LOTRO: Marching ever onward

I know I’ve taken the above photo of Underharrow before, but seriously, it’s one of my favorite places in LOTRO — even though we’re only there as players for a very brief time. It’s a good reminder of how much beauty and wonder there is in this game world, and why I love being in it.

Anyway, the past week saw more adventures further into Helm’s Deep on the legendary server. I forgot just how big and sprawling these Rohan expansions are. It’s not a bad thing, mind you, as the quests are generally engaging and not annoying, but I have to step hard on the desire to power through it quickly. I might consider, say, an afternoon marathon session one of these Saturdays, but mostly I just get a half-hour of LOTRO time a day and that’s it. I do try to make the best of it.

Another think I’ve loved about these two expansions is reuniting with the old Fellowship. I still think this is one of the best ideas the LOTRO writers had — to give the player their own regular companions that weave in and out of the epic story. It’s kind of sad that they don’t stick around forever, but for now, I’m glad to see Horn, Nona, and Elf-Dude.

Well, at least Horn and Nona.

Meanwhile over on the regular servers, I realized I hadn’t quite finished up the Great Wedding update. Specifically, I hadn’t done the feast instance that comes after the wedding. There’s no combat and very little in the way of quest objectives; mostly it’s about attending a big banquet and watching a whole lot of story beats.

Again, this update feels like it’s the coda to the entire MMO. There are great cameos, happy resolutions, running jokes, and the classic Fellowship enjoying a well-deserved moment of peace and joy. It was a great way to spend 45 minutes or so, and now that it’s done, I feel like… well, anything might be possible.

Of course, we do know where we are going next: up north to help the dwarves fight orcs or something. LOTRO’s prepping a mini-expansion for this fall that isn’t quite selling me on the urgency to buy — I’ve really had my fill of orcs at this point — but the boar mounts do look neat. I’m also not happy that we won’t be able to buy this with LP out of the gate, which I feel is a really nasty thing to do to players.

Anyway, I’m sure there will be tons to do on the current progression server, the regular server, and perhaps even the new progression shard. When the weather turns colder here in New York, I might settle in for a nice winter of LOTRO.

LOTRO: Is there demand for another legendary server?

Oh hey there, Mr. Orc! How’s life treating you? I see you hit up Hot Topic for your outfit today, very skull-and-bonesy. It’s a theme, at least, although I don’t think I’d have so many sharp teeth that close to my crotch.

Anyway, Mr. Orc would like me to spend a bit of time today talking about something that should be coming… soonish? to Lord of the Rings Online. And that’s a new type of legendary server that SSG teased this past spring:

This fall will also see a new Legendary server! We are looking forward to adding new challenges and gameplay experiences for this new server. In our current vision for this server, Sauron will play a more active role in punishing heroes who defy his will. At times during play, the Eye of Sauron will open, inspiring all the evil in the world to rally and rise to his dark challenge. These enemies will become far more dangerous during this time. However, when the Eye is open, your characters will rise to the challenge and deliver greatly increased damage in defiance of the Dark Lord. Beware when the Eye of Sauron is open! We intend to keep the current Legendary experience going in 2020 as well, and will continue to open up new content on those servers.

 

Unless LOTRO’s server issues and general COVID difficulties have caused a delay in this department, we might be on the verge of getting this new server type in the next month or two. Reading through that description, I get the impression that the goal here is to create a normal server that occasionally ratchets up the difficulty at unpredictable intervals. It’s not hard ALL the time, just, you know, some of the time.

I’ve been mulling over this server idea for a while now and keep coming away unsatisfied with this concept. For starters, I don’t get why SSG would also increase player power during these times of increased hardship, because it sounds like that would even out the tougher monsters. If you’re going to make a harder server, have it be harder. That doesn’t make sense to me.

I also don’t see the appeal in the on-off cycle of hardship. I guess keeping players on their toes is not a wholly bad thing, but I would say that the appeal here isn’t for the unpredictability but for a generally more hardcore shard that would present genuine challenge across the board. And for that, you’d want predictable challenge, not periodic moments of it. I mean, if the bad times come and I’m not really in the mood for it, wouldn’t there be a temptation just to log off and go do something else, knowing that the difficulty spike would eventually simmer back down?

SSG hasn’t said anything more about this server since the spring, and there’s always the possibility that this idea’s been reworked since then. I kind of hope that it has, because there are players who consider regular LOTRO questing too easy these days and would welcome a run for their money.

I’m still in a wait-and-see pattern on whether or not to actually roll a character on this server. New and different is attractive, but I don’t know if I really want to commit myself past a point of curiosity to playing a third character when the first two I have take up more than enough of my time in the game.

Your thoughts?

LOTRO: Rohan is bigger on the inside


One of the benefits that I’m discovering about Lord of the Rings Online’s progression server — 1.5 years later — is that it really forces us to deep-dive into individual expansions instead of breeze past them. And as we’re doing that, I’m getting a very clear picture of how the game developed and changed over time.

And call me crazy, because as much as I do love Eriador and the original zones, with each successive expansion I can see the game getting so much better. Better stories, better zone flow, better environmental details, and even better landscapes.

The two expansions of Rohan are magnificent in what they cover and offer. It’s very much a different land than Bree or Gondor, and you can see it in everything the devs did — the architecture, the culture, the music, and the obsession with horses.

Helm’s Deep opened on the progression server a week or two back, and it’s been great taking my Minstrel on journeys westward once more. There’s a whole lot of territory to cover — literally and quest-wise — but it doesn’t feel strictly linear. There are choices of which quest threads to follow to take the player to different areas, and I just have been focusing on one of those until they are done.

I do think Helm’s Deep is more screenshot-worthy than Riders of Rohan. I mean, check out this toilet! Beautiful! Oh, and there’s the Hornberg and Edoras and the rest, too.

I think we also get a better sense of events happening or about to happen in Rohan than we did in the older content. The whole country is on the verge of war, and you see it with advance sorties and dead people on the road and the like. I appreciate feeling like I’m in the middle of history rather than in a static locale.

I think the game’s being a little sarcastic to me. I approve of that.

So yeah, forward momentum and all that. I’m a little extra motivated to quest knowing that I don’t have to endure the horribleness of Epic Battles in my future, which would dampen my enthusiasm. Good on SSG for giving us ways around doing those now.

LOTRO’s big moving day

Boy did last week’s Lord of the Rings Online update come at a great time for me. With the servers seeming to settle down, we finally got the big Rohan patch that we’d been anticipating — the one with both Rohan housing and the Helm’s Deep unlock for progression servers. That meant that my Hobbit was off the leash again and racing ahead to work through a huge mountain of content.

But before I adventure through western Rohan and toward the Hornburg, I made it my priority to move out of my old Hobbit house and into a huge new Rohan estate. I thought that 4700 LOTRO points was more than enough to buy any house I wanted, but I guess I underestimated how expensive these “premium” houses were going to be.

I ended up with the most basic one, but even that one was absolutely huge in comparison to regular houses. I went with the neighborhood that was on the plains for that wide-open feel, getting a nice house with two main rooms, a basement, and an upstairs; a barn with a main floor and upstairs; a stable to put all of my goat mounts; and a hilariously huge yard that’s far bigger than I’ll ever need.

Moving into this new house was, in several ways, a lot like moving in real life. It was some annoying time of packing up the old place and saying farewell to the now-bare rooms. Then there was hauling everything into the new place and trying to find spots for decorations and furniture while acknowledging that I’ll probably rearrange everything later.

That said, after an hour or so, I started to get a feel for what I wanted to do with the estate:

  • Main Floor room #1: reception room with big trophies
  • Main Floor room #2: kitchen
  • Basement: all the Halloween stuff
  • Upstairs: cozy bedroom and living space
  • Barn: all the Christmas stuff

I’m going to need to get a lot more stuff to flesh out these rooms, but I’m in no rush. This is my progression server character who is only 85, so I wanted a place that she could grow into over time and put the accumulated stuff that she discovered in her adventures.

I do absolutely love the new ambiance vendor and all of the assorted toys that we can play with in our new (and old) homes. The lighting options are tremendously fun, although not quite as pronounced as, say, WildStar’s was. Still, I’m glad to have them, and I like making some of my rooms look like they have flickering fire going on. And then there are tons of fun options, like bat colonies, rainbows, falling water, mists, and even the ability to put cosmetic pets in the place — although you have to pay premium currency for that (boo).

But overall, I’m so happy to finally see Rohan housing added to the game, and I think this may well be the best housing update we’ve ever gotten since the original one.

LOTRO: Wedding crashers

It’s time to put away the sword for a season in Lord of the Rings Online and break out the bouquets, because Update 27: A Great Wedding arrived last week. I’ve been starving for something other than deed-treading to do, so this will do nicely indeed.

I love that it’s a huge thematic change of pace from what we’ve been doing in the last few updates. Instead of a normal adventure zone with lots of fighting and dark mysteries, we got a redecorated Minas Tirith and a wedding storyline — as well as the new Midsummer Festival.

While it completely makes sense for the game to host the wedding and festival in the city, I think we all saw the problems that it was going to cause. Lag. Confusion. Bugs. The city just isn’t optimized to have a crowd descend on it at once, even if it is an instanced and slightly smaller version. If it was up to me, I would have restricted all of the activities to the top tier of the city and made a zillion instances of that for performance.

I’m also not a fan of going up and down and up and down in this city, but I also don’t feel like there’s a rush to get all this done super quickly. So it’s more of a laid-back experience, concentrating on one of the thousand of daily festival quests at a time and seeing where that takes me.

I really do love that every so often, LOTRO can put aside combat almost entirely and focus on quests and worldbuilding and an element of roleplay. I don’t resent these “mundane” quests because they make me feel much more involved in the life of Middle-earth than killing 300 hopped-up mosquitoes in a swamp.

I decided to do the festival on my main Lore-master rather than my Minstrel just because I wanted to do the new epic alongside of it. The cosmetics are nice, but nothing my Minnie *needs*, so I’ll be content to let her do it in a year or two when she gets here for real.

MMO fonts: The good, the bad, and the ugly

In my effort to start clearing out my drafts folder here at Bio Break, I’m digging out this topic that I started (checks) back in 2017. Anyway, fonts are most likely a part of online games that you never think about. Once you’ve been in a game for a while, you get used to its user interface and don’t really notice or acknowledge it.

Yet fonts are important, because a game usually just licenses (or creates) one and uses it everywhere — and if chosen poorly, that font can slowly and surely drag down on the user experience. So let’s take a look at eight MMO fonts today — chosen semi-randomly — and see if they’re easy on the eyes or not.

We’ll start with Warhammer Online (above), which prompted the writing of this piece. The font itself gives off a Ye Olde English fantasy vibe, which is good, but it’s not that easy to read in large chunks, especially when italicized. There isn’t enough spacing between the lines, either, so it comes off as crammed. Sometimes getting a little fancy with your font works against you.

We’ll move on to RIFT, which I always thought had a very clean and modern-looking font. Maybe a little too modern. It’s easy to read, which is a plus, but doesn’t do a lot to convey personality of the game, which is one of the jobs that fonts have to handle. Generally, though, I like it.

You know I had to include the itty bitty, smooshed-together font of EVE Online on this list. It gets points for a futuristic, minimalistic look, but dang is it always hard to read. It’s gotten better over the years, but my eyes have never leaked tears of joy to behold it.

And we’ll go with a classic — World of Warcraft — with this one. Blizzard did a great job all around with this font. It’s oozing personality (especially on the header fonts), has good kerning, and is easy to consume quickly without eye strain.

WildStar… sigh. WildStar had SUCH great art and interface style, but its font was terrible. From the color choices (blue-greens on blue-greens) to the thin, small style, it was too difficult to read without really focusing on it.

I’ll be fair and include Lord of the Rings Online here. It gets middling reviews for me. I think it does lend an appropriate personality to the game and is readable (especially if you increase the font size), but it’s not the quickest read. And considering just HOW MUCH text you go through, it could be better. I do adore the header font, though. That’s spot on.

Fallen Earth always struck me as a game that purchased its font at lowest bidder. It’s like a default Windows font that did nothing for the personality angle and wasn’t as eye-catching as it could’ve been.

I could keep going on, but I’ll end with a look at Star Wars: The Old Republic’s font. It definitely has that thick, bolded Star Wars look about it, and the spacing makes it easy to read. I think it does a pretty good job, all things considered, even if I feel like the text is yelling at me much of the time.

The LOTRO march of deeds goes on

It may not be the most thrilling activity I’ve ever done in MMOs, but deeding in Lord of the Rings Online is proving to be far more fulfilling and interesting than I first thought. Previous to 2020, I don’t think I ever cleared out more than a half-dozen zone deed logs on any given character. Now? I’m almost done with Eriador. As in the whole region.

I think it really helps that there isn’t anything more pressing that I need or want to do in the game. It’s a nice period of quiet downtime where every night’s session is reliably stable: I log in, check my deed log against LOTRO Wiki’s list, and continue to hack away clearing out whatever zone I’m currently in. Bit by bit, zone by zone, I’m getting through it all — and reaping a whole ton of rewards.

But above the virtue XP, the gold, the LOTRO Points, the titles, and the rest, one great reward is revisiting these older favorite zones and just marinating in them. The deeds get me to see parts of the zones I might not have quested through, and I’ve thrilled to discover a secret or fresh vista that serves as a nice surprise after a decade and a half of playing this game.

While you might think that the slayer deeds are the truly onerous chores, they’re actually not. The devs halved the numbers required several years ago, and the wiki usually has good suggestions for rich farming locations. The two worst deeds I’ve done in terms of time spent and frustration expended involved finding very specific places in large indoor instances — one in Goblin-town and one in Eregion’s Minas Elendur. I had to keep tabbing out to look at maps for those, and that got old pretty quick. That said, I’m glad I got them done in the end.

The only zone deed I didn’t do was one in Evendim that required the slaughter of certain dungeon bosses. I gave a stab at trying to solo these while setting the dungeon 25 levels below me, but it was a stupid slog and it didn’t count toward the zone meta deed, so I gave it up. At least I got the above screenshot and felt like that time was well spent.

I’m already thinking ahead to what I might do once Helm’s Deep opens on the progression shard. I don’t want to give up deeding entirely, so I might spend one night a week or something continuing to do this with the other nights devoted to normal questing. I feel like my Minstrel is already shaping up to be my strongest-performing character, so I’m growing more attached to her every day.

LOTRO’s legendary item imbuement system is a hot mess

Let’s face it: Legendary items are an interesting idea with potential that’s been utterly bungled in Lord of the Rings Online practically since their inception. The basic idea is to give players a special weapon that grows and levels up with them, getting better over time. Sure, I can get on board with that. Several MMOs have done so.

But in the quest to make LIs a source of endless advancement and grind, the developers fashioned (and refashioned, and re-refashioned) a hot mess of a system that’s as obtuse as it is frustrating. Standing Stone Games promised that it would revamp — somehow — the system this year, but yeah, they’ve been saying that for years now and it’s yet to happen. I’m not holding my breath.

It does need to be done, though. I mean, frankly, I’d be all for ditching LIs entirely and going back to regular looted gear, because just trying to understand legendary items gives me a headache. And when I try to wrap my head around the imbuement system, the headache is upgrade to a migraine.

Don’t take my word for it — read LOTRO Players’ guide to the current iteration of the imbuement system. Read it and then tell me if that doesn’t sound like a system from developers who actively hate their players. It’s beyond grindy, expensive, and complicated. It’s needlessly so in all directions.

This really doesn’t have to be that complicated. Give legendary items an XP bar, a talent tree, and then some easy-to-identify, easy-to-slot gizmos for special effects, skill bonuses, and the like. Boom. Done. Add a new tier every time there’s a level cap increase.

It absolutely drives me bonkers when MMO developers make systems like this that require a 3,000-word guide written by players (or a 10-minute video) just to explain the dang thing. That’s not intuitive or inviting. It might make sense to players and developers who have been futzing with it for years, but for newbies?

It’s frustrating because this system SHOULD BE FUN. It should be something I want to chase as I grow ever more attached to this mythological weapon that I wield. World of Warcraft at least got artifact weapons right for five minutes there in Legion before obliterating them — those were fun to level, easy to understand, and very useful. The thing I have strapped to my back in LOTRO? I just pray it doesn’t stink, but I’m sure it does.

I also kind of get the feeling that the developers dug themselves into a pit where they didn’t want to give up on legendary items and look foolish, and once they started charging players for stuff connected to it, they couldn’t scrap it. So now whatever “revamp” is coming, I guarantee you that it’s not going to do as much as it should nor will it be that easy to grok. And that is a crying shame.

LOTRO: Deed farming for fun and profit

In the past month, I’ve been bouncing around different projects and characters in LOTRO, from a new Hunter to trying to dust off my old Captain (and failing miserably). But weirdly enough, the activity that’s really stuck during this period has been doing nothing more complicated than deed farming on my Minstrel.

In this, I’ve been going back to earlier zones and then finishing up deeds until everything is done for the region. At this point the questing deeds have long since been done, so pretty much all that’s left are exploration and slayer deeds. The exploration ones are fun enough, a scenic drive through old familiar landscapes. But weirdly enough, I’ve even been enjoying the slayer deeds.

Listen, I’ve never been one to eschew farming mobs. There’s something relaxing about shutting one’s brain off and just grinding out bad guys while listening to music or watching a show. It’s just that LOTRO’s original slayer deed count was comically high. Fortunately, this got a lot more sane in recent years, and while you do have to kill hundreds of mobs for any given deeds, it’s not that bad. Part of the challenge is finding the best possible grinding spot where the mobs are thick, plentiful, and respawn quickly.

I don’t feel as though I’m wasting my time with any of this. On the contrary, I’ve been looking at deed farming as a way to invest more into my character. First, I get virtue XP to use toward a whole host of stats, and every last bit is helpful. Second, I get lots of drops that I can vendor or auction for gold. Nothing bad about storing up a fat bank account! .

And third, I get LOTRO points. With these and my monthly stipend, I’ve been saving up for big purchases — my current goal is to make sure I have enough to buy the Rohan premium house when it comes along.

There are also some additional rewards that come with deed farming, including getting motes, titles, and other various goodies. And while I’m farming, I’m usually chatting with my kinship and enjoying their company. That doesn’t feel like time wasted at all.

As of the writing of this, I’ve worked my way through all the lowbie zones, Lone-lands, North Downs, and Trollshaws. It’s a good start, but there’s plenty more deeds to go — and more than enough to keep me occupied until Helm’s Deep releases!

LOTRO: Hunters ‘R’ Me

You may eat an everything bagel, but I like to game with an everything Hobbit. That’s what I think of my newest character, a Hunter I made on Landroval for the express purpose of… being everything. She’s there to fully complete zone quests, to do all of the deeds possible, to craft (Scholar), and to rake in as much LP as possible. There’s no race, since this is a regular server, and so I’m just doing a half-hour or so of casual questing with her each night.

So far? It’s been relaxing in that familiar, been-there, pie-runned that sort of way. Pretty much the only real newness to me is the Hunter class, and that I’ve even dabbled in the past. I’m going yellow line with her, mostly because I love using an exploding decoy and whipping out some nasty AOE abilities.

Night over Frogmorton. This game is still so very beautiful in so many ways.

One advantage of rolling on the same server as my main character is that my Hunter has access to a ridiculously huge (I think 260 slots?) wardrobe. So it was pretty nice to get her decked out in a spiffy outfit from the get-go that didn’t look like lowbie thrift store.

Whenever I start up a new Hobbit, I always make sure that the first two quest chains I run are the mail and pie chains. They’re very lengthy and somewhat tedious, although I don’t mind them because of the nostalgic value (and the fact that I can put on a TV show and mindlessly do them). These chains have the added benefit of unlocking all the stablemasters, racking up a ton of completed quest for the zone deed, getting a big chunk of combat-free XP, and snarfing up all of the quest accepts as I run about.

It was a little weird to roll a Hunter about two days before SSG dropped a major Hunter overhaul. I was a little peeved that the yellow line DOT that I’d been using went from a focus-free instant attack to a two-focus cost. So I had to rearrange my rotation a little and get used to being more stationary before I attacked.

If I had one wish for the Shire, by the way, it would be for a much larger Shire. Like a whole game of nothing but Hobbit MMO goodness. But if I had another wish, it would be for far more stablemasters in the zone. I think Overhill needs one, at the very least, and I wouldn’t be opposed to Frogmorton or Tuckborough either.