Category Archives: Review

Which MMOs to look forward to in 2017 and beyond?

I mentioned in my recent New Year’s post that I no longer look forward to any upcoming MMORPGs in 2017 and beyond. In fact, I have a hard time remembering many titles and the ones I do know, aren’t exactly my cup of tea. Judging from the reactions within my twitter verse, I am far from alone in this sentiment.

Now others have pointed out of course that gaming has never been more diverse and better than today and that is completely true. I can return to established MMORPGs and still find a lot of content to play through and get busy with. But with way fewer new projects on the horizon, I will still miss the excitement of looking forward to something new, diving into unknown worlds with other people. That’s just something I have always loved, that newcomer feel and collective excitement.

This encouraged me to actually go and do some research on upcoming MMORPGs for 2017 – 2018. As expected, it’s a different world from few years ago but I still managed to identify a few titles that may pique my interest in time:

Chronicles of Elyria

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There’s been some buzz around this title for a while now and I admit some of the developer’s ideas, such as aging and living through several lifespans with your characters, sound interesting. As a kickstarted project it’s got a lot to prove but there’s no harm in following what already looks like a fairly promising indie project. Release date estimated at Dez 2017 earliest, so double that probably.

Pantheon, Rise of the Fallen

pantheon

I know next to nothing about the great Everquest legacy and its associated heroes but I’m reading “high fantasy open world” and “focus on social and group play” and yeah you got me, I’m desperate! Bhagpuss has recently brought this title to my attention again and I’ve always trusted his savvy on the classics such as EQ and Vanguard, so color me mildly interested in Pantheon (once I got over the graphics, anyway)! Alpha/beta testing to be commenced in 2017 – release date who knows!

BLESS

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BLESS is a Korean title set in a medieval fantasy world, composed for by legend Hans Zimmer which has caught my attention in the past. While the game inhabits the crowded space of “very pretty looking, grindy Asian MMOs with ingame shops” together with upcoming Revelation Online, its overall aesthetic is significantly more mature (no colorful wings either which is good news). Like Revelation Online, BLESS is another F2P title, so I may or may not find myself downloading the client at a very weak moment of MMO desperation. That is, if it’s actually available sometime – a somewhat curious topic of late!

….Aaaand that’s it! This is already the end of my list for 2017 – 2018 MMOs and this summary frankly hasn’t done much to lift my spirits. Granted, I am a fantasy MMORPG traditionalist, so PvP titles like Camelot Unchained or Crowfall are missing. These are no doubt interesting titles to a select audience but they ain’t mine. Are there any other upcoming games I should know of – and if so, where are they hiding??? :halp:

A Year in Review: Top 2016 Games and Soundtrack!

2016 has come and gone and if my social channels are any indication, most people people are glad to leave this arbitrary number behind. I don’t personally believe 2016 was the awful year it’s made out to be in the media but it’s certainly been exhausting on a personal level, despite some successes on the writing and day-job front. I’ve pushed myself to leave the safety (and lull) of a stable workplace for more flexible and lucrative work that doesn’t come with the security of a permanent contract. While I am content with my progress thus far, it’s also a stressful situation to be in at times and my constant struggle to find peace of mind inside our daily grind remains one of life’s great challenges. Alas!

top 2016 games and soundtrack2016 wasn’t a rocking year for me gaming wise, either. I arrived with humble expectations and browsing through my blog and steam library, I realize I’ve played much less than in years before. This was also definitely not a year of MMORPGs and I find myself in that strange position now where I am no longer looking forward to a single upcoming MMO title in 2017 and beyond. It’s a weird and melancholic feeling because MMOs have been a big part of my life for the past 15 years. With the exception of Black Desert Online, I’ve barely played anything besides some brief visits to Eorzea in the first half of the year. MMORPG players have seen this coming for a while and it certainly feels like our favorite genre has come to somewhat of a halt; that is, if you’re not still a follower of well-established titles such as WoW or GW2.

My Top Video Games of 2016

For reasons explained above, my past year in gaming wasn’t all about the MMOs. While I still haven’t gone back to GW2 for the expansion, two of last year’s expectations did hold true and then, it’s also been a year of small, unexpected delights. Without further ado, here are my top 5 titles of 2016:

top 2016 games and soundtrack

5. Owlboy
Owlboy by developer D-Pad Studio only came out in November 2016 and while I haven’t finished playing it, it’s already fulfilled all my expectations in terms of being a fun adventure with beautiful visuals and music. There are some unforgettable moments and quirky characters in Owlboy that make it a safe choice for anyone into whimsical and charming adventure platformers that aren’t overly complex. Only minor gripe: no keymapping for gamepads!

top 2016 games and soundtrack

4. Portal Knights
I’ve praised the concept, visuals and soundtrack of Portal Knights on MMOGames and if you ever wondered how a minecraft sandbox meets level-based gameplay would play, this is the title to grab! The game is especially fun for short-session gameplay together with up to 3 other players (also great for kids), while you can still put those solo hours to good use, base-building, gathering and crafting. Controls and GUI management aren’t perfect in Portal Knights but definitely manageable.

top 2016 games and soundtrack

3. The Witcher 3 (DLC)
The Witcher 3 was my GOTY in 2015 and remains my most beloved RPG title of this year – and possibly all eternity. I’ve lived and breathed the Wild Hunt again over the Xmas holidays and I am still so impressed and delighted by this title, I got no words! Not surprisingly, the Hearts of Stone and Blood&Wine expansions have been nominated for great honors again in 2016. I’ve only started to catch up now and intend to make the most of what CD Projekt Red have stated will be their only Witcher 3 expansions! :sadface:

top 2016 games and soundtrack

2. Black Desert Online
I’ve spent copious amounts of time in BDO between spring 2016 and summer, exploring its fantastic persistent world, writing guides for its complicated subsystems, joining a guild and decorating my house. While the game has had its issues and share of monetization scandals, it is still one hell of an experience for anyone looking to explore and travel a magnificent MMO world solo! I never reached PVP “endgame” in BDO and didn’t care to, but I had fun with almost everything else including its different approach to combat. The game remains an “alone together” experience for anyone not looking to join competitive PVP which is good or bad, depending on your personal viewpoint!

top 2016 games and soundtrack

1. GOTY: Overwatch!
There is no way around giving Blizzard the credit that is their due: they knocked it out of the park with Overwatch in 2016. As far as impressive comebacks go, only Square-Enix have managed a similar feat with a Realm Reborn – a persistence we rarely get to see in the video game industry. From the ashes of Titan, Blizzard have salvaged not just an incredibly accessible and fun hero shooter but one that’s so full of charming characters and iconic lines and gameplay moments, the Overwatch roster is already as popular as any other Blizzard IP heroes. I gave this game a 9/10 and there’s nothing else to add here, Overwatch was one hell of a successful release in 2016!

Best Soundtrack of the Year

As far as great VGM went in 2016, I’m sticking with the tradition of my annual youtube recap which you can find below! It’s been a good year for video game soundtrack and the Battle Bards podcast keeps going strong, counting its 4th anniversary soon. There’s been an official twitter account now for a while, too. I am still having as much fun as ever talking MMO music with fellow bards Syp and Steff.

Top VGM of 2016 list:

12. Civilization VI
11. Destiny: Rise of Iron
10. Overwatch
9. Enter the Gungeon
8. Hyper Light Drifter
7. Stardew Valley
6. Owlboy
5. Portal Knights
4. The Last Guardian
3. Revelation Online
2. WoW Legion
1. Black Desert Online

Let me know what your favorite video game soundtrack has been of late and another Happy New Year to all of you! Let’s see what 2017 will bring in terms of digital delights and virtual world travel – it’s all a blank open space for me from this point forward!

Fun and Whimsy in Portal Knights

Besides sinking some considerable time into Overwatch last week, I have found myself enjoying Portal Knights, an already very polished title currently on early access and available on Steam. I almost missed Portal Knights thinking it was another Minecraft/Trove/craft-something voxel game but the graphics looked cute and bright and I kept reading role-playing game in various descriptions. It was coop mode which finally got me to try it with my best mate however and 15 hours later, we were still going!

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Portal Knights is a breath of fresh air in the sandbox voxel world because it’s very much still a “game” and not another open world life sim. Now, I do love me some open world games as y’all know, but I’ve written before about my trouble with building fatigue in games that make it their primary purpose. I can go nuts for 3-4 weeks building my fantasy castle and then feel very burned out, wondering what’s the point.

This question never arises in Portal Knights. Instead, you unlock mini-worlds via portals that follow a very linear, level-based progression. As you journey from one map to the next, you gather better materials, beat harder dungeons and bosses to level up and become ever more powerful. Never knowing what will lie behind the next door, you want to return to your home base ever so often to craft better gear and potions or do some optional gardening and decorating if you like. This makes Portal Knights very much an adventure game on single-player or coop that features some crafting and free building on top. Scratching several itches at once is what this title does really well; I look forward to see what else the developer will come up with in terms of game modes (survival?).

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For a more detailed overview, check out my full Portal Knights early access preview over at MMOGames! This is very much also a game to enjoy with family, in case you’re looking to play something together with your kids that allows for shorter session gameplay while still being a longer project you can work on together.

Overwatch Early Access Impressions

Having jumped into Overwatch early access last Tuesday night, I’ve got myself up to level 14 since, trying out different heroes and learning the basics of the game. As Blizzard explained on their forums, all early access and open beta progress (including skin unlocks etc.) will be wiped before May 24th, and I shall try not question the logic behind an early access starting before open beta weekends.

Overwatch Early Access Impressions

On the Fly Overwatch Impressions

First things first: Overwatch looks gorgeous and you know it! Blizzard never cease to amaze in the polish department and absolutely everything from the clean interface and level design to actual gameplay and animations look and behave smoothly as a baby seal. In true Blizzard fashion, players also get the guided newcomer experience with tutorials, practice ranges and optional games vs. AI included (on easy, medium and hard mode). So, even if you’re new to team FPS and slightly weary to jump in, these features will ease you in perfectly.

Having tried most of the characters now, each of them plays very differently with obvious strengths and weaknesses which is a lot of fun to explore and come to grips with. Controls are simple enough, with familiar FPS key mapping and usually up to three special abilities keyed to Lshift/E/Q.  Once I changed some of the keybinds to fit my mouse better, things started rolling and I got deeper into the nitty-gritty with Mei (must kill all the Tracers!), Farah, Bastion and Mercy which I prefer so far. Overwatch encourages playing different roles and characters which can mean the difference between victory and defeat, depending on the map you’re playing and whether your team is attacking or defending.

Overwatch Early Access Impressions

There are currently only three game modes in Overwatch (capture, attack/defend and escort), although more are to come. Blizzard recently announced the removal of competitive (ranked) play mode for this open beta because there’s more to figure out and balance after receiving player feedback. General balancing is going to be an issue for a while to come yet, as is to be expected from a title like this; besides some heroes currently possessing clear advantages and some ultimate abilities feeling ten times stronger than others (hello Genji and Reaper), there are still matchmaking and team composition issues to address.

What should be good news to FPS players out there, is that Blizzard are running with dedicated servers for Overwatch’s matchmaking, rather than player-hosted lobbies. This means (mostly) stable servers and reliable ping for random matches as well as playing custom games with your friends.

Why I like it

I had loads of fun in Overwatch with my partner so far and would recommend it to anyone who’s just a wee bit interested in team-based PvP and FPS which offer more variety than traditional offensive/defensive roles. If you dig disrupting or healing only for example, there’s still a place for you in this game. Matchmaking queues have generally been short for me (1-2mins max), so you don’t need to commit to long gameplay sessions to get some Overwatch under your belt.

Overwatch makes it easy to get into (mastery is a different story) and if you’re willing to take the time and try different heroes, you’re guaranteed to find at least one or two who will fit your playstyle. Once you got the basics down, the game opens up to all the tactical group play, making use of team synergies and environmental factors – all of which should keep players busy for a while to come.

Overwatch Early Access Impressions

I got some healing practice on Mercy…she’s Swiss!

Naturally, Overwatch is also packed with shinies and no matter how great your FPS skills, there’s motivating progress and random unlocks for skins, tag lines and so forth. Blizzard have also taken care of honoring and rewarding “best plays” of every match, letting great players shine without naming and shaming anyone on the bottom (for non-ranked play anyway).

So much for my quick Overwatch Early Access impressions! If you’re at all curious, don’t miss the ongoing open beta until May 9th! The cheapest pre-order for the game is 39.99 Euros currently; Blizzard’s pre-order page lands you on the medium package by default, so make sure to switch if you’re looking for best bang for the buck. Have fun – and kill more Tracers!

Black Desert Online Status Report: My Top 10 Gripes

Black Desert Online has been out for over a month and I’ve had an absolute blast so far. I am nowhere near max level yet, nor do I wish to be as I continue this fantastic journey through vast and beautiful lands. These past weeks I have explored, crafted, traded, decorated, fished and killed a few things. Mostly, I have taken screenshots and sighed in awe at the scenery. All that said, there are also quite a few things getting on my nerves by now, so following in Bhag’s footsteps – let’s talk about that!

Black Desert Online Top 10 Gripes

Naturally, there will never be agreement over the things we as players regard as priority issues in MMOs. One month in, my list of pet peeves has grown but my top concerns need not be the next person’s; it all depends on play-style and focus. What everyone can probably agree on is that Black Desert’s UI is clunky and the game could do with more polish in many areas of micromanagement and basic functionality. Given the title’s been out in Korea for two years however, I have serious doubts we’ll see much change anytime soon. So for what its worth, these are my Black Desert Online top 10 gripes as of now, in no particular order:

1. Marketplace Functionality

Let’s face it, the marketplace in Black Desert Online is the worst. The search function lacks basic criteria, many items are assigned to the wrong category (wool is now a plant!) and the fixed pricing system really doesn’t work so well. Also, don’t get me started on the onerous process of listing your own items, I have stopped counting how many clicks are necessary until my stuff is finally up – halp!

2. Inventory Management

While I am okay with the general bag and storage space in the game, inventory management itself is quite the nightmare. The list goes from not being able to re-arrange your items as you see fit or split stacks, to missing vendor options such as “sell all trash”. Even with plenty of bagspace, you feel like you’re constantly overloaded on trash items as well as the many byproducts from crafting with no way to separate these from gear and more important items. Eugh.

3. Double and Triple Confirmations

Do I want to sell? Do I really really? And how many?….It is beyond me why I am pressing so many buttons in Black Desert Online when trying to sell or purchase items or put them up on the marketplace. Given there is a buy-back window at every vendor, I do not understand why the game needs to babysit me for every choice I make. And can we please just right-click sell and buy, pretty please? What’s with all the different buttons?

4. Always-Online Mode

There are quite a few ways in which Black Desert Online encourages players to go AFK or keep the game running in the background. Energy replenishes faster while lying in your bed, crops don’t grow while you are offline and workers won’t perform their assigned gathering tasks, although for whatever reason crafting in workshops seems to be the exception. While I understand motivations behind some of these design choices, I simply don’t believe it makes that much of a difference; players will let their PCs run if must be but same as for Eri, it’s neither an ecological nor agreeable choice for me personally.

5. Gear and Costume Choices

The game needs more of everything, okay? Also a better cosmetics tab, please!

Black Desert Online Top 10 Gripes

6. Housing Ratings

The rating system for houses is completely broken. This is grating on me personally because I put a lot of effort into interior design and making my home look unique and shiny – yet I don’t even make it into the listed top 20 because dumping several furniture sets from the store will give you the highest rating possible. Cash shop bias, much? I’ve visited listed houses plenty of times now and nine times out of ten, you’ll find store furniture dumped in a corner or alternatively, 100 flower vases and turban shells stacked on top of one another. This is why only players should be rating houses in MMOs and not some highly flawed decor bonus system!

7. Friendlist Management

Have you ever noticed your friends logging on into Black Desert Online? – Well, me neither! The friend list is a horrible mess, there are no sound notifications that I could remember and no prompts for received tells either. I hate how complicated and difficult it is to add and contact people when it really shouldn’t be in a massively multiplayer game?!

8. No Floating Combat Text

Far be it from me to require DPS meters in MMOs but the fact that I haven’t got a clue what damage I am doing (or not doing) to mobs while grinding and questing is highly irritating. I just upgraded my gear to Grunil and I really would’ve liked running some comparisons but somehow, you’re not supposed to know exactly what difference all this upgrading, enhancing and gem socketing makes. There are basic character stats of course (some of which are bugged too) but hitting things in the dark without any type of combat log is not my cup of coffee. It seems an incredibly weird design decision that I don’t recall encountering anywhere else.

9. Dyes Suck

Black Desert Online really wants you to suffer when it comes to dyeing armor which is sadly the only way to make your character look a bit more unique. The terrible dye window deserves its own rant section but what really gets to me is that dyes aren’t only cash shop-only in this game, they are also random (within a greater color range) and one-time use! This makes it a ridiculous system that deserves being boycotted….I’ll be stuck with the few dyes I receive from loyalty rewards every now and then.

10. Playing Alone Together

Black Desert Online punishes player interaction in various ways. Looking back on four weeks of playing, the great majority of my time was spent alone. Joining a friendly guild has slightly improved this situation as far as chatting and guild missions go but it’s still far from a social gameplay experience for the most part. Considering that Pearl Abyss seem to have lost the war on gold sellers, it feels like the community is paying far too high a price in all of this. I’d like to see cooperation and interaction penalties removed from the game and also features such as shared housing and guild banks become a thing.

Black Desert Online Top 10 Gripes

And there I already ran out of 10 points to list when I could have gone on. For the sake of completion, I’ll mention that auto-pathing in Black Desert Online is pretty bad, to the point where weird detours and bumping into everyone and everything makes me grind my teeth at times. Other than that, there’s plenty of small things that could use more polish but aren’t exactly frontrunners; it’s amazing how we adapt to a lot of things in MMOs after playing for extended periods of time. The UI didn’t make the list for this reason, despite frustrating me to no end during the first few days of playing in the beta. Guess am over it.

What urgent issues would you like to see addressed in Black Desert Online as soon as possible?

Black Desert Online Mediah Patch is live! And: The Joys of not being a Frontrunner

A month into official launch Black Desert Online already released the Mediah patch today with all sorts of goodies, ranging from new quests and items to a 30% world map increase. You might have guessed that last point makes me especially happy and I itched all day to jump into the game and ride around for hours chasing genies, collecting cherry blossoms and getting my screenshots fix. It rocks being me – Black Desert Online is already my game of the year!

Black Desert Online Mediah Patch Altinova

Altinova Entrance

Black Desert Online Mediah Patch Altinova

Because there weren’t big cities in the game yet..

While the official BDO forums are still trying to come to terms with an expansion so shortly after original release, because you can have too much to do in an MMO or something, I had a blast so far exploring Tarif and Altinova. As most of the town names and NPCs in Mediah suggest, players heading East from Heidel are in for a veritable pilgrimage to the Black Desert’s Middle East (or alternatively North Africa) – exotic magic, camel caravans and shishas included. Heck, there is even an innkeep lady stationed in Altinova with my real life name, that’s one MMO-first for me!

Black Desert Online Mediah Patch Altinova

I need a camel mount!

Black Desert Online Mediah Patch Altinova

It’s the orient, alright.

It is a bit surprising Daum decided to launch this first expansion as quickly as they did but then there’s absolutely no reason why anyone outside of the most hardcore circles should feel rushed just because Black Desert Online got even more content. Maybe we shouldn’t even think of it as ‘content’ but rather treat it like an actual place; a world that’s vast enough to remain mysterious to the average player for a good while yet. I take comfort in that. Without endgame or linear progression, worrying about your individual pace, the best competitive gear or alchemy gems need not be a thing. And for those on the self-imposed fast lane who are ever a millisecond away from boredom, more frequent updates should seem like a boon too…but then this wouldn’t be an MMO if a vocal minority wasn’t unhappy with the way things are done, would it.

I am still nowhere near level 45 and now I really need to figure out how to buy a camel. Also, this thing creeps me out! –

Black Desert Online Mediah Patch Tarif

Uuuuuhhh…..??

P.S. Daum published a Mediah patch trailer without corny voice overs this time, let’s be grateful!

Black Desert Online as a PvEr? Round Two: YES you should play!

Two weeks ago I asked the pressing question of whether Black Desert Online is actually a game for PvErs out there, including information we had on how PvP flagging works in the game and how it affects the later gameplay experience. I did make it clear in my post that when talking about PvE, I am referring to that established definition of “player versus environment” the way we’ve come to use it thanks to MMOs such as WoW, Rift, GW2 and many others. That means player versus quests, player versus dungeons, player versus raids and all associated and preconceived progression. Black Desert Online has little of that, plenty of quests and dailies aside; what it does have however is an incredible sandbox appeal, so much that it very well may be the game many jaded MMO veterenas, on both sides of the spectrum, have been craving.

Now here’s the important bit of news that requires this update: as it turns out, some of the previous information regarding PvP was in fact wrong. It’s frustrating how hard it is to find much corroborated information for the NA/EU installments of the game but basically, PvP is a little different for us at the present time, as was finally confirmed to me ingame by guild mates who are way past level 50:

  • PvP on NA/EU servers starts at level 45 (not 50)
  • While becoming eligible is still non-consensual, this does in fact not extend to any lowlevel alts (also goes for the Russian version of BDO)

In lieu of any contrary news or things planned for the game, this in itself is pretty huge if we understand how BDO works. The game is all about your different characters working together, sharing whatever progress you make but having separate energy pools to invest in various undertakings, such as resource gathering or crafting. The great news about this: you don’t have to level past 45 to access any of Black Desert’s huge non-combat content. If you opt to be a crafter, gatherer, trader, breeder, house decorator, farmer or candlestick maker – you can do it! Most of the quests related to these activities yield no life/skill EXP, only kill quests do; 50 hours in, I am still only level 21 because I started crafting and thus my character has basically been stagnant while I keep progressing in other ways.

And if  I should ever in fact require one higher level character, I can always use my “main” for that sort of adventure and switch to my alts for the rest. Right now, they are located in different towns and already assisting me a great deal. This is a big point about BDO, to conquer the world for yourself, decide where to make temporary or longterm homes and how to make best use of your different characters.

The game has no level cap either which to me proves it’s not about a set progression or reaching certain levels to unlock content. You can truly make your own adventure and if you ever need to venture anywhere with a level 45+ toon, wear the ghillie suit from the store and you’ll be next to invisible to other players (or just switch server channel if there’s any PvP, problem solved). For the amount of content BDO offers while not requiring any subscription, I am more than happy to put up with that.

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The cities are madness

Yes, you should play in this sandbox!

After a considerable learning curve, I finally start feeling like I am “getting” into the flow of things (and there’s more and more guides for everything else). Now to be clear, I am still scratching the surface of BDO but I’ve finally managed to establish some resource nodes, I am training workers who bring back goods of my choosing every hour, I am gathering EVERYTHING I want to, I am crafting to the most satisfying animations and I am riding from place to place for hours because there ain’t any shortcuts. I tamed a wild horse two days ago and felt spectacular. Oh and fishing, just because my alt does that on her own when I go /afk. All of this is going on without obnoxious gold seller messages or botters due to the way PA handle the economy and regulate your ability to binge-craft, farm, fish as well as trade and sell goods.

The world of Black Desert is mind-blowingly beautiful in a Witcher 3 kind of way. More importantly, in this MMO the world truly is the player – you are not, you are just a lowly peasant that gets to do things in it. I could tell you about Calpheon city (Eri has done) and how ridiculously gorgeous, lively and huge it is, easily the most beautiful and largest city ever in MMORPGdom. The scale, the authenticity of how its crafted, the busy streets, they will break your heart. And yet none of it is the highlight of the game; there are so many regions, so many towns and hubs and little things, with individual economies and resources for you to engage with, I could go on for hours! Don’t get me started on the different funky fantasy races you encounter as you go along, I should probably dedicate a next post just to them

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Cooking, brewing, drying, grinding, shaking, thinning…

I also got a new home in Velia now and am completely over the moon by the way Pearl Abyss have solved player housing. The fact that you own different, physically existing houses all over the world that let you phase in to perfection, is nothing short of a stellar job. Fancy a small hut by the river? A three-story apartment building with a cellar? A windmill with a fireplace? You can have it – you can have them all to do all sorts of useful things. Or you can just decorate to your heart’s content, open the windows and watch the view outside. In the Korean version of the game, there’s even big-style automated farming via NPCs and personal shop vendors. Every time I cross one of my own workers during my travels, it puts a wide smile on my face because they too actually “exist”.

bdo madness

I don’t know what I’ll be doing in two weeks time or three months from now. All I know is that I’ll still be playing Black Desert Online and doing 19347262094 things that have absolutely nothing to do with combat (and that require no cooperation other than from your own alts if that matters to you). I may build a cart for my horse and start trading for reals. Maybe I’ll get into making my own furniture or clothes. Or I’ll learn how to sail, build a boat and sail away forever, to make a new camp somewhere else.

Did I mention Black Desert Online has tents and campfires to pitch in the deep black of night? Yep.

If you’re at all into any of the things I have described above, just do yourself a favor and play this. (I have one 7 day guest pass for the first person who’d like one)

Black Desert Online: Heidel City and Climbing the Top of the World

Yesterday concluded the last beta test for Black Desert Online before launch this March 3rd. I made the most of the time, looking at as many features of the game as I possibly could without spoiling myself entirely. And there is so much yet to grasp, it feels like I hardly scratched the surface. After my brief initial impressions, it was time to find out just how well the virtual world of Black Desert was crafted – would I be able to immerse myself in it entirely and explore to my heart’s content?

I named him Fred, he did not approve.

I named him Fred, he did not approve.

But first I got a donkey from the stable master, thinking it would speed up my travels. The beast felt awkward underneath me and even after I figured out a reluctant gallop, other players kept running past us on foot. Unwilling to deal with further humiliation, I decided to tie Fred down and let him feed on the surrounding grass, which he clearly preferred doing anyway.

I also had a brief flirt with the market place and my first ever encounter with transaction captchas in an MMO. Apparently this is PA’s answer to mass-playing the AH via macros. Since I had almost run out of cash over my unfaithful ride, it was time to blow the rest of it on housing which is a fairly involved affair in Black Desert leading to many different options for crafters. After acquiring a small shack in Velia, I had enough money left to turn the place into a residence and choose some wallpaper, flooring and a bed. Granted, it wasn’t much but it was all mine!

One can also just sit in a boat.

One can also just sit in a boat.

Onward to Heidel City

As I traveled ever further east from the original starting point, it was time to begin the ultimate litmus test of exploration and turn my UI off to allow for aimless wandering. Black Desert Online is beautiful and there are ways to make your screenshots look even more fantastic, so I made full employ of the various ingame options. On high res settings the textures are sharp and terrain is fully accessible, climbable and diveable. A sudden thunderstorm or gush of rain makes noticeable impact on your environment.

Before long, Heidel City crept up on the horizon. I could wax lyrical about what a genuine, lively and bustling place this was, but pictures say more than a thousand words in this case –

From the narrow, crooked cobblestone streets, to the lively feeling created by NPC behavior and the finely crafted details in an old archway or fluttering pennant, I loved everything about Heidel City. It is possibly the most beautiful place I’ve visited in an MMO/RPG next to GW2’s Divinity’s Reach and Novigrad in The Witcher 3. There are nooks and crannies to explore, chairs to sit on and NPC conversations to overhear (although there could be a bit more of that). It is an incredibly well-designed site as far as an authentic medieval-feeling city goes and I have been to a fair few in real life. And hooray, for once scale is working! I can only hope there are more cities like this in the game.

Climbing the tallest mountain around

Recovering from city shock, I wandered off and followed the river south of Heidel until a tall mountain range showed up. I had not really experienced forests yet in the game so it was time to find out if it could rival LOTRO’s Old Forest or Eorzea’s Black Shroud. I am not sure I actually found a forest proper but I found woods along the foot of the mountain and was generally pleased with the textures and shrubbery. There wasn’t the same atmosphere as in the other two MMOs though; the noticeable lack of critters and other creatures puzzled me. When I didn’t manage to “find” anything much, climbing the mountain to see how far I might get became a thing.

And it went on and on! I must’ve spent 15 minutes running and jumping over rocks, dodging one very angry stag lord materializing out of nowhere, before I got close to a finish line. I made it past the treeline and still further up things only came to a halt shortly before the mountain peak, where I was allowed to go no further. The view below was stunning, opening far and wide with recognizable landmarks in the far distance.

Invisible barriers are one of my pet peeves in MMOs. Black Desert Online appears to have very little of the sort and allows for an almost entirely persistent experience. I’ve yet to plunge into a thick, dark type of creepy forest but it is safe to say that my enthusiasm for the game was greatly improved by my two exploratory missions. Even if “endgame” should prove not to be my cup of tea down the line, it will be worth the journey on account of all the sights and places I have yet to see. Just send me that horse with my pre-order mail, please!

#Listmas: Best videogame soundtrack! Top VGM of the Year 2015

For the third time in a row, I am taking this final listmas opportunity to spread some annual VGM love around the MMO blogosphere. In lieu of many MMO releases, 2015 was still a year for new video game music and a few standouts on other platforms, albeit fewer than usual. Maybe it’s just me but this year it seemed harder to come up with a list but judge for yourself.

Since my teaser compilations on youtube have been appreciated in the past, I am once more presenting my top VGMs in both written and audible form, featuring two personal favorites per game:

My Top VGM of 2015

10. Fallout 4
9. Swordcoast Legends
8. Don’t Starve Shipwrecked
7. Crypt of the Necrodancer
6. Ori and the Blind Forest
5. The Witcher 3
4. Undertale
3. There came an Echo
2. GW2 Heart of Thorns
1. FFXIV Heavensward

As you may realize watching the youtube summary, my MMO soundtrack of the year Heavensward is missing; this is due to the circumstance that Square Enix put silly restrictions on players using even partial soundtrack and have been dealing with their fanbase in most dismissive and aggressive manner in the past (followers of Angry Joe will remember). My youtube account is currently under bad standing because of two strikes I received by SE earlier this year – both of which I wasn’t given a chance to react to and which have limited my ability to upload videos longer than 15 minutes. I have therefore decided not to feature and promote any of their soundtracks on YT anymore. There is however a Battle Bards episode on Heavensward upcoming soon, for those who are interested and are following our podcast.

Let me know which soundtracks you enjoyed this year! And as always, spread the VGM love – Happy New Year everybody!

On the Telly: Great British TV Shows

It’s Blizzcon weekend and I feel rather indifferent about that. It’s exciting times for fans of WoW or Blizzard’s other IPs and it should probably interest me as a general MMO blogger, only it really doesn’t. I see the attraction of cons in terms of meeting friends and having a geeky good time (collecting swag!), otherwise it’s a queue and bathroom hell I’ll happily skip for youtube summaries later on. I remain mildly attracted to Overwatch – other than this, I’ve only one thing to say: TOLD YOU SO in case that Legion launch date will indeed fall into September 2016!

Because all gaming news is overshadowed by Blizzcon this weekend and I’ve been watching a couple of awesome British TV shows lately, I decided to take this opportunity to highlight a few you might wanna check out on Netflix or elsewhere!

Cliffs are bad news

Cliffs are bad news

Good: Broadchurch (2 seasons, to be continued)
I’ve binged on both seasons of Broadchurch this past week and would describe it as a very gripping, emotionally intense crime drama, sporting half of the Harry Potter cast. While this is not exactly a rare breed of genre, Broadchurch is intriguing for its grey areas and constant twists and suggestions; anyone can be made suspect and will be as they get swallowed by the whole machinery of investigation and court procedure. There’s the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” – in Broadchurch the entire village will pay because they didn’t. Until the very last episode, it remains unclear who the killer(s) is(are) or why they did it. Broadchurch isn’t very graphical but the topics are dark and gritty, contrasting with the English smallville beach idyll that is the beautiful setting for the story. Since child abuse is a central theme of the show, it’s probably too heavy for some.

No show is perfect. There was a major twist at the end of the first season I didn’t enjoy and I felt the second season lost some speed, introducing annoying characters. On the other hand, there’s some great acting in Broadchurch with David Tennant’s delightful Scottish accent for you to enjoy all the way through.

Better: Peaky Blinders (2 seasons, to be continued)
Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy, need I say more? A gangster drama set in Birmingham, Peaky Blinders is violent and gritty, grandiose and flamboyant as it follows the rise to power of one particular local clan inspired by historical record. The show is as much a story of three brothers (and one more insignificant sister and baby brother) raising themselves and coping with First World War related PTSD, as it is an early 20th century mafia romance with great period settings. It portrays rising social and class issues, complex family themes as well as the psychology of addiction, both to drugs and power. The acting and writing are superb once you got used to the heavy accents.

There’s not much I got to be annoyed with while watching, other than maybe the show’s great antagonist chief inspector Campbell (played by Sam Neil), who is as immoral as the fiends he so passionately pursues. There are no good guys in Peaky Blinders, only broken people.

The lost boys

The lost boys

Best: Sherlock BBC (3 seasons, to be continued)
Several have tried to put a modern hat on Doyle’s classic which can be tricky business but it’s the BBC’s rendition of Holmes and Watson that has managed to do so masterfully and with great respect. The complex technical writing, the outstanding acting by both Cumberbatch and Freeman who have crazy chemistry (tangentially Bilbo and Smaug) together with the modern settings and tools all seamlessly create one fine mystery drama. Oh and the humor! That’s what I appreciate about this show, no matter how gruesome a case there is comic relief usually delivered by Holmes’ bizarre take on the world or then, the quirky interaction between Watson and him which had me roaring with laughter at the best of times. I don’t think anyone else could play that “highly functional sociopath” quite the way Cumberatch does.

I will say that season 3 was a bit of a low point for me as the show became increasingly off-beat and all about the complicated relationship between its two protagonists. I enjoyed it nonetheless and look forward to the next season and the Christmas Special (which is set in the original time period)! BBC rocks the Sherlock Holmes biz, nuff said!

Goofballs

Goofballs

Happy weekend everyone, now with extra TV show inspiration in case you needed it! I already want moar – what is it with British series only ever doing 8 episodes per season, hellou??