LOTRO: Evaluating missions part 1

As I said last week, my LOTRO project this month is to go through all of the missions and give my thoughts and experiences along with a rating of how much I enjoyed it. We’ll kick off with the War of the Three Peaks missions:

Abandoned Supplies

I thought this one would be a breeze — just run through a small abandoned fort (with nice scenery!) and click on 12 supply crates. But the weak-looking rats and bats ended up being incredibly tough and hard to handle as packs. I actually went down twice in this mission before playing it more cautiously. I wasn’t that thrilled with it. (Rating 2/5)

Jaws of the Dead

Now this is the kind of mission I like: quick, uncomplicated, and straight-forward. I just had to run through a rather small cave and dismantle 10 grisly trophies. The only even slightly challenging aspect is that some of the wargs were stealthed, but honestly, there were very few wargs altogether, so I’m not complaining. (Rating 5/5)

A New Clutch

No sweat: Just stroll into a dragon nursery and kill all their young. Why not? Doesn’t sound suicidal to me. This mission had a lot going for it: A very small playscape, mobs that weren’t too difficult, and sunny atmosphere. (Rating 5/5)

A Taste for Battle

I don’t know how heroic I’m supposed to feel when my whole job here is to ruin Orc’s lunches and then beat up on the lunch lady (pictured above), but that’s pretty much what this mission is. It’s a little on the longer side — not totally a slog, but heading in that direction. It’s fine, just not that fun or interesting. (Rating 3/5)

Kickin’ it in LOTRO’s mission system

Now that I can finally buy the War of the Three Peaks DLC with LOTRO points (side eyes to SSG), I not only have a full collection of content in the game once more, but I can participate in the newish mission system.

The studio was really talking up missions at one point, mostly because it’s “mini-expansion” had so few “features” that it was “embarrassing.” But now that I’ve gone through a dozen or so, I can confidently say that these are pretty much mini-skirmishes. Just little, on-demand quest instances where you can pop in, get stuff done in about 10-15 minutes, and be done with it while getting some currency, XP, and regular loot drops.

It’s nothing mindbendingly amazing — but it’s also kind of nice. Like, it’s a good quality-of-life feature that offers an option for play if you don’t have a lot of time, or don’t want to be reading through blocks of narrative text, or need a catch-up XP mechanism. I do like that these missions scale to your level, so you can’t out-level it. That’s a good touch.

There are better missions and worse ones, and I think I’m going to spend April making a list of which is which. Some of them are a little too time-intensive, and some are lightning quick. They also keep things interesting by slapping a random special condition on each run. So a mission on the first run might have monsters that ambush you, while the same mission done a second time might throw traps everywhere.

I think I might just park my Minstrel in the missions room and run them for a long while in an effort to level up so that I can just do the epic books without all of the side stuff. As I said, options.

I did go on an excursion to Wildwood, which was… fine? It’s fine. I don’t see anything that thrilling in it, nor that useful to a character that has vastly over-leveled that content, but it’s a decent alternative in the level 45-50 bracket. Bree-land is seriously huge now, and it wasn’t small before.

LOTRO: Dale-lands is so underrated

Actually, I think that most post-Mordor zones in Lord of the Rings Online suffer from not being appreciated as much as they deserve. This could be because everyone playing the game simply hasn’t gotten to those areas yet, but egads, these are some of the most visually striking locales in the game. I’m seriously impressed at the quality that the small team is able to pump out.

But out of all of these areas, Dale-lands seems to never get mentioned at all — and that’s a shame, because it’s one of my absolute favorites. It’s a diverse zone with a rather pretty marsh at the southern end, a pristine lake, some boreal forest biome going on there, two beautiful towns, and the looming presence of the Lonely Mountain towering above it.

Emerging from Mordor and Northern Mirkwood, the gorgeous brilliance of this region is such a tonal relief. It feels like a civilized land that’s not been touched by war, and Hobbit fans will get to visit a lot of areas key to that book.

I’m sure that running waterfall is not helping the bladder of this guy waiting for the outhouse.

Perhaps the reason that Dale-lands doesn’t get much chatter is because it seems very light on content. The epic book breezed me right through here without much sight-seeing at all, and I’ve never been able to find too many quests. Many of the quests are parts of chains that if you skipped them early on, you won’t see them pop up at all.

Another thing I really enjoy about the region is its architecture. Compare this to Bree and Bree ends up looking like a shoddy shanty town. Dale and Lake-town are absolutely incredible settlements that have a distinct visual style that feels different from Gondor, Rohan, and Eriador — and I really like it. I’d actually love a player house in this style!

Ranking LOTRO classes I don’t have time to play

I count myself fortunate that I have settled on a class — the Minstrel — that I thoroughly enjoy in Lord of the Rings Online. Apart from combat pets, it really has everything I want out of a class, and I’m looking forward to adventuring with it into the future.

That said, I — like many people — see other classes running around and wonder what it’d be like to play those. I have tried out a few others, but there are a chunk that I’ve never even rolled up. So for today’s thought exercise, I wanted to rank the classes that I’ve never really played to any great extent (which excludes the Minstrel, Captain, and Lore-master) in the order of least interested to most interested (if, you know, I had the time).

Least interested: Guardian

Not only are Guardians in a really sad state right now in the live game, they just don’t have a playstyle that appeals to me in the least. If I wanted a shield-using character, there are at least two other classes that have far more interesting mechanics.

Champion

Champions also suffer from Generic Class Syndrome (GCS) in my mind. They’re great if you want a damage-dealing melee fighter, but that’s almost never what I want. Hard pass.

Warden

Warden gets high marks for style — javelins and spears aren’t typical weapon choices in MMOs — and the combo system is hotbar-friendly and rather unique. But it also requires some memorization, and whenever I’ve tried one, I simply don’t have the patience to get all of the patterns committed to memory.

Beorning

People seem to love Beornings, and the notion of a shapeshifter is always cool. After all, I really did like my WoW Druid. But I don’t see a huge appeal in playing a bear, nor in being a class that’s mostly all melee. Cool concept, though.

Rune-keeper

What’s always held me back from Rune-keepers is how odd they seem in the context of this low-magic setting, but whenever I’ve watched one in action, I can’t deny I’m attracted to the playstyle. Lots of flashy spell effects — and totems to boot! But do I really want to be a cloth-wearing Dwarf running around with rocks in his hand?

Burglar

Burglars always seem like the underdogs in LOTRO. They’re never the most desired nor represented, but I have a soft spot for the idea of a dual dagger-wielding Hobbit slicing and dicing through enemies. I like their tricks and ability to stealth, but the sound effects are atrocious.

Most interested: Hunter

Hunters are vastly overrepresented in LOTRO, which is probably the only thing that would hold me back from playing one. The decoy dummies, ranged combat, extra map skills, and faster movement are all huge pluses for the class. They offer low-key playstyle, and that’s not to be underestimated.

LOTRO: Turbo boosting through Mordor

Spoilers: Gollum dies!

It still feels so weird that the very start of the Mordor expansion is the end of the main storyline of Return of the King. Like, it should be over… but in LOTRO, it’s not. It’s just moving into a new phase.

After treading water and building up to level 112 in the Wastes, I finally pushed into Mordor proper. Initially, I had the best of intentions of getting all of the quests done — especially since I was over-leveled enough to steamroll mobs — but after a few days, I felt the drab landscape get to me. Mordor simply isn’t exciting or stimulating in a way that sparks my imagination, so just like last time, it became this bog trying to suck me down.

I think even the developers knew this, which is why the main storyline keeps pulling you out of Mordor to run across Middle-earth for various chores. It’s a visual and tonal reprieve before you have to plunge back into the Mother of All Volcano Zones.

By Day Four of Mordor, I said, “Forget this!” and decided that my level advantage meant that I could simply ignore everything other than the epics. I’m not going to miss out on any significant rewards from all of the side quests, and this way I can just stick to a main storyline that should get me through Mordor as (relatively) quickly as possible.

Hey, it’s a refugee from Dungeons and Dragons Online! Man, the artists did not give you a lot of love, did they sweetie?

As I write this, I’m level 113, and the maximum level of content in Mordor is 115, so I think I’ll be just fine if I take this track. I’ll start re-engaging with regular questing in Northern Mirkwood and Dale-lands and push to get to level 130.

It also helps that I have two fully imbued first age LIs, so my power level is in a good place. Just 16 more zones to go, and I’ll be caught up with the latest content!

LOTRO: Powering up in the Wastes

Using a level 105 Gift of the Valar in LOTRO doesn’t mean that I am instantly on easy street. In fact, dumping me right at the threshold of Mordor has raised a lot of trepidation in me, because I had such a rough time going through it a few years ago. So my overarching goal has become to level up as much as possible in the Wastes to get an advantage over Mordor mobs before I head in.

Thus, I’ve been taking my time to do every quest in the area and work on deeds all while popping every experience booster and rested XP boost I have. And I’ve accumulated a whole lot of those, since I never really needed them on my max level character. As a result, I’ve shot from level 105 to 110 in under a week, and I’m feeling much more confident about the task ahead.

I probably need to head in anyway, because Mordor is the gauntlet that needs to be run before the zones get all pretty and peaceful again. I’ve got a good toolkit with the Minstrel, including shields, heals, first age LIs, a couple of flops (never discount the usefulness of a good Hobbit flop, I say), and even a stealth ability. I’m able to mow down packs of mobs provided that they don’t put too many diseases and bleeds on me all at once.

Of course the big question mark in my future plans is the fact that LOTRO is currently testing Update 29 and the new Wildwood region of Bree-land. I know that I’m going to want to — and need to, for writing purposes — go through that area when it comes out, which is looking to be within the month. SSG never tests things for very long. I might do a back-and-forth thing where I spend a bit of time every day doing Wildwood while continuing to press through Mordor.

If I can make some good progress through Mordor, at least get the first zone done by the end of the month, I’ll feel like I’m staying on track. Finish up Mordor by the end of March, do Mirkwood/Dale/Iron Hills in April and May, then the Vales and Minas Morgul this summer. That’ll put me in a good spot to play Gundabad this fall.

LOTRO: Jumping ahead in line to Mordor

I have found that upon returning to an MMO, I go through a multi-week period of evaluation and decisions before I settle down on a course of action. Some of the questions I’m trying to answer for myself include:

  • What character do I want to play?
  • Do I want to start fresh or pick up where I last left off?
  • What goals do I want to be aiming for?
  • Is this game really something I’m in the mood to play for a while, or am I just visiting to satisfy some curiosity?

This evaluation period’s been especially turgid with Lord of the Rings Online since my return at the start of the month. I knew that I was most definitely ready for another long stretch in this game, so at least there was that, but I found myself torn on what to play and what goal to go for.

The problem, as I saw it, is that I have more or less settled on the Minstrel as being my “main” that I’d love to carry forward in future releases and expansion — yet I don’t have a minnie anywhere near the level cap. My choice basically boiled down to two options:

  1. Start a new Minstrel on Landroval and level with a purpose, hopefully to get it ready for Gundabad this fall.
  2. Continue my level 95 Minstrel on the progression server, but face content caps and an unknown future unlock date for expansions.

I did Option #1 for a while, going through the newbie zones and having a lark, but knowing the game as I do, I realized that there’s just no way that I could power level through this mountain of content — including deeding, getting all the class trait points, etc. — and be anywhere near ready for the fall’s expansion. The only benefit that I could see to this character was that Landy has no content locks and its population is much higher than the progression server.

But ultimately I went with Option #2, because it made far more sense in the end. I’ve already invested so much time into this Minstrel — 456 hours and counting — in addition to cash shop unlocks and the purchase of a premium house. I don’t want to toss that all away and redo what I’ve done a million times before. Gondor? Mordor? Dale? I’ve only gone through that once or twice, so it’s less of an intimately known quantity.

So this is what I’m going with now, playing the Minstrel and relying on my Lore-master to handle Day-Of looks at expansions and whatnot until SSG advances this server or allows us to transfer to a regular one. At least I can console myself with all my progress to date, a very packed and active kinship on Anor, and a lot to do for the time being. I’m trying to go for all of the deed unlocks in Gondor, but I also need to make sure that I haven’t missed any class trait points so far on this journey.

LOTRO: The sun dawns over the Shire once more

It’s been a few months since I’ve been in Lord of the Rings Online, at least regularly, and I’ve felt the tug-tug-tug of affection drawing me back in. But as I’m still not willing to pay actual cash for the War of the Three Peaks and I have lost interest in trying to keep up with the progression server, I figured a fresh start was in the cards for me.

At least I learned how much I really loved the Minstrel on the progression server, so that was my go-to pick in starting over. I have to say that during the character creation process, I was pleasantly surprised how good the updated avatar graphics looked. Maybe I didn’t give them enough credit the first time around, but they really aren’t half-bad.

And honestly, I needed a winter vacation back to the Shire. This game is very much my MMO home, and the Shire is my old bedroom that holds so many fond memories of younger me. I’m not trying to speed level or push myself to catch up in any way — that way lies madness — but to simply enjoy each zone and story as they are.

I also ran pies. And mail. But that’s what you get when you go back home: chores.

Figured that this was as good a picture as any to sum up how I am as an MMO player. I’m always in over my head and fleeing for my life. It’s a good cario workout, at least.

When I pulled out my anniversary pig pet, I got a laugh at the name here. This very week, I started reading the Chronicles of Prydain to my kids with Dallben and his pig, Hen Wen. Clever nod, here.

And what’s LOTRO without it’s amazing community? I’ve been reconnecting with my chatty and helpful guild, and I loved bumping into a band when I ran into the Bird and Baby Inn to drop off a quest. They put on a really rocking show — I stayed for a good 15 minutes to hear a few of their songs.

Putting a tidy bow on LOTRO

As I was looking at December plans, I wanted to wrap up LOTRO in November with as neat and as tidy a bow as possible before putting it back on the shelf for a while. It’s time, I think, to take a good long break, at least until the next update.

But before that could happen, there were projects to be done! The first was to get all of the fall festival cosmetics and pets that I wanted form this year’s event. The outfits were surprisingly good this year, so I had to save up a lot of tokens to get those. Oh, and also the wings, which apparently this game has now? They’re not *great* wings, mind you, but any options other than capes is always desirable for me.

With that done, I made it my mission to power through and wrap up Helm’s Deep on the progression server. This was a task that I’d been slowly trudging through for months now without any end in sight. But it’s amazing what a few lengthy dedicated sessions can achieve, especially if you numb the boredom with a movie on in the background.

I mean, Rohan isn’t boring, per se, but it is very, very, very, very long. Maybe it didn’t feel that long when we first got it, but I swear, these LOTRO designers got take-home bonus pay if they managed to cross certain high thresholds of quests-per-zone. Have you ever tried to power through, say, 300 quests? It’s the online equivalent of trying to plow your way through the defensive line of an NFL team. By yourself.

I’ve written before that, at this juncture, Lord of the Rings Online is simply too quest dense for its good and that it might be a better idea to take a cue from SWTOR and jettison all of the side missions in favor of just the main arc.

But that would also throw out a lot of good stuff that’s getting smothered in the noise, so an alternative idea would be to give every zone a “quest budget” that would be used to corral a smaller number of the better-done missions into keeping and excise the rest.

In any case, one change that LOTRO did make that I enjoyed this past week was the option to skip epic battles entirely and go through “storied tales” of Helm’s Deep. They were actually far more enjoyable — and far less time-consuming — than the old epic battles, and I give the developers praise for making this available.

The 2021 plans sound good, but whatever content they have coming seems like it’s a way off, so taking a break now wouldn’t set me back any. I need to recharge my interest and revisit it fresh next year.

The quiet appeal of LOTRO’s mystery room

Lord of the Rings Online’s Haunted Burrow — still one of my favorite MMO Halloween instances — is nothing if not loud. Yet tucked away toward the back is a doorway to a mystery room which is quite different than the rest of the haunted house.

For one thing, it’s nearly silent. For another, it trades the deliberately designed run-down look of the rest of the burrow for cozy Hobbit quarters. After navigating a short but weirdly twisty hallway, guests find themselves in a living room of a sort that has a lot of the early housing furniture. It’s also notable for having three chests that can be opened hourly for free fall festival tokens and decor. In fact, this one room makes Harvestmath the easiest festival to farm for completely lazy people (like myself).

Yet even if there weren’t the chests, I would still be captivated by this room. It’s almost magical in contrast to the showy, juvenile rooms of the rest of the Haunted Borrow — a peaceful sanctuary that has no lore, no NPCs, and no explanation attached. The other door in the place kicks you right inside of Bilbo’s home, which is far ABOVE the Haunted Burrow.

I’ve often wondered if there is supposed to be a story or an actual mystery behind this room. Is this actually haunted, whereas the rest of the burrow is for show? Maybe it’s where Bilbo went to escape some especially intrusive relatives.

Every year, I silently cheer when the Burrow returns, because I know that my character is going to spend a few weeks hanging out in the mystery room. It’s a bit of a respite between adventures and a nice way to build up enough tokens to the latest outfit.