Thursday, January 26, 2023

You've Never Still Got Your Deccies Up? You Have! What Are You Like?!

When I exited the tutorial in Villagers and Heroes on Tuesday and arrived in the starting city, I was surprised, especially given its name - Summer Hollow - to find the Christmas event still in progress. There was a portal just off the town square leading to somewhere ominously labelled "Grinchta's Lair", through which I could just about make out some tinsel-decked firs and a flurry of snowflakes.

January 23rd certainly seemed late for celebrations. I was curious but also pushed for time so I took the risk that the event would last another day and moved on to other things. On Wednesday I tried to go back to take a look inside the Lair but found myself thwarted, not by the inevitable and overdue end of the season but by Steam refusing to run the game at all.

I spent a while searching for fixes and applying them. Apparently it's been an issue on and off for a few years although, judging by the comments I saw, not one most players have experienced, thankfully. None of the fixes had any effect and once again I didn't have time to keep fiddling with things so I put it off for yet another day.

I was fairly sure the problem had started with some of the graphic settings I'd changed while I was inside the game. It's a problem I've come across a few times in mmorpgs, when there's a conflict between the screen resolution the game's trying to set and the default demanded by whatever platform it's running on. Sometimes you can reset things from the launcher or by digging around in the preference files but in this case none of that was working so I went for the nuclear option of uninstalling and reinstalling the entire game.

One thing you have to say about Steam - it's fast. The estimated time for the 3GB download was eight minutes but it was all over in half that. I hit Play and this time everything worked perfectly. Resisting the temptation to change the graphic settings yet again, I left everything on default and headed over to see if the portal to Christmas was still up.

It was. It is. For how much longer I can't say but I can tell you it's been there since 14 December. That's forty-three days and counting. Six weeks! It may be the longest I can remember seeing for a holiday event. Someone call the Guinness guys. They seem very comfortable adjudicating on pop culture these days.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect inside the "lair". It might have been one room with a boss but it turned out to be a whole zone and not a small one, either. It has a frickin' mountain in the middle of it. It also has a massive range of towering peaks all around, looming in the middle distance, while the Northern Lights flicker eerily overhead. There are stands of fir trees, some of them surrounded by piles of presents and, of course, snow everywhere. 

There are paths leading in all directions, lit by brightly-colored lanterns. The whole thing looks jolly as hell. I wandered around for a bit, not sure what to do next. After a while I caught sight of someone wearing the traditional questgivers punctuation headgear so I jogged over to find out what he wanted.

He had a present he wanted me to give to his brother (Boy, don't get me started on how that turned out...) but before I could work out where he was I ran into a whole gang of elves, all just waiting to hand out tasks to passers-by, because naturally no-one can do anything for themselves in one of these places.

I introduced myself to each of them in turn, found out what they wanted and told them I'd do it. I won't, of course. Some of the quests are clearly flagged as requiring a group, others need crafting skills I don't have. Still, easier to grab the lot and do what I can than think about it.

There was a Kill Ten Rats that was actually a Kill Eleven Rangers and a "Find My Fairy" that I realise now I forgot to finish. I also picked up a bunch of stolen presents and killed umpteen guards and snowmen for crafting mats that are still going to be in my bags when the event ends - whenever that is.

After I'd knocked a few quests out I went back for the hand-ins and to see what I could buy with the two Christmas currencies I got as a reward. The event is specifically a Christmas one, by the way, not Winter or Snow or anything named after a local deity. I always find that a bit unsettling. It's best not to think about the implications.

A couple of reindeer handle the two sets of merchandise on offer for either Yuletide Joy or Yuletide Spirit. The goods on offer are quality; Epic gear as well as the usual holiday-themed costumes. The prices are on the hefty side but some of the quests are repeatable daily and with the event running this long, there's little to stop a dedicated, regular player getting everything they want.

There are also several bosses loitering around the lair and every so often their bosses turn out to challenge all-comers in an open raid. One of those kicked off while I was playing but unfortunately I was otherwise engaged at the time, busy getting repeatedly killed inside a lair-within-a-lair, the hideout of the evil wizard who'd fooled me into taking a bomb to his "brother". It's a long story. I won't go into it now.

In a nice touch I don't recall seeing in other games, the names of everyone involved in the two raids were broadcast to the zone. There were maybe twenty people in each. There were also plenty of other players running around the zone, doing the quests and checking the vendors. At lunchtime on a weekday in a holiday zone that's been running for six weeks, it seemed like a sign of robust health for the game although the Steam charts would tend to disagree. Maybe everyone from all platforms is on the same server after all?

However under-the-radar popular the game might or might not be, I am not about to claim I'm going to drop everything to start playing Villagers and Heroes full-time. As Josh Strife Hayes found out, V&H is broad but not deep. 

He says, "It feels like someone's made a paint by numbers MMO".  I think that's a bit harsh but then I think almost everything Josh says about games is a bit harsh, mainly because I think he has much higher expectations than I do. Also, like a lot of people, he seems to believe that "Good enough" doesn't mean exactly what it says, an interpretation that confuses me. Still, I don't think he's necessarily wrong, either. It was certainly my experience, last time I played, that I ran out of enthusiasm for Villagers and Heroes after a few sessions, largely because the game feels tiresomely flat after a while.

Nevertheless, if I was thinking about giving the game another run, this would certainly seem to be the time to do it. On the website there's a truly huge edition of The Ardent Ledger newsletter discussing, among many other things, what's on the agenda for 2023. There's plenty and some of it's big news: 

"The most exciting new feature to arrive in the early months of 2023 is the one you’ve all been waiting the longest for.  (Some of you have waited over a decade!)  Rumors and whispers of its impending approach have circulated for months.  Strange messages began appearing in-game.  Was it a bug, wondered baffled players who happened to click on their house doors and were told: “Your house is currently under renovation.”  No, it’s not a bug, and yes, the rumors are true: the single most requested feature by VH players of all time, that which the Otters gave you brief glimpses of in long ago livestreams and tantalized you with images of its creation process, is at last soon to be a reality: interior housing and the ability to customize your own homes is coming to Villagers & Heroes in early 2023! "

Villagers and Heroes has always been odd in that you get a house but you can't go inside. You can grow crops and keep animals in the garden but that's all. Until now. Housing you can decorate always scores highly on my favorite feature list so this automatically raises my interest several notches. Enough to check it out when it arrives, for sure.

Until then, I imagine I'll probably find some more flavorsome game to occupy my time, although I do want to go back and find that runaway fairy. I wonder if the Christmas event will still be running if I log in tomorrow?

Only one way to find out.


  1. I just watched Josh's YouTube video. Yikes.

    1. I could do a whole post about the almost inevitable drawbacks of professional reviewing. By definition, professional reviewers are not experiencing whatever it is they're reviewing from anything even close to a broadly similar perspective to their audience. At the end of the video, Josh asks anyone who plays V&H by choice, over other mmos, to let him know why but of course almost no-one in that demographic is going to see his video, let alone respond. He has a big audience that's interested in him, not the games he plays, with a smaller audience of engaged hobbyists (Like everyone who has or follows blogs like yours or mine) who are interested in the framework topic, the genre itself. The reasoning of people who just play the individual games he reviews, without reading or researching them, is largely inaccessible to him and you can hear that he both knows that and finds it frustrating.

      Personally, I think the main explanation is that many people - probably most people - don't take any entertainment anything like as seriously as the people who write and talk about it. It just doesn't matter to most people whether something like an mmorpg is "good" by some supposedly objective standard. All it has to do is pass the time while it's played. I think Josh sees this as some kind of failing, whereas I see it as a strength.


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