12 Days of Geekmas #1: Lord of the Rings (Online)


Some other MMO bloggers turned me on to this holiday blogging exercise in which the community is commenting on twelve different fandoms and other geeky things, and looking over the list, I figured why not join in?

The first topic is Lord of the Rings, which is a natural fit with me and my long-running (but now on haitus) journey with Lord of the Rings Online. I started playing this MMO back at launch, took a couple years off, then was playing almost non-stop since 2010 and writing about it for Massively. It was only recently that I started to get burned out on both the game and the franchise as a whole and needed some time apart.

But that doesn’t rob me of some great memories in this game, both with people and with the amazing world that Turbine helped to create based on Tolkien’s books. I can say that my appreciation for LOTR is forever changed and expanded since playing the MMO — far more than I ever got from the films. I’ve never played an MMO with such world cohesion, and I’ll be forever pointing to LOTRO as an example of how a game based on an IP can actually foster a stronger game design due to the lore limitations. It rarely got silly or wacky or far-out, but from the Shire to Gondor felt like a single world through which my Captain and Lore-master journeyed.

I’ll always be amazed at the community that added to the world through its roleplaying, blogging, concerts, events, fashion shows, and general enthusiasm. I met a lot of terrific people and friends (who are also people) through LOTRO and am grateful for that.

Maybe one day I’ll go back. Maybe. It’s one of those titles that will be imprinted deep in my memory banks to the point where a random snippet of music will trigger an avalanche of nostalgia.


5 most immersive MMOs I’ve played to date


Game immersion is perhaps one of the most subjective and indefinable qualities when it comes to MMOs. We know in our gut when we feel more drawn into one virtual world over another, yet it might be difficult if not impossible to explain why.

So instead of fiddling around with definitions, today I want to share five MMOs out of my entire resume that were the most immersive that I’ve played — and why.

Fallen Earth

There’s no doubt that Fallen Earth is a messy title that’s perhaps a little too rough around the edges. It never broke into the big time, that’s for sure. But even so, I was so in love with this game and its breathtaking ambition to create a living, breathing post-apocalyptic world. From the black humor to the mounts that stayed put where you left them to the weird factions and the vivid sunsets over the desert, I always felt drawn into this title like no other. Plus, crafting everything you end up using made those items feel more precious.

Lord of the Rings Online

One of the reasons that I stuck with LOTRO for so long was that, unlike so many other MMOs, it felt like a cohesive world that played by a predefined set of rules instead of ones that the devs made up on the fly. I’d argue that having to fit under the umbrella of a rich IP actually helped to create a world that felt “real,” so to speak. So many times I would lose myself in traversing the lands where it wasn’t just endless packs of mobs, but civilization clashing with the wild and with evil. And I can’t discount that incredible music for drawing me in as well!

The Secret World

TSW’s brilliance is not just in its storytelling (which is magnificent) but in its meticulously crafted world that bleeds over into ours. In fact, the myriad of ways that the developers blurred the line between game and reality broke down that fictional barrier in part and allowed me to believe (or at least pretend very hard) that I was actually part of what was going on on the other side of the screen.

World of Warcraft

Maybe we’re all like this with MMOs that we’ve spent so much time in, but my previous passion for World of Warcraft and the countless hours that I poured into it took my understanding of Azeroth beyond a mere game and into a much more personal space. The little details — the sounds, the animations, the locations, the music — swirled together to form a world that was vividly immersive for years. I miss feeling that way about it, I won’t lie.

Anarchy Online

I’ll probably chalk Anarchy Online’s immersive abilities up to it being one of the first MMOs that I played, even though I felt pretty lost in it at the time. It’s “alien” nature set it apart from fantasy CRPGs and made it feel other, different, and alluring. At no point was I looking beyond the immediate details of the world to number crunch or break down mechanics, which is a sign that I was pretty content just being instead of mastering.

So those are my five. What are yours?

LOTRO: The last sword I’ll ever need

fineI won’t say that Lord of the Rings Online’s Update 16 was the brightest star on my gaming horizon, but as it neared it did start to shine more and more in my hopes. I don’t know why I was thrilled to see that Turbine was adding in new dungeons, but I was — and it made me kind of want to run a few. And while the new zones and epic story is nice to have, it’s not really the selling point so much as what was expected.

Oddly enough, what really excited me about Update 16 was the change to the legendary item system with the new level-100 imbuements. Basically, once you hit level 100 you can choose to “imbue” a LI so that it changes from its normal configuration to a special new one that gives an XP bar and ranks to each legacy. This allows for a lot more leveling/advancement through LIs while taking away some of the micromanagement that these objects used to require. Theoretically it takes us in a step toward how LIs should have been from the get-go: powerful items that level up alongside of you.

While I had a second-age level 100 halberd, what I really wanted was to return to using a sword on my captain. The sword just looks more iconic and deadly, plus I like those animations more. So I put out a call to my kinship asking if there were any crafters who could make a second ager (since I couldn’t find any in the auction house after a week or so of looking), and a crafter piped up to help me out.

A few minutes later, and I was in possession of a brand-new level 100 two-handed greatsword that I named Fallout, in honor of the retro game series I’m doing on Bio Break this week. It’s already doing more DPS than I was with the halberd, and I spent a couple of crystals of rememberance that I had in the bank to give it a couple of extra legacy slots.

The, er, fallout from this improved system means that getting XP now has more meaning for me once again, which in turn strengthens the motivation for going through quests. Other than the occasional class trait for finishing a quest line and the story, I wasn’t really getting much in terms of rewards from questing post-100 anyway. Now I’ve got a new XP mountain to climb, and ideally this sword will be with me all of the way through the remainder of the game. That’s a happy thought.

Less happy is my success with the new dungeons. I’ve been making it a point to sign up in the instance finder for both the old and new dungeons, but haven’t had any luck seeing those pop. Maybe I’m the only person who uses the instance finder? I’m curious to at least see the Osgiliath instances, at least.

LOTRO: A return to the Shire

musicYou know how it is with growing older — sometimes you want to go back and revisit your youth, to see if you can recapture some of what made the places you used to frequent so special. Of course, that’s a great way to be disillusioned as well, but it doesn’t stop us from doing it.

This week is the 7th anniversary of my LOTRO kinship, the Lonely Mountain Band. To cap off festivities, there was a concert and a special guest speaker at Ales & Tales last night. That was enough encouragement for me to return to the place of my character’s youth, the Shire.

outfitMan, I have not been back to the Shire in what feels like ages. After months in Rohan and Gondor, it feels like a completely different world to return to a place where pie-tasting, mail-running, and player concerts are the norm. It’s great to see that it’s still a place where players congregate in large numbers.

I took advantage of the moment to whip up a new outfit, as I had become a little bored with my current wardrobe.  I worked with a piece — eastenmet armor — that had frustrated me in the past, but I think I got a combination that came out looking good. I like the high collar and how it all goes with the campaign backpack. I think I might even be looking at the outfit I’ll be wearing through the end of the game.

Speaking of finishers, I am happy to report that I finally wrapped up Update 15, including the epic storyline, and can add LOTRO to the list of games where I have a capped character waiting for the next big update (which, for this game, will be sometime this month).

I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen in the coming year, but my heart and love for this game will always be way back in the beginning, back in the Shire. I doubt we’ll ever experience a place like that again in this game.

Dealing with a wasted session

aragornMy baleful eye of Sypon has turned to Lord of the Rings Online in an effort to get caught up through Update 15’s content. Last night’s play session wasn’t anything awesome for the most part; I’m struggling through a cold and mostly was playing on autopilot. I barely remember the stories, other than saving a girl who ran away to hang out with a river goddess, but at least I chewed through a good portion of quests in central Gondor.

By the time 10:00 p.m. hit, the epic storyline landed me in the court of Aragorn (above), his Grey Company, and his ghostly backup dancers. I wasn’t fully expecting to find that, and I’ll admit that the discovery was pretty neat. It’s cool to see how far he’s come in the game from that guy crouching in the dirt in Archet asking you to find some Kingsfoil for his friend.

Anyway, Aragorn asked me to go ahead and run the Pelargir epic battle. Sigh. Fine. I’ve been trying so hard to forget that LOTRO even has epic battles, which tells you a little about how highly I regard that system. But I figured that if I could knock it out before bed, that would be a good way to cap the night.

As with the Helm’s Deep battles, Pelargir was mindless drudgery. Run and fight, feel like you’re not making much of a difference at all, and wait around for far too long while mobs come at you in waves. Thank goodness for Netflix and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Binge watching is fun.

Long story short, I spend about 35 to 40 minutes going through the motions and then suddenly die due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time and having 15 mobs dance on my skull. Quickly I respawn — all of the way at the beginning — and try to run back, but the “they can’t die” NPCs get killed within seconds and I fail the instance. It boots me back out to the landscape and Aragorn shakes his head slowly while giving me a disapproving look.

He needn’t have bothered; I felt plenty disappointed in myself. Is there any worse feeling in MMO gaming than to blow a good chunk of time on what turns out to be a wasted effort? I’ve gone through this before in hard quests where I spend so much time pushing forward but can’t complete it or with those endless dungeon runs in which your party keeps wiping and can’t progress.

Sure, it can’t always be victory after victory in MMOs. Failure can and should exist. But when you’re investing tons of time into these games, you want to see progress for that investment. I logged out thinking that I could have gone to bed an hour earlier and it wouldn’t have made any difference in my LOTRO progress if I had.

I think it’s important in those disappointing moments to take a big step back, refresh, and regroup in the future with a more positive attitude. Next time I will beat this. And if I don’t, I will chuck my hard drive into the cracks of Mt. Doom as petty revenge.