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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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.

LOTRO: There’s Dwarves in these thar hills

Over the past week I have felt a fun compulsion to log into Lord of the Rings Online more and more. Funny how that happens when I’m not bogged down in the game’s few horrible areas, eh?

Actually, as I’ve been playing, I’ve also been observing my own interaction with the game. I think it was said best that LOTRO is a slow and calming experience, and I agree with that (to a great degree). Unlike the density and proximity of, say, WoW’s quests, LOTRO’s structure is one that I end up spending a lot of time traveling and slowly progressing through an objective. And I don’t mind, because it is relaxing. I can absorb more of the world and listen to music while going back and forth. As long as I’m not in a hurry to progress or push through an area, it’s a perfect pace for me and it’s made for several enjoyable evenings.

After doing some busy work in Erebor (and catching up on a lengthy series of pre-update quests), I was given a choice to either branch off to the west in the Grey Mountains (Ered Mithrin) or to the east in the Iron Hills. I went west for starters and enjoyed hiking up into the new landscape.

One thing I really love about LOTRO is that while it features a diverse array of landscapes, they all feel as though they flow together and form a cohesive world. It’s all connected in a way that makes me think of distant lands when I’m in a particular area. So while my horse was trotting through the stony valley of Ered Mithrin, I was thinking of the Misty Mountains far away. Both have connections to the Dwarves, but here we’re getting treated to an exploration of two previously background races and their attempts at reclaiming lost cities.

So lots of Dwarf architecture, of which I’m not that keen. It’s mostly angles and giant impossible buildings. I actually liked the interior houses of Erebor more, as they showed how Dwarves actually lived versus the deserted structures of Moria and Ered Mithrin.

It was a different kind of mountainous area than we’ve seen before, although the difference was more subtle. It felt like the Lone-lands if they were bunched up and made mountainous. The conifer trees lend a great atmosphere of adventure and exploration, although they’re the type where most of the branches are bare save for the top third. So not as lush or Christmasy.

I was also kind of impressed with a glacier (at least, I think it was) that lay at the north side. It turned out to be a surprisingly difficult area full of elite mobs, and the half-dozen or so quests I had there were slow going. It took me most of a night to clear them out, but it’s doable and gave me plenty of opportunities for screenshots.

Fortunately, I had hit level 120 before even getting to Ered Mithrin, so at least I had that extra power boost going for me. Speaking of which, it was only NOW, at level 120, that I found out that Lore-masters can equip pins or somesuch in their ranged slots for more stat boosts! I shouldn’t be blamed too much for this, because I don’t recall ever seeing any of these drop or handed out from quests; the only reason I got one is because I was perusing the Lore-master section on the auction house.

Another adjustment is that I’m actually using food buffs. I’ve only sporadically used them in the past, mostly because the majority of food I could buy off of vendors was of extremely limited duration (5 min). I did load up on regen food back in Moria that lasted 30 minutes, but that’s offered diminishing returns as I’ve leveled up.

However, it’s an advantage that I’d be silly to pass up, and since I have all of this gold that I’m not using, might as well spend it! So I’ve been making a point of buying quality food at the auction house and running all three types of food buffs simultaneously. Kind of wish they persisted through death, but oh well. Don’t think my character’s ever been so well fed!

LOTRO: Preparing for progression servers

I have to say, this whole progression server thing with Lord of the Rings Online didn’t give us a lot of time to prepare for it. Standing Stone Games announced it out of nowhere, delivered a very low-key dev livestream about it, and then told us that the server was going to go live two weeks after the reveal in November. That’s a little worrying and makes me think that (a) SSG isn’t going to test this server at all before turning on the switch, and (b) SSG didn’t really want to hear or react to any community feedback on the server’s particular ruleset.

I mean, I’m really excited about it. I think there’s a lot potential for a new type of community activity for this 11-year-old MMO, and I hope it goes off smoothly. But this is how SSG operates these days: Very little advance warning, little advance communication, and pretty much no reaction to community input. A “our way or the highway” approach. Zoom.

In any case, this all didn’t leave me with a lot of time to prepare, so I scrambled fast to figure out plans. Choosing a race and class turned out to be an agonizing experience, because this wasn’t merely picking some for-fun alt to dink around with. If I was going to be serious about leveling up a new character through the entire game on this server, it had to be a setup that I was going to enjoy and be invested in for the long haul.

I would play whatever class this guy is. He’s easily the most awesome bad guy LOTRO has whipped up to date.

I went back to the drawing board and paged through all of the classes, making lists of pros and cons and playstyles. I watched videos and read recommendation threads. I chatted with kinship people. There were a surprising number of possible candidates that I was considering, including a Captain, Minstrel, Champion, Hunter, Beorning, and Burglar. The Captain was my safety, since I knew I liked the class and had done it before, but that also was a huge negative in that I’d already sunk hundreds of hours into that class.

Beorning was interesting but ultimately not a strong contender. There’s a lot to like about the Burglar, but its lack of long-range DPS and those shrill knife sounds killed it for me. Champion and Hunter both offered high DPS (AOE vs. single-target) and rather simplistic playstyles. But in the end, the Minstrel idea prevailed.

While it does have a big negative with only being able to wear light armor, the Minstrel’s long-range attacks (which include AOEs to boot), self-healing, theme, stuns, and potential group desirability won out. Plus, I loved the idea of slinging a lute over my Hobbit’s back.

Aside from picking a class and making a list of virtues to do, the other big preparation task was to get my Lore-master through Update 23. This was a tall order, but by Friday of last week, I had finished up Dale and Update 22 and started to make headway on the new zones. Reaching level 120 helped a lot, and I simply blocked off larger gaming sessions to do LOTRO and nothing but. I really wanted to get to the end of this so that I could switch over to the progression server alt and not worry about finishing up content until the next update dropped.

By the way, really great story stuff and scenery in Dale and Erebor. I love the idea of returning to the Dwarves after so much Man (and Elf) stuff, and I actually laughed when I encountered my first and second female Dwarf in the game. There were certainly a lot of questlines thrown my way, but I doggedly untangled them and went through each one at a time. Seeing Bilbo’s old fellowship and visiting Thorin’s tomb were highlights, as was the seemingly timely narrative of Easterling refugees trying to come into Dale.

One thing that I’m resolved to do better on the progression server is actually follow up with reputation vendors. I tend to forget these even exist and have probably missed out on a ton of cosmetics, decor, and other items while my wallet got fat with lots of currency. I noticed this when I went to the Dale vendor and went on a post-zone spending spree. Got a few gear upgrades and some fun decor, and I was slapping myself on the head and thinking, “Why haven’t I been doing this regularly?” I might have to go back on that character and see what I have missed.

Other than all that, the only thing left for preparations is to find a kinship. I’m waiting to see if Lonely Mountain Band will be creating a chapter on that server. If not, I guess I’ll need to go shoppin’.

LOTRO: Frisky fall follies

As the urgency of logging in and progressing in World of Warcraft wanes, my driving interest in playing Lord of the Rings Online waxes strongly. I’ve been playing this old favorite more and more as of late, enjoying the brand-new storylines (at least to me!) as I continue through the lands of Dale.

My adventures last week took me back to Lake-town, where I was embroiled in a murder mystery plot. I really love it when this game produces smaller story arcs that are tied together more by narrative than usual. Having to comb through the city for clues about a killer and then bust my way into an enemy hideout was actually pretty fun. More so that Lake-town is sensibly laid-out so that it’s not too difficult to navigate, even with the constant ups and downs and bridges.

Hold on a second, everyone. It’s time to take (pause) a BIO BREAK.

Yeahhhhhhh!

It was also weirdly compelling to be leveling up again. I think that other than sheer power and a couple more talent points, there’s nothing much to be had here, but still I liked seeing that experience bar crawl forward. Made me feel like I had “wasted” a lot of quest XP over the past few months while I was chewing through missions at the level cap.

At the very least, getting to 120 will help me beat down Dale content all the faster!

The Harvestmath festival dropped midway through the week, and so I put a bookmark in Dale questing and jogged all the way back to the Shire to see what was on tap for 2018. To my surprise, SSG had added a TON of new content, including costumes, housing decor, a wicked-looking mount, a new Bingo Boffin storyline — and oh yeah, a whole new special festival area! I knew I was going to be spending some considerable time racking up the tokens and scoping out these fresh features.

Of course, I was also going to spend a lot of time running around the Haunted Burrow, because that’s my hands-down favorite MMO haunted house. Even after all these years, I still love it.

Right away, I knew I had to snag the incredible new outfit that came with this year’s festival. This robe is just amazing in its style and detail, and I can’t recall seeing anything in the game that looks quite like it. Lots of straps and leather ties. Good stuff. I also grabbed the creepy mask on the first day, then promised myself I’d save up my tokens to get the mount next.

LOTRO just made my day with progression servers

The news about Trion’s sale and mass layoffs on Monday left me with a sad, numb feeling. I genuinely liked that studio and loved how it championed MMOs through and through. While there’s always the possibility that it will be business as usual for RIFT and the rest, there are no guarantees but there is plenty of worry to be had.

That’s why yesterday’s surprise news of LOTRO’s progression servers was very welcome indeed. Sometimes you need good news to counter the bad, even if they aren’t related, you know? Skipping quickly past the shaky wisdom of calling these servers “Legendary Worlds” — why in the world LOTRO would want to draw comparisons to the maligned legendary item system is beyond me — the gist of this is that a fresh start server is coming this fall that will initially cap at the end of Shadows of Angmar content and then expand at a rate of every four months. It’s very much like what Daybreak does with EQ and EQ2, which is undoubtedly where LOTRO got this idea.

I am really thrilled at this news. I’ll look at the larger picture this weekend in my LOTRO column at Massively OP, but today I want to just look at me. Man, I am dashing! In all seriousness, I really have been championing the idea of a progression server for this game for years now. I think there’s so much content here that it was a perfect candidate for this, and considering how popular recent classic and progression servers have been, I would say it’s a good move.

Not everyone’s happy with it, but I am. The main appeal here is to level up through the game from start to finish with the whole community. That’s something you can’t get on the live servers, as everyone is strung out across their long leveling journey or bunched up at the level cap. If you start over, you tend to start alone unless you can find a “Slowtro” leveling group to be with. It’s as good of an excuse as any to roll up an alt, which is something I actually did Monday night with the intent of finally getting a Hobbit up to the cap.

A fresh start server has other appeal. It’s a clean slate where progression can be measured in more than just levels, but outfits, houses, toys, mounts, deeds, and so on. It’s a massive mountain of content, but one that everyone will climb together and at roughly the same pace.

I’m keeping in mind the initial excitement of the RIFT Prime server experiment and my eventual drifting away from that, and I can’t deny that possibility. Life is busy and there are always other games vying for attention. But LOTRO has a few advantages over RIFT with me, such as a more cohesive world, a more dedicated history, a main personal story, and shrews.

As we wait for more concrete details about the server, including an actual start date, I will be formulating my plan. For starters, I have a few ideas as to a class and race, but I’m not 100% committed just yet. Human Captain and Hobbit Hunter are duking it out in my psyche, but we’ll see. Then there is some investigation into seeing if my guild will form a progression server chapter, and if not, what I’ll do for an immediate community.

In any case, this announcement has ratcheted up my already blooming excitement for LOTRO as I’ve been playing more lately. We’ll see what SSG has to say and go forward from there.