Gaming: The Unblogables

Over the years, I’ve mostly been consistent about blogging on every game I’ve played, but there are exceptions. Usually games that I didn’t play for very long. I don’t have enough to say about each one to fill a whole post, but I thought it might be interesting to collect them together into one quick list. Today, the unblogables will come to light (all right).

The Inn of the Prancing Pony in Lord of the Rings OnlineThis isn’t necessarily an exhaustive list of games I’ve played but not blogged about, but these are the more noteworthy ones.

WildStar

I played WildStar during its open beta, and I actually wrote up a fairly extensive impressions piece for a paying client. Unfortunately, due to circumstances outside my control, the article never saw the light of day.

The fact that I never returned to WildStar after the beta should give you some idea of what I thought of it. I did like the housing, at least. Every MMO on the market should be rushing to steal WildStar’s housing system wholesale.

The combat was also pretty fun solo, though it turned into an incomprehensible rainbow spew in a group setting. And the environment art grew on me — like playing a Dr. Seuss MMO — but I never did learn to like the character models.

Overall, though, I found the glacial pacing, grindy gameplay, and obnoxious forced humour were enough to turn me off the game pretty fast.

I regret that my article never saw the light of day, because I feel like I was one of the few who predicted WildStar’s collapse early on (if anything I underestimated how badly it would crash and burn). But now I can’t prove that, so my opportunity to gloat has been denied.

A space mission in WildStarI could just see that this was a game that didn’t know who its audience was. It has a deep backstory, but Twitter-style word count limits on quest text. Its constant humour and silliness screams casual game, but the actual gameplay is a brutally grindy homage to the days when MMOs were more like second jobs.

Skyrim

I can definitely see how Skyrim could be an amazing experience for a certain kind of gamer.

I’m not that kind of gamer.

Really my gripe is that it’s mislabeled. It gets classified as an action RPG, but it’s not. It strikes me as more of an exploration sandbox/kleptomania simulator. And again, that’s fine, and they do it well enough, but it’s just not what I’m looking for in a game. The phrase “a mile wide and an inch deep” does come to mind.

EVE Online

I thought it’d be the infamously cruel and ruthless community that drove me away from EVE — I did love how the very first thing the tutorial tells you is “don’t trust the other players” — but actually it was the clunky UI and stiff gameplay that I couldn’t get over. After a couple hours, it was just making my brain hurt, and not in a fun TSW kind of way.

Lord of the Rings Online

A screenshot from Lord of the Rings OnlineAs a big fan of both Lord of the Rings and MMOs, LotRO seems like a game I should love. But when I finally got around to trying it, I barely lasted an hour.

It’s the same old story: It’s a WoW clone, through and through. When I want to play WoW, I’ll just play WoW.

And more importantly, if there’s one setting that doesn’t belong in that mould, it’s Lord of the Rings. In a Lord of the Rings game, I do not want to be doing meaningless kill ten rats quests for faceless NPCs. I do not want to be an overpowered god who can one-shot any foe with a dirty look. I want to feel the texture of the world’s history and challenge myself against epic foes.

Give me The Secret World: Middle-Earth Edition, and we’ll talk. I’d also settle for Elder Scrolls Online: Middle-Earth Edition.

I also found it a profoundly unappealing game from a visual perspective. I know Lord of the Rings Online is considered one of the most beautiful MMOs out there, but for the life of me, I’ll never understand why. It’s not just that it hasn’t aged well (although it definitely hasn’t aged well), but the fundamental art style is just unpleasant. Everything is muddy and dull and bland and just… ugh.

Ironically, the character models — the one aspect of the graphics that does usually garner complaints — was one aspect of the graphics I didn’t mind. They’re not great, but they’ll do.

MY Elven hunter in Lord of the Rings OnlineI will grant that getting to visit the Inn of the Prancing Pony was really neat, and I am often tempted to give it another try. Maybe I’d like it better with a different class (I was a hunter), but the only other one that strongly appeals to me on paper is warden, and you have to pay for that.

Pay-gating classes is a really good way to make sure I won’t play your game.

I suppose if any LotRO players out there want to suggest a (free) class they think I might like, I’ll take it under advisement. Despite how my above ranting may come across, it’s a game I want to like.

Viking: Battle for Asgard

This was some no-name title I picked up dirt cheap on a Steam sale just because Vikings.

I actually made it pretty far in the game before I called it quits. It’s very mindless and has no real plot, but the combat was delightfully brutal, and it was enjoyable in a simplistic sort of way. I was also impressed by some of the huge battles you can participate in; it’s surprisingly rare to find games where you can participate in large scale battles as one of the boots on the ground.

The main problem was for some reason the developers decided to stick a bunch of mandatory stealth missions throughout the game. They felt totally out of place compared to the rest of the game, they were very frustrating, and after a while I just couldn’t be bothered anymore.

A screenshot from Viking: Battle for AsgardThe Witcher

I didn’t like the combat.

That’s pretty much all there is to say. I gave up after about an hour because the core gameplay was just too unpleasant for me.

I know everyone’s over the moon about Wild Hunt these days, but having seen Moiren stream some of it, I’m not getting what the fuss is about. Seems like a very standard open world fantasy game to me. It certainly doesn’t look bad or anything, but I also feel confident that I’m not missing much.

Transistor

I think the surest sign video games are now being taken seriously as an art form is that, as in all art forms, there are now emperor’s new clothes situations where incomprehensible titles are praised simply for being incomprehensible. Enter Transistor.

They just sort of dump you into the game with little to no explanation of the controls, the game mechanics, the story, the characters, the setting, or much of anything else. You’re just left to fumble blindly and hope for the best. I feel like it might have been an interesting story if I’d had the faintest clue what was going on, but I didn’t.

Art from TransistorAs frustrating as that was, it was losing abilities upon death that soured me on the game permanently. That’s a strong contender for the worst design decision I’ve ever seen in a game. It’s the traditional RPG formula in reverse: Every time you fail, it gets progressively harder. It makes for the most unbelievably miserable experience.

I did like the artwork. I’ll give it that.

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Lord of the Rings Is not “Low Magic”

There is an argument I have often seen bandied about that Lord of the Rings is a “low magic” setting. It probably comes up elsewhere, but I often see it brought up in regards to Lord of the Rings Online. In particular it is at the centre of the unending controversy over the game’s rune-keeper class, which is essentially a mage.

The Fellowship of the RingI am a lifelong Lord of the Rings fan who has read the books and watched the movies more times than I can count, and I am completely baffled by this belief in a non-magical Lord of the Rings.

Lord of the Rings isn’t low magic. Lord of the Rings is dripping in magic.

Magic is everywhere in Middle-Earth. Before the Hobbits even make it to Bree in the Fellowship of the Ring, they encounter evil psychic trees, are saved by an immortal nature spirit, spend the night in his enchanted home, get bewitched by evil ghosts, and steal a bunch of magic blades from them. And all that is just a tangent the movies didn’t even bother to cover.

Also in the Fellowship of the Ring, there’s a scene where Gandalf basically blows up a small hill just to chase off some wolves. Saruman calls forth incredible storms to drive the Fellowship back from Caradhras. Glorfindel (or Arwen in the movie) is able to drive off the Nazgul by unleashing the inherent power of Rivendell.

The Mirror of Galadriel. The Light of Earendil. Sting. Ent-draughts. It just keeps going. The Elves were so suffused with magic that the mere touch of anything wrought by their hands caused Gollum excruciating pain. And did you think that the Lorien cloaks kept their wearers so well hidden just through clever stitching? That a few bites of lembas a day can sustain a person for weeks simply because the Elves are good bakers?

Art of Gandalf battling the Baelrog in Lord of the RingsThe counter to all this might be that these examples all involve very special people. Gandalf, Saruman, and the Elves are immortals with abilities far beyond that of mere humans. Magic is out of reach of the ordinary person in Middle-Earth.

Is it, though?

Aragorn is mortal, yet his mastery of healing quite clearly comes from more than a simple knowledge of herbs and medicine. The Oathbreakers were cursed to undeath by Isildur, then commanded and subsequently released by Aragorn. Most tellingly, the Mouth of Sauron, a mortal man, is said to have learned great sorcery from the Dark Lord himself. This shows magic can be taught in Lord of the Rings.

Now these are Numenoreans and therefore still a bit beyond your garden variety human. But there are other examples.

Even Samwise Gamgee, a simple Hobbit gardener, is able to make hardened Orcs flinch before him simply by shouting a few Elvish phrases. He’s able to regrow the trees of the Shire using naught but a small pouch of soil from Lorien.

Even the humblest resident of Middle-Earth is therefore capable of wielding some degree of supernatural power, and one can imagine someone with more time and inclination to study ancient lore and seek out objects of power could accomplish quite a lot. Perhaps they might not equal Gandalf in power, but still…

The Necromancer reveals himself in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesConsider, also, that for a time Sauron masqueraded as “the Necromancer of Mirkwood.” Necromancers had to be a relatively common thing for him to not be immediately identified as his true self.

Although we don’t see a lot of mortal magic-wielders in Lord of the Rings, it is my opinion that they certainly could have existed, and probably did in some number. To get back to LotRO, then, I see nothing wrong with the rune-keeper.

Magic is everywhere in Lord of the Rings, so where did this perception that’s it’s a low magic setting come from?

I don’t know. Fanon is a strange thing at the best of times, and this is definitely one of the weirder examples I’ve seen in my time, all the more so for how widespread the misconception has become.

The one explanation I can come up with is perhaps it has to do with the fact magic in Lord of the Rings tends to be less visually flashy than you see in other settings. Magic in Tolkien’s universe tends to be more often about influencing minds and emotions than about flinging fireballs and lightning bolts. The magic is very common and very powerful, but it is subtle, so maybe that’s how people have come to dismiss it.

The poster for the Fellowship of the Ring movieI can especially see this being the case for people who are more familiar with the movies than the books. The medium of film cannot easily convey things like how the heart is seized with unnatural terror in the presence of the Nazgul, or the serenity that can be bestowed by the Elves and their works.

Even then, though, there are still plenty of more dramatic examples of magic in Lord of the Rings, so it still doesn’t make much sense.

It is a great mystery. How have people convinced themselves the story that created the high fantasy genre is not high fantasy?