LOTRO: Peculiar sight-seeing in Dale

Best decision I made in LOTRO lately was to abandon the rest of these piddly Mirkwood quests and simply follow the epic quest line right out of that cursed wood. Should have done this WEEKS ago, to be honest. Mirkwood’s just way too dark and bothersome to quest with any enjoyability. Plus, I start to miss the bright beauty of the game — just like I had with Mordor.

Fortunately, assistance was a short trek down the road. I can’t express the actual relief I felt watching the inky black of the wood dissolve into the gorgeous pastels of a sunrise above the Long Lake in the distance. Heck, I was even happy enough that I didn’t mind that the first town I came to was infested with elves.

I probably spent a good 20 minutes in that town — where The Hobbit’s elves help to manage navigating the barrels down to the Men — doing nothing more than sight-seeing and taking pictures. This world building team is still capable of pushing out some of the more gorgeous landscapes and settings, and right here is up with any of the best the game has done to date.

However, the more I was walking around, the more I felt that something was… missing. Took me a minute or two to realize it, but finally I noticed that in this sizable elf town, there were no side quests whatsoever. Not one. Perhaps it’s a result of abandoning some side missions back in Mirkwood, but that’s not how LOTRO usually handles these things. Side missions feature short chains that aren’t usually linked together. In any case, the whole town offered nothing but a single NPC for me to talk to as part of my epic. So I guess I was moving on?

I also saw something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in this game before: A boat (in this case, a raft) actually moving on the water. Usually LOTRO’s water vessels are always stationary, but not here in Dale. I saw rafts and boats going to and fro, and I thought that was keen. I did try to swim out and jump up on one, but I clipped right through. Guess they’re just for looks.

Even got fascinated watching this huge carp swimming around…

When I saw this, I called my kids over to show them Smaug’s bones, since we had finished The Hobbit earlier this year. They thought it looked pretty creepy, and I have to agree. I tried to get a closer look but got ambushed by a trio of mobs and I didn’t have a pet out to help me.

Next stop: Lake-town. Again, an absolutely magnificent addition to the game and a really fun place to explore. The detail and richness here is wonderful, with different tiers of piers letting you go under, around, and over homes and waterways. Although the weirdness of the “no side quests” thing persisted — Lake-town didn’t offer me any activities other than an instance that had me get into a bar brawl as part of my epic. This is so peculiar, because devs don’t put in this much time into new areas without creating a lot of quests to get you to stick around. Maybe I’ll be coming back? I have no idea at this point.

The sight of the Lonely Mountain towering over Dale gave me the good shivers. What a stirring sight!

Dale is pretty impressive itself, kind of an updated Bree with a mountain as a backdrop. I roamed around for a while here, too, but only found one questgiver — an NPC hunter who challenged me to kill 10 of this and 10 of that. What the heck, why not? I miss side quests!

I took a moment to mentally salute the statue of Bard. If I haven’t said so before, I’m so glad SSG decided to flesh out this region, because I’ve really wanted to go here for a while. And it is such a relief to be up here than down in the nastiness of Mordor.

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LOTRO’s maps are… not my favorite

It’s been a good long while since I’ve played LOTRO (a month?) and even longer since I’ve been in any regular gaming pattern with it. I still think I’m feeling the burnout from Mordor a bit, although I know that it probably just comes down to getting out of a routine of playing and then letting it slip. I kind of would like to reverse that, especially as there seems to be some pretty great content ahead, so I put in a couple of sessions last week and got reacquainted with my long-suffering Lore-master.

First things first — I needed to do some housekeeping. This meant cleaning out my bags and stashing cosmetics and housing items in the appropriate vaults and wardrobes. I guess SSG has added a ton of new wardrobe expansion slots, and since there was a sale and I had points to burn, I expanded my cosmetic wardrobe to 240 slots total. That was more than enough to store everything I had sitting around and then some.

It felt good, really good, to have this all organized before I returned to Northern Mirkwood and another round of “questing while lost in the bush.”

Let’s talk about LOTRO’s maps for a while, because this is an aspect of the game that has repeatedly disappointed me over the years. By my count, LOTRO has three types of maps, and all of them have pretty deep flaws. There are the hand-drawn maps, the slightly more stylized realistic maps, and then the Google Earth (aka “We had no time or resources to actually make a map”) maps.

The problem here is that LOTRO’s landscape is really dense and challenging to navigate in spots, and yet the maps all fail (in different ways) of portraying what the actual landscape is like and how you can get around in it. Throw in invisible walls and other natural barriers, and you could find yourself banging your head just trying to get to where you want to be.

And I’m simply not a fan of the blobby/ring overlays for quest markers. More often than not, they don’t do a great job showing you where you actually need to be if the quest itself has multiple objectives. For example, one quest I did the other night required exploring two separate locations, beating up six spiders, and cleaning out 10 spiderwebs. All of these were covered by a large blob that told me nothing of where those two locations were until I narrowed it down by eventually finding spiders to kill and getting rid of that objective.

I really do wish we could zoom in more on maps and zoom out more on the minimap. Man, that minimap is a near-useless piece of work, let me tell you. I would much rather have a DDO/WoW option to open up the full map inside of the UI instead of going fullscreen as LOTRO’s does.

Anyway, it’s probably too late in the game to see any work or improvement done on this feature, but I felt like griping about it anyway.

Most of my attention was devoted the other night to finishing up a whole hub of quests for a bunch of lost Beornings. None of it was particularly exciting, but I did use them to get reacquainted with my character’s fighting style (especially after the latest round of class nerfs). I truly do miss the days of LMs being a pet machine that would chew through mobs. Now I’m in serious danger if more than one bad guy heads my way. Even if not, the fights take a lot longer than they used to. At least I can amuse myself by thinking that these wood trolls look like guys who have wrapped themselves up in linen to look like discounted mummies.

I took a short break from Mirkwood to do the new Christmas quest, which for whatever reason, was making its debut at the tail-end of July. The quest takes players outside of Winter-home to recover a bunch of random sweets that an errant eagle had dropped all over Middle-earth. It’s kind of one of those quests that gets increasingly ridiculous the more you think about it, especially when you start asking:

  • What kind of flight path was an eagle taking that took it over Ered Luin, Forochel, Misty Mountains, and Eregion?
  • Why did the creatures on the ground steal, but not eat, these sweets?
  • Do the denizens of Middle-earth usually deliver confectionaries via air travel? If so, why not rings of power?
  • Why is it so important to recover these sweets at extreme danger to life and limb instead of ordering — or simply making — more?
  • Am I the bad guy when I’m leaping out at snow beasts and other animals and clubbing them to death to get my dessert back?

Oh well, at least I got a new title to toss onto the pile of all the other titles I’ll never use, as well as a cute little fluffy bunny.

LOTRO: Beware the bear butts

One of the things that I hate in MMOs or other games is that feeling of getting bogged down or stuck in an undesirable location or section. You know that feeling? You’ve had this good momentum and then, bam, you’re struggling through a part that isn’t too interesting and you’re not making any traction. You log out in frustration and then find yourself not wanting to log back in for days or weeks after.

LOTRO does this to me every so often. It can have a good flow, but when confusing quest objectives, inhospitable terrain, or frustrating mobs conspire together, they can swamp me. This is where I found myself in Northern Mirkwood.

At first it was great, all pretty trees and peaceful forest, but what I didn’t realize was that there’s this whole region around Elf City that’s in a perpetual night, has a ton of mobs, has a river you can’t cross (at least not through the water), has quest objectives that are scattered all over the place, and the environment has some cliffs and a ton of nighttime fog. It’s not at all enjoyable or engaging to stumble around nearly blind in a forest not even knowing where you’re going, which is why I didn’t want to log in for a while.

But the poisoned foxes needed me, and so I came back. Actually, the best remedy for getting bogged down is to power through it. Log in, devote X amount of time, and just get things one one objective at a time. So that’s what I did recently. One small, silly step at a time, and gradually I started to gain traction once more. Quests started getting finished.

And I was absolutely delighted to find that once I got outside of the Dark Zone, everything got 100% more enjoyable and easier to do. Funny that happening when you can actually see.

Angry tree guys? Evil forest spirits? Not really sure what the Taurogrim are and I’m not going to Google it. I think they look pretty cool though. I don’t even mind this guy trying to rip off my skull, because at least we’re out in the sunlight and I know where I’m going.

The main goal of the night was to run a solo instance in which I was helping a Beorning shapeshifter find one of her traveling companions who had been lost deep in the wood.

Oh! So I should back up to the start of this night and say that I died three times in a row, very quickly. At first I thought I wasn’t paying attention, but no, I was getting *creamed.* Then I noticed I was missing skills. And then my brain — honed by years of actually covering MMO news — remembered that this game had a class balance update and my talent points got reset. So I had that to do as well.

I don’t feel like my blue line Lore-master got better, but rather that she is less effective than before. I certainly struggled hard during this solo instance as the mobs hit me like a truck and I had a hard time keeping them off of me if there was more than one or two.

Puddleglum photobombed this nature shot. Go back and gel your hair a bit more, you weirdo.

Anyway, I died in the middle of the instance (which, again, has just rarely ever happened to me in this game and I’m now taking a long, hard look at my spec to see if it’s to blame), and I didn’t have my free rez available. So I had to be sent back. All the way back. Like halfway across the zone. I think my brain started screaming right then, which was followed by my mouth ten seconds later.

It was a long, stupid ride back.

Fortunately, I did get the instance done, saved the traveler, and was rewarded with… about eight new quests to do more stuff for them. I know the devs love to rack up the quantity of quests, but could there also be good rewards for them too? It’s not as though XP and LI XP is that useful to me right now.

LOTRO: Spider-hunting in Mirkwood

Free of the Elven-king’s halls — at least for the time being — I made it the goal of my weekly LOTRO session to get a big multi-stage quest finished. Spoiler: I did not. In my defense, it was one of those “spread out from here to Timbuktu” quests and I had no knowledge of the area at all.

Navigating was the major issue with this play session, and it did not get easier as time went by. Not only was it nighttime, which in LOTRO can be awful dark sometimes, but both the minimap and the main map were of little help. Sometimes in dense canopies, LOTRO likes to throw up walls in the forms of small cliffs and trees that makes it difficult to figure out how to get from A to B. I spent 10 minutes following a line of rock until I found a break that let me through to a different area.

While navigating was an absolute pain, at least I was rewarded with an atmospheric tour of a spooky forest in the dead of the night. With the ambient noises, mist, and sharp shadow effects, I got drawn into this place and kept stopping to try to take screenshots. It being very dark, most didn’t turn out that well.

I found some of my quest objectives but not all. This isn’t Mordor, of course, but the high mob health still makes fighting a slightly-too-long affair. Long gone are the days when I could tag several mobs at once and enjoy watching my lynx take them out. Now I throw all of my spells on a mob and go hunt around the kitchen for a snack. Gonna be a while.

Just wanted to say that I was really proud of getting this particular screenshot in the middle of a battle with less than 8K health left. Dumb pet went on vacation or something.

Like many MMORPGs, LOTRO does love its giant spiders. I would almost say that it loves them more than normal, as we see these big critters across the world. I guess we should blame The Hobbit for this. Actually, this area was where Bilbo fought the giant spiders, and in one spot, blue flavor text popped up with quotes from the book.

I don’t care one way or the other about giant spiders other than a slight exasperation at their overuse. I had a hard time finding enough of them to fight, as it seemed like every other one was glitched into a tree or something. Kind of felt bad for them. Come here, little fella. Syp’ll take you home.

After 45 minutes of stumbling around in the dark, I called it for the night. Just wasn’t that fun with the lights off and slow progress. Better luck next time!

LOTRO: I was a teenage Elf janitor

Because this is the only good thing I have for this past weekend’s LOTRO adventures, let me put it up front: Northern Mirkwood, from what I have seen so far, is flat-out amazing. It’s just a huge forest that makes me feel small and like an actual explorer. The devs really struck on a great environment here, and I can’t wait to scout around more of it.

With my computer repaired, I spent an entire evening reloading programs and MMORPGs. Did you know that MMOs are big? They’re big. I kind of forget that when I’m not loading up new ones every day, but just try doing about six in a row. They’re huuuuuge. And LOTRO is no slouch here. Even after I had it fully patched up, the game kept crashing on me because I had DirectX 12 and not 9. Because of COURSE you need 9, since this is 2009 or something. Had to install the whole ancient DirectX suite on my computer just to get this MMO running again. Ah well. At least I got LOTRO on my SSD, which is a first for me. Having it load quicker is worth it.

But while I wanted to spend the evening romping around Mirkwood, I had a few quests left in the Halls of the Elven-king that needed finishing. Seriously, it would bug me to no end to leave them unfinished. Plus, I’m not in a rush, so let’s try to be as completionist as possible here.

Oh hey, Legolas has moved back in with his dad. You’d think he’d be a king in his own right after helping to save the world, but nope, he’s a college student coming home to bum off of his parents for a while.

By the way, SSG? You think you could afford an afternoon or two with your artists to upgrade the visuals on your major characters? The whole painted-on faces is embarrassing when it comes to the members of the Fellowship.

It was here in the underground caves that I met this dolt and was reminded all over again why Elves are a bottomless well of pain and suffering. I’m outright convinced that this whole quest chain was devised by a developer who knew that one day I might play this zone and wanted to see what fresh hell he or she could make for me.

So. There’s a harpist who is TOO BUSY with his “music” to go about throwing a party for all of the Elves just hanging around. Guess who he gets to do it? Why, it’s Mr. Gullible Traveler! And so the next hour of my life unfolds as I go around doing his busy work.

Said busy work involved flower picking (because it’s Elves and of COURSE there is flower picking, it’s 2018 and we’ve cast the One Ring into Mt. Doom and WE ARE STILL PICKING FLOWERS FOR ELVES IN THIS GAME). I assure you, I am the type of person who is actually screaming out loud when I type in all caps.

But are flowers enough for a grand party? No! I must get wine and then personally run around handing it out to Elves, getting them good and sauced. Listen, they’re Elves in a cave. They don’t have that much to do, and there’s a huge cellar not two minutes’ walk down the hallway with all of the wine in the world. But they’re too lazy — this should be unsaid, as they’re Elves — and it’s up to me to fulfill this important mission.

As I’m curled up on the ground, mewing for this quest to be over… nope. Now I must DANCE WITH THE ELVES. I want “Dances With Elves” on my gravestone. Yet again, I wish LOTRO had a sort of quest choice system or branching dialogue or any way other than outright refusing a quest to lodge a complaint against what’s being done. If I could have stuffed those flowers up the harpist’s nose, poured the wine over the heads of seven elves, and kicked the rest in the shins, that would have been the best quest ever. And I wouldn’t even care if my reputation took a hit.

At this point, I want to stress that I’m not making up the particulars of this long, pointless quest. It gets better:

I…

I…

I am at a loss.

So that harpist’s actual day job is that of an Elf janitor. But he is TOO LAZY to actually do his job after that exhausting hour of making me set up a party and he falls asleep. Then the game’s quest text says, with as straight of a face as it could muster, that it would be really peachy keen if I went around mopping up Elf puke for my new “friend.”

You think I’m joking? That I’m exaggerating? I HAVE ACTUAL PHOTOGRAPHIC PROOF:

This? This right here is why I loathe Elves to the very bottom of my being. Just haughty little rich snobs drunk on their love for trees and vomiting without a care in the world. Because they know that their groupies will come along sooner or later to clean up their sick.

If you wanted to know, the end to all of this was pretty much nothing. Just some XP and tokens and that’s it. What, no follow-up quest where I go around presenting my backside in case an Elf wanted to wipe off the dirt from his otherwise-immaculate boot? Wasted opportunity, that.

LOTRO: In the halls of the Elven-king

Northern Mirkwood at last! Unlike Southern Mirkwood — and ESPECIALLY unlike Mordor — the sun is shining and there’s beauty everywhere. I am so¬† happy to be here you don’t even understand. When LOTRO wants to do pretty zones, it really, really can do them justice. And it’s these zones that made me fall in love with the game so long ago.

But instead of looking at the zone proper today, I took a shortcut and went straight to the Halls of the Elven-king.

Yes, I’m in the belly of the beast here, a whole underground complex populated by laughing, singing elves. These are the more jovial sort than you find elsewhere in the game, as befits their description in The Hobbit (this is where the Dwarves were taken when they got captured and Bilbo sneaked in while invisible).

The whole city — and yes, it is a city and suitably large for it — is another testament to the skill and artistry of the dev team. It doesn’t matter that this game has been out for 11 years, SSG did not skimp here. As I said, it’s huge, but it’s also creative and beautiful.

What’s interesting here is that this is a cave system, something that we’ve seen a lot of in LOTRO (especially Moria). But unlike the Dwarves’ conception of cave architecture, where it’s cold, angular, and the rock is carved into mighty buildings, the Elves here have more organically molded the cave and adapted to its flow.

There’s also a garden in the middle here. Don’t know how they got a garden inside a cave or why there are poor birds flitting about probably confused as heck about where the sky is. Also, I spent some time wondering how the Elves managed to hang up those lights from the 100-foot ceiling and how the lights just stay on. I’m guessing “magic.”

I spent over an hour traveling through the cave network here, taking pictures and generally losing myself in the atmosphere of it all. I like how warm and cozy it is, even though it’s, you know, a cave. In some places it’s hard to know where the wood stops and the rock begins because of the carvings and the vines that seem to run everywhere.

My favorite sight? This particular fireplace, which had giant spider heads mounted above it. I pity the poor taxidermist who got that order.

You can see how the cave and city intertwine without losing either. There’s a river that flows through most of this place, and I kind of want to take a boat ride down it. Wish LOTRO had rideable boats.

I stopped for a few to put together a new outfit because I realized I had a full mathom cosmetic set on me. It’s pretty passable, I think. Haven’t even dyed it yet.

Lots of little rooms tucked off to the sides here and there. I liked this one, even though it bordered on being too busy.

Closeup of one of the walls, with the Elves’ banner and the vine/tree branch design on the wall behind it. Plus, that border. Probably everyone runs past this stuff, too. Such a shame.

My kids were particularly interested in seeing some of the tourist spots from The Hobbit, since we finished reading that book last month. Here are some of the cells where the Dwarves were kept. I think that Thorin’s was the cell that was greatly isolated from the others.

And there’s Bilbo’s barrel! Or a monument to it. Even the cellars here are cozy.

My kids called this the Statue Room.

All in all, I’m so impressed that the devs aren’t phoning it in at this point in the game’s life cycle. Like so many places in LOTRO, these halls benefit from patient exploration and an adventurer who is into the atmosphere and details. Well done.

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.

Sincerely,

February 2018 Syp