Friday, January 20, 2017

Savage Space: The Hakatic Union (Savage Worlds and White Star)


The Hakatic Union is founded by a species of intelligent coleoptera, collectively known as the hakatics, a name given to them by a species called the ethrixia, which was very nearly rendered extinct in a brutal galactic conflict with the bugs. In their own language, which is a mix of clicks, whistles and pheromone-like protein chains emitted in a fine particulate mist, the actual name of this species is unpronounceable by most humanoids with conventional speech.

The Hakatics developed primitive space travel early on but did not advance beyond simple vacuum tubes and nuclear power for centuries, as their collective hive seemed to be incapable of anticipating the value of anything more than computational power for basic calculations. This is likely due to the fact that females of the species seemed to have impeccable minds for mathematical calculation....they were, in a manner of speaking....superior to any computers they could devise.

The hive of the hakatics is constructed around a rigid, biologically enforced caste system which places the females in administrative, support and intellect roles, while the male hakatics are reserved exclusively for what outsiders call the "warrior caste," though the actual role seems to encompass leadership, exploration and defense as well as the fundamentals of combat. To most outsiders this is hard to identify, due to the inherently xenophobic nature of the Hakatics, who seem at best able to tolerate the other "caste-clans" of their society as they engage in regular warfare with other hive collectives of their own kind. The appearance of outsiders was beyond their comprehension....abominations beyond their ability to assimilate into their cultural range.

Despite being a hive collective, the hakatics are not a "hive mind." They are comprised of individuals, and can function --within limits-- away from their collective. The problem is that the hakatics are biologically locked into behavioral patterns that give them limited ability to function outside of their birth-station. There is some evidence that hakatics can transmogrify, under the rigth conditions, developing the capacity to fill another role in their hive collective when a need arises, but the phenomenon has only been inferred, not directly observed.

A recent encounter with the Hakatic Union on a intersellar "light ship" owned by a Eidolon of Cenotaph named Susuros led to a revelation that there may be a hive collective which has been influenced...possibly even uplifted....by a rogue ASI* from the center of the galaxy. This rogue ASI seems to have provided the hakatics with advanced technology, including enormously more effective fifth dimensional space slipdrive engines, as well as nanophage tech used as highly destructive weaponry. Despite these specific advancements there is no evidence the hakatics have developed advanced electronic capabilities, or at least nothing close to modern standards in computing. The threat of hakatics being manipulated by an unpredictable rogue ASI remains a troubling issue for Aegis and the Commonwealth, however.

Savage Worlds Stats:

Hakatic Warrior Caste (male)
Attributes: Agility D8, Smarts D4, Spirit D4, Strength D10, Vigor D10
Skills: Climbing D8, Fighting D8, Shooting D8, Tracking D6
Pace 6, Parry 6, Toughness 7 (15)
Racial Traits: Brawny, Claws (STR+D8), natural carapace (armor +4)
Hindrances: Vow (major) to collective; xenophobia (major); nonverbal communication 
Armor: hakatic battle gear (+4); vacuum-ready

Weapons: Typically armed with flak guns (3D6+2) or flechette guns (2D4+1)

Hakatic  Worker Caste (females)
Attributes: Agility D10, Smarts D8, Spirit D4, Strength D4, Vigor D6
Skills: Climbing D8, Knowledge (any one) D8, Repair D8, Stealth D6
Pace 6, Parry 7, Toughness 5 (7)
Racial Traits: Brawny, Claws (STR+D4), natural carapace (armor +2)
Hindrances: Vow (major) to collective; Vow (major) pacifism; nonverbal communication 
Armor: vacuum suits (harness/inflating) (no armor value)
Weapons: female caste workers only fight in last-ditch self-defense. They are also prone to following the orders --even from aliens-- if the method of order delivery is emitted as if a warrior caste member delivered the directive.


*Artificial Super Intelligence; the godlike machine intelligences that manifest, usually with a singularity that annihilates or existentially transforms/assimilates its creators when it appears.


White Star Stats:

Hakatic Warrior Caste (male)
Armor Class: 4 (15)
Hit Dice: 4
Total Hit Bonus: +4
Attacks: 1D6+2 claws; flak gun 2D6; flechette pistol 1D6-1
Saving Throw: 15
Special: hive collective mentality, xenophobic, nonverbal communication

Movement: 15
Armor: vacuum-ready (and pressurized and armored) suits designed for arthropods
HDE/XP: 4/120

Hakatic  Worker Caste (females)
Armor Class: 5 (14)
Hit Dice: 2
Total Hit Bonus: +2
Attacks: 1D6 claws
Saving Throw: 17
Special: hive collective mentality, pacifists, nonverbal communication

Movement: 16
Armor: vacuum suits (harness/inflating) (no armor value)
HDE/XP: 2/30

Notes: female caste workers only fight in last-ditch self-defense. They are also prone to following the orders --even from aliens-- if the method of order delivery is emitted as if a warrior caste member delivered the directive.


Ships of the Hakatic Union that have been seized intact reveal that the hakatics actually have no central "hive leader" in the manner humans might imagine, either. It appears to be a biologically enforced community, and the males will choose from 1-6 females as mates, and entire incubator systems run through their ships where eggs are harvested. It appears that only a handful of any egg clutch comes to fruition....possibly due to poor shielding from cosmic radiation on the ships....but the dozen or so eggs that do insure a healthy species' turnaround.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Revolution D100 Out and in Print

Basic Role Playing RPG fans know Alephtar Games very well for a wide range of excellent historical gaming books (such as Crusaders of the Amber Coast), and a major supporter of BRP before Chaosium pulled all licensing two years ago. Since then Alephtar has produced Revolution D100, which is their own variant percentile based system with a heavy dose of DNA coming from the Runequest OGL.

I'm still wading through it, but there are enough changes in Revolution D100 to qualify it as it's own thing, and while it's definitely very much in the same family as BRP, Runequest and Mythras, it also has its own character and focus on design --in fact, enough design changes that I wouldn't presume to run this book without a thorough read-through...my BRP familiarity does not translate sufficiently to absorb it all. The core rules are designed to be multi-genre, and as such Revolution D100 is very much like the BRP Gold Book, ready for use with a variety of settings right out the gate.

You can find the book in print here, at RPGmeeting. I ordered a copy this week, so I'll let you know what the print quality is like when it arrives

.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Gateway to the Minimalist Gamer Lifestyle

I've been obsessed with minimalism recently (the lifestyle, not the music...although I am a huge Philip Glass junkie). It's a hard thing to attain if you are married with kids, but the mere concept of a minimalist lifestyle just exudes a sense of weird freedom. But how does one reconcile minimalism with the natural predilection for collecting crap that comes with being an old gamer? I mean....I've got three shelves' full of just D&D 5th edition books! An entire additional three shelves filled with OSR and indie books. I don't even know where to start.

The OSR certainly offers a starting point. If one were hypothetically capable and willing to stick to a set of rules such as White Box you could conceivably eliminate a lot of that clutter. It sounds cool, until I start thinking about how awesome it would be to get my group to play, say, a Razor Coast campaign. Then I realize I'd be using S&W Complete, which means I'd have the Tome of Horrors Complete, and Monstrosities, and all that other stuff....that's a lot of paper. In the course of this exercise I'd start thinking about the warlock I want to stat out and then realize there are no warlocks in White Box, which reminds me of why I play D&D 5E. Suddenly things get complicated.

Savage Worlds is actually well suited to minimalist play, barring the fact that you need to haul at least the poker chips, cards, core rules and up to four or five genre books around for the full experience.

Many other games, such as Pathfinder, GURPS and even D&D 5E now are diametrically opposed to this concept, even if they manage to come fairly close --one can argue that you only really need 3 tomes to run all the D&D you want, even if you would be empirically wrong because gamers always need that one extra tome.

This is not the firstsecond --or even third-- time I've thought about this subject. Clearly I need to find some sort of point of balance between "stuff" and "life." Then again....maybe not all stuff is life, but perhaps all life is stuff. Hmmmm.

So I don't know how to reconcile my existing lifestyle and hobby with the precepts of minimalism.  It seems to come up when I realize I am statistically more likely to die by being buried under an avalanche of books than of natural causes.

Maybe I'll make this my official New Year's resolution (nine days late): set my goal to see how close to the minimalist life goal I can get.



Monday, January 9, 2017

Post-Mortem Steam Winter Sale Reviews Part II

As always: these reviews reflect exactly as much time as I needed to understand what a horrible mistake I had made. I am curious is Steam gets mad at all of my refund requests....


Blood & Bacon

A farmer impaled on the wall of his barn hires a skeleton to take out an army of invading mutant swine. It's notable for being a one-man effort, and I suppose it's also notable for being "one of those Steam games"....which is to say, one of that endless horde of garbage that makes browsing for good stuff on Steam such a laborious chore these days....but with the caveat that a lot of people seem to like this game. In defense of B&B it is playable, and can be fun if you like Serious Sam and classic Duke Nukem type stuff....I guess.....but honestly? I am about 32 years too old to play this crap.
Verdict: I paid 99 cents for this and I want my money back, but I can never recover from the shame of having bought it in the first place.


Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex

Twitchy free to play shooter that no doubt has some insidious buy to win mechanic behind it, but I wouldn't know because the herky-jerky FPS controls and constant brutal sniper shots to the head left me less than interested in pursuing this one. I'm not even sure it's worth investigating for anime fans of Ghost in the Shell.....at best it's what you stick your teenage son on to keep him occupied (just make sure he doesn't have your CC number handy).
Verdict: nothing gained, nothing lost. I now return to the much, much better Warframe.


Shadows Peak

A lot of effort was put into making a spooky island with a weird mystery for you to explore in this combination puzzle/atmospheric horror/walking simulator but somehow it all falls flat and in the end feels neither spooky, nor puzzling nor horrific.....just annoying.
Verdict: the nice graphics don't make up fore the subpar experience. 35MM was actually a better game for contrast.


Salt

Of the four games in this round of "What Steam Regurgitated This Sale" Salt is the most palatable, and I am both keeping it and planning to play it more soon. The simple but effective graphics work well, as you play a stranded sailor on an island who must fix a raft and start exploring one island after the next. You find interesting written pieces of the tales of those who came before, implying a more interesting story to be found. It's main fault is that it's a bit slow (to start, so far) but I can see the promise.
Verdict: not bad for yet another permanent Early Release survival game. I plan to continue exploring this one.




Thursday, January 5, 2017

D&D 5E: Tales from the Yawning Portal

Dungeons & Dragons' next 5th Edition release in April will be Tales from the Yawning Portal, which is a break from the super-module format, and provides seven classic modules from various editions revised and retooled for 5th Edition D&D. Here's the list of modules being updated:

Against the Giants
Dead in Thay
Forge of Fury
Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
Sunless Citadel
Tomb of Horrors
White Plume Mountain

So: four 1st edition modules, two 3rd edition modules, and one D&D next module that's been available as a stand-alone PDF on dmsguild.com but not available in POD. I believe some of these (like Tomb of Horrors) received some adaptation during the 5E playtest period, too.

The guess seems to be these modules are all going to be revised and set in the Forgotten Realms, which is interesting of course because technically six of them were set in Greyhawk. The reason poor Greyhawk never gets any love anymore is for exactly this reason: most people never actually use the Greyhawk modules in the actual Greyhawk world, instead adapting them to FR or homebrew settings. I've actually run six of the seven modules, but all adapted to one of my own game worlds (Realms of Chirak is the home to Tomb of Horrors, Forge of Fury and Sunless Citadel; Keepers of Lingusia is home to an alternate reality Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, and Against the Giants.) Only Dead in Thay is not a classic, but the actual module looks pretty interesting.

The modules are being arranged to allow for a level 1-15 campaign if you run them consecutively. That sounds about right to me.....the level sequence based on the originals works out something like this:

1st: Sunless Citadel (level 1)
2nd: Forge of Fury (level 3)
3rd: Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (level 3-5)
4th: Dead in Thay (level 6-8)
5th: White Plume Mountain (levels 5-10)
6th: Against the Giants (levels 8-12)
7th Tomb of Horrors (level 10-14)

No need for level 15+ adventures, the Tomb of Horrors will see to that.

Anyway, here's what the cover looks like:



Dual-Wielding Weapons in 13th Age

13th Age doesn't really support dual-wielding combat (fighting with a weapon in each hand) unless A: you have a specific power/trait/ability that is designed for it, or B: you roll a 2. This has never quite felt "right" to me, so I worked up a new dual-wield basic attack option as follows:

Melee Basic Attack (two weapons)
Treat this as a normal melee basic attack but with a -2 penalty to hit. If the attacker rolls 16+ and hits, then in addition to the normal damage dealt with his primary weapon (modified by level/tier, of course) s/he may add one damage die of the off-weapon type. So for example: the attacker is wielding a long sword (1D8) and dagger (1D4). If he is level 3 and gets a 16 or better hit in (with the -2 penalty), then he may roll 3D8+1D4 damage. The bonus damage for the off-hand weapon jumps to two dice for Champion Tier and 3 dice for Epic Tier.

This combat attack can only be executed with one-handed weapons, and the off-hand weapon must be light (one damage die less) than the main-hand weapon, or two light weapons.

Adventurer Feat: you no longer take a -2 penalty to the attack.

Champion Feat:  you may now wield two one-handed weapons of light or medium size in any combination (i.e. two long swords, for example).

Epic Tier Feat: you now deal off-hand damage if you roll 11+ and hit the target.



Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Six Post Steam Sale Micro Reviews Part I

Yes, it's that time of the year again, when the Steam Sale at last ends, proving once and for all that the holidays are over and a new year has begun. I bought more than a few games on this Steam sale, and in fact relished an opportunity to to do thanks to my new snazzy computer lowering the bar of playability for my home rig once more.

Rather than elaborate on any particular game, I thought I'd try.....six micro reviews in one shot. These are of games I've played at least enough of to tell you whether they are worth one's time or not (and whether or not a sale is necessary to make them worth your time). Viciously honest opinions ahead!

35MM

35MM is ostensibly a tale of two men who have survived an apocalyptic plague, and now struggle through a beautifully rendered woodland and rural environment on a journey to unknown locales. Unfortunately, the reality is that this is a game about a very slow walking simulator paired with the worst escort quest ever, and after about forty minutes I couldn't take it anymore and requested a refund. Great graphics and ambience, though. An F for gameplay direction (or lack of it) and some poor design decisions but a B+ for the ambiance and environments.

Steep

This is actually a big budget production from Ubisoft, so if you have issues with Ubisoft or their Uplay environment then move on. For me, this is a fascinating experience in snowboarding, skiing, paragliding and wing-suiting across a vast snowy mountain landscape with a bewildering array of entertaining challenges and races. It's an open world style game, though trudging through the snow is not that thrilling...but it's otherwise a pretty fun game, especially if you enjoy similar types of games in which you get to control the actions of someone much, much more physically fit and crazy than you. Only thing that would make this game better is if it were an actual open world exploration experience full of wolves, bears and yetis. A solid A for me. I was glad to get this on sale but would have paid full price for it, had I realized how much I would enjoy it. I even found the season pass on sale and picked that up, too.


Dead Effect 2

A game which shocks you by being a port/derivation of a portable shooter designed for the Android and iOS environments, which is actually made enjoyable to play on PC, too. It's hammy and involves Space Marine Dude on a space ship overrun with the undead and other monsters, and is broken up into a series of escalating quests ....but short quests, which is welcome. Handles shockingly well on PC with a keyboard and mouse or controller, and would have looked state of the art about six or seven years ago. A decent B. Worth finding on sale.

Radiation Island

Just like Ark: Evolved except it runs just fine. I kid! It runs better, actually.

Seriously...it's like a $3.50 cent game with a complete survival experience packed in. If you've played even a handful of the seemingly endless Early Access survival titles on Steam, this game will shock you with several features you've never seen before: functional graphics, stable engine, it's complete and a full release title, and it has an actual plot and direction. My wife is much, much more in to these weird survival titles than I am and she finds it a fun diversion when Ark flakes out on her, Graphics are nice, and the worst I can say is that they are "Unity Engine" quality as this was an iOS game originally....but don't let that deter you, for the price it is absolutely a steal. Solid B+. And if you solve the island mystery it apparently unlocks a multiplayer edition, too.

Necropolis

It's kinda like if Dark Souls and Torchlight were grafted together into an amusingly entertaining chimera. You pick one of two stylish adventuring types and dive in to a procedurally generated dungeon, seeing how long you can go before you die. When you die....you are dead, time to start a new adventurer. It's a surprisingly compelling approach, and the only punishment for death in this game is to start over, which paper and pencil RPGers should be quite familiar with. Fun game, especially fun since I found it on sale. Solid B, would be higher if it offered more character types.

Case Animatronics

So, this is a game about a guy in a large building after hours when weird stuff happens. There's a ghost girl and a gruesome but copyright-avoiding animatronic murderbear in the game that is most definitely not, precisely, Freddy Fazzbear, Unlike a similar game series, Case Animatronics is built on the Unreal Engine and looks quite nice. You wander around solving the growing mystery and finding pieces of the puzzle as to why you are frequently subjected to jump scares and being killed by murderbear animatronics. It was sufficiently good at all this that my son was riveted the whole time we played (he, like so many kids, is riveted by the whole Five Nights at Freddys phenomenon), and I was about out of my seat with every horrifying and oddly unexpected jump scare. Not sure I even want to try playing it again (it's too good at the jump scares!) but deinitely an A game and I'd have paid full price for this one, honestly.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Predictions for RPGs in 2017


I'll venture forth to make a few predictions for the coming year.....maybe wishes or suggestions are more of what these are? Here we go.....

1. Green Ronin needs to produce a Companion Book to Fantasy AGE

My players have one complaint with Fantasy AGE which has blocked my ability to get buy-in on playing the game: it's too skimpy. The core rules give you three classes and twelve archetypes, but it really doesn't give you enough to simulate nearly as many characters as they would like. It's not that my players are that special....but it's that they are used to more robust systems with a range of options, and Fantasy AGE's basic rules are indeed very....basic. They need to release a follow-up book with more archetypes/subclasses, more spells, and more stuff.

2. Wizards of the Coast needs to release at least 1 new rules tome this year, and it better be for players

We've had D&D 5E for three years now, give or take, and the closest we've gotten to a player's companion is in the back of the Sword Coast book. What they need is a formal sequel to the Player's Handbook. I think they are expecting the need for this, as Unearthed Arcana articles have ramped up to a weekly(ish) status with a focus on player options. The latest tome....Volo's Guide to Monsters....was a great book and if I had my way they'd release one of those every year (but I'd be happy with one every other year), but the game is past due for more player content. Same problem as with #1 above, and the longer WotC goes without fulfilling this need, the more likely it is I'll hear quiet dissent and suggestions that there's always Pathfinder to play....and no, I do not want to go back to Pathfinder. Must....resist....

3. Starfinder really needs some straight SF options when it releases

Okay, it may have these planned, but I will wait for the final product before believing it. Right now all information released on this book suggests it's "Golarion....IN...SPAAAACE" but maybe with Golarion missing or something. It sounds cool for what it intends to do, but there's a viable market of SF gamers who are like me: they want a OGL sci fi RPG which is robust and supported, and do not want to mix their fantasy with their SF (and if we do, it's gonna be appropriately gonzo like Spelljammer). Fingers crossed that even if Paizo doesn't do it, some 3PP will take advantage of the hype to do a streamlined "fantasy free" edition.

4. Swords & Wizardry goes mainstream

Between all the different iterations of Swords & Wizardry one could argue this is already a game that's dragged itself out of the niche corner of the OSR and into the "mainstream" of gaming, at least insofar as I bet there are a lot more people playing S&W now than, say, most FATE based games (not all FATE collectively, but any single FATE title is probably carrying a fanbase smaller than S&W does). With Erik Tenkar's S&W Lite, the new 3rd edition Swords & Wizardry Complete and it's art revamp, and a variety of other independent projects like White Box going on....I suspect S&W's gone mainstream and 2017 will show off just how much.

5. GURPS "Returns" 

Stave Jackson Games had a very successful Kickstarter for the new Dungeon Fantasy boxed set, which will be a stand-alone product that you can purchase and play without ever needing the other GURPS books. It's a great proof-of-concept for SJG and especially fans (like me) who've been saying that GURPS would be perfectly viable if they could do a streamlined version that is genre-specific, books which aren't so formidable in their scope that players are either scared away or crippled with decision paralysis. I've just recently started running GURPS again with the After the End sourcebooks as the basis, and my group is rapidly learning how great GURPS is, but the thought that I'll have an accessible rendiiton of Dungeon Fantasy next year is quite exciting. Once SJG has that out, we need a boxed set for GURPS SF Adventures next....a version which walks the line between the hardcore hyper-realism of GURPS Space and the more accessible "roll up some cool planets to explore" of other RPGs like White Star and Traveller. Then GURPS Action Heroes Boxed Set, GURPS Monster Hunters boxed set......sky's the limit!

6. Pathfinder 2.0 Should Start Development

My guess: Starfinder will include some bold and new innovations in game design (by 3rd edition D&D OGL standards) as a way of testing the waters for change. If they fly, Paizo may announce a 2.0 edition of Pathfinder to go in to development and playtesting before the year's end. This could be a good thing, if only because I think Pathfinder's core conceit (a complex, robust mechanically intense system for playing not-D&D) can remain intact while still fixing key issues (which of course is the problem: namely, no one can quite agree on what the key issues are). But they probably can tweak a few specific areas of the system and then clean it up for a very nice revised edition that looks similar to the formatting seen in books such as the Strategy Guide and the Beginner's Boxed Set. Sometimes even just a "cooler, newer look" is enough to make a game stand out.....and as Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition proves, you can make just a few tweaks and that will feel like a lot of change to many people, but a measured improvement in the look, feel and accessibility of a new edition can be accomplished through smart graphic design as well. Pathfinder is a surprisingly robust book as it stands.....but I think it could benefit (greatly) from a revision that improves accessibility and adds in some rules for non-miniatures-based combat, which will at least get it in to the design ethos of the 2010's.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The State of MMORPG Gaming as 2016 Closes


This year more even than last demonstrated that MMOs are in a weird space, where the conventional aerchetype set by Everquest and then World of Warcraft (yes, and others that no one really remembers prior to WoW) has --I think-- moved from being "the only way to do it" to being both something of an oddity and also a conscious style/design decision. Today if you make a game that functions on the traditional questing/leveling/pve/pvp structure set by the industry nearly two decades ago then you are doing so because you want to actually offer up that style of game, not because it is in any way the golden apple of design (or seen as such).

We had a time when MMOs were being cranked out constantly, and in Korea at least it seems this still goes on, with a fair number getting awkward ports over to the US. But in the US, new MMORPGs need to do stuff differently, and often don't look anything like a conventional MMO used to....to the point where the line between MMO and other game is often blurred considerably. As a result, some games (like The Division, Destiny or even GTA Online) might well have a valid claim to the MMO part of the name. But despite this, I want to look at how the "tried and true" MMORPGs are doing these days.

As usual, I look at these games with the following important caveat, because I am not a normal MMO Blogger: I probably am lucky to land 50 hours in a game per year, and if an MMO gets 200 hours out of me in a year I must really, really like it, enough to devote that much of my precious time to it. When some guy comments online about how you can level to 100 in game X in a couple weeks*, remember that I am not that guy, and I have played, for example, The Elder Scrolls online continuously since it's date of release and only just hit the level twenties....albeit with like 9 characters, but you get the idea: I am the player for whom all the pre-end-game content in an MMO matters. The End Game is not for me, and I find it a time sink anyway when I do miraculously get there. When I hit level cap in WoW, for example, and wrap the current story (as much as the solo quests allow me to see) then I am done with that game; I have no time, ability or interest in the End Game raids and other nonsense.

So, with that said....here's what I followed/played over this year:

The Elder Scrolls Online

This year Elder Scrolls Online upgraded to a "One Tamriel" edition which was basically a smoothing out of the leveling experience....you can now basically go anywhere and group with anyone and the game accommodates your level accordingly.  The net result was more freedom of play and a bigger focus on what you are doing now rather than where you need to go. TESO remains my favorite fantasy MMORPG on the market right now, with beautiful graphics, enough of the Elder Scrolls aesthetic to make it interesting, and for a casual MMOer like myself it's a great game to pick up and play on those odd Sundays when you have a four or five hour block of time for some serious gaming. It also remains one of the more affordable microtransaction experiences; the most expensive items remain vanity-based, but the game regularly has sales and reduced costs on its crown points which means you can make it quite cost effective if you are patient.

Verdict: will continue to play this most likely until I finally reach level cap. Someday. But sometimes I just can't get into the experience and have to put it aside for weeks at a time, only to come back to it randomly and suddenly totally dig it again. I think it's the fact that there are moments where it feels like 95% of my quests are being delivered by ghosts, about other ghosts. Why the obsession with the ghosts, Zenimax???? WHY???

Neverwinter Online

I jumped back in to this for a few weeks earlier this year and was pleased to see that it had grown quite a bit in content. I played long enough to start (not actually succeed....just start) comprehending the bizarre multi-tiered point structures of the cash shop, but ultimately grew annoyed with the whole mess once more when I took a month away from the game, came back, and found it too annoying to bother with re-learning all over again. That said, I think Neverwinter really doesn't require any purchasing for a casual MMOer to enjoy for a while, as the game feeds you pretty much the essentials as you go. Their hook is to offer you lots of cool stuff you want to buy, and hope you do exactly that. Restraint will make this a much cheaper game, since unfortunately the cost of store items remains too high for my tastes, and their sales often do little more than drag the outrageous costs down to "almost affordable but not quite."

Verdict: I really enjoyed the play of NWO once I figured it out and learned to ignore the weird currencies design to make you pay money in the cash shop. I was disappointed to see that leaving and coming back a few weeks later left me feeling a bit out annoyed with all of it again. When I feel the temerity to stab at it once more, I will.

Defiance

This game is getting older and older, but still has periodic new events, usually driven by cash shop sales items. It remains a fun shooter to mess around with, and ties in to the Defiance TV series, but I've never been able to really enjoy it as much as I feel I should these days, since Defiance itself delved into the "MMO shooter" genre first, laying the groundwork for much better games to come, games which knew the audience for this style of game much better than poor Trion did (The Division, GTA Online and Destiny, for example). I may give up and delete it, but not before I finish watching all the episodes of the TV show.

Verdict: I think I may be done with this one, but who knows, I thought I was last year, too.


Star Wars: The Old Republic

I honestly did not have this on my radar, but three things happened: first I got into White Star --a lot-- earlier this year which really put me in the mood for some good, pulpy Star Wars-adventure. Despite my interest, I didn't think of SWTOR as an outlet for this desire. Then a new expansion was announced, featuring a cool trailer (here) that reminded me of why Bioware is so cool. Finally Rogue One released, and I rediscovered my fluctuating, on-again, off-again love for all things Star Wars. On a lark I snagged the expansion and loaded the game.

Since then I've been hooked and it's dominated my December game time, more so than any other game except The Division. The cash shop is not annoying me like I remember when it first came out...the prices aren't spectacular, but they are more affordable on average...$40 in coins gives you enough to snag the key items and vanity crap you will no doubt want to decorate your PCs with. It's still not perfect, but the game also was overhauled with a faster, more story-focused leveling experience which has so far proven much smoother and more entertaining for the casual MMOer like me. People are bitching about this change online, I noticed.....but my guess is Bioware needs people who are playing the game and spending money, not end-gaming it and no spending money? I don't know.....but I do know I am currently quite obsessed with this game, and I honestly did not expect that I'd end the year stating that SWTOR is my darling MMORPG right now.

Verdict: I feel a strong desire to actually experience all of the story content in this game and can only assume EA and Bioware have found some form of mind control to hook me on the game. That or I'm just enjoying how even trivial quests are made entertaining with Bioware's live actors and cutscenes.


The Crew (Complete Edition)

I feel an obligation to include this game on the list, because it is absolutely an MMO and maybe even an RPG, due to the fact that you follow storylines in the game. When this first came out I was less than impressed, but several expansions later and The Crew is a pretty fulfilling and interesting experience, with some decent (but not perfect) car physics. You are totally playing online with other humans, but it is fairly easy to ignore them if you want, for most things anyway. That said.....unlike Horizon 3, where you have to choose to go online, The Crew is always online all the time. I've been enjoying touring it's rendition of the United States, which is a world filled with aggressive drivers attempting to perform ever more outrageous stunts and races with increasingly tricked out cars in various locales. The new expansion adds cops and chases in to the mix, making the overall experience feel pretty rounded.

Verdict: I'd like to play this to the "end," whatever that is for a car game but suspect Horizon 3 will beat it up and take it's stuff as that game steamrolls out more compelling content.

World of Warcraft: Legion

Legion is definitely a return to form for World of Warcraft, and I jumped back in entirely because my nostalgic love for this game was rekindled by the Warcraft movie earlier this year. I had left off somewhere in the middle of Warlords of Draenor on my alliance warrior, and enjoyed playing through WoD which I really think was a better expansion now than I previously gave it credit for. The Legion expansion is interesting....but it's the "newest" which means that once you hit the new content the leveling process slows down and the game's flaws (such as agonizingly painful quest lines, horrendous environment designs, generally dated graphics even after the recent attempts at improvement) start to stand out. Maintaing your garrison is fun, though....but I have to say, I am not sure I like the weird turn of events in Legion all that much....the weird pseudo-Norse stuff, the superhero feel with artifact level weapons and all that are just not really proving all that fun for me (yet, I's still persevering). My main gripe though is that as I play my horde warrior through Pandaria content to get to the good stuff in WoD, I am learning to REALLY HATE PANDARENS...and Pandaria...it's just so gimmicky and trite for the horde storyline so far, and the increased leveling pace makes it such a fragmented experience that I am basically just trying to find the will to level my orc warrior to get her the hell out of there as fast as possible.

Verdict: I wish Blizzard would cough up news of a WoW 2, one which looks and feels more like the movie. Leave the original WoW as a legacy title for gamers with older rigs.....we need something genuinely new for Warcraft's future, please! For now I will probably find myself leveling my one warrior to the level cap slowly and surely while enjoying the lower level content I find more palatable...and exploring more of WoD's territory, which I think is the best since BC.

Off the Radar

I have a few games I used to love which have all but dropped off the radar. These include:

Rift: despite releasing new content this year, I never did recover from when Rift went F2P; the cash shop is too messy and expensive, and the design decisions from level 50 content onward were just no fun, with a questing approach that worked great before the F2P experience but leads to a fragmented inability for casual MMOers to figue out what the hell is going on, where to go, or why to care. Rift still remains a great experience from level 1-50, approximately, with diminishing returns beyond that point. Verdict: I am done with it.

Guild Wars 2: I gave up on this game. Much like Rift I have no idea what the hell is going on, or why it took me so long to level up back when I was invested in the game. Leveling up seems much faster now, but the purpose of one's existence in the game is constantly called in to question due to a questing structure that seemed innovative back in the day proving to be boring and pointless now. It's basically a problem I describe as "invisible progress," in which the cycling of recurring events/themes doesn't give you much direction on where to go.....if you can adjust to the "fill the hearts" thematic of GW2's exploration process, and you can accept the almost (to me) incomprehensible math behind how damage in combat works, then GW2 is probably a better game for you than it is for me. Verdict: I am keeping it installed for now, but I think not for much longer. A damned shame.....I love the original GW, and so wanted this one to be a major innovator going forward.....so my frustration at not being able to grokk it is very annoying.

DC Universe Online and Marvel Heroes 2016: The DC Heroes MMORPG and the Marvel Heroes 2016 action RPG both are fun experiences, but from very different angles. I spent a bit of time in both, and came away from the experience realizing that the best moments I experienced in both games paled in comparison to taking 2 hours to watch the latest movie or read some comics. Verdict: Deleted and moved on. I do want to thank Marvel Heroes for letting me run around as Moon Knight, though....if only you were a real game, and not a Diablo knock-off, the most ill-suited design choice for Marvel characters imaginable. And as for DC Universe.....it helped clarify just how inappropriate the MMORPG classic format is when applied to a comic book superhero universe.


*The reason I make this distinction is because of an experience I had (often) best summarized by this story: sometime around mid 2008 I was gaming in WoW with my wife and her active guild when I was treated to a fascinating conversation explaining why I was a casual gamer because I could not devote more than 30 hours a week to the game. When I pointed out that that would mean I would have to devote a minimum of 4-5 hours per night, seven nights a week to meet the minimum, I was met with a sea of "yep, absolutely" type responses from the guild, who had no problem with this concept. I took a long break from WoW after that. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016