LotRO: Returning to a life of burglary

Way back in the day when The Lord of the Rings Online first went free-to-play, before I even started this blog, my very first character was a Hobbit Burglar by the name of Banswin. Technically I think I made a Human Hunter first, but I quickly lost interest in him (thus beginning a long-standing tradition of my first character in an MMO being doomed). For quite a while, he was my main character. He made it all the way to The Last Homely House in Rivendell, till I got distracted by the Captain and then that was my main for a while, followed by a string of others. But this story is not about them, it is about Banswin, who has been chilling with Elrond and Bilbo for ten years now (ten? Really? I am old). Hey, at least I parked him in a pretty zone. He may have thought that he had hung up his daggers for good and was enjoying his retirement, but this hobbit is finally back to his burgling ways. 

I’ve been casually logging into LotRO now and then for a few weeks now, making my way slowly through the early Mirkwood series on my Beorning (my current main), and I keep thinking about that new Wildwood zone they added in Bree-land. I’m not sure why Standing Stone randomly decided to add a new zone to the middle of the game like that, but I’m not going to complain. Anything will get me ready for Moria without having to go through Angmar is ok in my book. Is that why they added it? 14 years later they finally figured out that Angmar is the worst? Who knows. I was tempted to level a whole new character from scratch — I don’t have a Guardian, and I’ve got that one Stout-Axe Champion who is still in the starting zone — but I have far too many alts in this game and nobody near level cap, so I managed to talk myself out of that one. 

So I flipped through my catalog of alts and took a few for a test drive, ultimately settling on my burglar. For one, he was level 40, meaning that I wouldn’t have much leveling to do before he was ready for Wildwood at 45ish. For another, oh my goodness this class cranks out a lot of DPS now. I remember getting bored of him back in the day because the class was more group support focused and not very fun to play solo. I’m not sure what changed, be it the decade of balance patches, the fact that I likely didn’t build him optimally back then, or the fact that I was a lot newer to MMOs back then and therefore just wasn’t as good (or, most likely, all three combined) but so far every enemy I’ve run into just kind of melts. Sure, I have to be in melee range, and I’m doing almost exclusively single target damage with a couple of cleaves in my crit chain, but still, I feel like this class is overpowered. 

I’m sure I’ll have some thoughts on Wildwood, but for now I have just finished LotRO’s other new bit of content, The Further Adventures of Bilbo Baggins, which is giving me a lot of the same feelings as Guild Wars 2’s Dragon Response Missions: I love the idea on paper, but the way they’ve executed it has been bafflingly boring. That said, the title it rewards is perfect for my mood right now:

Until next time, keep a close eye on your gold-pouches, or a sneaky Hobbit may help himself to them! 


Launch thoughts on Magic: Legends

Finally, Magic: Legends has launched. I’ve been excited for this one ever since I got to demo it at last year’s PAX East. Technically this is open beta, but with the promise of no wipes in the future, it’s basically a launch, so let’s call it such. Let’s be honest, it has been far from the smoothest game launch in history. I’ve been seeing a lot of hot takes on this game, and I disagree with a lot of them. Yes, I know Cryptic and PWE are bajillion dollar companies and don’t need me to do their PR for them (not that their PR has been great), but it has been bothering me, so I thought I would write up my thoughts. Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way, or maybe there are others like me out there who just aren’t as vocal about it. Either way, I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

First of all, I see a lot of people saying that this is not an MMO. Sure, just about every time we have an MMO launch, some guy goes on the MMORPG subreddit and complains that X isn’t a REAL MMO and should be banned from discussion there because it doesn’t have something or other, but I’ve been seeing this even from people who usually champion a really broad definition of the term “MMO.” 

I take issue with the idea that this isn’t an MMO; if you say that this is not an MMO, you have to discount every MMO that is structured with social hubs/lobbies with heavily instanced zones, from Guild Wars to Star Trek Online to Destiny. Maybe these people haven’t gotten past the tutorial, which, to be fair, is extremely long and handholdey, into the part of the game where you enter Sanctum, which opens up the game significantly and allows you to craft and trade with other players on the auction house and all of those MMO trappings. Maybe they’re even confusing it with Torchlight III/Frontiers, another PWE ARPG that definitely did get downgraded from an MMO to just an RPG that happened to have online multiplayer. Sure, I wish it was a traditional, open world MMO where I can run into other players all the time. I wish party size limits were higher, at least four so my wife and I could play with another couple and one of us wouldn’t have to sit out. It’s fine to be disappointed with the game we got. But I don’t think it’s fair to say it isn’t an MMO because of those restrictions. 

This is very much a Cryptic MMO: It’s more than passably pretty, there are myriad customization options which players can swap between freely, and characters are equally highly customizable from a gameplay standpoint. On the other hand, it’s also a Cryptic MMO in that it is buggy, poorly optimized, and does a terrible job explaining its systems (which makes its frustratingly drawn out tutorial all the more frustrating). I guess you could say that it’s beta and that will get better. I’m sure it will get a little better, but I remember all too clearly Star Trek Online’s launch being plagued with similar problems 11 years ago (was it really that long? Dang, I’m old) and it is still struggling with many of them. 

Oh, and there are lockboxes. Lockboxes are bad and they should feel bad, but I’m kind of past getting worked up about them, I just don’t buy them. It was a dumb move to put the very first premium class in a lockbox (during soft launch beta, mind you), but again, I’m not going to get worked up about it. At least they don’t shove them into my inventory as drops and beg me to buy keys — or worse, spam my screen when someone somewhere on the server opens one and gets a rare shiny — like Star Trek Online does. I don’t mind the battle pass. If I decide I’m going to play a lot, I will happily drop $10 on that. If I’m going to play only casually, I’m fine with ignoring it. And I think putting the class at the end of that grind was a good compromise. 

I especially think the outrage over the lockbox class is overblown because classes don’t even matter that much in this game, cards do. M:L’s classes only determine your autoattack, two cooldown abilities, and a few passives. The meat of your combat is determined by cards, and you can still use any cards you want with any class. Are the abilities and passives on that lockbox class better than on the ones I get for free? Maybe, I haven’t even bothered to look, but I doubt it’s better enough to justify all the fuss. I think it’s pretty analogous to STO’s pricey, cash shop- or lockbox-only Tier 6 ships. You can easily do all of the story content in STO with a free T5 ship, even on hard more, and, while I haven’t done group content in years, I doubt your dungeon run is going to wipe because you don’t have a few percent better stats. Gear matters more. STO even gives away T6 ships periodically, if you’re willing to do some daily grinding to get it. That’s basically the same as the battle pass. Technically, yeah, I guess it’s pay-to-win, but, unless you want to be an elite endgamer, it can be very easily ignored. 

All of those rants aside, I’m having a lot of fun with this game. Once the game takes the training wheels off, things really open up and it’s a lot of fun mixing and matching cards to come up with crazy builds that function just the way you want. I’ve always been a fan of summoner-type classes in any MMO, though ARPGs seem to be where they thrive the most for whatever reason. In this game, some deck types (like the black and green) focus on creatures, but pretty much any class will allow you to summon at least a few different varieties of minion. I’ve personally been running the brawler Geomancer class with a lot of red cards, with big earth elementals that taunt and a lot of little goblins that swarm my enemies, not to mention lots of mobility for getting in and out of melee range. I’ve combined that with a few blue cards that give me some crowd control and additional minions. Since red is themed around rock and fire, and blue is themed around water and wind, I’m calling this my Avatar deck.

Like in every MMO, I’m sure the decks and gear sets in this game will eventually shake down to a number of meta setups, but I hope players don’t get too snobbish about weird, fun builds. Even if they do, I will probably run some of them solo, because, to me, that’s the selling point of this game. 

The story is… there. Maybe I would be more excited if I was more familiar with Magic lore, but so far it seems like it’s mostly just an excuse to move me from zone to zone. The voice acting is so-so.

What I am impressed with is this game’s animation. Previous Cryptic games tend to suffer from very stiff, awkward animations, but everything in M:L is buttery smooth. The particle effects are beautiful, if a little overwhelming at times (I guess this is part of why they chose to limit instances to three people; imagine the mess that twice as many particles and minions clogging up your screen would create).

Will this be my next big MMO obsession? Nah, but it might be a good side game I jump in and out of from time to time. That’s what Marvel Heroes was for me, and since that has shut down with no apparent hope of return, this seems to be the best replacement for that that has come along. I have no connection to the Magic IP, but then again, I really didn’t care much about Marvel when I started playing Marvel Heroes (I didn’t even see The Avengers until it had been out on DVD for a year or two). I just want an MMO ARPG with nice gameplay variety that is constantly updating and adding new things to do. Despite its flaws, that seems like what Magic: Legends is going to be, so I’m excited to play it more. 

Mini-reviews of each WoW expansion, from a WoW noob

As you may recall from last time, I have recently started playing retail World of Warcraft for the first time. Call me fashionably late. This means I have sixteen years worth of content to chew through. Chromie Time means that characters no longer need to progress through each expansion in order. In fact, all of my characters thus far have hit 50 before I was finished with an expansion story, which means that, in order to see it all, I have to create a bunch of alts. Oh darn, you know how much I hate making alts. (Please note the dripping sarcasm; I love making alts) I’ve made it a point to spread them all out across all of the expansions. Repeating content isn’t that fun, and one of the appeals of starting this game so late is that there is a ton to explore that I haven’t seen. 

Since I’m seeing all of this with fresh eyes, with little to no nostalgia goggles and out of its historical context, I thought it might interest some to read my thoughts on each expansion. Remember that these mini-reviews from a mostly solo, story/leveling point of view, so the fact that Expansion X was boring but had great raids means nothing to me, because I’m not even in a guild, and my experiences with the dungeon finder have been mixed at best, so while that may have been important at the time, it doesn’t really make any difference to me right now. 


Ok, so Vanilla doesn’t really exist anymore because of Cataclysm, but I’ve puttered around Classic a bit, and while I didn’t get super far, I got far enough to know it wasn’t for me. Leveling is at a snail’s pace, and many classes are designed such that they don’t get interesting skills until the mid-to-high levels, forcing you to slog through the boring parts to get there. This isn’t helped by the fact that quests are scattered randomly, and, sans addons, the map doesn’t give you any hints about where anything is, leaving you to wander around in frustration. In short, I would say it was poorly designed. Or, perhaps more accurately, well designed to waste players’ time. Like I said above, endgame might be great, but I’m just not that interested in WoW’s endgame. 

Burning Crusade

WoW’s first expansion introduced the concept quest hubs, which makes the leveling process bearable. However, it still feels very old. I don’t have a good explanation of why, it just does. Maybe it’s the graphics? I’m not usually a graphics snob, so maybe it has as much to do with the more recently updated character models in contrast to the older landscape? Maybe it’s the writing? Maybe it’s the more mundane and repetitive quest structure? Either way, I’ve never made it past the second zone. Maybe one day.

Wrath of the Lich King

Wrath is the oldest expansion I actually feel like I wouldn’t mind playing all the way through. For one thing, the Lich King/Scourge has always been a more interesting villain than the Burning Legion. It also gave us my favorite class, Death Knight, so it has that going for it. Plus, I always like icy zones. Better than BC’s desolate hellscape at least. It still feels a little old and creaky, but in a way that doesn’t make me want to quit. Again, I’m not sure why it feels better than BC, it just does.


I didn’t really like leveling in the vanilla zones in Classic, and while Cata improved the quest flow, I’m still not that excited about the old world. That said, there’s a lot of it, so I’m sure there is interesting stuff I’ve just never seen. Also, I’m not super clear on which areas are new and which areas are overhauled vanilla zones. If you pick Cata from Chromie, she  just sends you to the mission board and has you pick a zone out of three random options, so it sort of feels like there’s no direction here, which is itself kind of a turnoff. 

Mists of Pandaria

Pandaria, in my mind, is where WoW starts feeling like a modern MMO. First off, it’s the first time that I’ve felt like WoW was genuinely pretty. There were many places in the old world that were pretty given the limitations of the era, but I would say that just about anywhere in Pandaria is objectively prettier than anything that came before it, and holds up even nine years later. Along with better graphics, it brought more voice acting to the game (including the inimitable Jim Cummings, voice of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Doctor Robotnik (the best one), Darkwing Duck, Hando Ohnaka, and some random character from half of every animated thing you’ve ever watched). While I don’t consider voice a requirement for a good game, it certainly makes characters more interesting and memorable, even if it’s not every line. 

The story is very different from others that came before it too, a little more chill, while still maintaining a sense of urgency. Pandarens have quickly become one of my favorite races. Any expansion that adds a new class automatically gains points in my book, and the Monk is a fun, dynamic class that brings some truly interesting and different mechanics to the game. 

Warlords of Draenor

I think Draenor is my favorite expansion. I love time travel and alternate universe stories to begin with, but I think this also clicked with me because it had a lot of callbacks to characters from the Warcraft RTS games, which was previously my main exposure to the Warcraft-verse. Additionally, garrisons are like having your own little RTS base, down to ordering peons around to gather resources for you. I feel like I need to expand soon, though; surely my mines are running low. I know the lore has always been integrated, but this expansion makes me feel like Warcraft 1-3 and WoW are part of the same universe in a way that previously content didn’t.

The only thing I don’t like about it is that the transmog skins in this expansion are all super ugly. Lots of horns and iron spikes and rough-hewn hides on everything. I’m sure there are some people who live for this look, but they’re basically everything I dislike in a skin.


I’ve already stated that I’m not a huge fan of the Burning Legion as an enemy faction, but, all things considered, this is a pretty solid expansion. I liked the idea of class-specific artifact weapons that you continuously upgrade. They’re like LotRO’s legendary items, except not as terrible. Given LotRO’s long-standing problems with them, I’m fine with them being a one-expansion feature, too. That said, some of the modifiers were really cool, and I wish Blizzard had found a way to continue with those rather than just throw artifacts out the window as soon as BfA came around, but since I knew this was coming, I wasn’t too broken up about it when I hit 50 on my Legion character. 

I have mixed emotions about the Demon Hunter class. On the one hand, it’s one of the most eye-rollingly edgelord classes ever to come out of the MMO genre (and there have been many). On the other hand, you get a Guild Wars 2-style glider. In some ways it doesn’t feel that different from a Rogue — a melee class with big, facerolly damage, good mobility, and what basically amounts to a combo point system — without stealth, and the added complication of those purple orb things that heal you and fill your fury bar. Plus the race choices are limited to elves, which generally aren’t my favorite. 

Battle for Azeroth

I actually liked Battle for Azeroth quite a bit. The Alliance side was boring (three different zones, three different variations on [New] England) but the Horde side had a nice variety of visual styles, and a more interesting storyline. Quality aside, I just generally like it when the two factions are given some different zones to play through, since it gives me more to do as someone who likes to flipflop between factions. Granted, I completely ignored island expeditions, which I think was most players’ main complaint with this expansion, so take that as you will. 


Given that Shadowlands is the current expansion, and I’m still not all the way through it, I think it deserves a post all of its own. Maybe zone by zone. Suffice it to say for now that I’m not impressed with the new hotness. It’s fine, but I’m really not into the story, and collecting powers that only work in one zone doesn’t do much for me. 

So there you have it. Feel free to disagree with me, but those are my thoughts on each WoW expansion. I’m having a lot of fun just messing around in all of the various areas, good or bad, WoW has graced its players with over the years. The fact that I’m more interested in a lot of the previous expansions than the current one doesn’t say a lot for my longevity in this game, but for now, I’m having fun, and I’m managing to scrape together enough gold every month to buy a WoW Token, so I don’t feel too bad just playing what I feel like playing.

Starting out in World of Warcraft, 16 years late

Yesterday, World of Warcraft launched its latest expansion, Shadowlands. Normally WoW expansions are kind of a non-event to me, as I’ve never really been a WoW player. I don’t have anything against the game, there were just a few things that kept me out of it. But, while the expansion launch is still kind of a non-event, I have recently gotten sucked into Azeroth, 16 years late.

A few weeks ago, I was looking at my stable of MMOs, and feeling really burned out. Guild Wars 2 is my anchor, of course; I’m always playing that one, and I recently joined a new guild and have been having a lot of fun with them. But I like to have at least one other MMO to play on the side. Elder Scrolls Online’s vampire/Skyrim expansion was really disappointing, so much so that it kind of pushed me out of that game. Besides, I’m tired of action combat, which nixes most newer MMOs. Lord of the Rings Online, my go-to when I feel like a classic tab-target MMO, has been doing its best to demotivate me from playing all year, between its server issues and mini expansion drama. I always think about playing Rift, but given that it’s basically in maintenance mode, it’s hard to get excited about it. I played Star Wars The Old Republic for a few weeks, but with no new classes since launch and only a slow drip of new content, it didn’t hold my attention for long. I tried Final Fantasy XIV again, and once again, it just doesn’t click with me, even though I really can’t explain why.

Then, I started reading about World of Warcraft’s new revamped leveling, which came in with the Shadowlands pre-patch. There were two big things that have always turned me off about WoW when I played the free trial and that one time I tried classic for a month (three if you count the subscription fee in an era where almost everything else is free- or buy-to-play). The first is that the leveling always felt slow and unrewarding, taking way too long to get me into the unique mechanics of my class, then, once I hit the higher levels, giving me nothing of interest for leveling up except an excuse to get new gear.

The second is the daunting task of getting up a hundred-some levels before I can group with my friends. This was fixed to a certain extent with the introduction of level scaling, but as someone with a severe case of alt-itis, I don’t think I could stick to one character for that long, and going through the same old hundred-some levels of content repeatedly on multiple characters doesn’t sound exciting either.

With this level squish, however, WoW has managed to remove both of those barriers. In a week, I had several characters at or near the free trial cap of 20 (which is significantly farther than the old 20), and I had decided I wanted to main my Dwarf Death Knight. Zombie pets, DoTs, and a little bit of health syphoning. What’s not to love? The new tutorial zips players from 1-10 in an hour or so, better prepares them for the game (for instance, it hands you several bags instead of expecting you to know to track down a bag merchant the first chance you get), dumps you out in your faction’s capital city, points you toward the riding trainer, and lets you decide your destiny from there, be that continuing with the Battle of Azeroth expansion, or picking one of the others to level through. I’ve gone through the racial starting zone on a few of my characters, but I like that they now give the option to bypass that and just get on with the action. Sometimes that’s what you want.

In under two weeks of relatively casual play, I have nearly leveled my Death Knight to 50, and am most of the way through Kul Tiras. I tanked one dungeon with a friend, which was a mistake, partly because DK tanks are in a bad spot at the moment, but mainly because their tanking rotation is fairly complex, so just switching to it and hoping to learn as I went didn’t work out very well. I quickly switched back to DPS, and decided to level a different class as a tank. Maybe a Monk? That stagger mechanic sounds really cool and unique.

My main goal right now is to unlock Mechagnomes. I have a simple rule: If an MMO gives me the opportunity to play as a steampunk cyborg, I play as a steampunk cyborg. You can bet that I will be heading to Mechagon as soon as I ding 50, and rolling a hunter with a mechanical dog pet shortly thereafter.

My favorite feature of Shadowlands so far is that those stupid zombies are no longer exploding on me every time I try to use the auction house. Seriously, who thought that event was a good idea? As a humans vs zombies PvP instance it might have been fun, but in random old world maps, including capital cities, it’s just annoying. Rant aside, I haven’t bought Shadowlands yet and probably won’t right away. As fun as it can be to be a part of the initial rush to gobble up new content, there’s just so much old stuff that’s new to me that it doesn’t make sense to drop money on an expansion just because it’s shiny and everyone else is doing it. I’ll wait until I’ve seen most of the old expansion content, or for it to go on sale, whichever comes first.

It turns out now is a great time to get into World of Warcraft. I’m having a lot more fun than I have in any of my previous attempts to get into the game, and it’s nice to feel like there is a feast of content ahead of me. Not everything is perfect (I’ve had to find addons to do a lot of things that I feel should have been built into the game by now, and the community definitely doesn’t live up to the “subscription fees keep out trolls” meme) but I’m having fun and playing with friends, and that’s what matters most.

An honest look at LotRO’s “mini-expansion”


Lord of the Rings Online’s latest update went live yesterday, and all of the players were super excited for it and pleased with the new content. That’s what the headline should have been today… but it’s not. There are a lot of players upset about the way War of Three Peaks, LotRO’s new so-called “mini-expansion,” was handled. Personally, I have a lot of mixed emotions about it, so let’s parse some of my feelings toward this update.

So what is all this fuss about? First off, there isn’t that much story/zone content here. Hence the “mini” label. Second, while true expansions have always had a cost associated with them for everyone, LotRO’s model has always been that subscribers get all of these smaller zones included in the subscriptions, whereas non-subbed could buy them piecemeal. This was the case as recently as last year’s Vales of Anduin release. These smaller, post-expansion updates were previously just called… updates, so this obvious marketing label feels tacky. Three Peaks broke this long-standing pattern, however, and requires everyone who wants to play it to pay at least $20 to unlock it. To make matters worse, players can’t use cash shop currency (aka “money we already gave you”) to unlock the zone as with previous releases; it’s a direct buy on the website only. To add insult to injury, there are two premium packages, labeled “Collector’s Edition” and “Ultimate Fan Bundle” (the latter with a big gold RECOMMENDED banner over it) for $60 and $100, respectively, that add a range of cosmetics (all of which, as far as I’ve seen, are ugly) and a few convenience items you could have bought from the cash shop.

Of course, LotRO got way out ahead of this and made the community aware ahead of time and communicated the reasons for this sudden change, right? Nope. As fellow bloggers Roger over at Contains Moderate Peril and Syp of Bio Break have chronicled, LotRO’s communication to its players has been bad for a long time, and seems to be getting worse. For some unknown reason, the pricing and details of these bundle tiers were kept secret until release day. I say “unknown reason,” but I would speculate that it’s largely because they knew this was going to tick off a lot of fans, and hoped this would get people to convince themselves to buy it ahead of time. Of course, instead this has caused the launch day to be more about angry fans griping about the change in sales tactics than about the actual release.

I do want to say, though, that, in Standing Stone’s defense, the update is a little more than just a single zone quest pack. It also includes the new mission system, which looks like it’s basically skirmishes by another name. Skirmishes have always been one of my favorite things about LotRO, because I can scale them in difficulty with my level and group size. Not enough games have that kind of content, and I’ve always wished they would start making new ones again. To be honest, I’m not really sure how much content is in these missions, because they haven’t been talked up much (again, communication problems). If, to play devil’s advocate, you did think missions justified the mini-expansion label, this isn’t the worst thing, given that the last couple of expansions were also a cash buy-in at first, and it is half the price of those expansions. But even if they’re extensive, is such a feature enough to justify treating this like an expansion? In my opinion, not really.

A lot of players are really upset about this, shouting about corporate greed and such. They feel that SSG has altered the deal they’ve had for years now, with no warning, and they want an explanation. People are threatening to quit because of this. To be fair, none of these kinds of shenanigans happened before the transition to Standing Stone Games and Daybreak’s involvement as publisher/owner/corporate overlord/whatever (everyone has been weirdly cagey about the nature of that relationship). Personally, I’m less upset about it and more worried about SSG’s financials. I don’t know anything about how they’re doing money-wise, but how desperate must they be to do something like this that they know will tick off so many of their fans? And they had to know this would tick off their fans. Nobody can be that incompetent… right?

It’s really sad to me, because I feel like a lot of this could have been avoided. SSG could have communicated better. If it’s a financial issue, they could have just said “Look, we’re not making money like we used to. We need to charge for some of the smaller updates we previously gave to you for free,” and this community would have started throwing money at their screens. The players who bounce out of an MMO because its future looks stormy have left this game a long time ago. The players who are here are here because they’re loyal to this game in particular. If SSG really truly believes this content is meatier than a regular patch, they should have marketed it better. And if it really is gross incompetence, then, well, I hope this is a wakeup call that they need to do better.

It seems like players would have much more easily accepted it if the zone update had been delivered the way previous zones had been (i.e. free for subbers and in the cash shop for non-subbers), and the mission system, which seems to be the tentpole feature SSG is saying makes this mini-expansion bigger than a regular patch, had been sold separately. Sure, you wouldn’t have milked extra money out of people sitting a big pile of premium currency from paying their monthly game tax, but again, that’s money they have already paid you.

At some undetermined date in the future (again, communication from this studio is wonderful), this pack will be going up on the cash shop for purchase with premium currency, and at that point, I may pick it up for the mission system. Or maybe I’ll wait for a sale. At any rate, I’m not too broken up at the idea of not getting to play this (fully skippable, as it has no level cap increase) content on day one. I’m perpetually behind in LotRO. It’s just what I do at this point. I don’t think this is worth breaking out the pitchforks and storming SSG HQ over, but it certainly is a move that is disappointing at best and worrisome at worst.

Ended, the Clone Wars Has

This past May the Fourth, I finally got closure on Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I remember going to the movie theater (remember those?) in 2008 to see the original movie-pilot for the new Star Wars animated series. I don’t think our regular theater ever got it, or if it did it didn’t keep it for long, so we had to drive 45 minutes to a smaller theater that specialized in limited-release screenings (usually art films and the like). It was cringe-worthy, and it remains the worst grossing theatrical release for any Star Wars movie. A quest to save Stinky the Hutt was a dumb plot, and Anakin’s out-of-nowhere, never-before-mentioned padawan Ahsoka Tano was only slightly better than Jar-Jar Binks. I almost quit watching during season 1. I’m glad I didn’t, because the series got so much better. When Disney bought up the Star Wars franchise in 2012, the Clone Wars was cut short prematurely in favor of Star Wars Rebels, a similar CGI cartoon set during The Dark Times, when the Empire was at its height. The in-production episodes of Clone Wars (the so-called “Lost Missions”) eventually made their way to Netflix, but Clone Wars frustratingly never got a satisfactory ending. Honestly, Rebels turned out to be a better show, and it did its best to eventually give as many characters from Clone Wars cameos so you know how their lives turned out, but the fact remained that, because of the way its production was cancelled, the show never really got a proper ending. Until now.

Spoiler warning: The below contains spoilers for the Disney+ Season 7 of Clone Wars, as well as Star Wars Rebels.

As I watched the closing episodes of Clone Wars, I was struck by how, over the series’ 7 seasons, Ahsoka had gone from a barely tolerable, bratty teenager to one of my favorite characters in either Star Wars canon. Similarly, the portrayal of Anakin ended up being so much better in Clone Wars than it ever was in the movies. The series took Anakin from being Hayden Christensen’s flat, mopey, unlikable character to one that actually makes sense within the narrative: A charismatic, impulsive, arrogant-but-in-a-fun-way Jedi prodigy who genuinely wants to help the galaxy, but doesn’t always go about it in a way that his peers agree with. It also shows his manipulative, even abusive, side that really only comes out on film near the end of Revenge of the Sith. I now more closely associate Matt Lanter’s voice with the character of Anakin, and watching Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith feel more like watching a mediocre live-action remake of a cartoon rather than the reverse. At least Ewan McGregor made a great young Obi-Wan.

The final season of Clone Wars had a somewhat mediocre start, with an arc that was semi-finished when Darth Mouse pulled the plug on the Clone Wars. Yay, we rescued Echo, who is now a Borg, with the help of some mutant clones in Mass Effect cosplay. When do we get to see what happens to Ahsoka? We already knew she survived Order 66, since a much older Ahsoka appeared in Star Wars Rebels, but I was eager to actually see how it happened.

It turns out we didn’t have long to wait. From the teaser trailers, I kind of thought we would go straight into Order 66 and be there for the remainder of the season, but the series takes kind of a detour first, which was a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one. Trace and Rafa Martez were fun, interesting characters that represented a lot of what made Rebels a better show than Clone Wars: They were normal people. Clone Wars was all about Jedi, whose are basically ninjas with telekenesis (Force abilities in Clone Wars seem a lot less powerful than in other Star Wars media, but we’ll chalk that up to the weakening of the Jedi’s power that Yoda talks about in the movies, and/or plot convenience), and Clones, lifelong soldiers who are as close to literally faceless as you can get without them being just creepy. There really weren’t a lot of just regular people in Clone Wars. In Rebels, however, there was one master Jedi, one apprentice, and a crew of “just regular people.” The Leias and Hans of the series have always been more interesting than the guys with lightsabers (as cool as lightsabers are).

It was also interesting seeing some people who dislike Jedi without their reason being “because I’m the evil bad guy” for once. Without getting too deep into the philosophy of fictional sci-fantasy worlds, it has always been a part of canon that the Jedi were declining long before the Clone Wars because they had become rigid and lost their way from their original mission of maintaining the balance of the Force. That’s why The Chosen One had to destroy both the Sith and the Jedi to create balance, and Ahsoka realizing that the Jedi have lost what they were supposed to be is why she left the order. Her interactions with the Martez sisters shows her that this was the right decision; they were the kind of people the Jedi were supposed to serve and protect, but they haven’t really done anything worthwhile for them.

Maul has always been one of the best bad guys in the series, and killing him off in the first prequel movie (to be replaced by… an old human guy? Whose fight scenes are mostly him standing in place while his enemy fights around him? Really?) was one of the worst decisions Lucas ever made. Bringing him back was super contrived (he was only mostly dead, which is slightly alive), but it’s far from the worst sin this franchise has committed. It was nice to wrap up this part of his story, although I was sad we didn’t get more tie-ins to his cameo appearance in Solo. Do they still have more up their sleeve for that? Who knows. If they do, I’m here for it.

Then it finally happened. I loved how the series wove in some scenes from Revenge of the Sith, just to let the fans know without a doubt that we’re overlapping the movie now. It created a tension for the rest of the episode, because the audience knows that Order 66 is coming any minute now and Ahsoka is on a ship filled with clones who will no doubt want her dead. Ahsoka’s refusal to kill any of the brainwashed clones, even after they are all doomed anyway, was touching, and showed that Ahsoka was a better Jedi than most of the order, even after leaving it. I thought Ahsoka removing Rex’s helmet as they contemplated their plight was a nice rhyme to Luke removing Vader’s helmet at the very end of Return of the Jedi. If I didn’t know both characters survive until the time of Rebels, I would have guessed one of them was about to sacrifice themselves, and that knowledge kind of steals some of the tension of the whole episode.

There was some great cinematography in these episodes — it’s crazy how far TV-budget CGI animation has come in the last 12 years — and the soundtrack, while different from what I have come to expect from Clone Wars and Star Wars in general, was really good. I almost wonder if the switch from traditional orchestral score to a more droning, synth-heavy soundtrack was somewhat symbolic; the galaxy is suddenly different now. The Sith won. None of this ended the way they expected. Or maybe they just had a different composer who wanted a different feel, I don’t know.

The final scene, with Vader finding Ahsoka’s lightsaber at the crash site some time later, with Morai circling overhead, was an elegant tie-in for Rebels. Like Revenge of the Sith, this would have been a terrible place to leave the characters, if we didn’t already know where they end up. But, Star Wars storytelling has always been weirdly un-linear, so it works.

It’s kind of sad that, between Clone Wars, Rebels, and Mandalorian, Star Wars TV series have become so much better than the movies. When it was first announced that they were doing one last season of Clone Wars, I was excited to have more, but I wasn’t sure it was necessary. It seemed like a vanity project. But the ending we finally got was so much more satisfying, and will hopefully lead into more good things for Star Wars. Will the rumors that Ahsoka is set to appear in The Mandalorian Season 2 pan out? I would love it if they did. Even if not, I’m really happy with what Season 7 did for Clone Wars.

May the Force be with you!

I want WildStar back too. How could it happen?

The other day, fellow blogger Syp over at BioBreak posted about how much he misses WildStar and wants it back. The Twitter comments lit up with agreement, including familiar faces from around the WildStar community like Mayor DaMoose and Avidguru (the latter of which said he hasn’t “stepped into another MMO since”). If you know me at all, you know how much I loved this game. I grieve for this game and its potential and what could have been. I’m not going to reiterate what Syp said, I’m just going to point you to his post and say I agree with every word.

It’s clear that a lot of people loved this game and really miss it. They saw in it great potential, but felt it was wasted by the team that developed it. Is there any chance we could ever walk the surface of Nexus again? Maybe. All of the options are a long shot, but here are a few ways it could potentially happen.

NCsoft sells the WildStar IP to another company, who puts the game back in development.
Honestly, this is probably the best outcome… and the least likely. It is widely agreed that the biggest reason that WildStar shut down is that they made a lot of dumb decisions around the time of launch, like going subscription only at launch when everyone else was moving to buy- and free-to-play, and focusing far too much on ultra hardcore endgame raiding and PvP when the people who showed up were interested in pretty much everything but that.

The reason I say this is the least likely outcome is that NCsoft has a history of refusing to sell their dead games. See City of Heroes and Tabula Rasa. Yes, City of Heroes is a special case, but we’ll get to that in a second. The story goes that NCsoft sees selling MMOs, even MMOs they’re shelving, as creating competition for themselves. This is, in my opinion, flawed thinking, as most MMO players don’t play one game exclusively anymore, and killing games and refusing to sell them only creates ill will that makes players less likely to play your other games, but regardless, that seems to be their attitude. I don’t if anyone at NCsoft has ever come out and said this, but it is true that they’ve always chosen to simply shutter games, even when they have the option of selling them off.

NCsoft gives the WildStar IP to another studio under its umbrella, who puts the game back in development
Ok, I said the previous one was the least likely, but this one seems equally unlikely. It’s possible that NCsoft could potentially take everything Carbine did and hand it over to another of its studios, one who has been more successful at running a successful game, to rework in a Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn-style reboot. They could even restore your cash shop purchases, since they would own all of the data (if this game does come back, I better get my account wide DeLorean hoverboard back). NCsoft wouldn’t be creating a competitor for itself, since it’s another studio it owns, but theoretically might make better decisions with it this time around.

I say this is unlikely, because, if NCsoft was going to do this, they would have done it by now. WildStar shut down almost a year and a half ago; if another studio was helming WildStar, I think we would have at least heard a rumor by now. And if they really were planning to reboot the game, they would have announced that when the servers went down.

NCsoft sees the success of Homecoming and licenses the game to fan developers
Everyone who loves a dead MMO was given a little spark of hope last year when the City of Heroes rogue server Homecoming went public and began negotiations with NCsoft to legitimize their operation. Granted, this option is assuming a lot; it’s assuming that the Homecoming agreement goes through, and that it’s a success, and not seen by NCsoft as more trouble than it was worth. This option would be exciting, as it would offload the work onto fans who have a passion for the game, but fan projects are notoriously flakey, often starting strong and fizzling out when things get tough, or as conflicting visions start infighting. Progress would no doubt be slower than if an existing studio took over, since we’re talking about semi-professionals working for little to no pay. But, like Syp said, I would totally log into the game from time to time, even if it was frozen in maintenance mode indefinitely, as long as I was reasonably sure it wasn’t going to go offline tomorrow. Honestly, even if NCsoft would release an offline version of the housing editor, I would pay them for it.

An unofficial emulator materializes
We all know that a lot of MMOs have these, some of them even endorsed off-the-record by the developers. Emulator servers are in a weird legal grey area — generally leaning more toward black than white, but still grey — but a lot of emulators have been up, running, and stable for years at this point. This is my least favorite option. I generally like to operate within the law — I don’t steal movies or music, etc. — and don’t like to encourage others to break it, even if there’s little to no chance of anyone getting in serious trouble. But I have to say, I would be really tempted to play a fully functioning WildStar emulator. After all, “Justice doesn’t always wear a badge.” I know there is at least one project in progress right now, but so far as I know, it’s still early in production, and I don’t know of any functioning servers.

How likely are any of these? Well, the odds aren’t great. But then, I would have said that the odds were even worse for a City of Heroes revival, and somehow that’s a thing that exists now. The only way we’re ever going to see a revival of WildStar is if we keep talking about it, and keep letting NCsoft know we want it back. Let them know that the problems with the game weren’t inherent in the game itself, but with certain aspects of its management. I really think that, in a different universe, with only a handful of different decisions made before release, WildStar could be a top 5 MMO right now. Maybe at this point even a revivified WildStar would carry too much baggage from the original launch to ever be wildly successful, but it’s an experiment I would love to take part in.

RIP Torchlight Frontiers

I was already having a bad Monday when the extremely disappointing announcement came that Torchlight Frontiers was becoming Torchlight III and gutting its MMO systems. You know I’m a big MMO fan, so any time an MMO goes offline or fails to launch, I’m sad, even if it’s not one I was personally invested in. But it makes me even more grumpy when it was one that I was actually excited about. 

I think that Diablo-like gameplay can be a lot of fun, but I’ve always found the atmosphere that Diablo and most of its various clones portray to be so oppressively depressing that it sucks all of the fun out of the game for me. This is why Torchlight II is one of my most played games on Steam; it’s Diablo, but colorful and not too serious. Better yet, the Steam game I have the most playtime in is still Marvel Heroes (and I used the standalone client for years before switching to the Steam client). When I discovered Marvel Heroes, I wasn’t even a Marvel fan. I played it because I was obsessed with Torchlight II and was wishing there was an MMO version. Since that game shut down, there really hasn’t been anything to fill the void (the closest thing is Path of Exile, but that’s back to the aforementioned oppressively depressing atmosphere), and I thought Torchlight Frontiers was going to be just that. But instead, we’re getting Torchlight III.

Perhaps more frustrating than the fact that we’re not getting the Torchlight MMO I’ve always wanted is the fact that they’re also stripping away all of the things that made this entry unique. So many quality ARPGs have come out since Torchlight — games like Grim Dawn, Path of Exile, Victor Vran, Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, and, of course, soon to be two actual Diablo games — that the world doesn’t really need another straight-up Diablo clone. 

Part of me cynically wonders if publisher Perfect World Entertainment, who recently reworked Magic: Legends from an MMORPG into an online ARPG, thought the two games were too similar and forced Torchlight change course to more of a traditional ARPG formula. Maybe they viewed the low player numbers in their weird, year-plus-long, permanent open alpha as a sign that nobody wanted to play it. Why would anyone want to play an MMO that’s half broken and guaranteed to get wiped periodically? Most of all, though, I think they just caved to the MMO haters, who irrationally campaign against anything that involves online persistence. 

But the reason doesn’t matter anymore. Regardless, we aren’t getting a Torchlight MMO anymore. Yes, at least it has some social features, like the ability to interact with and group up with others in town if you want to play in online mode. Some would say that this makes it as much an MMO as the original Guild Wars (that’s a whole different debate). But zones will be devoid of any players not in your party, and story and character progression sounds linear and bland. There’s still going to be crafting and housing, which is cool, but no word that I’ve seen about auction house and player trading, which is a major make-or-break point for MMO-ness in my mind. It’s better than a complete scrapping of the entire project, but it’s losing all of the unique, innovative things that made me excited.

Will I still buy Torchlight III? Probably, once it’s on sale for $10 or so. After all, I had a lot of fun in the first two games, and I have no real reason to believe this one will be drastically worse. But I also have no reason to believe it will be better. It will, at best, be the same game with different classes. 

And it certainly won’t be the massively multiplayer Torchlight game I’ve been wishing for for years. 

LotRO: Walking back into Mordor

Do you ever have regrets about decisions you’ve made in MMOs? A few years ago in Lord of the Rings Online, I needed a crafting alt for a profession I didn’t have on any other characters. I decided to do a class I had never done, Rune-Keeper, with a race I hadn’t done much of, Elf, just to be different. I had to level him a bit to get him to a superior workbench (I’m so glad they got rid of those; they were dumb), but I quickly fell in love with the way the class played. I always regretted not making him a Dwarf, however. I tried to remind myself that Elves had racial passives that were more useful for Rune-Keeper than Dwarves, but it didn’t help. I just like Dwarves a lot more than Elves. Leveling is so slow in LotRO (I know many LotRO fans find it too fast, hence the slowed progression on the legendary server, but I guess I’m just spoiled by other games) that I didn’t want to start over just for the sake of my character’s looks.

Then Minas Morgul came along, bringing with it the new Stout-Axe Dwarf race and a special edition that nets me cosmetics and a character boost. I know a lot of MMO players sneer at level boosts, and I can certainly understand why, especially in this game where the story and the world is the standout feature. But this seemed like a perfect opportunity to create a new dwarf rune-keeper without having to start over at level 1. Plus, it’s a class I already know, so it’s not like I’m going straight to 120 with no idea how to play my character. And if I hate it, I can just go back to my old Rune-Keeper.

It’s also a way for me to resolve another regret: Mordor. I was really interested in the story of Mordor — where will the story go now that we’ve entered more-or-less uncharted territory, with the big-bad dead? — so I bought a similar package for Mordor on sale a while back and level boosted my Captain, and immediately regretted it. The mobs in Mordor have so much health that my Captain in DPS spec has a lot of trouble surviving, and in tank spec it takes her so long to kill mobs that, if I have to pull two mobs at once, the first mob has respawned by the time I’ve killed the second. As far as I can tell, it’s not like they start you off with garbage gear or anything, that’s just the way it is for some classes. I didn’t expect a cake walk into Mordor, but it was just too much to do alone, at least with a Cappy.

So I have decided to take my new Stout-Axe Rune-Keeper through the main quest for Mordor and the associated content before starting Minas Morgul. He’s overleveled, so it has been going pretty quickly. And, once things do get tough, I have more confidence in the Rune-Keeper’s DPS and self-healing than the Cappy’s; I think if I had boosted my Rune-Keeper instead of my Captain for Mordor I wouldn’t need another token today, but there’s nothing I can do about that now.

Long-term, once I’m caught up with current content, I would like to turn him into a healer and run some dungeons with the guild I’ve been a part of for a long time, but have never done anything more than chat with. As much as I love newer, faster paced games like Guild Wars 2 and The Elder Scrolls Online, I miss the experience of healing in more traditional, tab-target MMOs, and from what little grouping I’ve done in the past, the Rune-Keeper is a lot of fun to play as a healer.

SWTOR: You had me at Nautolan

Star Wars The Old Republic launched a new expansion this week. That’s great. More importantly, it launched a new playable race: Nautolan. I don’t know why this game doesn’t push out more races, because it always brings me back and makes me much more likely to open my wallet than endless streams of lockboxes ever will.

It’s hard to explain why, but, as much as I love making alts in every MMO, I think this is the game I most enjoy it in. I think it’s because there’s a big roleplay aspect to the game. Yes, I have played this story before, but how will this character react to it? And a new species brings a whole new layer to my mental narrative for my character.

I made a Nautolan Jedi Sentinel. Man, I had forgotten how good the melee combat in this game feels. My Jedi Guardian has been my main SWTOR character for many years, so I’ve played the Knight storyline before, but it has, like I said, been many years, so I’m excited to see it again. I think he’s going to be a little less by-the-book than my full light side Guardian. Not dark side, but not so sure that all of the Jedi’s rules and regulations are for the best. The Nautolans from canon (which is… mostly Kit Fisto) are pretty laid back, and I can imagine the Jedi Order being very different from their native culture.

I saw some players complaining that it’s hard to make a good looking Nautolan — there are no perfectly clear skin options, and the faces are all a little bit odd looking — but I kind of like that. They’re a race of alien amphibious squid people. I feel like that fits. Also, have you seen Kit Fisto from the movies? Not going to be winning any beauty pageants.

I also bought an extra character slot while they were on sale, but I haven’t decided what to do with it yet. Maybe a bounty hunter? I’ve been through the BH story, but it was during the Dark vs. Light event (the last time I played seriously), and I was kind of rushing through it to get those achievements. I’ve also never made it all the way through the smuggler story, which is a shame since smugglers are such an iconic Star Wars archetype. Either way, I remember being curious last time I played to see how some of those Fallen Empire stories play out for non-force users (my guess is “basically the same; you’ve dealt with enough Jedi/Sith mumbojumbo by now that you just take it all in stride,” but maybe I’ll be surprised).