Coping with LOTRO and DDO’s blackout

“The game is old! SSG is a small outfit! Not everyone can be like Blizzard! Go work for SSG if you think you can do better! Stop complaining! Its only a few days, suck it up! Data center stuff is complex! Lots of things can go wrong! They are working hard to fix it! They should let us pre-order Sharn while waiting!”

~ Someone summing up all of the white knight responses to the outage

I like to pride myself on having a diverse game library, especially in the MMO space. That way I can limit my losses, especially with content droughts and downtime and even cancellations. So what are the odds that the two main games I’m playing these days would be taken offline for an unexpected multi-day stretch of data center work?

Turns out that those odds are pretty high.

As you probably saw, last week both LOTRO and DDO went from a lengthy 22-hour downtime to an astounding stretch of multiple days. The accounts kept tweeting out extensions to the downtime, always pushing the end time to four, six, or twelve hours ahead. At first, it was annoying. Then it became a joke. Then it became genuinely worrisome.

For the most part, it was of mild annoyance to me personally. I am still waiting for LOTRO to unlock Moria and give us the next update, so I didn’t have a lot I had to do there, and DDO was mostly becoming a nice nighttime routine for a half-hour or so as I got through another mission. I actually didn’t game much at all last week, feeling uninspired to dig into other titles and generally being very tired. Lots of early nights.

But you know how it is when someone takes away something that you were used to — after a while you begin to crave it. It’s one thing for me to not to play a game on a given night because it’s my choice, it’s another when I’m denied it by an outside party. By Friday evening, I was really jonesing for a session in either game.

I know that SSG is a small outfit, but for whatever virtues they have in handling these games and producing good content, their lack of communication and general incompetence in handling the actual operation of these games is a sore spot with me. I wasn’t among the crowd pleading for patience and throwing love at SSG last week. I was among those shaking their heads as I remembered the great 2015 downtime and the horrible data center move in 2016. It’s kind of par for the course for this company and while I’m not going to be mean and call them names, I’m not going to excuse how badly it handled this. At the very least, we should’ve gotten more communication than the cut-and-paste Twitter extensions — the first time the studio really talked was Friday evening, two days after this whole mess began.

And while the community was divided in its attitude toward SSG, it was pretty united in the shared misery of being ejected from a regular gaming schedule. Players had fun on Twitter, Reddit, and Discord sharing memes and suggesting other games and mentioning how much they got done in other areas of their life. It always helps to know others are going through what you are — makes the waiting more bearable.

In the end, it would end, and we would all play again. Maybe this will be a momentary reminder not to take our favorite worlds for granted. Maybe it shakes our faith in SSG’s capability to handle these titles a little more. As long as I can log in and play, I don’t care.

LOTRO: No good deed goes unpunished

While on one hand I’m glad that my progression server Minstrel is fully ready for Moria, on the other hand I feel very adrift in LOTRO. There’s nothing for either of my mains to do right now in terms of new content, so I tried staying logged off for a couple of weeks and playing other titles. That was fine, but I missed LOTRO as the anchor game of my evening line-up.

Then the producer’s letter came a couple of weeks ago, and that at least gave me some hope and purpose. Yes, we’ll be getting Moria soon, but more than that, we have some exciting developments coming this year. There’s going to be an expansion that won’t be as sloggy as Mordor (huzzah!), and before that, a Vale of Anduin zone drop. That should keep my Lore-master plenty busy.

But the virtue revamp had me most fascinated, and at least for my Minstrel, I think it’s a game-changer. I have long since grown tired of following a very specific track to get the 100 or so virtue deeds that I need. Whenever this revamp comes, we’ll be able to earn “virtue XP” for completing deeds and then apply that XP to the virtues of our choice. It sounds a lot more flexible, especially for those of us who hate doing strings of slayer deeds.

And it even has a benefits right now. For starters, I can just toss away the virtue plan I had for Moria on forward and pursue the ones I want. Also, it gives me more encouragement to run additional deeds right now to build up that stockpile of future XP. I figure some of these early zones are going to offer easier deeds than the latter ones, so why not.

I’ve worked my way through all of the Shire and Ered Luin ones and have been digging into Bree-land. My kinship has a dedicated deed night in which they group up and run through a zone to complete deeds at a faster pace together, and I think I’ll be taking advantage of that.

Apart from that, I’m just ready. I’m ready for Moria (which I really think will be shorter than Shadows of Angmar), and it’s my hope that by the time I’ve blasted through that content, Anduin will be ready for my Lore-master. That way I won’t be facing this kind of content drought in three months from now.

Battle Bards Episode 139: Return to LOTRO

It has been a good long while since the Battle Bards walked the road that led them from the Shire to Mordor, but now they’re back in Lord of the Rings Online — and they have a lot of positive things to say about this beloved soundtrack. If the word “quaint” can ever be used as a recommendation for a score, it has to be done so here! Tune in as these three Minstrels share a few favorite tracks you may not have heard before.

Episode 139 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Let Us Sing Together,” “Rivendell,” and “Urgent Errands”)
  • “Coronation of Aragorn”
  • “Mug in Your Hand”
  • “Brigand’s Tale”
  • “Night in the Shire”
  • “Malthellam, the Steward of the Vale”
  • “Tavern Lore”
  • “Cape of Belfalas Housing”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener mail from Hamblepants and Jaedia
  • Jukebox picks: “Chicken Illuminati HQ” from Guacamelee 2, “Menu Music” from Kingdom Hearts 3, and “Towergrounds” from Forgotton Anne
  • Outro (feat. “Battle of Pelennor Fields Final Victory”)

LOTRO: Shadows of Angmar done… for the last time

Moving at a clip that went a lot faster than I had anticipated, I wrapped up both Eregion and Volume 1 of LOTRO’s epic book series in the first week of the month. Eregion’s content zipped by as I zoomed through quests on auto-pilot, and the last few books of Volume 1 were more about traveling and talking than any actual questing.

This marks the second, and most likely the very last, time that I have finished Volume 1 in the game. For the longest time, I would just skip it on previous characters, having determined that it was too time-intensive and unrewarding (in both story and useful rewards). To be honest, I only finished it now because I was determined to get through all of the solo content on the progression server.

Volume 1 is very much a product of the early years of LOTRO. There are a few fanservice moments and high points, but that’s offset by an overabundance of travel (which was obviously meant to be a time sink), bland characters, and a storyline that didn’t feel urgent nor that connected to the well-known story told in the books. Sure, at the end it definitely ramps up for the last quest or two, but Ms. Darth Vader up there doesn’t stick around to be an interesting recurring character.

So where does that leave me? I feel a little at a loss for the remainder of February, here. Until Moria unlocks, my options aren’t that great. I’ve already finished my level 50 class quest and most of the Eriador deeds that I need, so I suppose finishing those up are an option.

A much more fun option, however, is Bingo Boffin! I checked back last week to see if he was now appearing to me after having disappeared for a while there, and sure enough, he showed up with a new quest for me to do. So I jumped back on that train, showing his journal to Tom Bombadil, going tavern hopping, and learning the ropes of treasure hunting. I’m not exactly sure how far I’ll be able to go with this chain, but with little else to do, I might as well see!

I’ve also been fiddling with outfits, being somewhat unsatisfied with several that I cobbled together from my meager wardrobe over the past several weeks. I’m hoping that Moria will introduce more outfit designs, although I honestly don’t remember if this is that case. Probably is.

I do wish that SSG would put out a roadmap for the year, although it was pretty tardy in doing this in 2018 and doesn’t seem that motivated to communicate these days. Besides, we know that the next major content update is most likely Minas Morgul, so I’m steeling myself to take my Lore-master back to the hell that is Mordor. Hopefully this time it’ll be better. That’s always an encouraging sentiment!

LOTRO: Eregion, the vanilla of Vanilla

As I stepped into the land of Eregion, I got the fiercest sense of deja vu. As if… as if I had blogged about this before. Perhaps many times. In fact, here is vintage Syp from 2013 going through the same place:

Eregion used to be a welcome alternative to the grossness of Angmar, pleasant and open to explore.  However, now I’m seeing it as a lot of nothing.  Apart from the instanced area that leads up to the gates of Moria, it’s such a bland region with so little to define it.  A few ruins, hills, scattered trees.  It’s kind of interesting to meet the Dundlanders, but that’s not enough to set my underpants on fire.

And that hasn’t changed. Eregion is the most vanilla of all of the “vanilla” zones. It’s not bad, it’s not great, it’s just… there. The best thing I can say about it is that traversing it is pretty easy, which is not something I can testify about many of LOTRO’s zones. But when you see Eregion for what it is — a time sink for players about to head into Moria — then it’s kind of sad. Just a few quest hubs, a lot of very bland missions, and too many mopey Elves for my taste.

It’s as good a place as any to end the first phase of the progression server. At least it’s not as annoying as Angmar and getting through it is a breezy, “switch off your brain and watch Netflix to the side” experience. I’m saving the last epic book of Volume 1 for when Moria unlocks, since I’d rather the XP be going to that than being wasted.

I guess it’s hitting me this week how long — how incredibly long — I’ve been playing Lord of the Rings Online. I spent 20 minutes scrolling back through years and years of blog posts here on Bio Break, de-leveling my characters down from Northern Mirkwood all the way back to the newbie lands.

It’s that realization that sometimes strikes us just how long we’ve been playing certain games. On one hand, it makes me worry that I’ve already chewed out all of the flavor from LOTRO years ago and should’ve retired it for more fertile adventuring grounds. On the other hand, I’m quite grateful I’ve HAD that many fun years of adventuring and making friends all over Middle-earth.

For the progression server, it’s probably best for my frame of mind not to be thinking about what’s to come and to exist in the moment. It’s still a relaxing, joyful experience for the most part, and I am not nearly as worried about Moria as others. Mordor? Yes. I really don’t know how I’ll ever go through that hellhole again, but it’s not something I have to worry about right now.

LOTRO: A fond farewell to Forochel

To stay on track for finishing up all of Shadows of Angmar content by the time early March rolls around with the Moria/Lothlorien unlock, I pressed through with my goal to finish up Forochel by the end of last week. I actually finished a few days ahead of schedule, having finished up the 100+ quests here, plus the epic book, plus the sole virtue deed that I needed.

Aside from the excessive back-and-forth travel required (one of the unfortunate trademarks of Eriador content), it was a relaxing and enjoyable experience all around. I got a few neat skins from various drops and reputation vendors, never found myself frustrated by a quest, and took scads of screenshots as I enjoyed the virtual pristine air of Ice Bay.

I’ll miss the land and culture that is fairly unique to Forochel as I move on, but revisiting this zone is exactly the sort of thing I signed up for when I came back to this server. I don’t think I would have had the discipline and motivation to fully quest through and explore all of these old zones on a regular shard, but here the pressure to zip through it is lessened by the level cap and the company.

I really wouldn’t mind getting one of these igloos as player housing, but SSG doesn’t seem that concerned with creating new types of houses for us to buy these days.

Thus, it’s time to move on. There isn’t too much left on my plate to do, so I’ve settled on the following as my schedule for the next month:

  • Jan 27-Feb 9: Quest through the entirety of Eregion, including the epic book in that region
  • Feb 10-16: Finish up any virtue deeds I need in Eriador and the class quests that I have
  • Feb 17-28: Mop up any other remainders, such as Bingo Boffin, and work on some outfits

That’s pretty relaxed and very doable. Moria is no doubt going to be challenging with its scope and atmosphere, but I’ve been through it enough to know that four months is way more than enough time in which to do it, so it won’t be nearly as great a task as Shadows of Angmar was.

LOTRO: Selling ice to Forochel natives

I just realized that I hadn’t been blogging about LOTRO in a while, but I can put some blame there on a couple of hectic work travel weeks. Rest assured, I’ve been gamely adventuring onward through the remainder of Shadows of Angmar: I’m somewhere in Book 12 of Volume 1, with only Forochel and Eregion to go (plus deeds in those regions).

In fact, I’m about midway through Forochel as I type this. I donned my winter festival outfit, since that seemed most appropriate to the zone, and went into it with gusto. After the hell that was Angmar, Forochel is a delightful change of pace.

When I was talking about this zone on Twitter, Ocho told me that it was too tedious and desolate for his tastes. “Overall, though, in any game, desolate zones are hard to get right,” he said.

And obviously this is a subjective call, because I feel that Forochel is neither desolate nor tedious. Remote, yes, but for me there’s a joy of space and genuine wilderness here. While LOTRO does have other winter zones, Forochel is the only one that takes us to the arctic circle and does a great job of presenting that. There are ice sheets and glaciers, yes, but it’s more than just white, white everywhere.

There is the brilliant aurora borealis that shimmers over the crisp night sky. The southern half of the zone is still in the tree line, and it’s actually kind of cool to see where that ends and the true north begins. And there are plenty of (frozen) ruins, caves, and igloo-dotted settlements about, not to mention some unique wildlife (the mammoths) and natives ice skating and sledding about the place.

The weather also lends itself to a strong environment. Sometimes Forochel is very peaceful, with cold and clear skies, and sometimes a gentle snow falls. Once in a while there’s a genuine blizzard that is like very little else I’ve encountered in the game, but that’s far more rare.

There’s also a nice (but not necessary) debuff/buff situation that involves the cold and warmth. At one point I got a reusable flask of ale that fights off this cold, but other than the emote, I’ll probably never need it. One thing that you really don’t want to do, however, is go dipping into the central ice bay — or any body of water past the tree line, for that matter. A nasty 1,000 DPS dot starts ticking to represent the frigid cold of the water, turning this lake into a deadly trap.

I suppose another reason that I appreciate the zone is that it’s fairly easy to navigate while zipping along doing the dozens of quests. It’s pretty simple to see where you’re going and get there, in contrast to some of LOTRO’s more labyrinthian zones, and that makes for a relaxing experience. I don’t really have to do any of these quests for XP or rewards, but I feel like I want to do them anyway. I know that this will most likely be the final time I’m going through LOTRO from start to finish, and I don’t want to skip interesting content if I can help it.