Wednesday 28 July 2010

So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

I’m currently sailing through the gaming Doldrums at the moment, where I use the term based upon its nautical meaning rather than the more common colloquial use that we are familiar with today. That is to say that I am making my way through a slow, calm period of gaming where no significant progress is being made and little adventure is to be had. Since I am in no rush to get to new gaming lands, however, and I have enough store of plain and simple content to keep me from gaming starvation for a while – gaming hardtack, if you will: sustenance enough without necessarily being a delight on the palette of play – I shalln’t be found wanting through the current becalming of my evenings’ electronic entertainment.

Lord of the Rings Online continues to be a sanctuary of solitude for me; it’s where I go when I want to escape all worlds and just exist outside of human space. My Warden is level sixty one and, having completed much that could be done for the dwarves of Moria, has breached the dark surface of that place to take in breath and flip joyous somersaults through the radiant bloom of the Lothlórien sky, before flopping back down with a tumultuous splash into the dark depths of Mirkwood once more. Lothlórien exists as one of those curious islands of MMO content, being both the concluding content of Moria and the prelude to Mirkwood, it is a forgotten place, off of the common trade routes, and as such many players will now sail by without thought to stop and explore; and indeed, as I float dream-like through the green seas of that forest, I rarely encounter other MMO mariners there. The stillness of Lothlórien is a perfect reflection of my current gaming state however, its surface reflects mirror-like the peace and tranquillity that I’m currently enjoying. Many quests in the great forest are simple tasks of exploration of both the place and the people, the culture and the customs, and they stand in stark contrast to the endless combative struggles left behind in Moria, and of those yet to come in Mirkwood.

I’m still playing APB on occasion; there is something in the nature of the game that keeps me coming back despite the many frustrations that it is struggling against. The game has run aground on the sandbank of redesign having fought unsuccessfully against the tidal wash of PvP balance, combat mechanics and driving physics, and the players wait in some sort of shipwrecked limbo while the developers frantically try to tar over the holes and re-launch the game. At the moment I’m primarily double sculling through the game with m’colleague, where the effort of trying to row upstream against the oft infuriating and insurmountable imbalances of the game is at least a struggle shared, where possible with light-hearted ridicule of the situation, and otherwise with a silent steely tooth-grinding mutual determination, punctuated with the occasional ESRB AO rated expletive outburst.

WAR has held my attention for a short while, but I’m not sure its the voyage for me. The mindless impersonal zerg as a winning tactic is indisputable, and the Viking war-band had pillaged its way through several tiers of content, but I’m not sure I get much enjoyment from being one of the many mentionless minions on the oars of the galley, as masters bellow orders from the deck above and the monotonous beat of the zerg drum drives a repetitive rhythm. DDO too is slowly coming into port for me, reaching a destination where I am happy to disembark. Having recently played my Bard for a while, who is level five compared to my Monk’s level thirteen, I was reminded of just how much simple fun was to be had in the early stages of the game, where one could adventure through a dungeon as you would in Dungeons and Dragons Not Online, exploring freely and without fear of murderous traps obliterating your character at every corner, and fighting without having cause to swap to a different weapon damage type every other fight or be effectively useless. As the levels of DDO progress the game seems to veer away from the shallow waters where anyone can paddle and enjoy the simple pleasures of role-playing and adventure, and into the deep waters of munchkin builds, heavy raiding and grinding out the experience.

As such I might have a little time on my hands, and where I’ll probably continue my LotRO adventures of a Monday evening as I have done for the past year or more, I’ll look to dabble in a new game as well, and as fate would have it, just as I think to disembark one ship, another one is offering free passage to new lands, and I think I may very well board it and see where it takes me.

So the gaming Doldrums are where I am currently floating on the wide ocean of gaming releases, it’s a calm and peaceful place to be, but I look to the horizon and I see exciting clouds forming, bringing with them strong winds and tempestuous times. A tropical cyclone of gaming approaches. Hurricane TOR is at the centre, with the smaller but still powerful storm fronts of Guild Wars 2 and Final Fantasy XIV following in its wake. There’s a Cataclysm on the horizon as well, and although I escaped the whirlpool grasp of World of Warcraft and vowed never to return, I find my ship once again being drawn inexorably towards it.

So peace at the moment, but exciting times ahead, soon it will be time to batten down the hatches and hoist the main sail and prepare to ride the storm, but whether it will take us out into the wide waters of greater adventure or shatter us against the reef of disappointment, only time will tell.

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