LOTRO: Level 50 and lookin’ fine

Let me tell you, the view from level 50 is much better than that of level 120.

I can say this with absolute authority, having dinged 50 on LOTRO’s progression server roughly two months after all of the world firsts. This rate actually pleases me, as I made decent progression and have two months left with only two zones and four epic books to complete before the next server unlock. And that’s with throttling back in the game a bit.

I was thinking about this in the shower this morning, that I have learned to regulate my gaming pace somewhat depending on my interest level. The ultimate goal is always to avoid burnout and to sustain interest so that I’m enjoying what I’m playing rather than feeling obligated to play. So when I feel like I’ve been going full burn on a title for a while — which I have been in LOTRO ever since October — I’ll ease back somewhat. And now that I have some breathing room to get the rest of Shadows of Angmar done before Moria, I know I can put in about a half-hour a day and still make it with time to spare.

I think that the last time I talked about LOTRO, I had just started in on the hell that was Angmar, so let me catch you up on my adventures since then. I knew Angmar was going to be tough in terms of interest, and true enough, it was. Some of these higher-level SoA zones didn’t have the best flow or the most accessible content, and you can tell that with how they’re designed.

Therefore I gave myself permission to do what was only necessary to complete the zone and nothing further. That meant only doing regular quests until I had the quest deed done, and then only a handful of deeds and the epic story after that. I even ditched four or so Angmar virtue deeds because I determined that they’d be far too great of a headache to accomplish, and I don’t regret doing that.

With only Forochel and Eregion to go, I switched over to concentrating on the epic book until I had Volume 1 completely wrapped up. After all, it’s the most important bit of content right now, and I enjoy playing through the story without the narrative being interrupted with fetch quests. Plus, I’m enjoying being a Middle-earth tourist. Volume 1 has players bouncing all over the place — there’s a scad-ton of travel involved — and yet with all of my milestone skills and the 5 minute cooldown on them, I’m able to scoot without having to worry about taking long horse trips. I even bought my fifth milestone when it went on sale the other day.

After doing a good deal of Volume 1, I can say that it really helps to have milestones in Rivendell, Esteldin, and Evendim at the bare minimum. From those locations you can branch out to pretty much anywhere that’s needed, and the game keeps sending you back to Elf Country more times than I can count.

Other than that, I’ve been amusing myself by working on costumes now that I have enough pieces to experiment with mix-and-matching. Coming out of a half-hour fashion session with an outfit that I’ll gladly wear for months to come is a win for any night’s gaming in my book.

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LOTRO: Angmar, where enthusiasm goes to die

I hadn’t planned on going to Angmar quite so soon after Misty Mountains on my progression server Minstrel, but all quests — normal and epic — were leading there, and as I’m level 47, I figured I might as well rip off that bandaid, hit 50, and get this place in my rear-view mirror as soon as possible.

Welcome to Angmar, where enthusiasm in LOTRO goes to die.

Oh, you don’t think so initially upon entering the zone. Look at that picture up there! It’s a little frontiersy and rustic, but there’s a blue sky and waterfall and trees. This won’t be so bad!

…Or so you think until about six quests in, when you enter the zone proper and the atmosphere hits you like a ton of bricks. There are a handful of zones in LOTRO I cannot stand, and this is one of them. There are good reasons, too. The sky turns into this horrible shredded mess and a grating sound starts screeching nonstop from the soundtrack unless you turn it off. Apart from the southern tip, Angmar itself has nothing growing and is a dark, craggy wasteland full of dead trees, orcs, more orcs, angry tribes, giant statues that will one-shot you until you complete a certain quest chain, and just loads of ugliness.

No matter what level of energy and drive you have going into Angmar, Angmar will relentlessly wear it down until you hate life and cannot remember the Shire any longer. The look, the flow, the characters of the zone — none of it is appealing. And to make matters even worse, there’s like a dozen or so necessary deeds to get done here.

So all that’s left to be done is to roll my Hobbit sleeves up and get to work. This isn’t fun play, it is a grim task, and at least I am forewarned of the danger.

In fact, I’ve spent 47 levels preparing myself mentally for Angmar, knowing that it would be a major hurdle to overcome in these first four months of Eriador content. My strategy is the same as dealing with pretty much any large and undesirable task in my life: To prioritize it, to set daily goals, and to get it done without dithering around.

What helps me here is that I set a time limit every day. For about 30 minutes to an hour, time permitting, I’ll devote myself to doing nothing but Angmar without any destractions or procrastination. Just keep plugging away at quests and deeds. And when that time limit is up, poof, I’m done for the day and will move on to other games to cleanse myself of this evil. I’m not going to marinate in it all evening or get pushed away. I’m just going to get it done.

And also to help is my cheery Christmas outfit and the chatty kinship that keeps me company. I also like to mute the soundtrack here and get something really peppy going on my MP3 player, because everyone knows that orcs love that EDM.

Wish me luck!

LOTRO: How do I join the anti-elf faction?

“Oh we knew you were rotting them. We just thought, hey, let’s wait a day or two. Or six. You were doing such a good job.”

Last week I wrapped up my adventures in Trollshaws, which was an experience of (literal) highs and lows. It’s a pretty enough zone and the quests are adequate, but very little of that narrative has ever gripped me. In addition, the constant going-up and going-down into the ford and Rivendell gets kind of tiring. I was just glad that my multiple milestones made it easy to jump across the map when I could use it.

It’s here and in Misty Mountains that we see how Turbine originally poured a whole lot of attention into the earlier zones and then had rather uneven “endgame” (40-50) areas. Just more difficult layouts with fewer quest hubs, stable masters, and routes.

As I was talking with a friend, we both remarked that how the progression server really has encouraged us to explore more than usual — and how we’ve been finding places that we’d never seen before even after a decade or so playing the game. LOTRO does have a lot of out-of-the-way spots that aren’t part of any quest chain, and it’s kind of delightful to find them.

For example, I’ve seemingly overlooked the healing room in the Last Homely House until this past week. Just must’ve never seen the door before. And it turned out to be this gorgeous room with lots of plants and light.

Also, I didn’t realize that a good portion of the Last Homely House’s roof just isn’t there in the main hall. As in, it’s simply open to the sky. Elf architecture does that a lot in this game, but I guess I never looked up.

With all of the cosmetics that I wanted from the reprise of the fall festival, I put a pin in that and moved on to the frosty Misty Mountains. As with many winter zones, I have a fondness for it, although perhaps not as much as LOTRO’s Forochel or Wildermore. It’s certainly more wild and open with only two very, very small outposts representing civilization. Whenever I’m there I feel so far away from the bustling culture that I had repeatedly experienced not two or three zones before. And that’s kind of a good change.

I also noticed how the devs open up quests more organically as you explore. Initially I only got one or two from Gloin; the rest came from riding around and getting pop up notifications to kill mobs, find treasure, etc.

At level 42, I’m hoping to get to 50 before too long here. I’m still very much starved for talent points, and there are two more great insta-attack skills for my Minstrel that I’m working toward obtaining. It’d be nice to have those going into Angmar, that’s for sure.

LOTRO: Fashion and font size

I’m getting old. Well, older. Probably most of us are, and that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone else. I’m actually OK with the idea of aging as long as I stay active and productive, although I don’t think I have to rejoice over my body giving out in little ways.

One of these ways is my eyes, of which I’m starting to get more protective. I’m wearing glasses more now than I used to, and at night I’ve been putting on these blue light filter deals to reduce eye strain and help my body wind down before bed. But LOTRO isn’t helping things very much, because at times — usually very late — I’m straining to clearly read the quest text in the mission boxes.

It’s just such a small font with not the best contrast — and there is absolutely no way to scale it up (unlike, say, the chat box font or other UI elements). I did some research into this, and the only workaround that I saw was to reduce your resolution so that the quest box would get bigger, and then reduce the size of UI elements to normal. I tried it but that’s not a great workaround and causes some other issues. I really do wish that LOTRO had the option to rescale text or else allow for proper mods so that someone else can do it, but since that’s not very likely, I’ll continue squinting.

At least I’m absorbing the story and continuing to have a terrific time on the progression server. I can’t remember the last time I had such a hot streak of being this deeply invested into LOTRO, but the past two months (with this and Update 23) have been a pleasant surprise to the year. As I methodically chow through all of a zone’s quest content, I’m doing whatever I can to make my character better — statistically and visually.

I’ve upgraded my house on Anor to a deluxe one, and since I doubt that I’ll be ponying up for a premium house, this is probably what I’m going to end up with. It’s fairly bare at the moment, but I’m starting to fill it up thanks to the return of Harvestmath and the coming Christmas festival.

The festivals are also going to prove useful in filling out my wardrobe. Collecting interesting and cool-looking costume pieces are becoming an obsession with me on this server, and I’ve already cleared over 100 pieces in my wardrobe to date. I have about four nice outfits that I rotate through, with a fifth in progress. Getting an attractive or useful costume piece as a drop or quest reward is worth celebrating more than a level up these days, let me tell you.

Other than that, I spent most of last week plowing through the hundreds of quests that were in Evendim. Great zone to do, and it might well be the first time I’ve ever done all of the current quests start to finish. I was a little wary that I’d get bogged down in the city of Annuminas at the end, but fortunately there weren’t too many quests and then I was home free.

With five zones to go, I’m sure to hit the 50 cap well before I run out of new content. That’s fine with me, it’s mostly about experiencing the story, grabbing all the class traits I can, and seeing if there’s any new costume options out on the landscape. I’m a little worried about Angmar as a slow-down, since it’s an ugly zone with tons of quests and lots of deeds to do, but I’ll try to hit it with a good attitude and at full steam.

LOTRO: True friends fake die for me

Of course the Elf ignored me. I thought it was a reasonable request.

As my little Hobbit Minstrel crossed into her 30s, I began to focus on character development a bit more. Namely, I had my eye on a handful of trait points that came from doing class deeds. While those may not be a dealbreaker in the high levels, right now they’d go a long way to helping me out. I wanted them. And I had a skill book.

So one night I popped that 90-minute buff to double skill points without a limit and started ripping through hundreds of healing skills, stance changes, and cries. I had on a movie, so it wasn’t that big of a hardship, and before too long, I had all but one of the deeds I needed done.

The holdout was a tricksy one where I needed to resurrect a downed player to the tune of 125 or so times. Since I didn’t come across corpses too often, this proved problematic. So I begged my kinship to fake die for me, and not too surprisingly, was met with crickets.

Finally, my kin leader had mercy on me — perhaps to shut me up from going “DIE FOR MEEEE” in chat — and struck a bargain. If I’d come to heal a group in Great Barrows, she’d be the willing corpse. That was fine by me, although I did have to spend some time creating an actual healing build and figuring out the rotation.

The run was short as it was sweet. Group heals are lovely, and nobody died. Probably helped that I was 10 levels above the content, but let’s ignore that and shower me with praise about what a great healer I am. Afterward, my guild leader died (her first time ever on this character, she pointed out deadpan) and I got busy rezzing someone who wouldn’t accept those rezzes. Afterward, we took a snack break and called it a night.

My social adventures weren’t quite finished, as Moxie from Battle Priestess ended up bumping into me while I was adventuring in Lonelands. She relished sniping my mobs and crowing about it all the while. I think I handled it very maturely, as you can tell above. I tend to talk in all caps a lot in game. I think my Hobbit has a rage issue.

LOTRO: Sing me a song of leveling

Don’t underestimate music. It’ll break you down and send you fleeing, even if you happen to be a 10-foot, 700-pound stone troll. That’s how awful my music is. I’m a true battle bard.

As the rush of the initial week gave way to a more steady adventure, I’ve found that long daily sessions in Lord of the Rings Online continue to be compelling and fun. We even saw a queue last Sunday, over a week after the server launched, so I know that it’s drawing in the crowds. That’s a good sign, in my books. If it can establish some strong communities and a support network, then players are more likely to stick around.

Mostly, I’m just losing myself in the moment-to-moment of the journey, not thinking about what lies ahead or how much I have to do. Slowing down to fully read quest text and finding all of the quest givers is much preferred to racing around trying to gobble up XP. I’ve encountered quite a few places and stories that I either never visited, don’t remember, or weren’t in the game back when I was going through these low-level areas years ago.

Bree-land took short of forever to complete, but that shouldn’t have surprised me. I keep forgetting how absolutely enormous this zone is. Seriously, just look at this map. Even considering that Bree-land does double-duty as both a newbie area and a combined level 15-20 leveling zone, it has so much territory and quest density. Still, I think that the northeast area — Far Chetwood — is too far off the beaten path that few even come out there.

While I’m rediscovering all sorts of delightful things, there are a few bummers to absorb. I forgot how much I hated the Eriador maps until I had gotten used to the more modern zone maps in this game and had to go back to using these. They’re far too vague and unhelpful, especially around the fringes, and too many times I’m finding myself lost or going on extended detours because I can’t figure out how to get from A to B. Wish those maps would get updated, ASAP.

My Minstrel continues to grow in power and ability, and I never get tired with her firing off insta-shots even while moving. It makes for a much more fluid play experience than my Lore-master, who had to plant her feet before starting up her attack routine. Plus, I’ll never get tired of one-shotting mobs when those crits happen — it’s so satisfying.

I’ve also invested a lot into travel and transport with this character. In addition to her awesome go-anywhere goat, my minnie has milestones down to a five minute cooldown timer. That short cooldown, combined with three bindable milestones and one Hobbit recall to Michel Delving, means that I can jet across the landscape very, very quickly. I try to plan strategic ports so that I always have a quick recall to my questing hub and any good stable networks. It’s certainly cut down a lot on travel time!

Once out of Bree-land, I started to make good, fast progress, even with the XP debuff (and no, I’m not using those XP boosting items. I deleted them on Day One of the server to reduce the temptation.). Lone-lands is pretty linear and went quickly, and once I got to the eastern side and started to hit high-20s quests, I took a break and went to North Downs to get me to 30 before resuming.

My current priorities:

  1. Level to 50
  2. Complete Volume 1 of the epic story
  3. Do any class and racial deeds
  4. Get all of my five virtues from the available zones
  5. Finish zone questing in all available zones
  6. Then, time permitting, go back to work on reputation and deeds
  7. Dungeons? I’m not that drawn to these right now

LOTRO: Tempted by the fruit of another

At least I knew that I wasn’t the only one suffering from class indecision.

In LOTRO’s kinship chat, I noticed how several of us veterans were still agonizing over the choice of a main class for the progression server, even after having planned it and starting out. Maybe it’s the curse of actually knowing more about these other classes, or the allure of the familiar versus the unknown, or simply wishy-washy gaming. But it started to bite me, even after I had put 20 levels into my Minstrel.

It got so bad, in fact, that I blinked and there I was, playing a Captain and not quite knowing how I got there. I suppose it was the worry that the minnie wouldn’t prove to be that interesting come the higher levels — that there wasn’t anything fun to chase down in terms of new skills or traits. But I know how I am with something like this — if I let my indecision reign, then I’ll be where I was at RIFT, making new character after new character and getting nowhere.

So I got stern with myself (it involves a lot of pointing into a mirror) and deleted my Cappy so I wouldn’t be tempted. Minnie to Mordor or bust, that’s what I say!

I was absolutely delighted that SSG brought back the Bingo Boffin quest series following its strange omission from the start of the server. Maybe it was causing issues with the zone-hopping progression of the story, I don’t know. But it’s easily one of my most favorite experiences in the game and I’m glad to see it back.

Even better than the story are the rewards from this! My Hobbit now has a little pet bunny to accompany her, along with a couple of new housing decor items. Taking an evening off of Old Forest questing to do Bingo stuff was a welcome break.

While I feel like “everyone” has blasted past me to level 50, I know that’s not the case. I ended up joining back up with Lonely Mountain Band, which formed a new chapter on this server, and noticed that most all of us are in our teens or 20s. I think there are a few different types of players for this server, and while some are all about power-leveling and getting into level 50 dungeon runs, most of us are taking our time, doing all the quests, deeding it up, and enjoying the journey.

Even with the Eregion limits and level 50 cap, there’s still a heady amount of stuff ahead of me for these four months. Whenever I’m done with Bree-land — which seriously takes short of forever due to its size and quest density — then I’ve got Lone-lands, North Downs, Evendim, Trollshaws, Misty Mountains, Angmar, Forochel, and Eregion ahead of me. Whew! Probably helps not to think or blog about that too much.

I also know that the Volume 1 epic involves a serious amount of travel and backtracking. I’ve only once done it all of the way through, and I’d like to make this time number two if I can manage before March. I know that sounds like a long way away, but I can’t afford to spend 100% of gaming time on LOTRO these days. There’s SWTOR and Fallout 76 demanding that I not neglect them, so I have to be very intentional how I spend my LOTRO time. No dilly-dallying!

As a side note, I wonder how this every-four-months pace will work with upcoming content releases. Some regions are larger than others, and while I think that Moria is definitely worth four months, Mirkwood is not. We still haven’t heard from SSG how exactly it’s going to chunk these releases up, and I doubt that we’re going to get any sort of actual schedule, so it’s mostly conjecture among the community.