Playing Video Games for Racial Justice, part 2 of ??

In which I review three more games out of the Itch bundle: A Morticianโ€™s Tale, Mon-Cuties for All, and Verdant Skies

I enjoyed doing this so much, I did it again! You can find part one here.

A Mortician’s Tale

Love this banner art! Credit: A Mortician’s Tale on Itch.io.

A Mortician’s Tale is a short, story-driven “empathy game” by Laundry Bear Games, exploring the Western death industry through the eyes of Charlie, a fresh-out-of-school goth mortician.

Most of the story happens via in-game emails. There’s a long-running email conversation with a friend (sister?) who works in a museum, and daily newsletters that keep you up to date on innovations in the death industry. Emails from your coworkers and bosses present the contrast between small, “mom and pop” funeral homes and the big corporations that are replacing them.

In between reading email you do your job — preparing the dead for burial or cremation, embalming them with tiny adorable tools, and attending funerals.

In fact, the mechanics of the tiny adorable embalming tools might lull you into thinking this is Yet Another Simulation Game — an odd one, sure, but I have played Graveyard Keeper. The mechanics are well-designed, and on the whole they feel good to use. Which is great! Except it’s easy to get distracted by the mechanics and forget that Story is Happening.

Witness: tiny adorable embalming tools. Credit: A Mortician’s Tale on Itch.io.

In fact, that’s exactly what happened to me — I arrived at the end to find I hadn’t been paying enough attention to the story. I knew something impactful had just happened, but it was diminished by the fact that I couldn’t remember who it concerned! This probably wasn’t helped by going into the game not knowing how incredibly short it was.

Basically I need to go back and replay this game so that I can get the full impact of the story. I’d urge you to not make the same mistake I did — keeping in mind that the gameplay is only about an hour long.

Also worth noting: there’s not really much branching going on here, so replayability is limited. I noted only one point where you had to make a choice, and it’s unclear to me if anything different happens on the other path. I guess I’ll see in my inevitable replay!

Overall, I rate this one 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Mon-cuties for All

Credit: Mon-cuties for All on Itch.io.

Mon-cuties for All by Reine Works is a game about raising monsters on your country farm. It was tagged “clicker game” in the Itch bundle database, which was precisely what I was in the mood to play (see: Plant Daddy, from my last post).

it takes the clicker part of “clicker game” very seriously, and I came out of this game with a sore finger.

This game starts with a long and not particularly relevant intro involving the farmer who’s selling you his farm in the country. He seems uncertain about your gender, which leads you clunkily into character creation. (Funnily enough, after all that, the best you can get towards a non-binary gender presentation is “androgynous.” I mean, I guess it’s something?)

Then the farmer… disappears? “Is that supposed to be important?” I wondered, but it never comes up again.

You start with one monster who’s already living in your barn — a tanuki, in my case, although the other possible option is something called a “carbuncle.” While I understood this word to mean “a cluster of boils on your body,” apparently it has another meaning in the world of monster ranching, which is “a fox-like creature with a gemstone in its forehead.”

(After some research on the always-reliable TV Tropes, I figured out this usage of carbuncle dates back to Jorge Luis Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings, but it has been used greatly in anime and Japanese RPGs. The game also features the nekomata, a creature from Japanese folklore, so yeah, there is a very anime/Japanese folklore aesthetic to this game).

I’m sorry, if this banner art doesn’t say “mid-1990s anime,” to you, I don’t know what to say. Credit: Mon-cuties for All on Itch.io.

At any given time, there are only three things you can be doing: feeding/taking care of your monster, attending a prize fair, or shopping. When I discovered that, I very much had a moment of “… seriously, that’s it?” I dunno, maybe I expected to shovel monster poop on my idyllic country estate?

First, let’s talk about the “taking care of your monster” part of the game. Holy hell, is it a lot of clicking. That is basically all it is — do X number of clicks in a very generous amount of time, and your monster will smile instead of looking surly. (Personally I prefer a surly-looking tanuki, but YMMV). After three such feedings, your monster will level up.

And require more clicks to level up again.

To give you an idea of how absurd the amount of clicking is, you start by having to click… 10? 20? 50? times? It varies by monster, but it felt reasonable at first. But by the time you’ve maxed out your monster, it’s a total of something like 5,000 to 20,000 clicks each time you care for them, and just… NOPE.

Now, lest you think this is worse than it actually is, let me talk about another of the game’s three activities: shopping. In the shop you can buy “treats” and “toys” that will make your clicks more effective, in standard clicker game way. However, they are priced such that, at the beginning, acquiring them is veeeeeeery slow. So while you might not have to make 100, 500, or 2,000 clicks directly, you still have to click a lot, especially at first.

What else can you do in the shop? Well, you can buy new monsters, and… that’s about it. (I did note with some amusement that the feline shop owner, Nyahjit, is clearly an homage to the Khajiit of the Elder Scrolls).

Where do you get the money for shopping? Prize fairs. These are basically trivia games. Trivia about what? It’s a little bit of everything! Some of it is about cats (sadly, all those farming parties in my ESO guild Feline Good Meowporium did not prepare me for this), some of it about Reine Works and the game itself, and some of it is just random. (“Who was the first queen of England?” or “What is the highest recorded distance a goldfish has jumped?”)

Either way it’s unlikely you’ll already know the answers to most of these questions, so you won’t be making much money at the prize fairs until you figure them out. This doesn’t take too long, as the set of questions is pretty small, and they are introduced in tiers based on the “level” of the prize fair. (It’s unclear to me how the game decides what level of prize fair you attend?) If you answer all three trivia questions correctly, you win a prize; otherwise you get a meager consolation prize of (IIRC) between $25-$100, depending on level of the fair.

It is… not a lot of money. And since money is how you buy treats and toys that allow you to do less clicking… again, in the beginning, there will be lots of clicking.

I also felt like the game just sorta… ends, rather than wraps up neatly. It finishes after you’ve acquired your final monster — an incubus, in my case, as it was the most expensive — without you leveling that monster up. I felt was being rushed out the door just as I got to the party!

(The leveled-up incubus was quite the handsome fellow, by the way. I would like to have tea with him and share my thoughts on post-Reformation epistemology. For a brief moment I was sad this wasn’t a monster dating sim…)

Tho seriously, that bodice… jacket…. thing is doing him no favors. It’s clearly meant for someone with boobs. Although, being a demon, I’m sure he could have boobs, if he wanted to…

On the whole, I wasn’t very happy with this game. There was too much clicking, and a lack of different activities to do. I guess I expected more simulation-y aspects to the game — that “taking care of your monsters” would be more than just clicking repeatedly. Once you’ve done all the clicking, too, there’s probably not more than an hour of gameplay here. Plus I’m just not a super fan of the cutesy anime style to the storytelling.

That said, I have only good things to say about the art, music, and the sound effects. Someone clearly put great care into crafting the different sounds for each monster, and the different levels and color palettes for the monsters. These felt polished, even if the story and gameplay didn’t always.

On the whole I give this a 2 out of 5 stars. It wasn’t for me, but I can see how it might appeal to others!

Verdant Skies

Verdant Skies by HowlingMoonSoftware is a life stimulation game in the vein of Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley. Here, you play a colonist on an alien planet, doing things like growing plants, fishing, cooking, and scavenging for scrap to improve your homestead and your colony, all while managing your energy, which slowly depletes over the day.

First things first: I love this thumbnail art, used to promote the game on index pages on Itch.io. It made me want to jump in right away, before I even read the description. If the job of the thumbnail is to sell the game, then it succeeded admirably.

I mean, it may help that I have a dress like that.
Also: note the subtle rainbows!
Credit: Verdant Skies on Itch.io

This thumbnail is pretty representative of the game art, too, with the hand-drawn style of the cut scenes contrasting with the more pixelated style of the actual gameplay. I like both — whoever the artist(s) are, they use color in ways I really love.

Like many games in this genre, Verdant Skies gives you the ability to romance, marry, and have children with the NPCs you encounter in the game — from the stern-but-ultimately-kind colony director to the ditzy blond photographer who begs you not to eat fish. But unlike most of these games, Verdant Skies rejects outdated notions of gender or sexual orientation.

For one thing, in designing your character, gender is irrelevant –you select the hair, face, and clothing you want from options that are more-or-less gendered, but gender is never explicitly stated, so you are free to define your character how you like. (In the narrative, your character is always referred to as “they” in the third person. Ideally I’d prefer the ability to choose pronouns, but this is pretty good, too).

As I’ve been doing lately when it’s an option — like in Mon-Cuties, in fact — I picked a fairly-androgynous-but-slightly-femme gender presentation. Is this telling me something about my gender presentation IRL? Maaaybe, I dunno. I’m pretty gender apathetic, all things considered. But that’s neither here nor there!

(I read some complaints that “none of the faces are masculine enough!” but that was on the Steam forums, so I tend to write that off as the gripings of toxic masculinity — the real villain of Verdant Skies!)

Given that gender is irrelevant, sexual orientation only has as much meaning as you, the player, ascribe to your character and who they romance. And there are many fine choices for romance, including at least one non-binary character using they/them pronouns — Zaheen, the colony’s doctor.

(I don’t think I’ve met all the NPCs yet, so there could be others, too).

There’s a lot of racial diversity in the cast, too — admittedly, ethnicity doesn’t matter much in space, but it’s implied you all come from Earth, where such things definitely do matter. At least three characters are Black (Jade, Anthony, and Wyatt), Zaheen is coded Middle Eastern, and the mechanic Rosie is Latina. Again, there could be more diversity among the characters I haven’t met yet!

And then there’s the Scottish character, Nessa. I have a… thing about bad Scottish dialect in fiction, and this character has a bad case of Robbie Burns. Look, I’ve spent a lot of time in the UK, some of that with honest-to-god Scottish people, and I am pretty sure that ACTUAL MODERN-DAY SCOTTISH PEOPLE DON’T SAY “AMN’T” for “am not.”* That said, she is a redheaded farm girl who loves animals, which is exactly my jam. I may romance her. (After Wyatt; see below).

*(Actual Scottish People have informed me that “amn’t” is rare but does occasionally come up, mostly among older folks. Still I maintain that if Nessa were any more aggressively Scottish, she’d be a talking plate of haggis).

Luckily for my highly romantic heart, some characters in Verdant Skies are open to polyamorous relationships, which is really the first game I’ve played that allows that! I haven’t explored it yet, but it’s something I’m looking forward to checking out. According to posts I’ve seen on the forums, some of the mechanics break down in actual play, in that ultimately you can only choose to live with one spouse. The developers have expressed a desire to make that work better, but it requires a lot more dialogue trees, i.e. more work, i.e. probably more money and/or time.

Personally, I developed an attachment to the Black botanist Wyatt. He had me at “lovely specimens of Poaceae around here, eh?” Like the totally well-adjusted human with the totally misspent youth that I am, I knew immediately he was talking about grasses, and was able to respond with “WHY YES, I especially like the purple ones!” Clearly it’s love at first turf, although our relationship is still growing, as we take turns at the gene splicer or bump heads while harvesting mushrooms.

Like you do.

Did I mention he’s a punster? (Pundit?) BE STILL MY HEART.

Speaking of gene splicing, I want to say a word about the gene splicing mini-game, which allows you to combine a traits on plants (and later, animals, too) to select for the traits you want. At least for plants (I haven’t explored animals yet), you have traits like “juicy” or “tasty,” that increase the nutritional value, as well as ones like “regrowth” or “double yield,” that change how you harvest them.

I was worried I was “doin’ it wrong” at first, especially since I hadn’t watched the “Verdant Skies Gameplay – Genetic Splicer Tutorial” video. But it’s actually pretty intuitive — put two seeds in, and drag a slider back and forth until you get the traits you want. One end is all the traits from the first seed, and the other end is all the traits from the second seed, and the order you put them in the splicer does matter.

On the whole, it’s a fun system which feels satisfying to use! But then, if you don’t have good mechanical representations of mundane(ish) tasks in a life simulation game, then what do you have?

Besides cute botanists, I mean.

Overall, this has been one of my favorite games out of the Itch bundle so far, and I went whole-hog and rated it 5 out of 5 stars. It’s nearly my perfect game!


So that is three more games down! Only… 1735 more to go?

The next games from the bundle I’ve been playing are Changeling and A Short Hike, and I hope to write about those next — maybe along with one other game? We shall see!

Playing Video Games for Racial Justice, part 1 of ??

In which I review three games out of the Itch bundle: Overland, Pagan: Autogeny, and Plant Daddy

Like many people, I purchased the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality on itch.io. I may be unemployed, but $5 is not a lot to ask for 1,741 indie games, comics, books, and RPGs! (I even chipped in a little extra).

By the time the sale was over, Itch had raised over $5 million dollars, 100% of which was donated to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Community Bail Fund.

(As an aside, I’d like to point out that Itch is a small indie games storefront, so they’re not exactly rolling in dough. And yet I don’t think we’ve seen similar initiatives from, say, Steam/Valve, or Blizzard, or any AAA game studio… gee, I wonder why that is? Does it start with “c” and rhyme with “shmapitalism”?)

Of course, now that I’m bought all these games, how do I figure out which ones to play? Out of a list of 1000+ games, how do I find stuff I like?

Some folks have put together tools (spreadsheet, app) that will help you to search through them by ratings, tags, description, developers, etc. The webapp will even suggest a random game for you! These are great, but you still have to know what you’re looking for — or at least be willing to click the “random game” button a lot.

So how do you get turned onto games you might like, but might not know you’ll like? For me, the answer to that is often “friends’ reviews.”

Therefore, I think it’s only fair for me to write up my impressions of the games from this bundle that I play. Hopefully this will only be the first post in a series!

Overland

Overland, published and developed by Finji (the spousal team of Adam and Bex Saltsman), is a “turn-based survival game” where you and a band of unlikely heroes — including some dogs! — take a road trip across the U.S. in the wake of a bugpocalypse.

First point: this is a game where you can definitely pet the dog. Your whole team can be dogs, if you like! Dogs wearing beanie hats and little backpacks!

… this is not a very good strategy, alas, as dogs can’t drive or fill up the car with gas.

Contrary to this awesome t-shirt, the dog cannot drive. (Credit: the Finji shop, where this item is sadly out of stock).

I’ve sunk dozens of hours into this one already, so clearly this is a compelling game. Challenging, too, as I haven’t managed to beat it yet — the farthest I’ve gotten is “The Mountains”, which is the second-to-last zone, where the bugs are crowding in faster than I can deal with them. I still feel there is a lot of room to perfect my strategies for the basic “get gas, drive to the next stop” mechanic.

Ultimately, though, I can’t play this game for very long stretches. It’s the sort of game that requires making hard choices — do I leave someone behind so that the rest of the team can escape? Do I murder this other survivor at the gas station because they might steal my car? — and the consequences of those choices. That is part of what makes it so emotionally compelling, but also stressful to play for long periods.

I also don’t love the controls. It took me a while to get the hang of the “right-click to switch which party member you’re acting as.” Even with… twenty hours? or so in this game, there’s still a lot of me muttering “undo, undo” when I accidentally move where I don’t want to. (Thank goodness for that functionality!) Maybe it plays better with a controller?

But even if it’s not an “always” game for me, I still seriously admire the artistry that went into creating a game at once attractive and wrenching. When you consider there’s some degree of procedural generation that goes into this (in the dialogues between your party members, or in what stops appears on your map), that’s even more impressive.

Overall, I’d give it 3.5 stars (out of five). I think it would most appeal to fans of games like FTL or some of the XCom games, with its tactical, turn-based combat and difficult decision points.

Plant Daddy

Plant Daddy, by Brady Soglin is “a laid-back browser game about raising houseplants in your sunny apartment.” You can play it in the browser without having the bundle, or by purchasing it you can download and play it on Mac, Windows, or Linux.

The living room of my “sunny apartment,” late in the game. Matt’s comment was, “So this is apparently a plant hoarding simulator?”

This was the first bundle game I played, and I enjoyed it so much I pretty much binged it. Of course I appreciate anything involving plants ๐Ÿ˜‰ But I also like the options you have for displaying your plants, I like the goals outlined on the to-do list, and as a long-time fan of alchemy-type systems in games, I was intrigued by the rare traits mechanic.

To me, Plant Daddy feels a lot like an idle game — click some buttons, gain some currency, come back later to click some more buttons and watch numbers go up. That’s not a bad thing! To the right kind of person — and I am that kind of person! — those sorts of games can be very relaxing. At the time I bought the bundle, that was precisely what I was looking for, and I sure found it!

I just wish there was more to it? It’s easy to play through most of the items on the “to-do list” in a day or so of regularly checking in — I think the only one I have left to complete is “find a plant with four rare traits,” and I don’t have a great path to achieving that.

That brings me to another point. I found the search for rare traits enjoyable at first, but ultimately somewhat unsatisfying. Each plant has a 7 digit “seed” number, and there seems to be some pattern to which seed numbers correspond to what rare traits — for example, the first three digits encode the plant species; all Ancient Ferns have numbers between 090 and 097, but only some of those will have rare traits. The last four digits encode traits in some additional way; they seem to work in concert with the first series, but it’s not 100% clear how. You can enter (almost) any seven digit number into your plant workbench and grow that seed, but there’s no guarantee it will have any interesting traits. And basic combinatorial mathematics will tell you that 7 digit numbers = a LOT of possible permutations.

Plus there’s at least some randomness to what digits correspond to what traits in what plants, because I still haven’t figured out a way to get predictable results. I’ve had the best luck combining the two sets of digits as groups, rather than just incrementing or decrementing the whole series. But even working with series I know encode 1-3 traits, I only get plants with 0-3 traits.

I have a feeling the four trait-plants are encoded with a completely different series than the 1-3 trait series, but short of brute-force guessing, or lucking into a plant with four traits from the shop, I have no systematic way to find those magic numbers.

(I guess a lot of people just go on the game forum to get seeds for four-trait plants, but that doesn’t seem like much fun to me. I may do it eventually, though, to satisfy my completism).

Another quibble: as a browser game, this runs in a Unity window within the browser. This is not exactly optimal, performance-wise. Now that my apartment is filled with plants, it lags starting up, and the longer I run it, the more it sounds like my computer (a brand new Macbook Pro) is about to achieve liftoff.

Given this, I considered downloading it and running it as a desktop application — an option, especially if browser games aren’t your thing. But that was when I discovered that your save doesn’t sync between the versions, so I would have to start from scratch for each platform.

(Plus fundamentally this feels like a browser game — see the comparison to idle games, above).

Despite these concerns, I got a lot out of this one! I think it will appeal to folks who like idle games, or who just want something relaxing and low-key in a stressful time. Three out of five stars.

Pagan: Autogeny

Pagan: Autogeny by Oleander_Garden is “an experimental first person open world role playing game set in the digital ruins of a largely abandoned MMORPG.” I saw that and was like YES PLEASE INSTANT DOWNLOAD, because if there’s anything I like, it’s games that comment on the experience of playing a game. (Hence my love for the Jvk.esp creepypasta, and my general love for the lore of the Elder Scrolls).

Speaking of creepy, the major thing I want to say about this game is it’s CREEPY AF. I think that feeling is forged by a combination of nostalgia and incompleteness — or, to crib from the phenomenal Itch copy: “It is heavily inspired by long-forgotten bargain-bin 1990s adventure games, and by a general ethos of user-hostile design.”

The nostalgia, first. From the first screen, which asks you to pick your resolution (defaulting to 1024×768!), you are treated to a Windows 95-era loading screen for an MMO ostensibly named “Plaza 76.” Once you load in, you find yourself a pixelated lobby — the graphics are about on par with, say, the original DOOM, or TES II: Daggerfall. A giant card offers you some instructions about how to move around in the world, but you’ll soon find they’re woefully incomplete.

Here in the lobby you can acquire a few starting items — a tarot card (an equippable item that increases your stats), a mystic blade, “labor vouchers,” and a few skill-up items. From that lobby, you can launch into various different biomes, which offer different adventures and things to find.

A view of the lobby of Plaza 76, including a neon “Food Court” sign.. I would not eat the sesame chicken from that food court, let me just say. (Credit: the Pagan: Autogeny page on Itch.io)

Just like any MMO, right? Except you’re alone and this world does NOT hold your hand.

(FWIW, I never played around much in early MMOs myself — my first one was City of Heroes in 2003 — but visually this reminds me a lot of watching my husband play Phantasy Star Online on the Sega Dreamcast).

The incompleteness, next. I think this arises out of the setting — a deserted MMO — as well as that aforementioned “user hostile design.” Overall, this gives the game the sense of an abandoned project, just as the creators doubtless intended. That you can’t extrapolate what lies ahead from what you’ve already passed through is the source of some of the creeping horror you come across in the game.

A few words about that user-unfriendliness — don’t expect any features you would have in a modern MMO, like a map, or a way to look your current buffs and debuffs, or, heck, even your hit points. I took to drawing maps on paper, because otherwise it’s easy to wander in circles in some of these zones.

Plus, like many old-school MMOs, too, when you die, you lose some of your items (thankfully most stuff is easy to reacquire), and respawn back in the lobby.

Like any good MMO, your experience is tied into your skills and equipment, and how those tie into the setting. Your skills include “murder”, “poetry,” “caffeine”, “body morphing”, and “estrogen.” You’ll pick up your first points in these in the lobby, which you may notice has only one bathroom, marked as a ladies’ room. That bathroom is also where you’ll find your starting tarot card, the High Priestess — traditionally associated with feminine power, this tarot nerd notes. Finally, one of the “quests” — as much there are “quests” — involves putting together a mannequin from body parts you find lying around the world; this increases your body-morphing skill.

Starting to notice a theme?

So yeah, there there is a continual, low-grade trans energy to this game, which is perhaps the “cursed gender_magick()” mentioned in the game description on Itch. (I was only a little disappointed that it wasn’t as transparent — pun not intended but certainly welcomed — as that description let me to believe).

This game apparently has multiple endings, but I have only discovered one so far — which is as surreal and vaguely terrifying as you might expect. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that the game also plays around with breaking the fourth wall in a way that some of my favorite horror games do (i.e. Eternal Darkness, and yes, even that creepypasta I mentioned above).

If I have one complaint about this game, it’s that I have a lot of crashes to desktop (that are clearly not scripted — the game will make you question that, though!) The game description suggests using the 64-bit version if that keeps happening, so I think I will try that on my next trip to Plaza 76.

Another small quibble is that, having found the most obvious game ending, I’m at a bit of a loss of what to do next. I’ve explored all the obvious areas; there are apparently some hidden areas, but I don’t have a great idea of how to find them. And there’s at least one boss monster I’m not sure how to defeat! I’m sure if I poke I’ll uncover them, but the lack of a path forward makes me somewhat disinclined to do so. I wonder if this is where having a formal quest system might help?

One piece of advice I’d like to give to anyone who picks up this game is — make sure you read the manual in the install folder! You can go into this blind if you want the fully “user hostile” experience, but after your second or third trip it will definitely increase your enjoyment to understand what some of the equipment and tarot cards do.

Overall, I rate this one 4 out of 5 stars. As this is the third Pagan game by Oleander_Garden, I’m definitely inclined to check out the the other two that aren’t included in the bundle (Pagan: Technopolis and Pagan: Emporium).


All right, this got long, and I covered fewer games than I expected — but I hope you find it useful all the same. I think if there’s one thing I take away from this first round of games, it’s the world of indie games is broad and fascinating, and that I’m just sad I didn’t discover Itch before this!

(I’d also like to remind you to rate and review any Itch games you like! It will be helpful for those games’ visibility).

Join me next time, when I’ll discuss A Mortician’s Tale, Mon-Cuties for All, and Verdant Skies.

We were kinda prepared: KotN does Black Temple timewalking


Credit: Wowhead

This week in WoW was Burning Crusade Timewalking — that event where we all go back in time and do those dungeons we haven’t done in years, for updated loot and badges to buy cool stuff. And recently they introduced a new feature to BC timewalking: timewalking Black Temple!

For those of you who don’t remember May 2007, Black Temple was probably the most famous raid of WoW’s first expansion, The Burning Crusade. Much of the expansion revolved around Illidan Stormrage’s betrayal of the Alliance and Horde, siding with demons of the Burning Legion. This plot culminated with fighting him as the final boss in Black Temple.

… okay, okay, you could also say it culminated in Sunwell, which was the final raid of the xpac, but thematically? I’d say BT was much more where it was at. Let’s not forget that the catchphrase for the entire expansion was Illidan’s “YOU ARE NOT PREPARED” line from his Black Temple RP.

(WoW’s most recent expansion, Legion, has attempted to redeem Illidan and make him a hero again. Apparently he was in deep cover, and honestly, he did it all for the Greater Good ™, guys? Many fans remain unconvinced; regardless, this is why we have a demon hunter class now, and it’s also why Illidan’s hanging around on the Broken Shore helping the PCs and having unbelievable UST with Maiev).

For a little personal history, in 2007 I had come back to WoW for the second time, transferred from Proudmoore to Thrall, and did some suuuuuuuuper casual raiding — we cleared Karazhan, but that was about all. (Keep in mind, this was in the days before flex raids, when you needed exactly X number of people, where X was usually 20 or 40). Then there was guild drama and I quit again for a while.

The long and short was, I never saw BT while it was current content. Actually, I never saw it at all until a couple of weeks ago, when I decided I needed some Malefic (warlock tier 6) pieces to go with my Diabolic (warlock T20) pieces, since they are similar models.

So! When they announced you could go back and do BT as timewalking content, with re-tuned encounters and gear (because no one has shadow resist any more, everyone has artifact weapons, and tanks can be one of six different classes now) I was SO EXCITE, guys. I was even more excited when our raid leads announced that instead of progressing current content on Tuesday, we’d be doing BT.

(Obligatory shoutout to my guild: Knights of the Night, Alliance, US Duskwood/Bloodhoof! Which, lbr, is mostly composed of my real life friends at this point).

We had a larger group than usual on Tuesday. The TW version of BT introduced an achievement you could get if you a) already had the Warglaives of Azzinoth legendaries from BT, b) had a demon hunter, c) defeated Illidan in TW BT. This achievement apparently unlocks the ability to use the Warglaives for transmog purposes, which everyone wanted. As a result, we brought along several folks that don’t normally raid with us — in addition to our usual DH raid lead and tank, Zallak, well-known Illidan fanboy.

(My pal Pickle, raiding with us on his boomkin Morfessa, commented to this effect: “It’s nice to see so many Illidari who recognize their master is off his rocker and something needs to be done about him.”)

(For strategies for the re-tuned bosses, we pretty much used this guide, complete with silly art)

Some random quotes and moments:

Fighting Naj’entus
“We’re in dark days of encounter design here… no tank swaps, no movement, just tank and spank.”
“Did we all install our threat meters?”
“Remember to wait for five Sunder Armors, guys.” (Even better because we had no warriors!)

In Supremus‘ courtyard, Zallak says, “Hey Mar… are your taunts working?”
My husband Matt (who was actually playing his monk Aulfilde, not his pally Marrais for once) replies with, “Noooooooope.”
Me: “It’s because neither of you existed back then.”
Zallak: “Hey, I existed, I was just on the wrong side!”

Then our mage Magos (formerly known as our DK Anieros) pointed out that maaaaybe taunts weren’t working was because the tanks weren’t hit-capped — spell hit was a big Thing back in TBC. I… would not be surprised if this was the case. (Incidentally a lot of our interrupts just weren’t working, even on abilities that seemed like they should be interruptable).

Shade of Akama. We wipe and have to reset the encounter because someone (probably not on Discord) started it before we were ready. “What part of DON’T TALK TO AKAMA did you miss?”

Teron Gorefiend… “The original death knight!”

Pickle reminded us all that there used to be a Flash game where you could practice the Shadow of Death mechanic without wiping the raid.

“So literally… you have to kill him before he kills your entire raid.”

“This boss destroyed guilds…”

Reliquary of Souls, phase two…
“Just do slow and steady damage” (because he does damage proportional to how much damage you do)
“I’m an afflic lock, slow and steady is all I do.”

We compared notes about how old we were when TBC came out and what we were playing. Zallak was probably the youngest of us — he was twelve at the time. “Twelve and raiding Sunwell… what the hell was I doing?” Then he concluded, “Oh, who am I kidding? I was a resto shaman; I had a guaranteed spot, and all I had to do was spam Chain Heal.”

Gurtogg Bloodboil… my pal Mel, on her resto druid Tyrwll, excitedly points out to our tanks, “Look, there’s a TANK SWAP, guys!”

Remember when trash sucked?… I’m not convinced they did much to re-tune the trash in here. The Sisters of Pain and Pleasure before Mother Shahraz could basically one-shot our melee dps, because their reflect of an auto-attack swing was their entire scaled-to-70 health pool.

Very disappointed to see that the Den of Mortal Delights was lacking an exotic gnome concubine. Elisande has one up on Illi-chan, there.

We take a break before Mother Shahraz; people pull out toys. I use my Orb of a Sin’dorei and suddenly my gnome is transformed into a blood elf who looks like he just discovered facial hair. “Hey, my fake blood elf has the world’s tiniest soul patch!”

Mel: “But why are you a dude?”
Me: “… because my toon is a dude? Like yours?”
Mel: “Oh, right. Dammit, all gnomes look alike.”
Someone else: “Dude, that’s racist.”

Illidari Council. “And the guy on the left, the rogue… I guess he does nothing special.”
“He’s a rogue? He looks like a confused shirtless warlock to me.”

Pausing outside of Illidan’s room:
“Okay, let’s explain this fight.”
“But I thought we were supposed to not be prepared?”

Waiting for our DH contingent to take screenshots with Illi-chan before started the encounter. Gnomes jumping up and down in front of Zallak to ruin his screenshot.

Zallak doing the /sorry emote before starting the encounter.

Illidan ends his RP with “You are not prepared!” and Mel squeals, “HE SAID THE THING HE SAID THE THING.”

Two wipes when one of the Flames of Azzinoth decided to just switch targets randomly, move from the glaives, and enrage.

Finally got him on the third try. No warglaives, but he drops [Stormrage Signet Ring] for Zallak. Pickle says, “Hey Zallak…. sempai noticed you.”

My overall impression? Timewalking BT was a weird blend of old and new mechanics, with a heavy frosting of nostalgia. I was so hyped and full of love for my guildies afterwards that I couldn’t get to sleep for another hour. Highly recommended.

… also now I kind of wish they would do the same thing for Icecrown Citadel in Northrend, another raid I didn’t get to see when it was current.

I Returned to Azeroth and All I Was This Soul-Reaping Scythe

As I alluded to elseweb, ESO became unfun.

To be precise, with the rollout of the Dark Brotherhood expansion the combat design team basically decided to double down on the “party roles? who needs ’em!” design strategy. While some people may think “wow, cool, they’re trying to break up the holy trinity of tank/heals/dps, how innovative,” the upshot in actual play was that being a build that was focused on anything BUT DPS pretty much sucked, because every fight was a dps race. I was grumbly because I never got to heal, Matt was VERY GRUMBLY because tanks were basically irrelevant, and rather than continue to piss uphill, he decided to disengage. I continued to play for a while, but ultimately it’s not as much fun without him. (Though I do miss my awesome ESO guildies).

We both puttered around with non-MMO games for a while. I built and played around a bit with my Giant Modded Skyrim game, and spent a bunch of time with Sunless Sea. Matt sampled Beyond Earth and Stellaris.

But at the end of the day, we like playing together and with a team, and MMOs are really the only games that allow us to do that.

This past month, Legion, the newest expansion to World of Warcraft, came out. I’d been hearing a lot of good things from my friends who still play. In particular, my pal who works at Blizzard, Skye, made the comment that they had done some really innovative things and that now was a better time to come back than ever.

As some of you will recall, I played WoW in YESTERYEAR — basically from release in 2004 until Wrath of the Lich King, in 2009. I’ve, at times, had some horrid experiences; I left in 2009 because of harassment in a raiding guild I was in.

I’ve also had a lot of fun and good memories — usually my real-life friends are involved in those stories.

At one point I was sure I’d never play again, largely because I wasn’t convinced I could control how much I played. It was no exaggeration to say I was addicted at one point in time.

Of course, in the intervening years I’ve played SWTOR and ESO, two other MMOs which have many of the same addictive aspects, and managed to maintain the veneer of a responsible adult ๐Ÿ™‚ I even went back to WoW for a period of time during Mists of Pandaria (2013?), for about a month or so, before getting bored again leveling through Cataclysm content. Combined, this led me to believe I could play responsibly again. So when I suggested, “maybe we should go back to WoW,” I wasn’t half-joking.

When I started playing, I opted to transfer my old main, gnome warlock Silbuns, from Aegwynn (a PvP server, where we had moved during our 2013 stint) to Duskwood, following Mel and Will, who are probably some of my most hardcore WoW fanatic friends. Matt followed suit, copying over Marrais, his old paladin.

When last we left them, Sil and Marrais were level 82 and stuck in Deepholm, one of the Cataclysm zones. I needed to pick up from there, and learn to play an Affliction lock again.

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I probably looked something like this

My god, the game has changed. I mean, I thought it had changed when I played briefly in Pandaria. Transmog, pet battles, new races, the new starting zones… those were all new to me at the time. I didn’t even play long enough to get used to them! Now there are garrisons, even faster flying mounts, a new class, yet another stat retooling, and TWO DALARANS to worry about.

(I mean, one Dalaran was already excessive, unless you really liked mages and sharp cheese).

So I started small. Very small, with a level 1 dwarf shaman (dwarves can be shamans now! hooray!) named Terbodhna (thanks, random name generator!) Matt made a dwarf monk to go with. Together we tooled around the Eastern Kingdoms together — right now we’re in the mid-40s and in EPL.

But eventually I had to go back to Silbuns. I started by taking everything off his ability bars and just putting it back on again, basically in the order I would have received those abilities if I were leveling him from 1 as an Affliction lock. When I played in 2013, I still found there to be too many abilities, even given how they had been limited by talent specialization. It seems like they’ve simplified it even further since then. Now I have a hard time even filling my main ability bar with abilities I’ll use frequently.

I played Afflic pretty much up until I hit max level, but decided recently to switch to Destruction, since it seems like Destro is a better spec for endgame content. (And man, is switching specs SO EASY these days — you can pretty much do it anywhere, any time, free of charge). I now can say I’ve got the hang of both specs, although I still fat-finger things occasionally. (Er, or more than occasionally).

Anyway! Here are my ten second reviews of all the expacs I’ve seen along the way (and a slightly longer take on Legion):

Cataclysm (levels 80-85). I only saw Mt. Hyjal and Deepholm before I hit 90 and decided to move on. But overall, I was not impressed. (The stuff Cata did for the lower levels, like the new starting zones, and changed geography? Much more interesting, I think).

The guiding design principle of Cata seemed to be, “Hey, everyone has flying mounts now, let’s make everything THREE DIMENSIONAL.” And… that just breaks my brain. I was constantly lost. Matt, who had done this content days before with his since-deleted draenei pally, was rushing ahead, and I had no idea where to go and what to do and I kept forgetting to pick shit up and now I have to fly over here to floating ship oh no Matt’s veered off to mine for fish, what do ahhhhh. So yes, my dominant impression of Cata is BEING LOST.

Mists of Pandaria (levels 85-90). Mostly just Jade Forest, Valley of the Four Winds, and a teeny bit of Krasarang Wilds. For all that I rolled my eyes at the pandaren starting zone when I played briefly in 2013 (more poop quests, augh), I actually liked the 85-89 zones a lot better. There was just a lot of the… lightheartedness I associate with vanilla WoW, without it falling into being juvenile. I loved the terrible agricultural puns. I loved the ridiculous quests that have you doing things like painting turnips orange, collecting disgusting pond water, and rolling lazy pandaren across a field. Overall it was enjoyable and I was sad to leave.

Warlords of Draenor (levels 90-100). I very much enjoyed the extended adventure that brings you to past-era Draenor, i.e. the setting for Warcraft 1 and 2. I also liked the cinematic aspect of that first extended quest, where you see the legends of Warcraft lore with their names flashing up on the screen.

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My reaction upon seeing Khadgar was, “I was lied to! He has no whiskers at all!”

I like many of the mechanics they added with WoD. I like the “bonus objectives” on the map, that present side quests without cluttering up your quest log. I like the addition of star markers on your map for rare spawns. I like that the difficulty of the rare spawn monsters is actually, you know. Somewhat challenging. (Or at least it was when I was 90-99 — less so at 110, of course).

Most importantly, I loooooooved building, improving, and upgrading a garrison. Even though my travels don’t often take me to Draenor any more, I still check in with it, sending my followers out on missions, collecting resources, picking herbs and mining, and doing seasonal dailies. It appeals a ton to the sim/4X gamer in me.

I really only saw Shadowmoon Valley, Gorgrond, and Talador before it was time to move on to Legion content, but I’m trying to finish up the other zones and get the Draenor Pathfinder achievement to unlock flying in Draenor.

Legion (levels 100-110): I LOVE SO MANY THINGS ABOUT LEGION. They made some smart design decisions here, really iterating on their improvements from WoD.

For example, instead of a garrison, in Legion you have your order hall. This acts a little like a garrison, but isn’t nearly so isolated or self-sufficient. In WoD, you were kind of incentivized to spend 18 months holed up there, and that soured a lot of people on the expansion, I guess?

So, consider order halls the enhanced version of garrisons. You can upgrade them, recruit followers and send them on missions, and improve your artifact there (more on artifacts in a moment), but by no means do you spend all your time there. When you leave your order hall, too, you are in the heart of (new) Dalaran, which is a pretty happening place (and has portals to everywhere else you could possibly want to go).

I really like the stories that go along with the orders, too. Basically each class has a reason why this group of them is working together. For the warlocks, their order is called the Black Harvest, and the warlock campaign starts when you are recruited for this daaaaangerous demonic summoning ritual. It of course goes poorly, and you have to save the day.

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And then somewhere in there a demonic Dobby shows up.

But the best thing about the warlock order hall is this:

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Yep. A big comfy bed, right in the middle of a blasted extradimensional hellscape. Nooope, nobody’s having sex with demons here. Ignore the succubi standing by.

Artifacts are another great thing added by Legion — basically, when you start your class campaign, you get a mission to retrieve a legendary-quality weapon unique to your talent spec. It grants a special power you can use so long as you are wielding it. You can also “upgrade” your weapon with artifact power token you find in your travels around the Broken Isles — which end up mostly being upgrades to your abilities.

Did you miss the talent trees from pre-Cata WoW? Well, now they’re back, only for artifacts.

Since I was affliction-specced when I started Legion, my first artifact was Ulthalesh the Deadwind Harvester, which looks like a typical Grim Reaper-style scythe. It “reaps souls” from every mob you kill, storing up to 12 of them. You then use its special ability to gain a damage buff.

deadwindharvester

You know what the most badass thing about Ulthalesh was, though? When you kill an enemy, their ghost sticks around until you consume the soul. The first time this effect happened, I was literally at my garrison picking flowers when a podling popped up. I killed it, like you do, and then couldn’t figure out why a spectral podling was haunting me.

(It can be somewhat annoying, though — i.e. “why is there a giant ghostly dragon keeping me from tracing this rune on the floor?” with a certain quest in Azsuna)

Now that I am Destro specced I have the Sceptor of Sargeras, which has some cool lore behind it (Sargeras being the Big Bad Demon behind Legion), but isn’t nearly so badass as Ulthalesh. Its power is to open a dimensional rift through which demonic energies will assault your target. It does look pretty neat, but is not as viscerally satisfying as BEING HAUNTED BY THE ONES YOU’VE KILLED.

Either way, being a warlock is metal as hell.

And see, that’s the thing. When I first heard about artifacts, I had a moment of, “oh, psh, handing out legendaries to everybody. Everyone’s going to be walking around with them like they’re the sole savior of the world, and it’ll be lame.” But see, it’s not. I know every other warlock has an artifact, and I don’t even care, because I still have a MOTHERFUCKING SCYTHE THAT REAPS SOULS.

(And, thankfully, there are alternate appearances for the artifacts — and you can still transmog it — so at a glance over my order hall, it doesn’t look like every warlock is carrying the same weapon).

In brief, the artifacts are really good at making players feel like their characters are badass — even if they never step foot in a raid. And really, that’s all you want when you run a game aimed at fantasy-loving nerds and based on a monthly subscription, isn’t it?

And the actual leveling content for Legion? Is pretty damn good, too. I especially liked the quests in Azsuna and Suramar, because I do love me some doomed sad elves (the shal’dorei/nightfallen). That said, getting around in those zones is sometimes absolutely miserable; I really did not need to start Suramar with an extended phasing sequence where I couldn’t have my pet pally (i.e. Matt) along, and I’m convinced no one would miss the Oceanus Cove sub-zone of Azsuna if you completely removed it from the game.

I liked Stormheim, too, for many reasons — posh murlock archaelogists, the quest-giver we call Not!Odin, the two goblins pulling a racket on you, and the grappling mini-game among them.

Highmountain and Val’sharah kind of left me cold, though each had their entertaining moments.

Probably the best thing about leveling, though, is the fact that the Broken Isles zones level to you — so you can do the zones in any order you please. More precisely, rather than the content being leveled to your group leader (as it is in ESO), it is leveled to you, individually, regardless of the item level of your gear. How the combat stats work out when you’re a level 104 and your pocket pally is four levels ahead of you, I leave as an exercise to the reader. But it does seem to generally work.

I even did my first dungeons since WotLK — normal Halls of Valor, Violet Hold (like the WotLK version, only with undead instead of dragons!), and Black Rook Hold. I didn’t suck? I think?

When it all gets to be too much? I do pet battles — a mini-game which is about as complex as a 8-bit RPG. Or seasonal stuff (Brewfest and Hallow’s End, so far), which basically haven’t changed since 2009. Or I work on crafting. (I’m a tailor/jewelcrafter, which is a very poor combination).

The advantage of WoW being a very mature game is that there are about a billion minigames you can be doing at any given time.

The things I miss the most from ESO?

I miss being able to travel quickly anywhere in the world by porting to a friend or guildie. It can still take a long time to get some places in WoW if you don’t happen to have the right combination of hearthstones ready. I find it amusing and occasionally infuriating how much easier it is to get from new Dalaran to old Dalaran than it is to get from Stormwind to Ironforge.

I miss dynamic combat. Funny, considering I started this post by bitching about ESO’s combat design. I mean more on a tactical level. I still occasionally find myself double-tapping a movement key to dodge, and let me tell you, it doesn’t work in WoW ๐Ÿ™‚ I can’t block, or interrupt, or do any of that stuff without a specific ability to do so. And I miss that.

I miss having infinite bank space for crafting mats! And yes, that was added to ESO right before I left. The reagents bank is a nice addition to WoW since I last played, but it isn’t enough.

And man, do I miss having guild memberships being account-bound, because I hate having to add all my alts individually ๐Ÿ™

But hey, occasionally someone in guild is playing Skyrim Special Edition on PS4 while chatting in guild chat, and I can be an ES nerd here, too ๐Ÿ˜‰

Oh, speaking of guilds, I am in a guild called Knights of the Night, which is peopled in large part with folks from the RPI LARP crowd — as well as many people I don’t actually know. They are mostly busy with raids and mythic+ dungeons and whatnot, which I hope to someday do, too, but it’s nice to have another way to keep in touch with these folks who I don’t always see.

I could probably natter more, but that’s about the State of Lise Playing WoW Again. Most importantly for me, I seem to be okay putting it aside for periods of time and doing meaningful stuff like TRYING TO FIND THE END OF THIS NOVEL I’M WRITING. (Still no luck).

Executive summary: there’s a lot of new, fun stuff in the game, which is impressive for a game which is now 12 years old. It’s still confusing for me sometimes, but that confusion is also part of its depth.

One day in Skyrim Requiem

requiem book cover transparency

On a whim I decided to play around with Requiem, a Skyrim “roleplaying overhaul” mod. It’s one of those big mods which is pretty much guaranteed to be incompatible with anything else, so I thought it would be easiest to install on top of my clean Skyrim install on my new computer.

A word about my mod philosophy, and how it led me to Requiem: the three factors I value the most in game mods are immersion, roleplaying, and surprise. To this end, in earlier Skyrim games I’ve used a lot of immersion mods (Frostfall, IMCN, etc). Roleplaying-wise, I generally have a story and guiding direction for every character I play.

Surprise is the hardest one to get, because installing mods that actually work tends to involve knowing what you are getting into. Ever since reading this famous article, I’ve been dying to capture the feeling embodied by this quote:

Where would the adventure and discovery be in simply picking something off a menu? I didnโ€™t want to install, say, โ€œReally Pretty Flying Boat House Modโ€ only to walk over, see it, go โ€œOooh,โ€ and be done. I wanted to turn corners and actually be surprised by what I found.

So, Requiem bills itself as a roleplaying mod. I am down with that. It claims to reward tactical gameplay, which I feel syncs well with immersion. I’ve heard its difficulty compared to “if Dark Souls and Dwarf Fortress had a baby.” I knew it de-leveled the world, so you got the danger of Morrowind, where if you wandered where you weren’t supposed, you’d likely get killed by cliff racers — but you also could get quite badass gear randomly. Also, it’s one big mod, so I can install it relatively blindly, not knowing quite what I’m getting.

So I jumped in head-first. Didn’t even read the Player’s Handbook, as I wanted to be surprised. (That might have been a mistake).

Executive summary, after playing for 3-4 hours (and barely surviving Helgen): impressive, but not sure if it’s for me?

The setup is extensive — you need a mod manager, SKSE (Skyrim script extender), SkyUI, and the unofficial patches. After you do all that, you have to run Requiem’s own SkyProc patcher, the Reqtificator, to generate a compatibility patch with other mods (even though I had none installed other than the ones it recommended, I did this anyway). It probably took me about an hour to get it set up, but I was a) shooting the shit with my ESO guildies on TeamSpeak all the while, b) dealing with Windows UAC issues because Skyrim was installed in my C:\Program Files directory.

That was the easy part.

I started up a new game, went through the usual cart ride to Helgen. At first, not much is different. Strangely, my first reaction, after a year away from Skyrim, was “my god, hair is uglier than I remember.” I might have to look into some mods to fix that.

Requiem didn’t run its startup scripts until you get to the tower and Hadvar unties you (or, one assumes, Ralof, if you go the other way). It immediately gives you three perk points to spend. “Huh, that’s interesting,” I thought.

Little did I know I wouldn’t be getting out of there without them.

This character was based on the protagonist of my novel-in-progress, a spy, diplomat, and poisoner (herself loosely based off Milady de Winter from The Three Musketeers). I made her an Imperial with blue eyes and blond hair and cheekbones that could cut diamonds. I named her Hibernia Leonis, because of course I did.

Skillwise, I wanted her to specialize in Alchemy, Illusion, Lockpicking, and Speechcraft. I put two of my three points to Alchemy and Illusion; as my third skill, I ended up picking One-Handed, as I figured I’d probably need some sort of weapon to get out of there. (And I figured Speechcraft was already buffed due to being an Imperial).

Illusion was the most interesting of these; with one point in it, I got to choose two spells. I chose Charming Touch and Frightening Orb, figuring I could use these to repel or calm enemies.

I picked up everything useful in the first room, followed Hadvar around the corner…

And promptly got one-shot by a Stormcloak.

So. Um. Clearly I had not chosen optimal skills. Let’s try again.

(repeat x 20)

I did finally leave Helgen and reach Riverwood. In order to actually get out, though, I had to assign those first three skill points to Heavy Armor/Block/One-Handed.

Here’s what I learned about Requiem along the way:
– Health doesn’t regenerate on its own. Stamina and magicka do, but very slowly (especially while doing anything else). I had about one spell in me before my magicka was completely drained. I’m okay with this; Morowind was this way.

– My spells often didn’t work. I don’t mean they failed in the way spells could fail in Morrowind — I cast the spell fine, it hit the enemy, but the enemies didn’t stop attacking me, or run away in fear. From what I am reading now, this is typical of the Illusion spells I choose, as my starting Illusion skill of 5 or whatever is pitted against a calculated “mental resistance” score for the target. That’s cool, buuuuut… it made Illusion useless as a way to get out of Helgen.

– Alchemy is also useless for getting out of Helgen, as the first perk just makes you able to use Alchemy tables, of which there are none.

– One-Handed weapon seems minimally useful without a shield to block with. And that’s useless without the Block skill.

– Walk speed is slow, and encumbrance makes it slower. And my max encumbrance seems really low. It took a long time to walk to Riverwood. I had time to contemplate why Hadvar walks so strangely, and why I’d never noticed before.

– Food regens stamina and magicka (and sometimes health), but only out of combat. Which honestly I have no problem with; I always thought the “scarf down as many apples as you can while fighting a dragon” was kind of ridiculous.

– Raw meat drops your stamina and magicka unless you’re a race with poison resistance, i.e. Bosmer or Argonian.

– Merchants are likely to rip you off. Hey, it’s wartime. This wouldn’t have been so bad with my racial power (modified from vanilla to help with haggling instead), except I couldn’t remember how to use shouts/powers, thanks to it being so long since I last played.

– Pretty sure this is a bug (or just due to my choice of font) but a lot of the tooltips are missing the glyphs for their keybindings, so you’ll see “Press __ to Ready a Weapon.”

Apparently you can turn these tooltips off in the .ini files, which was part of the recommended setup I missed.

– You pretty much can’t do anything if you don’t have a skill in it. I tried to lockpick those cells in the torturer’s room, and Requiem gave me a “seriously, don’t even try” message. It doesn’t help that I’d completely forgotten how the lockpicking mechanic in vanilla Skyrim worked (it’s very different than ESO’s). I tried it anyway on one of my many go-throughs, and found the novice locks even harder than master locks in the vanilla game.

– I experimented with taking a different selection of character-appropriate skills, like Evasion (what Light Armor has become), Sneak, Marksmanship, etc. And… they were equally rubbish for helping me escape. Pretty much Heavy Armor/Block/One-Handed was the only combo that worked, and even that took a reasonable amount of effort/care.

I ended my session in Riverwood, and I suspect I may have to spend some time here, doing the Skyrim equivalent of killing level 1 goblins. Even Bleak Falls Barrow, the game documentation tells me, is no starter dungeon.

Overall? I’m not sure how to feel about Requiem. This is a very exciting world to explore, and I appreciate the element of danger and the importance of tactics. It might even be more “realistic” that a fighter character can bull their way through Stormcloaks.

But that was not the sort of character I wanted to play, and there doesn’t seem to be a way through Helgen as the diplomat/spy I intended.

I’ll probably give it a little longer, as the whole point of a de-leveled world is that it gets much easier as you go along. I’m not playing the character I originally intended, but it’s possible that character was too hard-mode for a new player — like trying to ascend a tourist in Nethack on your first playthrough.

Have you played around with this mod at all? Any impressions?

“Sorry, the Dunmer were having a Moment.” (ESO log, holiday break edition)

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Rampaging guar! Falanu Dren, my Dunmer Templar, is riding the very happy-looking guar on the right.

I… did very little productive this vacation.

I am okay with this! This is what vacation is for.

I did, however, get back into ESO, and play a lot of that with my wonderful guild(s). With Falanu, my main, I hit V12, finished Cadwell’s Silver (wicked overleveled, I know), and started Cadwell’s Gold. Currently Matt and I are blowing through Auridon, doing only the stuff we need to fill out the Almanac, not even reading the quests because I’ve done this zone twice before.

(But Razum-dar is still worth the price of admission!)

Surprisingly, Matt With the Hat (a.k.a. Matt who is not my husband) started playing last week! We suggested he make a Daggerfall Covenant character to pair with our as-of-yet unplayed DC characters, my Imperial Dragonknight, Corvus Duronius, and Matt’s Breton Templar, Ogier Montrose. He obliged, and so the Redguard Nightblade Nasir al-Qiteb has joined us. We tooled around Stros M’Kai and Betnikh together and did the public dungeon in Glenumbra (Bad Man’s Hallows); last night we did the trio of lowbie dungeons (Spindleclutch, Fungal Grotto, and Banished Cells).

Mostly I have been running a lot of dungeons, both normal and veteran, pledges and otherwise, with the UESP guild — in particular, a core of @Faunter, @Lurlock, @Sedrethi, @Deandra, @baratron, and @Wicked_Shifty. There was one day where I ran seven!

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how easily Matt and I have taken to some of the tougher veteran content. One of our first was vet Crypt of Hearts. We wiped a few times on the last boss, but the trip was more than worth it for the story — you know, your typical “guy meets girl, girl sets up adventuring school, guy meets Mephala, Mephala gives guy the Ebony Blade, guy goes batshit insane and kills his wife and everyone at the school, guy splits wife’s soul into three parts and tortures the souls of the three guys he thought she was sleeping with in increasingly inventive ways.”

(“Somebody get this couple some marital counseling, before Nerien’eth kills us all,” I may have said).

(Also after we had killed Nerien’eth and found his shrine to Mephala, Falanu, Brelyna, and Sedrethi all started doing the /kowtow emote in front of it. “Sorry, the Dunmer were having a Moment,” we told Shifty, the only non-Dunmer among us).

More impressive was vet City of Ash — where we realized, before the first boss, that since we hadn’t used LFG, Matt and I weren’t battle-leveled to V16. Somehow we mucked our way through, although there were a number of deaths along the way, especially to the final boss. That we made it through at all is more a credit to Deandra and Sedrethi’s DPS than Matt’s tanking or my healing.

And deadly pie, of course.

Random other stuff wot I did:

Vaults of Madness, the group dungeon in Coldharbour. This one deserves a nod just for being visually stunning. When we got to the last boss, the Mad Architect, my groupmates took their time burning him down just so we could see the abilities he uses. (The glass-breaking, shards-flying-across-the-room effect was amazing — so cool I didn’t get under the bubble in time and died to it!)

Imperial City Prison (normal-mode — not touching vet until V16). When Matt K saw we were in there, he said, “I see you got yourself imprisoned for stealing. You need to try harder not to get caught.” We told him we were staging a breakout.

– I joined a trading guild that a lot of UESP folks were affiliated with, Hlaalu Trading Company. Because Hlaalu, of course, but also just because I needed a trading guild. Of course now I’ve committed to selling 3k worth of stuff a week or risk getting kicked, but as it turns out that’s not hard to do. If nothing else I can sell a little of my backlog of Perfect Roe…

UESP hosted a GUAR RAMPAGE!!! Where we all dyed our armor purple and gold, met in Cyrodiil, tried not to accidentally kill folks not in our faction, and took screenshots and ran around the lake on our guar mounts. Others went on to explore some of the PvE content in Cyrodiil, though I didn’t join them.

I enjoy talking lore, trading character histories, and some light RP with Sedrethi, who’s as invested in his character Ravyn as I am in Falanu. Unfortunately, they don’t always see eye-to-eye; for one, Ravyn’s primarily a follower of Boethiah, and tries not-very-hard to hide his disdain for the Tribunal, while Falanu is Vivec fangirl, worships Mephala as his Anticipation, and would never speak ill of the Tribunal. Falanu’s also affiliated with House Hlaalu, and Ravyn is a Telvanni. As a result there’s a lot of “Imperial bootlicker” and “crazy wizard” sniping back and forth, and my telling him to shut his whore mouth when he suggests the Tribunal isn’t actually divine ๐Ÿ˜‰

Also when I logged on with my Khajiit into a group we were both in, he unleashed his Dunmer xenophobia, calling Bri all kinds of Dunmeris insults (s’wit, fetcher, n’wah, etc). (I, alas, lack in my Khajiiti insults. In retrospect I should have called him “muskarse shaveskin”).

(The other night, in the midst of the sniping on TS, Matt interjected some comment about preferring House Redoran instead. “Is Brelyna a Redoran?” I said, shocked. “Our marriage is a sham!” [Our characters are married too, mostly for the XP bonus it gives in-game]. “Well, she is a warrior…” Sedrethi oh-so-helpfully pointed out.)

– As always, being in a guild with people who know the lore insanely well is delightful. There’s griping in gchat about the guild called “Nine Divines Trading” (“Talos hasn’t even been born yet!”). When Deandra first met Falanu she said, “At least you’re not Falanu Hlaalu.” T’other night in TS we were discussing the trippier lore books, like the Remanada and the 36 Lessons of Vivec. (Oh, Michael Kirkbride. You’re so special).

Screenshot_20160104_214600I’m sure that’s not all, but your patience is more limited than my ability to ramble about the Elder Scrolls ๐Ÿ˜‰ In closing, have this picture of a guy I met at the enchanting station in Rawl’kha:

Meditations on ESO – Cyrodiil, Imperial City, and pledges

Image courtesy UESP.net
Image courtesy UESP.net

I had a great time last night with the UESP guild in ESO. They ran a “Kill Your Friends” event, which was designed to get everyone the achievement for killing 100 players in the Imperial Arena.

First of all, I’d never even been to Cyrodiil (the game’s PvP area), let alone the Imperial City (which was added as DLC back in August). I did not realize how FREAKING HUGE Cyrodiil is. I mean, I guess it makes sense for it to be sized relative to the rest of Tamriel? — it’s an entire province, after all — but I’m also comparing it to battlegrounds in other MMOs I’ve played, which are generally not that large.

(And can I say how creepy it is to see that giant Dark Anchor hanging over the city? Almost as creepy as that echo of White Gold Tower that is forever out of reach in Coldharbour…)

Because I didn’t quite understand how the Transitus shrines work, I rode from the North Morrowind Gate to the entrance to the Imperial Sewers, and met the rest of the Ebonheart Pact folks there. (Our group was about 7 EP folks at its height, five AD, and 1 or 2 DC). Our guide, Sedrethi, took us to a bunch of sites within the Imperial Sewers and the EP base, like the two dueling scholars, Lady Cinnabar and Phrastus of Elinhir. (Who I regrettably did not recognize. So much lore!)

(Much was made of the fact that the Imperial City in ESO is rotated 30 degrees from what it was in TES IV, driving lore nerds crazy).

We eventually made our way to the Arena, and then had to defeat the Arena bosses. But then… it got more difficult.

There were three major obstacles to folks getting this achievement — one, other players (it is a PvP zone, after all); two, the fact that the arena bosses do keep respawning; and three: apparently it only counts for the achievement if you score the killing blow.

This happened… so few times for me. I think I ended up with 5 kills, maybe. And that was only because EP was the largest faction, so I had a lot of people backing me up.

But it was fun, and it was my first experience PvPing in the game. I came out of it with the Alliance War skill lines unlocked, a bunch of Tel Var stones (the currency for Imperial City), and several of the beginner Alliance War achievements, so I can’t complain.

Later on that night, Matt and I were brave enough to ask in guild chat if anyone wanted to do pledges with us. (Pledges are the daily dungeons of this game). Brave, because neither of us had done much in the way of group dungeons before; I think the last one we did was Fungal Grotto with Holly back when she was playing regularly. (For reference, that’s the first dungeon EP-side). We made sure people knew we were inexperienced; I hope we didn’t fuck things up too badly.

Our first battle was trying to form a cross-alliance group, as our other intended group members were DC and AD. Currently you can only do this through the LFG tool, however! Our method was to pick an unpopular dungeon (i.e. not the pledge dungeon), hope the group finder stuck us together, go there, kill a few mobs, and then go to the dungeon we actually wanted. It worked… moderately well? In that eventually we all ended up in the same group and where we wanted to be. But we all agreed this couldn’t possibly be working as intended.

(I hear they’re going to fix this Real Soon Now ™).

We did this first with the normal pledge (which was Tempest Island in Malabal Tor) and the vet pledge (Wayrest Sewers in Stormhaven) — which meant first going to normal Blessed Crucible, and vet Fungal Grotto. The latter turned out to be funny; we didn’t kill any mobs before trying to leave, and the group finder tool kept trying to port us back to FG when we were riding to the wayshrine, or while we were in the middle of zoning into Wayrest Sewers. Once we killed some mobs it seemed to work fine, though.

We finished both dungeons fairly easily, and got our silver and gold pledge keys. (I didn’t get much from it except the motif for Mercenary shields). I was definitely struggling with “no, seriously, you have to ONLY HEAL” and had a couple of deaths on my watch. Thankfully the penalty for it in this game isn’t too bad. Also, the fact that we had two well-equipped V16s probably helped — yes, the dungeons are scaled, but scaling only does so much.

One of the complaints I’ve had about ESO in the past is that the content doesn’t seem very challenging. This changed somewhat last night. While we could pretty much blow through normal Tempest Island, vet Wayrest Sewers was trickier, and actually required some coordination. That made me happy ๐Ÿ™‚ (There was a lot of “don’t stand in the bad,” and my skills at that are… somewhat improved by my move to playing in third-person view?)

Overall, this is probably the most fun I’ve had in ESO in months. I’m weird — most of what I like in MMOs is the opposite of what everyone else does. I think leveling is just about the most tedious thing ever, even if I enjoy aspects of the individual quests, but I love PvP and dungeons and anything that requires group coordination. This is why I only have a V8 and a V1 character even though I’ve been playing since release. I’m just gratified to see there’s content to scratch that itch, after months and years of avoiding it due to inexperience.

If this sounds like fun to you, please do come join us! The game is B2P these days, and we have our own tiny guild of two, along with the UESP guild, which is one of the friendliest guilds I’ve ever been part of. (And it’s connected to the best ES wiki!)

Your quarterly reminder that I still play ESO

Yes, I still play Elder Scrolls Online. Because of course I do.

I still would love people to play with me, now that it is buy-to-play.

Recent observations and amusements:

The UESP guild is best guild. We don’t do much, aside from occasional contests and fishing tournaments. But it is a guild where you can make jokes about Crassius Curio and people will get it.

Falanu is V3, and working her way through Cadwell’s Silver, where you go and play through the content of the first of the two factions you didn’t choose. For her, since she’s Ebonheart Pact, it’s Daggerfall Covenant, and she’s just about done with Glenumbra, the first full zone there. SO MANY DAMN WEREWOLVES.

“Hey, did you mention to that guy you know how to defeat Faolchu?”
“I did, and I added that I needed to go to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters, too.”

Br’ihnassi is 36, and just reached Malabal Tor on the Aldmeri Dominion side. Which means she can stop sneaking into Velyn Harbor to turn in crafting writs, blessedly. (It’s a “hot” zone, in that you have to free the town before you can use its services. Of course, that meant that at level 26, she was sneaking in past guards ten levels higher than her to turn in some damn Cyrodiilic Cornbread).

She’s also discovered Legerdemain, and the newly-added justice system, and GOD DO I LOVE IT. Except there are no non-empty containers in Velyn Harbor for her to steal from, which is a bummer.

I found myself wandering Stonefalls again with Falanu in search of maple, since I decided to level Woodworking with her. Apparently since the last time I’d been through there, some bastard had decided there weren’t enough cliff racers there. Blessedly, cliff racers in ESO, unlike their counterparts in Morrowind, are passive scenery; they won’t attack you, and you can’t even target them.

But they MAKE NOISE. Suddenly, somewhere around Senie, I was gripped with this atavistic horror brought on by the spiraling coo and squawk of a cliff racer. No, multiple cliff racers.

DON’T THEY KNOW THIS IS TRAUMATIC TO ANYONE WHO PLAYED MORROWIND??

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After a while the horror subsided, and it was just like a swarm of flying monkeys was accompanying me to Ash Mountain. Which is… better, I guess?

No, seriously, I rather like that they added that. It’s really the only place in EP — or in the larger game world — that makes sense, being the same volcanic ashland as Vvardenfell, and it’s a nice scenic touch. I don’t ever need to be stuck in Molag Amur with cliff racers endlessly attacking me again, but I don’t mind them serenading me to my destination.

Don’t Get Killed by Bees

… is probably a better name for Don’t Starve, at least as far as I’m concerned.

Don't_Starve_cover

This was on deep discount in the Steam Summer Sale, so I picked it up (along with its DLC, Reign of Giants, though I haven’t played around with that yet). I’m enjoying the hell out of this game, and I’ve put in 30 hours just in the last week.

I’d describe Don’t Starve as a roguelike meets Minecraft. You play as gentleman scientist Wilson (or, once you’ve unlocked them, another W-named character), thrust into a savage wilderness by mastermind Maxwell. To survive, you gather stuff you find lying around — twigs and flint become an axe, and with an axe you can cut down trees; with logs and cut grass, you can make a fire. Over the fire you can cook the berries and carrots you’ve collected while logging, fulfilling the title’s imperative.

Eventually you’ll want a science machine (gold, rocks, and logs), which allows you to make stuff like backpacks and shovels. In my current game, which is the farthest I’ve gotten (40-ish days), I’ve built up to farms, lightning rods, crock pots, drying racks, beehives, and a birdcage with an egg-laying bird.

There is much, much more one can do, too — this is not particularly far, game-wise.

Speaking of which, there’s no end goal, at least in Sandbox mode; it’s just “survive as long as you can.” There’s an Adventure Mode, too, which sounds more like a campaign mode? But I haven’t done anything with it yet (though I do know where Maxwell’s Door is in my current game).

The art is sort of cartoony gothic, a la Edward Gorey or Tim Burton, and the general aesthetic is vaguely steampunk.

Some observations:

Nobody told me there was a sanity mechanic! I thought the brain represented, I dunno, intelligence? Brain power? Which is why sleeping made it go up, right? I didn’t realize the first time I was going crazy until shadow creatures were attacking me, and bunnies I trapped turned black and dropped beard hair or nightmare fuel instead of meat. Let us not speak of the fact that this was the game where I took to digging up graves, not realizing how much THAT lowers your sanity.

I have, in fact, starved a few times. Sometimes due to my own ignorance as to, say, how much Monster Meat it was safe to put in a crock pot — which I’m going to count as starvation-related. A large number of my deaths were spider or bee related, as the title of this post suggests. A few times, it was cold that got me — this is the first winter I’ve lived through. And sometimes, it was dumb stuff like letting the fire or the torch run out and not having a replacement ready before I was eaten by Charlie.

I was warned against pengulls, but I guess they’re non-aggressive? But the first time a flock of them jumped out of the sea at me, I nearly had a heart attack. I’ve taken to using them (or beefalo, or pigs) to fight hounds for me.

Let us not speak of the game where I burned down two entire forests before I learned what a safe distance between trees is when making charcoal. Wilson, on gazing upon this: “I feel I could have prevented this somehow.”

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the more beautiful the garden you cultivate in your base camp, the more likely it is to get struck my lightning and burnt down. Hence the lightning rod.

Beefalo in mating season + guardian pigs = ingredients for a Beefalo Hat That was last game. This game I just stuck two bunnies to my head and made Rabbit Earmuffs. Because that’s the sort of game this is. Also Wilson’s fabulous beard provides significant insulation!

I followed the tracks and found a Koalaphant!… forgetting that I needed something to freeze it in order to attack it. So now it just wanders around a meadow near my base camp, producing manure. It’s cute. Maybe I’ll leave it alone. At least until I need a Puffy Vest for next winter…

(Of course, I realize by writing about my current game I am doomed to imminent failure. That’s the way it’s always worked with me and roguelikes).

I’ve gotten Matt into this now, and he bought this with a deal that gave him two codes for Don’t Starve Together, the multiplayer version of the game. We have been so dedicated to our individual games that we haven’t tried out DST yet, but soon. Soon…

In parting, have some adorable Maxwell fanart that I came across on the Don’t Starve subreddit.

Also I need to get more sleep, to increase my sanity. IRL.

Play TESO with me! (redux)

Last year, before The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO, or ESO) went live, I was cajoling you all to play with me. I had a lot of fun grouping with friends in the beta, but when the actual prospect of paying came up, most people I knew were not sufficiently interested.

But! As it turns out, in March it will go to the Tamriel Unlimited plan, which means it will be free to play with purchase of the base game. Very similarly to the freemium model SWTOR uses, you can still subscribe to get an ESO Plus membership that will give you bonuses like a monthly allotment of points to spend in the Crown Store for important things like guar mounts ๐Ÿ˜‰

I have Thoughts about the F2P model and how it pisses me off that people expect everything to be free (and often happily accept shitty freemium models). OTOH, I also really want people to play with me! Right now Matt and I are the only ones regularly on in our guild ๐Ÿ™

I admit, I go through periods where I’m not interested in playing, but I’ve been digging in again lately and having a lot of fun. After a year, I still don’t have a veteran character; my highest level is my Dunmer templar in Ebonheart Pact, Falanu Dren, at 42. With her and Matt’s Dunmer dragon knight, we just finished Eastmarch, with its many very silly quests. To give you some examples:

  1. Meeting a bunch of naked Nords bathing in a hot springs who ask you to retrieve bath salts for them. Bath salts which, it transpires, turn you into zombies.
  2. Throwing cat pee at hunters to prevent vampires from attacking them
  3. Thane Jeggi, whose condition for coming to the war council is making sure there is mead there.
  4. The sheer number of quests that involve entering homes through the window rather than the door.
  5. Glorious cultural exchange! Actually, this one starts in… Deshaan? Shadowfen? with a group of Nords who want to better understand Dunmer culture. As part of this, you dress them up in ridiculous clothes. Naturally.

Eastmarch, being in the province of Skyrim, also hearkens back to the game of the same name. The geography is vaguely similar — I remember the sulfur pools south of Windhelm, the White River, Skuldafn… And actually, the final quest of the zone, like the final quest in Skyrim, involves fighting your way through the ruin of Skuldafn and visiting Sovngarde.

We took a break with our EP characters to play our Aldmeri Dominion ones — Br’ihnassi, my Khajiit nightblade, and Matt’s Altmer dragon knight. They are both level 23 and in the middle of hell, I mean, Grahtwood. (Grahtwood is mostly hellish because it’s so hard to navigate; there are mountains and giant trees blocking your path at every turn).

I had a moment of lore squee the other night when I realized a quest involved the town of Gil-var-delle. The name sounded familiar to me, and the quest mentioned the town had been attacked by Molag Bal. “Is this the town mentioned in 2920: The Last Year of the First Era?” I wondered. I went and looked — it is! Gilverdale or Gil-var-delle is the town that a random Khajiit king made a deal with Molag Bal to destroy, because he didn’t like a bard that came from there. Since TESO is all about Molag Bal, it makes sense for it to be mentioned here.

It’s stuff like this that keeps me playing ๐Ÿ™‚

I was trying to express to Matt how the depth of the lore, and its self-awareness, creates this amazing tapestry that I, as a writer, wish I could build into my own creations. It also provides the background radiation that makes creepypasta like this scary. (And seriously, I still long to one day write a horror story like that).

Anyway! I also have to recommend the UESP guild, which is where I get most of my socialization on these days. Good people, not your usual internet assholes. My one regret is that most of their high-level toons are Daggerfall Covenant, which I don’t even have a character in. Although there was an AD group last night doing Craglorn stuff…

(I have since made a DC character, an Imperial dragon knight, Corvus Duronius. But I haven’t started playing him yet. He has an eyepatch, which made Matt giggle and say, “Arrrr, welcome to Starbuccaneers, may I take your order?”)

So that’s that. I have no clever conclusion! Play ESO with me, and know the beautiful lore that is the Elder Scrolls!