in.

Secret World Legends: Plans for a do-over

Being a pretty die-hard Secret World player, you’d probably expect that I did nothing but jump head-first into the rebooted Secret World Legends all weekend and come out with some sort of first impressions piece for today. This is not what happened.

In actuality, right now I’m on our youth group’s summer mission trip, which ended up being bad timing in relation to the headstart for SWL, so I’m going to have to miss the debut weekend. I’m OK with that, I guess. Look at the mess that happened with FFXIV: Stormblood’s head start, and I can only imagine what issues Funcom’s going to have here with this reboot that, frankly, had too little testing and is clearly being pushed out the door quickly and just scant seconds ahead of an NDA drop. I’m happy to give it a few days to calm down before I get to it.

But that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about what I’m going to do when I do get into SWL, so here’s a few things to expect from me:

1. I won’t be doing a mission-by-mission commentary

Been there, done that, literally got the in-game t-shirt. I don’t think you all want to hear me rehashing the same missions I did a couple of years ago anyway, so I’ll probably do more observations and daily adventure pieces while commenting on what (if anything) has changed.

2. I’m going to recreate Yeti

Yeti was my TSW main, and as much as possible, I’m going to bring her back to life for the reboot. I have already reserved her name, and since she’s got a lot of cosmetics porting over, I can probably dress her up in her customary ’80s garb. That also means I’m rolling Templar. As entertaining as Illuminati is — and it is, really — I’m a Templar at heart.

3. I’ll be getting an impressions piece on the big changes to you soon

This includes the combat, revamped Agartha, and smaller populated playing fields. The “feel” of the game is important to me and that’s what I’ll be paying the most attention to, for sure.

4. I’ll try to enjoy the quests anew

Thinking about the “big picture” of how many quests have to be done to get to where I left off in Tokyo is massively daunting and will definitely ruin my fun. Instead, I’ll just take one quest at a time, screenshot like crazy as I always do in this game, and hopefully glean a few new facts and story beats along the way. I’ll also try to do every quest in each zone before moving on, although I’m not entirely sure how this’ll work with the modified quest flow.

5. I’m going to try one old and one new weapon

I have to go shotgun with Yeti — that’s practically her signature weapon. But chaos magic, which I haven’t even touched in TSW, looks pretty appealing. I like the randomness and the clones, so I’m going to mix that with shotgun and see how that works.

6. I’ll be reading up on Secret World Legends like crazy

I wasn’t a part of the beta, but I am curious to read about those who were and to see their thoughts and reactions as they went into the deeper game. There are also new builds to be researched and other changes to discover. And if Funcom ever gets off its duff to deliver a road map, I’ll read that too.

7. I’ll try to stay on top of the content flow

Initially I think we’ll have the game through Transylvania, with Tokyo to follow at a later date, and then the launch of the second season (fingers crossed). So I don’t want to be TOO behind on all of that, because it would just rankle to have new missions come out that I couldn’t play yet. So if the game launches as a stable and playable product, I won’t be dawdling. I will do my best to not violate #4 there, but at the same time, I’m not going to do a single mission every night and call it a day, either.

KOTOR 2: Nar Shadda part 1

(This is part of my journey going playing through Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

First stop on our intergalactic Jedi roundup is Nar Shadda, the Hutta smuggling moon. From a SWTOR player’s perspective, it’s of particular interest because it’s one of the key locations in the MMO, and I have never progressed this far into KOTOR 2 to see what this early version looked like.

Meanwhile, a cutscene takes us away from the ship to a meeting of bounty hunters — including the HK-50s, some busty Twi’leks, and a very enraged Wookiee. The mob boss, a projected man named Goto, tells them that they’re to shadow me but not to apprehend me… because when there’s one Jedi, there’s often more, and he wants more.

Oh hey! It’s the spectre of Episode 1: The Phantom Menace! Thanks so much for making me think of that movie, devs.

First impressions of Nar Shadda? It’s pretty grungy and comes in all shades of grey and steel. This is a far cry from the neon landscape of the MMO, I’ll tell you that.

Pretty quickly, I’m introduced to one of the local situations, which is the oppression and abuse of refugees by the local crime boss.

I’m staring to wonder if the artists of this game were working strictly in greyscale. It’s like the third such sterile steel environment we’ve seen so far, and it does not endear me to this planet.

I quickly find out that bounty hunters are all over the place trying to bring me in, and my quest objective here is “engage them enough in the hopes that the people behind this make themselves known.” So I’m making myself bait. Great.

I do my usual routine of methodically exploring the map, talking to everyone, and hoovering up quests. I bump into this gentleman, who says that he used to own the Ebon Hawk. Well, finders keepers, buddy. Buzz off.

A random cutscene shows more of the Sith lords — hey, it’s in the title of the game! — making their way somewhere on a ramshackle star destroyer. In addition to Darth Craggy, who we met before, now we meet Darth Skullface and Darth Mask. They’re suitably evil and all of that, and I cannot deny that the look on Skullface is working for me.

It always struck me as a little weird how interspecies romance works in the Star Wars universe. I guess if the two look somewhat human, it’s OK, but when you get three eyed weirdo here coming on to a Twi’lek, can you really blame her for being repulsed? Why is he even interested to begin with, she’s only got two eyes!

A string of dialogue options ends up throwing me into a dancer’s outfit for a Hutt. Obvious shades of Return of the Jedi. I don’t even know why I’m doing this, although I assume that it’s for some sort of quest that I need, so I play along.

I do have to say that the character model of my hero is absolutely bizarre when she’s near-naked — her waist is way, way too small, especially when you look at her with clothes on. What happened here?

ESO: Welcome to elf hell, population me

It’s not an Elder Scrolls game if you don’t start out as some sort of soon-to-be-freed prisoner!

My search for summer entertainment continues, and I thought it was only fair to give Elder Scrolls Online a real shot, especially considering the whole Morrowind release. Morrowind is, to date, the only Elder Scrolls game I’ve played for any great length of time. It was so expansive and weird back in the day, and I wouldn’t mind a hit of that nostalgia.

So I bought the Morrowind expansion and rolled up a new Nord Warden, because if I’m going to play this game, I’m going to have pets, and that’s all there is to it. I rather enjoyed the tutorial, which features a breakout (of sorts) of slaves on a small island. One thing I noticed right off is that there are other players everywhere. Everywhere. I really thought it would have been more instanced, but nope, it’s like playing an MMO back in the day where they weren’t afraid to show you someone else’s face.

Some people learn the hard truth about how elves let you down from first-hand experience. Poor sucker. He should’ve known.

And yeah, I’m aware of the irony that I’m playing an expansion where it’s like Dark Elf Hell, with those pointy-eared jerks everywhere, but I guess that’s a theme. FFXIV: Heavensward was awash in snooty elves too. Why do I play fantasy again?

“Hey! That island? The one that looks like it’s 90% erupting volcano? Let’s swim toward it!”

It took me a little while to get my “game legs,” but all in all it wasn’t too bad. I started stealing like the klepto that the Elder Scrolls games condition us all to be and started down the path of animal mastery.

Nothing like waking up from a long sleep while wearing armor and a shield strapped to one’s back. That’s going to leave a few bruises.

Wow, that’s a very familiar sight indeed! Morrowind the expansion is apparently a prequel to Morrowind the game, so everything’s kind of stepped back in time a bit but not too much that ZeniMax couldn’t capitalize on the nostalgia factor. For me, I just took my time, slowly explored, and got used to the systems. I like that this starting village was a lot smaller than the one I got thrown into when I played the last time. I don’t want to be overwhelmed at the start.

How do you make elves even more attractive? Give them bloodshot eyes and a condescending attitude!

I actually enjoyed the dialogue and careful pacing of the story. At least there wasn’t ten quests off the bat to do, but just one that allowed me to focus on what’s going on and start to comprehend the lore of the land. We did a brief dungeon crawl — by “we” I mean “me and a dozen other players who were all scrambling all over the place which made it feel a lot less dangerous and more like a Black Friday sale at Walmart.”

The ghost effect was really cool. You don’t often see skeleton ghosts in MMOs, for some reason.

Hey! It’s the giant flea taxis! I remember those!

Sure, I didn’t make a huge amount of progress that first night, but the music, the story, and the experience was pretty involving and left me quite entertained. I’m not fully sold on the combat or armor design, but so far it’s going a lot better than expected.

LOTRO: 10 weeks, 10 years

I thought it was fitting that the final week of LOTRO’s anniversary scavenger hunt quests started out for me on a hillside above the Party Tree, watching fireworks erupt up to about eye level. Small thing, but it was cool to me and I enjoyed watching for a few minutes.

So! 10 weeks of doing the new anniversary scavenger hunt cards, and we’re finally at Year 10. There was a pub crawl — Gondor, this time — but I went with Bilbo’s scavenger hunt instead. It seemed more thematically appropriate, plus most of it was bunched up conveniently in Eriador.

I applaud the devs for wrangling enough targets for the Bilbo, considering how little he is actually in the game and trilogy. It all started with an envelope on the mantle at Bag End that once held the One Ring, and I couldn’t help but get a chill at the floating text description when I clicked on it.

Of course we were going to have to head back to Gollum’s cave (didn’t we do this one already on a different week?). I keep forgetting just how dang far this cave is in Goblin Town, but I shouldn’t complain seeing as how all of the mobs are too afraid of me to attack. Plus, I always enjoy checking out the wall art when I visit. My four-year-old saw the painting of Gollum up there and shuddered: “UGH! I don’t like him!”

Probably of greatest interest to me, personally, was that the hunt sent me into the Dale instance, which I think I had only ever visited once, during a press tour a long time ago. I wasn’t aware you could just scale this dungeon down to level 20, but that made it a nice cakewalk while I went around gathering up rememberances.

If nothing else, the scavenger hunts have reminded me that I really do need to dive into more dungeons, even if I’m in carebear “tourist” mode to see the sights instead of taking the real challenge on headfirst.

With the final week done, I received a flood of rewards. There were a couple of neat housing items (I really do like the cloak rack), but then apparently just doing one of the cards each week was enough to trigger a final batch of rewards that included a deer pet, a mount, and a full set of silver dragon armor. Hey, I’m not complaining! I am glad I didn’t kill myself trying to do each and every card, however.

Following all of that, there was one last surprise — a bonus mission of sorts that was uncovered by the community by piecing together the “scraps of paper” we’d been awarded over the weeks to figure out map coordinates. This led to a rarely visited lake in Bree-land where the new Standing Stone Games logo was made manifest. Well, most of it. I got a laugh out of the fact that the devs had said in an interview that they put floating stones around their main pillar to keep it from looking too phallic, but of course you can’t just have floating stones in this game. Doesn’t fit the world. So phallic pillar it is.

There was a brief quest to do a chain of five emotes, after which I got my own phallic pillar for my house. Now my bags are bursting and I need to go do some decorating before turning my attention back to Bingo Boffin!