Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Tale of Garn Chapter 43

Warning: potential DLC quest (Knights of the Nine) spoilers ahead!

From Garn’s recollections:

The Pilgrimage

For a time I focused on my duties as the new Arch-Mage of the Mages Guild. Despite not having much in the way of any real interest in the position and being all too wary of the growing renown that would be involved in fully assuming it, there was much to be done. The Council of Mages needed to be reformed, chiefly. Without a solid council in place it would be impossible for me to govern on my own. At least with the council back to normal the guild would distract themselves and the focus could be directed off of me and onto other matters. Besides that, I spent a great deal of this time taking advantage of the great library at the Arcane University. My studies became more consuming than since early on after escaping from the prison so many months before, both in hopes of regaining some additional morsels of understanding of my past and for an invigorated love of academia. Growing too aware of my increasingly sedentary nature I decided to pack up my traveling kit and set out on the road, if only for a short time.

This was no grand adventure. While there were, of course, encounters with the random beasts and creatures along the way and a notable increase in bandit activity in some areas, I had actually assigned myself the rather mundane but necessary task of journeying from city to city visiting Fighters Guild guildhalls and senior members. In particular I was long overdue to meet with Modryn Oreyn in Chorrol, who had more or less been running the guild as my proxy since I first became the Guildmaster. It was on this journey that I stumbled into an unusual, even palpable tension over a recent event in Anvil. A terrible event.

Looks like someone's got a case of the Sundays!
“Looks like someone’s got a case of the Sundays!”

Everyone in the streets had been gossiping about the horrific attack in the Chapel of Dibella is in Anvil’s Chapelgate district. Given my station as both Arch-Mage of the Mage’s Guild and Guildmaster of the Fighter’s Guild the City Watch let me have access to the scene. In the chapel I found everything overturned and bloody corpses of both priests and worshipers alike strewn about. Most curiously there were runes written in blood around the altar. I recognized the runic writing as Old Ayleid but couldn’t read it for myself. Although I explored the rest of the chapel there were few other clues to suggest what had happened there. The guards around the chapel wouldn’t share any information about who they had suspected of committing this desecration or why and I sensed no real hints that they might be purposely withholding more from me. Also not withholding was a strange, raggedy man I found preaching outside of the chapel steps as I left.

Fuck! Doesn't anyone evil STAY dead in The Elder Scrolls?!
“Fuck! Doesn’t anyone evil STAY dead in The Elder Scrolls?!”

At first glance the preacher seemed to be your run of the mill deranged homeless man but as I watched it seemed that he was gathering an audience. He was ranting passionately about something named Umaril coming back to seek vengeance on the Nine Divines and Cyrodiil needing a new champion. I had heard the name Umaril before but couldn’t quite place it so, on a whim, I decided to speak to this street preacher one on one after he stopped for a break and the crowd dispersed. The man was a little more coherent when not ranting and told me the tale of Umaril the Blasphemer, an ancient Alyeid king who, backed by the Daedra, ruled over the lands with a terrible power and cruelty. Eventually a powerful, zealous warrior and holy champion of the Divines, Pelinal Whitestrake, rose up to challenge his reign and slew him in an epic battle on top of what is now the White Gold Tower in the center of the Imperial City. This preacher claims that Umaril, actually made immortal by his pact with the Daedra, was now back from the Outer Realms of Oblivion and a new champion would need to rise up to defeat Umaril in the name of the Nine.

It was an interesting conversation, no doubt, and after hearing his story I recalled reading of Pelinal Whitestrake in the past. While at a tavern later that day the subject of the preacher, who most seem to dub more cordially “the Prophet” came up amongst my fellow patrons and it seemed, interestingly, many seem to hold in high regard. After finishing my meal I returned to the Prophet to learn more. First he spoke about the grand quest of recovering Whitestake’s lost relics. He then told me that if I was interested in learning more about following in Whitestrake’s footsteps and becoming the champion I should first go on a pilgrimage to pray at the wayshrines of the Nine Divines spread across Cyrodiil. While I’ve learned a lot much more about the divine Aedra and indeed their Daedric counterparts since becoming a free man I’ve yet to commit to worshiping any sort of gods or practicing any particular faith. My own work on Daedric conjuration puts me at some odds with worshipers of the Nine though, like most conjurers, I do not worship the Daedric princes. Indeed, I must have been an odd site clad in my Daedric armor and weaponry. The Prophet seemed unphased.

A rare tranquil moment...
“A rare tranquil moment…”

I couldn’t shake it. The feeling that this was a quest I must take up. Was this something from my past rising up to the surface or just some sense of duty that has appeared along with my growing responsibility for the people of Cyrodiil? I did not know. I slept on it that night and in the morning I immediately set out for the nearest wayshrine I knew of. A shrine dedicated to Mother Mara, just north of the city. I continued onward, zigzagging across much of Western Cyrodiil for days, visiting shrines all around Anvil, Kvatch, Skingrad, and Bravil. Many of these wayshrines I had recalled coming across before whilst producing my maps though sometimes I ended up asking locals for directions. Often times this wasn’t too difficult as wayshrine pilgrimages sometimes brought other travelers out to these often secluded sites as well. At one such occasion I even encountered a fellow warrior, Sir Roderic, seeking to become a crusader of The Nine. He spoke of the prophet’s wisdom and asked me to travel with him and his squire but as we were heading separate directions I declined.

Damn Pagans must be living on No-Doz!
“Damn Pagans must be living on No-Doz!”

While my voyage was mostly uneventful, some of these shrines were so secluded encounters with roaming monsters were to be expected. I suppose the devote might look upon these dangers as trials of faith but for me they were of little consequence. Indeed my mood grew more and more bleak as I progressed on my quest. At first I took in the beautiful scenery in these secluded areas of the realm but in time the blue skies turned to darkness and rain and the friendly pilgrims were replaced by vicious, brutal minotaurs and gargoyles lurking in the shadows of the forests. Despite this I was oddly possessed with completing my pilgrimage. I couldn’t stop until all 9 of the Divines had been honored. After the last shrine had finally been reached I rode south to Skingrad and setup in an Inn for the night, feeling empty and questioning the wisdom of ever deciding to take up the quest.

I am SO high.
“I am SO high.”

That night I had the oddest of dreams. I was floating high above the White Gold Tower and the visage of none other than Pelinal Whitestrake himself approached me. He spoke as a spirit, with only vague recollections of his former life and vaguer of events that had come after. He guessed the gods had arranged for us to meet because of Umaril’s return. He spoke about the quest to seek out his relics, though had little to say, he did offer that his relics could possibly be at the site of a shrine erected to him shortly after his death on its very site. His description of the site, though somewhat ambiguous, sounded like it would be relatively easy to locate if it was still accessible. Likely a ruin now, and likely lost to time under the waters of Niben Bay, but there was a chance.

I woke from my restless slumber unsure of whether it was truly a dream or perhaps a true vision. Had the spirit of Whitestrake reached out to me? I didn’t know but I was sure I could find out. I quickly gathered myself and rode with great haste to the shores south of the capital.

I bet you guys thought I gave up on old Garn didn’t I? Well, to the two people who were asking… nope! We are definitely, finally nearing the end of his adventure though.

World of Guildcraft

Outside of my last post I haven’t mentioned World of Warcraft in quite a while, chiefly because I haven’t been playing it. In fact I had (finally) cancelled my account for the first time since launch mere months before the release of Mists of Pandaria, only reactivating long enough to level my main character up to 90 and complete a few miscellaneous end game goals such as grinding out a full set of PVP gear and some decent epic weapons. Now, with Warlords of Draenor on the horizon and the general urge to hit up an MMO again rising I dusted off my old characters and started to try to get into the the spirit of Warcraft once again. So far I’ve mostly spent time leveling up alts and PVPing with my main but one subject has been in my head a lot lately: guilds.

It’s no secret that playing with others can greatly enhance a gaming experience – seemingly everyone loves a bit of co-op. MMOs are ripe for this kind of thing as group gameplay is usually, at least to some degree, built into the core game systems. It’s odd, I’ve always been somewhat of a solo player in the MMO space. I know this sounds like a contradiction but I appreciate other people being around in the game world, making it feel more alive, and having the option to interact with them if and when I choose. That said, some of my favorite MMO memories have been with other people: all the way from meeting random players I eventually became friends with when PVPing in Ultima Online’s faction system (Minax for the win!) to daring coordinated zone raids in Planetside with The Praetorian Guard or cleaning house in Warhammer Online PVP scenarios with my guild there.

Even gameplay aside, I enjoyed those clans and guilds that had a high degree of “community” outside of the game. People that got along and even if they weren’t always on incredibly friendly terms but still felt like family all the same. One of my favorite ways to experience this was in private forums – in fact I selfishly volunteered to get TPG’s going and despite waxing and waning in activity over the years, they remained active throughout its lifetime. Even relatively recently as I looked for Age of Conan and then WAR guilds, a semi-active forum was one of my requirements. Sadly, between the push towards “social media” and the more instant gratification focused players that games like WoW have bred, it seems like private forums, or at least active ones, are becoming a thing of the past. You’d think they’d be more useful than ever with all of these serious raiding guilds and their complicated policies about looting and attendance and whatnot. *shrug*

You know, I’ve never really had a real guild in WoW which is pretty shocking considering how long I’ve played it despite it being a casual on and off kind of affair the entire time. When I started World of Warcraft I rolled with my old Planetside and America’s Army clan “The Praetorian Guard” of which virtually all of us were playing WoW. Unfortunately, it quickly became obvious that there weren’t really enough of us sticking around the same levels to really play together. That’s to say we didn’t have huge numbers in the first place but when some of us were powerleveling through the game and others playing multiple characters or moving at a much slower pace we couldn’t exactly run dungeons or even quest together. We didn’t have this problem in games like Planetside or Star Wars Galaxies where your level didn’t so strictly dictate what you could or could not do in-game but in WoW it was crippling.

Later, when we started reaching max level we soon discovered that there weren’t enough of us to experience end game “raiding” and not all of us were even that interested in doing so in the first place. This became a bit of a contentious issue which threatened to pull the guild apart as some of our main players plotted moving their “mains” to other guilds. I personally saw this as quite shortsighted and selfish but in hindsight I was being a bit shortsighted and selfish myself even if my heart was in the right place. I don’t really know what the ideal solution would have been, honestly – some of us wanted to be in a hardcore raiding guild and some of us didn’t. If we could have done some major recruiting we might have survived but our position as a guild, both internally and in the makeup of our particular WoW server, didn’t make that a very realistic possibility. Soon most of our top members (including our leader and practically all of the officers, tragically) went separate directions in the pursuit of bigger and better loot.

Since then my WoW experience has mostly revolved around either very casual solo playing (questing, PVPing, and working on professions and achievements) or playing with a few specific friends. In fact other than a few brief excursions into guilds with other games (often mentioned here) my multiplayer gaming as a whole has been pretty similar to that. Other than the occasional bit of pick up grouping when doing world PVP and the like I’ve barely got a glimpse of guild gameplay.

Sitting there with my WoW account thinking of the looming release of the latest expansion it only recently occurred to me: I really, really, REALLY miss being in an active clan/guild. It’s hard to describe to those who haven’t done it but playing a game, particularly an MMO, with a friendly group can be an incredibly social experience. It becomes a regular thing, something akin to a group of inseparable friends who spend almost every evening or weekend together. In this respect even the most casual/social group is still better than none at all providing you’re all friendly and get along. So, I’ve decided… I’m going in!

There are a few challenges with this. First, despite WoW’s immense popularity spawning all kinds of 3rd party guild finding sites and Blizzard themselves having added a in-game guild finding feature in Cataclysm it can be pretty difficult to really a gauge a guild from the outside. In my case I’m looking for an adult but not necessarily “family friend” guild of cool people. Even if the guild you’re applying to sounds AMAZING on paper you won’t really know how well your personalities mesh until you’re really in it. This is another reason I like forums – they’re a great way to try to figure out what the overall personality of the group is like before you even talk to any of them. One of my suckier community experiences was applying for a Battlefield 1942 clan that seemed to appeal to my tastes, making it through the application process (which included an intense and challenging tryout) only to discover that I had little in common with any of the members and, in fact, most of them were giant douchebags. Ugh!

Another problem is that I’m definitely not looking for some “serious” guild. I want a group I can socialize and level my alts in without constantly being criticized for not meeting some raiding, arena, or rated battleground criteria or item level or something… and I definitely don’t want a guild that makes massive demands of my schedule. Unfortunately most WoW guilds present themselves this way regardless of how casual friendly they really are. That’s fine though, I’d rather not be part of a guild where non-raiders (or whatever) are treated as second class citizens or something. Casual guilds in their various forms, or even social or “leveling” guilds aren’t too hard to come by regardless. The problem is that many of them are horribly unstructured which is a bit on the extreme side of what I’m looking for – a group of random people who simply all share the game guild tag is not my idea of a good guild.

My biggest problem is this area is probably simply that my server is dead. Fucking dead. Elune on the Horde side is a virtual ghost town these days. In fact, checking the Realm Pop statistics it’s the least populace Horde realm in the entire US region. Wow! There are definitely active guilds there, sure, but my selection is relatively slim to start with and by the time I factor in what I’m looking for I don’t have much wiggle room to be picky with. I’ve thought about simply starting my own guild but that contains more variables than I’m comfortable trying to deal with at the moment. After a brief cast of my net out into the cesspool of various guild recruitment forums I’ve really only found one guild that seemed to strongly meet my requirements: have a decent, semi-roleplayed name, have a good community feel with mature, decent people, have good out-of-game website and/or forums, and have a decent amount of active players online without being one of those guilds who just blindly invites anyone without a guild tag. Unfortunately that guild is both on another realm AND Alliance instead of Horde.

Thus I begin considering the potentially expensive process of moving servers and changing realms. Actually, more troubling than the money is the fact that I’ve been playing Horde since beta. I love the Horde! I mean, I’ve had Alliance characters before, don’t get me wrong, but ever since falling in love with series in Warcraft III playing anything other than a green skinned brutal yet honorable orc as my “main” in WoW has never crossed my mind… and playing a fucking Human? Forget about it! Ignoring the travesties brought by the Alliance on my beloved Horde and my own personal defeats to them in the various battlegrounds of the world, I don’t really identify with or otherwise like many of the races on the Alliance side. They really are quite different. Most of all I’m worried that as I do my banking in Ironforge or Stormwind I’ll have a sudden, inescapable feeling that I’m some kind of lowdown traitorous, sell-out bastard. Ugh!

Still, it’ll be nice having people to chat with and an auction house with, you know, actual stuff on it… 😉

Forecast: Blizzard

For some indescribable reason I decided to further my vacation from my consoles for a while longer and dove headfirst into Diablo 3, mostly due to all of the hype surrounding the new 2.0 patch and the (then) upcoming Reaper of Souls expansion pack. First: good news, everyone! My concern in Lightsabers and Labyrinths was unfounded and Diablo 3 does in fact hold up quite well in the atmosphere department. The setting still feels very much like the grim world of Sanctuary from Diablo and Diablo 2 and even then some and the music is still great and perfectly atmospheric. The graphics, while a tiny bit cartoony compared to the previous games, actually feel ike a perfectly logical evolution of the previous style and overall look great. I had other concerns too such as hearing that they packed in much more backstory and dialog (including from your character!) than in previous games. I was somehow picturing a bunch of cheesy in-game cutscenes which would probably change the feel of the game quite a bit. Instead most of the dialog is delivered using something akin to ye olde “audio logs” and the follower interaction and plot related cutscenes that are there are mostly delivered in fairly unobtrusive ways too.

I feel like Conan most of the time I'm playing my Barbarian. Fuck yes!
“I feel like Conan most of the time I’m playing my Barbarian. Fuck yes!”

Gameplay wise, I rolled a Barbarian and played through on normal difficulty – Barbarians being one of the simplest yet funnest classes from Diablo 2 I figured it would be a good starter character to try out and I was definitely right. If anything I could have stood to bump up the difficulty a bit. I feel like it bears stating that yes, this playthrough took place entirely AFTER the 2.0 patch which included a lot of the refinements of the earlier console ports of Diablo 3 including the apparently greatly improved loot system so I have no first hand account of how things used to be. All I can say is that what is there now works quite. I felt like loot drops were aplenty and upgrades came fairly often, at least in the first few acts of my adventure. Perhaps some of the best praise I can give Diablo 3 is that despite just playing through all of Torchlight and the last act or so of Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction, I not only managed to avoid getting burnt-out on the simple and repetitive ARPG gameplay but even somehow wound up totally addicted like I was playing Diablo 2 back in 2000 all over again.

I might as well mention the expansion since I bought it and played it inline with the original campaign and it’s still somewhat new on the shelves as of this update: it’s largely more of the same. The new zones, monsters, and events are awesome, the story, journals, items, and powers fit perfectly in with the core game, etc. etc. Really, the bulk of the biggest changes in the game outside of new content were those patched in (to everyone, expansion or not) with patch 2.0. The other big change is “adventure mode” which I’ve only briefly dabbled in so far. Regardless, it certainly seems like a better way to grind out levels and new gear than playing through the campaign for the 30th time. I think my only real surprise with Reaper of Souls is that it’s not just a straight continuation of the plot like they did with Diablo 2’s Lord of Destruction expansion. Instead it’s a new story entirely. That is, while continuing where the plot of the core game left off, it’s not just “and then a bigger, more badass demon showed up and you had to kill him too!” kind of thing. The only problem with this is that the stakes will always have to be extraordinarily high given your character’s story and the fact that you already managed to save the world from total annihilation in utterly epic fashion the first time around. Hey, if they can keep that expansion cycle up more power to them!

Someone call an exterminator?
“Someone call an exterminator?”

Overall I found Diablo 3 a total fucking joy to play through – capturing what I loved about Diablo and Diablo 2, refining some of those systems, and giving a slightly deeper look at the world of Sanctuary and its lore. Sure, the story arch feels a bit of a rehash of Diablo 2 in some ways and the game is still a simple blend of remorseless clicking and inventory management, but Diablo 3 delivers exactly what caused me to be captivated by the genre in the first place and does it with the usual top notch Blizzard polish. I’ll definitely be heading back through the campaign with another class against at some point in the future, probably multiple points even. I’m ecstatic.

Blizzard also updated their… err, updater? Okay, their “launcher” recently to serve as a single launch (gah, I did it again!) point for all of their newer games and on that list is there new free-to-play collectible trading card game “Hearthstone”. Hearthstone plays like a simplified version of the old WoW TCG which itself was highly inspired by Magic: The Gathering and its ilk. I’ve heard great things about Hearthstone from friends and on some of the podcasts I subscribe to and, being the sucker that I am for mounts in World of Warcraft, seeing the little advertisement for a special mount for trying Hearthstone out was all the extra push I needed to give it a whirl. A whirl turned into a couple of whirls and then more whirls and now hours and hours of whirls. Man, this game is fun!

Hot troll on troll action.
“Hot troll on troll action.”

I’ve never been a TCG/CCG guy – I tried Magic out when it first hit in the 90s but it just always felt slightly too complicated to me for what it was trying to do. I also had a love/hate relationship with the whole collectibility part of it. Hearthstone, by streamlining the rules so much, really nullifies most of those complaints. The game is really fast and really easy to pick up on. Sure, there is still a “he with the most cash wins” aspect to it but I feel like the streamlining means that even the most rare (err, “epic”) cards aren’t too crazily overpowered. That, and Blizzard has the free-to-play mechanic fairly fine tuned so far so that you can pretty consistently unlock new cards without ever dropping a dime of real money. Add that addictive gameplay to some Warcraft aesthetics and some good old Blizzard polish and man, this game is rad! Given the repetitive nature of something like this I doubt I’ll play it too much more besides trying to master a coupe of more “classes” but so far I’ve really enjoyed my time with it.

Blizzard has definitely still got it.

...and I log in to immediately start grinding fucking Archaeology again. Ugh!
“…and I log in to immediately start grinding fucking archaeology again. Ugh!”

As an aside, yes I know I probably shouldn’t care too much about World of Warcraft mounts given that I don’t actually play World of Warcraft anymore but… *sigh* once an addict, always an addict! I loaded up my level 50 something goblin hunter the other day and played through a whole zone and actually enjoyed myself once again. I suppose I’m getting hyped back up for the new Warlords of Draenor expansion coming later this year. I truthfully barely have enough energy for the game left in me to remain interested enough to buy this expansion. I almost didn’t buy Mists of Pandaria as it was back then. The new character models and the free level up to 90, as shallow as those offerings are, help sway me. The bigger thing is probably just having to personally come to terms with what I get out of the series nowadays – a few months of hardcore addiction before I put it back on the shelf until the next expansion, and honestly that’s totally fine with me.