LOTRO: I am all that is Minstrel

Lord of the Rings Online’s progression server proved to be so captivating that I haven’t been playing much of anything else this past week. That’s fine by me. As much as I’m looking forward to the full journey, I know that there’s something special in these first few weeks that won’t quite endure for the long haul, and I don’t want to miss it.

And I am gearing up for the long haul. One of the biggest obstacles to rolling up new alts in LOTRO hasn’t been leveling (which has become much easier) but chewing through the epic mountains of content that this game has added over the years. From the first steps in Archet to the current cap in the Grey Mountains and Iron Hills is a journey that would make even Frodo quail. But another benefit of these progression servers is that we don’t have to do it all or think about it all in one massive chunk — we can take it in four-month slices instead.

That, for me, is quite doable.

I haven’t been racing, as that’s not my style. More like I’ve been doggedly tracking down all of the zone quests in a particular region and enjoying the stories and revisitation of old stomping grounds. Following a few-day stay in the Shire, I cleaned up some Ered Luin deeds and then started on Bree-land. I forgot how immense Bree-land is, as it does double duty as being both a starting area and the level 15-20 zone.

After some additional consideration, I bought one other thing on the store: the Fleet-footed Goat. You know me, I love my goats! And I’ve kind of always wanted this one, especially as it looks great and has top-notch mount stats (250 morale, 68% speed boost). It’ll serve me well into Moria and beyond, and I don’t have to worry about collecting any more mounts. I’m set.

I’ve been slowly coming into my own as a Minstrel, too. I had a day or two where I felt the pull of returning to an old familiar class, but I’m glad I’m persevering (and sinking actual money into this character makes me much less likely to give up on her). The turning point was when I traited for one skill that let me throw down a Moonbeam-like attack at range that contained AOE damage. Now I have all sorts of ranged light-based attacks, and I’m taking out Orcs and wolves alike by screaming at them and bringing down the power of the Almighty Flashlight. It’s kind of fun!

I’ve also been grouping as much as possible. There is lots of activity as the crowd swarms around the same quest objectives (something I expect will smooth out as we spread out in the mid- and high-levels). Multi-tapping helps, but it’s not a big pain to toss out invites and have some fun with others for a few minutes.

I also really embraced the role of a minstrel by downloading some of the ABC music files and strumming my lute at quest hubs. It got some attention and applause as I rocked Chrono Cross tunes, and I loved feeling like I was contributing to the atmosphere of the game world. It certainly helped me feel more like a minstrel, especially out of a pure combat context. I think I’d like to do this more.

The only sore point of this whole starting-over thing is that my cosmetic wardrobe is awfully skimpy right now. Low-level gear is… not kind to the eyes in LOTRO, and while I do check out the visuals of everything that drops, only very rarely does something make the cut and is added to the wardrobe. As such, I only have one outfit that I’m using regularly, and that one is mostly made up of starter gear.

If I’m able to, I’d like to start joining groups to run dungeons and see if I can’t snag some better-looking gear there. And I know that saving up marks is a good way to guaranteed cosmetics when the skirmish camps open up in the future. Patience, Syp, patience!

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The WildStar farewell tour, part 2

I finally got some more time to go on my self-appointed WildStar Farewell Tour a little while back, mostly thanks to Massively OP’s MJ, who dragged me along for a Halloween livestream on November 1st. Hey, Halloween isn’t over until the devs say it’s over, OK?

I fully expected us to be running the Shade’s Eve instances, and so I scooted my hoverboard over to the festival area and put on my bandage/mummy outfit. My character looked back at me with eyes that asked, “Can you take me out of this game and with you? Please?” Would if I could. Would if I could.

We had a bit of a two-person fashion show and dance party, since pretty much nobody else was around. I think WildStar’s remaining population has up and left already. I was in serious danger of delving into a lot of self-pity for the character, costume, and goodies I was about to lose when MJ suggested that we go check out random housing plots. Great idea!

We visited all sorts of bizarre homesteads, starting with this color-vomited pillowscape. I think part of my brain rebooted when I saw this.

This one player had created five absolutely incredible areas connected by a community plot. I really liked this little cafe that used the various magazine posters as kooky wall decorations.

We saw at least two plots with working (!) ferris wheels. Nothing delighted me more that night than riding these over and over again. I kept thinking that the creators of these plots had no idea that we were there or enjoying their handiwork. I really wish they did. At least I took screenshots to immortalize them.

Christmasland! With a giant Protostar gingerbread man!

The sheer density of this bar’s environment left us breathless. I can’t imagine how long it took to make this.

We also had a good time touring around a genuinely creepy horror-themed plot. The basement of this one house contained a room full of (a) stabbed voodoo characters, (b) eyeball children run through with spears, and (c) an upside down man hanging in chains. Brr!

Anyway, if you want to watch our full adventures, here is the stream:

Battle Bards Episode 132: Steampunk

Steam-powered tech, airships, clockwork machines, and automata are the source of inspiration for this week’s episode of Battle Bards! The team scrounged the landscape of MMOs for music from and inspired by steampunk games. It’s a wild grab bag of themes, so fire up your phonographs and give it a listen!

Episode 132 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Operation Gnomeregan” from World of Warcraft, “The Refugee” from City of Steam, and “Main Theme” from Arcanum)
  • “Main Theme” from Black Gold Online
  • “Lands of Igsh” from Allods Online
  • “Through the Epoch” from City of Steam
  • “Login Theme” from Divine Soul
  • “Ganedine” from Neo Steam
  • “Town” from Guns of Icarus
  • “Adventure Awaits” from Deepworld
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener mail from Video Game Music Soundtrack OST and Katriana
  • Jukebox picks: “Dark Forest” from Rise of Nations, “Lakrum Beach” from Aion, and “CrossWorlds” from CrossCode
  • Outro (“Menace of the Underdark Character Creation” from Dungeons and Dragons Online)

Grim Fandango: Year Three

From lowly deck swab to steamer captain — Manny always seems to land on his feet between the years of his spiritual journey. He pulls into port and for a moment there, I assume that this is going to be yet another port-related locale just like Year Two was. That gets turned on its head really quickly as the ship is boarded by sinister customs agents…

The whole crew sans Manny and Glottis get sprouted, and the two of them are locked up in a room to conveniently concoct their escape. Said escape comes by sawing the ship in half and sailing out into the middle of the ocean to then sink to the bottom of the sea. Yay? I guess? At least Manny doesn’t have to breathe and Glottis can go without for a while.

Down in the ocean they witness a cranky octopus grabbing shipwrecked skeletons and taking them away for indentured slavery. Naturally, Manny comes along for the ride and discovers that his old arch-nemesis, Domino, is heading up the works at this factory at the literal edge of the world.

Instead of being killed, Manny is given an even worse fate: To work for Domino in this mining operation. There are a couple of skeleton angel kids here that you can torment, which I do, because it amused me. Also, it was funny.

The whole layout of the factory is a lot more easy to navigate than the previous year, so I was able to get through it at a fast clip. The goal? To escape and take along everyone with you!

It helps to have a means of escape, which in this case was another giant ship that was hanging off the side of the world. Glottis goes to town on it with the usual awesome results.

Unfortunately, Meche and Manny are not doing so well on the getting-along-together front. Manny is irked that she brained him with a champagne bottle and tries to turn him in to Domino for the escape attempt, and Meche is annoyed that Manny appears to have betrayed her. Eventually the two seem to come to some sort of understanding and there’s even an almost-kiss (how would that work with skull-heads? You just mash teeth together? What would you get out of that?).

The only truly annoying part of Year Three involves opening up a safe by rotating very finicky tumblers. Took me several tries to get the hang of it. Reunited, the two of them discover that all of the stolen double-nine tickets are actually counterfeits, for some strange reason.

The escape sequence is very satisfying, I won’t lie. Domino comes after the crew in his sub, and Manny — ever the dashing hero — leaps down and takes him on. This culminates in Domino getting chewed up to pieces in the giant crushers that Glottis fixed to the front of the ship. See you later, pal!

LOTRO: The first step into a legendary server

It has been a long, long time since I’ve been this absurdly excited about Lord of the Rings Online. I know that for some people, there’s no appeal or sense in the idea of a legendary server, but it’s something I’ve been wanting for years and a perfect excuse to roll up a new alt and experience the game all over with a whole bunch of people on a fresh shard.

I even (sort of) took the day off of work. Well, I moved my day off around. Don’t judge me.

The initial rush to get in was met with a horrendous queue that never counted down, requiring us to continually reload the launcher to see if we’d moved in line. About 30 minutes or so after the server went live, I got in and made my new Hobbit Minstrel, Syp, on Anor.

As fleeting as all this may be, it was a heady experience to see literal crowds of people flocking into the tutorial zone. I already knew that I wasn’t going to be one of those players who were trying to rush through all of this and get to level 50 as fast as possible — LOTRO is, in my eyes, a game that is more enjoyable when you take it at a relaxed pace.

So for probably the first ten minutes I arranged inventory, set up UI, and got my bearings. Then came the typical Archet experience that I’ve done dozens of times over the years.

But it wasn’t all exactly the same as it would be on, say, Landroval. For one thing, the experience modifier was set to reduce our XP gain by 40%. So far, it’s been a great adjustment, neither too slow nor as blindingly fast as it was before. They’ll probably reduce this in future updates to allow players to catch up to the crowd, but I think it’s well chosen.

For another thing, mobs were hitting harder and throwing bleeds at us like crazy. This became a point of contention and debate in the community, with some loving the added challenge and others resenting being killed by a level 3 boar. I’ll admit that I met my end a few times due to these, but they weren’t that overpowering.

And then SSG surprised all of us by restoring tiny bits of classic content in the tutorial, including a couple of quests. Once again, I was killing the Marsh-fly Queen and feeling mighty about my place in the world.

Past the tutorial was a Whole Lotta Questing in the Shire. I cranked up the sound and enjoyed the ambiance and music as I puttered around doing silly Hobbit things. I knew that there was a mountain of things to do for a new character on a new server, like get virtues, unlock stable masters, set up outfits, unlock deeds, save up money, buy a house, level up, grind out LP, and so on. But one thing at a time, and the Shire offered a good start to most all of this.

I did spend a few LP that I’d been saving on the store, getting my riding skill, a second milestone, 50 mithril coins for emergency travel, and the first milestone cooldown reduction. Right now I’m saving up LP for that second cooldown reduction so that I can use a milestone every five minutes if need be.

Of course I ran mail, bees, eggs, and — yes — pies. It’s a weird rite of passage in this game for every new character to do the pie run, and I spent an hour traversing the Shire on foot while delivering spoiled pies that could have just gone into the trash.

Even though I had carefully thought out the decision to roll a Minstrel, I’ll admit that I had panicked second thoughts by the weekend. I was worried I was pouring time and effort into a class I wouldn’t ultimately like, and I kept side-eyeing the Captain as a reliable backup. Should I jump over and restart now? Should I stick it out?

Ultimately, the fact that I had divested time and LP into the Minstrel kept me from going all alt crazy. It also helped that some kinmates encouraged me that the Minnie gets really good in her 20s. And hey, yelling people to death is kind of fun. Besides, I always have regretted never having a Hobbit main.

Yes, I did play as a chicken. Why do you ask?

It was also great fun listening to the community gush over this server and romp around like children at recess. It all does feel new and fresh, and there’s this energy that you get from being in lowbie zones with tons of people around that you can’t get on the other servers right now.

I am mentally steeling myself for future areas that I know I hate, but at least I know that no matter how fast the crowd moves, they all have to stop at level 50 before the four months are up. I’m hoping to get in some group content and even try my hand at healing, if time permits.

Grim Fandango: Year Two

I think it was a great idea for Grim Fandango to split its story up into four segments — “years” here — as it lends a sense of progression through the game and provides a nice big shift from one setting to the next. So as the Year One was all about Manny’s job in the city, Year Two sees him becoming a successful casino operator in a Casablanca-type town.

It’s a much bigger area with plenty of confusing connections, and getting to know the layout was easily my least favorite part of this year. My most favorite element was the character of Lupe, Manny’s coatcheck girl. She is this slightly hyper, over-enthusiastic, and utterly organized girl who makes every scene with her a laugh riot. She’s not manic, which is how writers usually go with these kinds of characters, but instead she’s very, very devoted to her systems.

At the start of this year, Manny — who has been waiting to see if Meche will come through — briefly spots her. She’s boarding a boat with Dominic and lobs a bottle at Manny’s head when he tries to board. For some reason, this doesn’t dissuade him from his quest to get to her, so the whole segment is him trying to figure out some way to get a berth on another outgoing vessel.

Let me say that the Meche connection is probably the most tenuous narrative thread of the game so far. Manny’s had all of ONE conversation with her which was mostly an interview about her past, and the second she disappears he’s deeply smitten and feels responsible for her going on the journey alone. I think that whole part happened too fast, and as a result, I’m not really buying his infatuation or compulsive need to go after her. Especially after she deliberately brains him with a bottle?

Getting on that ship is a horribly complicated affair, of course. It takes a whole lot of untangling to get the three things Manny needs: a union card, a sailor out of the way, and his former driver Glottis to give up his gambling ways. To accomplish this, Manny has to run all over the place inciting a riot, fixing casino tables, conducting a vault heist, scooping through kitty litter, avoiding the authorities, drugging people, and so on.

Fortunately, the scene and characters here are all so well-done that I didn’t mind all the busy work and backtracking. It’s in this segment that the film noir influence of Grim Fandango is heavily pronounced, as pretty much everything is Humphrey Bogart incarnate.

A few of the puzzles had very nonsensical solutions, but eventually I got there. Seeing Glottis as a soused gambler was pretty funny, and there is a lawyer who’s so slimy and smarmy that I was applauding how much the game made me hate him.

Also, there’s a security guard who is rather bonkers for her job and has a few very funny bits, including detonating a cigarette case that she suspects is a bomb.

One of my only complaints here, aside from the getting lost thing, is that one female character is introduced right before she’s killed (spoiler), yet apparently we’re supposed to care about her. That was odd, I thought. When the audience has no connection with characters, they don’t really mind if they get sprouted.

Eventually, through a lot of trickery, deceit, and outright lying, Manny obtains his berth and sets sail for the next port. Once again, he starts the year as a lowly worker mopping the deck… and ends it as the captain of a souped-up vessel (courtesy of the ever-tinkering Glottis).

LOTRO: Dragon’ myself through Update 23

Knowing that the legendary server was on the way really lit a fire under my butt to power through Update 23. For almost a solid week, there, I was playing nothing but this game and moving through the two new areas at a clip that felt crazy-fast compared to my usual snail’s pace.

It wasn’t a hardship or a chore in the least. Small as it is these days, the dev team still knows how to deliver really great stories and areas, and I had a great time getting a double-dose of Dwarves (with two zones and two factions). While the Grey Mountains was a tougher and more varied area to navigate with rocky terrain, glaciers, and pine trees, the Iron Hills actually gave us an interesting take on the American West. You know, rivers, plains, mesas, that sort of thing. I love a good western-themed zone, and while this wasn’t the most beautiful, it was pretty easy to traverse and appreciate.

The Dwarven focus of the update was a refreshing change when I think back to the evils of Mordor or the Man-centric activities of Rohan and Gondor. While I could have done without the giant mountain fortress that proved oh-so-annoying to get around, there were some cool interiors in other places including a Dwarven city/mine that had recently suffered an earthquake and was rebuilding. I thought a lot of the interiors felt very homey and inviting, and it made me want a Dwarf house.

The stories were pretty good. There was an infiltration into an enemy-occupied town that reminded me a little of being held prisoner under Isengard a while back. There was a Dwarven prince out to prove himself after years of house arrest. And there was the recurring villain, the Weeping Warrior, who creeped me out ten ways from Sunday and eventually showed a much more complex backstory than I had expected.

I even got social at times! There was one area where a Hunter and I teamed up to blitz through a half-dozen quests, and we had a good time chatting about classes and our respective histories in the game.

Probably the most interesting part of the update was the fact that, as a part of the normal questline, I had to go into not one, not two, but three separate dungeons on a solo/duo setting. I appreciate that we as solers got to see these, but man, some of them were really long and occasionally baffling how to proceed.

My only other quibble with the update is that there is a huge uptick in dragon talk and sightings with U23. Dragons were supposed to be incredibly, incredibly rare for Middle-earth right then, but now they’re popping up all over the place like this is Guild Wars 2 or something. I know, they’re not all proper dragons — LOTRO has various granular differentiations between them, but when you’ve fought one flying lizard, you feel like you’ve fought them all.

In the end, I’m really glad I got through all of this and was able to park my Lore-master at the current solo cap. I can mothball her until the next update and concentrate on my progression server character without feeling as though I had unfinished business prodding me from behind.