Friday, November 21, 2008

Watched Lately: The Dark Knight

  • I think the truest measure of a person's age can be found in how many times someone can gain pleasure from consuming the same media repeatedly. As any parent can attest, a child when placed in front of a television will invariably request to watch whatever cartoon DVD they just watched before. When I was a teenager, I read the Dragonlance Chronicles several times even though there were many other books I could have read. In more recent years, I watched my Sports Night DVD at least three times. But the older I get, the less I go back to relive those familiar experiences. When my wife and I went to watch The Dark Knight in the theater for a second time, I knew that we weren't old yet.
  • For the last few years, Batman Begins was my favorite superhero movie. I loved that it was a mature movie that actually took the superhero story to heart. It didn't try to do the "What if superheroes where real?" deconstruction modern comics have tried. It embraces the Batman mythos wholeheartedly, but on a level above "Yay, explosions!" which most movies aim for. As much as I enjoyed Batman Begins, The Dark Knight makes it look like a kiddie flick.
  • Anything I could say at this point would be superfluous, but I guess I have to try. Actors Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Aaron Eckhart must be commended for showing the kinds of madness each of them has inside. But the hero of this picture is Christopher Nolan. In the hands of a less ambitious director, we might have gotten a good sequel. The Dark Knight is a better movie than the superhero genre probably deserves. The bar has been set and I don't think people will accept just anything from the spandex set anymore.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • There is so much great stuff in this expansion, it's hard for me figure out what to write about. So if this post seems a little random, well, you've been warned.
  • I have to carry on a little about the two starting zones here. Howling Fjord is an amazing starting zone. From my first landing and through all my explorations, I was completely immersed in the placiness of it all. A lot of love and care went into making the entire zone a beautiful, but lived-in world. Throw in a lot of fun quests and I haven't enjoyed the environment in the game since Zangarmarsh. As other people have mentioned, Borean Tundra is not so much. It feels like a conglomeration of minizones, each with its own identity, but seperate from those around it. There is still a lot to enjoy about it, but it definitely comes in second place.
  • There are two quest areas in Howling Fjord that stand out, though: Gjalerbron and Scalawag Point. Gjalerbron is a large vrykul fortress of slavers, liches, necromancers, and a frostwyrm. There is so much to do here, I got the feeling that I was infiltrating and sabotaging their operations. Plus killing a frostwyrm was very cool. Scalawag Point, on the other hand, is a crazy mix of quests to ingratiate myself with the pirates, both to recover some vrykul artifacts and to stop pirating activities. Any quest that has you boarding a ghost ship to help bombard a giant elemental has to go down as a highlight in anyone's book. Killing the pirate captain by chasing him into the waiting maw of his pet grizzly bear was hilarious as well.
  • On Tuesday night, I was able to cajole a few of my guild mates to run Azjol-Nerub with me. I have heard that the instance is not that hard for the level, so bringing a couple level 71's did not seem unfeasible. We ended up finding a healer and a tank, so the three of us just brought the pain. At least, that's what we tried to do. The tank could not hold aggro to save his or our lives. We made some lame excuses and left the party. I was bummed out that I had put together such a lame group, but my guild leader rallied me to try again.
  • This time around, we had much better results. Although we lost our warlock, the guild leader switched to healing, a guild paladin came to tank, and a PUG shaman and hunter came along. This was what A-N was supposed to be like. While The Nexus and Utgarde Keep were more traditional dungeons, Azjol-Nerub felt like a 5-man raid. There was very little trash to clear, but that made the trash more interesting to fight. Both of the first two bosses start with multi-pull gauntlet and are fun fights to learn. I don't remember how many times we wiped on the second boss, but we knew we could figure it out. Then we took two tries on the last boss because we didn't know there was a gate that closes after he aggros. So far, Blizzard is three for three on the instance. I'm excited to see what's next.
  • Beyond all this, I've absolutely fallen in love with the new capital city, Dalaran. But that's a post for another day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • Now that I've done the standing in line, chatting with strangers, waiting for my beautiful little box with the magic disk inside, you're likely to read that subject line quite a lot over the next several weeks. Of course, that's only if I bother to write. I make no promises.
  • I came home from work Wednesday night with the intention of taking a nap so that I could stay up all night playing. That didn't work out so well because I was so wired with excitement. (I am still a little kid in some ways.) So a little earlier than I expected, I hoped in the car and drove down to the local GameStop and the expected queue. I took a book with me (Lucky at Cards by Lawrence Block; thank you Hard Case Crime.), but I didn't get a chance to read it. I ended up chatting with a bunch of other players, each nicely fulfilling a gamer stereotype. One guy (around my age) had 12 level 70 characters and was unsure who to launch into the expansion with. One guy was an inveterate altoholic, with thirty to forty midlevel characters spread across multiple servers. The younger guy was the epitome of the PvP mindset, annoyed about the lack of skill, proliferation of epics, and frustrating class balances in the game. The fourth was the quiet guy that barely said anything, and thus a stereotype of his own. I ended up passing an enjoyable hour chatting about our game playing experiences and plans for the expansion. The employees did a great job of insuring that everyone had prepaid the expansion in full before midnight, so the line flowed a lot better than the last expansion. The weather was better too, so thank you, Blizzard for launching on time. Anyway, I had my new precious in only 15 minutes and the five of us parted ways, never to meet again. I'm sure that we're each playing the expansion in a different way.
  • I drove home as fast as possible, kissed my wife goodnight, dropped the disc in the tray, upgraded my account and waited. It was not a long wait. I remembered TBC taking far too long to install, but this was much quicker. Soon I was in the game and on my way to Northrend.
  • Although patch 3.0.2 gave me incentive to play my paladin again, it was Ashlynh, my mage, that took the first zeppelin to Vengeance Landing. And the first thing I did when i got there was train all my professions. That was funny. Between Enchanting, Tailoring, Fishing, First Aid, and Cooking, the only one I've made any progress on is the one involving ovens. That's primarily because I was so far behind on Fishing that I haven't even reached the prior skill cap. It's also because the new food available is so nice compared to the old, with buffs lasting a full hour now. And with a pool of Imperial Manta Rays right behind the zeppelin tower, I had to see what a manta ray was good for.
  • As you can guess from reading all that, it took me about twenty minutes just wandering around before I thought about questing. Luckily the quests show a little flair in dressing up the "kill ten rats" paradigm. I got to train a plaguehound, meet the vrykul, burn them out, and fight off the Alliance landing near the base by dropping plague bombs on their ships and targeting their cannons for an offshore bombardment. None of this is anything new for the game, but the fact that they mix in all these quest types right from the start.
  • But I didn't spend all my time questing. Not long after getting started, I queued up to try out the new instances. Everyone has said they are very PUG friendly, so I figured it could not hurt to try. In short order, I was able to get groups for both Utgarde Keep and the Nexus. Both instances were beautiful, the boss fights were fun, and both had some neat mechanics that made the experience interesting. I eventually when back to Utgarde with a guild group and it was just as fun the second time.
  • And all that was on my first day. I could only stay up until dawn before I could play no more. I showered, went to bed, and crashed. It was a short crash, though, since I couldn't stay away from the game for that long.
  • As an aside, the writing in game is still as fun. Upon freeing a Warsong Peon from his silk cocoon, he said "Why it keep telling me to put da lotion in da basket? Me no like da lotion!" I had to retype that and sent it to the guild. I'm so glad to have something new in WoW.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • With the release of Wrath of the Lich King only a few days away, the MMO blog community has been hit by a meme to look back on the success or failure of The Burning Crusade expansion. In only a couple days, we'll be standing in long lines outside the local game purveyor, waiting for our ticket to Northrend, and ready to say goodbye to much lauded and derided Outland. Now seems the appropriate time to evaluate the time I've spent in World of Warcraft.
  • Just about one year ago, I was writing about the WoW end game. (Have I really been level-capped for over a year now? And I'm still playing? I am stunned.) At the time I listed a few goals that I wanted to accomplish. So how did I do?
  • My first goal was to craft epic armor for my primary characters. Sure enough, my mage owns a full set of Frozen Shadoweave armor and my paladin crafted not only the Breastplate of Kings, but was finally able to craft the top level Bulwark of the Ancient Kings. While that makes this sound like a success, there is more to this story. With my mage, I picked Frozen Shadoweave with the intention of sticking with the Frost talent tree. When I started raiding though, it was impressed upon me that I would have to respec to be the most help for the raid. So my newly crafted armor went right into the bank where it is sitting now. As for my pally, the Breastplate of Kings worked out pretty well. At least up until I shelved her in favor of my mage. I didn't craft the upgrade pieces until just recently by throwing a lot of gold around in the auction house. I'm glad I did, so I have something nice to start the expansion with, but I don't know if it will be useful for very long.
  • My second goal was to see the inside of Karazhan and just maybe step foot in Zul'Aman. This goal I met and well exceeded, just with the wrong character. Beyond completing both of those raids, I also got to see Gruul's Lair, Magtheridon's Lair, Serpentshrine Cavern, Tempest Keep: The Eye, and The Battle for Mount Hyjal in the Caverns of Time. While raiding can be overly time consuming, I got nothing but enjoyment from the time I did spend. It's easy to dismiss as a primarily solo player how much fun it is, but getting together with 9 or 24 other people to take on a challenge makes the adventure that much bigger. I'm looking forward to raiding more in the expansion someday and I trust that Blizzard will make it just as fun.
  • My third goal was to enjoy playing my alts. That was like shooting fish in a barrel with this game. WoW is practically designed for solo players to run to the level cap and start over. Kesandru, the warlock mentioned in that year old post, hasn't hit level 70, but she's now been joined by another paladin, a rogue, and a priest in the last few days. Each alt has different goals (like the paladin leveling entirely on Kalimdor) and is played for different reasons. I've already saved a name for the inevitable Death Knight. While Northrend will give me more to do with my level 70 characters, I know I'll be back to my alts eventually.
  • Coming up on my two year anniversary in the game, you might think I would be as disillusioned with it as I have been with Guild Wars. Maybe finishing Wrath will be the nail in the coffin for me, but I'm confident that I will be found in WoW for months to come.