ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE
I never jumped full-bore into the MMO world. I preferred CRPGs, like Dark Sun, Baldur’s Gate, and Neverwinter Nights. I gave Pathfinder: Kingmaker a long try (gets bogged down in the details – like food management). And the first two Mount and Blades ate up a lot of time.
I did Guild Wars 2, and Rift, short trials. Lord of the Rings Online and Neverwinter Nights have both gotten a fair amount of play, though the Turbine Engine is definitely dated. I love the lore in LotRO.
Age of Conan was my favorite MMO until last year. I like the graphics, and once I got used to the fighting system, it worked. The Conan lore is TERRIFIC. And since I’m a huge Robert E. Howard fan, the setting was my favorite (even more than Middle Earth). I’ve played several characters and classes, and they all were fun. Since I usually solo, the paucity of players wasn’t a problem. (Age of Conan doesn’t even come up on MMO’s ‘Active Player Count List, which goes down to number 63: 8,163. Not many folks around, if that matters to you.)
I played a ton of Morrowind when it came out, and was a big fan. But I didn’t go on to Skyrim, or Oblivion. Just wasn’t interested. I had picked up Elder Scrolls Online during a Steam sale, and made a half-hearted attempt at it a couple years ago. It looked nice, and it was fine. But I wasn’t invested in the world, and Age of Conan remained my go-to MMO.
Last year I did a deep play with a Kajiit Nightblade/Rogue and LOVED it. And I reinstalled it late this summer and I’m rolling through it with a Nord Guardian, using a bow and a bear. ESO is an amazing MMO. The visuals are still great. It’s a beautiful game. The combat system is easy to use, and the skill trees underlying it give lots of options on how you want to build your character.
The lore of Tamriel is simply staggering. The depth is immense. There are books all over the game that you can read (or not) and add to the reality and the history of the setting. There are collectible lore books (there’s a quest) that go in your Lore Library, and you can read them any time. And they don’t take up inventory slots! Not all books are collectible. There are over 1,000 readable books! That is cool.
There’s a main quest line, of course. But for me, it’s the seemingly innumerable side quests, in each zone/region. I have never come close to completing the main story line. I have more fun going to a region and grabbing up side quests. You can actually play hundreds of hours of ESO by just doing side quests, and not even touching the main story line.
This appeals greatly to me. I can start a new character, explore an area I haven’t been in much (or at all – with three alliances; all with different regions/zones, you constantly find new things to do in the base game) and not feel like I’m reppeating stuff.
I only have one DLC expansion, because I wanted to play the Thieves Guild mini-storyline. And I’d like to do that one again. But I’m nowhere near having ‘done it all’ in the base game. I’m currently playing a Nord Guardian (that’s one of two classes you have to buy, and it can play as an elemental wizard, or a ranger). I use a bow, and I have a kick-butt bear who wades in for melee. I’ve done some of the main quest, and a bunch of side quests, in my alliance. But I’ve roamed all over the place.
There are some major expansions, and some smaller ones, and a bunch of DLCs that consist of dungeons. My experience is that dungeons kinda have to be multiplayer. You can go in them during your normal play. Or, you can queue up for a dungeon and go through randomly assigned to a party of four.
The dungeons have NPCs, and a story line, which is cool. And the loot drops are excellent. But as in the Neverwinter Nights MMO, dungeons end up being full-speed sprints to the finish. If you stop to explore stuff, or talk to NPCs, you get left behind. And you usually end up fighting a LOT of monsters all on your own. I do a dungeon once in a while to mix it up, but unless I’m going through with friends, I skip them. I don’t like the breakneck pace.
You can solo ESO if you want. I haven’t run into any problems in that regard. But I’ve also partied up with a friend and we’ve done two-man playing. Discord absolutely helps! It’s definitely easier with two. I believe that ESO scales, so level-disparity isn’t a problem. But I’m not positive. So, you can play on your own, as much as you want. And you can also hook up with a friend or two, and have fun. I plan on going into some dungeons (outside of the dungeon grouping mechanism) and seeing if two of us can handle it.
You max out at level 50, but still have character development – just not standard levelling. My Nightblade is still running at 50. Frankly, I don’t see any downside to ESO. There are other players around, and I usually don’t have to wait very long to get in a dungeon group. And you can keep playing while you wait. The voice-acting is all solid. It looks and plays well. And you don’t ever need to buy extra content. You can play free for years. And the base game, which comes with the Morrowind and Imperial City expansions (and they update that with an additional expansion over time), is on Steam sale for $5.99 often. You will never find a better gaming bargain. This is currently my game of choice and absolutely my favorite MMO.
TOTAL WAR: WARHAMMER II
I have never played World of Warcraft, but I LOVED Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. And I remember playing one Command and Conquer game. Battle For Middle Earth I, Myth: The Fallen Lords, Age of Empires I and II: I like a good real time strategy game. I tinkered with the Total War series early on, but it didn’t totally grab me.
Total War: Warhammer I, and it’s sequel, TW:WarHammer II, are a total delight. TW:WH II may be my favorite game of all time. It’s up there. I don’t actually fight the battles; I auto-resolve. But the settlement management, troop building, and province conquering, totally absorbs me. I still play I, although usually II. And if you have both games, there’s a free expansion for II, that lets you play any faction from either game; and you win by conquering the entire map and eliminating or consolidating EVERY OTHER faction. You could play that for months. There are some cool mods that expand gameplay as well.
Dwarves, Elves, Lizard Men, Dark Elves, Vampires, Egyptian undead, Pirates, Ratmen – there are SOOOO many factions. Playing a new game with a different faction really does feel like a different experience. Troops, play style, starting point – the game changes. I usually play 50-150 turns, and decide to start a new game.
I have almost every expansion for both games (most just give you a couple new leaders), and there are some pretty cool mods. I think the replayability value of this game is one of my highest. Total War keeps prices on their games high, years after they are released. And after succeeding versions have come out. But they do go on sale fairly regularly, and you can pick things up cheaper. If you like RTS – and you like a fantasy setting – I think TW: WH II is the ultimate evolution of the Total War franchise. TW:WH 3 recently came out, but I won’t be trying that until the price comes down a lot.
I have over 450 hours on Steam between these two games. I really is still worth playing. It’s that good. And having played a bit of Rome 2, and Medieval 2, The TW:WH2 is the pinnacle of the engine’s evolution. It’s a really good engine, with good graphics. We’ll see what I eventually think of WH3.
My son was really into Minecraft. I played it a little bit with him, but not really. But I know enough about it. I describe Conan Exiles as ‘Minecraft on steroids.’ It’s an open world survival game, in which you build, craft, and fight. All in the culture of Conan the Barbarian. It’s made by Funcom, the same folks who run Age of Conan. And who spent the last several years developing a single-player CRPG Conan game; but scrapped it earlier this year. Sigh…
You are an exile sentenced to some barren wastes, which you can’t leave because of a bracelet on your wrist. You die if you go across the fence, as it were. There is a jungle portion as well. There was an expansion a couple years ago that added a tropical island to the game.
You can play PvE, PvP, or limited PvP (I think it is). I usually play on a non-official server, PvE. I see other players, but you don’t fight them. Playing on a non-official server has advantages, including other players online will usually help you.
I think this is a fun game. I like crafting armor and weapons, which I don’t usually get into much in MMOs or CRPGs. You build a base, and furnish it with everything from beds and tables to vases and wall hangings. You can raise animals to carry stuff and fight with you. You can also club enemies unconscious, break their spirit, and make them thralls (slaves). Some, like a blacksmith or a cook, improve those work stations. Others can fight with you.
I usually build a first tier base, work up to a second tier base, get to around level 50, and then quit. I find relocating and moving upwards from a third tier base is too much work. But this is a really fun game. Less Conan lore than Age of Conan, but it’s still a suitable setting.
If you play, I HIGHLY recommend a world where you keep your stuff. The default is that when you die, you re-spawn at your base with none of your stuff. You have to go reclaim it from your body (hopefully nobody else took it). That gets old immediately.
They just added a magic class to the game a few months ago, which looks interesting. And I only bought the island expansion this summer, and that was cool to check out. I usually get the itch for this two or three times a year, reinstall it, and play it for a few months. It’s the only open-world survival game I play. If you like that kind of thing, I’d give it a try.
I played the heck out of Diablo, and Diablo 2. I mean, a LOT back in the day. I even played 2 with my buddy over BattleNet. D2 is still my reference for point-and-click discussions. I played the kid-friendly Torchlight, and Torchlight 2.
I picked up The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsig on a Steam sale a year or two ago, and gave it a try a few months ago. It’s not a bad point and click game. You’re the son of the vampire killer, and you’re a monster hunter. With a wider-than-normal range of class options, you are in a Barovian setting, which is different than the normal fantasy realm. You have a ghost helper, who offers a lot of witty comments at your expense. It’s typical point-and-click fare.
This was a collection of all three games in the series, and I was somewhere in game two, I think, when I hit a monster I simply couldn’t defeat. You know how that goes. I finally just uninstalled the game. But I was still in that mode, so I reinstalled Titan Quest Anniversary Edition.
I will probably do an essay solely on this game some day. It’s actually my favorite P&C game. It came out in 2006, and it was a completely linear point-and-click, but totally immersed in mythology. I grew up on the Greek stuff, and it’s what led me to fantasy fiction, D&D, and RPG video games.
Three lesser Titans are wreaking havoc, and our brave hero must stop them. You move through Greek mythology, then Egyptian, then Chinese. NPCs give speeches on myth stories that have nothing to do with your quest. And I LOVE it! For a fan of mythology, this is a wonderful, fun game.
An expansion, Titan Quest: Immortal Throne, followed quickly. It involved monsters coming up from the Underworld. Titan Quest was a popular game. It has the best character class selection of any P&C game I’ve played. And you can actually add a second class and put points into both as you go along – that’s unusual. The skill tree allows for some customization of how you play, though the class selection, more so. But melee, ranged combat, different types of magic (summoning a Lich King to fight with you is cool!): lots of options.
It was a very good point and click game. If you like Grim Dawn, it’s built on the Titan Quest engine. In a wonderful surprise, an improved Anniversary Edition was issued. A year later, the Ragnarok expansion followed. A level fifty expansion, eleven years after the original game? AWESOME!!!
In 2019, Atlantis followed. Ragnarok was sequel. Atlantis is a side-quest.
And in 2021, Eternal Embers came out. Titan Quest is a vibrant – and terrific – game, almost twenty years after it’s initial release. It still meets my P&C needs, and I reinstall it every couple years. It’s a lore-rich, wonderful game. Again – as linear as a game can be. It’s a total railroad. But I’m okay with that.
EXTRA NOTE – For the second time, I am attempting to get into Crusader Kings II (which is free on Steam). I love the concept. I like it from watching vids. But this, hands down, has THE MOST DIFFICULT learning curve I have EVER seen. Twice as hard as the next two games put together. I haven’t given up yet, but I can see it happening again. Just waaaay too hard to start out in this game.
Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ made its Black Gate debut in 2018 and has returned every summer since.
His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate from March, 2014 through March, 2017. And he irregularly posts on Rex Stout’s gargantuan detective in ‘Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone.’ He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.
He organized Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series, as well as the award-winning ‘Hither Came Conan’ series.
He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV, V, VI and XXI.
He has written introductions for Steeger Books, and appeared in several magazines, including Black Mask, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine, and Sherlock Magazine.