Putting a tidy bow on LOTRO

As I was looking at December plans, I wanted to wrap up LOTRO in November with as neat and as tidy a bow as possible before putting it back on the shelf for a while. It’s time, I think, to take a good long break, at least until the next update.

But before that could happen, there were projects to be done! The first was to get all of the fall festival cosmetics and pets that I wanted form this year’s event. The outfits were surprisingly good this year, so I had to save up a lot of tokens to get those. Oh, and also the wings, which apparently this game has now? They’re not *great* wings, mind you, but any options other than capes is always desirable for me.

With that done, I made it my mission to power through and wrap up Helm’s Deep on the progression server. This was a task that I’d been slowly trudging through for months now without any end in sight. But it’s amazing what a few lengthy dedicated sessions can achieve, especially if you numb the boredom with a movie on in the background.

I mean, Rohan isn’t boring, per se, but it is very, very, very, very long. Maybe it didn’t feel that long when we first got it, but I swear, these LOTRO designers got take-home bonus pay if they managed to cross certain high thresholds of quests-per-zone. Have you ever tried to power through, say, 300 quests? It’s the online equivalent of trying to plow your way through the defensive line of an NFL team. By yourself.

I’ve written before that, at this juncture, Lord of the Rings Online is simply too quest dense for its good and that it might be a better idea to take a cue from SWTOR and jettison all of the side missions in favor of just the main arc.

But that would also throw out a lot of good stuff that’s getting smothered in the noise, so an alternative idea would be to give every zone a “quest budget” that would be used to corral a smaller number of the better-done missions into keeping and excise the rest.

In any case, one change that LOTRO did make that I enjoyed this past week was the option to skip epic battles entirely and go through “storied tales” of Helm’s Deep. They were actually far more enjoyable — and far less time-consuming — than the old epic battles, and I give the developers praise for making this available.

The 2021 plans sound good, but whatever content they have coming seems like it’s a way off, so taking a break now wouldn’t set me back any. I need to recharge my interest and revisit it fresh next year.

The quiet appeal of LOTRO’s mystery room

Lord of the Rings Online’s Haunted Burrow — still one of my favorite MMO Halloween instances — is nothing if not loud. Yet tucked away toward the back is a doorway to a mystery room which is quite different than the rest of the haunted house.

For one thing, it’s nearly silent. For another, it trades the deliberately designed run-down look of the rest of the burrow for cozy Hobbit quarters. After navigating a short but weirdly twisty hallway, guests find themselves in a living room of a sort that has a lot of the early housing furniture. It’s also notable for having three chests that can be opened hourly for free fall festival tokens and decor. In fact, this one room makes Harvestmath the easiest festival to farm for completely lazy people (like myself).

Yet even if there weren’t the chests, I would still be captivated by this room. It’s almost magical in contrast to the showy, juvenile rooms of the rest of the Haunted Borrow — a peaceful sanctuary that has no lore, no NPCs, and no explanation attached. The other door in the place kicks you right inside of Bilbo’s home, which is far ABOVE the Haunted Burrow.

I’ve often wondered if there is supposed to be a story or an actual mystery behind this room. Is this actually haunted, whereas the rest of the burrow is for show? Maybe it’s where Bilbo went to escape some especially intrusive relatives.

Every year, I silently cheer when the Burrow returns, because I know that my character is going to spend a few weeks hanging out in the mystery room. It’s a bit of a respite between adventures and a nice way to build up enough tokens to the latest outfit.

Downshifting in Lord of the Rings Online

I’m hitting a really strange stretch with Lord of the Rings Online lately. I’ve felt my interest flagging for a couple of months now, which is understandable when you consider that I’ve been playing it fairly constantly for years now. No matter how much I like a game and am invested in it, sooner or later comes a need to take a break.

I’m not quite sure if I’m at the point of needing to step away entirely, but I’m certainly not on fire to play it. And as I wrote over at Massively OP, I’m kind of upset with SSG over how it is handling the new update. But honestly? Even if they gave it away for free, it doesn’t seem all that compelling, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out at all.

I don’t think I’m going to make a hard break away from the game, but rather give myself permission to downshift and just play when the feeling rises rather than on a daily basis. I still haven’t finished Helm’s Deep on the legendary server, since that’s like plowing through a wall hundreds and hundreds of quests, and no matter how much momentum you have going into it, eventually it’s going to slow you down. It would be nice to wrap it up before Gondor arrives, but you know what? Not the end of the world if I don’t.

What’s very strange to consider that if I drop LOTRO from my daily gaming diet, then all I’m left in the MMORPG space at the present is World of Warcraft. That isn’t intentional, but it is the spot on the journey that this year has taken me to. I do have a list that I maintain of other MMOs that I would like to get to if I’m starving for a different play experience, but at the present I’m having more than enough fun and occupied with plenty of goals in WoW that others aren’t as sorely needed.

Hopefully stepping back — but not away — from LOTRO will start refilling that interest meter, especially as the REAL expansion is slated for next spring. I’d love to have some genuine excitement for that, for sure.

LOTRO deserves better communication — and a better communicator

Lord of the Rings Online has gone on a rollercoaster this year, scaling admirable heights before plunging into very stupid depths. And whenever the game’s reputation is plummeting, you can bet that Standing Stone Games’ communication is a key factor in this.

This past summer, the game’s servers started failing all over the place, and instead of getting out in front of it with ample and clear communication about what was going on and what was being done to fix it, SSG hid behind a cloak of vague answers or outright silence. It was infuriating to see, and only after more than a week of customers howling for an official response did the studio’s leadership come out to deliver a few placating lines before disappearing once more.

Aside from that anomaly, the single point of comms for the studio is pretty much its one CM, Cordovan. Now, I know that being an MMO CM is a horribly difficult job that has to balance a lot on one’s plate. I would never take that job in a million years. But even so, I can identify when it’s not being done right.

To sum it up, Cordovan has shown us over the years that (a) he greatly prefers DDO to LOTRO, having come from the DDO community in the first place, (b) easily adopts a defensive posture when criticism draws near to him, and (c) is incredibly stingy with handing out information from the dev team to the playerbase. It doesn’t mean he never talks, just usually not about what needs to be discussed and at the length it needs to be covered.

It’s very frustrating to see this, because hey, I don’t want to beat up on the guy. As a player and fan of the game, I want to cheer the studio and its team on. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and draw from a bank of goodwill when things go wrong. But man does SSG and its CM drain that bank so dry in its sometimes adversarial way that it treats its playerbase.

One recent example of this comes from a forum thread in which the PvP community brought up an issue discovered in the Update 28 beta test. One very simple way of dealing with this would be to let the community know that the issue was known and the team was aware and/or working on it. Another more gracious way would be to thank players for their diligence in finding the issue and projecting an image of the studio and players working together to improve the game.

Cordovan? This was his response: “In terms of your surprise that me watching a video on Friday afternoon doesn’t lead to changes in the release notes on a Monday morning Bullroarer preview: ok. Besides the reality that my watching one particular video has little bearing on prior awareness of the issue, nor the work that we know needs to be done, it also is highly unlikely that we would turn around a game build for Bullroarer on a weekend like that.”

He’s not swearing at anyone or anything, but do you see it? It’s that hunched over, defensive snarkiness that comes out in so many of his posts. It’s a “get off my back” response to criticism that jabs back at the community. It’s condescending and not helpful at all.

I’m just tired of this. I’ve been calling SSG out on its poor comms for years now, and nothing seems to be improving. Sometimes we get good bursts of information, but it’s never consistent. The end result is a community that often feels as if it’s at odds with the studio, and probably vice-versa. I’d love to see this improve, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

LOTRO: Marching ever onward

I know I’ve taken the above photo of Underharrow before, but seriously, it’s one of my favorite places in LOTRO — even though we’re only there as players for a very brief time. It’s a good reminder of how much beauty and wonder there is in this game world, and why I love being in it.

Anyway, the past week saw more adventures further into Helm’s Deep on the legendary server. I forgot just how big and sprawling these Rohan expansions are. It’s not a bad thing, mind you, as the quests are generally engaging and not annoying, but I have to step hard on the desire to power through it quickly. I might consider, say, an afternoon marathon session one of these Saturdays, but mostly I just get a half-hour of LOTRO time a day and that’s it. I do try to make the best of it.

Another think I’ve loved about these two expansions is reuniting with the old Fellowship. I still think this is one of the best ideas the LOTRO writers had — to give the player their own regular companions that weave in and out of the epic story. It’s kind of sad that they don’t stick around forever, but for now, I’m glad to see Horn, Nona, and Elf-Dude.

Well, at least Horn and Nona.

Meanwhile over on the regular servers, I realized I hadn’t quite finished up the Great Wedding update. Specifically, I hadn’t done the feast instance that comes after the wedding. There’s no combat and very little in the way of quest objectives; mostly it’s about attending a big banquet and watching a whole lot of story beats.

Again, this update feels like it’s the coda to the entire MMO. There are great cameos, happy resolutions, running jokes, and the classic Fellowship enjoying a well-deserved moment of peace and joy. It was a great way to spend 45 minutes or so, and now that it’s done, I feel like… well, anything might be possible.

Of course, we do know where we are going next: up north to help the dwarves fight orcs or something. LOTRO’s prepping a mini-expansion for this fall that isn’t quite selling me on the urgency to buy — I’ve really had my fill of orcs at this point — but the boar mounts do look neat. I’m also not happy that we won’t be able to buy this with LP out of the gate, which I feel is a really nasty thing to do to players.

Anyway, I’m sure there will be tons to do on the current progression server, the regular server, and perhaps even the new progression shard. When the weather turns colder here in New York, I might settle in for a nice winter of LOTRO.

LOTRO: Is there demand for another legendary server?

Oh hey there, Mr. Orc! How’s life treating you? I see you hit up Hot Topic for your outfit today, very skull-and-bonesy. It’s a theme, at least, although I don’t think I’d have so many sharp teeth that close to my crotch.

Anyway, Mr. Orc would like me to spend a bit of time today talking about something that should be coming… soonish? to Lord of the Rings Online. And that’s a new type of legendary server that SSG teased this past spring:

This fall will also see a new Legendary server! We are looking forward to adding new challenges and gameplay experiences for this new server. In our current vision for this server, Sauron will play a more active role in punishing heroes who defy his will. At times during play, the Eye of Sauron will open, inspiring all the evil in the world to rally and rise to his dark challenge. These enemies will become far more dangerous during this time. However, when the Eye is open, your characters will rise to the challenge and deliver greatly increased damage in defiance of the Dark Lord. Beware when the Eye of Sauron is open! We intend to keep the current Legendary experience going in 2020 as well, and will continue to open up new content on those servers.

 

Unless LOTRO’s server issues and general COVID difficulties have caused a delay in this department, we might be on the verge of getting this new server type in the next month or two. Reading through that description, I get the impression that the goal here is to create a normal server that occasionally ratchets up the difficulty at unpredictable intervals. It’s not hard ALL the time, just, you know, some of the time.

I’ve been mulling over this server idea for a while now and keep coming away unsatisfied with this concept. For starters, I don’t get why SSG would also increase player power during these times of increased hardship, because it sounds like that would even out the tougher monsters. If you’re going to make a harder server, have it be harder. That doesn’t make sense to me.

I also don’t see the appeal in the on-off cycle of hardship. I guess keeping players on their toes is not a wholly bad thing, but I would say that the appeal here isn’t for the unpredictability but for a generally more hardcore shard that would present genuine challenge across the board. And for that, you’d want predictable challenge, not periodic moments of it. I mean, if the bad times come and I’m not really in the mood for it, wouldn’t there be a temptation just to log off and go do something else, knowing that the difficulty spike would eventually simmer back down?

SSG hasn’t said anything more about this server since the spring, and there’s always the possibility that this idea’s been reworked since then. I kind of hope that it has, because there are players who consider regular LOTRO questing too easy these days and would welcome a run for their money.

I’m still in a wait-and-see pattern on whether or not to actually roll a character on this server. New and different is attractive, but I don’t know if I really want to commit myself past a point of curiosity to playing a third character when the first two I have take up more than enough of my time in the game.

Your thoughts?

LOTRO: Rohan is bigger on the inside


One of the benefits that I’m discovering about Lord of the Rings Online’s progression server — 1.5 years later — is that it really forces us to deep-dive into individual expansions instead of breeze past them. And as we’re doing that, I’m getting a very clear picture of how the game developed and changed over time.

And call me crazy, because as much as I do love Eriador and the original zones, with each successive expansion I can see the game getting so much better. Better stories, better zone flow, better environmental details, and even better landscapes.

The two expansions of Rohan are magnificent in what they cover and offer. It’s very much a different land than Bree or Gondor, and you can see it in everything the devs did — the architecture, the culture, the music, and the obsession with horses.

Helm’s Deep opened on the progression server a week or two back, and it’s been great taking my Minstrel on journeys westward once more. There’s a whole lot of territory to cover — literally and quest-wise — but it doesn’t feel strictly linear. There are choices of which quest threads to follow to take the player to different areas, and I just have been focusing on one of those until they are done.

I do think Helm’s Deep is more screenshot-worthy than Riders of Rohan. I mean, check out this toilet! Beautiful! Oh, and there’s the Hornberg and Edoras and the rest, too.

I think we also get a better sense of events happening or about to happen in Rohan than we did in the older content. The whole country is on the verge of war, and you see it with advance sorties and dead people on the road and the like. I appreciate feeling like I’m in the middle of history rather than in a static locale.

I think the game’s being a little sarcastic to me. I approve of that.

So yeah, forward momentum and all that. I’m a little extra motivated to quest knowing that I don’t have to endure the horribleness of Epic Battles in my future, which would dampen my enthusiasm. Good on SSG for giving us ways around doing those now.

LOTRO’s big moving day

Boy did last week’s Lord of the Rings Online update come at a great time for me. With the servers seeming to settle down, we finally got the big Rohan patch that we’d been anticipating — the one with both Rohan housing and the Helm’s Deep unlock for progression servers. That meant that my Hobbit was off the leash again and racing ahead to work through a huge mountain of content.

But before I adventure through western Rohan and toward the Hornburg, I made it my priority to move out of my old Hobbit house and into a huge new Rohan estate. I thought that 4700 LOTRO points was more than enough to buy any house I wanted, but I guess I underestimated how expensive these “premium” houses were going to be.

I ended up with the most basic one, but even that one was absolutely huge in comparison to regular houses. I went with the neighborhood that was on the plains for that wide-open feel, getting a nice house with two main rooms, a basement, and an upstairs; a barn with a main floor and upstairs; a stable to put all of my goat mounts; and a hilariously huge yard that’s far bigger than I’ll ever need.

Moving into this new house was, in several ways, a lot like moving in real life. It was some annoying time of packing up the old place and saying farewell to the now-bare rooms. Then there was hauling everything into the new place and trying to find spots for decorations and furniture while acknowledging that I’ll probably rearrange everything later.

That said, after an hour or so, I started to get a feel for what I wanted to do with the estate:

  • Main Floor room #1: reception room with big trophies
  • Main Floor room #2: kitchen
  • Basement: all the Halloween stuff
  • Upstairs: cozy bedroom and living space
  • Barn: all the Christmas stuff

I’m going to need to get a lot more stuff to flesh out these rooms, but I’m in no rush. This is my progression server character who is only 85, so I wanted a place that she could grow into over time and put the accumulated stuff that she discovered in her adventures.

I do absolutely love the new ambiance vendor and all of the assorted toys that we can play with in our new (and old) homes. The lighting options are tremendously fun, although not quite as pronounced as, say, WildStar’s was. Still, I’m glad to have them, and I like making some of my rooms look like they have flickering fire going on. And then there are tons of fun options, like bat colonies, rainbows, falling water, mists, and even the ability to put cosmetic pets in the place — although you have to pay premium currency for that (boo).

But overall, I’m so happy to finally see Rohan housing added to the game, and I think this may well be the best housing update we’ve ever gotten since the original one.

LOTRO: Wedding crashers

It’s time to put away the sword for a season in Lord of the Rings Online and break out the bouquets, because Update 27: A Great Wedding arrived last week. I’ve been starving for something other than deed-treading to do, so this will do nicely indeed.

I love that it’s a huge thematic change of pace from what we’ve been doing in the last few updates. Instead of a normal adventure zone with lots of fighting and dark mysteries, we got a redecorated Minas Tirith and a wedding storyline — as well as the new Midsummer Festival.

While it completely makes sense for the game to host the wedding and festival in the city, I think we all saw the problems that it was going to cause. Lag. Confusion. Bugs. The city just isn’t optimized to have a crowd descend on it at once, even if it is an instanced and slightly smaller version. If it was up to me, I would have restricted all of the activities to the top tier of the city and made a zillion instances of that for performance.

I’m also not a fan of going up and down and up and down in this city, but I also don’t feel like there’s a rush to get all this done super quickly. So it’s more of a laid-back experience, concentrating on one of the thousand of daily festival quests at a time and seeing where that takes me.

I really do love that every so often, LOTRO can put aside combat almost entirely and focus on quests and worldbuilding and an element of roleplay. I don’t resent these “mundane” quests because they make me feel much more involved in the life of Middle-earth than killing 300 hopped-up mosquitoes in a swamp.

I decided to do the festival on my main Lore-master rather than my Minstrel just because I wanted to do the new epic alongside of it. The cosmetics are nice, but nothing my Minnie *needs*, so I’ll be content to let her do it in a year or two when she gets here for real.

MMO fonts: The good, the bad, and the ugly

In my effort to start clearing out my drafts folder here at Bio Break, I’m digging out this topic that I started (checks) back in 2017. Anyway, fonts are most likely a part of online games that you never think about. Once you’ve been in a game for a while, you get used to its user interface and don’t really notice or acknowledge it.

Yet fonts are important, because a game usually just licenses (or creates) one and uses it everywhere — and if chosen poorly, that font can slowly and surely drag down on the user experience. So let’s take a look at eight MMO fonts today — chosen semi-randomly — and see if they’re easy on the eyes or not.

We’ll start with Warhammer Online (above), which prompted the writing of this piece. The font itself gives off a Ye Olde English fantasy vibe, which is good, but it’s not that easy to read in large chunks, especially when italicized. There isn’t enough spacing between the lines, either, so it comes off as crammed. Sometimes getting a little fancy with your font works against you.

We’ll move on to RIFT, which I always thought had a very clean and modern-looking font. Maybe a little too modern. It’s easy to read, which is a plus, but doesn’t do a lot to convey personality of the game, which is one of the jobs that fonts have to handle. Generally, though, I like it.

You know I had to include the itty bitty, smooshed-together font of EVE Online on this list. It gets points for a futuristic, minimalistic look, but dang is it always hard to read. It’s gotten better over the years, but my eyes have never leaked tears of joy to behold it.

And we’ll go with a classic — World of Warcraft — with this one. Blizzard did a great job all around with this font. It’s oozing personality (especially on the header fonts), has good kerning, and is easy to consume quickly without eye strain.

WildStar… sigh. WildStar had SUCH great art and interface style, but its font was terrible. From the color choices (blue-greens on blue-greens) to the thin, small style, it was too difficult to read without really focusing on it.

I’ll be fair and include Lord of the Rings Online here. It gets middling reviews for me. I think it does lend an appropriate personality to the game and is readable (especially if you increase the font size), but it’s not the quickest read. And considering just HOW MUCH text you go through, it could be better. I do adore the header font, though. That’s spot on.

Fallen Earth always struck me as a game that purchased its font at lowest bidder. It’s like a default Windows font that did nothing for the personality angle and wasn’t as eye-catching as it could’ve been.

I could keep going on, but I’ll end with a look at Star Wars: The Old Republic’s font. It definitely has that thick, bolded Star Wars look about it, and the spacing makes it easy to read. I think it does a pretty good job, all things considered, even if I feel like the text is yelling at me much of the time.