Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: A very Hobbity Halloween

While the Haunted Burrow is all the LOTRO Halloween I *need*, I can be greedy and want more. And that brings me to the fall festival’s OTHER great Halloween addition, Wistmead. It’s been a couple (few?) years since I stepped into this decidedly creepy realm, but I figured that a new character was a perfect chance to re-run the Bingo Boffin story series.

Oh man, I wish SSG would do more of these. The first is great, the second is fantastic.

Uncovering the mystery of “Eerie Acres” goes from taking this from a long-lost legend to a bittersweet tragedy to a present ghost story is so involving. What really tickles me here is that LOTRO does a few things with this quest series that it hasn’t anywhere else.

Such as, for example, taking us inside the postal office in Michel Delving. So well done, and I like how the letters are read with a ghostly blue hobbit standing in for the writer.

But the real pièce de résistance was the haunted barn that all of this leads up to. It would be a good showpiece by itself, but the quests before it really helped to set the scene for what’s to happen here. You know all of the creepy stories, you know some of the tragic tale of Cleary, and you’ve met the spectral presence.

I love the way that the house silently dissolves certain walls to show little dioramas from the creepy tales. Some are creepier than others, but the scarecrow man takes the cake for me. And how about those stairs that keep going and going and going up? By the time you get to the top, you almost don’t want to go into the attic.

Anyway, I know I wrote about this back in the day, but I quite enjoyed going through it again and thought I’d pile on a few more kudos for whoever made this quest.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

The cozy familiarity of LOTRO’s Haunted Burrow

On top of the craziness that was LOTRO’s Update 30.3 last week and the ensuing flood of Brawlers on every server, the patch also triggered the start of the Fall event. With a new character in dire need of some great cosmetics, I flocked to this really hard.

But there’s another reason I was glad to see the fall festival return, because it once again opened the doors of my favorite Halloween instance in an MMO, the Haunted Burrow. There’s something so special about this place that it feels comfortable and homey, even if it is kind of trying to be a spooky ooky place (from a Hobbit’s perspective).

Because it really does feel cozy, almost more than any MMO house I’ve made. I love the details, the decorations, the secret bookshelf doors, the now-familiar jump scares, the mystery wing, the attic… all of it. The sound design is second-to-none, also, and goes a long way to creating an atmospheric Halloween vibe.

And I can’t complain about the fact that if I’m not in the mood to run a bajillion fall festival quests, I still can come over to the burrow once an hour and grab a handful of free tokens and even some housing decorations. I’m not ashamed to admit that I log my character out in this room, set a timer while I’m doing daily tasks, and get into the habit of logging back in every 60 minutes for more freebies.

So here’s to the Haunted Burrow: One of the best additions to Lord of the Rings Online that the dev team ever fashioned.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Rampaging through Lone-lands and North Downs

More and more these days, I find that the Treebeard server for Lord of the Rings Online is such a good fit for where I am, gaming-wise. The super-slow progression and languid unlock schedule removes that exterior pressure of rapid progress while giving me permission to simply explore, complete, and socialize.

And I have been socializing, believe it or not. I’ve fallen into the orbit of the Better Biscuit Bureau, which I think may be the largest (or one of the largest) kinships on the server. Normally I’m not about “huge guilds” due to being lost in the crowd, but it never feels like it here. Everyone is incredibly friendly to each other, and I’ve even had multiple people send me gear and consumables — unasked for! — out of the kindness of their hearts. That sort of thing makes you want to stick around, you know?

I’ve been approaching this server the way I did on Anor — namely, to complete a zone’s meta-deed, snarf up all of the LOTRO points and virtue XP, and move on to the next. I’m kind of doing the epic storyline if it goes with the zone, but at some point I’m going to just put it on the backburner until I get right up to Moria’s gates, then do it all in one fell swoop.

I estimate that if I do a zone a week, which isn’t too taxing a pace, I’ll be ready for the Moria unlock in December. But even if I’m a little behind, eh, Moria’s going to be here for six months. There’s seriously no rush.

It has taken some getting used to playing a Beorning. Certainly, it’s been a pleasant surprise how great the class is all-around. I feel like it has a very solid toolkit of skills that’s shaping up now that I’m in the 30s. And the survivability factor is incredible! I never get tired of wading into packs of bad guys, activating my self-heal, and then going to town with various attacks (including my favorite, which lets me maul a bunch of guys at once).

I witnessed first-hand how well this class functioned when I charged into that early area in North Downs that’s packed full of elites. I barely slowed down and was in almost no danger of being killed at any point. I did quests there that I’ve always skipped because I usually play more squishy classes (lore-master, minstrel), and it was so much fun. And I *cannot* wait until I upgrade my bees to do AOE damage.

That said, the one thing I do struggle with the Beorning is looks. 98% of the time, I’m in bear mode, so I’m stuck looking at this blobby bear butt that isn’t anywhere near as cool as humanoid characters that I can equip with cosmetics. And the man form of the Beorning… well, I did my best, but she still looks off-putting. Probably should’ve just chosen a guy to start with. Oh well.

For my cosmetics fix, I did roll up a Lore-master to play on the side. The idea of doing a new Lore-master came out of left field for me, but the more I thought about it, the more I loved the notion. I haven’t actually created a brand-new LM for… over a decade now? At least that. And so getting to level one up will feel fresh for a while, and I’ll get my pets and cosmetics and all of that. I did make her the above outfit, which I love, from my Beorning starting gear and some Rohan accessories.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: The bear necessities

Despite an expansion coming out next month in Lord of the Rings Online, I am not having it when it comes to high-level content. I’m not burned out on the MMO so much as burned out on bashing my head against tough content that shouldn’t be this hard for regular landscape questing. But I also didn’t want to stop playing either, which led me back to my trusty Bear on the Treebeard server, who’d been patiently waiting in Lone-lands for me to return.

Again, in my head I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense to invest time into a character that can’t progress very fast and is already far behind the crowd. The Moria unlock is likely coming in December, and I’m only level 30 with four zones done. That’s a big gap unless I’m going to gun it and go for broke, which I don’t have time to do even if I felt the inclination, which I don’t.

Instead, I’m listening more to what I simply want here, which is a casual questing and completionist experience. The Beorning continues to be a great package and quite enjoyable to play, and I never tire of running into a big pack of mobs, spitting bees at them, putting on a self-heal, and then mauling everyone to death. That’s me. That’s the teddy bear I am.

My interest has also been piqued by the fact that my kinship is absolutely tremendous. Even in the middle of the day, there are lots of people on, and they’re super chatty and friendly. It’s amazing how much a great guild can boost your attachment and involvement in the game. The other day, everyone was glowing because we just got a premium kin house, which was decked out fairly well. We all went in for tours, oohing and ahhing appropriately.

So a lowbie bear in Eriador is where you’ll find me — if you’re looking at all.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Hacking my way through Minas Morgul

One of the beautiful things about having a “home MMO” is being incredibly comfortable in it. LOTRO is the kind of game I can sit down with and not stress about what to do or how the game functions. Its slower pace is perfect for the end of the day when my brain is spinning down anyway. So I’ve gotten large swaths of content done because I’m so comfy in the game that I don’t feel like jumping out to do something else.

And I’m happy to report that I’ve gotten my Captain through all of the lead-up to Minas Morgul and am now in the expansion itself. It’s fascinating how (relatively) fast you move through content when you’re just doing the main storyline.

Minas Morgul has such an interesting introduction, as it takes place in a very extended flashback back when Mordor was besieged by the good peeps back in the Second Age. The way that the devs handled this — sending your character back with the thin fiction of piloting a similar class who was actually present — is far better than giving us a lengthy session play-like experience with some strange class.

Sometimes I shrink LOTRO to half the screen and pop on a movie or some stand-up comedy in the other half. It helps to fill up that time, especially when I’m doing a quest that involves killing a whole bunch of mobs and then riding halfway across the zone.

One thing I’d very much like to accomplish this month is finding a new kinship. Mine almost never talks or does stuff together, and I’m feeling the angst of not having enough social connection going on. While I’ve been keeping an eye on world chat for any ads, I haven’t seen much at all. I think I’m going to have to get a lot more aggressive at this point.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Racing against time

The good news is that the decision to move to my Captain as my main over the past month has gone great so far. I feel tanky, healy, and able to slice my way through most situations, and I’m making progress in getting her leveled up via missions and the epic quest. The bad news is that Gundabad feels like it might be a month or two away, and there’s just no way she’ll be ready for day one.

Which is fine — there are tons of players who haven’t even seen the latest content since they’re still leveling, and the expansion will be there when we get there. However, I do want to get there this fall so that I can write up coverage on it for MOP.

Even though I’m relatively sprinting through the content and zones, I do try to sight-see as much as possible. There’s a lot of detail that the modern team put into these regions that deserve some appreciation, like this dwarf library. And as I said on Twitter recently, I feel that Dale might be one of the most under-appreciated cities created for the game (Lake-Town, too). It’s brimming with style and history, yet so little in the way of questing content keeps you here, which is a shame.

So, a little LOTRO community story to share. The other day I’m playing and half-reading world chat. I see this guy grousing about the state of the game and how he assumes that all high-level players level-boosted, so I push back against this a little, saying that he’s making some big assumptions without evidence, etc. Anyway, we butt heads for a bit and I’m reminded why I generally don’t talk in world chat, so I just shut up after a while and do some stuff.

But here’s the cool thing: The guy sent me an IM apologizing for butting heads, and I apologized for assuming that he was a troll, and the two of us actually had a really positive private conversation back and forth for the next 15 minutes. I know we always point to how toxic communities and the power of the anonymous megaphone can be, and here’s an example of how people can actually bring peace into a conflict and be mature about it. It was encouraging to me.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Festivals and fire

Wish me well, for I write this from the bowels of Mordor. After a week-and-a-half of doing the Farmer’s Faire for experience, cosmetics, and housing decorations, I’m finally back to adventuring as a full-time profession. Well, in her world, at least.

I don’t know how wise it is to ignore all of the side quests and focus only on the main one. I suspect it’s foolish, as I definitely don’t have enough of this Radiance 2.0 gear to overcome the shadow of Mordor. But I think I might just be keeping up with the XP curve… at least for the time being.

One nice thing about only doing the epic is having that narrative and questing continuity. You’re not being pulled in sixteen directions by a massive To Do list; you have a single objective that needs to be accomplished — and one after that, and one after that.

One of the quests took me back to Minas Tirith, which I haven’t visited for a while. It made me think, yet again, that I really need to do a Tourist’s Guide to Minas Tirith article at some point. There are so many interesting buildings and sights in this packed city that deserve exploring.

But for the most part, I’ve been criss-crossing my way through Mordor, hoping that the epic will get me out of here as fast as possible. At least I’m not struggling to survive or kill. I’m not a hard-hitting damage dealer, that’s for sure, but the fact that I have like five different heals firing off during my rotation more than makes up for the slower pace. I guess if I want that zippy kill experience, I’ll jump on my Hunter some day.

Honestly, it’s still way better than getting batted around on my Lore-master. I have come to suspect that part of the issue involves how legendary items can make or break a character build depending on how they’re built up. In this, I hold fast to the hope that we’ll get the LI revamp this fall, as SSG has been talking. I’m just tired of dying all of the time.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

What LOTRO’s world map looks like in 2021

A little while back, someone posted an updated version of the compiled world map for Lord of the Rings Online at it stands at Update 29. As a map fanatic, I love looking over this thing and noting so many details.

For starters, look how big the world has grown since the game’s launch. The original LOTRO was just that upper left corner, and even not all of that. Since then, it has really expanded to become a sprawling world with the frozen north, the balmy coastal south, the far east of Ered Luin and the far west of Mordor.

I also love that it’s all connected. I don’t know any other MMO that has a connected world like this, where it isn’t broken up by continents and tons of loading screens. Seeing mountain ranges, forests, and rivers flow from one zone through the next lends that sense of world credibility.

Also, look how big Gondor is — and it wasn’t ever released as an expansion! I always feel this goes overlooked.

You can also see in this map how much the map styles of LOTRO have changed over time. There are three such types: The original hand-drawn stuff that looks like it comes from a book but isn’t always super-helpful, the more detailed and colorful hand-drawn stuff, and then the top-down camera snapshots of the zones themselves. Personally, I like the second version the best.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: A Captain on a mission (or two)

After mulling prospects and switching between several characters (sometimes on a daily basis) in LOTRO, I felt a deep sense of mental relief to finally commit to one character — my Captain — and work on her with no other distractions. She’s the best of all worlds for me, and I feel very good in this decision.

The only problem? She was just 105 when I first picked her up, having not even gone into the Wastes or Mordor. She had quite the road ahead of her to catch up with current content.

The plan that I formulated for her wasn’t the traditional “do all side quests and main story quest” route, but rather to only focus on the main storyline and supplement with missions for extra XP if I fell behind. The thinking here is that I didn’t have the patience to do Mordor questing or to stay in Mordor more than I had to — I just wanted to plow through zones on the Middle-earth expressway (MEE).

In following this plan, the main story quest quickly jumped up in levels, so I had to put the brakes on that and mission it up for a while. I chose the Erebor set and cranked out several of those every day while taking advantage of XP destiny buffs (might as well use that currency up!). I also tacked in the summer festival quests, since I could run 10 of those in about 15-20 minutes.

This may sound silly to ignore side quests, but I know that the game stayed at certain level plateaus for a while, so if I can get to those level ranges, then I might be able to keep up with the epic alone. We’ll see.

In any case, it’s been a really enjoyable romp with my long-neglected Captain so far. She’s super-durable in her self-healing spec, and I pull out my Herald of War to boost my DPS so I can actually kill stuff at a semi-reasonable rate. The missions themselves are fine — some are much longer and more tedious than others, which is why I figured out which three or four to run every day that I can get done quickly. I should probably make a list of those to share, eh?

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

How LOTRO visualizes evil in its landscape

Bears aside, I’ve been putting in some journeys with my Captain as she makes her way into the Mordor expansion. I’ve made no effort to hide the fact that I greatly dislike this expansion for many reasons. Considering that Minas Morgul — set in the same realm — ended up being pretty great, I can’t say that it’s solely because of the land and theming.

However, these steps into Mordor did get me thinking about how much LOTRO plays upon our sensibilities of beauty and good — and ugliness and evil. It’s not always that simple and clear-cut, of course (Sauron was originally a fair Maia and seen as such in one flashback quest). But the good vs. evil struggle of the game is often echoed in the lands that we explore. Evil people and intents seem to poison and corrupt the very realms they inhabit, and so places like Angmar and Mordor and Isengard become steeped in ash, smoke, decay, and even broken skies.

As a player, you definitely feel this when you go through the gauntlet of Mordor. There’s simply no beauty nor goodness there. What trees there are have been wrapped up in spider’s webs, and what water remains is stained blood red. Everything else is cracked earth, red skies, and lava flows. If you’re especially prone to being affected by your environments, as I am, it’s grueling after a while.

It’s why the game goes out of its way to sandwich Mordor with beautiful zones. North Ithilien is one of the most gorgeous regions of the game, and Northern Mirkwood and Dale-lands contain quite a bit of eye candy. And it’s here that there is still good among the people, imperfect though they may be. It’s a subtle visual reminder of what we’re fighting for — and a stark reminder of what the world could become if evil had its way.