Dealing with a wasted session

aragornMy baleful eye of Sypon has turned to Lord of the Rings Online in an effort to get caught up through Update 15’s content. Last night’s play session wasn’t anything awesome for the most part; I’m struggling through a cold and mostly was playing on autopilot. I barely remember the stories, other than saving a girl who ran away to hang out with a river goddess, but at least I chewed through a good portion of quests in central Gondor.

By the time 10:00 p.m. hit, the epic storyline landed me in the court of Aragorn (above), his Grey Company, and his ghostly backup dancers. I wasn’t fully expecting to find that, and I’ll admit that the discovery was pretty neat. It’s cool to see how far he’s come in the game from that guy crouching in the dirt in Archet asking you to find some Kingsfoil for his friend.

Anyway, Aragorn asked me to go ahead and run the Pelargir epic battle. Sigh. Fine. I’ve been trying so hard to forget that LOTRO even has epic battles, which tells you a little about how highly I regard that system. But I figured that if I could knock it out before bed, that would be a good way to cap the night.

As with the Helm’s Deep battles, Pelargir was mindless drudgery. Run and fight, feel like you’re not making much of a difference at all, and wait around for far too long while mobs come at you in waves. Thank goodness for Netflix and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Binge watching is fun.

Long story short, I spend about 35 to 40 minutes going through the motions and then suddenly die due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time and having 15 mobs dance on my skull. Quickly I respawn — all of the way at the beginning — and try to run back, but the “they can’t die” NPCs get killed within seconds and I fail the instance. It boots me back out to the landscape and Aragorn shakes his head slowly while giving me a disapproving look.

He needn’t have bothered; I felt plenty disappointed in myself. Is there any worse feeling in MMO gaming than to blow a good chunk of time on what turns out to be a wasted effort? I’ve gone through this before in hard quests where I spend so much time pushing forward but can’t complete it or with those endless dungeon runs in which your party keeps wiping and can’t progress.

Sure, it can’t always be victory after victory in MMOs. Failure can and should exist. But when you’re investing tons of time into these games, you want to see progress for that investment. I logged out thinking that I could have gone to bed an hour earlier and it wouldn’t have made any difference in my LOTRO progress if I had.

I think it’s important in those disappointing moments to take a big step back, refresh, and regroup in the future with a more positive attitude. Next time I will beat this. And if I don’t, I will chuck my hard drive into the cracks of Mt. Doom as petty revenge.

LOTRO: Syp vs. the Army of Darkness

army1Right now I’m about halfway through re-reading Lord of the Rings, and there’s one thing that really strikes me about the books (other than they’re pretty darn good and have many epic moments/quotes). The magical/mystical side of Middle-earth, while present, is downplayed and deliberately left mysterious. Are the elven cloaks really magic or just well-made in such a way that looks like magic? Is Aragorn’s sword imbued with some magical property to make it flash like lightning or is that just artistic license? It feels as though there’s a lot of room left for interpretation.

Back in 2007, I was initially attracted to how LOTRO was going to buck the trend of high-fantasy MMOs and go more low-key with its classes and use of magical whatevers. Sure, over the years magic creep has settled in (Rune-keepers are still a sore spot to many) but it’s still very much a game that’s more grounded in realistic analogues than fairies and fireballs. It actually makes it more relatable, at least to me, and when something supernatural shows up it’s somewhat impressive.

army2Anyway, that’s a meandering lead-up to say that I spent last night beating up ghosts in Gondor. Turbine used a little bit of wiggle room in the Paths of the Dead to create a group of non-redemptive spectres called the restless dead, and these jerks from the great beyond have been dogging my steps and causing no end of grief for others. Being that they’re already dead, I don’t feel that bad spearing them with my halberd (although… how am I doing that? Really?).

A local man in Gondor tells me how he and his family believe in these river maidens who have allegedly watched over the region as sort of guardian angels, and begs me to go find her. That’s not too difficult for me even though nobody had actually seen them in ages. But me? I’m special. I walk to the river’s edge and a good ghost pops out of the water to have a chat. Apparently she’s been needing to atone for some mistakes she made in life, so helping out the locals in death seemed like good penance.

But really that just meant that I was going to have to beat up a whole lot of ghosts, so beat them up I did.

army3I was all excited to see how the river maiden was going to turn the power of the water against the restless dead. The ghosts show up and taunt us for a bit, then the maiden issues the closest thing to a prayer that I’ve seen in the game, and then…

AND THEN…

Well, the ghost just melts into the water like the Wicked Witch of the West.  “Curses!” and soforth. OK, it was probably a limitation of the engine, but I was really hoping for a tsunami or a water spout or something. Melting? That was a bit anticlimactic.

Although I did get a hearty laugh at seeing the remainder of the restless dead do an about-face and run off in double-time, almost like Benny Hill. “It’s water! RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!”

LOTRO: Getting to know Gondor

h1Got this helmet the other day — a new model, at least to me. It’s decidedly unusual, and I’m on the fence whether or not I like it. I kind of do and kind of don’t, but I’m trying it out for a while.

h2Going through Gondor in LOTRO thus far has been an educating experience. Of all of the main regions/countries of the Lord of the Rings, it’s the one that I know the least. In the movies, Gondor is primarily two cities — Osgiliath and Minas Tirith — and just that. But the game is providing a lot more context as I make my way from west to east.

For starters, I never pictured Gondor as a coastal nation, but I guess it is and that definitely changes the atmosphere. Kind of Mediterranean. Past the landscape, Gondor has its own architecture (which we have seen in ruins throughout the game): large stone/marble structures with swan and wing motifs. Coming from the rustic log cabins of Rohan, it’s quite a switch. You get the sense that this is the cradle of a much older civilization than much of what we’ve seen of Man lands to date (especially back in Bree-land).

h3The residents haven’t been having an easy go of it as of late. Gondor doesn’t have to just worry about an army pouring out of Mordor, I guess, as it also has a plague of corsairs plus (why not) an army of restless dead assailing it from all sides. And since the population is frozen in fear and non-scripting, it’s up to me to wage a one-woman army and save the day.

I’ve been growing in appreciation of my halberd, and not just because it’s a second ager. It’s got a good animation to it and I definitely feel martial when I’m wielding it.

LOTRO: A sunless land

ahh1Sir, may I say that I like your style?  You have a very handsome face.

So I had to make a hard decision this week to let my Lore-master in LOTRO go — at least for the time being — and return to my Captain.  As much as I love the LM lifestyle (point pet at bad guy, go get a cookie from the kitchen, come back to loot and XP), it’s going to take me just shy of forever to get through the entirety of Rohan.  And I really, really need to get through the new Gondor content and be poised to experience Osgiliath and beyond.

Besides, I do like my Cappy, just in a different way than my LM.  To make myself feel a little better about the change, I found and bought a level 100 second age halberd from the auction hall.  With the upcoming LI changes, I could have this for a while to come, which is cool.  As a bonus, it actually looks kind of neat.  Also, I worked up a fun heal-while-I-attack build that’s strangely satisfying to play.

When I last left my Captain, I had finished up the epic book in western Gondor and was puttering around.  Now, there’s a new book and a new zone.  It begins with a sea siege of Dol Amroth by Mr. Personality up there and his merry gang of corsairs.  I find it more than a little strange that after all of my adventures so far that I’m supposed to take sea pirates threatening.  Seriously, I’ve killed zombie dragonlings, giant orcs, trolls, shrews, and great evils from beyond the realm of this world.  But corsairs!  Well, I should turn tail and run.

Actually, I did face something that put fear in my step:

ahh2WHAT THE UNHOLY SALAD DRESSING OF DENETHOR IS THAT.

I guess it’s a woman in a mourning veil, but that has to be the scariest thing I’ve seen in LOTRO to date.  And that’s including the Sam Gamgee shower scene.

Anyway, I’m sent to treat with the corsair captain, who is high on his awesomeness and isn’t threatened by my 100 levels in the least.  After our chat, he tells me to swim to shore, but I stayed on the boat because I run from no one.  Also, I wanted to see what happened when he counted to five.  What happened is that he got to two, got frustrated, and killed me almost instantly, and then I had to repeat the entire quest.  I guess that’ll teach me to go for a swim in heavy armor when a pirate tells me to.

That’s all the prologue for heading into central Gondor to warn the Gondorian fleet that the British… er, corsairs are coming.  That’s when I found that the region has been smothered in a perpetual twilight, and not the sparkly vampires and mouth-breathing love interest kind of twilight.  It’s part of the books called the Darkest Day, when Sauron tries to freak Gondor out by blotting out the sun.  I guess it works, because practically every NPC I clicked on exclaimed the same phrase: “We woke to no sun!  No light of day!”

“Hey, so where is the–”  “We woke to no sun!  No light of day!”

“I have those six orc heads you wa–”  “We woke to no sun!  No light of day!”

“Get a flashlight and SHUT UP.”

ahh3As I was doing my good deeds of the day for a town, I came across the above monstrosity roaming near some spider nests.  I saw a fellow player attacking it solo and decided to jump in to help, only later realizing that this was one of the new roving threats that came with a recent patch.

Since the other player got on her war-steed for some mounted combat, I had to do the same.  And thus began a 10-minute fight as we continually circled and attacked and I generally freaked out that my horse was going to plunge off one of the nearby cliffs.  But we did get it down, hooray, and I got some token that will go in the giant bag of tokens that I carry around.  Some day I’ll make a scrapbook with all of them.

LOTRO: The relaxing way to save the world

lang1While I didn’t intentionally plan it, this past month of my life has been dominated by one theme: streamlining.  I think it needed to happen; my life was getting so full of “stuff” — projects, mostly — that I needed to scale back, cut the superfluous stuff, and rethink how I gamed.  I’ve already talked about how I’m just not worrying about being a full completionist (with SWTOR’s datacrons/gear or LOTRO’s virtues), and you’ve probably noticed that I’ve stopped doing retro gaming posts (they were getting to be more stressful to do and I wanted to focus more on MMOs).

And while I’m still samping a ton of MMOs — six or seven concurrent titles — I’m not stressing out about giving them equal time or sticking to a schedule.  I’m more of the attitude of, “Huh, what do I want to play and haven’t written about in a while?”  That’s actually been a blast.  Even better is the decision to return to games with more traditional combat models (RIFT, SWTOR, LOTRO) and cut out the action combat that was more work than fun to play (WildStar).

That’s why I deeply appreciate LOTRO each and every time I log in: It is simply relaxing.  Yes, I’m saving the world and combating ALL THE EVIL that you think Mordor would have a bounty out for my head and be calling me “The Flashy Death” or somesuch, but I’m doing it at my own pace while sitting back and cruising through the quest lines.

LOTRO isn’t what you’d exactly call challenging, unless you’re either running a hard instance or severely gimp yourself, but I don’t miss it — at least not in this game.  And playing as a Lore-master almost seems like god mode.  Remember when I lamented that when it comes to combat, what I really want is to point at a critter and have it die?  That’s pretty close to what happens here.  Summon my bog-guardian, tag a bunch of mobs, and optionally participate in their assured destruction.  Alternately, I can use my awesome “Sic ‘Em!” skill to summon all of my pets and wade into a group of bad guys to see them taken down within seconds.  It’s satisfying like popping bubble wrap, if the bubble wrap were fictional people with families, dreams, and a heart set on world domination.

lang2Okay, so moving on from that topic, let’s talk about how my Lore-master failed to bring down a Nazgul.  It’s not my fault, it’s some dev at Turbine that won’t take the training wheels off of my staff and let me have a swing at the big boys.  Instead, I’ll be killing worms and pigs until my dying day because of helicopter developing.

This came about from the whole Langhold storyline.  My LM is still in the early days of her Rohan adventures, and it continues to be a treat to discover how many well-crafted story experiences exist (it’s been a couple of years, so pardon my faulty memory.  I should blog about such things so that I don’t forget.).

While short, the Langhold section is remarkably effective as an introduction to Rohan and to make me feel rather ineffective in my quest to actually help people (this will be a recurring theme throughout the entire country, if I recall my past adventures).  First I’m sent to do the typical “new to a town in an RPG” stuff — meet the mayor (Thane), figure out where vendors are, and snap up quests.  But things soon quickly turn for the worse as a casual recon mission discovers a small army of invaders who have the cooperation of a Ringwraith.  That’s kind of like an ultimate trump card unless you have a handy Elf-controlled river nearby that’s willing to flood the region just to take out a bad guy.

“We have 20 stout defenders manning the wall and sturdy gates that will–”

/slaps down Nazgul card.  “You lose.”

So while the mission did the LOTRO thing of refusing to allow me to fight the big evil lest I tear a hole in the lore so big that an endless stream of fanboys and girls pour out, I’m told to tuck tail and run.  While I feel that this is a little cheap (as is every time that a game wrests control away from me and makes me fail as a default just to keep the story in line), the chaos and effects did a great job of selling the destruction of the small village.

It’s a solid introduction to the plight of Rohan and the fact that no matter how many rats you kill, sometimes you just can’t stop evil from happening on a larger scale.  Sometimes you fight a series of tactical retreats so that you can be in a position to win on your own terms.