LOTRO: Fine, Mordor, you win

Dear Future Syp,

No doubt you’re reading this because you’ve decided to come back to Lord of the Rings Online after another extended absence, perhaps because some shiny new content has released, and perhaps because LOTRO is like an old girlfriend you can’t quite get out of your head. It’s part of your MMO marrow, and I understand that.

You’re probably checking out this post because whenever you come back to an old MMO, you’re curious about your most recent adventures, where you left off, and why you took a break. I think I can answer most of that for you.

You just about got through the entirety of the base Mordor expansion, although your time, attention, and interest started to flag in the final zone. In fact, you never quite finished up the last zone, choosing instead to focus on the Black Book of Mordor epic storyline — and even that you left undone, with three or so chapters to go. It shouldn’t be too bad.

So why did you leave? Because LOTRO just wore you down. No, to be fair, it was Mordor in particular that wore you down. The slow progress. The omnipresent gloomy atmosphere. Those public dungeons that took just about forever to do. The lack of any exciting new carrots to chase. You couldn’t even be bothered with the new allegiance system, and the more aggressive lockboxes didn’t help any.

Mordor just wasn’t thrilling for you. It wasn’t eye candy, and in the absence of a welcoming and enjoyable environment, story is all that’s left. And while there were highlights, it wasn’t as memorable as it should have been.

Plus, there was that weird feeling like you were playing in the game’s extended epilogue now that the ring had been destroyed. Sure, you knew that there were things to be done, places to go, and fights to be had, but it all felt downhill. You understand that? Sure you do.

Best of luck with your quests, future Syp. I know you want to see this game through and that you might regret the time you took off that you could have put to use. But quite frankly, you needed the break or else you would have seriously started to resent the game. Mordor ended up being Moria Part II with its oppressiveness, and just like everyone needed to get out of Moria, you needed to get out of Mordor.

Say hi to your Lore-master for me and give your bog-guardian a pet on the head. He was a loyal fellow for having followed you so far.


February 2018 Syp


LOTRO: Museum on free admission day

Yes, believe it or not, I actually clocked in some LOTRO time lately. While my interest in this game is on the “ebb” side of the dial, it hasn’t gone entirely.

I decided to focus on making sure that I was getting through the epic book, because that has absolute priority right now. No matter what, going forward, I need to have this done; but if I don’t get to all of the side quests? It’s not the end of Middle-earth.

And happily, the questline led me right out of Mordor, at least for a brief respite, and back to Minas Tirith. Here, I was instructed to do a little research into the plague lands of the Bloody Gore and its mistress, “Sweet Lara.” That meant a trip to the museum, AKA the House of Lore.

I hadn’t ever been to this particular building, but that’s not a shocker in this city. Once again, I feel compelled to point out that the developers really outdid themselves with Minas Tirith, because the sheer detail and number of enterable structures is staggering. Heck, I wasn’t expecting a full-on museum of sorts, but that’s what I got here.

The House of Lore is amazing. Every room has a theme of sorts, including a map room, a book room, and this Giant Skull room. It’s obvious that a lot of care and attention went in to making this place, and what impresses me most is while it’s busy, it’s not cluttered. That’s a hard act to pull off.

Take a break and listen to a bard perform a song or two? Why not!

I also love how cozy it is. It’s just a bright, clean, and well-organized space that speaks of Gondor’s wealth and intellectual scene. If only my house could look like this. In-game or out of it.

The hall of statues was interesting, especially with a few that were chipped or damaged. Sure, there’s a lot of reused assets here that you could probably spot in other places in the game, but I think they are arranged quite well in this place.

And there’s even an “evil” room dedicated to showcasing all things Mordory and Sauronesque. It’s a huge tonal shift from the rest of the floor, but it also reminded me a lot of museums I’ve been in that work hard to create themes that draw you in and contrast with the rooms next to them.

6 of my favorite LOTRO pets

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so let us return to the beautiful world of minipets and completely loyal followers as I look at six of my favorite Lord of the Rings Online pets. Pets are a relatively new addition to the game (which is a shame, I would have loved them back in the day), and function much like vanity pets in other MMOs. Because they’re newer and I haven’t been killing myself to acquire them, I probably have fewer pets in LOTRO than I do in other MMOs. Still, here are my current faves!

1. Farmer Maggot’s Dog

While this mutt isn’t much to look at, it’s still pretty cool to have one of the dogs that struck such deep fear into Frodo. Since they weren’t afraid to go up against Black Riders (presumably), I figure this would be a good companion to have along the way.

2. Faroth

However, for my money, Faroth is a far better dog model. Too few MMOs give us good-looking dogs, but this hound is just spectacular. Got him in the Wastes and use him more often than not. Who’s a good boy! Who’s a good boy! It’s you. You’re a good boy.

3. Bill the Pony

The anniversary quests were boons to pet collectors, and no reward gave me as much pleasure as getting perhaps the most iconic of all Lord of the Rings pets, Bill the Pony. Good to know he made it back to the Shire OK!

4. Quiet Cow

Another pet type that you don’t see a lot of in MMOs? Cows. And this one’s a biggun’. I’d use her more, but she keeps getting in my face and in the way. The bell is a nice touch.

5. Puffy Sheep


6. Distant Cousin

Run through the Bingo Boffin quest line, and you’ll end up… with your own Hobbit slave? I don’t know how else to explain the presence of this ragamuffin Hobbit who follows you around with the most dejected expression. Well, no matter. Just try to jog and keep up when I’m riding on my horse, do you hear? And watch out for the lava in Mordor. Lots of lava there.


6 MMOs that shaped my gaming in 2017

2017 was an interesting year for my MMO gaming career. It wasn’t really marked by any super-huge new releases; in fact, the year was pretty anemic for new MMOs, period. We’re still seeing lots in development, but only a handful of big budget, big studio projects, and most of those are for the future. Instead, this year was mostly about returning to old favorites and continuing on in my adventures.

I am really glad that I’ve been doing a monthly “gaming goals” article, because it helps me track what I was playing over the course of the year. This was the first year where I fully did that, and it is neat to look back at my aspirations vs. realities while also following the threads of my gaming life. So with that in mind, here are the six MMOs that dominated my gaming time this year:

1. World of Warcraft

This past spring, I felt the need for a break following a nearly two-year run in the game. I was feeling listless and in need of variety and direction, and I am glad I took the time off. But sandwiched around that break were my continuing journeys in Legion, my endless experimentation with alts, my progress as an Undead Warlock (the highest I’ve ever leveled one to date!), and some excitement over Battle for Azeroth and Classic. I’m ending this year mostly focusing on bringing my Gnome Hunter up to speed while giving equal time to other titles.

2. Dungeons and Dragons Online

DDO was really the surprise experience this year for me. When I went back to dabble a little bit in it, little did I know that the DDO bug would bite me hard once more. I should have remembered how much I was in love with this game back in the day, and it’s only grown since then. I’ve had some amazing quests so far with my Gnome Artificer, although I still haven’t really found a guild that’s very active or involved. Hoping to change that in the new year, and also to see the game’s expansions as I start to get up into the double digits.

3. Lord of the Rings Online

This was pretty much a steadfast experience, taking my Lore-master through the remainder of Gondor and then finally into Mordor with the fall’s expansion. While I did try out some alts (Minstrel, Hunter), most all of my time was given to the LM. Mordor proved to be a tough slog with only a handful of interesting and engaging moments, and my enthusiasm for playing started to sap away by the end of the year. Still, I’m excited about Northern Mirkwood for 2018, so there’s hope left!

4. Secret World Legends

I had to say farewell to The Secret World and my character of five years this spring, and while that definitely was a hard blow, at least Legends injected some new life into this faltering title. Taking a new character through the game and getting her back up to where I had left off pretty much consumed my attention for the remainder of 2017, and hopefully by the time the new year clicks over, I’ll be ready for season two.

5. Star Trek Online

I think I had about a two- or three-month run back in STO, doing some of the newer content while dusting off my carrier and fleshing out missions I hadn’t run yet. It was… fine, I guess, but definitely not as memorable as I was hoping nor as long-lasting as trips back to the game in the past.

6. Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 edges out FFXIV on this list by virtue of time, if nothing else. I put in about two months in this game vs. one in FFXIV, but both ultimately conveyed to me that I just wasn’t in the mindset to come back to either. There are so many things that I enjoy about GW2 but also so many things that really drive me nuts about this game that I can’t settle back into what used to be an MMO gaming mainstay for me.

Honorable mention: Elder Scrolls Online

Tossing this into this list because I should mention ESO for a few reasons. I really did want to get more into this game than I did, at one point vowing to make this my main summer title (which worked out as well as my plans usually do). But the allure of housing and the new expansion did get me to put in a few sessions, and it remains very, very high on my list of games to come back to soon.


LOTRO: A wintry interlude

Just as I was about to climb up the sheer towering walls of an enemy fortress in the Bloody Gore, an alarm went off on my mithril watch, telling me that Christmas time was here. With an apologetic wave to the Rangers, I took the first express eagle back to wherever the heck Winter-home is supposed to be (Idaho, I assume) to partake in the seasonal festivities.

I figured I needed a break from Mordor anyway. I haven’t been writing much about LOTRO in the past few weeks because there really hasn’t been much to say. Still slowly poking through this last zone, everything’s still red, and I’m beyond ready to be done with this country. Lore appropriate or not, my prediction that it would be a major drag unfortunately proved correct.

But hey, Yule Festival is here! It’s been a few years since I last enjoyed the festival, and coming back here in 2017 reminded me of how special this little pocket zone is. Haunted Burrow might be my favorite LOTRO festival content, but Winter-home is my favorite “whole package.” It’s as Christmasy as can be in the context of Middle-earth, and it’s both beautiful and quaint. Like celebrating the holidays in 1790 or something.

There’s the little town and all of its class struggles, the theater, the snowman field, and a couple other sights in the valley. One thing that I definitely love about this festival is that you get a ton of quests in the same area — and none are that frustrating or difficult to do. In like 45 minutes or so, I did the full run of all of them (including the introductory quests) and had a heavy pocket of tokens as a result.

Probably my only gripe is how incredibly long the theater quest takes, since you have to sit through the whole setup and then a 8 or 9 minute play. Sure, there’s some interaction with flinging flower petals and rotten fruit, but you’re mostly just seeing the same thing you’ve seen every time before. I still think it’s a really cool idea that could have used more variation and expansion. It’s certainly nothing that I’ve seen in other MMOs, although I wouldn’t be too shocked if you came up with similar examples.

The big prize for this year’s festival was the new winter elk mount, and I knew I had to have it! Seriously, look at that majestic beast! In a game with mount demographics that is 90% horses and 10% goats, finally getting a different mount type is important for me.

The best part was that it wasn’t too difficult to obtain. It was only 80 tokens, and since I got more than 40 every day of doing the dailies, I had it by the end of day two. I’m going to stick around for another day or two to save up for a few cosmetics that I’m lacking and then that’ll probably be it for me this season.

It’s always great to come home… and to come to Winter-home. I’m truly glad I was reminded how special this area is in LOTRO and to have a cheery, heart-warming break in my gaming routine.


LOTRO: Two strode in, and death followed behind

I find it oddly charming and comforting that even in the deepest midst of Sauron’s domain and power there exists a tribe of free folk who stubbornly cling to their land even as the enemy encamps all around them. I gladly accepted the offer to head into the Red Sky Clan’s camp and visit with these wild natives, feeling refreshed to see friendly faces and architecture that isn’t trying to secure a spot on a heavy metal album cover.

OK, so it’s no four-star Hilton, but after a couple of zones of unrelenting hostility and no real “good guy” camps, I’m almost weeping with joy to see this. It makes me miss the more upbeat areas elsewhere in Middle-earth, and I make a mental effort to push that aside and focus on the task at hand, lest I get bogged down in despair.

It doesn’t take long before I convince the tribe to help me and whatever non-puking Rangers there are about to assault the nearby fortress of Kala-Gijak. Everyone assembles, a hush falls over the swamp, and then the head Ranger tells me to go in solo and pretty much kill everyone, destroy everything, and then stand aside as the army rolls in afterward to claim all the credit. Uh… no. Why don’t you come with me? I mean, the second I start killing people — and you want me to slaughter at least 30 Orcs! — it’s going to arouse a little suspicion and negate any advantage that surprise would have. Let’s just go together?


Fine. But I’m keeping all of the Orc ears this time.

Fortunately, I do bump into a wandering Minstrel who just so happens to be doing the exact same quests as I. We gladly team up and start taking the place down. With one player, it would have been a horrible slog, but with two, it became pretty tolerable. I would assume that more would just steamroll the place. Gee. Wish there was an army at my back.

Methodically, we go through the camp, towing death behind us as an overworked, underpaid intern. My companion does seem to run literal circles around every enemy he attacks, but as he’s contributing both DPS and heals, I’m not in a position to complain.

Mission accomplished, we hack our way out and return to the camp, feeling that we could have single-handedly won the War of the Ring if only Aragorn had put us onto the field sooner.


LOTRO: What is old is new again

When you’ve been playing an MMORPG long enough, what was old becomes new again sooner or later. You see quests repeat, mobs reskinned, biomes reused, and old issues come up again in new ways. So why do we keep playing? Because sometimes it’s not the well-worn bits that keep us entertained, but their arrangement and decor. Mix and match and dress things up in interesting ways, and we might forget that we’ve done this plenty of times already.

I was thinking this while fighting “Ash Claws” in Mordor’s Bloody Gore. Despite its gross pustules, spiky bits, and reddish hue, these critters are the same cave claws that have popped up all over the game up to this point. Still, I suppose you can’t expect every zone to contain 100% unique flora. It’s just not practical. So a few brand-new models plus plenty of reworked older ones, and there you go. Has a fresh feel to it as long as you don’t stare too hard.

Grumpy rangers being grumpy while I save their life. I’m sorry, but were you out gathering ingredients for a miracle cure at considerable risk to life and limb? No, you were babysitting your friend and probably sipping too much of the king’s wine. Suck it down and take your medicine like a man.

The adventures continue across the Bloody Gore. Since the zone is kind of a funnel, it’s pretty obvious what direction we’re heading (if the giant vampire-looking castle wasn’t any indication). Don’t know why I’m so eager to head into a cul-de-sac of death, but that’s this game for you!

Probably the only question mark that I had for this region was a mysterious passage that jutted down into the hills and ended in a milestone on the map. What could this be? The quest “unexpected allies” took me to meet one of the incredibly rare semi-friendly races of this country, some more members of the… slightly thick tribal people that we last saw in the deep forests of Gondor. Hey, I’m all for any help I can get, because Gollum knows that the Rangers aren’t the dependable sort.

But of course, what is old is new again, and so I must prove myself worthy to yet another group by performing all manner of tasks. I would love to see this in real life: “You want to become my friend and gain access to my club house? Go murder a lot of animals and bring me back their body parts. Also rob a pizza delivery driver and snag us a few deep dish delights. That’s a lad.”

Does Middle-earth have an asylum that could handle the mental trauma that my character has endured?