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.

LOTRO: Where everybody knows your name

spidermoonI have been neglecting LOTRO as of late.  Part of that is the anticipation of Update 13 and going into a “fasting mode” prior to it arriving, and part of it was from just getting too focused on Guild Wars 2 leveling to the exclusion of all else.  So when I had 45 minutes yesterday to play, I logged in to run my Lore-master through a couple of more epic chapters.

When I jumped into the game, one of my kin greeted me and said that he was glad to see me — that it had been a week since I was last there.  And even though that was a small thing, it really made an impact on me.  My kin in LOTRO (Lonely Mountain Band) is fairly big and I’m not necessarily the most vocal or active member, but the kin really prides itself on generating an atmosphere of family.  So people notice people, people talk, and people go out of their way to greet one another.  Even if they hadn’t logged in for a while.

I’ve found that in both games and the real world, feeling as though your presence or absence from a group matters is integral to your interest in that group and related activity.  I’ve been in many guilds where my comings and goings are ignored, where I’m just another face in the crowd.  Sure, that can be influenced by how much I participate in guild events and guild chat, but I’ve also observed that leadership has a huge role in setting the tone and example for the rest of the group to follow.  Those little “hellos,” “nites,” and “grats” add up, especially when coupled with more significant questions and conversations and encounters.

It’s the same example that I try to set in our youth group at church.  When a teen comes, I make a point to personally welcome them and ask them about their week, and when a teen misses a meeting, I give them a call — not to nag, but to let them know that their absence was felt and that they mattered to the group.  We’re always ignored by so many people because paying attention takes effort and selflessness.  It’s good to push back against that.

All I know is that the warm greeting I received yesterday probably contributed greatly to my interest in logging back in today.  There’s a lesson for all of us in that.

Weekend Gaming Update

SwordAxe!  Why am I not allowed to use this weapon?

SwordAxe! Why am I not allowed to use this weapon?

I actually had a busy and productive weekend, gaming and otherwise.  Here’s what I was playing:

Lord of the Rings Online

Our kin was abuzz about the revelation that there will be a new class this year, and while there are popular theories, there was no consensus (in our kin or in the larger community) as to what it will be.  Ranger and Beorning seems to be two of the more common guesses.

I did a bit more of my Lore-master’s epic story while thinking about what it might be like to level up a new character all over again.  True, Turbine’s revamping several zones and that will definitely make it easier, but… whew.  It’s a daunting prospect, and one that I’m only willing to undertake if the new class is sufficiently compelling.  I can only imagine what the lowbie levels will look like as everyone rolls the same class.

The Walking Dead Season Two

I’m on week three of a deliberate push to kick my weight loss back in gear with a three-pronged assault: No going to fast food (even for “healthy” options), no artificial sweeteners (sigh… goodbye coffee), and a daily round of exercise biking.  The latter is something I’m looking forward to each day, if only that it’s the one time that I allow myself to play a bit more of chapter two in the Walking Dead Season Two.  There’s something about being interactive with the game that makes me forget that I’m exercising in a way that watching a TV show or reading a book doesn’t.  My concern is when I get to the end of the game — I’m going to need to get a few more on deck.

Guild Wars 2

While every other MMO seemed to be having some sort of bonus weekend, GW2 was trucking along.  I guess their “every two weeks” thing isn’t applying to the season one finale here, because we’re heading into week three.  Apparently there’s going to be a “small epilogue” tomorrow, but I’m still waiting for that feature release that’s supposed to come after.

Anyway, I did a lot of smaller activities: I ran the Lion’s Arch fight a few times (and once through successfully), I did my dailies, and I fiddled a bit around with my lowbie Mesmer because a few guildmates goaded me/encouraged me to stick with it with the promise that the class blossoms a lot later than the others.  I believe “learn to play” was tossed around.

The Secret World

I joined up with my friend MJ to do a couple of scenarios on Saturday evening to get those bonus oreos.  I wish I had been running them more, because man, we were rolling in rewards.  I’m within striking distance of getting a purple shotgun and I netted several more augments as well.

We ran elite duos with three people and did fairly well.  I think we ended up with 5/12 in Mansion and 14/15 in Hotel.  It helped that we had friendly snipers in Hotel and no super-annoying hinderances.

All in all, good times!