There is a new 2018 resolution on this blog that every new post will include a random Monty picture. I believe this is a fine decision in the public’s interest!
So I announced in my previous post rant that I would be back talking about games I actually enjoyed playing lately. They were moments of brief relief between MMO malaise and Steam anger that impressed me enough to write about it. This is a first such short review with more to come!
King’s Quest 2015
The King’s Quest reboot from 2015 by The Odd Gentlemen is a sight for sore eyes. Oldschool players may recall the old Sierra adventure games, personally I’ve never played them but I am very glad I discovered the reboot. Planned out as a 5-chapter release telling the tales of Graham from his early youth to older years, I have only played the first (and apparently best) chapter thus far which took me about 6 hours total. They were probably the 6 most enjoyable hours I’ve spent in a graphic adventure ever, including several Telltale titles.
First of all, King’s Quest is absolutely gorgeous with beautifully detailed, handpainted environments, strong warm colors and magical light. The art direction creates the perfect synergy to the whimsical fantasy world the tale is set in – knights, dragons and bridge trolls abound. The voice acting includes such masterful actors as Christopher LLoyd as Graham who is an absolute delight here as he guides the player through the earlier parts of Graham’s life, commenting on funny details and mishaps as you step right into them with a constant dose of punny grandpa humor.
Dialogues are well written, charming, hilarious and do offer a few meaningful choices without being make or break. The order of solving challenges or finding items for puzzles is often random and there’s a no-pressure approach to it all as you can’t critically fail or lose. The first adventure played smoothly on keyboard controls with just a few camera hiccups.
Final verdict: The first chapter of King’s Quest is a graphical and narrative treat that keeps a perfect balance between guided experience and open path exploration. I’ve heard that chapters 2-5 increasingly get worse but even if you do not get a season pass, you can just enjoy the first chapter, which is more of a finished story anyway, for free on Steam zomg! I could not recommend this enough to fans of whimsical fairy tales with great writing, so go get this gem if you haven’t yet!
Below is a picture of Monty, the greatest doge in the world. He has grown up so fast since we got him in December and he’s the reason I’m getting out a lot more and choose dog cuddles over video games more often than not nowadays –
So yeah, this is a rant with all the usual hyperbolic grumpy trimmings. I am annoyed at gaming and have been for some time. It’s not just that most open world MMORPGs have become convenient and boring and more of the same. Apparently Project Gorgon and Shroud of the Avatar will turn the clock back on some of these things and remind players that shortcuts are the devil (you heard it here, many times before). Or not, it doesn’t matter. Both games look dated and none of them look finished, so it’s another few steps down the ladder of ultimate desperation before I’ll pick up copies.
The situation on Steam is even more ridiculous. As a frequent follower of new Steam releases and discovery queues, I have been appalled at the level of unimaginative half-releases for months. The great, great majority of titles in my queues or on my follow and wish lists are early access. If I disable the EA tag in my search, I end up with even worse than when I keep it. And 40% of what’s actually releasing reads “Here is our open world voxel-based crafting simulation and survival game!” and every iteration thereof, sometimes it’s on Mars or on a desolate island. Hooray.
After months and months of previews Kingdom Come: Deliverance finally launched in February and I haven’t bothered picking it up. The game is plagued by the usual launch maladies and bugs that we’ve come to accept in 2010+ and there’s no way in hell I’m paying full 60$ price for a broken deal. Sea of Thieves has been hyped to no end pre-release for being that super exciting Pirate MMO but just like ARK, Conan Exiles and Destiny 2 (I want my money back!) before it, it turns out to be empty promises, shamefully missing content and broken co-op features. The next big thing? More like landslides on the erosion of trust.
Game releases used to be fun – they used to be full releases of finished games. Now everything is a premature MMO and players are juggling different categories of disappointment from “needed another 3 months” and “holy hell, how is this not still beta?” to “they’ll fix it next month…..or so” and “yeah, should’ve left it”. The PC market is clearly leading on this issue which is why consoles have re-established themselves so well, getting away with exclusive titles all the time. None of this is my idea of gaming in 2018. Also I’m getting sick of hearing about Fortnite and Twitch streamers.
Anyway – I’ll be back talking about the few, short games I’ve actually enjoyed playing lately. They weren’t MMOs!
It’s been a long time coming but random loot box mechanics in video games are finally put under the chopping block of state regulation. Considering that lottery systems in online games have only really been popularized in the western market since Farmville, it’s taken the public eye seven years to become aware of this ongoing and ever increasing phenomenon. PC Gamer recently published an interesting rundown of the history of loot boxes, detailing how we got to the place we are in.
I guess it’s that one time gamers can thank EA for the stupidity that was the Starwars Battlefront 2 controversy in 2017. Shortly after EA published their plans for the game, public outcry reached the upper levels of legislators in various countries such as Belgium which started to seriously investigate the gambling aspects of loot boxes in video games. And now official Hawaii state legislation has moved forward to issue several bills that will put severe limitations on publishers –
One pair of bills, House Bill 2686 and Senate Bill 3024, would prohibit the sale of any game featuring a system wherein players can purchase a randomized reward using real money to anyone younger than 21 years old.
The other two bills, House Bill 2727 and Senate Bill 3025, would require video game publishers to prominently label games containing such randomized purchase systems, as well as disclose the probability rates of receiving each loot box reward.
It can be expected that Hawaii is setting the milestone many more western countries are about to follow. It will be interesting to see how different publishers deal with the newly imposed regulations and what it will mean for titles like Blizzard’s Overwatch, which has been successfully using loopholes wherever possible to circumvent stricter gambling regulations in for example China.
As someone who detests Overwatch’s random and skewed loot box system and has always drawn her arguably generous line at in-game lottery items, I welcome this change. There’s no reason why casinos should undergo different scrutiny than random loot boxes, which possibly also employ shady algorithms to screw players over.
It will be very interesting to see how and if players, who tend to buy into loot boxes, get deterred once probability rates are disclosed. I am also suspecting a new generation of random loot mechanics will soon replace the current ilk – but for a time, we may find ourselves in more agreeable waters.
The end of last year was crazy. December just flew by – so much work, so many birthdays and other holidays, so many things to celebrate. But most importantly, December was wonderful because Christmas came early for myself and Burns: we finally welcomed our Berger Blanc Suisse puppy! Monty is already the love of our life and we can just watch him grow week by week. He is the sweetest silly and affectionate pup one could ever have.
bbs wet - YouTube
Welcome Monty – we’re glad you are with us!
And a belated happy new year to all of you that still lurk around the old corners of the MMO blogosphere! May 2018 bring you many happy moments and puppy hugs.
Over the past two days I’ve spent approximately 8 hours in the highly anticipated and much discussed Cuphead. Having arrived at the not-so-pearly gates of the final stage last night, I can safely say two things: Cuphead is every bit the GOTY material I expected it would be. And also, most of the press reviews on this game are hyperbolic garbage. I wasn’t gonna mock that one journalist who so famously failed at Cuphead’s tutorial and I won’t – but wow is this game being failed by current mainstream gaming media.
It’s getting serious for me in Cuphead
Due to the public hype before launch, I fully expected Cuphead to be an unforgiving, bust-my-balls shooter platformer that may well leave me sobbing already at the first boss. It’s been called everything from bullet hell to elitist niche game, so I envisioned something in terms of Dark Souls that I was still gonna get because music and graphics, but ultimately would have to put aside in frustration.
Turns out this is far from true. Cuphead is actually a game with an excellent learning curve, tight well-balanced mechanics and a ton of fun, creative and very beatable encounters. It is harsh but fair and built in a way that makes it more accessible than one would think. Every boss fight or stage is generally split into 3-5 parts you will need to learn counter individually. After that, it’s just rinse and repeat, reload quickly after every death and keep your nerves steady most of all. Thanks to the somewhat randomized order of events every time, the game keeps you on your toes and victories are immensely satisfying. SO SO GOOD!
TAKE THIS suckers!
If I had to make comparisons, Cuphead is a mixture of old platformers like Yoshi’s Island and Mario (especially Super Mario on Gameboy or Mario 3) as well as Metal Slug and Parodius, all among my favorite titles of all time. If you ever beat older games like that or heck, if you’ve been a raider in WoW who knows all about learning strategies for bosses, Cuphead’s challenges will delight rather than frustrate you once you accept dying as a necessary part of the learning process.
Despite how it’s been represented in the press, Cuphead DOES in fact have two levels of difficulty: simple and regular. That goes for all the boss fights which it largely consists of, not it’s “run & gun” levels which everyone has to beat on regular. While it’s true that you won’t be able to access the finale without collecting all souls on regular, this means you can play through the game on simple mode and enjoy the majority of its brilliant content. Cuphead also features a very effective upgrade system adding important tactical choices to your gameplay. Encounters that seemed difficult at first become trivial once you switch weapons or special abilities (pro tip: if you struggle, hug that Smoke Bomb and Chaser combo!).
Cuphead secrets: The clowns sang for me once I found their missing buddy
Now that I’ve picked up all the coins and upgrades in the game, it’s time to work on more regular modes before I can enter the final stage. It made sense to me to first play through all the simple modes and I’ve methodically started to pick up the regulars since. It gets a lot easier once you have all weapons and extra hearts to beat the more difficult encounters. So I can only recommend this game to anyone who looked at it and thought “this looks like a lot fun” – Cuphead is a remarkably well-made game with outstanding visuals and music that’s also way more accessible than it’s made out to be. There is no easy/god mode as of now (which I got nothing against, more options are cool!) but there’s local co-op too in case you missed it. Here goes my usual motto: give it a go and see for yourself!
Great news: I’m still here! I haven’t kept up with blogging the past few months due to some unexpected turn of events at the new job and workload too heavy to allow for musing in the evenings. It’s never a good sign when real life manages to swallow so much of me that I can’t write; but I have managed to play more games again lately which is slowly restoring my sanity. So, hello – I’ve missed you!
What I’ve been playing
After a longer break from Overwatch, me and the better half are back in the saddle and have been enjoying and despising ourselves in equal amounts during competitive play. Overwatch is one of those games where there’s just no middle ground: you want to hug and kiss your team mates or see them burn in a fire for all eternity. Okay, maybe not quite that but matches can be incredibly intense and Blizzard are still utterly failing the community in terms of the streak rating and loot box systems in place. If the heroes weren’t so darn fun to play and the gameplay wasn’t as smooth as it is, I would probably move on to another title but none can currently compete with Overwatch in the fun team shooter segment.
After some debate, I also recently picked up “I am Setsuna” on steam and have enjoyed playing a very classic JRPG again. It’s true that “I am Setsuna” (which should really just be called “Setsuna”) is heavily influenced by the style and gameplay of FF6 and Chrono Trigger, having shamelessly cloned the battle system of the latter. Still, Setsuna is a very different beast, with a morose tone following a linear story to a rather predictable, depressing ending. The game never lightens up the mood and just as the entirety of the world remains firmly covered in snow, its soundtrack features an uncompromising list of wistful piano tunes. Despite all that, I have enjoyed my time there so far – it’s a beautiful game with beautiful art, excellent gameplay and nostalgic moments.
Updating the Wishlist
While I haven’t been able to play much this summer, I have tended to my steam wish list ever so often. I am quite excited about some of the games, so here’s a short list of titles I added more recently:
Cuphead: a fantastic looking 2D platform shooter inspired by 1930ies cartoons, this game promises to be soul-crushingly difficult yet exciting to play in coop. I am worried the bosses may indeed be too frustrating for myself +1 but I fully intend to pick it up, anyway!
Ooblets: the complete opposite to Cuphead, I get a sweet zen vibe looking at Ooblets footage and any game inspired by Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon is cool in my book.
Wonder Boy TDT: Wonder Boy is back yet again! Love the visuals, love the IP and really looking forward to play a good old action adventure again sometime.
Rime: this game has been out for a while and is lauded as a spiritual successor to ICO or The Last Guardian. I am more than skeptical about this tall order but curious enough to wanna give Rime a go sometime.
Ni No Kuni 2: the sequel to the stunning Wrath of the White Witch is gracing PC in January 2018. I was sad the first title remained console exclusive, so its second installment is high up on my radar.
Epic Tavern: this game looks like a bit of fun and has been composed for by fabulous MMORPG composer Neil Acree. Taverns were always among my favorite things in RPGs and MMOs so this “epic tavern management RPG” sounds right in my alley.
Destiny 2: I’ve played the Destiny 2 open beta last weekend and have been enjoying myself quite a bit. By all accounts, the sequel to Destiny seems to have learned from the missteps of the first title, so I’m willing to give it a shot this time around for its exquisite aesthetics and gameplay alone.
I always like to have a few games to look forward to play during the long winter weekends and Xmas break. In terms of MMOs, I recently updated Wildstar and GW2 for what its worth. There’s also the FFXIV expansion I’d really like to play when I get the time! I used to be a Red Mage in FFXI and was thrilled to hear they finally added the class. Which games are you looking forward to play this fall and early winter season?
The Battle Bards podcast is turning 100 episodes old today. What began in March 2013 is still a bi-weekly show of MMO music celebration with Steff, Syp and myself co-hosting and bickering about soundtrack picks. It’s been a lot of fun over the past 4 years and our 100th episode is all about looking back and discussing some of our favorite Battle Bards moments.
Many thanks to all our listeners out there who’ve made this such a enjoyable ride over the years! Everyone sharing and keeping in touch over twitter – I really appreciate it. :) The podcast is a labor of love and we do it as much for the other MMO music fans out there as we do it for ourselves.
One of the biggest, if not the biggest gripe I am having with LOTRO ever since my return, is inventory management. Not only am I squinting at small icons and tooltips in lieu of proper UI scale, the bags in LOTRO are one big mess and the amount of vendor trash is horrifying. There’s the option to assign individual slots to each bag nowadays and auto-order everything but that doesn’t change that you are constantly clearing out stuff and making room while painstakingly selling unwanted knickknacks at an equally terrible vendor window.
I spend enormous amounts of time clearing my bags in LOTRO despite having bought several of the cash shop inventory expansions. Bank and wardrobe space are equally unsatisfying unless you are ready to spend a lot of extra cash. As a VIP subscriber, I find this state of affairs rather unacceptable.
This particular gripe is one we may forgive in older MMOs but they’re absolutely GNARF in newer titles! So imagine my surprise when I learned that both Project Gorgon and upcoming Ashes of Creation have their own ideas about making players micro manage inventory space. For Project Gorgon it’s the general issue of limited bagspace vs. realism (05:30 onward) and for AoC it will be restricted inventory space (02:30 onward) paired with what sounds like pretty cumbersome inventory “escort travel” in order to move goods from one place to the next, BDO style.
After 15 years of MMOing, I do not know a single MMO player who enjoys spending time sorting and moving around inventory; limited storage, tedious micro-management of too many (useless) items and having to move around inventory that’s bound to location, are decidedly unfun activities after a short time. This is not the kind of mini-game I want to spend my precious time on while playing games!
I get that for some titles, there’s the concern of realism playing into such concepts so okay, let’s keep it real: “yay, I get to spend another 30 minutes moving my goods from A to B for the tenth time” – said no MMO player ever! There’s realism to further gameplay satisfaction and there’s completely obsolete and dated MMO mechanics, such as armor decay, vendor trash, local auction houses and yes, inventory micro-management!
Let me have my generous and globally accessible bag and bank space already and spare me the plethora of vendor trash junk when I could just be looting coin or crafting resources, preferably ending up in their designated crafting storage. It’s tragic when we can’t see our special drops and purples anymore in a sea of broken sword hilts, pinewood ash heaps and rabbit hides. This stuff needs to go, folks – free our bag space!
Roger has a special post up remembering his past 8 years in LOTRO for the game’s currently ongoing 10th anniversary event. I joined LOTRO late in 2013 but I recognize the special nostalgia and fond memories of the early player from my own time with WoW where I was a regular from the US beta up until the beginning of Cataclysm. That is a very long time to be invested in an MMO world. Looking back even as an ex-player of WoW today, there is so much to be thankful for but nothing more important than the people: the social encounters, the friendships and the guilds.
Without community, MMOs are just a very large online world. A beautiful world for sure and one that’s worth exploring but hardly worth sticking around for years and years. More so even that virtual property, I believe the thing that glues us to MMOs are other people – the only truly unscripted thing that shall remain unpredictable forever.
Early MMO camaraderie, as described by Roger, is a special thing that tends to wane as MMOs become more streamlined and well explored. Internet databases have done their share of replacing some of the social interaction and seem to grow ever faster for every new game that gets released. I remember a time in WoW when everyone knew everyone on a server and world chat would buzz with support. That was long ago in WoW and long ago in LOTRO.
Stranger things will happen at 2am in the Prancing Pony…don’t ask
As a recent LOTRO return however, I can say that at least for Laurelin, “the EU RP server”, server channels are still fairly active and friendly. Zone chat is dead for some reason and maybe it was never a thing, but you do generally get advice in world chat. Places like the Prancing Pony are well frequented and always good for a stop to listen to a bard play or take part in shady night time activities. There is also an inexplicable amount of generous and supportive players in general who will whisper you after a noobish question or come meet you to y’know…trade you gear upgrades for no reason or let you copy their cosmetics for the wardrobe. Both has happened to me within 3 days of play.
It seems relatively difficult to find groups for old content however which is something I struggle with in Moria. LOTRO’s dungeon finder seems to be a completely ignored feature by a majority of folk, so I was encouraged to use LFF chat for Grand Stair and Hall of Mirrors. It took the better part of Sunday afternoon just to find 5 other people willing to run HoM twice since that is the required amount of runs to complete the quests there. It was a very friendly and fun group however and I ended up getting invited to their cross-fellowship channel.
Despite some grouping difficulties, just having company out there to chat or listen to and knowing you’re not alone, creates much of my enjoyment in MMOs even when I’m running solo (the other important parts being exploration and world building but you knew that already). Now that I’ve re-subscribed to LOTRO and intend to make up for lost time in Middle-Earth, it was an obvious next step to join a casual but active guild once more. I had been part of a bunch called the Grey Guard in 2013 who were kind enough to accept and not kick me after 3 years of absence, but it’s been very quiet after my return and I’ve felt rather lonely and behind even more so than in 2013. Thankfully, a kind offer by Roger to join his long term kinship has arrived at what seems the perfect time! I am back in the saddle and back among people who still enjoy an MMO they’ve been attached to for years – a warm and familiar feeling.
I have been AWOL from blogging for a while, due to full-time work and lack of gaming interests this past Q1. Real life is in a state of stress right now as I am taking further education starting May while also losing my temporary contract at the current employer end of this month. What better time to start an expensive management course than entering unemployment? It’s not exactly as I had planned it all out but such is the risk one takes with accepting fixed term contracts. As someone who tends to trust the inevitable turns in her life, I like to say it’s all for the best as I didn’t exactly belong in that industry and felt increasingly lonely in my position. Life is a constant approximation effort between where we are and where we’d like to be. But yeah, job hunting is tiring and I hope I can settle somewhere permanent again soon.
Meanwhile some of my gaming spirits have returned with spring. I picked up the amazing Hollow Knight which Eri justly treats as GOTY material – the game play, atmosphere, combat, art and music are just that good! I’ve also had a stab at Night in the Woods and Osiris: New Dawn, the latter being a very promising up-and-coming space survival sim that already looks and plays great for early access. (I got a copy of that one for free, I learned my EA lessons.)
With gaming being back on the table, what I have really lacked for some time now is an MMO to return to, a casual place to hang, do a few quests and smell the roses. FFXIV has been that for me over the past 2 years but I’ve felt increasingly bored with dungeon running and replacing tier after tier of endgame gear. I like to play FFXIV in intervals these days, catching up on story content after longer periods of time. FFXIV is a beautiful world but it does not have the same “come hang” homey appeal that WoW used to have or LOTRO.
Which brings me to LOTRO, my favorite MMO that I’m not playing: looks like I am back! I always had a score to settle with Moria – that terrible, tedious 40ies level grind that comes before it and did my head in last time I played. After realizing Turbine had left me with over 10k of virtual currency for that extra year of subscription I didn’t use in 2015 and also, some friendly pep-talk by the twitter instigation unit, I’ve returned to Middle-Earth and I’m glad, I did!
After spending the Easter weekend questing in Eregion, I’ve finally conquered the Hollin Gate and entered the hallowed halls of Durin. It seemed easier leveling this time around but maybe it was just my renewed enthusiasm for the game. Middle-Earth has always held a special spell over me and despite all the things that are pretty terrible in LOTRO, from inventory management to combat, the world, music and people have always mattered more. I’ve only been back a few days and already had more friendly encounters and met more silly helpful people on Laurelin than I otherwise would in years.
It’s good to be back. I intend to ignore all the things that made LOTRO so daunting in the past – the endless deeds and crafts and rep grinds. I’ve managed to make some sense of the legendary weapon system at least and am leveling my Anathema+Necronomicon on the Lore Master as we speak. My character is still impressively ugly but apparently the Standing Stones folks still have every intention of updating the character models sometime soon. It’s good to see the new devs having plans for LOTRO and that 10 year anniversary event coming up tomorrow! Looks like the perfect time to re-subscribe if you were ever considering it.
A big shout-out to Ravanel who was kind enough to help me craft some great looking gear for my struggling Lore Master! I finally feel like I have a character I like to stick with for longer.