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 World of Warcraft

More MMORPGs need to blatantly copy World of Warcraft’s calendar feature

World of Warcraft’s design choices get a lot of side-eye these days — some of which is justified — but let’s not be too hasty to toss everything that genuinely works in this MMO on the dungheap of enthusiastic criticism. This past week on the MOP podcast, we got into a discussion regarding game features that should be made more universal than they are, and the example I came up with was WoW’s calendar.

I don’t think many people ever talk about this feature, despite it being in place since Wrath of the Lich King and being fairly unique to the genre. It doesn’t get much in the way of praise or recognition, but the more I think about it, it totally should.

World of Warcraft’s calendar is an amazing tool that pulls together communication, planning, and social guilds into a single attractive panel. For starters, it lays out the month (and subsequent ones at the click of a button) where you can quickly see everything that’s happening in the game right now. Events and festivals are at the forefront of this, with longer holiday celebrations being treated to a themed banner that stretches across multiple days.

By looking at this calendar, I know right away how to structure my month of play. How long do I have for a festival? When is a particular timewalking week? What about those microholidays? It’s all there.

And beyond Blizzard communicating the game’s quite extensive library of special events, the calendar also allows guilds to post their own events — and allow members to sign up for them. That’s what takes this calendar to the next level, in my opinion. It now becomes a one-stop kiosk that tells me what both my guild and game are doing, and it does so in an attractive and easy-to-read way.

The calendar used to have a lot more functionality when it was tied into the (now defunct) WoW Armory app. Players back then could access and interact with the calendar on their mobile devices instead of just in-game.

So why aren’t more MMOs or live service games stealing this calendar feature? I have no idea, but I’d love to see it become a lot more ubiquitous than it is.

Posted in EverQuest

Is EverQuest II the forgotten MMORPG?

The other day, I was passed along a video that took several (hundred) screenshots of EverQuest II and put them in a nearly four-hour-long video that married relaxing music and ambient noises. The idea, as the video’s author said, was to showcase the game world and put the viewer at ease.

It was as good as any tour that I could think of to show off the MMORPG. I didn’t watch the whole thing, of course — ain’t nobody has four hours to view a glorified screensaver — but I did skip around and see all sorts of sights that I never have before due to only playing the game casually a few times.

As I watched, two thoughts bubbled up in my mind. The first is that EverQuest II is, indeed, very pretty in spots and has its own trademark visual style. It may not be my favorite style, but it’s not ugly and does this fantasy world justice.

The second is that EverQuest II is kind of a very forgotten MMO in 2022. On Reddit, Twitter, blogs… I almost never hear people talking about this title. I’m not saying never, because it does pop up here and there, but even the game’s die hard fans don’t seem to be as vocal as they were even a half-decade ago.

Maybe the title really has established such a loyal and comfortable niche that nobody’s evangelizing EQ2 any more. Daybreak will pump out the yearly expansions on time, people will play them, but nobody — including the studio — will make much of a big deal about it. If I recall correctly, EG7’s investor report from a year or so ago noted that this MMO is upstaged by the original EverQuest in terms of profitability.

I don’t think EverQuest II is the MOST forgotten MMO, as that pile is pretty large at this point. But it is one of the more rare entries that used to be a bigger deal and became almost invisible in the end.

That’s kind of a real shame. Any MMO that survives this long and expands this widely has a wealth of adventures and landmarks to see. I myself will probably never have time to devote to plumbing its depths, although my recent return to RIFT has taught me that there’s great stuff out there worth visiting that’s not in the MMO top fives.

Posted in Magic Online

Oh hello there, Magic the Gathering!

Recently, our family went on a multi-day camping trip. Because I knew we’d be disconnecting for the time away from home, I wanted to make sure we had enough in the way of group entertainment. We probably over-packed in terms of board and card games, to be honest.

In fact, even after we had enough, my daughter and I went down to the local game store to scout around for a nice low-budget option that wasn’t UNO or Apples to Apples or Munchkin (not knocking any of those, mind you). It was there that I spotted — of course — the huge displays of Magic the Gathering, and my nostalgia kicked in hard.

Magic and I have had a very on-again, off-again relationship that’s bridged from its early days in 1994 until now. There were all of the matches in college, the long (and expensive) stint with Magic Online, the streamlined game versions, and my attempts to teach my wife the ins and outs of the game. But when you don’t have people to play with regularly, there’s little reason to be collecting and building up decks. And, frankly, my wallet thanks me.

But the cool thing was that the store owner literally threw free cards our way. I had forgotten that Wizards of the Coast creates these free starter decks to give out, much like a drug dealer offers a hit of the good stuff before charging. So we rode out to camp with four free decks (and two more that I bought because I felt bad going into the store, grabbing free stuff, and then just leaving).

The nice thing about not being that collection-competitive about Magic is that simple decks and affordable purchases are very doable, as long as everyone playing is on board. And I do like the strategy, the imagination-sparking artwork, and the freedom to build decks.

Will it catch on in our household? Only time will tell. The kids loved to collect and play Pokemon, but I don’t think they ever did it according to any official rules. That won’t really fly in Magic’s neck of the woods.

But in any case, it’s nice to revisit an old friend and see that it’s just as fun and playable as it ever was.

Posted in Nostalgia Lane

Nostalgia Lane: Pitfall for the Atari 2600

What may have been the strangest thing about playing Pitfall back when I was a kid is that I didn’t even realize I was playing a “platformer” — one of the first real ones, in fact. We didn’t have that terminology yet. It was just this cool game that everyone wanted to take a turn with, even though nobody knew how to win it.

(I mean, you could find all of the treasure before the timer expired, that was the technical win condition, but did you ever know anyone to do this in the Atari 2600 days? I never did. You simply played it for the joy and challenge before you utterly failed, because that was the Atari way.)

As one of the earlier games in our 2600 library, my memories of Pitfall are not a cohesive whole as a series of fragmented little clips:

  • Seeing my cousin be way better at it than me
  • Watching my dad howl in frustration when he fell into the croc’s mouth for the umpteenth time
  • Loving any screen with the swinging vine
  • Thinking that the scorpion actually looked like a cartoon face with an angry giant eye
  • Having that moment when the quicksand pit opened up and I fell into it, because I felt foolish
  • And finding that sweet spot on the croc’s eyeballs that was safe to stand

Oh, and that sweet, sweet Activision box art:

I definitely was not that great at Pitfall, but I dove into it time and again. What made me happiest is that I had a lot of freedom of choice in how to explore the world. I could go left, right, down into the underground, back up — the game wasn’t forcing me onto a path. Getting good at jumping over logs and the scorpion and the crocs was a genuine skill that I could practice, too. It was a HUGE game world (255 screens, a feat that was insanely impressive for 1983)

Looking back at it today, what strikes me the most is the absence of power-ups. We’ve gotten so used to them, it’s wild to consider a time when you didn’t have any. Not even a weapon, either! Just running, jumping, climbing, and (in my case) dying most ignobly.

But man, it was a great rush.

Posted in World of Warcraft

WoW Classic: Wrath on the horizon

Sometimes being an MMO gamer means going from “having no inclination to go back to a game” to “hm, I wonder if I should” to “INSTALLATION COMPLETE” in a manner of hours. And so it was with WoW Classic this past week. I really thought I was going to cruise through the Wrath Classic launch without paying it much attention, but the general increase in community hype proved irresistible as did two other things: The pre-patch and the desire to experience a launch.

With this second one, it’s completely indulgent. But if I look back at 2022 to date, I haven’t enjoyed the crazy fun of a big launch aside from the flash-in-the-pan Diablo Immortal and Lost Ark (neither of which had that newly launched MMO feeling to me anyway). And looking ahead, for the rest of the year, Wrath Classic is probably going to be it aside from LOTRO’s Before the Shadow mini-expansion. I want the buzz, the Day One crush, the conversations, and the guild resurgence. Is that too much to ask?

But the pre-patch period is providing its own entertainment. What I had totally forgotten is that this patch was going to bring all of the Wrath talent trees and skills (and glyphs) in with it, which changes everything. Wrath, for me, is when most of the classes of the game felt like they really came into their own — especially my beloved Enhancement Shaman.

When I logged in the other night, I gleefully respecced her and enjoyed a much zippier character. One thing that I used to love so much about this class — before Blizzard gutted it — is that Enhancement kind of functions like a pet summoner. You get the hard-hitting and rapid healing feral spirits every three minutes and the fire and earth elementals every 10. Plopping down three pets (all of which last for a good chunk of time before de-summoning) in the middle of a camp of mobs is a pure joy.

Thanks to the class improvements and my flying mount speed now improved to 150% (versus the 60% I had struggled with throughout the Burning Crusade), I started to crash through quests a lot faster than I had even a month before. So even at a casual rate, I should have the last two zones of Outland wrapped up well in advance of Northrend opening its doors.

As for future plans in WoW Classic, I’m still figuring that out. Unlike a whole lot of other people, I’m not making a Death Knight during this month. If I end up sticking around in Wrath to the point where my Shammy gets Northrend all done and I need a new challenge, I’ll probably make a DK as a future treat. But right now I’m just going to feel out the expansion and my level of interest, see how dungeons go with the new LFG tool, and operate on a month-to-month basis.

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.