LOTRO: A red day

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I did it! So proud of myself today — I reached my stated goal of catching up in the LOTRO epic story this past week, racing through about four books’ worth of content. I can’t remember the last time I did side quests in this game, although I might have to since I finished up at level 103 and the cap is 105.

So the whole experience was a mixed bag, starting out not-so-great and ending on a high note. As I mentioned last time, there’s a very long stretch of the game where you’re in Minas Tirith, constantly tasks to run up and down tiers and be the job monkey of the entire city. That got old — REAL quick. Pretty city, but egads I don’t need to be the personal counselor to every disheartened soldier lolligagging around.

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Then it got worse when the game shifted into doing a couple of epic battles for the siege of the city. I’ve made my stated opinion on epic battles pretty clear: They’re visually impressive but completely tedious, gameplay-wise. You never feel like you’re making one whit of difference no matter what you do in the fight, and it all goes on short of forever. Both epic battles here were practically identical, as I fought on top of the walls and chopped down grappling hooks and lit siege towers on fire.

After that the city fell and — this is where I genuinely got mad — LOTRO pulled a Scooby Doo “it was all a DREAMMMMM” on me. Apparently this lengthy siege and the fighting afterward was just a vision in the palantir, and none of it had happened yet. You want to really tick of your players? Make them go through annoying content and then tell them after that it didn’t really matter because none of it was real.

ugh. UGH. Seriously, Turbine, I can see why you did this, to give players the perspective of both defenders in the city and the soldiers outside, but… not cool. Not cool at all.

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Happily, the game finally kicked me out of the city after that, and the relief I felt was palpable. There was a stretch of the epic in the nearby wilds that was interesting even if it seemed like the narrative was treading water to fill out a book. Lots of “go here, talk to this dude, go back here, talk to another dude, and while you’re at it will you pick up rocks on the road? That’s a good job monkey!”

Finally, LOTRO turned a leaf and got to the Battle of Pelinnor Fields, and this is where the game got simply awesome. The most recent book, all of it, is purely about this battle. And even though this is an aging game engine, Turbine pulled out all of the stops and created a genuine battlefield that raged all the way to the horizon with you in the thick of it.

I got real goosebumps when Theoden gave his famous speech to the Rohirrim, helped along with some nice camera work and beautiful sights. When he called out to ride, it was irresistible to mount up and charge right in, feeling like part of the action.

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Another great moment was Eowyn’s showdown with the Nazgul. You go girl!

The book ranged across the entire battle and the phasing here showed how the day’s events kept progressing. It was like all of the threads of the game’s storylines were being pulled together, with notable faces showing up left and right like it was a high school reunion. Oh hey, it’s THAT guy! With the thing!

And plenty of rangers, of course, with a few pretty moving deaths. The battle follows the book’s events to a T, with Aragorn coming in to turn the tide.

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All too soon, the battle was over, and with it, the epic story (so far). Time to put a bookmark in LOTRO and turn to a new project!

LOTRO: At the gates of Miami Tirith

mt1The good news: I’m finally at the gates of Minas Tirith. The white city. The windy banana. The last bastion of civilization for the next 375 miles. Also home to 16 Starbucks and the region’s first IKEA.

The bad news: The armies of hell are hot on my heels.

Let’s back up a bit.

mt2When last we left our intrepid Captain, she was wandering around in the maze of pain and depression known as Osgiliath. Happily, she was about out of it, although she didn’t know it yet.

One final mission took us through a strangely empty city. While Syppi’s companion wonders where the Orcs have gone like some sort of horror movie victim saying loudly, “WELL WE’RE SAFE NOW!” the Captain starts having strange ghostly visions. The Eye of Sauron makes its cameo, the city starts flashing into its pre-war state, and some girl shows up to point the way to a big wolfy battering ram.

mt3I’m still upset that the game made me disable this thing instead of letting me joyride it around Gondor for a bit. Ultimate MMO mount? Oh, what could have been.

Anyway, just about then some evil dude in red shows up…

mt4Yes, I’m… on a grand adventure and certainly not lost and too stubborn to ask for directions back to Bree.

I got the feeling that the appearance of Red Robes here was supposed to be some huge “ermigarsh!” moment, but to be honest, I don’t recall who this was. I think I hit my limit for how many pretend names and places from Middle-earth I could memorize about a year and a half ago, and since then I’ve been winging it and hoping that nobody asks me to introduce them at parties. I should NOT need to know so many hyphenated phrases.

Anyway, with that reveal over, Osgiliath was all done and we got a quick port out to Pelennor Fields. Isn’t there supposed to be a battle here? Lots of geeks showing up to rend their shirts as they squee in pleasure? That’s probably later.

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Oh no! You hit Faramir — a guy I literally met about 30 seconds ago — with a neck dart! What, are you a cartoon villain or something? Because I could get on board with that.

I’m not the biggest proponent of flight in MMOs, but it does seem unfair that the enemy gets these wicked-looking beasts and I’m still hoofing it.

mt6The ride to Minas Tirith while the Nazgul swarmed and swooped was a neat cinematic moment, although I doubt I was in any actual danger. Every time one of these guys show up, I try to tab-target them for a sneak attack, but I think some Turbine dev is wise to me.

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While I’m not having the sort of nerdgasm that I assume some Tolkien fans would have when entering the city, I will admit to being impressed with its scope. Turbine did not skimp on Minas Tirith — it’s a huge city with seven or so rings of what I can only assume are amusement park zones and a super-high outcropping that makes me dizzy to look at.

Gandalf shows up and immediately puts me on a vital task for the fate of Middle-earth: to navigate my way up through all of these rings, getting passwords at each door. Naturally, I get stuck at the very first door when I can’t get through it and there’s no one to talk to. Regroup! At the tavern!

LOTRO: Fallen city, fallen enthusiasm

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Welcome to Osgiliath, population to about half the entire army of Mordor, six allied NPCs, and me. The fallen city is undeniably a major set piece of the Gondor experience, although I can’t say that I was particularly looking forward to going in there. You can partially chalk that up to my general dislike of navigating cities in game, but in this case it’s also because picking my way through the ruins of a town under the perpetual gloom of cloud cover wasn’t my idea of a jaunty time.

Remember when we used to run pies in the Shire while rainbows winked at us overhead?

But the epic story said that I needed to head into Osgiliath, so into Osgiliath I went. And boy were my instincts correct: This is a nasty, nasty area. The mob density is outright ludicrous in places, with plenty of super-powered mobs roaming around in addition to camps of normal ones. In addition, the fallen rubble has made navigation a pain, as getting from point A to B might not be as straight-forward as it looks. Finally, the quest hub — a meager few good guys hiding in a sewer — doesn’t have a milestone or stable for easy return.

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I’ve spent a couple of miserable sessions making my way through this city, thinking dour thoughts about the developers during it. Okay, I’ll admit that thematically, it’s all spot-on. This city should be overrun and it would be silly if we could just charge in there like a one-man army and slaughter everyone. But just because it fits the setting doesn’t make it enjoyable to play in.

I actually pulled out my landscape soldier to provide some additional firepower so that I could get through these mobs in something like a normal clip. More than once I had to flee from elite roving adds that wandered into aggro radius. Let’s just say that Mordor’s cardio program is paying dividends, because these guys would sprint a good half-mile over jagged rubble with nary a pause.

Perhaps some of my disgruntlement is the fact that I’m not tracking the story as well as I have in the past. I’m here… for some reason. Looking for Faramir, I think? Making a blow for the good guys, trying to trip up foes so they don’t get to Minas Tirith sooner than they will. Mostly, I’m just eager to get out of here. I hate the feeling of being stuck in a zone that’s more work than pleasure to get through.

Maybe I need to buckle down, suck it up, and get through it in one marathon session. I have no idea how much longer I have, but if the story keeps me in here much longer, I might start to regret coming back to LOTRO for this catch-up plan.

OH! And happy birthday, LOTRO! Whining aside, it’s been a heck of a ride so far, and nine years is a great accomplishment for an MMO.

LOTRO: For Gondor, for groups!

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One of my ongoing blogging goals this year is to try to write a post every week for each game I’m playing. Maybe I can’t do a day-by-day report like some — sometimes my gaming is too boring — but at least this way I’m touching base on all of my titles while keeping the blog format varied for my readers.

So LOTRO is up in the queue today, which is fortuitous considering that I got to spend a nice chunk of time playing the other night. My desktop computer is “in the shop” (read: sitting at some IT guy’s home) with the hopes that it can be fixed, so I’m lugging around my work laptop to do double duty at home and in the office. And I have to say that after four years, this was some of the best $600 I ever spent on a machine. It still keeps up with most of my games if need be, and even out-performs my cruddy desktop in games like LOTRO.

I’m not fully back, per see, in Lord of the Rings Online. A little more than visiting, a little less than a full return. I’m starting to see my gaming habits form around a pattern of establishing a main character in an MMO which remains ready when I make my next port of call in that world. It’s a character to continue my journey with, one that doesn’t have to start from square one and is close if not all of the way through the solo game content.

My Captain is definitely this in LOTRO. I really do not have the time nor interest in bringing up my Lore-master to the cap these days, although I do love that class. Heck, I barely have interest in doing inventory management, as my Captain’s overflowing bags with who-knows-what attests. She’s there to faithfully take me through the final months — or hey, years — of the game if need be.

I do have a ways to go in the epic story. I just crossed over into South Ithilien last night, forging through the woods for bad guys and keeping one eye on the sky for portends. Little things started flooding over me to remind me of the game that I used to call my main MMO home — the sounds, the combat sequence, and most of all the feeling of a real, earthy world that was there for adventure, not to be my personal playground.

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I have to give FFXIV credit for a big change in my playstyle this year: That game got me hooked again on doing group dungeon runs. It’s something I used to do a lot more of, then fell out of favor along the way — actually during my LOTRO years. But last night my kin put out a call to do a quick run through Sammath Gul, and I said why not?

It was a short (~20 minutes) run through a new dungeon to me, and we had a great time doing it. LOTRO is a blast with a group, especially since so many classes have group-friendly skills. I enjoyed buffing, healing, and DPSing as a Cappy, and I even got to see a high-level Beorning at work. That class/race is still quite new to me.

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I like that Turbine’s started to do weekly featured instances for bonus goodies, even though the ones that I earned were a mystery to me. I have no idea what half the loot in this game does any more, other than fill up my bags to a vexing degree.

I’m looking forward to making my way into Minas Tirith at some point, and I may start putting myself into the group finder more often as I’m doing in other games. We will see!

LOTRO: Red Dawn

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I’m determined to make good on my goals stated earlier this week, so for the first time in at least eight months or so, I booted up Lord of the Rings Online to resume my journey through the epic story. My Captain was patiently waiting for me in the bustling Gondorian city of Pelargir, probably wondering where the heck I went and if I even cared about the fate of the Free People of Middle-earth.

Part of the reason that I had dropped out of the game a while back was that Gondor was getting, frankly, kind of depressing. Environmentally, that is. Lots of pretty buildings, to be sure, but the constantly gloomy skies, the Men-only population, and the progression toward Mordor sapped my interest. As lore- and narrative-appropriate as this all is, it doesn’t feel anything like the LOTRO I fell in love with back in Eriador. It’s certainly a long way from the Shire, from the mixed races, and from the sense of magic and wonder. It’s now a grim march through a country under siege and streaming with refugees.

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Nothing is quite as surreal as being followed by an enemy rider right into a giant camp of the Grey Company — and seeing not a single one of these armed allies rise to your defense. I could well be murdered right in front of Aragorn and not an NPC would care.

Gloomy even so, I kind of do want to see what happens next. I gamely took up the thread of the epic story and started heading east. That’s when I noticed that the sky stopped being a wall of grey clouds and started showing an eerie red glow on the horizon. With lightning. Also, ash started falling like snowflakes all around. I’m not lying here — it was quite an improvement.

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So far, nothing astounding has happened in the tale, other than bumping into more of the dead battling some bad guys. Unfortunately, LOTRO is one of the many games that my cruddy computer doesn’t want to run well at all. Seriously, this is how bad it is — this game, which will run silky-smooth on my five-year-old laptop, stutters and staggers around like I’m on a 486 with dial-up.

I am looking into finding a computer tech in the area who can hopefully help me troubleshoot all of this, because the number of games that I can’t play these days far outstrips those I can because of whatever’s not working in my machine. I mean, how weird is it that The Secret World plays better than LOTRO? I swear, I am never building a computer again. Not worth this headache.

12 Days of Geekmas #1: Lord of the Rings (Online)

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Some other MMO bloggers turned me on to this holiday blogging exercise in which the community is commenting on twelve different fandoms and other geeky things, and looking over the list, I figured why not join in?

The first topic is Lord of the Rings, which is a natural fit with me and my long-running (but now on haitus) journey with Lord of the Rings Online. I started playing this MMO back at launch, took a couple years off, then was playing almost non-stop since 2010 and writing about it for Massively. It was only recently that I started to get burned out on both the game and the franchise as a whole and needed some time apart.

But that doesn’t rob me of some great memories in this game, both with people and with the amazing world that Turbine helped to create based on Tolkien’s books. I can say that my appreciation for LOTR is forever changed and expanded since playing the MMO — far more than I ever got from the films. I’ve never played an MMO with such world cohesion, and I’ll be forever pointing to LOTRO as an example of how a game based on an IP can actually foster a stronger game design due to the lore limitations. It rarely got silly or wacky or far-out, but from the Shire to Gondor felt like a single world through which my Captain and Lore-master journeyed.

I’ll always be amazed at the community that added to the world through its roleplaying, blogging, concerts, events, fashion shows, and general enthusiasm. I met a lot of terrific people and friends (who are also people) through LOTRO and am grateful for that.

Maybe one day I’ll go back. Maybe. It’s one of those titles that will be imprinted deep in my memory banks to the point where a random snippet of music will trigger an avalanche of nostalgia.

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5 most immersive MMOs I’ve played to date

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Game immersion is perhaps one of the most subjective and indefinable qualities when it comes to MMOs. We know in our gut when we feel more drawn into one virtual world over another, yet it might be difficult if not impossible to explain why.

So instead of fiddling around with definitions, today I want to share five MMOs out of my entire resume that were the most immersive that I’ve played — and why.

Fallen Earth

There’s no doubt that Fallen Earth is a messy title that’s perhaps a little too rough around the edges. It never broke into the big time, that’s for sure. But even so, I was so in love with this game and its breathtaking ambition to create a living, breathing post-apocalyptic world. From the black humor to the mounts that stayed put where you left them to the weird factions and the vivid sunsets over the desert, I always felt drawn into this title like no other. Plus, crafting everything you end up using made those items feel more precious.

Lord of the Rings Online

One of the reasons that I stuck with LOTRO for so long was that, unlike so many other MMOs, it felt like a cohesive world that played by a predefined set of rules instead of ones that the devs made up on the fly. I’d argue that having to fit under the umbrella of a rich IP actually helped to create a world that felt “real,” so to speak. So many times I would lose myself in traversing the lands where it wasn’t just endless packs of mobs, but civilization clashing with the wild and with evil. And I can’t discount that incredible music for drawing me in as well!

The Secret World

TSW’s brilliance is not just in its storytelling (which is magnificent) but in its meticulously crafted world that bleeds over into ours. In fact, the myriad of ways that the developers blurred the line between game and reality broke down that fictional barrier in part and allowed me to believe (or at least pretend very hard) that I was actually part of what was going on on the other side of the screen.

World of Warcraft

Maybe we’re all like this with MMOs that we’ve spent so much time in, but my previous passion for World of Warcraft and the countless hours that I poured into it took my understanding of Azeroth beyond a mere game and into a much more personal space. The little details — the sounds, the animations, the locations, the music — swirled together to form a world that was vividly immersive for years. I miss feeling that way about it, I won’t lie.

Anarchy Online

I’ll probably chalk Anarchy Online’s immersive abilities up to it being one of the first MMOs that I played, even though I felt pretty lost in it at the time. It’s “alien” nature set it apart from fantasy CRPGs and made it feel other, different, and alluring. At no point was I looking beyond the immediate details of the world to number crunch or break down mechanics, which is a sign that I was pretty content just being instead of mastering.

So those are my five. What are yours?