When It’s Okay to Go Home Again… Or How to Learn to Love Maintenance Mode

With no end to the pandemic in sight, I’ve found myself delving into MMORPGs in my spare time. Whether it’s Guild Wars 2 or World of Warcraft Vanilla, I always eventually compared them to my time spent in Telera. Eventually, I decided to play my favorite MMO rather than playing games that offer similar experiences with different dressing.

The question inevitably becomes: “Is the game dead?”

As much as I loathe the concept of games dying, it’s easy shorthand to describe a game being abandoned by it’s developer and either shutdown or, at best, put into maintenance mode. Rift still has a community of devoted players, making major cities less barren than I expected. Instant adventures are equally as populated, giving players easy access to grouped content. In all other ways, however, Rift can be considered being in maintenance mode.

Although I wasn’t privy to the events as they occured, it looks like Trion Worlds went under recently and sold the rights of Rift to Gamigo. The new owners seem content in keeping the servers updated and using their limited resources to address community issues, such as recently patching their player report feature.

If you believe the rumors, I also hear good news about world boss content being experimented with on the PTR. This, combined with the already existing seasonal content, is enough to keep me logging in and checking out the game every once in a while.

Can an MMO designed to bring players together quickly and easily ever be truly dead? Sure, LFG queues don’t pop as quickly as they used to (or at all) but you can get folks to join you in chat if you’re patient. Instant adventure solves most murder hobo needs, while PVP, crafting, raids, slivers, and chronicles are all still accessible.

It’s hard to recommend an MMO in maintenance mode without adding a million caveats, so I’ll try to keep this simple. Rift is easily one of my favorite MMOs, if not games, and has a lot of great story and fun gameplay to explore for those looking to find it. If you also want flexible and interesting class choices and build opportunities, plenty of group PVE content, and a unique story/aesthetic, Telera may still have something to offer.

Remnant: From the Ashes – Review

In a world where every game is at some point inevitably compared to Dark Souls, it’s understandable why it took me this long to give Remnant: From the Ashes a try. “It’s Souls with guns!” people would say to me. I’ve slogged through enough Souls-likes that I need more than just the lure of the next bonfire and relentlessly punishing gameplay to win my attention. Thankfully, Gunfire Games manages to find a graceful balance between drawing inspiration from other games and improving upon the foundation they’ve already set.

Instead of drawing directly from From Software’s magnum opus, the developers of Remnant cherry-picked the best qualities from the series to adopt and discarded the rest. Gone are the endless corpse runs back from the last bonfire after dying over and over on the same boss. The UI is intuitive and jumping into a game with friends is as easy as pressing one button. There’s even a difficulty rating, a welcome addition to a genre that often misses the point about player experiences.

A pattern that quickly reveals itself is that Remnant owes just as much to Diablo 2, Borderlands, and similar loot pinata simulators than it does to the Souls series. Chests explode, showering you with crafting materials and ammo. Weapon mods and equipment are easy to mix and match at one’s leisure. Most obtainable items are shared with all players in your party, so there’s no downside to running around collecting everything in sight if that’s up your alley. With an aesthetic that leans closer to Fallout or Deadlands, it’s clear that Remnant borrows a lot from gaming royalty.

That being said, Remnant: From the Ashes is still very much a Souls-like. Players still dodge roll through enemy attacks, chop off dragons’ tails to craft fantastical weapons, and fight against overwhelming odds to their heart’s content. What is gone, however, is the frustration, alienation of new players, and a tanking frame rate. This game runs remarkably smooth and doesn’t overstay its welcome. 

Instead of having long branching paths interwoven within one another, Remnant opts for the randomly generated approach. Players could have very similar experiences up until they encountered their first boss, for example. This along with the difficulty rating provide a lot of replay value for players who want to experience more than the main game has to offer or experiment with new gear and weapon mods combinations. For everyone else who just wants to enjoy a short and sweet romp through a dystopian wasteland, I was able to complete the main story in two or three vigorous gaming sessions.

If you are a fan of Dark Souls and similar titles, then you have probably already given this game a try. However, if you cringe at the idea of dying to hidden traps and wandering off aimlessly only to be eaten by a dragon, then don’t overlook Remnant just because it fits into the Souls-like mold. This might be the perfect introduction to the genre for new players period, both because of how similar to Dark Souls it is and how drastically different it is at the same time.

Return of Reckoning – Warhammer Online Follow-up

With the United States not looking any closer to figuring out it’s response to the coronavirus than it has the past few months, it’s been a great time to get back into the Warhammer Online private server, Return of Reckoning.

The rogue server just recently ran a Twitch Drops promotional event, which caught my attention and had me back in the world of Warhammer all over again. This time, however, I took a more PvP focused approach. During my first attempt at trying the game out, I spent a lot of time on group quests and open world PvP without touching organized PvP. Since objective oriented PvP is available from level 1 onward, it’s easier than any other MMO, except perhaps Guild Wars 1, to jump straight into player versus player.

Warhammer Online suits this play style perfectly, allowing me to experiment with new classes in PvP while ranking up. I decided to take my engineer out for a spin and ended up at the top of the damage charts multiple times. My attempts with my Witch Elf did not go as well, however. Being able to immediately scale up to the rank of the PvP content you’re doing is handy when you want to be able to start ganking other players right from the get-go.

Return to Reckoning suffers from the same issues that many PVP-centric MMORPG run into, namely that team coordination is a must. There will be some games where your team is just not matching up to your opponents. You can get completely locked out of a contested zone or get your base camped by enemy players through no fault of your own, which is a deal breaker for some folks. If you have an even modestly coordinated team, however, you should have a blast.

My main focus during my last gaming session was scenarios, an instanced PVP variant that players can queue for. Many scenarios share similar mechanics: carrying a flag, capturing control points, or carrying flags while capturing control points. That being said, the straight forward nature of combat allows players to focus more on their individual positioning and role on the team rather than fulfilling some arbitrary gimmick.

Once again, I would whole heatedly recommend Warhammer Online: Return to Reckoning to anyone who has even a passing interest in PVP MMOs or the Warhammer franchise. For a rogue server, RTR offers some of the best player versus player content on the market with plenty of extra fluff for everyone else to enjoy as well.

Roadtrip of the Rings – Onward Review

(Disney/Pixar)

Although Disney Pixar’s Onward isn’t the type of film that usually draws my attention, I was pleasantly surprised with the recent release on Disney+. Besides being a genius marketing strategy for their new streaming platform, Onward is also a wholesome and heartfelt road trip movie for the whole family starring Tom Holland and Chris Pratt.

The two brothers, Ian and Barley, live in a world very similar to our own except that it was once full of magic and wonder. Now that the magic is gone, however, capitalism has taken over, leading to the formerly-mystical creatures getting day jobs. The Lightfoot brothers, who just so happen to be elves, find themselves getting wrapped up in an epic quest with a surprisingly compelling twist. With stakes rapidly escalating, jokes throughout, and heartstrings being pulled like only Disney knows how, Onward completely shattered my expectations. Whether that’s because I had extremely low expectations to start with is still up for discussion.

Onward completely shattered my expectations. Whether that’s because I had extremely low expectations to start with is still up for discussion.

Without spoiling too much, Onward is set up as a very standard family-friendly animated flick but ends up taking some interesting creative twists that surprised and delighted. The fact that the story had so many emotional moments that hit close to home for me definitely helped. It’s hard to dislike a movie when you’re bawling your eyes out and clutching your significant other’s hand at the sight of two cartoon elves hugging. That’s got to take some kind of magic in and of itself, to be honest.

Although I enjoyed the movie, it’s definitely not without its flaws. Both Ian and Barley took a while to grow on me, which I partly attribute to the film’s pacing and writing. Chris Pratt is really the only actor given enough of a personality to warrant an especially expressive take, but his lines are wasted, at least at the beginning, on a lackluster Jack Black impression that he eventually grows out of. As Holland and Pratt are given more to work with, their performances drastically improve.

For the price of already having Disney+ to rewatch the Mandalorian and an hour and forty-two minutes of your time, Onward is the kind of wholesome, magical adventure that we all need in these difficult times.

Stay safe.

5 Tips for Staying Healthy While Social Distancing

As someone who is privileged enough to work remotely, I’ve developed a handy set of tools and strategies for dealing with some of the issues that come along with spending most of your time at home. During this growing coronavirus pandemic, it’s paramount for people to stay home, practice social distancing, and avoid putting yourself or others in danger unnecessarily. Many are forced to stay home or at least severely limit their normal activities. These challenges are only made more daunting for parents of small children and the immunocompromised. Since we’re only going to get through this together, I thought I’d lay out some of the lessons I’ve learned for working from and staying at home without losing your mind from loneliness or boredom.

5. Exercise & Meditate

With all of the craziness going on, it would be understandable to forget some of your normal routines. Among brushing your teeth and flossing, I suggest you specifically take time out of your day to exercise, and maybe even meditate, to help yourself let off some steam, relax, and keep your body fit and healthy. You may not be able to go to the gym, but there are plenty of options for you to exercise while practicing social distancing, even if you don’t have enough space to lift weights at home. Try going for a hike in the woods or a jog around the block, making sure to stay away from crowded areas. Yoga or other exercises that can be done in the home are great for keeping your body and mind happy, healthy, and ready to tackle your to-do list for the day.

4. Go for a Drive

I grew up in a rural farm town, so I’m very familiar with the concept of “going for a drive” whenever I was bored as a kid. My friends and I would drive down to the beach, drive to a nearby town, or drive in any direction and see where it took us. Although some of us can’t leave the house for non-essential reasons, others may find solace in getting out of the house for a bit without putting themselves in danger of contracting the coronavirus. Getting out of the house may sound counterproductive, but as long as you practice social distancing and stay safe, going for a scenic drive might be exactly what you need to overcome cabin fever.

3. Read a Book

With all non-essential workers staying home, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stream high-quality video or play games online thanks to folks hogging the bandwidth. Do you know what doesn’t require bandwidth to provide endless entertainment? Books. I’m sure you have a list of books you’ve told yourself that you want to finish reading, but you just never find the time. Now you have the time. Better yet, start a book club or invite a friend to read something along with you so that you have something to discuss over video chat. Whether its fiction or nonfiction, classical or contemporary, I can guarantee you that there is a book that you will enjoy out there. If money is an issue, there are communities entirely focused on sharing free e-books online (/r/freeebooks for example) where you can find plenty of material to peruse through.

One of my New Years’ resolutions was to read a book each month, and although I’m a little behind thanks to everything that’s happened these past few months, I’m making a lot of progress and enjoying every second of it. I still enjoy Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and CBS All Access, but given we don’t know whether capitalism will survive this mess, you better start enjoying books because they’re going to survive long past all of this other crap.

2. Start a Collaborative Project

A big part of staying sane during this quarantine is making sure to communicate with others despite social distancing. Video chats and Discord are great options for staying connected, but if you often struggle to come up with something to talk about, consider starting a collaborative project with someone. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy, but giving you and your friends something to work on is a great way to bring everyone together towards a common goal. I’m personally working with my friends on a few game development projects and chatting with my writing group about the progress we’re making on our individual stories. Whatever gets you and your friends engaged in something happy and productive will do wonders towards defeating the ever-encroaching cloud of loneliness following us all through this quarantine.

1. Create Divides Between Work and Play

A big part of my success in working from home for the past 5 years is separating my “work” environment from my “home” environment, both in terms of physical space and in terms of my state of mind. Having an office, special chair, or even just another device (if you work with computers, try using your desktop for work and your laptop for play, for example) can help you be more productive, stay focused, and feel better once work is finished for the day. Being able to “turn off” your work brain and relax is essential to feeling comfortable while working from home.

If you use emails or instant messaging for works, set a specific time reserved for reading emails and responding to messages. This will help cut down on distractions and keep you from checking your phone/email unnecessarily while you aren’t working. Set up silent alerts on your phone if you have to, but be careful about giving up too much time “off the clock” if you aren’t being compensated.

Needless to say, we’re all in this together, even though if we’re trying to keep our distance. Stay safe, check in on your loved ones, and think of others who are less privileged than you during this crisis. The only way we’re going to kick this virus’s ass is by working together by staying at and working from home.