Weird and wonderful locales

Neverwinter’s zone design is seriously impressing me as a play through Undermountain’s Module 16 and beyond. It’s not the newest content, but I’m used to being behind in all the games I play, and I’m duo’ing so we’ve made good progress. I’d written recently about some of the fanciful fantasy creatures we’ve met recently. I’m happy to say the locales are as varied and imaginative as the opponents.

There’s the beautiful forested landscape of Wyllowwood, a cavern with a magically engineered environment complete with illusory sky and clouds. It’s a rather pleasant zone to race around, in stark contrast to the dingier caves and catacombs that precede it.

Then there’s the expansive, fiery landscape of Terminus, home to dark dwarves and demons alike. It’s a zone that is equal parts infernal and industrial in architecture.

In the last zone of Vanrakdoom, the landscape takes a wondrous turn, with glowing spheres and abandoned ruins in this giant cavern setting. The most impressive aspect of this zone are the pockets of Shadowfell that overlap with the zone.

Bubble of Shadowfell on right

Crossing in and out of these bubbles is visually rather striking and makes for eerie fights and tougher hunts for usually sparkling quest items.

Perhaps the weirdest thing I’ve seen in game so far are the twisted corridors of some of the expeditions we’ve done as we progressed through the levels. Seeing everything twisted on its side was quite the surprise the first time.

Halaster really is the ‘Mad’ Mage

There’s quite an extra dimension to exploring when floors can be walls and doors lead downwards not onwards..

When a wall is the floor

Onwards to more weird and wonderful locales!

Conan Chop Chop Interview – Adorable Barbarian

One does not usually associate the the terms “adorable art style” or “whimsical aesthetic” with the harsh and barbaric world of Conan, and yet developers Mighty Kingdom and publishers Funcom are taking an interesting step by doing just that with the upcoming Conan Chop Chop. On top its visual style, with its roguelike structure, focus on co-op gameplay, and its action-drive combat, the game definitely looks like an interesting mashup of ideas. Not too long ago, hoping to learn more about the game, we sent across some of our questions about Conan Chop Chop to its developers, asking about everything from the inspiration behind its visual style to what the game’s combat will have on offer. You can read our conversation with creative director Shannon Cross below.

conan chop chop

“I think that Funcom really liked the concept of the game we were developing and enjoyed the juxtaposition of depicting Conan in such a cartoony and whimsical way.”

Blending the harsh, violent world of Conan the Barbarian with the adorable, vibrant visual style of Conan Chop Chop is an interesting idea- how did that come about?

I think that Funcom really liked the concept of the game we were developing and enjoyed the juxtaposition of depicting Conan in such a cartoony and whimsical way. The idea sounded really fun and accessible, with potential to open up the world of Hyboria to a new audience. Funcom saw that opportunity to take the Conan world and characters to a place that it has never been before that fans would really love… and here we are!

For players who’re looking for a completely solo experience, is single player a viable option in Conan Chop Chop, or would you say it’s best played with other players?

Of course, we want this game to be played and enjoyed with your friends, but it’s been important throughout development to ensure that the experience was also engaging and enjoyable for one player. We’ve put a lot of effort into the random nature of how the world plays out each round you play and how you can combine weapons, charms and play style to have an interesting experience every time you play whether it’s on your own or with your friends.

How does the game balance its difficulty on the basis of how many players are playing together?

There is quite a natural balance that happens where one player can acquire more loot and therefore purchase better items, whereas multiple players must share the spoils between themselves. Having four players can make it easier in some cases, but it also presents its own types of challenges.

Having said that, we do have some checks in there to ensure that single players are not overrun, and that it still remains challenging for multiple players.

conan chop chop

“We’ve tried to deliver as much variation as possible through the enemies, hazards and bosses in the game.”

How much variety does the game offer in terms of combat and builds with things such as weapons and abilities?

There are all sorts of items, weapons and gear for players to find. Each playthrough offers its own unique feel with a random selection of gear. It’s the thing we adore about similar games and can provide a heap of replayability. For the completionist, there’s loads of hours of content to unlock and experiment with.

Can you talk about how many playable characters there are in the game, and how much they differ from each other, mechanically speaking?

There are the main four playable characters in the game. Although they do have their own starter gear (Conan and Valeria start with swords while Panlantides starts with a hammer, and Belit starts with a spear). They all have similar base stats. It’s more up to the players to kit out their characters in the way that most suits their own playstyle.

What can you tell us about the variety enemies and bosses in the game?

Again, we’ve tried to deliver as much variation as possible through the enemies, hazards and bosses in the game. I don’t want to give away too much at this point though.

When it comes to the size of maps, how much room for exploration is there in each of Conan Chop Chop’s areas?

The different environments are vast enough to enjoy the exploration while still maintaining a good action tempo. The maps are randomly generated each time, so there’s always potentially something new to find if you go looking. That’s going to depend on whether you are the type of player that wants to b-line to the objective, or the type that takes your time to explore every inch of the map.

Roughly how long will an average playthrough of Conan Chop Chop be?

An average playthrough may take up to an hour and half to 3 hours, though experienced players, may be able to complete it much faster than that. You are not expected to complete the game on your first attempt, though.

conan chop chop

“We still have a few cool ideas that’d be cool to implement post-launch, but we cannot go into details at the moment.”

What are your plans for the game as far as post-launch support is concerned?

We still have a few cool ideas that’d be cool to implement post-launch, but we cannot go into details at the moment.

Does the game feature Xbox One X and PS4 Pro-specific enhancements? Is 4K/60 FPS on the cards?

Not at this point. But who knows what the future holds?

How is the game running on the original Xbox One and PS4, in terms of frame rate and resolution?

It runs really well. We’ve put some time into optimizing to get a really smooth experience for single and multiplayer.

Square Enix Files New Trademark Application for Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy 7

dirge of cerberus

The games in the Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 – a metaseries of sequels, prequels, and accompanying films connected directly to the original classic – never caught on as much as the original game itself did. That is, of course, down to the quality of those games, none of which (with the exception of PSP’s Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7) managed to impress audiences.

However, one of those titles might possibly be getting a new lease of life- at least if a newly filed trademark by Square Enix is anything to go by. The trademark in question is for Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy 7, filed earlier in January.

Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy 7 was a third person shooter that launched on the PS2 all the way back in 2006. Featuring the Turk Vincent Valentine as its primary playable protagonist, Dirge of Cerberus was set three years after the events of the original game. It released to mixed reception at best, and brutal criticisms at worst, with things such as its combat, AI, and encounters drawing criticism, and even the story and characters receiving mixed responses.

A little more than a year ago, Final Fantasy 7 Remakdirector Tetsuya Nomura said though Square Enix’s complete focus was on the upcoming game, they had been considering releasing accompanying games as well. Given the massive undertaking that is the multi-part remake, it might not be too much of a stretch to think that Square Enix might want to update, modernize, and improve other parts of that larger story as well.

That said, it’s also worth noting that just because Square Enix have filed a trademark doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to do something with it. Companies file trademarks to protect their properties all the time, and plenty of those end up amounting to a fat load of nothing- so keep your expectations tempered.

Either way, there’s plenty to look forward to as it is. Final Fantasy 7 Remake has officially wrapped up development and is out for the PS4 in just a little over a month, on April 10, and a demo of the game is out now. Meanwhile, development on its sequel is likely going to begin soon as well.

Need For Speed Heat Guide – Car Customization Basics Guide

Need for Speed Heat

Ghost Games may be off of the Need for Speed franchise but their work in Need for Speed Heat wasn’t half-bad. The game’s customization is leagues better than previous efforts and allows for personalization in a number of different ways. Upgrading one’s car usually falls into three different cores – Engine, Chassis and Auxiliary.

Let’s go over the engine first. You’ll generally have 7 to 10 available engines for each vehicle, barring some exceptions. You can have several different types of Forced Induction in an engine, which can change the overall performance depending on your set-up. Then there’s Nitrous, which will provide a nice speed boost but having more requires a higher capacity system. Going with several small Nitrous bottles allows for more opportunities to use each at the cost of overall power. If you’re interested in one large boost and know exactly where it will be needed, install a large Nitrous bottle instead.

The Chassis consists of the different suspension, brakes and tires used in a vehicle, which in turn impacts the overall handling. Depending on a part’s level, the overall handling will be impacted that much more. For example, upgrading tires will provide much more grip while also increasing acceleration. Different tires, suspension and differentials can be used for racing, drifting, off-road racing and so on.

Auxiliary allows you to have an active item, which is triggered by the player – like refilling Nitrous bottles instantly or a repair kit – and a passive item, which is always active. The latter includes more Nitrous gained when performing certain moves like drafting, dealing more damage to cop cars and so on. Think of these as perks that can further compliment your play-style or get you out of a pinch.

How do you go about acquiring new parts? Leveling up is a good reliable method since shops will stock new parts each time. There are different events which dole out parts as well though some, like High Heat events, may involve having to run from the police upon completing the race. Keep in mind that you need to partake in night activities to increase your Rep level – currency aka Bank alone will not be enough to buy new parts.

On a separate note, if you want to tune the exact sounds coming from your car’s exhaust, then Need for Speed Heat offers plenty of options here as well. Numerous sliders are available for pipe resonance, tone, and so on, and they can also change depending on performance level. It’s just another extra detail for better personalizing a car to be your own.

Outriders Trailer Explores “Brutal Yet Beautiful” Frontiers of Enoch


People Can Fly’s Outriders is an interesting title. Amid the various games-as-a-service titles – including the upcoming Marvel’s Avengers by Square Enix – and looter shooters, it stands out as a more grungy, abilities-based shooter. The development team was recently at PAX East to talk about the process of working on a new IP but another video has released to showcase the frontiers of Enoch.

Enoch is the main setting of the game with humanity’s attempts to colonize the planet going awry. The colonists have gained different abilities though, which encourages the player to embark on a journey to discover a mysterious signal. While players will come across lush green fields and vegetation, there are also windy deserts and snow-covered facilities in ruins.

Outriders will release this holiday season for Xbox One, PS4 and PC. It’s been confirmed to launch for Xbox Series X and PS5 as well. Stay tuned for more details in the coming months, especially with Square Enix confirmed to be attending E3 2020.

Background details

I wrote recently on how much I like little details in the MMORPGs that I play; yesterday while playing World of Warcraft Classic, I was reminded just how much there is in the background that a player can easily miss.

The default viewing angle can miss a lot…

Ive found the adage always remember to look up to be very true: if you live somewhere relatively urban especially. If you never look up when youre walking around, you can miss a lot of detail. Architects tend, or at least tended, to build interesting stuff above ground level. This can be equally true in World of Warcraft (or any MMORPG). Ive often looked up in a dungeon and been surprised by something unusual, or occasionally spectacular, on the ceiling or roof above. Flying around to do some gathering last night, I saw a few things that are easy to miss but worth spending a moment to take in.

Starting with a big one, in Loch Modan, the giant dams best feature (its carved faces) are hidden from the zone itself. You have to run up to the far eastern end of Wetlands to see it, and I imagine from the ground its not very distinct unless you have viewing distance set up to max, but from a griffin-taxi as you fly to Arathi from Ironforge you are treated with an amazing view of this artificial wonder of Azeroth – if, you bother to look behind you as you fly. It would be very easy, and natural, to keep looking forward (or go on a break) while flying and miss this entirely.

I chose to go to Arathi to mine Iron, mostly a good idea although there are some pockets where the spiders or dinosaurs are a bit thick for my poor Holy-spec Paladin to make headway without running away constantly. His time-to-kill solo is terrible. In running rough loops around the zone I came across the shattered segments of Thoradins Wall that lines the western edge of the zone. Its a very impressive monument to humanitys fallen glory, or to most players no doubt, just something to pass-by barely noticed as you run towards Undercity or Scarlet Monastery.

Where are the breaks on this thing!?

There are also background details that have little explanation or purpose in game, especially on flight paths. The Ironforge Airfield is one you pass over on the way to Menethil from that city, but cannot get to without a lot of edge-running or some engineering trickery. Ive lost count of the number of times I gazed longingly at it from up-high on my griffon; flying over it yesterday reminded me how mysterious the world seemed because there were areas that were ill-explained or hard to reach. Over the years some have been fleshed out, including entire zones that filled gaps in the map (e.g. the Twilight Highlands). The Cataclysm revamp swept away a lot of these old details, or gave quests to replace what was a blank canvas for others.

That isnt to say I want the game world to stay unchanged, or that filling in the blanks is a bad thing. I really loved when gaps in the map became actual zones to explore later in the games life it was thrilling to delve into secrets hinted at in quest text or item descriptions. Playing Classic now is bittersweet to me. It reminds me of great memories and feelings, but it cannot undo my memories of playing the game in-between, or of learning what these details mean. As an experienced-focused player, I yearn for new things to do much more than nostalgia.

Crafting timeline in Luclin #EQ2

Playing through the tradeskill quest timeline in Everquest 2′ Luclin expansion, I’ve been struck by all the little details that add such richness to the experience. These crafting quests offer the perfect antidote to the MMORPGs obsession with “kill X things” questing: which really dominates the majority of content in the genre. There’s a good mix of gathering, crafting, investigating and puzzles. All of it possible without fighting a single creature – if you are careful.

Light beam puzzles are fun

Due, perhaps, to the de-emphasizing of combat, there’s more dialogue and detail to these quests. The magic book that you use throughout the quest chain has wonderful snippets of story and lore in it. There’s a sense of exploration as you look for crafting materials, NPCs to talk to and locations to visit. It feels more relaxed than ‘normal’ questing as you’re not jumping into ‘combat mentality’ and not feeling that constant, low-level, awareness of danger that is required with adventuring (EQ2’s term for combat-oriented questing).

Exploring ruins

This enables greater attention to the details of your characters surroundings and is great for more puzzle-oriented content; it’s hard in other games to concentrate on puzzles if you have monsters patrolling nearby, or if the devs deliberately trigger encounters while working on stages of a puzzle.

DDO says: work out that puzzle while being fireballed…

I discovered while reading on the wiki that my character could respec a crafting AA point (i.e. talent in standard MMO talk) to be able to summon crafting stations on a cooldown. I knew nothing about this revolutionary ability. It saves a ton of back and forth if you can just craft whatever you need to, either where you are gathering, or next to the NPC who gave you the task. There really is so much depth to Everquest 2: I am always finding out new things when I play.

The delivery of the questing really adds to my enjoyment of it. There’s a sense of mystery and fun in the quest text – delivered in an interactive manner through the virtual pages of said book. After years of study, I tend to skim read everything by default unless I really concentrate. So I’m actually looking forward to re-playing this timeline on another crafting alt just to see what details I might have missed out on the first time around. I guess the main or only downside to this delivery, like in Lord of the Rings Online’s quest text, is the amount of text to read. It’s not a downside at all to me as I love all the loving detail and have no problem reading in a game – others, I’m sure, would disagree with this.

The outcome of this last play session is that my main can now fly in the Luclin zones. This will make gathering infinitely faster and more convenient, which means he can supply any alts that do the questing in future. My next priority, however, has to be to get on with the adventuring timeline so I have that completed on at least one character.

Thoughts on Elder Scrolls Online

I read over at Bio Break Syp’s post on his issues with the Elder Scrolls Online combat (e.g. lack of feedback) and that struck a chord. Like all my MMORPGs, I have phases where I am actively playing ESO, usually for a month or just over. I enjoy the world, the questing and the immersive environments more than most MMORPGs.

The single player games never quite gelled with me, I guess I’m just not that much of a sandbox rpg fan. I played Daggerfall, Oblivion and Skyrim each for some time but didn’t finish any of them. The MMO game has much in common with these thematically and even in the feel of the world. Certainly, unlike most MMOs, your character’s surroundings tends to be a lot more interactive than just a 3D painting of furniture, buildings and flora as is the case in other games.

The combat, however, I’m not much of a fan of either: Syp writes at length about the combat not feeling as grounded as it is in other games; playing World of Warcraft at the moment I can see this comparison myself. WoW Classic has always had particularly well honed combat animations. Seeing a friend’s night elf Warrior twirling and striking with a staff is actually rather impressive for a re-make of a 15 year old version of this game. Animations and spell effects in the modern game are even more satisfying.

I’ve noticed the health bar issue in ESO, how the bars seem to adjust with a lag or ‘filling’ or ’emptying’ animation. A commenter mentions that this could be the default UI at fault; I’ve never tried a UI mod in ESO so perhaps that would be worth investigating. I do think developers should take UI feedback and combat issues more seriously – if a lot of players give feedback on these types of issue in ESO why isn’t it fixed already? I could point the same criticism at Blizzard with WoW, why in 2020 can I not open the character pane or map without obscuring the chat panel in the default UI? Needing a mod to make the UI vaguely modern (i.e. moveable components) is not good design.

Health going down..

Combat feedback and UI issues are two different but equally impactful issues for a MMO – both are potential background annoyances that cumulatively detract from a game’s long-term attractiveness. I can ignore these issues to experience some story, but eventually I’ll grow tired of such negative aspects of the game. I believe my issues with ESO are wider than just the combat feedback, although that may well be part of it. Like Black Desert Online, I just grow tired of “all action combat all of the time” – having to dodge, block and interrupt in almost every fight gets tiresome to me.

Dungeon levelling and summon-alts #WoWClassic

We’re carrying on with our Classic World of Warcraft character levelling, almost exclusively via dungeons. The only quests I’ve made time for since we got high enough to start the dungeons has been Paladin class quests.

We’re stuck in a bit of a ‘dry’ patch at the moment, as we’ve got Scarlet Monastery wings as the only option in our level range to run. They’re all rather repetitive and linear compared to earlier dungeons (e.g. Shadowfang Keep, Wailing Caverns) or later ones (e.g. Razorfen Downs, Uldaman). Maybe I’m just not a fan of this particular place as there are several pretty iconic items as boss-drops and that meant it was heavily farmed back in the day. I had several plate characters wearing that helmet from Herod, for example.

Classic has issues with just how wide the level range are for many dungeons (~10 levels according to this list). It’s not an across the board problem, but Scarlet Monastery has overlapping level ranges and brutal trash mob mechanics to deal with (lots of stuns, mana burns and the odd enrage mechanic). It can make runs on subsequent wings a real slog.

Enrage mechanic = furious heal spam time

We’re already bored with Graveyard and Library, it doesn’t help that the trash respawns so very quickly – you have to fight your way in and back out again. That combines with the long journey time for Alliance characters to even get here, to make multiple wing runs impractical. The only solution when most of the relatively short yet densely populated Library, or Armory, has already respawned is to run for the entrance (Paladin bubble for the win!) or just accept death and corpse run back to the dungeon cluster.

Starting another run

Going back to train, vendor or repair means hearthstoning and then the long flight *and* run back to the instance. Oh, and make sure you don’t get PVP flagged near Undercity or ganked by high level spiders in Western Plaguelands (depending on the route chosen).

I do like the design of these dungeons, but compared to other MMORPGs that I’ve played there’s a distinct lack of anything to interact with – lots of window-dressing but not much to do beyond smack evil creatures.

All will be easier when we get to a new dungeon or two, fighting an endless wave of Scarlet Crusaders gets old. For now though we’ve come up with a workaround to allow for more freedom to go craft or train, and to cut down on the lost 30 mins or so due to flight time. We now have a friend’s Warlock alt, plus two level 1 “summoners” in place by the useless meeting stone on the path leading to the Monastery. With this trio parked semi-permanently here, they can summon any of our active characters to the dungeon-cluster as needed. Hopefully it’ll ease one very annoying aspect of running these dungeons!

Strategic alt choices

As always happens when I’m deep into a particular MMORPG, the temptation to create “just one more alt” reared its ugly head recently. I was watching my husband make his new vulpera character in World of Warcraft, whilst also switching between my own characters in Everquest 2 to set mount and mercenary training going. I then noticed an alt I’d created over the summer that I hadn’t yet played at all, a ratonga Ranger.

I’ve not played a ratonga anything yet in Everquest 2, but the diminutive rat-folk seem very popular on the blogosphere, and likewise in game – I see a lot of ratonga characters of various classes when doing public events.

I was reminded that this character was created, and more recently insta-dinged to 100, with a specific purpose in mind. To date I’ve played my human Inquisitor as my dominant ‘main’ character. I have had phases of playing an sarnak Shadowknight as well. That gives me a healer and a tank character as my two most played characters. I do love to play a healer, and a self-healing tank can be a joy to game with as well.

Tanking, even on public events, can be stressful

However, I went into 2020 wanting to get some more group play done in this game in particular. I do not make New Year’s resolutions, so I’ll not call it that, exactly. In any case I would like to get some more group experience under the belt. The big concern there is that my two highest characters are a healer and tank, both key roles in any group. Having an inexperienced damage dealer is one thing in a dungeon; having a newbie healer or tank quite another. Since I don’t want to be too much of a drag on any random (or guild) group that I join in future, I had the idea that having a new dps-only class to play would make the most sense. Rather than just create whatever I most fancied playing at the time, I made a more considered, strategic choice of what to pick.

I actually rather like the ranger / hunter archetype, even though it’s not been my traditional go-to class. I’ve been having some fun playing a hunter in WoW Classic for example, as a dps class with a bit of utility on the side (mostly the traps). I’m not done levelling my main in Luclin yet on the tradeskill timeline, but he’s about 85% of the way through, so not far off finishing. I think it’ll be time to switch characters after that, maybe to break out the ratonga for some adventure timeline fun. By all accounts this expansion makes catching those alts up to the cap easier than ever. Perhaps this’ll finally be the expansion where I can get my group-groove on in EQ2?