Daily Archives: February 24, 2021

Battling The Elder in Valheim

Having set ourselves up with a portal to an outpost close to The Elder, all we had to do was get together and fight him.

Of course, having gone into the Eikthyr fight after reading some “it’s easy” comments, I was a bit paranoid.  But I had an opportunity.  Having prodded Liore, formerly of the Herding Cats blog and the Cat Context podcast, and her crew about the game, they jumped on board with it, rolling up their own server.  So I have been over there to visit and build things now and again, though Valheim is one of those games where there is always a bunch of things to do, so playing on two servers can be a bit much.

However, thanks to the youthful enthusiasm of Corr, whom some will remember from the now dormant Fantasy Movie League runs, they quickly caught up to our level of progress and they were looking to slay The Elder on Saturday, while we were not going to get together for the event until Sunday, so I had a chance for a practice run.

I put my first character, Vikund, onto their server… though again, having two characters is like having two servers at times, it just doubles the things you want to do… because he had okay equipment.  I upgraded him to a fine bow and made sure he had a stack of fire arrows and a stack of flit arrows.  I did this because Corr had done some research and came back saying that melee is bad, ranged is good for this fight.

So we got together and rolled on out to the site of The Elder, three ancient seeds in hand, the requirement to summon him.  The Cats had a base close to the alter, so it was a short run.  We setup around the place, each of us taking a pillar to shoot from as that was alleged to be solid enough to block the ranged attacks we would be facing.

Setting up with the cats

Corr threw in the seeds and the battle began.

As with Eikthyr, you get the big boss health bar on the screen so everybody can see the progress at taking them down.

The Elder shows up

Fire arrows nicely set him ablaze and put a little DOT damage on him for effect, though I wouldn’t swear to them necessarily being better than flint arrows.  I am not sure it the DOT effect stacks or not, for example.

The fight was very active, and there was a lot of running about and avoiding attacks.  He summoned some greys in the back half of the fight and I think everybody besides Corr died at least once.  But the run back was easy and you just pick up your stuff and carry on.  Victory was inevitable.  Once slain, his head was brought back to the henge to be displayed on its anointed hook.  A celebratory screen shot or three was taken.

Whatever you do, nobody look at the camera

So I came away from that with the blush of optimism.  Hell, I was nearly full on Sir Robin at the Bridge of Death declaring, “That was easy!”

When the next day came we spent a full day cycle at our main base gearing up, upgrading, grabbing food, and collecting the health potions that had been cooked in the cauldron then simmered in the fermenter.  As night fell we got into our beds for a night’s rest.

Skronk/Fergorin has invented the footlocker in Valheim

When the new day dawned we went through the portal to the outpost and ran over to the altar of The Elder.  We got a bit wet on the way because our main gate opened onto some standing water.  I have since fixed that with the hoe.

Dripping wet still on arriving

I had the seeds and had explained what I had seen the previous day.  The sun was rising and for once it didn’t look like rain.  We spread out, each taking a pillar and then I went up and put the ancient seeds in the fire, summoning The Elder.

Time for The Elder to rise and shine

The fight started off as expected.  We started peppering him with arrows and he lit up nicely when hit with fire arrows.  We dodge the tendrils he throws your was and stayed clear of the roots as well as we could.   I think we had an early death, but the run back was quick.  And then things started to derail.

First, there were the greys, who seemed to be out in force.  So there was time out to turn and take them down.

Then there was the troll.  I mentioned the troll cave near the outpost and my suspicions that its presence foretold future spawning of trolls.  Well, now was apparently that time.

So we were shooting The Elder and kiting the troll… when the second troll wandered into the fight.  So, two trolls to deal with.

Kiting a troll

I had been doing pretty well until the second troll showed up.  I tried to kite him away from the fight so I could safely set him up and kill him.  However, he had other ideas.

The troll kills me instead

Deaths began to mount and it became clear that dying by the altar was going to make getting your stuff back to resume the fight difficult.  My corpse, having kited the troll down to the water, was a relatively easy recovery.  Both Crowbar and Unna had problems at points getting to their gear.

And then the skeletons showed up.

Unbeknownst to me there was a burial chamber just over the rise from the altar and somebody got too close to it and brought the skeletons who were guarding it into the fight.  They were not a huge threat, but they just added to the chaos on the field.

We died some more, but eventually got a handle on things and managed to kill off both of the trolls and were able to return to The Elder as night fell.

The Elder, on fire, shooting his tendrils attack as the sun goes down

Then, of course, the greys came again and the battle carried on, but as night came one, it was clear we were going to take it.  We had managed to brute force our way through a variety of unexpected turns.  But this is the afterlife, so “live, die, live again” is par for the course.  I have to think this explains the trolls and the greys constantly showing up.

The Elder defeated

That was a hell of a fight.  On death The Elder dropped four swamp dungeon keys, which get you access to… dungeons in the swamp biomes.  That is important because that, as I understand it, is where one collect iron for the next layer of crafting.  We stopped and collected ourselves and bits and pieces all over the place, then took a victory shot in front of the rune tablet that gives you the vague instructions related to summoning The Elder.

Again, nobody look at the camera, it might steal your soul

I love that there is a little Crowbar death marker behind us.  I could have cropped that out, but felt it was better with it in the background.  Also, I think the death markers are pretty cool.  They sit there glowing and bubbling, waiting for your return.  They even float on water… which I will get to in another post.  It is the afterlife.  Why shouldn’t we have happy little markers?

We also got a trophy for The Elder.  We ran that back to our main base and hung it up on the appropriate hook, so now we have defeated two of the bosses that Odin set us to get.

Trophies in the night

Having that gives us access to the next buff, which for The Elder is enhanced speed at cutting down trees… which seems like something from the ironic punishments division of hell.  I don’t know.  Eikthyr’s buff gave us enhanced stamina for swiftness, like a deer, while The Edler gave us the ability to murder his children more efficiently.  Go figure.

Anyway, with keys in hand, we now needed to go find a swamp biome, as we had, so far, not seen one.  Time for more exploration.

Addendum:

Bhagpuss beat me to a post about defeating The Elder, but I’ve done it twice now!

The Perils of Entering the MMORPG Market

The MMORPG market has been rolling along for about 25 years at this point, depending on when you want to start counting.  I like to think of Meridian 59 as the starting point of the things, but you could make arguments that the roots of the genre go back to MUD1 or Island of Kesmai or any of a number of antecedents. 

Live in 95 is you count early access

But M59 was an early, commercial, 3D world MMORPG and, to the point of this post, while I haven’t seen anybody running a server for a while, the code is out there and the game could reappear if somebody felt the need to bring it back.

And that is kind of the problem here.  Fans of the genre tend to bemoan its stagnation and blame WoW or free to play or whatever for the fact that things can seem stale.  But the real problem is that old games don’t go away, or at least not fast enough.

Leaving aside M59, the next game on the list is Ultima Online, which will turn 24 years old come September.  Unlike M59, it is still there, ready to play.  It has been hanging out all this time, holding onto a group of players that might otherwise have gone off to explore other games… or maybe they have and then returned… and generally holding its own in a corner of the market.  I mean, EA owns it (Broadsword just has a contract to run it), so if it isn’t making some sort of return it wouldn’t be around.

That is, of course, a core aspect of the MMORPG space, games as a service, where players have an ongoing relationship with your game as it grows and evolves.  But games that make the transition to success and achieve financial stability tend to stick around forever. 

Scott Jennings gave a presentation at IDGA Austin back in 2014 titled Let It Go – A Modest Proposal, which I would link to if I could find it again (maybe here or here), which suggested that maybe these games shouldn’t hang around forever, that maybe it doesn’t make anybody happier or healthier to perpetuate these games past a certain point, that maybe there ought to be an exit strategy, a denouement, an end to the story.

Wishful thinking.  The only sure exit is to stop being profitable, and even that is no sure exit.  The fans, unwilling to let go themselves, will build their own private/pirate servers just to prolong the experience.  I would suggest that it is easier to list shuttered titles that don’t have some sort of emulator or server project running except that I am not sure I could even list one title.  Club Penguin maybe?  Is there a Club Penguin emulator out there?

We have reached a point in the genre where farming nostalgia for the old days and the old ways and the old experiences is a certified path to keep the fans on board and paying. (Because, it turns out, they’ll make emulators for that too if you won’t provide it yourself.)  So we have EverQuest progression servers, WoW Classic, Old School Runescape, Aion Classic, and others out there serving that portion of the user base.

As Jennings pointed out, these games have come to belong, emotionally at least, far more to the fans than the companies. It is their experiences and histories now and they won’t let it go.  It almost isn’t up to the company anymore because the fans will take matters into their own hands if the developers won’t cooperate.  And if the game is going to be running in some form with or without the studio, the studio might as well keep its hand in and make some money from an official version rather than losing what control they do have.

So the market never really contracts.  Nearly everything that ever was is out there in some form.  Think of all the video games you played over the last 25 years and how many of them are viable and playable still today.  Yes, nostalgia farming has arrived in the rest of the industry and we have some remasters and 4K remakes of older games, but I cannot go back and play every game. Of the ones I can, anything over a certain age that had some form of online support has probably lost that aspect of the game.  As an example, literally every Pokemon DS/3DS title has lost its online support.

But if you want to play The Sims Online or Dungeon Runners or most any past title, there is probably a project out there for you.

Which brings me around, at last, to the point I think I was aiming for when I started out this wall of text, which is what does this mean for new games in the genre.  One of the complaints about MMORPGs is that there is nothing new, nothing interesting, nothing different, just the same old stuff, mostly WoW or WoW knock-offs, along with a few pre-WoW titles.

But, in a market segment where nothing ever dies and the fan base is constricted by the level of commitment the genre demands (a “causal MMORPG player” is almost an oxymoron) where is the incentive to actually try something new, to invest in something in an increasingly fragmented and entrenched field?

I do not have an answer, and the fact that most of the Kickstarted, will arrive some day (just not today), titles that some have pinned their hopes on all seem to be grounded solidly in nostalgia doesn’t strike me as a hopeful sign.  Pantheon, Star Citizen, Camelot Unchained, and others all carry the message “Remember that cool thing we did nearly 20 years ago? We’re going to do it again!”

Thus endeth the genre, drowning in a pool of nostalgia, always asking for something new and never getting it because nobody seems to want it.

I suppose this should be a warning to the rest of the industry, which has been going down the path to games as a service for a while now.  I saw a quote from Chris Livingston at PC Gamer about Grand Theft Auto V about how he had by this point completely forgotten the original story of the game having spent so many years since in the sprawling open world content of the game.  And there it is on SuperData’s digital revenue charts every month.  It has essentially become an MMORPG in all but name.

So the question, to which I most assuredly do not have an answer, is can we get out of this situation?  Has the genre become like the RTS genre before it or, I would argue, the MOBA genre now, where the dominate players have so defined the genre that it is locked into stagnation?  And, were something fresh and new to come along that fit within whatever definition you might choose for MMORPG, could we pry enough people away from the treasured memories long enough for it to find an audience?