LOTRO: Syp vs. the Army of Darkness

army1Right now I’m about halfway through re-reading Lord of the Rings, and there’s one thing that really strikes me about the books (other than they’re pretty darn good and have many epic moments/quotes). The magical/mystical side of Middle-earth, while present, is downplayed and deliberately left mysterious. Are the elven cloaks really magic or just well-made in such a way that looks like magic? Is Aragorn’s sword imbued with some magical property to make it flash like lightning or is that just artistic license? It feels as though there’s a lot of room left for interpretation.

Back in 2007, I was initially attracted to how LOTRO was going to buck the trend of high-fantasy MMOs and go more low-key with its classes and use of magical whatevers. Sure, over the years magic creep has settled in (Rune-keepers are still a sore spot to many) but it’s still very much a game that’s more grounded in realistic analogues than fairies and fireballs. It actually makes it more relatable, at least to me, and when something supernatural shows up it’s somewhat impressive.

army2Anyway, that’s a meandering lead-up to say that I spent last night beating up ghosts in Gondor. Turbine used a little bit of wiggle room in the Paths of the Dead to create a group of non-redemptive spectres called the restless dead, and these jerks from the great beyond have been dogging my steps and causing no end of grief for others. Being that they’re already dead, I don’t feel that bad spearing them with my halberd (although… how am I doing that? Really?).

A local man in Gondor tells me how he and his family believe in these river maidens who have allegedly watched over the region as sort of guardian angels, and begs me to go find her. That’s not too difficult for me even though nobody had actually seen them in ages. But me? I’m special. I walk to the river’s edge and a good ghost pops out of the water to have a chat. Apparently she’s been needing to atone for some mistakes she made in life, so helping out the locals in death seemed like good penance.

But really that just meant that I was going to have to beat up a whole lot of ghosts, so beat them up I did.

army3I was all excited to see how the river maiden was going to turn the power of the water against the restless dead. The ghosts show up and taunt us for a bit, then the maiden issues the closest thing to a prayer that I’ve seen in the game, and then…

AND THEN…

Well, the ghost just melts into the water like the Wicked Witch of the West.  “Curses!” and soforth. OK, it was probably a limitation of the engine, but I was really hoping for a tsunami or a water spout or something. Melting? That was a bit anticlimactic.

Although I did get a hearty laugh at seeing the remainder of the restless dead do an about-face and run off in double-time, almost like Benny Hill. “It’s water! RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!”

LOTRO: Getting to know Gondor

h1Got this helmet the other day — a new model, at least to me. It’s decidedly unusual, and I’m on the fence whether or not I like it. I kind of do and kind of don’t, but I’m trying it out for a while.

h2Going through Gondor in LOTRO thus far has been an educating experience. Of all of the main regions/countries of the Lord of the Rings, it’s the one that I know the least. In the movies, Gondor is primarily two cities — Osgiliath and Minas Tirith — and just that. But the game is providing a lot more context as I make my way from west to east.

For starters, I never pictured Gondor as a coastal nation, but I guess it is and that definitely changes the atmosphere. Kind of Mediterranean. Past the landscape, Gondor has its own architecture (which we have seen in ruins throughout the game): large stone/marble structures with swan and wing motifs. Coming from the rustic log cabins of Rohan, it’s quite a switch. You get the sense that this is the cradle of a much older civilization than much of what we’ve seen of Man lands to date (especially back in Bree-land).

h3The residents haven’t been having an easy go of it as of late. Gondor doesn’t have to just worry about an army pouring out of Mordor, I guess, as it also has a plague of corsairs plus (why not) an army of restless dead assailing it from all sides. And since the population is frozen in fear and non-scripting, it’s up to me to wage a one-woman army and save the day.

I’ve been growing in appreciation of my halberd, and not just because it’s a second ager. It’s got a good animation to it and I definitely feel martial when I’m wielding it.

LOTRO: A sunless land

ahh1Sir, may I say that I like your style?  You have a very handsome face.

So I had to make a hard decision this week to let my Lore-master in LOTRO go — at least for the time being — and return to my Captain.  As much as I love the LM lifestyle (point pet at bad guy, go get a cookie from the kitchen, come back to loot and XP), it’s going to take me just shy of forever to get through the entirety of Rohan.  And I really, really need to get through the new Gondor content and be poised to experience Osgiliath and beyond.

Besides, I do like my Cappy, just in a different way than my LM.  To make myself feel a little better about the change, I found and bought a level 100 second age halberd from the auction hall.  With the upcoming LI changes, I could have this for a while to come, which is cool.  As a bonus, it actually looks kind of neat.  Also, I worked up a fun heal-while-I-attack build that’s strangely satisfying to play.

When I last left my Captain, I had finished up the epic book in western Gondor and was puttering around.  Now, there’s a new book and a new zone.  It begins with a sea siege of Dol Amroth by Mr. Personality up there and his merry gang of corsairs.  I find it more than a little strange that after all of my adventures so far that I’m supposed to take sea pirates threatening.  Seriously, I’ve killed zombie dragonlings, giant orcs, trolls, shrews, and great evils from beyond the realm of this world.  But corsairs!  Well, I should turn tail and run.

Actually, I did face something that put fear in my step:

ahh2WHAT THE UNHOLY SALAD DRESSING OF DENETHOR IS THAT.

I guess it’s a woman in a mourning veil, but that has to be the scariest thing I’ve seen in LOTRO to date.  And that’s including the Sam Gamgee shower scene.

Anyway, I’m sent to treat with the corsair captain, who is high on his awesomeness and isn’t threatened by my 100 levels in the least.  After our chat, he tells me to swim to shore, but I stayed on the boat because I run from no one.  Also, I wanted to see what happened when he counted to five.  What happened is that he got to two, got frustrated, and killed me almost instantly, and then I had to repeat the entire quest.  I guess that’ll teach me to go for a swim in heavy armor when a pirate tells me to.

That’s all the prologue for heading into central Gondor to warn the Gondorian fleet that the British… er, corsairs are coming.  That’s when I found that the region has been smothered in a perpetual twilight, and not the sparkly vampires and mouth-breathing love interest kind of twilight.  It’s part of the books called the Darkest Day, when Sauron tries to freak Gondor out by blotting out the sun.  I guess it works, because practically every NPC I clicked on exclaimed the same phrase: “We woke to no sun!  No light of day!”

“Hey, so where is the–”  “We woke to no sun!  No light of day!”

“I have those six orc heads you wa–”  “We woke to no sun!  No light of day!”

“Get a flashlight and SHUT UP.”

ahh3As I was doing my good deeds of the day for a town, I came across the above monstrosity roaming near some spider nests.  I saw a fellow player attacking it solo and decided to jump in to help, only later realizing that this was one of the new roving threats that came with a recent patch.

Since the other player got on her war-steed for some mounted combat, I had to do the same.  And thus began a 10-minute fight as we continually circled and attacked and I generally freaked out that my horse was going to plunge off one of the nearby cliffs.  But we did get it down, hooray, and I got some token that will go in the giant bag of tokens that I carry around.  Some day I’ll make a scrapbook with all of them.

LOTRO: The relaxing way to save the world

lang1While I didn’t intentionally plan it, this past month of my life has been dominated by one theme: streamlining.  I think it needed to happen; my life was getting so full of “stuff” — projects, mostly — that I needed to scale back, cut the superfluous stuff, and rethink how I gamed.  I’ve already talked about how I’m just not worrying about being a full completionist (with SWTOR’s datacrons/gear or LOTRO’s virtues), and you’ve probably noticed that I’ve stopped doing retro gaming posts (they were getting to be more stressful to do and I wanted to focus more on MMOs).

And while I’m still samping a ton of MMOs — six or seven concurrent titles — I’m not stressing out about giving them equal time or sticking to a schedule.  I’m more of the attitude of, “Huh, what do I want to play and haven’t written about in a while?”  That’s actually been a blast.  Even better is the decision to return to games with more traditional combat models (RIFT, SWTOR, LOTRO) and cut out the action combat that was more work than fun to play (WildStar).

That’s why I deeply appreciate LOTRO each and every time I log in: It is simply relaxing.  Yes, I’m saving the world and combating ALL THE EVIL that you think Mordor would have a bounty out for my head and be calling me “The Flashy Death” or somesuch, but I’m doing it at my own pace while sitting back and cruising through the quest lines.

LOTRO isn’t what you’d exactly call challenging, unless you’re either running a hard instance or severely gimp yourself, but I don’t miss it — at least not in this game.  And playing as a Lore-master almost seems like god mode.  Remember when I lamented that when it comes to combat, what I really want is to point at a critter and have it die?  That’s pretty close to what happens here.  Summon my bog-guardian, tag a bunch of mobs, and optionally participate in their assured destruction.  Alternately, I can use my awesome “Sic ‘Em!” skill to summon all of my pets and wade into a group of bad guys to see them taken down within seconds.  It’s satisfying like popping bubble wrap, if the bubble wrap were fictional people with families, dreams, and a heart set on world domination.

lang2Okay, so moving on from that topic, let’s talk about how my Lore-master failed to bring down a Nazgul.  It’s not my fault, it’s some dev at Turbine that won’t take the training wheels off of my staff and let me have a swing at the big boys.  Instead, I’ll be killing worms and pigs until my dying day because of helicopter developing.

This came about from the whole Langhold storyline.  My LM is still in the early days of her Rohan adventures, and it continues to be a treat to discover how many well-crafted story experiences exist (it’s been a couple of years, so pardon my faulty memory.  I should blog about such things so that I don’t forget.).

While short, the Langhold section is remarkably effective as an introduction to Rohan and to make me feel rather ineffective in my quest to actually help people (this will be a recurring theme throughout the entire country, if I recall my past adventures).  First I’m sent to do the typical “new to a town in an RPG” stuff — meet the mayor (Thane), figure out where vendors are, and snap up quests.  But things soon quickly turn for the worse as a casual recon mission discovers a small army of invaders who have the cooperation of a Ringwraith.  That’s kind of like an ultimate trump card unless you have a handy Elf-controlled river nearby that’s willing to flood the region just to take out a bad guy.

“We have 20 stout defenders manning the wall and sturdy gates that will–”

/slaps down Nazgul card.  “You lose.”

So while the mission did the LOTRO thing of refusing to allow me to fight the big evil lest I tear a hole in the lore so big that an endless stream of fanboys and girls pour out, I’m told to tuck tail and run.  While I feel that this is a little cheap (as is every time that a game wrests control away from me and makes me fail as a default just to keep the story in line), the chaos and effects did a great job of selling the destruction of the small village.

It’s a solid introduction to the plight of Rohan and the fact that no matter how many rats you kill, sometimes you just can’t stop evil from happening on a larger scale.  Sometimes you fight a series of tactical retreats so that you can be in a position to win on your own terms.

5 features I’m glad we no longer suffer in LOTRO

old1Time marches on, and with it, progress.  Sure, we can get cynical in MMOs and say that everything’s gone downhill since “the good ol’ days,” but past that sophmoric statement is the truth that these games do improve and we become accustomed to these improvements to the point where we don’t even remember how it used to be.

The other day I was thinking of how far Lord of the Rings Online has come and how I’m really glad that we’ve gotten rid of some of the older systems and features to make gameplay more enjoyable.  So here are five featues that I’m glad we no longer suffer in LOTRO!

1. Manual looting

One of the best and most recent changes to the game (well, recent as of a year ago?) is that all defeated mob loot goes straight into our backpack without needing to manually loot it.  It wasn’t that this was a huge pain to do, but sometimes the subtle sparkles of a lootable corpse got lost amid the clutter, not to mention that you would always have to go to that corpse if you were a long-range DPS class.

I love this now; it’s better than even AOE looting, which is the norm in most MMOs now.  I love it so much that playing other MMOs annoys me when it comes time to loot, because I keep thinking of how LOTRO does it and realizing how little manually clicking for loot adds to the experience.

2. Radiance gear

How quickly we forget the travesty of radiance gear, one of Turbine’s most ill-thought-out notions.  Having to gun for specific gear just to allow us to enjoy dungeons was remarkably dumb and not popular in the least, and there was much rejoicing when that whole system was trashed.

3. No cosmetic outfits

For about a year following the launch of the game, players did not have any choice regarding their appearance.  And because LOTRO’s gear could look — how do I put this? — super-duper goofy, it made for a lot of super-duper goofy people running around Middle-earth.

That all changed on February 13th, 2008, with the addition of the cosmetic system, which was subsequently expanded with a wardrobe later on.  I truly believe we take for granted now the ability to not look like some court jester reject unless we choose to be that.

old24. Group-mandatory epic quests

Some day we will tell our astounded children of an era where we couldn’t actually get through the entire epic storyline without hitting hard walls requiring a group of other players to overcome.  While it may have been social and befitting the genre to have such moments in the game, in practice it made it nearly impossible to progress unless you could find a bunch of other people who were at the exact same stage of the quest chain — or who took pity on you.  So glad that this was revamped to make the epic story soloable.

5. A mapless Old Forest

Getting completely lost in the maze of the mapless Old Forest was a genuine LOTRO rite of passage, and the only entry on this list that makes me a little sad to see gone.  Oh, I’m glad it’s gone nonetheless, because that area was stupid hard without printing off a map to use (and you’d have to go in the Old Forest for several deeds).  But… yeah, it made for one of those memories that’s fun to talk about how much we hated it years later.

LOTRO: Reading the books through the lens of the game

lo1This is your weekly public service announcement to remind you that even for a game that was made in 2007, LOTRO still has the ability to be quite beautiful.  Been screenshotting the heck out of it lately, including the above early-morning pic of the silhouette of a statue against the sky.

Anyway, lately I’ve been indulging this return-to-LOTRO streak that I’ve had going on by re-reading the Lord of the Rings.  It’s been a while; I think the last time I went through it was back in my fantasy lit class in college, and that was… 1998?  Since then I’ve seen the movies, played LOTRO extensively, and listened to the illuminating Tolkien Professor podcast.  I like to think that my understanding of this world and the books has grown.

But as I’ve been reading the story, I’ve realized that I can’t help but to do so from the vantage point of a LOTRO gamer.  I know that probably many fans of the game had extensive knowledge of the books first and went into LOTRO that way, but I’m coming at it almost the other way around.  Everything I read in the book, I’m thinking of where I might have seen it or heard about it in the game.

lo2While that might be a horrific thought to novel lore purists, it’s actually really neat.  When I was younger, I always felt a little lost in Lord of the Rings, especially with the weird names, barrage of locations, and extensive fictional world history.  But now I realize that the game has provided me with a solid education on all of these things and more besides, so not only am I constantly making connections between the two, but it’s deepened my enjoyment of the book.

Turbine’s always said that LOTRO was the “game of the books” (as opposed to the “game of the Peter Jackson/Ralph Bakshi films,” I suppose), and while some have taken the studio to task for liberties with the lore, I think that the attention to detail and the relative accuracy bears out.  I didn’t realize before how the LOTRO Hobbit racial skill “stoop for a stone” actually comes from a phrase from the “Concerning Hobbits” prologue, and that was a neat moment when I read that and went, “aha!”

lo3One other thing that I’ve come to realize — although it’s not so much of a shocker — is how much the LOTRO game world presents a condensed, not-to-scale version of what’s in the book.  I’m only in the first part of the Fellowship of the Rings, but I keep noting how very big the Shire is and how long it takes the Hobbits to traverse it in their journey to Buckland.  For a player, it’s a mere handful of minutes to run border-to-border in the Shire, although there seems to be most (but not all) of the main settlements and attractions from the book.

I think I’m really going to enjoy reading the book from the vantage point of a LOTRO veteran, and I definitely want to see what the Tolkien Professor does with his LOTRO world tour, whenever he gets that done.