Time flies when you’re having fun

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As per tradition: moar cake!

Hard to believe, but today marks this here blog’s third birthday.

Had you asked me back then whether I thought I’d still be writing blog posts three years down the road…I really don’t know what my answer would have been.

One thing I do know for sure though. Had you told me at the time that I would publish 187 posts with a total of 156 thousand words, and still no end in sight, I’d called you crazy. But here we are.

The main reason, of course, is that it is a lot of fun. Much more so than I would have imagined. It’s also an ongoing learning experience. When I compare my first couple dozen posts with more recent ones it’s almost as if someone else had written the former. It’s remarkable how quickly human beings can learn stuff that’s rather alien to them and become at least somewhat proficient just by doing it over and over.

Along the way I’ve even learned a bit of HTML-code – I didn’t want to, but WordPress made me – which may come in handy…or not.

What didn’t happen was blogging becoming my true love and/or main driving force. Towards the end of Blapril Bhagpuss said that he’d rather write about games than actually play them, at least at the moment. To me actually playing the games is still much more important, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. After all the desire to chronicle my gaming adventures was and remains far and away the main purpose of this blog.

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Speaking of which, this third year has indeed been quite an adventurous one, not least due to the release of ArcheAge Unchained in October. Sucker for sandboxes that I am I’ve been deep-sea fishing, building a family empire with friends, trading, making music and generally goofing around quite a lot since then.

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Warframe was last year’s new addition to my gaming library, and a really great one. While it’s obviously neither an MMORPG nor a sandbox it has a surprising number of gameplay elements on offer that aren’t just about killing stuff. I’ve built a custom gun, went mining and fishing, composed deadly tunes, played Guitar Hero In Space and tried myself at parcours.

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The third game I’ve spent a lot of time with was EVE Online. I went back to nullsec, experienced my first Keepstar-kill, saw a faction Fortizar blow up and went to fight inside wormhole space. In April we would have finally made a trip to Iceland and attended the EVE fanfest too, but of course that didn’t happen. Maybe next year.

Finally, about a week ago Lakisa asked me, quite unexpectedly, about an MMORPG we hadn’t been playing for a couple of years. Honestly, I’d had heavy-heartedly made my peace with the fact that I’d never play it again some time ago, what with the reboot it got in 2017 that, in my opinion, was totally uncalled-for and ‘improved’ an outstanding game very much for the worse. Turns out, though, that the original version can still be played and even has a couple handful of players.

So yeah, we’re back.

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Looking stylish as ever…

Don’t be surprised to read some stories about a supposedly dead game around here in the near future. Year number four, here I come.

Should I be worried about ArcheAge Unchained?

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We’re closing in on eight months since ArcheAge Unchained’s launch and I’m still playing every day. When I look past the various screw-ups – of which there were many, there’s no way nor reason to sugarcoat that – I see a game that has pretty much everything I want in an MMORPG.

As such the game’s well-being is understandably of great concern to me. Alas, Gamigo’s and XL Games’ current plans make me wonder whether they actually want their game to be successful.

I’m not talking about the fact that the upcoming Garden of the Gods update will be a ‘paid expansion’ although they’d originally said that any future content will be free. Don’t get me wrong, it’s obviously not cool to announce one thing and then do the opposite, however in my opinion it’s actually good that they’ve decided to charge for it.

Why? Because they can’t possibly have made enough money with Unchained up to now to make the whole thing sustainable. Even if they hadn’t openly admitted as much in the forum post linked above it would’ve been obvious to me.

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The thing is, the original ArcheAge is very heavily designed to make money with buy-to-progress mechanics. Labor potions, premium houses and farms, vehicle upgrades, stuff to help with gear progression; you name it, they sell it for real money. It’s P2W at its worst. For Unchained they’ve promised not to do any of that – it’s the whole premise and raison d’être for this re-release after all – and until now they adhere to that, which is obviously a good thing.

What they’ve failed to do, though, is to give us enough cool stuff we can spend money on instead. It’s the same mistake Funcom made when The Secret World went free to play. I’ve said before that the ArchePass – now that it works – is too generous with its rewards, and I stand by that. Almost everything one could ever need or want can be bought with diligence coins, and as much as I hate it when games want me to pay through the nose for every little thing I think this really is a big mistake.

Example: mounts. Lots and lots of new mounts and their corresponding bardings have been added to the game in recent months. Each and every one of them went to the diligence shop. Why, I ask? At least half of those absolutely should have gone to the credit shop. They’re all equalized in terms of speed anyway and the skills they have don’t make much of a difference either, so it’s basically just the looks that set them apart. Put the fancier looking ones in the cash shop, and players who are willing and able to spend additional money on the game have something to buy and show off.

Pretty much the only thing you can exclusively buy for credits are costumes, and there’s admittedly quite a selection. The problem I see with those is that they’re too expensive (the baseline is around 30$, some cost more, some less), meaning that a lot of players won’t even buy a single one of ’em, and the majority of those who do will probably only buy the one they like the most and use that forever. Also, until a couple of days ago* you couldn’t have more than two characters per account, so an army of alts to buy costumes for is out of the question too.

*You can now buy a token that extends the maximum amount of characters per account to three. It’s still capped at two per server however, and the token is bought with, you guessed it, diligence coins.

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The other mistake they’re about to make hasn’t gotten a huge announcement as of yet as far as I’m aware, but the list of goodies included with the two pricier expansion pre-order packs contains this little nugget:

Fresh Start Server Access

Jeez, seriously? The game’s less than eight months old and we’re already getting one of those?

ArcheAge has a long history of such ‘fresh start’ servers, and for the P2W-version of the game they do make sense – in a perverse, demented kind of way. After all each player who chooses to start over has the exciting opportunity to pay hundreds (or thousands) of bucks for all those progression-enhancers and premium items all over again.

For Unchained it is, frankly, fucking stupid no matter how you look at it, and so very, very short-sighted.

The immediate benefit for Gamigo/XL is obviously that each player who wants to play on that server – why anyone would actually want that at this point is beyond me, but to each their own – has to buy at least the expansion’s 30$-package for each account they have.

And that’s it.

They won’t spend much beyond that because, again, there isn’t much to spend money on, fresh start or no, so in a couple of months at the latest we’ll again be where we are right now. Only that the new server may well have done irreversible damage to the playerbase as a whole until then, so we might actually be off much worse.

You see, of all MMORPGs I’ve played ArcheAge is the one that has the highest critical mass of players it needs to work properly. There’s so much content that doesn’t make any sense or can’t be done at all if you don’t have a certain amount of active players – actually encouraging the playerbase to segregate is an unbelievably stupid thing to do.

Their answer to dwindling populations on older servers has always been to just merge those together. Yeah, great idea. Server merges, already a pain in your plain old themepark MMO, are a whole different beast when you factor in open world housing / land ownership. How thrilled do they think will our little family be when they tell us we’ll lose the ‘hood we’ve worked hard for and get the “exciting opportunity” of a new land rush? Exciting opportunity my arse! There’s no doubt in my mind that people have and will quit over stuff like this. Hell, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and made me quit the original game back in 2015.

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The publishers of the game’s western versions, first TRION and now Gamigo, have always gotten a lot of flak from us, but somehow I can’t shake the feeling that the main problem lies with XL Games, the Korean developer and publisher. Everything that’s happened since the game’s original western release in 2014 left me with the strong impression that they’ve always been a bit miffed about having to provide and support a western version at all. An annoying chore they’d rather not bother with. Now they even have to support yet another version, one without any kind of pay-to-progress no less.

Who do those stupid westerners think they are? Let’s just screw up every patch and marketplace update as hard as we possibly can, segregate the playerbase until there’s nothing left to do and generally make their lives miserable. Then we can shut the whole thing down already and call it a day.

I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. But hell yes, I’m worried.

That’s a lot of stuff, I gather

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The other day Bhagpuss talked about the different gathering systems of various MMORPGs. Like him I’ve always enjoyed gathering a lot, and I’ve spent a huge amount of time digging, chopping and picking up stuff in pretty much every game I’ve played that has something like it.

I’ve actually had to force myself to stop doing it in single player games because I spent so much time with these ‘side-activities’ that I completely lost track of the main plot and associated gameplay, ultimately resulting in never having finished some of those titles because I ran out of steam halfway through – the first Witcher and a couple GTAs come to mind.

Fortunately MMOs are different in that they don’t have (nor want) to be finished, hence I still happily indulge in my gathering habits when I play that kind of game.

So let’s have a look at ArcheAge’s take on resource acquisition today, which is – as far as I’m aware – pretty unique in MMORPG-space, and definitely one of my favourites.

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You’d be surprised by how much stuff is needed to brew potions

Of course the biggest difference to most other titles in the genre is that the majority of plants and crops that players gather in ArcheAge don’t actually grow out in the wild by themselves. For the most part you actively ‘plant’ animals, seeds or saplings, depending on what you need, which then grow into gatherables in real time. ‘Real time’ as in stuff grows, once planted, whether you’re online or not; it doesn’t take years until a tree is fully matured for obvious reasons.

The bigger trees and animals do take a day or two to arrive at drinking age though, while stuff like crops, vegetables or flowers only need a couple of hours at most. Fortunately there’s no real urgency to harvest as soon as something’s ready. It takes at least two days for a grown plant to wilt or an animal to starve, so there’s no need to set an alarm in the middle of the night.

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All done and waiting to be picked up

Unless, that is, you chose to let your stuff grow out in the wild instead of on your own property. Yep, except for roads and villages you can plop down the goods pretty much anywhere. The catch is that anyone’s free to pick them up then, whereas only you – or everyone in your family or guild, depending on your chosen settings – can do so when you use your own land. Something you’ve planted is flagged as belonging to you though, and when anyone else picks it up they leave a trail of footprints. You can interact with those to report the theft, adding crime points to the culprit’s tally which might get them into jail sooner or later.

Due to this it’s rather unlikely that someone will steal, say, your handful of mushrooms, but more valuable goods like trees might be a tempting offer. Nevertheless it’s not that uncommon to come across wild tree farms, especially if you leave the beaten paths and explore the maps a lot. They can even be used to generate content. I’ve once seen a huge such farm, hundreds and hundreds of trees, planted deliberately (I believe) in a contested region and pretty easy to spot. As growing trees have a chance to get struck by lightning every couple of hours whole raids of all factions showed up for every growth cycle to try and claim any thunderstruck trees for themselves, resulting in big PvP battles.

But I digress, back to gathering. Some trees and most animals don’t just serve the purpose to be chopped down or butchered when matured. Apple, lemon, olive trees and the like yield fruit, leaves can be picked from bay and ginkgo trees, cows produce milk, sheep are shorn for their wool, you get the picture. After a while that stuff regrows and you can collect again.

The fun doesn’t end there. Seeds can be watered to accelerate growth. They can also be bound into bundles which occupy more space and yield less produce overall, but save lots and lots of time and clicking. Animals give more resources when fed and can be held in pens instead of placing them individually, again reducing the micro-management.

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The ambient noise…takes getting used to though

Unless you own an obscenely huge amount of farmland it’s also quite important to use your real estate as efficiently as possible, which is a science in its own right. Seeds, saplings, animals, they all come in various different sizes. What they have in common is that the space they occupy is always circular, so you can’t utilize your land to the last inch no matter what you do. It’s a lot of trial and error at first; if that’s not your thing you can consult helpful sketches made by community members like this one for planting trees on a 16×16 farm:

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Green: medium trees; red: small trees; orange: bushes

Again, if your intent is to make a decent amount of gold with any kind of gathering and/or crafting you pretty much have to grow your own materials.

This doesn’t mean that ArcheAge doesn’t have resources that appear in the wild at all though. Actually I like this game’s implementation of those quite a lot. Most MMORPG’s resource nodes feel a bit out of place to me. Tacked on, if you will. Instead of more or less generic nodes that contain certain crops or plants it’s the crops and plants themselves that grow here, just like they would on your farm, only that they blend in with the environment quite well and don’t look like a foreign object someone placed there by hand (with some exceptions).

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Would you’ve been able to spot all the gatherable ones?

I rarely go out and roam the world specifically to gather, but I do stop and pick up stuff whenever I come across something that I need. It’s a lot of fun to me that way because it always gives me a little moment of joy when I find something that’s worth picking up, whereas while gathering on purpose I only get that kind of satisfaction when I find a particularly rare specimen or some such.

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Gathering under water? Why, yes, of course!

So is ArcheAge a gathering freak’s dream? It depends, I guess. If you also like to plant your own seeds and things like that you’ll definitely love it. If roaming the wilds and picking stuff up is the only kind of gathering you enjoy it’s a ‘maybe’ at best, and you’ll not get rich with it either. I do like it a lot though, and…now you’ll have to excuse me, my lemons are ripe for the picking.

The Handy Guide to Instruments in ArcheAge Unchained

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So how does one acquire a variety of instruments to play those (hopefully) sublime songs with?

That’s a science in its own right, let me tell you. I don’t know whether this is a problem with Korean games in general due to the language barrier, or because ArcheAge is just too niche, but this is definitely one of the MMORPGs with by far the least amount of reliable information available in English, while being one of the more complex titles at the same time.

What’s worse, if you do find some info on a topic you’re interested in you can never be sure whether it’s still relevant or long outdated, nor if something that’s currently available in the legacy game is also present in Unchained. It’s quite frustrating at times, really.

So I thought, since I was going to talk about instruments today anyway, I’ll just try and put together a guide about what instruments there are and how to get them. Only to the best of my knowledge, of course, at the time of this writing (May 2020).

Ready, steady, go!

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The Basics

ArcheAge has many portable instruments that you can play anywhere and anytime, and also stationary ones which you need to place in your house before you can use them. Some of the latter only serve as props and cannot play sheet music though, so beware.

Read each item’s description carefully. When an instrument is able to play sheet music it always has a line of white/grey text that either says

“Sounds like xxx when playing sheet music.”

or

“Plays music when used with sheet music.”

If it doesn’t specifically mention sheet music at all chances are it can’t play any. Except for the three pianos (because of course there are exceptions), which don’t mention it but can play sheet music.

To actually perform a song just right click on a music sheet when you have an instrument equipped – or, if it’s a stationary one, it has equipped you, if you will. A Play- and a Stop-button will appear. Press Play, and you’ll start to perform the song.

Now, on to the different instruments and how to actually get them.

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Portable Instruments

In addition to main-hand, off-hand and bow each character can equip either a lute or a flute that can be used as a skill to restore health or mana, respectively. They play music when doing so, but it’s always the same tune and rather boring. All lutes and flutes can also play sheet music though, and these make up the bulk of ArcheAge’s selection of instruments.

There are many different sounds available, and different ways to acquire them. Always take note of the first phrase mentioned above (if it’s there), as it will give you an idea of what the instrument in question might sound like. A Hiram flute, for example, says “Sounds like a clarinet when playing sheet music.”

Without further ado, here’s an overview of all instruments I know of. The format is:

Where to get it (needed currency, if applicable) [tradeable or non-tradeable]

    • Name of the instrument (what it sounds like)

Starter gear [tradeable]

    • Civilian Lute (Guitar)
    • Civilian Flute (Flute)

Arena Shop (1k Kyrios Badges each) [non-tradeable]

    • Anthem of Battlerage (Powerful Guitar)
    • Aria of Archery (Impressive Guitar)
    • Ballad of Auramancy (Clear Guitar)
    • Croon of Shadowplay (Cheerful Guitar)
    • March of Defense (Soothing Guitar)
    • Dance of Songcraft (Whistles)
    • Dirge of Occultism (Trombone)
    • Echoes of Malediction (Trombone)
    • Fantasio of Sorcery (Clarinet)
    • Nocturne of Witchcraft (Bagpipes)
    • Ode of Vitalism (Ocarina)
    • Protective Fantasia Shield (Clarinet)

Gilda Shop [tradeable] / Credits Shop [non-tradeable] (80 Gilda Stars / 1k Credits each)

    • Cherry Blossom Shamisen (Shamisen)
    • Evensong Lute (‘a guitar that produces a heavy sound’)
    • Ironsong Lute (‘a guitar that produces sharp, metallic sounds’)
    • Meadowlark Banjo (Banjo)
    • Autumn Wind Horn (Horn)
    • Catspaw Recorder (Recorder – whatever the hell that is)
    • Reedwhisper Piccolo (Piccolo)
    • Stormwail Sax (Saxophone)

Crafted [tradeable]

    • Epherium Cloud Lute (Soothing Guitar)
    • Epherium Gale Lute (Soothing Guitar)
    • Epherium Life Lute (Powerful Guitar)
    • Epherium Meadow Lute (Soothing Guitar)
    • Epherium Mist Lute (Powerful Guitar)
    • Epherium Tidal Lute (Impressive Guitar)
    • Epherium Wave Lute (Impressive Guitar)
    • Epherium Desert Flute (Bassoon)
    • Epherium Earth Flute (Bassoon)
    • Epherium Flame Flute (Clarinet)
    • Epherium Lake Flute (Clarinet)
    • Epherium Quake Flute (Clarinet)
    • Epherium Sunset Flute (Oboe)
    • Epherium Wave Flute (Oboe)
    • Marianople Violin (Violin)
    • Wyrdwind Viola (Viola)

How to craft an Epherium instrument: Buy a Cloaked Illustrious Lute/Flute for 50 gold from a weapons merchant. Uncloak it. Craft a Magnificent Lute/Flute Scroll at a handicraft kiln (no skill requirement). Use that scroll to awaken the instrument to Magnificent (it doesn’t matter which of the four variants you choose at this point). Then craft an Epherium Lute/Flute Scroll at a regal handicraft desk (20k Handicrafts skill required) and repeat the process. Important: when awakening the instrument to Epherium choose which variant (and thus sound) you would like to have. Done.

The violin and viola are crafted at an artistry workbench. No further preparation is needed, but the materials are pretty expensive and a very high Artistry skill is required (150k).

Hiram [non-tradeable]

    • Hiram Guardian Lute (Soothing Guitar)
    • Hiram Guardian Flute (Clarinet)

Vocation Shop (50k Vocation Badges) [tradeable]

    • Wyrdwind Viola (Viola)

Events (currency usually only available during the corresponding event) [tradeable]

    • Fortune Pipe (Pipe) [Lantern Festival]

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Stationary Instruments

    • Sovereign’s Piano (‘piano music’)
    • Brown Upright Piano (‘piano music’)
    • Princess’s Piano (‘piano music’)
    • Liberty Drums (doesn’t specify, I assume it’s drums)
    • Triestes Cello (doesn’t specify, but it sounds vaguely like a cello)
    • Noryettes Contrabass (doesn’t specify, but it sounds more like a…well…cello)
    • Brahms’s Harmonious Melody (doesn’t specify, but it sounds like a string ensemble)

These are all crafted at an artistry workbench and tradeable. The pianos aren’t expensive and have no skill requirement, whereas cello and contrabass belong to a set of four (the other two being the aforementioned violin and viola) and are equally costly and difficult to craft.

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The Brahms’s is the mother of all instruments. It sounds really great but requires 180k Artistry skill and a full set of the four string instruments to craft, which are consumed in the process. Ouch! A long-term goal, no doubt.

Thankfully some of these stationary instruments are strewn across the game world, waiting to be tried out. The currently running Daru event, for example, has an area with a piano, the cello, contrabass and the Brahms’s (which is where I’m playing them on all screenshots, as I obviously don’t have my own yet).

If you’d like to know how most portable instruments actually sound before deciding which ones to get, there’s a really great video showcasing them (a big Thank You to the person who made it):

And this is all I know about instruments in ArcheAge Unchained at this point. Getting them all is obviously a huge undertaking, but I’ll keep chipping away at it as it’s a lot of fun and really rewarding. As long as I play the game the guide will be updated whenever I learn something new or stuff changes. Good luck and have fun!

Blapril 2020 post count: 14

Sublime songsmith, at your service

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I rarely use titles for my MMORPG characters, but this one? Hell yeah!

When ArcheAche Unchained’s launch prompted our return to the world of Erenor last year one of the features that I was looking forward to re-engage with the most was its music system. It was one of the reasons I held on to the RNG- and P2W-riddled legacy game for longer than I should have in 2015. I’d built quite an extensive selection of songs and instruments over time that I had a lot of fun with, and I really missed it all once I’d quit the game for good.

Naturally the first few weeks in Unchained were all about questing, leveling and gearing up, but once that was more or less sorted I started, ever so slowly, to also take care of my Artistry skill again. To become a good musician you need to level that up, as it determines how many notes you can write on a piece of music paper (resulting in longer and/or more complex songs), and enables you to play those longer songs without hitting any wrong notes.

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Professions in ArcheAge are leveled up by spending labor points on related activities. You don’t need to spend any just to play a song however – fortunately, of course, but it’s also kind of unfortunate in this context – so pretty much the only way to raise Artistry is to craft music paper and, most importantly, to write down pieces of music, which consumes the paper and creates song sheets that can henceforth no longer be modified.

To craft music paper you need, among other things, regular paper. To make that you need lumber. In the early stages of the game you need huge amounts of lumber for all kinds of stuff though, so to ‘waste’ any on my artistic hobby could have severely hurt my other endeavours.

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“Where the hell is he?” “What do you think? In the woods again…”

Fortunately I’d already had the experience of going through this process once, so I had a plan. Song sheets can’t be recycled or sold to NPCs (not for a ‘real’ amount of money anyway), but they are tradeable and can thus be sold to other players. I kept all songs I’d made back then in .mml and .txt formats both, so I chose the ones that I knew had always been the most popular, revised those I weren’t completely happy with yet and started to make and put them on the auction house for just over production costs.

They sold. So I made new ones, which sold too. And on and on it went. For the last four months or so I’ve always had a selection of ten to twelve songs on offer. It wasn’t fast and didn’t make me crazy rich either, but it still paid off nicely in that my skill kept going up consistently while I was free to spend the bulk of my resources on other projects.

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I’m even one rank higher now than I’d been back in the day, so I can also craft Master’s Music Paper which can hold even more notes. My current ‘masterpiece’ is a 1,160 notes-, 69 seconds-long recreation of a popular TV-show’s opening theme (that shall not be named due to potential legal issues, slim as the chances may be), and I’m very happy with it.

“Sounds great and all, but do I need to actually be a musician to do this?” I hear you ask. Well, no, but it sure helps.

The notation used is called Music Macro Language, MML for short. I initially thought that it was created for the game Mabinogi, but as the wiki explains it’s been around for much longer and wasn’t specifically made for use in video games either. It’s quite suitable for that purpose though, as it is, unlike MIDI, a purely text-based language.

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In-game instructions for using MML and my aforementioned masterpiece

It really isn’t as complicated as it looks. If you can’t read music I still wouldn’t recommend starting a song completely from scratch, but luckily there are other options.

The best tool I’ve found to use in conjunction with ArcheAge is a great little program called 3MLE (I won’t provide a link, but it’s easy to find). It can import either .mml files or text from your clipboard, so you can for example start with a song from the extensive ArcheAge MML Library and go from there. Of course you can also paste those songs directly into the game, but if you’re like me and want each song to be just perfect it’s much easier to modify them in 3MLE than ingame.

What’s even better, 3MLE can also import MIDI files. As MIDI is much more widespread it shouldn’t be difficult to find your favourite song in that format and then convert it to MML. I will say that not every such conversion works perfectly though, so it does help if you’re proficient enough to repair small hiccups that might happen.

As a last resort you can save yourself all that hassle and just buy song sheets from folks like me of course, heh.

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Having a terrific selection of song sheets at your disposal is great and all, but what good are those if you don’t have cool sounding intruments to play them on?

More on that tomorrow.

Blapril 2020 post count: 13

Even better than flying – ArcheAge

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The other day Syp talked about having fun with gliders in Guild Wars 2, and while I don’t have the experience in that game myself what he’s describing is exactly how I feel about glider mechanics in ArcheAge Unchained:

“Sure, you can’t fly up, but it really changes how you interact with the world by being able to glide short and long distances. I’m finding that the glider has a lot of functionality. I can use it as a parachute to do a long drop safely, I can hop between rooftops, I can get to vistas with ease if I have a higher vantage point from which to begin, and I can simply have fun jumping off and soaring over the land.”

Seriously, although he’s talking about a different game I couldn’t have said it any better.

While ArcheAge’s world doesn’t have regions specifically and obviously designed for gliding – Bhagpuss has a lot of praise for those in GW2 – it’s a mechanic that really enhances the gameplay wherever you go and whatever you do in the game.

For me these gliders hit the sweet spot between having ‘real’ flying mounts and being grounded entirely dead on.

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Here we’re sparing us the hassle to navigate those rocks with our clipper

In my opinion being able to fly in an MMORPG, while fun and convenient, shrinks down a game’s world considerably and takes away most sense of exploration. Thoughts like ‘Can I somehow cross that mountain range?’ and ‘I wonder what lies beyond’ don’t even come up when you know that you can just fly there in an instant.

All gliders in ArcheAge do have the ability to catapult themselves upwards a couple of yards every thirty seconds though, which helps getting farther without an elevation to launch from. Also, if you do launch from one you can get very far indeed.

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Is this a bad time to mention my fear of heights?

Here we’d just crested the aforementioned mountain range, which we wouldn’t have managed to do without our gliders’ help either. Quite a view, isn’t it?

A look around revealed that we were actually soaring high above the game’s public airships’ routes.

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What’s that, a sky-traffic jam?

We then realized that we hadn’t quite thought this through properly. Most gliders can’t just descend at will, and maximum flight time is three minutes. Suffice it to say, it was a long drop down. Tristron actually died from the impact and we had to go and rez him. Fortunately we all have the balloon you see in the topmost picture by now, which can descend straight downwards.

Of course gliders are also used in a PvP-context all the time. Sometimes to avoid it…

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You can’t harm us if you don’t see us

…or to take the enemy base by storm…

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Hello boys…we’re baaaaaaaaaack!

…or maybe just to watch things unfold from a safe distance.

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I see you’ve got everything under control down there, carry on

So yeah, everything Syp said about gliding in GW2 applies to ArcheAge too, and to me it’s a very important part of the game. This mechanic in conjunction with how the world is designed and laid out contributes a lot to its virtual world feel, and I wish more games would go this route.

Blapril 2020 post count: 5

Cool stuff that just doesn’t happen in ‘safe’ MMORPGs

Last week I made the case that it’s absolutely possible to include open PvP in an MMORPG without it necessarily becoming a paradise for the wolves and a nightmare for the sheep.

Today I’d like to follow up with the reason to include it in the first place. Why should a game allow players to attack one another without both parties’ consent when it just could, you know, not allow it instead?

When I look back upon 35 years of playing video games my personal answer to that is quite clear: the most elaborate quest, the trickiest of puzzles, the most complicated boss-mechanic – none of this could ever be as unpredictable, exciting and memorable as interactions between human beings in an open, unscripted environment.

Note that I said interactions, not combat. In fact some of the memories I’ll share with you today don’t involve players killing each other at all, or at the very least not out of malice. Let’s face it though, at their heart most MMORPGs are mainly about combat. Even with those that have great housing, gathering, crafting, all that kind of stuff, I’d wager that the majority of players spend at least 80% of their time fighting something or someone (travel time excluded). It’s no surprise, then, that in order to let players interact in non-cooperative ways combat comes to mind rather naturally.

Anyway, here they come, my fond memories of MMORP-gaming moments made possible by open PvP rulesets.

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He also serves who only stands and waits

Not only was Ultima Online my first MMORPG, it was also the first (and last) time I joined a roleplay-focused guild. We were the Guard of Yew, tasked with protecting the eponymous little town. The first RP-event I was part of was centered around a guy who’d done something bad and thus had to be hunted. Somehow I was the one who found and caught up to him. So what did I do to make sure he didn’t escape? Well, I gave him a good walloping with my mace of course. He didn’t wear any armor though and dropped dead from the second hit.

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Errr…about eleven, Sir!

It was then explained to me that I wasn’t supposed to do that. Instead I should have acted out the process of catching him with emotes. Oopsie…

Fortunately nobody was mad at me, actually we all had quite a laugh about it. Someone even made a comment along the lines of that they now knew whom to call whenever real bad guys show up.

Another time I was standing around in one of the game’s cities when I got an on-screen message that someone had just stolen an item from me. When I looked back to my avatar I noticed a player running away from my position whom I hadn’t noticed before, so I figured it must be the dirty thief. I gave chase, intent to teach the guy some manners. Only that when I tried to hit him I found my character angrily shaking his fists instead – for it was my axe that he’d stolen!

Dumbfounded, I stopped running after him and just stood there for a moment, watching him sprint out of sight, probably off into the sunset with his shiny new axe. Then I started laughing and couldn’t stop for quite some time. The axe wasn’t overly valuable anyway, and I found imagining someone steal such a huge hunk of metal from me, right out of my hands no less, just hilarious.

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Many years later I was playing ArcheAge Unchained, minding my business in Two Crowns, our family’s eternally peaceful home region, when a Haranyan player crossed my path. He wasn’t running or trying to hide, he seemed to be strolling about without a care in the world. This was strange because only residents of the respective continent are safe in these regions. Enemies of the state, in our case Haranyans and pirates, can be attacked at any time (and only then fight back). Either he didn’t know that or he didn’t care. Anyway, I don’t have the habit of killing players of much lower level than myself, but I knew that if he kept prancing around in the open like that someone else would do so sooner rather than later.

I didn’t assume that he’d bothered to learn the Nuian language before coming here, so I couldn’t warn him verbally. Instead I fired one shot at him, which took about a third of his health, and then ran a bit back and forth to indicate that he should get a move on. He just stood there, obviously not quite knowing what to do. Then…he actually fired a couple of shots back at me!

Due to level- and gear-disparity I took next to no damage, but I somehow felt that he hadn’t gotten the message. I fired another two quick shots, taking his health down to almost nothing, and resumed to just stare at him. Then he spawned his mount and ran away full speed ahead.

I don’t know what became of him, but I hope he learned the lessons that a) when you visit the enemy continent you’ll want to be a bit more stealthy about it, and b) not every player will outright kill you when given the chance.

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One time our daily Hiram-raid’s leader sneakily opened a portal to Hellswamp instead of our next quest-destination. Before anyone had even noticed I, along with half the raid, had already jumped through and was quite puzzled by our new surroundings. As it turned out some of our leader’s guildies had been transporting trade packs during war and were now under attack by a small group of Haranyans.

He asked us to follow him and help his mates, which we did. Some players were a bit miffed by being utilized like that (because clearly no one’s got time for their dailies taking five minutes longer than usual, amirite?), but it seemed to me that the majority was quite happy about the diversion.

I wish I could have seen the Haranyan player’s faces. There were about half a dozen of them, and only two or three defenders, when all of a sudden our raid of at least fourty came crashing over the wannabe tradepack-thieves like a tidal wave.

Once the last farm wagon was safe we finished our dailies, but I for one would gladly interrupt or outright cancel such mundane tasks for rescue missions like this one at any time.

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Today’s final example is about having ‘bad guys’ get a taste of their own medicine.

Merl and I were farming mobs for their coinpurses in Western Hiram Mountains. We deliberately did so while the region was at war to get the bonus to loot drop chances. Fortunately I’m always trying to be aware of my surroundings in situations like these because I noticed two red players advance on us just in time to brace for the attack. Their intentions were very clear, so I just called “Reds, reds!!” on Teamspeak and immediately opened fire on the one who was already in range.

Everything happened so fast, I have no idea which classes they were playing and how high their gearscores were, but since they’d decided to attack us they’d obviously liked their chances. They were mistaken. We killed them both, with the two of us still standing. I feel no shame in admitting that it felt very good. They didn’t come back and try again either, so I guess we made our point.

To be fair though, I put the term ‘bad guys’ in quotations for a reason, because I don’t really feel that way. As far as I’m concerned players of the opposing factions are fair game when a region is at war. You even get honor for those kills, so it’s not only tolerated, but actually intended gameplay. Hence I don’t blame those two players for attacking us. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t extremely satisfying to kill them though.

I could tell you about plenty more cool experiences I’ve had in games with open-PvP rulesets – some I’ve already talked about in the past, like this one in EVE for example – but I think these are enough to showcase the kind of exciting events I’m talking about when I say that allowing aggressive interactions between players adds value to the overall MMORPG-gameplay. For me at least.

Designing good MMO-PvP is hard – but not impossible

There’s been a lot of fuss about Amazon’s New World lately, specifically regarding the quite radical changes to its PvP-design. Originally planned as a free-for-all open PvP title, players will now be able to fight each other in “opt-in faction conflict and territory wars” only…or will they?

What bugs me personally about the ensuing discussions – if we can actually call them that, quite often it’s more like shouting and screaming at one another – is that the vast majority of players seems to be rooted firmly in one of two extremist camps, with absolutely no room for some middle ground.

Camp number one is mostly comprised of the hardcore PvP folks who wanted their big budget FFA-slugfest so bad. The gankers and griefers, as it were. Look, I am a fan of PvP and really hate it when all PvPers are painted with the same brush, but I’m not blind or stupid and know full well that this kind of player exists. Their dream-MMORPG would be all but unplayable for everybody else. History has proven as much.

The other camp is home to people who are like “If a game has any kind of non-consensual PvP I’m not touching it, period. Don’t wanna know anything about it, don’t care, lalala, I’m not listening!”.

Both camps seem to be totally convinced that finding a middle ground can’t, or worse, shouldn’t be done. Well, I beg to differ.

In my opinion there are some MMORPGs out there that manage to not only provide open PvP for those who like it, but also give incentives for and meaning to said PvP without actually forcing anyone to participate in it. Is any of those games perfect? No, because nothing ever is, but they prove that designing good and meaningful PvP can be done without the game in question automatically becoming a “gankbox”. I hate that term, by the way, ever since camp number two has decided to throw it around like candy whenever an upcoming game plans to have any kind of open PvP.

I’ll use ArcheAge as an example here because – again, in my opinion – its PvP aspects and how those are integrated into the game’s design as a whole are pretty well thought out. As a consequence there’s something here for everyone, and no one has to do stuff they don’t like, despite the different game systems’ various interdependencies.

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Gliding into action – voluntarily

First of all, the game’s population is divided into two warring factions, with the option to switch to a third – the dastardly pirates – later on if you so desire. The two main factions each have their own home continent, separated by the sea. As I’ve talked about before a couple of regions constantly cycle through states of peace, conflict and war; everywhere else on your native land you’re absolutely safe all the time.

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My home continent: fifteen regions, ten of which are permanently at peace

Our little family empire is located in Two Crowns, for example, which means that when we’re tending our crops, sleeping in our beds or doing whatever we can be totally relaxed, knowing that no harm can come to us.

When you do venture into a contested region – which you technically need to do only once for the quests there – you can always wait until it’s at peace. Granted, doing all the quests that way might take a while, but it’s possible if you want to avoid PvP at all cost.

Why go there at any other time at all then, or even place your house and farms there?

For one, since living in constant danger obviously isn’t for everyone those regions aren’t as crowded, and farmland is much less sought after. If you wanted a big chunk of land for yourself or your whole family early on your chances would have been much better there than anywhere else.

Said land can also be quite lucrative. If your cheese has aged on a farm in Hellswamp or Sanddeep, for example, it sells for a considerably higher price than cheese from Two Crowns or Dewstone. Since gold is extremely important and always scarce in ArcheAge (much more so than in most other MMORPGs I’ve played) that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Another incentive might be gaining honor. Honor is a very important currency, mostly for gear upgrading, and you gain it in big chunks for recurring events that are either centered around PvP or at least take place in contested regions, making PvP a possibility. Honor is also gained by killing players of the other factions during the highest level of conflict or war.

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At the heart of all this is one design principle that’s often talked about, but rarely executed this well: risk versus reward.

Pretty much everything that offers big (or bigger) rewards in ArcheAge involves taking a higher risk. You don’t have to take any of those risks if you don’t want to, but if you do and it works out as planned you’re rewarded accordingly.

Another good example of that is the acquisition of Onyx Archeum Essences. That’s a crafting material needed for almost all kinds of advanced products. No matter what your personal playstyle and goals are, you’ll most assuredly need a couple of these at some point.

The only way to “make” them is to buy a special kind of trade pack on one of the main continents and sell it on another. So you shell out 26 gold, strap the heavy pack on your back, and then what?

Well, you can board your clipper (or vessel of choice) and set sail. The catch is that the sea is always at war, so should you encounter other players chances are they’ll try to…umm…relieve you of your burden. Nevertheless this is my method of choice, and I have yet to lose a pack in Unchained. I lost one once or twice in the original game though.

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Almost there…you don’t see me…and I’m definitely not carrying anything of value

Alternatively you can wait for the NPC-ferry to arrive, pay another five gold for a ticket, take a seat and just enjoy the ride. That ticket makes you immune to being attacked as long as you stay on the ship, so this is a risk-free variant that’s more expensive and takes longer in return.

Option number three is to just buy the essences from other players on the market. Fast and risk-free, but obviously the most expensive way to get them.

There are many more examples for risk vs reward-based choices players can make. Fish caught in the open sea is more valuable and it’s also way more labor-efficient than fishing in a lake; delivering trade packs to a contested region during war yields a bonus; mobs in all contested regions drop more loot during war; honor-bought lunagems (gear upgrades) have lower stats than the crafted versions, but are waaay less expensive.

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Also, gaining honor can be quite fun

Remember, you don’t have to ever choose the riskier option. You might progress more slowly towards whatever goal you’re pursuing, yes, but you’ll get there eventually without ever giving other players the chance to attack you without your consent.

Me? Above all I love to have that choice, and which path I take may well vary from one day to the next, depending on my mood. More often than not I’ll choose the high-risk, high-reward option though, not because I love to gank or get ganked but because it keeps the gameplay exciting and fun for me. I’d like to give you some examples of such exciting situations I’ve found myself in, but this is already getting long, so I’ll save those for another time.

Of course, as with any game out there, different people say different things about ArcheAge. Some call it a gankbox (bleh) while others claim its PvP is meaningless, nonexistent or both. As far as I’m concerned those people seem to be playing a different game because for me it’s a (mostly) well designed sandbox that incentivises PvP in all of its forms without actually forcing you to engage in it.

So…if XL Games can do it, why should Amazon Game Studios not be able to? The question is, can they manage to radically redesign New World in the time they have left? Probably not. At least they’re going for a three-faction system now, which is likely better than what they had before. Well, I guess we’ll know soon enough.

Driving, fishing and shooting in ArcheAge

A couple of weeks ago our Gamigo overlords decided to start giving out some gifts in ArcheAge Unchained on a regular basis. I don’t know if that’s a sign of reclining MAU-numbers or something, but I’ll take it regardless.

Things started off with a different kind of labor potion, claimable daily, and a 15-day trial version of the Redwood Roadster, a pretty expensive to build steampunk-style car, claimable once per account.

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A Ferrari it ain’t, but it sure beats riding an oversized owl…

The car’s nifty, I’ll give it that. It definitely comes in handy when you have only a single trade pack to carry because it’s a hell of a lot faster than the poor donkey. It can even carry two more in the trunk to boot. I don’t think I’ll go for building one now that the trial version has expired though, it’s just too expensive for what it offers.

The second round of gifts has daily loot drop rate potions and a 15-day Predator Longliner in store for us, a really great fishing boat. You can still get it until the 27th.

I didn’t want to let this opportunity go unused, so I suggested to gather the family, claim the ships and try ourselves at high-sea fishing.

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“A trip by sea, what fun it can be”, as a German song once said

Unfortunately things didn’t start off too well. We’d just delivered a bunch of cargo packs to Austera and I was like, well, let’s set sail right here and look for a fishing spot. Poor choice, that.

We’d just stored the first few fish in the tank when a red galleon came into sight, bearing right at us blazingly fast. There was just enough time to swap out my fishing rod for real weapons, then the galleon crashed into our boat with full force, hurtling us off its deck. We took quite a lot of damage from the collision too and were scattered all over the place, so our chances of fighting those pirates off were next to zero, even if they hadn’t outnumbered and outgeared us. We managed to take one of them down with us, but soon we were all standing at the nearest respawn, our fish lost and my boat heavily damaged. I will say this though, despite us basically getting ganked it was still a rather cool experience. Seeing that galleon coming at us like that was pretty epic.

Anyway, we don’t give up that easily, so we did what we should have done from the start: we ported home and set sail due south-west, pretty much as far away from Haranya as possible. This was when the fun – and profit – began.

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Cast yer rods, landlubbers, those fishies ain’t gonna catch themselves

We found a far-off fishing spot, used the chum salmon Lakisa’d made and went to work. Sometimes a fish would bug out and just swim away, but the four of us still managed to fill up the ship’s fish tank pretty quickly, as there’s only room for five small or medium sized fish in there.

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Additionally the boat sports two crane hooks for gargantuan specimen

We made the trip to the nearest turn-in point and sold the fish for a nice sum of gold, then made our way back to the still active spot.

Once it was expired we moved on to the next, and so on. We had some big laughs too, for example when we caught our first gargantuan pufferfish…

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How I was able to climb a ladder with THAT on my back I have no idea

After our second trip with no other player in sight we got bolder. Once the first boat was full we spawned a second and filled that up as well before returning and selling our haul.

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On our way back once more, both boats fully loaded

The gold kept piling up and we were giggling every time a haul yielded even more than the previous ones. We were still at it when the sun set.

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In the end we’d earned so much that the initial setback was paid for many, many times over and was all but forgotten.

We did a second session a couple of days later as a group of three, as Tristron wasn’t available, which was just as lucrative. This time around a handful of other fishermen were also out and about, all fellow Nuians, which made the spots a little more crowded, but also a lot safer.

We’ll most definitely do a couple more runs before the boats expire, and there have already been talks about if/when we’re going to build our own, permanent ones. I for one am all for it.

I really like these time-limited gifts as they give players an opportunity to try out those expensive toys in a realistic environment and thus help them decide which one, if any, they want to aim for.

Now, what to do with all that gold we earned? For me it wasn’t really a question as I was right in the middle of getting my bow to the next grade. I’d finally succeeded in awakening it to tier four about a week ago – after seven failed attempts, dang it – and was now eager to get it to legendary grade.

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No way in hell would I’ve gotten this far with the old system

This gave another substantial boost to my damage output, which, considering that archers in this game are pretty much glass cannons, is by far my most important stat. So, yay!

On the flip side, it looks a bit…umm…girly now…?

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Don’t run, this is just a fancy looking bunch of flowers. No, seriously!

I guess I’ll have to go for mythic grade sooner rather than later…

There goes the neighborhood

It’s almost done: save for one last plot our little family of four has now claimed a pretty huge chunk of land for our houses and farms in ArcheAge Unchained. Whether the neighbors like it or not, we’re controlling the hood now. Booya!

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Left to right, back row: Lakisa’s farmhouse, Merl’s farmhouse, Merl’s cottage; front row: Tristron’s cottage and my chalet

The only plot inside the marked area that isn’t ours yet is a medium farm right behind my chalet. We’re confident that we’ll get that too sooner or later – even if we’ll have to make the owner an offer he can’t refuse…

All houses except mine are already upgraded to provide additional functionality. They have two seed beds each, allowing to sow and reap fifty seeds of the same kind in one chunk. This is really great as it saves quite a bit of time and many, many mouse clicks. Lakisa’s farmhouse also has an animal pen, which basically functions like the seed beds, just for animals.

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The scent of Azaleas can’t quite cover up that piggy smell though

Instead of the pen Merl’s house has an automated mining drill for gathering rocks and ore. Both farmhouses also have a workbench for bulk-processing grown raw materials like grain and such.

Even in its default state my chalet was quite a big untertaking due to its size and the corresponding amount of resources needed.

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So…many…bricks

We’re now concentrating our efforts on upgrading it to an apothecary, which will give us another two special workbenches, one for bulk-processing construction materials like rock, ore and wood, the other providing special recipes for chefs (Lakisa’s profession) and alchemy (which I specialize in). Then our empire will be complete…for now anyway.

This is a prime location, too: the next village, and thus access to the most important NPC services, is but a stone’s throw away, and since it’s right at the lake (you can see its shore in the bottom right corner of the pic above) the view is great too.

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No need for sheep counting when you have this to soothe your nerves

In addition to our ‘main hood’ we also have another three medium farms and a small cottage on the other side of the lake – you’ve seen pictures of those in earlier posts – and as of yesterday Tristron even has a large farm a bit farther out.

So whichever project we might want to tackle in the future – we’re more than prepared.

The game’s not only about playing farmville though. Some goals we also pursue, like upgrading our rather slow starting mounts into their faster and generally better gallant versions, also require stuff that can’t be grown on a farm or crafted at a workbench.

Some materials only drop in dungeons, for example.

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Unfortunately this guy didn’t have any, although he looked like he’d swallowed them

The dungeons we’ve run until now were quite enjoyable, if a bit wonky mechanics-wise here and there. For instance, one boss becomes immune to damage regularly. You then have to pick up some explosive barrels dropped by adds, bring them to him and ignite them. As a result a bunch of stalactites is supposed to drop onto his head, removing his immunity for a while. Pretty basic stuff if you’ve run MMO dungeons before. Only that, more often than not, his shield just wouldn’t go away no matter how many barrels we dropped at his feet. After the third wipe or so we got him down, even though we hadn’t done things any differently.

Apart from that though, pretty fun. The enemies aren’t the only dangers awaiting unwary adventurers either…

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We call stuff like this “bridge-bosses”…also, where have I seen this before?

Fortunately not every dungeon in the game is a literal one. By now we all have visited enough dank caves for a lifetime, haven’t we? Beating up baddies in broad daylight is a very welcome change of scenery indeed.

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I love the art style too! Can I place my house there pretty please?

This one even has bridge bosses that move, some whenever you press the right button, others all on their own…

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Am I playing the latest Tomb Raider or what?

There are some more dungeons we haven’t seen, let alone cleared yet, so there’s ought to be much fun ahead still.