LOTRO: When good places go ugly

Pictured: LOTRO’s take on the elusive “Blinding Daylight Bat” that took a look at the nocturnal lifestyle and said, “Nah, not for me, mate!”

Right now on both of my Lord of the Rings Online characters, I’m venturing in picturesque countrysides. Both the Shire and North Ithilien are lush and inviting in their own ways, and I am gratified that this MMO has beautiful zones not merely front-loaded in the early game experience but also later on as well.

I’m very much a creature affected by my environment. Messy, dreary, oppressive, or otherwise ugly places put a huge damper on my spirits (and the opposite is quite true, of course). I’d always rather be adventuring around an area that shows off beauty and creativity rather than something that looks like one of Detroit’s more decrepit neighborhoods. Sure, I could see that for some, having that visually oppressive tone would be important for a personal fantasy of a hero entering the den of evil and fighting to its very core, but I’m perfectly fine with evil setting up shop in a garden or a well-groomed park.

Pictured: Not my mount. But I wish that it would be. If it was? Mounted combat in this game would actually be something worth doing.

LOTRO has a huge mix of pretty, ugly, and in-between zones — and to be fair, has a good mix of all and well spread out to boot. Just when I can’t stand another day in, say, Moria’s depths, then I burst out into Lothlorien and fight me some flower-pickin’ elves while admiring the scenery. Ugly zones are the ones I want to blitz through and ignore all of the tourism (picture taking, side detours, etc.). Attractive ones invite me to stay as long as possible.

This is beating around the bush to say that I’m more than a little nervous about Update 20 and beyond. I’ve already watched the videos for the new Wastes zone, and it’s just as visually appealing as it sounds. I mean, it’s even got a place called the “slag hills,” so you know you’re in for a stroll through a fine day. Lots of dark clouds, blasted landscapes, dead bodies, ruins, ghosts, Orc camps, and toxic pools of wastes. And this is BEFORE we’ve even set foot one into Mordor, mind you.

Looking at the map, Mordor is just a huge region, and I’d wager that the expansion won’t even touch half of it upon release. We don’t know a lot about the places outside of where Sam and Frodo visited (which is mostly the northwest corner), so here’s hoping that the devs will find some way to bring out beauty — or barring that, interesting visuals that aren’t just endless fields of ash, rock, and Orcish exterior decorating.

The face of Gollum in LOTRO is way creepier than the movies. Same scraggly comb-over, though.

So I’m dragging my feet on finishing up North Ithilien, because I know that if I do, I won’t have an excuse not to jump right into the Wastes come Update 20. And I am excited about the new quests and epic story, not to mention checking out the massive Black Gate and all. I just don’t want to be spending the next four months looking at the zone equivalent of a scab only to progress into Mordor past that and have it be some sort of outdoors version of Moria — a place filled with mighty wonders, but ultimately is not where we want to stay for months on end.

Post-Mordor is quite on my mind, although that’s bringing us into 2018. There are a lot more amazing vistas yet to discover in Middle-earth, so I’ll hold on to the hope that we’ll see some of those to relieve the time spent in Sauron’s outhouse. And I’m going to trust that the devs aren’t going too far overboard with the whole death metal theme and will find a way to make Mordor more than what we expect.

The Secret World: Super-sized windmill (Besieged Farmlands #10)

were

(Join Syp as he attempts to document a complete playthrough of The Secret World from start to finish. What will The Secret Adventures discover next? Find out in this exciting installment! WARNING: Spoilers and stories ahead!)

Lycantrophy (side mission)

I think I’ve mentioned already how unimpressed I am at The Secret World’s stock werewolf models as I am impressed at the vampire ones. It just seems like the team could’ve been a little more creative with the doggies, but as they are, they could fit in well with many other MMO versions of the lycanthropes. I guess I’m being picky.

This mission, which comes from a hunting poster on a tunnel wall, is merely a breadcrumb mission to funnel players into the Shadowy Forest. I’m not quite there yet, but I’ll duck in to turn in a few werewolf ears. I collect a LOT of body parts in this game. I think I’m the stuff of nightmares that children fear.

wind

Revenge Served Hot (action mission)

I’ve always found the windmill in this zone to be one of TSW’s more striking visual landmarks. It’s this giant, oversized, ramshackle windmill that sticks up from the landscape like some demented haunted farm feature. And yet it’s the refuge of two visitors under siege — two friends who are mourning the loss of both a brother and a boyfriend (same person) while fending off werewolf attacks.

But the question is, why were the three of them here in Transylvania in the first place? The girlfriend says that they were here to take in the local sights and be all touristy, but I’m not buying it. There’s more going on here than she knows.

den

Yeah, this place screams, “Come inside! We’re friendly and have cake to share!”

Following the backtrail of the dead man, a new and fuller story emerges. He had come into the possession of an artifact and was coming to Romania to sell it… only the werewolves attacked, dragged him into a Filth-infested den, and bad things happened after that. The buyer sent in a team to get it (Purples?), but they all got infected, and we learn an important lesson in Letting Things Go.

The bulk of this mission takes place inside of a werewolf den that’s crawling (walking?) with very, very tough mobs. They con straight-up black to me, and while I could manage one or two at a time, it was a close thing every encounter. In the end, I take out a dozen or so wolves — and the artifact, with Geary said was a good move.

blaj

Herbal Essence (side mission)

Deep inside that horrible werewolf den is a very dead Blajini, who was out looking for some mushrooms. I mean, if you’re going to die for something, mushrooms are as noble as it gets, right? No regrets in your life, little dude?

I finish up his shopping list, getting the ‘shrooms and some lily pads to boot, and then bring back these herbs to Cucuvea, which we’ve yet to meet in this series. But we shall, and hopefully then this shopping list — which already claimed the life of one innocent — will show its purpose.

The Girls Who Cried Wolf (action mission)

This mission has perhaps one of my all-time favorite opening cutscenes of any Secret World mission. As I’m talking to the first girl about how magical the windmill is and how vicious pretty girls in distress can be, the other French girl is wailing away in the background against an onslaught of werewolves.

I mean, it’s downright comical how calm and tranquil the foreground conversation is while she’s serving up a gore-splattered horror fest back there. Chainsaws, decapitations, fountains of blood, etc. At least she’s working out her anger issues about the death of her brother.

At first I thought that this mission was merely another “go here and kill a crapton of werewolves” bit, albeit somewhat easier than the previous one. However, it soon took an unexpected turn, as I encounter a lot of (naturally dead) Orochi in the area. Why didn’t I start a counter back at the beginning of this whole series to count how many dead Orochi are in this game? That would’ve been awesome. Anyway, lots of dead Orochi who apparently removed some ward stones from the windmill — which is, as you might think, much more than a bizarre giant monument.

Turns out that this structure has been built on top of an anima well, made to be some sort of sanctuary by a “Dutchman” for the good fae and nice people of the forest. Since the removal of the wards, the werewolves have started to encroach and an evil spirit lurks in the windmill’s cave, but restoring the wards and shooting evil in the face a few hundred times put a quick stop to that.

Hopefully, this means the French girls are safe for now. Never get much resolution with most NPCs in this game, alas.

World of Warcraft: Warlock and load

war1

Astute readers may remember that the original Syp was a 2006-era Warlock from World of Warcraft, made in preparation for The Burning Crusade. She had a good run, lasting me up through the opening months of Wrath of the Lich King, when I meandered off to Warhammer Online and other titles.

While Syp wasn’t my very first character, it was the one that I became the most acquainted with and fond of in those years. Warlocks were really rough at launch (but what class wasn’t, really), but by TBC they had started to shine. The Felguard was a beast and I loved it, and when I came back last year, I was quite enjoying upgrading that Felguard to a Terrorguard. I’ve always run a Warlock in a demonology spec, because pets are awesome, and it was nice to play a pet class that wasn’t the overpopulated Hunter.

If I had to point a finger at two major failings of Legion, they would be the general flop of the order halls and the sweeping class changes in the name of “class fantasy.” So many classes that I was enjoying in Draenor — Hunter, Shaman, Warlock in particular — were changed drastically overnight, and mostly for the worse. My DK came out improved, but the other three did not, and that has left me feeling a little sour. I miss my Enhancement Shammy with totems and pets. The BM Hunter had a smooth and fun rotation before 7.0, but now it’s cooldown city with very little emphasis on using your weapon. And the Demo Warlock went from having a few fun DoTs and a strong pet to this bizarre rotation that required, fight after fight, to constantly resummon a slew of pets.

Demo simply isn’t fun any more, and after giving it one last big try this past week, I came to the conclusion that for Legion, at least, it’s not going to be my spec. But I did want to reconnect with the Warlock and make it my alt, so I painfully leveled to 102 and then went back through the artifact quests to get the Affliction weapon.

war2

It’s generally been a good move. Affliction has a lot of what I’ve been missing with Demo, namely instant-cast DoTs and a rotation that isn’t as heavily dependent on soul shards. There’s even a really nice insta-AoE DoT that works well for large groups, albeit with a one minute cooldown.

The only major downside of all of this is the loss of my precious Felguard. I’m down to the base group of pets (plus the occasional Doomguard summon and any enslavements), and Affliction clearly wants you to run Felhunter for the bonus damage to DoTted up targets. I’ve been going back and forth between the Felhunter (for damage) and the Voidwalker (for a tank), but there’s so much healing with this spec that I’m generally not concerned about dying in most encounters.

As I ease myself into the questing experience of Legion, it’s an adjustment period from the Death Knight to the Warlock. Off the bat, it’s always hard to go from a fully fleshed-out and powered-up character to one still growing. Add to that all of the little things that I find I miss from the DK — not being able to walk on water, the AoE DoT for every fight — and it’s slow going at least initially. Have to push through all of that to see how the ‘lock shines on her own. I do appreciate having a speed boost on command rather than a cooldown, and it’s fun getting back to juggling DoTs in a large group. The rotation is so much less stressful and erratic than Demo, and the visuals are cleaner too (sometimes it’s fun to watch pets mob a guy, but sometimes it’s a little too chaotic, you know?).

We’ll see how it goes. She’s got a very long way to go to catch up with the DK, even in getting into world quests and whatnot. I have no illusions about being able to get my Warlock all of the way there before 7.2 drops, at which time I’ll have to prioritize gaming my DK to work through the new content.

Duke Nukem 3D: Toxic Dump

d1

(This is part of my journey going checking out Duke Nukem 3D. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Just moments after Duke boards the sub, it gets… blown up? Sunk? There’s not a lot of exposition provided, so just chalk it up to aliens and move on. I like how some of these levels begin right in the middle of a crisis, requiring you to act fast. Here, the sub is tipped over and filling up with water (although you can’t drown, as the water stops a little before it gets to the top). Time to go scuba diving!

d2

I have to say that after the last few rip-roaring levels, slogging my way through a nondescript building that’s nominally a toxic dump is kind of a letdown. Although it was a neat moment when I figured that by standing on a particular spot, a crane would come by and pick me up to whisk me away!

d3

Another surprising — in a good way — moment was when I went to put in the red keycard and a panel behind it opened up… and shot me. I thought it was a trap until I shrunk to a small enough size to fit inside the vents at the bottom of the room. Kudos, level designers!

d4

The shrink part actually became a roadblock, as I couldn’t seem to make it through the tunnel before… enlargening once more and dying. After several tries, I went to the internet (thanks internet!) and found out that I needed to be pressing shift to run. I always assumed I *was* running, considering how fast Duke glides through the levels, but I guess there’s always faster.

d5

There’s also a heavy element of swimming and water puzzles in this level, which isn’t my favorite because Duke Nukem 3D doesn’t allow for the mouse to move the camera up and down (which is doubly annoying for trying to shoot airborne enemies). You have to rely on the keyboard for it and it is a pain.

d6

“EXCUSE ME SIR, DO YOU HAVE A MINUTE TO TALK ABOUT THE WATCHTOWER?”

d7

I wish I had more to say about this level, but truth be told, it’s not that visually exciting. Lots of tricky progression bits and a couple of fun water (slime) slides, especially at the end, but it’s just not as fun as exploring the more “civilized” levels of the past.

Early impressions of Torment: Tides of Numenera

torment

While everyone seems to be buzzing about Zelda and Andromeda and Horizons in the larger gaming world, I’ve been rejoicing the the spiritual successor to Planescape Torment is finally here. Torment: Tides of Numenera (I can never spell that last word correctly) launched on Tuesday and was an instant buy for me. It’s gotten really good reviews so far, although I’m trying not to read too many so as not to be spoiled.

I was hoping to be a lot further into the game by now, but it’s been a zany, busy sort of week, and early bedtimes, illness, and even a freak thunderstorm have conspired against it. So I’ve only gotten through the first two major areas, although that slow pace is partially due to my compulsive need to examine everything, talk to everyone, and make sure I’m picking up every available quest.

So far? It’s good. The graphics aren’t really the best — kind of a mixed bag — but they’re serviceable considering that the real strength with the game is its characterization, story, and writing. The setting so far isn’t quite as captivating as Planescape, but I’m warming up to this vision of a weird earth a billion years in the future. It’s strange but not so alien as to be incomprehensible. I love weird fantasy and speculative scifi, so this is right up my alley.

Torment makes it very clear from the get-go that it is a roleplaying game through-and-through, and even when I fail at tasks or make “bad” decisions, interesting things still happen. I’m simply picking what is interesting to me and feeling out the world without being concerned over pursuing, say, light side points. There’s a “tides” mechanic that hasn’t been explained yet, but I don’t really care since it’s not going to affect how I pick.

Two things that have bubbled up as great elements of the game. The first is that the RPG mechanics are clean and easy to understand. I really love how you have these three pools of points (intellect, speed, and might) that can be used to up your odds of success in encounters. Sometimes I’m not that concerned about winning, so I don’t spend any points, while other times I’ll invest two or three points to ensure a 100% success. Inventory is easy to manage and gear is clear about how it can be used. All of that is very appreciated.

The other thing is that as I’m taking the time to talk and talk and talk to all of these characters, it’s like a book is slowly unfolding in front of me. There are a lot of odd concepts and ideas at play here that need to be gradually understood, and some of them are downright fascinating. I found myself very captivated by the “Levies” — unquestioning guards that are formed by taking a year of someone’s life away to make a “person” that will only live for that year before falling apart. There was a hint of personality and memory in one of them that made me think that there’s more to these people than just a clever idea.

I’m in no rush to plow through the game and can see playing Torment in small chunks here and there. It’s far less combat intensive than most modern RPGs, and in fact I’m going to try to take the Planescape route by avoiding combat at all costs. Already my character is highly perceptive and an accomplished liar when it suits her purpose. It’s kind of like an adventure game with RPG elements than an RPG with lots of fighting. And I have no idea where it’s going or what tropes lay in wait. Right up my alley.

LOTRO: Concerning Hobbits

hob1

Currently in Lord of the Rings Online, I’m ping-ponging back and forth between my high-level Lore-master, who is going through North Ithilien, and my baby Hobbit Minstrel, who is poking around the Shire in no apparent hurry to leave.

I was running back to Michel Delving the other night to the Bird and Baby Inn to turn in a quest when I saw that the tavern was full of Hobbits enjoying a social gathering of some sort. There were four lasses from one kin playing music in the corner and a circle of assorted Hobbits (including one wearing a chicken on her head) from another. I stopped to listen to the music and was greeted warmly by the crowd. I didn’t want to disturb them, so I just waved back and hung around for a little bit, taking pictures and enjoying the tunes.

I noticed that the kin on the floor was playing some sort of game in /say, and so I took the time to look up their kinship — Concerning Hobbits — on the web. I’d seen them around before, particularly while playing in the Shire, and they seemed friendly enough. The website further cemented this impression by portraying a picture of a kin that was social heavy, RP lite, and generally very friendly.

After wandering around for a little bit, I trotted back to the inn and sent the kin leader a tell asking to chat after they were done (this might be one of the first times that I ever sat in a chair in this game — I didn’t even know you could do that). When they finished, the whole kin surrounded me and we talked for a while about what they were like, my pie preference, and whether I was a doody-head who was sure to open up a faucet of profanities at the first available opportunities.

Long story short, I got a kin invite and joined this Hobbit-only guild. Again, I was kind of bowled over how nice and chummy everyone was, and I accepted their invitation to come join them for the next part of their evening, which was (I kid you not) drunk backwards racing around the race track in the southern Shire. You had to get wasted so that the screen was blurry and then run as a group around the circuit backwards. I didn’t participate but merely watched, chatting with the guild leader and lighting off fireworks as they came around.

It’s definitely a good feeling to have a kin home for my lowbie, and while my LM remains in Lonely Mountain Band, it’s nice to branch out and meet some other folks. I never have a problem being in multiple guilds, and if a guild in particular has issues with that, oh well. MMOs are social games and we should be allowed to be part of several social circles if so desired.

Otherwise, my minnie is coming along very nicely. Almost too nicely, in fact. I’m not even halfway done with the Shire (doing all of the quests, as is my goal) and I’m already level 17. I’ll definitely be outpacing content sooner or later, but even if that happens, it’s not going to stop me from doing the quests. Keeping an eye out for rewards or drops that can be used cosmetically is a big motivator, as is simply immersing myself in the stories.

I did buy a small house — for now — and stocked it with the few items I had. At some point the game gave me a lockbox and a key (level 15? a deed? I don’t remember), and inside I got five slayer and skill deed boosters. This was actually a godsend, because those boosters last for 90 minutes each and can be used to level up skills without worry of a cap.

So instead of continuing on with the Shire, I took a break to head to the Barrow-downs for some serious skilling. I’ve been running around, going through as many of my skills as possible in each fight, and watching my counters climb up. I even managed to complete four slayer deeds without intentionally trying, which is nice. Again, I’m not worrying about virtues, but unlocking those skill deeds gives me access to better skill effects, so that’s obviously important. I figure it’ll be better to get a chunk of them done now than having to wait over a long period of time.

Syp’s Gaming Goals for March

march

February in review

A large bulk of February for me was playing Lord of the Rings Online. I dumped a lot of time in catching up my Lore-master to the current endgame and attained that goal a week or so ago now that she is questing in North Ithilien. The return is very strong with this game, and I had a great time both in outfitting a premium house and starting up a baby Hobbit Minstrel to play on the side.

Other than that, more of the same from The Secret World and World of Warcraft — the occasional quest through Transylvania in the former and daily quests in the latter. I’ve been messing around with various WoW alts, trying to find one worthy of my time in this expansion. So far, no dice. I did get a little SWTOR time too, about two sessions’ worth in the Fallen Empire expansion.

I did start up a new retro gaming series, this one going through Duke Nukem 3D, one of my favorite old FPS games from way back when. In mobile space, I’ve been spending what little time gaming on my phone or tablet playing Fallout Shelter, Doombad, and Postknight.

March goals

Let’s get this out of the way: I’m going to be taking two MMOs out of my once-in-a-while rotation. Both RIFT and Star Trek Online aren’t really doing it for me right now, and I feel both will be fine if I just put them into storage until/if/when I get interested in playing them again. A little bummed about doing this to RIFT, but I’m not going to force myself to play something that isn’t fun for me right now.

By the end of the month, I would love to have most of North Ithilien done (dailies notwithstanding) in LOTRO, considering that the new zone is right around the corner. I would also like to finish the Shire on my Hobbit and maybe do some of the anniversary festival stuff for housing and cosmetics.

I think it’s entirely possible I could get done with Besieged Farmlands in The Secret World, so stay tuned on that. Another goal is to work on my Warlock alt in World of Warcraft after months of dithering on alts in the expansion. It feels like a good time for alt leveling, pre-7.2, and I think I’d regret not having my Warlock for the long haul.

I fully anticipate Torment: Tides of Numeria to get a lot of gaming time this month, so I’m not going to make any plans about bringing in other MMOs into my rotation. I do have a few that are pestering my interest, but I think they can safely wait until April.