LOTRO: Bushwacking through levels

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Back when I was doing geocaching more often, I sometimes had to veer off the beaten path to go bushwacking — pushing through bushes, trees, tall grass, etc. — to get to my destination. It was slow-going and sometimes annoying, but it also made me feel just a tiny bit like I was pioneering my own path.

Now that I’ve switched over to my Lore-master to level up as a main and try to get her prepped for Moria before this year’s expansion, I find myself doing a curious kind of bushwacking in LOTRO.

The last time I was playing the LM was two years ago. I wrote in February 2015 that I had made the decision to let her go in favor of the Captain, worried that I wasn’t going to get caught up in the content fast enough. Now I’m even further behind… but there is hope.

What I had been doing with the LM previous to that decision was primarily leveling her up via the epic storyline, eschewing side and zone quests for this focus and supplementing the XP loss with XP pots and a back item that had a permanent boost on it. It’d actually gone well, although slowly but surely the epic started outpacing me in levels. When I came back a couple of weeks ago, the epic was three levels ahead of me. Then five. I could still do them, mind you, because the LM’s pets are nothing short of insane, but I worried about what would happen when the level disparity grew too great.

This came to a head on Tuesday, when I wrapped up a chapter and the next quest was silver to me. I was only level 84 and the quest was 91. I needed to get to 86 to access it. I didn’t want to backtrack and find a quest hub, but instead tried out some of the instances as a solution. First up was skirmishes, but after one of those I had pretty much had my fill. Instead, I turned to a suggested farming method, the warg pens. Basically, you just fight your way through wargs to the first boss, then exit and reset. By doing this, you complete two (repeatable) dungeon quests and get a good chunk of XP.

This actually worked. Took me about an hour or so, but after four runs, I blasted from 85 to 86 and got back on the epic track. I’ll have to keep this in my back pocket for the next time I hit a wall in the storyline.

Another great source of encouragement this week in the game was getting a letter from a kinmate, who told everyone that he was happy to craft legendary items. I sent a request for some level 100 LIs for the Lore-master (planning ahead), and he turned around and wowed me by crafting a pair of not second-age LIs, but first-agers. I’ve never owned a first-age LI in this game — I wouldn’t even know how to go about getting one these days — and that kindness just stunned me. I can’t wait until I get up to 100 to be able to equip and use them.

There are parts of the epic that I’m not particularly looking forward to doing again, in particular the epic battles, traversing the streets of Minas Tirith, and the dreariness of Osgiliath, but the fun of the class and the goal that I’ve set have spurred me onward. Plus, it’s kind of great to be back in Rohan, revisiting this gorgeous country and taking screenshots like a nerdy tourist.

LOTRO: Over the river and through the woods

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I have come face to face with Sauron himself… and found the final boss encounter of LOTRO somewhat anticlimactic. I think the devs got lazy on this bit.

I’ve been playing more than my fair share of LOTRO as of late. I think of it as a reunion of sorts, getting reacquainted with an old, familiar lover. Wait, friend. Friend sounds less creepy. FOR THE RECORD, I never dated LOTRO. I just want that said.

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Ripple break! I had fun staging this shot. Love those ripple effects.

Anyway, I’m kind of torn between two options going forward. Option one is powering forward with my Captain, finishing Issue 19, and doing whatever after. Option two is getting behind my Lore-master and trying to blitz through three expansions’ worth of epic story to get her caught up. All things being equal, I’d stick with my Captain, but having gone back to the LM for a couple of sessions, I’ve been reminded how much I like this pet class and find its combat a whole lot more enjoyable than swinging a big sword and shouting a lot.

The LM, for the record, is level 81 and somewhere in the midst of Rohan. I don’t think that there would be a huge problem with traversing the epic story (epic battles notwithstanding) so much as making sure that I keep my level within the range of the epic if I’m not doing all of the side quests. I’m a little worried about this — at level 81, I’m trying to get through level 85 epic quests. I’m not struggling yet, but if it outpaces me too much, then I could be in trouble.

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So maybe I can do it. Maybe I’ll throw up my hands and just go back to the Cappy, who had crossed over Osgiliath into North Ithilian and mooned Mordor.

I had something happen that never has happened to me since I’ve been playing LOTRO from launch — I got evicted from my house since I had last played. I usually pay rent forward as much as possible, but I’d been gone so long that this ran out and I was made destitute. Sighing heavily at how dumb this is, I bought a new home and redecorated, feeling irked at having to do so and in encountering the hook system after RIFT, WildStar, etc. Maybe I should look into a premium house? But the hobbit houses are so cozy!

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I will say this: I am bound and determined to stick with my goat mount all the way up to Mount Doom. No war-horses for me any more! (That’s another advantage of the LM; with her skills and the bog-guardian, I can kill mounted mobs from range quite easily.)

My kin clued me in to a few nice quality-of-life improvements that I had overlooked, such as cosmetic weapons (woo!) and being able to consolidate bags into one big inventory panel. Man, I love that last one so much. It makes looking through my junk way easier than before.

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THAT IS NOT A BABY! I almost shudder to think what is under that blanket… and am slightly curious if the LOTRO devs just didn’t want to create a model for a baby for a throwaway scene. “Let’s just cover it up!” they said, and a star was born.

Looking back at the 6 MMOs I played the most in 2016

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Seeing as how this will be my final MMO-related post of this year, I thought it only fitting to look back over 2016 and recall my exploits in MMORPGs. While I did dabble here and there in various titles, such as Firefall, ESO, and Trove, for the most part my year was dominated by six titles — none of them surprising, but all fun and influential in my gaming career.

One of the best things that happened for me in terms of playing MMOs was getting a new computer that could actually run them well. That’s been such a boon.

(1) Final Fantasy XIV

At the beginning of the year, I had made a resolution to find a “home MMO” and settle my butt down to mostly focus on one title. Initially, that became FFXIV, as it was fairly new to me,, had a lot of positive word-of-mouth, and offered a lot of content.

I had a good run in that MMO, I think, although around April I decided that I had run out of steam and was losing the will to play it. That was unfortunate, because I was finally nearing Heavensword content and had found a really great guild, but alas. In retrospect, there was a lot I ended up respecting and liking about the game as well as a lot of irritating issues. I think my biggest gripe is that it never quite clicked with me even though people kept urging me to stick it out because, I quote, “It gets really good later on!” I shouldn’t have to wait more than four months for a game to get really good, and my patience wore out. Maybe I’ll go back some day. I’d like to think so. That Red Mage looks pretty cool…

(2) World of Warcraft

WoW got its hooks back in me early and kept them there, pulling me right back into this old favorite. The first half of the year was spent plowing through Warlords of Draenor, building up my expansion, and prepping my roster of characters for the new expansion. The second half was all Legion, all the time, and it’s been a really good ride so far. Found a terrific guild, got a pair of legendaries, built up my Death Knight to a great place, and still have a good amount of content on which to chew.

(3) RIFT

The announcement of Starfall Prophecy got me back into RIFT, and it’s been a reliably second-tier MMO interest since then. Again, discovering a wonderful guild — perhaps the best I’ve been a part of in MMOs — was a major factor to my stickiness, but having an expansion’s worth of content and a new house to build certainly kept me busy. I have just so much left to do here and no real desire to leave.

(4) The Secret World

Back in February I seriously splurged and bought a Grand Master membership, which I really don’t regret doing. The constant buffs to currency/AP are wonderful, the extra cosmetics and mounts nice, and having a monthly allowance of points is terrific. I did take a long break in the middle of the year due to my disinterest in City of the Sun God, but I finally rallied to complete that and move on to Transylvania. I’m hugely excited to see what might come for this game in 2017!

(5) Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online has been an on-again, off-again journey. I get really excited about it for two or three weeks, then let it go for a month. I did come back for some fun adventures, although getting bogged down in Delta Rising was death to my interest. Recently I’ve jumped past that and gotten excited to go through the more recent episode arcs.

(6) Lord of the Rings Online

Early in the year I spent some time getting through the Battle of Pelennor Fields, after which I took a very long break until just recently. However, over the past month I’ve been logging in every day or two to advance my Captain through Update 19 in anticipation of the Mordor expansion next year. It’s great to be back and I hope I won’t leave any time soon.

Stay tuned next Monday as I post my hopes and aspirations for the new month — and the new year! In the meantime, let me know in the comments what were the most important and influential MMOs to you in 2016!

LOTRO: Cleanup on aisle Pelennor

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If there’s one thing that I’ve learned about Lord of the Rings Online over the years, it’s that this game is in no absolute hurry to get through its story. On the contrary, it’s almost a running joke of sorts to me that LOTRO looks for any and all opportunity to slow down and delay the progress of the character from getting through the overarching story. It’s one of the problems/opportunities presented by a fixed narrative, but it does result in an awful lot of mundane quests in which you, a hero for the ages, is sent on any piddly errand that the dev team can think up.

Flowers need to be picked? That’s you. Lost child? Find her. People forget their belongings? Go back to their house and play butler. Someone hungry? Fix dinner.

Now that the Battle of Pelennor Fields has concluded, you’d think I would be in for a few weeks of well-deserved rest. The NPCs, such as Aragorn, Gandalf, and Legolas certainly seem to be relaxing, just hanging out in the king’s pavilion and chatting the day away. Me? I’m the guy they send to identify corpses, to notify widows, to bury the dead, to scout out any remaining enemy forces, and to find Aragorn’s lost car keys somewhere on the battlefield (“near the dead oliphant,” he told me).

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Not true on the car keys, but man, they do drag out this aftermath of the battle for all its worth. I probably did at least six missions involving I.D.ing dead bodies (which is always a treat when an NPC runs up and bawls, “OH MY GARETH NOOOO!”). Then of course there was a long funeral sequence in which I had to stand around while the NPCs droned on and on about these other characters I had long forgotten about, because let’s face it, Tolkien had a baby naming book’s worth of characters going on here.

And just when Aragorn starts talking about marching on the Black Gate to give Frodo some time — you know, the last half hour of the Return of the King movie? — we don’t actually move. Nope, I’m sent back into my least-favorite city ever, Osgiliath, to do more Ranger roundup stuff.

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Wasn’t I just whining about Suramar earlier this week? At least Suramar is pretty and full of life. Osgiliath is a tomb in rubble, and I don’t understand why these Rangers are just hanging around like they’re on a Boy Scout camping trip. Come ON guys. Let’s GO. We got to throw ourselves into a meat grinder so that a Hobbit can run the football to the end zone without interference.

Did I pull off that sports metaphor? I sure hope so.

Even though I feel like I’m treading water in this storyline so far, at least I’m leveling up, getting some gear, and enjoying the reacquaintance with LOTRO on the whole. My kin seems fairly calm about the new studio and future direction, which is a good sign in my book.

I did have a moment of lunacy when I thought about starting up a brand-new character because, hi, I’m Syp, this is what I sometimes do. Then I looked at the game world as a whole and mentally calculated how long it would take to get a new character up to where I am, and I think that it would put me somewhere around 2019. So no, it’s Captain or bust from here on out.

6 reactions to the new LOTRO/DDO studio

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I’ve had a little over a day to process the rather sudden and shocking news that LOTRO and DDO are being transferred to a new indie studio, Standing Stone Games, and that Asheron’s Call (and AC2) are being shuttered next month. I don’t have a cohesive essay on the subject, but rather a half-dozen internal reactions on this move.

1. Turbine is done as an MMO studio. And it might be done for good.

Once upon a time, Turbine was a shining beacon of what an indie MMO studio could be. It was blazing out titles, with two Asheron’s Call, DDO, and LOTRO. It was on the forefront of the F2P revolution. Then it sold itself to WB, started to get out of the MMO-only business by branching off into MOBAs with the disastrous Infinite Crisis, and shrunk in both size and importance. Earlier this year it made the statement that Turbine was a mobile-only studio, so I suppose offloading LOTRO and DDO logically follows that.

My prediction? Turbine’s mobile games will flop and the studio will be no more in a year or two, tops. This is EA Mythic all over again — remember that studio’s flopped MOBA (Wrath of Heroes) and flopped mobile game (Ultima Forever) and how it offloaded its MMOs to a new indie studio (Broadsword)? Turbine’s done as a relevant studio and that’s sad.

2. I’m really glad that Standing Stone is keeping the devs.

It’s the people who care about these games and have experience with them instead of a brand-new team. Business as usual, just under a new name and with perhaps less baggage? We’re already seeing a little more communication from the team about the games’ upcoming future (such as LOTRO’s avatar revamp, which sounds pretty neat).

3. I’m cautiously hopeful this is a good move for LOTRO and DDO.

Going back to indie roots, shedding the WB overhead and non-MMO side projects seems like the best possible chance for these games to succeed (or not) solely on their own merits. If Standing Stone handles the finances well and keeps it trim, tight, and hungry, I can envision a more functional studio emerging.

4. I’m a little worried about the licensing but not about Daybreak.

Both DDO and LOTRO are tied to pretty significant IP licenses. The studio said that they’re retaining the licensing relationships, but could the Tolkien Estate and Wizards of the Coast look at the now-indie studio handling these games and get cold feet? Renegotiate? I really doubt that Standing Stone will have the resources to create a brand-new MMO from scratch if they lose one or both of their titles.

Daybreak is the publisher for out-of-country operations, and here Daybreak might actually be a solid choice due to its experience in handling MMOs worldwide for decades now. But then again, it’s Daybreak. I’m not getting worked up about it.

5. All of the publicity is reviving interest in LOTRO.

Weirdly enough, LOTRO seems to be coming back into the public consciousness as of late, and not just for Standing Stone. I’ve seen more than a few people saying they want to go back, and it’s always better to see people fleeing toward a game when big news like this hits than away from.

6. I’m sincerely bummed about Asheron’s Call.

Sure, AC probably had a very, very tiny population, but this is a legacy game that goes back to the first generation of 3-D graphic MMOs. Standing Stone should have acquired it and kept the lights on — or Turbine should have made good on its word to turn the source code over to the players to allow them to make private servers. This just sours the start of a new studio.

At least there’s a new home for these players to move into:

6 reasons why LOTRO is still kind of rocking in its 10th year

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Among the many MMOs I’ve been visiting this month, it was my return to Lord of the Rings Online that perhaps made me the most glad in my heart. I don’t think I realized how much I missed this game world until I came back after many months away only to find the heartbeat of Middle-earth still thrumming away.

When last I left — back on my old, faltering computer — I had just finished Update 18 and the Battle of Pelennor Fields. It felt as good a place as any to make a departure, having emerged victorious from a very long and trying battle (although far more interesting than epic battles of the past). But with Update 19 beckoning me to see what happens next, I return… and found myself mentally cataloging a whole bunch of reasons why this game isn’t quite as dead or antiquated as some might think.

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So here are six quick reasons why LOTRO is still kind of rocking:

1. Beauty

Sure, it’s an aging game engine and some of the character models/poses/animations drive me nuts, but there is still a vast array of beauty on display in this game. I’m still deeply impressed that Turbine pulled off a huge and explorable Minas Tirith — three versions, depending on where you are in the storyline. Now that I’ve emerged post-battle, I’m treated to a Gondor where the sun is shining and a winsome countryside welcomes me. Even some of the interiors are quite detailed and lovely.

2. The music

We might be in the post-Chance Thomas era, but that doesn’t mean that good music isn’t being made for this game. There’s been a lot of terrific stuff put out for Gondor, the new housing area, and the Battle of Pelennor Fields that is worth listening.

3. The journey

Our trip through this game’s epic story might have taken a very roundabout way of getting to Mordor, but it’s been a progressive journey that connects all the way back to our start in Eriador to the gates of the Black Land itself. And what makes it worthwhile is that the journey has seen so many ups and downs, a quiet moment for every epic one, and a deep appreciation for the tale being told.

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4. The world

I’m not as head-over-heels for Tolkien as some, but I have never encountered an MMO game world that feels so very world-like. This is a place that feels like it has history, culture, and cohesiveness. I find myself slipping into immersion so much easier because of that.

5. The community

I’ve come back to many MMORPGs after a long absence only to find my guild dissolved and the community on life support. Yet I can’t say this about LOTRO at all. My kin is always active and chatty, and I’m still seeing stories of how this tremendous community puts on regular events and encourages each other. Easily one of the best MMO communities out there and I love being a part of it.

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6. The shouts

LOTRO is a shouty game. I used to find it slightly embarrassing and annoying for my — and everyone else’s — character to be shouting at various skill activations, but now it’s part of the charm. Come at me, bro, and I’m going to scream in your face when you do.

I’m kind of excited to see what next year’s expansion will be like, so for now I’ll be visiting LOTRO off and on to get reacquainted with my Captain and see her through the rest of Gondor.

The transitioning Turbine

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“Turbine is transitioning into a free-to-play, mobile development studio, and as a result we are eliminating some positions. The Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons online games will continue to operate as they do now. Re-focusing and reducing the studio size was a difficult decision for the company, and we are grateful to all of the Turbine staff for their considerable contributions.”

So grateful, in fact, that we kicked them out of the building! So long, see ya, we’re mobile now!

Oh Turbine, what happened to you? A death of a thousand cuts or a hundred bad decisions? Was it free-to-play in the end? Trying too hard to do too much? Your Infinite Crisis gambit? The decline of the MMO industry? Selling out to WB?

You used to be this mighty indie studio that pumped out beloved hits. You looked forward on MMOs and delivered an incredible vision of Middle-earth that we loved for years. You had three highly lucrative IPs under your belt.

I’m kind of furious about these layoffs. It makes me downright mad to see a studio that used to show such passion and talent for MMOs to be groveling for the scraps of mobile gaming. It ticks me off that good people who have poured so much work into these titles have been shown the door. And it makes me quite nervous for the future of the current library of titles.

Notice that Asheron’s Call 1/2 isn’t mentioned there. Maybe it doesn’t need to be; these games were put into maintenance mode last year and probably make next to no profit. But at least the gamers had the hopes that the light switch would stay on. That above statement does not give me the confidence that this will be the case.

And that whole “will continue to operate as they do now” is such an ominous and nebulous statement. What does that mean? This could be saying that the games will be kept running but no more development will happen (again, maintenance mode while they drain the last dollars from the pockets of the loyalists). It could be a statement of assurance that the games will continue running and receive some attention, perhaps from a reduced team. We really don’t know, mostly because bland and unhelpful PR statements like this are the worst.

Turbine execs, you better be going to bed tonight sick to your stomach at what has happened on your watch. Mobile studio? Shoot, you haven’t even proven you can do that much yet. And with that, I don’t have any further reason to care about what you do.