Joys of Exploration

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Hole in the Bedroom

Yesterday was a strange day, largely because it felt like I was having to be part of something that I had no control over.  Wednesday was of course Veterans Day, and as is usually the case I get it off work.  Which I immediately thought would be amazing… since I had Fallout 4 to keep me company.  The problem being that they did not in fact install the door in the bedroom Saturday like we thought they would.  As a result they needed a new target date, and since I was going to be home anyways… we ended up with Wednesday.  So I spent most of the day trying to play Fallout 4, without allowing myself to get too engaged in the game play as to miss the extremely subtle knocks that they needed my help with something.  The problem is… when there is constant hammering… it is impossible to get a knock from just more hammering.  We gave them my text for this reason… or at least for the reason of contacting me directly, but alas that didn’t actually do much.

The scariest moment of the day was when I went down to check on progress and there was a huge gaping hole in the side of our house.  It looked like they had to take a lot more than they originally planned and I am sitting there trying to sort out how it is all going to go back together.  However by evening they had a door installed and we had moved all of our stuff back in place around it.  The awesome thing is it works beautifully and we had this cabinet next to the door that we were concerned might impede it.  However it seems to swing open just fine with the cabinet in place, which means…  we are going to now have to do something major to our back yard to also make it more inhabitable.  I have a feeling that my wife at least is going to want to build some sort of a proper patio just outside the bedroom for sipping coffee in her rocking chair or similar activities.  We are hoping there will be enough of a gap between them finishing their project and the waste company picking up the dumpster that we can maybe throw a bunch of crap away from the back yard.  At the very least I can almost see the end in this project in sight… and maybe just maybe there will be a point on the near horizon where I can park in my own damned driveway.


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According to Steam I am now 18 hours into the game… and at this point I have done next to nothing.  My quest driven friends are talking about this thing they did or that thing they did…  but me…  I am building a town.  I’ve always played Fallout with a base builder mentality even though it was never really terribly supported.  Being the horrific pack rat that I am, I largely played in a pretty predictable manner.  I would roam around the wastes until something caught my eye, and then go explore it.  During the course of exploring it… I would end up filling up my own inventory and that of my companion…  in this case Dogmeat.  Then I would fast travel back to base… dump the items I found into a series of containers that I used for sorting such things, rest up if I was low on hit points… and then venture out again.  For the Walking Dead fans…  I play the game much like Morgan was living his life…  making sure to clear everything before moving on.  There is a sense of accomplishment at knowing that you took down every raider in a camp, or got every drop of good out of a complex you just explored.

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What makes this all so much better this time around is that for the very first time…  it feels like I am making the wasteland a better place.  In the past becoming the “Savior of the Wasteland” largely involved killing everyone that did not believe like you did.  Which I am sure helped the fledgling towns, but it didn’t feel like I was doing more than being a gun for hire.  This time around I can build up settlements, and recruit new settlers giving them a nice place to live and the safety of decent protections.  I feel like town by town I am actually fixing the problems that were there, and setting up a better way of life as I blaze through the map.  “Blaze” might be the wrong word… because realistically at this point I have seen next to nothing.  I am largely just fiddling in the same corner of the map that I started in.  There are still a bunch of things that I have quite yet to figure out…  like how magazines and bobbleheads work this time.  So far I have found a single bobblehead, and a handful of magazines.  I am also not 100% sure how much I like the talent system which seems a bit more arcane than simply slotting points in skills.  Regardless… I am hooked beyond reason and look forward to little else than coming back home tonight after work and exploring some more.  This game so far… is exactly what I hoped it would be and more.


Spindle Envy

Game of the Month


This month for AggroChat Game Club we decided to do something a little different.  This was the brain child of Tam, who wished we had the time to really dig in and explore a much larger game.  If you’ve noticed we tend to pick relatively short games for the Game Club because it gives us a shot in hell of beating it before the end of the month and we record the show.  We also tend to pick relatively cheap games, making it easier for all of us to pick the title up…  which a lot of times limits us to Indie titles.  Instead this month we are digging wholeheartedly into post apocalyptic Boston…  in Fallout 4.  Since we are hitting that time of the year when people start to have conflicts, and we have decided to make Fallout span two months.  So the plan is to have it be both the game of the month for November and December, with a bit of a preview show at the end of November to talk about our progress so far.  Then around Christmas a tell all show talking about our feelings about the game and more importantly our experiences.  This is the sort of game where everyone who sits down in front of it will have slightly different experiences, and at least to some extent I plan on trying to keep a running journal of what all I find in the wastes.

Fallout and I go far back, and I can honestly say I have been a huge fan of the series since its launch.  I remember going to the local Wal-mart to buy a copy for the PC shortly after it launched, and pretty much losing all sense of time playing it.  I wish I could say that I went as far back as Wasteland, but alas I did not.  I remember the game, I remember people talking about it… but when it existed I simply did not have a computer.  Fallout is one of those games that changed the way I felt about PC gaming in general.  In the years prior to it, I was pretty much heavily a Super Nintendo gamer…  thinking that Final Fantasy and the JRPG thing was the superior gaming experience.  Fallout, Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment…  changed all of that and I started moving heavily away from the consoles and focusing almost entirely on PC RPGs and eventually allowing myself to get sucked into the MMO world.  So it is with zero hyperbole that say that Fallout shaped the way I feel about gaming, so when a new one releases…  I end up almost vibrating with excitement.  I realize in the coming months I am pretty much going to be dead to the world apart from poking my head into the occasional game here or there.  For at least the first several weeks my blog is pretty much going to be entirely devoted to my travels in post apocalyptic Massachusetts.  I am hoping that you will join me in this adventure, and we will sort out how best to convey your experiences so we can talk about them on the podcast as well.

Lost to Light

Yesterday the mission in Destiny called “Lost to Light” was the daily heroic, and as a result that meant Black Spindle the exotic sniper rifle was once again available.  I had plotted and schemed all day long about this being the night we would actually go do this.  I was so phenomenally wrong….  but we at least made an attempt.  I grabbed Carthuun and Squirrel Pope and we made a valiant attempt.  Earlier in the day Squirrel had actually managed to get through the quest with a group, and while we didn’t succeed we didn’t do that horrible in the grand scheme of things.  Basically I think we are still slightly too low light, but that seems to be the general problem…  because I have no clue how to get over 300 reliably other than run the raid.  Everything was going pretty smoothly, we destroyed the Ogre which started the sequence where we run through the hive fortress and branch off to go up onto the Ketch instead.  Once on the Ketch we did fairly well for the most part, other than the room with all the snipers.  It took us a lot longer in that room than it probably should have, which made everything feel that much more stressful.  We were sitting roughly at the 5 minute mark when we set foot into the final room to fight the taken version of Taniks.  From there… things just went bad… we died a lot… we failed to knock out one of the blights in the far back of the room… and we simply were not doing enough damage to the boss fast enough.

From there we decided to lick our wounds and head into Nightfall, because according to Squirrel it would be far easier than what we just went through.  I am not disappointed mind you in our progress…  it at least gives us a goal to work towards.  Nightfall had a few frustrating moments but we took it nice and slow after the rushed experience of trying to clear to and defeat Taniks in ten minutes.  When we finally downed Alak-Hul I got lucky enough for him to drop his unique helmet, which I am now rocking after some fiddling with it.  I really love collecting these unique items, like the arms with the chain fist from the bond brothers strike.  For the Nightfall itself I was awarded a 4th Horseman, which sadly I already had…  so it pretty much immediately became an exotic shard which is never a bad thing.  I’ve talked about this before but as far as shotguns go… I just cannot think of a situation where I would want 4th Horseman over Invective.  From there we attempted to run a few heroics… which we got through the first one without issue…  then during the second one Carth disconnected.  He has been having some internet issues lately… and I forgot to set the group to “locked” so the game filled for us…  and we ended up finishing the restorative mind with a stranger.  All in all… which we had some frustrations it was still a really fun night, and I am hoping to be able to get in again tonight and do some more fun stuff.


MMOs Worth Playing: Rift



Why This Series

Happy Friday and welcome to the second part of my “MMOs Worth Playing” series where at the end of the week I try and talk about an MMO that I think is very much worth playing.  I thought this morning I would go into some of my thought processes as to why I am doing this.  Lately there has been a lot of angst floating around about various games and the state of them, and while I can very much get riled up just like the next person there is a thought that goes through my head.  Life is far too short to spend your leisure time playing something that makes you unhappy.  There was a time when if you wanted to play an MMO you were pretty much shackled to one of a handful of games in order to get your fix.  However now there are tons of really fun games out there, so it quite honestly would serve most people well to pop around and play several of them to see if any are a better fit.  The other part of this is the fact that we really have no major new AAA MMOs looming on the horizon.  It feels like the era of big releases is over, and instead we have a bunch of existing MMOs that are continuing to make awesome content.  Popping back into an existing MMO to see how it has progressed is a great experience, because there is almost always a huge mountain of content waiting for you to explore.

For the Ascended


Rift holds a special place in my heart because it was the the game that first truly pulled me away from World of Warcraft.  There were a lot of games that were heralded as the “WoW Killer” and for a time for me at least, it absolutely was.  If there is a feature you have always wanted in an MMO, chances are Rift has it.  But it was more than just cloning features of other games, it also finally figured out how to do public events in a manner that felt both epic and beneficial in the form of Rifts and Invasions that spawn from them.  For a bit about the game setting I am going to draw directly from an early tidbit from the lore team.

Of all the worlds in the universe, only Telara was constructed entirely of sourcestone at an unprecedented nexus of the elemental planes. Elemental energies that come into contact with sourcestone become tangible, and Telara, so heavily influenced by every element, boasts incredible diversity and wealth. Telara’s resources are capable of providing its people endless prosperity, if only they could share the wealth and keep the world safe from those who would plunder it. Though Telara always knew its share of strife, the Blood Storm and the rifts brought entire new plateaus of horror, leading to the edge of oblivion.

Telara is a world that is constantly sieged by forces outside of itself.  Over the years this has taken the form of the elemental dragons, and even gone so far as to seeing parts of these planes of existence merging into Telara itself as the various denizens of these alternate realities set up footholds like that of Hammerknell.  The storytelling gets a little esoteric at times, but essentially you are thrust into this conflict on the brink of destruction.  Most games set up an artificial narrative of good versus evil, and this has pretty much become the standard trope for MMOs.  Rift however does something slightly different and gives you a conflict that feels very real and tangible to us… considering we too are constantly seeing the clash of Technology and Religion.  The Defiant faction relies on very steampunk feeling technology to tame the wilds of Telara.  The Guardian faction instead relies on the Vigil, a pantheon of gods that have long forsaken Telara but are now choosing to make their power known.  You the player takes the role of an ascended, which essentially is vessel for the souls of past warriors that ultimately end up giving you your abilities.  The opening scenes of the game take place on the eve of a final showdown with Regulos the Death Aspect, and you are sent back through time with the mission of trying to stop these events from unfolding.

Soul Keeper


The most central game play mechanic is that of the souls that you have access to.  There were originally four callings in the game, and recently they added a fifth.  These callings provide the basic feel for what would ultimately be your “class” in another game.  Until the release of the Primalist these all had a clear division based on the armor type…  Warrior was Heavy, Cleric was Chain, Rogue was Leather, and Mage was Cloth.  The Primalist blends the lines a bit and uses Warrior like two handed weapons, but is a leather based calling.  Inside of each of these callings is a number of souls, for the original Callings they each have 11 total souls… with 10 of them available for free and 1 each coming from the two expansions to the game.  The Primalist class launched with 6 souls with more supposedly coming over the coming months.  Souls are essentially what “WoW like” games would refer to as a Talent tree.  The enjoyment of this game for me at least has always been that I get to mix and match any combination of these souls to craft a very personal feeling class out of it.  Traditionally in Talent tree based games, there is a lot of “illusion of choice”, meaning that while you have lots of options there are really only a handful that are ever viable at a given time.  While there are definitely flavor of the month builds in Rift, it seems like if you are dedicated enough to any given play style you can figure out a way to develop a character that has that feel.

The game has all sorts of trope that simply don’t exist in other games.  Want to play a Mage Tank…  Sure you can do that.  Want to play a Warrior Healer… sure you can do that too.  Want to play a brutal Smite Cleric…  yup that is a thing too.  The game gives you a template that allows you to carve out your own class.  Any given “class” is a combination of three Soul trees, and when you slot a given soul it gives you certain abilities by default.  You unlock additional abilities through spending points in that tree.  You could quickly see how this might become tedious, especially given all of the options you have at your finger tips.  It is absolutely possible to create a character with little to no synergy, and that does not play terribly well.  To solve this the game gives you a series of templates that essentially direct you down a path that should be good for this or that… and as you hover over these pre-built templates they tell you the skill level of the class and what sorts of roles they can fill.  Additionally the game has an extremely active player community, and unlike most games… there forums are actually a great place to find help and information.  There are class guide forums that are an awesome place to start for looking at different specs and builds.  I am not sure what the maximum is… but I have 8 different “roles” or specs that I can swap back and forth between freely allowing me to get super granular and create specific builds for very specific conditions.

Feature Rich


Calling this game feature rich is a bit of an understatement.  Essentially if you can think of a feature that exists in any game… there is likely a version of this fine tuned and available inside of Rift.  For the things that don’t exist the game has a fairly robust mod system… though honestly not quite as complete as say World of Warcraft or Wildstar.  To keep players from “breaking” the game, you cannot override default features of the original game client.  This means that a lot of things don’t integrate fully, but if you really want to use it… the mods are available.  The game has quite possibly the best cosmetic gear system called “Wardrobes”.  This allows the players to save up to fourty different outfits and change between them freely.  Additionally the game uses an appearance collection system, freeing you from having to keep old gear just for the purpose of appearances.  Additionally the dye system allows you to collect certain dyes and then apply them at will to any of your wardrobes, allowing you to change things up whenever the mood suits you without an additional cash sink.  Similarly the game has an amazingly rich housing system in the form of pocket dimenions, allowing the players to customize area of the world.  For example our guild house is the Stone Flask Tavern at Granite Falls in Stonefield, and Rae did some crazy stuff even making a hidden path up the waterfall with a little temple area up there.  Essentially if you can dream it up, there are the tools inside of Rift to be able to create it, and the sorts of dimensions that are available are extremely wide and varied.  The only negative is that there is no way to put resources in your dimension like you can in other games… so you can’t bank, auction, or craft there…  which I realize is an effort to keep the capitol cities feeling vibrant.


The game also has one of the more robust mentoring systems allowing you to drop your level at will while wandering the world.  This allows you to vary the difficulty level of a lot of the encounters, but more importantly allows you to hang out freely with your lower level friends without simply steamrolling the content for them.  This mentoring system is also the core of one of the coolest features the game has called Instant Adventures.  I talked a bit about this concept yesterday in my blog post, but essentially you can pop into game… join the Instant Adventure queue and you will be fed a series of objectives for you and a group of players to complete.  What is awesome about this is it is a revisiting of a lot of quest objectives from a given area, but each sequence of objectives generally reaches a crescendo in the form of some sort of mini boss.  While doing this you are racking up planar currency and loot bags that usually contain nice relevant level gear.  When one sequence finishes you are teleported to a new area and the process begins again.   If an area becomes active with a planar invasion, then the instant adventure suddenly shifts purpose to defeating that.  It has been one of my favorite leveling means to go through early content, because you are constantly doing something… and at any point you can hop off the train and go do something a little less frantic.  It does a great job of breaking up the monotony of following quest chains, and like dungeons just gives you another way to mix things up a bit.



This is always the specter looming over a free to play game, is how exactly is it itemized and is it honestly playable for free… or do you really need to subscribe to enjoy it.  This is always a difficult question for me to answer since I never actually play these games in free to play mode.  From what I understand… if you play this game for free you get access to all 65 levels worth of content, the original four callings, and ten souls per calling.  Instead of penalizing the players… Rift took the path of rewarding them for becoming “patrons” because once a game goes free to play.. that is after all what it becomes… a patronage system.  As a Patron you get all sorts of perks, and don’t have to worry about any limitations to the number of dungeons you can run a day or anything of the sort.  You also get a number of extremely generous boosts to experience, gold gain, as well as daily and weekly rewards that guarantee you at least one cash shop lockbox for free.  The only thing that keeps it from being a perfect free to play implementation however is that you gain no monthly stipend of shop currency like you do in other games.  With no way of gaining the shop currency in game, it ends up actually making the prices on items feel more reasonable since the game is not having to dilute the price to make up for the fact that players can grind out the currency in game.

Like most cash shops, there are tons of chase items that offer rare and limited time things that you can only acquire through lockboxes.  Having these items that you want appear only in lockboxes can be an extremely frustrating proposition, especially if RNGesus is not on your side.  To combat this not they offer these super limited time sales that allow you to buy the various mounts outright, and if you regularly watch the Friday twitch stream they often times give away these goodies as well there.  So while there are a lot of trappings of the normal insidiousness of a cash shop…  I feel like for the most part it is fair, and in truth you can largely ignore it completely.  Honestly I would say this is one of the few games that you can literally play without spending a dime and be completely happy doing so.  I’ve been subscribed off and on since the release of Rift in 2011…  but there are also times where I have played this game for free here and there before picking back up my patronage.  I can say I noticed zero difference in the game other than the fact that I was obviously missing my experience boost buffs.  The game felt the same, and played the same…  and that is just about as high of praise as I can give for a free to play experience.  If you’ve never played Rift, you owe it to yourself to give it a try… especially since it can be played completely for free.  It is either going to click with you or not, but in any case there is a lot to experience… and I have to say I really enjoy the early leveling experience especially.  Storm Legion and Nightmare Tides…  is admittedly a bit of a slog, but I keep thinking I must be missing some path that I should be taking there.  In any case…  I said a bunch of stuff about Rift, and I still definitely burn a candle for this game.  Join me next Friday as I talk about another game.


Make Believe

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This is a topic I have kicked around for awhile, and been uncertain of when exactly I wanted to use it.  I have a rather conflicted relationship with role-playing.  Essentially every person that plays a video game to at least some extent pretends to be someone else while they are playing it.  Even if it is just changing your own world view just enough to accept that you can shoot laser beams out of your eyes… or jump in mid air.  Role-playing however takes this simple “being someone else” a whole lot further.  The average role-player generates a whole series of motivations and outlooks for their character fleshing them out into a real virtual personality.

I find this whole process extremely interesting, and I have always gotten along extremely well with serious role-players.  I think this starts back when I found the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Manual in a locker at the end of school one year.  From that point onwards pen and paper games colored my destiny.  The thing is… or me they were always a game, not really a way of looking at the world.  While some of my friends geeked out on figuring out a series of complex motivations for their character…  I just wanted to grab a sword and slaughter endless goblins in search for big treasure and even bigger weapons.



While I love the theory of role-playing, and I will always gravitate towards a role-playing community… or a role-playing server… I am not actually a role-player.  The above image is a collage of my characters from multiple games.  You will notice a distinct pattern among them because in essence they are all exactly the same character.  Belghast is essentailly the “super me”, an idealized version of myself and the way I wish I actually looked.  While I do rock a moustache and goatee I have always wished my hair was black instead of the odd mishmash of brown, blond, with little bits of red especially in my beard.

Additionally I have always wished I had the type of head shape to support a pony-tail and make it look natural.  However when I have tried it in the past, it hangs off my head like a top-knot so I only end up looking like a very fat samurai.  It is in online games that I can fix the flaws in my own appearance and great this idealized version of myself.  The games that allow me to create this appearance are ultimately games I really enjoy playing, however the ones that do not really support it.. ultimately are not as enjoyable for me and fall by the wayside.  Namely I am looking at the Asian-styled games with their pretty boy appearances.

The thing is… there is no actual “character” of Belghast.  Just like I use online games to revise my own appearance, to a lesser extent I revise my character and pump them into each of these avatars.  While I keep all the good traits, like empathy and compassion…  I get rid of my more conflicted and cerebral nature so that I can essentially become a man of action and not so much a man of constant indecision.  The funny thing is… over the years of playing this character it has made the real person behind it more confident, less likely to mire down in over evaluation and more likely to take actions and risks.  I feel like being a leader in online games has in turn made me more of a leader in real life, or at least have more confidence to lead.

Shoot First, Ask Questions Never

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While so many of my life long friends are serious role-players, there is so much about their nature that I just do not understand.  This has come to light lately while we are playing Final Fantasy XIV A Realm Reborn.  In this game you are actually penalized for rolling multiple characters, since one character can literally do everything in the game.  However as they approach the game… each of their internalized characters has a specific thing they do, and sensibilities.  So for them it is extremely jarring to see their mage archetype wielding a sword as a gladiator.  For me… it just keeps me from having to create three clones of myself like I did in The Secret World.

The end result is that many of them are splitting their focus between different characters, or in the case of a few of them creating a melee character and a caster character to keep from destroying their mental picture of what each character should be.  So much of me just doesn’t understand why it matters.  I respect the fact that it does matter to them, but since I always play the same character regardless of what game or class I am playing… it all feels so esoteric to me.


The concept of role-playing inside of a game is also mostly lost on me.  In every RP focused game there has been some spot where players gather together to talk amongst themselves in character.  While I think it is extremely cool that people do this… I have never really understood it.  Character dialog has always been the part of pen and paper role-playing that I was least interested in.  I am that guy in ever campaign that always wants to blow the informants head off and search the corpse for clues… rather than try and ferret the information out of them with dialog.  As a result I am the character with the highest body count, and the most well armed.

By a similar fashion.. I just can’t understand standing around in Stormwind talking about dragons that you have killed… when I could be out in the world killing new ones.  I get fidgety when I go too long without combat in and MMO.  I have developed this notorious reputation for always being in combat at exactly the wrong time.  If the party pauses even for a moment… I am off pulling something else… and as a tank I have a long line of really amazing healers that enable these bad decisions.  But nothing about this personal make-up is conducive to sitting around a hub and having long drawn out conversations “in-character”.

The Community

So as I said at the beginning of this post… I have deeply conflicted feelings about role-playing in general.  On one hand, I will always gravitate towards a Role-playing server, simply because I feel that role-players as a whole are far more community minded.  As a result a RP server will have all of the social structure I am used to… crafters guilds, event planners, friendly, helpful and mostly mature gamers that will in turn make my gaming experience more enjoyable.  So as a result I support role-playing in whatever form it takes.  If someone talks to me in character, I try my damnedest to respond back in character to not break the narrative.

However there will never be a time at which I actually seek out role-playing.  If I know a guild or a raid stays in character constant, I will actively shy away from it.  One of my really great friends had an amazing RP guild in WoW… but I did a dungeon run with them once… and after seeing that they chose to run dungeons in character… it was not a thing I ever repeated.  It feels very foreign to me, and gets in the way of my constantly causing mayhem style of play.  The thing is… I thought it was super cool that they had a group of individuals that wanted to do that, so while I was along for the ride I tried my damnedest not to break their run.

So I love Role-players, I love that people exist that can create such vivid make believe worlds that they can sustain similarly vibrant characters.  I however am not one of them, but I don’t have to be a dancer to admire the beauty of ballet, and in a similar fashion I do not have to be an RPer to admire the fact that they exist.  So as a result I will always be a supporter of the practice, even if I am not a participator.  I hope games continue to support role-playing as a community rule-set, and I will continue to rabidly report all those horrible non-character names out there.  I feel that games that support multiple play-styles and points of view to be the best, so here is hoping that games in the future will not forget that.

Sponsors Unite

Class of 2013


Yesterday the 2013 Newbie Blogger Initiative officially kicked off and the new blogs are starting to trickle into the forum.  Yesterday I updated my blogroll to include the five blogs that had signed up to date, and over the night another two have joined the fray.  Here is hoping that the effort will continue to grow throughout the month.  Last time we ended up with I believe 110 new blogs starting the process, so we have a long ways to go before we see those numbers.

I will update my blogroll accordingly later today… but currently this years crop looks a little something like this…

Check them out and give them some link love.

Sponsors Unite

Similarly, yesterday kicked off quite a number of “advice” posts from the sponsors.  Like always these varied in topic greatly covering general tips, where to find inspiration, and various technical tidbits.  I am sure in the coming days we will be seeing a lot more of these posts but so far here is the run down of topics that were posted as of this morning.

I am sure as the month rolls on, we will see quite a few more sponsor posts as well.  I think for the first day, the program was pretty well represented.  My goal is to do a short daily synopsis of what all has been happening on the days I am not posting an advice article myself.

Heroic Characters

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A few days ago I had posted about the fact that October 1st was the beginning of the ability to create a free Heroic Character in Everquest 2.  Most of us initially thought this was for subscribers only… or in EQ2 nomenclature “Gold Members”.  However yesterday Stargrace of MMO Quests pointed out that ANYONE can log in and create a free level 85 character during the October 1st – October 15th period.  Additionally they have once again tightened the reins of the free to play restrictions.  Previously it was extremely frustrating to play a free to play character, because you could not equip Legendary or higher items…  which meant that essentially you could not equip anything that came from a dungeon or most world drops.

With the introduction of Heroic Characters, all of these item locks are gone… as are the various items that were sold on the store to unlock the ability to equip them.  Additionally as of yesterdays patch… much like they did in the past with other expansions… Destiny of Velious is now included for free.  This gives you access to content up to level 95, and covers all of the newer zones added into the game.  They have also broken up the Age of Discovery features into bite sized chunks that allow you to gobble up only the pieces you want, for example you can buy access to mercenaries only, or just the beastlord class.  Since they are removing some of the appeal for remaining a gold member, they have added in a permanent +15% coin loot bonus and +10% mount speed bonus to all existing gold members.  They have also mentioned they will be adding more perks into the equation to keep maintaining gold level a valuable thing.

The Swash and Berserker

EverQuest2 2013-10-02 06-37-39-56

Wanting to take advantage of the free promotion, I logged in both of my accounts last night and created and or upsized characters on each.  For some time I had been trying to level a dps character on my main account, and had created Belgrifter a Ratonga Swashbuckler.  Namely the Swash is a very high survival dps, and I was having a decent time leveling him.  Ultimately I ran into the same roadblock I ran into with all of my characters however.  Once you have had flight in EQ2, you simply do not want to level a character without it.  So essentially I was stuck with a decision… either grind up tradeskills or grind up levels.  I managed to push him up to 55 before something shiny caught my eye and I abandoned the effort.

Since I could not really see myself returning to playing him until I had flight… I decided to go ahead and use that accounts token to super size my Ratonga.  The gear that they give you is extremely nice… far nicer than the gear I have ever started velious content in before.  I seriously doubt if I will replace any of it during the Othimir quests, it seems to be on par with that level of item.  The weapon choices were a little wonky, giving me a sword and a mace… but I can live with that.  The big problem is I have NEVER used a mace on my rat… but they auto leveled all of my weapon skills for me… so that really is not a problem.

If you look at the image from the above paragraph you will see Belglaive my new 85 Iksar Bezerker.  On my second account I mostly had support classes, as I used to regularly dual box before the release of Mercenaries.  As a result I really did not have anything “tanky” on that account.  If I ever wanted to dual box again, I figure it would end up extremely handy to have access to a tank, and Bezerker is the one I have never really played to high levels.  I have a very small dwarven one on my main account, but I think he is somewhere in the 30s.  The best thing is… the changes give me full access again to my Dark Elf Warden, since I had stopped playing him due to the item restrictions and not wanting to maintain a second subscription.

Wrapping Up

The ability to create a free level 85 character is an extremely amazing offer.  If you have ever considered playing EQ2, I highly suggest you make an account during the 1-15 period and create a level 85 even if you do not intend to play it right now.  You can do a lot of cool stuff with an 85, and even use it to feed lower level characters items.  I have always loved EQ2, and I will admit the prospect of fresh high level characters has gotten me pumped about playing it some again.  Just not sure how often I will do so… given my current addiction to Final Fantasy XIV.  If you do end up rolling characters, I highly suggest Antonia Bayle the Roleplaying server.  It has probably the best community I have seen in any game… other than potentially Landroval in LOTRO.

The Secret World Impressions

[update]  The beta weekend continues Friday 5/18.

TSW_LogoScreenAt this point I have spent about 6 hours in total running around in Funcom’s latest MMO, The Secret World.  Up to this point I hadn’t really fully decided if I liked the game or not.  From what I am seeing floating around, seems like most people are having similar mixed emotions.  The game is an odd mixture of really good elements, and horrifically bad elements.  Up to now I wasn’t quite sure if the good were good enough to make me ignore the bad.

The Ugly and Awkward

TSW_Cutscene_stifflegsThe Secret World focuses heavily on the story of this dark setting.  The problem is, the cut scenes and voice acting that make up the otherwise well written story are tragically bad.  The motion of the characters are rigid and mannequin-like as then bend in impossibly puppet like directions.  The voice acting varies greatly between extremely well done, to tragically confused accents.

The saddest part about this is that the dialog is actually extremely well written.  The characters are interesting enough to make you take note of them and remember their names.  They weave a story of a world gone wrong.  Instead of giving it to you in a sea of quest text that you likely wont ever read, you have to draw it out of the characters a line at a time.  In traditional roleplaying game fashion, each question has multiple answers, and talking to the NPC yields different results each time.  When you have heard all the possible results, a green check mark shows up at the end of the prompt.

TSW_CutscenesStiffWristSo the game world is intricate and engaging, but you are forced to sit through a sequence of awkward cut scenes and often times lousy voice overs to get to the meat of the game.  In SWTOR you could skip through the voice over, and still be able to read the text by hitting the spacebar.  Unfortunately right now there is no option like this, and you are forced to make a decision between sitting patiently through the rough movies, or skipping them entirely with the escape key and having no clue what is actually going on.

TSW_CutsceneTaxiThe biggest detractor the game has right now is the fact that in order to get into any action at all, I had to sit through literally 45 minutes of cut scenes and fed ex quests in London before I could actually go do anything interesting.  I’ve heard this intro was unique to the beta weekend, and I really hope they either greatly reduce it, or remove it entirely.  Once you get to Kingsmouth the game becomes fun and interesting, but up to that point you feel like you are having to suffer through a mile of bad road.

The Really Good

TSW_DinerThe atmosphere of the game is amazing.  When you land in Kingsmouth you are surrounding by a town besieged by zombies and other things that go bump in the night.  Little gatherings of survivors fight to stay alive in the midst of the ravenous hordes.  The game feels like a really good World of Darkness gaming session.  I was expecting to need to roll 7d10 for Initiative at any moment.  It has been years since a game made me physically jump, and as I wandered around the small town, I jumped several times as a zombie horde rushed out of hiding at me.

TSW_MuseumThe game is pretty much standard role playing game fare, talk to NPCs, get a quest and them complete it by following on screen guidance.  Where the game differs greatly however is the fact that your standard MMO trope of batching up a bunch of quests simply does not work here.  The system really is designed for you to focus on a single quest, and then follow it through to its logical conclusion.  When you pick up additional quests they go into a 6 quest queue, but only one can be actively worked on at a given time.

TSW_QuestNoteI actually found myself taking notes as I played, trying to remember where I had seen quest objects in the world to interact with and accept the quest after I finished the one I was on.  I found a severed arm, a damaged pda, a suspicious body, forgotten mail, all beckoning me to figure out what exactly was up with each.  Over the hours of play, I have been working my way through a laundry list of objectives I found both from various NPCs and out in the “wild”.

Level-less system still has levels

TSW_AbilityWheelI went into the beta assuming this would be the case, but there is no such thing as a level-less system.  While there is no magical number that appears on your character, there is a mechanism in place that determines how well you perform verses the various mobs.  I have not entirely reasoned out how it works, but it seems as you gain more Skill Points and Anima Points you gain additional hit points.  So essentially, the number of points you have accumulated roughly equates to your level.

TSW_SkillWindowMonsters in the world have a “con”, just like they do in any other game.  White mobs are roughly equivalent to your own level, and Yellow are much harder.  I’ve heard there are other colors that denote different relations, but to this point I have not encountered them.  Normal mobs are marked with a dot, if you see more than one icon on their nameplate, it means they come as part of a group.  I’ve run into several mobs that are marked with a flag, and they seem to be some form of a mini-boss classification.

Atmosphere: Dice Included

TSW_InventorySo essentially you have all the same characteristics of a traditional mmo, they are just wrapped in a more pen and paper dynamic.  Honestly the entire game feels like it came from one of my late night Werewolf: The Apocalypse sessions, tracking down the taint of the Wyrm.  One of the first equipable items I got as a drop, were Dice.  I can see several different games here.  Parts of it feel like Matrix Online, other parts like Grand Theft Auto 3, and even others like the early PSX Survival Horror titles.

TSW_DefendBarricadeAs I walk down the foggy streets near the shore, I had multiple flashbacks to playing Silent Hill.  Honestly so far I have yet to see any reason why this game has to be an MMO at all.  The atmosphere is great, I love the town, the abandoned cars, and the crude fortifications the survivors have thrown up.  One of the early quests I did involved helping the Sherriff defend the barricades against hordes of oncoming zombies.  Each time a new wave would spawn in the distance, a “tornado” siren would start up warning against their arrival.

Forgettable Combat

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-05-12 21-42-25-13At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that I had withheld my opinion on whether or not I was able to look past the bad and see the good.  As I have played the game more, around hour three, it started growing on me.  I can see the potential I guess.  The game is still very rough, there are a good number of awkward and confused things about it, but there is also a good deal of raw intricacy there.  Part of the reason why I love Everquest 2 so much, is because the game exudes depth, and even in one small coastal town I can see depth to spare.

TSW_ZombieCombatThere are going to be several folks that will be turned off as a whole by the game.  I’m nearing the end of at least one of the skill trees, and to this point combat is still wholesale forgettable.  I went with a blades build, that overall feels much like the Katana Scrapper in City of Heroes.  So far however, it seems like my PBAOE resource builder attack, is somewhat of an I-Win button.  I can run into a pack of zombies and just brainlessly spam it until I win a prize.

TSW_BigBaddieWhen I face bigger baddies, I have to use more or two other attacks, but overall the combat is pretty mindless.  So long as I am careful with what I attack, and watch out for drawn areas on the ground to avoid, I can pretty much defeat anything without much issue.  That isn’t to say that I have not taken more than my fair share of deaths.  Before I had the basics of the “con” system explained to me, I was trying to take down mini bosses and much higher level monsters that I could realistically handle.  The big problem is, nowhere during the tutorial does it ever explain how you should actually play the game.

The Rundown

TSW_GodBlessTheInternetSo far I really like what I see.  I like the look and feel of the world.  Unfortunately the game has a long way to go before it will be ready for the bulk of the MMO market.  By the large number of negative reviews I have already seen this weekend, the game is just accessible enough for most people.  Personally I am looking for games more like EQ2, and less like WoW/Rift/SWTOR.  So all the extra fluff this game has, really appeals to me, and I can look past some of the akward combat and cutscenes for the time being.

TSW_RoofWhat has me most concerned is the fact that this game is supposedly shipping in roughly a months time.  Based on the multiple alphas and betas I have participated in over the years, I see multiple months worth of solid work here.  If this title launches as it is, I am afraid it will fail to find a stable market.  I know now that I will likely play it when it launches, but I will also be playing EQ2, GW2, and probably others.  The game has to be a bit more polished than it is now if it hopes to win even my full attention.

TSW_Combat_MinibossI am looking forward to spending more time working through Kingsmouth.  I hope by the next beta, we see a good amount of polish applied.  I am really hoping that they can poke and prod and tweak everything to make the overall experience better.  They’ve nailed the atmosphere, and they have some really good writing, the delivery just gets lost in all the lousy animation.  Hopefully they will work on all of this, because I see a game that will be really fun if they do.

TSW_ArgarthaUltimately the final challenge will be in pumping out the content.  SWTOR was a fun theme park ride, but after riding the roller coaster to completion three times, I just don’t care to ride it any more.  The storytelling, voice, and cinematics were an amazing tour de force.  When the story is over however, there just was nothing left I cared to do.  The Secret World will have to find a way to avoid the same trap WoW, Rift and SWTOR didn’t.  The end game has to be something other than raiding, pvp and dailies.  Here is to hoping they find a way to make the game stay relevant once you reach the ultimate cap.