Life is Strange

Posted in Diary, Guild Wars 2, lotro on August 17, 2016 by Corleth

The current extended summer break from school, brought my kids back to LoTRO for a few weeks, so I took the opportunity to join them. With our original home, the Gilrain server, now defunct, the first task we faced was moving our toons across to a new home – we chose Laurelin. The move went smoothly, and we sorted out our family kin, plus kinship house in this new location, in good order. The following few weeks saw me dust off my level 30 hobbit hunter and head to Evendim, where old memories came flooding back. We had some fun evenings, questing together and running plenty of skirmishes, but the rekindled interest inevitably waned and LoTRO is once again an unused link on our individual desktops. It was good to go back though.

With Turbine’s licence for LoTRO up for renewal next year, there may be precious few further occasions for revisiting this creaking game, where the character models and combat system both feel more clunky as each year passes; the scenery is still stunning, mind you, and the housing, music and cosmetic systems still hold our attention. As an aside, my top level toon is still my Loremaster at 85, but I have no inclination to bring her out of retirement. That would mean first buying, and then investing time in, the Helms Deep expansion. No thanks.

Away from LoTRO, I’ve also been back to Guild Wars 2 over the summer. The ‘Heart of Thorns’ expansion was released in October last year (2015), so it’s been a time to dust of my necromancer and elementalist. I might post some dedicated commentary on this, as it’s looking interesting, thus far.

Earlier in the year (well, from last Christmas though to around Easter) I found myself drawn back in to EVE, due to the ongoing ‘New Great War’ that saw the fall of the Imperium. I joined up with Pandemic Horde and headed out into nullsec for the first time. I had fun, lost a lot of ships, and made a bit of ISK, but the length and time of the ops proved too inconvenient for me to get fully drawn in, so when my subscription ran out, I left EVE once more.

Back to now, and I’m working my way through the excellent ‘Life is Strange’. Since completing Telltale’s ‘The Walking Dead’, I’ve definitely been drawn more into the episodic adventure game genre. The female protagonist in LiS, Max, is just excellent, and the game’s ambience and pace is just bang on. My available playtime is currently way more fractured than it was even a few years ago, so the ability to dip in and out of a story like ‘Life is Strange’ is a huge benefit.

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Max – Life is Strange

The said fractured nature of my available game-time is probably the main reason that iOS and Android gaming are now where the majority of my game hours are spent. When a gaming session can be counted in minutes rather than hours, this is inevitable. My Clash of Clans account is now at level 114, and counting, and our whole family takes part in weekly or bi-weekly clan war. Good fun for all. Boom Beach, another of Super Cell’s offerings, is another regular sink, but I hated Clash Royale which I found stressful and aggravating. Fallout Shelter had the same effect on me – too much micromanagement involved, although I appreciate it has a huge fan base. I’m currently trying out Blizzard’s Hearthstone on iOS – so far, it’s looking good.

A return to LoTRO

Posted in Diary, lotro with tags , on September 1, 2014 by Corleth

A fair deluge of water has poured under the Last Bridge since I last played LoTRO with any anger. Level 85 was the level cap then; it is now 100. Updates 12, 13 and 14 have all been released, patched, re-patched and conquered – but not by me. Wildermore has been explored, Helms Deep has been saved by a good chunk of the remaining player-base, the Paths of the Dead have been trodden and my hobbit-house has had a ‘For Sale’ sign erected on its lawn.

Many things are certain. One of those is that the golden age of LoTRO has passed, its summer days have departed. I have very fond memories of those years from 2007 through to, perhaps, 2012. This period, for me, would cover the journey as far as Mirkwood and perhaps a little beyond. The certainty of seeing twenty-plus kinnies online most nights of the meek, is now nothing but memory. The Watcher, Dar Narbugud and Barad Guldur raids are nothing but screenshots in an almost forgotten folder (together with a few housing trophies, of course!). LoTRO has now entered its autumn years. Acceptance of this now comes easily to me.

Time for some combat, LoTRO style

Time for some combat, LoTRO style

But what of the other MMO dalliances of my recent past? DDO, Rift, Secret World, EVE, and Wildstar, have all been briefly tried. SWTOR, I went back to a second time, but never got past level 30-odd. GW2 was a standout, and I have two toons at the GW2 cap, but only because the world of Tyria is breath-taking to me, and the toon personalisation isn’t far behind. However, my interest in GW2 waned pretty much when I hit 100% world completion – it took just over six months. I now pretty much accept that I am unlikely to get drawn into another MMO, long term. I can’t imagine that I will ever play another game for 7 or more years, as I have done LoTRO. I no longer believe that the experience of playing, and then being consumed by, your first MMO can ever be repeated. I think I am one of many who have now come to realise this. There’s that acceptance thing again.

Now, the urge is with me to take continue my own personal journey in Middle Earth, to travel the roads of East Rohan to Helms Deep and whatever lies beyond; to catch up with those few old friends that I know still play. And so my LoTRO story is resuming…

Tablet Gaming Intro

Posted in Diary on August 26, 2014 by Corleth

My last post, so many months ago now, hinted at prolonged return to SWTOR or GW2. Neither happened.

Last Christmas my ten-year-old asked for a tablet PC. Being semi-indulgent parents, my wife and I obliged, but went for a very low-end ‘Energy Sistem’ (Spanish manufacturer) model. Big mistake. It proved to be slow and unreliable, requiring multiple rebuilds over a number of months. To cut a long story short, several months back, I inherited my son’s tablet and we bought him a Galaxy S7 as a replacement. This has made my son happy and gave me a somewhat temperamental entry into the Android tablet gaming sector.

Being able to play games on my coffee break at work, when lying in bed, or when sitting in an airport/aeroplane, has certainly added another dimension to my gaming outlook. My minimal gaming time over the summer months has been taken up with gaming on Android devices, in the form of Clash of Clans, Scrabble, Plague Inc, and Battleheart. In that quartet, there’s surely something for everyone?ClashOfClans

Somewhat unexpectedly, my tablet gaming came to a stop last week when the highly troublesome ‘Energy Sistem’ tablet died, once and for all (note – less than a year old; and no, I don’t want a like-for-like replacement!). Guess what sort of device is now on my birthday list??

In the meantime I’ve discovered some very handy Android emulation software which is now running happily on my Window 7 gaming rig – Bluestacks. So at least I can keep up with my kids on Clash of Clans.

New Year Stagnation

Posted in Diary, Guild Wars 2, lotro, SWTOR with tags , , , , on January 14, 2014 by Corleth

The Christmas and New Year period saw me ‘off work’ for the best part of two weeks. In previous years that sort of break would have seen me put in some serious gaming hours. Not so this year. Well, not as much as recent years, anyway.

At the start of the holiday season, my gaming tipple was still LoTRO; specifically, my ‘Minstrel project’ on Landroval. Progress up to mid-December had seen me complete all quests in the Misty Mountains zone in general and, more specifically, Goblin Town – including soling the Great Goblin instance ‘on-level’. As I mentioned in my previous post, I found the Goblin Town experience very enjoyable, probably because it was pretty much all new to me.

Epic Volume 1 in Angmar

Epic Volume 1 in Angmar

After finishing up in Goblin Town and the Misty Mountains and picking up my first legendary weapon via the ‘Gates of Moria’ epic volume 2 introduction, I was left with a choice of heading to Eregion or pushing on with Volume 1 of epic quest line. I went for the latter option which, for me, turned out to be a bad option. Despite some streamlining a couple of years back, Volume 1 still requires an almighty amount of running about the world for no particular reason. How dull! In the event, after hitting level 52 just before Christmas day, I got bored of all the epic volume 1 toing and froing and haven’t been back to LoTRO since.

Between Christmas and New Year, I was almost entirely immersed with my Smuggler in SWTOR. One bugged quest apart, my free-to-play experience has been excellent but, now at level 17, my two skill bars are filling up rapidly and I can see that I might have to shell out some cash in order to make the game more playable, in the not too distant future. All told though, I’m enjoying the story telling in SWTOR and am making a point of listening to all the dialogue at the start of each quest. “Why rush?”, I say.

The last week or so has also seen me dabbling with GW2 again for the first time in six months or so. On loading GW2 for the first time in months, it really hit me what a good looking world Tyria is. In my opinion, as an MMO setting it blows SWTOR and LoTRO out of the water. Back in game, I toyed with my mesmer, and even rolled a ranger, but the draw of my necromancer has seen me playing her most of the time; at the moment, I’m mainly trying to get my head around WvW again, and also just trying to complete my ‘daily’ on a more or less regular basis. GW2 still is a game that you can just dip and out of, in an ad hoc manner. In gourmet parlance – good food, fast.

Alpine Necro

Alpine Necro

All that said, overall, I find I’m playing MMOs less than I have done at any time since my pre-LoTRO days in 2008. Realistically, there are multiple reasons why – including increasing dislike of both the ‘levelling-grind’ and the ‘end-game-grind’, an increasingly ‘solo’ experience within all the MMOs that I play (nobody has to group in MMOs any more, more’s the pity),  and over-familiarity with the genre.

Plenty of other genres to be explored though!

Deus Ex Revisited

Posted in Diary, lotro, SWTOR with tags , , , , , on December 16, 2013 by Corleth

So, what am I playing on my shiny new PC?

Most of my time at the moment is being consumed by Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I was a huge fan of the original Deus Ex, back in the day (circa 2001), playing though it twice. I’d actually held off buying the Human Revolution re-make (it’s allegedly a prequel, in term of storyline), because I didn’t want to ruin my fond memories of its much older sibling. I need not have worried. Having been offered Human Revolution for free, as bonus gift with my new motherboard, I couldn’t resist the temptation to try, and I’m now glad I did.

Ten years on, the ‘new’ Deus Ex, seems to have all the hallmarks of the original in terms of game play, with the added graphical and game-play advances that the last decade has allowed. So far, I’m loving it, although it’s still early days (I’m approx. 5 hours in, game-play wise).

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Elsewhere, LoTRO-wise, I still haven’t purchased Helms Deep and have no plans to do so this side of 2014. As such, I still haven’t done anything with my high level toons [on Gilrain], since before Wildermore hit. This is no reflection on Gilrain, but more down to the fact that what little draw LoTRO now has over me, is coming from playing my single toon on Landroval. The freedom of exploring regions that I hadn’t seen in several years, without the assistance of (baggage of?) alts, is still proving to be refreshing and fun. Currently, my Landroval minstrel is running around Goblin Town (love this map!), solo, at level 49; GT is actually an area that I’ve never really explored or quested in before, on any toon. How weird is that?

Down in Goblin Town

Down in Goblin Town

As an aside, I have a few comments to make with regard to the new trait tree functionality that was introduced with the Helm’s Deep patch. My Landroval based minstrel, both before and after the HD update, has been running round the Misty Mountains with a build that was, and still is, fully down the red line – i.e. built for damage.

Post HD, it feels like I’m killing things much faster, landing way more, and larger, critical hits. At level 49, I’ve been able to solo the entire ‘Great Goblin’s Throne Room’, including the Great Goblin himself – albeit whilst running as many buffs and boosts as I could lay my hands on. I’m pretty sure this would not have been possible (at least for me!) pre-HD, so my unscientific feeling is that toons are now a good chunk more powerful that they used to be.

Is this over-powering a good thing? Well, in general, you can run around the landscape with absolutely no fear of dying. Only if you take on instances, and/or mobs, that were originally designed for multiple players, are you going to be in any way stressed. This lack of challenge is not a good thing in my opinion. For me, the enjoyment of a reward is far diminished unless it’s had an associated challenge; something hard-earned, is almost always remembered and appreciated.

Exploring the Misty Mountains

Exploring the Misty Mountains

Moving on, it may seem a bit random, but a few weeks ago I got the urge to download and install SWTOR. So convinced was I, back in mid-2012, that I’d never play SWTOR again, that I put my SWTOR installation DVDs into a charity bag. Remember, that was before the game went free-to-play, so those disks cost me a good few quid , once upon a time. Anyway, I was a little shocked that reading about the latest ‘Galactic Starfighter’ expansion, got my juices flowing enough to feel like taking a peek. Now, I’m not a ‘twitch’ gamer, by any means, so the Starfighter expansion may well not float my boat, if/when I actually decide to subscribe again, but once I had SWTOR re-installed, I created a smuggler and have been enjoying her journey (currently level 22) ever since. How long will it last? Who knows…but for the moment, the journey is proving to be fun, and that’s good enough for me!

New Rig Completed

Posted in Diary with tags , , , , , , on December 11, 2013 by Corleth

My first ever self-built gaming rig is complete.

Putting the hardware together only took me an evening, in fairness. It was installing all the software that took the time.

My last PC was on off-the-shelf model from Dell, with the OEM PSU stripped out and replaced with a 600W off-the-shelf number to support a Radeon 5830 graphics card. Replacing that PC had become a no brainer, but the trouble is that, as with any PC, when you add software over time, you lose track of actually how long it’s actually taken to install all those programs that make your digital life tick.

The operating system obviously comes first (64 bit Windows 7 Home Premium, in the case of my build) and that then has to be patched numerous times to bring it up to date. Follow that with anti-virus software, Office, and numerous smaller installs (such as iTunes, Mumble, Adobe stuff, etc, etc), not to mention the essentials from your Steam library… and then we’re looking at data transfer from the old PC too. Phew, it takes a while!

I had neither the time nor the patience to sit down and do it all in one go, even if my internet connection speed had allowed me to; in fact, it’s taken me the best part of three weeks to get to a position where I can say ‘Yup, I’m done – time to retire the older model!’.

Anyhow – a quick technical breakdown of my new rig is called for!

Add to the above, my pre-existing  128Mb SSD which I transferred from my old Dell PC – this thankfully removed the necessity to re-download LoTRO, GW2, SWTOR and TSW.

A few annoyances with this build:

  • The R9280X Gfx card is so wide that once slotted in to its PCIe slot, it covers up both of the PCI slots on the motherboard. In other words, I need a motherboard with more PCI slots (or more space between them!) if I want to plug anything into a PCI slot. Bugger!
  • The Z11 case has two top-mounted USB-3  ports. However, the motherboard has no internal (19-pin) USB-3 connector, so the only way of connecting the USB-3 ports on the case, to the board, is to buy a pass-through cable and to connect the USB-3 ports on the case though to  the USB-3 ports on the back of the board. Bugger (again).
  • Finally, the board also has only a single 3-pin (TX3) fan power connector. The Z11 case has two fans with TX3 connectors (as well as three with 4-pin molex connectors that plug straight into the PSU), so I’ve had to buy a TX3 power ‘splitter’ cable. Not quite a ‘bugger!’, but irritating all the same.

In short, these ‘issues’ are down to limitations on my chosen mobo. Possibly (ok, definitely!) I should have researched better before buying. You live and learn. Again on the plus side, however, I did get three free games with the board. The ones I  opted for were:

  • Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon – I hate this (gratuitous swearing and violence, the likes of which I grew out of 20 years ago); I should have gone for the Tomb Raider reboot.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution  – damn good fun, so far.
  • Thief – not due for release until 2014.

On the plus side, the R290X Vapor has been able to run every game that I own on ultra (i.e. maximum) settings, without breaking sweat (with the exception of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, which is now uninstalled anyway). The R9280X Vapor looks damn good, when viewed through the window in the side of the Z11 case, too!

Zalman Z11 Plus - powered up

Zalman Z11 Plus – powered up

Edit: I forgot to mention above, the issues that I had with the power button on my Z11 case.

In short, both of the wires connecting the power on/off button on the front of the case, to the rest of the chassis, were faulty, out of the box. One wire was hanging off altogether and one was severed inside its plastic sheath. This issue took me an hour to find (having first reviewed all the wiring connections to the mobo, several times over), and then the same amount of time again to fix.

All I can say with regard to the ‘fix’ is, “Thank [insert deity or swear-word of your choice] for my soldering iron”. OK, I acknowledge that I could have contacted the seller and got a replacement case, but that would have meant sending the faulty case back…i.e. just too much grief!

To add insult to injury, once my soldering iron had done its job, I then had an issue with the plastic clips that hold the power button in place when you press it. I found that the said clips, post ‘fix’, were subsequently too weak to hold the button when the button was firmly pushed (i.e. the button kept popping into the case, when pushed!). I solved this by finding a small piece of plastic to wedge between the button and the case; the button is now very secure, wedged tight, and looks perfect from the exterior but, inside, it’s hardly an elegant!

Like Father, Like Sons…

Posted in Diary, Guild Wars 2, lotro with tags , , , , , , on November 4, 2013 by Corleth

My LoTRO experiment on Landroval is still going well and I have to say that I’m enjoying same. My one toon, a minstrel, is currently finishing off some quests I the north-west corner of Evendim and is racing up on level 44. I say ‘racing’ because the 100% XP boost that Turbine currently in place means that it’s almost impossible not to level rapidly. My gaming is currently restricted to weekends, more or less, so I’ve pushed on twenty-odd levels in only a couple of weeks, in reality.

I’ve taken care to try to tackle quests that I’ve not done before too, particularly around Dol Dinan and Meluinen in the North Downs, Oatbarton (North Cotton Farm) in Evendim and Garth Agarwen in the Lonelands. I’ve also been running all ‘Volume 1’ epic quests on-level which, again, is a first for me.

Evendim - view from the Colosus

Evendim – view from the Colosus

It’s very noticeable how much more populated Landroval is compared to my home server of Gilrain, too. The global lff channel on Landroval often ticks over 250 users where as I’ve never seen more than 150 on Gilrain, and that only in exceptional circumstances; presumably as a consequence, there’s noticeably more grouping activity too. This all leads to a server with a more active feel to it than what I’ve been used to, which is definitely ‘fresh’.

In short, I’m going to keep my Landroval experiment going for the foreseeable future. Quite what I’ll do when Helms Deep hits, I’ve yet to decide.

Elsewhere on the LoTRO front, my kids have noticed me playing again, and that it turn has renewed their interest in the game. My 9 year old now has a level 37 hunter in the middle of Evendim (Ost Forod) and my 11 year old’s level 29 guardian is questing around Oatbarton – both on Gilrain, so I’ll be popping back to keep a closer eye on their progress! As an aside, they’re both running on free-to-play accounts with the ‘Mithril Edition’ applied.

Away from LoTRO, I’ve also spent a few hours in GW2 over the past week – the latest Living Story update in the Kessex Hills actually caught my imagination. I really like the way that many of the mobs now have to be ‘finished’, much the same way as players in WvW (and PvP, presumably). It’s a fun touch, though maybe it would become tiresome if applied universally…I’ll be popping back over the next few days to see how much I get done before the (inevitable) next update takes it all away again!

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