Saturday, October 19, 2019

24 Hours In... Dungeons & Dragons Online


After so long in Fallen Earth it's taken me a few days to decide which game is up next, but I've finally decided on Dungeons & Dragons Online.

Unlike FE I have relatively little history with DDO, having never ventured much beyond Korthos Island. My history with D&D on the other hand goes all the way back to the 80s, though not into the '90s. I know very little about pen and paper (A)D&D beyond 1st edition, and not much more of the newer settings, and by 'newer' I mean pretty much any that came after Greyhawk, so uh... all of them I guess?

My history with the game does at least make my class/race choice the easiest I have ever had in an MMO. In my D&D/AD&D days I always leaned to stealthy classes, whether they were thieves or assassins or as they are now rogues.

As for race, there's only one possible choice, seeing as Drow were my favourite race as far back as when the only way to play one was by talking the DM into allowing them under unofficial rules.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

After the end


45 levels. 129 deaths. 192 /played hours over 46 days. It's been quite a run, and all the more memorable for being entirely unplanned. I didn't know when I started that this would be the final days of Fallen Earth.

The final days of this version of the game.  Little Orbit have said they intend to relaunch it one day, but maybe I'll write about that another time.



I was only level 8 when it was announced that the game would be going offline. I often – too often – reroll in MMOs, and doing so came easily in Fallen Earth because the game is front loaded with some of its best content.

Sector One, Plateau, is the best Wild West MMO ever made, with the player often cast in the role of the drifter who rides into a small town beset by dangers and solves those problems with their guns before riding off into the sunset. Dusters and cowboy hats are commonplace, revolvers and manual action rifles are the weapons of choice, and just about everyone rides a horse.

You explore mines and underground labs. You fight gangs of bandits and swarms of mutated creatures. It's a western and it's Westworld.  Plateau is one of my all-time favourite MMO zones.


After the announcement It took me a couple of days to think about what I wanted to do, but eventually I decided to keep playing, and this became perhaps the closest I'll ever come to a speed run of any MMO. It's not a style of play that comes naturally to me, nor is it a style of play for which Fallen Earth is particularly suited.

It's a very deliberately paced game. Things take time - whether it's travelling from one town to another of crafting a new piece of gear. Running out of bullets at exactly the wrong time killed me several times in S1, since I was using up ammo far quicker than I was able to make it.

In a normal run this rarely happened. I'd often step away from levelling in Fallen Earth, and just go and explore some distant location, or make a supply run to load up on crafting materials at a favourite location. If I accrued xp while doing so that was just a bonus, and while I was doing whatever I was doing my crafting queues would be running in the background, filling up with new gear and ammunition for when I did get back to the business of actively levelling.

That kind of taking time off from the game while in the game is something I've rarely experienced in any other MMO.


I also wasn't sure that I would actually keep going until the end. Fallen Earth is often a very funny game, but any MMO in its final days can be a gloomy experience, and that hit me quite hard as I entered Sector Two. I made a few changes to my playstyle around that time, respec'ing out of melee and making some use of fast travel.

Fallen Earth has always been fairly balanced in its implementation of QoL features. When the game launched there was no fast travel at all, and when it did come it was limited, and relatively expensive to use, so the sense of scale of the world was not diminished.

Similarly, respecs were introduced post-launch. The partial-respecs are a system other games could adopt, since it avoids the drudge work of redoing an entire build when all you really wanted was to shift a few points around. It's also a very efficient money sink, and respec'ing out of melee, and later out of pistols, kept me low on chips to the very end.

Not impossibly low though. Quite aside from income from mission rewards and vendor trash I could easily have made up any deficiency by selling a stack or two of the crafting materials that fllled my vaults by halfway through S1. Of course to do so meant working out what I wouldn't need for crafting, and that was tricky.


If City of Heroes is the ultimate MMO for altoholics then Fallen Earth is the ultimate for inventory hoarders. Almost every piece of loot and junk you pick up in the game includes these five words in the tooltip:

This is a tradeskill component

So hold onto it. Store it. Stack up 100 of it. It might come in useful later. It probably will. The crafting in Fallen Earth is deep and involving, and even travelling light as I was – having passed on levelling construction and mutagenics from the start, [melee] weaponry later and cooking later still – I had a lot of accrued materials to manage. I never did find a use for any of that ragged silk...

Mistakes were made. I didn't realise until very late on just how much xp I could make solely from crafting. Even so I'd guess about 1.5 of my final 5 levels came from crafting xp. It's a viable way to level up.


In the end did I achieve what I set out to do? Yes and no. I did make it to the very end of Sector 3 and I did take a look – however briefly – at Deadfall, Terminal Woods and Alpha County. Epsilon, on the other hand, echoes my experience of racing to Monkeytown only to lose it at the last minute due to a change in the schedule.

It was never about the levelling though – not really. In this game, more than in any other MMO, levelling was rarely the objective, it was just something that happened while I was enjoying the game, and I'm glad I went back to that playstyle before the end. I made it to 45, not 55, but in doing so I was reminded of all the reasons why this game remains one of the best MMOs I've ever played, and if it does return one day I'll be there, ready to continue exploring the world of Fallen Earth.


Monday, October 14, 2019

This is the way the world ends


Not with a bang but a whimper.

The servers went down for maintenance, as usual, and then didn't come up again. After four hours a post in the forums said "It looks like we got our time zones crossed" and confirmed that had been the end of Fallen Earth.

I'm glad that the original offline date was extended by 12 days, but the loss of those last few hours still stings. This wasn't a sunset, it was a blackout, and Fallen Earth deserved a better send off than this.



First impressions, last impressions


As I write this there's only five hours before Fallen Earth goes offline. The server is currently down for the regular scheduled maintenance, and when it comes back up the game will run until midday PDT.

Probably. So far as I know the only confirmation of this time came from Matt Scott of Little Orbit in-game on Saturday. There's still nothing on the forums to nail down anything beyond some time today.

I've made it to level 45, mostly via xp from crafting, and while I could kick myself for not making use of that sooner – because if I had I'd have likely made it to 55 – it's high enough to explore the later zones.

Deadfall

For some reason I always assumed Deadfall would be green. It's really not. The upper half of Deadfall is dead, and the irradiated wildlife only underline the impression of a polluted wasteland. It's the first area where – on a large scale – the eco-system feels entirely wrecked.

The lower half of Deadfall is not as bleak, and feels more like the preceding sectors. It also keeps bizarrely reminding me of Westfall, in World of Warcraft, due to the colouring of the hills combined with the similarity of the name.


Los Alamos, the sector capital, is very impressive when first seen from afar. Closer up it's an interesting environment, though with a few too many invisible walls for my liking.

Terminal Woods

This is a much more densely wooded region than Kaibab Forest, and it's a great looking zone. The way the main road through the zone runs along the edge of the valley makes for a very scenic ride.

Alpha County

Mordor.

A few days ago I thought Tannerfield was the worst place to live in Fallen Earth, what with the desolate landscape, lurking cultists, blood sucking monsters and the other blood sucking monsters.

How wrong I was. Alpha County is Mordor overrun by the Devouring Earth, and I only regret that since I'm underlevelled for the missions I can't ask the denizens of Shackleton why anyone would want to live there.


Shackleton itself is very distinctive, though like Los Alamos there seems to be more invisible walls than in the original zones. The zone looks interesting, and dangerous, and is undeniably the most straight up sci-fi environment in the game.

Epsilon

I reached Epsilon only early this morning, so I'll be exploring that zone, and further exploring the others, this afternoon and up until the game goes offline. The vagueness of Fallen Earth's sector maps means I will likely miss some areas of interest since I have no missions to lead me to them, but I can't think of a better way to pass the last hours of this game than in wandering the wastelands and seeing what's still out there.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Stepping off the treadmill


There's only so far that mass murder will take you before it starts to get boring.

In the last ten days or so (real time, not /played time) I've racked up a dozen levels. Since I'm currently another dozen short of the level cap and there's only a day or so* before the game goes offline I think it's safe to say I won't make it to 55.

Brigg's Point is, as I suspected, all about group content. Veteran mobs I can kill. Boss mobs I can (usually) kill. Master mobs I don't even try, because they have ludicrously high health.


Which leaves me with little to do, so far as missions go, and I don't intend to spend my last day shooting cultists over and over again.

The fault is not with the game. I'd intentionally taken an unconventional levelling path once I decided to stay neutral, and there's just not enough neutral/solo content in S3 to see me to 45. At least not at this pace. Had I made more use of crafting as a source of xp it would have been a different story, but crafting being on a timer it's too late to take (much) advantage of that now.

Levelling was always a means to an end though, and if I'm locked out of some of the mission content I'm not locked out of the zones themselves. Back at the start of this journey I wrote that Fallen Earth is a game that can be entirely involving without having a single quest open, or any objective other than being in the world and finding out what's over that next hill.

At level 43 (nearly 44, thanks to craft xp) I can probably survive most of the casual aggro I'll pull in my explorations. I'll take my chances with that, and after weeks of being covered in scrap metal armor I'll take my chances on that too and wear gear I like for its looks and not its stats.


Deadfall awaits.

*I say a day or so because as of right now Little Orbit hasn't announced an exact time when the game will go offline. The most likely time appears to be tomorrow's maintenance – which would be about 4AM Pacific time – but it's not confirmed.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The road to Deadfall


Upon entering Blackridge you're told you can go anywhere in town, just stay away from that giant chemical plant.

Sure.

Seeing Earthbound guards on the perimiter patrol only stoked my curiosity further. I'm still not sure what the deal is with the Earthbound, except that they're the jerks who destroyed Monkeytown, which is a good enough reason to shoot them on sight. Of course they are up to No Good and after a couple of excursions into the interior of the chemical plant, during which I shot quite a few of them, I was told that I'd put a stop to their evil schemes.

It didn't feel like it. It's a recurring feeling – from Blackridge to The Repository to Tannerfield and even Trader's Flat – that the storylines in these towns seem to come to weirdly abrupt and inconclusive endings.

What there is is often good. Tannerfield is nicely atmospheric, with some clever ideas, good locations and a narrative that was clearly inspired by The Shadow over Innsmouth. Similarly the chemical plant in Blackridge is instantly one of my favourite interior locations in the game, with a terrific vertical layout.


I'm left with the impression that there should be more to these towns, and perhaps there is and it's locked away behind faction missions or repeatable content for level 45s. I've just hit level 43. I'm making more use of crafting to up my xp than I have been but I'm not confident of a smooth run to 45 with only Brigg's Point left as an unexplored neutral town, and that definitely feels like an endgame hub.

I'll still make it to Deadfall though, one way or another.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Eighth Day


It's the dawn of my eighth day in-game.

On the eighth day machine just got upset
A problem man had never seen as yet
No time for flight, a blinding light
and nothing but a void, forever night

- Hazel O'Connor, The Eighth Day

If I had the talent (and the time) I'd make a Fallen Earth fan-vid set to The Eighth Day.

Or maybe Two Tribes... or 99 Luftballoons.

Something 80s definitely. If Fallout is set in the future of a 1950s that never was then Fallen Earth takes more of its cues from a couple of decades later. As I've written before both games owe a lot to Mad Max, but Fallen Earth's atmosphere also evokes an entire sub-genre of sci-fi from Beneath the Planet of the Apes and The Omega Man to Escape From New York and Day of the Dead.

Fallen Earth is a b-movie of an MMO. It's scrappy and violent and rough around the edges, and shot through with satire and black comedy and sly social commentary. It's a quintessentially American MMO with an incredible sense of authenticity to its setting.

It's a game that feels like it was made by people, not a focus group.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Looking for work


Going from level 39 to level 40 was a bit of a slog. I shot up the White Crow bunker east of Docuer's Court, but a group-oriented boss fight brought that to an inconclusive ending. I shot up the White Crow Fortress in the far south of S3, but a group-oriented boss fight brought that to an inconclusive end.

I found a couple of available missions in The Repository, but most of that town – along with Tannerfield, Briggs Point and Trader's Flat – remained locked out. I went up to Chemtown, but having done no faction missions in S2 they wouldn't talk to me either.

I even tried shooting the Vista Rangers outside Papermill, but apparently they don't count for faction points anymore. I know they used to, and that mission was a hidden hazard for players who wanted to stay neutral since there was no heads up that those particular kills would turn the Vista faction hostile.

Since I had racked up some decent xp from kills in the two White Crow bases I went with more of the same for the last two bars of xp, settling on the fortress since it's a target rich environment.

Level 40 at last.

It's an important milestone. As well as opening up several towns it also opens up a lot of new crafting options. 45 was, at launch, the level cap for Fallen Earth, so I'm looking at obtaining what used to be endgame gear now.

I expect the four towns mentioned above will see me through to 45, and I expect the next day or two will see some ferocious levelling. With only 3 full days to go – since I don't know when on the 14th the game will go offline – the clock is ticking.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Guns. Lots of guns.


Toward the end of S2, and all through S3, human enemies have been dropping ammo fairly often when they die. It doesn't come in huge quantities – certainly not enough that I could rely solely on my kills to stay fully loaded – but it's a nice bonus alongside the usual food, drink and craft materials that make up the rest of the loot.

Right now I carry three rifles and two pistols, but after thinking about it the other day I've decided to respec out of pistols and just focus on rifles. My pistols haven't had a lot of use in S3, especially since I crafted an assault rifle that remains so good for its level I'm not entirely sure it's not better than intended.

Respec injectors are sold in game in Fallen Earth, allowing a few points to be redistributed for each injector used. How many I can afford remains to be seen, though I'd better do it before I hit level 40 and the price goes up again.

I've also lightened my crafting/storage load by dropping cooking. I've been relying on looted food for buffs since entering S3 (candy covered ant – yummy) and I need the vault space.

After leaving Papermill I was still thinking about heading up to Chemtown to enlist with the Techs, but before I did so I went back to Trader's Flat to see if any more missions had opened up there, and was pleasantly surprised that not only was there a new mission available, but it was sending me up to Buxton, the zombie overrun town in the far north of S3 that I'd been wondering about.


It's a terrific location – a small settlement at the very end of the road which looks great and feels all the more isolated for being right on the edge of S3. The rotters are a lot more dangerous in these close confines, but at the same time it's more open than say the Terrance bunker or the mine at Rest Stop, and I enjoyed working out my routes through the ruins, ducking in and out of the buildings and always alert to nearby enemies.

I only died once, which is a bit surprising seeing as it's a group mission, but I expect it'd be a hell of a lot harder with a melee character.

At the other end of the map – literally, they're as far apart as two locations in S3 can be without one being in the next sector – there's the White Crow Fortress, which I'm still working on.

These fortresses – there's one in S1 and another in S2 as well – were added to the game post-launch and they make for the best gun battles in the game. Most of the time Fallen Earth is an adequate shooter, but the controls are clunky and the enemy AI is minimal. It's no S.T.A.L.K.E.R. that's for sure.

Whether it's the interesting layout or improved (or simply more alert) AI or both the fortresses deliver the kind of gunplay that the rest of the game only aspires to. I'm not done with the fortress yet (there's a bloody awkward Master level mob that's giving me a lot of grief and is hopefully avoidable because he's probably unkillable) but I'm relishing my forays into it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Into the unknown


After six days in-game – which is longer than I've spent on any single character in any other game since I levelled my original 50s in City of Heroes a decade ago, and longer than I've spent on a character in Fallen Earth since 2011 or so – I'm entering new and unfamiliar territory. From here on everything is new to me.

This has its drawbacks, under the circumstances. One of the things I like most about Fallen Earth is that it doesn't follow the modern MMO quest hub model too closely. Yes, there are quest hubs, but as I've said before there's plenty of other locations out there, off the beaten track, to be discovered during idle wandering and exploration. It's something that makes the world feel so much more real.

It's also not very helpful when I'm looking for my next quests in order to keep levelling up.

I'm level 38, which puts most of the remaining neutral towns in Sector 3 out of reach for now. Papermill, where I am at the moment, might get me to 39, but I'm starting to reconsider my decision to stay neutral, and I may head up to Chemtown and enlist with the Techs. Aside from anything else I'm curious about the town full of zombies to the far north, and if anyone is offering quests up there I assume it'll be the Techs.

With 5 days to go it's looking unlikely I'll make it to 55. At my fastest it would take another 72 hours in-game, and since I do plan on sleeping between now and the day the game goes offline that's not really feasible. At this point I'll settle for reaching a level that allows me to at least explore the later zones without being killed if a mob so much as looks at me, so maybe 45 or so.

That's my current thinking, but it may change depending on my experience over the next day or two.  I don't know for sure, because right now, for the first time in a long time, I have no idea what's waiting for me at the end of the road.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Deja Vu


My quest log is looking rather thin right now. I have 3 open quests, and two of them – as soon as I got them – I remembered that they were the brick walls I ran up against years ago.

I've completed the hubs of Dieseltown and Docuer's Court, as well as Quarantine and a couple of smaller hubs – one of which I only discovered through the old habit of wondering what was up a particular side road. At level 36 I've been offered very little out of Traders Flat, the sector capital, and nothing at all far to the south in Blackridge.

There are still a couple of hub towns in S3 I haven't explored yet, and with any luck at least one of them will be on level for me right now, or close enough. I've been able to keep my armor up to par, and my guns are still packing a punch, so that at least won't slow me down.  I've been relying on my rifles a lot since entering S3, and had actually considered respec'ing out of pistols altogether - which is a reversal of my line of thought back in New Flagstaff.

I haven't done so though.  New Flagstaff had a lot of enclosed areas where pistol bullet spam was a better offensive tactic than rifle fire, and while S3 has been a lot more open there's at least one location - the bunker south east of Docuer's Court, where I expect I'll be falling back on pistols again.

With only 7 days to go the prospect of my levelling pace slowing isn't a welcome one. I had a good run at the weekend, and I'd hate to have come this far only to sputter out as I near the end.

Things are definitely getting serious.  I've even started using some mutation abilities, which I'd ignored up until now.  My build won't support a reliance on them, but at this point I'll take any advantage I can get.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

In memory of Monkeytown


I mentioned a few days ago that I never had the chance to fully explore the original Monkeytown, a small settlement in the far north of Sector Three. It was destroyed in an update in 2010, and though I'd rushed on into S3 to see it before it went the update went live early, the morning after I entered the zone, and Monkeytown was gone.

I'd rode up to take a look around the night before, with the intent of starting it the following day, so I did see it, albeit briefly.

I've always thought of that as the No Fun Update, since it destroyed the town of peaceful, talking gorillas and changed the creeper model from the distinctive original to the far less interesting generic nasty insect thing it is now.

The area where Monkeytown lay is now called Quarantine, and it's an acrid, wasted land, even by the standards of Fallen Earth. The sky is overcast, the air is filled with choking smoke and drifting clouds of poisonous fumes, and the corpses of the former inhabitants litter the shattered roads.


It reminds me of Silithus, in World of Warcraft, in that it's an extremely atmospheric location that I dislike spending time in because it's so well realised. Silithus is a nasty, arid hole full of mindlessly hostile bugs, and I've never spent more than an hour questing in that zone without feeling the need to go somewhere, anywhere, that's less demoralising. It's a zone that gets under your skin and makes you itch, and while I'd never call it one of my favourite zones I do consider it one of the most well made, purely because of the visceral reaction it never fails to provoke in me.

Monkeytown is like that, only with the added meta-feeling of something lost that it will always have for me because I came to it too late. My decision to keep going with Fallen Earth after the announcement it would be going offline was informed by my experience with City of Heroes, but thinking about it now also by my experience of missing out on Monkeytown, by a day.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Pointy ears not included


I stroll among the trees of Kaibab Forest, dressed mainly in green and brown, while idyllic music plays and enemies die to my superior marksmanship and... wait, am I turning into an elf?

Really, the soundtrack in some parts of S3 wouldn't be out of place in LOTRO, and while wandering through the forest and admiring the scenery I was attacked by a boar – and you can't get more LOTRO than that.

Sector Three is off to a more leisurely start than Sector Two. In Northfields I spent too long in and around New Flagstaff, shooting it out with one or another faction of human enemies. Dieseltown, the first hub in S3, offers a wider variety of stories and enemies, and the scenery feels more varied, though that may be in part due to the dense forest breaking up line of sight which the flat open plains around NF did not do.

There's also a lot less missions which are recommended for groups, which may explain why the going has been (relatively) smooth so far.

That's making me wonder. It's been about 7 years since I was last in S3, and yet I distinctly remember my progress slowing to a crawl in the mid-to-late level 30s (I'm 33 now) due to only having a limited number of very tough quest options open to me. This time around I'm benefitting from the premium xp boost that Little Orbit activated for all characters about a week ago, which is, I think, slightly better than the default xp rate was back then, when I was a subscriber. Perhaps that will carry me over any rough spots.


I've been here before, but so long ago, and for such a short time, it's starting to feel new again. S1 I know well, and S2 I mostly remembered, but S3 is almost uncharted territory, and that is something I always enjoy in any MMO.