The Imperial Army wants YOU (and 5,000 other NPCs)

In my journeys through the Empire in SWTOR, I’ve met up with a gobton of Imperial officers and soldiers.  Like, many many more than I thought I’d be encountering in a Star Wars MMO.  I don’t know why, but I was assuming that a good portion of my journey would be separate from the militaristic side of things, but it seems like every planet is involved in the war in some way or other, and as a result, the uniforms are everywhere.

Now, some NPCs really do stand out — particularly in the main planet or class storylines — but there’s just as many disposable red shirts out there.  I won’t deny that.  I’ve even come up with internal names for the Imperial models BioWare trots out, including:

  • Morbidly obese officer
  • Female officer whose chesticular region warps the straight lines on the uniform (and, oddly enough, the pens in pockets if she has them)
  • Soldier with mutton-chops (I call him Civil War Stu)
  • Darth Whosits with his pointy shoulderpads and dripping eye makeup
  • Lord Bathrobe
  • “Hurt” soldier with realistic side-holding action (if a character is clutching their liver, that’s BioWare code for injured and/or dying, even if they were shot in the head)
  • Dude who has the same exact facial scar I do and that drives me nuts

Also, a special shout-out to the little droids that talk in equations way too fast, and as a result I can never get the full read on what they’re saying.

Stomach flu, I choose you!

So the plague’s completed its circuit through our household, saving its grand finale for me on Valentine’s Day.  Nothing says “I love you, honey!” like “Make way in the bathroom, I’m gonna spew!”

This meant that instead of lovely V-Day activities, I spent yesterday curled up on the couch, moaning to an empty house, and making mental notes to remind my kids of how they did this to me when they’re old enough to understand all of the fancy words I’ll use.  The one good thing about being sick in this day and age is that I wasn’t a prisoner of daytime TV for my only means of entertainment, but had Netflix on tap and a computer on the lap.  Jerry Springer ain’t got nothing on me.

It’s not like I did a lot, but I figured that if I was going to be stationary, I might as well log in to LOTRO and keep accumulating my free treasure picks every fifteen minutes.  Good thing I did so, because it turned out that Turbine was merely running a low-level stress test on the event and turned it off today.  Before that happened, however, I got just about everything I wanted from the event, including my helmet, two housing decorations, the side pouch, mask, and cave-claw pet (although I’m disappointed the latter can only be used every 10 minutes for one minute instead of staying out constantly).

The best part of the day came right at the end as I was wrapping up my efforts in the event, as I scored two mounts within five minutes of each other.  The mounts are pretty rare finds in the event, but still easier to come by than other top-quality mounts in the game.  Seriously, within five minutes I got a +68% speed, 250-morale pony AND goat, satisfying all of my travel needs on my Minstrel through the current endgame.  I was really in shock.  Plus, both mounts are cool looking — the pony is the cave-claw one and the goat has coins flying out of its butt.

Turbine said that the event will be coming back soon and over a weekend next time, so for those who missed out, here’s hoping you get caught up soon.  Special shout-out to CSTM for a great Buried Treasure guide.

Dowsing for gold

With LOTRO’s 5.2 patch today came the official start of the sporadic Buried Treasure in-game event.  We got a brief peek at this event a month or so ago — and it’s been in the works for a very, very long time at this point — and I’m excited as always to see another non-combat event come into the game.  Even if they’re ultimately frivolous in regards to advancement and character growth, they’re just plain fun and community-building as well.  Plus, any chance to nab some cosmetic and housing items, and I’m there!

I spent the day constantly logged into LOTRO to build up my inventory of treasure hunting picks.  The way the event works is that a field of dig sites opens up with each site ranging from crappy rewards (like a single treasure token) to great ones (the “large” sites with big chests are the ones everyone wants), and you just go and dig away.  The only restriction is that you can only dig as many holes as you have picks, and each dig takes a pick away.  So you can either do a pair of repeatable (every 15 minutes) quests and/or shell out money in the LOTRO store to speed it up.  I don’t see any reason why someone would want to pay money for this unless one was incredibly impatient, as getting picks is fairly easy.

My basic method is just to stay logged into LOTRO but tabbed out with a timer on my phone that went off every 15 minutes.  I tab in, take literally 10 seconds to get my 2 free picks, reset the timer, tab out and get other things done for 15 minutes.  (The store-bought picks are ridiculously overpriced — 200 TP for 5 of them — and considering you can get 4 picks in the space of a couple minutes for free every 15 minutes, I don’t see why you’d fall for this.)

After several hours of that, I amassed somewhere around 40 picks and went nuts hunting.  You can better your odds with dowsing rods (one-shot items that tell you the “strength” of a hole) or a trained cave-claw (one-shot critters that lead you to the nearest best dig site).  So there is a little bit of strategy involved, but ultimately it’s a crap shoot.

I’m fairly pleased with the results so far.  My Minstrel has collected 258 tokens and got lucky with two boxes that rewarded a Jeweler’s Helm (my “must have” cosmetic item that sort of looks like R2D2 from above) and a Dowsing emote.  I’m planning on saving up around 500 or so before buying anything in case I get any more of the store items.  If I can snag a cave-claw mask, the pet, and one or two of the housing items, I’ll be content.

LOTRO: Minstrel roadmap

I just wanted to post this roadmap I made for my LOTRO Minstrel in case anyone else can find it useful.  It’s a pretty basic build that focuses on the Minstrel’s core stat (Will) and Morale (health), dividing the Virtue deeds into each zone.  I picked only the deeds that were easily soloable, and most of them go up to 12.  The letters after the deeds refer to the virtue in question, a +2 means it’s a two-point bump, and numbers in parenthesis are a quick reference to the number of quests or kills that have to be done for that.

Stat focus: Will, Vitality, Morale

Virtues: Idealism, Valour, Wisdom, Confidence, Loyalty

At Rank 12:

  • Will: +63
  • Vitality: +36
  • Morale: +338
  • Fate: +36
  • Power: +73
  • Armor: +180
  • Resistance: +3725
  • Physical Mitigation: +216
  • OOCMR: +486.5
  • ICPR: +81
  • Might: +9

ERED LUIN

  • Elf-ruins Exploration W
  • Rath Teraig Exploration C

SHIRE

  • Goblin-slayer (60) V

BREELAND

  • History of the Dunedain I
  • Flowers of the Old Forest I
  • The Old Forest W
  • Lore of the Cardolan Prince W
  • Bree-land Adventurer (45) +2 L
  • Orc-slayer (60) V

LONE-LANDS

  • Tales of the Lonely Road (Final) +2 I
  • Weathertop Exploration W
  • The Grimfens C
  • Garth Agarwen Exploration C
  • Goblin-slayer (120) V
  • Orc-slayer (120) V

NORTH DOWNS

  • The Western Ruins W
  • Strongholds Exploration C
  • Of Glories Long Past (45) L

EVENDIM

  • Invaders from Angmar (240) W
  • The City of the Kings L

TROLLSHAWS

  • Deeds in the Wilderness (Final) +2 I
  • Deeds in the Wilderness (20) L
  • Worm-slayer (180) V

MISTY MOUNTAINS

  • The High Passes W
  • Where Giants Dwell C

ANDGMAR

  • Marching into Shadow (20) I
  • Marching into Shadow (10) L
  • The Road to War +2 C
  • Worm-slayer (300) V

FOROCHEL

  • Gauradan-slayer (Advanced) I
  • The Battle for Forochel W
  • Angmarim-slayer (240) C

EREGION

  • The Ruins of Eregion W
  • Craban-slayer (240) L

MORIA

  • Wanderer of the Central Levels (20 quests) I
  • The Redhorn Lodes W
  • Spider-slayer (240) V
  • Worm-slayer (240) +2 V
  • Western Durin’s Way I
  • The Cliffs of Zirakzigil C
  • Nud-melek +2 L
  • Glow-worm Slayer (120) W
  • The Foundations of Stone V

LOTHLORIEN

  • City of the Lord and Lady V

MIRKWOOD

  • The Wilds of Mirkwood W
  • Into the Black and Twisted Forest (10) L
  • Evil Strongholds of Mirkwood V

ENEDWAITH

  • Mysteries of Enedwaith (10) C
  • Wolf and Shadow-wolf Slayer (255) C

DUNLAND

  • Exploring Trum Dreng I
  • Deeds of Dunland I
  • Orc-slayer (Advanced) I
  • Craban-slayer (120) W
  • Warg-slayer (200) C
  • Quests in Trum Dreng (32)
  • Beast-slayer (250) L

HOBBIT REP

  • Mathom Society – +1 I

Eight upcoming games I would love to be playing right the heck now

Just because patience and anticipation love to duke it out at times!

1. Guild Wars 2 — I think it’s a given that this game’s going to be something special and right up my alley.  It looks gorgeous, has interesting ideas, has no monthly sub, and… yeah.  It’s going to kick butt.  I’m cheering this game and team on like there’s no tomorrow (which I hope there is, because I wanna play it!).

2. Star Command — Star… wha?  This is a Kickstarter-funded project that’s basically “Star Trek meets Game Dev Story meets X-Com” for the iPhone.   The pixel art looks charming and the possibilities of running a starship on endless missions are exciting.  It’s supposed to come out in the first half of this year.

3. The Secret World — The recent news dump of how “deck building” works in the game was the kind of info I’ve been dying to read, and it really made me super-excited all over again for this title.  I love being able to custom tailor a class like that, and the modern/horror/conspiracy setting is too delicious and different to ignore.  It might flop, but I’m hoping it’ll be the semi-sleeper hit of the year.

4. Diablo III — OK, wasn’t really hopping on board the D3 train or anything, but after a couple recent videos, I know I’ll be playing it.  Action RPGs like that are fun to enjoy for the visceral thrill of combat, and it’s pseudo-MMOish setup means that I can enjoy a community there.

5. Mass Effect 3 — I have fond if not rabid feelings about the Mass Effect franchise, and am certainly anticipating a fun romp in this last part of the trilogy.  FemShep rules!

6. WildStar — Ugh, this game looks so slick that I can’t believe I don’t have it on my computer right this minute.  Multiple playstyle paths, yes please!

7. Firefall — Red5’s MMOFPS not only looks good but rumor is that it plays like a dream.  After a couple of video previews, I’ll admit that I wouldn’t mind spending more than a few nights getting reacquainted with FPS controls.

8. Whatever Double Fine is doing with its newly raised capital — Love this studio.  Loved Psychonauts.  Love the idea of a new wacky adventure game.

SWTOR: Companionable

Last night I wrapped up my adventures on Voss, which was a surprisingly different-feeling high level planet for SWTOR.  The autumnal landscapes, the memorable inhabitants (of which I will remember that their breath is foul so don’t kiss them), and the really, really easy datacron collecting make it one of my most favorite planets to date.  I just felt relaxed questing there.  Good thing I have the bonus series to enjoy.

That is, however, until I got to the end of both my class storyline and the planet storyline.  At this point, apparently BioWare wanted to smack me down with a sledgehammer and growl in my face for a while.  Without warning, I found myself thrust into very difficult boss fights that I wondered weren’t scaled toward a small group or something.  The avatar of Sel-Makor has already become notorious on the forums for how quickly he’ll dispatch you and your companion with a quick chain of Force abilities, and it took me a couple fights before I was able to use the landscape correctly to interrupt, kite and kill him.  The other fight was my class story boss, and I wasn’t quite prepared with just how tough he was.  Even with my tank out and me as a healer, the fight went on for almost ten minutes due to his quick self-heals (that were difficult to interrupt AND keep heals up on my tank) and his large health pool.

But both encounters were defeatable, and I actually enjoyed the challenge.  It’s good to feel like you are using all of your character’s skills in a fight instead of just a select few, and that you’ve learned how to adapt in a hard fight to use them correctly.

I was reading an article over on Darth Hater today about companions, and I certainly think the author is spot-on in a few respects.  For one, I didn’t know that companion tanks had been nerfed from beta, but it makes sense — they are a little too squishy for my tastes as a healer, and usually I just have Vector out for DPS anyway.  Easier to heal and shield myself.

While I really do love it any time a companion butts into a conversation or when the next part of their character storyline opens up, it’s still too infrequent for my tastes.  I miss the Mass Effect/Dragon Age/Baldur’s Gate thing where companions interacted with each other, too — only having one companion out at a time limits that to shipboard only.

It’s probably an interesting study in personal choice when it comes to which companions are your favorites.  I like some more as personalities and others more for their combat utility, for sure.  At the moment, Kaliyo and Loken are up at the top for being interesting characters that I can’t quite trust.  Temple is down at the bottom — she’s too bland of a character and hasn’t really opened up much about herself other than that she’s very, very career driven.  Vector is a great combat assistant, but I’m keeping him at arm’s length following his assault on my mouth.  And SCORPIO downright creeps me out (in a GLADOS kind of way) but having a companion who *wants* to kill you but can’t (due to restraining software) and is constantly adapting to become a better killer is like playing host to the Terminator.  Like anything else with the Agent life, it’s hard to know who — if anyone — you can trust.

The greater class story is interesting, although I’m starting to wonder if they’re making it impossible to naturally want to root for the side of the Empire, duty, be a team player, etc.  It’s far easier to want to be rebellious against whoever is The Man at any point in the story (and that’s quite a few folks), and the frequency for how often you’re screwed over is like the game is stacking the deck against you being a professional who sticks with the home team.  I’m now wondering if there are choices I could’ve made that would’ve had a better impact on the agency if I wasn’t trying to buck the system so often.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  After I’m done with the storyline I want to see if I can find a flow chart or something where people map out how decisions have and haven’t changed the storyline.

MMOs on reserve

On one of my bookshelves in my house is a shelf that’s crammed full of books I haven’t read yet but need to.  It’s my “to do” shelf — a land of promise and a guilt trip of procrastination all rolled into one.  My Kindle is even worse, as I keep downloading books twice as fast as I read them.  The comforting thought is that all of these novels will still be there whether I read them today or three years from now, so I don’t feel rushed.  Just mildly guilty.

The same unfortunately cannot be said of MMOs, as much as I would like to treat them the same way.  It’s not a dissatisfaction for my current MMOs that I want to try different ones out so much as a general enthusiasm for the genre.  There are so many interesting titles out there and yet no way — even if I had no time or money restrictions — to play them all apart from a very light sampling.  I can’t just put them on the shelf for a later year, because (a) who knows if a game will even be around in six months or two years, (b) the game and game community as it is now will be different down the road, and (c) the flood of MMOs keep on coming — and older ones tend to get interesting now and then.

I’d love to get back into DDO, especially with the expansion coming out.  No time.  Fallen Earth and EQ2, two MMOs I had a lot of fun with last year, have been sent back to the minors because of priorities and interests.  I never really gave Age of Conan a fair shot, sometimes miss City of Heroes, and am always intrigued by the WURM talk out there.

As fun as MMOs are, they don’t age with any consistency (they could flame out, get worse over time, go through massive changes, etc.) and are hard to predict where they’ll be at later on.  To make matters more difficult, their time-consuming nature — some way more than others — means that they’re hard to pick up casually or juggle.  I’m cycling through three MMOs on a regular basis, and even that is challenging to do without giving one game way more time than others or becoming frustrated that my progress in any of them is a third as fast as it could be.

It’s a good problem to have, but it’s a shame I can’t just freeze them all in time as is until a point in the future when I can finally get around to all of the ones that have piqued my interest.

The Shire Online

In my recent lowbie adventures through Middle-earth in LOTRO, I’ve had some time to think about the early game vs. late game a lot.  One of the topics I’m forever chewing on is why these zones — particularly the Shire — are so incredibly beloved and memorable compared to the later ones.  I have a lot of theories (I’m sure you do as well), but I think the biggest reason is that these areas show us *life* in Middle-earth, not just an endless field of death punctuated by the next quest hub.

These are cities and villages and hamlets with people more concerned about pies, reputation, estranged family members, naughty bears, and other trivialities (at least when compared with a “hero’s” normal schedule) than anything else.  Some people hate it, I know.  And it’s not as if these areas are without their darker places, what with the goblin camps, Barrow-downs, and happy-go-lucky spider jamborees.  But the sense of life that pervades is what endears me to these areas, and it’s something I feel is lacking the further away we get from it.

(As an aside, I think Turbine recognizes this too, which is why there has been an effort to bring some of these qualities back in Lothlorien, Galtrev, and even some of the hamlets in Dunland.  I don’t think they’ve recaptured that feeling, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Anyway, as a weird thought, I’d started to wonder if an entire game — an MMO — would work strictly within the confines of the Shire, using LOTRO’s design and quests as a springboard.  Or, if not the Shire, then just one nice-sized zone of any kind.  I think it’s an interesting limitation, because you’d begin with the knowledge that players would not be “moving on” to anywhere else.  But within that limitation are possibilities that escape your typical nomadic playerbase.  The focus of your character would be on putting down roots and living in a community comprised of both NPCs and players.  Change, growth and development would need to be core features to compensate for the static locale (think Deep Space Nine versus The Next Generation).  Combat would still be there, but it would be just a sliver of the potential for your character’s actions.

Perhaps there could and should be more sandboxy elements in this hypothetical “Shire Online.”  Maybe you could begin your life as a very young Hobbit who’s kicked out of his or her parents’ home and told to go make a life for yourself.  Would you become a farmer, an explorer, a trader, a postman, or something else?  Maybe you’d build a home, focus on a collection, or take up mini-adventures.

What would interest me, personally, is that due to the static locale, a great variety of quests and quest-lines could be introduced and then either rotated through or have players access one or the other through a “choose your own adventure” system.  We could actually get to know our NPC neighbors and each of us would develop growing relationships with them — love, friendships, feuds, political buddies, etc.  Every day, we would log in not knowing what adventure and events are happening right outside our front door, and major events could even shape the landscape (figuratively or not) of the zone for years to come after.  So even with sandboxy elements, I’d still love a more hands-on, theme park approach from developers who would produce specific content for the area.

Maybe we would even age, grow old, and eventually die — moving on to our sons or daughters or nieces or nephews as we “reroll.”

What do you think?  The Shire or something else, could an MMO work if contained to a single zone, and how would you envision this happening?