Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: A song and a stabbing

At least I can say I got my Minstrel to level 100 before the great minstrel nerf arrived. I’m trying to snarf up as much XP in western Gondor to stay on top of the leveling curve, which I feel is starting to outpace me for some reason. It’s not a great difficulty yet, I just want to make sure I don’t fall behind.

While I am down with smaller outposts and contained quest hubs, my teeth grit when I find the game channeling me into a major city. LOTRO in particular has some amazing cities, and boy does its development team know it, because the quests will conspire to keep you in them forever. Darn it, you’re going to inspect and appreciate every square inch before you’re allowed to move on!

And so my Minstrel came hesitantly to the doors of Dol Amroth, a mid-sized city perched on an island/peninsula poking into a bay. Upon approaching its walls, I was reminded at how amazing the artwork is for this country. Gondor has a very distinct — and not at all subtle — style compared to Rohan and other nations. Also, there are tons of swans. Swany swany swans as far as the eye can see.

And flowers. I guess I never really envisioned Gondor as being the flower capital of Middle-earth when I was reading the books. The capital of stern people full of grit and determination, perhaps, but not lilacs and tulips. But now I know better, thanks to LOTRO.

Stop looking at me, swans!

For fun one night, I felt like taking a STAB at something a little different, even if it’s just a temporary experiment. And so I hopped back on Treebeard after a couple of months away, rolling up a new character: Syprowl the Gentleman Burglar. He shall be the dapperest daredevil this side of the Misty Mountains, I promise you.

I’ve become partial to the Stout-Axe intro, thanks to its brief length, fun setpieces, and tour around the dungeons of Mordor. Say what you will about this country, but Sauron definitely did not skimp on the fashionable red tint for his windows.

Also, the next time someone drags out that tired “but the GRAPHICS” on this game, I’m just going to show them the above screenshot of this Orc and walk away without another word. LOTRO has pretty fantastic visuals in so many ways.

I really like the theming of this character — it prompted me to go in different directions than I normally would, which is a giddy experience. I ended up very much liking the above outfit — lots of black with silver bands to complement the beard ornamentation.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Bear down for midterms

After cleaning up my account on Landroval — which involved deleting every character that I wasn’t playing or keeping — I ended up with just three on the list. My LM, my Cappy, and my Minstrel transplant from Anor. To those I now add a fourth, a Boerning named Sypaws (because “Syp” plus “bear paws” I guess). This gives me a lowbie to run around with, especially a class I was having a lot of fun with on Treebeard. I feel good about it, and am so daring that I even made him a dude instead of a dudella.

I love that bear’s best friend is a totally happy corgi. They make an odd pair, those two, but I’d put my odds on them conquering the whole of Middle-earth before the year is through.

What’s hardest for me when starting a new character in LOTRO is slowing down to read the quest text and enjoy the journey instead of sprinting through very familiar territory. I feel it’s imperative not to get in a “gogogo” mode, because what am I rushing toward? When will I ever slow down to actually absorb the story if so?

Of course, familiarization wars against good intentions and nostalgia. It’s why I am starting to look forward to the new 1-32 leveling experience they’re churning out for later this year, if only to have a truly fresh start. In the meanwhile, my bear will continue to terrorize… er, HELP those hobbits. Yes. Help.

I’m just saying, it’s never the ones you most suspect that end up being the body parts-selling serial killers. Bad doggie!

Nothing profound here, other than to say that I appreciate the work that went into the design of the Comb inn. It’s got a really great fantasy look to it.

Being a no-rush character, I took my time going through all of the human starting quests around Comb and Staddle. You can easily knock out the 45 quests for the Bree-land Adventurer deed doing this, which saves time later on in the zone. And hey, I like helping dogs, widows, and quirky hobbits.

I am so far from my car right now.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO and my S.O.S. (Start Over Syndrome)

Patiently waiting for MMOs to get their act together and give me content I want to play isn’t always my strong suit (probably isn’t yours either, eh?). And while I do want to get a new character going — probably a Hobbit LM — when the mini-expansion arrives later this year, that’s months off. The problem is that I’m feeling the deep itch to start a new character and play a bunch of lowbie stuff.

And isn’t that how it usually goes?

This drove me to scratch with a Hobbit Hunter on the Gladden server over the weekend. I don’t have a presence here yet, and I heard that it’s a very welcoming community. Plus, it gives me the opportunity to start fresh on a server without any wardrobe or other helpers.

But it didn’t take long before I felt guilty about it. Not that it wasn’t fun, but that I wasn’t waiting for what I wanted to wait for. I know for a fact that I’ll be rolling up a new character when Update 33 arrives, and I’m fairly sure I’m not going to want TWO lowbie characters dithering about in Eriador by year’s end.

A new LOTRO character is a massive investment in time and effort, and unless I’m just sampling and leaving them like nibbled box chocolates, this sort of approach helps nothing.

It’s just what I struggle with as a diagnosed person with S.O.S. — Start Over Syndrome. It’s sometimes way more enticing to roll up that fresh character, get that heady rush of newness, rapid advancement, pleasant nostalgia, and perhaps trying out something a little different. Heading down a slightly askew road and all that.

This is probably why I loved City of Heroes so much back in the day. That game was just MADE for those suffering with S.O.S. Stories of people with alts in the dozens (if not hundreds) was not uncommon, because probably 80% of the fun in that MMO was coming up with a kooky concept, a distinct uniform, and a name that would make your dad groan if he read it. You could roll and reroll and reroll without feeling even a lick of shame.

But most MMOs aren’t really designed to feed into that mentality. Sure, they’re fine if you want to roll alts (well, for the most part), but they want even more for you to get stuck on a single character for a very long journey.

In any case, it was a fun weekend dalliance with that Hunter, but she’s going to have to go back into the bin of character rejects. It’s not your time yet.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: A frog named Goopster

After finishing up Gundabad last week on my Captain, it was nice to be able to reset in LOTRO — but not to the beginning. Rather, to the middle, to Gondor. It doesn’t feel stale or recent to me, so sallying forth on my Minstrel is a perfect path for me right now. After all, “Gondor needs my aid!”

It is weird that SSG is planning a huge revamp of the class, though. I’m hoping it’ll end up being a net positive for my build (red with a heavy dose of yellow). But I admit that I was a little nonplussed to heard about this change out of nowhere.

But I’m never too busy for a break in Bree. Landroval always has parties going on here, and one night I saw a band with all of these cute rabbits sitting around them in adoration.

Gondor is kind of the “phantom expansion” of LOTRO — never released as such (as it was doled out piecemeal), but together all of the zones, story, and Minas Tirith make up a terrific expansion’s worth of material. And even though people don’t talk about it as much as the other major regions, I find that it’s got some of the most beautiful cities and zones.

Seeing the Gondor watchfires smoke into the sky is a nerdy thrill. The whole point of this zone was to emphasize that the War of the Ring was getting very, very real, and as you move from east to west, things keep getting worse.

I had fun putting together this new outfit. Kind of like a miner-meets-adventurer, I dunno, but lots of lights, pouches, and steel blue designs.

Tromping through a marsh, killing turtles, collecting mushrooms — just another day in the life of a LOTRO hero.

The seafront is the big appeal of western Gondor. It’s quite a unique view in this game (as there aren’t many zones that border on the ocean), with the seagulls and general ambience adding to the coastal feel. And the city up there, Dol Amroth, is a looker as well (if a little annoying to traverse).

Speaking of annoying to traverse, I got sent to the cul-de-sac known as the Dead Marshes. It’s just the worst zone, let me tell you. There’s no milestone (so no quick porting back to the quest giver), mounts aren’t allowed, and on top of that, you often have to slowly swim across ponds. “What were they thinking?” kept going through my head.

On the plus side, I got a frog pet named Goopster here, so that’s something.

A big bug. Hobbit for size.

The one thing I did like about the Dead Marshes was the well-done interlude quest where you take over Sam and go on a bit of the journey with Gollum and Frodo through the Marsh. It’s well-done and let me get this neat screenshot.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Minstrel anxiety and housing relief

As someone who is pretty much only playing the Minstrel in LOTRO right now, I felt personally affronted by the fact that SSG is testing sweeping changes to the class. Not only does this come out of nowhere, but it radically shifts builds (taking out yellow as a specialization) and nerfs a couple of much-used skills. RIP Piercing Cry, I knew ye well.

I guess “affronted” is too strong of a word. “Put off,” maybe? I felt like the class was working just fine, so I have concerns that these changes are going to mess with my build and rotation. I’m sure that I play my minnie in a much different fashion than most people, and I don’t want to lose the fun and flexibility to do that.

Anyway, one of the goals I wanted to accomplish this week in Lord of the Rings Online was doing a bit of literal housekeeping. Spring (summer?) cleaning.

For starters, I went over to the Belfalas homestead that my Lore-master and Cappy share. It’s pretty stuffed full at this point, but my Captain had about 30 new objects from Gundabad adventures, so I wanted to see if there was anything worth swapping out.

I added a new dwarf desk and yule fireplace to my Christmas reading room. Kind of wish my character could actually sit in this chair, but otherwise it looks really cozy.

Other than a couple of other touches — adding a drake skull here, a dwarf carving there — there really wasn’t much more I *could* do. Even with all of its extra hooks, this premium house is full to the brim. And I don’t want to change too much, because I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

So when my Minstrel transferred from Anor to Landroval, my premium house cashed in to create 18 writs. My first instinct was to go and replace her old Rohan house with a new one for the same cost, but I paused when I realized that Belfalas houses could be purchased for much cheaper. In fact, a stately house goes as low as 6 writs — leaving me with enough writs to buy two more premium houses of the same type on different characters. And considering that the stately house only has slightly fewer hooks, I thought it sounded like an excellent idea. So she moved to the Cape of Belfalas as well. I like it out here anyway, with the ocean view and seafront sounds.

With my shared housing storage sitting at 209/60, I also have plenty of stuff to move in.

I didn’t want to rush into this decoration project. Instead, I spent a session picking out floors and ambience. I went with a grass floor, deciding to attempt an outdoors-indoors thing. Slap down a birdhouse and goose hutch (with a tenant), and I figure that’s a good start.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Guess who’s back?

Switching Minstrels from Treebeard to Landroval via my Anor transfer wasn’t as easy as an ABC file. My Anor character, which I had last seriously played in August 2019, was dusty as all get out. I had to spend an entire evening sorting her out, including figuring out where she was on the epic quest (which I had dropped, somehow), cleaning up inventory, getting her added to the kinship, and creating (and leveling up) a new set of legendary items.

But there were huge incentives to picking back up this character (which, by the way, I had only abandoned because I wanted to bring her over to a regular server and couldn’t). She’s got a lot invested in her, such as all sorts of virtues, five (!) milestone skills, a super-fluffy goat mount, gobs of cosmetics, and a premium house (which is, at the moment, a pile of writs until I figure out what I want to do with that). Plus, now I’ve got all my played characters in the same place on the same server, and that feels solid.

So where I last left her was pretty much at the start of Western Gondor at level 96, so that’s where I’m picking up her run. At least there’s nothing else to be done, so I can just get back to questing HAHA kidding. It’s new outfit time!

There. NOW I can quest.

Hey, what would you know — Gondor needs my aid! (That’s a bit of a LOTRO injoke there.) Trying to pick back up where I left off years ago, I returned to the Blackroot Vale to wrap up some quests and try to pick up enough XP to keep up with the increasing level curve. I mean, there are always missions if I’m that hard up, but I won’t use them if I can keep up naturally. Happily, level 97 comes before I leave the zone.

I’ve only been through Gondor maybe twice before? My memory is rusty in this, but that sounds about right. I may have a whole ton of LOTRO characters, but only two that I’ve leveled up through the whole game organically. In any case, it’s a region that I’m looking forward to revisiting, swan fountains and all, because I do like the countryside and somewhat generic fantasy questing.

One of these things is not like the other

Another outfit break! With 475 outfit pieces, putting a good ensemble together is both fun as heck and time-consuming. But I like this royal-red rich look. Plus, she’s humping a lot of ale around Gondor.

It was here in Dinadab that I was reacquainted with a terrific example of smooth-flowing quest chain design. Initially I was asked by a local farmer to help with some chores in exchange for a dinner with the family. I even got a bit excited, helping to set the table that evening, because it’s not the sort of quest you typically see in an MMO. But then things got more excited with a stabbed brother-in-law stumbling into the house, a secret that he was hiding, a scurry to help the healer, and an eventual segue into an incoming corsair invasion. These quests kept flowing into each other like reading a really good story, instead of your typical quest hub design where you pick up tasks that aren’t really propelling a narrative.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: My fate in Gundabad

Hey, it’s your friendly neighborhood Captain here, doing what I do best: Be a total coward and run away from screaming packs of hobgoblins. At least I’m getting good cardio out of the experience!

With all of the Gundabad zones cleared of normal quests, I doubled back and picked back up on Chapter 7 of the epic. I find it’s a lot easier to follow expansion storylines when you do the epic straight through with no interruptions. So as I nudged a couple of dwarves toward each other in beardy romance, I started to get into the business of the orcs and dwarves yet again.

As I went through the remainder of this story for the first time, I contemplated why the Orcs vs. Dwarves storyline seemed to flop in the LOTRO community. I haven’t seen a lot of enthusiastic testimonies about it — but I have witnessed a lot of the apathy that I share. It’s not bad, mind you, but there’s something about this whole arc that failed to connect as broadly as it should. Maybe it’s the use of dwarves (acquired taste, those), or the post-book storyline, or the general sense that despite all of the devs’ work, Gundabad still came off as Moria 2.0. My conclusion is that it was a not-particularly-exciting narrative thread that ended up going on for far too long.

And boy was I ready to be done with it, not only from apathy but because the general game performance in Gundabad is downright abysmal these days. I don’t generally see a lot of lag in LOTRO myself, but these past few weeks in Gundabad specifically have been horrible. Rubberbanding, freezing, loooong delays in combat… you name it, it was there. Nearly unplayable, and absolutely unacceptable for an MMO in 2022.

The above picture? That’s not me being quick with the keyboard. That’s combat frozen for over a minute, giving me ample time to screenshot it.

Some people don’t like session play, but I enjoy the combat and narrative breaks that it offer. And hey, how many times do you get to play a weird goblin in a video game? Ph Glurkub, will you be mine?

Last known photo: Glurkub making friends.

Happily, the epic picked up steam in the last few books — many of which were glorified cutscenes (yet very interesting ones!). In fact, I found myself becoming engrossed in the tale at the backend, which makes me regret brushing it off so lightly. A good ending to a mediocre start is better than nothing.

And before I knew it, I had wrapped up the final Gundabad epic, finished all the zones, hit 140, and gazed at a majestic sunset over my accomplishments. It’s a heady feeling to know that you’ve actually come to the end of all of the (current) solo content in the game.

So it came time to part ways — for a while, at least — with Captain Syppi. She’s been with me over a very long road in LOTRO, and she deserves a rest in her home until adventure comes calling again.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Freezing my butt off in the mountains

Honestly, I couldn’t wait to get out of Clovengap fast enough. No, it’s not the worst zone I’ve seen in this game, but in terms of sheer annoyance, it was up there. So imagine my relief at stepping out into the Welkin-Loft and seeing this wide-open snowy wonderland. I actually smiled in relief. Fluffy snow!

“Um, guys? Kinda need to cross this bridge here. Anyone know when the repair crew is scheduled to arrive?”

Sometimes, it’s the small things, but I really enjoyed breaking down an old hobgoblin outpost and helping the dwarves set up a new camp. Nice use of phasing there. Now I only wish we had tents in this game for real.

For a game that was really stingy with dragons for most of its run, LOTRO’s certainly gotten dragon-happy in its most recent expansion. Tack that onto undead dwarves, packs of wolves, and chilly temps, and this place is fraught with peril. Just fraught.

Don’t you hate that feeling when you slowly grind your way to a couple of quest objectives, get them done, port back to your camp… and realize you still had one thing left to do at the very end? And then you’ve got to go all the way back through that again? Yeah, game, you’d BETTER give me an amazing sunset for my troubles.

Despite liking the snowy zone with its gorgeous vistas, I really wanted to be done with it — so that I could then go back, do the epic, and fully be done with Gundabad. In the meanwhile, I made friends with a snowbeast who had one of those comically large collection of bones. Garbage day’s on Tuesday, dude.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Gundabad can keep Clovengap at this point

Is that… that the end of Gundabad growing near? It must be, because my Captain arrived in Clovengap late one night. And just when I thought I’ve seen every type of cavern this game can pump out, here is a veritable forest stretching for multiple tiers.

While I welcomed the greenery, I quickly became less-than-enthusiastic about the zone design. The multiple levels, staircases, and tight corridors meant navigating is a chore — and you’re often slugging through mobs to get anywhere. It’s the kind of LOTRO zone design that I really hate, yet it comes back every so often.

How can you feel bad for a warg? If it has a breakout of painful-looking purple crystals, I guess. That does not look like a fun existence. Wonder if it tastes like grape if I licked it, though.

My initial impressions of Clovengap were not misled; this zone continued to be a slog of navigation. As a bonus, one quest even had me going into a maze-like vineyard to hunt down stealthed critters. Thank goodness for the diversion of kin chat, because my patience meter was quickly eroding.

Was it all bad? No, not at all. I actually really liked the theming, especially the part-cavern, part-outdoors nature on display here. There were a few genuinely cool areas, such as a museum on a platform.

And who doesn’t like bringing the beatdown to a pustule monstrosity with an exposed brain? This is making friends, Middle-earth-style.

But all in all, Clovengap was a whole lot of figuring out paths and memorizing them so that when the next batch of quests sent me back, I’d know where to go. Not so much “adventure” as “player-turned-GPS.”

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: I am the GOATs

Captain report

Oh, I’m not the greatest anything, just in case you were wondering from the headline. I’m referring to LOTRO’s actual heroes, the amazing goats who made it possible for Middle-earth adventurers to traverse through the scariest and most mountainous terrain to bring the fight to the Enemy. These goats are the GOATs.

I particularly liked the design of the semi-transparent glass spiders in their lair. LOTRO has a LOT of spiders — more so than most MMOs, thanks to Shelob and Mirkwood from the books — but it’s always interesting to me when the devs can put interesting spins on these eight-legged critters.

And when it’s not spiders, it’s crabs. I really liked this model, I think it’s new — at least, I don’t recall seeing it before. Enjoy that screenshot, I was trying to hard to get a good angle and get rid of the hovering text that I ended up dying because I wasn’t healing or had the HUD on to see my damage.

I went on a bit of a screenshot binge in this solo instance, but can you blame me? It was so pretty and unlike a lot of the world I had seen so far. LOTRO’s world designers are still cranking out amazing stuff.

Relatively quickly, I was done with this zone. Big thumbs-up for Gloomingtarn in all categories: overall zone design, instances, and a well-paced storyline that culminated in a bit of a huge shocker. Loved it.

Minstrel report

Last Wednesday was also notable for the fact that I was able to transfer my three Anor characters to Landroval for free. Initially, I was only excited because I could bring over my (expensive) Rohan premium house, a ton of currency, and a lot of wardrobe items. In fact, my wardrobe expanded from 300/300 to 475/300 instantly. I had no idea there were 175 unique items in my Anor wardrobe, but now I am beyond full on Landy. Don’t know how I’ll ever get more space there!

But as I dusted off my Minstrel and sorted through her inventory, I found myself appreciating all of the hard work I put into her those several years ago. I mean, I’m pretty much recreating her exact journey on Treebeard, just several expansions behind. So I started to entertain the thought of simply putting down my Treebeard mini and picking this one back up, especially now that I can move at my own pace. It’d be nice sticking with just one kinship on one server, I think. And hey, she’s got a fancy goat to boot. Sold!