Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Returning to Treebeard

In under two weeks of doing a regular set of missions, my LOTRO Lore-master climbed from level 32 to 45 without much of a problem. Now it was time to break from straight-up missions to get back on the epic story track — after a few preparatory tasks. First, I needed to backtrack and kill a whole ton of lowbie goblins and spiders to fill out race deeds. Namely, I wanted the +2 hope skill, the emergency flop ability, and the extra Shire map travel. I’ve also been diligently looking at the auction hall every day to see if anyone’s listed the Tundra skin for the bog-guardian pet. I’d rather spend gold than mithril coins on that.

But I’m looking forward to Volume 2 questing without any distractions. For one thing, I need the gear. My hobbit’s still rocking level 32 stuff, since she wasn’t getting many new pieces from missions. I could shop on the auction hall, but why do that when a few quests will give it to you for free? And I am keenly interested to see how the quest flow goes when you’re only doing the epic.

The only piece of gear that I’m keeping on her for the extended future is the Stone of the Dwarf-Deeps. Yes, I’ll be sacrificing a pocket item slot to keep this equipped, but it’s worth it for that amazing 30-minute 8% run speed buff. Lore-masters don’t have any speed boosts, so this helps so much to get around on foot.

Even though the intro quests to Moria make me antsy because I want my legendaries now, darn it, I still really like the whole lead-up and story. There’s some great atmosphere between the eager dwarves and the ominous pool, and every time I see those silver doors, I get a bit of a shiver.

My bog-guardian’s face will never not make me laugh. He’s so weirdly cute and happy to be out and about killing things with bees.

Maybe it was the routine of doing one too many missions or a flight of fancy, but my attention gradually drifted back toward my Minstrel on the slow Treebeard server. Even though I haven’t logged into her for about four or five months, due to the rate of the server’s progression, I was only a mere 10 levels behind the curve. So I picked her back up on the tail of Mirkwood and started making my way toward Dunland and level 75.

And who doesn’t love the spidey quest in the Mirkwood epic? Other than arachnophobes, that is?

But after a string of those never-ending skirmishes, I wrapped up Mirkwood and started walking my way toward Enedwaith — and Dunland beyond.

It was good to arrive here, that’s for sure. Enedwaith’s always been one of my favorite zones of the game, even though it lacks a major setpiece. I guess I like the diversity and layout. Feels like a great wilderness realm.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Away on top-secret missions

With Cardolan and Swanfleet completed — around level 32, as SSG said — my Hobbit Lore-master Sypkin found herself unceremoniously dumped back into the familiar old world and left to her own devices. Instead of doing any of the zones, however, I went to park my keister at Trestlebridge and tucked in for a week or so of non-stop mission grinding.

Exciting? Not really, but it wasn’t the worst either. I can do a string of nine missions in a little over a half-hour, netting me a level and change plus some other goodies. The fact that it’s so familiar that it’s mindless meant that it was a prime opportunity to watch some movies and listen to podcasts on the side.

And honestly, the stretch from 32 to 45 wasn’t that bad at all. I got a ding every day and even got some slayer deeds done due to hitting up the same mobs repeatedly. Now, it’s all about hopping off the constant mission train and rejoining the epic storyline heading into Moria. I’m very excited to see how this feels only doing the epic (plus missions) with no other diversions. Sometimes the epic can be annoying with more mind-intensive tasks and travel, but it also takes one on a fun tour with the best scripted moments.

Because my kinnies were daring me to do it, I rolled up a new Hunter named Syppicup for random fun. Maybe she’ll take a whack at the completionist route, maybe not, but I haven’t rolled any new characters this year so it was high time to take that plunge!

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: The only thing we have to fear is the Grey Fear

The goal this past week was to wrap up Cardolan and hit level 30 on my Lore-master — tall orders, both. The quest density in these new zones is high, and since this is my first time through, I’m taking extra time to soak in the story.

One of the questlines leads into the zone’s new dungeon — which can be done solo for storytelling purposes. It’s a nice semi-barrow downsish romp with a surprisingly tough end boss.

I bumped into a four-dwarf band right next to a quest giver, which required a pause to enjoy a couple of songs and emote approval. Always nice of players to do stuff like this, I think.

Oh those horsemen look nice and helpful. Just because they decapitated a few people doesn’t mean they lack a good side, right?

Fighting a giant farm fire, one small bucket of water at a time. Where’s a Rune-keeper with some frost magic?

After many different quest chains — including a rather extended one involving a disgraced Ranger — I wrapped up adventures in Cardolan. Combined, both of these newbie zones constitute a very strong early game pairing. Were they needed? Probably not, other than for variety’s sake, but it was a good run.

And now to take my little Lore-master back to more familiar lands to work on a class quest, racial deeds, and mission leveling!

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Beware the farts of the Nazgul!

One reason why LOTRO will always remain on my hard drive — as long as the game continues to run — is that it’s such a relaxing and inviting environment to log into. I don’t feel the weight of expectations or pressure of progression that I often do with other MMOs. Here, it’s about the journey, the friends, and the feels.

I rather enjoyed the quests surrounding the town of Herne, which had recently suffered a Nazgul passing. There’s a rather effective little story where everyone’s so freaked out and certain of coming doom that they get together in the tavern for protection — only to come under attack by the undead. It’s kind of an obvious Night of the Living Dead homage, but effective even so.

After that, it was up to the northern part of the zone to help out a recently attacked caravan. Whole lotta bandit and wight killing up here. But hey, the gate from the south road up to Bree is now open! Never thought I’d live to see the day.

I did find (one of) Standing Stone Games’ namesakes — its logo in game form, surrounded by a mega-Stonehenge. Even had “standing stone lichen” on much of it.

Thanks to Yule hobbit presents, I got a dorky little reindeer toy mount. And yes, I’d ride this all the time if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s only 13% speed boost.

You no take candle! Wait, yes you can, I have a whole bag of them.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Where’s my Cardolan sweater?

After a couple of weeks of slowly journeying through Swanfleet, my fledgling LOTRO Lore-master finally crossed the river into the second of Before the Shadow’s new zones: Cardolan. It, too, isn’t that extreme of a zone, with easy navigation and generally pleasant scenery. It’s perhaps more rocky and less lush than Swanfleet, but it’s no Angmar or anything.

I thought it was quite cool to have to enter the zone via the expansive ruins of an ancient city. The fog rolling in through this place gave it a truly eerie vibe.

It was about this point that my Lore-master really started to click. For starters, she got her Bog-Guardian pet, which is my mainstay for much of the game. It’s hard to beat high damage, flanking, and ranged DPS in a mob — especially when you select the option to have the pet attack whatever you’re attacking that moment. Other than it’s weirdly huge form factor, the BG is an all-around amazing pet.

I also started to realize that the big class trait changes — where trait points now are solely assigned to level milestones — has a much larger impact on how you play and progress your character. No longer do I have to worry about grinding out skill traits, so I can pick and choose which combat abilities I really want to use and ditch the rest (versus trying to use them all to keep progressing their associated deed). My combat rotation is very simple right now, and I’m loving it.

I did spend an hour or so last week working on a couple of new outfits. This brings me up to a total of eight preset outfits that I rather like, so now I just rotate between them on a daily basis.

One unexpected surprise last week was stumbling through an ongoing multi-band get-together in Bree that was apparently in memorial of players and loved ones who have passed on. I swear, I see more player concerts in this game than any other MMO.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: The swan conspiracy is afoot

Another week, another series of gradual explorations of Swanfleet — and hey, I found the swans! And the butt of a swan! Truly, a momentous occasion in Middle-earth.

I’ve gotten almost all of Swanfleet done, and I can’t think of any major criticisms of the zone. The quests are charming, the visuals are appealing, and there’s enough variety to keep me from getting bored. The only difference between this and the traditional newbie zones is a lack of “civilization.” There’s a human settlement and three hobbit villages, but even so it feels more wild and less of a place of living.

The Wadewater seems like a pretty cool place to kayak, if we had that option. As it is, my boar enjoyed splashing through the water and exploring the various small islands.

Reflections are cool! So far, the storyline in this zone is mostly about the gradual realization that Saruman may not be the nice guy he’s supposed to be — and how he’s been sending Uruks to seek out elvish knowledge from the region.

“Oh hey, Dark Lord, whatcha doing? Making some jewelry? Cool, cool. Want to hang later? Go get some grub?”

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: That’s a big rock

Hey, you know what are historically the worst weeks to try to carve out time to game? Holiday weeks, in which I ironically have extra time off work. Theoretically. Yet as I’ve found, holiday weeks — especially Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and International Talk Like A Pirate Day — throw a massive monkey wrench into my routine. Suddenly I’m doing more work in the fewer work days I have to make room for these special off days, which will then be filled up with non-gaming activities. A holiday back in my youth might’ve meant a 12-hour window of uninterrupted gaming. A holiday in my adulthood usually means cleaning dishes and vacuuming up the shed skin of packaging.

This is all to say that last week wasn’t kind to my gaming schedule at all. LOTRO kept beckoning me with lambas bread and Hobbit tomfoolery, but it only got scraps from me. Just a half hour here, and a half hour there.

Fortunately, LOTRO these days is a perfect game for smaller sessions as well as longer ones. I’m not charging toward the endgame, after all, so my character has the luxury of going on a long and leisurely adventure. I can log in, chill out in a zone while doing a few quests, take some screenshots to clutter up your Twitter feeds, and then log out and be OK with it.

Swanfleet, the first of the two new zones that came with Before the Shadow, is tremendous for relaxed gaming. It’s pretty, it contains humorous quests and characters, and I’m getting to watch the quest level slowly approach my Hobbit Lore-master’s actual level of 17. Man, it’ll be nice to gain XP again, I think. In the meantime, there are more quirky chores to do for the local populace!

I have been impressed with the variety of Hobbit (well, Stoor) villages around these parts. There are three of them, and each has its own distinct layout and theme. The Stoor do seem a little more rough and country bumpkin-ish (is that a term?), but in an endearing way. I have nothing against country denizens anyway, and these people looked like miniature Amish to me.

The only eye-rolling part of this zone were a couple of points where quests would try to strong-arm you through side features of the game, like crafting or fishing. The fishing quest was actually bugged — you couldn’t complete it unless you logged out of your character and back in, a fact that I only discovered after some forum searching.

I did take a brief journey back up north to see Dwayne the Rock, sitting squat in the middle of the Bree-Trestlebridge route like the world’s biggest misplaced art asset. It made my heart glad to know that this lumpy boulder brought so much hilarity to the community.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: A pipe of Old Toby

A prepared hobbit is a well-dressed hobbit, and prior to Before the Shadow, I spent a little more time improving my winter outfit to something I was a lot happier with.

But before you knew it — even with a vacation and a one-week delay — the mini-expansion was upon us. And away I go!

I was pretty gratified to see that it was very easy to hop on a stable master and take my hobbit down to Mossward, the starter village of the Swanfleet zone. It was a step back for me in terms of questing levels, but considering that I was only 15, I knew that it would catch up with me before long.

Last week was particularly busy and stressful (especially when Buffalo got slammed with a winter storm), so I didn’t get nearly as much time to blitz through the opening part of the patch. Instead, I really took the time to poke around, taking screenshots, and actually reading quest text. There’s a lot of personality with these missions, too! I was smiling and chuckling during a few of them involving kids and some quirky residents.

It also helps that Swanfleet is a pretty place. Maybe not exotically so — few LOTRO locations are in that category — but it’s quite easy on the eyes. It’s like a Better Bree-land for You and Me. Lots of long-distance views, easy navigation, even some Stoor hobbits!

I am eager to explore the new storyline and see my Lore-master evolve. As usual with this class, I can’t wait until I get to 30 to get lynx, which I feel is the first really good leveling pet.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO is the cozy MMO I’ve always needed

After coming back from vacation during the first week of this month, I was anticipating jumping right into Before the Shadow… only to find out that the mini-expansion was pushed back a week. That’s kind of a bummer, since I was planning to dive into it, but it’s not the end of the world, either. A single week isn’t going to ruin anything too much, although it will land on the same day that Dragonflight’s pre-patch kicks into its second phase. I anticipate a whole lot of gaming this week, time permitting.

So instead of regaling you with tales of this bold new land, I’m sitting here merely reflecting on why LOTRO’s proven to be so sticky with me. Why do I keep returning to this world, when there are MMO with higher populations, better production values, and flashier graphics?

I guess it’s because LOTRO is the cozy MMO I’ve always needed. The world is full of little, intimate touches involving NPCs who feel like people in a very lived-in setting. The quests aren’t often flashy, nor are most of the skills. Nature and natural scenery take prominence. Many of the core systems — virtues, stats — are built around character traits that Tolkien emphasized.

And as I’ve remarked in several other places before, LOTRO’s game map has a cohesion that most MMOs simply lack. The seamless regions are connected in ways that feel natural rather than exiting Snow Zone #1 and entering Lava Zone #2. As a result, there’s a deeper level of immersion with even the landscape than I get in other places.

I remember back in 2018 when I said that my new character’s journey on the then-new Anor server was going to be the last time I ever took a character through the entire journey. That proved to very much not be the case, as I’ve rolled up several alts since then and replicated huge swaths of the leveling journey. Now, I sit on the cusp of another one — one that will be different than those that came before thanks to the new early leveling zones and the big changes to class trait points.

My little Lore-master is ready to go: She’s got the outfits, a small premium house in Gondor, plenty of virtue potions, and a hope that SSG will fix her pets before she levels past their usefulness. It should prove to be an enjoyable winter of being snowed in and exploring this cozy MMO all over again.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

A LOTRO Lore-master fashion show

As I wait for Before the Shadow to drop, I thought that I could at least indulge in a whole lot of outfit creations for my new Hobbit Lore-master. Eight slots isn’t enough!

Outfit 1 is what I call my “Down to Earth” ensemble. It’s centered around earth tones and the Robe of Leisure. I’m not usually a “brown” kind of person with my outfits, but this worked out surprisingly well. The sage backpack (one of my favorites) goes with the staff, and the fingerless gloves and harvest crown poking out of her hair top it off.

Outfit 2 is “Winterfair Adventures.” I really like mix-and-matching skirts and shirts (rather than using full dresses), and so I went with this silver-and-purple-and-grey combo. I may re-dye the skirt to purple, as it doesn’t show the Moria Silver as well as I’d like. The halfway sleeves were a slight concern — do I wear gloves or not? — but I like the pattern too much to abandon it. I used a couple of items from the Yule festvial, namely the hat and backpack, and gave her a practical, tromping-through-the-snow adventuring vibe.

Outfit 3 is “Crimson Scholar.” I like to start building an outfit from a single arresting piece of gear, and for this one it was the map maker’s backpack — one of my all-time favorite back pieces in the game. I put on some scholar robes (which I love for the robe + pants look) and a nifty hood/shoulder combo. The black and crimson color scheme isn’t my typical, but it works nicely here. I may re-dye the hood to be black — it’s an awful lot of red — but otherwise I’m pretty pleased with this one.

Outfit 4 is “Blue Thunder.” I really, really like the way this came out, with its dark blues and interesting textures. I don’t think I’ve ever used this headpiece, either. I’m giving each outfit a different backpack, so this one gets the basic campaign variety.

Outfit 5 is “Turtle Envy.” I wanted to go with a practice adventuring vibe with a cute hobbit twist. I had to work hard to make the sea turtle backpack fit. It’s a great and unique skin, but it’s bulky and high up on the hobbit model that it ends up clipping with pretty much every shoulder piece and a whole lot of hats besides. So I nixed the shoulders and gave her a cap where a bit of adorable hair is poking through. I also dyed everything with one of the grey-green fall festival dyes for a more muted, world-weary look.

Outfit 6 is “Drunken Wizard.” I think it’s pretty self-explanatory. Big hat, keg o’ ale, chunky robes… I’m so into this.

And that’s all I’m going to do for now. I’ll leave the last two outfit slots for future creation. But all in all, I am pretty content with what I’ve come up with here. Can’t wait to start her adventures!