When persistence pays off

Sometimes in MMORPGs dungeon runs are just not doable, the party’s gear level isn’t high enough, or you have the wrong mix of classes to pull off a win given the challenges ahead. No amount of player skill or coordination will make the numbers work to achieve a victory if the monsters are ‘red con‘ or if the tank or healer isn’t up to the challenge.

A warning sign of impending failure

However, last night in Dungeons & Dragons Online we managed to pull a win out of certain defeat. We had ventured into the Xorian Cypher dungeon for the first time, and very nearly gave up half way through. Spoilers for this quest follow.

All hail the mighty d8!

We initially took some serious damage and debuffs from the main feature of this dungeon – the randomly wandering semi-spherical chaos orbs that drift along the corridors. Avoiding those is easy enough when exploring, but not so easy when in the middle of grand melees with the many skeletons that come to attack you.

Magic bridge

We quickly discovered the need to activate a series of runes to remove said orbs, and with our Artificer, Cleric and Paladin trio, we had the required combination of high attributes (Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma respectively) to meet this challenge.

Half way through we came across the pressure-plate puzzle, where the party has to split into two groups to activate four pressure plates simultaneously. As a trio this would have been a dead-end, except that my Artificer’s iron defender pet can dutifully stand on a pressure plate if commanded to do so. Since we didn’t know the dungeon I stayed right and the other pair went left. That proved to be a tactical error, as after I’d pulled a lever in the ominously empty room, I quickly found myself overrun by a horde of skeletons. We wiped soon after as the other two rushed a puzzle upstairs, and dived down from the opened ledge to join me. They quickly succumbed to the sheer force of the undead onslaught that had felled my Artificer in mere seconds.

After we revived back in the House Jorasco enclave inn, and ran our way through the “Path to Madness” jungle exploration zone that leads to this dungeon, we readed ourselves for a second attempt. Having activating the lever in this room as before, I tried to use invisibility to stay alive while the others completed the puzzle. It seemed to be working for at first until a patrolling skeleton spotted me and my character went down a second time in short order. Our Paladin jumped down heroically as soon as the way was opened, but was promptly held and slain by massed lightning bolt attacks. This was the point where we discussed giving up. It was purely out of curiosity that said Paladin decided to wander down a nearby corridor as a ghost, and found the only resurrection shrine of the dungeon. With him resurrected, rested and in a safe room, we could plan to rescue my character’s soul shard and reunite with our Cleric to face to the three named undead and their minions.

It really was an epic fight in the end, the masses of skeletons handily split into smaller groups and we used our crossbows to carefully pull them into the corridor leading to the rest room, to divide and conquer this encounter.

The rest of the dungeon was comparatively easy afterwards, with the main threat coming from the many, many traps. Thankfully my Artificer excels at spotting and dealing with those.

It’s rare in MMORPG play that you feel the elation of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Often defeat is easy to predict: how much you are healing versus the incoming damage, the increasingly low health of the tank, the damage dealers dropping one by one to attacks – all can seem to lead to an inevitable outcome. Here we really fought as a team to recover what appeared to be an unrecoverable situation. A great session of dungeon-running in the end!


Of static dungeon groups

I often mention static dungeon groups in my posts since I’m usually involved in at least one at a given moment. As far as WordPress’ search tells me I’ve never really talked about this style of gameplay as the topic for a post, however.

For as long as I’ve played MMORPGs, I’ve been playing with the same group of friends regularly, usually to tackle small-group challenges like dungeons, elite monsters in the open world or public events. This habit of adhoc or scheduled gametime with a circle of friends probably traces back to earlier hobbies tabletop rpgs and LAN gaming.

In World of Warcraft, when I started in the genre back in 2007, soloing was painful and slow unless you were a very knowledgeable and hardcore player. So it was natural that we’d group up in whatever number to do anything vaguely challenging. Often we’d help each other to clear our way to quest objectives in caves (caves in WoW have a history of being *nasty* places), keeps or other areas of fasts-spawning monsters. Once we were high enough to run dungeons they became the ‘main event’ whenever possible. They offer a concentrated challenge with relatively well spaced rewards (i.e. boss drops).

Through the first three expansions of WoW we played a lot of static groups, the exact make-up of characters and players varying over the years but the style of play and objectives remained the same. Keep a group of characters in close step experience and level-wise. Play them (mainly) only when online together so that they’d remain in step. Most MMORPGs had a problem with characters of widely-varying levels playing together. For years it was the defining challenge for a static – staying in step. The temptation to solo a few quests or to work on crafting (which requires gathering that leads to killing mobs) or even just class quests could put you gradually ahead if you had more playtime than the others.

This issue was the bane of my relatively long-lasted Ranger-only static in Dungeons & Dragons Online, circa 2009-10. We had set rules for the group, only played one night a week to keep in step. ‘Twinking’, i.e. obtaining higher power items for a character in the static by any means, was strictly off limits – we only used and shared what dropped in group play. It was intense fun and rather challenging because our only healing was through ‘wand-healing’ (limited use items can provide substantial healing in DDO). The group was a mix of frenzied melee characters (dual-wield) and archery-specialists – quite the fantasy strike team. It worked great for 8 levels, over the best part of a year, but eventually fell apart over players wanting to buy weapons that had certain properties (e.g. ghost-touch).

I have no 2009 screenshots of the Ranger group to share :-/

One summer (2014) we had a very successful and fun static group in Neverwinter for dungeon runs. Husband and I were playing duo anyway, when three WoW guild mates turned up in game and suddenly we had a full dungeon group ready-made. We spent many sessions running all the then-available levelling dungeons. Higher level character scaled down automatically to the level range for the dungeon, so we could bring our higher level-capped characters to try out different roles and character mixes. The runs were challenging (none of our characters were well-geared) and a lot of fun! At the time higher level characters got level-appropriate gear drops from the end chest which usually meant a pretty decent gear upgrade if you stayed to the finish. That was a great incentive for working together and helping others. Sadly, towards the end of that summer the loot for higher level characters was removed, I imagine it was being exploited by some, so all had to suffer as per usual. That gutted the motivation of some of the WoW guildies, they were motivated primarily by the gear progression.

Playstyle differences are the bane of any static group. Fast as possible, or slow and relaxed (or anywhere in-between)? Full clear dungeon runs or skip as much as possible? Experience boosts and all the bought buffs, or only what drops and ‘authentic play experience’? There are a bewildering array of possible playstyles for a given static within just one MMO, let alone considering them all across the games I’ve played.

In World of Warcraft Classic we have a current static for dungeon runs. Levelling through dungeons almost exclusively is possible but not optimal. Gear upgrades are sporadic so your character’s gear can fall behind easily. That’s a problem for anyone, but for the tank or healer it can lead to stalled progression. There are also not quite enough dungeons to level this way satisfactorily. We got so fed up with Scarlet Monastery by the time we were high enough to try Uldaman last week. There aren’t quite enough dungeons to avoid heavily repeating certain ones – it doesn’t help that a few dungeons are very confusingly designed and lack good drops, so very occasionally someone will veto a dungeon leaving an even bigger gap to fill with repetition.

Static group play remains one of my favourite online gaming style, alongside duoing with my husband. It can require a good amount of out-of-game coordination to keep the group in sync and playing, but it’s well worth it for the stellar runs you can achieve once the group gets practiced at playing together.


Friendliness vs isolating mechanics in MMORPGs

How welcome are other player characters when you’re out and questing? Do you ever chip in to help fight or heal a stranger when out in the field? These are the questions I’m writing about in this blog post. I play MMORPGs almost exclusively because the game has that wider community dimension. Even if I’m mostly solo’ing in Everquest 2, or playing in a static dungeon group in World of Warcraft; it doesn’t stop me stopping and observing other players riding past on a fancy mount, or casting the odd ‘drive by buff’.

Boat = buff party

Beyond such superficial distractions or interactions, MMORPGs vary a lot in terms of whether they encourage you to be friendly to other players or to prefer playing in isolation. Older games positively discouraged joining a fight already under way, even penalising those who dared. In Lord of the Rings Online, before the devs introduced open tapping to the open world content – a marked contrast to older system of assist experience which effectively stole a share of experience from the character or group tapping a mob, while not rewarding any XP the out of group giver of assistance.

Meeting another player character should be a positive thing

Getting no XP from a tapped mob, usually denoted by their name or portrait turning grey, is a common enough thing. In earlier World of Warcraft this was the standard model for many expansions. It meant that you could heal a character that was about to die (if they were your faction of course), or even help kill the monster though you’d still gain no XP or items if outside the group.

In Everquest 2, outside of public quest content, the game retains an even stricter old-school tapping model. By default encounters are locked once you tap a monster or its group, meaning you cannot help in a fight or heal a character in a locked encounter (with a little padlock symbol). The upside is there’s little in the way of over-pulls as patrolling monsters will ignore your combat by the same rules that players are locked out. The downside is, at least based on my casual observations that this lock mechanism seems to be the more popular choice among players I encounter, there’s no scope for helping others. That’s not to say players aren’t ever friendly, I’ve seen enough acts of random kindness (gifting money or suitable items for your class out in the field) to know otherwise. But with a mercenary out in the field it does tend to give the game a more lonely tone overall.

This contrasts starkly with the public quest content in the game, where players are actively engaged with one another in boss fights or escort quests, like the macabre Erollisi Day (a k a Valentine’s Day) themed Love Will Lead You Back. I love this type of content in the game as it really brings players together and leaves you able to casually contribute on common goals.

World of Warcraft has done a rather better job of moving away from isolating mechanics in the last few expansions – open tapping on more monsters and gathering nodes, the return of some buffs, and plenty of open world content to encourage positive player interactions (e.g. world quests and world bosses).

The game feels a bit more friendly to play as a result, not because players are forced to work together to survive, but because there aren’t penalties or barriers to joining forces and there’s content to drive such interactions.


Netflix goes full spoiler with short teaser for Stranger Things S4

It looks like David Harbour will return as Jim Hopper for the fourth season of Stranger Things.

Netflix just dropped a short teaser for the upcoming fourth season of Stranger Things, and it reveals a doozy of a spoiler. Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is alive and working on a Russian chain gang somewhere in the desolate frozen expanse of the Soviet Union.

(Spoilers for first three seasons below.)

When we last left our plucky teenaged sleuths and their allies, they had successfully beaten back a third attempt by the so-called Mind-Flayer to escape the Upside Down and take over the town of Hawkins, Indiana, where the series has thus far been set.But that victory did not come without a cost: Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) lost her telekinetic powers after being bitten by the Flay-Monster. And her adoptive father, Hopper, sacrificed himself to save the town in the season three finale. Eleven is taken in by Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), and the entire Byers clan moves away from Hawkins.

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Meet the community still obsessing over Mass Effect 2 10 years later

Is Mass Effect 2 the series golden goose or its ugly duckling? As the game passes its 10th anniversary this year, the debate rages on. Many space cadets recall their time with the game through a lens of utmost fondness, while others contend its status as the most detached and defunct entry in BioWares illustrious trilogy (Andromeda, for all its pluses and minuses, is usually not part of the same discussion).

Regardless, a decade after its release, folks from all walks of life cling to Mass Effect 2 and the events surrounding it like a vice grip, continuing to invest time, effort, and money in the maintenance of their interest long after BioWare announced its plans to discontinue the series indefinitely.

Space dress-up

Cosplayer Felicia spacelioncosplay Neely cites the characters and epic story as the elements of Mass Effect she initially gravitated toward. BioWare has the ability to write these wonderfully complex and thought-provoking characters that surprise us with their relatability, inspire us with their actions, and sometimes divide us and break our hearts in the end, she tells me. You cannot help but fall more in love with them during each replayespecially Garrus, hey!

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Half-Life: Alyx is one step closer to existing with firm release date

Valve’s first announcements about its upcoming, VR-exclusive game Half-Life: Alyxincluded a vague launch window of March 2020. In a world where Valve game delays are the rule rather than the exception, a lack of a firm release date was enough to make the developers’ fans anxious about Valve Time rearing its head again.

On Thursday, Valve made weaseling out of its announced plans a bit tougher, as the company confirmed a firm release date for HLA: March 23, 2020.

The announcement first appeared on the company’s social media feed, and as of press time, the exact date has yet to appear on either the game’s official site nor its Steam sales listing. Today’s news also came with a brief gallery of brand-new game images. While they don’t point to any new gameplay mechanics, they’re a welcome look into a virtual world that looks plenty authentic to the beloved Half-Life universe.

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What the CEO of Epic Games gets wrong about video games and politics

What the CEO of Epic Games gets wrong about video games and politics

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

The mere mention of the word “politics” in any industry can lead to an explosion before anyone even finishes a sentence. Weve seen it recently in basketball, the film industry, and, unsurprisingly, video games.

Now Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney has uttered the p-word, and much more, in a speech that has thrown him right in the middle of a potential explosion. At a wide-ranging DICE Summit keynote speech Tuesday (as reported by numerous outlets who attended), Sweeney concluded by suggesting that while individual games can and should make political statements, game companies like Epic should remain studiously neutral on any political issues. Sweeney later provided more context for those remarks in a Twitter thread and its associated responses.

Sweeney is trying to walk a thin tightrope here, allowing for wide-ranging individual expression as a platform holder while trying to maintain political silence as a corporate entity. But those dueling principles can come into inherent conflict because producing and selling games, like producing and selling any other work of art, involves any number of inherently political choices and expressions.

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Sonic the Hedgehog film review: You can slow your roll, Sega fans

High-speed blur effect? Check. Golden ring? Check. Oversized eyes? Check (thank goodness). But what about the rest of the first live-action <em>Sonic the Hedgehog</em> film?”></p>
<p class=Enlarge / High-speed blur effect? Check. Golden ring? Check. Oversized eyes? Check (thank goodness). But what about the rest of the first live-action Sonic the Hedgehog film? (credit: Sega / Paramount)

At least seven times during my screening of Sonic the Hedgehog, the first live-action film based on the classic Sega gaming franchise, I blurted to myself: “I can’t believe they nearly kept the old design.”

The nicest thing I can say about this week’s new movie is that Sega and Paramount dodged a monumental disaster. This film’s camera is in love with Sonic, the sole CGI-ified star. It constantly stares him down, lingers on his cartoon-bulging eyes, and allows the animation crew to sell his emotional state. Not that Sonic is a subtle character; actor Ben Schwarz (Parks & Recreation, the voice of Star Wars‘ BB-8) plays the titular role like a caffeinated 12-year-old, and it’s fitting. But the film’s heartwarming moments always include deep looks into Sonic’s eyes. That could’ve been very, very different.

Now, audience members can rest assured that this serviceable, acceptable, not-amazing-but-not-terrible family film wasn’t tanked by toothy, limber, squinty-eyed Sonic. With that crucial detail out of the way, the rest of the attached film isn’t as sensational or headline-worthy.The series’ first live-action film is neither a jolt to the pantheon of Sonic media nor a must-see video game adaptation. We’ve landed somewhere above The Angry Birds Movie, somewhere below Pokemon: Detective Pikachu.

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We have no idea what to make of this bonkers trailer for The Iron Mask

Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger get top billing, and Jason Flemyng reprises his role as 18th-century cartographer Jonathan Green in The Iron Mask.

The campy antics of Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger dominate the trailer forThe Iron Mask (aka Viy 2: Journey to China), a Russo-Chinese fantasy adventure film that also boasts Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones) and the late Rutger Hauer in one of his final roles.I’ve watched the trailer three times and still only have the vaguest idea what this film is about. There are elements of Alexandre Dumas’ Man in the Iron Mask, elaborate Hong Kong supernatural drama, and a good old-fashioned swashbuckling adventure.

Directed by Oleg Stepchenko, The Iron Maskis actually a sequel to a 2014 Russian horror/fantasy film called The Forbidden Kingdom (aka Viy 3D or Forbidden Empire), loosely based in turn on a 19th-century horror novella by Nikolai Gogol. In the novella, a young philosopher encounters a shapeshifting witch and, after a confusing series of events, dies in horror after looking upon the iron face of Viy, a demonic King of the Gnomes.

The film version combines Gogol’s central storyline with a second story following the adventures of a cartographer named Jonathan Green (Jason Flemyng). Green comes to a small Ukrainian village whose residents have tried to seal themselves off from the rest of the world in hopes of warding off a nameless evil. (The character is inspired by real-life French cartographer Guillaume Le Vasseur de Beauplan, the first to study Ukrainian culture.)

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The worlds only known Nintendo PlayStation could be yoursfor over $15,000

In 2015, the fabled “Nintendo PlayStation” turned out to be a real thing, discovered in an estate sale of all places. After a whirlwind, five-year world tour, this incredibly rare, one-of-a-kind device’s handlers have had enoughthey are putting it up for sale.

As of press time, the Heritage Auctions listing is up to a bid of $15,600, with 22 days to go. An enclosed photo gallery confirms that this is indeed the same Nintendo PlayStation that I was lucky to go hands-on with in 2016, complete with ugly-yet-expected yellowing of its exterior plastic body (owing to its flame-retardant materials’ oxidization over time).

We’ve written a lot about this Nintendo PlayStation over the years, and for good reason. As the only known version of this hardware in existence, it’s the gaming world’s rarest console, if not the rarest item altogether. There’s also the added romance of it representing the final collaboration between Nintendo and Sony before their plans for a Super Nintendo CD-ROM system fell apart over licensing deals. (Sony previously built the incredible, sample-based sound system built into every SNES console.) I encourage anyone unfamiliar with this Nintendo PlayStation system to review our previous coverage.

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