IntPiPoMo – Horror edition

I like it when games are a little scary. Or more than a little. Hence I’ve played quite a lot of horror games during the years, among others most Resident Evil issues, Dead Space, The Evil Within, F.E.A.R., and of course my all time favourite, Silent Hill.

Most of those games ran on various older consoles though, so I don’t have any screenshots.

Fortunately there are many PC games that also have some ‘scary’ in them, and naturally I’ve always been drawn to those too.

As a die-hard MMO player I have to start off with The Secret World of course. In terms of conspiracies, fairytales and horror it’s the mother of all MMOs.

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One of the coolest, spookiest places in the game – which is saying something – is the haunted amusement park in The Savage Coast. Here I’m taking a ride on its roller coaster. Of course I expected something to happen, but it gave me the chills nonetheless, and I jumped in my seat when that apparition lunged at me just as I was about to pass her.

The next one is from a quest in Tokyo. Imagine you’re sent into a parking garage to investigate something. It’s dark, it’s gloomy, and something’s clearly not right. You walk down the ramp to the next level when suddenly what little light’s there goes out. It’s pitch black, but not for long. Before you can decide what to do next a blood red light turns on and you’re greeted by this:

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I didn’t watch any videos, I swear! I don’t even own a VCS player anymore…

Then there’s the James Bond-esque mini expansion A Dream to Kill, which towards the end has you investigate a nursery. Evidently something’s gone horribly wrong here.

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Yeah, I think I’d rather leave now…

One of my favourite games of all time is Vampire Bloodlines. Despite being a buggy mess and looking anything but fresh even when it came out in 2004 it’s so great that I still play through it every couple of years. I guess I have to talk about it in more detail some time. Until then you might enjoy Rakuno’s walkthrough series of the game, if you don’t mind spoilers that is.

Anyway, Bloodlines also has some seriously eerie sequences.

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That’s gotta be a haunted house if there ever was one

Actually the quest giver flat out tells you that a ghost is making trouble in that old hotel, and your mission is to put an end to that.

What you don’t know is who the ghost is and why it can’t find rest. During your investigation you find more and more clues about what happened. Apparently a family of four stayed at the hotel for it’s grand opening, and due to jealousy – and maybe also some otherworldly reason – the father’s mental state got worse and worse. He – spoiler – eventually killed his family and set the hotel on fire. I found this image drawn by one of the kids to be the most disturbing clue:

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In the end you can put a stop to the father’s haunting, and his wife’s ghost can finally rest in peace. At least there’s that.

Next up is Batman: Arkham Asylum. We have seen so many versions of Batman’s origin story by now that it’s gotten pretty stale. In this game though it’s done quite nifty (and short). During the course of the story Batman gets drugged by Scarecrow a couple of times. Sometimes it makes his worst fears become (perceived) reality, at one time it forces him to relive his parents’ death. Visually this is done exceptionally well, and the most emotional realization of the scene I’ve seen to date.

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Path of Exile makes you fight lots of big bads during the course of its storyline. Among the most sinister is Piety of Theopolis, the right hand of the game’s former end boss Dominus.

When you first enter her lair in Act III, The Lunaris Temple, the set pieces make it abundantly clear that she’s really, really evil.

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Yep, definitely evil.

I played a bit of Left 4 Dead 2 with a couple of friends after it came out. It wasn’t really all that scary, but it sported pretty much the highest gore factor I’d seen up to that point to compensate.

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Rochelle and the guys having yet another bad day at the office

To end the post on a lighter note, here’s a shot of some rather unthreatening ghosts you’re probably familiar with:

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Yo ho ho and a bottle of…grog?

IntPiPoMo picture count: 9 (this post); 26 (total)

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IntPiPoMo – putting the ‘Massive’ into MMOs

It’s been a highly debated question amongst gamers since the dawn of MMOs – when exactly has a multiplayer game earned the right to actually call itself ‘Massively Multiplayer’?

Personally I don’t care much, as long as the game is fun to play. Yet there’s no denying that there are games wearing the MMO moniker where in reality you hardly ever meet another player.

Today I’m going to share some gaming moments that truly put the Massive into the experience, for better or worse. As always, click to enlarge.

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The Secret World is (or rather was) one of those MMOs where encountering large amounts of players was common pretty much only in it’s hub areas, like Agartha seen above. As long as you were out in the world you’d only rarely meet another soul. In my mind this was actually beneficial to it’s great, gloomy atmosphere, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way while questing.

Thankfully though, that loneliness went out the window whenever there were world bosses to fight.

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What do you mean, ‘unfair’?

What looks like total mayhem…was exactly that. Shouts would go out in event chat when a boss had spawned (or was about to get summoned by players) and people would pile into the instance until it couldn’t hold any more. The fights itself were mostly a dance of doing as much damage as possible while continuously dodging the boss’s AoE attacks, many of which would one-shot you. I had to dial down my graphics to potato mode and still had a hard time to dodge or execute my rotations properly, but it was so much fun nonetheless. These were world bosses done right as far as I’m concerned.

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Here a couple of clans had arranged a big racing event in APB Reloaded. I had participated in some races organized by my own clan before, which already were a lot of fun. In terms of player numbers this one beat everything else though, and the ensuing chaos was just terrific. My own car is somewhere in there, but I have no idea where exactly.

The rules and race course weren’t as clear and well thought out as they had been for our own races, and most of the time I just tried to tail other drivers who seemed to know where they were going.

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And this is how you dispose of your car when all is said and done

I had an absolute blast and wish such events would occur more often.

As it also doesn’t happen often that we have this many clan members online at the same time we also did a posing session of course.

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Say cheese…no, wait, you gotta look badass! No smiling!

Whenever EVE Online gets big headlines in gaming press it’s either because someone pulled a giant scam or theft, or a massive battle took place.

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Here you see the biggest fight Lakisa and I found ourselves in the middle of so far. It wasn’t nearly as big as those headline battles, which had the upside of the server being more than capable of handling it without time-dilation or hiccups. Still, if I remember correctly there were well over 500 players in system and on grid, so compared to other games it was more than massive.

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Aion is one of the few MMOs I played on release day, and this is the first screenshot I took, right after logging in. All those players shared the experience with me, which unfortunately wasn’t all that pleasant. Somewhere in there an NPC is waiting to give players their first tasks, only that it took him minutes (!) to actually respond when you hailed him due to server strain. When I finally got the quest I couldn’t find even a single specimen of the creatures I ought to kill. It wasn’t a bug or somesuch, there were just too many players for far too few mobs, and it took ages to tag enough for getting the first quests done, even if you grouped up for it. Not fun.

So here we have three instances of many players being in the same place at the same time which, to me, were really great, and one where the high player density actually was to everyone’s detriment. What were your experiences with massive player numbers?

IntPiPoMo picture count: 7 (this post); 14 (total)

IntPiPoMo – Housing edition

I love housing in all kinds of games, especially MMOs. To me it’s much more than just a ‘decorating-minigame’. I like to have a place to come back to after an exciting adventure, kick back and, if the game (hopefully) allows it, show off the spoils one way or another. If it also has functionality like crafting workbenches or items that provide buffs or teleports it’s even better.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the MMO housing I’ve had (or still have). As always, click to enlarge.

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Ultima Online was my first MMO, and this small tower near Yew my first virtual home. Even with its three stories it was tiny on the inside, but I was very happy to have it. It served as my safe haven and storehouse, but also as a place to chill, craft, dye my clothes and stuff like that. To me it wasn’t just one optional feature of many, but an integral part of my¬†gameplay and a proper home.

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This is the little concert hall I arranged inside my medium Naboo house in Star Wars Galaxies. Except for the speakers and the armor I crafted everything you see here by hand, including the house itself.

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This Everquest II rooftop garden in my Bruiser’s Qeynos manor is one of the coziest places I’ve yet managed to furnish. Unfortunately it doesn’t have any kind of functionality, so I rarely go up there. Still, I like it a lot.

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This was our first home in ArcheAge, a small house by the lake in Two Crowns, just after finishing it’s construction. As with my tower in UO it’s living space was tiny, but we were still very happy with it. The little field with the aspen was also ours, and we later managed to convince the grapevine field’s owner to surrender it to us. With those combined we had a sizeable crop area right next to our house, which was very handy.

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A couple months later I managed to fulfill my dream of having a large house right by the sea, which you can see here. The view and sounds from the patio were just amazing.

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I never managed to have a proper house in Final Fantasy XIV (and I still think it’s too damn hard to get one), but my little apartement turned out quite nice and cozy, especially around christmas time.

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I’m a bit torn on Black Desert Online’s housing. The blend of instanced and open world housing is pretty clever and works well, and the abodes themselves range from ok to spectacular. The fact that almost all good looking furniture comes exclusively from the cash shop bugs me greatly though. Still, it’s quite good overall and I’d rather take this than no housing whatsoever.

IntPiPoMo picture count: 7

150 million skill points and counting

I haven’t played much EVE Online recently. When I decided to finally participate in a fleet roam again last week I was in for a surprise: my main character had just surpassed 150 million skill points, something akin to a round birthday. Seems like a good opportunity to have a look at how I got to that number and what I use those skillpoints for.

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Still a bad egg, but a highly skilled one.

I created the character on December 22nd 2005. At the time characters started with less skills prelearned than they get today, so I couldn’t do a whole lot of anything at first. Since EVE is a very complex game and I was content learning the controls and systems by doing easy low-level missions for a while that didn’t really discourage me though.

Something that did suck were ‘Learning Skills’. Putting in the time to train those did nothing but improve your attributes, which in turn have no other purpose than determining how fast you train your skills. You had to choose between ignoring them, knowing full well that you’d hurt yourself in the long run by doing so, or training them early on, forcing you to wait for days – weeks even – before you’d finally train skills again that enabled you to actually do stuff like fly bigger ships and such. I hope that whoever had that idea isn’t working in game development anymore, because it was pretty much the antithesis of fun.

Fortunately I was intrigued enough by the game to stick through that. I indeed pushed the advanced learning skills up to level 4 very early on and hence trained relatively efficiently going forward. I also started to use attribute-enhancing implants as soon as I got my first ones as mission rewards.

Skill training nowadays can be done more efficiently than ever before. You can redistribute your base attributes once per year, which thankfully are much higher overall since they’ve axed learning skills, and citadels enable you to jump back and forth between clones at your leisure, enabling you to use a full set of +5 attribute implants whenever you’re safely docked up and switching to an appropriate combat clone before an op.

Had my account been active without timeouts I’d have surpassed the 200 million mark by now. I’m not complaining though, with those 150 mil I can do a great many things at a high performance level already.

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Like fly very tiny ships…
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…as well as pretty huge ones.

Let’s have a look at how my skillpoints are distributed by category:

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With the exception of Fleet Support I’d wager that at least 90% of combat pilots have about the same categories in their top ten, more or less in the same order. In a game mainly about internet spaceships shooting each other it’s no surprise really.

A couple of things about my own skills did surprise me though.

There’s a bigger discrepancy between Armor and Shields than I would have thought since I consider both categories as ‘finished’ for my purposes. The explanation lies in the fact that passive armor hardeners, which boost your resistances without having to activate them, are very important for most if not all armor tanked ships, while shield setups pretty much exclusively use active hardeners. Hence I trained the four skills which raise the effectiveness of passive armor hardeners to level 5, while the corresponding shield skills remain at levels 2 or 3. That’s a difference of about two million skillpoints right there.

I couldn’t quite remember having trained Scanning skills on this character at all, but somewhere along the way I obviously did. I think I went on an exploration trip once or twice after I’d researched about activities in the game I’d never tried yet and continued to train those skills for a while. In the end Lakisa liked the feature more than I did, and I completely forgot about having those skills.

I’ve done my fair share of mission running in high sec with this character prior to his pirating days, quite a lot actually, so I definitely should’ve trained his Social skills a good bit higher to maximize profits. I thought that I had, but apparently I always had more important stuff to train.

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It’s all about the connections, man!

When I began preparations for getting my first capital ship, a carrier, I decided to train those skills on this character instead of an alt like most people do. The reason being that I don’t like dual-boxing very much in general, much less in combat situations. In hindsight that was a mistake for various reasons. Capitals just aren’t ships you fly with your main. Because of this he has another couple million skillpoints in skills he doesn’t use, the biggest bunch of it in Navigation. I won’t extract those skills though.

Actually, I’ve neither injected nor extracted any skillpoints to or from this character, and I never will. This is ‘me’ in EVE. The character has grown with me, every decision to train certain skills at a certain time was deliberate and has contributed to his adventures one way or another. I’m not going to mess around with that.

Overall I still like this progression system a lot. It came at a perfect time for me back in ’05 when I was seriously burnt out from trying to power-level to the cap in EQII. You need to have patience, sure. It’s also true that a new player will never be able to catch up to my skill total (without using injectors) as long as I don’t stop adding to it. I don’t see either as a problem though.

People tend to forget that the importance of a character’s skills in EVE is greatly surpassed by the importance of strenght in numbers as well as individual player skill. You can contribute to many types of fleet fights with a freshly created character right away simply because you’re not on your own, and a 10 million skillpoint character could (and probably would) beat me in a 1vs1 because I just plain suck at that.

Anyway, here’s to the next 50 million.

Double, double toil and trouble

Everquest II has no shortage of holiday events. I haven’t done the math, but saying there’s more days a year with an event active than days without one can’t be far from the truth.

Most of them are great, too. Some of my favourites are Tinkerfest (not based on a real holiday) and of course Frostfell, which is themed around Christmas and the winter solstice.

The one I’ve always been looking forward to the most is Nights of the Dead, the Halloween event. This year it went live on October 5th and will stay active until November 1st.

Since new content is added almost every year there’s an amazing wealth of stuff to do by now. When I left the game in 2011 there already were two haunted houses, one giant hedge maze and lots of smaller content. Since then a race, a whack-a-mole type minigame, new collections and another haunted house have been added, so I had some new stuff to look forward to in addition to replaying the bits I already knew.

I vaguely remembered that some or most Halloween stuff started in West Freeport back in the day, so that’s where I went first. On my way there I stumbled across some tombstones that aren’t normally there. As I looked closer I discovered a shovel lying in the grass. Equipping it turned some of the tombstones clicky, so click them I did.

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It’s technically not really whack-a-mole, but it sure looks like it

One of various things then spawns from the grave. A gift package that can contain either candy, a collectible or a housing item, a mob to fight or a ghost who gives you a quest. I took the quest of course, desecrated some more graves, then followed the lead the ghost had given me.

The quest ultimately leads into the (for me) new haunted house. Like the one in Loping Plains it’s mostly built out of assets from The Estate of Unrest, but with a different color scheme and of course new riddles and enemies. It’s not very long or elaborate, and the boss fight is pretty click-heavy. Overall I like the two other houses more, but new content and new rewards are still nice.

After that I finally made my way to West Freeport. Indeed the quest giver for the trek to Loping Plains as well as the entrance to the first ever haunted house are still there, so I did those two next.

I had completely forgotten the dancing challenge (seriously) in the Freeport/Qeynos house. I succeeded without a single fail, which I think was a first.

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Quick, call Norrath’s Got Talent!

I had read somewhere that there’s also a new (again, to me) race in the Commonlands and Antonica just out of town, so I went and had a look. It’s pretty straightforward, you have to collect as many ghosts as possible while riding a sickly green cloud mount during a limited time, and get rewards accordingly. I made it into the leaderboard in Antonica on my second try (I assume not many had done it yet this year though), and I got myself two copies of one of the appearance weapons because it supplements my Ratonga’s outfit and the Bruiser’s fighting style well.

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Are you talking to me!?

Saving the best for last I finally ventured to Nektulos Forest and entered Hedge Hollow, a giant hedge maze with a couple of quests and really cool rewards inside. I got the outfit seen above there long ago, and you can still get it.

Speaking of rewards, there are lots and lots. Every quest has it’s own selection, but most come from the event vendor in every major city and are paid for with candy corn. Every ‘spooky’ kind of monster (skeletons, bats, werewolves, spiders etc.) has a chance to drop some kind of candy, and all of those can be exchanged for candy corn. Some of the items, especially the mounts, are pretty expensive though, and the cost for my list of want-to-have items quickly amounted to well over 1,000 candy corn.

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Flying mounts for everyone (at level 85 crafter or adventurer)!

To be honest, the thought of having to farm that much candy the old fashioned way wasn’t something I was particularly thrilled about. Hence I was really happy to find out that my pack pony has the ability to fetch candy for me. Instead of asking it to gather a specific tier of resources I can tell it to bring me holiday harvests (so I assume this also works during Frostfell etc.), and after two hours it returns with about 90 assorted candies. I’m using two ponies non-stop for this now, so buying everything Lakisa and I want and then some before the event ends shouldn’t be a problem at all.

I kind of miss the old trick-or-treat minigame (which apparently was removed and replaced by the races when Freeport and Qeynos were revamped), but other than that the event is bigger and better than ever. It’s still plenty of time to do everything before November 1st, and I highly recommend giving it a go.

Memorable Moments – Chapter Two

Today I’m going back to a great experience I had in 2009. As a line member of KIA Alliance I was living deep in nullsec for the first time in EVE Online.

Our home base was the TN25-J system in Period Basis. As long as we were part of the anti Band of Brothers coalition spearheaded by Goonswarm we had often traveled to Delve and Querious to fight BoB. After their defeat we didn’t have a clear focus or purpose for a while – which lead to most corps leaving the alliance in the end – and we mainly roamed around Period Basis and Stain shooting everything that wasn’t blue (i.e. allied with us).

Naturally Stain’s residents were keen to return the favour, so gangs of pilots from THE KLINGONS, Systematic-Chaos and Reikoku (a former BoB corp) came to harass us regularly.

One day nothing was happening and I ran missions to earn some ISK on my second account. Fortunately I was on Teamspeak just in case because suddenly one of ours called out “Guys, I need help, they have tackled my carrier in GR- !”.

At the time capital ships weren’t nearly as abundant as they are today and the prospect of losing one, no matter the circumstances, was devastating (well, at least it would’ve been to me), so we knew we had to save it. We didn’t have an experienced fleet commander online though, and there were a few moments of ‘Oh god, what are we gonna do?’.

The pilot reported that there were about 20 of them, all sub caps, and that he could tank them for quite a while. There was still time.

I quickly checked what ships I had ready to go, and since no one else seemed willing to step up I decided to at least get the ball rolling.

I asked everyone to grab any ship fitted for close range gank with a bit of tank and tackle, undock and meet up at our jump bridge in TN25 directly leading to GR-J8B. I hopped into my blaster fit Deimos and headed out to the bridge.

EVE Deimos
A more recent shot of a Deimos of mine – I was much too nervous to take screenshots then

While everyone scrambled to get their ships ready someone was mindful enough to contact our allied neighbors, Zenith Affinity, who would join us on site.

After a while a dozen or so sat on the jump bridge good to go. Some more weren’t quite ready, but the carrier was taking more and more damage. The clock was ticking.

I said “Jump, jump, jump! Latecomers just catch up when you’re ready.”

We landed in GR- and I let everyone align to our outpost. The carrier had been caught 15km off of it (how or why we’ll never know) and was still sitting there, tackled and slowed to a complete halt.

As soon as we got word that the Zenith guys were also in system and aligned I gave the command to initiate warp to the carrier.

To be honest, I don’t remember many details about the fight itself. I was in a frenzy, my heart pumping, my hands sweating. I think I called the enemy ship nearest to me when we landed primary, after that the carrier pilot took over the target calling. Astonishingly he seemed to be the calmest of us all.

Their DPS consisted mostly of Tech I cruisers, so our mix of battleships and Tech II cruisers was superior from the get-go. We destroyed the first ship, then the second, and on it went. More and more reinforcements trickled in on our side too, and before long we had wiped out the majority of their fleet. Only a couple managed to avoid being tackled and got away.

We rescued the carrier and didn’t even lose much – actually hardly anything – in the process while delivering a decent blow to our hostile neighbors. Op success!

The battle report consequently shows a very one-sided affair, but for me it was one of the most exciting battles I’ve had in EVE, and one of those rare gaming moments that was not only fun but also really meant (and still means) a lot to me.

Dungeon Spotlight: The Estate of Unrest

Dungeons play a major role in most MMO’s group content offerings. There’s the open, contested variety, mostly found in older titles, and the instanced versions meant for one group only to which we’re all so very accustomed to today.

Wether contested or instanced, you always gather a bunch of friends around you and raid some baddie’s lair/mansion/cave/whatever in hopes of fat loot.

While this basic premise is pretty much always the same the disparity in terms of complexity, difficulty and design sophistication between different game’s dungeons – and even individual dungeons within a single game – can be huge.

Many instanced dungeons these days are as linear as humanly possible. Just follow the path from one boss to the next, kill trash mobs in between. If you need to use your brain at all it’s only to overcome the boss mechanics. To me that’s boring as hell, and it’s no wonder that the majority of players wants to get through as fast as possible. FFXIV’s dungeons are a prime example of this.

It doesn’t have to be this way though. The other day Lakisa and I made a trip through Everquest II’s (in my opinion) second-best instanced dungeon, which is also the second-best I’ve ever played in any game: The Estate of Unrest. Boy, I had almost forgotten how engaging and immensely fun an MMO dungeon can be. We were a good bit overleveled and overgeared, but because it was just the two of us the difficulty was just right. Since I still remembered some details despite the many years it’s been I let Lakisa have the first shot at figuring things out of course.

Spoilers ahead, I guess.

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Saying that Unrest isn’t linear would be the understatement of the year. This isn’t just a dungeon, it’s also a point-and-click adventure as well as a survival horror game.

You have to find keys (in a hedge maze, no less) and the corresponding doors, chess pieces (Resident Evil 2 says hi), music sheets and cooking ingredients. One group member then has to actually play that music and cook a meal while the other(s) have to fend off continuously spawning mobs.

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Come on now, she isn’t playing THAT badly!

You have to repair switches in different rooms and figure out that they have to be pulled simultaneously, forcing the group to split up.

Then you have to fight evil versions of yourself. I’m not making this up.

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I…don’t think so!

One boss occasionally teleports a group member into a cell that can only be opened from the outside, forcing the others to bail her out before everyone’s locked away. We didn’t make it in time, what with being only two instead of six people, so while the boss died we both ended up in jail. I had to leave the instance, go back in and run back to the cell block.

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Rat to the rescue

The next boss goes by the name The Hemogoblin and stands in a pool of blood, which amused Lakisa to no end.

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No good dungeon without a proper medical joke, I guess

After that we were closing in on the Big Bad himself. He tried to scare us away one last time.

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Of course we didn’t falter, and soon he had to pay for his bad deeds.

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You’re one ugly…

I didn’t keep an eye on the clock, but I guess the run took us almost three hours. It was time well spent. We didn’t get anything tangible out of it other than AA XP and some collectibles, but the adventure alone is so much worth it. Needless to say the dungeon tells a compelling story on top of all that interesting gameplay, and we enjoyed every second of it.

10/10