The great LOTRO anniversary scavenger hunt

There’s kind of this running joke-slash-trope among MMORPGs that developers tend to get lazy during their game’s anniversary and throw fireworks at the players as the “big reward.” Fantasy, sci-fi, ponies… always fireworks. Don’t get me wrong, fireworks are neat, but they’re garnish when we’re looking for a real dish.

In 2012, LOTRO started to center its anniversary festival around fireworks, perhaps to a greater degree than we normally see in MMOs. Still, fireworks. Not as thrilling as a haunted burrow or interactive theater. But this year for the game’s 10th birthday, Standing Stone has given a new centerpiece for the festival that’s definitely main course material.

The new content this year is the scavenger hunt, in which players try to fill out themed cards in order to unlock new quests and rewards. The concept is that there’s a tier for every year the game’s been active (so, 10 in total), and in every tier there are three different cards. Just by doing a single card (say, a Year One card), you access the next tier (Year Two), but if you do all 30 of them by the time this wraps up in the summer, then you get some really nifty rewards.

Last night, our kin was on fire for the scavenger hunt. With 30 ahead of me (and yes, I’m going to attempt to do them all), I need to pace myself. One a night feels about right, and I started out by doing Frodo’s Year One tour of Middle-earth. There’s a lot of nostalgia here, and in this particular card, I had to visit some key locations for Frodo’s journey and perform some basic tasks (such as dancing on the table at the Prancing Pony). The main difficulty was trying to figure out how to traverse the map, as I don’t have that many teleport skills on hand.

All in all, it took me about 40 minutes, with the most difficult section being a return trip to the Dead Marshes, which tripped me up because there’s no stable master there. I ended up with a housing item, Farmer Maggot’s dog as a pet, and… a SCRAP OF PAPER! BEHOLD ITS MIGHTY POWER! Also some tokens, which I put into the “Buy Syp Another Goat” fund.

Oh, and we all got this incredibly sweet dragon fireworks launcher as a 10th anniversary gift. I take back a little of the shade I threw at devs for their fireworks obsession, because I’m going to use this all of the freaking time.

There’s some controversy going on about the scavenger hunts right now, namely that they’re pretty difficult if you are low-level (or even mid-level). I’m assuming that the devs thought of this and have at least one card per tier that can be done by a lowbie, but even so, some people are going to be rankled that the 30-quest rewards are going to be out of their reach.

For me, I might be in trouble with Year Two. There’s one to do a bunch of Volume I instances, which would be no problem except that I’ve never done them before (I skipped Volume I on this character) and can’t access them in the pool of reflection (or so I assume). So if I’m going to do that, I’m going to have to suck it up and do the entire Volume I, which could take a while. Maybe there’s a way to group up and have a friend pull you into their instance? I’ll check into that.

The crowd was certainly rowdy and celebratory pretty much everywhere I went, especially the Party Tree and Bree. Lots of impromptu concerts, feasting tables, and (of course) fireworks displays. It really felt like a genuine party, what with all of the food and dancing and crazy social gatherings. LOTRO hosts a community that kind of likes being together, and that shows.

I think that the scavenger hunt is a brilliant idea, capitalizing on the game’s enormous landmass and repository of content to date. It also is a wonderful shot of nostalgia, a nostalgia tour if you will, and I really don’t mind going back over the places that I used to haunt. If nothing else, it’ll keep me busy enough as we continue to twiddle our thumbs and wait for Mordor.

KOTOR 2: Peragus Station

(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

KOTOR 2 begins in a most mysterious and confusing fashion. Figuring out what’s going on and what led up to the events of the start of the game are the goals of this area.

So I awaken on Peragus, a mining asteroid station that’s silently — ominously — empty. I stumble out of a bacta tank and start investigating; the medical logs give me some clues, such as a series of mining explosions and malfunctioning droids. Clearly something went very wrong, since nobody’s around and the other people in the tanks were killed on purpose with sedatives.

Oddly enough, it’s in the morgue that I find another survivor of the Ebon Hawk: Kreia. She’s a blind seer-slash-pain in my tuckus, and she urges me to figure out how to repair the ship and leave quickly. To help, she’ll sit on a bed and clear her thoughts and occasionally throw me snarky telepathic comments. In other words, your typical NPC companion competence at work.

I’ve always felt that Peragus was a misstep as an opening level for KOTOR 2. It’s serviceable in helping you get to know the game and its systems, but in so many other ways it is a dull start. There are only two people to interact with, everyone else is dead, the environment is a boring metallic grey everywhere (except for the even more boring tunnels), you fight droids left and right, and just as you’re getting familiar with your character, the game makes you play as a droid for a while. It’s a level that I just can’t wait to be rid of, frankly.

Even worse is the fact that I have to jog around half of the level in nothing more than underwear. Seriously, it’s kind of a plot point.

If there is one thing it does well, it’s instilling dread in the player. It’s an unnerving, not a welcoming, start to a game. It’s like touring around a haunted house knowing that the monster is going to come back soon and you best be gone when it does.

Since there are so few people to talk to, most of the backstory is filled in via logs (which makes this oddly feel like System Shock 2). To summarize a lot of it, my character was somehow brought on board the Ebon Hawk after an ambush hit the Republic cruiser Harbinger. When Peragus took the Ebon Hawk in and realized they had a Jedi on their hand, the staff started to bicker over whether or not to turn me in to the “Exchange,” a mob-sounding organization that put a price on Jedi heads. To make matters worse, droids and tech started malfunctioning all over the place, hurting and killing the staff. One employee says it seems like someone is clearing a path to “get the Jedi out of here.” Hm.

Along the way, the droid I played eventually got killed by an off-screen character, so we’re probably being set up for some big reveal.

The role of “smarmy smuggler-type” in KOTOR 2 will be played by Atton, who seems like a slightly less self-pitying character than Carth. As a female character, I’m a little put out by how much he keeps hitting on me, but hey, I have force powers and can scramble his brains. I’m not worried about it.

Clothes! Blessed clothes! Peragus isn’t a treasure trove of gear — it’s specifically mentioned that only low-level blasters and grenades can be kept due to the explosive nature of the gas — but I’m able to cobble together a functional outfit. I even have my first blaster, a mining laser, which is a start in my goal to have a dual blaster-wielding Jedi fighter.

You like fighting droids? You better, because Peragus is wall-to-wall droid encounters, and each one is more dull than the last. A couple of them are surprisingly tough, so using energy shields and a Stun Droid force power is definitely recommended.

After battling through the mining tunnels, I arrive to find another survivor of the Harbinger/Ebon Hawk: HK-50. Kind of knew he was around, what with cutscenes and all, and it isn’t that joyous of an encounter. He’s barely hiding all sorts of condescension and malice toward me, and he refuses to help me gain access to the dormitory levels. I had to trick him into it, thanks to KOTOR’s equivalent of a tape recorder.

HK-50 somewhat fills in more of my backstory, saying that I passed out/was drugged on the Harbinger, stuffed into cargo, then transferred unconscious to the Ebon Hawk. He all but points his thumbs at his chest and says “I DID IT! ME! MUAHAHA!”

The dormitories are a tomb, full of gassed victims and left-behind recordings. I take an unscheduled spacewalk on the outside of the station, only to see the Harbinger come out of hyperspace and dock with the station. For the record, this WAS the ship I was originally on before getting carted off like a lump of expensive meat. So who is piloting this spacecraft right now?

It’s Darth McCraggy! I’ll give it to the game: He is a very disturbing figure, visually, and his reveal is nicely done. He’s doing that Jedi/Sith meditation pose on the bridge among all of those dead and decaying bodies. Couldn’t have jettisoned them?

As an aside, the Star Wars franchise doesn’t make a great case for becoming a Sith. It seems to be a motif that all Sith lords have to be messed-up physcially, missing body parts or turning yellow or, like this guy, looking like a parched desert floor. At least Jedi retain their good looks.

After a lengthy time running around the station solo, I’m finally able to form a full party — Kreia and Atton join up with me. Probably in the nick of time, since stealthed figures start trailing us from a distance, all Predator-style.

Surprise! HK-50 is a bad guy after all! Yeah, so he was under contract by a mysterious client to bring me in, which is why he’s been drugging me and sabotaging an entire station to facilitate my extraction.

KOTOR 2 seems to relish zigging where KOTOR 1 zagged. HK-47 was your friend and ally in KOTOR, but in KOTOR 2, the first HK you meet is your enemy. And it just keeps on going like that. It’s a nice change-up but it makes me wonder if Obsidian felt a little too pressured to be as different from KOTOR 1 as possible.

World of Warcraft: Cleared for takeoff

Sometimes the really good things happen when you aren’t fully paying attention.

In the midst of company at our house, I quickly logged onto World of Warcraft yesterday to check my order hall missions, and while I was there I noticed that there was a new quest at Broken Shore. Picked it up and was able to complete it instantly with my supply of nethershards. That turn-in rewarded me with 1500 rep, which just so happened to put me over the top for revered. And with a single button click, I had completed Pathfinder Part 2 and unlocked Broken Isle flying for my account.

I could scarcely believe it. In a way, Legion feels simultaneously like a new and old expansion at this point, depending how I’m squinting at it any given day, so I guess it’s been way too long since I’ve been able to fly (I never did complete Draenor’s requirements) while it still feels like I just got here.

Anyway, I was ecstatic. It’s a literal game-changer to be able to be able to fly on demand. Nevermind grappling hooks, kites, and flight master whistles, now my moose can take me anywhere I want to go with a button click. And with this, all world quests have become easier and the island has opened up to me in terms of exploration. I’m going to have to carve out a night just to be a flight tourist and hit all of those hard-to-reach spots that are now quite accessible.

So with that out of the way, it’s back to poking about at various projects and interests that aren’t too pressing. Casual gaming. And that brought me back to a project that’s sort of a white whale for me: leveling up a Forsaken Warlock.

I can’t be the only one who has had these bucket list-style goals in MMOs over the years, only to take dozens of stabs at them but never follow through for various reasons. In WoW, it’s always been a zombie lock. I love the idea of them, always have dating back to the original trailer. Probably should’ve rolled one at launch, but then I got stuck over on Alliance and felt bad devoting time to Horde. I’ve had several over the years, just never one to cap. It also didn’t help that I already had a high-level Gnome lock, so it felt wasteful (?) to level up another one.

But this feels like a great time to mess around in the game and just have fun with various goals, now that my DK is in a good place. So why not? I created my 525th undead warlock, Syperia, and started her journey through Tirisfal Glades (which I know by heart, both old and new, having done it so many times).

I do vastly prefer the post-Cataclysm era for this zone. Lot better flow and this chap who carries six corpses on his back like a gruesome Jenga tower.

Since I don’t have any Horde alts on this server, this character’s not going to have any financial assistance or in with a guild, so it’s very much starting from scratch. We’ll see how it goes… who knows, this might be the time that I actually make it!

7 MMO cosmetic wardrobe systems, ranked

Here’s a little thought exercise I’ve been going through lately after having a discussion about cosmetic systems on the MOP podcast. We had been asked which was the best MMO wardrobe system, which I initially thought was an easy answer… and then, long after the podcast was done, started to revise my response. Ultimately, I asked myself how I would rank the systems present in the MMOs I’ve played the most in the last, oh, five years or so, and this is what I came up with going from best to worst.

WildStar

There’s a lot of factors that go into a truly great cosmetic wardrobe system, and believe it or not, WildStar checks off most of those boxes. It’s got great armor design, plenty of cosmetic pieces, a system that remembers loot you’ve collected, multiple outfit slots, two dye channels, fun dyes, and an accessible system (which is a change from launch, which required you to talk to a specific NPC). I adored being able to create and wear different outfits based on my mood, and I was often torn on which one I liked the best because they were all pretty awesome. WildStar usually get a lot of props for its housing, but I think its wardrobe deserves praise too.

Guild Wars 2

Initially I had put Guild Wars 2 at the top, but upon further reflection, I had to acknowledge that there are two big flaws with its wardrobe system: It makes you pay to change individual slots (via transmutation charges) and it doesn’t allow for multiple saved outfits. Apart from that, it’s pretty brilliant, with several dye channels, loads of colors, expressive pieces, and all the buttflaps you can stomach. Finding and obtaining skins is an enjoyable metagame for GW2, that’s for sure.

RIFT

On paper, RIFT has almost the full package. It remembers skins, has multiple outfit slots, is ridiculously easy to use, involves weird cosmetics, and so on. Other than the dye cash shop and the smaller color range, I’d say it was almost perfect… except that I just don’t like about 90% of RIFT’s armor designs. They’re not bad, per se, just not what I want to be trouncing around in, and there are strangely few store outfits that even slightly tempt me to purchase. Probably shouldn’t complain; better armor art and I might have gone broke.

The Secret World

TSW’s strength in cosmetics is that it’s a rare MMO that uses modern outfits rather than fantasy/sci-fi ones (for the most part) and is thus a fashion that is more identifiable to players. People in TSW just adore dressing up their characters, sometimes the more outrageous, the better. Wonderful array of choices are offset only by a lack of dyeable outfits (although some pieces come in multiple colors) and no multiple outfit saves. It’s nice that there is a convoluted fashion to even equip cosmetic weapons, but it really should’ve been more like the regular outfits in accessibility.

Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO sits squat in the middle of this list with plenty of strengths but plenty of weaknesses as well. On the plus side, it’s another MMO with a community that does a lot of dressing up, and the game has done a lot to make this as robust as possible. Dyes, multiple outfits, varied designs, cosmetic weapons, etc. But on the minus side, the wardrobe itself is a little creaky and unfriendly, especially when compared to how many MMOs these days are saving EVERY new design whereas LOTRO has a hard limit. And you have to manage it by hand. Plus, the dyes aren’t that great, with only one color channel for (most) pieces and the dyeable area often being small.

World of Warcraft

For a major MMORPG, World of Warcraft suffers from a kind of lackluster system. Admittedly, the fact that it has one and it’s gradually improved is far better than launch, but seriously, transmog is pretty sad when you compare it to the field. No dyes, no multiple outfits (I’m not really that keen on just changing gear’s appearance rather than having a separate and toggleable cosmetic outfit), no way to do it on the fly, new gear overriding older transmog looks and requiring more money for new transmogs, and no quick check boxes to turn off helms and capes is all in dire need of addressing. To its credit, WoW has fabulous and fun armor design, which goes a long way to smoothing over the issues presented here.

Star Trek Online

Let’s throw in a couple of Cryptic efforts to be well-rounded. STO never really impressed me with its outfits. Sure, you could mix-and-match uniform elements, there were some (but not many) colors, and you had a small handful of outfit slots. But generally you aren’t collecting new looks while you play (most uniforms are simply bought through the store), and the interface is a little unwieldy. Sometimes it’s just more interesting to let your gear do the visuals for you, since they can be more detailed and futuristic.

Neverwinter

At the bottom of the barrel, Neverwinter does the absolute bare minimum to qualify as an MMO with a cosmetic system while making it as unfun as possible. Two cosmetic-only slots for specific items, no thank you. It’s a system that you learn about in the tutorial and then promptly forget going forward.

Now I know that there are plenty of other MMOs out there with great wardrobe systems, like EverQuest II, but I wanted to rank ones from games that I was most familiar.

Guild Wars 2: Captain Syp the Game Master

I consider 36 gold well-spent if it gives me the Captain N/NES light zapper as a pistol skin for life. Complete with retro-sounding zaps. It’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever purchased in a game, to tell the truth.

Long story short, I found my way back to Guild Wars 2 after a nearly two -year break, which apparently was long enough of a stretch for any burnout to blow away and leave the game fertile for rediscovery. Short story long, I was searching for some sort of casual online experience over the past week, and after going back and forth on some other titles, I found that Guild Wars 2 had exactly what I needed right now. It didn’t require an up-front cost, it was a perfect “jump in and do whatever” type of game, and it was different enough from my other MMOs to not be treading over the same territory.

Oh NPC, you’re about to have your heart broken by ArenaNet, because we ain’t never going back to Cantha. Too many players have heckled the studio at this point for the studio to acquiesce.

Without feeling pressured to do the latest content or — for whatever reason — get geared up for raids, I figured that I would just start all over from scratch. When I’m gone from a game this long, that’s what I typically (although not always) end up doing. I also figured that it’d be a good way to discover all of the changes that have happened without feeling overwhelmed.

Initially I rolled up a Thief (at the top of the post) because double pew-pewing with guns sounded fun. But I couldn’t fight my inner geek, which shouted loud and incessantly at me to go back to an Engineer. I thought for a few moments about picking up my old character, but I think I was done with the Asura. So I went with a fresh, level-one human instead.

I don’t really care what’s FOTM or optimal, all I want to do with this character is burn things with purifying fire from my flamethrower, which is still one of my favorite MMO weapons of all-time. Back-up is my dual pistol setup, both of which will lean on a condition damage build.

As my son asked when I dashed into a burning orphanage and started laying waste with my flamethrower, “Dad, why are you adding MORE fire to the place?” Because video game logic, son. You’ll understand one day.

So far it’s been a wonderfully relaxing experience. Without using a level boost, I don’t have to worry about facing all of the personal story all at once. Instead, I’m doing a little bit of that but mostly focused on world exploration and making money by gathering all I can. I have no idea how inflated the economy is right now, but I don’t want to get to 80 and have to worry about not affording my exotic gear.

As I said, it’s been a great time of small little rediscoveries. Still not a perfect game, especially in its larger storytelling department, but the environmental exploration and stories come off very well. The UI, combat, animations, and rewards feel right, and slowly going around a zone ticking off all of the boxes is satisfying in a “popping bubble wrap” fashion.

 

LOTRO: Battle at the Black Gate

All the roads we have trod, all of the sacrifices we have made, all of the struggles of our time… have led to this. A door. A king. A wizard. A futile battle. A slim hope.

And here I sit at the beginning of the end of Lord of the Rings — the main storyline, at least. Update 20 unloaded the next book of the epic, bringing the slowly progressing Army of the Host to the front door of Mordor. With no more ways to tarry, delay, and procrastinate after 10 years of playing out the events of six months (just like M*A*S*H and the Korean War!), the final battle must be joined.

There are a few observations that I’ve seen made about Update 20’s epic story. It’s short (which it is). It’s not as grand as the Battle of Pelennor Fields (which it isn’t and couldn’t be anyway). It ends on a cliffhanger (true). It’s quite good (indeed).

Dude, where’d you get that mount? Sauron rep? I could grind that!

The fun begins with a chilling showdown between the good guys and the Mouth of Sauron. Unlike the freaky-deaky movie version, the LOTRO Mouth is a guy with a hat that goes a little too low on his head. He’s still pretty effective and boastful, but so is our side. Boasting and threats are thrown around, but in the end there is only one outcome: open war.

Following a short cutscene, we’re thrown right into the battle. It’s much different than ones in the past for this game. It’s right on the enemy’s turf and is slightly skewed in favor of the bad guys at a ratio of 75 to 1. As I tried to explain to my kids, it’s not a battle that the Free People expect to win. It’s a delaying tactic that’s being employed at great cost.

The game tech obviously cannot show movement of large armies and a dynamic battle, only an illusion of it, but at least that illusion is well-done. Lots to see around you and the quests keep you moving like crazy all over the place.

With so many people killed or not present from the Battle of Pelennor Fields, I really only recognized the Fellowship. I think a couple of Grey Company got killed by flying Nazgul, which made me marvel that after a decade of wanton Grey Company slaughter that there are any of these guys left to murder. The Secret World’s Orochi and the Grey Company have an exchange program going on, or so I heard.

The whole affair did wrap up incredibly quickly, more so than I anticipated even with the warning. Part of it is that there just wasn’t that much to do with this fight; it’s not as long or involved in the books as Pelennor Fields was. The other part is that Standing Stone obviously wants to keep the full conclusion of the battle as a prelude to the Mordor expansion, so a cliffhanger we go. At least there is a teaser of sorts in a cutscene…

For me and mine, with the epic done for now, I think I’m going to take a break from this bleak land and head back to the Shire to do the full Bingo Boffin questline on my Lore-master. That should be a nice change of pace, and I’d love to get it done before the new anniversary quests start coming out at the end of this month. 52 quests in a week? Sure, I can do that. Right? Right.

Why does World of Warcraft’s 7.2 feel so lackluster?

After a couple of weeks with World of Warcraft’s latest update, I have come to a somewhat disheartening conclusion: Patch 7.2 is a letdown. It’s not a bad patch, per se, but for being this “one of the biggest content patches ever released! so awesome!1!!” event, it’s definitely lackluster from my perspective.

The new zone? Just another world quest arena with unfortunately ugly landscape. The “build your base” mechanic? A crappy and temporary rehash of garrisons. The invasions? Interesting the first few times, but not really worth repeating past that. The additional artifact traits? Welcome, I guess, but it’s a sign of more grinding. The new dungeon? Pretty enough, but instantly gets dumped into the vat of dungeons that aren’t worth doing for the rewards since I’m overgeared already. The new raid? Not out yet. Class mounts? Not there yet.

What really rankles is that the one feature that I want is being stubborn about becoming available. Of course, that’s flying. After all of the hoops we jumped through for Broken Isles Patchfinder Part 1, you’d think that Part 2 would be a lot easier, and in truth, it kind of is. Just explore all of the new zone and get the new rep up to exalted. Simple enough for even me to comprehend.

But that rep is proving to be a real stickler. Apparently you used to be able to get 1500 rep from doing each invasion assault in the beta, but on live they changed it to just the first time and then never thereafter. So… there goes all of my motivation for running assaults, right? Seems like such a stupid decision. What I’m left with is collecting rep in drips and drabs from world quests in Broken Shore with the occasional building material turn-in. It’s not impossible; I’ll probably be done in a couple of weeks. But it’s silly to gate it this slow after all of our accomplishments to date. At least I won’t have to ever do this again on my account.

The result of all of this is that I don’t feel any more entertained right now than I did prior to 7.2 releasing. I’m actually far more excited for the features of 7.2.5, because they sound really fun — time-travel quests and silly micro-holidays and the like. That’s what I want to do.

It’s made me mull alts again. My Warlock is 109, so pretty much right at World Quest level, but part of me would like to get out of Legion for an alternate character. So maybe a new alt… I keep eyeing that Monk, contemplating a healer. Could be the time for it.