LOTRO: Touring Dol Amroth

loveIt was amusingly coincidental that one of my kinnies posted the gushing quote on the right-hand side there about LOTRO while I was taking a leisurely tour through the Gondorian city of Dol Amroth.  Word for word, that’s pretty much what I was thinking as I took in the sights.

Edoras was neat as a wide, spread-out city, but Dol Amroth feels more established and functional the way that I envision a Middle-earth city being.  It’s giant, it’s rich, and it’s still showing us new sights after all of these years in the game.  Putting it on a peninsula surrounded by the ocean gives it a very different feel, especially with all of the seagulls swooping around and the trading ships sitting in the harbor.

city1Maybe places in LOTRO are more impressive at night with the change of lighting, but I was sufficiently impressed with the gates to Dol Amroth to stop and take a few photos before I went in.

city2The game gives you a quest to tour through the city, accomplishing various small tasks on the way.  I appreciated that, because I did want to explore it without feeling as though I was wasting my time.

Dol Amroth is imposing, with large, solid stone structures all around.  It’s almost cluttered, or at least far more compact than what I had grown used to with the Rohirrim towns.  It’s less organic too; more like a city of statues and fortresses.  I think it conveys well the fact that there wasn’t much room for the city to grow out, so it had to grow on top of itself in layers.

city3Looking down at the harbor.  I’m weirdly thrilled that we’re seeing the ocean here.  I see the ocean and seas in other MMOs, but I think I’m only realizing now that the largest bodies of water that I’ve witnessed in this game are lakes (Everswim) and the Forochel ice bay.

city4There’s a massive swan motif going on all around here, including the armed forces being the Swan Knights.  It has to do with some local Gondor guy, but I don’t remember much about the lore other than “he was really, really into swans.”  Not to knock the birds — they’re lovely and all that — but swans don’t project military might, financial accumen, or political saavy.  They kind of project “ooh I’m a 14-year-old girl falling in love for the first time.”

city5The bridge over to the Swan Knights’ keep.  LOTRO is still pretty, yes, but compared to newer games you can see more of its hard angles.  I wish that it could have a graphic engine upgrade to allow for new tricks, because this could look even better than it already does.

 

LOTRO: Level 100 and sinister swans

tc1One thing is for certain: Gondor is puh-retty.  I love the seaside venue, as it’s something we really haven’t gotten before in this game.  Feels almost relaxing and vacationy.

Even with the beacons lit and Sauron doing Saurony things elsewhere, Western Gondor doesn’t feel as if it’s under imminent danger.  The devs try to set up conflict with the tag-team duo of the ruthless dead and the corsairs, but bad pirates?  I’ve seen so much worse in my journey so far.  Corsairs are almost quaint.  Fun to kill, tho.

There was a bunch of quests that sent me into a corsair camp to kill, loot, and burn things, which kind of makes me an anti-corsair corsair.  I was tasked with lighting up these guard towers, which was all fine except that people were in them and started screaming when the fire reached them.  That was a bit gruesome for LOTRO.

tc2Update 14 did give players a few new options for group content, with fellowship versions of the epic story and the area of Tarlang’s Crown.  TC is a group-only area that’s quite reminiscent of the Great River’s Limlight Gorge, with plenty of dailies to tempt groups of players into the place.  Sure, it’s not a new instance or skirmish, but I’ve seen TC rise in popularity as level-capped players look for fun things to do together.

The other night our kinship put out a call for Tarlang’s Crown, so I decided to tag along to see what all of the fuss was about.  It’s a strip of road between the river and mountain that has several camps and plenty of both corsairs and ruthless dead to kill (not to mention the odd troll).  Even though they were considerably tougher mobs, we had a raid going that could handle them without much difficulties.  I found it interesting that our raid had 50% hunters, a Rune-keeper, a Minstrel, a Burglar (I think), and two Wardens, but I was the only Cappy.

This sort of group content is my favorite.  It’s low-stress, since it’s mostly fighting without worrying about tight raid boss patterns or pinpoint healing.  I enjoyed throwing out as many buffs and heals as possible, and I even got the heroic opportunity to rez someone in the middle of combat.  I don’t think I’ll ever finish up that class deed, but it was cool to actually get to use that skill for once.

tc3One of our kinnies had a swan pet, which kept following us around and providing us with opportunities to discuss how it was probably a corsair spy and was plotting our downfall.  I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t have a vanity pet in LOTRO yet.  I should look into that.

The whole TC run got me most of the way from 99 to 100, and I finally hit triple digits by wrapping up a few solo quests.  Even with that under my belt, I have plenty of quests left to do and about half of the new epic story unfinished.

LOTRO: Rotting meat and vomit

mess1I’ve almost lost count of all of the times that Lord of the Rings Online has made me clean up vomit.  I suspect that one of the devs has a very disturbing fetish going on, because by now I’m like, oh, it’s another vomit quest.  Cleanup on aisle Gondor!  Send in the fully armored Captain with her trusty mop!

Compared to the next house, which was packed full of rotting meat and unhappy corpses, this was a cakewalk.  All of this was courtesy of a band of corsairs who decided that taking over a town within a stone’s throw of a major Gondor city was a good idea.

This quest line is actually a little strange.  I mean, clearing out a town of bad guys, we’ve done that before and it’s pretty mindless while still making you feel somewhat heroic.  But this town does things a little different, because after you sweep three houses, you’re urged to go confront the leader of the corsairs at the local tavern.

Instead of allowing you to slaughter everyone inside — and I’m a Captain, I could have done that easily — the quest enters me into negotiations with the corsairs to pack up and leave.  Of course, first I have to win a drinking contest because drinking is Middle-earth’s shortcut to diplomacy.

mess2The leader of this band of corsairs, Jajax, agrees to vacate the town as long as I give him and his men safe passage.  At this point I’m yelling at my computer screen, because there is no way that I should be letting this guy go.  While LOTRO is trying to portray him as an honorable man, I can’t help but remember how I was just stepping over corpses of the townspeople a few minutes ago — nevermind the kidnapped and displaced refugees who demand justice.  But okay, I’ll let him go.

It gets even more bizarre when Jajax later asks me to help him avenge his fallen men, who were slaughtered by the other corsairs for not being corsairy enough.  When the game asks me to (seriously) /mourn the dead on Jajax’s behalf, I’m doing the same facepalm in real life but for an entirely different reason.

While this quest chain is certainly memorable, it’s such a writing misstep that I really want to find the dev at Turbine who made this up.  You can’t have a killer of innocents become a pseudo good guy in the space of two quests.  And you certainly can’t expect me to care about him.

mess3Apart from that, I’ve really been rocking with the new Gondor content.  I created a new build for my Captain that’s mostly yellow with some red thrown in, and it’s proving to be much more durable and enjoyable to use.  There’s one rapid heal-over-time skill that I’ve never used before that’s tickling me pink.

I also spurged on a level 95 second ager greatsword from the auction hall to tide me over for the time being.  With that and my new Gondor armor set, I finally look like a death-dealing metal crusader the way I always envisioned my Cappy of being.  I also have one of the new slottable shoulderpieces that I’ve finally fully decked out with essences.

There was a weird bug going on during Hobnanigans that kept delivering the quest to everyone when we instanced or logged in and out of the game.  It became a running joke in our kin, because we all ended up with scores of these Hobnanigan maps in our inventory.  I had little luck trying to sell a map for 20 gold, but I made a good effort at my presentation.

One thing I’ve observed is that there seems to be a lot more desire for people to group up, especially within my kin, following Update 14.  Between the new group landscape area and some of the instances that are rewarding essences and other goodies, there’s good motivation to doing stuff together.  I’m kind of eager to get to 100 (I’m currently 98) so I can join in.

LOTRO: The sights and smells of Gondor

q1There’s an (inconsequential) choice at the end of one of the new epic story side missions where you — as one of the cursed spirits where you get to choose whether to go with Aragorn to be redeemed as part of his ghost army or to swear eternal allegiance to Sauron.  So of COURSE I had to go with the latter, just to see what happened.  It was a little bit of a letdown during the closing scene, but I appreciated the choice nonetheless.

q2War-steeds?  Bah.  I’m all about the goats in Gondor, baby!

q3This was right as the sun was starting to come up, and I thought that the shade of the sky contrasted so nicely with the bonfires of the beacon here.

q4Gondor on the sea.  Is this the first time that we’ve seen the ocean proper in LOTRO?  I guess Forochel’s Ice Bay leads out to one, but I can’t think of anywhere else.  Gondor architecture is a little blocky and swan-y for my tastes, but it’s still impressive in scope.

q5There’s an elf cave in Gondor?  There’s an elf cave in Gondor.  I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around elves voluntarily living underground, especially bumping into them after so long since seeing them.  Mirkwood?  I guess Mirkwood.  I wasn’t weeping in joy to be reunited with them, but it is kind of nice to see a race other than Man for once.

LOTRO: Echoes of the past

qqIt never ceases to amaze me how a little sabbatical can bring back my appreciation for LOTRO.  Affection can go dormant, like embers after a burning fire, but can always return after a time.

I was thinking about this last night when I was roaming around Gondor.  There’s something about this game and its world that always felt more real to me than many others, and perhaps that’s a feeling that’s earned only after an extensive history with a game.  My Captain isn’t merely going through the paces.  She’s been on such a long journey but still has the fire to see it through.

So it was comforting to get back into the groove of questing, exploring, and smacking bears with my two-hander.  Kin chat was hopping, mostly with a discussion over a semi-farcical male calendar that we debated making.  Short hairy men would be spot-on for a Middle-earth spread, don’t you think?

And even as I realize that the heyday of LOTRO is probably past (but one never knows about a future renaissance), it certainly doesn’t mean that everyone’s left or lost passion for this game.  For some folks that I see, LOTRO is all they play, and they are ears-deep in Update 14 with glee.

Even with the new class coming out this fall, I can’t imagine going through all of the leveling process again in the current climate.  Maybe back when I hadn’t done it so often and when more of my friends were playing, sure, but I don’t think I have it in me (or have the time) to do it all again.  I’m grateful that I’ve kept one character at the level cap so that I can see the journey through.

Every so often I engage in a pointless fantasy where I can return to a game at a specific point in time, usually around its launch, instead of playing it in the here and now.  Maybe it’s the atmosphere of newness and potential that only exists in those first months and the first year, or the fact that the community is leveling up together and discovering things at roughly the same time.  For example, I’ve been feeling a yearning to return to DDO as of late, but I would have no idea where to get plugged in to the current scene.  The present is unknown, but how it used to be in the past — when we had regular groups and I knew the content well — is familiar.  Again, there’s comfort in that.  Maybe I’m just a big comfort hog.

I miss LOTRO being on the tip of the daily tongues.  It still is in some quarters, but the store, the age, and the new shinies have pulled people away.  What used to be a family road trip has become a mostly solo adventure for me.  So I yearn for what was even as I go forward.

The Weekend Gaming Report with “Sippycup” Syp

gondorI didn’t get as much time as anticipated to game this weekend, but I made the best of what I did get — and actually came out feeling pretty great about how things ended up.  So what was Syp playing?

The Wolf Among Us

I wrapped up the final episode of this generally excellent Fables adventure game and have been chewing over my feelings on it.  Like all of Telltale’s efforts lately, there was precious little in the way of puzzles, but I think that the final episode did deliver a lot in the way of choice and consequence, both from the episode itself and from the previous four as well.  I got what I considered to be a pretty compassionate ending with most of the townsfolk happy with me, so that’s a win for poor Bigby.  I felt pretty uncomfortable how the game brought up my past decisions in a (sometimes) negative light, because this game has been about how unfair the situation and position that both Bigby and the residents of Fabletown are in, and hey, I’ve been trying my best.

One major disappointment was the lack of a deductive scene.  In the first (and maybe second) episodes, Telltale tried to stretch itself by including scenes where you had to investigate the environment and people to put together the truth of what had happened.  That was actually pretty cool, since you could mess up and overlook stuff, but the devs obviously gave up on that.  This omission was really felt at the end of the game, when the characters simply told you the answer to the mystery instead of letting you solve it.

But in terms of world-building and characterization, TWAU hit it out of the park.  The Fables universe is great for adventure games and I sincerely hope we see another one, especially following the twist ending.

Lord of the Rings Online

I really need to devote more time to Update 14, but what I did get to play has actually been pretty enjoyable.  Perhaps it’s my previous sabbatical that helped to rekindle my interest, but I’m settling back into my old shoes and taking a walk around Gondor.

I’ve been messing around with builds on my captain, trying to find a nice hybrid that pumps out as much damage as possible while giving me enough survivability with healing.  Sort of a red/blue deal.  I didn’t realize that we had another LI trait reset and was going around like a derp without any points spent, wondering why I was having a bit of a hard time taking down a frenzied deer.  Stupid deer, always in the way between me and world domination!

Gondor as a land is a definite change from Rohan.  It feels more old school Europe than Rohan’s Viking vibe, which isn’t terrible but… I’m probably never going to be a fan of gaudy decor and our second major Man country in a row.

Guild Wars 2

I finished up Entanglement on my Ranger (spoilers: Scarlet was really Trahearne all along!).  Gameplay-wise it was adequate — nothing particularly exciting nor challenging for my character, but functional.  Story-wise, it was definitely more interesting than the first episode, particularly toward the end.

I then switched over to my long-dormant Necromancer and brought her from 77 to 80 in a night.  Spending laurels on ascended gear and equipping her with a full set of exotics and superior sigils was something I’ve been looking forward to doing for quite some time, so it’s cool that I’ve reactivated her.  She has a LOT of the map and her personal story left to do, but I think that I’ll try to get her through the first two S2 episodes before going back to doing anything else.

WildStar

My big goal for the weekend was to hit level 25 and get my hoverboard, which I finally, finally did.  Whitevale is a lovely zone to quest in, and my Medic’s new build is rocking nicely.  I’m trying to do each and every challenge as I find them unless it’s functionally undoable (as in not enough mobs to make it possible).

I got a good laugh at all of the spy shenanigans that occupied one of the early quest lines, especially being knocked out to be taken to a secret base and scouting around for snowmen.

One of the things that WildStar does really well and yet has gotten little praise that I’ve seen is how it’s created all of these alien races and made them quite memorable and distinct.  The Freebots (who just wanna be free, man), the Lopps, and the Protostar clones are my fave, but just about all of them have great personalities and make up for a wacky scifi cast.

LOTRO: Through the Paths of the Dum

deadAnd so it begins.

It’s been over a month (two months?) since I last logged into LOTRO, a realization that gave me a pang of guilt.  But I couldn’t resist checking in now that Update 14 landed.  It’s what I’m calling a pocket expansion: bigger than the average update but smaller than a full-fledged expansion.  There are three (sort of four) new zones, 5 more levels (and new skills?), the essence system, a new epic book, and well over 100 new quests to chew through.  Good stuff.

This update is notable for finally taking us out of Rohan and into Gondor proper.  A surprisingly quick trip through the Paths of the Dead served as a transition between the two countries.  Is it just me, or should Turbine have doled out more quests in the Paths of the Dead?  It’s such an impressive set piece that you just breeze through like it was a rest stop.

Along with the new update came a producer’s letter that contained a few changes for the upcoming plan for the game.  Beornings will start at level 1 when they come out, which is as it should be (and will give Turbine a chance to sell more insta-boosts to 50 in the store, I’m sure), the level cap will NOT be raised to 105 later this year (I don’t care either way), and Turbine’s making an effort to allow you to keep a legendary item and build upon it instead of constantly recycling them.  I heartily endorse this last decision with a reserved opinion for when I see how it’s going to work.

dumsI didn’t get much into Gondor itself because I got invited to fill in a spot with the Monday night Dums.  These are folks from my former kin that get together once a week to run skirmishes together and level oh-so-slowly (my level 95 was easily 10 levels higher than the rest of them, but I did not lord my superiority).  Oh, and they dress up all bizarrely and have some sort of suicide pact that I only realized about halfway into a run.  “Hey, let’s give that dragon a cuddle!” was their battle cry.

Another “tradition” of theirs that they told me was how they love to throw down all of those temporary banners that skirms give people, even though nobody knows what those banners do.  It’s just for looks, especially when they can get about ten slapped down on a spot.

It was a fun run — I definitely approve more of skirmishes than most group content in this game — even though I had a really bad blue-line healing build slapped together after the update’s trait reset.  Even with those ten extra levels I couldn’t grab aggro that well.

And let me tell you, after a couple of months of playing nothing but action combat-style MMOs, it was a bit of an… adjustment to go back to the global cooldown and traditional fighting.  It wasn’t horrible, but I found myself a little impatient at waiting for slow skills to fire off so that I could get to the next one.  Could Turbine speed up combat a little bit?  I wouldn’t mind, trust me.

LOTRO: The aftermath of Isengard

entWhen last I left my adventures in LOTRO, we were returning to Isengard to see what became of the place after Saruman lost big-time.  The Grey Company finally found Aragorn and had an explosion of hugs as a result.

One of the reasons that I haven’t been logging into LOTRO much lately is because Isengard isn’t my favorite place in the game.  While technically spot-on to the books and all that, it is visually wearing on me and slightly annoying to navigate.  Well, it’s only gotten uglier and less accessible in my absence, as the Ents have flooded the place and killed pretty much everyone there.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s cool that the progressing story is shown in such a dramatic change to an iconic landmark.  I think I’m just a little tired of the whole Isengard storyline.  I did find one spot pretty impressive, as you swim over a huge gap in the earth and can look down into the former underground works:

floodToo bad we can’t swim down!

There are a lot of “mopping up” quests, the most annoying of which are the ones that send me to the non-flooded underground portions to fight the remaining mobs.   They’re all signature mobs and the first mobs that I’ve fought post-Update 13’s “mob toughening” programme.  Let me tell you, I was in for a shock — I got creamed when I went in there, swinging away with my usual rotation.  A Captain dying?  Seriously?  Such a thing has not happened since the First Age!  I had to switch to my healing spec and put in some effort for these fights, which I guess isn’t a bad thing, but it makes me worry about what the squishier classes have to deal with.

While Turbine’s devs were going on and on about how “Ent play” was going to be just the cat’s meow of this update, I had a feeling — later confirmed — that it isn’t anything truly special.  For one thing, haven’t we already stepped into the shoes of an Ent before in one of the Fangorn storylines?  I’m pretty sure we have.  For another thing, walking slow with a character that obstructs a good portion of the screen and only has three skills is not the fast lane to excitement.  Maybe those really into the lore can grab some giddy thrills here, but it’s just another day in Middle-earth to me.

However, I did get a few laughs out of the initial Ent quest, especially how the game portrayed the enormous length of the Ent moot by speeding up the Hobbits and the passage of day while you talked and moved in normal time.

I was hoping that Update 13 would have really reinvigorated my interest in LOTRO, but as it is, I feel like my attention tanks are a little on the empty side.  That’s OK, it happens and I’ll certainly keep plugging away at this storyline, but I don’t feel pressed to log in on a daily basis right now.

Weekend gaming report

gwwwwwwI had a very busy if scattered weekend of gaming, so here’s what I’ve been up to:

LOTRO: I’ll write up a longer post later on about the continuing adventures through Update 13.  It definitely feels like a much smaller edition so I’m trying hard not to zoom through it too quickly.  If nothing else, it reminded me how much I dislike the visuals of Isengard and am very glad I’m leaving that place behind forever.

Guild Wars 2: Nothing super-special here, just logging in to do dailies.  Dailies definitely seem to take a lot longer after the feature pack drop, mostly due to a smaller selection of options.  Some days I can breeze through them, but I’ve had at least two days where it’s taken me a good hour or more to wrap them up.  My Mesmer is level 41 and more or less doing well.  I haven’t really figured out a build with her yet, but since I won’t even hit the second tier of traits until 60, I have plenty of time to figure it out.  Hilariously enough, I’ve yet to leave the starting zones (I’m on the last one, the Sylvari zone).

The Wolf Among Us: I took an hour and a half to do the third episode, The Crooked Mile.  I really lament how short these episodes are, especially since there are no puzzles to slow down the rapid pace through the story.  It was definitely interesting and kept the twists and turns of the plot coming.  I also decided I must grab this soundtrack if it’s available.

Diablo 3: This actually sucked up quite a bit of my time.  Maybe I’m just in the mood lately for mindless action-RPGing, but dang if it wasn’t a fun couple of sessions.  After poking around a bit on a Monk, I rerolled a new Witch Doctor because throwing spiders on things is far too awesome to ignore.  I even joined a guild (er, clan) and appreciated the more social aspect of the game that’s arisen since the expansion.  Speaking of, I’m debating getting Reaper of Souls, but I think I’ll wait to see if I stick this out through the end of the storyline.  Other than the Crusader class, I don’t think the lack of the expansion is limiting my play experience at all.

LOTRO: The day after

tap2

The title here has a double meaning, in that I not only started playing the new Update 13 epic story the day after it came out, but the storyline itself begins the day after the Battle of Helm’s Deep.  Time to put some distance between me and the mountains of corpses left behind.  I can only imagine the smell!

As an aside, I would totally buy a few t-shirts or posters that had reprints of the tapestries in some of these Rohan mead halls.

tap3tap1Ugh… I cannot get over how awesomely manly these are.  I can feel my chest hair growing thicker and more robust just from the viewing.

tap4Gandalf, Theodin, Legolas, Gimli, Aragorn and Extra #47 ride out with me through the new forest that has moved in around Helm’s Deep.  By this time I’m really wondering why the in-universe author of the books chronicling this adventure (Frodo?) decided to leave me out.  I guess I didn’t have much of a catchphrase.  Anyway, we spot a few Ents strolling by, a moment that would be more filled with awe had we not just spent some two expansions constantly bumping into them.  What up, tree dudes?

tap5The Fords of Isen on fire remind me of how good-looking this game can be (especially if you could see this in motion).  It’s also a somber moment to remember that the previous battles were not casualty-free.

We’re approached from the rear by several riders.  DUN DUN DUNNNN… Could it be?

tap6Oh jeez!  You guys?  You’re still alive?  You haven’t, what, fallen prey to level 5 goblins or gotten treed by a badger?  Well there you go Aragorn, your red shirt fan club has found you.  The war is all but won now.

I guess this brings to a conclusion a journey for the Grey Company that started a very, very long time ago.  There’s only like five of them left because, well, they’re them, but the survivors are pretty jubulent that they found Aragorn and can give him that big helping hand he hasn’t needed to date.  Meanwhile, the Shire goes unprotected and is looted by waves of bandits now that the Rangers have pulled up stakes.