Monday, December 5, 2022

My Other Mount Is A Camel

One of the rarely-mentioned features of each new EverQuest II expansion is the intra-zone transportation. It always follows roughly the same format: a series of stations at which you can hop onto some kind of creature or device and find yourself being carried from one significant location to the next, quickly, safely and without having to dip into your pocket for so much as a copper piece. 

EQII has always offered the option of a safe ride anyone can afford. The addition to the game of the Griffins that served as flying taxis was one of the most memorable things that happened in beta. They were added close to launch and brought with them amazement and delight - when they worked. 

I was almost as amazed and delighted today, when I realised the on-rails rides in Renewal of Ro are provided by camels. I have no particular affection for camels in real life, although I did once ride one along a Turkish beach, an experience that lives with me still but in virtuality I think of camels with greart fondness. A camel is what what my Raki Disciple rode for most of the time I played Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.

As I remember, he chose a camel not for aesthetic or role-playing reasons but because it was cheaper to buy than a horse. It was also slower and more cumbersome but it suited him very well. Later, when every race was given the option of a different species of mount to ride, he stuck with his trusty two-humper, although I'm ashamed to say that once he got his hands on the free flying reindeer SOE handed out when they knew the game didn't have too much longer to run, he stabled the poor, old camel without a second thought.

I don't think I've ridden a camel on any character in any game since then, so it was a real nostalgia trip to see my Ratonga Berserker bouncing over the deser sands, clinging to the back of a galumphing Bactrian. It also set me thinking about all those other rides I've taken in expansions of years gone by and I started to wonder how many I could remember.

Let's see how I do. I promise this is all entirely from memory.

  • EQII Base Game: Griffins - You had to do a quest and find Griffin eggs to get access to them in some zones.
  • Desert of Flames: Flying Carpets
  • Kingdom of Sky: Clouds - You could get your own, independent Cloud mount through a lengthy quest, too, although the cloud didn't fly, or at least not yet.
  • Echoes of Faydwer - Horses, surprisingly.
  • Rise of Kunark - It started with the Sokokar - a weird thing whose species I never was quite sure of. There was a quest you had to do to for that one, which I remember being annoying but not why. What the other zones were I can't remember although the Iksar guards definitely rode rhinos.
  • The Shadow Odyssey - An all-dungeon expansion, except for the one open-world zone, Moors of Ykesha, which had gnomish cannons and hot air balloons. 
  • Sentinel's Fate: Hmm. Really should remember this one. I played it all the way through. It's another Islands in the Sky setting so it might have been something that flew. I suspect it might have been some form of magic teleport, though.
  • Age of Discovery - Feature expansions, so, once again, none.
  • Destiny of Velious - Introduced flying mounts but there were also fixed routes and I think those were serviced by Griffins again.
  • Chains of Eternity - Not the least idea, even though I've played it all the way through. I imagine I was on a flying mount throughout.
  • Tears of Veeshan - Ditto, although it was a dragoncentric expansion and I think it might have been wyverns?
  • Altar of Malice - Nope. I got nothing. And I've played through the whole thing once and much of it several times more. I only remember flying. Maybe there wasn't anything?
  • Terrors of Thalumbra - See Altar of Malice.
  • Kunark Ascending - This is getting embarassing. I think I'd better stop now...

Some of that vagueness is my terrible memory but it's pretty clear to me that, while the introduction of flying mounts may not have put a stop to in-zone, on rails ground transport, they did render them so redundant I never really used them again, until we reached the stage in EQII's development when the developers decided flying had rendered too much of the content trivial and started making us work for it in each zone of every new expansion.

Again, without looking it up, I'm not sure exactly when that started. I know Altar of Malice made you do a quest before you could use your flying mount but it only affected the beginning of the first zone. The first time I remember having to do a whole zonal Signature line to earn flying retrospectively for the rest of my account was probably Blood of Luclin, in which I mostly used a cloak with Featherfall to get around by controlled gliding but in which I also flew about on some trained Shiknar, which always seemed like an accident waiting to happen.

It seems to me that even knowing you're going to be flying under your own power eventually (Or, rather, the power of your own flying mount.) drains the significance of whatever interim ground-based option the game provides in the meantime. For most of those earlier expansions I can even remember some of the routes, not just the mounts, whereas I couldn't with any conviction tell you anything at all about what I was sitting on in almost any of the expansions after Velious.

Except for this one. I'm going to remember the camels.

Day Five


Thank God It's Not Christmas - Sparks

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Day Four

Alex the Astronaut - Christmas In July

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Day Three

It's Cliched To Be Cynical At Christmas -
Half Man Half Biscuit

Friday, December 2, 2022

Nothing From LucasArts This Month? Are You Sure?

Another month, another bunch of freebies from Amazon, another post from me, telling you which I took, which I left and which I'll play. Hah! Just joking on that last one. Like I'll play any of them.

Still, free stuff, easy post... all of that...

So, what's new this month? Well, timeliness, for a start. For the first time in as long as I can remember the new offer actually popped on the first of the month. It was pure chance I spotted it, really. I just happened to be on the app yesterday, looking for something else, I forget what, and there they were; six brand new titles.

Let's go through them. It won't take long.

Doors: Paradox - "A relaxing puzzle escape game! Make your way through a variety of hand-crafted 3D dioramas, look for useful objects, find hidden clues and solve fun puzzles! Unravel this mysterious adventure about chaos, order and the surreal" £12.79 on Steam. Rating: Very Positive.  

Can you say high concept? The screenshots look like they were pulled straight from someone's Etsy page, not from a game. There are fifty-eight of these things, apparently, and all you have to do is "solve the puzzles, open the door, and travel to the next." 

Can't say I'm sold on the idea but the images are pretty enough and the puzzles are supposedly "fit for all players" so I might be able to manage them. I guess it might be worth a look. Claimed.

The Amazing American Circus  - "Roll up and play a deck building game like no other! Gather weird and wonderful performers, amaze audiences, explore Gilded Age America, and transform your run down circus into an entertainment empire. Play your cards right and you could claim the crown of greatest showman from P.T .Barnum!" £15.49 on Steam. Rating: Mostly Positive.

This one looks a bit more interesting. The graphics are moderately appealing, although that fin de siecle illustrative style never did a lot for me. It was a successfully-funded Kickstarter, which could be a positive or a negative. 

I quite like card battlers, which is what this is, according to some of the reviews, but only if they're pretty simple and straightforward, which this seems to be if the people who don't much like it are to be believed. It also has a storyline, which is good, and a heavy focus on resource management, which probably isn't.

Enough there, on balance, to make it worth a look, I think, even though it's highly unlikely I'd ever play it to a finish. Claimed.

Banners of Ruin - "Assemble your party. Answer the call. Win the war. Build a deck and fight a series of turn-based combats with up to 6 party characters through the city of Dawn's Point. Each character can unlock a set of unique cards and abilities that can augment your deck in powerful, exciting ways." £15.49 on Steam. Rating: Very Positive.

Oh, look! It's another card battler! Only this one has anthropomorphic animals! Now I'm interested! Also, the visual style is much more my sort of thing. The spot illos are gorgeous and the muted color palette with the chiaroscuro lighting effects does something for me.

On the downside, this one seems to be the opposite of Amazing American Circus in that most of the complaints revolve around mechanical complexity and unfair difficulty spikes. I suspect that, while I might like this game, it won't like me. 

Still, obviously not going to turn it down just for that. Claimed.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons - "Guide two brothers on an epic fairy tale journey from visionary Swedish film director, Josef Fares and top-tier developer Starbreeze Studios. Control both brothers at once as you experience co-op play in single player mode, like never before." £10.99 on Steam. Rating: Very Positive.

This looks amazing. Visually, that is. The screenshots are stunning and the game looks even more impressive in the gameplay videos. I confess I have never heard of "visionary Swedish film director, Josef Fares", but I assume his involvement explains the cinematic feel of the whole thing. 

On the face of it, this seems like it would be a gimme but dig a little deeper and the warning signs begin to flash. It looks extremely wholesome, even child-friendly, in the promotional material, so it's a surprise to find this stern warning on the Steam page: "This Game may contain content not appropriate for all ages, or may not be appropriate for viewing at work: Frequent Violence or Gore, General Mature Content".

That I could deal with but I have more of a problem with the even stricter caveat, in bold and with an orange border, presumably so you can't say you missed it and ask for your money back: "Notice: Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons requires a controller to play." 

And I could deal with that, too. I bought a controller a while back for just these sorts of situations. But not for situations like this: "Control both brothers at once as you experience co-op play in single player mode, like never before. Solve puzzles, explore the varied locations and fight boss battles, controlling one brother with each thumbstick."

Yeah, that sounds a bit much. Then again, maybe not. One reviewer disputes the necessity: "Despite Steam's notice, Brothers does not need a controller to play. " Guess I'll just to have to play it myself and find out. Claimed.

Desert Child - "You are a hungry, young hoverbike racer who needs to get off Earth before it E-X-P-L-O-D-E-S. Hunt bounties, throw races, and do whatever you can to get to Mars and win the Grand Prix." £8.99 on Steam. Rating: Mostly Positive.

I was going to throw this one a hard pass until I spotted something deep in the pitch: "Explore a pixel-art solar system inspired by Cowboy Bebop, Akira and Redline". And then this, too: "Chill to an original lo-fi hip-hop soundtrack". Some of those are things I like...

The reviews on Steam are fascinatingly polarised, veering from "one of the worst games I've reviewed for Steam, as I was physically repelled by the experience" to "a rare game that puts style over substance and still comes out compelling and fun, despite the extremely simple core.

Why the hell not? Quite looking forward to trying it now. Claimed.

Spinch - "Transcend the material realm and assume your true form as Spinch, a hyper-agile organism consumed by the quest to rescue a litter of its missing offspring, in this side-scrolling, psychedelic platformer from the mind of award-winning Canadian cartoonist, Jesse Jacobs. " £11.39 on Steam. Rating: Mostly Positive.

Finally, something I can reject. I watched a few seconds of video and the aesthetic is a lot more pleasing in full sound and movement but I still wouldn't want to be stuck with it for more than a minute or two. Plus, y'know, side-scolling platformer. Not my thing at all. Not Claimed.

And that's it for the app. Let's just check the website because, as we know, there's always something more lurking over there...

Oh, yeah.. Quake.  There's that. I don't think I need to describe Quake to anyone, do I? Didn't play it back then, not going to play it now. Not Claimed. 

Finally, something called Rose Riddle 2: Werewolf Shadow, which momentarily looked intriguing but turned out to be yet another timewaster from Legacy Games. I think I've learned my lesson there. Not Claimed.

Quake needs a link from your Amazon account to the Epic Games store and Rose Riddle requires a similar link to Legacy. Just in case you were going to rush off to grab one of them.

So, on to the in-game loot for games I might one day play... except, for the first time ever, there isn't any. Well, there is but I've already claimed it all. 

Maybe the web page is still on Amazon time. I'll check back in a few days but if even I find anything new, I'll probably keep it to myself. I think once a month is plenty for posts like this. Let's all meet back here in January and we'll do it all over again.

Day Two

NMIXX - Funky Glitter Christmas

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Getting Settled In

A sure way for me to tell if I'm genuinely excited to play a game or I'm just logging in because I think I might get a blog post out of it is whether I fire the game up right after breakfast, even when I have other things I should be doing instead. That's what happened this morning, so I guess I really am up for the latest EverQuest II expansion, Renewal of Ro, even if I had completely forgotten it was going to launch yesterday.

I did have other things on my mind, of course, not least my winter migration from the upstairs room where I usually play (and write this blog) to the one downstairswith the gas fire and the big window that gets the sun most of the day, making it much easier to heat and keep warm. 

With all the dire warnings of fuel charges escalating out of control plus the sudden change in the weather, meaning it actually feels like winter at last, not late spring, I decided it was no longer tenable to spend most of my time in what is indubitably the coldest, least insulated room in the house. Much of yesterday was spent relocating and reorganizing. 

I'm still not entirely settled in my winter palace. I'm not crazy about sitting with my back to the window, facing a wall, and the table I'm using instead of my computer desk, which is too much trouble to move, is a couple of inches too high for ergonomic perfection. It doesn't help that my ancient swivel chair, the one I inherited from my stepfather, who must have died at least fifteen years ago, while still generally sound and comfortable (The chair, not my deceased relative.), no longer goes up and down like a good computer chair should. 

There's also so much stuff under the table - around four thousand comic books I boxed up to sell years ago but then couldn't find anyone who wanted to buy them, or at least not at a price I was willing to accept - that I can't stretch my legs out straight. I'm probably going to have to come up with a better solution if I don't want to get cramp in the middle of a boss fight.

Then there's the issue of connectivity. Years ago, when we had a new router installed by our ISP, I got them to put it in the upstairs room I was using as a study at the time. That's now Mrs Bhagpuss's craft storage room. You can barely get in the door. It's also right at the front of the house, which means the wifi signal barely reaches the back of the house.

It didn't used to be a problem until I bought a smart TV a couple of months ago. Modern television sets are basically computers, something that had passed me by in the twenty years since I last owned a TV. I did a lot of research before I bought this one and still pretty much got it wrong, to the point that I'm now thinking of buying another. 

The one I bought is nothing much more than an oversized android tablet and like any tablet it needs an internet connection. I knew that when I got it but I didn't realise how inadequate my existing wifi would be for the task. I already had a booster but even that didn't make much difference, so I got a proper router to replace the infamously poor modem/router supplied by my ISP (I'm sure anyone in the UK will be able to guess immediately who that is.)

It turned out to be one of those lucky mistakes. I'd been meaning to improve the wifi for a couple of years but it was always one of those "it'll do for now" situations. The TV brought things to a necessary head and just in time, too, because I really didn't want to have to run yet another 30m ethernet cable through the house. 

Instead, I just put the extender next to where I now sit downstairs and connected it to the PC with a regular, 2m ethernet cable because apparently my desktop PC doesn't do wifi. Of course, the connection it's using now is wireless until those final two meters. Don't tell my computer.

I was curious to see how well it would work compared to the wired connection I've always used until now. The surprising answer is very well indeed. As far as I can tell, it's exactly the same. I literally can't tell the difference. 

I played Noah's Heart last night and EQII this morning and they both felt smooth as butter. Lord of the Rings Online was laggy but when isn't it? Going back to LotRO recently has felt like going back in time a decade and a half, to when mmorpgs and internet latency were synonomous. Seriously, if Standing Stone is a part of Daybreak, can't they borrow some better servers from EverQuest or something? Or at least get some advice on how to fix the problem?

Anyway, I'm kind of getting there, although I still need to do some work before my new lair feels as cosy as it should. The main thing is, I'm warm now and it isn't costing us a fortune.

As for Renewal to Ro, so far it's exactly as expected. I've seen maybe two-thirds of the first zone, done a handful of quests, already replaced two of the items I only equipped earlier in the same session and generally had a very good time. 

Following the standard practice of recent expansions, flying is disabled until you reach a certain point in the Signature questline. There's a lore-apporopriate reason for that, which looks as if it'll feature in the story, somehow. The landscape is fairly flat, anyway, so travelling on foot hasn't presented any problems.

One major departure from the last expansion is that I was easily able to kill the first solo overland named I happened upon. That's something I'd always expected to be able to do - until Visions of Vetrovia, where I never managed to kill a single one. 

There were supposedly solo weekly quests in VoV for overland names -  or"major threats" as they're called - just like in every other expansion since 2014's Altar of Malice, but even by the end of the expansion cycle I still couldn't get any of them below half health before they either killed me or I had to retreat. I'd still love to know what that was all about...

I was so pleased with myself to have triumphed, I took three screenshots; one just before Tickrupt the giant tick bit the sand and two more after, both when the achievement popped and when my merc observed, somewhat sarcastically in the circumstances, "Your demise was the only conceivable outcome.". For once, he wasn't looking at me when he said it.

The real test of the solo-friendliness of the new expansion will come when I reach the point where I have to enter the first dungeon. That can sometimes come as a bit of a slap with a wet fish. I'm optimistic that it'll be fine this time, though. Everything so far seems well-tuned and expansions where the level cap doesn't change do tend to be easier.

Before then, I have a lot of behind-the-scenes work to do . It's only when a new expansion drops that I really realise just how far I've let things slip. It's time to stop hoarding all those rares I stockpiled last year and get on with crafting all the spell and combat art upgrades I never got around to making, for a start. I looked at my Necromancer this morning and realised she still has Apprentice level abilities right across the board.

And that's why it's the Berserker who gets to go first, yet again.

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide