Gaming Round-Up: A Return to SWTOR, Wolves of Midgard, the Horners, and More

I finally got a bit burnt out on Legion, so I’m taking a break before I tackle the last few class stories. In the interim, I’ve been bouncing around between a few different games, which means it’s time for another multi-topic gaming post.

A rare moment of quiet in Vikings: Wolves of MidgardBack in the Republic:

Long-term, I want to give some serious time to SWTOR. Catch up on the story and maybe finish the last two class stories. However, there’s supposed to be a major content patch soon, so I figure I should wait for that before I get too heavily invested, and as a result I’ve just barely dipped my toes in.

Despite my obscure tastes, I did lose a couple of character names during the recent server merges. I’m rather pissed to have lost my bounty hunter’s name, as it was already my second choice for her name, and now she’s down to like my sixth or seventh choice. The others I don’t mind, but boy is it hard to find a new name now. Absolutely everything is taken. Who the hell even knows what “Bagrada” is other than me?

I did eventually think of a name for my knight that wasn’t taken, and I actually really like it. I should use it more. And thankfully my main characters — agent, warrior, and consular — all got to keep their names. The reign of Empress Maigraith Numin continues undisputed.

Another mild annoyance is that SWTOR apparently stores UI data client-side rather than server side, so I had to set everything up again since I’m playing on a different computer now.

Unlike most MMO players, I’m not fussy about my UI. I’m usually happy to play with the default settings of any given MMO. Even ESO’s much maligned interface is fine by me. But for whatever reason the default UI in SWTOR makes me want to punch kittens, so I have to rekajigger it a fair bit.

Cipher Nine and Lana Beniko in Star Wars: The Old RepublicOn the good news front, I am delighted to be able to customize the armour of my KotFE companions. Well, Lana, anyway. I never much bother with the others. I put together an outfit based around the Protoss-looking armour from the new light side vendors, and she is now the glorious space paladin of my dreams.

Mr. and Mrs. Horner:

In other news, this week saw the hotly anticipated (by me) release of StarCraft II’s latest co-op commander(s), the husband and wife team of Matt Horner and Mira Han.

My early experiences with them were actually something of a baptism by fire. I was struggling even on normal — something I haven’t done since I first started on co-op. I’ve come to the conclusion they’re a bit like Karax, despite having a totally different playstyle: They have a very steep learning curve, and they’re highly dependent on leveling upgrades.

I’m getting the hang of them now, but I would definitely say they’re one of the most challenging commanders in co-op.

The thing is that Matt’s units are extremely strong, but also extremely expensive. Meanwhile, Mira’s are pretty much just trash. The goal, then, is to mass up a large force of Matt’s air units while using Mira’s mercs only as a mineral dump. The trouble is getting to that point. You simply can’t afford Matt’s units in the early game, but you can’t spend too much on Mira’s or you’ll never get ahead.

Matt Horner and Mira Han's army in StarCraft II co-opThus, while the Horners are a force to be reckoned with late game, the early game is a nerve-wracking ordeal.

Their one saving grace in that regard is the Assault Galleon. These are Mira’s main production structure, but they’re also powerful capitol ships. They’re a lot like Tempests — long range, high damage — but with much more health, and you can build them right off the bat, and they only cost 200 minerals. And later on you can upgrade them to also be Carriers.

Galleons are kind of amazing.

My strategy therefore is max out on Galleons (you can only have a maximum of five) ASAP, lean on them to survive, and try to fast tech to the truly valuable units: Wraiths and Battlecruisers.

As far as Mira’s units go, my preference is for the Hellion. Their range means they don’t die quite as quick as her other stuff, and their damage is quite respectable. A lot of people seem to like Reapers, and that can work, but they die so much you end up replacing half your army after every battle.

The good news is the Horners definitely scratch my itch for an air-focused commander. Five Galleons plus their fighter bays plus Wraiths plus Battlecruisers is the unstoppable doom fleet I’ve spent all my life longing for.

Matt Horner and Mira Han in StarCraft II co-opAlso, dropping a space station on people is every bit as hilarious as I dreamed.

Overall I do think they’re a fun commander, but you definitely need to bring your A game. You have to work for your wins.

One final thing to note on the subject of StarCraft: I recently managed to solo a brutal mutation for the first time ever. My ally DCed on the load screen, and I was left to fend for myself. It was very challenging, I had to base trade with Amon, and there were only 21 seconds left on the clock when I killed the final objective, but I did it.

Considering I normally struggle to solo even standard matches, and that brutations are generally the toughest thing in the game short of PvP, I feel pretty proud of myself.

Nova OP.

Favoured of Skadi:

On top of that, I also played through a single-player RPG I got cheap on a Steam sale, Vikings: Wolves of Midgard. It’s a Diablo clone inspired by Norse mythology, which also neatly explains why I bought it.

Fighting a boss in Vikings: Wolves of Midgard

Most folk’ll never lose a toe, but then again some folk’ll, like Cletus the slack-jawed Jokul…

Even after having finished it, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it.

It has some neat ideas. One example is the exposure mechanic of environmental hazards. For example, if you’re traveling in a cold area, you’ll need to warm up by fires regularly or risk freezing to death. I really wish more games made the environment part of gameplay like this.

The combat is also very fun, and it does an admirable job of bringing the world of Norse mythology to life. It’s clear they actually did their research, even if they still take liberties in places. The story’s junk, but the strength of the setting carried it through, and the main character’s voiced by Alix Wilton Regan (if female), which is always a plus.

I did enjoy the class system, as well. Rather than traditional classes, you gain bonuses based on which of the Norse gods you follow, and it’s possible and even encouraged to put points into two skill trees at once, with the option to swap between them at will. I enjoy that level of versatility.

Most of the trees still more or less correspond to traditional RPG archetypes — Skadi, my main choice, is an archer class — but the Odin tree is a bit different. It’s the caster class, but it’s melee, focusing on acrobatic staff fighting. I suppose that might be bad for people who prefer traditional casters, but for my part I think “Gandalf + ninja” is a pretty awesome class concept.

But Wolves of Midgard a lot of rough edges. Despite some solid graphics, it’s nonetheless clear the game was done on the cheap, and it has many polish issues. That I could live with, but what really surprised me was how old school and unforgiving it felt at times. Save points, for example, are few and far between, so a single death can prove very punishing.

The realistic snow effects of Vikings: Wolves of Midgard

This is the first game I’ve played where the snow actually behaves like snow.

It got worse near the end. There’s a massive spike in difficulty in the last few levels. The intention seems to be to grind earlier content to level up, which is fairly awful. You can get around this by lowering the difficulty, but it’s just not a great situation all around.

So that put a damper on what had otherwise been a pretty fun game up until that point. If you really like Norse mythology and/or you want a more “hardcore” RPG, it might be worth a look, but otherwise I’m not sure how strongly I can recommend it.

And finally…

There’s actually one other noteworthy thing I’ve been playing lately, but that deserves it’s own post, so it can wait.

In the meanwhile, why not check out my latest article for MMO Bro? This time I’m pondering if and how the stories of MMOs can be given satisfying conclusions.

Gaming Round-Up: What I Did Over the Holidays

I have now returned from my short holiday blogging break. As always, the holidays brought with them a wealth of in-game events in various titles, so it was a time for me to go full game-hopper. Here’s a sampling of some of the more interesting things I did over the holidays.

My character dancing as part of the New Life Festival event in Elder Scrolls OnlineElder Scrolls Online: New Life Festival

I had already been thinking of getting back into ESO, and the newly implemented holiday event provided the perfect excuse.

Like the rest of ESO, the New Life Festival isn’t amazing but nonetheless has a certain charm. It definitely doesn’t give one much cause for complaint, managing to avoid most of the pitfalls outlined in my recent article on MMO holidays.

The event’s hub is a Nord woman named Breda in Eastmarch, who sends you on daily quests relating to the nine main playable races and their unique holiday practices. It’s not exactly thrilling, but it does add a nice texture to the world.

Naturally the Aldmeri quests are the best. The Bosmer quest wins for most fun, allowing you to toss mudballs* at basically anyone, be they players or NPCs, up to and including Queen Ayrenn herself. Now, I quite like Ayrenn, and my character is rather fond of her too, but when you have the chance to chuck a wad of mud at the high and mighty queen of the Altmer, you take it.

*(I guess when you live in a place that doesn’t get snow you make do.)

Meanwhile, the Altmer quest is a bit dull but very quick and farmable, and the Khajiit quest is a nice mix of fun and convenience. It involves stealing things because of course it does.

My sorcerer takes place in the Snow Bear Plunge as part of Elder Scrolls Online's New Life FestivalThat said, the Breton quest is kind of cool, and the Nord one is also fun, if a little on the longer side compared to some of the other dailies. Really the only bad ones are the Dunmer quest (fun concept but way longer than it needs be) and the Argonian quest (ew fishing).

My only minor grievance would be that the event does involve a lot of travel. If you’ve already explored all the zones where quests take place (which is nearly all of them), you can use wayshrines to save a lot of time, but if not… I’m very glad of that spurt of exploration I had recently; saved me a lot of time during the event.

It does illustrate the potential inherent in One Tamriel, at least. It’s great to see an MMO utilizing all of its game world; makes it feel like a real place.

It’s also a fairly rewarding event, especially when you consider the double XP buff you can get from Breda’s keg (which I wish I had learned about earlier in the event). You can get pretty respectable amounts of gold and XP from the dailies, and they also drop holiday loot at a pretty generous rate. With the help of a little trading, I got nearly everything I wanted in the first two days.

On that note, one significant piece of loot is the Nordic Bather’s Towel costume. I have been considering it as a potential new go-to outfit for my Bosmer.

The Nordic Bather's Towel costume in Elder Scrolls OnlineNormally I avoid revealing gear in games, but in the case of the Bosmer, it seems to make sense to invoke a more barbaric aesthetic. She’s a barely civilized cannibal from the deep jungle; it just doesn’t add up for her to be in full plate or something. And despite the name, the towel actually works pretty well as a sort of barbaric kilt look.

Then again, it is really revealing. I’d like a more savage style of armour, but I’d still like it to be armour, which the towel isn’t. At least it shows off her tattoos…

Bleh. The Argonian low level tops are exactly what I want, but I’m about to outlevel them. Why doesn’t this game have a bloody wardrobe? What kind of game doesn’t have a wardrobe in this day and age?

If nothing else, I guess she’s now equipped to defend herself from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal.

Heroes of the Storm: Varian impressions

I’ve barely touched Heroes over the last few months, but Varian is a character I’ve loved for years, and I’ve wanted him in Heroes of the Storm for a very long time, so when he came up on a free rotation coinciding with a holiday XP boost, I knew I had to give him a shot.

A promotional image of Varian Wrynn in Heroes of the StormThe interesting thing about Varian is that you would think he’d be a very complicated character, being the game’s first multiclass hero, but he’s actually quite mechanically simple.

He’s still theoretically complex because he is basically three characters in one, but once you’ve decided which build you’re going for, his actual ability toolkit and moment to moment gameplay are very simple.

I actually think he’d be a good choice for newer players because the simplicity of his kit allows you to focus a lot more on the fundamentals of the game — positioning, team play, and the like. There’s a certain purity to his playstyle that’s very charming. No gimmicks, no tricks, just charge in and bring the pain.

I tended to prefer his Twin Blades of Fury self-healing build — I found it to be both very fun and very powerful. Reminded me of how Valla used to be, except melee.

His tank build seems decent, too, though the range on Taunt really needs to be longer. I almost never got to use it because I was never in range when it counted.

That said, though, I’m still feeling pretty burnt out on Heroes, so after getting Varian to level five, I’m now on another indefinite hiatus from the game.

The Secret World: Same old, same old

Super Hel is not impressedDidn’t spend a whole lot of time in TSW this year. The holiday event was pretty much the same as previous years, with only a few very minor new additions. I did a few Super Hels and bought my usual party bag, but that’s about it.

There is one interesting thing to come out of this year’s event, but that deserves a post of its own…

Titan Quest: Not quite…

While it’s not holiday-related, one other thing that’s worth mentioning here, if only because it wouldn’t fill a whole post on its own, is that I finally cleared out the last of my Steam backlog by giving Titan Quest a go.

Titan Quest is an older game that recently got a remastered edition. The new version launched at a generous discount, so I figured it was worth a try, especially since Titan Quest is a game I’ve been mildly curious about for a while. On paper, it’s a game right up my alley: an action RPG based on ancient mythology.

The game does have a lot going for it, and it left a pretty good first impression. The graphics in the remastered version are gorgeous, and I was really glad to see that they seemed to have done their research in regards to the mythologies the game is based on. They actually know it’s Herakles, not Hercules!

Battling skeletons in Titan QuestThere’s also a “build your own class” system wherein you can combine any two skill trees out of a long list of possibilities that I think is at least theoretically interesting.

I enjoyed my first few hours in Titan Quest, but over time, the game’s old school obnoxiousness really started to wear me down. Boss mechanics weren’t really a thing in those days, so the average boss fight tended to involve nothing but holding down the left mouse button and hitting the healing potion button on cooldown.

For, like, three minutes straight.

What really dragged me down, though, was the agonizingly slow pace of character progression. Leveling is slow, and there just never seems to be enough skill points to do everything you want. Not only do you need to spend points to unlock abilities, but you also need to keep investing large amount of points to keep your abilities up to par, and you need to invest points separately into the skill tree itself to unlock later abilities. Points spent on abilities don’t count toward advancing the skill tree for some incomprehensible reason.

I didn’t feel like I was building the awesome character I wanted to. I just felt like I was constantly trying to play catch-up and never really getting anywhere. A feeling I remember being common in older RPGs.

So as it stands now I don’t think I’m going to continue with Titan Quest. It’s a shame, because there is quite a lot about the game I genuinely like.

A Greek town in Titan QuestIf nothing else it was good to confirm that my memories of older RPGs are in fact accurate and that RPGs actually are much better nowadays.

And finally…

I have also had another article published at MMO Bro: a guide to taking great MMO screenshots.

Since starting blogging, taking screenshots has become something of a crippling obsession oh gods help me hobby for me, and I’ve had a lot of time to practice taking good shots. I now pass my wisdom on to you.

At least some of these tips should apply to single-player games, too, if you’re not an MMO fanatic.