LOTRO: Vales and valleys

What a pleasant surprise it was to have LOTRO release Update 24 last week — I honestly didn’t think we’d see it until later this month. It was ideal timing, as I’d been missing a good dose of Middle-earth adventures, and getting to see and experience brand-new regions is even better than getting a legendary server unlock. I’m eager to see where this game is going, especially as the small team really brings to bear considerable care and talent in each of its content drops.

And really, that has to be the draw right now for me — the experience of it all — because I’ve about come to a complete halt in terms of progression. I’m level 120, have all my legendaries maxed out, and have enough virtues to keep myself well-rounded. Right now I’m doing the quests 99.9% because of the stories and adventures that they take me on rather than any useful reward. That’s fine by me.

After a chapter of the epic book up in the Grey Mountains (which felt like a lengthy epilogue to the previous zone’s events), I was finally on my way through the western boundary of Mirkwood and into the lush Vales of Anduin. And lush they be! It’s kind of like going on Bilbo’s journey in reverse, a bit, and I rejoiced to see another wide-open zone full of attractive landscapes, easy travel, and scads of quests. Anduin is right up there along with the more good-looking of LOTRO’s zones, and I know I must feast on it now before the team sends us back to Mordor later this year.

My honey cake looks good. I want this known by the entire world.

It’s a good decision to rub shoulders with Beornings in this area, seeing as how it’s both their homeland and that we’ve had so little contact with them to date other than seeing other player characters roll up one. There’s a strong “get in touch with nature” theme going on with both the Beornings and Radagast, but this is in a different way than, say, how the Elves do it. More down-to-earth and burly. I like these quieter quests of feeding bees and making honey cakes myself, and I suppose if you do not, then you’d probably never made it this far in LOTRO anyway.

Probably my only major criticism of the new area so far is that the mobs do feel a little tougher and more numerous than they should be. I mean, I’m a level 120 adventurer with pretty good stats and gear, and yet I have to struggle to take down a fly that boasts half-again as much morale as I have. That fly right there, he could take down Saruman single-handedly if we were to compare stats. That fly could have ravaged Eriador and laid the entire region to waste. So yeah, I feel that SSG has once again erred on the side of making the landscape a little too — not challenging, necessarily, but sloggy. It was a real problem in Mordor, that high time-to-kill, and it hasn’t really lessened since.

LOTRO: Group for survival

With little else to do in LOTRO these days — I am resisting the occasional urge to reroll, as that would not help in the long run — I decided to devote a week of sessions in the MMO to grouping up as often as I could. While I have no idea how to actually progress in gear (and have never felt the need for it, since questing gear was more than enough to get through the epic story and various zones), I figured it’d do me some good to party up and do a few skirmishes and dungeon runs.

This was, it turned out, a fairly enjoyable way to pass the time. At least it was a change from my normal questing routine, and I even got a few runs in as the main healer. I think I acquitted myself well in those situations, but honestly, I just slam on every heal button I can to keep these lemming-like groups alive and hope for the best.

Moria instances are not my favorite, probably because they throw me back into Moria and I am beyond done with that place right now. I haven’t seen a lot of people clamoring for the next unlock on the progression servers, but I think that’s probably because much attention is being given to Update 24’s test run right now.

For me, running these dungeons was mostly about getting some face time with my kinship and seeing some areas and mobs that I wouldn’t otherwise. I mean, look at gorgeous up there! So demure, so passionate, so likely to go on to a liberal arts college and major in advertising! She doesn’t let the lack of clothes or skin stand in her way!

One run did pay out in an unexpected bounty of loot. I did a Turtle run the other day — again, just to do it, not that I needed the currency to get any more First Agers — and actually won the roll on a small turtle head item. I had no idea what this was, so imagine my delight when it turned out that this became a little turtle home that sits outside of my house and spawns a baby turtle when clicked. I’ve seen some mild grumbling from others that they had yet to win this, so I’ll count myself fortunate and keep my head down.

As I type this, I think I’m going to shelve LOTRO until Update 24 arrives. There’s simply nothing left to do for me, and besides, I’m pretty sure U24 is coming very soon (and watch that it arrives before this scheduled post actually goes out).

LOTRO: Progression server fashion show!

It’s my birthday and I can do what I want, so I’m going to indulge in a little fashion show today to share with you some of the outfits that I’ve cobbled together on the LOTRO progression server so far. Why not?

The first outfit here is my Christmasy one, obviously obtained from the winter festival. I really love the burgundy shield and slim sword I found for it, and it’s a great pick for any winter/snow zone I visit.

Next up is my “Adventurer’s Outfit” (or what I weirdly think of as my Indiana Jones getup, probably because of the machete sword there). It’s a good all-purpose outfit that looks sharp but not flashy.

When I got that mining helmet (with a wee candle!) I knew I had to make an outfit around it in honor of Moria. I wanted to go more semi-steampunk but had a hard time finding a lot of pieces that fit this vision. Instead, I kind of cobbled together a workable underground outfit with a nice backpack that all feels dorky but doable.

The winter festival had a ton of great outfits and I was excited about this owl-themed one. I love the whole look (and that style of jacket/pants) — except for the weird and oddly animated feathery back. Hence, the cloak. I threw in the shield that I got from the Turtle raid, since the dark green seemed to go with the outfit.

For my money, this is the best “Minstrel” outfit I have right now. It simply looks the part and I am a big fan of the white/blue color scheme. Kind of reminds me of a musketeer look too.

I know this outfit doesn’t really match, but I really loved this floppy sun hat and wanted to get a more casual, feminine look to go with it. The sword choice there is a good one for her look — slim, delicate, and decidedly lethal.

LOTRO: Golden Woods blues

What motivates you to log on and play an MMO? We all have various answers to that which depend on the time and situation, but typically the answers are (1) the social connections, (2) the experience of story, (3) achieving personal goals, or (4) obtaining rewards such as levels, gear, and useful items. The more motivation, the more compelled I am to jump into a game. The less, then it depends if I want to play or not.

I’ve been thinking about this lately in my LOTRO adventures. I feel stalled out right now, with nothing new to do at the endgame until the next update comes out and nothing new to achieve on my progression server character until the next unlock happens. Both should be early/mid summer. And with the anniversary content done earlier than expected, I’m left puttering around Lothlorien on my goat, doing quests not for rewards, not for XP, but merely for the experience of doing them. And while it is a pleasant enough zone, the Elf fetch-and-do quests are the epitome of fluff. Go pick flowers. Go pick mushrooms. Go pick berries. Go meditate. Go light candles. We’re too lazy, we’re Elves, you do all the hard work you Hobbitsy thing.

Whenever I get into a situation like this in an MMO, it calls for various solutions to stave off burnout. Playing less is certainly an option (and one I’ll be pursuing this month as I branch off into other online games). Setting other goals is another one, as is simply exploring the world and paying more attention to detail.

For example, whilst going around Bree doing anniversary content, I took a look through this gate into a section of town that none of us have ever — or will ever — go into. Makes me really want to see what might be back there in this rich section, but alas, I’m a mere dirty adventurer.

Or I was reminded of this little Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle easter egg in the turtle house — you can see the nunchuck next to one turtle and a rat up on the rock. LOTRO doesn’t have that many of these pop culture references, especially in comparison to other MMOs, and the ones it does boast are usually pretty low-key like this.

At least this prodded me in the direction of Bingo Boffin, whom I had last left in Rivendell. I spent a few nights catching up on his questline throughout Eregion and Moria — oh Willem Whisker, where are you off to now? As always, these were a refreshing break from the more serious LOTRO epic story. My only regret is that there isn’t some way to farm Bingo Badges so that I’d have enough currency to buy everything I wanted from Bert.

Marking 12 years of Lord of the Rings Online

Seriously, has it REALLY been 12 years since Lord of the Rings Online first released? I’d only been married two years and didn’t even have a single kid or a house when that took place. I remember being won over to the idea through a game magazine that sold the idea of a “low magic fantasy MMO” that accentuated a more realistic feel than the current high fantasy titles on the market. One beta test later, and I was hooked.

And now here we are, 12 years later, and I’m still very much infatuated with this virtual Middle-earth. I’ve been looking forward to the anniversary celebration quite a lot, mostly to go back through the scavenger hunt on my progression server toon and grab some cosmetics/pets that way. But first — my Lore-master.

I guess I failed somehow to complete the Year 11 quest (I really don’t remember what happened), so I grabbed a ruins hunting scavenger card and went to work, skipping all about the game and finding the run-down places of the world. It’s not a fast activity, these scavenger hunt cards, but rather a great excuse to go sight-seeing and revisit old lands and make new discoveries.

In a break from the last two years’ tradition of adding new scavenger cards (the first 10 plus last year’s 11th entry), the 12th year eschewed the trio of cards for a smaller scavenger hunt located entirely within the Shire itself. There were vague clues that led to certain locations, which was all fine and fun, but I couldn’t help but feel like this was a cop-out and the fastest possible entry into the anniversary series. I really was looking forward to a 12th series of worldwide hunts, but oh well. Got me some scrolls for my house as a reward.

And it was nice to see my Lore-master again — it had been many months since I last logged on to her, and chances are that it will be the summer content update before I do it again.

With that out of the way, it was time to buckle down and start working my way through the scavenger hunts on my Minstrel. While I knew I was going to lose a week to vacation, I thought that completing at least one per year was pretty doable before the celebration ended. Plus, with the new “Eriador only” cards, it’s much more possible than before. That was a terrific move on the part of the studio. Of course, you get lesser rewards with these quests, but it’s still better than nothing!

These proved to be far quicker, and in short order I wracked up several fun goodies: Farmer Maggot’s dog (pet), Dwarf well (housing), Little Old Man Willow (housing), orc shield (cosmetic), fishing backpack (cosmetic), a deer (pet), Legolas’ cloak (cosmetic), happy pig (pet), Radagast’s cloak (cosmetic), sand castle (housing), coat rack (housing), a Gollum face mask (cosmetic), and several scrolls (housing). Not the worst haul, for sure.

With the anniversary content more or less done (what I wanted to do, at least), I went over to the vendor and spent my 90 coins on two star-lit crystals for my First Ager and a woodland robe with an interesting design. Following that, I took a detour to my house, added all my new items (my hunting lodge room is coming along nicely with all my taxidermy statues), and called it a day.

LOTRO: Turtle, turtle!

In the early days of the legendary server’s Moria era — you know, last month — I had a moment of inspiration where I was going to finally throw off the shackles of the cumbersome legendary item system and, you know, just not use it. Like, at all. No LIs, just normal gear much the same way we’d been playing in the first four months. It was a liberating thought, and one that I stuck to… for about a day.

While this had the great appeal of simply not having to mess with the LI grind and fiddly bits, all too quickly I realized that I’d be gimping myself terribly, starting with the absence of one entire gear slot that is only used by LIs (and later the mount one as well). And that’s not even to consider all of the skill modifiers that I’d sorely need now that my poor Minstrel has been nerfed of her “OP” status. So… crud, I guess I’m using LIs.

Since we’re wading about at level 60 these days, the endgame for this particular stage in our journey is of more importance than it would be if someone on a regular server was simply blowing through Moria and beyond. And that means that we’re all chasing First Age LIs, which will at least give us a good start on Mirkwood. I wouldn’t be even doing that except that obtaining one didn’t seem that far out of reach — just six days of running the quick Turtle raid. Which, oddly enough, I had never ever done in my LOTRO history. Since our kinship was doing this every night, that was perfect for my comfort level.

Aside from that and lazy Lothlorien questing (which doesn’t need to be done, but I have little else to do right now), I jumped back into the Yule Festival last week, which was enjoying an April encore. I was down for that, since there were a couple of cosmetics that I had missed, such as the owl mask (which is truly one of my favorites that the artists have designed).

And boy do I have the entire Winter-home run down flat. That’s probably what I like about this festival the most, that I can do a full run of 10 quests for the daily without having to hop zones or jump through any difficult hoops. Lots of quest stacking here and on a good day I can get it all done in about 20 minutes.

Next up? 12th anniversary, baby! We’ll see how difficult this’ll be for a character that can’t progress past Moria, but I anticipate plenty of scavenger hunt fun over the next month — and some much-needed cosmetics and other goodies for this character! Plus, I’ll get to log back on to my Lore-master to do the latest hunt and make sure she’s up to date on that.

LOTRO: Questing under golden leaves

While I think that four months was a good span of time for the initial release of LOTRO’s progression servers — what with 50 levels, a whole volume of the epic, and over a dozen zones — I don’t think the same is true for this period of Moria. It’s definitely less content to consume (fewer zones, only 10 levels), and less than a month into it, I had already blasted through the underground kingdom and come out the other side as a newly minted level 60 Minstrel.

I’m not complaining too much, mind you. Unlike some of our kinship, who are loving every minute of being in Moria, I got my fill about a week and a half in and then was ready to egress. Even with the streamlining of quests and travel, the second half of Moria relies too much on confusing zones that are bothersome to navigate. So when I hit 60, I lost a lot of interest in doing regular questing in these areas, preferring to simply focus on the epic until I got out into Lothlorien, where I started back up with all types of quests.

That’s worked out fairly well. Despite uppity elves who try to shoot you on sight and then make you pick flowers for them ever after, it’s a visually beautiful zone that feels refreshingly open and colorful after the dark dreariness of Moria. About the only thing I really don’t like is the layout of the elf city, as trying to figure out how to get from flet to flet can occasionally be maddening. Plus, there’s a lot of returning to Moria for various tasks, and that doesn’t seem to endear itself to players like myself who would rather be done with it.

Still, it’s relaxing. I’ve spent several evenings doing nothing more or less than forging forward in the epic and doing the random side quests while trying not to engage in combat with the “protected” animals. Are elves protected? Can I collect a few of their ears for my hobbit hole walls?

I’ve given some thought as to what I’m going to do when the side quests and epic runs out, and I haven’t really settled on a firm plan yet. I do need to catch up on Bingo quests, and there are always — always — deeds to be done. I could go the raiding route and join my kin in Turtle and Watcher raids (which I’ve actually never done), or grind up my skirmish soldier (ick), or jump back onto my level 19 Cappy and work on her a bit. Another option is to greatly scale back on LOTRO until the next unlock and focus on some other MMO projects. I don’t want to disengage entirely, but I also don’t need to be grinding when it’s not fun or I don’t feel like it.

Most likely than not, I’ll be focusing on the anniversary festival content, especially considering that I haven’t done any of the scavenger hunts on the progression server.

It’ll be a good feeling to have my Minnie fully ready for Mirkwood. Despite what some people say, it’s still one of my favorite expansion areas, although I do hope that SSG opens up more than Mirkwood with the next unlock. Mirkwood plus Enedwaith, perhaps? Or Mirkwood plus the entire Isengard expansion? I wouldn’t mind that!